December 12th was our last market for 2009!

The temperatures dipped down to 15 degrees this week and highs during the day on Thursday and Friday while harvesting were 34 and 26 degrees. That meant harvesting and processing in cold, freezing weather!  Once our produce is harvested, it is taken to our processing and packing shed which is in the back of our equipment barn, complete with a tub for hydro-cooling and a washing machine for spin drying baby greens such as arugula, salad mix and spinach. Our packing shed also houses our walk-in coolers because we store produce overnight during the season.

The question is: Do we need to hydro-cool greens when the temperature is 26 degrees? We think YES because when harvesting in sub-freezing temperatures, the plants have no moisture, mostly because there is no humidity in the air. Thus, the greens aren’t as crisp as normal. Ideally, when it is this dry, we should irrigate before harvesting, this would allow the crops to absorb moisture before harvesting. We really don’t have a means for irrigating our field crops in sub-freezing temperatures; however, we probably should have drip irrigated our greenhouse crops the day before harvesting which is something we might try next year.                   
Our packing shed complete with a washing machine for spin drying baby greens and an old cast iron tub for hydro-cooling greens!
Our packing shed complete with a washing machine for spin drying baby greens and an old cast iron tub for hydro-cooling greens!
The Downtown Holiday Market with tatsoi, kale, kohlrabi, tomatoes, bagged spinach, lettuce napa cabbage, potatoes, swiss chard and potatoes!
Our booth at The Downtown Holiday Market with tatsoi, kale, kohlrabi, ripe tomatoes, green tomatoes, bagged spinach, lettuce, napa cabbage, butternut squash, swiss chard, green peppers and potatoes!

When harvesting spinach we normally wash it so that it re-hydrates then we spin it in a washing machine to get it as dry as possible increasing the shelf life. (Our washing machine only works on the spin cycle but it has a stainless steel tub that can be sanitized!) Our washing machine just didn’t want to work in sub-freezing temperatures so we were resigned to swinging mesh bags of spinach to dry the leaves.  Mesh bags just don’t dry baby greens nearly as well as the washing machine. Then, while bagging spinach, ice was forming on the bags, so we had to weight and bag quickly so that the spinach could be put in our walk-in cooler as quickly as possible.  (Or should we say walk-in warmer since it is keeping the produce warmer than outside temperatures.) WE WERE FREEZING WASHING AND PROCESSING OUR FOOD IN 26 DEGREE TEMPERATURES. If we ever harvest again in sub-freezing temperatures, we need a way to enclose our packing shed, so at least we can run a space heater. FARMING IS NOT FOR THE MEAK!

We tried using plastic gloves for hydro-cooling/bunching kale and swiss chard but it is just to hard to put rubberbands around the stems to form bunches while wearing gloves. So yes, we were bunching and washing greens without gloves in 26 degree temperatures. That is when I thought to myself this can’t be as cold as ice fishing in Minnesota or seal hunting in Iceland. We have it good in these mountains!

At market our swiss chard and kale wilted very quickly because the cold temperatures with no humidity caused the moisture to evaporate from our greens so fast. Would this have happened if we irrigated them the night before allowing them to absorb more moisture? We did hydro-cool them in water after harvesting but perhaps because it was so cold they didn’t absorb moisture like in spring and summer months. While our produce was being displayed, ice formed on the kale, swiss chard and napa cabbage, YES it was that cold!

We had planned on selling this produce to our CSA in November but we ended our CSA deliveries the end of October because we had crop failures with so many of our storage and fall crops that we just didn’t want the stress of delivering to 40 members in November. That is why we have so much produce to sell this week. We did continue to deliver to 10 families up until Thanksgiving and hope that next year we will learn how to extend our season through Thanksgiving for all CSA members.

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