Adopting Tools for the Season

Even in the dead of winter, sleeping farms like ours still have work to do. Some of that work is planning out the season-picking out seeds and perusing new tools-but some of it is fighting the elements of winter. I have to admit, like mowing grass in the summer, that I’m a lazy snow shoveler. Last month, after allowing a drift to grow with every flurry and wind gust, the whole family was walking up this 3-foot high incline and back down every time we wanted to get to our front door. After walking on it for a couple of weeks combined with a couple freeze-thaw cycles, the drift became a mini glacier on our sidewalk, impenetrable to all snow shovels. My strike of genius – maybe my greatest of all time – was to rescue the broadfork (typically used for breaking up soil) from our packing shed and pry apart the drift as if I were digging up carrots. One of those true dad ‘eureka’ moments. 

broadfork and snow

But enough of winter. We’re putting that behind us, right? This time of year pulls me deep into the most important of tools to adapt to the season – the winter greenhouse. Even though we’ve been growing greens in there since the beginning of the year for the Winter CSA, the summer season now begins its slow march forward. Onions and slow-growing herbs were seeded a month ago already, but just yesterday I laid down over 2,000 pepper seeds in trays. They are now safe and sound on a heating mat, working on germination. Today I plan to plant tomatoes for the high tunnels. After they pop, it will be just 6 weeks before they are in the soil – hard to believe. Man, I’ve got to get going!

winter pea shootsP.S. Yes, it is the season for CSA sign up. I am sitting on a bunch of stuffed envelopes addressed to members last year which will get out tomorrow, but a person could also download the order form here. 

Deep Winter Greenhouse Production

Site for greenhouse and cabin we recently moved for future interns

We at Lida Farm are currently in our 10th year of vegetable production here in Otter Tail County.  Like any organization which reaches such a milestone, we began to ask ourselves what’s next.  And, like many others who have been part of the local foods movement in the Upper Midwest, we’ve decided to extend our season to the extreme by building a deep winter greenhouse.  The idea is to build a structure which will allow us to grow some greens and crops which could do well not only is the cooler temperatures of winter, but the low light intensity as well.

Right now we have a really big hole in our backyard which is making us a bit nervous because it looks like a bigger project than we expected.  However, as soon as tomorrow we’ll start framing a structure which will hold 10-inches of insulation in the walls and sit 5-feet below grade to take advantage of the constant moderate temperatures of the earth at that depth.  In the five feet below the soil, we’ll have a network of tiling in rock and radiant floor tubing to keep the greenhouse above freezing, even through winters as nasty as the one we left behind in April.  Since we’re digging a big hole in the hillside near our house, we also decided to incorporate a small root cellar as well – why not, right?  Our major plans are to offer a limited number of winter and fall CSA shares to provide members greens and storage root crops during the time of year we really crave some good produce.  

In this week’s CSA box:
Sweet Corn: Hey, we made it!  It’s a mix of varieties, including Bodacious (Yellow) and Luscious (a bi-color variety from organic seed)
A mix of tomatoes:  These are just starting to turn as well, but boy are we happy they are starting up.
Japanese Eggplant: These guys taste just like a standard Italian one and you prepare the same way.
Sweet Onion
Pepper: Most received a purple variety called Islander which tastes like a green one.  Others got a light-green variety called Biscayne
Summer Squash: Most received green zucchini, but some received a yellow type.

Recipe: Our suggestion is to simply grill everything.  Easy.  Delicious.  You can’t go wrong.