What do Maryland farmers do over winter? They farm!

    November 18, 2016

By Pam Stegall, Calvert Farms

Winter arrives and produce production stops, right? Many people think that the late fall and winter seasons mean that farmers hide away. They think it’s time to start shopping at the grocery store instead of using a CSA or heading to the neighborhood farmers market.

pamWhile things certainly grow slower than in the Chesapeake Bay region’s warm summer weather, there are still plenty of delicious things popping up throughout the colder months.

In fact, the cold is not as much of a factor in slowing growth as is the lack of sunlight. Where we might pick spinach weekly during the rest of the year, harvesting slows down to every 10 to 12 days or so. We use row cover, high tunnels, and a greenhouse to grow out certain crops. We prepare for this by planting smaller batches on a more continual basis, and it has gotten us through to what is now our fourth winter CSA at Calvert Farm in Cecil County.

Planning, planning, planning

In order to have a hardy winter production, we start prepping around the third week of July. We use continuous crop rotation in our field — we look at how the current crop is doing and determine where we will have the most productive winter field crops.

squashSeveral factors are considered: proximity to the main barn and water sources, location to prevailing winter winds, sun exposure, degree of slope in the field, and previous crop grown.

Part of this planning includes the creation of a ‘grow list’ for the winter CSA boxes. We choose varieties of veggies based on cold hardiness, and the number of days to harvest.

We also determine if we want a certain variety to fully mature, or if we only want to offer the “baby size.” These crops are planted on a rolling schedule (also known as succession planting) where we plant the same crop two to three times per season, each a few weeks apart.

Root crops are started in the early fall- we like them to get a good start and then they go into a stasis where they just hang out, waiting for warmer weather to arrive.

Wait and see

While planning plays a crucial part in being ready for the winter season, there is so much that is unknown. A huge part of farming this time of year involves us adapting, and observing the land. One dreary winter day while I was in the attic, I looked out on the front field, and saw a big patch of green. I went out to the field, and saw the most wonderful stand of onions.

Another time, we had just planted fall spinach when a big storm came and washed away all of our work. Later in January, I noticed that all of the washed away spinach ended up sprouting in a little dip further down in the field.

Our first CSA winter delivery goes out in mid-January, and continues on a bi-monthly basis until early to mid-April. We are in a cooperative CSA and source produce from our neighbors and friends. Some of our farmers grow one or two items for the winter season to make certain that we are sending out bountiful boxes.

So, what are some things you can expect to find locally this winter? We feature a wide variety of goodies including leeks, greens (lettuce, spinach, kale, chard), potatoes (sweet and regular), cabbage, squash apples, and other fine produce.

So Marylanders, dispel the idea that winter is a time when things die away! If you watch the animals around you this time of year, you will see that there is plenty of bounty for all.

@FairFarms

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