Fresh Lettuce and Greens, All Winter Long
Checking in with Paul Arnold of Pleasant Valley Farm at last weekend’s Saratoga Farmers’ Market, he didn’t seem overly concerned about the recent frigid temperatures.
“It usually takes several days for us to see whether an extreme cold snap has affected our plantings. Even sometimes when we think initially that the greens may have suffered a bit, they come out fine with a bit more time.”
To cultivate fresh greens all through the winter months, Paul Arnold and his wife, Sandy, use three high tunnels to protect the crops from the elements and allow for some control of the growing climate.
“Unlike a greenhouse, where seedlings are planted in small pots or flats, in a high tunnel, everything is planted directly into the ground,” he explains. “Right now at the market, the greens we are selling include spinach, lettuce mix, Asian greens, arugula, kale, mustard greens, Swiss chard, and parsley—all grown in the high tunnels.”
“These are very large, permanent structures—roughly 34’ wide by 144’ long—where the sides open up extra high for ventilation and this space also enables tractors to get close to the edges along the inside.”
Inside the high tunnel, the crops are covered overnight. “We have experimented with different hoop and row-cover structures during the winter, and even with very cold winters (5 to 16 below zero), almost all crops have survived with 2 to 3 layers of covers and no supplemented heat.”
With its year-round operation growing crops on 5 acres, Argyle-based Pleasant Valley Farm grows a diverse selection of more than 40 types of vegetables and fruits with organic methods, being certified through Certified Naturally Grown. Having started their farm in 1988, the Arnolds have raised and home-schooled two children (both now in college) while operating the farm, and have made farming a full-time, successful business venture.
During the winter months, in addition to farm work, the Arnolds are very active speaking at conferences. They will be sharing some of what they know at the upcoming Northeast Organic Farming Association of New York’s Winter Conference (http://www.nofanyconference.org) in Saratoga Springs later this month, and hosting a “field day” on the farm to provide a tour of their operation.
“Through much trial and error since 2006, the high tunnel winter greens production has proven to be worthwhile. Customers are excited to come every week of the year and be able to get fresh, healthy greens. Each year, our systems have been improved so that we have a more consistent supply throughout the cold winter months, though we will always be challenged by the weather,” notes Paul Arnold with a knowing smile.
Lemony Brussels Sprouts, Kale, and Leek
The different shades of green in this recipe lend wonderful color, flavor, and nutrition to winter meals.
*Ingredients can be purchased at the market
1 large leek* or equivalent
1 stalk Brussels sprouts*
1 small bunch kale* (any variety)
2 Tbsp olive oil
1/3 cup water
Salt and pepper
Mixed herbs (fresh or dried): rosemary, basil*, thyme
½ cup walnuts or almonds, lightly toasted
Trim leek, cut in half lengthwise, then fan the upper parts of the leaves under running water to remove any grit. Slice thinly.
Remove sprouts from stalk. For each sprout, remove a few outer leaves, trim stem, and cut into quarters, lengthwise.
For kale, remove any particularly thick stems, and then pile leaves on top of one another. Roll leaves up loosely into a bundle, hold with one hand, while slicing thinly (chiffonade) with a large, sharp knife.
Zest and juice the lemon into a small bowl.
Put olive oil in heavy, lidded pan with high sides, heat to medium high, add the leek. Allow leek to cook, stirring occasionally, until the leaves soften.
Add Brussels sprouts and kale, along with water, stir, and lower the heat to medium. Cover the pot with lid, leaving a gap to allow excess moisture to escape. Cook for 5-7 minutes, or until almost tender.
Stir in the lemon zest and juice, along with small amounts of herbs, to your liking. (Dried herbs are more potent than fresh.) Season with pepper and salt, as needed. Cook a few minutes longer uncovered, to blend flavors. Before serving, sprinkle toasted nuts on top.