Comparing Season Extension Mechanisms on Winter Green Production in the Southern Appalachian Mountains

Project Overview

FS13-274
Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2013: $3,737.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2013
Region: Southern
State: North Carolina
Principal Investigator:
Paul Littman
Ivy Creek Family Farm

Annual Reports

Commodities

  • Vegetables: greens (leafy), greens (lettuces)

Practices

  • Crop Production: high tunnels or hoop houses, low tunnels
  • Farm Business Management: marketing management

    Summary:

    In order for the local food movement to thrive in Western North Carolina, shoppers need to be able to purchase local produce year round from direct market venues such as producer only farmers markets. Winter markets have been established by organizations such as ASAP and the YMCA to address this problem. Unfortunately participation from produce farmers is sporadic at best and product selections are limited to a few storage crops. Through our SARE grant, we trialled three season extension mechanisms on three in-demand market greens-spinach, lettuce mix, and braising mix.

    Introduction

    In order for the local food movement to thrive in Western North Carolina, shoppers need to be able to purchase local produce year round from direct market venues such as producer only farmers markets. Currently, there is a four-month interruption in the connection between market farmers and market customers. Farmers and markets experience attrition in customers as a result of this interruption. Winter markets have been established by organizations such as ASAP and the YMCA to address this problem. Unfortunately participation from produce farmers is sporadic at best and product selections are limited to a few storage crops. We believe that adequate trials of season extension mechanisms specific to the climate of the Southern Appalachian Mountains can help to eliminate the gap of fresh produce available at our community markets. Growers need to learn what crops and varieties respond best to the specific climate of our mountain region. Through our SARE grant, we trialled three season extension mechanisms on three in-demand market greens-spinach, lettuce mix, and braising mix.

    Freezing temperatures of winter present a large challenge for farmers hoping to grow, harvest, and process year-round produce.  While there is interest from farmers in extending their harvest season into January-March, there are currently very few examples of successful farms doing this in our region.  Although resources such as Elliot Colman’s Four Season Harvest, 1999 exist as a guide, there are very few resources for farmers in trying new techniques specific to the temperatures and soils of the Southeast US.  With our proposed project, we hope to become a model for successful winter farming, and we also hope to produce helpful resources and information for other growers.  To do so we need to conduct a detailed trial of both season extension methods and crop varieties.

    Over the Past four years we have grown winter crops in high tunnels, but we have not succeeded in producing yields that allow us to vend regularly at winter markets or sell to our restaurant customers on a regular basis.  Construction costs of high tunnels limit growers ability to produce winter greens solely in these structures.  By studying the yields within 3 different season extension structures , we can quantify yields per dollar spent on season extension structures.  We believe that if low cost, low energy intensive, and low risk techniques of growing greens in the winter are developed and tested, the problem of product interruption can be solved leading to a more sustainable future for farmers in the Southern Appalachians.

    Project objectives:

    With support from SARE, we were able to quantify the cost/benefit return per bed foot of each season extension mechanism we trialled on each of the three greens.  Results for the project will be measured in by the yield per plot.  Yields harvests will be done every two weeks once the crop is at a harvestable stage. Plots yields will be weighed pre-washed to determine the harvest weight to the 100th/pound.  We hope to gain empirical data that will help inform and shape the planning, sowing, and harvesting techniques of salad greens during the fall, winter, and early spring growing season.

    Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.