After weeks of muggy weather, fall dropped just in time for our Open House. We had a small but enthusiastic group of visitors helping us find the bugs in the compost and the snails pretty much everywhere. We also harvested the last of our tomatoes (many still green), plus more okra, peppers, and green beans, and picked a lot of wild asters. We’ve been slowly planting some fall crops, including brassicas and root veggies. We may try some winter planting experiments this year as well.
Cooler temperatures are definitely settling in with the arrival of fall. While our tomatoes are pretty much done, we’re starting to harvest squashes — both the butternuts we planted and the delicata that volunteered along the fence line. We have one more watermelon on the vine, plus peppers and eggplants still ripening. We’re trying to pull up all the morning glory we find along the fence, since it’s such a prolific seeder and takes over, binding the plants we want along the way. But it’s hard when it looks so pretty.
As we harvest and pull up spent crops, we’re starting to plant for cooler temps — arugula and spinach sowed by seed and brassicas started by seed for later transplanting. Coming next will be some cover crops and perhaps some winter planting experiments.
Jo and Keight attended a Greenthumb event on seed keeping and storytelling, led by Owen Taylor of Truelove Seeds and hosted by East New York Farms. Growing plants for the purpose of saving seeds is a bit different from growing plants for harvest, mainly in that it takes longer, as you want to leave the plants growing until the seeds are as developed as possible, usually far beyond the point you’d want to harvest the plant for eating.
We walked around the farm looking at different plants and their seeds, including the popular callaloo variety of amaranth and motherwort, learning how to tell when seeds are ready to be collected. One method Owen mentioned from experience on his farm is watching when the goldfinches begin snacking on a particular crop.
Afterwards Owen walked us through different seed saving techniques depending on the type of plant. Tomatoes, cucumbers, and other plants where the seeds have to be separated from the fruit itself benefit from soaking in water for several days until they begin to ferment.
Peppers are pretty easy to deseed and don’t require fermentation, and the beet seeds we worked with weren’t too difficult to strip off the dried stems by hand. But getting seeds from dried flowers can be more difficult, as with the motherwort and tobacco Owen brought, which required several stages of work to separate the seeds from the chaff. Starting by threshing the whole plant in a bucket with a stick through a few passes through different sifters (sadly missed getting photos of these steps while we were seed saving ourselves!). In the end, he used a vacuum powered separator which uses suction to separate that lighter chaff from the seeds.
In addition, the workshop touched on the deeper stories that seeds bring with them. Truelove Seeds offers rare and culturally important seed varieties, and Owen spoke to the journeys seeds have taken around the world over just the few hundred years, becoming an important part of one culture and then evolving into other cultures. Growing plants for the purpose of seed keeping ensures the health of those plants and decreases our reliance on large seed and seedling producers.
It also inspired us to be less anxious about our plants that go to seed before we harvest them — especially as we rarely harvest all of something before the point it’s less tasty for eating! It’s as an opportunity to save those plants for future sowing and have a hand in keeping those varieties alive in the grander sense.
It’s been a hot, wet summer, and the farm is still pretty lush and green (except for the tomatoes and cucumbers which are getting a bit blighted). We are finally finding out what some of our mystery, volunteer vines are: we have a honeydew melon (hanging on the fence, supported by a plant pot) and some delicata squash. Our butternut squash is also doing fabulous, and we’ll have a few melons from the straw bale.
Sadly, all our zucchini succumbed to the vine borers yet again. Here’s one of the plants with the tell-tale slits. They are so frustrating because the plants look so healthy until they suddenly start dying — at which point it’s too late to save them. We will have to be more aggressive with our vine borer prevention if we decide to try zucchini squash again. Luckily the borers are less interested in butternut and other winter squashes!
Elsewhere around the farm, we are excited about our new terraced beds behind the compost bins, some beautiful amaranth, volunteer okra, and the new upper pathway on the hill.
We’ve been a little remiss in updating our website over the last month, but not for lack of developments at the farm. (Plus we’ve posted some shorter updates on our Facebook page.) It’s been a great season so far; we have a lot of healthy plants and are already harvesting many cucumbers and eggplants, with the tomatoes, green beans, and okra beginning to come in as well. We successfully dealt with some powdery mildew on the cucumbers but lost a squash and a watermelon to vine borers — happily we have plenty of others that made it through un-bored. Our farmers have been excellent trellisers this year, keeping cucumbers and tomatoes off the ground and less likely to become diseased.
Our infrastructure committee has also been keeping on top of necessary maintenance. After realizing how water run-off down the hill has been piling soil up behind the compost bins, Phil cleared a path behind the bins (using the excavated soil to re-level the seating area at the top of the hill). We picked up some donated concrete parking stops to construct a retaining wall. There are more improvements in process, including a new path to the top of farm. More pictures to come!
We are a few days away from the summer solstice, and it is kind of the best time of the year at the farm. (Aside from when we can start taking tons of tomatoes home.) Everything is blooming and fruiting, and it hasn’t been too hot yet, so only the most tender greens have bolted and been pulled up.We replaced most of them with three rows of bush beans. There are only a few signs of pests, so we are mostly watering and weeding and awaiting those summer harvests.
We are also playing a new game we’re calling “Spot the mullein.” Mullein is a member of the snapdragon family that is a biennial and flowers in its second year. We’ve never planted it (that anyone present today could recall), but it has popped up in four different places around the farm. It has many medicinal uses, the leaves are good for the lungs and respiratory issues in general, and oil from the flowers is traditionally used for ear infections. Ours are just starting to bloom, and we hope it will seed itself again.
We’re gradually nearing the point of the growing season where things start getting really exciting. While we’ve been harvesting some greens and strawberries, our peas are finally blooming and some of our hot peppers are about to flower as well. Two weeks ago we planted more cucumbers, beans, and vining flowers along the fence…
… and the beans have shot up the fastest of them all!
As of this weekend, we are pretty much all planted. We have a few spots available for some late finds, but we seeded our dedicated kale bed and our straw bales, so we have fulfilled our initial planting plan, including achieving our goal of doing more companion planting, like our raised bed with onions and scallions paired with lettuces.
This year we have two bales, one with melons (watermelons and cantaloupe) and one with squashes (we have an heirloom spaghetti squash and then a variety of zucchinis). We’ll be watching these for one of our biggest pest nemeses, the vine borer.
One of the benefits of being a GreenThumb garden is getting support to help us farm better. A big part of that support is free materials, and most of our planting committee went out to East New York Farms this Saturday for a GreenThumb-sponsored plant giveaway. The event was very organized, with each registered garden receiving a number when they checked in and one person for each garden entering to pick out a tray of seedlings and native perennials. We chatted up a bunch of fellow gardeners while we waited for our numbers, sharing resources and contact info for further networking.
It was great for us to see such a large, well-run farm that hosts a weekly market during the summer, featuring local gardeners and vendors. While East New York is the neighborhood with the least grocery stores per capita in the city, they also have the most community gardens, in large part due to the stewardship of East New York Farms. Running three urban farms and one community garden themselves, the organization additionally provides support for over 60 gardens in the neighborhood.
Back in our little plot, we set to work planting up the beds, currently carpeted with a yellow-green dusting from our resident tree’s blooms. With the late start to spring, we’ve been a little slow out of the gate, so this was a good opportunity to jumpstart our planting. We picked up cucumbers, butternut squash, hot and sweet peppers, parsley, and traded out some tomatoes for eggplant with another farm. (Don’t worry, we have plenty of tomatoes coming — members of the Windsor Terrace Food Coop should look out next weekend for our surplus seedlings.) The Brussels sprouts that survived the winter have since gone to seed, which we are leaving until we are ready to plant in that bed, since they are so popular with the bees.
More to come soon as we continue planting out our beds!
Brooklyn is getting another round of snow today, but last weekend our Planting Committee met to put together a plan for our spring planting — this year going so far as to plot out not just locations as usual but also specific timing of when we’ll sow seeds or transplant seedlings started at home. Taking a look at the mostly empty beds, it’s hard to believe in a few months this space will be alive again.
But there is already signs of life around the farm.We have been puzzling over some mystery grass in a raised bed that might be wheatgrass. We had some Brussels sprouts up on the hill that made it through the winter, but now we’ll have to see if they make it through this snow! 😬 We’re guessing that Hellebore “Snow Love” should do just fine.
Recently Tom A and Jo went to an espalier fruit tree pruning workshop held by GreenThumb at the Know Waste Lands garden in Bushwick. We have a few pluot and apple trees that we’ve been neglecting, as none of our farm members have brought knowledge of pruning fruit trees. This was a perfect opportunity to gain both the skills and confidence — as well as supplies: they won a pair of pruners in the raffle! All of this was immediately put to use on the first balmy day of the year yet (a record-breaking 78º across the city).
Though the temps have dropped back to normal ranges, we are seeing bulbs start to come up, oregano coming back, and even some white blooms.
(pictures from Jo, Sarah, and the GreenThumb)