Valley Bounty: Spinach

Spinach is a remarkably cold-hardy crop. Across the Valley, farmers are spending these wintery February days harvesting the popular green.

I recently spoke with Dan Pratt, the Farm Manager at Astarte Farm in Hadley. Dan explained that to make sure they had spinach to harvest this February, the Astarte team planted their spinach in a high tunnel, an unheated greenhouse insulated by a plastic covering, way back in August. While the crops in the fields were deluged by the unusually wet 2018 autumn, the spinach crop thrived under the protection of the tunnel. As the cold swept across the Valley, the high tunnel’s plastic insulation amplified the weak winter sun. Even on a freezing day, the temperature inside the tunnel can nose above 60° when the sun is shining. This greenhouse effect allowed Astarte’s spinach crop to continue slowly growing through some of the coldest and darkest days of the year.

Of course, the high tunnel’s thin layer of plastic is not enough insulation to hold back the cold during a long winter night. Temperatures have been dipping below freezing in Astarte’s tunnels but fortunately for us, when spinach is hit with frigid temperatures the plant produces extra sugar to protect itself from the cold. Warm days combined with cold nights have produced February spinach harvests that are sweet and crisp.

Pick up some frost-kissed spinach for a favorite recipe of Dan’s wife, Candice: Spinach Pie. Briefly sauté onion, garlic, and spinach and add dried basil, mint, salt, olive oil, and lemon juice to taste. Shape your favorite pizza dough into ten small, flat circles and place a dollop of your sautéed filling onto each circle. Add crumbled feta cheese on top then fold the dough in half, pressing the edges and making a few slits on top. Bake at 450° for 15 minutes and then enjoy with friends!

Valley Bounty is written by Noah Baustin of CISA (Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture)