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(A Little More About) My Southern Ontario Winter Hoophouse.

Here's a repeat of a post I did about a year ago. Seems to still be pretty current!


Thursdays and Fridays are the busiest days for me here on my small Niagara farm.
And why? Well, the weekends are right around the corner, and those are the busiest times for restaurants, the ones I sell vegetables to anyway.
I'm happy to say that this continues to be the case year round.

This time of year the picking is time leaf at a time. Small leaves, medium leaves or big leaves.  Those really are the choices.

I have about thirty different varieties of greens planted in the hoop houses. I have many varieties of mustards, from the typical to the less common, and also collards, chards and some tasty chinese greens.
These crops will make it through the winter-the radishes and carrots should too.

I have 3 hoop houses in total. The two larger ones are about 84' long, and hold a whole lot of food.

When I plant them I have to prioritize. So sadly, this means pulling out summer crops that are still producing, like heirloom tomatoes, and getting the winter ones seeded.

I aim for having crops in by late September, with the goal being that the crops will mature by the first week of November or so, when the days become shorter, and growth slows.

This fall has been a good balmy one, and I lucked out. I did get things seeded a little later, but the growth has been very good. In fact last week I seeded more bok choy, and it was up yesterday. It will grow very slowly.

When it gets very cold, the growth pretty much halts. That's when the great cover up begins.
I'll fashion little hoops out of plastic coated wire, and lay my agricultural fabric completely over all my crops. My goal with the hoops is to keep the fabric from touching the crops directly. It will get damp from being in the humid hoophouse and freeze on the leaves, thus ruining some of them.

One of my hoophouses has a double layer of poly, with a blower, which fills the cavity between the two layers with air. Clearly, things do quite well in this hoophouse. The other hoophouse is a single poly, but it actually does very well too. There isn't a huge difference.

When the hard freezes come, the greens underneath the fabric will in fact freeze. But when I wait till the hoophouse heats up, usually mid-morning, the greens are fresh and as unfrozen as can be. And all that much sweeter for having been nicely frosted. Amazing, but true.

When I pick, I pick one leaf at a time, instead of cutting out the whole plant, because the leaves continue to produce. I just don't run out of produce, until the time when the days are longer and the signal is sent to the plants to send up their seed stalks...spring is here! The flowers of the winter crops as well as their tender seed pods are very tasty too, but then the time comes. Time to yank out the winter plants, or till them under and get the tomatoes planted and the greenhouse tables set up for the transplants.

Then back to the season of pests and watering and weeding.

Ah-yes. That's yet another appeal of winter growing, less garden work.

Sound like fun? It actually really is, and quite amazing. Good food, fresh food all winter long!


Christmas Open House and Tour - November 25,2012

This year I am holding my annual Christmas Open House on Sunday, November 25 between 1-3 pm here on the farm.
If you are looking for simple and unique gifts or gift baskets, or just want to come out and have a peek at what is growing for the winter and have a warm drink, that's okay too.
It's a great chance to view the entire line of preserves that we are calling "Tree and Twig Preserved". Good name, eh?
And that's what it is. My produce preserved in interesting and different ways.
Here's the line-up this year:

 Tree & Twig Preserved 

Basil Jellies (8 varieties)
 Hot Pepper Spread,
 Apple Jelly
Aji Limo Hot Pepper Jelly
Pickled Beet Stems
Heirloom Tomato Jam (Bourbon & non bourbon),
Tomatillo Salsa,
Beets with Red Wine, 
Salsa Jam,
Zucchini Relish,
Wasabi Pickled Beans,
Dilled Carrots, 
Pickled Beets,
Pickled Pepper Rings

I can do up gift baskets containing the preserves, or could add a very home spun touch, in the form of beautiful hand knitting. 

Also available at my Open House will be beautiful seeds, baking (pies!), teas, and Tree and Twig Gift Certificates which can be redeemed for seed, seedlings or produce. 
And of course there will be produce available as well, because that's what I do.

Come on out and meet some great people, enjoy a cuppa and chat.
Hope to see you here!


Fall/Winter CSA Week 5 and Chard Cheese Pie

It was a chilly harvest today, although not quite as cold as it was yesterday.
My scuba gloves that I use for washing the veggies sprang a leak and I had to pop in the house a few times to get a bit of feeling back into my fingers.
Wuss, eh? The real cold isn't even here yet and I know that.
The older I get the more I have problems with the cold, but on we go. The winter garden is growing and it needs tending too.

Surprisingly some hot peppers have survived the cold nights.  I suspect however that this will be it and I'm sure that some of you will be breathing a sigh of relief.  Yes indeed, the peppers did well this year. Very well.
The baskets today contained a final trace of summer with the peppers and green tomatoes, as well as carrots, beets, radishes in various forms, choi, chard as well as another green like escarole and thyme.
After today more of the crops will be from the hoophouses, so expect lots of greens in your future.

There are all sorts of mustards, chards, kales, arugula, chinese greens and more. It all is looking good and growing in the warmth of the hoophouses. It is surprising how lovely and warm it can be out there even in the chilly overcast weather.
I have a chair set up in my hoophouse so I can go out and relax in the warmth. When the sun shines it is a treat. The rays go right through you and it feels so tremendously good. That's my vacation-a chair in my hoop hose and I am not complaining!
The following recipe is a great way to enjoy your chard.

Recipe: Chard Cheese Pie
Serves 4-6
2 cups cottage cheese
2 eggs, beaten
juice of 1 lemon
1/2 teaspoon salt
6 cups lightly cooked chopped chard, well drained*
1/2 cup breadcrumbs
Preheat oven to 350 degrees; generously grease an 8-by-8-inch baking dish. Beat together the cottage cheese, eggs, lemon and salt. Stir 1 cup of this mixture into the chard and press it into a baking dish. Spread remaining cottage cheese mixture over the top and sprinkle with breadcrumbs and paprika. Bake until set, about 1/2 hour. Let stand several minutes before 
cutting into squares.

Recipe is from The New Laurel's Kitchen by Laurel Robertson

*Sauté the stems in a small amount of olive oil for 8-10 minutes and leaves for 4-6 minutes; after it cools, squeeze with your hands or in a colander to release excess water before adding it to the cheese mixture.


Storing Root Crops

This week has not exactly gone as I had hoped or planned.
With my old Honda Civic demanding a bit of cash outlay to keep it on the road over the past few months, I sensed it was time to find a new (used) vehicle. A 16 year old vehicle is deserving of a rest.
In the back of my mind was my dad's voice telling me that buying a used vehicle is like buying someone else's problems.
It seems he could be right. My first week with my new car has not been the best. It refuses to start at times which is never a good sign. And after all the rain I found a puddle on the rear carpet. Not just dampness...a puddle.
I relicensed the Honda and am trying to deal with the rest.

Thank God for a good root crop harvest, a bright spot in a less than stellar week. I may not get where I need to go, but I'll have food to eat. Might as well look on the sunny side. I guess.

It's true though. I have lots of roots. Far more than we will eat or I will sell in the short term.
Carrots, beets, turnips and radishes as well as a bit of kohlrabi.

Big beets, Mollie!
In the ideal world (which is not my world) the rains would not have come when they did.

The carrot patch

I would have preferred the carrots to stay in the ground through a number of heavy frosts to sweeten them up a bit. As it was though they were sitting in a low spot and when they were dug up it was clear they were sitting in water and would rot. So...out they all came.
When we dug them they were very, very muddy and wet.
In storage wet carrots simply won't last, so we laid them out in the small hoophouse to dry up. I was glad for the cloudy skies and cool temperatures for this process.
The green tops need to be snapped off all storage root crops before tucking them away, so while they were drying I began this process with the carrots. I also don't wash the veg before they are stored. They store better with the dirt on them

Today I got the vast majority of the carrots stored. I placed some dry straw in the bottom of large plastic bins, put in a layer of the carrots, added another layer of straw, more carrots and continued this way till the bin was full, with the top layer being straw.

I put lids on the bins, because if I don't I have no doubt the mice will get in and nibble away.
Nothing more wonderful too than reaching in a bin for a carrot and finding a mouse.

This works for all root crops, as well as the kohlrabi, but with it, I pull up root and all and leave it on for storage. Cabbage stores extremely well this way too, root and all layered in straw.

I store the bins in my cold garage, and anticipate the crops will last well into the spring.
It could be that this year the garage is full of bins, and it might as well be.
Who knows-I may not have a car!


Fall/Winter CSA Week 4 and Carrot Soup!

It has been a wild weather week.
As a country dweller, I likely have a few different concerns on a blustery night that saw Hurricane Sandy's remnants enter our area.
Will the hydro go out? If it does my sump pump in the basement won't work and I'll be bailing water all night.
Are all my hoop houses going to have plastic on them come morning?
Are my boats going to float away with the rising Welland River?
I was relieved to get up this morning after a restless sleep to find that most things were just fine. Not sure about the boats though..but I think the oars are gone!

Last Thursday I wore my shorts out in the garden while harvesting. All has changed now though and the last few days it has been full gear. Rain suit, coveralls underneath, rubber boots and whatever I can figure out for my hands to keep them warm and dry.
When I heard all about all the rain that was coming, my thoughts turned to carrots. I mean, didn't yours?
My carrots did really well this year with my super-duper special technique of planting carrots in clay.
But with sitting in a low spot and all, the huge amount of rainfall would mean they would be sitting in water.
That would only result in one thing....rotten carrots.

The last few days has been digging carrots in lousy conditions. Boot-grabbing mud, wind whipping, heavy rain and chilly conditions. These carrots were fought for and the battle won. The carrots are in and safe.
Good too.

Today's baskets had a good few roots in them.
The carrots of course, plus bright red turnips and oriental radishes that were either white or purple.
The turnips can be eaten either  raw or cooked, as can the radishes. If you can't get to the radishes right away, don't worry. They last a long, long time.

There were also beets and somebody got the VERY large ones pictured above. Wow.
There are still peppers too which were included as well as chard, rosemary, thyme, leaf celery, parsley, broccoli or cabbage.

After working out in this weather my mind turns to soup. And with carrots being so bountiful, carrot soup is a great place to start. I usually just add what I like, using the following recipe as a bit of a guide.
Last night I sauteed onions and hot peppers before adding the carrots and water. I left out the curry and it was yummy.
(This recipe is from

Carrot Soup


2 lbs. carrots, trimmed, peeled, chopped

Cold fresh water

Sea salt, to taste

A pinch of curry powder, to taste*

1/2 cup organic apple juice (or if you like it creamy, add your favorite creamy beverage, such as light coconut milk or unsweetened almond milk)

Toss the chopped carrots into a soup pot and add just enough cold water to cover them. Season with sea salt and a dash or two of curry or cumin, to your liking.

Cover and bring to a boil; lower the heat and simmer until the carrots are very tender, about 20 minutes. Add a bit more spring water, if needed.

Puree the soup with an immersion blender until the carrots are blended and the soup is silky smooth. Add the apple juice or creamy beverage and stir well; gently heat it through.