Published in The Delaware Gazette July 7 , 2012
Everywhere you look on the farm and in the gardens at Stratford Ecological Center on Liberty Road you see a wide variety of growing plants. The diversity is refreshing. Most things were planted under agreeable conditions by late May, but June has been a tough growing month, with its record high temperatures and dry conditions.
An abundance of well water and diligent watering has helped to keep the vegetables growing and producing the first of the summer bounty. A very early and prolific variety of zucchini, good for stuffing, aptly named a globe or bell zucchini, has been producing dark green, softball size, flavorful offspring all month.
The greenhouse plastic cover needed replacing and it was removed entirely. We planted the now exposed beds with the hope that Mother Nature would take care of the watering. Plantings include a green-skinned tomatillo, with a lemon flavor, to be used in green salsa. Tomatillos are related to the cape gooseberry and can be sour or sweet. Tomatillos are a staple in Mexico, where the green variety is called tomato verde or green tomatoes. The red and purple tomatillos are sweeter and like all tomatillos are high in pectin and make good jams and jellies.
In the Giving Garden, where the produce is grown for People in Need, cabbages and broccoli are occupying one raised bed. The cabbages are very leafy but not yet filling out into coleslaw-favored heads. The broccoli is also finding it too hot to form large heads, but by clipping off the head the plant will develop tasty side flowers. The young campers have been picking off caterpillars using the cabbage as host plants.
Every Friday the campers hold their own “Farmer’s Market.” This is a great opportunity to expose parents to their source of food. A favorite activity is to take parents into the orchard to the hen house and collect the eggs they eventually buy. The “experienced” week-long campers offer their hands to reassure parents they have nothing to fear.
The corn in field #1 will not be knee high by the fourth of July. This is disappointing as the seed was supplied to us, as part of their ecological research, by Blue River Hybrids Organic Seed out of Iowa. They plan to hold their August Regional Meeting at Stratford to see the corn. The Company found us on the internet and called to see if we would be willing to participate. We planted six different varieties in the six acre field. Every two rows the variety changes and we were able to repeat the pattern five times. Because soil fertility varies, samples of each variety will be taken from their respective rows and mixed together to ascertain an average yield and fairer assessment of the seed.
The spring spelt in field #6 finally came up but it is still very short. The compacted dry ground became starved of oxygen and we tried to help by taking a rotary hoe through it, knowing that any moisture left in the ground would escape. The oats are at the milky stage and will make good hay if we cut soon while the nutrients remain in the stems. We are hedging our bets to ensure enough grazing and hay this year by erecting electric woven fences in the fields to control the animals.
The campers and adults had a great time moving the pigs out to the South Pasture. They are allowed to return to the barn at will and en route one quiet Sunday spotted Farmer Jeff’s vegetable garden sprinkler. They found a weak spot in the fence and headed straight for the shower and the tender growth underneath. I don’t think they made it, but it was no easy task to shepherd them all back to their pen.
Stratford Ecological Center recently received a check for two thousand dollars. It all started through a new “Partnership” with the Columbus State Delaware Campus and Dr. Nancy Pine, an Instructor in the English Department. Her inaugural course “Pay It Forward Student Philanthropy Initiative” encourages her students to get involved and volunteer at a local non-profit organization. Stratford agreed students could work in the Giving Garden and submitted a bid to receive monies for the garden from a CSDC grant.
Five CSDC students, including four freshmen and a High School senior, started in mid April. Not only did they work in the Giving Garden, but they cheerfully planted sycamore trees on the steep stream banks one very wet Saturday morning. One afternoon they turned up, as if by magic, when we were desperate for help to plant. Another day two of them mucked out three pens, with only one having experienced the thrill before!
Jordan Murphy, the high school student, shared with me why they put in more than the required hours. They wanted to work in nature and were impressed to find the staff at Stratford wanted to be there for more than a pay check. They saw Stratford as a family and felt Jane Walsh, volunteer coordinator, was like a mom to them. The students also became a family and they enjoyed working together. They thought the Giving Garden PIN project was amazing. At the end of the course, all the students voted on the division of the grant monies, and Stratford scored highly. You can see a video the students made on YOUTUBE by searching “Stratford Pay It Forward.” Thanks Partners.
Please refer to our web site for a full list of July activities, including our second annual “Enchanted Evening,” on Saturday, July 21. This is an elegant summer evening on the lawn with hors d’oeuvres, carriage rides, star gazing, dinner and dancing to live music by the Grapes of Jazz, and Suzi Rapp with her wild friends from the Columbus Zoo.
“Farm Connection” is a monthly article connecting city folk to life on the Stratford Ecological Center farm. It is published on the first Saturday of the month on the farm and garden page of The Delaware Gazette.