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!

img_1952

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.

img_1754

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/

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.

ARTfarm Open, Ag Fair Weekend: Sat. 10 AM to 12 noon

We will be open at our usual location on the farm this morning. But, we strongly urge you to also visit the Ag Fair this weekend! Happy President’s Day, and Happy Valentine’s Day, folks!

These flowers are YUGE. Some orange like The Donald! Wage a campaign of love this weekend!

We grew it for you, stop by and pick up: Sweet salad mix, loads of cherry tomatoes, slicing tomatoes, heirloom tomatoes, lettuce heads, a few yellow and green squash, carrots, radishes, a few bunches of kale, loads of pumpkin, beautiful onions, scallions, a few leeks, a few cucumbers, beautiful green and red bell peppers;

ARTfarm pumpkin…at the peak of flavor right now, these are crazy sweet steamed or roasted, or even sliced thin raw!


Trinidad seasoning peppers are incredibly pungent and smoky like a hot pepper, but with none of the heat. We like to chop them coarsely into all kinds of dishes to give them a specific ‘Caribbean’ aromatic profile. They must be tasted to be believed, and once you’re hooked you’ll always look for these little gems! If you’re not a big fan of spicy food, these are a great way to get a pungent peppery flavor without the pain!

Red serranos and Indian chilies, Trinidad Perfume seasoning peppers, baby ginger root, cilantro, dill, Italian basil, lemon basil, holy basil, loads of fresh cut zinnia flowers, yellow marigolds, and a few bags of figs.

From our partners we have locally made treats: vegan ice cream, raw honey, and goat cheese!

11:09AM update: Still have loads of stuff left! Lots of tomatoes and cherry tomatoes, cooking greens, herbs, peppers, honey, ice creams, pumpkin… Come on by!

Don’t miss the 45th annual St. Croix AgriFest this weekend, on the grounds of the Department of Agriculture on Queen Mary Highway just west of UVI’s campus. Open 9-6 Saturday, Sunday and Monday. $6 adults, $4 seniors, $3 children. A good portion of the island shuts down for several weeks to prepare for this major public event: Tons of exhibitors, from farmers competing for best display with great piles of fruits and vegetables, value-added goods and fruit trees; to great local cooks selling plates of food, hot sauces, drinks and spices from this and other islands; Armstrong’s ice cream truck with special local flavors made just for the fair; to vendors of art, jewelry, clothing and local crafts with great bargains; to elementary student science projects, alternative energy providers and University scientists showing a glimpse of the future; to animal judging exhibits and petting zoos with chicks and puppies and baby animals for sale; to carnival and pony rides for the kids and live music and dance performances! The old time history house is a wonderful favorite. People watching as you ride the tractor-pulled trolley tour, stroll through the throngs or sit at a picnic table with your plate of local food, quelbe music wafting through the air, is a must! This is a local annual event that uniquely expresses our island culture that is not to be missed!

IMG_8276

Happy President’s Day Weekend!

Although ARTfarm will not have a booth this year, we will have lettuce heads, onions and serrano peppers on display at Sejah Farm’s booth inside the large tractor barn on the west end of the fairgrounds.

We’ll see you there!!

ARTfarm Saturday: Back in action! 10am!

Slight drops in temperature combined with some much-needed but brief rain showers have blessed us with some beautiful greens to share this morning! 10 AM – 12 noon: Sweet salad mix, baby arugula, baby spicy/young lettuce mix, microgreens, a few tomatoes, pineapples, bananas, Ethiopian kale, Italian basil, scallions, garlic chives, mint, and zinnia flowers. From our partner food makers we have I-Sha’s vegan ice cream in beet-ginger, baobab, eggfruit and other flavors; and Errol’s beautiful raw local honey.

Last night’s Caribbean Dance performance pushed out so much incredible positive energy into the audience that at least 17 people exploded spontaneously with love! Tonight’s final show starts at 7:30pm at the theater at Complex. If you are not a ticket holder, allow a little extra time at the box office to chat with your neighbors! Concessions are available during intermission including local drinks and veggie pates. We encourage you to come out and support the arts! The show is a mix of uniquely Caribbean ideas, pop-culture references, and so much more!

Heather attended the show last night, and you can see that she is still smiling!

IMG_9347.JPG

Saturday Farmstand, Pineapples, Schedule Change, Dance!

More pineapples today! ARTfarm pineapples are ridiculously sweet this year, maybe because of all the dry weather. June seems to be our pineapple month!

More pineapples today! ARTfarm pineapples are ridiculously sweet this year, maybe because of all the dry weather. June seems to be our pineapple month!

Open 10 AM – 12 noon on South Shore Rd. this morning, ARTfarm has, organically grown for you: Salad mix, microgreens, small quantities of pineapples, tomatoes, and cucumbers. We have beets, scallions, mature bunched arugula, Ethiopian kale, Italian basil, mint, zinnia flowers, local honey from Errol Chichester, and admission/raffle tickets for the Caribbean Dance show next weekend! No Wednesday stand this coming week, so come out to the farm today…

Our adopted border collies, Ginger and Spice, vigilantly patrol the pineapple gardens at this time of year to discourage rats. We've seen these athletic dogs leap all the way over the row of spiny plants during the hunt. This is a viable and much more entertaining alternative to poisons for controlling crop pests on an organic farm. During dry times there is increased pressure from all pests on farm crops and resources.

Our adopted border collies, Ginger and Spice, vigilantly patrol the pineapple gardens at this time of year to discourage rats. We’ve seen these athletic dogs leap all the way over the row of spiny plants during the hunt. This is a viable and much more entertaining alternative to poisons for controlling crop pests on an organic farm. During dry times there is increased pressure from all pests on farm crops and resources.

We are changing our schedule to reflect the weather patterns. The drought is really affecting our ability to grow crops at this point. It also seems like a natural pause to tackle some big farm projects we’ve been wanting to get to. So, we have decided to curtail our Wednesday farmstands until we get some rain or production picks up again. We will be open today and next Saturday as well, and we will play it by ear after that. Mango season is coming, but it also may be a bit delayed by the dry spell we are all in.

Young dancers preparing for the annual show in the Caribbean Dance studio in Christiansted. Support the arts on St. Croix!

Young dancers preparing for the annual show in the Caribbean Dance studio in Christiansted. Support the arts on St. Croix!

The Caribbean Dance School‘s 38th annual performance is Friday, May 29 and Saturday, May 30 at Complex (the high school across from the UVI campus). We have tickets ($15 donation, includes entry into raffle for plane tickets and more) available at the farmstand or you can purchase them at the door! Show time is 7:30 PM. There are adorable tiny ballerinas in the show but also a number of accomplished student and professional dancers — the show is family-friendly and highly entertaining! The closing number in the show features rousing carnival music and traditional calypso dancers, and includes over 30% of the ARTfarm workforce! So come see your farmers in action and support all our local talent in the arts! The Caribbean Dance School and Company is an important cultural institution in the Virgin Islands, founded in 1977 to tour the world and share our island culture, and is still operated by the original artistic directors! It is also an enduring nonprofit organization engaging thousands of students over the years, promoting health, self-esteem, and self discipline. The arts are an important and vibrant part of Virgin Islands culture, help improve our communities in countless ways, and are woefully underfunded. Please come out and show the students you care.

Plus, you’ll get great inspiration for choreographing your own rain dance! 😉

 

%d bloggers like this: