October 2011 JSS Advantage Newsletter
Demand for local food doesn't suddenly disappear at the first frost. Committed locavores want to buy local food year-round, providing new opportunities for fresh market growers who would like to increase annual revenue and cash flow during the winter. In this issue of the JSS Advantage, we'll provide information about ways you can diversify your offerings across the seasons.
Launch a Winter CSA
Community Supported Agriculture is holding its own despite the economic downturn. In fact, demand is so strong that many CSA farms have started offering winter shares for members who want to eat local year-round. A winter CSA is a much different endeavor than a summer CSA, and it takes a lot of planning. If you are thinking about ways to build on the success of your current CSA, expanding into winter is the logical next step.
Winter CSA is possible in even the coldest parts of the country. Some of the trailblazers in the winter CSA movement are in New York, Maine, Massachusetts, and other very cold places. They are able to offer food in winter through a combination of storage crops, winter hoophouse crops, and value-added products. Because those types of crops have such long storage life, most winter CSAs distribute less often than summer CSAs, some as infrequently as once a month. Another common feature of winter CSAs is cooperation with other farms. Going into fall, most farmers know how many storage crops such as carrots, onions, and sweet potatoes they can offer to the CSA. But hoophouse crop growth is more dependent on sunshine and temperatures, and therefore less predictable. By teaming up with other growers and food producers, a CSA farm can fill any gaps in its own production as well as increase the value of the CSA share and the availability of local products. A farm might offer eggs, bread, jam, honey, apples, frozen fruits and vegetables, and salsa grown on the farm or purchased from other farms.
A winter CSA also provides a ready market for some crops that might not have been as useful to a summer CSA, such as dried beans, grains and flour, dried peppers and culinary herbs, soup mixes, and fall ornamentals. In that regard, winter CSA provides the excitement of growing something completely new! With all winter crops, planning well in advance is essential. If you're considering a winter CSA in the future, this winter is the best time to figure out what you'll include in every distribution. Come spring, you'll be ready to start planting new crops and larger quantities to accommodate a winter marketing season.
Some vegetables can maintain freshness for months after harvest if you choose varieties specifically bred for long storage. Here's a list of some of the varieties we recommend for storage throughout fall and winter.
Beets of all varieties will keep for 3-5 months when stored at 32F and 90-100% humidity.
Cabbage: Storage No. 4 will keep until spring from a late fall harvest if held at 32F and 90-100% humidity.
Carrot: Bolero is the best variety for harvesting in late fall and will hold for up to six months at 32F and 90-100% humidity.
Kohlrabi: Kossak will keep for 2-3 months at 32F and 90-100% humidity.
Leeks: Tadorna is very cold tolerant and can be stored in the field into winter. Once harvested, store at 32F and 90-100% humidity.
Onion varieties that are classified as Hard Storage onions will keep up to six months when stored at 32F and 65-70% humidity.
Potatoes: will keep up to five months when stored at 40-50F and 90% humidity.
Pumpkins: Jarrahdale, Long Island Cheese, Musque de Provence, and Baby Bear are all renowned for long storage as well as great eating qualities. They will keep up to 5 months at 50-60F and 50-70% humidity.
Turnip: Purple Top White Globe will keep 4-5 months at 32F and 90-100% humidity.
Tips for Successful Winter Growing
With the inexpensive protection of a caterpillar tunnel or Quick Hoops™ low tunnel, many crops can be harvested throughout the winter. Initial crop selection is critical. The best crops for winter harvest include hardy greens such as arugula, mache, mustard, and spinach; and root crops such as beets, carrots, leeks, and radishes. Within those categories, look for varieties with special cold tolerance, denoted with the snowflake symbol.
One of the keys to winter harvest is to plant early enough that the crops have a chance to get close to maturity before the short days of winter arrive. When day length drops below 10 hours, the plants won't be actively growing but, if you have chosen cold-tolerant varieties, they will be able to withstand freezing and thawing so that you can harvest them all winter.
The second key to successful winter growing is to plant sufficient volume to carry you through the cold season. Regrowth is very slow during winter, so assume you'll get only one harvest from a plant during the coldest months. When planning which crops to grow under protective structures, envision how you will harvest during the winter. Root crops, which you need to harvest with a digging fork, are best grown in a high tunnel so you can stand upright while harvesting. An inner low tunnel of row cover on hoops prevents the ground from freezing most of the winter -- a huge benefit when harvesting root crops. Leafy crops also do well under row cover in a high tunnel, but if that space is at a premium, they can be grown under a low tunnel of metal hoops bent with Johnny's Quick Hoops Bender and covered with Agribon AG-30 or AG-70 for maximum frost protection. Whereas in summer you might bury the edges of row cover to keep insects out, in winter you want to be able to gain access to the crops. Use sandbags or rocks to hold the row cover down. For added protection, pound stakes on both sides of the tunnel and lace twine across the top of the tunnel to the other side, going back and forth the entire length. Not only does the twine keep the row cover on the hoops during windy weather, it also allows you to push the row cover up out of the way when harvesting.
For a complete guide to building your own caterpillar high tunnel, please see our manual, which includes many good ideas about how to modify it seasonally.