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Column: Hearty plants that can survive the winter

With all of the snow we’ve been getting lately, it’s easy to miss the fact that the days really are getting longer. It has definitely not passed the observation of my chickens, though. Chickens lay fewer eggs in the winter, but this is due in larger part to length of daylight than it is to cold temperatures. In the last several weeks the amount of eggs we get every day has grown tremendously. When we got back from our weeklong February break, I greeted our poor chef with 37 dozen eggs.

It’s good timing, though. Just as we are starting to despair of ever eating fresh local food again, abundant eggs and tender spring greens arrive to lift our spirits and buoy our hope.

The longer days also mean that greenhouse greens are waking up and starting to grow again. There are a number of types of greens, such as spinach, arugula, kale and mizuna, that can make it through a winter with minor protection. They go into a type of hibernation during the coldest, darkest months; alive, but not growing. With the lengthening of the daylight, these plants are waking up and beginning to regrow, which means that farmers can harvest more for us to eat.

There’s an easy salad I like to make this time of year that really tastes like spring. I start with spinach, or whatever other fresh greens can be found at the farmer’s market. Then I add some pea shoots, which will start appearing soon. Pea shoots are exactly what they sound like: the small tendrils of baby pea plants. Pea shoots have lots of sweet spring pea flavor, weeks before we’re lucky enough to get the actual pea. Finally, I hard boil some fresh eggs, chopping them roughly while they’re still warm, and toss them with the pea shoots, greens and a simple mustard vinaigrette. It’s satisfying and can all be found locally, which really makes you believe that warm weather and fresh veggies are right around the corner.

Catherine McCosker is the farm and CSA manager at The Well School in Peterborough.

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