Your Own Winter Garden

January harvest

Linda Crago runs Tree and Twig Heirloom Vegetable Farm in Wellandport. This winter she started posting photos of her harvest on Twitter. Beautiful green swiss chard and arugula that she was growing in January! How does she do it? Does she have some kind of veggie grow op in her basement?

No, she has an 84 foot long hoop house. Which is essentially a wooden frame with greenhouse plastic stretched over it, this frame is placed over a raised bed, giving her a garden she can harvest from all year long. “One of the keys is to have agricultural fabric. It’s a polyester fabric that floats over the bed and the crop grows underneath it. A lot of people use it to grow organically and avoid insect problems.” Crago explains. She is able to use the harvest in the CSA baskets that she sells and for restaurant orders from esteemed restaurants like Niagara’s Inn on the Twenty, Wildflower in Font Hill and Treadwell.

“The vegetables freeze overnight but they don’t die. They thaw out by mid-morning and then I can harvest.” she explains.

” They taste different after they’ve been frozen, sweeter. I wasn’t a fan of raw chard until I tasted it like this.” They may freeze at night but the house stays warm in the light of day, forcing Crago to strip down to her t-shirt when harvesting. “On a day like this, it’s 80 degrees in there. You can take a lawn chair out and sit in the sun.”

Indian Runner ducks and heritage Mottled Java hens live out their peaceful retirment in the hoop house at Tree & Twig farm

She sells vegetables and eggs from her farm and being vegetarian she makes sure her laying hens have an idyllic life. “When the chickens get too old to lay they live out their retirement in the hoop house. It has been a challenge keeping them out of the veggies though.”

Sturdy winter greens do best, she recommends planting miner’s lettuce, arugula, collards, kale and Asian greens like tat-soy. Her favourite though are the mustards, like Green Wave, Giant Red and mizuna. “In the spring when the days get warmer they sprout flowers. Beautiful yellow and white mustard flowers, they taste amazing.”

Through careful harvest each plant can continue producing throughout the winter. Taking a few leaves here and there keeps the plant intact to produce more leaves.

Just think of it, an endless supply of greens from your backyard. Spring is coming, maybe it’s time you got started on your own hoop house garden.

“People say you can’t eat local year round and that’s just not true.” she says, and it’s thanks to inspirational growers like her that we can all be locavores 365 days a year.

all photos by Linda Crago

The 84 foot hoop house at Tree and Twig Farm. City dwellers can easily make a much smaller version.

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