Well, it’s winter. Sort of.
People often ask, “What do farmers do in the winter, kick back and relax?”
Well, maybe a little, but some are still growing in greenhouses or tending to animals, and most are probably fixing all the stuff they broke the previous season and scraping together plans and resources for next year. At UACC, we also do a fair bit of affordable housing advocacy while negotiating tenuous deals to preserve existing garden spaces, working out other hopeful agreements for new gardening spaces, writing grants and reports, and trying ever so gently to nudge folks in Charlottesville for financial support (nudge, nudge).
We also update woefully neglected websites… Wait, is it really almost February already? We’ve got some catching up to do!
Nothing says fall like a good sweet potato harvest. We had a bumper sweet potato crop in 2016. We harvested over 1,200 pounds of them from the Friendship Court field for our limited run of six market days this fall. The greenhouse did a fine job of curing and sweetening them up, and, with the new walk-in cooler, we were able to hold the last 500 pounds for a final pre-Thanksgiving market day in November.
Jennifer and Miro bring in the harvest, which we cured in the passive solar greenhouse.
If you tried growing anything in the cabbage family during the late summer and early fall last year, we sure hope you had better luck than we did! The pests came out in force in our fields. While we got an early harvest from our collards and kale. Later harvests were impossible due to the harlequin beetles, imported cabbage worms, and the onset of alternaria leaf spot, which rendered everything into inedible mush within weeks. Cabbage family crops are some of the most popular within the UACC community, so it was disappointing to lose what we had hoped would be a really big crop of greens. Thanks goodness for the Swiss chard, which the bugs and diseases left alone this fall!
The collards at West Street looked good from a distance, but a close inspection was horrifying!
While our vegetable season was cut a bit short this year, we still harvested over 3,000 pounds of food and distributed it free of charge to an average of 38 people per market, from September to November. In 2017, we hope to get back in the groove and top our 2015 record of 17,000 pounds.
Miro harvests the last of the Swiss chard for the pre-Thanksgiving market day at Friendship Court.
When asked about her favorite and least favorite tasks in the gardens, Jennifer said that planting got high marks. Shoveling, however, got a much less enthusiastic endorsement. On top of the twenty-plus cubic yards of compost we apply each fall to the vegetable fields, this year we also shoveled many tons of gravel, topsoil, and wood chip mulch to backfill the terraces in the community orchard. Thanks to all who came out to help!
Helen and Miro help make a dent in the topsoil. Say, that’s a lot of gravel.
The Friendship Court Community Orchard took a lot more time and effort than we ever imagined it would, but we got it done, thanks to many hands. After we finished building the terrace walls and planting the berry bushes, we took an afternoon in the fall to build and install a bench on the middle upper terrace, between the honeyberries and the gooseberries.
Of course after we set the bench, it was back to shoveling more woodchip mulch, but the end result was worth the effort! We encourage everyone to come sit on the orchard bench this spring to listen to the bees buzzing among the native plants and watch the orchard and gardens come to life.
After a year and a half of shoveling, stacking stones, and lots more shoveling, it’s finally finished!
While you are visiting, pick up a map from one of the two boxes below the welcome signs at either end of the orchard. The map has information about the different varieties of fruits and berries growing in the orchard. Also, be sure to take a look at the bee logs! These are home to many species of native solitary bees, which feed on nectar from the flowering native plants and help to pollinate the orchard and fruiting vegetables like squash and cucumbers.
P.S. You can also download a printable black and white version of the orchard map by clicking HERE. Note: it’s a 10MB file so it may take a moment to open.
As we gear up for our eleventh growing season, we look forward to focusing on what we do best, bringing people together from all backgrounds to grow and share food. 2017 promises to be a year of great opportunity. Over the past year, residents of the South First Street community have been asking UACC to open a garden in their part of the neighborhood. After a year of vigorous resident advocacy and negotiation with the Charlottesville Redevelopment and Housing Authority, UACC is on the cusp of doing just that.
Thanks to all who supported our work in 2016, whether by volunteering time in the garden or at market day, serving on our leadership team or making a financial contribution. We’re grateful for your continued belief in in the value of slow, steady, grassroots work. This spring we plan to hire another staff person to help us open the gardens at South First Street and expand production, but paying a living wage to three staff people is expensive and is nearly impossible to do through grants and corporate support. That is why we rely on contributions from donors like you who believe in what we do.
You can stay informed about upcoming volunteer events and opportunities by joining our email list, and, if you’re so inclined, you can also support our work financially by making a secure online donation. See you this spring!