With the uncharacteristic heat of this summer beating down on their sunburnt faces, students in the Urban Agriculture program at Owens Community College worked tirelessly to fill the days produce quota.
As part of the unique partnership that has linked the developing program with Toledo GROWs, students currently enrolled in the Harvest and Post-Harvest course had a blast collecting a wide assortment of produce from their outdoor classroom. What better way to learn about the ripening process than collecting heirloom tomatoes, sweet and hot peppers, and an endless supply of basil in preparation of the Fall Harvest Fundraiser that was held at Toledo Botanical Garden on Sept.13.
This years’ crops are the pioneers at the Robert J. Anderson Training facility that at one-time was a landscape riddled with coal cinders and industrial debris. Above the now deeply covered cinders -- currently, 3 feet below the surface there is a remnant band of the material -- in raised planters full of compost and worm castings, the summer’s crop is a true testament to the spirit of the summer season that won’t give up.
Among one of the most interesting crops being harvested was the diverse collection of eggplants that were either grown in the Oneida greenhouse or generously donated by Bench Farms, 9151 Jerusalem Rd., Curtice, Ohio; Bensell Greenhouse, 5720 Dorr St., or from a plant pathology research project at Michigan State University.
The cultivated varieties of "Hansel," "Gretel," and "Fairy Tale" are a collection of personal sized eggplants that make great grilled side dishes and have instantly been a favorite of mine since I first grew them in the All-American Selection Vegetable Garden at Toledo Botanical Garden. Their slender frame, abundant fruit set, and a harvest size between 5 and 10 inches lend them perfectly for use in small backyard gardens. These little beauties are not the only eggplants worth investigating at your local farmers market or seed catalog.
Selections of the traditional "Black Beauty," the Japanese favorite "Ichiban," and about a dozen “wild types” can be found growing in this urban setting. A wide range of colors including yellow, orange, white, and even a few striped selections were part of a trial at Michigan State this year.
It is amazing for the Owens’ students to have access to their germplasm, which is controlled by the USDA, and connects them with seed that was collected and cultivated from around the world. In a hybridized world, many of these selections may not be commercially available but are vital in finding natural resistance to pest and diseases.
Another crop that student’s have been anxiously awaiting to unearth was the organically grown white potatoes. Growing your own potatoes is an educational and enlightening experience that not enough people try in their lifetime. One of my favorite gardening memories was taking a group of young children out to harvest heirloom potatoes for the first time. Armed with hard plastic pitch forks, those brave youngsters found “gold” in the roots when digging beneath the dried-up potato plants. A few years later, I found myself reliving those magical moments when my students were excited to see their first crop.
In addition to harvesting from the field, students got to experience one of my favorite wild treats when Toledo GROWs employee Bryan Ellis brought in recently collected pawpaws (Asimina triloba). These small native fruit can be found in woodlands and flood plains throughout Ohio and require a little more fertile and developed soils than most urban locations. It was recently appointed the native state fruit tree of Ohio.
The pawpaw's green peel should be removed to expose a soft orange interior that has the sweet aroma of a ripe banana and consistency of custard. When ripe, the flavor is unmatched in the forest and is a temporary treat not normally found in the grocery aisle. Be aware that the large seeds should be removed before consuming the delectable delight.
If you desire to try pawpaw you just missed out on the Sept. 14-16 Ohio Pawpaw Festival in Albany, Ohio; the music, food, art, and tasting will continue next year for its 15th annual celebration.
While continuing to relish in the beginning of what appears to be an Indian summer and harvesting your late summer veggies, make sure to pick up the canning and preservation operation as the first frost historically occurs in early October. The juicy, garden fresh tomatoes you are enjoying today will provide another month of enjoyment if properly maintained, but try to capitalize on the great weather and seed a last round of cold loving crops before it is too late.
Please support our Urban Agriculture and Landscape Turfgrass Management students at the annual fall plant sale on Wednesday, Sept. 26 at the Owens Community College greenhouse located on the northeast portion of the Rossford campus from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Matt Ross has worked as a faculty member at Owens Community College for the past four years. He teaches landscape turfgrass management.