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Long gone are the days of boring salads, especially if you eat seasonally and locally. Late April kicked off the growing season in Colorado for cool-weather-loving spring greens, including arugula. We spoke with Erin Dreistadt, co-owner of Aspen Moon Farm in Longmont, to find out what makes arugula, one of our favorite salad greens, so flavorful.
What Makes Arugula So Delicious (Especially in the Spring and Fall)
Arugula, also known as garden rocket, has a peppery, slightly tart flavor and is perfectly paired with fatty or sweet salad dressings, wilted aside salmon, or even thrown on top of pizza as a fresh topping. This green’s peppery flavor and delicate texture is what sets arugula apart from the vegetal earthiness that is common to other cool-weather spring greens, such as lettuce and spinach.
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Aspen Moon Farm in Longmont attributes the flavor of its greens to the use of organic and biodynamic farming practices, which aim to create healthy soil to better mimic the natural world and seasonal cycles. “The flavor of the vegetables comes from what they’re grown in; from the earth and from the soil,” Dreistadt says. “We really work on soil foundation and having that active soil life, and that is what makes the vegetables taste so good and have the most nutrition and highest vitality.”
Arugula is a quick-growing crop, reaching maturity in approximately 30–35 days, and the greens can typically be sown when the soil temperature has reached 50 degrees. Aspen Moon Farm has already seeded arugula in the field, and will keep replanting it weekly through the summer and into the fall.
Dreistadt likes to educate her customers on the natural challenges and variations associated with seasonal growing conditions. “Every crop changes a little bit seasonally,” she says. “Arugula does change in flavor in the hot weather, and it adjusts each week in size.”
Since arugula crops favor cooler weather, it will bolt (a natural process when a plant matures and produces flowers and seeds) much quicker in the summer heat. You can still harvest arugula after it has bolted, but the leaves will be smaller and will have a spicier, more bitter bite, which is less pleasing than the mustard-like, subtly tart arugula harvested in the cooler weather of the spring or fall. Arugula harvested in less balmy weather also will have an extended shelf life (about seven to 14 days in the fridge).
Another challenge for arugula season is the presence of flea beetles, or pests that like to eat arugula in late spring and make little holes in the leaves. If you see arugula with these little flaws, it is generally still a great quality salad green to buy and enjoy. “The pests take a little bite and then they leave, so it’s nothing harmful to eat,” Dreistadt says. “It still tastes fantastic. It’s just one of those things about eating locally, seasonally, and organically.”
Meet the Growers
Dreistadt and her husband, Jason Griffith, started Aspen Moon Farm in 2009, drawing from their backgrounds in landscaping and homesteading. The couple has always been committed to producing good local food for their own family and felt called to do that work for their community. Aspen Moon Farm utilizes organic and biodynamic farming practices, which focus on building soil fertility through composting, integrating livestock, and mixed-growth crop diversity in the field.
“On a larger perspective, the biodynamic approach is integrating the human aspect and creating a beautiful environment,” Dreistadt says.
The farm comprises 100 acres—25 of which are used to grow vegetable crops, including a variety of greens, peppers, tomatoes, and even grains which help maintain soil health. The rest of the land is used for livestock, hay production, and large rotational cropping (growing different types of crops in succession across the same plot of land to improve soil nutrients and productivity).
Dreistadt and Griffith also have a hoop house on the farm, which is a large, framed structure that helps extend the growing season in the late spring and early fall, as well as a greenhouse that provides additional warmth and moisture in the colder months. Aspen Moon Farm also employs up to 30 people each year.
“This is soil-grown food, in the hoop house, the greenhouse, and on the farm,“ Dreistadt says. “We have a fantastic team of farmers, and it really takes a lot of hands and labor to do what we do.”
Where to Buy Aspen Moon Arugula
The farm runs a CSA in the winter and summer, which members can pick up at the farm or receive via delivery in Boulder and Denver. Aspen Moon Farm arugula, spicy greens mix (which includes arugula, mustard greens, and kale), starter plants, flowers, and other produce can also be found at the Boulder and Longmont farmers’ markets, and at their roadside stand at the farm, which is now open.
7927 Hygiene Rd., Longmont