Chelsea Green Publishing

Chelsea Green Blog

Eliot Coleman in Small Farm Canada

Organic gardening guru Eliot Coleman is featured in the latest issue of Small Farm Canada, a magazine devoted to small-scale farming. Take a look at the profile/interview below.

A Man for all Seasons
Eliot Coleman discusses the details of year-round gardening
By HELEN LAMMERS-HELPS

It was his “disinclination to give over his markets to the Californians every fall” that first piqued organic grower Eliot Coleman’s interest in four-season vegetable production at his Harbourside, Maine farm. While traditionally growing vegetables in the winter has meant using heated greenhouses, Coleman, a true innovator, sought a different approach. He wanted to see how much he could produce without supplemental heat.

Simplicity, low external inputs, and high-quality outputs were the guiding criteria for his year-round gardening system. “Our goal was to find the lowest tech and most economical way to extend fresh-vegetable harvest through the winter months,” he says. Coleman, who has been growing vegetables year-round on a commercial scale since 1995, has developed a fine-tuned growing system through his attention to detail.

Last year he produced $120,000 worth of vegetables from 1.5 acres, with only a quarter of an acre under cover, using very little supplemental heat.

Farming on the “back side of the calendar,” as he calls it, has many advantages. It means he can hold his markets, keep his crew employed, and it provides a more balanced year-round income, he says.

Growing vegetables year-round at Coleman’s Maine farm is no small feat. Located two-thirds of the way up the Maine coast on the 44th parallel, temperatures can dip as low as -29 degrees C. Using standard, plastic-covered, gothic style hoop houses allows Coleman to mimic growing conditions 500 miles south of his farm. Adding a second layer of protection, a floating row cover 30 cm above the soil, simulates growing conditions a thousand miles south of his farm, he says. Coleman calls his unheated greenhouses “cold houses,” as opposed to “hot houses.”

“Using the double layer of protection lengthens the growing season on both ends, basically for free, no heat required,” he explains. The only cost is the cost of the greenhouse and the row cover material.

Another key to the system is growing vegetables that do well in the cold instead of heat-loving plants such as tomatoes. These vegetables include spinach, Mesclun (a mix of baby salad greens), carrots, mâche, watercress, and potatoes. Many cold-tolerant vegetables can easily survive temperatures down to -12 degrees C or lower as long as they are not exposed to the additional stresses of outdoor conditions, he explains. The double coverage also increases the relative humidity in the protected area, which offers additional protection against freezing damage. Any type of lightweight floating row cover that allows light, air and moisture to pass through is suitable as the inner layer of material in the cold houses, he says.

Coleman maximizes the use of his greenhouses by moving them to where they’re needed. For example, he starts spinach in the greenhouse and once it’s safe from frost, about the third week in March, he can move the greenhouse to another location and use it to start another crop like carrots. By the end of April, the carrots no longer need protection and then he can start another crop like zucchini. This allows him to double the use of his capital investment in the greenhouses, he says. “We became involved with greenhouses because of our interest in growing winter crops and then wondered how to best use them for the rest of the year,” he says.

Planting at the right time for your conditions and environment is also crucial, he says. “For example, the trick with winter-harvest crops is to get the seeds in the ground in September, not November, so the crop has a chance to grow and put out new leaves,” he explains. “I think of August-September as the second spring.” Successive seedings also ensure a continual harvest. Read the full, original article at Small Farm Canada. Eliot Coleman’s The Winter Harvest Handbook, The New Organic Grower, and Four Season Harvest are available now, in addition to his new workshop DVD, Year-Round Vegetable Production with Eliot Coleman.


Recipe: How to Make the Perfect Pancake

When most people think pancakes, they think breakfast. But for Amy Halloran, breakfast is only the start. Halloran, author of The New Bread Basket, is a self-described pancake connoisseur. From a young age, she was entranced by the magic of bubbly batter rising to fluffy cakes on the griddle. Over time, her love of pancakes […] Read More..

5 Common Invasive Species and How to Manage Them

Last week, we asked authors Tao Orion and Katrina Blair to share alternative approaches to managing five different plant species commonly held to be “invasive.” St. John’s Wort, Garlic Mustard, Thistle, Oxeye Daisy, and Kudzu are often dismissed as annoyances at best and the target of aggressive eradication with harmful chemicals at worst. Orion and […] Read More..

Uncovering the Many Uses for Abundant Kudzu

As Invasive Species Week comes to a close, Tao Orion, author of Beyond the War on Invasive Species, and Katrina Blair, author of The Wild Wisdom of Weeds,  share alternative approaches to understanding and managing Kudzu. Take a look through our final profile and check out any you might have missed along the way: Oxeye […] Read More..

Oxeye Daisy: A Plant for the Pollinators

As Invasive Species Week continues, Tao Orion, author of Beyond the War on Invasive Species, and Katrina Blair, author of The Wild Wisdom of Weeds, are sharing alternative approaches to managing and using plants considered to be “invasive.” Take a look through today’s profile on Oxeye Daisy and check out tips for working with Garlic […] Read More..

How to Manage Invasive Thistle and Improve Your Soil

As Invasive Species Week continues, Tao Orion, author of Beyond the War on Invasive Species, and Katrina Blair, author of The Wild Wisdom of Weeds, are sharing alternative approaches to managing and using plants considered to be “invasive.” Take a look through today’s profile on two variations of Thistle and check out tips for working […] Read More..