End of Season Extravaganza 10am Saturday

Happy summer, everyone. With the major damage to ARTfarm’s pineapple plants and fruit trees (and farm buildings) from Hurricane Maria, and a new hurricane season upon us already, we have decided to close early this year and not run our usual summer farmstands so that we can get a little R&R and fully focus on demo and recovery work. (We are still actively fundraising at http://gofundme.com/artfarmllc .) Thanks everyone for a fantastic and surprisingly busy season despite the storms last September. Stay on our email list to get updates for pop-up stands and volunteer opportunities during the summer!

Here’s the harvest list for tomorrow morning, 10am – 12 noon: Lots of sweet salad mix, some dragonfruit, some pineapples, lots of fresh ginger and multiple varieties of turmeric (including one that tastes like mango and one extra rich in cucurmin, an anti-inflammatory compound), Italian basil, holy basil, garlic chives, parsley, a few bunches of onions, and some zinnia flowers. Plus pineapple slips for sale and lots of native trees available, and potted rosemary and recao (culantro) seedlings.

See you in the morning!

Penultimate Farmstand from the Penultimate Farmer! Salad Galore!

penultimate (pĭ-nŭlˈtə-mĭt) adj.Next to last.

Cracked open a watermelon for quality control the other morning and it had an incredible varigated sunset interior.

We are almost finished for the season. We will be open tomorrow, Saturday, May 28 at our usual time from 10 AM – 12 noon. Stop by before you hit the Ag Fair this weekend!

Here’s what we’ll have for you on Saturday morning: Loads and loads of sweet salad mix! A few cherry tomatoes, a few yellow fleshed watermelons, a few pineapples, a few papaya, Italian basil, Thai basil, holy basil, garlic chives, parsley, some mild seasoning and hotter serrano peppers, lots of ginger and turmeric of various types, and a few zinnia flowers. Plus our lovely native trees and lots of pineapple slips for planting!

This season was an epic ginger and turmeric year for us. We won’t have a booth at the Ag Fair this weekend, but our ginger, turmeric and lettuce will be for sale at Sejah Farm’s booth. We’ve also been selling ginger to Quality Foods in Castle Coakley, and ginger, turmeric and other produce to Vegetarian Creations in Barron Spot — who are making wonderful tonic and elixir beverages with our ginger and turmeric. Our ARTfarm ginger even made it into one of the new beers from Leatherback Brewery.

We wish to acknowledge the deep debt we all owe to our service members and their families over many, many generations who have given their lives to defend our country and the freedoms we enjoy as US citizens. Please remember them not just this holiday weekend, but as we move toward elections. Take a little time to get informed, participate, get out and vote, and shift our territory toward betterment, as so much has been sacrificed by families and loved ones to assure you of that right.

Next Saturday will be our last farmstand of the season. We will post occasionally over the summer with volunteer opportunities and any fruit bonanzas we may need to market!

Love, ARTfarm

It’s All About The Mix

Early morning rain-kissed oak leaf and red leaf lettuces. Available Saturday morning!

Saturday farmstand, 10am – 12 noon: A nice rain-fueled harvest of sweet salad mix, and plenty of ginger and turmeric. Winding down for the season, limited availability: watermelon, cherry tomatoes, pineapples, papayas, Italian basil, parsley, a few seasoning and serrano peppers, lemongrass, garlic chives, cooking greens, dill, and a few zinnia flowers.

We also have lots of gorgeous native trees, rosemary plants and pineapple slips! Your purchase of trees and plants helps bolster our fundraising efforts for the rebuilding work commencing next month. http://gofundme.com/artfarmllc We greatly appreciate and thank you for your support.

CMCAsenepol5-2018Luca and Christina will both have works in an art exhibition opening on Saturday, May 26th 2018 at CMCArts in Frederiksted, titled “St. Croix Senepol.” The Senepol are a hardy, gentle cattle breed developed on St. Croix and exported all over the subtropical world. The Gasperi, Nelthropp, Lawaetz and Henry families with others were all part of the development, preservation and success of the Senepol on St. Croix. Cattle ranching on St. Croix has helped to preserve viewscapes and open rangeland on the island. This and other open farmland is a large part of what gives St. Croix a scenic, peaceful and quiet character, which is reflected in works in this group exhibition.

May Showers and Hugel Beds and Freeman Rogers!

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Farmer Bob builds a hugelkultur bed at ARTfarm using leftover storm debris. Hugel beds improve drainage, sequester carbon, reduce cultivation work, increase good fungal growth in soil, save on irrigation water, tidy up storm debris and grow huge healthy plants… What’s not to love? More below on DIYing your own hugel bed at home!

Six months ago, in November 2017, we had newly opened for the season and were giving away birdseed amidst barren trees and broken everything. We were hosting our farmstands on the roadside due to Hurricane Maria damage. Around that time, a journalist from the BVI Beacon, Freeman Rogers, visited us while researching a Caribbean-wide story on climate adaptation and resiliency. He is a humble and thoughtful character and his findings are well-researched and noteworthy. Hope you’ll enjoy a read and share on social media! (It would be great if his story made its way to a major news outlet!) There are mentions of St. Croix and quotes from Luca and other residents in both articles listed in this link, do take a few minutes to read them both, and share: http://bvibeacon.com/sections/climate-change-series/

Saturday farmstand, 10am down the South Shore Road: Plentiful sweet salad mix (thanks to recent, frequent small rain showers that made the size of the lettuce heads grow bigger), a very few slicer and cherry tomatoes, Italian basil, parsley, lemongrass, some seasoning peppers, serrano and chili peppers, lots of fresh ginger and turmeric, cooking greens, bunched arugula, some papaya, some watermelon, some pineapples, and zinnia flowers. For the growers: lots of native trees, bigger pots of rosemary herb, small pineapple slips! For the art lovers: we have performance/raffle tickets to the Caribbean Dance School 2018 show available, Friday and Saturday June 8 & 9 at Island Center, $15!

Okay, get a cuppa and a few minutes for some deep farm talk here: Farmer Luca and Farmer Bob have been busy this week building some new hugelkultur, or “hugel” beds on the farm. And YOU CAN TOO!!! Read on if you like food and want to save the planet!!! The secrets will be revealed!!! Mom! Dad! Uncle Fungus!!?

Hugelkultur is a ridiculously simple permaculture farming technique with a fancy name and multiple benefits: carbon is sequestered, water and fertilizer is conserved, erosion prevented, and messy, organic storm debris such as logs and branches are repurposed and turned into a valuable resource.  You make a tidy brushpile, and you bury it in soil. No burning, no chipping. And then you grow food or other plants on it. That’s the whole story. And it’s AMAZING!

A hugel bed is a raised garden bed that is naturally, passively aerated and thus doesn’t need any cultivation (tilling or plowing or other soil preparation) other than mulching and weeding. Hugel beds hold micro-pockets of air and water underground, as the slowly decomposing wood in the center acts like a sponge. Plants growing on top LOVE it. After a rainstorm, the beds require much less irrigation for a looong time. This is a great garden bed technique for the lazy or forgetful gardener, as it is forgiving!

Here’s how it works at ARTfarm: Farmer Luca has modified the typical hugel bed stacking technique for our dry, subtropical latitude and conditions by partially burying the hugelkultur bed into a minor trench in the soil where water can collect. This low spot helps to slow runoff and erosion, conserve water and topsoil, and limits the bed’s exposure to wind and sun. Farmer Luca’s basic process involves the digging of a large, relatively shallow bed area (carefully setting aside the topsoil), the burying of the brush into the hole with that topsoil, and mulching, and it can be done on virtually any scale. Here’s the step-by-step:

  • Dig a shallow area (18″-30″ deep as you wish) to fit the brushpile you want to bury, reserving the topsoil nearby.

  • Optionally, you can line the bottom of the hole with compostable plant-based material to help slow down water flowing out of the bottom of your hugel bed. Seaweed adds essential nutrients and minerals (with an added plus – burying kills the stink of decomposing south shore sargasso seaweed!) Also effective on the bottom might be cardboard packing material, leaf litter, grass and yard clippings, or even old cotton clothing.

  • Add the brush and logs into the hole. The neater you stack ’em, the more you can fit in the bed, which is good. Stack a few inches above the original soil level.

  • Optionally, if you want to get fancy and improve the bed further you can sprinkle or layer nutrients such as charged bio-char, compost, more seaweed, coconut husks, green waste, some woodchips. We haven’t had time to experiment with this yet!

  • Replace the removed topsoil back onto the bed to bury the brush and logs. Pack the soil in well – stomp on top or agitate as you go – don’t leave large pockets of air in the bed that will erode in the rain!

  • Cover the topsoil with a thick, heavy layer of mulch – such as wood chips or hay.

  • The finished bed will be raised about 8-10″ above the original soil level.

  • Add drip or microsprinkler irrigation.

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Bigger logs were used in a hugel bed we built in 2016. These logs grew some great watermelons, and are now growing peppers.

Beds can be built consecutively next to one another to create a larger hugel bed growing area, if desired. Our objective was to bury tons of wood to sequester carbon, but you can take a little more time to add even more nutrition to your bed by adding composted materials as suggested above. Think of the worms!!

To start, Farmer Luca chose areas in the gardens to build hugelkultur beds where he had observed the soil was underperforming – that is, where crops were less successful. These spots, he discovered as he excavated, had very hard, compacted clay-like subsoil. If you’re not sure how your soil is performing, you may want to choose a spot that tends to collect water, if that is an option.

The type of wood used in the bed is not terribly important, although known toxic tropical varieties such as manchineel apple are best avoided. A mix of both harder and softer wood varieties (mahogany, manjack and palm trunk, for example) is probably most effective. It’s better to use both large and small sized wood pieces (both logs and branches), but whatever you have will work. Fresh cut wood is arguably better in the short term since it already contains a lot of moisture, but it can also start growing in the bed (we’re talking about you, Beach Maho and Madre-de-Cacao)! We have mostly used old, dry wood materials and that works too. Fine material such as wood chips alone might decompose too quickly, whereas larger diameter hard logs offer a more slow-release effect over the course of years. Hugel beds are a monster sized, long-acting injection of fertile organic matter into your garden’s topsoil!

The quality of the available nutrition for plants in hugel beds change over time, tending to improve for a wider variety of crops as the interior wood composts into humus, and fungal growth and diversity inside the bed starts to really kick in. That’s yet another big win-win of hugelkulture: a biodiverse world of fungus, that create mycorrhizae, a working symbiosis with fungi and living plants, creating more bioavailability of nutrients and breaking down dead plant material. (Think kombucha or sauerkraut!) We had noticed years ago on the farm that impromptu/accidental hugelkultur beds created by the bulldozing of old brush piles with some topsoil resulted in an almost bluish-green color, drought resistance and vitality in the grasses that grew on those spots, even after the pile itself was moved away. Go fungi!!!

After establishing the first hugel beds, Luca started some simple trialing of different crops into the hugel beds with every transplant set. So every time a few hundred seedlings went into the drip-irrigated garden rows, he’d also put a few plants from that same batch into the hugel beds. The hugel plants tended to be noticeably healthier, larger and stronger, without the additional fertilizing and regular daily irrigation that the row plants got. WOW!

This finished hugel bed, with young watermelon vines, is approximately 15′ wide by 55′ long.

Crop plants that seemed to best tolerate the environment of a new, freshly layered hugel bed included pumpkin, zucchini, watermelon, herbs, and peppers. Corn, sweet potato and jicama (a crispy root vegetable) were not as successful in the newest beds. Our oldest hugel beds were built during the extreme drought of 2015, and exploded with zucchini in their first year. Those three-year-old beds are now successfully supporting lettuce and brassicas like kale. (Whenever we have extra tree trimmings and a little time, we build another hugel bed.) Even more exciting, Luca has been trialing fruit trees in a few of those older hugel beds. Citrus, mango, avocado and coconut trees are so far very healthy and show robust growth.  We are especially excited about the success of the avocado, which is a variety that normally requires heavy watering and has never really taken to ARTfarm’s high-drainage, rocky south shore soil and dry conditions.

Farmer Luca uses water-conserving drip irrigation or microsprinklers on his hugel beds, so the plants do receive some irrigation in dry periods, but only every 3 – 4 days instead of daily, as the row crops require. And if it rains heavily, the hugel beds can go for weeks without watering. In our super dry conditions on the South Shore, this is essential resource conservation. So a new hugel bed made from dry woods will need a bit more irrigation, but once it gets a good heavy rain, that seems to prime the bed, and water is soaked up and maintained inside for an extended time.

Slugs and snails and termites, oh my! With all of the fantastic nutrition available in a hugel bed, of course there may be some less welcome visitors. Our experience has been that, given a bit of time, balance happens and the pest invaders leave of their own accord. Here’s what happened:

There was a period after the 2015 drought broke when conditions were very wet on the farm, and our existing recent infestation of slugs and snails (who hitchhiked here in some donated pots in 2014) started booming. These creatures were probably attracted to the hugel beds’ moisture as conditions began to dry out, and were feeding on the leaves and fruit of the crop plants. Farmer Luca stopped planting and irrigating in that bed for about six months and gave it a lot more mulch, and the problem resolved itself. As for the slimy population of intruders, they were virtually wiped out all over the farm after another year or so by another stealthy predator, possibly mongoose or night herons.

Termites seem to be the biggest fear with this technique. We have had surprisingly little issue with them except for one hugel bed that was built only 3 meters away from an existing huge woodpile with a very large termite colony that was extremely active and untreated. They built tunnels above and below ground into that hugel bed. After a few years, they disappeared from the bed. The termites did NOT affect the watermelon crop in that bed, but they probably did a lot to aerate and decompose the wood within! I might not build an enormous hugel bed right under my untreated wood house, but it seems that generally speaking we have not seen termites sprouting up in these beds despite having active colonies around the farm. In general, termites are always around whether we see them or not, so the presence of a hugel bed is not going to create termites. It might even divert them from structures! Here’s a discussion about it: https://permies.com/t/28384/Termites-Hugelbeds

Gungaloes (large armored millipedes) are also attracted to the hugel beds, which is great because they can improve soil (much in the way that earthworms do). But they would sometimes eat the skin off the stem of very young plants, girdling and killing them. The solution was to pull the thick mulch layer back from around the seedling, and/or to put a small ring of stones around the base of the plant to protect it.

Farmer Luca would love to see agricultural researchers in the Caribbean do more experimentation and dedicated trials with hugelkultur beds. Unfortunately, since ARTfarm is a commercial production farm, we don’t have the time or staff to devote to approaching all the variables from a purely scientific method or collecting more than anecdotal data – but the early results show that this technique is incredibly productive while solving a post-storm solid waste problem at the same time.

You can read more about hugel beds here: https://richsoil.com/hugelkultur/ and also here: https://permies.com/t/17/Paul-Wheaton-hugelkultur-article-thread

And if you missed it this week, here’s an article in the St. Croix Source about farmers and post-storm mulch material. Ask any farmer how they feel about all of the downed tree debris being shipped out of the territory:  https://stcroixsource.com/2018/05/09/st-john-farmers-disappointed-by-missed-mulch/

Saladacious ARTfarm Saturday 10am

Woo hoo!! Crispy greens! We will have salad through the end of May. So we will be seeing you on Saturdays only, 10am – 12 noon through the end of this month. After that we will announce ‘irregular’ pop-up farmstands when we have fruit available, so that we can start to work on our hurricane recovery projects. Thanks to all who have recently donated to our GoFundMe! We have raised slightly more than half of the money we need to restore buildings and equipment damaged or destroyed in Maria.

Just a reminder, we are only using one register right now so you may have to wait a few minutes to check out. The line in the farmstand is both a shopping line and a checkout line. Please keep your place in the line to make your selections as you travel through the shed. Those in front of you may have queued up at the gate early in order to get the best selection and they are waiting patiently in the line in the stand until they get to the bin of watermelon or to the flowers or to the herbs or whatever it was they were hoping to pick up at the farmstand. So when you join us and there are people waiting to pay, please wait behind them (or ask if they have finished shopping) to make your selections. Because the farmstand is economically sized, we don’t have additional covered space for people to wait to check out. First come, first served. Believe in abundance!

Lots of sweet salad mix, some cucumbers, very few watermelons, some tomatoes, some cherry tomatoes, Italian basil, cooking greens, a few bunches of extra spicy radishes, seasoning peppers, Serrano peppers, garlic chives, parsley, dill, some bunched onions, scallions, loads of our spicy ginger and turmeric, zinnia flowers, a few papaya and a few pineapple.

We always have some nice native trees looking for a home! We finally got a decent rainshower yesterday, a little more than 3/4 of an inch. And a few follow up showers soaked our laundry, so our plants are happier. Those dragonfruit buds we told you about last week have now bloomed (in the beautiful moonlight) so soon there will be some fruit!

Farmers/artists Luca and Christina will both have several paintings and a video piece in an upcoming show at the Caribbean Museum Center for the Arts this summer (TBA), highlighting the unique red breed of cattle developed here on St. Croix, the Senepol. Stay tuned for dates!

if you love the arts like we do, you may have heard that Island Center for Performing Arts sustained serious damage in the hurricane and needs volunteers to help with cleanup and rebuilding. If you have time and can swing by, this Saturday at 2 PM they will be having a work session. Bring tools or just bring yourselves and lend a hand for our young performers! For more information or a wish list of materials they need, call Caribbean Dance School at (340) 778-8824.

Dragon Buds! + Art

ARTfarm represented on Art Thursday last night at the Peachcan Gallery with work from both Christina and Luca sharing the wall with several other artists! The “Rebirth of the Spirit” show will hang for several more weeks, including for tonight’s FFAM festival block party (Food, Fashion, Art and Music) in Christiansted.

Saturday 10am farmstand list: sweet salad mix, a few cucumbers, cherry tomatoes, slicing tomatoes and heirlooms, some onions, a few watermelons, a few papayas, lots of seasoning peppers, Serano peppers, scallions, garlic chives, Italian flat leaf parsley, Italian basil, dill, a few bunches of cilantro, a few bunches of cooking greens, zinnia flowers, lots of ginger and turmeric, turkey eggs and native trees plus rosemary plants and basil plants.

Potentially happy farm news, our dragonfruit vines are starting to form buds. This means the potential for dragonfruit in the future!!

Saturday April Showers!

Happy Friday. We have gotten a few light April rain showers. So grateful!

ARTfarm’s Farmers Christina and Luca will have work in the Rebirth of the Spirit show at Peachcan Gallery for Art Thursday coming up this week, and will also have work showing in the Senepol exhibit at CMCArts in Frederiksted in May.

Saturday’s lineup, 10am – 12 noon: Sweet salad mix, cherry tomatoes, a few slicer tomatoes, cucumbers, some watermelons, a few bunches of onions, Italian basil, parsley, cilantro, dill, garlic chives, radishes, a few bunches of cooking greens, seasoning peppers, Serrano peppers, a few papayas, loads of ginger and turmeric, rosemary plants, native trees, and basil plants. Crowds are definitely lessening but so are our quantities of available produce, so if something is essential for your menu, be sure to arrive promptly.

if you don’t have any plans for Saturday (April 14th) night, join the Starry Starry Night taster menu and silent auction event at Café Christine! A benefit for the Women’s Coalition of St. Croix. You will see some familiar zinnias there. Tickets available on Eventbrite.

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