Ask Farmer Tim: Greens & Greenhouses
It’s February. Are you craving fresh greens? Freedom Farms has got you covered! Tim King, head of Field Operations, shares the secrets to growing and harvesting greenhouse salads in the depths of winter.
Are you still harvesting fresh spinach in February at Freedom Farms?
Yes. Spinach is an awesome crop because you can grow it all year long. Very few crops actually grow through the winter. Most will hibernate. They’re still alive but they aren’t actively growing or producing anything. But spinach will produce throughout the winter if you use both a high tunnel and an additional layer of low tunnel.
How do you harvest the spinach?
Spinach can be a multi-harvest crop. Never cut the whole plant when you harvest winter spinach. It’s important that you do not remove leaves from the center of the plant. Instead, wait until the new growth appears, and harvest larger leaves from the outside of the plant. That way, you can harvest each particular plant 3 to 4 times.
What variety of spinach do you use?
There are a ton of great varieties out there. Ashley is variety I used this winter. I like the shape and the taste of Ashley. It’s a semi savoy, a combination of flat leaf and crinkled leaf with a nice texture. It tastes great and grows well for us.
When do you plant winter spinach?
Winter spinach can be seeded as late as the end of October. In fact, you can seed spinach all winter long in the greenhouse, it just may not germinate until spring. If it’s a hard winter, nothing germinates. This year, you could have seeded spinach at the end of December and it would have germinated. It wouldn’t be ready to harvest until spring, but it would germinate. We seed in early October, so that the plant has time to develop and become well established. That way it can produce several nice harvests throughout the winter.
How much time do you allow between harvests?
The harvest time varies widely, based on how harsh your winter is and your personal preference. What it comes down to is that you’re going to have to watch the leaves grow on the plant, and decide how large you want them to be when you pick them. If you want a big, mature leaves you’ll leave them longer, and if you’re picking baby spinach the interval will be much shorter. It’s all about the market you have for your clientele or the taste your family prefers. The more mature a spinach plant gets the more nutrient dense it will be. However, nothing is as tender as baby leaf spinach.
What’s your personal favorite?
For salads I like a baby leaf but for sautéed greens or soups I like a more mature leaf. I want to be able to chew the spinach.
How often do you eat spinach in the winter?
I eat spinach whenever I can. I try and eat a salad every day, whether it’s spring mix, arugula, watercress, spinach, or all of them mixed together. A fresh salad should be a part of everyone’s diet. On the food pyramid, the largest percentage of your diet should be produce. Fill up your plate with spinach! Spinach is a true superfood. It’s got tons of fiber, and it also has nearly twice as much protein, calcium, iron, potassium, Vitamin A, Vitamin B and B2, niacin and Vitamin C as any other leafy greens.
What else is happening in your greenhouses these days?
We’ve got our animals in a lot of them. A lot of people think it is a bad thing to have animals in confined space. We agree, and that’s why we give ours plenty of space and protection from the winter by putting them in the greenhouses for a few months. The animals are still exposed to the sun, getting the Vitamin D they need, with great fresh air flow from the sides of the greenhouses. They are constantly bedded with fresh straw, wood chips, organic matter, and leaves. We make sure to keep them their and their feet dry. Nobody likes wet feet – people don’t, produce doesn’t, and animals don’t either.
I’m excited because we’re building a ton of high quality topsoil in those greenhouses. Instead of going out and buying mushroom manure and soil amendments we’re doing it ourselves. The nutrients from the animal byproducts are not being washed away by the snow, because the greenhouses shed water. All those nutrients are getting soaked up by the bedding, then we add fresh bedding on top. At the end of the winter we’ll pull it all out and spread it on the fields. It’s a really awesome symbiotic system. The longer we farm, the more we see how important the relationship is between animals and the health of our soil. The healthier our soil is, the healthier our pastures, grasses, and forage for the animals are. The healthier our animals are, the healthier we are. It’s all an interlocking chain.
Originally published in the 2016 February issue of Freedom Farms Magazine. Written by Kate Stapleton, photography by Elizabeth McCauley.