Way of life for Logan Co. duo
BY LEE JONES
BELLEFONTAINE — For one Logan County couple, organic vegetable farming is not just an activity or even an occupation, but a lifestyle.
Andy Reinhart and Jan Dawson have been raising organic produce at their Bellefontaine home for 20 years. The farm is called Jandy’s, the fusion of their names signifying the fusion of their passions.
The story of Jandy’s begins with Andy moving to the property, which is sheltered by woods, to “play Thoreau” in 1984. He married Jan Dawson in the winter four years later, and began the garden that summer.
What began as a chemical free flower garden intended to sell decorative dried flowers soon became the large organic garden that would become the couple’s livelihood.
“I had never gardened with chemicals before,” Reinhart said, but he was only working half-organically at that point. He had never built up the soil, which is critical to true organic produce production, and quickly began the work of restoring nutrients to his plot of earth.
The land had not been well tended prior to the couple’s arrival.
“There used to be horse rodeos here,” Reinhart said, “It was not a well taken-care-of piece of soil.”
Soon the couple were making contacts through organic associations, and the rest is history.
The farm produces three main crops: vegetables, onions and garlic, and flowers.
During the growing season, Andy and Jan plant lettuce weekly in a rotation to maximize the amount of produce they can take to market. Mondays begin with a new lettuce planting in mini soil blocks, which stay that way for two weeks. Then the plants are transferred to new soil blocks that are a couple inches deep for one more week.
At the beginning of each week, a new generation of lettuce or cabbage starts its own cycles. Soon enough the staggered crops are ready for harvest and sale.
Dawson is very particular about the varieties of lettuce and cabbage she plants.
“I won’t grow Buttercrunch in the summer,” she said, “But Tropicana is a good green loose-leaf for me.”
She also likes to grow Red Sails lettuce but prefers to stay away from deep-colored varieties like Red Fire. She said they get too bitter for her taste because their dark color draws in excess sunlight.
Reinhart’s passion is garlic. The main barn is bursting with the stuff; it is hanging in bundles from the wooden rafters, and several tables are loaded to excess with bulbs, all expertly cleaned so the residual dirt does not impede the drying process.
“We had about 500 pounds of garlic,” Dawson said, “It was a hot harvest.”
She said the root systems were so tight on most of
the crop that Reinhart had to loosen them in the soil with a potato fork, with Dawson following and gingerly removing them from their holes.
After saving some of the crop back for seed, the batch will be ready to go to market.
Reinhart is very positive about organic farming. He said anyone can do it.
“If you have an acre of land and plenty of energy, you can turn it into a money-making operation,” he said.
The couple make their living off their farm, and the operation appears to be a big undertaking for just two people. There are a few hoophouses full of tomatoes, baby ginger and eggplant, among others.
Near the edge of their property are the classic rows of vegetables. A row and a half of onions were showing during an OSU Extension Service-sponsored open house July 29, along with raised beds for bok choy and cabbage. The tour was part of the 2012 Ohio Sustainable Farm Tour and Workshop Series.
Almost one third of the Jandy’s farm is devoted to flowers in all possible hues, including tall stalks of sunflowers. Dawson takes bouquets to market and is always wowed by people’s willingness to pay for the bundles, although they are quick to haggle over food items.
“You could get rich on dried flowers,” Dawson said, smiling. But she maintains a reasonable price for the blooms anyway.
Next to the flowers is a good stand of corn, the tassels waving in the breeze.
Reinhart and Dawson are experimenting with a new crop: mushrooms. They had tried in the past with varying degrees of success, but now they are serious. Behind one of their buildings are more than a dozen oak logs leaning against wire strung between two trees. These logs contain shiitake plugs.
The project began with soaking these fresh-cut logs in water, drilling holes at intervals into the wood and hammering in mushroom plugs. After sealing them off with beeswax to prevent other fungi from invading, the logs were soaked again and set up for growth.
In the fall, the caps will grow and may be another crop for market.
Dawson was unsure about the success of their current baby ginger crop. She and Reinhart had properly pre-sprouted them, dug deep rows, and packed them with compost. But Dawson said the atmosphere in Ohio just is not conducive to the crop, which grows best in tropical climates.
Dawson talked extensively about organic pesticide techniques, some of which she uses and some she thinks are less rooted in reality.
“We have used beneficial nematodes,” she said, “I’m a real believer in those.”
These microscopic worms can be purchased and put in garden soil. The nematodes live off insect pests and not plant material.
Essentially, organic gardening and nematodes are a match made in heaven.
Jandy’s also uses diatomaceous earth as a pesticide, which is safe for humans and animals to eat but sticks in insect exoskeletons and kills them.
There other methods, such as purchasing pest-devouring insects, like ladybugs or even praying mantis, and adding them to a closed garden’s ecosystem.
But as any gardener knows, little winged pests are not the only destructive force. Deer present a large problem at Jandy’s as well.
But Reinhart has a non-chemical solution for the deer issue as well: ash.
Deer go crazy for Jandy’s edamame and beet tops, so Reinhart spreads ash on those plants which turns to lye once it comes in contact with the animal’s saliva.
One of the hallmarks of organic farming is crop rotation, but it is not such a big deal at the smaller-scale Jandy’s. But it does come into play.
“I give the ground time to do things,” Reinhart said. Vegetables get planted in the same ground the onions were in the year before, while a different section of the farm lies fallow every other year so nutrients can be replenished.
But even the fallow land, plentifully carpeted with clover to replace the all-important nitrogen, looks fruitful.
That is just one of the hallmarks of a healthy, organic garden.
Lee Jones writes for the
Sidney Daily News.
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