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Community Community Partners Greenhouse Guest Post Our Vision The Farm at Stonehill Winter 2014

Winter Research: From the Lab to the Field

From the Lab to The Field: Cold-Tolerance Gene Research at the Farm

Guest post by, Danielle Garceau, Class of 2015

photo of Cold-hardy crops ready for winter in the hoop house
Cold-hardy crops ready for winter in the hoop house.

Even during the quieter, less hectic winter months, there is still a surprising amount of activity at the farm. From Mesclun mix and other cold weather crops like Spinach growing along in the hoop house, to students learning in their outdoor classroom, the farm is still a happening place.

But what else might be going on? Yes, research! As the temperature begins to drop the farm is the ideal location for an ongoing study that I am conducting with Professor Irvin Pan of the Biology Department with the support of the Farm. Through this research, we are hoping to determine the underlying genetic basis for cold-tolerance in crop species known to be cold-hardy.

Funded by the American Society of Plant Biologists (ASPB) Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship and the Stonehill Undergraduate Research Experience (SURE) Program, this project is a continuation of research conducted this past growing season that will shift from the lab to the farm this winter. We are collecting and analyzing field data to better understand how certain tasty plant species can survive in outdoor winter weather environments.

Over this past summer, our group identified the cold tolerance genes Inducer of CBF Expression 1 (ICE1), C-Repeat Binding Factor 3 (CBF3), and Eskimo 1 (ESK1) in known cold-hardy crops such as Broccoli, Bok-Choi, and Kale alongside the model plant species Arabidopsis thaliana. We conducted an experiment to compare the expression of the cold-tolerance gene CBF3 in plants incubated at warm and cold temperatures.

This figure represents the changes in CBF3 levels over a 2 hour time period. Red arrows indicate CBF3 levels before the cold exposure and blue arrows indicate CBF3 levels after the cold exposure with numbers below the bands representing expression level as compared to before the cold exposure.
Cold Exposure Experiment: Gel Electrophoresis:   This figure represents the changes in CBF3 levels over a 2 hour time period. Red arrows indicate CBF3 levels before the cold exposure and blue arrows indicate CBF3 levels after the cold exposure with numbers below the bands representing expression level as compared to before the cold exposure.

The picture above is one of many gel electrophoreses ran on the DNA (in this case, cDNA or complementary DNA that is made from mRNA or messenger RNA) of these crop species. The bands above are the actual DNA of a specific gene that we are studying. The brighter the band, the more DNA there is in the plant tissue, meaning the plant is turning on this specific gene. As you can see from this gel picture after a 2 hour long exposure to cold temperatures, the expression level of the cold-tolerance gene CBF3 underwent as much as a 15 fold increase! We think that this may be one reason why plants like Broccoli, Kale, and Bok-Choi don’t mind colder temperatures.

photo of Greenhouse Cold Exposure Experiment in the Greenhouse at Shield Science Center.
Greenhouse Cold Exposure Experiment in the Greenhouse at Shield Science Center.

Through conducting further cold exposure experiments this winter at the greenhouse we hope to confirm these results on a larger scale and over a longer time period of one month while also recording the temperatures that the plants experience every hour using a temperature data logger.

photo of The new cold frame at The Farm.
The new cold frame at The Farm.

In addition to our work in the heated greenhouse this winter, we hope to also grow our cold-hardy plants in the newly built cold frame. Using the cold frame will allow us to gather data in a setting in which not only farmers but home gardeners could grow crops during the colder months of the year. This cold frame will also prove to be a useful learning tool in sustainable agriculture practices to students that use the farm as an outdoor classroom and engage in classes like Sustainable Agriculture – taught by Farm Manager Meigs.

In conducting this research at the farm we hope to ultimately extend the farm’s growing season further into the winter through the selection of crops most suited to colder temperatures. Through extending the farm’s growing season we also hope to enable the farm to provide fresh produce to community partners well into the winter season.

Categories
Community Spring 2013 Spring Cultivation 2013 Spring Harvest 2013 Spring Projects 2013 Spring Volunteers 2013 The Farm at Stonehill Volunteer

Springing into Summer

It doesn’t seem like so long ago that our fields were filled with snow and the brilliant greens of spring seemed improbable, if not impossible.

Ben, Ian and Jake Kelly harvest our first radishes!
Ben, Ian and Jake Kelly harvest our first radishes!

Thankfully, the seasons always change in New England, and with the warmer days – filled with planting, weeding and harvesting – the ice and snow are now the distant memories!

Our fields are filling with hundreds of veggie, flower and fruit seedlings.
Our fields are filling with hundreds of veggie, flower and fruit seedlings.

In the weeks that led up to Commencement, temperatures soared into the 70’s and 80’s, making for some excellent weather to cultivate the crops.

Students help to weed and thin a row of beets.
Students help to weed and thin a row of beets.
thinning beets
Thinning and weeding a row a beets.

Volunteers of all ages have already pitched in this season to help make for what we believe will be our most productive season yet!

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Sometimes they work in pairs…

Andrew and David Rogers plant Snapdragons on Friday, May 17th.
Andrew and David Rogers plant Snapdragons on Friday, May 17th.

…go it solo…

Hunter weeds a row of Hakurei Turnips in the week leading up to his graduation from Stonehill.
Hunter weeds a row of Hakurei Turnips in the week leading up to his graduation from Stonehill.

…or work as a boisterous and energetic team.

A team of Res Life Staff provide invaluable help planting rows and rows of tomato seedlings on May 20th.
A team of staff from Residence Life provide invaluable help planting rows and rows of tomato seedlings on May 20th.

In addition to the human power, our tractor is also responsible for doing some of the heavy lifting.  So far, we have used our Kubota L5030 and Kuhn rototiller to turn the fields and make strategic compost deliveries.

The initial turn of Field #2 on April 22nd.
The initial turn of Field #2 on April 22nd.

We continue to work with Langwater Farm to get help laying black plastic for our full season crops, such as the tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, sweet potatoes and the flowers.

Justin of Langwater Farm lays black plastic for some of our crops.
Justin of Langwater Farm lays black plastic.

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At the start and the end to each day, Zuri and I have taken to walking the fields to note our crops’ progress, observe changes of the season and note any issues – such as leaks in the irrigation or insect pressure.

Zuri looks on as Killdeer nesting in our fields dart about.
Zuri looks on as Killdeer, attempting to nest in our fields, dart about.
Killdeer like to nest in open fields like our. Here, a family enjoys a field near San Francisco, CA.
Killdeer like to nest in open fields like our. Here, a family enjoys a field in Ontario, Canada.

On these walks we make discoveries like our first flower in bloom…

Zinnia in bloom on May 22nd.
Zinnia in bloom on May 22nd.

… Bok Choi ready to be harvested …

A variety of Bok Choi called Mei Qing Choi is ready to be picked and delivered!
A variety of Bok Choi called Mei Qing Choi is ready to be picked and delivered!

…and where to harvest the Mesclun Mix on that particular day – as it is planted in a number of places throughout the fields.

Mesclun Mix, washed, dried and about to be packed for our partners at My Brother's Keeper.
Mesclun Mix, washed, dried and about to be packed for our partners at My Brother’s Keeper.

All of time that we spend weeding carrots…

Alphonse Riang, one of three part-time summer farmers weeds a row of carrots.
Alphonse Riang, one of our three summer student farmers, weeds a row of carrots.

…and thinning beets…

Jake Gillis, another essential student farmer, weeds beets.
Jake Gillis, another essential student farmer, weeds beets.

…is time well spent, and results in a bountiful harvest that is already starting to appear on the tables of the clients served by our partners: My Brother’s Keeper, The Family Center at The Old Colony YMCA, The Table at Father Bill’s and MainSpring, and The Easton Food Pantry.

Jake and Alphonse wash and pack greens.
Jake and Alphonse wash and pack greens.

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While many projects at the farm happen in the good company of volunteers and summer staff, I still find myself with an hour or two most days to work on projects in contemplative solitude. Sometimes I occupy my mind, puzzling over complex issues and projects: How can I improve the irrigation system? How can I manage the moths that are munching on some of the leaves on our apple trees?

A Plato Zucchini seedling enjoys it's new home in the field.
A Plato Zucchini seedling enjoys it’s new home in the field.

Other times I opt to work my body and rest my mind and simply plant! I fall into the blessed rhythm of it all. I bend and bow, stretch and squat, and kneel and crouch – and look back every so often to take note of the beauty of the rows as they fill.  It is during these moments when I become awestruck by the fortitude and beauty of the vegetables quietly growing around me. If I listen carefully imagine that I can hear exclaim in joy as they extend their roots into the soil and strecth their stems and leaves to drink in the sun.

Sugar Snap Peas climb the trellis.
Sugar Snap Peas climb the trellis carefully constructed by volunteers weeks before.

Like the farmers that plant them, the seedlings extend their reach, bend to the elements, drink in the sun and rain, and grow.

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Zuri and I will walk the fields and continue to report back on all of the activities in our fields that are already springing into Summer!

Categories
Spring 2013 Spring Cultivation 2013 Spring Volunteers 2013 The Farm at Stonehill

It’s Time to Farm!

photo of volunteers
How much do we love Farm Fridays?

It’s time to get to the Farm!

In class, during volunteer hours, or just on a whim, students are starting to arrive at the farm to help plant the seeds of our 2013 Season.

On Friday, April 5th, over 20 students joined me and Zuri to help ready the fields and plant seeds.  We transplanted flowers and prepared a row in the field for Sugar Snap Peas.

photo of Breanne and Sara
Sara and Breanne transplant Statice seedlings in the hoophouse during Farm Friday volunteer hours.

With many willing workers we accomplished a wide array of tasks in a few short and sun-filled hours.

photo of the pea trellis project
Putting up the trellis for the Sugar Snap Peas!

After the flowers were transplanted we moved them over to the heated greenhouse at Shields to ensure a nurturing home to help boost their growth and allow some of them (hoping for the purple zinnias) to possibly bloom by graduation!

photo of seedlings in greenhouse
Zinnia, Statice, Black-eyed Susan, Bok Choi, and Chard seedlings enjoy the warmth of the sun in the greenhouse in Shields.

Some of the heat loving seedlings are enjoying this sauna of sorts, while others that prefer the cooler temperatures, such as lettuce, onions and kohlrabi, are happy to be in our hoophouse at The Farm.

photo of greens in hoophouse
Onions, Kolhrabi and Lettuce seedlings in our hoophouse awaiting their day to be planted in the fields.

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In other news, Gabby Gobiel (2015) is taking our farm to the international stage as she explores vineyards and farms and studies sustainable food systems in Italy this semester!  We are excited to welcome her back this summer and learn how we can integrates ideas she has developed abroad into our own farming practices.

photo of Gabby in italy
Farmer Gabby Gobiel explores vineyards in Italy!

 

Categories
Community Community Partners Fall 2011 Fall Harvest 2011 Fall Projects 2011 Fall Volunteers 2011 Our Vision Summer Harvest 2011 The Farm at Stonehill Volunteer

Harvest Time Made Easy by Volunteers

We are still very busy bringing in the harvest at The Farm! 

photo of carrots and carnival squash
Carrots and carnival squash, freshly picked and ready for delivery.

Thanks to up to 50 weekly student and staff volunteers leek, tomatoes, carrots, kale, bok choi, kale and even sweet potatoes are filling up our harvest bins and the tables of our partners.

photo of students washing carrots
Three students, many carrots!

Last week when Beth came to pick up for My Brother’s Keeper we filled every last bit of space – even the front passenger seat – in her cargo van with our vegetables. We are happy to see veggies like winter squash, kale and leeks all being sent out together and have high hopes that they will soon be cooked together into a delicious and healthy soup.

Harvesting Leeks photo
Fall harvest of our Tandora Leeks.
photo of a leek
Many roots to grow a healthy leek. A couple of leeks to cook a flavorful dish.

We welcome students and staff to join us on Thursday mornings and Friday afternoons to ensure a plentiful and diverse mix of produce for The Table at Father Bill’s and MainSpring and the Old Colony YMCA.

photo of volunteers
Sun or showers, the volunteers are an essential ingredient to our healthy farm.

After we harvest, we weigh, wash and pack the produce… smiling all the way.

Sorting Sugar Pie Pumpkins
Volunteers Weighing and Sorting Sugar Pie Pumpkins

We were happy to welcome a few Stonehill Alumni this past Saturday and welcome all local Alums, Staff and Students to consider joining us on Friday afternoons between 2:00 PM and 5:30 PM until the frost of fall arrives.

photo of group bagging greens
Baby Bok Choi and Kale: Weighed and packed up for delivery to Old Colony YMCA.

See you soon at The Farm!

For more information on how you can volunteer at the farm please email our volunteer coordinator Erin: ecobb@students.stonehill.edu