In Greek mythology, the beautiful Persephone, daughter of Zeus and Demeter was kidnapped by Hades and taken to the underworld. Demeter, goddess of the harvest, was despondent and in her grief caused all green things to die. The concept of winter began. However, a deal was finally brokered whereby Persephone would spend four months of the year in the underworld and Demeter’s joy at Persephone’s arrival from the underworld saw the return of green things growing.
The term “Persephone Days”, was coined by Eliot Coleman, an agricultural researcher and educator, proponent of organic farming, and a hero of mine, who runs Four Season Farm in Harborside, Maine. After years of experimentation, Coleman concluded that most plants stop growing when the day length drops below 10 hours. After this time, even if you protect your vegetables from the cold, they are merely existing in a semi-hibernatory state. But, by adapting old-world techniques to contemporary farming methods, he created a successful, year-round organic farm.
The trick to a long winter harvest is to plant the crops at just the right stage of the late summer and fall so that they are just shy of maturity when the Persephone Days begin. There is also the need to pay close attention to succession planting, so that there will be a continuous harvest throughout the winter, rather than a mass of lettuce one week and then no more for the rest of the year. In effect, the growing season is not extended, but the harvest season is.
I normally plant whatever I possibly can prior to the Persephone Days in my high tunnel (hoop house) since if I don’t, it will mostly just languish, or at best grow very very slowly. The arugula I harvested last week for some of you would have taken just 16 or 17 days to grow during the summer, but I planted it in late November. Growing time for this very quick growing green was lengthened during the Persephone Days to about 50 days – three times the amount of time it would have taken during the summer months.
For me, this week marks the beginning of the end of the “Persephone Days”, which in our area, began appropriately November 17 and will end about January 24.
And thankfully, some of our local farmers have pushed their harvests into the winter months and we do have some produce available to order for this Saturday. There are also new gourmet foods available from Patty’s Homemade Gourmet Food such as Quinoa Salad, Beets with Bleu Cheese & Walnuts and Beets with Fennel & Oranges and Mango Hot Pepper Jelly from Backyard Jams and Jellies. Additionally, Chapel’s Country Creamery has seven varieties of cheese to offer and Old World Breads has that wonderful Orange Cardamom bread.
The Ending of Persephone Days
But, now that we are moving into the middle of January, I can begin to plant in my high tunnel with confidence, knowing things will begin to take off growing as we approach the end of the month.
We may have very cold nights, but as long as we have sun for an increasing amount of time each day and at a growing angle in the sky, that same crop of arugula will take about 30 days if I plant it next week. I don’t know about you, but this encourages me and it makes me smile, because even though we are in the dead of winter, it is spring in the high tunnel and Persephone will once again bring joy to her mother Demeter, who can then bring forth the fruits of the earth.
Meanwhile, celebrate the remaining Persephone Days by taking a walk during your lunch break on sunny days – your body will appreciate the extra vitamin D.
Yours in the high tunnel again this week,