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Thursday, December 30, 2010

Harvesting a Winter Share

We here at Boulder Belt Eco-Farm have been doing the CSA (community Supported Agriculture) thing for over 12 years and for the past 4 years we have done a Winter Share. This year's winter group is quite small at 5 members. In past years we generally have 10 to 15 members and I was really hoping to do 20 this year. But due to the drought that hit us this past summer our winter storage crop harvest, especially the winter squash, was badly compromised. And it also made it very hard to do the late summer and early fall planting we must do in order to have crops to harvest in December and January.

We did a lot of hand watering this past fall and we ran the irrigation system a lot more than we were comfortable with (all water, including the water we use for household stuff comes from the same well-we do not want it run dry, ever). But it all paid off and we have been successful in growing enough food for our 5 Winter Share families (but not much more than that)

Eugene is harvesting Broccoli Raab (which taste nothing like broccoli, FYI) For the winter share. I picked most of it but since I own the camera I take the pictures. The purple leaves are rainbow kale. Normally the harvested leaves would be washed, than refrigerated before being bagged but our washing facilities are outside so in winter we generally skip washing and have no need to get the field heat off of the crops (if anything they need to be thawed) so they can go from field to bagging in one step.

Same broccoli Raab bed with the cover being put back on. We use row covers inside the hoop houses because it gives another layer of protection to the crops to keep them from freezing. Unfortunately the two row covers and being inside the hoop house was not enough for the broccoli raab and there was a lot of frost damaged leaves that had to be taken off the plants and tossed out. This is always the risk with winter growing-bad frost damage. We do try to avoid this by planting cold hardy crops, using row covers and hoop houses and putting heat sinks in the houses such as gallon milk jugs filled with water, 50 gallon containers filled with water, etc..

One of two beds of leeks. The leeks will survive out side of a hoop house but we have found the quality is a lot better (by orders of magnitude) and inside the hoop houses it is warm which means the soil is not frozen so we can get them out of ground. Even in the hoop house the leeks come out of the ground muddy and have to be cleaned up. I don't wash leeks as washing seems to bring down the quality. instead I cut off the roots (where most of the mud resides) and than I strip off the outer layers which are dieing off, et voila! Clean leeks. Our Winter Share members got 2 leeks each.

One of the two spring mix beds. This one has the mustard greens-arugula, mizuna, tat soi, etc..

The lettuce side of the spring mix. In winter due more to under 9 hours of day light rather than cold, the plants go almost dormant (if it is really cold and dry they will go completely dormant in Jan and Feb) which means very very slow growth. this means in order to harvest in order to sell the crops a couple of things must happen. One, the crops have to be planted at the optimal time so they are well established and at the size you need. With some things like spring mix the plants can be either too small or too big. With other things like broccoli raab and kale you want to avoid the plants being too small or there will not be much to harvest. Two you need to plant more than you would in spring/summer/fall because things are not growing much if at all so in order to get enough to harvest you plant more area.

Now this works very well in early to mid winter but in late winter we get our light back and the hoop houses get really warm, especially on sunny days so even though it may be a cold snowy March day outside the hoop houses, inside it is May and things are growing great guns and all that over planting so necessary in the depths of winter becomes too much of a good thing. So our solution is to simply move the hoop houses off of such crops and on to other things and that gives the over abundant crops a good dose of weather reality and they tend to slow way down.

In the end we were able to harvest enough spring mix for 6 big bags of salad (that would be almost 1/2 pound). 5 went to the winter share members and 1 went to us. We also harvested beets and chard from the 3rd hoop house but I took no pictures, even though the chard was very beautiful.


Steve Finnell said...

you are invited to follow my blog

Lucy said...

Thanx for the invite Steve but your blog is a bit too religious for this agnostic farmer. But perhaps others who read this blog will want to follow your blog

Eliza @ Appalachian Feet said...

I think your winter CSA veggies look beautiful! Sorry to hear about the frostbit ones, though.

Thanks for contributing your kale post to How to Find Great Plants. The latest issue is out today and here's the link: