Four Season Farming

snowy view of front gardens

As I sit here my husband is adding another heater to the dome greenhouse because the temperature is getting dangerously close to freezing. If it does freeze, thousands of dollars of wasabi plants will die. Not only do these plants represent a significant source of potential income, but they are an embodiment of hundreds of hours of work. This is the reality of year-round farming.

We currently have seven greenhouses on our farm, only two of which have a heating system. One of these I say heating system very loosely as it comprises of a radiator heater for a bedroom and a Buddy heater that husband is currently firing up. Our other greenhouses depend upon many layers of row covers acting as blankets which trap the solar radiation absorbed by the soil. These blankets cover about 2,500 square feet of growing space that holds our lively hood in winter. This space is filled with kale, chard, lettuce, cabbage, beets, Asian greens, celery, parsley, and arugula. All of them trying to grow despite low light levels, cold temps, high humidity, and aggressive weeds. It isn’t a glamorous story line, but it is our story, and we love living it.

Growing in winter is a key component to a sustainable, local food system. The days of eating whatever you want whenever you want to are critically endangered by high fuel costs, growing global populations that need that food in their country, and a huge carbon footprint that results from shipping foods all over the planet. As citizens of the country that has the biggest addiction to eating these “exotic” foods (yes, strawberries in December and asparagus in October are exotic) we need to change our eating habits to embrace more local and seasonal foods. This is why we work so hard to grow food even in the winter.

As the sun comes up and the greenhouses start to warm up, we take a deep breath and rest assured that there are no more single digit nights in the immediate forecast. You know it was really cold when you start a heater in your cold storage to prevent produce inside from freezing. In a few hours we will be able to lift some covers and see how the crops faired through the cold spell. Even though it got down to 3 degrees, most of the crops stayed in the high twenties and should be just fine. One of the caterpillar tunnels did dip down to 20, so we may have lost some of the plants in there. We will work harder to keep that one warm next time. Until then, we will enjoy winter with snowy hikes, hot chocolates, and homemade waffles on the wood cookstove.