Summer is in the air and the tomatoes are beginning to ripen. Sungolds are one of my favorite cherry tomato varieties and are already being harvested in the Greyfield Garden. This is an early, very sweet, and prolific cherry tomato. I look forward to other cherry varieties that take a bit longer to ripen- peacevine, black cherry, and sun peach to name a few. In addition to these cherries I am growing a variety of hybrid and heirloom slicing tomatoes seen on the left in the picture below. Come on over for dinner. I know the Greyfield chefs have been patiently awaiting the arrival of garden fresh tomatoes. I can’t wait to see the creative dishes they will end up in.
Well one things for sure….we are not in a drought. We have received afternoon showers pretty much everyday for the last two to three weeks. While the plants do seem to enjoy rain, it can be challenging to grow some crops with the amount of rain we have received this month. The sweet potatoes and peanuts seem to be able to handle sitting in wet soil for days. However, the tomatoes and peppers are fairly diseased and don’t seem to enjoy having their feet wet for a solid two to three weeks. The okra seems to produce no matter what. I have been harvesting 2-5 lbs of okra every other day and as soon as I turn around I swear half of the pods have already matured. The eggplant also seem to be able to handle the wet soil and we have harvested quite an abundance this month.
As things cool off a bit this week, I have decided to experiment with a few fall crops that can handle a bit of heat. I recently seeded some turnips, radishes, and arugula, as well as some yellow, purple, and green bush beans. So far these guys are up and looking healthy. Thankfully they are planted in a field that is a bit higher and has decent drainage.
I decided to cover crop one of the fields in order to build the soil and give the plot a rest. I used a sorghum sudan grass and cowpea seed blend in order to create biomass from the sudan grass and fix some nitrogen from the cowpeas. This is where I plan on planting out fall brassicas and overwintering beets and carrots. So far the cover crops are growing well and seem to be out competing late summer weeds.
On another not, I was lucky enough to come across a nest of sea turtles hatching on the beach the other night and was able to witness them taking their first swim. Pretty unbelievable experience!
Well, things are heating up and hurricane season is officially underway. We survived the passing of Tropical Storm Beryl and have enjoyed a few afternoon showers this week. A handful of cucumbers and squash were lost but all in all not much damage to the garden considering the high gusts of wind that whip through off of the marsh. I definitely made sure to stake and trellis the tomatoes, eggplant, and peppers well and they seemed to hold up to 30-45 mph winds….not too shabby.
We have been spending the last week or so raking and hauling truckloads of limbs and moss from around the compound and I now have quite a lot of material to do some composting with. Luckily there was no damage to the Inn or any other buildings around the compound.
We got a special delivery of bees to the garden a few weeks ago. Michael, our beekeeper is pictured above filling our hives with approximately 85,000 bees! These guys will definitely help pollinate the cucumbers and squash and produce some delicious honey in the future. Things are growing quite well and the crops I seeded last week have already germinated thanks to all the rain. Sweet potatoes, peanuts, beans, okra, and the second round of cucumbers, melons, squash, and zuchinni are on the way! I have started to harvest cherry and slicing tomatoes and a handful of assorted spicy and sweet peppers. The eggplant are flowering, the herb garden is filling in nicely and the flowers are blooming. I look forward to an abundant harvest this summer! Until next time, happy gardening.
Things have been transitioning rather quickly and the garden has slowly taken a new form. The idea is that I will plant row crops that I can rotate on the perimeter of the garden, and have a more formal series of gardens in the central space. I have been working on incorporating a herb section, a cut flower section, and a fruit section of the garden. I have strived to achieve a balance of reworking parts of the garden, starting stuff in the greenhouse and planting in the field, keeping things watered and weeded, starting compost, and battling the recent frost this past weekend. It is a pretty scary sight going to the garden in the morning to find your crops frozen stiff. As things thawed out I was able to assess the damage. The head lettuce had some tip burn but other than that could be salvaged. The potatoes were killed back to the ground but from what I have been reading, they should grow back in a few weeks. Other than that most things seemed to have made it through fairly well.
I have had the pleasure of working with my girlfriend a couple of times in the last few months. Maya is the assistant farm manager at Serenbe Farms in Palmetto, GA. It was great digging in the dirt with her again! We spent 9 months as interns at Serenbe Farms last season. We reshaped some beds and made space for a cut flower section of the garden. We assembled some drip irrigation and built some compost piles. We also planted out lettuce, swiss chard, curly kale, red russian kale, collards, spinach, and chinese cabbage that I have begun harvesting already! We reworked other parts of the garden to create a focal point and provide a space to show off some Cumberland garden art and plant some additional blueberry plants.
I also had the pleasure of working with my first official wwoofer Paul Henning. Paul had a great attitude and work ethic and helped me work through some not so fun farm tasks and the results look great! We completely reworked a field and added marsh rack to the pathways. The marsh rack will help to keep weeds down and once broken down more will be added to the beds to provide additional organic matter to the soil. We also gathered leaves, kitchen scraps, horse manure and built another large compost pile. So far it looks like things are breaking down rather quickly. We repaired the barbwire on the front fence, and planted out a few things from the greenhouse. It is always nice to have some company in the garden and work through some projects I have been wanting to complete. It is amazing what you can do with an extra set of hands!
I suppose I will start with how I began digging in the dirt and how I eventually ended up landing at the Greyfield Inn. I have always enjoyed the outdoors and have gardened with my family since I was a kid. I have held various jobs in the landscaping and horticulture field and have always found working in the dirt very therapeutic and rewarding. After graduating from the University of Georgia with a degree in Landscape Architecture in May of 2009 I spent the next year and a half working seasonal jobs and traveling around the western US. Having worked in the landscape maintenance and construction industry for the majority of my life I decided I wanted to try something new, pursue a career in which I could see direct results and be rewarded for my hard work. A career in which I knew I was making the world a better place. Realizing the impact that sustainable agriculture can have on our environment, economy, and society I began looking into opportunities to learn more and get some experience growing organic produce.
Upon returning to Georgia, I applied to a nine-month apprenticeship at Serenbe Farms in Palmetto, GA. After working at Serenbe for a season I had built a solid understanding of sustainable agriculture and how to make a living, essentially growing food. My apprenticeship covered everything there is to know about organic farming, from starting seeds in the greenhouse to growing, marketing, and delivering vegetables to local restaurants and families. By the end of it farming just made sense. I get to wake up with the sun, watch the day go by in the garden, experience natures’ rhythms, and witness them completely transform with the seasons. I get to watch plants grow from a seed into a thriving plant that can nourish my community and myself. I get to get dirty, and harvest, wash, and deliver sparkling produce to happy chefs, grateful families, and smiling community members! I get to participate in this huge juggling act that I have come to know as farming! What a life!
Confident that farming was the career I had been looking for all along, I began applying to opportunities to manage a farm or garden in the Southeast. That’s when I contacted Donn at Greyfield Inn about a gardener position on Cumberland Island! The Greyfield Garden is completely different than what I experienced while working at Serenbe. The scale, climate, soil, and environment are all very different but also great for growing delicious organic food. I look forward to a wonderful and productive season and watching the ebb and flow of this beautiful place while growing delicious food for our guests and staff!
For the past month I have been wrapping my head around the whole space and coming up with a solid idea of how I want the space to feel and function. I spent time weeding and shaping beds. I took an inventory of how much bed space was available, and got an idea of what crops I wanted to grow. I observed how the sun moved over the garden…where my shade was and where the best sun was. I also observed the wind patterns off of the marsh and the daily routine of marsh insects. I spent time figuring out how I wanted to lay out the drip irrigation system, where I wanted to situate the compost piles, and organized, sorted and inventoried seeds and other materials. I sent off a soil test, started transplants in a makeshift greenhouse, direct seeded some crops, spent time weeding, coordinated harvesting with the Greyfield Inn chefs, and am already seeing my hard work pay off.
Things are germinating in the field and the greenhouse quite well. I hope to be harvesting kale, Swiss chard, radishes, lettuce, carrots and other cool season crops in about a month or so. The plants seem to love this unusually warm December weather. The crop of dill, rosemary, green onions, arugula, turnips, beets, lettuce, radishes, peppers, and tomatoes (In December!) continue to make an appearance on the dining room table at the Greyfield Inn. I hope to blog more in the near future and share what’s going on in the Greyfield Garden.
As farewells go, this one is incredibly difficult.
My time at Greyfield is over.
In the past year I have grown professionally and personally beyond my wildest expectations. And I leave with the full and heartbreaking knowledge that even the most enchanted of times must finally come to an end. But this is a movement onward and upward–a conscious embrace of new adventures and different challenges. On Cumberland, goals had been met, theories proven, more cucumbers produced than could possibly be eaten. These roots are ready for new soil. In a word, it’s time to go.
Still, as I search through pictures today, I palpably miss the garden, the daily thrill of watching life ebb and flow around me and at my fingertips. Every hurdle, every disappointment I encountered trying to implement a thriving natural system in the garden was balanced daily by an experience straight from the pages of National Geographic. Even as the Fall crops struggled to the point of failure due to diminishing light, owls began to swoop from oak to oak, a host of unnamed birds organized flying south beneath the night’s first stars, a stray white deer could be seen radiant beneath the full moon during the brief drive home from work.
Even more, I miss the people and the faces I wish I could still see everyday. They were my true sustenance, and I could do nothing better than shine upon each an infinitesimal portion of the light he or she deserves. There’s no way to do this with due justice. So, I’m simply going to list the people whom I’ve come to cherish over this past miraculous year of my life, which, easy for me, is everyone at Greyfield. Excuse me as I clear my throat. These, ahem, are my friends:
The Dipsters, residents of Serendipity, citizens of Dipadelphia–
The first set, who were there when I arrived: Anda, a kind face to a new arrival; ever industrious Dan; retiring Katie; and the caring and always incomparable Jen, who is gone on to other pastures but will never, ever be forgotten.
Brodie, the singular, the great, the tugboat man, who could “hurl a torrid phrase across the water hard enough to make it bounce” and cook a steak anywhere he pleased. We landed on Cumberland almost simultaneously. He was my first friend there, and the sadness I felt when he left pains me even now. I’ll never forget driving him to his final departing boat, grinding down the main road while Def Leppard demanded, “Pour some sugar on me.” May I see him soon, and when he laughs deep and strong, I’ll laugh, too.
And then the magicians, shapeshifters, and defiers of reality (Brodie included), those who would each in some way become part of the tenuous Golden Age, in no small coincidence reflected by the gradual Spring blossom of an entire island–
You all deserve more than I can say, and as I write all of this, I realize you often say the least about the people for whom you feel the most: Ashley, whose laugh could shake the paint from Greyfield’s walls (she belongs to me); Dylan, pilot, American Hero (says Goose); Sarah, TurtleGirl forever; Johnna, aka Juanna Jefe; Iris, who made everything feel like home; Bejan, the most intrepid, Trout, etc., etc., etc.; Lauren, baseline, rock-steady gamer, artist; Jamie, Tiny Dancer/Satilla Soul-Boat; Heather, our lil’ sister, the original ghetto country; and the one and only Greg, who made us all proud to be ballers.
Never forgetting of course the queen bee, Emily–lion tamer, keeper of the flame, votary of Diana, our private historian whose stories warmed us around the fire and settled our nerves in the bug-thick and uproarious summer nights. Emily, whose name will always be synonymous with Cumberland.
Next, the Non-Dipsters, those who spent their nights around the inn, many of them Dipsters before, no less for not or no longer being so–
Back-Kitcheners–Lessli from Billyville (that’s right, Billyville), never bear-caught, part-time Dipster who could sweep in like a gentle breeze and utter a phrase rarely heard this far from the big swamp; Janet, L.Q., Jill of all trades, balm of the back-kitchen, who’s led more interesting lives than one can imagine, and who–you’d better believe–can fold a fitted sheet. Jessie–never has there been a nicer Tokyo Drifter.
The Chefs, superstars every one–Catch a glimpse of Whitney and Ben as they land at Farm 255 in Athens, GA. I can’t wait to see the new menu, and I’ve got my fingers crossed for some rabbit–and biscuits. Georgia is pure comfort to the soul; she makes cheesecake and carrot cake that would make you slap your mama. I miss Al‘s conversation, his mischief, the light in his eyes when he talks about his daughter, his help in the garden, his chimichurri sauce, lemon cottage cheese pancakes, and pork chops.
The Boat Men–Tucker and Dylan; plus Brodie, Levi, and Sam, gentlemen all. Some of the funniest, smartest, and–ladies–most eligible bachelors I know. Dashing, gracious, debonair. Just. Good. Dudes: they made the Lucy R. Ferguson a completely happy place, and without them the forty-five minute ride to and from Fernandina Beach would not have been the best commute in the universe. Tucker, Uncle Tucker: in too few words, South Georgia raconteur, whose experiences are unfailingly entertaining, from watermelon chucking to late nights on South Beach. A great man. Dylan: Collar-Popper, so nice he gets mentioned twice. Levi: white-shirted comic, argumentative, playful, gifted with insight and stark orginality. Sam: I wish you’d been around more. Anytime you want to talk about ABAC, I’m all ears.
Barners–Lee and Angel, amigos of the shop. Comrades of the workday. I miss your help, your talk, your mechanical wizardry, and the cool sanctuary of the barn on a July afternoon.
Fred–Indiana Jones. That’s just the way it is.
Ken–Uncle Cumberland, Dr. Greyfield, dear sage, kind philosopher, the reader you’ve always dreamed of.
Fawn–Honorary Garden Team Member. No one else could ever make Greyfield’s flowers looks so good.
Mary Jo & Mitty–Thank you for making me feel so incredibly blessed. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to watch the life of a barrier island evolve over the span of a year, and to fall head over heels in love with every moment of it. Thank you.
Finally, my industrious, cheerful, and just fantastic wwoofers, who gave more than I ever imparted: Sophie & Milleniama, dancing through a West Coast consciousness; Tony, on the right path farming biodynamically in McDonough; Becca, who’s working all the way to Maui; Dodge & Batty, sharp mistresses of pies and politics; and Wynne & Jake, making an art of being young and brilliant and terrifically funny.
I know as I conclude here you must be asking yourself, “What about Donn? I wonder what he’s doing now that he’s left Cumberland? He’s such an interesting and talented guy. I bet it’s something mega-awesome.” That’s a great question. If you were asking yourself that very thing, then you’d be right. Even if you weren’t saying those words, I’ve still got the answer.
I’m back in North Georgia (Gainesville to be precise), where my uber-talented and beautiful girlfriend is the senior political reporter for The Times. I’m farm-planning this Fall in order to cultivate in the Spring. I’m excited about transferring everything I learned on Cumberland, from the particulars of soil science to tasty and prolific cultivars to a deep reverence for ecological and biological systems. As I told myself over and over again–buffeted by storms, simmering underneath the falling ashes of nearby wildfires, struggling to find organic answers to the huge mineral deficiencies of marsh-side sand, and fighting every last raccoon on the island: if I can grow veggies well on Cumberland, I grow them darn near everywhere.
I can’t wait to use my expertise and passion to grow the prettiest, most nutritious vegetables in these clay hills. So Gainesville, Atlanta, Athens–watch out! Of course, whenever one moves from an remote island wilderness, there are always little hiccups. I’m still looking for the land to make all of this happen. But it will materialize. Working diligently and earnestly got me to Cumberland. I trust it to carry me again.
Until then, I’ll be searching the classifieds and blogging as regularly as I can on Farmer South. Realizing, of course, nothing will ever be like Cumberland. To everyone and everything that made the last year, thank you. I hope to see you all again very soon.
And best of luck to Ryan, the new gardener at Greyfield. Enjoy the sound of the winter wind brushing through the top of the pines. You’re going to do a great job.
P.S. I didn’t forget you, Shane, or you, Dave. And no one will ever forget Eddie…
I’d like to point everyone to my friend Jen’s absolutely delicious blog Food Orleans. Reading about her culinary adventures across the Crescent City and salivating over the photographic record reminds this fellow just what it means to miss New Orleans. In pursuit of at-home sustainability, Jen recently asked me to share my thoughts on backyard composting and the lessons I’ve learned from the Greyfield Garden.
I hope I’m not the “thoughtful composter” of Jen’s post title. I wish I could put more thought and energy into our compost program here on the island. Without a doubt, it’s the easiest way to address our fertility issues. But our extreme environment doesn’t make achieving a rich humus-like product easy, especially in the summer months. I’ve heard the garden on Little St. Simon’s does an excellent job in this respect, and I plan to study their system and bring it back to Greyfield. To be honest, I just don’t feel that we’re composting as successfully as we should be.
Regardless, Jen is far too generous with her praise. I’m not half as articulate as I wish. And, honestly, I could sit down and talk about Greyfield’s compost or any other aspect of the garden for days. I am a Greyfield Garden nerd, proudly. Get ready. With a little more time and determination (and a new camera), I hope that means a lot more blogging in the near future.
Until then, please check out the inside scoop on wild horse poop:
P.S. That’s super-Wwoofer Wynne in the compost pit. More on Wynne and the other pea in her pod, Jake, to come soon.
Three cheers to Dodge ‘n’ Batty, our latest Wwoofing volunteers and the linchpins to a successful year in the Greyfield Garden. Let no man ever say a couple girls (and city-slickers at that) can’t work a shovel. As temperatures went prematurely balmy, our cultured Atlantans took to the dirt, turning under old crops and furiously hoeing rows for our spring and summer harvests. I don’t know where we’d be without their unrelenting elbow grease, smiles, and buoyant humor.
Cumberland Island was just their first stop in a six-month “farmhand” tour across the U.S. Call them ambassadors of agriculture goodwill and Southern gregariousness. Whatever the case, follow their ever-winsome adventures at their irrepressible blog (Cumberland and Fernandina Beach make half a dozen entries).
Godspeed, ladies. May your journey be constantly serendipitous.
P.S. Yes, “Untitled” is actually part of their blog’s title. That is, until providence offers the right name, or a really good suggestion comes along. Any ideas, Greyfield fans?
Tomatoes and 2011! With the new year upon us, it’s time to get organized, lay the foundation for a bumper crop, and review the previous six months. In what I hope becomes a regular feature on my favorite vegetable–and favorite vegetable to grow–let’s look at some common problems facing tomatoes that the Greyfield garden confronted the past few months. First: Catfacing.
What is catfacing? Well, it’s not a five-alarm fire. It’s neither caused by disease or pests, so you can take a deep breath. Catfacing is, however, a rough, black, misshapen appearance on the bottom of tomato fruits, most often large tomatoes. It occurs when the tomato blossom sticks to the tiny developing fruit, leaving an open cavity that “scars” over. In the Greyfield garden we had catfacing due to low nighttime temperatures, as we were trying to sneak in a late crop of tomatoes after the bugs and before the first freeze.
The good news is that catfacing, although extremely ugly, does not impair the ripening or taste of tomatoes. In most cases the catface is neither large nor deep, and you can simply slice off the affected end from the ripened fruit. Ways to avoid it include growing tomatoes in temperatures that remain above 58 degrees and planting more cold-resistant varieties. We had large heirlooms in the ground, and like most heirlooms, they were highly susceptible to problems of this sort. In light of the unpredictability of subtropical weather, our late tomato crop this year will focus on hybrid varieties of medium size and smaller.
It’s thought that high nitrogen content and herbicide damage also can cause catfacing, but those are certain not problems on Cumberland.