The weather is changing and it’s time to start thinking about winter farming.
While there is significantly less to do in the winter months in the Hudson River Valley, there are ways to continue to grow food that defy snow and cold. One of these is our hoop house.
In the summer, the hoop house is a jungle of tomato plants producing thousands of tomatoes at any given time. We have about two full months of fruit from these monsters and are only just now starting to see the signs that the plants are retiring for the year.
Last year, I noticed that the plants have the odd quality of simultaneously dying and providing fruit like some weird produce martyr. This is where we are right now. It is odd to see the brown, shriveled leaves surrounded by luscious tomatoes at varying degrees of ripeness.
So, we will continue to pick tomatoes, eating many and freezing many, many more for use over the winter, as long as they are presented to us. My guess is that the quality will begin its decline over the next two weeks. The tomatoes will still be there, but the flavor and texture will be decidedly less wonderful. That will be our signal to pull the plants from the beds altogether. While this is a sad chore for the humans on applewood farm, it is a joyous day indeed for the pigs, goats, and chickens. We have not yet encountered a creature (aside from our youngest daughter) who doesn’t adore tomatoes. The plants, in their entirety, are an exquisite treat for our four-legged and feathered friends. I love that nothing goes to waste.
The sadness will be short-lived, of course, because once the tomato plants have been removed and devoured, we will be able to prep the raised beds for their next occupants. Even now, tucked into a corner of the hoop house on a table, are the seedlings of our winter garden. These trays were planted a couple of weeks back and have sprouted amid the sun-blocking leaves of their predecessors.
Last year, we tried spinach, two kinds of kale, mustard greens, and north pole lettuce. While the growing method was a success, we hadn’t yet adopted enough cats to keep the mice and voles from burrowing in and eating everything but the mustard greens. (For the record, nothing eats mustard greens. I’m not even sure why people eat them, but I’ve been told they are popular in some circles). We will have one raised bed of mustard greens again this winter, to be sure, but we’ve also decided to try some new items.
We will repeat our kale, but now we’ve got golden chard growing, as well as our favorite two lettuces from the summer garden (not North Pole… blech). These babies won’t get all the hours of sunlight they need to grow like they would in the summer, but they will grow; we just need to be patient.
And remember to feed the cats.