KU Student Farm: Growing Sustainability

Gardening at the student farm with Nicholas Kotlinski
November 1, 2010, 9:04 pm
Filed under: Gardening with Nicholas Kotlinski

A great start for the plot

I had been in search of a garden space all spring and summer. I needed to test my growing knowledge with some independent study work in order to supplement my experience as an apprentice on an organic vegetable farm. By having my own plot, I could experiment free from all the helpful hints that an overseeing farmer provides. It may not seem important to those with garden space, but to a student with little access to land in a town where the few urban open spaces are crowded by trees and impenetrable shade, places like the University of Kansas Student Farm are invaluable. The farm is close to town and offers a place for proactive learning about gardening.

Fortunately, I found out about the student farm and jumped at the chance to do some of my own planting. In early September, I met up with Kim Scherman, one of the farm coordinators, who was nice enough to help me out for my first planting. Just 2 feet from the first well-established plot, we carved out a 25- by 3-foot bed.

I had asked my boss, Jill Elmers of the Moon on the Meadow Farm what she thought I should plant, and she enthusiastically collected an assortment of fall crops for me to try out. The bag of seeds included beets, turnips, radish, kale, head lettuce, salad mix and spinach. These are basic crops that start well in early fall and can heartily take some of the early cold weather of the season. The crops were selected for their ability to be direct seeded. Not having to start the plants in a greenhouse saves time and energy; you can get them into the ground fast. Kim and I direct seeded everything with little to no preparation except for prepping the bed.


For the beets, we used a hoe to make a 25-foot furrow and dropped seeds every few inches. We covered them up and watered them in. We planted the radishes and turnips in two rows, with both crops taking up half the length of the plot. We staggered them in a zigzag pattern so the plants would have space to grow and would not need to be pulled because of overcrowding. This method didn’t seem to work, and I got a disorderly but quite productive crop. We sprinkled the salad mix and spinach over the tilled soil in their respective rows, then covered the seeds with soil using a rake. I didn’t rake in the spinach well, and the heavy rains that came just after planting sent all the spinach seeds into the salad mix, creating a colorful blend of plants. Kale is doing well too, though the encroaching salad mix has to be cut back from time to time so the kale can get enough sunlight.

Because we had about two weeks of constant rain after planting, I didn’t need to check on the plot or do any watering. After the rains had stopped, I checked in on the garden. Everything had sprouted pretty consistently (minus spinach because of my ineffective seeding method). I showed up at the garden regularly to water and ready to do some weeding and hoeing a few times but really never had any issues with weeds. Therefore, it wasn’t really necessary to mulch

The salad mix is getting higher and higher, and I can’t get through the stuff fast enough. I’m cutting up what spinach I can get, and the radishes are out and eaten. Turnips are coming out and delicious,

This salad mix looks good enough to eat!

and the beets are getting bigger by the day. I also hope to plant and mulch two raspberry plants, which are perennial, so that next year’s student farm participants can enjoy a “fruit garden.” The farm is an amazing project, and to share space with the Native Medicinal Plant Research Garden makes it even more appealing as a place to learn about growing.

I hope students have the ability to build and expand the garden in the future and make it a greater space for community and students to interact and grow their own food.

Unfortunately, I won’t be able to continue growing at the student farm next spring because I’ll be graduating from KU. I’ll be heading down to Peru this winter to explore, work on my Spanish, and convince a few farmers in the selva alta (high jungle) to allow the gringo to help in their garden plots and small farms so that I can learn more about agricultural change in Amazonia. By spring, I hope to be back in Kansas putting something into the ground.

-Nicholas Kotlinski, senior in anthropology