Summer term has come to a close and we welcomed the incoming Food Studies and Sustainability students to Eden Hall this weekend. Before summer slips away, here’s a recap of whats gone on at the farm this season:
Spring and early summer in the solar high tunnel –
The solar high tunnel provided us our first growing season for winter, spring and summer. When it was too cold early this spring, we were still producing greens, peas and some root vegetables.
Carrots means goodness
Thinning carrots multiple times produced the best looking carrot crop yet. It was a tedious yet cathartic endeavor. I can remember a few especially stressful mornings driving to the farm, being overwhelmed with thesis problems and work deadlines, not in the mood to deal with much of anything. Sometimes, you can find the answers you’re looking for in the soil. I was lucky enough to spend some time working on this task, hidden between rows of tomatoes, and letting some that stress melt into the background. The student garden, my lifeline I as refer to it, shifted my perspective as it often does. and A few of us have renamed this carrot bed “The Kelterborn”, after Matt, our farm assistant, who’s persistence and dedication made it the best carrot crop our student garden has seen.
Sunflowers doing what they do best
The sunflowers have put on a good show this summer, and they have been a wonderful habitat for our native pollinators.
Root vegetable love
One of my favorite farm tasks is harvesting root vegetables. Especially potatoes. Sowing early in the year, they are crops that require especially loose soil, repetitive mulching, and patience. But being able to dig, bare handed through the layers of mulch and soil to unearth these treasures is something I will never get tired of doing.
Preserving the harvest
In late August, I harvested elderberries and chokecherries for the Eden Hall harvest dinner in September. The plan is to make them into jam to compliment wood fired bread and goat cheese. Last year our berries were under intense pressure from pests, and our harvest was weak at best. The extra care taken this season was rewarded with healthy plants and a good harvest.
We often come across all kinds of creatures in our daily work. We do our best to identify them and learn about their roles in the garden and the larger ecosystem. Here are a few finds:
We are cultivating shiitake mushrooms on the farm and by soaking the logs, we can control when the mushrooms start fruiting. Sometimes when the conditions are just right a pallet of logs will produce mushrooms unexpectedly. One day I encountered another surprise. As I approached the logs, I saw a very odd looking mushroom, but the closer I got, I realized it was a baby robin. I was quite curious and he was naive. He let me get about 6 inches away to take his picture before he hopped down and ran into the trees. One of our favorite things to do with the shiitakes is to dehydrate and pickle them! This year we also made a delicious shiitake pate for the ASFS conference.
Color and wonder
Every Tuesday, we harvest produce for Parkhurst Dining Services. They cook forstudents at our Shadyside campus, East End campus, and starting this fall at Eden Hall. After we harvest, we wash, sort, pack and weigh it before delivery.
Each day at the farm we are faced with a multitude of tasks and problems to solve. This year we had a bigger garlic harvest and couldn’t enough room to cure the garlic in proper conditions (covered, dry and well ventilated). The solution was to use the pool house.
Work and Pick
Each summer, a team of students, faculty and staff volunteer at Eden Hall in exchange for produce. Allen treated them to a wagon ride out to the Elsalma field before hand weeding the popcorn.
Grain to bottle
This season, we took on growing rye for Wigle Whiskey. It was a constant challenge, but we learned a lot along the way. With our fearless leader Allen Matthews at the helm, we relied on the support of surrounding western Pennsylvania farmers and many others to get the job done. In the end, we produced about 3200 pounds of grain that should be enough for 2 batches of rye whiskey. It was a quite an adventure and we cant wait until we get to taste the the finished product!
Eden Hall Skies
As my term as a graduate farm assistant is ending, I will miss so many things about this very special place. Being able to escape the city, learning about sustainable agriculture and problem solving on a farm, working with an amazing crew of students and Allen who oversees it all has been one of my most meaningful experiences as a part of this program.
The view that I will miss the most. Eden Hall skies:
The future of Eden Hall
I would encourage any new student to get involved with the farm work at Eden Hall. You will be contributing to an incredible legacy and will be changed by it. You wont regret it!