Winter farming presents interesting, frustrating and sometimes, quite funny challenges. Our CSA program has reached almost 75 members – the largest membership we’ve had on our farm since we started farming in 2007. For those boxes, we’ve had to harvest 2,000 pounds of vegetables– a literal ton — in a couple of days. We do this quite often during the main season — it is standard — but, it is very different during the winter. We have less light and shorter days to do our work. It is icy and cold, so we can’t usually start harvesting anything until the sun hits the fields for at least an hour or so and things defrost. That means, we usually don’t start harvesting until after 11am on most days. In essence, it takes us 4 full days to harvest, wash, and pack 75 winter CSA boxes. And that’s with 3 people!
A couple of interesting farm tidbits from this week:
- The salad spinner (our washing machine) had filled up with rainwater after the end of market season and then froze and we didn’t realize this until yesterday morning when we went to spin our chard/kale braising mix. It took all day of toting 5-gallon buckets of hot water from the house to the barn and pouring it in the washer for it finally to defrost at 5pm. We spent some of our time yesterday spinning braising mix by hand in mesh washer bags. Yes, that’s right, over our heads in a spinning motion — over 100 lbs. Needless to say, we were pretty happy when the salad spinner started working again.
- Gregorio, our awesome right hand man, harvested spinach yesterday, which had been covered with our durable row cover to keep it warm during these frosty nights. The row cover had been wet and he had put it into a ball while he was harvesting. Well, the sun went down, he finished harvesting spinach and when he went to put the row cover back on, it had frozen into a ball and was unusable!
- Josh and I went to harvest salad greens in one of our hoop houses. We have two and we planted a lot of greens in both to make sure we had enough during the winter for the CSA. Plants don’t grow very much during the winter with less light and cold, so we have to overcompensate with more plants. Well, even with row cover under plastic cover, half of our lettuce crop froze and we can’t harvest it. We are able to handle this with grace, I think, because we know we can just cut all of it back and it will grow back again for future harvests and luckily, we planted enough lettuce that we were able to scrounge together a fine and undamaged mix that we could provide for you all this week. That said, it isn’t as much salad greens as we’d like to provide. We’ll have more on the next round of boxes.
- We were on vacation in California when the really cold, frosty weather came along. We called Gregorio to put row cover on the broccoli to save it. We had big beautiful heads that we wanted to harvest into your CSA boxes. I’m glad I was checking the weather on the farm every day as we covered the crop just in the nick of time and we were able to save it. That said, check out the picture below of the icy broccoli….we had to pitch quite a bit because some had rotted.
- We had a lot of fun putting these boxes together this week– the three of us — Josh, Gregorio and Melissa — listen to a lot of loud music and get excited about packing so much food for families even while braving the cold! 🙂
So, those are just a few of our interesting stories from this week. Check out some of the pictures from the farm below.
Winter farming isn’t really straightforward like the main season, which is why you don’t see many farmers attempting it. There are so many places that things can go wrong and the risk of cold weather destroying crops is immense. Again, that’s where diversity is beautiful and we grow enough on our farm to make up for any losses and to share with you! That brings me to my next topic. Storage! Because we are providing you with so much food, we want to make sure you know how to store it so it doesn’t go bad before you can eat it.
We store our winter squash and onions in an insulated room in our barn. The temperature fluctuates, but pretty much stays at about 40 degrees during the winter. Even with steady storage temperatures, we still have issues with rotting squash and sprouting onions. We want to make sure that you don’t store your onions and squash in your main house with temperatures of 60 – 70 degrees and then see some sprouting or rotting. Here’s some storage tips:
- Winter squash–From Illinois Extension: “For long-term squash storage, choose a well-ventilated, cool place, such as an open basement area, which has a consistent temperature of around 50 degrees. Chilling damage and flavor loss can occur at temperatures below 45 degrees, and it encourages decay. At temperatures above 60 degrees, moisture loss and stringy flesh occurs. Try to avoid sites in which temperatures fluctuate, causing condensation. Also avoid outdoor pits and cellars which have high humidity, low temperatures and poor air movement.”
- Onions–They like it cool and dry. Keep in a cool, dry, dark spot. Allow for ventilation. In a dark pantry with plenty of air circulation will be good.
- Potatoes–The potatoes have been stored in our cooler at 33 degrees. They like cool, dark and slightly humid environments. We’ve had success storing potatoes for a long time in plastic bags in our refrigerator. Experiment, but we would recommend keeping them in your refrigerator.
- All other vegetables should go in your refrigerator in plastic bags. If we have provided too many greens for you to eat, try freezing or putting them in daily smoothies. A great way to get greens into your kids. I try to do it every day.
Again, we strive to provide you with the highest possible quality of vegetables. Please do let us know if something is not up to quality – or somehow, you received a rotting squash, sprouting onion, etc. We will always replace these!
So, onto your boxes. Here’s what is in there this week:
- 4# Carrots — These are so sweet. I couldn’t stop eating them yesterday!
- 2# Broccoli
- 3# Yellow Onions
- 1 Scarlet Kabocha and/or 1 Red Kuri Squash
- 1# Beets
- 1# Pink Salad Turnips
- 1.5# Braising Mix — Italian Kale, Red Russian Kale, Redbor Kale, Winterbor Kale and Rainbow Chard
- 1# Spinach
- 2 – 3# Napa Cabbage
- 1 Romanesco Cauliflower
- 3# Potatoes — Purple Mountain Majesty (high in antioxidants)
- 1/2# Salad Greens