Four Season Farming

Dec. 17, 2010

Four-seasons organic farming provides some chilly lessons

By Jim PathFinder Ewing

I was hoping that we would have a mild December, so that those readers who are growing their own leafy vegetables in their 4×8-foot “Jim’s plot” would be successful into the new year.

But, alas, it’s been a hard early winter. Temps in the teens hit our patches last week and this week.

So it goes. You can never tell what the weather is going to do.

While not all of our plants have survived, many are hanging on.

Beyond low temperatures, those who practice four-seasons gardening say that it’s the average that’s more important than the high/low for winter hardy greens; and it’s the amount of light that’s more important for production.

A pioneer in the field, Eliot Coleman, writes in his book, The Winter Harvest Handbook (Chelsea Green, 2009; $29.95 – an excellent book by the way, and a great Christmas present!), that the greatest challenge to cold-weather gardeners is shorter days, not temperature.

He should know, as he and his wife grow year round at their Four Season Farm in Maine. (So, you think growing in Mississippi in winter is a challenge?)

He says, a plant that normally takes 90 days to grow to maturity in May-June will take 120 days in the cold months. Hence, the need to plant cold-hardy plants in fall, so they have good root systems. They may slow down when there’s less than 10 hours of sunlight a day, but will continue to produce down to 26 degrees uncovered and even lower under Agribon, and/or in an unheated greenhouse.

We’re in the process of equipping/planting a “cold” or “cool” greenhouse at ShooFly Farm, employing some of the methods Coleman advocates. We’ll keep you posted! In the meantime, frozen greens, anyone?

For eating your organic greens, here’s a wonderful recipe from my beautiful wife Annette:

Saag Paneer (curried greens with cheese)

Paneer (Simple Cheese)

6 cups milk

1 cup water

Half cup vinegar

Heat milk gently to simmer, not boil.

Add water and vinegar, then slowly pour it into the milk. when milk curdles (separates) completely, stop pouring.

Strain the curds in a mesh strainer lined with cheesecloth.

Let it dry for 15-20 minutes.

Curried Greens

3 tablespoons olive oil

1 medium sweet onion

2-4 cloves fresh garlic, minced

1 tablespoon fresh grated ginger

1 tablespoon fresh grated turmeric (optional, can use 1/4 teaspoon dried)

2 tablespoons sliced almonds

1 tablespoon brown mustard seeds

1/2 teaspoon chili power or curry powder

1/2 teaspoon ground coriander

A mess of mustard, turnip, spinach or other greens, chopped

Directions:

Gently fry spices and nuts in a few tablespoons of olive oil, add greens cover and cook until tender.

The paneer can be crumbled into the cooked greens before serving as is, or it can be browned in an oiled non-stick pan first.

We eat it over mixed whole grain rice, with a carrot or apple salad as a side dish.

Red honey?

A recent article in The New York Times (http://nyti.ms/fI3HpX) confirms what I noted in a previous column about the difficulty in “certifiying” bees’ honey as organic. A woman in Brooklyn, N.Y., along with others, reported her urban farm’s honey in the hives mysteriously turning bright red. A state ag inspector determined that the color was from Red Dye No. 40, presumably from the bees feeding on syrupy runoff from a local maraschino cherry factory. It goes to show: Bees will go wherever they want. The honey, by the way, was reported to taste “metallic.”

Response to Readers:

I don’t think the November elections will have much impact on U.S. farm policy; the major committees reflect commodities and regions, regardless of political party. But ag leaders are missing a growing trend of American life: Agriculture doesn’t “belong” to farmers or farm states anymore. Consumers are seeing food not as buying a commodity but as a personal, even intimate, act.

Our leaders must understand there’s a sea change of a food movement in this country demanding safety and accountability. More people are interested in where their food comes from, how it’s grown, prepared, shipped and handled, so it’s safe.

Rather than paying big farmers not to plant, the government should be paying small, local, sustainable farms to grow nutritious foods and subsidizing the price as an investment in health care. That would level the playing field with the big farms while also promoting local economies.

If we want cheap food, it must be subsidized. But we should have a greater say in how subsidies are handed out and, as a priority, promote local micro-farms and garden marketers. That’s especially true in Mississippi, where we have abundant land to devote to it, if local farms and markets were encouraged.

For those professing to support small businesses and free enterprise, this would be a healthy, sustainable way to go.

Contact Jim Ewing on Twitter @OrganicWriter or @EdiblePrayers, or Facebook: http://bit.ly/cuxUdc.

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