High Tunnel Heat

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Yesterday, temperatures in Gibsonia creeped into the high 30s, which cranked up the temperature in the solar high tunnel to 90 degrees! I was dressed for 15 degree weather (which is how cold it was when I left my house in Pittsburgh in the morning), so upon entering the SHT I had to remove several layers, including one pair of pants.

Some of the greens seem to be struggling in the heat, so we removed the Agribond and plastic covers and gave them a healthy drink. The kale is looking the best, and the radishes we planted between rows are starting to germinate. We broke up some of the compacted soil and prepared the beds for more planting. More greens!

 

We’re Back!

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Anna and Megan uncovering the winter greens in the hoop house.

 

After three weeks away from Eden Hall, the Graduate Assistants/Associates have returned to a completely different farm. A light fluffy blanket of snow and single digit temperatures have replaced the mild sunny days of late fall.

Our work is mostly confined to the controlled growing environments (the greenhouse, hoop house, and solar high tunnel), where we have been continuously seeding and planting winter greens. Kale, Swiss chard, tot soi, and claytonia have been among the favorites from the solar high tunnel. The hoop house also contains a variety of winter greens, including endive, mizuna, and spinach. Each was planted twice so that we could perform an experiment with Biplantol solution. Biplantol is an organic solution that was developed by horticulturalists to strengthen plants and soil (bioplantimport.com). We thought that we might see improved growth in the beds that received biplantol, but so far we have not been able to ascertain a difference.

Temperatures in the solar high tunnel, greenhouse, and hoop house can get up into the 70s and 80s during a sunny winter day, but at night the temperatures plummet back down to freezing. In an attempt to keep the plants from freezing at night, we have been covering them with sheets of plastic and Agribond draped over plastic hoops. Each time we enter one of the controlled growing environment structures, we remove our own layers, hats and gloves and then proceed to uncover the greens. We check for healthy growth rates, scout for pests, and remove any weeds that may be competing for resources. When we are ready to head back out into the winter chill, we bundles ourselves up and then tuck in the greens, wishing them a good nights sleep.

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The greens in the hoop house are tucked in with Agribond and love!

As delicious as greens are (we have been enjoying raw tot soi by the handful), we have begun to dream of ripe tomatoes, fresh basil, and hot peppers. These plants are not hardy enough to be grown in the solar high tunnel or the hoop house during the winter, so we must wait until summer before we can dive into a crispy salad that consists of more than just lettuce. January is when the greens are tended with care, while thoughts of juicy summer vegetables (cukes! corn! okra!) swirl around in our heads and keep us moving through the thick winter sludge. Plans for the spring are most definitely stewing. Stay tuned for details.

Getting the Bees Ready for Winter!

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Despite the unseasonably warm weather at the end of 2015, we were busy winterizing the bee hives in preparation for the inevitable drop in temperature. We built a low wall out of straw bales to protect the hives from cold winter winds.

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We also cooked up a winter treat for the bees: bee candy! These blocks of sugar-based candy will be fed to the bees throughout the winter. They’re made using sugar (lots of it!) and a little bit of water and honey. We also added some propolis, apple cider vinegar, and Honey B Healthy (a mixture of spearmint and lemongrass oils that helps the bees’ immune systems). It smells so good, it could be human candy!

We also put together moisture quilts for the hives at the suggestion of local beekeeper Christina Neumann. The moisture quilts contain a layer of cedar chips that absorbs moisture accumulating in the hives, preventing it from dripping back down on the bees. Moisture quilts are commonly used in the Pacific Northwest, but aren’t seen very often on the East Coast. With Christina, Eden Hall is on the forefront of new beekeeping practices in the area!

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I’m excited to keep everyone up to date on the bees and I hope you’re staying as cozy in the cold weather as they are!

– Stephanie

 

 

Bee-utiful Eden Hall Honey

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For the past couple years, Eden Hall has been home to multiple bee hives. Currently, we have two thriving hives, managed by Food Studies graduate students who work on the farm. With help from the farm manager Allen Matthews and local Bee Queen Christina Neumann, our students have learned the basics of beekeeping and honey harvesting.

 

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This Fall, our graduate associates led a honey harvesting workshop for the Chatham community. Students who attended were taught some basic information about beekeeping, and also learned a little bit more about how these tiny insects create such a delicious product.

Then the honey harvesting began! Students took turns scraping the wax caps off of the honey-filled frames. The frames were then loaded in the honey extractor, four at a time. One student spun the extractor, while others held the machine in place. By centrifugal force, the honey fell off the frames and collected in a vat at the bottom of the extractor. From there, we bottled the honey, and got to taste the product of all the bees’ hard work this past year.

We also wanted to demonstrate some unique and different ways to use honey, so the group made two different types of mead (or honey wine). The meads are still fermenting away at the farm, and will be there for another couple months before we can taste them!

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The bees are currently happy in their hives, with plenty of food and “bee candy” for the upcoming winter!

-Stephanie and Cassandra

Exploring Eden Hall as an Agroecosystem

This past fall, I was given the opportunity to assist in designing and teaching a one-credit laboratory course for called Growing Sustainably.  This course, designed for undergraduate students in the Bachelors of Sustainability program, was meant to provide a hands-on, experiential exploration of Eden Hall while building on the students’ existing knowledge of agro-ecological principles.

Each week, the students explored different topics around growing sustainably by using Eden Hall’s many food production spaces as their subjects of examination, or “agro-ecosystems.”  Beginning with the foundations of food production, we worked through the basics of soil science, doing a simple soil jar test to find out what type of soil (based on composition of sand, silt, and clay) we have in each of the spaces where we produce food on the Eden Hall campus.  Then, we worked through soil test results from labs at University of Vermont and Penn State University, comparing the different agro-ecosystems, considering their historical usage, and the amendments and growing practices performed there throughout the past 4 years.

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In order to understand the growing process, we also explored the concept of seed germination in the greenhouse.  By setting up an experiment, in different teams that manipulated certain growing variables, such as light, moisture content, and seed position in growing substrate, the students were able to observe the results from this experiment and make comparisons to the controlled seed plates.  This resulted in not only an understanding of the importance of these environmental growing conditions, but a first-hand experience of growing in a greenhouse and how these conditions may vary based on the micro-climate created in a greenhouse. For instance, tomato seedlings next to your tray of seeds may provide the proper shading you want, or may deter the germination process.

 

 

In proceeding labs, students read and studied different alternative certification programs and acts as third-party certifiers, walking around the campus making recommendations for our growing spaces.  They also learned first hand about pest problems on the farm by setting up sticky card traps, using sweeping nets to catch and count pests, and observing crop damage in the solar high tunnel.  Upon learning these scouting methods and pest identification and recording techniques, the group of students then researched and presented their proposed methods of integrated pest management that could support the different agro-ecosystems for seasons to come.

 

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Vegetable weevil damage on a Pak Choi crop in solar high tunnel

In the second half of the semester, students pulled together the foundational agro-ecological principles and growing sustainably practices learned about to address complex growing problems, such as water conservation, soil fertility, and enhancing plant-microbe and animal interactions.  Through a series of observational studies, the lab class was able to identify where these positive interactions were happening and reasons for how the plantings or soil management might be aiding in these soil biological processes.  They also were able to make recommendations for increasing the soil biota activity.

 

The engagement and true passion for sustainable systems that I saw from this group of students each week was encouraging and inspiring.  I am grateful to have been a part of this lab course, and hope that it continues to give students a unique experience exploring the Eden Hall campus through its agro-ecosystems and through its evolving farm practices.

Out with the Old, In with the New

Our first round of lettuces and greens in the solar high tunnel was successful. After all of the lettuce heads were harvested for the two Chatham dining halls, we needed to break down the compacted soil, so that we could plant new seedlings. To do this, we had to use a broad fork, which helped turn over the top layer of soil. The results? Nice, loosened soil ready to be planted!

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We decided to plant rainbow chard, which sports brightly colored stalks and roots. Chard is a versatile leafy green and is part of the goosefoot family. Other members include beets and spinach. One of my favorite ways to use chard is in soups, so I am especially excited to have access to it during the winter.

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Hop Harvest!

We had a great hop harvest this fall! Our hop vines are a beautiful addition to our student garden fence!

In the fall, we cut down the bines (the hop vines) from their trellis and harvest the hops by hand.

We repurposed a drying rack from our root cellar to make a hop drying unit. We dry the hops in the greenhouse with a tarp for shading-the hops need to be kept warm and dry, but out of direct sunlight.

Now we have lots of dried hops for our Fermentation class and Fermentation club to brew beer! We’ve also made other hoppy projects, like hopped honey and fromage blanc with toasted hops!