WINTER PRODUCE AT FLYING PLOW FARM
On a crisp October day, what could be better than a trip to the farm? Really nothing, especially when that farm is Flying Plow Farm in Rising Sun, Maryland, source of the fine produce in the beautiful Co-op Boxes we’ve been enjoying all summer. (And note the wonderful news above that this bounty will continue through the winter!)
We were curious to find out how the growing season is stretched into the coldest months. Tom Paduano, co-owner with his wife, Sarah Rider, gave us the grand tour. Many of the vegetables associated with colder months, such as carrots, turnips, parsnips, can stay in the ground into December. Tom notes that they actually sweeten as the weather cools and the starch turns to sugar. Storage facilities are used for vegetables once harvested. Sweet potatoes, for example, are kept in “warm storage” (about 50℉). Carrots, onions and eggs go into cold storage, and the freezer holds summer’s tomatoes and peppers, frozen whole for cooking throughout the winter.
Field-to-Co-op-box packing area
But storage is only part of the story—growing continues through the winter in “high tunnels,” hoop and plastic structures that protect plants from the weather. Some of the tunnels are permanent. Here are two, the first with the last of summer’s cherry tomatoes and the second recently seeded with turnips:
Planting in tunnels is done in succession to keep the produce coming. Soil in the tunnels is not tilled; weeds are kept down with plastic and the heat generated from compost. When the roof plastic in the permanent tunnels needs to be replaced every 6 years or so, the soil is left open for a season to let rainwater wash away the buildup of salts from both well water irrigation and fertilizer.
Not all growing tunnels on the farm are permanent. We watched Flying Plow’s longtime hands constructing 300-foot “caterpillar tunnels” in the fields where salad greens, spinach, radishes, etc. are grown in the colder months.
The tunnels are effective using only the sun as a heat source unless there is a prolonged freeze or too many days in succession without sun. Sometimes row covers are needed to protect the plants, and certain varieties do better than others. Head lettuce is much more vulnerable to freezing than leaf lettuce, for example. It became clear that a certain amount of babysitting is required to keep the produce viable!
Walking through some of the 14 acres of growing fields (40+ more acres are used as pasture), the dedication and determination of those who choose to farm comes through. Tom is both passionate about what he grows—pulling samples for us of broccoli, broccolini, escarole, and an intriguing and tasty bok choy relative called yukina savoy—and matter of fact about the ups and downs. It isn’t an easy life, and the vagaries of markets and weather are only part of it. How fortunate we are to have found Coop partner farmers who think it’s all worth it!