While we love eating with the seasons, it is such a blessing to be able to keep adding fresh green veggies to our meals even once the cold weather has moved in.
It’s November 16th, yesterday we woke up to the first dusting of snow on the ground, and still we are harvesting four different varieties of fresh greens from the fields - none of which are kale (don't worry, there will be plenty of frost-sweetened kale later in the season)! As much as we’d love for you to think of us as farming wizards, it isn’t magic that makes this possible. With a whole lot of know-how, and a little bit of luck, we’ll be bringing you bundles of green goodness right up to 2022!
It’s hard to believe it, but even here in Ottawa we can be eating a variety of organic local greens right through the winter. While most of the salad that you’ll find in the grocery store has travelled in excess of 4000 kilometers to get to your plate, ours has travelled less than 50 meters. As we all consider the ways in which we can decrease the pressure we place on the planet, choosing to support small-scale local farms like ours is a great place to start - one bag of lettuce at a time.
Let us share our winter growing tricks with you!
Trick #1: The first trick to growing greens well into winter is planting the right seeds at the right time. We grow a highly curated selection of frost hardy greens, and we get them established well before the dark days and cold nights set it. This gives the plants time to get nice and strong before the light levels drop, which is just as much a winter growing challenge as the cold temperatures.
Once they are established, these specially selected greens employ some pretty ingenious coping strategies for withstanding the cold. Dropping temperatures stimulate the development of sugars in certain greens, like arugula, spinach, kale, and bok choy, which acts as a natural antifreeze. Not only does this adaptation make these plants very resistant to cold, it also makes them extra sweet after a freeze. See if you can taste the difference this week after our first snow fall!
Trick #2: We love curling up under warm blankets on a cold winter night, and so do our veggies. As the temperatures drop and the cold winds start to blow we like to keep our plants nice and cozy under row covers. The row cover blankets might look thin but they are thick enough to serve two important functions - they create a tiny micro-climate for the plants, and they protect the plants from harsh winter winds. Not only can the wind batter the tender leaves, but it also whisks moisture away, leaving the plant dehydrated. The row covers locks in the heat and keep the wind at bay, providing just enough protection to keep the plants happy and healthy.
As we descend further into winter we can increase the density of the row cover, moving from P19 to P40, and even double it up, both out in the open fields and in the tunnels and greenhouse. Even with no supplemental heat in the greenhouse we should be able to keep harvesting greens well past new year. Last year the greenhouse spinach was still going strong in March!
Trick #3: Here’s where luck comes into the equation. We need to make sure that the plants have completely defrosted before we start to harvest, otherwise we’ll end up with sad limp leaves that nobody wants in their salad. For this we rely on the sun. We keep a keen eye on the weather and make sure that we’re ready to jump out in the fields as soon as the sun has done its work. This might make sticking to a schedule a bit challenging, but that frost sweetened spinach makes it well worth the effort (and frozen fingers)!