Winter Farming at Glynwood
by Leah Garrard, Assistant Vegetable Production Manager
As I write this, the Hudson Valley landscape is covered in ice. Last weekend we endured a snowstorm and we've seen long stretches of nighttime temperatures close to 0°F, with highs in the teens. To think that fresh vegetables can grow amidst this kind of weather is mindboggling and yet it is happening here at Glynwood — we are year-round, four-season vegetable farmers.
Before I joined the Glynwood farm team last March, I was a three-season farmer for the better part of a decade. I would spend March-November working on a farm and then set off to somewhere warmer: traveling abroad, spending time in my home state of North Carolina, or touring on my bicycle for the winter. Staying active and engaged with vegetables and the earth during the winter was a compelling part of taking the job at Glynwood. Winter farming had a mysterious lure to it and as the veil has been lifted, it has been a very interesting learning experience.
Every week during the winter, we harvest fresh growing-in-the-ground greens from inside our three unheated high tunnels and one minimally heated tunnel. High tunnels are an important part of four-season farming, protecting the plants from the elements while letting in ample sunlight. Cold-hardy greens like spinach, kale, mustards, asian greens and lettuce can survive and thrive inside the tunnels during the cold winter. We planted these crops into the high tunnels in late September through October, so that they could grow while there was still enough warmth and light, and now they wait their turn to be harvested. These fresh greens are added to our weekly winter CSA distributions, farm store offerings, and donation to local food access partners along with storage crops such as carrots, beets, cabbage, and potatoes.
Each day, the weather forecast is our North Star for determining our farm activity schedule. Within the high tunnels, we use ‘row covers,’ which are big pieces of thin fabric laid on top of the plants like a blanket to help retain heat radiating from the soil. Each evening, we cover the plants with up to three layers of row cover depending on how cold it will be, tucking the plants in for the night. The following morning we check the forecast for the day’s predicted temperature and amount of sun. Magical warmth happens inside those plastic-covered tunnels on a sunny but cold day; peeling back the row cover when the sun is out allows the plants to receive better air flow to help mitigate disease growth and to allow the sun to warm the plants and soil directly. On a sunny day above freezing, we must take it a step further and open the ends or sides of the tunnels in order to keep it cool in there; if it gets too warm inside the tunnels, the winter greens may become stressed and start to finish their life cycle (or go to seed) sooner than we want. Being thoughtful about this morning and evening chore keeps the plants healthy and happy; we want the plants and the ground they are rooted in to get as warm as possible (but not too warm!) during the day, to help them get through the long, cold nights.
After covering or uncovering the plants, we decide when we will harvest for CSA. It's best to harvest on a day when the sun is shining and the plants are thawed from the cold night, so the timing is variable. Washing and packing the vegetables in our wash/pack shed is more fun when it's above freezing too, though high-powered heaters help with that. I can't tell you how much time I have spent turning on/off water and draining hoses this winter, I almost don't want to know, but it's an important thing to not forget (I haven't yet!).
With sights set on spring, we are now starting to flip the beds inside the tunnels. This involves double digging them to turn over the finished crop, making a fresh bed for another crop to be seeded or transplanted into, in preparation for harvest months away. Though the cycle slows in the winter, it really never ends. Before we know it, the haze of summer will be upon us and this cold winter will be a distant memory.
I've realized that winter vegetable farming can feel like a slog at times, as I carry myself and my 6 layers of clothing through the snow and ice to keep the greens happy, but it is rejuvenating in its own way. It is beautiful to slow down a bit: to notice the animal tracks in the snow as I walk from tunnel to tunnel, to be greeted by the vibrant tiny plants in the propagation greenhouse each morning, to become intimately attuned to the changes of the greens from day to day, and to know that our customers are being nourished by these fresh greens and last summer's storage crops all winter long.
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