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/

ARTfarm OPEN Saturday! 10 AM – 12 Noon – FREE Hummingbird Feeders

A hummingbird rests on aloe flowers. Post hurricane Maria.

Tiny hummingbirds are important pollinators and you can help them recover from the storm!

Hey folks, we are back! We will be open Saturday morning November 18th 2017 at 10 AM! Lots of fresh crispy goodies for our customers today, plus free hummingbird feeders and bird seed courtesy of St. Croix Environmental Association (SEA) and Birds Caribbean!

Farmer Luca is so excited to see our customers!

Saturday farmstand: lots of cucumbers, lettuce heads, sweet potatoes, loads of thin skinned baby ginger and baby turmeric varieties from Hawaii. Garlic chives, cilantro, dill, parsley, recao, lemongrass, Italian basil, lemon basil and native trees for sale!

Help our island wildlife recover! The free hummingbird feeders from SEA are absolutely beautiful and professional grade. They were donated by Birds Caribbean, a nonprofit wildlife organization, to help maintain our bird populations. (After Hugo, many of these hummingbird and bananaquit populations were precipitously reduced.) The feeders are super sized, with glass reservoirs and a water tray built in on top to prevent ants from invading! They can service many birds at one time. They will come with instructions, a hanging hook and a little bit of wildlife information plus a recipe for making the nectar safely and properly for our wonderful avian pollinators! One feeder per family, please. We also have a specially formulated Caribbean bird seed mix. Bring your own container or bag for bird seed.

You can also sign up to be on SEA’s website email list, and even update your membership with SEA at the farmstand!

We are also updating ARTfarm’s website this evening with our Hurricane Maria story and photos, and a link to our crowdfunding page where you can learn more about helping ARTfarm recover from the CAT5 storm of September 19th. Thanks to all who insisted we fundraise. ❤

Wednesday 3-6pm: It’s a Gourd, It’s a Pumpkin, It’s…

img_2145…IT’S A MELON!!!!!

These crazy, sweet and beautiful looking tiger-stripy Kajari melons were meticulously collected in an eight-year epic quest by melonhead seed collectors who travelled to Punjab, India in search of heat-tolerant specimens. This one Luca trialled, part of the Year Of Experimentation, seems happily adjusted to our Crucian climate and is astoundingly sweet and delicious, honeydew-like in its color but with a softer consistency and a sweeter, stronger flavor than the typical bland green crunchy melon chunks found at the salad bar. We only have half a dozen of these little beauties this week, so be an early early bird to try it, and save the seeds!

Wednesday’s farmstand, 3-6pm down the South Shore Road, due south of Canegata Ball Park as the trushie bird flies: Sweet salad mix, baby arugula, baby spicy salad mix, bunched arugula, a few bunches of kale, cherry tomatoes, small slicer and heirloom tomatoes, a rainbow of bright bell peppers, Trini seasoning peppers, serrano peppers, Indian chilies, recao, Italian basil, parsley, garlic chives, mint, lemongrass, rosemary, freshly harvested ginger root, passionfruit, loads of beautiful sweet papayas, Punjabi honeydew melons, loads of zinnia cut flowers, a few sunny sunflowers! Make someone’s day – why not your own?

From our partner Fiddlewood Farm we have a fresh batch of delicate goat cheese – no labels this week but new ones soon come. Dr. Bradford was excited to share the great news that a new baby doe (girl) goat kid arrived this week! There is nothing cuter or bouncier… Congrats to the new mama! Photos soon!

What Do We Do With All This Zucchini?

Okay, a few customers were asking for ideas on what to make with zucchini and summer squash. Well, the volume of culinary creativity can just about meet the volume produced by our giant Hugel-bed-fueled squash vines. Here are a few of our faves:

Zoodles

Gluten-free products abound in the grocery store, but they can be really expensive compared to their wheat-based inspirations. $6 for a 1lb. box of GF corn and rice pasta? How about an alternative that has all the nutrition of the mighty ZOOK?

Basically, everything but the seedy core of a zucchini or summer squash can be cut into quite narrow pasta-like noodles, lightly baked and then stored in a ziptop bag in the fridge for 5-7 days. You can get a $25 bulky, entertaining kitchen gadget called a spiralizer to make hilarious fifty-foot continuous noodles from a zucchini while spitting out the core, or just use a mandolin or other handheld julienne-inducing type of potato cutter along the length of the squash for zoodles. Check YouTube for lots of videos of happy people, mostly moms, making zoodles.

Zucchini releases a lot of liquid when cooked, so unless you’re going to put them directly into soup broth, it’s a good idea after slicing up your zoodles to place them on a cookie sheet on clean (non-fuzzy) dishcloths or paper towels, salt-an-pepa them and toss a bit, and bake them in a very low oven for about 15 minutes. Then gently squeeze them out in another dry dishtowel to remove more of the liquids.

To cook, just make your favorite spaghetti sauce – and about 5-7 minutes before it’s done, throw the appropriate amount of zoodles in the pan with the sauce to warm up a bit and cook just a little. If you’re not feeling saucy, just sauté them in butter and crushed garlic until tender, 5 minutes or so. Try throwing them on the grill! Who knows what will happen! It’s crazy! Experiment!!

We find these yummy and very filling. Plan about 1 medium sized squash per person. Makes nice re-heated leftovers, too. And if you really get tired of them, bake them into zucchini bread, see below.

Stuffed Zucchini Ideas

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We love seeing what you do with our produce! Here is a stuffed zucchini with a side salad! Thanks Isabel Cerni & family!

So, this isn’t so much a recipe as it is a brainstorm. A brief survey of stuffed veggie recipes shows the basic options of what to put in the cavity of the zucchini or summer squash after scooping out the seeds:

  • Stuffing, as in American Thanksgiving type with breadcrumbs, carrots and celery, and some kind of soup
  • A meatloaf-like mixture for meat lovers
  • A greek version with feta and cherry tomatoes drizzled with olive oil
  • A pizza-like option with grated parmesean cheese, sauteed veggies, mushrooms, tomatoes and the like, topped with mozzarella and basil.

All of these fillings do well with some sautéed onion, salt and pepper to taste, some fresh herbs (experiment!) and some of the zucchini chopped finely, mixed in. You can add any cooked grains: breadcrumbs, polenta, wild rice, quinoa, amaranth! Go nuts and add some crunchy seeds and nuts! Stir an egg into the mix for more protein!

Some recipes recommend pre-baking or grilling the zuc-canoes before filling, others don’t.

After assembly, bake the zu-boats in a baking pan so you catch any errant juices. Depending on the filling and how big your zukes are, they’ll probably bake for 20-40 minutes. Poke ‘em with a fork to see if the squash is tender. Check a real recipe if you’re wanting more guidance.

This is the kind of recipe you really can’t do wrong (especially if you pre-brown any meats/sausage), so go freestyle! Let your kids load up these little pirate veggie boats! Ahoy!

Zucchini Bread

Oh the GLORY of this semi-guiltless snack! Spread it with butter or cream cheese, nosh it toasted or right out of the fridge… Form it into muffins, loaves, mini cupcakes… Makes a great travel companion and gift. Our new favorite recipe is a gluten-free version cribbed from several cookbooks…

This sweet snack bread can be made with zucchini plus a fibrous fruit to sweeten it. The sweetening fruit could be a banana, a soursop or sugar apple seeded, it could be a stateside apple or pear, whatever is on hand and longing to leave your fridge. (Citrus would probably be too wet, so you would need to adjust the recipe, or go with a mealy-fleshed fruit.)

Ingredients (one loaf for you and one for a friend or the freezer)

2 cups shredded zucchini, (gently wrung out in a dish towel to remove excess moisture)

1 cup shredded or mashed sweet fruit (apple, sugar apple, soursop, banana etc.

3-4 cups almond flour (if you’re a little short, you can substitute another gluten-free flour or some coconut flour)

1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda

6 eggs

Spices to taste: 4 teaspoons cinnamon, 1 teaspoon sea salt, 1 teaspoon nutmeg or slightly less of cloves, 1 teaspoon ground (or fresh) ginger.

Sweetener to taste: half a cup of honey or coconut sugar or whatever sweetener you like. If it’s very liquidy, like maple syrup, adjust the recipe accordingly so you don’t wind up with too runny of a batter. Depending on what fruit you added, you may need less sugar. The sugar adds to the texture. We like using a super brown sugar like the coconut sugar or muscavado because it is less sweet tasting. You could try molasses, too!

Directions

Preheat the oven to medium temp, 350-375 or so. Using a little butter or coconut oil, grease up two loaf pans and then line them with parchment paper. I usually butter the parchment paper if it overlaps so it sticks to the pan really well.

Grate the zucchini onto the center of a dish towel. About two big zucchinis will make 2 cups of shredded zucchini. Gather up the corners of the dishtowel and squeeze out all the juice over the sink or — over a jar and reserve for veggie broth or to feed your dog etc.

Mash or grate your fruit item,  removing inedible core/seeds/peel.

Beat together the eggs, sweetener and (mashed or grated) sweet fruit until well combined and frothy. Add in your grated zucchini and toss again until everything is nicely coated.

Place the dry ingredients (almond flour, spices, baking soda) in a mixing bowl and toss them together until they’re well incorporated without clumps. About a third of the bowl at a time, add the dry ingredients into the wet and mix until wet.

Divide the batter into the two loaf pans and even them out a bit with a spoon.

Bake loaves for about 40 minutes until the top looks dry and a toothpick comes out clean. If you do this as muffins they will bake faster. Remove them from the pans after they’ve cooled a bit.

Zucchini Miscellani

There are many, many more uses for squash.

  • Sliced lengthwise they are gorgeous on the grill and take well to a marinade and a smoky flavor. Then you can roll them up and make some kind of fancy canapé or add to a shish kebab, Yum!
  • Anywhere you might have used carrots, broccoli or string beans, use zucchini squash.
  • They make a fantastic gluten free replacement for lasagna noodles in a veggie lasagna. (Slice on a mandolin, and prepare as zoodles above to remove some of the moisture beforehand)
  • They make a very elegant and colorful layered veggie side dish. Use a combination of green zucchini and yellow summer squash, layered with some goat cheese and pinenuts or pumpkin seeds in a glass casserole dish with salt and pepper. A little rosemary or tarragon is great in there, or perhaps a curry flavor? Vegans could probably go with babaghanouj in between…Cover and bake for 20–40 minutes depending on how big of a casserole dish, how thick you sliced him, and how soft you like ’em.
  • Use them as bowling pins, doorstops and throw toys for your dogs if you still have too many zucchini.

Farm ON!! reOPEN today, Saturday Dec. 12, 10AM – 12 noon!

The ARTfarm is back after our ridiculously long “summer break.” (If mangoes are out of season, why not us?) We have some green goodness for you! THANK YOU for waiting…

Early Saturday morning...

Early Saturday morning…

We’ve got beautiful sweet green zucchinis and round yellow summer squashes! Big beautiful bunches of tender, dark green Ethiopian kale plus two other kinds of kale. Dandelion greens. We’ve also got wild gherkins – these are pasture cucumbers, spiny but delicious as a quick (or slower) pickle. Quick pickle recipe below.

Salads are back! Come early and dig into the farmstand coolers: we’ll have sweet salad mix, baby spicy mix, baby arugula, and green oak leaf lettuce heads.

Early birds may spot one or two pints of our yellow super sweet cherry tomatoes, passionfruits, and fresh figs. (Late birds will still get Ethiopian kale and zucchini!)

Freshly early-this-morning-harvested herbs: thyme, Thai basil, Italian basil, holy basil, lemongrass, garlic chives, recao. Some green (red hot) chili peppers.

Say hi to Santa at the Christmas Boat Parade tonight, and tell him we’ve been really really good at the ARTfarm and we want a pony. No, make that lots and lots more rain.

Wild pasture cucumbers: salty, crunchy, earthy. A bit spiny to the touch - just rub the little points off with a dishcloth when rinsing!

Wild pasture cucumbers: salty, crunchy, earthy. A bit spiny to the touch – just rub the little points off with a dishcloth when rinsing!

Farmer Luca’s Wild & Quick Pickle Recipe*

Eating these weedy little cucumbers is a bit like those early childhood experiments where you’d find something outdoors and decide to “make a snack”. Sometimes when we are working in the pastures and run out of water to drink, these juicy little bite-sized cucurbits are just the thing! Nature’s little oasis. This quick pickle is delicious served as a crunchy little side anywhere you’d want a bit of relish.

3 c. tiny wild pasture cucumbers, cut in half
1/2 c. water
1/4 c. vinegar
1 tablespoon salt
1 tablespoon unrefined sugar (muscovado or coconut sugar)
1 teaspoon cumin seed
1/8 c. chopped fresh herbs; tarragon, or whatever is handy, to taste

Briefly dry roast the cumin seed in a saucepan. Add the liquids, sugar and salt and bring to a simmer.

Toss the cucumbers, onion and fresh herbs in a bowl and pack loosely into canning jars.

Pour hot liquid over chopped cucumber mixture to cover. Allow it to sit until just warm, then cover. Eat as soon as cool and/or refrigerate.

Will settle in flavor and taste even better the next day.

*This is a rough, down and dirty farmer recipe, the percentage of all ingredients can be increased or decreased to taste

Grateful to Reopen Next Sat. Dec. 12th!

Thanks to the many customers and supporters who have called and checked in with us on our website and Facebook page, wondering when we would reopen the farmstand. We will see you all at 10 AM till noon on Saturday, December 12! We love that you love our food! Hope you all had a wonderful Thanksgiving holiday and are looking forward to this month’s festivities!

A pile of yellow summer squash, one with a blossom still on the end of the fruit.

Yellow summer squash and zucchini have been growing beautifully!

It has been quite a tumultuous year for farm planning. The severe drought that started last winter was the driest season Estate Longford has seen in nine years. (Amazingly enough, other places on St. Croix, including the East end, apparently got more rain than usual during that period.) The pastures and surrounding hills near us dried out and turned gray, and we experienced severe and intense brushfires across the east end of the ARTfarm and neighboring pastures in May, 2015, well attended by the VI Fire Service (thank you!!!).

At this time last year, all of our catchment ponds were topped off with rain. Currently, we are at less than one third of our rainwater catchment capacity.

All of this major rearrangement of weather patterns has meant that we have delayed planting in order to reserve our irrigation water, and hesitated to invest in the season.

But, we finally bit the bullet a few weeks ago and began planting for 2015-2016. We have designed a smaller amount of growing space this year, so we will have perhaps a little less on offer in terms of quantity. We are experimenting with a few new crops, and even some new growing techniques that are going to conserve even more water. We have created a few new areas of permaculture techniques, including some giant Hugel beds, and so far the productivity seems high, although insect activity is higher than we’ve ever seen it all over the farm — we and many other farmers on the island are struggling with record numbers of aphids, caterpillars and other garden pests. We are also not alone in experiencing overwhelming growth rates of noxious weeds, which survived even when more desirable grasses and forbs perished in the drought.

A pasture is full of piles of weeds, pulled up by hand.

Kiko has been painstakingly handweeding the toxic physic nut in the pastures for weeks to try to prevent further spread. There are literally thousands of these growing, and they are poisonous to livestock.

We gratefully welcome our new employee, Katie, who is fitting right in with the crew and learning quickly!

We are waiting another week and a half before opening so that we can have salad greens for your holidays. We’ll reopen Saturday, December 12, 10 AM – 12 noon, (Christmas Boat Parade Day). We’ll have herbs, veggies, salad greens and fruit! See you in ten days!

Love, ARTfarm

ARTfarm Q&A Wednesday! 3-6pm

Today at ARTfarm down the south shore we’ll offer a fairly small selection of items: Pineapples, a few tomatoes, sweet salad mix, microgreens, basil, chives, and a few cucumbers.

The lignum vitae is an important food source for honey bees in drought times.

The lignum vitae is an important food source for honey bees in drought times.

Q: What do you farmers do when it is so dry? What can grow in this extreme drought condition?

A: Not too much! We do our best to conserve water when conditions are this severe.

One plant that remains green and healthy with no watering in this dry weather is the highly drought tolerant lignum vitae tree. Slow and steady is how lignum vitae grows, rain or no rain. This tree species will probably outlast all the other trees that we have planted over the years. Most of the 30+ lignum vitae trees established at ARTfarm came from Kai and Irene Lawaetz at Little Lagrange. Kai was always a champion of the lignum vitae for its beauty and ability to withstand drought times and there are many prime individuals of the species on the Lawaetz Museum grounds.

Even in drought times when most vegetation is brown, the lignum vitae tree's evergreen leaves remain deep green and provide dense shade.

Even in drought times when most vegetation is brown, the lignum vitae tree’s evergreen leaves remain deep green and provide dense shade.

While it does not produce any edible products, the lignum vitae is a beautiful dense shade and ornamental tree and a food source for honeybees, particularly when nothing else is flowering. The wood of lignum vitae trees is so dense that it has traditionally been used to make ship pulleys.

The light purplish blue blooms and showy red and orange fruit are unique mainly because of their color. There are not too many blue colored flowers in the tropics. The tree sheds very little leaf litter and its leathery paired leaves remain a beautiful deep green year round.

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