Winter farming is in full swing at the farm! Many market and Farmstand customers are shocked when they hear that we still harvest in the winter. What is there to harvest? How do these crops survive a Pacific Northwest winter? Are farmers willing to harvest outside during this time of the year?
I asked all of these questions when I first started farming at Red Dog. To my surprise, there are lots of crops to be harvested in the winter. In fact some crops that we planted in the summer will survive all the way through the winter and may be in the ground as late as April the following year! I’ll never forget the surprise of finding beautiful, large and vibrant heads of purple cabbage in the field just days before Easter of 2022. Those heads were in the field through snow and freezing temperatures! Yet you would never know according to their taste or appearance (I proudly took one home to cook with). Currently we are harvesting Jerusalem artichokes, parsnips, carrots, leeks, savoy cabbage, radicchios, green mustard, chard, collards, spinach and multiple varieties of kale. That’s a long list!
These crops survive for a number of reasons. The key is to select specific varieties that are hardy and capable of withstanding cold, even freezing temperatures. Our overwintered crops are then planted strategically in areas of the farm that don’t flood once the PNW rain begins to fall. Transplanted at just the right time, most of these crops will be full size by the start of winter. Even though the days will have shortened with sunshine becoming sparse and the temperatures low, these crops will have already matured to a harvestable state. We are no longer concerned with their growth, just the harvest!
Then comes the farmer. Rain or shine, the veggies must be harvested, washed and packed. Some days we find ourselves all in the pack shed, washing storage roots and packing squash with our favorite tunes blasting while the field crops thaw out from the previous night’s freeze. Other days we may be in the kale field bunching away as snow begins to fall. I’ll tell you right now, our crew is as hardy as the hardiest radicchio! It’s inspiring to watch this group of young farmers work hard and with great attitudes, regardless of the weather. As a team we are all proud to be feeding the community a diverse variety of organic produce, every month of the year!