Healthy early greens ready for farmers’ harvest
Thursday, March 15, 2012
The air is crisp, the fruit trees are bare and the strawberry patch is blanketed with snow.
You might think your local farmer takes a much deserved break during winter from the hard work of the previous season. Think again.
Winter is extremely busy for local farmers, as plans are made for the next season’s crops. The creative work of crop planning starts in January and February, as complex seed orders are worked out, a task requiring a planting plan for the entire year ahead.
Farmers study the previous year’s sales trends and expense reports, trying to determine how to execute next year’s crop rotations, staffing schedule, machine maintenance, harvest plans and distribution goals, while meeting the demands of farm stand clientele and wholesale customers looking for locally grown food and seedling stocks.
And no farmer can do any planning without considering the weather and what Mother Nature can throw at the farm as the seasons move ahead.
January and February also are the time for dormant apple and peach trees to receive their yearly pruning. Fruit trees are pruned now to open the tree structure and allow increased sun exposure and air circulation throughout the growing season.
This promotes bud and fruit growth, and is also critical to disease prevention and insect control, helping to reduce the need for pesticides.
After pruning, brush piles are burned to eliminate contaminated material.
At local farms such as Brookdale Fruit Farm in Hollis, March and April mark the distribution of the last of the stored apples from the previous fall’s harvest. As the apples were harvested in the autumn, they were stored in large, controlled-atmosphere coolers called CA rooms.
These coolers, which can be the size of half a basketball court, carefully store the apples in a low-oxygen environment so the natural sugars turn to starches and store like potatoes.
But when the doors are opened and the oxygen returns to the apples, the starches convert back to sugars. So, we can continue to eat and enjoy New Hampshire’s No. 1 agriculture product from fall to spring with the fruit as sweet and crisp as the day it was picked.
How do you like them apples?
This is also a time to harvest the first of the winter greenhouse crops planted in October and November.
Local farms use hoop houses to grow varieties of crisp arugula and mesclun mixes that can be harvested in midwinter. Our recipe this month features these healthy early greens and is a delicious way to add them to your diet.
So, be sure to visit your local farm stand, as these early crops should now be available for purchase. If you’re considering joining a local CSA, be sure to secure your share soon.
To find a CSA, farm stand or winter farmers market in your area, visit www.localharvest.org.
February and March mark the beginning of greenhouse seedling production for early spring plants, which require careful daily tending.
Cabbage, cauliflower, bok choy, broccoli, collards, kale, kohlrabi, leeks, onions, parsley, spinach and early annual edible flowers are cool-weather plants that can be safely moved outdoors as ground temperatures warm up.
Tomatoes are also started early so they can have time to harden off in the greenhouses and be offered earlier to the home grower.
A daily soil temperature of 60 degrees is needed to keep tomato plantings happy outside, so you’ll need to be patient until May arrives to plant your summer crop.
As outside temperatures rise steadily throughout March and April, the soil thaws and warms up to allow for the first plowing and tilling of the planting season. Soils are amended, warming row covers are set and the hoop houses are replanted with another crop of greens.
When the soil temperatures reach a steady 40 degrees, it’s time to plant the first cool-weather spring crops for early April and May harvest.
Soon, it will be time to plant our beloved basil and tomato plants and to taste the first sweet strawberries of summer.
SPRING HERB SALAD
¼ cup balsamic vinegar
¾ cup olive oil
3 ounces mixed mesclun greens
3 ounces baby arugula greens
¼ small red cabbage, shaved thinly
½ cup petite frozen peas, thawed
2 tablespoons fresh red onion, minced
2 tablespoons fresh dill, pulled into small pieces
2 tablespoons fresh mint, sliced thin
Kosher salt and pepper, freshly ground
1⁄3 cup assorted edible flower petals, such as pansy, violet, chive, marigold, dianthus, calendula, bee balm, tuberous begonias, day lilies or nasturtium (optional)
Whisk together the balsamic vinegar and the olive oil and set aside.
In a large bowl, combine the remaining ingredients and toss the salad with enough vinaigrette to lightly coat the salad. Season with salt and pepper.
Divide salad among individual plates and serve immediately.
You can also add sprouts, avocado slices, white beans (canned cannellini, drained and rinsed), cooked barley or another whole grain.
This column was written by Liz Barbour, of the Creative Feast, based in part on information provided by the Hollis Agricultural Commission. For more information about the commission, which promotes local agriculture, visit www.hollisag.org. For more information about the Creative Feast and to see more recipes, visit www.thecreativefeast.com. Down on the Farm appears the third week of the month.
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