DOAG: COUPLE STRETCHING THE GROWING, SELLING SEASON WITH DISTINCTIVE ROOT CROPS


 

COUPLE STRETCHING THE GROWING, SELLING SEASON WITH DISTINCTIVE ROOT CROPS

 

February 1, 2017

  

OLD LYME - Baylee Drown didn’t just start offering exotic-sounding Purple Haze carrots, Moneta beets and Hakurei turnips to her customers without giving it some thought.

 

“We get excited to try new things but you have to be careful,” she said Monday after pulling those and other root vegetables out of the soil under a high tunnel at her Upper Pond Farm. “You can’t just grow what you like as a farmer. You have to grow what your customers like.”

 

But her instincts were right, especially regarding the popularity of the Purple Haze, whose eye-catching dark skin rich in antioxidants recalls the original color of carrots cultivated in Afghanistan 5,000 years ago.

 

“People go nuts for them,” said Drown, who with husband Ryan Quinn runs a CSA, wholesales and sells at farmers’ markets, including the Coventry Winter Farmers’ Market. “I tried a lot of varieties and these were the best. I don’t know why everyone isn’t growing some.”

 

In their fourth year of growing organic vegetables and edible flowers on a total of about five acres at their property in Lyme and some leased land a few miles away in Old Lyme, the couple is focused on lengthening the growing season in their three large high tunnels, which allow them to offer all sorts of greens and freshly-dug root crops during a season when those items are typically scarce.

 

“I love growing vegetables in the winter because people really crave this stuff this time of year,” Drown said. “Other people have carrots and things that they harvested in November or December. They’re fine to eat but they’re not as sweet as the ones that come right out of the ground.” 

 

She believes many of her winter crops actually taste better than the same variety harvested in warmer months.

 

“When it’s cold the plant sends sugar into itself so the cells don’t freeze,” she said. “It’s like antifreeze in your car.”

 

Many crops expectedly take longer to mature in winter, depending on the temperature and amount of sunlight.

 

The Hakurei turnips, a Japanese variety with a crispy texture that can be eaten raw in salads,  takes up to three times longer to mature in winter than the 38 days in summer.

 

“But no one else is going to have Hakureis in a month when we go back to the market,” said Drown, who was raised on a Michigan dairy farm and was first exposed to growing vegetables through a former job managing livestock at a farm run by Green Mountain College in Vermont.

 

She and Ryan, (better known as Quinn), married last fall and will soon be taking a semi-break for a few weeks to recharge themselves and allow many of their current crops to get to market size.

 

They’ll also use that time to evaluate the results of the past year, and to start planning what new plants and growing techniques they will try in the upcoming season.

 

“This farm is an evolution and we’re always experimenting,” Drown said.  

 

 Their root crops are now grown under row covers in the high tunnels, but Drown said that might be overkill, especially given the relatively mild winters of late.

 

“Yesterday it was 40 degrees outside and it was 80 degrees in here,” she said inside a high tunnel. “We had to open up some doors because it was too hot.”

 

A recent change has been the purchase of a walk-behind tractor that is one of the few machines used at the farm, where they plow with horses and are committed to using human power whenever feasible.

 

One experiment that didn’t work was an attempt to grow tomatoes last winter in 5-gallon buckets placed in a heated portion of a high tunnel.

“They were kind of mealy, and that’s not what we want to be known for,” said Drown, who evaluates the cost-effectiveness of every new crop or attempted improvement made at the farm. “A lot of people get into farming with passion but you also have to be a businessperson.”

 

She and Ryan are now working toward buying farmland on Beaver Brook Road in Lyme. 

 

Their business plan also will continue to include introducing, but not overwhelming, their customers with unusual varieties of vegetables.

 

“You have to give people what they want and are familiar with but also keep it a little interesting,” she said. “No more than one weird thing a week.” 

 

Root vegetables are the Dept. of Agriculture’s monthly featured specialty crop for February.

Promotions include spots on iHeartRadio, Pandora, Bomba, and social media.

Visit www.ctgrown.gov/rootveggies to find a list of farms and download a poster and go to Pinterest.com/GrowCTAg for delicious recipe ideas.