Preparing Your Farm For Winter
By Crystal Stevens
EarthDance Farm is a biodiverse teaching farm, demonstrating innovative no-till and small-scale market gardening techniques to the community. In each issue of PMNA, we are chronicling our journey and giving practical advice along the way.
Fall Farm Prep
Fall is a busy time of year on the farm. The autumn bounty is ready for harvest; the last remaining seeds of the season need to be planted in the fields; cover crops need to be sown; bed prep and field maintenance needs to be done. The season of abundance comes to an end soon in many parts of the world. Though the field work becomes less involved during late autumn, a farmer’s work is never done. At EarthDance Organic Farm School, this is how we are preparing for winter.
Preserving the Harvest
The season of abundance is the perfect time to preserve crops by way of canning, freezing, and drying.
•Dry herbs such as mint, lemon balm, sage, chamomile, and lavender for tea.
•Dry herbs for spice blends.
•Dry medicinal herbs and place
in jars with labels for the home apothecary.
•Dehydrate greens and then blend them to make a super
•Ferment veggies to make kimchi and sauerkraut.
•Pressure can your favorite veggies, pasta sauces, salsas, and soups.
•Chop, blanch, and freeze veggies.
•Make bulk batches of soups and stews and freeze them in ziploc bags.
Lactofermentation is another wonderful way to preserve fresh veggies. Lacto-fermentation is the process of fermenting veggies in lactic acid-forming bacteria that are beneficial to the body and help build the immune system.
At EarthDance, we do a staff holiday gift exchange. Last year, each of us made 15 jars of goodies and exchanged them for 15 unique handmade items. The assortment of salsa, jam, popcorn, pickled radishes, bath salts, dried herbs, cakes, cookies, and other delicious items was a huge staff perk.
Planting the Last Seeds of the Season
In the fields, we still have a few months of mild temperatures which are perfect for short season crops. We sow lettuce, spinach, radishes, and turnips. Tender kale, chard, and collards can also be grown and harvested young. In some parts of the country, greens will overwinter providing a few much welcome harvests in spring. There are plenty of varieties of vegetables that can handle colder temperatures. It is best to research season extension in your own zone to determine the varieties that are best acclimated to your particular climate.
Hightunnel full of peppers and tomatoes
Leeks, spinach, and carrots can be grown in the fall and overwintered.Our method of leek production involves sowing leek seeds in deep crates in early fall to get the roots established. Once the leeks are established, we prep the permanent raised beds. We use a broadfork to make the deep holes to plant the leeks. They are watered in well. Before the first frost, we add two layers of row cover. The leeks put on a lot of growth before the colder temperatures arrive and are then overwintered. In the spring, the row cover is removed and the leeks continue to grow. They are typically ready to be harvested in late spring.
EarthDance has two large high tunnels which hold 7,980 square feet of growing space. The high tunnels allow for season extension in the winter and produce hundreds of pounds of greens and root vegetables. In the spring, the high tunnels are planted with cherry tomatoes, heirloom tomatoes, ground cherries, sweet peppers, and this year turmeric and ginger. The 30′ x 96′ greenhouse doubles as a living yoga studio which has a variety of beautiful low-growing and aromatic cover crops growing on the yoga studio floor.
In mid to late September, we plant the following in the unheated passive solar high tunnel: kale, chard, lettuce, collards, and braising greens, and storage crops such as storage carrots and long day radishes. The plants’ roots and leaves get established before the weather gets too cold. They are watered regularly until the first frost and then watered intermittently throughout the colder months if necessary. EarthDance uses frost-proof hydrants to water during the winter months. We cover the plants with a double layer of Agribond row cover and only remove row covers if the temperatures get too high on warmer days or during harvests. Harvest still consumes much of our time through the winter months.
Garlic is planted in fall to be harvested the following summer
Turning Over Beds
Creating new permanent raised beds in the fall allows for a head start on planting in the spring. We are able to start planting seeds earlier in the spring because once the tarp is removed, the permanent raised beds are dry and ready to plant. Typically, we get heavy rainfall during late winter so the rest of the fields are muddy in early spring. The areas that have been tarped all winter are dry enough to plant. The weed seeds in these beds are much slower to germinate.
Preparing Beds for Overwintering
Permanent raised beds are made using a bed shaper implement or by hand. Bed shaping by hand is done with a rake, a shovel, a broad fork, or pitchforks. Most beds are formed with the 30″ bed system in mind. The 30″ bed system is used by market gardeners for a number of reasons: the space is utilized better when crops are closer and more condensed; it allows for the farmer to step over the bed with a wide stance; it limits erosion; it provides season extension and fewer materials are used.
We add a hefty amount of compost to each bed before winter occultation. This allows us to maintain the integrity of the permanent raised beds. We use a combination of leaf mulch, grass clippings, aged chip mulch, and food scraps in windrows to create our farm-made compost.
Occultation Over Winter
Occultation is a practice we use regularly. Occultation is a weed suppression method which is done by smothering the weeds using a thick black silage tarp. Occultation can be done throughout the growing season and is most successful when left for 3-4 weeks. We leave the tarps on all winter long and in the early spring, we remove the tarps and our beds are beautifully broken down with no visible weeds. Additionally, while many other parts of the field that are untarped are wet from all of the spring rains, the beds under occultation are not sopping wet, but at optimal moisture content for planting. The seeds and transplants placed in the ground just after occultation have a chance to grow before the weed seeds germinate; the freshly planted seeds and transplants quickly provide canopy over the soil offering another barrier for weed seeds.
Cover crops are planted to help prevent erosion, to retain moisture, to provide a layer of protection to the soil surface, and to offer nutrients in the form of green manure to the soil. In the fall, we plant winter peas and Daikon radishes (known as tillage radishes).
The fall is a great time to get a head start on farm maintenance before the winter weather sets in. Our long list includes draining and putting away hoses; cleaning, oiling, and storing tools and implements; applying heavy mulch and straw around the tender fruit trees such as figs; and taking an inventory of tools and seeds.
During the end of each season, we catch up on paperwork, order seeds and supplies, create task lists for spring, map out spring production, and assess the season to see how we can be more efficient the following year. Planning is a crucial step for farmers as it helps to streamline the operation.
It is important for farmers to catch up on much-needed rest and relaxation. Some farmers travel during the winter months. At EarthDance, we are in year-round production so we only take a week and a half between Christmas and New Year.
The EarthDance team tries to attend at least two farming conferences during the fall or winter months.
Earth Dance Farm Recaps
EarthDance is a teaching farm, demonstrating innovative no-till and small-scale market gardening techniques to the community. Since its inception, over 300 apprentices from all walks of life have completed the Farm and Garden Apprenticeship program. Thousands of children have visited EarthDance through field trips and tours, and they have hosted a plethora of on-farm events.
EarthDance is an urban oasis and home to several hundred species. The staff here are not only teaching the next generation of young farmers, but are also stewarding the land in Ferguson, MO. Biodiversity is very important and a species inventory is updated after each season.
In addition to being a market garden specializing in standard favorites such as sungold cherry tomatoes, leafy greens, cucumbers, summer squash, and root vegetables, EarthDance Organic Farm School grows a myriad of pollinator-attracting plants, rare or unusual fruits and vegetables, heirloom varieties, several dozen varieties of medicinal and culinary herbs, fruit trees, and fruiting shrubs. Each year, the farm adds several new and exciting varieties to the species list.
EarthDance chose permaculture varieties known for being resilient, hardy, disease and pest resistant, and drought tolerant. Among those varieties thriving this year are Illinois everbearing mulberries, Asian pears, Redhaven peaches, Nanking cherries, tart cherries, juneberries, goumi berries, red and black currants, gooseberries, aronia berries, and elderberries. EarthDance is also home to several heritage trees including apple, pear, persimmon, white mulberry, and black mulberry. There are black walnut, chestnut, and hazelnut trees as well.
Preserved Veggies in Brine
Sterilize mason jars.
Chop veggies and herbs of your choice and add to jars.
Dissolve 1½ tablespoons of Celtic sea salt in 2 cups of purified water.
Pour the brine over your chopped veggies in the jars.
Leave ½ inch of space at the top. Put a cabbage leaf on top to help with the fermentation process.
Cover with a plastic lid.
Leave on the counter for 1 week.
Remove cabbage leaf and refrigerate for up to 2 months. Be sure to label.
Here’s the article as a pdf, as seen in Issue 10. – NEEDS CORRECT LINK
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