At this point in the season, all of our crops for the months of September and October have been planted. We have been irrigating as much as possible to nurse these fall crops through the persistent heat waves. In the next few weeks we change our focus and begin to plant crops to be sold through November, December and part of January. We are planting only the most cold tolerant crops that can withstand sub-zero temperatures if given added protection. These crops include baby lettuce mix, mesclun mix, spinach, pak choy, radishes, hakurei turnips, butter chard, and baby kale.
We tend to focus on baby (small size) crops this time of year because they are more cold hardy. These crops are planted inside of high tunnels, and when temperatures drop below 28 degrees we add an extra row cover over the plants inside of the tunnel. Plants at their baby stage are very cold hardy. For example, if a head of lettuce freezes inside the high tunnel on a really cold night, it will turn to mush after it thaws. But a baby leaf of lettuce can freeze and thaw without showing any signs of damage.
In order to have crops at the correct stage of development to survive these temperatures we must plant them at the correct time of year so that they are not too large by the time the cold weather comes, but not too small to be harvested and sold. Each crop has its specific timing. Growth rates slow down during this time of year due to decreasing sun light. Therefore, our butter chard and baby (about the size of your hand) kale must be planted on September 15th. If done correctly the plants will grow to the correct size by late October and then essentially stop growing due to the lack of sunlight. At this point they will simply wait for us to harvest them. If we plant them too late, they will be too small by late October and if planted two weeks earlier, we would have full size plants.
Once the cold weather arrives we must do our best to keep the plants marketable. We know they will not be growing too much and they do not need much water due to the lack of evaporation, therefore, by November we stop watering the plants altogether. We also must make sure to open and vent the tunnels as often as possible to keep moisture from building up which promotes fungal diseases. At this point we begin to cover and uncover the plants daily. We always cover the plants at about 3pm. We use heavy fabric row covers which trap the heat rising from the soil and keep the air around the plants a couple degrees warmer. We uncover the plants at around 10am daily to allow maximum sunlight in to warm them. This technique works with the leafy crops down to subzero temperatures.
You can do this in your own backyard with a couple pvc pipes and a sheet of plastic. Our tunnel protects from the snow, but you can easily grow lettuce, spinach, cabbage, etc… through December and beyond using these techniques. If you are interested in doing so and have any additional questions feel free to contact us.
This week's share consists of:
Full Share- acorn squash, tomatoes, sweet potatoes, head lettuce, sweet peppers, red cabbage, tuscan kale, broccoli, eggplant, scallions, hakurei turnips
Half Share- acorn squash, tomatoes, sweet potatoes, head lettuce, sweet peppers, red cabbage
What can I make with my share this week?? Here are a couple of ideas!
Roasted Sweet Potato Salad- http://www.averiecooks.com/2015/07/roasted-sweet-potato-salad.html
Sweet Potato Fries with Cilantro Ranch Dip- http://wholeandheavenlyoven.com/2014/08/04/sweet-n-spicy-sweet-potato-fries-with-cilantro-ranch-dip/
Acorn Squash Ice Cream Bowls- Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Wash and cut the acorn squash in half. Scoop out the seeds and reserve for roasting later. Put the acorn squash halves cut side up in a glass baking dish. In the "bowl" of each squash put 1 tablespoon of butter, 1 tablespoon of brown sugar or maple syrup and one tablespoon of pecans or walnuts. Cover the dish with foil and bake the squash for about 45. The squash are done when they are soft when poked with a fork and the butter/sugar mixture has melted together and begun soaking into the squash. Make sure to slowly pull the squash out of the oven so that you don't tip them over and spill the syrup in the bowl of the squash. Allow the squash to cool. When the squash are warm (but not hot) scoop and fill the squash bowls with vanilla ice cream and serve immediately. It's a little like pumpkin pie without the crust! You can substitute coconut oil for butter and also add cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger and other spices to give the squash a more pumpkin pie-like flavor.