We grow our food on 1/2 acre of land.
Rachel Hershberger and Ben Hartman started Clay Bottom Farm in Goshen, IN, in 2006. In her spare time, Rachel enjoys jewerly-making and cooking with fresh food. Ben enjoys pottery and plays a mean saxophone. We have two sons who delight us, inspire us, and motivate us to be efficient with our time.
Nicole Craig has been Clay Bottom Farm's assistant farm manager since 2019. She lives in Goshen, IN with her husband and two daughters and is slowly converting all their yard into gardens. She enjoys exploring beaches along Lake Michigan, backpacking, and knitting. In this growing season, she aspires to pick kale bunches as fast as Rachel.
Andrew Ness is a senior at Goshen College, entering his final year as a sustainable food systems and history double major. Originally from Oregon, he grew up surrounded by organic agriculture and farmers markets. In his free time, Andrew enjoys hiking, cycling, swimming, metal sculpting, and reading.
Sierra Ross Richer is a senior at Goshen College, wrapping up her final year as a journalism student. She has called several places home including Goshen, Ecuador, Peru, and Northern California. She loves writing, being outdoors, hacky sacking, slacklining, cooking/baking, growing food, camping, dumpster diving and biking.
Lola the Australian cattle dog is a recent addition to Clay Bottom Farm. She loves to play in the water, chase groundhogs, supervise farm work, and is loved by all who visit the farm. In her free time, she enjoys long naps.
Clay Bottom Farm is an urban farm, set on the north edge of Goshen, IN. All of our food is sold with 1.5 miles of the farm. The building pictured is a barn-house that includes a propagation house, processing room, guest apartment, and living quarters.
We use two greenhouses to produce food year-round, and a 3-step no-till bed preparation process:
1. Pull out the previous crop, or "burn" it with a black tarp.
2. Loosen the soil with forks (if needed, for example, ahead of carrots).
3. Apply 1" of farm-made compost per year.
Our goal is to farm within limits: Instead betting bigger and doing more every season, we ask, How can do better with what we already have?
Our production goal is to farm efficiently but also as gently on the earth as possible. Compost is our secret weapon. Here's how we make it, in four steps:
1. Collect carbon from as close to home as possible: spent microbrewery grains, leaves, grass clippings, and poultry manure. The more diversity the better. No more than 1/3 should be fresh manure or greens.
2. Build a heap about 9' wide x 6' tall x 50' long (basically, as big as we can make it).
3. Turn only three or four times (with a skid loader). As long as there were no weeds in the raw materials, there is no need for lots of turns.
4. Manage the moisture. We cover with Compostex cover to shed snow and spring rains, and we water the heap in summer. The goal is "medium" moisture content.
When applying to garden beds, we leave the compost on the surface instead of tilling it in, and plant directly into it. With this method there are fewer weeds and soil fertility is consistently high. It is also faster and less destructive to soil biology than plowing and tilling.
Paper pot transplanting. We helped pioneer the use of the Japanese paper pot transplant method in the US. Plants are grown in paper chains, which unravel as the transplanter is pulled along, transplanting 264 seedlings in 40 seconds.
We transplant the following crops in paper pots: green beans, basil, turnips, beets, head lettuce, romaine, and green onions. Many crops, like hakurei turnips, grow well with 3 or 4 seeds per cell.
Paper pots are permitted for organic use in the US but not in Canada or the UK. However, a hemp fiber chain is under development with the goal of passing organic requirements globally.
We recommend trying the tool if you are currently transplanting more than 2,000 plugs per year.
Our best-selling crop: spring mix. Here is our specific recipe:
SUMMER: Muir, Salanova red sweet crisp, and Rubygo. These all grow as heads, transplanted with the paper pot transplanter 6" apart, and then harvested with a Farmers Friend greens harvester.
SPRING/FALL: Dane and Osborne Seeds Super Frilly Mix. These are direct-seeded with a Jang seeder, rows 5" apart, F-24 roller, sprockets 11 front, 10 rear.
WINTER: Mizuna, Tokyo bekana, Red Cloud, Gazelle spinach (spinach is 1/2 of the mix, and we sell it separately as well). These are direct-seeded same as above and grow on 5'-wide beds, directly into compost.
Our second best-selling crop is tomatoes. We seed several times starting February 1 through April 15 to ensure a long harvest.
Our best-selling tomatoes: Margold and Marnuour (pictured right)
Our best red slicer: BHN-589
Our best yellow slicer: BHN-871
Our greenhouse cherry tomato mix: Clementine, Mountain Magic
To determine what to grow (and what not to grow) for customers, we fill out a Value Sheet with each chef every winter. The sheet is simple. It asks, "What do you want? When do you want it? How much?" We get precise answers and then design our farm year around the answers.
We use three trellising methods with tomatoes, seen in this image. On the left in the photo are indeterminates growing with two leaders, each trained to grow up a twine (we usually twist the plant tips instead of using clips). Once the leaders reach the cross-tie, we lower more twine from the spool and lean the plants over. We "lean and lower" each plant three times each season. We keep our cross-ties at 7 1/2' from the ground, allowing us to lean and lower without the use of ladders. We grow a maximum of 300 row-feet using this method. We don't have time to tend more than that.
Next are semi-determinates (like the BHN series) and cherry tomatoes growing between 10' EMT conduit stakes. The conduit gets zip-tied to the cross-ties. Look closely and you see twine woven between stakes, holding up the plants. Two plants grow between each stake. We twine every 12-18".
On the right are determinate tomatoes grown with white oak stakes every two plants. For these we also weave twine to support the plants.
We prune all tomatoes 1' off the floor for air circulation, and the indeterminates are further pruned to maintain just two leaders. The lettuce growing between tomatoes rows will be removed in time for tomato harvest.
In 2019 we started growing hemp (cannabis with less than .3% THC). We add 36"-wide beds of no-till hemp into our existing vegetable rotations, with 6' between plants. From a botanical perspective, cannabis is the most incredible crop we have ever grown: its biomass production outpaces any other crop; and it is aromatic, beautiful, and incredibly utilitarian--as a medicine, high-protein food, and fiber. We sell CBD tinctures at the Goshen Farmers Market and through the Maple City Market in Goshen, IN. We developed a course that teaches through 18 video lessons how to grow great hemp on a small scale.Learn more about our hemp course
Bok choi: Joi choi
Pea shoots: Austrian field peas
Microgreens: Radishes, red mizuna, Tokyo bekana
Red beets: Red Ace
Golden beets: Touchtone gold
Head lettuce: Muir, Hampton
Kale: Black magic, Winterbor, Mamba
Green beans: Jade
Fennel bulb: Orazio
Rhubarb: Canadian red
Pink ginger: Big Kahuna
Edamame: Beer friend
Summer squash: Dunja
Sugar snap peas: Super sugar snap
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