Last week, I headed out to the high tunnels to check on the progress of a few new crops, because I was concerned their immature leaves were too young to survive the frigid temperatures we were experiencing. The quiet air was punctuated by the crunch of the frozen ground under my feet and I hunched my ears into my shoulders as I tried to escape the blustery cold January air. This was going to be a quick outing! Too cold for Ami, and I had coffee waiting for me back at the house. I pulled back the plastic end-wall on the high tunnel and ducked inside. The warmth inside the tunnel told a wonderfully different story: the air was fragrant with the rich smell of soil and damp mulch, and I found myself pulling off my hat and gloves. As I pulled back the frost blanket protecting the seedlings I had to laugh. They had grown. Their cotyledon leaves were now accompanied by a tiny new set of mature leaves. Row after row, the arugula, lettuce, spinach, kale, turnips, chard, carrots, bok choy, radishes, garlic, and broccoli raab were all stretching for the sunlight and seemed unfazed by the frigid weather outside. Unbelievably, there were even baby grasshoppers that must have just hatched a day or two ago, right in the middle of those cold temperatures outside. Fortunately, I also saw several hungry spiders scurrying around in the warm space between the soil and the blanket, so I don’t expect to see those ravenous green hoppers on my next visit.
I closed that tunnel tight again as I left, and checked out the next one. When I pulled back the frost blanket on the strawberries I had transplanted in December (one of those October projects that I finally got around to), I was met with a fun surprise- and a light snack. Strawberries in January! When I transplanted the runners from my outside beds into the tunnel, I pinched off all the flowers that were forming, so the plants would put energy into roots and leaves, but I must have missed a few. In fact, as I looked down the row, I saw new buds and blooms throughout the entire crop. I made a mental note to pinch those off- the plants really do need to concentrate on getting rooted in nicely before March. But not today; the sun was starting to dip in the sky and the falling temperature in the high tunnel was reminding me of my cup of coffee back at the house.
The strawberries have been fruiting since late fall, and we ate fresh strawberry shortcake with our Thanksgiving meal. I think the drought and heat stress they endured this year has mixed them up a bit. We didn’t pick a lot, but probably between 20 and 30 pounds after market season. As long as they figure out their schedule by May and June, I will enjoy the occasional strawberry snack!