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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
Spring 2013 Spring Projects 2013 Spring Volunteers 2013 The Farm at Stonehill

Sewing the Seeds of Season III

The landscape in Easton is still mostly white, grey and brown, but the sunlight of spring is starting to feed us with stronger rays as the days grow longer.

photo of late winter morning sun
Stronger sun rays are starting to shine on the late winter snow at morning light.

On morning walks with Zuri, the white lab-hound mix who came into my life last June, I catch glimpses of warmer colors as the sun rises on the snow covered fields.

Photo of the apple orchard in the winter
Our Apple Orchard drinks in the sun and rests under a blanket of snow.

The student farmers have kept the farm a lively part of our college culture through the colder months, ever ready to be called in to help with projects – such as rescuing our snowed-in hoop house – or actively participating in our new seminar in Sustainable Agriculture.

photo of snowed in hoop house
Snowed in hoop house – but not for long!
photo of rescued hoop house
Success!

As you can see in the two photos above, seniors Jack Bressor, Lauren Engel and Sean Moran showed their dedication to the farm by effectively removing hundreds of pounds snow from the southern side of the hoop house after the blizzard in early February.

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Our students have also been laying the groundwork to increase the amount of “real food” served on campus by attending a training at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, MD to join a nationwide campaign.  Perhaps some of this “real food” will include a few items from The Farm at Stonehill – such as winter squash or greens – this year.

photo of students who attended the real food challenge summit
Breanne Penkala, Andrew Curran, Sean Davenport, Catie Barros and Christine Moodie – all members of the Class of 2015 and former Food Politics students – are just a few of the students who want more real food at Stonehill.

Keep an eye out for events on campus where you can learn more about ways to support a local, sustainable and fair food system on campus and in your community!

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For those of you who have driven by the farm recently, you have probably noticed the large trench cutting through our main field perpendicular to Rt 138. Not to worry! This is only a temporary feature that is allowing for water access to a new storage barn for all of the equipment and supplies that Facilities Management maintains.

photo of trench at the farm
Trench for a water line – facing west.

 This trench will be filled back in with care within a few weeks.  When we turn the fields for Season 3 in April we will be careful to add extra nutrient rich compost – composed of decomposed organic materials from our dining commons and Clover Valley Stables –  to ensure that the health and productivity of these soils is not impacted in any major way.

photo of trench at the farm facing east
Trench for water line – facing east.

In our Sustainable Agriculture class we turned the dramatic looking feature into a soil science laboratory (a “teaching moment,” if you will) as we studied soil horizons and learned about the ingredients necessary to create healthy soils.

photo of our soil horizon
Jack points out our the A and B layers in our soil profile.

 

photo of image of soil profile
A basic soil profile diagram.

Jack Bressor and Bryan Tavares co-taught a class with me about soils and asked the class to consider the different features of healthy soils (i.e. sand for drainage, organic material to retain moisture and add vital nutrients) and create a “perfect” seed-starting mix and grow and care for a bean plant.

photo of soil components
Bryan and Jack provide the class with components of healthy soils (vermiculite, stone dust, 2 kinds of compost, and loam) for growing healthy veggies.

 These students will nurture their bean plants over the next couple of months and hopefully plant them in the fields once the weather warms.

photo of making potting mix
Sean, Melissa, Molly, Pat, Tom, Ryan, Michelle and Bryan create their perfect potting mix to give their been seeds a healthy start.

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Despite the snowflakes currently falling from the skies, I am comforted by the knowledge that onions and some of our flowers are germinating under lights in the basement of Holy Cross.

photo of germinating walla walla onions
Sweet Walla Walla Onions successfully germinating!

If all goes according to plan, these seedlings will be growing with gusto in our fields in a few months’ time.

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In other news, our farm dog, Zuri, has enjoyed her first winter immensely – going on adventures, napping with new dog friends or pausing to greet every student or staff member who she meets on campus or in the fields behind the farm!

photo of zuri and harken walking on the pond
Zuri enjoys a stroll with her airedale buddy, Harken.

 

photo of Zuri resting with Bailey
Zuri and Bailey rest together after a wild walk in the winter woods.

Our third season has just begun.

Check back from time to time to watch our fields fill with the colors of spring and summer. It will definitely prove to be an adventure as we put our L5030 Kubota tractor and our Kuhn el53-190 Rototiller to work.

Categories
Fall 2011 Fall Harvest 2011 Fall Projects 2011 Fall Volunteers 2011 Reflections The Farm at Stonehill Volunteer Winter 2011

Frosty Fields Are Prepped for Winter

The past few morning at The Farm, I arrive to find that the fields are all dressed up in a sparkling and frosty coat.
This cooler weather brings with it a flurry of activity!
Frosty red cabbage.

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We have been harvesting the last crops, which include parsnips, kohlrabi, and cabbage.
Photo fo Greg and Sean harvesting parsnips
Greg and Sean harvest parsnips.

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photo of Kolhrabi
We harvested this kohlrabi on November 2, 2011.

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photo of turnip greens
Queen Scarlet Red Stem Turnip Greens sparkle in early morning light.

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We work together to remove drip tape and irrigation lines from the fields and wrap them up for next year.
photo of volunteers working
Brian, Pat, Erin, Connielyn, Chelsea and Katie carefully wrap up drip tape so that we can use it again next spring.

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photo of volunteers
Michelle, Connielyn and Chelsea brave cool temperatures to help out on Friday, November 4th.

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We had to accomplish these projects by Friday, November 4th, before our friends (and their tractors) arrived from Langwater Farm to turn the fields one last time.
photo fo disc harrow
The Disc Harrow chops up any remaining vegetation as it turns the plants into the soil.

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photo of the fields on November 4th
The fields in their final glory on the morning of November 4th.
Before the fields were turned, I made sure to mark the rows, so that we can rotate our crops next year and grow healthy crops as we are mindful about keeping our soils healthy and nutrient rich.
Marking the fields to ensure good crop rotation practices.

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Rory O’Dwyer arrived at the farm right on time, and within a couple of hours she and her John Deere and disc harrow transformed the fields!
photo of rory tilling
Rory makes the first pass with the disc harrow.

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A few hours later, Chuck Currie and Kevin O’Dwyer arrived with 2 more tractors to smooth the fields with a lighter harrow, spread winter rye seed, and incorporate the seed with the harrow.
photo of Chuck TIlling
Chuck smooths the fields before the cover crop is seeded.

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photo of Kevin seeding winter rye
Kevin spreads winter rye as a cover crop.
According to UVM Extension: “Winter rye is an excellent winter cover crop because it rapidly produces a ground cover that holds soil in place against the forces of wind and water. Rye’s deep roots help prevent compaction in annually tilled fields, and because its roots are quite extensive, rye also has a positive effect on soil tilth.”

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Rory, Kevin and Chuck completed their work in record time!

Yet again I am reminded how lucky we are to have such good neighbors. We are thankful for their help to make this first season such a success, and look forward to working together for many years to come.

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The fields are now a bit bare, but soon the winter rye will germinate and a green, protective coat will adorn the fields for the colder months.
turned and planted
The fields, looking west from Rt. 138. November 4, 2011.

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photo of germinated winter rye
Our Winter Rye. Planted November 4. Germinated and already hard at work helping with soil conservation. Photo taken on November 15, 2011.

 The quiet beauty of the winter is starting to make it’s voice heard.

Time to reflect upon this season is arriving, and plans for next season will not be far behind.

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The cooler season's morning glory.
Categories
Fall 2011 Fall Harvest 2011 Fall Projects 2011 Fall Volunteers 2011 Reflections Spring 2011 Summer 2011 The Farm at Stonehill Volunteer

Symmetry of the Seasons

Symmetry of the Seasons

photo of cabbage in the spring
Cabbage in the spring.
Spring.
We plant lettuce seedlings under lights,
and when we think the time is right,
we move them in the thawing earth,
and hope they will survive late frost.
Much tougher than their small leaves suggest,
They take root and grow in sun and in rain.
photo of lettuce seedlings
Lettuce seedlings under the lights.
Summer.
We harvest;
Not just lettuce.
Loads of zucchini and summer squash threaten to break our backs.
Tomatoes: so plentiful that some fall to the ground,
Never making it to the table for which they were intended.
Instead they feed the Earth that lies below.
photo of zucchini and summer squash
Zucchini and Summer Squash harvested in July.
photo of Juilet tomatoes
Juliet Tomatoes ripening on the vine in July.
photo of tomatotes
Tomatoes: So plentiful that we cannot harvest them all.
Fall.
Greens rule again.
Kohlrabi, with it’s alien appearance, with its pleasing spice
warms our cooling bodies.
We find ourselves planting and harvesting lettuce once again.
Confident now, that it will brave first frost.
Knowing now, that each plant possesses a resilient core,
And a drive to survive.
photo of kohlrabi and parsnips
Kohlrabi and Parsnips harvested on October 26th.
photo fo patrick harvesting lettuce
Patrick Brazel harvests lettuce on October 26 in the rain.
photo of today's harvest
Fall harvest: eggplant, lettuce, collard greens, kohlrabi, parsley, and kale.
Winter.
The snow starts to fall,
and the wind cuts through our layers of wool, fleece and down.
Attempts are made to erase the warmth of long summer days from our memories.
To combat the cold, we mirror the might of the smallest seedlings,
Drawing on the heat stored in our cores,
until the Sun of next season beats down.
To warm us from the outside in,
Once again.

photo of sunflower