Cover crops are main staple on our farm and a soil amendment that we used consistently throughout the season. Anytime that we are prepping a bed to be planted in or amending the soil after removing a spent crop we use cover crops. With so many benefits and so many varieties of cover crops, it would be silly not to take advantage of this simple and versatile strategy for better soil health.
Cover crops provide many potential benefits to soil health, while also helping to maintain a tidy surface and clean groundwater. They prevent erosion, improve the soils physical and biological properties, supply nutrients to the following crop, suppress weeds, improve soil water availability, and break pest cycles. Some cover crops roots can penetrate compacted soil layers, aerating the soil and making it easier for the following crop’s roots to more fully develop.
Grasses and legumes account for most of the seed we use as cover crops. Grasses like rye and sorghum establish quickly which is crucial for weed control. They also create good biomass and have dense highly fibrous root systems that prevent erosion and increase organic matter. Vetch, clover, and field peas are some examples of cover crops in the legume family. Cover crops in this family have a beneficial relationship with specific soil bacteria. The bacteria form nodules that live on the plant's roots convert N2 gas from the surrounding air to plant-available nitrate in a process called nitrogen fixation. Legumes can also produce substantial biomass, attract beneficial insects, and suppress weeds.
We often use the option of mixing both legumes and grass variety of cover crops for our fields. This method can help to balance the carbon to nitrogen ratio in the soil. It can also help to obtain multiple benefits or more fully achieve a particular objective like adding organic matter or weed suppression. Planting a combination of cover crops can reduce the risk of crop failure; although it often requires more labor.
Throughout the seasons we have watched our soil quality improve with the use of cover crops and other soil amendments. As we continue to experiments with new techniques, we are watching years of poor soil health rejuvenate right before our eyes.
Fruits and vegetables like pole beans, peas, cucumbers, melons, tomatoes, squash, and sweet potato prefer to grow vertically, and with excellent reason! There are many benefits to using a trellis or support when growing fruits and vegetables.
Increased sun exposure is a natural benefit of trellising. By increasing sun exposure to your plant, you are ensuring a healthier crop, more growth more quickly, and higher fruit yield. Trellising can drastically improve airflow. Crops like cucumber and squash are notorious for contracting powdery mildew at the peak of summer's heat and humidity. One of the principal reasons these crops are more likely to develop this disease is because of airflow and circulation. Cucumber and squash plants have little tendrils that grow along each plants stem. These tendrils are picky and prefer to grab onto organic material like twine or wood while reaching up in hopes of new heights. Using a trellis while growing these crops encourages this natural behavior, and give the plant something to grow upwards away from the ground while naturally increasing air circulation.
Growing crops near or on the ground encourage disease. Yet another reason to consider vertical growing practices. Each time we water or use a liquid when fertilizing crops there is liquid that splashes from the soil onto the plant. This liquid containing potentially harmful soil bacteria could easily get onto fruit or an improperly pruned branch and spread disease quickly. Which brings me to my next point, pruning and harvesting. We spend a lot of time tending to these crops, and we spend much of that time pruning and harvesting. Using a trellis to support each plant encourages up and outward growth which makes pruning and harvesting a lot easier for farmers and gardeners.
Although trellising is not a must, we strongly encourage it. There are tons of benefits and beauty to vertical growing.
As you are winding down Ann Arbor road near the farm, you can't help but be transported back in time. The surrounding area around the property is covered in old farms, quiet family homes, and beautiful nature. Many community members have pointed out that this is one of the most wonderful things about Plymouth. Something they cherish and would like to preserve as long as possible. This same feeling is shared by all of us, especially Mary Emmett, the owner of Gateway Farm. After many years of success with Plymouth Orchards and Cider Mill, a friend of Mary's suggested that she buy the property where the old driving range used to be. For a while she thought the idea was a little silly but, over time, she realized that if she didn't buy the property and do something meaningful with it, there was a good chance that someone else would buy the property, and use it for something not so meaningful. She loved the location of the property, thinking of it almost like a grand entrance for the community. Keeping that in mind, she wanted to use the space for not only something beautiful but also something nourishing. She settled on the idea of an organic farm, something that checked both of those boxes. After plotting the fields and planting cover crop, the first chapter of Gateway Farm began.
Since writing this a few seasons back, a lot has changed around the farm. Our soil has drastically improved, as we continue to make amendments each season. Our new irrigation system is tremendously helpful and has helped us to work more efficiently. We have added 3 new structures. All of which are helping to extend our growing season, and we look forward to growing more crops in the winter. We have partnered with Resilient Spirals, a permaculture design group that is not only making our farm more aesthetically beautiful but also encouraging more bio diversity on our land. We have an outstanding team this year. Each of them bringing years of experience, a great work ethic, and a righteous attitude! Wading in to uncharted territory that is online sales has been surprisingly fun, we have learned a lot and we are continuing to learn and evolve every day.
The future looks bright at Gateway farm. Our goal is to continue to provide our community with local, nutrient dense food. Down the line we are hoping to pair our produce and mission, with education, community, and making great memories.
The questions of how to store fresh vegetables seems simple enough. However, a quick google search would prove otherwise. Over the last couple of years I have grappled with this question myself. Growing fresh food and purchasing locally is part of my lifestyle. Therefore, I want to make my money and my time work for me. Eliminating waste and using up every bit of food I can be is also part of the journey.
Which brings us back to the initial question. How DO you store fresh vegetables? But really how to you store them in a way that get the most longevity out of their life and prevents them from spoiling and making a mess in your kitchen? Below you will find a list of vegetables, many of which we are growing this season. Following each type of vegetables is a suggestion on how to store them. I have tested these methods and believe they are a splendid place to start. The truth of the matter is: the better you know how to store your vegetables the more you can eat and enjoy them!
Something to note* Do not store vegetables near fruit. Fruit releases high levels of ethylene (ripening agent) and can prematurely ripen or spoil vegetables.
Asparagus: Wash asparagus and trim the ends about an inch. Place the spears in a glass jar, cut ends down. Fill the jar with about 1 inch of water. Loosely cover tips of the asparagus with a plastic bag. Store in the front of the fridge for up to 10 days.
Basil- basil is sensitive to cold and prefers to be kept at room temperature. Keeping that in mind, store it loosely packed in an airtight container, with a damp cloth on top. Beets- cut off beet greens. Store green in an airtight container with little moisture. Store beetroot in an open container with a damp towel on top.
Cucumber- store in fridge wrapped in a damp cloth.
Garlic head- store in a cool dark place.
Cooking greens- like kale and chard are hardy and can withstand fridge temperatures. Store them in an airtight container with a damp towel on the bottom to keep them from drying out.
Woody herbs- like thyme and rosemary can be stored in an airtight container in the fridge.
Leafy herbs- like cilantro and parsley can be stored in the fridge in a cup filled halfway with water.
Green Beans/ Bush Beans: Store unwashed fresh beans in a reusable container or plastic bag in the refrigerator crisper.
Radish- Remove greens, and store in an airtight container in the fridge. Store radishes, in the fridge in an open container with a damp towel over the top.
Carrots: remove greens and store in an airtight container in the fridge. Store carrots in the crisper drawer or open container.
Fresh Ginger: To maximize the storage time, place your ginger in a plastic bag; press out most of the air and place it in the crisper drawer in your refrigerator. If purchasing fresh ginger and looking to keep it for longer than a week, store the same way in the freezer, removing and grating as needed.
Lettuce/ Mixed Greens- wash greens in a salad spinner. Spread out green on a towel and allow to dry for 30 minutes. Roll up towel and store in the fridge.
Eggplant: Keep eggplant at room temperature in a cool spot, away from direct sunlight, and use it as soon as possible after harvesting or buying. You can place it in a vented bowl, but avoid sealing it in a plastic bag which can increase decay.
Okra: Store fresh okra carefully because the pods can bruise easily. Store okra in the fridge. Wrap them in a paper towel or place inside a paper bag, and store in the vegetable drawer. Do not wash fresh okra until you are ready to use it.
Tomatoes- tomatoes should never be stored in the fridge before slicing. Store directly on the countertop or in an open container. Once you sliced the tomatoes, place it cut side down on a plate and place it in the fridge.
Peppers- store unwashed in the fridge. Excess moisture can lead to mold. Wash peppers before using.
Spring onions- store in the fridge in the crisper drawer or airtight container.
Summer Squash/Zucchini- store at room temperature or on the counter.
Although the killdeer classifies as a shorebird, it is more likely found living and nesting far from water. My first encounters with this bird was the first season I worked at the farm. I thought their song was 'pretty' until I heard it 5,000 time. Named for their call, the "kill-dee” or “deee” sound is familiar too many. When disturbed they emit the call notes in rapid sequence and the alarm call is a long, fast trill. Killdeer are found throughout North and Central America and they are relatively short-distance migrators.
Killdeer are in the plover family and are relatively large despite weighing in at just over 3 ounces. They are slender and have long pink-brown legs with a body length of about ten inches and a twenty inch wingspan. Juveniles are best described as little fuzz balls on stick legs, which are incredibly cute!
Killdeer are masters of deceit and camouflage. Their nest is a shallow depression in the ground and if lined at all, it is with pebbles, twigs and grass. We have seen nests built in our fields amongst various crops, and low vegetation. The speckled eggs blend in with open ground, and our clay like soil. Their nest's are often very difficult to locate. Males are known to scrape dummy nests that help to foil the efforts of predators, which has fooled us a time or two.
The adults are well-known for their broken-wing display that is used to lead perceived predators away from the nest. From what we have observed male's assumes most of the incubation and defense activity to allow the female more feeding time after laying the eggs. The young are precocial, typically spending only one day after hatching in the nest. They are then led by the parents to deeper cover to feed heavily on insects until they fledge after about four weeks.
Killdeers's are another species found on the farm that is very beneficial in controlling insect populations. Like most birds, they are highly susceptible to death from use of pesticides. These birds are safe settling in on the farm, free of pesticides, eating PLENTY of bugs, and enjoying our additional water features. We are happy putting these little birds to work. It's all part of creating a symbiotic relationship with the surrounding environment.
Spring is the time of re-birth. While the weather warms, the native plants pop up, and the critters are out and about on the farm. We are welcoming these species as we beginning to learn how to work with them, and how they benefit the farm.
Last season we started a major permaculture project with Resilient Spirals. This project included installation of water features, perennial gardens and fruiting trees and bushes among many other things. There are many objectives for why a farm might take on a project like this. Although there are several reason we began working with Resilient Spirals, one of the principal reasons was to add more diversity to our farm. Keep in mind diversity doesn't begin and end with perennial gardens and cultivated plants. It's very much about attracting more species of the fuzzy and non-fuzzy variety. Although it's still a little chilly for the bugs (non-fuzzy's), we are already getting our first taste of the diversity we are creating.
As of late one of our freshly dug water features has become home to a nutria (pictured here). Nutria's also known as swamp rats, live in areas with fresh water. These mammals are native to South America, and were introduced to the United states between 1870-1930. Before we implemented these water features we had never seen this species on the farm. In fact we didn't even know what it was before it made a home here! As we shift into summer, this nutria will get to work, eating bugs and managing the aquatic plants and roots native to the shores it lives on.
As we've watch the ecosystem continue to diversify we have welcomed geese, mallards, kill deer, and sand hill cranes. With the farm being on very low land prone to flooding in the wetter months, it is no surprise these water birds are attracted to this ecosystem. You might think these birds bring little benefit to a farm, but in-fact they do their part. Geese and mallards are both mainly vegetarians, grazing on weeds in the early season. Mallards, geese, sand hill cranes, and kill deer chip in on the pest control, and we are happy to have them! There are a lot of bugs out there and we could really use all the help we can get.
Being that it is still early in the season this is only the beginning of the diversity to come. Watching this ecosystem unfold is fascinating. It feels like every living thing has a purpose here. Even us humans. Working alongside mother nature to produce food for our community.
With the ability to transport food long distances and supermarkets on every corner we can easily become unaware of what food is in season where we live. Think about this: we can purchase any fruit or vegetable we can imagine any time of year from a grocery store. That means most of us are probably eating strawberries in January and pumpkin in June. But let's be honest, those strawberries are not that tasty and there's something about pumpkin that doesn't exactly suit an early summer meal.
Michigan is second only to California for its agricultural diversity. That is incredible! That means that Michigan farms can grow most anything. In order to accomplish the most diversity in crops you will need structures like caterpillar tunnels and hoop houses. Using these structures extends the growing season to more closely mimic the environment of other big agricultural states like California.
We are so fortunate to not only live in an agriculturally diverse state, but to live in an area that is rich with local farms and local food communities. As one might expect, all the diversity of crops will not be available locally all year round. We live in a state that showcases all four season. Those seasonal changes bring new weather patterns and temperature changes that support different crops at different times of the year.
As some of you may have noticed while visiting the online store in the recent weeks, we are mostly offering greens and a small amount of other crops. The reason being, that crops like greens and radishes prefer to grow during seasons with cooler temperatures and shorter days. Not only do these environmental qualities enable the crop to grow well, the occasional cold snap helps the greens and radishes to develop a much deeper flavor.
As the weather warms and the days get longer, more and more crops will be transplanted from our propagation house into the field and into our season extending structures. The diversity of crops grown on the farm will increase and the diversity of crop found in your CSA boxes, as well as what is available on the online store, will also increase. Keep in mind, however, any crop that thrives in cooler weather will not stick around forever.
Soon, the heat loving long sunny day crops will be in abundance. Things like peppers, herbs, summer squash and, of course, tomatoes are just around the corner. It is an important reminder to enjoy what is available now and not take it for granted. It also a great reminder that we are fortunate enough to live in agricultural abundance! Take this opportunity to support your local farmer and get to know what foods are growing in your community throughout the season.
As the saying goes, spring comes “In like a lion, out like a lamb”. Today, this proverb has never rung more true. As we continue to see and feel the ferocious effect of the COVID-19 pandemic, it forces us to evolve. Evolve our business, our practices, and the way we interact with our teammates and our community. It can feel very chaotic in a time where things feel so uncertain, and change is constant.
Placing our feet back on the ground, we remember why farming is so magical. Mother nature presses on, always. Constantly reminding us that tomorrow is a new day, and opportunity is all around us. Our seeds are successfully germinating, the seedlings are growing strong in our propagation house, and our hoop houses are thriving. Everything we could ask for this time of year when spring is still battling winter, and we are patiently waiting for warmer weather.
Continuing to evolve our practices, we have consciously brought safety and cleanliness to the forefront. We have a small crew so these new practices have been simple to implement. Practices like wearing face masks while working in the field, harvesting, and washing produce is the new norm. As we always have, we continue to use sanitizer water to disinfect harvesting tool, produce soaking tubs, and more so now, pre-order bins and frequently touched surfaces. In addition, let's just say our hand washing game is on point. We do all these things to ensure safety for our team, and our community. We believe it is the most important that we are healthy, and can continue to provide the necessary service of growing, and providing food for our community.
We are uncertain about the status of open air farmers markets. As a response, we are emphasizing our CSA's and the use of our virtual store as the best options to provide for our community. It has not only provided food for families, it has also given us the opportunity to reach a market of people we could not attract before. Being able to order fresh local produce in the comfort of your own home is becoming more and more popular. We are excited by these new outlets, and we hope you are too. We are SO grateful for all the support we have received. It is a wonderful feeling to do what you love and feel the support of your community. Thank you all!
With the season coming to a close we find ourselves reflecting on 2019 thus far. It has been a unique season rich with growth and studded with successes and failures. While reflecting we consider things you might expect like: crop successes & failures. pest control, weed suppression, our CSA, and the wonderful people that work here. But, 2019 brought some much bigger things along with it. Things that will improve Gateway farm for the better, both in an environmental aspect, but also further our connection with the land, the native species, and our community.
In early summer, Mary Emmett the owner of Gateway farm and Plymouth Orchards & Cider Mill met with Bridget O'Brien and Charlie Brennan of Resilient Spirals. Mary always had a vision of creating a beautiful and peaceful farm with plenty of educational spaces and opportunities for the community. After meeting with Bridget and Charlie, and learning more about their specialties in permaculture and landscaping designs, they hit the ground running. Once they created the new design for the farm and met with the township, Bridget and Charlie's first order of business was earthworks. Things like grading the land, and preparing it for new structures like hoop houses and event spaces, as well as implementing permeable access roads to navigate the farm more efficiently. We all pitched in clearing invasive species and poison ivy along the fence line. Discarding the overgrown vegetation created great opportunities for passers-by to sneak a peek at the farm. Once the fence was cleared Resilient Spirals with the help of Integrity Landscaping created a natural barrier out of native plants and fruiting trees running along the fence. This natural corridor will not only protect the farmers and crops from the noisy road, but it also provides birds and other critters with a tempting food supply other than our crops and newly planted seeds.
Now that the necessary permits have been approved, Bridget and Charlie will move forward with their design and create two water features on the property. They wanted to incorporate water features into the design as a way to add relief back into the landscape after being flattened for years as a driving range and more recently as a farm. These water features will also help drain water away from production fields in addition to extra water storage used in irrigation. These water features are both beneficial to the operation of the farm as well as acting as a habitat for native plants and animals. They plan to build up berms around each water feature in order to create natural microclimates. Each water feature will have its own unique characteristics and benefits. One will feature an edible perennial garden, while the other a native species habitat and covered wooden structure to act as a gathering area for the workers and community. The Resilient Sprials crew is incredibly intentional with their design. Although we are still at the beginning stages of this project it has been very interesting and exciting to see how everything is coming together. As hard as it is to wait, things will halt over the winter. As things begin to thaw in the spring they will asses how the water moves on the land and move forward from there. I look forward to sharing the journey of this project with you in the newsletter and on social media next season! Find more information about Resilient Spirals on their website http://resilientspirals.com/about/ or on social media at https://www.instagram.com/gardenjujucollective/.
As the morning frost become more consistent and the days get shorter, things on the farm slow to a halt. Similar to the sound a record makes when you turn off the machine without lifting the needle. The caterpillars and grasshoppers that were once pest, seem to move like molasses. Some vegetables can't take the weather, crippling to the frost and becoming squishy versions of what they once were. Others brace themselves, rooting further into the ground and processing their extra starches into sugar as a last resort. This not only ensures a few more weeks of life for the crop but, brings out some of the unique sweet flavors hiding in hardy greens and root vegetables during the fall.
Although we move quicker than the caterpillar on a frosty morning we also wear more layers. Not a single day goes by without an extra pair of long johns. Even so, things are slowing down for the farmers as well. We spend less time harvesting, and more time cleaning up and organizing. We have removed the crops lost to the frost, and have begun preparing those fields to be planted in next season. Extracting things we learned over the last few years we have improved our technique to include a light tilling, laying compost and worm casting, and covering the entire field with a large tarp for weed suppression. We are finishing new structures like the caterpillar tunnels to buy us some more time in early spring, and preparing the hoop house for overwintering crops like spinach, kale, and lettuce mix to extend the growing season even further.
During the winter months is when most of the planning happens for the next season crops. As we reflect on this past year and the years that came before, we take away as much knowledge as we can. These experiences, failures, and successes are intertwined in our planning process and then tweaked and challenged into new experiments. As our vision for the farm expands we research new ideas and techniques to map out how to integrate them into the next season. It's refreshing and exciting all at the same time.
Although spring feels like an eternity away it will be here before we know it. There are a lot of plans and changes in the works for the future, that I look forward to sharing some of those changes with you in the next newsletter. Until then, thank you so much for subscribing to the newsletters, supporting our farmstand and continuing to make our weekend markets so special. We are incredibly grateful for our community, and the opportunity to share our love and passion with you.