April Means Farming
It’s been what seems like ages since the last post in March. Almost needless to say, March and April so far have been busy. Let’s catch up:
Good Food Festival in March was great. Lots of networking, learning about new farmy things, and interesting conversations. A few that stand out:
Mark Shepard of New Forest Farm. Without seeing (at least in pictures) the farm it’s tough to describe but in short it is a perennial permaculture farm. Meaning, most of the plants are ones you only plant once and then every year they come back or keep growing. For instance apple trees, hazelnut shrubs, mulberries, and about a hundred others. They all work together by giving each other what they need in terms of nutrients out of the air and soil, while simultaneously rebuilding the soil and cleaning the air (take in CO2, release O2). Mark told me about his farming approach, one he calls the “STUN” method. Shear, Total, and Utter Neglect. He doesn’t spray anything and doesn’t need to fertilize. The animals he keeps, chickens, ducks, and hogs graze different parts of the 100+ acre farm collecting nuts, berries, etc after he’s gone through and harvested the same, thereby fertilizing the soil. Anyways, look it up if you’d like to know more or leave a comment with questions at the bottom.
The other is a person I already knew, Irv of Irv & Shelly’s Fresh Picks. Their food service business is somewhat like a cross of a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture), where you get a box of fresh fruits & veggies, and a home-delivery grocery store. As soon as we figure out some packaging and logistical concerns we hope to supply them with sprouts and produce from the roof in the next month or two. Keep an eye out, or look at their website now to see how you can get local stuff delivered to your doorstep.
Alright, on to the farming itself, or pictures thereof. Indoors first. Preparing soil and starting plants ahead of the season are two vital parts of farming, maybe especially so in an urban setting, and on a roof. Photo of the general space and some of the clutter that’s been added:
Right around the beginning of 2012 I started collecting food scraps from one the juicebars I supply with wheatgrass. This was previously going into the dumpster and headed for the landfill. Instead, I pick it up and feed it to my worms. They in turn poop out what is essentially fertilizer/soil. Here are some numbers, in three months (as of today) of collections, I’ve picked up 3000 pounds of food scraps from this one juicebar! Here is a few hundred pounds worth:
Another interesting thing about compost is that the process generates heat as the worms, bacteria, fungi and other microbes (most are perfectly beneficial) move around and dine. Well, the space was unheated through the winter, on the north side of the building (no sun), above a drafty back dock, and without any windows. In short it was a very cold room until we got busy with it. In that composting thing is a little thermometer, similar to a meat one with a 6 inch needle. Take a look for yourself; nope, that’s not a joke.
Apparently, a pile that hits 125 degrees Fahrenheit tends to heat up the room a bit…
Moving along. To get more out of a shorter growing season in Chicago many plants can be started indoors and then transplanted outdoors once the weather is warm enough (but who knows this year >:| ) and the plants are a bit bigger. In that indoor space shown above we put in some grow lights and racks for the various plant starts.
Those raspberries are technically transplants from my sister’s and mother’s gardens but they still need to grow a bit before going on the roof, where it is windy and cold. Speaking of the roof. The first system was finally completed today after some last adjustments. If you came to volunteer a couple weeks ago, you may recognize some of your work.
It was quite windy today, which reminded me of how important it is for the living hedge to be functional ASAP. Another set of volunteers worked on this as well, and if it wasn’t for an incorrect measurement on my part it would already be operational. Not to fear, should have this fixed by week’s end.
…and here we are. This has been a long email, but with lots of pictures! Ok, much more work to do and we hope to be better at documenting everything for your viewing pleasure. Many more pics than the ones here should be on the flickr page soon.
As always, feel encouraged to post comments, questions, concerns, whatever in the comment section below.
–The Urban Canopy