We are extremely excited about the results so far of our experiment to grow greens in cold, unheated greenhouses. Step into our greenhouse on freezing winter day is like entering a temperate haven from the harsh outdoor environment. Even on a grey day, with outside temps of 32, the thermometer in the greenhouse registered 45 F. Hats and gloves come off. When the sun is out, temps inside the greenhouse climb into the high 60s and even 70s, and off come the coats as well!
The past couple of weeks in December brought night temps to a low of 8 degrees F. These conditions are a true test of how greens will grow in our unheated greenhouse. The greenhouse beds, planted outdoors in September long before the greenhouse was even up, are now well tucked in under hoops and reemay cloth. This shelters not only from the cold, but also from wind, which is most destructive to plants. In an unheated greenhouse such as this one, each layer of covering gives us temps as though we are one zone south, so under the reemay, it’s like we’re in Georgia two zones south of here.
While it may also be cold in Georgia this time of year, the varieties we’ve planted here are cold-loving greens like super hearty winter lettuces, spinach, and mache, a gourmet green grown and eaten all winter long in France. The plants do indeed freeze at night underneath their covers. But as the sun warms the greenhouse, the plants almost miraculously revive to vibrant green life. On the shortest day of the year, December 21, there’s a very brief window to harvest — between about 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. , with sunset around 3:30 p.m. We can harvest only on days that the temperature inside the greenhouse climb above freezing.
The lettuce and spinach are now baby size, perfect for eating. Harvesting involves cutting the tender leaflets to make a nice salad mix. We leave the emerging tiny heart to continue growing. This way, once the days begin to get longer, the plants will slowly grow well into March, when it will be time to plant the next crop in the greenhouse.
If you’re lucky enough to find mache, also known as ‘Vit’, or corn salad, in the supermarket, it is usually very expensive. It’s a lovely, nutritious, nutty-tasting green that adds a new dimension to a salad, or it can be eaten on its own. The tender whole plant is harvested and left intact until food preparation for maximum freshness.
The lettuce really seems to thrive in this environment. The lettuce actually squeeks with freshness and vitality when I cut it!
Bill cuts individual spinach leafs, leaving the rest of the plant to continue growing.
Here is the final share of the season, just a few days before Christmas. Butternut squash, potatoes, fresh lettuce mix, two dozen eggs, and a special treat:
Delicious honey maple hickory-smoked salmon to serve our holiday guests.
Bill has also been preparing lots of smoked cheese which shareholders got in a previous share. These make great gifts from the farm.
We’re looking forward to a short couple of months of “cave time” indoors, while we pore over seed catalogs, crunch our numbers and create our plans and marketing materials for next spring’s harvest. We also have a new baby to look forward to by the end of January.
Happy Holidays to all! May you be surrounded, as we are, by the love and warmth of family and friends.