Many of our CSA members have been telling us how excited they are to have so many greens this time of year! We have been expanding our winter growing operation, and every year we are able to provide more variety of crops for a longer period of time. So how do we do it?
It all starts with careful planning in August, when we seed the transplants that we will eventually plant into the hoophouses in fall. When we finally pull our tomato plants from their indoor homes in September, we then fill the hoophouses with new transplants and seeds that will turn into crops such as mesclun, arugula, pac choi, spinach, kale, lettuce, chard and more. We allow our plants to grow until they are well-established, despite the waning daylength of fall. The short days and cool nights facilitate slow growth, but enough growth to secure a foundation of strong roots and rugged greens. The slow plant cell growth during the winter is responsible for the unbelievable sweetness and hardiness of winter-grown greens.
During the winter we cover our crops with “remay”, which is a long sheet of breathable fabric that is also penetrable by light. Remay prevents frost from touching the leaves, and increases the temperature of the soil beneath its cover. The hoophouses themselves get very warm when it is sunny, so we pull the fabric off during the day, and tuck the plants back in at night. This year we were able to over-winter spinach, kale, braising greens, chard, pac choi, tatsoi, green onions, and green garlic. You might think that was only because this winter was so mild, but we overwintered all these same crops last winter too when it was significantly colder.
When Spring arrives, and the days lengthen, the greens start growing rapidly. We harvest them either by hand, or with our walk-behind harvester, which allows us to harvest hundreds of pounds of salad greens per hour. We then bring the greens into our wash-pack area, where we double wash and sanitize them and spin them dry in a giant 50 gallon salad spinner. From there we put them into in our large walk-in coolers to cool them before sale.
We distribute our greens to our CSA members, our Farmstand, the Burlington Farmers Market, and numerous restaurants, groceries, hospitals and schools within 30 miles of the farm. We have nine hoophouses with nearly 40,000 square feet of growing space, allowing us to grow nearly 10000 pounds of salad greens between November and March.