Timing! Wind Chill! Layers of plastic! Dedication to perennials!More on the Spring cropping conundrum…So, yes, this past winter was a major one. I had thought that I had a rather limited perspective, because my keen interest in tracking temperature lows and wind chill factors really sparked when I started managing my own high tunnels in 2009. But I certainly didn’t remember anything like this for all of my 14 years living in upstate NY. On Sunday I was discussing this with some oldtime farmers from around here and felt quite validated by hearing similar thoughts from them- rarely did they remember a winter like the one that just passed. And I write this during a minor snowstorm on April 16, bracketed by nights below 25F.
For context... Cows in the snow, again. 4/16/14
For us, this has several impacts. In the Spring CSA, we largely rely on crops planted either as perennials in prior years, or annual crops planted in the previous summer through fall. We do a lot to overwinter the annuals- like your beloved greens mix, spinach, leeks, chard, escarole- successfully.
Annuals: Some of the hardier crops- leeks, spinach- can do with the wind and minor temperature buffering provided by the lower-tech quick hoops, which are 6’x50’ long and about 2’ high. These hardier crops- which in the “normal” farm year would take 50 days (spinach) or 120 days (leeks), get planted in the summer (leeks) or early fall (spinach). This off-set planting-to-harvest schedule makes them exponentially older- almost a year old in the case of leeks- before they are harvested. For many farms, field space is valuable, so crop prices reflect the amount of time a crop spends in the field. We are still pondering how to value a crop in this exponential time situation.
Most other crops- escarole, chard, greens mix- require a higher level of winter protection in the case of really cold winters- and in the early fall, one does not know what the winter will bring, so we always provide maximum protection in case. For us, this higher level of protection looks like our 6 passive solar high tunnels, which are moveable on rails. So, we planted the crop of greens for March shares back in late September. Those greens crops really like to go to seed sometime in March, so we are also working to push nature by moving the tunnels as quickly as possible to warm up a new space and get a new round of plants in the ground for late April shares. In the summer, these greens are short turn-around crops- taking 30-35 days from seeding to cutting. Even with the high tunnels, the early spring planted greens are more like 50-60 days. Again, similar to the quick hoop crops, the effect on available space and costly infrastructure stretches how one values these crops. I believe at the Farmer’s Market, you can find a greens mix similar to ours (when you can find it at all) for $11/lb. In the summer, a similar mix might be $6/lb. I provide this for perspective in terms of the effects we’re grappling with… in other years, a warm April (and/or March) has allowed us to catch a breather from exponentially-increased cropping times.
Tunnels moving... what you do when you can't plant outside!
Perennials: Our perennial crops for the Spring CSA are these: asparagus, sorrel, welsh onions, lovage, fennel and the UPick strawberries. Perennials are an essential part of our “catch-up” phase in late April and early May, and this year we’re looking at a start-harvest date 2-4 weeks later than each year 2010 on… But thankfully, these guys have the deep and abiding root systems that we look for to enable both survival through a tough winter and for the bio-drilling effect on our soil. Since the ground seems to have only recently stared thawing in the deeper layers, we’re curious as to when the asparagus will wake up.