Friday, December 3, 2010
It's official. Low tunnels really do work in Illinois. After a month of freezing nights and now several days of below freezing temperatures, my garden is still going strong. We're having salad with dinner tonight.
It is a real eye-opener when you discover that your state is importing fresh produce from the north during the winter. No, that's not a typo. Illinois imports produce during the winter from Wisconsin, Michigan, and Canada. But the thing that really pushed us over the edge was that last year, Mike and I attended a conference on organic gardening and learned -- straight from the professor -- that Michigan State grows produce for their residence hall salad bars through the winter. And he showed us pictures of greenhouses filled with gorgeous lettuces and greens.
Yes, I've owned the book Four Season Harvest for a couple years, but I suppose there was just something in my brain stopping me from doing it before coming face to face with that professor and his slides. Mike and I just looked at each other, shaking our heads, and I said, "We're pathetic. Why haven't we done this?"
So, we're doing it! Back in September, I planted lettuces and radishes, as well as cole crop transplants, including broccoli, cabbage, and Brussels sprouts. I continued planting through October. The seeds that were planted later will get a very early start in the spring, supposedly, because the low tunnels will start to warm up in February when there is still snow on the ground. I talked to another Illinois farmer who said he planted potatoes in high tunnels last March and was selling them to restaurants by May, which is when most of us are just starting to plant them. I didn't have any potatoes to plant, but I did plant onion seeds. I have no idea what will happen to the cole crop transplants, but everything is an experiment. We really have nothing to lose by trying.
In January, I'm attending a full-day workshop on high tunnels and greenhouse growing, so we can expand our winter garden next year. I've never been so excited about winter before!