Homegrown News Blog
Valley Bounty: Stretching growing season brings winter greens
By Jacob Nelson | Daily Hampshire Gazette | April 16, 2021
It’s been months since the last winter squash were brought in from the field, and traditional early spring crops like asparagus are just beginning to poke through the soil. But local farms are still bringing produce to market — storage crops including potatoes, beets and carrots, along with freshly harvested spinach, lettuce, kale and radishes.
Farmers in the Valley have long experimented with strategies for year-round growing. Spring-dug parsnips are left to overwinter in the ground, emerging sweeter after a late March thaw (look for these now). Alliums like garlic and onions are planted in the fall, slumber under protective coverings, then shoot up when the weather warms. Recently, greenhouse-grown greens have become more common.
Year-round growing is good for farm businesses and the local economy, diversifying farm income and adding year-round jobs. It also stabilizes community access to healthy local produce around the year. Though hardly new, it represents a fast-growing sector of local farming.
Still, total production remains small and best practices are rarely standardized, as many farmers find their own way through trial and error. Meanwhile, many food buyers aren’t aware of local farms’ success in expanding what’s in season.
“I don’t think there’s enough education about this kind of farming,” says Harrison Bardwell, head farmer and owner of Bardwell Farm. “We want people to understand that this is possible — that fresh greens are around in January and onions in May, all grown here in the Valley.” His 25-acre diversified vegetable farm in Hatfield will supply both this year.
“We’ve been growing in high tunnels during the summer for three years,” Bardwell says, referencing the large metal-framed, plastic-skinned greenhouses now common on local farms. “This year was the first year we used them for winter production.”
Bardwell’s motivation for growing year-round is threefold. First, given the investment in building high tunnels, it makes sense to maximize their use.
“We also wanted to expand what we could sell, and keep on more employees through the slower months,” he says.
By all accounts, their pilot year went well. “We’re getting to the end now,” Bardwell says. “But we’re still harvesting arugula we reseeded a month ago, and we’re on our third cutting of the original spinach and chard crops we planted in the fall.”
Though they grew only in two unheated 70-by-30-foot tunnels, the farm was able to retain more staff than previous winters and sales were great, especially for leafy greens such as chard, lettuce and the spinach Bardwell Farm is known for.
“When selling local produce in the winter, anything green is a big draw,” says Troy Asher, the farm’s operations manager. Especially in spring when enthusiasm for storage crops is waning, “offering greens — or anything that’s a staple in peoples’ kitchens — helps boost sales,” he says.
Winter production brings new challenges. Yes, there’s the cold to deal with, but the length of daylight is an equally big factor.
Most plants stop growing considerably when there’s less than 10 hours of daylight, Bardwell explains. With that in mind, crops must be planted in time to reach near-maturity by early November, when that magic daylight line is crossed.
“We start winter crop seedlings in August,” Bardwell says, “and by September we’re transplanting and transitioning our high tunnels to winter production.” This conflicts with using them to extend summer production, but it’s a calculated trade-off.
During the colder, darker period between November and February, plant metabolism slows way down, and on really cold nights, workers drape remay cloth over the plants inside for added insulation. But while growth is minimal, there are advantages.
In the summer heat, many leafy greens are triggered to ‘bolt’ and go to seed, growing tall and becoming bitter. “But if they grow slowly over two months in the winter, you can continually harvest from them without that happening,” Bardwell says.
Plus, with plants respiring less, watering needs are minimal. “I don’t think I watered at all from the last week of December until February, when things started ‘waking up’ again,” he says.
Outside the high tunnels, Bardwell Farm has half an acre of over-wintered onions nearing harvest.
“These are specific long-season onions that we also started in the greenhouse in August,” Bardwell explains. “In September we planted them in the field, and they established their roots during the last few months of warmth and longer daylight.”
They do need some protection from the winter elements. “We decided to grow ours in low tunnels,” he says. These look like long, skinny greenhouses extended over the length of a bed.
“What’s really neat about these onions,” Bardwell says, “is they’re full-sized bunching onions that we’ll harvest in late May or June, where most local onions are harvested in late summer.”
Customers can find greens, onions (when they’re ready) and more from Bardwell Farm at their farm stand, now open Friday through Sunday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. at 49 Main St. in Hatfield. Online ordering for curbside pickup is also available by visiting bardwellfarm.com/online-farm-store. Enrollment remains open for their CSA program, with info available at the farm stand or online.
As Bardwell Farm and hundreds of other local farms push the boundaries of year-round growing, the availability of local produce should only keep expanding to new seasons. Peaches in December? Maybe not. But strawberries? Well, UNH Cooperative Extension has been doing some research …
Jacob Nelson is communications coordinator for Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture (CISA).
I know we say this every year, but 2020 certainly was "the year" to remember in so many ways. It had its challenges for sure, but so many great things as well. Here are some of our favorite moments!
We decided to make a seperate blog about all of the projects that were completed and continue to go on here at the farm. I really can't believe all of the work we have done. A BIG thank you to my father, friends and others who have made these improvements possible.
We arranged all of pictures below in chronological order from the start of the season to the present.
Scroll down to see how far we have come!
To be continued...
It has been a year to remember!
As we settle down after a very long and eventful season we took a moment to reflect on all the fun and good times we had.
Here are some of our favorite moments of 2019!
March started with a decent snow cover and our high tunnel was all about growth. We focused on getting seeds organized to begin planting and we filled the high tunnel with early starts. We also received new tools like harvest crates and bins. Senator Jo Comerford stopped by for a short visit and discuss farm issues we were facing and how she may be able to help. We hope to see her more next season!
April was a wet one! We were still recovering from last year and we were well underway with high tunnel crops and even had plows in the soil. We were busy burning the asparagus field and getting the first seeded crops in. We also played with our custom built germination chamber and the farmstand opened early with flowers!
May was a busy month! The harvest began while we were in full planting mode! In between the madness we were busy cultivating the first plantings of brassicas and laying plastic for long season crops. The soil was finally workable after the wet spring we had and we were bustling now. We really started to get our feet wet with our new MaterMacc planter as well!
We participated in our first event of the year, the Asparagus Fest in Hadley! This was also the first month of the CSA farm share 2019 program. We continued planting away by hand and testing the new no-till planter. We had plenty of field work staking tomatoes and pulling garlic scapes.
July was garlic month! Harvest, cure, harvest, cure! Our high tunnel tomatoes were growing as tall as Navi and we were super busy trellising. We had the first field tomatoes in the area and the winter squash was looking fantastic. We had a fun farm visit with the Hatfield Recreation Camp too!
August sure threw us a curveball, we started the month with the biggest storm of the season. Heavy rains, wind, and hail destroyed acres of tobacco, leafy greens and other crops. It was also one of the busiest harvest months of the year. Sweetcorn, cucumbers and tomatoes were abundant! We said goodbye to our amazing summer crew as they prepared for a new school year. We tried new exciting things like cover crop no-till drilling, planting our first round of spinach and having our first ever tomato tasting. There were many late nights in the moonlight washing tomatoes and some of the crew went "tomato blind", long story :)
September sure felt like fall! The overwintering onions started to pop in the high tunnel and our first setting of spinach looked absolutely amazing. The stand was packed to the gills and the new greenhouse frame started to emerge. We were still full steam ahead harvesting tomatoes and squash by the truckloads. The month flew by, with lots to do! 14 hours a day, 7 days a week!
October blessed us with more pumpkins than we could imagine! The harvest was in full swing and we kept the stand stocked and overflowing. We introduced many fall greens that people had been looking forward to. We had a visit from the second grade class and preschoolers from the Hatfield Elementary School. They learned lots about farming, planting seeds, and the value of a dollar. We finished our last week of CSA farm share and it felt bittersweet. Navi and I attended the CISA fall gathering to have some fun with local farmers and celebrate the amazing season we had. The Malanowski boys helped us donate and decorate Smith Academy for Homecoming.
November was another busy month, when we are usually slowing down, we were full steam ahead! We started the month off with planting the overwintering onions along with the 2020 garlic crop. We had the largest spinach harvest of the season right before the cold snap. We helped out Malanowski Farm with their tobacco and in return they helped us install plastic on the new greenhouse. We rounded out the month with a mini vacation to celebrate the incredible season we had!
We want to thank you for another amazing season, we feel blessed with the support you show us year after year. Without you, it wouldn't have been possible.
Season 2020 will be bigger and better than the last, stay tuned for all things Bardwell Farm :)
From myself and the crew, Happy Holidays!
Many thanks to Jacob Wycoff and Western Mass News for giving our farm a voice!
Video Western Mass News | Ryan Trowbridge, Jacob Wycoff
HATFIELD, MA (WGGB/WSHM) -- The global population is expected to hit 10 billion people by 2050 and securing enough food to feed that number is a growing concern for policymakers... read more
We were honored to host Field Day for the kiddos of the Summer Hatfield Rec Program! They toured our farm, asked questions, and we showed them how to plant sunflower seeds :)
By Noah Baustin - Daily Hampshire Gazette - June 14, 2019
The Swiss Chard harvest recently began on Bardwell Farm in Hatfield. It was nearly three weeks later than usual. “Last year, we had a nice warm start to the season where crops were on-time or early. This season, we’re coming in with conditions that have been colder and wetter,” said Harrison Bardwell, who owns the farm.
“Being a beginning farmer, I’m still learning a lot of the aspects of how to deal with different weather conditions year to year,” Bardwell explained... read more
When we grow herbs sometimes we have so much we just can't use it all. You're all ready using rosemary in your soups and roasted potatoes, why not enjoy it in your popcorn too!
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