Local Food & Farm Guide: Singing Cedars grows vegetables all year round

SINGING CEDARS' GREENHOUSES allow heat-loving tomato plants to reach 3 feet high by late April. Home gardeners, compare these to the three-inch seedlings in your nursery!Photo by Matthew Orchard

For this article, long-time ACORN Board member and food grower Susan Smiley sat down with Scott Greene, who joined ACORN’s Board in 2020. Scott and Becky Maden run Singing Cedars Farmstead, a certified organic farm, in Orwell.

Scott Greene came to Orwell to farm in 2005. For a few years, the farm grew a variety of vegetables and raised some animals on Addison County clay. In those years, an ample expansion of vegetable production was accompanied by an increasing interest in extending the growing season beyond the standard June to September production cycle to a March to November cycle. To extend the growing season, producers chose to erect either low tunnels over single beds of young plants or larger greenhouses, called high tunnels, that cover the production of a dozen or more beds in structures ranging from 70 to 120 feet long.

Singing Cedars quickly turned to high tunnels to expand their tomato production. The structures created much warmer growing conditions for these heat-loving plants, and, equally as important, allowed for the creation of “site-based soils” that rest on top of the clay soils that constitute the base of the Champlain Valley. These site-based soils are built from sand and compost produced from the farm’s animal waste products and offer Scott and Becky, a UVM-Extension Vegetable Nutrient Management Specialist, a soil medium that is much easier to work, absorbing water more readily and remaining crumbly under most conditions. The roots of the plants thrive because of controlled moisture.

In high tunnels, tomatoes are planted in the ground well before the danger of frost is past, and along with other heat loving vegetables such as peppers and husk cherries, produce fruit for market weeks earlier than field grown plants.

Scott and Becky now grow vegetables in 10 greenhouses on the farm, having realized how pleasant it is to work in greenhouses where work is focused, more productive, and they are able to shorten their work days.

In addition to the heat-loving veggies, Scott and Becky have begun to develop year-round production of salad greens in high tunnels. They seed spinach in late summer, harvest it in the weeks before Christmas, and harvest again as the days lengthen in February and March. Using this production schedule, they can grow greens in rotation with the heat-loving plants.

This doesn’t mean greenhouse growing is easy; there are certainly challenges with this style of farming. Humidity has to be controlled through ventilation to protect plants from foliar diseases. Insect pests can reproduce exponentially if they enter the lush greenhouse environment. Pollination cannot be left to chance. Bees and other pollinators are introduced into the growing spaces and parasitic wasps and bacteria are used to control pest infestations.

With more than 15 years experience growing vegetables in greenhouses, Singing Cedars Farmstead has shown that, with the right infrastructure and vigilance, Vermont producers can grow vegetables year round, making our communities one step closer to food security and sovereignty.

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