Too Much Sun

We sat in the field, letting the sun kiss our skin while we watched the butterflies and fairies play, and the wildflowers and grass dance. Our fingers worked to pull up the weeds that were choking the garlic and stealing their food, and in return they thanked us, one by one, with a deep sigh of relief.

Garilc in the spring

Garilc in the spring. Photo by Kristina Rossi

At lunch we ate food that was more alive than we were. It made our insides stand up straighter  and our brains spring up higher. We had started to feel it earlier from the air and the soil, and we thought we heard it whispered among the insects and the trees, but now we were sure- it was getting to us.

Things were changing. We were seeing deeper, clearer. It was all connected, we were all connected, everything is connected.

We wandered up the hill, higher and higher, and our bodies started to feel even lighter. The kale spoke to us of the past and the future, and the cows so readily shared with us their essence and ways of being. How intricate, how deep, how universal every little part is.

cows on the farm ss 2015

Photo by Mac Hill

Back into the woods the trees towered us and stood openly and honestly, not pushing their message onto us, but allowing us to see it and feel it ourselves. The creek hummed, and sang, and sparkled and wished, and we danced along beside it, winding and moving to the rhythm we heard.

The long and hungry creek.

The long and hungry creek. Photo by Kristina Rossi

Hours passed this way before anyone realized the sun had turned angry and against us, burning us with the same fire that it had kissed us with earlier. The brush was too thick, the trail was too treacherous, and our enthusiasm to continue was dwindling.

Now my body is sore, my skin is hot, my head is aching and I am so painfully aware I did not drink enough water. The highs are too good to give up because of the lows. I am an addict. I can not wait until morning comes, the rooster crows, and I can jump up to milk my cow and get high on farm life again.

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Improving the Hillsides

Pastures can get compacted, acidic and in need of renovation. I’ve been doing some things to improve our hillsides. The soil color is getting darker and the texture looser, so maybe I’m on the right track.

The most important aspect of grazing cattle on pastures is to keep them off of it. The grass needs to be able to grow back for a few months with no animals grazing it. This allows the roots to grow deeper into the decaying organic matter left over from the last grazing.

cows on the farm ss 2015

Photo by Mac Hill

The Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) has been helping farmers with cross fencing and water systems, because resting pastures conserves soil. Ideally, animals should eat the tips of the new growth, tromp in the majority of growth, and then move off of it to let it regrow. The alteration of grazing and rest builds soil.

Another good idea is key line plowing. I take a transit and find the level contours along the hillside. Then the chisel plow, with every other shank removed, is pulled along the contour making four inch trenches, two feet apart. Water that is flowing down the hill gets caught in the trenches, soaks into the soil, and is used later in the summer rather than running off to the creek.

Lime is the cure for soil acidity. I like to apply a ton and a half per acre every two or three years It helps to do this in connection with loosening the soil by chisel plowing. Litmus paper is a good way to check soil PH.

cows in a field farm

Photo by Kristina Rossi

In late February I mixed oats, fescue and red and white clover seed together in a five gallon bucket. I walked over the hillside flinging it out. Then I harrowed the field to knock down the ridges and cover the seed.

I also use the harrow after the cattle have grazed a paddock. This scatters the cow pies out and slightly tills the field. It seems to really help with the fertilization.

Cute spring calves are hitting the ground, and trees are budding out. Plants are springing up out of their winter sleep, and I am wound up like a spring, planning gardens and farm activities. The pastures will soon spring back to life, with the extra bounce from winter’s pasture renovation. Happy Spring!

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Spring Equinox 2016: Feedback Form

Spring Equinox has come and gone, and we are still walking around as if in a dream from all the great energy that you all brought to our farm. How thankful we are to have so many people bring such goodness to the farm that the plants in the upcoming season can then use to grow strong and healthy!

We also don’t like to leave home, so it’s nice that you all come here to party with us.


Our thoughts on the event

We loved the overall vibe of the event, and we loved how everyone loved and partied in a mellow, cool way. We loved the music, dancing, flow toys, personality and kitchen donations you all brought to share, and we loved the respect and kindness we saw people show themselves, one another, and our farm. Although only about half of our attendees donated to the event, we want to thank everyone who did. Your financial support helps us keep the farm going, and we are thrilled to be able to make an extra payment towards the bank note.


Thank you to everyone for not bringing your dogs and thank you, thank you for allowing us to have a vehicle-free camping space to enjoy nature together in. How beautiful it was! To the 12 or so people who used the unloading area as a parking lot, we hope you make the right decision next time.

Thank you to our vendors and thank you to our volunteers. Thank you also to our attendees who contributed something a little extra to the event.

We are already so looking forward to the Summer Solstice Music Festival, and the Fall Equinox Family Campout that will both be happening later this year. But first, please let us know your thoughts and feelings about this past Spring Equinox by filling out the form below. We want to hear from you!

 Thank you so much again for sharing the farm with us this past weekend. You all help push us into the season and through it until the next one!

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I Am But A Single Cell, By Olivia Cantrell


We are so lucky to always have such talent and creativity on our farm. The poem below is by an intern from two seasons ago, Olivia Cantrell.


I Am But A Single Cell

I am but a single cell within a seed, with little energy I must proceed
To the sun above that beckons me.

I endure until the light I reach, thrusting myself up and one root underneath.
I feel a flourish within my feet as I’m allowed to grow taller within my strength.

I find myself amidst rolling thunder and my first experience with electric light, that makes the rain fall hard and heavy.

I hope for time that I am ready.
I wake the next morning less sore than assumed, and everything around me thickly covered with dew.

The world seems to sparkle, washed fresh and new, as the sun rises soaking up my sweat, I feel myself spreading, stretching higher yet.

Underground the soil grows thicker, my roots become stronger anchoring deeper.
Searching for life that exists far below, finding a foundation as taller I grow.

My thin green skin’s been turning darker with days.
Stretching, maturing into bark it will stay.

Becoming strong and bold, rising high into the canopy.
My branches sprawl to soak up the sun above me.

With seasons change in the wind I sway,
Forever as I grow old in this spot I’ll stay.

kristina Rossi and Olivia Cantrell looking up at the trees
Photo credit: Becky Little

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I Love Organic Gardeners

I enjoy being around organic gardeners. They are a fun and inquisitive bunch, with lots of questions and unique experiences. Every garden is different, an artwork of soil, plants, and animals created by an artist with dirty fingernails. Winter time offers several area conferences for us all to run shoulders with each other.

Last weekend found me near Chattanooga at Sequatchie Cove Farm, for a biodynamic talk with 50 eager growers. Next weekend, February 26-27, I speak at the Georgia Organics Conference, which will be in Columbus, Georgia. This will be a big event with over 1,000 attendees.

jeff poppen conference

The following weekend, March 4-6, is the Nashville Lawn and Garden Show. I have given the last lecture on Sunday there for over 15 years. It’s a great place to run into old friends and make new ones.

A new conference for me will be the 23rd Spring Conference of the Organic Growers School at the University of North Carolina Asheville campus. They are expecting over 2,000 folks for the three day event. I’m on for 3 hours on Friday, March 11, and then sessions on Saturday and Sunday, too.

Biodynamics is the topic I’m often asked to speak on. As the oldest organic movement, it continues to gain respect and interest. I like to point out that biodynamics arose soon after the synthesis of nitrogen and the problems associated with its use.

cow horns biodynamic conference

Studying how farms were managed before then gives us insight into the biodynamic method, which relies on biological activity rather than bagged fertilizer. Compost, cover crops, and cattle and crop rotations kept farms fertile and productive. This age-old systems really work, and we simply don’t need all of the agricultural chemicals so widely used today.

It is inspiring to see so many imaginative young people excited about careers in organic farming. Consumer demand far exceeds current production, and we are getting interest from schools, hospitals and other potentially huge accounts. I’m honored to be a part of these educational events, especially since the organic crowd is so curious, interesting and fun-loving.

-Jeff Poppen

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Gertrude and Fred are Dating

You probably already know since I am too excited about it to keep it to myself, but I just got a dairy cow! She is a Guernsey named Gertrude.

gertrude being sweet


She started out really angry. I took her away from her last calf and moved her here to the farm. She screamed all day for 3 days straight! She is hanging out here on the farm to spend time with Jeff’s Bull, Fred, until she gets bred. Then she can move to my house to live with me. I have plenty of pasture and she will be happy there. But first we need to get a baby in her!

Gertrude screaming


Fred and Gertrude have had no interest in one another for over a week and a half now. For over a week and a half, I have driven to the farm twice per day to milk her. I couldn’t wait for her to get with Fred.

Tonight it happened! They started hanging out!

gertrude and fred


I am so thrilled. Hopefully they ended up working it out and hopefully Gertrude has a baby in her now. Next she comes to my house to live with me, and I am so excited!


-Kristina Rossi

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Here’s Why: White Oak Bark Preparation

The following is a blog post written by Jeff Poppen in response to the question “Why?” after Kristina’s post about a day spent scooping brains out of a cow’s skull. 

An open grown white oak tree can attain a magnificent crown, rounded and easily as wide as it is tall. When you burn the bark, 77% of the left over ashes are the element calcium. Calcium is the element that helps move other elements around, so it is extremely important for the health of plants, animals and humans.

A skull cavity is also round, and houses the brain. The difference is oak bark before and after its time in a skull is the proliferation of enzymes, which are catalysts for biological processes. We put the finished product in small amounts into compost piles, where these new enzymes ( and other microbes) can propagate. The compost will later be spread on fields to support the clay/humus complex.

cows in a field farm

As plants grow, their root exudates wake up soil microbes that can colonize around these food sources and contribute to the plant’s health. The greater the biological diversity in the soil life, the better chances we have for really health crops. The oak bark preparation contributes to this diversity, and is meant to be used in conjugation with five other preparations; yarrow, chamomile, stinging nettle, dandelion and valerian, all of which undergo a particular process.

Rudolf Steiner gave these preparations as for farms that had the misfortune of applications of artificial fertilizers. They help to bring the soil back up to par. We have found them to be the cheapest way to grow good foods here on our farm.

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Dear Facebook Friends: I Don’t Read My Own Facebook

Dear Facebook Friends,

I have chosen not to look at computers for a variety of reasons. My time is spent outside during daylight, tending plants, animals and farming equipment, or shooting the breeze with neighbors and friends. I value computers and all they offer, and if I’d been born later I’m sure I’d be using them myself.

As it is, I hire that out. Just as I hire out some of the planting and harvesting, or machine work, I have hired Kristina to do computer work. She has done a remarkable job, from typing up my newspaper columns to organizing the website and social media platforms.

Last night I spent an hour looking at my Facebook page, where 5,000 “friends” “follow” me. Looking through the names I found old high school buddies, and great people who have visited the farm that I’d love to reconnect with. After an hour it became clear that I can’t do this, and I barely got through a few hundred names.

flower red zinnia pretty tn organic farm

I’m in a dilemma. Kristina says we’ll have to delete some “friends”, but she doesn’t know which ones are real acquaintances. I feel honored that so many people are interested in the farm, and I treasure the experiences I’ve had with visitors here over the years.

You can help me. Just let me know that you know me. If you’ve tried to connect and I haven’t responded, please do so again. An email or direct message is more reliable, but we’ll be keeping an eye out over the next few weeks to hear from you via Facebook, etc.

My apologies for being obstinate about this computer thing. It is simply unpleasant for me to look at the screen. Kristina is happy to pint out messages that I can respond to with old-fashioned pen and paper. Thank you so much for bearing with me and I really do look forward to hearing from you. Better yet, come visit when you get a chance.

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Cow Skull Biodynamic Prep

I spent this afternoon scooping the brains out of a cow’s skull. Then I helped shove white oak bark into it. Then I helped bury it in a muddy spot. I’ll get back to it after it stays there through an autumn and a winter.


This is one of the Biodynamic preparations that we use on our farm. It is one of the many things that seem to help our gardens, pastures and whole farm organism thrive.


This cow had been on the farm some 25 years or so, and died of natural causes. A neighbor came over and helped Jeff get the cow out of the pasture and into the woods, and remove it’s head.

Jeff and I scraped oak bark off one of our bigger white oaks, being careful to only take the bark with bright red on the inward-facing side. He said the red ones seem to be thriving more.

We ground up the bark, shoved it in the skull, sealed it up, then buried it in a watery spot to sit for an entire autumn and winter. Then we will dig it up, and use it in our preps.



  1. Decapitate dead cow. (Use a sharp knife. Start behind ear, crack off the bone right at the base of the skull where the vertebrae join it. The rest of the tissue comes off in a straight line down).
  2. Scoop out all brain matter.
  3. Gather oak bark. Jeff liked only oak bark that was deep red. He said that seemed to be “thriving better”.
    white oak bark
  4. Grind up oak bark. Steiner says, “crumbs”, and Jeff and I could not agree on what size that meant. We went with the finer grained “like cornmeal” consistency that he liked as opposed to the bigger-chunked pieces I liked. He said that when I start making them then I can do it whatever way I’d like, as Steiner’s lectures are often times up to user’s interpretation.
  5. Stuff ground oak bark in skull. Like, really stuff. He used a piece of wood and hammered it in so we could fit as much as we could.
  6. Close up hole with according to Steiner, something bone-like, but according to Jeff, a rocks or two that he likes for it. That may be another thing I do differently when I eventually start making them myself.
  7. Find a muddy, mucky place that according to Steiner has water flowing over it, and according to Jeff has water. We chose the corner of a pond, and used the tractor to dig a huge hole. Jeff carefully placed the skull in the hole so that it wouldn’t be upside down, then dumped the mud and muck back on top.
  8. Remove after it has been buried through an autumn and a winter.


-Kristina Rossi

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General Overview of Our Planting Schedule

The following is an excerpt taken from a consultation report by Jeff Poppen on a farm in Tennessee giving a general overview and synopsis of our planting schedule:


In April we plant onion, potato, lettuce, carrot, beet, and swiss chard.

In May we plant beans, corn, squash, and cucumbers. Later in May we plant tomato, pepper, sweet potato, melon, and okra.

In June we’ll replant the early May vegetables for later harvest.

By the end of July, as potatoes and onions come out, we plant fall veggies. These include cabbage, broccoli, bok choy, and then in August as other stuff comes out we plant kale, turnips, mustard, etc.

If you would like Jeff Poppen to come to your small garden or large farm for a consultation, please fill out our consultation form here. 

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What’s Your Opinion?

Here at Long Hungry Creek Farm we like to deliver only the best, highest quality produce. We have these turnips, and we think every single one of them are de-lic-ious, but we heard that some people don’t like the big ones, and some people don’t like the small ones.

turnips vegetables organic farm tn tennessee

What’s your opinion? We want to know what we should leave in the field and what we should take to our customers, eaters and friends.

Big, medium, or small? Is it a texture thing? Bitterness or sweetness kinda thing?

Leave your input in the comments and we’ll use it to shape our harvesting habits accordingly!

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Cave’s Carvings Deciphered

The old carvings in the cave where we store our potatoes have finally been deciphered. They were carbon-dated at about 30,000 years ago, and resemble carvings in Swiss lake caves and one up in the Himalayan mountains. It reads something like this:

To advance from wondering nomads to permanent agriculturalists requires little else than land, labor and love. You will need the split-hoofed grass eaters and to use their impact wisely. Burn bones and rocks and spread the ash and sow the three-leafed, podded knotty-rooted plants. Keep the soil growing useful species alternating every few years with crops for grazing. Eat what makes you feel good and rot the leftovers with dung and spread the compost. Be quiet occasionally and think about important things.

Join us at this year’s Tennessee Local Food Summit, and we will delve into how to feed ourselves and boost our economy following the advice from thousands of years ago.


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Jeff Poppen’s Op-ed for the 2015 TN Local Food Summit

Tennessee’s 5th annual Local Food Summit again celebrates Nashville’s farmers and chefs and their supporters, who are committed to good agricultural practices, eating better, and stimulating the local economy. Although we can grow almost all of the crops we consume, only a small fraction of one percent comes from Tennessee. Industrial agriculture, from corn and soy to CAFO’s, demonstrates the rural landscape that once fed Nashville from small family farms. 
We will be meeting in the old dairy barn of a 450 acre Nashville farm that helped supply Tennessee State University with high quality local food for many decades. Although TSU and my own opinions may differ, we both see the need to increase local food production and consumption now. 
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We both understand the detrimental effects of a fossil fuel dominated agriculture and how to grow healthy food with combing proper animal husbandry and diversified crop production. I feel this is a momentous occasion to set aside differences and work together to promote healthy local food, provide jobs, and improve the care of Tennessee’s land, water and people. 
“Humans are coming full circle”, says Professor Roy Bullock, State Agriculture program leader. “We started out growing food along river banks, then got into big ag. monoculture crops, and are now heading towards growing our own food along river banks again”. 
The only way we are really going to survive is to get back to basics with small farms and urban gardeners. We are honored to be inviting you to another special Tennessee Local Food Summit on TSU’s farm and campus with good, rich bottom land beneath our feet. 
December 4-6, more information at
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Consultation Report

After typing up a consultation report to send to a recent client, I thought, “there is a ton of great information in here that people would probably love to read”, so I had to share with you all. The following is from the most recent consultation Jeff did.                               –Kristina Rossi, Secretary/Business Manager, Barefoot Farmer

Dear ******,

It was great to meet you and your family. The farm has amazing potential, along with lots of work.

Increasing beef production is where I would start. The NRCS, the USDA’s soil conservation program, can assist in cross-fencing and watering facilities. Contact your local extension agent. They may also have good ideas on making and fixing ponds.

The fields need lime. Contact the farmers co-op, or ask a neighbor, about getting a truck to spread 1 1/2 to 2 tons of lime per acre. Any burn piles you make will provide wood ash, which is an excellent source of potassium and calcium.

The land is compacted. Ripping with a chisel plow along the contours would add air, help with drainage and promote biological activity. Your soil is fertile, but too tight. I wouldn’t plow the hay field (where the horses were before the hill) as it leaves the land rough at first. Plow the hill above the hay field and keep the horses there.

Premier fencing offers a catalog with lots of electrical fencing information and products. Books on the subject include Salad Bar Beef by Joel Salatin, Holistic Management by Alan Savory, Ranching Full Time on 3 Hours a Day by Cody Holmes, No Risk Ranching by Greg Judy, and works by Allen Nation, whose magazine is called “Stockman Grass Farmer”. Acres, USA has many of these books available for purchase online.

By moving a herd often, much of your farm will finally be allowed the rest it needs to properly heal. Keeping animals off of land, along with bush hogging the brush, lets the grasses and clovers re-establish themselves. Buying hay for a year or two might be wise because it is like buying organic fertilizer, but that depends on your budget.

The garden behind the house has a bermuda grass issue. Plow the whole thing now, after cleaning out the barn and spreading it on the garden spot. Leaves rough plowed all winter and physically remove the wire roots. Cover crop in summer with any tall, rank growing summer annual- sudan grass, corn, cow peas, sun flowers, and then follow with a winter cover of wheat and peas or rye and vetch.

The corn field has a drainage issue. Remove bermuda grass underneath fence. Sow it into wheat and peas or rye and vetch now, if you can fence out the cattle.

Bush hogging is the cheapest fertilizer, you can constantly add organic matter every time you bush hog. Bring loppers and chain saw and take out low branches along the edges, maybe thin back some trees to increase pasture size. Figure out the barn drainage issue and maybe gutter and cistern the excess water.

Stay in touch, and please come visit if you can.


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Golden Nugget

The one thing I don’t like about sweet potatoes is that they taste better than butternuts. When I reach for a butternut to bake for dinner, my arm involuntarily dips in the adjacent basket and it’s sweet potatoes for dinner again. I would say I hate when that happens, but it’s not true.

How could I forget the day I met her, the Golden Nugget? After collecting scion wood of old fashioned apple trees at Coin and Chelsea’s farm on the other side of Macon County, I was invited into their home.

“I’ve got something for you,” Coin said, and went upstairs. Coming down from the attic with a half bushel basket, I can’t say it was love at first sight. It was simply a basket of dirty sweet potatoes.

“Lay them in a bed in early April, get them out in late May, dig them before frost, put them in the attic and don’t move them again” were the instructions that came with that basket. The last bit of advice was amended with the explanation that “the milk inside doesn’t like to be shaken up or else they won’t keep”, and that his grandfather was growing this same strain every year for over 75 years.

This was 40 years ago, and love certainly grows. Year after year they’re bedded down, set out and hoed, and eventually stored away. The less we move them the better they keep. I’ve trialled a dozen other varieties and nothing comes close to the flavor of her. Beauregard produces more, but they taste watery to me. I only have eyes for the Golden Nugget.

Horse manure is laid in a trench to ferment and heat up the soil that is put on top. Sweet potatoes are buried and sprout up in a month. A few weeks later the slips are pulled and planted 16” apart on ridges made with the cultivator hillers. We hoe them once or twice, and pull weeds in mid-season.

In the fall they are mown and the vines are pulled to one side. The potato plow slowly lifts them out of the ground, and what a beautiful sight it is to see the rows of roots popping out of the ground. we let them dry a bit in the sun before basking up the good ones and hauling them to a barn loft.

Sweet potatoes like warmth, and when first dug aren’t as sweet as they’ll be after a few weeks at 80 degrees or so. An attic perfect because it is warm and dry, but my attic won’t quite fit 400 bushels. Yet you can bet I’ll have a few dozen bushels in my upstairs bedroom.

Sometimes a couple will be curled and wrapped around each other. Baked and buttered, there is not much better. I still like butternuts, but I love my golden nugget.

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Fall Brassicas

Great ground guarantees the growing and gathering of gourmet garden greens galore. We get the soil in good shape by adding lime and generous amounts of biodynamic compost in the spring and growing a garden all summer.  By mid-August, the spring and early summer crops have petered out, and we are ready for fall Brassicas.

On July 10, and again on July 26, I planted a few rows of Chinese cabbages so I’d have plants ready in August for transplanting. The Napa head variety we grow is Rubicon, and we also grow a leafy one called Michihili.

About a month later, we dig them up and put them 18″ apart in a 4′ wide bed. They can get huge, up to 5 pounds each. Chinese cabbages don’t get cabbage loopers as bad as the standard European cabbages do.

This is a Calabrese sprouting broccoli, and you can see that it is more susceptible to these pesky worms.  A covering of Reemay will physically keep the cabbage moths from laying their eggs. There is a bacteria, bacillus thuringiensis, that you can spray on the plants.  It makes worms sick and die, but is safe and non-toxic to other animals.

The baby Bok choy variety is Mei Qing, and it is a lighter green color than the full-sized Jo choy. Both of these are easy to grow and are used in Kimchi, which is a Korean version of sauerkraut.

We chop it up, add salt, cayenne, garlic, and ginger, and then squeeze it with our hands to make liquid come out. It naturally ferments if kept submerged in its own juice for a few weeks, then stores well for several months if kept cool.

Before august 15, it is too early to sow the other fall Brassicas, but on August 17, I was sprinkling seeds. This row of Arugula will add a whang to your salads. It is full of vitamins and must be good for you because it tastes really strong. I’m not too crazy about it myself.

Kale is the queen of the tall greens, and we grow a lot of it. Besides feeding us all fall and winter, kale sends up a small broccoli-like shoot in the spring that we love. I call it “brockali”. We’ve been saving this flat-leaf variety for over 30 years, simply letting a little go to seed, drying it, and threshing it out.

These are Red Russian kale, and this one is a Lacinato type called Toscano. A close relative is collards, and these are Georgia collards.

Tokyo Bekana is a light, leafy fall green, and Mizuna is similar, but more feathery.  Southern Giant is the mustard we are starting, and this will be a patch of purple-top white-globe turnips. Fancy turnips are also available, and we like the white ones, Oasis and Hakurei, and a red one called Scarlet Queen.

Daikons are grown to help break up the subsoil because they are so long. We grow China Rose and Red Meat, too.

Our farm has a ban on spring Brassicas, so there are no early broccoli, kale, or cabbage here. They don’t like hot weather and get buggy by June. I can break the insects’ cycle by not having any in the garden in spring and early summer. The cabbage moths fly around trying to find a Brassica, then become quite frustrated and leave. This leaves the garden free and clear for the fall greens, which grow luxuriously as the season cools down.

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All garden plants have a history with the various trails they took to find their way into our fields.  The huge and mysterious continent of Africa, especially around Ethiopia, was home not only to our ancestors, but also the ancestors of many cultivated plants.  This is where okra came from.

History is obscure and uncertain, but we can follow okra up to Egypt, where it has been commonly grown for hundreds of years.  Okra also found its way across the Red Sea into Arabia.  From there it spread completely around the Mediterranean and eastward to India.

In our little country, it probably landed with French colonists in Louisiana.  Jefferson mentions it being grown in Virginia, and by the 1800’s, there were several distinct varieties.  Both the words “okra” and “gumbo” are of African origin.

The flowers of okra let you know it is in the Hibiscus family, with the same beautiful swirl of petals as a Hollyhock.  The plants are easy to grow once the soil warms up.  If the soil temperature is 60 degrees, it can take a month to sprout, but it comes up in two weeks at 75 degrees.  When the soil is 90 degrees, okrajumps out of the ground in less than a week.

Some folks freeze the seeds overnight, or soak them in warm water overnight, to help with germination.  Alternatively, you can nick the tough seeds with sandpaper.  I just wait until sweet potato planting time, Memorial Day weekend, and plant okra soon after, along with our lima beans.

Into a regular furrow, we drop about 6 seeds to a foot.  The plants love rain or drought and always make the fall garden look great.  They are simply so ornamental.  This variety is burgundy and makes for tender, slender pods that need to be picked every few days.

We hoe them at first, and then put some hay around them late in the season to keep moisture in and weeds out.  There seem to be no insects or diseases, at least around here.

Okra is slimy; you either don’t like it or you love it.  It’s great for thickening up a soup, if you aren’t dipping it into cornmeal and frying it.  We love it pickled.

The overlooked, unpicked pods get tough and big quickly.  The seeds are used to make a high quality cooking oil, and they can be roasted to make a coffee substitute.  Okra has been with us for much of our history and continues to grace southern gardens with its pretty foliage, flowers and fruit.


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Keep Growin’ It

There are many reasons to grow a fall garden and cover crops, poetic as well as practical. “Don’t ever let a weed grow up and go to seed”, “your garden won’t harden with plenty of carbon”, “give back to the land and you’ll have plenty on hand”, “keep the garden growing by cover crop sowing”.

The onions are out, the potatoes have petered, the corn is cashed, the beans are burnt and the squash is squished. Say goodbye to the early summer garden, and hello to fall, my favorite gardening season.

I start broccoli, cabbage and lettuce in mid-July. Well, I try to, but the lettuce won’t sprout when the soil temperature is over 75 degrees. Sowing after a cooling rainstorm in mid-August did get some lettuce to come up, finally.

“Don’t plant turnips until mid-August” I was told a long time ago, and it is sage advice. The winter squash patch was mown and the soil rebroken and then harrowed. On this field I seeded a mixture of crimson clover, a little buckwheat, turnip seed and some lime was tossed out and harrowed in.

Sometimes I use sand instead of lime. Turnip seeds are so little that it is hard to get them spread out over the patch. By mixing the seed real well in a bucket of sand, or lime, you can toss it out and get a more even stand.

The same procedure was used nearby for mustard. The variety is Southern Giant Curled. For this turnip patch I planted the traditional Purple Top White Globe.

In the old bean, summer squash and sweet corn field I also mowed, rebroke and harrowed. I plowed furrows through the whole acre and really started having fun. Fourteen rows of kale may be enough for now.

Arugula is a very pungent green that many people love, proving once again that there is no accounting for taste. It is too strong for me. I planted the milder Georgia Collards and then a lettucey chinese cabbage green called Tokyo Bekena. A new one for us is Koji, a hybrid fall green. Mizzuna is a frilly mustard green we always grow, too.

Red Meat looks like a turnip, but it’s a daikon radish. Inside a pale green, baseball-sized globe is a bright red starburst that is delicious right in the field. The specialty turnips we grow include Girl Feather, the White Hakurei and Oasis, the red Scarlet Queen Red Stems and a yellow one called Amber Globe.

It might be a little early for spinach, but I have to try. We love the old heirloom Bloomsdale Long Standing, and are trying a taller one called Viroflay. Later I’ll plant Flamingo Spinach, another of the new, taller varieties.

When I tried to pay for my October bean seed, Lawrence wouldn’t let me because the seed was two years old. It came up fine. He gave me the rest of the sack a few days later as I had a plan.

The potatoes were fantastic this yera, yielding around 500 bushels. The field was mown, reborn and harrowed, and then soon filled with furrows. A rainstorm threatened. Up and down the 700 foot rows I trotted, dropping beans, and covering them up. I finished at little dark and was on the porch when the rain fell.

A month later they are knee high and about to bloom. A mixture of crimson clover, daikons, chinese cabbage and bok choy was tossed over this acre, and then I laid the field by with the last pass of the cultivator. I have about a month to figure out what to do with an acre of October beans.

Other fall covers for the garden will be mixtures of grains and legumes, such as rye and vetch or wheat and peas. These can be sown later than crimson clover and turnips, who need to be in the soil by mid September. Early November sowings of grains and legumes have done well for me.

So don’t abandon your summer garden. A little seed is all you need. Keep it clean by turning it green. Treat is like you lever her. Tuck her under a cover. And you can still grow it without trying to be a poet.

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You can’t choose your neighbors

Microbes make good compost, compost makes lots of good vegetables, and excess vegetables make for good neighbors. I love my neighbors, and we love to give away vegetables.

What are cooks to do when they retire? Dan the soup man often shows up with a jar of deliciousness, and then forages around the gardens for his next big pot of soup. He has years of restaurant stories, and is a big fan of the farm.

We came in one evening from our farm work, and on the kitchen table sat apple pies with syrup and fried green tomatoes over spaghetti. Needless to say we ate dessert first. I told Wanda I’m glad she retired, and Jack looked right at home in a rocker on the porch.

I busted the mowing machine, but neighbor Chris said he’d help lay the hay down tomorrow. Meanwhile, we’ll be helping Tom get his bales in the barn. It’s likely Inis will have something tasty for the hay haulers. Tom and I are best friends, even though I am a tree-hugging environmentalist and he logged for a living.

Charlene called to tell me about the Cobb chicken house burning down, but there were no chickens in it. I hope the farmer gets out of that ridiculously binding contract. Her and Ronnie raise a good garden so it’s hard to give them vegetables, but the may get some lettuce plants soon.

Judy called to check in yesterday, reporting on the fines for Andy Holt. Apparently the EPA doesn’t like manure in creeks even if you are a senator on the state agriculture committee. She’ll be over soon to get garlic.

Neil snuck down and raided the sweet corn patch. I told him it would taste better if he stole it, but I wasn’t there and he left a little money. I’ll get back by dumping too much summer squash on his back porch.

Donna said she needs a “no spray” sign by her organic garden. It’s very upsetting to watch your land have cancer-causing poisons sprayed on it. The electric company really ought to tell innocent people that if they cut under their lines they won’t be subjected to one of the most deadliest toxins known to mankind.

You can’t choose your neighbors. People living near each other are bound to have different opinions. But we all have things in common, too. Eating vegetables is one of them.

Good neighbors make life pleasant. I still have vegetables that have gone too far and end up making good compost. Compost makes for lots more good good microbes. I guess what goes around comes around.

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Tennesee’s health care industry recently reported a $37,000,000,000 contribution to the economy last year. At the same time Tennessee spent $2,000,000,000 on food. We used to spend a lot more on food and less on health care. They have an inverse relationship, when one goes down the other goes up.

A new CSA member once commented that all the vegetables were causing them to eat at home more. They kind of missed going out to eat and the treats from the grocery store. But by the end of the summer they noticed that neither they nor their children had gotten sick once, and this had never happened before.

Other CSA members tell me their lives have been saved by our food. Doctors will prescribe eating organically in certain sensitive health conditions. An old adage is to let food be your medicine.

I attribute this to the invisible world of microbes. A teaspoon of soil can have a million bacteria in it, or a thousand times that many. I strive for the latter, “the more the merrier” I say.

Ninety percent of the DNA in our bodies does not belong to us, but to other species. These are the microbes who live off of us and our bodily secretions. As their host, they have a vested interest in keeping us healthy and secreting.

In the soil a similar thing is going on, as root exudates feed soil microbes who in turn keep the plants healthy. An important part of our farming practices is creating a vibrant clay humus complex through composting. We use herbs which have undergone a transformation in an animals organ, but in very small, homeopathic doses. These preparations are put into compost piles, which get spread on the cropland.

The food grown on these fields tastes pretty good. A surprising thing our interns learn is how their bodies feel when they live on this. We don’t use grocery stores or restaurants for our nutrition.

Food isn’t all, though. We love good water, straight from the farm’s springs or wells. Fresh air is inhaled often, too, except when I’m tractoring or we are mulching. We also get a lof of exercise.

Nutrition comes through our sense, too. What we see, hear, touch and smell becomes part of us. Currents of light and sound continually pass through us. Enthusiasm mediates this, as a 93-year-old man explained one time.

I asked Cordell to tell Ryan, who was eight, the secrets to a long, healthy life. “Good garden food, exercise, fresh air and spring water”, he said, “but that’s not all. You have to have something you love to do, and I always look forward to the weekend when my friends and I get together to play music”.

We play music, too. Almost every Friday night friends come over to pick a few tunes and fill the air with songs. On a farm there are no days off because of their position in the week, we take off on rainy days instead. When someone mentioned something to one of our interns, Chris, about a weekend, he replied, “the only way we know it’s the weekend is it’s the days after the music party”.

Tennessee has lots of great music, but is neglecting other aspects of good health. of our 2 billion food dollars, 99% of it goes to unhealthy imported food-like products, while we are surrounded by abandoned but potentially productive farmland. it is so exciting to have so much work ahead of us, and to think of how healthy we and our environment will be when we spend 18 times as much on farm fresh food as we do at the doctors office.

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