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Sweet potato success and more

And now, to finally follow up on those s­­weet potato slips…they grew to produce about 2,300 lbs. of quality roots! What a haul.

Volunteers, including some of the Jamie Kirk Hahn Foundation folks, provided some much needed muscle for ripping out 800 feet of vines and digging. (At the end of one big work day we all we rewarded with BBQ cooked on site.) We also had help from Inter-Faith Food Shuttle staff and volunteers.

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A second fertilization and planting them in an area that had been only minimally tilled since the last season made a big difference, we think.  The yield of usable tubers would’ve been higher, but some unwelcome residents did quite a lot of gnawing on them – and they helped themselves to the watermelons, too.  The rodents hide under the vine cover, and our red tailed hawks don’t seem to spot them.  (A local family with hogs on their homestead made use of the mangled potatoes.)

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Apparently our Bland co-worker Marcos is quick on the draw. This little guy was released into the woods. (Yes, we know we lose our farmer cards for this.)

Our tomato yield was this season’s disappointment. We lost the battle against tomato fruit worms, and overall plant vigor and fruit production was low. This probably had something to do with the plants having to deal with the hoop house soil, which was compacted from grading during the structure’s construction (boy, we put that tiller through the ringer).  When it comes down to it, soil is everything.

But crop diversification helps balance out these kinds of losses. In addition to the sweet potatoes, our watermelons performed fantastically. We harvested about 4,500 lbs. of juicy goodness from 800 feet.

 

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Alfie, Laurie and Jamie (some of the Bland Landscaping crew) with our first – and biggest – watermelon, a Carolina Cross.  Unfortunately, this 50-lb sucker was misleading, as most of the fruit ended up succumbing to blossom end rot.

This summer we’ve expanded our operation to include “selling” some of our produce to Raleigh restaurants, including Garland, Poole’s Diner and Beasely’s, in exchange for a market-value donation to the non-profit organization Passage Home. Passage Home’s mission is to break the cycle of poverty for communities in Wake County by connecting families and neighborhoods to resources and opportunities. (The rest of our produce is still routed to Inter-Faith Food Shuttle and other organizations that feed the hungry.)

Growing crops for chefs has provided new challenges. For one, we have to be even more aware of the vegetables’ appearance, so minimizing insect and disease damage is even more of a focus. Because we’re growing for chefs who like to get creative with their dishes and sometimes cook with less common vegetables, we’ve also gotten to venture into new crops, such as tatsoi, pink-eyed peas, meslcun mix and daikon radish. And we get to have a little more fun when seed ordering: things like purple carrots, green striped tomatoes and orange watermelon are possibilities now!

And another way we’ve grown – this fall we welcomed a second full-time employee, Anna Brockenbrough, as our farm technician. Anna comes from a culinary arts background, which is quite helpful now that we’ve stretched into the world of chefs. She’s interested in the slow food movement and horticultural therapy.­­­­ She volunteers at the Helping Horse Therapeutic Riding Center in Wake County. Anna is known to be a bit mischievous and has an uncanny ability to sing a line or two from a song and get it stuck in people’s heads all day, her specialty being ‘80s pop tunes­­…

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Our new farm technician/farm hand, Anna, showing off some Beauregard sweet potatoes. 

Here are some more pictures of our summer bounty. Our onions, okra and potatoes did well, and with the help of volunteers we made about 50 beautiful garlic braids from some of the bulbs we harvested and then dried in a shady, warm building:

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Texas Red Grano onions

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Volunteers Anne and Marymar harvesting spuds.

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We couldn’t keep up with the Clemson spineless okra!

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We loved seeing one volunteer teaching another how to tell when a garlic bulb is mature and ready to harvest. (It’s a little tricky.)

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Hunter taught us to braid garlic and thought to interweave some beautiful rosemary.

And as always, we focused on creating habitat and food sources for beneficial insects:

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Swallowtail butterfly on one of our thousands of zinnia blooms. The swallowtail also laid eggs on the nearby fennel, which the caterpillars munched away at. 

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“Short Stuff” sunflowers drawing bees to the watermelon vines.

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Mammoth variety of sunflowers, living up to their name.

 

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Dragonfly visiting the hoop house.

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Gorgeous buckeye moth.

Well, that’s quite a bit of info – in the next post we’ll talk fall crops. Thanks for reading!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Sweet Potatoes for Days

Another guest blog by VIP Volunter Cayla.

Sweet Potato Palooza

With the sunshine finally returning after a rainy week and with the help of awesome volunteers, we planted 800 feet of sweet potato slips!

 

Volunteers, including a group from the Jamie Kirk Hahn Foundation, are to thank for this huge gardening success on May 24. The volunteers helped prepare the soil, dig holes, transfer the plants and set up the watering system.

The great day was topped off with a delicious cookout for the workers and volunteers. We are so proud of the Palooza and cannot wait for the harvest!

What else is going on at the farm?

As always, the chickens have been keeping themselves busy. Besides squawking for treats, chickens play an important part on the farm. Because they are free range, they roam around the farm eating pesky insects and creating fertilizer. The chickens’ playfulness and curiosity are definitely the highlight of many volunteer visits!

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One of our Barred Rock hens. (Photo credit/Cayla Rodney)

The peak week for strawberries has come and gone, leaving our baskets overflowing with delicious fruit! We are very excited about the big harvest, but are sad to see the fruit’s season come to a close.

up close strawberries (Cayla Rodney)

The berries, grown in a two-year bed, were perfectly sweet and tart.

cayla baskets of berries (photo by Cayla Rodney)

Earli-Glo far outperformed the Jewel variety, which was plagued by rot from all the rain. (Photo credit/Cayla Rodney)

Nothing tastes better than a strawberry straight from the vine. So why not grow some right at home?

The best season for planting strawberries is in the spring or fall. These plants love the sun and need at least eights hours of direct sunlight a day. Plant them about 12-18 inches apart allowing a lot of room for their runners to grow. Make sure to set the roots deep, but don’t bury the crown. Keeping the area mulched will reduce the need for water and reduce the likelihood of invasive weeds.

No space for a garden? Strawberries are able to grow in jars or pots!

For detailed information on growing strawberries, go to http://content.ces.ncsu.edu/strawberries-in-the-home-garden

Meet our first guest blogger

Well, we’ve been scrambling so hard on the farm that we’ve got quite some catching up to do on the virtual side of things. Here to start us off is a hard-working new volunteer who wants to share what she’s learning. 
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Cayla harvesting strawberries during their production peak this week.

Hello! My name is Cayla Rodney, and I am a journalism major at East Carolina University. While home for the summer I will be volunteering at Burkett Farm and will be a guest blogger. I hope you enjoy my posts, and happy farming!

Rocket Science – Farming Edition

When you think of a farmer, what do you visualize?

I always imagine the stereotypical tractor riding, tobacco chewing and terrible tan line-wearing farmer. But when I met Jamie, the farm manager of Burkett Farm, she certainly did not meet any of those expectations. Instead, I met a former journalist who decided that the farming life is the life for her. But as I have learned, it is not all that simple because farming is far from simple work.

In fact, farming is an intricate science. Making sure the plants do not develop diseases as numerous as those a human could contract. Or rotating the crops to ensure the phosphorus and nitrogen that was exhausted from the earth can be replenished. And dealing with the ultimate dictator – Mother Nature. Farming is a theory in science that has been revised and rewritten for centuries. Burkett Farm has learned to embrace these intricacies and has created a place where the community can become educated on growing their own food.

Working on the farm with Jamie for my first day was exciting because I began to see the endless benefits of sustainable farming. I also saw an overwhelming sense of generosity from Jamie and the founders of Burkett Farm as they strive every day to feed the hungry in the Triangle.

As a volunteer, I am thrilled to be able to be a part of this mission, and I cannot wait to share everything I learn about growing produce sustainably. I will be posting updates on what we are working on as well as tips on how to get started at your own home. It is time to shed the stereotypical image of a farmer and replace it with an image of you!

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Cayla learning hands-on about the life stages of the Colorado Potato Beetle. The leaf devouring pests infested a patch of potato plants. We shook off the larger larvae into a bucket of soapy water (and hand squished some, too) before spraying with spinosad, an organic pesticide. 

Huddled hens and a hoop house

Winter finally arrived last week, greeted by puffed up chickens.

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Our farm is a wide open parcel of land on a hill, and when the wind whips, the Scottish moors come to mind.

But in the late fall the chickens shed their old feathers and grew vibrant new ones – the molting process – so they’ve got lots of nice insulation. Yankee had the toughest molt, and her big, beautiful upright comb still isn’t the same. Here she is mid-molt. Can you say pitiful?

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The humans, at least, are happy to finally have winter. December was *the* warmest and wettest on record for the contiguous United States. The plants and trees were confused, and many of our strawberry plants formed fruit that was subsequently zapped by January freezes. The blueberry bushes were dangerously close to breaking bud. Global warming, El Niño and the jetstream are to blame. Here’s a succinct explanation of what global warming could mean for farms.

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Strawberry blossoms in December. Not normal.

As for the harvest, the cabbage is done, and we’ll clear out the turnips next week. Spinach is growing at a winter pace and will be cut as whole plants in late February.

The 300 feet of garlic is doing great. A volunteer and I broke heads into cloves and pushed each one a few inches into the soil, spacing them five inches apart, then added a three-inch layer of leaf mulch.

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We planted five varieties of garlic in November.

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One month’s growth.

And the biggest news: we’re getting a hoop house! We tilled up the garden where it’ll sit, in preparation to grade the area flat.

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Jamie having fun on the antique tractor.

We’ll assemble the kit in March, a roughly four-day process. Here’s a picture of the process, taken at a workshop at the Crews and Brodie Farm, an urban community farm in Henderson, N.C.

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The steel structure, covered in a sheet of plastic, extends the growing season by insulating row crops during cold periods and, in a nutshell, reduces the spread of disease, insect damage, erosion and weeds. In a future post I’ll go into more detail about all of the benefits.

We’ll also use the hoop house, or high tunnel, as a temporary greenhouse for growing seedlings.

That’s the latest round-up. Thanks for reading!

 

 

 

Heading into winter

This season is bringing some much-needed calm to the farm after an intense and productive summer. With the help of two dozen volunteers from the N.C. State Poultry Science Club last weekend, almost all of our aisles and beds are mulched, and our row cover is set up so that we can trap the soil heat overnight to protect crops from sub-freezing temperatures. Their contribution was just what we needed to get everything in place before Sunday night’s freeze.

And to catch you up on the recent harvests: We donated 1,200 lbs. of sweet potatoes! Some of the harvest was lost to little rodents, but the severely damaged tubers went home with Mark, one of the Bland Landscaping crew members, for the hogs he’s raising. (The oinkers quite appreciated the treats, he tells me.)

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Volunteer Cody working hard on the sweet potato harvest.

We grew Beauregard (this regional stand-by was the most productive), Georgia Jet, Vardaman, Hernandez and Centennial varieties. Thanks to all the volunteers who ripped away vines and dug out the treasure.

Unfortunately, we had to harvest the collard greens as whole plants instead of harvesting bunches of leaves throughout the winter.

After noticing a yellowing and mottling of the outer leaves of our cabbage, collards and other cole crops, we submitted a plant sample to NCSU’s Plant Disease and Insect Clinic (one of the school’s many amazing resources) for identification. The bad news was that our transplants had arrived infected with a black rot of crucifers, a vascular disease for which there is no treatment. Heeding the pathologist’s advice, we decided to harvest the 400 row feet of collards while they were still ahead of the disease.

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We filled two pickup truck beds with Champion, Vates and Georgia collards.

As you can see from Mark’s “Gorton’s Fisherman” suit (he’s from Maine – we can’t help it), this fall has been rainy! Late September/early October brought two straight weeks of rain.

The timing could’ve been better. That period is important for getting rapid growth on the plants before the cold hits, and our beets and carrots were seeded toward the end of the planting window as it was. We had some rotting of beet seedlings, but with our well-draining soil, we had relatively little damage all around.

When the sun returned, the chickens couldn’t get enough of it (and neither could we humans). They spent half the day just catching some rays.

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Sun worshipers.

As for our other harvests, the cauliflower and broccoli stayed ahead of the black rot.

We’re hoping the cabbage will head up soon. The plants are stunted from the disease, but it’s looking like we’ll have some beautiful and nutritious, albeit miniature, cabbage heads.

In other fall news, it’s the time of year when we just have to hope for the best for the honeybees. They’ve collected the nectar and pollen that hopefully will fuel them through the cold months. (We did not harvest any honey this first year.) We combined our two hives because we weren’t confident about the smaller colony’s ability to get through a possibly harsh winter. The cluster of bees may have been able to stay warm enough, but instead of risk it, we went for one large mass of bees. We plan on splitting the colony in the spring if it thrives.

Here are some shots from inside the hives this summer:

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From left: capped honey, drone (male bee) brood and worker (female) bee brood.

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Collecting some bright orange pollen.

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Uncapped brood (still in the larval stage) and capped brood (pupating).

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Excellent brood pattern.

In the last picture you can see that the stronger colony’s queen is excellent, as she missed very few cells while laying eggs. Before combining the hives, we had to kill the queen from the smaller colony so that that its bees would adopt the strong queen as their own without the queens fighting to the death.

Here’s hoping that this winter will be good to our bees – and our carrots, beets, turnip greens and garlic.

 

 

 

Summer bounty!

Our first year of harvest almost has come to an end, and the fourth season provided quite a bounty! With the help of some hard working volunteers, we’ve surpassed our first goal for the amount of donated produce. This calendar year we’ve provided 5,683 lbs to the Inter-Faith Food Shuttle and other charities.

Some of our donations included pole beans, “stoplight” peppers, watermelons and potatoes:

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And tomatoes, tomatoes, tomatoes. We’ve picked more than 2,700 lbs of them. We used three trellising methods – the Florida weave, hanging string, and cattle panels. The tomatoes on the cattle panels (16-foot long sections of fencing) were the clear winners. The stems were guided through the squares of the panels and had an extremely sturdy support system, although we did have to do some supplemental trellising with twine. And just as importantly, the plants had good air circulation.

There is quite a time investment in erecting and then taking down this kind of trellis and ripping out all those twisting vines, but it’s worth it. One 100-foot row has produced more than 500 lbs of tomatoes  – a wonderful variety called “Ozark” – and it’s not finished yet! Here’s a photo with Angela, who helped to drive the posts into the ground and attach the cattle panel.

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Angela earned the title of Most Hard-Core Volunteer after this project.

Of the many open-pollinated tomato varieties we planted, the most impressive in terms of yield were Ozark, Brimmer, Neptune, Illini Star, Abraham Lincoln, Eva Purple Ball, Stone, Homestead and Brandywine (all slicers). Dr. Carolyn, a tasty yellow cherry tomato, was prolific as well.

Brimmer

Brimmer, a low-acid, thick skinned variety, produced very well despite being knocked out by anthracnose earlier than the other tomatoes.

Most of the tomato plants have stopped producing or their fruit is of very poor quality, due to fungal diseases including blight and anthracnose. Also, fruit worms and a plague of stink bugs really took over in the last few weeks. We’ve begun tearing out the rows out to make way for fall plantings.

The cool-season crops already in the ground are growing well so far, including these collards.

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We farm workers have enjoyed witnessing nature’s speed and bounty in these hot, humid months, but we sure do welcome cooler weather with open arms.

Goodbye, beautiful and steamy summer!

Goodbye, beautiful and steamy summer.

Thanks for reading- the next post will include our sweet potato and honeybee reports.

Spring success

The first spring season taught Burkett Farm workers a lot about the piece of land we’re tending – like which weeds have a stronghold (horse nettle, for one), where the water collects after a hard rain, and how fast the Colorado potato beetles can find our plants!

It also revealed that the soil in the two new fields is just as fertile as the older ones. We grew beautiful cabbage, scallions, carrots, snap peas, lettuce and more.

With volunteers’ help, we’ve donated more than 2,500 lbs in 2015. Most has been distributed by Interfaith Food Shuttle.

Lisa, one of the volunteers, with some Danver carrots.

Lisa, one of the volunteers, with some Danver carrots.

The farm produced about 300 lbs of cabbage.

Volunteer Andrea with  scallions.

Volunteer Andrea with some Evergreen Hardy White scallions.

We’re also growing a nice population of beneficial insects! Planting herbs and flowers, minimizing tilling, and other sustainable agricultural methods have helped bees, wasps, ladybugs, dragonflies, spiders and other helpful bugs thrive.

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Every morning is a squash-blossom buffet for the bumblebees.

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The black swallowtail butterfly caterpillars munched away on the dill.

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Pollen-covered bumblebee resting on twine alongside a cucumber vine tendril.

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Spider on crookneck squash.

The Burkett Farm volunteers have been invaluable in their help. We make sure people get to help with a variety of tasks and learn a little something while they’re at it.

Students from N.C. State University’s Hands-On Horticulture class, along with their lecturer, Lee Ivy, were a big help last month when they spent a morning harvesting and washing vegetables, weeding, trellising cucumbers and mulching.

Volunteers from the NCSU

Volunteers from the NCSU “Hands-On Horticulture” class and Bland Landscaping Co.

The farm is bursting with summer growth, especially in the tomato gardens, and we welcome the community’s help.

Tomatoes on their way to  Interfaith Food Shuttle

Tomatoes on their way to Interfaith Food Shuttle

If you’re interested in lending a hand, please email Farm Manager Jamie Kennedy at jkennedy@blandlandscaping.com. Thanks for reading!

Angela feeding hens

Volunteer Angela feeding the chickens some treats.

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