Sunday, November 21, 2010

Eat fresh all winter

 I've been outside today pulling beets and it is bloody cold.  But being November in Southern Ontario means only one thing.  It is going to get colder!

Most people with gardens are heading back to the grocery stores at this time of the year to get their produce.  But growing (ha!) numbers of people are not. They are relying on preserved summer crops, stored crops and fresh greens from protected structures such as hoop houses and cold frames

Here on the farm we are in pretty good shape for the winter after a super growing season.  I've talked on this blog about some veggies I store in barrels in the garage-winter radishes, beets, cabbages,carrots and also kohlrabi and turnips.  I've got potatoes and squash in the fruit cellar as well as onions and copious amounts of garlic and some English walnuts from my trees. Dried beans, canned tomatoes, peppers and beans and a wonderful assortment of jams round out the fruit cellar, making it look like a grocery store.  My freezer holds my strawberries, raspberries, huckleberries and cape gooseberries and my cooler, apples from my trees.

We'll eat well.  But I couldn't really just get by with these foods.  I need greens and my two large hoop houses are just full of them.

I sell a fair bit, but of course we eat 'em too!

I pulled the tomatoes out of the hoop houses in September, and after a quick till, started seeding one of the houses. I don't worry about precision seeding.  I practise the "scatter seed" approach.  I put in lots of arugula, mustards, chards, kales, walking onions and a few potatoes for fun.  I watered the seeds in and before long was rewarded with a sea of green. I'm harvesting these greens now, mid-November, but only when absolutely necessary....there still is so much outside!

The other hoop house is a different story.  I purchased it from a different company and the design was poor - exposed screws on the top of the structure weakened the plastic, and a huge wind mid-September ripped the plastic right off.  Best greenhouse, hands-down is the one from GGS in Vineland.

We had this greenhouse completely tilled and ready to go, but without the plastic, I wasn't too worried about getting it planted.  And getting the plastic on isn't a job I can remotely consider doing myself.

So on a fine breeze-less morning in October, we got the plastic on.  But a really great thing had happened....the house had seeded itself!

I have chefs who like the flowers from the crops I grow in the winter-the cheery yellow mustards,white arugula and purple radish flowers that inevitably start appearing when the longer days of March and April send up the seed stalks.  So I let lots of these crops flower, then go to seed.  And although the hoop house was fully planted to heirloom tomatoes this summer, I tried to "dry farm" the plants, that is I didn't water them after they were established.  And because of this minimalist approach to watering, the plants that went to seed didn't grow.

When the plastic ripped though, the rain came down and the seeds germinated like crazy.  That house is packed with mustards and chards, mizuna, choi, claytonia, cress, lettuces and of course lovely little tomato plants which will expire when the deep freezes hit.

I'm done watering the hoop houses now.  Obviously much less water is required in the cold weather.  From here on it is just a matter of covering the crops with agricultural fabric when the temperatures dip quite low, and of course harvesting. And the taste?  Oh my. Winter greens, sweetened by the frost are so good and fresh tasting.

Eating local has become the mantra of so many.  But I am a stickler for good food, be it local or not. And much of what is in the stores is intolerable crap, sadly whether it is local or not.
I firmly believe the best food people will ever eat is the food they grow themselves.

Got a bit of ground?  Time to think garden for 2011!


melissa said...

Hi Linda

Just went out to Beth's farm for the first time - very inpsiring. Have to get me a hoop house. Just need a teensy one for the yard as we are "in-town" - suggestions for a second hand baby?


Linda said...

Hi Melissa-Thanks for reading.
I would check Smart Shopper or kijiji. But failing that, you could construct your own small one or build a cold frame.I have a friend in St Cath who is successful with pvc pipe bent and pushed in the ground, covered in plastic which is weighted down with wood around the edges.Low tech is the way to go!