Thursday, May 8, 2008
Tuesday morning I headed out to Cornman Farms, Chef Alex Young's ever-growing farming operation out in Dexter, Michigan. During producing months it supplies the Roadhouse Restaurant with mouthwatering heirloom tomatoes, cucumbers, potatoes and a whole host of other bounty. It was a year ago this month that I first went out there, to help plant tomatoes and peppers with a few friends. He's expanded his farming area this year (his fourth in operation), and built a hoop garden to get a head start.
The 'hoop' is a metal frame with a plastic covering that can be raised or lowered on each side. It keeps plants a bit warmer and protects them from the wind, so you can put your young plants in the ground a few weeks earlier and not have to worry about them being damaged from early spring frosts. It also means that he'll have tomatoes ready to eat about 2-4 weeks earlier this year.
My friend Jess Piskor from the Deli has been working with Alex on the farm on a part time basis- he helped install the hoop structure (which wasn't as easy as it seems), and by the end of the day on Tuesday helped get several hundred tomato plants in the ground.
Talking with Mark and Alex is always facinating in that they're so knowledgable about how it all ties together. For example, they started the season by putting down a 'green manure' which has several different plant seeds mixed in. Two of which are legumes (but no the bean producing type), which draw nitrogen up from the soil. The nitrogen stays attached to the plants root structure, and after tilling and preping the lot for planting, provides essential nutrients that the plants will need. In most commercial farming operations, nitrogen and other nutrients are applied topically, since the soil is so stripped from lack of plant diversity.