Laughing Dog News:

Summer 2019 Classes at Laughing DogSummer 2019 Classes at Laughing Dog
Three exciting upcoming workshops on Goats, Mushrooms and Guerrilla Gardening
posted Wed, Jun 19, 2019

"Taming Kids Civilizes Humanity...""Taming Kids Civilizes Humanity..."
The power of touch reveals itself doubly relevant for the "feral" farmer who discovers his last, great calling nurturing “kids” and tending a herd of wooly milk meisters...
posted Mon, Apr 16, 2018

"Guerrilla Gardening Tactics for the Backyard Gardener"
Upcoming workshop at Laughing Dog Farm, March 4th, 1:00-4:00 PM
posted Tue, Feb 06, 2018

New Video on
Taming the new crop of kids requires a community effort...
posted Wed, Feb 24, 2016

Laughing Dog Profiled in Country Folks magazine...
2015 goat birthing dramas the subject of recent piece...
posted Thu, Apr 09, 2015

New Life Bursting in Tunnels Despite Long, Cold Winter
posted Tue, Mar 24, 2015

Six Farming “Truths” Re-visited
posted Fri, Mar 01, 2013

“Good Night Irene”, Sandy, etc…
Extreme weather challenges small farmers (and large)...
posted Fri, Feb 01, 2013

Teaching Food Literacy
Permaculture and Backyard Farming
posted Mon, Feb 01, 2010

2009 in Review
"So long, 2009...", An Annual Retrospective...
posted Fri, Jan 01, 2010

Go to Laughing Dog News...

Daniel Botkin
farm manager

398 Main Road
Gill, MA 01354


Dog Shrine Pages

Keeping Food Alive

Keeping Food Alive in winter may sound like an oxymoron or a contradiction of terms, since most people assume that living crops "die off" once the hard winter descends upon our New England landscape... Others assume that to “garden through winter” you’d surely need gas or wood heaters installed in stout, insulated greenhouses, in order to have a prayer of harvesting any real food on the dark side of the calendar...

But in fact, neither is actually true!

Come to find out, not all crops die in the bitter cold... And with the right low-tech set up, you do NOT need to burn any fuel to keep high-quality, green food alive and quite edible under such severe winter conditions... And you can do it WITHOUT adding heat, NONE, ZERO...

Spinach seedlings germinating in late winter hoophouse.

This miracle of botany is performed by a group of cold-hardy food plants that is more numerous than we previously realized... and could inspire a new wave of “Permies” and “Foodies” everywhere, to try their hand at winter gardening. Who knew that the entire brassica (broccoli/cabbage) family was frost-resistant?! This includes Asian greens, arugula, turnips, radishes, kales, collards, and brussels. Who realized that the whole allium family, as well, (onions, leeks, garlic, and shallots) were uber-cold-hardy cultivars, too? Plus lettuces, endive, chicory, spinach and a long list of aromatic herbs, like cilantro, parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme... ALL, in fact, cold-hardy to some degree and potentially able to survive and thrive under cover, through uncertain winter conditions... And the list goes on!

So how do these “miracle” crops survive frigid conditions without perishing? Apparently they have several cool “tricks”, including making thicker, sweeter sap, and eliminating excess water (defensive wilting) as the temperatures plummet. Essentially, the cold induces plants to thicken (and sweeten) their cellular juices as a form of “anti-freeze”, which can protect delicate plant tissues from frost damage. These plants also can go into a protective semi-dormancy and actually shed moisture, night after night, to further resist freeze damage. When the daylight returns and temperatures moderate, they thaw and pop back up again and regain their normal turgidity. Every bitter cold night, then, becomes a micro-cosm of winter, testing the plant’s mettle while further “hardening” and “sweetening” its tissues, day after night after day, all winter long. The result is that surviving greens are far hardier, tastier and more NUTRIENT DENSE than anything grown under summer’s sun...

We used to believe it was the COLD that killed our autumn gardens, but now we understand that it is actually WIND AND WETNESS COMBINED WITH BITTER COLD that really causes damage and plant mortality. By keeping our winter gardens under cover of (high and low tunnel) “hoophouses”, we eliminate all rain and wind from the equation, and give these crops a fighting chance at surviving the severe cold.

The key, of course, is to plant the cold-hardy, winter crops early enough (Aug-Oct) so that they are well-established inside the winter tunnels BEFORE the hard winter actually sets in. This is a major obstacle since it is highly counter-intuitive to be planting cool weather crops during the “dog days” of summer. But by late autumn, it’s pretty much too late to begin planting a winter garden! Hence we see the need for PLANNING and SETUP!?

For years we resisted the notion of building an unheated greenhouse on our tiny, Gill, homestead. The idea of all that steel piping and polyethylene, both products of “unsustainable”, “extractive” industries, was onerous and off-putting. And besides, we’d performed minor miracles germinating and propagating on windowsills, kitchen counters, with grow lights, and the like. We also assumed (wrongly) that the hoophouse was a highly technical operation, for “real” farmers, requiring advanced, technical knowledge and climate managements skills. And we also falsely assumed that the tax man and/or the neighbors might have something not nice to say about these strange “hobbit tubes” cropping up on the shared hillside...

But the fact is, we likely ALL use oil, plastic, steel, etc. The problem is not plastic, industry, extraction, or mining/refining itself, but rather the chronic mis-appropriation of these resources toward wildly wasteful, proprietary (read: “profitable”) and unsustainable ends. Truth is, these low-tech greenhouses last for years, and with some intelligent design and management, can produce untold thousands of pounds of food... (And the tax man actually has nothing to say... (they’re categorized as “temporary agricultural” structures). And the neighbors? They’re now building their own!

The real error was waiting a decade to build our first unheated hoophouse, in 2007. Bartering with a fellow farmer for used pipes (hoops) helped to reduce the cost. Salvaged lumber and volunteer labor facilitated economical assembly of what became a 65‘x26’ high tunnel. Although erected on faith, without a clear growing plan, within weeks, this lifelong lover of horticulture and fine cuisine was hopelessly smitten by the endless possibilities for propagation and harvest. (And not just in winter!)

Many folks hear this message and mistakenly imagine that winter “tunnel” gardening could be a “lucrative” endeavor, such to yield tomatoes, beans and basil at New Years! Indeed, with elaborate, fuel-intensive, “hot house” set ups, this is technically "possible". But that is NOT the kind of winter farming we’re describing and 

promoting here... We’re suggesting a diametrically opposite type of horticulture, exploiting the margins of the thermometer and calendar, using the LOWEST END of technology while harnessing Nature, time, and these plants’ inherent cold-hardiness to do most of the “heavy lifting”.

You see, we aren’t trying to “hit a home run” (as in producing ginger or pineapples in winter) but rather playing “small ball”, simply KEEPING COLD-HARDY FOOD ALIVE, to be gleaned repeatedly through winter, and then come back to life for a final, spring burst. This kind of “low end”, "marginal" winter horticulture may not win any contests for aesthetics, productivity, or profit, but the emotional, spiritual and health benefits of having some real, green food available straight through winter should never be under-estimated.Hoophouse class at Laughing Dog Farm...

My vision is that everyone can be a farmer... SHOULD be a farmer! In th

ese turbulent, uncertain times, permaculture teaches us that with some planning, tools and knowledge, nearly anyone can grow/produce substantive quantities of healthy foods, even those with marginal land, knowledge and/or resources... We should all grow some food, not because our backyard plots and kraut crocks are necessarily going to feed the hungry or “save the planet”, but because they might actually help us "save" ourselves...

At Laughing Dog Farm, we’ve found enormous healing affect from growing and nurturing useful plants (and animals). I suspect similar practices could help bring health and well being to thousands if not millions similarly affected by the stress, angst, anger and ennui of living in these difficult times of climate calamity, endemic violence, racial tension and celebrities behaving badly...

What keeps you going during this dark time of the year?



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Laughing Dog Farm -- Danny Botkin, farm manager, 398 Main Road, Gill, MA 01354 -- 857-754-1614