Growing in a hoop house however does not eliminate the changing weather conditions that affect crop growing. Last winter was challenging because of temperatures in the negatives (-25F) during the night. A few plants didn’t survive but most were grown to withstand winter cold spells and in turn their quality of flavor improved during that time. Bugs are not absent, so if you think you’re going to get away from them think again; their presence is actually very good for the growth of plants. Aphids, one of those annoying and unsightly little bugs, appear during slightly warmer temperatures but attract other bugs that are beneficial and promote growing in the hoop house. Ladybugs and spiders are just two of those great “Beneficials”.
It’s only the beginning days of spring but those beautiful ladybugs are emerging and fuzzy spiders are being chased away from plants about to be harvested. We wouldn’t want them appearing in someone’s freshly picked greens! Ariel Chesnutt, the Director of Production, loves seeing them because it means the hoop house is an actual ecosystem. To expand the space, three new raised beds and one long in ground bed have been structured for growing. In these are the beginnings of snap peas, radishes, greens, mustards, and more. In addition, seeds for summer crops have been started and transplants are being prepared for the additional outdoor beds.
With so much going on, one of the main fertile components can’t be forgotten. Heaps of compost piles that were kept hot through fall and winter filled the beds with beautiful soil. Feed Denver creates their own compost thus allowing for the crops to flourish because it’s done in the correct way under the watchful eye of Ariel and the staff of refugees farmers. Ariel says it’s amazing what wonderful soil will do for crops; all the plants look beautiful. New additions to what was previously grown have also been introduced thanks to the Feed Denver’s New American Farmers who are of Bhutanese descent. They have introduced a special green they call Saag, a seed they brought from their refugee camp. The word Saag in Nepali is used for many different kinds of greens but in the hoop house they are growing a type of mustard with very big, bright green leaves. Ariel notes that it is mild in flavor, has a wonderful texture and is extremely delicious. She says that the refugee families are happy that they can eat something of familiar taste from home here in Denver and the staff also enjoys this mustard as they explore it by cooking with it at home.
This season there are serious challenges such as precipitation which is already behind on the Front Range, it is Ariel’s hope that the crops are bountiful and delicious. The market, one of the key components of Feed Denver depending on the weather, could start anywhere from mid-April to the beginning of May so we’re all keeping our fingers crossed. Ariel also noted that the greens being harvested at the moment are so fresh, sweet, crisp and delicious that she doesn’t think it needs any cooking; she enjoys them raw, just after harvest so much so that she does her own home experimentation on growing. Though she only has a deck to work with she currently has a pomegranate tree, two rosemary bushes, thyme, parsley and greens. She tries to use the space to grow as much food as she can during the season (while fighting off the squirrels) and is going to be trying out hops this year.
For those of you who may only have a small space to work with, that’s okay. A small space can surprisingly produce a good amount once utilized correctly. It’s spring so it’s time to get a move on. Feed your family on the fruits of your labor, literally.