Farm Manager Notes
2011 Season Learnings
The most important things I took from this year: mulching is incredibly important in our garden, we need a summer manager, and no matter how many books you read having someone who can physically teach you how to work with plants and the soil is always better.
Our garden faces south, it is also on a hill; as a result of these two factors water is a problem. I decided to plant in raised beds, sort of mini terraces, with the paths being the low parts and the beds being the raised parts. I planted clover in the paths. The clover did really well, and was always moist, the beds drained out and plants died. To fix this I did two things: I mulched both the beds and in between them and I replanted in the troughs. I cannot stress how important mulching is for our garden. It holds in the moisture and it makes the garden manageable for one person. =====Mulch early and mulch heavy.===== Use anything you have as long as it will not regrow: I used news paper, cardboard, carpet, and straw.
As I said above it's hard to manage. Mulch, but also try digging trenches to plant into. It worked well with beets and leeks.
If you plant late then things will be ready when students com back and when the kitchen is working again. Otherwise you will have a lot of food to deal with on your own.
I was really lucky to have my mother help me over the summer on the garden. My mother is a master gardener and worked on a farm for years. She knows how to use tools effectively, how to clean up beds, how to prep them, and how to to mulch things well. Without her guidance I do not think that I would have been able to manage the garden. This is not so much s advice as a learning: I think that in order for the garden to flourish we need to someone who can teach the physical side of farming and gardening. I grew up around all of the tools I used and around gardening, I've seen thousands of pictures of people using them but I simply could not use them as well as someone who had been trained by a professional farmer. I did not now how best to clean up beds. It is not enough to read books and to talk to people, it is not enough to learn about how plants work in a classroom or even in a greenhouse: we need to practice and learn the physical pieces of this work. I am sure that there are people at Marlboro who know these things but do not teach them because they are not academic, but also because we assume them to be self explanatory. We have this idea in our culture that you do not need to be highly educated to be a farm; you don't, but that doesn't mean that you don't need to be trained. Farmers train for years, for lifetimes, in order to learn their trade. We can't expect to be able to do it without training just because we've read books or seen people do it. Knowledge does not trump experience. That's what I learned last summer.
My advice to future farm managers:
have a plan about where the food is going and have a conversation before you plant anything with the people to whom the food is going. There is also a difference between a production garden, a home garden, and an experimental garden. It is hard to do all three. In the few years I have been involved with the garden all of the managers, including myself, have tried to plant too many things. I would recommend having a few small beds which you plant things that you want to eat in the summer (garlic, peas, greens) and have the rest as plants for the college.
These are my recommendations for planting in our soil:
- it grows amazingly well in our soil and conditions, the kitchen knows how to use it
- they grow well for us, but we always border on the line between too many and not enough, these seem to be the best community food as people know what to do with them
- grow well if you take care of them early on. They take forever to germinate and can easily be crowed out in the first weeks, the kitchen is good with carrots
IF the kitchen agrees to take it
They grow well and people always seem to want pumpkins, especially if you let people who cook know that they are available, they kitchen does not want them.
This is not a complete list, just the things that do particularly well in our soil.
Things I would NOT recommend:
Onions: every year someone steals the onions. People know what they are and just come take them, it takes a lot of space to grow a lot of them and you can't just grow more like you can when people steal the tomatoes.
Beans: I have never seen them do well. Erin planted a bunch and the only ones that grew didn't even produce enough for one year
Peas: Produce well for us, but at the wrong time of year.
Greens: We have had a lot of trouble with sand fleas which eat the leaves. When we planted some (spinach and lettuce) for the fall no one ate them because it wasn't enough for the kitchen and no one else wanted to eat enough. Fall spinach might work, we just had trouble with it.
Corn: It wrecks the soil, and takes up a lot of light. Erin and I had no success with it because it needed so much more in the way of nutrients and water. It also took up a lot of space. There are definitely raccoons in the area as well.
Garlic: I really like growing garlic; however, it takes a lot of space, is ready at all the wrong times, and can't be grown in an amount that the kitchen wants. The scapes are ready to be eaten in late June/ July and the garlic needs to be harvested and dried in late July. I would recommend growing small amounts for a farm cottage and for yourself, but don't expect it to go to the college.
Broccoli: It's ready at the wrong time. Three years in a row I have seen broccoli plants just go to flower before another ate any because it was ready in the three weeks before bridges when everyone was busy.
Vegetables un-common to the American table: Even if you personally love it, don't plant a lot, just put in a few for yourself. I have seen radishes, turnips, parsnips, etc all go to waste because no one else wanted them/ knew what to do with them.
Jacquelynn's experiments 2011
So you know who to blame...
The raised beds were created because be don't have the time, labor, or knowledge to create a terrace like those on the upper beds. When the top bed was taken to be used as a greenhouse site Kenny created the infamous Third Terrace, which was basically tilled until the meadow stopped trying to regrow. Unfortunately the slope is quite steep here and as a result water, nutrients and soil all washes down into the meadow below. In an effort to improve the soil, water retention and stop the erosion we have constructed 8 12 by 4 raised beds out of 2x12 Hemlock. I will be adding nutrients based on our soil samples and monitoring to see how they do this year.
The raised beds worked very well this year. Summer squash, tomatoes, and sunflowers did very well in them. I had trouble with broccoli and peppers but that may have had more to do with germination than anything else. They beds were easy to weed and to keep watered. I have not rechecked the soil after adding nutrients.
Recommendations for future years
I would recommend putting in more raised beds; they held water and soil on the lower slope. However, they do need to be mulched or else they will dry out very quickly. With thick mulch, straw or newspaper they did very well, especially plants that like to be warm. Do not plant in between the beds because people expect those spaces to be paths and will trample them.
The grow heap is simply a pile on partially done compost on top of some cardboard. The intention is to grow squash here to because squash love hot, rich soil. The theory behind this is that we will create a new space with fantastic soil and grow wonderful squash with almost no effort on our part.
We constructed the grow heap by putting down large pieces of cardboard on a previously unused piece of meadow and grass. We then put down a foot thick layer of partially composted material with some sawdust and older compost on top.
The grow heap is covered with various squash like plants and tomatoes and I didn't plant any of them! They are growing really fast and well. I have planted some pumpkins and hubbard squash as well just to see what happens. Which grows better: the squash that plant themselves or the squash I planted? I'm not sure what is growing on the heap, but it was all something that we had for dinner at some point and put in the compost. Only good things can come of this...
Results and Recommendations
The grow heap produced a lot of squash: some was planted, some planted itself, but it was all beautiful. If I were to do it again I would choose which plants I wanted. I chose to just let everything go and see what happened, I think that a bunch of squash was shaded out as a result. The book I got this idea from had said to thin out plants that you did not want, they were right. I would also recommend putting the beds farther away from the woods edge because it made it hard to access all parts of the heap. I think that keeping the grass short around the heap would have helped as well. The compost all broke down and now the soil looks beautiful, so the bed should be good for other crops in the future.
After reading many New Age garden books that all claim to have the best way I have decided to try inter-cropping with green manure. This means that I will be planting clover in some of the beds instead of mulching. The theory behind this is that it will keep down the weeds, hold soil moisture and fix nitrogen (because I'm using clover) while not competing with the crop. In the fall the green manure will be left on the fields were it will be tilled in come spring added all of the nutrients back into the soil. I have three kinds of clover: Dutch (also called Dwarf) White Clover, Medium Red Clover and Sweet Clover to be used in different parts of the garden.
Results and Recommendations
I have had mixed results with the clover. I used a tall clover between the carrots and onions which did not work. It kept weeds down but also kept the carrots down. Under the squash the dwarf clover did well. I tried a mulched melon bed and a clover covered melon bed and I think that the mulched bed worked better over all. For weed control and soil moisture, I had better luck results with mulch however, the soil may be better where the clover was.