The Globe and Mail
October 18, 2010
How to grow vegetables year-round
by Hadley Dyer
Do you dread surrendering your vegetable plot to Old Man Winter? You don’t have to, says Eliot Coleman, author of Four Season Harvest and The Winter Harvest Handbook. Be the four-season gardener. Here are his tips.
For cold-hardy crops, fashion a tunnel-style greenhouse out of electrical conduit covered with plastic sheeting. Seed catalogues sell “hoop benders,” which form the conduit into a horseshoe shape that you then attach to a four-sided wooden frame. “If you and your neighbours go in on the tool together, you can make a mini-greenhouse for almost no money at all,” says Mr. Coleman, who tends an experimental market garden at Four Season Farm in Harborside, Me., with his wife, author and Washington Post columnist Barbara Damrosch.
Change the climate
Winter crops will thrive inside an old-fashioned cold frame – a bottomless box with a glass top that you can build (old windows work well) or purchase readymade. “Basically, you’ve changed the climate,” Mr. Coleman explains. “You’ve moved your garden 500 miles [800 kilometres], or one and a half growing zones, south. This lets you harvest up to Christmas with the very hardiest greens.” He suggests starting with spinach and Asian vegetables such as bok choy.
As temperatures drop, or if your region is already pretty chilly, you can add a greenhouse around your cold frame. “With a cold frame you’re providing a sweater for your plants. The greenhouse is like a windbreaker over the sweater,” Mr. Coleman says. “That second layer moves you an additional 500 miles south.”
Sow now, reap later
Unless you live in a relatively balmy climate such as Vancouver’s, winter crops should be sown by mid-October. But you can kick off an early-spring harvest by planting inside a cold frame in late fall. “Put some seeds in, no matter what,” Mr. Coleman advises. “Even if you get nothing to eat until spring, you’ll learn a lot. Gardening is a learning game.”
Read the full feature on The Globe and Mail.
High Tunnels Are Becoming Mainstays
July 22, 2010
TRIPOLI, Iowa —Adam Montri, an outreach specialist at Michigan State University and a farmer, has participated in putting up 65 high tunnels in the last four years.
"For small- and mid-scale farms, the high tunnel is beginning to be as much a mainstay as the tractor," Montri said during an interview while he was leading a high tunnel building workshop as part of a Practical Farmers of Iowa Field Day at Tammy and Rob Faux's Tripoli farm.
Sally Worley, PFI communications director and horticulture program director, said that a high tunnel is a passive solar greenhouse that allows farmers to expand their growing season and improve profitability.
Montri taught participants how to construct a movable high tunnel that can be used year-round without supplemental light or heat. Representatives from Four Season Tools helped with the construction and answered questions about their products.
Worley said the workshop shows farmers who want to put up a high tunnel what it takes to organize a build.
Montri said lots of high tunnels are going up. The oldest ones were built in the 1980s.
"Growers like Eliot Coleman had structures whether it was greenhouses or overwintering nurseries and they noticed that there were green weeds growing in the coldest months, and they thought if weeds could grow in the winter why not crops," Montri said. "In the past few years high tunnel building has exploded."
High tunnels increase farm viability because farmers can grow premium crops in winter and have more stable income.
With the growing interest in local food, consumers want to buy local produce throughout the year, Montri said.
USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service launched a three-year pilot program earlier this year to provide cost-share funding to farmers who want to use high tunnels, said Worley. The Fauxes are participating in the program.
NRCS will fund one high tunnel per farm through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program. To sign up or learn more about EQIP assistance, contact a local NRCS office.
Greg Garbos, president of Four Season Tools in Kansas City, said he and Mike Bollinger, a Decorah farmer, were inspired to start the company by Eliot Coleman, author of the Four Season Harvest, the Winter Harvest Handbook and The New Organic Grower.
A Maine farmer, Coleman developed organic farming systems on his Four Season Farm that allow him to grow food for the local market all year. Movable high-tunnels are at the center of that system, Garbos said.
The focus at Four Season Tools is small-scale organic farms, Garbos said. Movable high tunnels are their niche. The company also offers farm development consultation and implements suited to small farms.
An estimated 35 to 40 people were involved in some aspect of building the Faux Farms' high tunnel. Participants came from Missouri, Wisconsin, Minnesota, western and north central Iowa as well as locally.
Shelley Cords-Swanson of Odin, Minn., came to the field day with her friend Sara Hanson of Wesley. Hanson bought a high tunnel kit and she, Cords-Swanson and other friends plan to put it up.
"We came to learn about the process," Cords-Swanson said. "The hands-on experience is great. I have a lot better idea of how this goes together, what tools we need and the number of people we need."
Hanson, who manages Fresh Connections Food Co-op in Algona, plans to raise vegetables in her high tunnel.
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The Talk; The Constant Gardeners
The New York Times
by Heidi Julavits
November 5, 2006
Gardening on the coast of Maine, given the brusque climate and blink-of-an-eye growing season, is a challenge best met with imagination and with that staple of the region, Yankee self-deception. Katharine White, the wife of E.B., wore Ferragamo shoes and tweed suits to tramp through her beds and satisfied her penchant for gardening most of the year by reading bulb catalogs. Her book, ''Onward and Upward in the Garden'' (Beacon Press), describes Maine's dormant period (from Oct. 15 to April 15) as ''the season of lists and callow hopefulness.''
Since the Whites' day, this same strip of coastline has become a mecca for a far less callow and Ferragamo-friendly set of year-round gardeners. Twenty miles from the Whites' former house reside Eliot Coleman and Barbara Damrosch, whose marriage in the organic-gardening world exists a few dimensions of awe beyond the Jolie-Pitt union. They first achieved renown as authors; ''The New Organic Grower,'' by Coleman, and ''The Garden Primer,'' by Damrosch, are the bibles of the vegetable and flower worlds, respectively. It was through the competition between their books that they heard of each other. ''If you can't beat them,'' Coleman jokes, ''marry them.''
This attitude -- embrace the competition's strengths -- describes the Coleman-Damrosch approach to growing edible food during winters on the 44th parallel. We are, after all, talking about producing greens and vegetables on less than 10 hours of daylight from Nov. 10 to Feb. 5, in a place where the high temperature can be under 20 degrees for days and sometimes weeks on end. In Manhattan, fine diners have already benefited from the Coleman-Damrosch farm-to-restaurant movement: the pair have been visited by chefs like Jonathan Benno of Per Se and Peter Hoffman of Savoy. Recently, they developed the greenhouse operation and gardens at Stone Barns Center in Westchester, N.Y., which was anointed by Sam Hayward, the chef at Fore Street Restaurant in Portland, Me., as ''the most impressive project in the food world of the Northeast.''
What their friend Alice Waters has done on the West Coast -- facilitating sustainable and seasonal eating -- Coleman and Damrosch are pioneering on the East Coast, even during months when ''fresh local produce'' is interchangeable with the phrase ''grandmother's turnip.''
On a March day of freezing rain, I drive the unpaved road down Cape Rosier to see how anyone grows anything in this place during the winter except dangerously bored. Four Season Farm is located on a property with a long history of guru-gardening. Coleman was first drawn to Harborside, Me., by Scott and Helen Nearing, the authors of the pre-eminent off-the-grid handbook ''Living the Good Life.'' Scott was an economics professor, Helen a musician, but this politically active couple left New York to homestead in Vermont in 1932, thereby rejecting ''a society gripped by depression and unemployment, falling a prey to fascism, and on the verge of another world-wide military free-for-all.'' (No! America?) The Nearings moved to Maine in 1952 to convert another derelict New England farm into a self-sufficient rural community.
In 1968, Coleman, a self-described ''semipro adventurer'' with a graduate degree in Spanish literature, went to Cape Rosier, as many did, seeking the Nearings. ''They made small farming sound like an adventure,'' he says. He and Damrosch now live and farm on part of their property.
At first glance, the farm appears inactive. The rectangular dug beds are covered in seaweed and crab shells, lending the earth a pungent eau-de-low-tide odor. To the left of the drive stretches a series of greenhouses: metal frames covered with translucent sheets of plastic, what Coleman calls ''some of the ugliest structures ever designed,'' and he's exaggerating only a little. The Coleman-Damrosch compound refuses to reward fussiness over function. Which isn't to say that they are averse to pretty. When Damrosch, a whippetlike former New Yorker who is also a human search engine when it comes to questions about gardening and cooking, gives me a tour of the greenhouses and outbuildings, I'm struck by the kempt loveliness of their compost heap, girded by hay bales. Coleman recently developed a movable glass (i.e., attractive) greenhouse inspired by structures he saw in the Netherlands.
The innovative thrust behind Coleman's greenhouse isn't just aesthetics; it's part of his push to reinstall the vegetable garden as a daily reality of every American family with a lawn. In less affluent parts of the country, Coleman says, life can be harder today than it was in the Depression, ''because everyone back then had a garden.'' Coleman shows me the carrots he's growing in the ground. I don't think I had quite understood that inside this attractive greenhouse, as well as inside the less attractive ones, lettuces and vegetables grow all winter in the actual ground -- not in pots or raised beds, and not hydroponically. The glass greenhouses slide manually back and forth on runners so that the soil can be exposed directly to sun and rain (crucial if the soil is to remain healthy); the plastic ones are dragged like big sleds using tractors. Compost is the only fertilizer; the solar-friendly greenhouses require no heat other than the sun to keep the hardy plants alive. While some plants respond well to being grown in greenhouses -- greenhouse spinach tastes better than outdoor spinach because ''outside spinach is fighting the dry, cold wind and gets tough,'' Coleman says -- crops like strawberries are protected under straw mulch until the spring. ''The system is beautiful and simple,'' Coleman adds. ''We extend the season enormously by choosing cold-hardy crops. It's a very passive approach.'' Among the winter crops they grow are tatsoi, bok choy, arugula, mâche, kale, claytonia and spinach.
Coleman and Damrosch sell only to restaurants and stores within a 25-mile radius of their farm, thus reducing fossil-fuel expenditure both in the growing and in the transport, an important factor in the ''beyond organic'' ethos that Coleman developed in response to the organic takeover by industry giants like Cascadian Farm and Horizon Organic (which Coleman dubs ''chicken organics''). Sam Hayward, who has been working with local farmers since 1982, explains it with bumper-sticker precision: ''Local trumps organic.'' Currently, Four Season Farm produce is used in the kitchens of a number of restaurants near Cape Rosier, among them the Brooklin Inn, the Castine Inn and Cleonice in Ellsworth.
We break for a delightful lunch prepared by Damrosch from their ingredients. She doesn't wear Ferragamos in her garden, nor is she a crunchy adherent to the Enchanted (and Inedible) Broccoli Forest manner of food preparation. She traces her love of food to her obsession, as a 7-year-old, with finding out the secret to the hamburger at Brearley, the Upper East Side girls' school she attended. We eat a butternut-squash soup (made with stock from local chickens) and an arugula salad fresh from the greenhouse. Coleman and I each enjoy a beer. It's stopped raining, but the fog's come in, and while the mâche may grow year-round on Four Season Farm, I'm feeling pretty dormant at the moment. They send me home with a full stomach to take, like the majority of people and plants on a gray Maine day, a late-winter nap.
Cold frames extend the growing season
The Detroit Free Press
by Marty Hair
November 10, 2006
A taste for fresh homegrown greens in cooler months is leading Vic Randall of Detroit to experiment with cold frames, which are a smaller, less expensive alternative version of a high tunnel.
Cold frames are bottomless boxes with tight-fitting clear lids about the size of a storm window.
They sit on the soil. The box lets in light that warms the soil and air, and are used to extend the late fall and early spring growing seasons.
Randall and two friends are using cold frames to grow spinach, lettuce, kale and chard at the Hope Takes Root community garden near Temple and Wabash.
These vegetables typically can handle colder weather.
"I'm growing more and more of my own produce," says Randall, 33, a year-round community gardener in the Detroit Agriculture Network and graduate student in urban planning at Wayne State University.
Most seeds for cold frame crops are planted in August and September, according to MSU horticulture professor John Biernbaum.
7-Green spinach and Encore lettuce mix are good for fall planting in cold frames, according to Steve Bellavia, vegetable product manager of Johnny's Selected Seeds (www.johnnyseeds.com) in Maine. The leaves can be picked before plants mature.
Cold frames should face south and be in full sun. The lid should be hinged so the box can be vented on sunny days and closed at night.
It costs $100 or less if you make a cold frame; one plan is at www.gardengatemagazine.com/main/pdf/coldfram.pdf. Retailers and mail-order firms also carry season extenders. For more, see Eliot Coleman's book, "The Four-Season Harvest" (Chelsea Green Publishing, $24.95).
How to be greener in the winter
The Corvallis Gazette-Times
by Sarah Robertson
November 6, 2006
The return of unsettled, stormy autumn weather has played havoc on the warm-weather crops still standing in my daughter’s vegetable garden.
The tomatoes are toast, the cucumber vines are melting and the pepper plants have lost all of their foliage. Even the winter squash are ready to move indoors to their permanent winter storage spot in an unheated (but dry!) storage room.
Still standing are the young lettuce transplants we stuck into the ground on a whim two weeks ago. In fact, they’re not only still alive but they’re actually thriving. The growth isn’t fast, but the plants are perky, healthy and show no sign of knuckling under to Mother Nature.
It’s great that gardeners who live West of the Cascades can continue their love affair with fresh, homegrown salads despite the season. Key factors are our relatively mild winters, judicious cultivar choices and a willingness to undertake a bit of simple engineering to keep maturing seedlings sufficiently warm and not too saturated.
Luckily for us, many varieties of greens grow happily in cold weather. The specifics will determine success or failure.
Location is important. You need to find a spot close to the house that’s easily accessible. A raised bed or cold frame is ideal, since it promotes good drainage and warmer soil temperature.
I’ve always admired the down-to-earth growing philosophy of Eliot Coleman, a Maine market gardener, author and longtime proponent of winter food production. Two years ago he encouraged his daughter, Clara, to try growing a winter salad garden at her home in cold, snowy Colorado.
To Clara’s astonishment, her dad’s bare-bones approach (hay bales and plastic sheeting) worked even in her very chilly climate. I’ve used a modification of this very technique in my own garden in past years. It’s simple, it’s inexpensive and it works. Here’s how:
1. Create a raised bed using hay bales. Lay out a base, then add sides. The shape should fit the site. Having a base of hay bales provides both insulation and warmth. Fill your raised bed with the best soil you can find, to within 6 inches of the top.
2. Gather some lengths of 2-by-4s that extend the width of your bed and check recycle yards for greenhouse plastic to lay across the top. Or use clear plastic sheeting found at any hardware store. On warm days, or when it’s really pouring, lay the plastic across the boards so that tender seedlings don’t drown but still get ventilation.
3. Choose your cultivars. In this part of Oregon, our climate is mild enough to allow many wonderful greens to grow quite happily. The growth rate is slower than it would be during late spring and early summer, but the flavor is excellent.
Spinach (Tyee and Olympia), minor’s lettuce (Claytonia perfoliata), mesclun mixtures (great for cut-and-come-again harvesting), beet greens (Bull’s Blood, Early Wonder Tall Top), leaf lettuces (try New Red Fire, Red Sails, Salad Bowl), romaine lettuce (Cimmaron, Sucrine) and butterhead lettuce (Cracoviensis) and tah tsai (sometimes spelled tatsoi; an Oriental green with gorgeous, shiny and flavorful leaves that taste like a cross between spinach and mustard) are all excellent, cold-tolerant and adaptable choices.
4) Sow your seed (or seedlings), water and cover the bed each night (and during the day, if the weather warrants) with the plastic sheet. Roll the plastic off the bed during nice weather.
5) Be patient! This is especially true if you are starting from seed. Germination takes longer when conditions are cool, but your perseverance will pay off.
Pat Patterson, a Lane County extension agent, recommends experimenting with presprouting if you get impatient: simply place seeds between two layers of damp paper towel. Pop into a plastic bag, seal and keep in a warm location until seeds germinate. Allow seedlings to reach a length of one inch before planting carefully outdoors.
With luck, you’ll have a wonderful salad of fresh greens to share by Thanksgiving (with seedlings) or by Christmas (seeds).
Extend the season by harvesting the plants multiple times. Use scissors to snip leaves when they reach three to five inches tall, always leaving two inches of plant base so that resprouting can occur. With luck your greens should continue producing clear into late winter and perhaps experience a revival when warmer weather arrives in March.
The Winter Garden
Warming Recipes From Four Season Farm
Food & Winve
by Nancy Harmon Jenkins
On the coast of Maine, where winter temperatures can go well below freezing and stay there for days—weeks—at a time, winter gardening mostly involves spreading seed catalogs out on the kitchen table and dreaming of May and June. But not for Barbara Damrosch and Eliot Coleman, who live down past Blue Hill, a town on the east side of Penobscot Bay, on one of those long, rocky peninsulas for which Maine is renowned. I dropped in on the couple—partners in life as well as in the enterprise they call Four Season Farm—just before lunch one gray day last February, when storm clouds lowered and a chill wind whipped the ocean waves to a froth. I found them out in one of their unheated plastic-covered greenhouses, in shirtsleeves and sweating slightly as they harvested a surfeit of organically grown salad greens along with baby beets, little white Hakurei turnips and candy-sweet Napoli carrots.
Over the past several years, Damrosch and Coleman have built a thriving business as producers and purveyors of extraordinary winter vegetables, which they raise without major inputs of heat, extra light or growth-promoting chemicals. In the process they have become acclaimed—through their books, lectures and television appearances—as partisans of sustainably produced high-quality food. The key to their approach can be expressed in three words: Organic. Local. Authentic.
"We Americans have grown to depend on winter crops from California and Florida," Coleman told me over a bowl of Damrosch's hot, creamy butternut squash soup. "We've built highways and transport systems to get them to market; we even subsidize the water for irrigation. And it's our taxes that are paying."
Alarmed at the explosion of industrially produced food that is being labeled organic, Coleman says, "If you know the first name of your farmer, then the food you buy can be labeled organic—and authentic." But what's so wrong with mass-producing organically raised fruits and vegetables? In their view, organic is only the first step. To make a vegetable authentic takes way more than leaving out chemical pesticides and fertilizers. If the two of them can grow prize vegetables in the bitter winters of Down East Maine, their theory goes, growers anywhere can do the same. "We can learn a lot from Europeans," Damrosch said. "Look at the map." She drew an imaginary map on the tabletop. "Maine is on the same latitude as Saint-Tropez."
Coleman continued the thought: "So they get exactly the same amount of winter daylight, and daylight is as important as temperature." Eight years ago the couple made a winter trip to Europe. They found that in southern France and northern Italy, locally raised crops are exactly what people expect to find in their market any time of year.
The first trick is to select winter-hardy vegetables. The second is to protect the plants from severe freezes. So Damrosch and Coleman have built four enormous tunnel-like plastic greenhouses that arch like cathedrals above thick rows of Bianca Riccia endive, butternut squash, Swiss chard, leeks, celery root, Bull's Blood beets (grown for their tender greens) and buttery lettuces.
It all looks very beautiful. It also looks costly. But, as Coleman explains, a growing tunnel is economical. "It's basically an erector set," he says. "A 3,000-square-foot greenhouse costs just $6,000 to put up." The couple hopes to eventually gross $100,000 a year, and since they've expanded into summer vegetables, Damrosch says, they're very close to achieving that goal.
But for now, the most important part of the operation is still the winter supply of vegetables to local markets and to local chefs, like Eric Czerwinski and Garry Botbyl (who, along with Damrosch and John Hikade of Blue Hill's Arborvine restaurant, provide the recipes that follow). Czerwinski's Café Out Back is literally that—it's out in back of his parents' South Brooksville general store, where he started cooking a few years ago with a casual but imaginative style that quickly brought him a reputation as one of the peninsula's best young chefs. Czerwinski transforms Four Season's tiny golden and deep red beets into an amazing accompaniment for locally raised salmon.
At the Brooklin Inn in Brooklin, Garry Botbyl has also done wonders. While Damrosch unloaded crates of deep-green watercress, slender leeks and alabaster fennel bulbs from the dark blue station wagon she makes deliveries in, I chatted with the restaurant's owner, Chip Angell, about how they use Four Season's remarkable produce. A salad of greens, fruit and local cheese and nuts is a favorite, he told me. Leeks and fennel become a savory ragout to accompany fish or a leg of local lamb. "But really," he said, "so much of what Barbara brings me doesn't need anything at all done to it."
Deliveries accomplished, we headed back to the farm and joined Coleman in one of the growing tunnels. He pulled a scarlet radish from the chocolate earth, dusted the soil off on his overalls and handed it to me. "Try this," he said, as if challenging my taste buds. It was just a radish, but it was also astonishing—crisp, sweet, sharp, pungent, assertive and seductive, all at the same time. "More!" I cried, and Coleman looked pleased with himself.
"That's what they all say." He smiled as he handed me another.