Winter Vegetable Production at Rock Bottom Ranch

ACES Staff

February 7, 2024

Winter Vegetable Production at Rock Bottom Ranch

This winter has been an exciting one for our vegetable production at the ranch! In the fall, we constructed a new passively heated greenhouse, meaning the greenhouse does not require external fossil fuels or energy to heat it. This increased our winter production space by 1,500 square feet! Into the late fall we were growing turnips, lettuce, and bok choy in this new greenhouse, more specifically known as a caterpillar tunnel. Why is it called a caterpillar tunnel? No, we aren’t growing caterpillars there (ideally, but you know how pests can sometimes happen), but rather this name refers to the long, narrow shape of the hoop-house. One giant plastic caterpillar.

Caterpillar tunnel in summer. Photo by ranch staff.


In addition to our new hoop house, we have our three other preexisting greenhouses fully planted with crops like carrots, swiss chard, kale, arugula, spinach, herbs, and more! Winter maintenance of vegetables is fairly minimal. I find myself watering once a week, or sometimes even less, depending on temperatures. Frozen soil is hydrophobic, meaning it cannot absorb water. The goal of winter production is to maintain plants; new growth is virtually obsolete because the sun does not shine long enough to stimulate growth in the plants. Frozen in time, both soil and plant, at least until the days grow longer. 

Row covered crops at Rock Bottom Ranch.


To reduce stress on the crops, we cover them with a material called row cover. Row cover acts as a blanket to insulate the crops from frigid temperatures, and can increase temperatures surrounding the plant by three to four degrees, which is significant for a plant. Combine that with the shelter of a hoop house, we can keep our crops up to 15-20 degrees warmer than outside temperatures.

However, with creating these warm, cozy places for plants, they also become the most ideal winter getaway for wildlife, such as mice and voles. Winter maintenance also involves a lot of IPM, or integrated pest management. We will save talking about that for another blog post!

Ariel harvesting tomatoes this summer. Chris Cohen Photography.

Winter growing provides us with nutritious vegetables all winter long, with minimal work. While we are privileged to have the infrastructure to grow crops in the winter, this isn’t always an option for home growers or farmers, so preservation is an invaluable tactic to have access to high quality foods year-round. Learn quick tips for preservation here to inspire you to stash away some of that abundant produce from the summer so you can enjoy it on the dark, cold days of winter. My favorite tips for preserving crops are blanching and freezing (my favorite crops to preserve this way are hardy greens, like kale!), quick pickling (my favorite are cucumbers or radishes), and dehydrating (tomatoes are my preferred dehydrated fruit).

I hope these preservation methods are helpful, inspire you to reduce food waste, and enable you to take advantage of seasonal abundance, especially if winter growing isn’t an option!


Written by Ariel Rittenhouse, ACES at Rock Bottom Ranch Agriculture Lead

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