Author: dwolfer

19 Jan 2018

Chicken of the Woods

Nature’s recyclers, known as decomposers, play an essential role in nutrient cycling within our deciduous forest. Organisms such as fungi and bacteria break down humus (dead or decaying matter) on the forest floor. Through this process, fallen logs and deciduous leaves are returned back into the ecosystem, enriching our soils with nutrients, and ensuring the future growth of plants. This fall at the Greenacres Water Quality Education Center, we’ve experienced abundant rainfall and mild temperatures, ideal conditions for the growth of decomposers. Featured in this post is a brightly colored shelf fungus known as Chicken of the Woods (Laetiporus sulphureus). This mushroom is prized as a local favorite among edible mushroom enthusiasts. Several pounds of this tasty mushroom can be found growing on a single log.  Over time, this mushroom will release millions of spores into the air. Spores that land and germinate on a neighboring substrate complete the lifecycle, growing another generation of nature’s recyclers. This fungus is just one of many different types of decomposers that will grow on this log, slowly breaking it down over the course of many years.

29 Nov 2017

Glacier Survivors

Take a peek around our area and you may notice some evidence from our past. Ice age plants are among us and have persisted over the past 10,000 years since the last glacier left Cincinnati.  Many of these plants hit their evolutionary prime during the beginning of the Cenozoic era when mega-fauna, which includes mammoths and giant sloths, roamed freely across North America. The fruit attracted these very large animals that would then eat it whole, travel very far distances and go to the bathroom, leaving the seed to grow in a new place with a bit of natural fertilizer to help it along. However, many of the plants that relied on mega-fauna for dispersal went extinct at the end of the Ice Age.  That being said, there are a few that have persisted despite the changes in environment.  This type of plant is called an evolutionary anachronism, meaning it is out of place in its current time period. Plants like the Osage-orange tree, with its large “monkey brain” fruit found a way to survive despite the fact that there are no animals that can eat and disperse it that way it was intended. Other plants like the Honey Locust, with its large seed pods and huge thorns are remnants of a time when the tree needed to protect itself from the huge animals who brushed up against them. These trees help to remind us of our history and reinforce the fact that the only thing that is constant in our world is change.

17 Jun 2015

Eliot Coleman Visits Greenacres

On Thursday, May 28th Greenacres’ garden staff had the privilege of spending the day with Eliot Coleman and his daughter, Clara Coleman. Both Colemans are experienced market gardeners with innovative spirits and a combined wealth of knowledge. The elder Coleman started his small vegetable farm in 1968, a back-to-the-lander who not only thrived, but revolutionized his field. Though perhaps not widely known outside the vegetable growing community, Coleman’s influence has indeed been tremendous.

It is difficult to tease apart the ways that Coleman has directly and indirectly influenced the tools and techniques used in Greenacres’ operation alone, as many have become the industry standard, synonymous with small-scale vegetable production. Coleman’s hoop benders (Quick HoopsTM), widely used at Greenacres, are relatively inexpensive tools that use locally-available materials to create the frame for low tunnels and high tunnels that protect plants and extend the growing season. Coleman also adapted the concept of the broadfork, used in both the Greenacres production and education gardens to aerate and prepare gardens with minimal physical strain on the user and without destroying soil structure. His wire weeder and collinear hoe allow shallow cultivation and weed control without disturbing crop plants’ roots or soil structure.

A glance through the Johnny’s Selected Seeds catalog reveals just how much Coleman has influenced the small grower with tools that streamline and simplify the operation, from mobile high tunnels to seeding tools. His four season growing tools and techniques are among his most important contributions. In Maine, where Coleman’s farm (with wife and renowned gardener Barbara Damrosch) is located, winter production presents extra challenges. For years, he has been identifying voids in the resources for producers of his scale and working to change this, designing and marketing tools through Johnny’s. Indeed, Coleman continues to innovate, bringing engineering students from the local university to his farm this summer to design tools.

When Coleman first met up with the Greenacres group in the morning he examined the Dutch hoe one staff member had been using, engagingly explaining the research and logic that had led him to develop the closely related collinear hoe, with its angle that allows the operator to use the tool while remaining upright (like dancing, according to Coleman). Many of Coleman’s innovations come from his travels to Europe (which he humbly reminded us), where he has met farmers, visited hardware stores (his favorite places to visit when traveling), and brought ideas back, adapting them for himself and other growers.

The day continued at Greenacres’ newest vegetable field, in its first year of cultivation since being converted from pasture. Coleman discussed the value of sod to act as a source of fertility that doesn’t require hauling (like compost); sod can be grown in place and tilled in. Over the course of the day the group discussed everything from possible locations for a high tunnel at Greenacres to irrigation methods to the best soil and sowing techniques for carrots. Coleman visited the site where Greenacres composts horse manure and he visited a field currently planted in cover crops, on its way to being reclaimed for vegetable production. He also spent time in the farm store discussing creative marketing techniques for Greenacres’ produce. The day’s conversations even included some ideas for new tools not yet on the market.

Coleman remarked on the privilege and responsibility that Greenacres’ producers have to, “learn things and tell people about it.” Indeed, with the recent instatement of Greenacres’ first Agriculture Resource Coordinator, the Foundation is collecting data across its production operations to scientifically evaluate its practices, from soil management to broiler chicken feeding.

A fascinating point of discussion was a technique that Greenacres vegetable garden manager, David Chal, has been using of covering the soil in thick black plastic to retain moisture and germinate weed seeds before planting. Coleman typically solarizes (heats) the soil using clear plastic to kill weed seeds down a few inches or uses a flame weeder to kill fast-emerging weeds before slow-germinating crops like carrots emerge. It was exhilarating to hear the discussion of each technique’s merits between growers with over 40 years’ difference between them in age, each as passionate and committed to continuing to develop his skills as the other. Coleman wisely suggested doing a study including these techniques to evaluate the effect on soil life.

When Coleman met with the education team we discussed our views on aquaponic growing for production and education, using an unheated hoophouse for education, our composting and farm-to-table cooking programs (including the value and challenge of involving parents), and creative ways to benefit the community with our produce while providing educational opportunities.

The day concluded with Coleman’s public address titled, “Nothing is Impossible.” He followed this theme throughout the keynote, discussing everything from his beginnings as a climber and kayaker to his innovations that refuted nay-sayers’ claims that he couldn’t grow tomatoes successfully in Maine, harvest vegetables through the winter, or attract customers to his somewhat remote property to purchase produce. It was an honor to listen to the words of a true pioneer who has inspired and greatly influenced countless small farmers and gardeners.