Tierra Verde Farms

The Snarky Gardener toured Tierra Verde Farms, his favorite place to buy quality food, including grass fed beef, free range chickens and nitrate free pork.
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A curious cow.

Tierra Verde Farms (which roughly translates to Green Acres) is a local farm we discovered through a pamphlet at my doctor’s office of all places. A group of us from Kent Ohio Food Not Lawns showed up on a Sunday afternoon to get a personalized 2 hour tour from the owner, Mike Jones. We started in his store front as he explained that his farm is designed based on Joel Salatin’s Polyface Farms system of rotational grazing with chickens pasturing after cows, etc. It was easy to see from his presentation that Mike considers the animals part of his family, with all the emotions and attachments that entails.

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One of these is Maynard, our Thanksgiving turkey

After our talk, we started the walking part of the tour with the Thanksgiving turkeys. The Snarky Gardener had ordered one a few months back and wanted to meet him/her personally.  We found them gobbling away out in the pasture.  They came up to us as we looked like people with food.  Sorry guys, no food here!  Trying to find our specific turkey was impossible as they didn’t have name tags.

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Chicken tractor

From the turkeys we moved onto the meat chickens.  They were housed in “chicken tractors” that are moved every day so the chickens can get fresh stuff to eat.  Mike’s tractors were very well designed as they had automatic waterers and lots of fencing to keep out predators (hawks, coyotes, etc.).  Would love to have a smaller version here at Snarky Acres but I think that’s a few years away.

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Foraging pigs. The pink ones are for Easter hams.

Next on the agenda were the pigs.  They were fenced in under a stand of trees as pigs are forest dwellers in nature.  With this type of farm, it’s important that the animals get to be themselves as much as possible so they are happy.  These pigs are able to root in the mud and eat plenty of forage, including acorns and other nuts, just like they would in the wild.  Mike let us go in to see the pigs closeup though I think his idea was to give the pigs people to play with as they kept nipping at the back of our shoes.

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Mooooo

From the pigs we moooooved onto the beef cow pasture.  Beautiful brown cows welcomed us by staying together as a herd and looking at us warily.  Cows are herd animals and their ancestors survived by keeping together.  These particular cows are hybrids, which helps them be productive, much like an F1 plant has hybrid vigor (an interesting concept in the least).

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Egg laying chickens

Our final tour stop was the egg laying chickens.  They were truly free range with a portable trailer coop to lay eggs and receive shelter.  The chickens have been trained to come in by a certain time before the automatic door leaves them out in the cold and vulnerable to predation.   Mike told us that after the chickens reach two years old he sells them off for $5 a piece to home egg producers.  These older hens don’t produce as many eggs per week (3 to 4 versus 6 for younger chickens), but for a home raiser that should be plenty.  Never thought of buying a used egg chicken before (hmmmmm).

If you are interested in learning more or purchasing some meat products (but not Maynard, he’s ours), please visit their website http://www.tierraverdefarms.com/

Building Raised Beds Using Hugelkultur

The Snarky Gardener built raised beds using hugelkultur
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The new bed joins 3 previously prepared beds.  The green plants are a cover crop of turnips with a volunteer dill plant in the foreground.
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Same beds a month later

Hugelkultur is the German term for garden beds made with buried wood. The wood breaks down over time, providing garden vegetables with nutrients and moisture (as in you don’t have to fertilize and water as much, if at all!).  The wood does not have to be brand new as rotted wood is actually better is some ways.

This fall, I decided to utilize this technique to build four 8 foot long by 4 foot wide by 3 feet high raised beds.  In general raised beds are beneficial as they warm up earlier in the spring, keep humans (but not my dog) from compacting soil, and allow plants better drainage.  Usually raised beds are built with a frame around the soil, but my beds have no borders. After completing each bed, I planted cover crops (turnips, spinach and clover) to minimize winter soil exposure. My long term plan is to convert more of my garden into hugelkultur beds, but wanted to perform a trial first, as putting these beds in is labor intensive, with all the wood gathering, moving, and burying.

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Started with a dug out bed
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The middle of the hole is filled with heavy logs
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Branches, and bark fill in over the logs
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Dirt from the surrounding area is put on top of the wood

Many thanks to Paul Wheaton for his inspiring and detailed hugelkultur article – http://www.richsoil.com/hugelkultur/

A cool related podcast about hugelkultur – http://www.permaculturevoices.com/podcast/hugelkultur-what-it-is-when-is-it-appropriate-and-when-isnt-it-with-javan-bernakevitch-pvp082/

Save the Beans

The Snarky Gardener is managing his herd of Jacob’s Cattle beans.
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Jacob’s Cattle beans before the herd was split up

Saving bean seed is really easy. Allow your bean plants with with beans still attached to turn yellow and die off. Collect the seed pods. Open up the pods and there are your seeds. You will want to let these dry out completely before putting them in an airtight container (I use old vitamin bottles though glass jars will work also). Make sure to keep an eye on them over the winter as they could mold up if there was any moisture in them.

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After I do my “shelling”, I like to divide them up based how they look. Some will be deformed or have some flaw that makes them less than perfect. These will be put into the “eat me” pile. Jacob’s Cattle beans are specifically “dry” beans (think kidney or black beans), but I do eat some green.

So, you might be asking “Why does the Snarky Gardener bother with saving bean seed when it’s so inexpensive to buy at the store or online?” In a word, adaptation. These plants grew up in my garden with it’s specific conditions. Plus beans make the soil better, especially through their nitrogen fixing nodules.

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Fairly Snarky

The Snarky Gardener entered his vegetables in the local county fair.  Now the Snarky Girlfriend will never hear the end of it.
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The Snarky Gardener with his award-winning zucchini

A little while back, the Snarky Girlfriend picked up this year’s Portage County Randolph Ohio fair book. She thought it would be cool for us to enter some items just for fun. She had some photos she wanted to enter, including one of my dog River. According to the rules, our entry forms had to be in by 8/5 even though the entries needed to be onsite when the fair started two weeks later. Telling the future is hard with garden produce, though I did have the option to enter and then just not have them. Going with a conservative first-timer approach, I perused the book, looking for viable vegetable categories.

Vegetables not quite ready for the big show:
1. Tomatoes and peppers – behind all year with cool wet weather
2. Corn – a few weeks off, not sure they would be ready by then
3. Beans – they wanted a quart of beans and I didn’t have that many.
4. Swiss chard – would rather eat it then enter it
5. Carrots – not enough and/or too small

Showable Vegetables:
1. Red potatoes – Red Chieftain
2. Golden potatoes – Yukon Golds
3. Kale – Red Russian
4. Turnips – Purple Top
5. Zucchini Under 10 inches- Sure Thing from Burpee

We dropped them off on Sunday 8/17, the day before the first day of the fair.  Right away I realized something was amiss.  People with kale and Swiss chard were using jars of water to keep them hydrated.  The fair book said to do this, but somehow I didn’t pick up on it (oh well – lesson learned).  On the plus side, we didn’t see any other turnip entries, so I knew I had a good chance of winning something in that category.  The turnips I entered were far from perfect, as they had pits and marks on them.  From the Internet articles I read after the fact, fair entered vegetables should all be little clones of each other and as close to retail sale quality as possible.

On Thursday (a long 4 days later), we attended the fair with some friends to see how I did (at least that’s how I saw it).  They seemed to be interested in other things first, like seeing the Snarky Girlfriend’s pictures (she won a second place ribbon for a flower picture), and eating fair food.   Finally we arrived at my vegetables and lo and behold, some had ribbons!  Two firsts and a second (yeah).  My red potatoes didn’t win (3rd place out of 3) as they were noticeable smaller and less uniform than the other competing entries.  But my Yukon Golds won second place (out of 4) – not bad at all.  My sad turnips garnered a first place ribbon as they had no competition.  But the topper was my zucchini which earned 1st place out of five.  Mine seemed to look the most like the ones you see at the grocery store.  Now I just have to figure out what I’m going to spend all the prize money on.  I wonder what I can purchase for $5.50?

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Zucchini 10″ and Under – First Place out of 5
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Root Vegetables – Turnips – 1st place out of 1
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Golden Potatoes – 2nd Place out of 4

Groundhog Love

The Snarky Gardener discusses not his love for groundhogs, but what groundhogs love to eat from his garden.

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For the garden, groundhogs are very destructive. They have great appetites and can wipe out a whole season’s productivity. Fencing does help, although groundhogs are known for going under or over to get at the buffet the Snarky Gardener has provided. After seasons of experience, the SG has developed a strategy to mitigate vegetable loss. Below is a list of groundhog favorites and another list of those that have never been touched. Some of the “groundhog safe” plants have even been grown outside the fence with no munching, including garlic, onions, turnips, and various herbs. Going forward, more of these will be planted outside the fencing and efforts will be redoubled (more fencing!) to keep these little guys out of the good stuff.

Groundhogs have never munched on:
Turnips
Garlic
Onions
Leeks
Herbs (lemon balm, thyme, sage, basil, rosemary)
Tomatoes
Potatoes
Peppers
Zucchini (bush)

What groundhogs really love (in order):
Broccoli
Carrot tops
Sunchokes
Peas
Beans
Cucumber leaves
Kale
Spinach
Lettuce
Corn (pulled down the stalks to eat the cobs!)
Pumpkins (the outside of the fruit)

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Abundance

The Snarky Gardener writes an abundance of words about abundance.  Imagine that.
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Too many snow peas? I think not.

To the Snarky Gardener, abundance means having plenty (even too much) of a thing. Often people are concerned with what they can’t grow or what’s not doing well because of pests, lack of sunlight, or poor soil. But if you take this “problem” and turn it on its head with abundance, your mindset totally changes. The question, “What can I grow a boat load of?”, offers up all kinds of possibilities. I believe food growers should build upon their successes, with new and experimental plants taking only a small amount of total resources, and removal of those that produce poorly. At Snarky Acres, that means growing more sunchokes, turnips, potatoes, tomatoes, beans, peas, kale, garlic, onions, greens, zucchini, corn, Swiss chard, comfrey, and herbs (especially perennials like mint, lemon balm, oregano, and sage). It also means growing less (or no) broccoli, watermelon, peppers, eggplant, spinach, and beets. It’s hard to stop trying with those fruits and vegetables we love to eat, but not everything grows well everywhere, even in the same relative climate.

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Too much mint or not enough mojitos?
How to create abundance:

1. Grow a lot more of what grows well.
2. Look for alternative resources (weeds, trees, native species)
3. Create environments where abundance happens naturally (perennials and self-seeding plants)
4. Save seeds, plant extra starts (tomatoes, etc), and start new plants from cuttings.
5. Grow in non-optimal spaces (shade, poor soil)
6. “Invasive” also means “Abundance”

How to utilize abundance:

1. Find trading partners (food swaps, seed swaps, time banks, neighborhood barter systems)
2. Learn to preserve (canning, freezing, drying)
3. Find other uses (dynamic accumulators, medicinal)
4. Learn to create products from your produce (extracts, salves, pesto)

You Had Me At Shiitake

The Snarky Gardener is looking forward to Shiitake and Chicken-of-the-Woods mushrooms in 2015
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The Snarky Gardener had to cut down a maple tree for inoculation.  Notice the lack of safety goggles or ear plugs – very professional.

The Snarky Gardener read a TimeBank ad for mushroom inoculation and jumped at the chance. For only 2 Time Credits (equals two hours of my time somewhere else), a mushroom expert came to Snarky Acres and put on a demonstration. I read up online to get the basic idea. First, I had to have fresh wood – 3 weeks or less old. And the wood had to be a hardwood like oak, maple, or black cherry. The timing was perfect as I’ve been wanting to cut up a pile of pine logs near my garden for a year or so. So I found a local tool rental place and rented me the biggest chainsaw they had (24″ inches) as the logs were quite big. Of course this was only the second time I’d ever used a chainsaw, so the Snarky Girlfriend watched to make sure I didn’t cut anything off my body (and to apparently make fun of me). As you can see by the photo, I’m not using ear or eye protection, but I was sure to wear the traditional lumberjack polo shirt. Fortunately, the logs and a six inch wide maple tree were cut without any injury to the Snarky Gardener or his ego.

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Tom (aka the Mushroom Expert) is putting wax on top of inoculation holes

On inoculation day, process went like this :
1.  Use fresh wood that’s been cut between fall and late spring (for nutritional reasons).
2.  Drill holes into the wood.
3.  Insert pre-treated plugs into the holes.
4.  Wax the holes to protectively seal them.
5.  Wait until next spring, keeping the logs in the shade and moist.
6.  Eat mushrooms for the next 5 years or so.

So now we just have to wait nearly a year before mushrooms will be eaten.

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The finished product

Top Late Planted Garden Crops for Northeastern Ohio

The Snarky Gardener lists the top vegetables to plant in July and August

Just because you didn’t get around to planting a garden in May and June doesn’t mean you have to go without for the rest of year.  The secret to planting in summer is knowing that the first frost of the year (usually in early October here in NEO) is your limiting factor.  So you need either vegetables that will be done fruiting by then or that can handle a little cold.  I’ve kept this list to direct seeded plants as it’s hard to get starts by the time summer starts.  Seeds can be obtained online, garden stores, and from friends.

Here’s my list:

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1.  Bush Green Beans

Many green beans are bush varieties, meaning you don’t have to have a pole (or corn) for them to go up.  The bush bean will usually produce within 60 days of planting but will only have beans for two weeks before the plants die off.

2.  Carrots

Carrots are a good choice as they can be planted through out the year and can handle frost.  Make sure to keep them watered until they germinate.

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3.  Short season corn

Believe it or not, there are short season varieties of corn which give you ears with 62 days of planting (like Early Sunglow).  Just make sure you get them in by the first of August to assure they have time to develop before it gets cold.

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4.  Zucchini

Bush zucchinis (like Burpee’s Sure Thing) are great for a short season with days to maturity in the 48 to 60 day range.  Just plant them in mounds and let them go.

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5.  Kale

Kale, which is related cabbage and broccoli, is a versatile plant that loves the cold but will grow will in the summer also.

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6.  Peas

Peas are a spring and fall crop, so it’s best to avoid growing them during the hot months of the summer.  To get them going in August, you’ll need to shade and water them diligently until temps cool down.  Starting them inside first and then transplanting them in September is also a possibility.

As you have noticed in this list, bush varieties of vegetables are the way to go for a short season garden.  Just remember to read the number of days to maturity and count forward to your first expected frost.

 

 

 

Cold Weather Corn Salad

The Snarky Gardener shows you that some food plants love the cold.
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Corn Salad or Mache

I first heard of corn salad (aka mache) while reading Four-Season Harvest: Organic Vegetables from Your Home Garden All Year Long, 2nd Edition by Eliot Coleman.  He discusses how some food vegetables can handle cool and cold weather.  Many of these are greens, like spinach, Swiss chard, arugula, and parsley.  The one that stuck out to me was corn salad.  This green was originally cultivated by European peasants who would forage for them in their spent wheat fields (corn is a common term for staple crops).  It seems to me this plant thrives in the cold, which is counter how many people see garden vegetables.

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Corn salad – 12/22/2013

Two years ago I naturalized corn salad in my garden so now it grows as a self seeding “weed”.  It starts to grow from previously dropped seed in August or September when we get a bout of cooler weather.  Once it grows up to a decent size, its edible in salads right up until the temperatures drop below freezing for highs (usually after Christmas in Ohio).  Then instead of dying, the corn salad will hold its own (without any cover).  Once the weather warms up in March, growth begins again and by May it’s sending out flowers and going to seed.  Of course, with protection (be it row covers or cold frames), the corn salad would be even more productive with the ability to reap any time over the winter.

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Corn salad going to seed – 5/14/2014

Easy Food Gardening