Tag Archives: organic vegetables

Auf Wiedersehen, My Friends

15 Nov

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.

Greyfield Garden, Cumberland Island, Donn Cooper

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.

Lake Whitney, Cumberland Island

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-KitchenersLessli 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.

Greyfield Inn Kitchen

The Chefssuperstars 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 MenTucker and Dylan; plus BrodieLevi, 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.

BarnersLee 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.

The Supers

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.

WWOOF

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.

Cheers, y’all!


P.S. I didn’t forget you, Shane, or you, Dave. And no one will ever forget Eddie

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Current Issues

28 Jan

This post will catch everyone up with what is happening at Greyfield Garden, well at least the stuff we are willing to disclose!

It is the last week of a pretty chilly January and personally I am very much looking forward to some warmer weather.  The whole country went through a week and half or so of some frigid weather early in the month and crops were affected. Those of us that are growing fruits and veggies this time of year had to do some cuddling and cozying. In our garden we had some pretty eager tomatoes and basil that volunteered in a number of places and they were the first to fall when Jack Frost came to town. A”volunteer” is a term used for  seeds that hang around in the compost and are spread in the beds or in the rows and decide to set some roots in a new location. Perhaps they wanted a change of scenery or maybe they were just sleeping in their compost comforter and ended up peaking their heads out when we ruffled the blankets. Our Casper eggplant had been holding strong late in the season and, like the tomatoes, thought that the low temperatures were a good reason to tuck in to the compost comforter for a couple months. Thankfully the eggplant, tomatoes, basil, and a few patches of nasturtiums were the only folks affected by the low temps. The days of our kale, cabbage, collards, brussels, cauliflower, broccoli, and salad mixes being under blankets ended around the middle of the month. I even spent several nights heating bricks in the oven and placing them under the blankets to sleep with the veggies during the coldest nights!

Jack Frost left around the middle of the month and we had about a week of mid 60’s- low 70’s. I spent most of the cold spell inside planning for Spring, placing seed orders, and drawing garden maps. I received the seeds I ordered just in time for the warm weather! I spent several days planting salad mixes, radishes, kohlrabi, and carrots and harvesting sweet potatoes. Farmers and gardeners need to know when to plant and harvest, they need to be familiar with their soil, they need to be well read on pests and diseases, but even the most well studied farmer is at the mercy of Mother Nature.  Two days after I shed the layers of long sleeves and stocking cap and started planting we got three or four days of hard rain, lots of water in a short period. We have a very low spot in the NW corner of our garden and after one or two hard rains a couple months ago I realized it was going to be a lasting issue, so I raised all the beds in the western section.  The raised beds helped a great deal but it did not solve the problem completely, we are still dealing with standing water following a few hours of hard rain.  I spent a couple rainy days bending conduit for row covers. The row covers will serve as a warm tunnel for some spring seed starting. I hope to start enough seeds under the row covers to transplant a good majority of the garden by the end of February.

I have attached some photos of our worm bin as well as a composting method that was shared by a guest, Paige Rabalais, of Avoyelles Parish, LA. I am excited about the composting in place. I feel like it is a great way to give garden visitors a visual on the composting process. The method is great for backyard gardens and raised beds; lots of guests have questions about compost and it is great to give them an idea about how to handle composting at home.  Composting in place is less laborious than pile composting or other methods that require shoveling and hauling the compost to the intended place of use. I planted oats and rye grass around the small compost barrel in our garden. Cover cropping and composting in place are excellent together because they both add organic matter to the soil and help to create a rich bed for the next crop in rotation. I have built 12 of these small barrels and will begin using them in rotation with cover crops following a fruit or vegetable crop. Our worm bin started out with two pounds of worms, several boxes of shredded newspaper, kitchen scraps, and some finished compost a little over two months ago.  Our worms are currently being fed like kings and have a lovely house nestled between our two orange trees in the garden. I transported the worms from Savannah one weekend and became well acquainted with them when the bag I was carrying them in busted in the car. Needless to say I know what they looked like when they went into the bin and now when I feed them I check on how much they have beefed up, they are looking happy and healthy! We are using this bin and our compost piles to reduce the amount of material that is hauled off the island. Instead of sending it off to be hopefully be recycled we are shredding the newspaper and some cardboard to use in our compost and the worm bin. Along with

Those of you that are farming and gardening out there, good luck with spring prepping and we wish you the best in the upcoming season. Those of you that are not currently growing, I hope it’s because it’s too cold where you are and not because you think that you don’t have enough time or space to do so. Grow what you can, it tastes better and you feel better when you eat it!  Take it easy (on the planet) and eat well.

The new Greyfield Garden sign, come on in! Thanks Tucker 🙂

10 nights below freezing. We made sure our babies were as warm as they could be.

These are the guys that took a hit w/ the cold weather. We saved them and fried them for a delicious snack!

Casper eggplant, middle of Decemeber. These guys and our volunteer tomatoes were among the cold weather casualties.

After the cold we received several days of hard rain. The garden is a little stressed. I am doing my best to keep her happy and healthy.

Compost tea anyone?

Adding new rows in the western section of the garden.

West beds are finished. Robbie plants young strawberries in one of the new rows.

West beds are looking good!

(Top to bottom) Bananas, cold frame, beds, hand cart, beds.

Beginning of our worm bin.

The worms survived the cold weather and have grown considerably since we dropped them in to their new home.

Thanks for the idea Paige. Composting in place. I am going to do this in beds when they are not under vegetable production. Compost in the middle with a cover crop surrounding the pile. This will really help get the beds ready for the next rotation!

Composting in place well on its way.

Cheddar cauliflower surrounded by broccoli and snow crown cauliflower.

Micro greens factory. Our chefs love using these as a garnish and when they get past the "micro" stage they use them for young leaf salads, delicious!

Welcome to Greyfield Garden

21 Jan

Hello everyone, the following information includes my thoughts, words of truth, garden facts, occasional jokes, and hopefully some insight to what it is like working closely with Mother Nature. My name is Andy Schwartz and I am the gardener at the lovely Greyfield Inn on Cumberland Island.

The garden at Greyfield is roughly one acre in size and approximately half of that is under vegetable and fruit production at the moment.  Greyfield has had an interest in things sustainable and environmentally friendly for decades. The mentioning of growing healthy soil and healthy food came as no surprise when several forward thinking heads came together with thoughts of rejuvenating the Ferguson family garden on Greyfield grounds. The result of those thoughts and the decision to move forward with a more sustainable and seasonal menu at Greyfield led to many positive happenings one of which was the decision to hire me as full time gardener. Items like fresh fish, shrimp, oysters, and scallops, local breads, cheeses, fresh Florida citrus, rice and various traditional grains have been on the menu for years. The addition of a productive fruit and vegetable garden paired with a good recycling and composting program only made sense. I must give my thanks to Daron “Farmer D” Joffe, Marla Henderson, Mary Jo Ferguson, and Oliver “Mitty” Ferguson for giving me the opportunity to steward the lovely piece of land that I do.

Our goal is to grow as much of the most healthy and nutritious food that we can to feed our guests at Greyfield Inn.  We offer guests a unique opportunity by doing daily tours of the garden and assisting in developing a relationship with the food they will be consuming later that evening. We are excited to share our philosophies on growing sustainable, organic, and natural foods in a healthy environment. Our country is changing the way it thinks about food and the way it perceives what is healthy and what is not. Nationwide plenty of folks are beginning to realize the importance of being able to provide fresh fruits and vegetables for themselves and their families. Our aim is to enable those that may have never seen a brussels sprout growing to see it growing and flourishing in a row of its brothers and sisters, learn how to harvest it, and have the chance to eat it that evening on their dinner plate with local fish caught that day and Carolina Gold rice from a nearby rice farmer.

The vegetables and fruits know exactly what to do; we do our part to provide the most nutrient rich soil that we can and the rest is up to Mother Nature. We do not use any chemical pesticides or fertilizers. We compost. We look to the island for soil amendments. Horse manure, oyster shell, fish emulsion, various mulches, leaf mold, and sea- weed are a few of our not so secret ingredients.  Our composting operation is fueled by roughly 12-15 pounds of kitchen scraps on a daily basis. Since my first day on Cumberland we have turned approximately 1 and a half tons (3195lbs) of kitchen scraps into nutrient rich compost for our garden beds!  We are now shredding all of our newspaper, egg cartons, and some cardboard for our worms to process into more fertile soil to be added to our beds.  We have been using compostable coffee cups that we mulch and add to our compost piles for several months now and will continue to use indefinitely. We believe that our efforts to be responsible and have a low impact on our surroundings will help to keep Cumberland as wild and magical as it is today for many years to come.

We have been hard at work developing the garden from the ground up and hope to have a very productive spring this year. We have had one WWOOFer  (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms) do an apprenticeship with us and he was a witty lad from London that loved Willie Nelson, compost, and armadillos. We are listed on the WWOOF website as accepting one apprentice at a time and are working with the University of Florida to develop an internship program through their agriculture department. Through these outlets we hope to draw in individuals that are interested in growing vegetables, being surrounded by raw nature, and working shin deep in compost and horse manure, not necessarily in that order. The unique situation that is Greyfield Inn and the island surrounding it draws thousands of visitors every year. The goal of Greyfield garden is to educate as many people as possible starting with our guests and extending to the mentioned apprenticeships and internships. We also want to feed our guests all the yummy veggies they can eat during their visit! I will be posting thoughts and any information that we feel needs to be shared as well as plenty of photos and narratives. Keep your heart close to the ground so that your ear is close too and listen closely… checking our blog will work just as well.

Until next time, take it easy (on the planet) and live well.

Mature luffa on the vine, ready to be harvested and used for exfoliation.

Sunflower harvest. soon to be hung for our winged friends stopping by the garden.

Hanging elephant head amaranth. These really added color and a new dimension to the luffa tunnel.

Bright like the sun

West beds. Sunflowers and a cover crop row of cow peas.

Prickly pear cactus. I transplanted these from a nearby field to start a sort of interpretive bed in the garden.

Passion flower

Typical daily harvest mid-June.

enter the garden

This is most of what you see upon entering the gate, there are 6 raised rows to the left of the tabby structure.

nasturtiums/micro greens

Early morning in the garden.

Tiger melon, ground view