We put a lot of effort into four-season growing here on the farm, and with a full 1/4 acre covered with hoophouses, we've been busy growing, testing, and learning which crops will thrive in our far northern climate. No doubt it is challenging, but the rewards are sweet (seriously, you've never tried kale so sweet!), and it helps build trust and rapport with customers as we double down our efforts to defy the "traditional" growing season so many of us get used to. So long, California, there's a new Bear in town!
Here's an excerpt from the Petoskey News-Review that ran in Friday's edition (1/23/15) celebrating and sharing our continued winter greens harvest! Hooray for kale production 52 weeks of the year!
From the News-Review:
"During the summer there is no shortage of abundant fresh fruits and vegetables.
This doesn’t have to change during the winter.
Not only do the kinds of produce people purchase change in the winter, growers change their techniques as well.
“The trick for winter growing is planting in the fall,” said Brian Bates co-owner of Bear Creek Organic Farm in Petoskey. “Winter harvest depending on the crop, is planted in mid August to mid September to guarantee something through the winter.”
In the winter the most inherent challenge is the amount of light, Bates said. Something that normally takes 40 days to grow could take 120 days. Once plants receive only 10 hours of daylight Bates said it becomes more about keeping them alive.
Buildings such as a hoop houses assist farmers in growing during brutal Michigan winters. A hoop house is a structure made of a series of large metal or wooden hoops covered with a layer of heavy greenhouse fabric. The hoop house keeps plants warm by being heated by the sun.
“It’s about 14 or 15 degrees outside today, it’s 75 degrees in here (in the hoop house),” he said. “There is no heat source in here. On a sunny day the sun warms up the house. On a cloudy day it doesn’t get nearly as warm but protects from the wind.”
Bates said they have kale, chard, spinach and arugula planted in the structure. He added that winter is a great time for an organic grower because insects and weeds are non-issues.
“It’s an interesting reality,” he said. “What you do have are rabbits, mice and voles. They can run rampant. I know if you plant root crops like radishes and carrots they love it. They don’t seem to be as interested in the kale.”
Winter planting is about trying to capture as much heat as possible, Bates said.
“The most important thing is average temperature over 24 hours. How cold it gets at night, isn’t so bad if it’s getting to 70 degrees (in the hoop house) during the day. This is really critical. Inside the hoop house we have many little hoop houses. They’re about 18 inches off the ground and are made of fiber glass or wire hoops. Which make little tunnels over each bed inside the hoop house.”
There is a special fabric that’s breathable pulled over each row. On a sunny day they pull it back and right as it starts to cool off, they cover the plants again.
“That’s really key, to prevent moisture, which can spread disease,” he said."
Sunny day, fabric rolled back, 75 degrees inside! Notice snow buildup on sidewalls.
Starting to cool off in the afternoon, low tunnels covered for the night.