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The Winter Harvest Handbook

Spinach
If we were to grow only one leafy winter crop, it would be spinach. We sell spinach both as small leaves in the salad mixes
and as large leaves for bulk sales. In both cases we harvest only
whole leaves without stems. This is slower work than harvesting entire plants, but we continue to do it because it is worth
it: the regrowth is much better, which means greater total yield
per square foot, and the quality of the product is exceptional
enough to command a commensurate price. We harvest with
a very sharp small-bladed (birds-beak) knife and find we have
become very efficient with practice.
In our climate spinach planted outdoors during the second
to third week of September in well-composted soil and then
covered with a greenhouse by late October is ready to harvest
for Thanksgiving sales. The plants continue to produce, yielding four more harvests per bed until late March/early April. We
devote almost half of our total greenhouse space to winter spinach. For more on spinach, see pages 36 and 126.

Leeks
Leeks are almost a year-round crop for us and would be all-year if
the winter leeks did not sell out so quickly. We get our first crop
in May from transplanting extra early seedlings to a cold house.
(Seeds are sown February 15 in our plant-starting greenhouse.)
Then we sell outdoor-grown summer leeks through September
and the fall leeks through November. Winter leeks are available from early December until we are sold out, usually in early
March. We use a different leek variety for each season. The
summer and fall leeks are harvested directly from the field with
the additional protection of a sheet of plastic over the last of
the fall leeks during the second half of November. We protect
the winter leeks with a movable greenhouse starting in early
December. We add an inner layer from mid-December on until
all the leeks are sold.

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Winter Crops

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Leeks with long blanched shanks from deep

The edible part of a leek is the white blanched


planting.
stem. The more length a blanched leek stem has,
the better the product. Blanching can be accomplished by hilling soil up against the stems of the leeks. However, in our experience, the key to growing leeks efficiently and intensively is
to grow your own transplants and dibble them into deep planting holes. By dibbling in the transplants rather than having to
hill-up soil as the leeks grow, we are able to plant them more
intensivelyas closely as three rows on a 30-inch bed with the
leeks 4 inches apart in the row.
Unlike many of our other crops, we dont grow our leek transplants in soil blocks. Instead, we grow them on the floor in our
plant-starting greenhouse in 30-inch-wide-by-8-foot-long-by-3inch-deep seedbeds with wooden sides filled with potting soil.
We sow leek seeds directly into these beds using the six-row

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The Winter Harvest Handbook

seeder (see chapter 13). We allow the seedlings to grow in these


beds until they are at least 10 inches tall. We dig them out of the
seedbed by loosening the potting soil under them with a trowel.
To prepare the young plants for transplanting, we trim their roots
to 1 inch long and trim the top part to 10 inches long.
Our dibble is a 36-inch-long, 1-inch-diameter dowel with the
end tapered to a spatulate tip. We sometimes attach a shovel
handle to the upper end of the dowel and add a 6-inch-diameter
plate 9 inches above the tip. In use we push it into the soil to
the full 9-inch depth and then twist the handle so the spatulate
tip flattens out the bottom of a 9-inch-deep tubular hole. This
is more successful if the soil is moist, as dry soil will tend to
collapse back into the hole when the dibble is removed. Thus,
we water the surface before transplanting when conditions are
dry. We make a hole every four inches along the row and simply
drop a leek transplant vertically into each hole.
Once the seedlings are in the holes, only an inch or so of green
top sticks up above the soil. Then we irrigate the field and let
the leeks grow. We dont intentionally refill the holes, but soil
slowly migrates in every time we irrigate or cultivate. The leek
plants grow beautifully, each with a guaranteed nine inches of
blanched shank. If you have never grown leeks this way before
you may find it hard to believe that it will workbut it does.
Our restaurant customers love early baby leeks. These we grow
in a cold greenhouse at five rows to a 30-inch bed, setting them
3 inches apart in the row. At that spacing they can be cultivated
with the long-handled wire weeder. Once when we had no other
space, we planted single rows of leeks between the edge bed and
the wall of the greenhouse. The dibble-and-drop method is the
only way we could have done that.

Mche
Mche continues growing right through the winter, no matter
how cold the weather. With mche you harvest and sell the
whole plants. We often included mche in the salad mix during

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