Many of you shared in my joy last year as I fell over the moon in love with our new greenhouse. You watched on Instagram as it went from a frame to an enclosed space to a beautiful home for all our baby veggies. Maybe you even read my piece for Edible Madison where I realized how much it means to me to build something permanent (albeit semi-permanent) on a piece of ground that has been in my family since my dad’s grandparents bought the farm over a hundred years ago.
By year two of this greenhouse, you likely know the routine. You see little trays of soil in early March and the first sprouts of spring a few days later. You see onions standing tall and neat little rows of lettuce. You get what’s going on. It seems obvious. We’re planting things.
But it’s so much more than that. Do you notice that the tables are built out of pallets or wonder what those things are hanging from the ceiling? Have you spied the giant tubes of water in the corner or the metal grates on the back wall? The plants are beautiful and it’s all so very romantic, but the tiny details are what’s most impressive to me.
With precision and focus, with science and learned techniques, with thoughtfulness and beauty, a whole season is beginning beneath this plastic roof. A whole 20+ weeks of vegetables for 120 families and a dozen restaurants begins here in this house that my husband built. In this space he meticulously designed and revamps every few weeks.
Our tables of varying levels aren’t arranged haphazardly. We re-purposed old pallets from my Carrot’s work, saving the most beautiful (non-splintered) ones for the top and arranging the stacks so they’re level despite having to work with irregular sizes. The tables are strategically tiered– the highest near the heater in the back is 7 pallets tall. This is where we germinate the seeds that need the warmest temperature. The pallets step down like stairs to only one pallet high, a region of the greenhouse several degrees lower in temperature and perfect for cool-loving crops like brassicas and spinach. Lettuce and herbs find their space somewhere in between.
Seeds germinate uncovered on heating mats instead of in a germination chamber, a strategic move that my Carrot ensures will grow stronger, healthier seedlings. The immature plants germinated in full sunlight will never know a second of their life when they need to stretch through the darkness. We have four heating mats, each set to a different temperature for different optimum germination. Once 80% of the seeds have germinated we move them to their tiered paradise.
Fans are placed all around and there’s always complaints that we don’t have enough. Maximum air flow is good for many reasons, but Kyle likes it most because it teaches the young delicate plants to be tough in the face of wind and grow stronger stabilizing roots.
The temperature is regulated a few ways. There’s a thermostat hanging at each end of the greenhouse. When one reaches 50 degrees, the heater kicks on. It’s time to give the plants a little more warmth. On sunny days, the other thermostat quickly reaches seventy. This is the trigger for our large wall exhaust fan to turn on. The vent at the opposite end of the greenhouse opens and the greenhouse is quickly cooled. Too hot of conditions cause plants to grow too quickly; they grow up without filling out and become lanky.
Seven large plexiglass tubes sit in the back corner of our greenhouse, opposite the heater. They came from an old office space my non-profit once owned. These tubes are filled with water which soaks up the solar radiation and holds it throughout the day and night. This captured heat aids in keeping the greenhouse warm. Since our greenhouse is heated by propane, an input we try to limit, anything we can do to help hold in the heat allows us to use a little less propane and in turn also help us save money.
My seeding corner, some storage and a dog or two help fill up the greenhouse.
It’s a beautiful place and I fall deeper in love with this corner of the farm each moment I’m in it. I adore spending my evenings tucked in the corner, seeding with a rhythm that is meditative. I love watching the sunset through the plastic walls streaked with pearls of condensation. I can’t help but smile while watching my husband shift things around, not quite understanding why he can’t just leave things where they are, only to hear him explain his well-contemplated vision to someone who visits our spring home a few days later.
So that’s how our greenhouse grows, with thought and attention, nurturing and love. With fans and tubes of water, strategically placed pallets and heating mats. It’s a totally non-glamorous, yet absolutely beautiful space. So yeah, April is pretty great because I get to spend it here.
April is also great because the start of veggies I grew is right around the corner (!!!) and therefore there is finally no guilt over racing through all the frozen things we have stockpiled in our freezer. In December or January, we’ll use a bag of frozen sweet corn here or there, but we’re cautious. We pace ourselves. We know winter is long, cold and gray. The last thing we want is to run out. We would never be so brazen as to use 7 cups of frozen cauliflower and 4 cups of frozen sweet corn in one batch of soup.
But those days are over my friends. That fear of running out is gone. I made a soup chock full of my favorite frozen vegetables and it tasted like farm sunshine. I love the sweetness of the corn and the velvety texture of the pureed cauliflower. Coconut milk adds just enough heft without it feeling heavy.
It’s a lovely soup on its own, but where it really gets to the next level is with the topping. If you can help it, don’t leave it out. Inspired by all the elote I devoured in Austin, this topping marries salty feta, smoky chili powder, and lime juice in a way that brings balance and brightness to an otherwise simple soup.
Hope you enjoy and find your own little corner of sunshine in an otherwise gray week.
Lots of love,
P.S. Want your own organic veggie plants grown straight from the greenhouse?! Well guess what, we’re selling seedlings this spring for all your gardening needs! Find lots more details here. Delivery to the Madison area on May 27th. Deadline to order is April 21st.
CAULIFLOWER & SWEET CORN ELOTE SOUP
If you‘re feeling lazy and don’t really want to make the topping, just sprinkle some feta and chili powder on top. Then make sure you squeeze some lime juice into the soup. This is essential. No matter what else you do, don’t skip the lime juice.
Takes 45 minutes
2 tablespoons butter
1 small yell onion, diced
1 carrot, peeled and diced
1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 can (13.66-ounce) full fall coconut milk
5 cups chicken broth
7 cups diced cauliflower (straight from the freezer is fine)
4 cups sweet corn (straight from the freezer is fine)
4 ounces feta, divided
1 tablespoon lime juice
1 tablespoon minced cilantro
1 tablespoon yogurt
1 tablespoon milk
1 garlic clove, minced
1 teaspoon chili powder, plus more for seasoning
1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt
- In a large stock pot or Dutch oven, melt butter over medium heat. Add onion, carrot, salt, pepper and red pepper flakes. Cook for 10 minutes until starting to brown just a little.
- Reduce heat to low and add the garlic. Stir to combine and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute.
- Add coconut milk, broth, cauliflower and corn to the pot. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer and cook over medium low heat for 20 minutes partially covered. Remove from heat and allow to cool for 10 minutes before pureeing with an immersion blender, food processor or blender.
- For garnish, crumble half the feta and put it in a small bowl. Add lime, cilantro, yogurt, milk, garlic, chili powder and salt. Stir together roughly with a fork (so it combines but still stays semi crumbly). Garnish with feta mixture, extra chili powder and remaining feta crumbles.