This Year Versus Last Year…Our Hopes & Dreams

Remember when we told you about the exciting collaboration we have in progress with High Mowing Organic Seeds? Well, the Summer Agriculture students and Garden Crew have been in full effect organizing and planting our seed trials and it’s time for an update!

Although this June is feeling a bit like Jun-uary, the cool temperatures and gray skies haven’t slowed down progress in the gardens.  Our draft horses helped to prep the soil with discs and cultivators, but we’ll talk more about them – and our garden management practices – in the next post.  Today we’re going to focus on what we’re planting!

We need to cultivate patience while we await the harvest of the vegetables we are growing but, fortunately for us, the trials yield lots of data throughout the entire growing season.  This information is another kind of ‘harvest’ or ‘product’ that the trials yield and, though it’s less delicious than a fresh beet, it’s just as important.

Last year was the first time we ran seed trials with High Mowing Organic Seeds and a current Sterling student, Scotty Lanham, tracked the process as part of an independent study.  His document, “Seed Trial of High Mowing Seeds Under Sterling College Cropping System” is a comprehensive overview of the process.  We’re building on that foundation this year and applying a lot of what we learned to hone this year’s approach.

Sterling CollegeLast year we grew 4 kinds of cabbage, 2 kinds of carrots and 4 kinds of beets.  If you don’t already receive the High Mowing Seed Catalog then you may not have experienced the thrill of choosing the vegetables you’d like to grow.  It’s a shiny, colorful and deeply informative catalog that provides the details you need to know about the look & flavor of the finished product but, more importantly, insight into disease-resistance, soil requirements, pest-resistance and other factors.  We’ll get deeper into the criteria we use to evaluate trials shortly.

Anyway, last year we approached the seed selection much as we would as home gardeners.  We chose the items that we already know and love and some new ones we were curious about.  This year, we were much more deliberate about our selections.

Here you can find the overview of the seeds we tried last year, and results based on a randomized sample of 10 row feet:

seed trials

Following is the overview of what we’re planting this year:

seed trialsThat snapshot above shows the overall planting strategy but we are using more specific planting plans with seed dates and layouts to support our Garden Clerk, Brian Tingley, and our student workers to keep things running smoothly.  Here is the current status and, rest assured, cabbage is underway:seed trialsYou’ll notice that we are trialing quite a few more varieties this year but we have also taken a much more strategic and detailed approach.  In addition to estimating the row footage we’ll need to dedicate to the trials and the expected yield, we have also grouped the varieties into early season, main season and late season options.  Selecting cabbages specifically for fermenting into kraut or beets that store well over winter will ensure that we can utilize most of what we grow this year.

Although Sterling is a year-round working farm, we heavily rely on our students to provide the majority of labor.  This means that during the Spring and Fall long blocks that our Sustainable Agriculture & Sustainable Food Systems students integrate the farm and gardens into their daily curriculum.  Additionally the college’s work program ensures that even students that are in other programs support the farm with chores, and have the opportunity to apply to be a part of the garden crew.  The flip side of this great design is that between sessions we rely on skeleton crews of Faculty, Staff and paid student workers to manage things.  The busiest times in our garden – planting & harvesting – are the times when the college has the fewest hands on deck to support the process making our trials vastly different from what Tom and his crew can manage at High Mowing.

That said, we are honing our approach each year and enjoying improved efficiencies and great results.  We have a great team of students here this summer for our Sustainable Agriculture Program and we’re excited to see these seeds germinate and begin to grow!

Next up we’ll talk more about the management practices of the Sterling Farm and compare how the practices at a farm school differ from an agri-business.  We’ll also get into some of the ‘meat’ on how we evaluate the trials in progress.

Filed Under: Blog Sustainable Agriculture & Food Systems