The dawn of a new season – the colder days and the light drawing in – can be a bit of a nightmare for farmers. While the rest of the nation goes into hibernation throughout autumn and winter, farmers need to carry on caring for their land and growing crops throughout the colder months to maximise productivity and output.
It’s not all doom and gloom when it comes to the new season though, as winter gives us the chance to rejuvenate our soils through aerating, adding compost and feeding the soil. The summer months can take a lot out of the soil, so look at the winter as your chance to repair any damage which that has occurred. This can be completed without interrupting crop rotation or the planting schedule as the transition to winter crops is the perfect time to give your land some TLC.
Farming has seen a wave of technological developments over the past few years, continually changing how land is looked after and crops are grown. Thus, changing – and greatly improving – how we care for our farms in the winter.
Winter is no longer seen as such an uncertain time for farmers as our farming techniques and abilities become smarter. We’ve put together a guide on how you can maximise your farm this winter to help you make this season your most successful yet.
Hoophouses are essential for growing in winter. An unheated, or naturally heated, hoophouse will provide your crops with protection throughout the year, allowing you to extend your growing season by as much as 60 days when the frost arrives. Through using a hoophouse production system you can enable production and marketing of selected crops during times when demand is high and supply low.
Crops produced in the field can be subjected to a range of poor weather throughout the autumn and winter. However, a hoophouse will protect crops from the elements and keeping conditions stable. Planting crops in the winter can also be tricky as you are reliant upon the weather being amiable, but a hoophouse allows you to have more control over your planting and growing environment.
Row covers insulate the soil heat from the air, and provide protection from the cold elements which can destroy crops in the winter. Row covers are particularly effective when combined with a hoophouse as they create two layers of protection.
If you’re concerned about the spread of disease and want to block insects from getting into your plantation; then using a row cover can ensure your crops are completely protected. If you aren’t using the cover in conjunction with a hoophouse then you can tack it to the ground instead.
If you’re looking to take a step up from a row cover, then a coldframe could be what you’re looking for. Coldframes add another layer of protection to your farmland similar to the effect a greenhouse would have.
A coldframe creates a micro-climate which enables plant growth. You can easily construct a coldframe from materials you have lying around; old windows or sliding glass doors create ideal growing conditions.
Geothermal energy can be used to heat and cool areas where you want to have greater control over the heat. Using tubing underneath the soil can enable you to consistently pump air through your hoophouse or greenhouse.
Geothermal heat is particularly useful if you’re concerned about night-time temperatures dropping to below freezing, as the heat creates a loop in your hoophouse to prevent temperatures plummeting.
If you’ve built your compost pile correctly, then you’ll be able to produce temperatures of up to 150 degrees. This heat can then be harnessed and used to create a microclimate. By creating a microclimate, you can then include foods in your winter growing season that you may have previously discounted due to weather concerns.
You may find that you need to insulate your compost pile with straw bales to add more insulation, which will allow you to reach the temperatures required to create a microclimate.
Diversify your Produce
When the weather is uncertain it can help to ensure that you’ve got a back-up plan in place in case growing conditions are worse than you may have expected. Diversifying your produce can ensure you’re able to operate all year around.
Baked goods, meats and cheeses are all popular among market goers and can ensure you’ve got a healthy stock to sell throughout the year.
Plan your Winter
A little bit of admin can help you greatly when it comes to keeping track of how your crops are coping in the colder months, allowing you to then plan for the next year. Through keeping detailed records, you can look at how the temperature and light has affected your crops.
It’s also worth monitoring microclimates, soils and structures of your growing houses. Keep note of anything which may or has affected your crops. You can then use this data to ensure you are creating the right environment for growing in winter.
Growing in winter doesn’t need to be such a hardship; it just requires a bit of extra planning and ensuring you have the right infrastructure in place to cope with less than desirable conditions.
(Source – http://www.farmingfutures.org.uk/blog/farmers-guide-winter-growing)