There are always exceptions. I know that tillage (Tillage is the agricultural preparation of soil by mechanical agitation of various types, such as digging, stirring, and overturning) does damage to the soil, but for the first time since I started the garden I decided to till. This is a long story. Last summer I planted Sunn Hemp in my fields for the third year in a row and in two particular areas it was showing signs of disease or nutrient deficiency or some other kind of stress. I was trying to figure out what to do about it when I ran across a webinar titled Crop Rotations: Conservation Benefits. I knew that rotating my covers crops was as important as rotating any crops, but I was ignoring the fact because I felt so comfortable with Sunn Hemp. Since it is a legume there were parts of my field that had been planted with legumes back to back for most of the three years. That’s where I was seeing problems. The webinar specifically went into the benefits of rotating cover crops and even mentioned no-till systems. The trick for me has always been that the research is not relevant in our sub tropical growing seasons. Most of the rotations from the webinar or any other resource aren’t good options for us. After some thought I decided to go with Sorghum Sudan Grass for a few reasons. Margie at Bee Heaven grows it alternating with Sunn Hemp and she gets good results; it’s a heat loving grass that produces high volumes of organic matter and it’s rated great at weed suppression. Oh and it’s nematocidal. That covers most of my priorities. The only doubt in my mind was related to it’s use in a no-till system. I am scared of grasses. They have enormous anchoring roots and they grow back after mowing. I couldn’t find any information about Sudan Grass used in no-till and there was no one I could call for advice. I spoke to one person, can’t remember who it was, and they said that I should try a small section first. They said that if the grass was cut at the right time it was less likely to grow back. Well, I jumped the gun and ordered enough seed for the whole field. I thought to myself, I need to try something new and worst case scenario I will have to till the field.
Last week I cut back the Sudan Grass and came back to the field a few days later, anxious to see if it was growing back. It was. Bummer. But I had a feeling it would because it had gotten really big and the roots were woody. So this week I rented the largest tiller available at Home Depot. I ended up with a Honda FRC800 Rear Tine Tiller which did the job in about 6 hours. It was a pain to maneuver in my field because of the odd shapes and tight corners and the tall grass got tangled in the tines so we kept having to stop to untangle the mess. Besides those issue I’d say it worked out pretty well. It looked and felt like there was a substantial amount of organic matter turned into the soil.
In a few days, after most of the weed seeds on the surface germinate (especially after the downpour today) we are going to go back in with hand hoes to get rid of them before direct seeding our carrots, beans, radishes and many different varieties of greens.
On the one hand we have a field of mature Sunn Hemp cover crop with bananas in the background as well as roselle, yucca and galangal in the foreground. On the other hand we have trays of the very first germinating seeds of the season, heirloom tomatoes and fennel.
Video credit: Carmen Rodriguez
Saturday, October 19th 2013
10am-3pm RAIN OR SHINE, FREE AND OPEN TO THE PUBLIC
At the Little River Marker Garden
October is the best time to start a garden in Miami if you want to get the most out of the growing season. Our 4th Annual Heirloom Tomato Seedling Sale is scheduled for Saturday October 19, 2013. We are preparing 25 varieties of heirloom tomato plants, peppers, eggplants, herbs and a wide selection of garden ready veggie seedlings! So many of you have grown our seedlings the past few years and expressed intense satisfaction. That’s because our seedlings are grown with care in our awesome home made compost with added peat moss and perlite for balanced water retention and air flow. NO PESTICIDES, NO CHEMICALS! They are started in 100% bio-degradable peat pots and fed organic fish spray once a week; you get them at 5-6 weeks so they are big, strong, healthy and ready to be transplanted.
This year we will also be selling our awesome home made compost. It is made from kitchen scraps, garden waste and horse manure, aged 1 year and freshly screened. Bring a 5 gallon bucket and we’ll fill it for $20. *Supply is limited, first come, first serve.
Choose from 25 different varieties of heirloom tomatoes, including cherries, medium sized, beefsteaks, paste and a new category this year, nematode and disease resistant tomatoes. We’ll also have herbs, 5 Asian eggplant varieties, 5 peppers, both sweet and hot and over a dozen vegetables to complete your kitchen garden. Check out the lists below for specific varieties!
All Tomato, Eggplant and Pepper Plants are $4.00 Each
All Vegetable and Herb Plants are $2.00 Each
Get One Free Plant For Every $20 Spent! Cash only
Black Cherry, Red Pear, Yellow Pear and our number one favorite Sungold.
Small and Medium Tomatoes:
Indigo Rose, Green Zebra, Black Prince, Amish Red, Garden Peach, Red Peach, Costoluto Genovese and a new one for us, Purple Calabash.
Rose, Gold Medal, Florida Pink, Black Krim, Aunt Ruby’s German Green, Chocolate Stripes and a variety we found which contains extra high levels of carotene, La Carotina.
Speckled Roman, Purple Russian, Roma Paste and a rare variety grown from seeds given to us from a friend who got them from a friend in Italy, Cuore Di Bue, which means bull’s heart.
Nematode and Disease Resistant Tomatoes:
Two varieties developed by the University of Hawaii, Anahu and Kewalo as well as Creole, an heirloom developed by Louisiana State University around 1956.
Raveena, Orient Charm, Orient Express, Rosa Bianca and Nubia.
Red Rocket, Cupid, Cubanelle, a Spanish variety traditionally satueed for tapas called Padron and Iko Iko which produces a carnival blend of purple and yellow peppers ripening to tangerine and red.
Vegetables and Herbs:
Arugula, Broccoli, Cabbage, Chard, Collard Greens, Upland Cress (similar to water cress), Kale, Basil, Cilantro, Leeks, Parsley and more!
I post about quiche a lot. Even before I had my own chickens quiche was a favorite in my kitchen. The trend began with a crust recipe from my grandmother who was visiting from Argentina and whose 6 daughters use on a regular basis. It’s a beautifully simple recipe that always comes out perfect. Imagine that. 2 cups of any flour or mixture of flour, 1/2 cup of olive oil, 1/2 cup of warm water, a pinch of salt, that’s it. The best part about it is that all the ingredients are mixed right in the pie dish; using one hand quickly blend until all the liquid is absorbed, but the less you mix the better because it is the separation between water and oil that produces a nice flakiness in the crust. I like to use part buckwheat or spelt flour for added nuttiness. Sesame seeds and red pepper flakes are also favorites of mine. The sesame is very subtle and the spiciness is a nice surprise. I improvise the filling every time, no quiches are ever the same, but I usually emphasize a lot of greens. I’ll do any greens ready for harvest in the garden combined with either okra or green beans; callaloo with oyster mushrooms and cheese; chard, sundried tomatoes and cheddar is really good. The quiche I made today was filled with sauteed beet tops, onions and sprouted adzuki beans.
My family crust recipe is featured alongside a profile of me and the Little River Market Garden in a great cookbook that came out last year called Field to Feast Recipes Celebrating Florida Farmers, Chefs and Artisans. It’s available on the books website or better yet, from the various Urban Oasis Project farmers market stands.
If you don’t know about the Greenhorns please go on their website and get informed. These guys have been doing amazing work in the world of new small scale farmers for years now. I first learned about them in the Fall of 2009 at the Southern SSAWG conference, a yearly farm conference whose mission is “to empower and inspire farmers, individuals, and communities in the South to create an agricultural system that is ecologically sound, economically viable, socially just, and humane”. Greenhorns is a grassroots organization that works to support and promote new farmers in America through events, workshops, mixers, films, radio, web-based tools and many other forms of media. Their website is a bottomless pit of good information and valuable resources.
The founder of the Greenhorns, Severine von Tscharner Fleming, hosts a radio show on Heritage Radio Network, called Greenhorn Radio. HeritageRadioNetwork.org “is committed to archiving, protecting, and advancing our country’s rich food culture through programs that give voice to America’s leading food professionals, farmers, policy experts, artists, and tastemakers”. I was asked to join her live on the show on August 13th to talk about the food scene in South Florida, my own garden and my experience farming in a tropical paradise. Check out the show and while you’re at it snoop around the site for other interesting shows, there is something for everyone, especially if you’re into food.
This time of year in South Florida is all about planting fruit trees. It’s also the best time to divide and transplant bananas, pineapples, lemongrass, comfrey, aloe and other clumping perennials. With all the tropical fruit at local farmers markets it’s hard not to be inspired.
On my list this month are things like thinning banana plants and moving pups to start a new banana area, diving and replanting sugarcane, lemongrass and sweet potato, planting a passion fruit vine on a new fence, hopefully planting coconut palms somewhere on the property, adding to my ongoing collection of pineapples and I’d like to start some mulberry cuttings from a neighbors tree.
One of my pet projects this summer is my first go at a Moringa fence. Moringa branches can be easily propagated directly in the ground as long as there is enough moisture; precisely why the rainy season is a good time to do this. I pruned a couple of 3 year old trees and used the thickest branches for the job. There were a dozen straight pieces, about 6 feet long, which were buried 2 feet deep and 4 feet apart to make the fence. They’ll begin to sprout new shoots in a couple of weeks and by the end of the month I’ll be pruning them to keep a bushy topiary-style foliage; partly for better privacy and partly for easy harvesting. Eventually, when the trees are well established, vines can be grown on them for even more privacy.
My fields are all planted with cover crops right now, but since it is increasingly important to avoid mass produced salad greens and spinach due to recurring food borne bacteria problems, for a continuous supply of fresh greens in our home this summer I’m going to sow amaranth and wild arugula. We love them both. Now, the amaranth is tricky because it can grow into a big plant fast and it will quit producing leaves pretty soon as it begins to flower. From my experience it’s best to harvest the whole plant when it has 5 to 6 big leaves. The temptation to harvest just the leaves and let the plant regrow is always strong, but the problem with a full grown amaranth plant in the middle of summer is that you end up with an infestation of caterpillars which make the whole plant useless. Regular arugula, sometimes called Roquette or Astro, probably wont hold up very well in this weather, but one of it’s wild counterparts, Sylvetta, has proven to thrive year round in my garden. It’s a smaller plant, but it can be sown thicker for a bushy harvest. Like amaranth, it flowers rather soon so it’s best harvested small and resown often for continuous supply.
All of this is easier said than done, especially with a new baby in tow. Looks like I’ve got my work cut out for me this month.
2013-2014 Apprentice Leslie Bosson
Hello! My name is Leslie Bosson and I have been apprenticing at the Little River Market Garden for four very hot months. I’ve lived in Miami for 15 years and recently founded an ebible garden design business called Urbangro. The dream to someday have a farm of my own is one that stems from my childhood in Southern California. I used to visit my aunts ranch and take weekend trips to harvest apples during the picking season. Working the land for these last few months has certainly made that dream seem more like a very attainable goal. Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine farming…in Florida…in the summer! When Muriel gave me the opportunity to apprentice with her, I felt so honored and grateful Never again will I wonder what shoveling loads and loads of horse manure feels like, not to mention the importance of it. I have also learned how to cover crop and prep the farm for the growing season, another crucial piece to the puzzle. I can’t wait to help set up the nursery and transplant, help organize the heirloom sale, learn to harvest, meet the members and hand them their weekly share of crops that I helped to grow!
Just because it’s the off season doesn’t mean that we are taking time off, in fact the opposite is true. The hardest work on a farm is during the transition between seasons. In mid July in Miami we are at the tail end of transitioning into Summer cover crops. Volunteers have always been really important at the Little River Market Garden, but now that I have a baby in tow the people who volunteer their time in my garden are priceless.
Summer is hot and humid. We work short sessions either in the early morning or late afternoon. The later is my favorite because as you work and get hot the afternoon cools down and feels nice on sweaty clothes. Today for example, we worked in teams of two, turning compost and moving mulch into an area that is going to be used for setting up nursery benches. This morning I printed out the calendars which I use to schedule all farm activities and it hit me that very soon I need to put in seed orders and start screening compost for seedlings. The compost we turned this afternoon was over a year old and ready to go.
In the field the cover crops are thriving in our typical hot and rainy Summer weather. I’ve planted the usual Sunn Hemp and Buckwheat mix, but I’m also trying a new crop, Sorghum Sudan Grass. Sudan Grass produces a lot of organic matter both above and below ground. Grasses in general tend to have very large and thick root systems, making some of them really great soil builders. After the crop is cut down the roots are left in the ground to break down, leaving behind a fluffy soil structure, a habitat for complex soil life and increased organic matter. The tops of the crop will provide fresh mulch on the soil surface, further protecting the soils structure and living organisms.
I gained valuable perspective about the relationships between plants and soil when I saw diagrams of different root structures. To really understand plants it helps to investigate, to see for ourselves what goes on in the dark side of the garden. I routinely pull up perfectly healthy plants just to study their roots and I found a great book called Roots Demystified, by Robert Kourik, which is full of diagrams and very interesting root facts. Highly recommended.
A month ago two students approached me about visiting the garden to capture footage for a short film they were producing. Carmen and Lulu turned out to be more professional and dedicated than I expected! They visited us multiple times to experience different aspects of what we do and they surprised me with very insightful questions during my interview. The final product is a critical and heartfelt view into the South Florida young farmers scene.
Greening Up: South Florida’s Young Farmers from Carmen Rodriguez on Vimeo.