Gratitude Season – OPEN Wednesday Nov 21st, 3pm

The epic rains of early November 2018 brought epic rainbows. In this case, leading to the arresting sculpture of Niarus Walker.

Halloween flew by like a tropical bat, Diwali brought us its hopeful message of good defeating evil, and the elongated election season is nearly over; it is time to turn our thoughts back to family, gratitude, the simple things.

We are thankful for the many dedicated customers who are eager for ARTfarm to reopen! And for eleven inches of rain that fell over the first two weeks of November, decisively ending our water shortage – but also destroying the first lettuce crop of the season and creating some other setbacks. (We’re seeing major damage to melon vines and papaya trees and possible crop failures on ginger and some of our tomatoes.) But staying grateful that some of our gardens are recovering from all of the drenching!

We will be open for a special holiday farmstand on Wednesday, November 21st, 3pm – 5:30pm with a bumper crop of beautiful cucumbers and smaller quantities of a few other things including a limited supply of salad greens. Here’s the full list:

  • Lemongrass, garlic chives, Italian basil, rosemary, spicy radishes, two types of cucumbers, some teen spicy greens, baby arugula, a few bags of sweet mix, green papaya, wild cucumbers, some small bulb onions with large green tops (use like scallions), a few marigold and zinnia flowers. And ARTfarm turkey and chicken eggs! Super fresh!
  • Need a thoughtful gift for the holiday? This is a great time of year to get plants in the ground. We’ve got pineapple slips, fig trees, and native drought resistant shade tree saplings available for sale!
  • Tomatoes will come in around December 15th.
  • Grandma’s Fabulous Cucumber Salad that Luca loves (as told to Christina)

    There is no recipe for this.

    First of all don’t measure anything.

    Mandolin a cucumber into thin slices and thinner than anything you’ve ever experienced in your life. Paper thin. Then cover them in water and add an unspecified amount of too much salt. Then go away and do other stuff. Come back in a couple of hours.

    Rinse the heck out of them when you come back from your other activities and make sure they’re not too salty.

    Rinse them again and again and squeeze them to get the salty water out.

    Let them drain in a colander for even longer. Do other things.

    Chop up a couple of scallions.

    Add a big spoonful of mayo per cuke. Dress with vinegar and basil. Toss.

    So just make sure you have:

    • Maybe about half a cucumber per person
    • A bunch of scallions (green onion tops or garlic chives work too)
    • A generous handful of salt
    • A few spoonfuls of mayo
    • A little basil (could be dried if you don’t have fresh)
    • A little vinegar
    • Fun people to share it with!

    We finally got one of our chicken tractors rebuilt after the hurricane. The hens are thrilled with their more comfortable quarters.

    Bok. Bok.

    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 Winter Roots Saturday! 10am – 12noon

    This Saturday we’re open 10am – 12 noon. We have lots of beautiful root vegetables, herbs, cooking greens and pumpkins for your winter menu; with refreshing, juicy summery watermelon, ripe tomatoes and baby salad greens just to remind you you’re in the tropics! Here’s the full list (and a yummy drink idea from a friend at the end):

    Starting at 10am down the South Shore we’ll have lots of tomatoes, lots and lots of cherry tomatoes, teen spicy salad mix, teen arugula, sweet salad mix, lots of various lettuce heads including large romaine type, just a few cucumbers, seasoning peppers, green bell peppers, a few Serano peppers, red and yellow-fleshed watermelons, lots of winter squash, various varieties. Farmer Luca’s favorite Tahitian pumpkin is now ready, also lots of large butternut winter squash sliced in smaller portions.

    Baby carrots, onions, radishes, beets, lots of various cooking greens including three kinds of kales, dandelion greens, cilantro, dill, parsley, Italian basil, Thai basil, lemon basil, garlic chives, holy basil, sage, thyme, lemongrass, lots of baby ginger, lots of baby turmeric (which freezes beautifully and then is handy and easy to microplane into whatever dish you’re cooking), lots of colorful zinnia flowers, and fresh figs. We will have two cash registers set up for speedier service!

    Amaranta’s Winter Anti-Ick Herbal Tea

    Are you feeling icky and jacked? This rooty brew will soothe the savage icky beast within. (Probably can’t say the same for the ones without.)

    A thumb or more fresh grated turmeric

    A thumb or more fresh grated ginger

    Couple pinches black pepper (activates beneficial things in turmeric)

    Three quarts water

    A splash of 1/2 & 1/2 (or non-dairy substitute)

    2 tsp honey

    Bring water to a boil. Add ginger and turmeric. Reduce heat and simmer for 15 minutes. Pour into cup(s), add 1/2 & 1/2 or whatever non-dairy thing you want, and honey. Stir. Sip. Be happier than you were 20 minutes prior.

    ARTfarmers make this adding a bunch of fresh lemongrass in the water. Heavenly warm or cold. And makes your house smell amazing, this.

    Holiday Sweet Corn Flash Mob! 3pm Today!!

    This afternoon from 3 – 4:30 PM, we will be creating a piece of performance art called “Holiday Corn Flash Mob” OPEN, due to a bumper crop of beautiful organically grown SWEET CORN, plus sweet salad mix and red and yellow watermelon. Hope you’re tuning in, Dan and Fran!

    We will also have a few bunches of scallions, cilantro, green Serrano chilis (add watermelon and corn for an amazing salsa) and Italian basil.

    Join us TODAY 3-4:30pm and celebrate the bounty! Early birds can help choreograph the flash mob. There will be plenty of corn for everybody!

    Saturday Meloncholia, 10am-12noon

    Pop-up Farmer Katie photobombs the early morning greens harvest.

    Pop-up Farmer Katie photobombs the early morning greens harvest.

    We are experiencing pre-nostalgia for our wonderful employee Katie who, along with her farming talents, beautiful smile, sense of humor and stellar work ethic is moving back to the states in January.  WAAAAAAHHH!

    Nothing sad about these sweet, rainfilled flavor bombs we call WATERMELONS.

    Grilled Watermelon

    Seriously! Cut the watermelon into nice 1″ thick steaks. Brush with a little olive or coconut oil, and grill for about 5 minutes until you get some nice grill marks. You can consume it immediately or add a little salt and pepper or other spices. Experiment! This is great over fish or other protein main, with some hot pepper salsa perhaps. We recall faintly that Chef Dreads at Savant used to melon-ball (yes, that’s a verb) watermelon into large spheres before grilling, perhaps.

    We’ve got tons of crispy fresh organically grown salad greens for you in a variety of configurations, from the tiniest little baby arugula leaves to our generous crunchy sweet mix with red and green leaf varieties. Super fresh so it lasts a long time in your fridge.

    We’ll start to have a few slicer tomatoes for Saturday and a few more pints of cherry tomatoes. Crazy tomatoes should start in about three weeks if we can beat the bugs, right now we are picking more caterpillars than tomatoes off the plants. Trickle down tomato economics will apply until then, we suggest in case of tomato emergency, you try watermelon, or fresh figs, in place of tomatoes in salad! 

    Here’s the list: Sweet salad mix, teen arugula, teen spicy salad mix, crispy cucumbers, loads of watermelons, a few pints of cherry tomatoes, a couple of slicing tomatoes, lots of cooking greens, escarole, dandelion greens, radishes, onions, scallions, sweet potatoes, Italian basil, holy basil, lemon basil, lemongrass, cilantro, dill, recao, beautiful spicy baby ginger, papaya, passionfruit, sweet Japanese mini melons, and cut flowers.

    We will be closed Saturday, Christmas Eve as it is usually very slow. We WILL open Wednesday, December 21st (the winter solstice) 3-5:30pm and Friday, Dec. 23rd 3-5:30pm for you last minute shoppers!

    We do offer gift certificates if you’d like to give the gift of fresh produce for the holidays! We need a couple of days lead time on those.

    Open Today 3 – 5:30 PM, Bounty!!

    Sorry… Just had to share this beautiful still life of freshly harvested produce that will be for sale this afternoon at ARTfarm…

    Sweet salad mix, teen spicy salad mix, teen arugula, cucumbers, loads of watermelons, a few cherry tomatoes, lots of herbs, scallions, onions, cooking greens, radishes, beautifully just picked sour oranges, passionfruit, baby ginger, fresh Mediterranean figs, papaya, and local honey.

    It just keeps on raining!

    Watermelon Wednesday!! 3-5:30pm

    We swore we would wait another few weeks to open Wednesdays but the watermelon harvest is just too big and bold not to share! Ho-ho-holy cow! We’ve had some 20 pounders this week and the rain has not let up. Please help us eat these sweet delicious monsters before they crush our house and break down all the fences.

    Sweet salad mix, teen spicy salad mix, teen arugula, cucumbers, loads of watermelons, a few cherry tomatoes, lots of herbs, scallions, onions, cooking greens, radishes, beautifully just picked sour oranges, passionfruit, baby ginger, fresh Mediterranean figs, papaya, and local honey.

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