Bill Warner and Judy Hageman discuss hoop houses and winter spinach at Snug Haven Farm near Paoli, Wisc., about 20 miles from downtown Madison. They farm intensively (and organically!) using 13 hoop houses covering about 1 acre of land. The indoor temperatures in the hoops go up to about 65 degrees in February.
Their Winter Spinach CSA has a waiting list. They also have a new herb CSA, flower CSA, and sell organic oats. In the summers, they raise tomatoes and flowers in their hoop houses, and plenty of other crops, including arugula, head lettuces, garlic, peppers, etc. You’ll find Snug Haven weekly at the Dane County Farmers’ Market, year-round.
“One year, it was a warm March, and we had spinach early. We had been dealing with Eric Rupert who at that time was co-chef at at L’Etoile and we were like, “Eric, what are we going to do with it?” And he said, “Bring it in; I’ll buy it.” And later on that summer he said, “You know, Bill, that was the best spinach I’ve ever had in my life. I can take all you can grow all winter.” So that’s how we started to grow our winter spinach.
“The ground in these hoop houses rarely, rarely freezes. We’ll put another covering over the [spinach] at about 4 feet high. And another sheet of plastic underneath.
“We have to use heaters to thaw out the spinach for employees. But it would just never pay to heat the spinach to grow. The six shortest weeks of light, the spinach is basically just staying alive and not growing. If it’s cloudy and real cold, we will thaw it out every day.
“But in February, when we’re hitting 15 below, we still have to open up our inside structure so it doesn’t get too hot by like 10 or 11 in the morning. It’s amazing. When you hit the beginning of February, it just feels like winter is already over. You can go down to the hoop house on a sunny day in February if it’s 15 below, it will probably be about single digits in the hoop house when the sun starts to come up. It will be thawed out by 9:30 or 10.
“If it gets up to 10 or 15 degrees outside, it will probably be up to about 65 in the hoop house, peak of the sun, which will be about 2:00. And then as soon as the sun goes over the hill, the temperature bottoms out pretty quickly again.
“It’s just up and down, so you dress in layers, and it just makes winter go so fast.
“It was really nice, those first few years, when we’d have spinach for 3 or 4 weeks at market when nobody else had any. Monopolies are kinda neat if you’re on the right side of ’em.”
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