Two of the best things to happen to the farm last year were the award of a grant from the NRCS to build a high tunnel and Martha, the intern who managed its construction last December. Throughout this year, crops have been started in the high tunnel earlier than they could have been planted outside, while other crops, like peppers, survived long past the time they would have if left to the elements outside the high tunnel.
After a recent heavy rain, we discovered what is pictured above. Some of the peppers in the high tunnel appeared to have frost damage and in the dry leaf mulch we found ashes. Mystified, we began eliminating causes and discovered that water had collected in a pool on top of the high tunnel and had acted as a magnifying glass, intensifying the rays of the sun! The peppers had sunburn, the result of rays so intense that they started a fire in the leaves!
Eliot Coleman teaches a method of gardening to allow harvesting produce throughout the winter months. Three factors are necessary. First, you need a high tunnel to eliminate the dessicating effect that wind has on plants. Second, a floating row cover, which is a sheet of lightweight, translucent fabric suspended twelve inches above the ground on metal wickets (recycled political yard signs work great!) and held in place with clothespins, for an additional layer of protection. The third factor is timing. Plants grow very slowly once the sun shines less than ten hours per day, and in Independence Kentucky, that day is today, November 17. But remember that the intention is not to grow produce in the winter; it is to harvest produce in the winter. So by today, the plants are about as mature as they are going to get until the sun starts to shine more than ten hours per day, which isn't until January 26. We have planted several obscure edible greens such as minutina - a cold-hardy salad plant with slender leaves that will produce into the winter. And claytonia, another obscure cold-hardy winter green. The picture above is of a Bull's Blood beet, not grown for it's root but for it's edible leaves that we hope to harvest all winter.
The variety of carrots we have planted in our high tunnel is called Napoli. The cold condenses the sugar in the root vegetable and makes for a sweet treat in the middle of winter.
We pick lettuce greens in November with great gratitude. There is nothing quite like the taste of fresh lettuce on a cold fall day (alongside a hot bowl of venison stew!). If all goes as planned, we'll enjoy a fresh green salad, grown here at the farm, on Groundhog Day!