I will never forget how excited I felt when I first read Eliot Coleman’s book “The Winter Harvest Handbook,” and saw the photos of fresh greens growing under a layer of cloth in an unheated hoophouse in the middle of winter. “Oh, I want to do that,” I thought, and so we did…
This is our second winter of growing food in our own unheated greenhouse and it has been an amazing experience. Last year at this time, we had had over 47 inches of snow, it was so much colder, and we shoveled heavy snow to keep the greenhouse from collapsing, at least 6 times. The small amount of greens we planted in there all got harvested by Christmas. We started some carrots, and several plantings of other hearty veggies, beginning at the end of January, planting several successions through March.
We moved the hoophouse off those crops in April once they could survive outdoors and then planted tomatoes in there a whole month early. All of these crops thrived, pointing the way to our successful future. We got an extra month on either end of the season with the tomatoes, and the early planted carrots and romaine heads gave our CSA customers a gorgeous first couple of shares in mid-June, way ahead of what we were able to do in earlier years. We have already bought the steel to build a second, larger hoophouse.
This year’s unusual temperatures has kept everything alive in the hoophouse much longer, and with much less snow shoveling (yay!). Yesterday, January 26, I harvested spinach, mache, arugula and leeks to sell at a local food event in Manchester-by-the-Sea tomorrow. I’ll be one of several vendors selling for a couple of hours. Afterward, I’ve been invited as the farmer representative, to speak about local food on a panel, followed by Q & A. A late January market is a first for us, and I’m so grateful for the opportunity.
But first, I must show you my daily commute. A far cry from my former life as an administrator at a local college, my commute now requires no gasoline to be burned. I’m so happy about this! That’s Charger, my son Michael’s dog, who spent the morning hanging out with me. Since he doesn’t have any sheep to herd, his job of keeping the sticks in order around the farm is taken very seriously.
Here we are at last, nearing the hoophouse, about a two-minute walk away…
Inside, the crops are protected under hoops covered by a second layer of Reemay cloth. This protection gives us conditions that are a couple of zones further south to grow in.
Peeling back the cloth is an easy, one person task. We’ve already been eating glorious fresh salads, so there doesn’t appear to be much left…However, appearances are deceiving!
The temperature inside, and out, as well as the relative humidity when I began harvesting at noon. It was a little cloudy.
The day’s harvest.
Later, I will show you how we kept the carrots fresh in a deep hole in the ground covered with hay. I will be harvesting those this morning for tomorrow’s market…