Farm report: winter planting

Published online 13 November 2015.

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Pomona College Farm, yesterday (all photos by author)

This is a short photo diary of the Pomona College Farm, a very small farm on a college campus in southern California whiich claims a bit of my volunteer time.  It needs to be added here that this diary is not in any sense a sales pitch, as the collected produce is either given to students or volunteers or sold to pay for Farm costs or donated charitably.  This is fundamentally a diary about sustainability, and about what people can do if they put their minds together and grow things.

At any rate, the main topic of this diary is that this time of year is fall planting time — I can feel it in the air.  Harvest season is almost over, as well.  For this diary I am going to write up a sort of “update” of life in the fall planting season — pardon the graphic arrangements, as I am still getting use to DK5.  Advice on how to make it look better is also welcome.

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Pineapple guava bush

Before I launch into fall planting it needs to be said that there is still something going on here with the fall harvest.  The pineapple guavas, for instance, are still producing, and we have several bushes.  As the weather gets cooler — but not too cool; we’ll have maybe a week’s worth of frost days scattered among three months here in southern California — the pineapple guavas become more and more tasty!  They’re usually sweet, with a bit of tang — but they can be bland or slightly bitter, which isn’t as fun.

Our forty-foot avocado tree, started from a discarded seed some time ago, is now also producing.  (Moreover, it isn’t our only avocado tree, though it is the most spectacular one we have.)  We do, however, have to wait for the local animals to cut the highest avocados down for us, as the Farm doesn’t have a ladder or a fruit-picker high enough to reach them.  An important thing to remember, however, if you’re out West, is that avocados have serious demands on your water supply, and so if you are under serious drought restrictions you’ll have to negotiate that.

The picture below the avocado tree is of a sapote tree.  Our sapote trees are rather hardy for a species of tree typically native to Mexico or Central America.  Sapotes are exceedingly sweet, and can be fermented to make a “mead” that is of exceedingly high alcohol content.  I have no idea how sapote trees do in the southeast US, but they might like it there.  I think this is a white sapote tree, since the skin of the fruit is green and the insides are white.  The seeds are supposedly poisonous.

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Forty foot avocado tree

Down below you can also see our bananas.

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Bananas — small yet tasty

Since we do get a bit of frost inland (southern California bananas prefer life next to the beach) our bananas hate our cold, and I gather this impedes their production of fruit — it takes two years to produce a good banana.  Nonetheless we have them here — they’re finger bananas.

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Sapote tree full of delicious sapotes, most of which will require maybe nine days to ripen after they are picked

We are also growing persimmons (not pictured here).  We had a great crop off of just one tree; we picked it already, and conducted a hoshigaki workshop already.  Also not pictured here are our pomegranates — I’ve never been fond of pomegranates, because of all those seeds — the juice is great though.

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The new compost system — lots of small mounds.  The sifter is in the background stage right.

It needs to be mentioned here, as well, that an essential part of running a farm or garden is compost — and to compost well you must be able to compost fairly quickly so that it can be used quickly, as well as to keep your compost relatively free of flies.  Current Farm manager Scott Fleeman has a system which involves lots of small compost mounds, plenty of deciduous leaves, and a lot of pile-turning.

Winter planting at the Pomona College Farm is usually about brassicas (especially no doubt B. oleracea which everyone loves, including in the category of “everyone loves” the ubiquitous black argentine ants as well as snails and aphids which love brassicas too).  But there will also be plenty of garlic, lettuce, carrots, and potatoes.  One of my creations is the plot below.

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Mustard on the left, potatoes on the right, garlic all around

Cute stones in the middle, garlic ringing the plot, mustard greens on the left, potatoes in the ditch on the right.  One thing that is certain about winter growing in southern California is that things will grow slowly because it’s relatively cool and there are fewer hours of sunlight for everything.  (Also your chickens will lay fewer eggs unless you put a light on in the coop or enclosure.)

Sometimes you can keep summer plants alive through the winter here.  Below you can see one of my chile piquin plants.  The piquin plants will winter over long after your other peppers do the peace out thing, and the one down there below is even producing flowers, which is quite something for a chile in November here.

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Bok bok bok

Since this is an urban farm, the Pomona College Farm has had to learn the hard way to make sure every square millimeter of the chicken enclosure is fenced in to protect our chickens from coyotes and raccoons.

At the top of this diary is a picture of the primary plot I use for growing things.  This winter I will be growing mostly red mustard, peas, garlic, and carrots, although I expect a fantastic crop of nasturtium and borage volunteers.  If you aren’t growing nasturtiums, you really do need to consider it, as they’re edible (and very tasty in quesadillas) and tasty and will reproduce themselves easily once they’re settled in.  And borage has a pleasant cucumbery taste and will, like the nasturtiums, attract bees.  You need plenty of flowers in your farm or garden if you are going to keep bees.

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One of my chiles pequin plants — it’s November, now, and it’s still flowering!

Well OK, enough about my growing scene.  I’ve talked in previous diaries of Jason W. Moore, and his discussion of how people are not separate from nature.  One important way of continuing that discussion is by actually working with nature (rather than dominating it, as the capitalists do) to produce the things we need — the most essential of which is food.  So farms and gardens, both rural and urban, will be an essential part of any less miserable future
in which we should hope to participate while we are still alive.  So I’d like to read, in the comments section below, your experiences of farming and gardening and (most especially!) of winter planting, for here this is the season.

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