Winter’s coming! Time to awaken the gardens!

I thought I’d take a break this week from my impassioned pleas to make everyone understand that local, real food is just plain better, in every category, than the industrial ‘food’ otherwise available.  I promise I have more to say on the local food is better front but in the meantime I thought I would update everyone on the status of the farm and what you’ll see at markets these days.

The bees are still enjoying summer's bounty.  Shouldn't we all?

The bees are still enjoying summer’s bounty. Shouldn’t we all?

Summer is certainly winding down.  If, like me, you wake up before the sun rises (not everyday thank goodness!) you’ve noticed it’s very chilly in the mornings.  Same in the evenings.  Farmer’s across the state are avidly searching the weather reports for frost predictions.  I’m no different in that regard.  What does make me a little different than some is what that means for the garden.

Home gardeners, and indeed many commercial farmers, tend to wind down at this time of year.  Not so at Parker Family Farm.  Since our CSA offers produce year round to our members I am usually going full tilt this time of year.  Doing what?  Getting everything situated for winter.  While many parts of the garden will be put to sleep and lay dormant for several icy months, this is only done after all (or as many as I can get done) the beds are prepped and ready for next season.  Cover crops are planted and up or beds are mulched to protect them from the elements.

But in other parts of the garden things are just beginning to blossom and take shape.  Along with the offerings from our root cellar (all items I’ve been working hard all spring and summer to produce, we also try to offer as many freshly harvested items as possible for as long as possible to our members.  That usually means fresh spinach from our hoop houses, though this year I’m experimenting with lettuces, turnips and radishes.  We’ll see how they do.

Nearly all of our precious winter hoop house real estate is taken up by spinach.

Nearly all of our precious winter hoop house real estate is taken up by spinach.

I’ve warned my members that this is the last week for tomatoes.  I could keep them going longer but I need to pull the plug so I can dismantle my hoop houses, move them to our new farm and reassemble them.  No easy task and one that I’ve been dreading ever since we decided to look for a new place.  Putting them up the first time was hard enough.  Taking them down without damaging the plastic (bought greenhouse plastic lately?  It’s incredibly expensive!) will be something if I manage it.

But just because the tomatoes are winding down there is by now means a lull in what I and others like me are bringing to market.  Instead of tomatoes think potatoes.  Hey they’re in the same botanical family!  Instead of zucchini and summer squash (which are still producing beautifully thanks to my daring [and lucky] second planting) think pumpkins and winter squash.  Instead of cucumbers think…ok cucumbers is a tough one.  You’ll just have to wait until next season for a fresh cucumber.  But that’s what makes them so good!  The wait.  Also, while there are still some available you might consider purchasing enough to make pickles.  Then you could enjoy local cucumbers all winter.

Along with potatoes, squash, pumpkins I am also rolling out the onions in a big way.  I like to offer several varieties from red to yellow and even sweet heirlooms.  All this variety keeps my market tables groaning.  I don’t know if our spinach, turnip and lettuce crops will mature in time for market this year but they will certainly keep our CSA members happy and healthy in the deep, dark, cold sure to descend upon us for the next few months.  And happy and healthy is a fine way to spend a Maine winter.  Local Food.  Eat well – be well.

Ryan Parker

About Ryan Parker

Ryan Parker is a farmer, writer, artist and musician. He currently lives in Central Maine with his wife, two children, a golden retriever, some pigs and chickens. He raises pastured and forested animals and grows a diverse range of vegetables without synthetic chemicals, pesticides, herbicides or taxpayer subsidies.