Adventures beyond time

Adventures beyond time

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Waldo Demonstration Farm

Now that our packs are put away for a while and we have added the Camino photos to
the posts below, we are again giving some attention to our other projects. In that vein, we went to visit the Waldo Demonstration Farm, about 15 miles from home. We had met the proprietors at the Farmers’ Market and been eating their lettuce, cucumbers, and okra. They invited us to come see the farm and, having enjoyed our other small-farm visits, we were ready.

This is the fourth farm we have visited in the past five months…not counting the “Mud Farm” in France, of course. Although each farm was small and family run, this one was really unlike the others.

The farm has about 25 acres, with probably less than an acre in cultivation. In addition to vegetables, we saw dozen or so beautiful chickens living in a lovely chicken house, and about a dozen heifers. They roam the pasture eating mostly grass, with a bit of feed added each day for variety. At the end of the season, the grass-fed heifers will be sold back to their original owner for slaughter, with the farmer keeping some of the yield for himself.

The vegetable farming uses hydroponic technology. The plants live in grow-towers, pots, shallow raised beds, or pipes in a quite small area of the farm. The pots and grow-towers are in a field and they’re covered by shade cloth as needed. In the pots are okra and tomato plants. The five-to-six foot okra plants are still very productive, despite the May/June Florida heat. The tomatoes were producing, but getting that end-of-season look typical of Florida tomato plants as July approaches.

A few tomatoes, as well as herbs, swiss chard, and strawberries are, or had been, in grow-towers. They are a patented arrangement of Styrofoam-like planters, each about a 12-inch square. There are four medium-filled planters to a tower. They stack at angles to each other so the corners of each planter are exposed and available to hold plants. A pole through the center of each stack keeps it upright. A pipe carrying nutrients dissolved in water runs above the towers the length of each row, about 30 feet long. A tiny tube inserted into the pipe above each tower drips the water at a very slow and steady rate into the top planter. It filters through to the lower planters.

Each tower could support eight tomato plants or up to 16 smaller plants. The farmer said he found that four tomatoes were as many as worked for him. Otherwise the plants were too close and bushy to walk the rows and harvest easily. He liked the towers, and to experiment with various plants in them. Most of his tomatoes were in pots as were the okra plants.

Most of the lettuce, and some swiss chard, grew in a greenhouse next to the field of grow-towers and pots. The greenhouse was about evenly divided between the pipes, some pots, and raised, shallow beds about 30 feet long and 5 feet wide.

The pots held cucumbers, now spent but with vines still stretched on strings up toward the greenhouse super-structure that supports the plants.

The beds contained growing medium, now fallow and ready to be discarded so they could be cleaned and made ready for the post-summer growing season.

The third section of the greenhouse holds long rows of 4-inch white pipe. Nutrient rich water pumps continuously through the pipe, drawn by gravity from one end to the other and then pumped back to the far end. At about 12-inch intervals, the pipes have square holes into which lettuce seeds sprouted in half-inch cubes of fibrous medium are inserted. Nourished by the flowing water, they grow to heads of bib, boston, romaine and other types of lettuce, which we have been buying all season at the Farmers’ Market.

The nutrients are mixed in large tubs at the end of the rows of pipes and the raised beds and controlled by the pumps and gravity flow. Like all the farmers we’ve met, this one had an amazing knowledge of the biology and chemistry of his plants and their growing processes.

Another glimpse into our food and the people who produce it. Someday it would be nice to be able to know who grew all our food, and how they see the process of feeding themselves and the rest of us.

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