Ever wondered how those tasty local greens are grown year round, through polar vortexes and feet of snow? We asked Andre Cantelmo, co-owner of Heron Pond Farm, which sells greens at farmers markets and at their own farm stand in South Hampton, NH, to share their secrets.
1) Growing facilities are not heated. “If we were to heat our hoop houses, it would be a bigger carbon footprint than trucking spinach from the south,” Cantelmo says. So their hoop houses are warmed by the sun each day, and if the temperature is expected to dip, the greens are tucked in with special blankets at night, trapping the heat in the soil.
2) Spinach has its own special antifreeze. Spinach can tolerate temperatures as low as 20 degrees Fahrenheit, because it ramps up production of sugar and stores it in its cell structure. That also explains why winter spinach tastes so good. “It’s just like strawberries in June – it’s one of the pleasures of eating seasonally,” Cantelmo says.
3) There are two winter crops for greens. They are first seeded in mid-September, and yield several harvests, lasting until January or February. A second planting after that lasts until March or April.
4) April is the hardest month for local greens. As farmers start filling their hoop houses with warm weather crops like tomatoes and cucumbers, the greens are pushed outside, Cantelmo explains. “To have tomatoes and cucumbers in June, which our customers really like, we need to be planting them now,” he says. So snap up that spinach while you can – soon it’s just going to be arugula and mesclun mix until outdoor crops start maturing in May.
5) Winter greens tend to be more nutrient dense than summer ones – and you can taste it. “Everybody comments on how delicious winter greens are,” Cantelmo says. “What they’re tasting is that goodness,” from plants storing up nutrients to make it through the cold days with less sunlight. “Make sure you enjoy the best part of each season,” he advises. Tomatoes will be here soon enough.
Heron Pond farm stand, 290 Main Ave, South Hampton, NH, is open Thursday through Sunday until May 1st, then daily. They also sell at the Newburyport Farmers Market, and are offering a CSA with a pick-up location in Newburyport.