Watch as Farmers Grow

Winter Production – 2010 Summary

Prepared by ST and RCM on 3/3/11

Winter production had its challenges and triumphs. We constructed low tunnels out of rebar and manually vented them if the outside temperature reached above 60 degrees or the inside tempeture rose above 80 degrees. Wind above 30mph tended to blow the plastic loose. Our outdoor tunnels did great to extend the season into December, but were not active during the heart of the winter. We seeded spinach in November under the outdoor low tunnels and checked on them in spring to find a wonderful crop. The unheated greenhouse proved to be successful for multiple cuttings. This provided the bulk of our production. Stored carrots, turnips, and radishes also helped fill our market stand.

Winter Production Costs:

  • $385.60 for seeds
  • $370 for plastic and remey over three years
  • $90.80 for rebar and over ten years
  • $108 for plastic sandbags and sand over three years
  • $1744 for propane in the heated greenhouse

Additionally, hourly wages had to be paid to the workers who took care of the crops, harvested and sold over the winter.                        

WP Wages: We used profit made each week to pay workers.  After costs incurred by North Slope were taken out of the gross profit of each market a proportional split, based on the number of hours worked, of the profit was used to pay workers.  Each week varied depending on weather conditions, market success, crop availability, etc.  However, it traditionally came to at least $8/hr.

  • 12/8 market paid $5.25/hr (our least successful market due to bad weather)
  • 12/11 market paid $9.40/hr
  • 12/15 market paid $8.30/hr
  • 12/18 market paid $10.54/hr
  • 12/22 market paid $15.67/hr
  • 12/23 special order paid $9/hr
  • 1/12 market paid $6.53/hr
  • 1/19 market paid $10.30/hr
  • 2/2 market paid $8.48/hr
  • 2/6 market paid $9.86/hr
  • 2/9 market paid $10/hr
  • 2/16 market paid $11.25/hr
  • 2/23 market paid $8.50/hr

Overall, it was a pretty successful attempt to continue to grow and sell food in the winter while being able to provide some part-time work to farmers.  The largest problem was weather, either while trying to harvest or trying to sell at market.  If a snowstorm arrives the day of your market, there is likely to be little profit to pay an employee.

Seeding Dates:

  • 9/08/10- tatsoi, arugula, and spinach were direct seeded in the Big Garden Beds. They were covered with remay and eventually with plastic. This seeding date seemed to be early for winter production but was good for a strong finish to our regular markets.
  • 10/06/10- lettuce, arugula, and tatsoi were direct seeded in the Farmhouse Gothic. The growth was great and proved to be a good date to seed for early winter sales.
  • 11/03/10 – spinach was direct seeded in a Big Garden Bed that was out of production all year. We covered with a low tunnel and let stand all winter. In March, 2011 we began to harvest a good crop.                                                

Heated Greenhouse: Seeding Dates in heated greenhouse:

  • 11/9/10- seeded field salad mixture (red and green romaine and oakleaf), tatsoi, arugula and peas (grown for pea shoots
  • 11/18/10- seeded field salad mixture, arugula, tatsoi and peas (peas were later re-seeded 1/8/11 after their shoots had been disturbed)
  • 12/7/10- seeded field salad mixture, tatsoi and arugula

Major problems we had with the table-top germination was seeding too closely together (which encouraged mold and insect problems later), water pooling at different sections of the table due to the unevenness of the surface and our peas were pecked through (perhaps by a bird foraging for food in the winter months.)

From the heated greenhouse:

  • January harvested 4lbs of salad mix and 1/4lbs of pea shoots.
  • February harvested approx 4lbs of salad mix, 2 lbs of arugula and 2 lbs of tatsoi.
  • March still harvesting but as of 3/10/11 harvested 11lbs of salad mix.   

From the Field: Spinach as of 3/10/11 23.5 lbs had been harvested for market and approx 5lbs for farmer consumption. Arugula in the field, the 40ft swath that developed and was sold in December was approx 19lbs. Kale and Swiss Chard had some small yields in the field but was minimal, more useful just as a display and for the die-hard chard and kale lovers. The tatsoi seeded ended up being used mostly for the end of season production.

From the unheated gothic: Though we began using the gothic before our season was over we harvested from11/24/10-2/8/11 approx 133 lbs of salad mix (romaines, oakleaves and tatsoi).  Approx 15lbs of arugula from a half a bed seeded.                                                                                                                        

Summary: All in all, winter production is a difficult project.  There is a lot of chance variability; cold snaps can come early and destroy your crop or blizzards can arrive on your market day each week for a month.  Additionally, working out in the cold can be quite miserable when it is gray, wet, cold and windy.  Washing products is also a major challenge, freezing pipes, hose line not to mention freezing veggies means there is little opportunity to wash crops.  Therefore there is an added emphases on keeping crops clean in their beds and while being harvested.  Then to top it off, the low temperatures combined with short day lengths means growth is nearly non-existent in the winter.

It seems the best way to grow in the winter is to utilize low tunnels to extend seasons later and earlier (before it becomes too nasty, cold and snow covered out) and to depend on greenhouses for the actual winter-time production.  One of the biggest things to look at is seeding and planting at the correct time and using cold-tolerant varieties.  If plants have not had a chance to mature before it gets too cold and light levels shorten too much then it is not likely that those plants will grow until day lengths grow longer.  It seems as though plants need to be mature by November if you plan on harvesting from them during the winter, if not you will probably have to wait until February before they will really start growing again.  Also, we found some cold-tolerant varieties were heartier than others.  Our red romaine did the best of the lettuces while our green oakleaf was useless in December.  Each year one can narrow down varieties that stand the test of time and cold and continue to improve upon yields.

Using a heated greenhouse to grow table top greens seems to be very challenging. The cost of propane to run all winter far exceeded the profit from what was grown. This is not the best way to use resources and energy. Next winter I would focus on planting cold hardy varieties under low tunnels and unheated greenhouses.

Winter Production – Introduction

October 19th, 2010 | Posted by steven in Special Projects | Winter Production - (Comments Off on Winter Production – Introduction)

Winter Production
Introduction, prepared by ST

October 19, 2010

Intent: To extend the growing season of leafy greens, lettuce, and root crops to serve our existing outlets such as Hopewell Farmers Market, Nomad Pizza, and Zone 7.


• Capital Investment; North Slope Farm

• Daily management; RCM and ST

• Site Details; infrastructure and fields managed by North Slope Farm
        o 6 outdoor low tunnels 5’ W X 40’ L
        o 2 unheated green houses
                  Farmhouse Gothic; 28’ X 84’ w/ 4 beds @ 48” wide
                  Ralph’s House; 27’ X 76’ w/ 4 beds @ 48” wide
        o 1 heated Greenhouse for table top production

• Outdoor low tunnels will cover crops such as tatsoi, spinach, and arugula. Two cuttings are expected for harvest. The hoops are constructed of 3/8” X 12’ rebar covered in recycled drip tube. The outer skin is 6 mil plastic that is 13’ W X 50’ W. A layer of remay may be added to the interior for extra warmth and reduced temperature fluctuation.

• One hoop house will be used for direct seeded crops such as spinach, arugula, tatsoi, and salad mix. The other hoop house will be used for transplanted crops such as kale, scallions, leeks, swiss chard, fennel, and beets. Carrots and radishes have been direct seeded into one open bed early, as the other beds are currently occupied by late planted tomatoes.

• .The heated greenhouse will be used for table top production of salad mix. Potted herbs such as parsley and basil will also be grown.

• Regular records will be kept of costs and production. Worker hours and market income will be tracked. The materials purchased should be able to be reused, improving profit margins in future seasons.
          o $385.60 for seed costs
          o $370 for plastic and remey over three years
          o $90.80 for rebar and sand over ten years
          o $108 for plastic sandbags over three year
                      Total $954.40 for one year

• Workers will have to be mindful of temperature to open and close the low tunnels or remove remey in the hoop houses. The difficulty of winter weather will be a challenge in harvesting, handling, and marketing. Costs will be calculated against profit to see if this is a viable operation for North Slope Farm.

• The inspiration for winter production at North Slope Farm came from a lecture at the NOFA summer conference. A Connecticut grower, in zone 3, presented a low tech option of covering field crops to produce a nutritious and profitable product for his customers during the winter time. This inspired me to keep producing local organic food through the winter. I hope that having a consistent presence through the winter will support existing customers and win over new customers. Winter production also keeps workers on the farm and in constant dialogue with agriculture. Some challenges we have already faced have been 30mph winds blowing off our outdoor low tunnels. Did we cut the plastic too short? Are the sandbags not filled enough? Do the tunnels need to be smaller? At what temperature should we open and close the tunnels? These are questions that have already risen and in the middle of the winter I am sure there will be many more. To supply fresh local organic food is the main goal and we will need support from our community to make it a reality.