Fall is a beautiful time of year – crisp air, leaves turning, and lots of delicious eating. I hope you are as excited about apples and pumpkin pie as we are! It does not feel like fall yet in east Tennessee. Our temperature still lingers around the 80s, however, we are hopeful for a cold front soon! Fall transplants are in the ground – kale, cabbage, root crops, fennel, and more are steadily growing. While hardneck, softneck, and elephant garlic is on the way and we are looking forward to planting it later this month. Our peppers, noodle beans, eggplant, Asian winged beans, and okra are still producing but we will probably finish those up in the next week or so. Cover crop is happily planted and ready for the rain today!
As farmers we often experience both growth and decline in the same breath. As tenders of the earth, we enjoy when things decompose and turn into beautiful green manures and compost. However, we also have moments when our plants decline unexpectedly or too fast. Mistakes and failures are hard lessons, yet we often learn more from them than our successes. Our most recent example of this came from our transplants and cabbage patch. We hand picked cabbage loopers and harlequin bugs almost daily. Then, we sprayed organic insecticide and felt hopeful we could save all of the plants. We could not, however, keep up with those very hungry pests. In the end, we felt it was better to not attract further pests to the garden so we ripped up an entire row of cabbage and fed it to the pigs. When we first noticed the decline, we decided to keep the other cabbage transplants in the greenhouse longer and potted them up to prevent further pest damage. We also lost several broccoli transplants, so we are hoping to use our hoophouse so that we can extend food to our teens into the winter months. Again, it is always exciting to share our feats, but as farmers we learn a lot more from our mistakes. Next season, we will definitely plan to play a more aggressive role in our pest management to keep these pests at bay. Thankfully, we did learn quickly enough to save a bunch of our kale in the field by using row cover along with intentional early morning hand picking to keep pests out.
One of the exciting things we have experienced is our first crop of roselle here at the farm. Roselle is related to hibiscus and has beautiful flowers. Many parts of this wonderful plant can be used for food and medicinal purposes. The leaves, flowers, roots, and fruits can all be utilized to make sauces, jams, and tea. Bakers can even substitute roselle calyces for rhubarb in their pies! One of our favorite uses is eating the leaves right off the plant. Several teens snacked on roselle leaves in the garden during our last class. The leaves have a fresh lemon-like quality to them and can be used in summer/early fall soups, chopped up into a fresh salad, or eaten right from the plant for an extra zing in your day!
Our garden teen group had a class on worm bins and were able to take home their own. We discussed the important role of worms in the garden and our food chain as decomposers. Teens dug around and Many noted how “soft and fluffy” the soil was in the bins. As they prepped their bins, teens drilled several holes to allow air circulation. We then had lots of paper scraps that teens shredded for their bedding and spray bottles to help keep the bedding moist. Our class then reviewed the process of vermicomposting and discussed how to properly care for their worm bins. At this time, I (Ms. Kathleen) shared a personal story about a former worm bin that dried up on a kitchen counter. I had moved the worm bin inside during the cold weather and did not realize how much someone had turned up the heat….until I saw my worm bin the next morning. Unfortunately I did indeed witness a Texas Worm Massacre. Scores of dead and dried up worms were all over the counter, floor, and drawers. I strongly encouraged teens to check on their worm bin in the beginning every single day so they could get into the habit of taking care of it. One of the consistent underlying lessons we have stressed regarding the garden is the power of observation. When we have our eyes on our gardens, worm bins, etc. we are more likely to notice when something seems off or amiss. The teens were very excited to take these worms home with them and soon we are going to do a check in to see how everyone’s worm bin is doing.
In other news, today is the first day of our teen retreat. We are using this opportunity to encourage team building, leadership skills, community building, and critical thinking while having lots of fun. Throughout our retreat we will participate in an Escape room, eat meals together, participate in activities at Wonderworks, and hopefully enjoy a fun round of putt putt. We look forward to sharing how our fall garden and classes progress. Later this fall we are planning to dig deep into season extension. We will cover overwintering vegetables as well as how to utilize our hoophouse to grow food for the winter. Until then, we hope you grab a delicious apple cider slushie from your local orchard and enjoy the fall season!