MSN.com - March 30, 2011
7 Ingredients of a Money-Saving Garden
What's green, great exercise and can save you money?
Your home's garden.
Whether it's a few containers on the patio or a full-fledged vegetable patch, consumers are becoming producers via their own backyard gardens.
And it's not too soon to start planning for a bountiful harvest. As you thumb through seed catalogues, surf Internet gardening sites or troll home supply stores, here are a few garden ingredients that can help you maximize your harvest this year.
Good soil with direct sunlight
Sunlight is free, and "it's my priority for production," says Sal Gilbertie, co-author of "Small-Plot, High-Yield Gardening" and chairman of Gilbertie's Herb Gardens.
A high-yield garden needs direct sun "a minimum of eight hours a day," or two-thirds of the day, Gilbertie says.
Some believe that you can get away with a little less.
You want at least six hours a day, says P. Allen Smith, host of P. Allen Smith Gardens and author of "Seasonal Recipes from the Garden." But it must be direct sunlight, not half-shade, he says.
Pick up a handful of soil and squeeze it. "It should fall apart when you let go of it, not stick together," Gilbertie says. That way the roots can grow unhindered.
"If it's a new bed or new containers, then you want to get a soil that's rich in compost," Gilbertie says. If you need it, you can buy "all sorts of prepared compost" in bags to supplement your soil.
Another important point for in-ground gardeners: Since you're eating what you grow, make sure the area you're using hasn't been previously contaminated with anything that could be harmful.
A small patch with elbow room for plants
"People get excited about going out and planting a garden," Smith says. "And what they do is take on more area than they should and don't prepare the soil properly. The result is lackluster. They squander their resources."
If you're just starting out with a home garden, Smith recommends keeping it to a small area, either a series of containers or a small patch (say, 4 feet by 8 feet). "What you'll find is that you can produce more than you think in a small space," says Smith.
If you want volume, "it's all about crop rotation," he says. "You don't have to back a tractor into your backyard and rip it all up."
Another problem is overcrowding the plants, Gilbertie says: "You'll get more production out of six tomatoes planted 3 feet apart than out of 12 tomatoes planted 18 inches apart."
Finding out just how much room each plant needs is easy, Gilbertie says. Hit the Internet, consult your seed catalogues or chat with the folks at your gardening center.
Compost and manure
"The world's very best fertilizer — 100 percent, tested for 10,000 years — is compost," says Eliot Coleman, author of "Four-Season Harvest: Organic Vegetables from Your Home Garden All Year Long." "And it's made for free, in your backyard from waste products."
If you do nothing to it — no equipment, no turning — what goes into your compost pile will be ready to use in about six months, he says. Gardening doesn't have to be expensive, Coleman stresses. "You can do this without spending any money at all."
If you buy, look for compost "that is loose enough but has the nutrient value that you can mix with your soil," says Gilbertie. Enriching ingredients can include everything from oyster shells or fish to bark, peat moss or sphagnum moss.
Another good fertilizer is manure. It "will also add to the composition and will give you what you need so that these plants really take off," Gilbertie says. And "it goes a long way."
Look for certification from the Organic Materials Review Institute, or OMRI, he says.
Containers or raised beds
Gardening doesn't have to mean bending over a hoe. You can adapt your home's garden to your lifestyle.
Containers are a great option for first-time gardeners, Smith says. His advice is to use three or four large containers — 22 inches in diameter or larger — along with saucers underneath (which cuts down on watering), he says.
If you want to take the next step beyond containers, try raised beds, Smith says. Not only are they easier to weed and easier on the back, but they look tidy and "you can do some fun designs with them in the backyard," he says.
Pro tip: Smith uses untreated wood for the beds. Favorites include western cedar, Spanish cedar, redwood and cypress.
The beds will be about 7 inches above the ground, "and you'll dig down under that another 3 inches," says Smith. So the entire bed is about 10 inches deep. And just as with any other garden area, you want to prep the soil and "you want soil that is very loose," he says.
The pricier items you like to eat
If you want to know what to plant, look no further than your shopping lists and grocery receipts.
If you're spending $10 per week on fresh herbs, then you might be smart to cultivate those, rather than the cabbage you can get for 22 cents per pound, Smith says. Instead, "you can spend $20 on herb plants and have enough to use all summer," Smith says. "Just do the math."
Tomatoes are a favorite in almost every household.
"I wouldn't let a summer go by without planting tomatoes," says Smith. And home gardeners have three basic categories, he says: slicers, sauce tomatoes and cherry tomatoes.
But it all comes back to planting what you would pay a premium for in the store. If slicers are cheap, maybe what you do is "pick up the big tomatoes at the farmers' market and support a local farm, and grow the little ones," he says.
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Lettuce and onions
"Early in the season, before tomato season, I plant lots of lettuces," Smith says.
"Basically, it's a big salad bowl out in your raised beds," he says. And once the first batch comes in, "I tend to plant a second crop of the same thing."
Some of Smith's favorites are buttercrunch, red sails, romaine and arugula. "You can buy them in flats," says Smith. "Or you can sow some seeds."
Another kitchen staple that is very doable for the first-time home gardener is onions, Coleman says.
You can get onion sets at any supply store, he says. "They're about the size of a dime. You put them in the ground and shortly you have scallions. Shortly after that you have green onions, and shortly after that you have bulb onions."
Green vegetables with great flavor
"If I were starting out and I only had a possible garden the size of my kitchen table, I would plant it up with some nutritious, leafy greens," Coleman says.
His choice for homes in northern climes is Tuscan kale. "This is not the kale you were supposed to eat because it was good for you," he says. "This is the kale you want to eat." He suggests the Toscano variety.
In the south, collards are a good option, he says.
"Both types of greens can be used in a variety of meal situations, from sauteed with a little olive oil to complement your morning scrambled eggs, to dropped in a pot to perk up leftovers or soups.
Collards and Tuscan kale "will keep sprouting all summer if you pick the first leaves," Coleman says.
Broccoli is fairly easy to grow. It's a beautiful plant, Smith says. Even better, "anyone can grow broccoli if you start with little plants," he says. His favorite variety is Green Comet.
Read the original article.
FOOD FEATURE: Local farmers produce year round
Rochester City Paper - January 5, 2011
On the Sunday before Christmas, the stalls at the Long Season Farmers' Market in Brighton are heaped with fresh produce, and the aisles are crowded with self-described locavores eager to take it home with them. There are beets still icy cold and wet to the touch, alongside parsnips, turnips, a few radishes, potatoes, and lots of winter squash. You can also find cold hardy greens in abundance: broccoli rabe, baby bok choi, black and curly leafed kale. But there is also what appears to be a bumper crop of lettuce - bright green against a background of earth tones. Outside, there is a foot of snow on the ground, temperatures flirt with the teens at night, and dusk begins to gather at 4:30 in the afternoon. Yet, here it is: fresh lettuce, grown within an hour of the market and picked only hours before it is to be sold - in December.
Some of it, like the delicate green heads of baby Boston lettuce that farmer John Bolton is setting out on his stand amid the cilantro, arugula, and other lettuces, is grown hydroponically in heated greenhouses that produce product year-round. But an increasing share of it, like the bags and bins of baby greens brought into the market by Brian Beh, owner of Raindance Harvest in Ontario, are grown in the ground in unheated greenhouses commonly referred to as hoophouses. At 8 a.m. on this particular Sunday, the lettuces and greens that Beh was selling a few hours later were still in the ground.
These greens are the answer to the dilemma of what someone who is determined to eat fresh, local produce is going to eat during winter in upstate New York. They also represent both an opportunity and a challenge to both established supermarket chains and to local farmers looking to expand the market for their products, and make those products more reliably profitable to grow and harvest.
These greens may be the start of a revolution in the way people think about winter vegetables and winter farming. But they may also be a manifestation of the emergence of a class of produce available to the fortunate few, but beyond more than the occasional reach of those who are forced to stretch every nickel in a fragile economy.
Until very recently, if you were talking about winter farming in Western New York, you were talking about hydroponic farming: growing plants without soil in heated greenhouses. For more than a decade, hydroponic farms - vast greenhouses fogged over with condensation from October through May - have proliferated in our area and across the border in Canada, where rows and rows of greenhouses line the QEW. Among the largest of these is Intergrow in Albion. Started on 15 acres of land in 1998, Intergrow now has 30 acres of hydroponically grown tomato plants under glass, and has plans to add an additional 18 acres of greenhouse in the near future. Intergrow harvests in excess of 77,000 pounds of tomatoes every week, shipping them as far west as Chicago, south to the Carolinas, and all through New England. Of that produce, 60 percent to 70 percent goes to a single grocery store chain: Wegmans.
Everything at Intergrow is huge. The two biomass furnaces that heat the greenhouses consume three to four tractor-trailer loads of wood chips each day to keep them at a steady 60 degrees. The tanks where water and nutrients are mixed and stored are at least 12' tall. The staff uses an assortment of old single-gear bicycles to travel around the greenhouses. To stand in the middle of Greenhouse 1 and look down any of the rows of plants is to get a good idea of what infinity might look like: there is a dim glimmer of light at the other end of the row, but for as far as the eye can see there is nothing but perfect, red tomatoes and carefully supported and trellised horizontal-growing tomato vines. The vines themselves are two fingers thick in some places, and snake along the plastic channel supports for distances up to 40 feet. The plants are eased into horizontal growth after they climb beyond the reach of the cherrypickers that Intergrow's employees use to harvest much of their crop.
Hydroponics are expensive. In this area, in order to keep the greenhouses warm through the winter, a greenhouse owner has to make a substantial investment in fuel. Water is plentiful and cheap, but the liquid fertilizers necessary to nourish the plants are not, and they have to be constantly replenished. And labor is a consideration that cannot be discounted. Hydroponic farming is a labor-intensive undertaking. Intergrow employs about one person per acre during the winter, and twice that during the summer.
To make a profit, hydroponic growers have to sell enough product to achieve economies of scale and grow their operations in ways that are impractical for smaller farmers with limited space, capital, and time. And that is part of the dilemma that T.J. Tyler, the manager of Freshwise Farms in Penfield, has wrestled with since he arrived in July 2009.
Freshwise opened in 2002 as a "social enterprise" of the Rochester-based food bank Foodlink. Unlike other divisions of Foodlink, Freshwise was intended to grow pesticide-free hydroponic greens and vegetables for sale to the general public, rather than distributed to Foodlink's partner agencies. The profits on the venture were to be passed on to Foodlink to support its larger mission of eradicating hunger in the 10 counties that it serves here in Western New York. Freshwise was, in part, a successful enterprise. It produced almost an acre of hydroponic greens year-round in its greenhouse, offering retailers, restaurants, and consumers access to some of the freshest salad greens imaginable.
The problem, according Tyler, was that the use of chemical fertilizers in hydroponic growing at Freshwise was environmentally (and, by extension, economically) unsustainable. In conjunction with the board and leadership of Foodlink, Tyler participated in the creation of a new vision for Freshwise, and the development of a three-year plan that would, among other things, phase out hydroponics in favor of cold-hardy crops grown in the ground in unheated greenhouses. The first step in that process was to rip out the hydroponic growing apparatus that filled the majority of the main greenhouse (while maintaining a smaller hydroponic greenhouse to fulfill contracts with local restaurants and schools) and begin enriching the soil for the planting of Freshwise's first winter crop of spinach in February 2011.
The first time I spoke to Tyler on the phone in early December requesting a visit to Freshwise, he warned me that things were "a bit of a mess" and that the farm was undergoing big changes, so there might not be much to see. Just after the first big snow of the season, I paid a visit to the farm and immediately saw what he meant. About half of the main greenhouse was still producing hydroponic greens. Another portion of it, maybe an eighth, was devoted to growing microgreens - tiny beet greens, arugula, mustard, and other plants - on beds of wet, cotton-like fiber. The remaining part of the greenhouse looked like it had been intentionally bombed. Hydroponic trays and tubing, as well as the steel supports on which they had rested, had been removed and the soil underneath them roughly spaded up in order to prepare it for its new life as Freshwise's primary growing medium.
Looking proudly at the destruction, Tyler informed me that by January 1 the entire greenhouse would look like this. At that point, he said, the heat would be turned off and the place would be allowed to "freeze out" in order to kill off any lingering pests in the soil. In early February, after the soil had been enriched with some of the 3000 pounds of compostable material Freshwise takes from the Penfield and Holt Road Wegmans stores each week, spinach seedlings would be transplanted into the unheated greenhouse for harvest some time in March.
The new business model at Freshwise is derived, at least in part, from the writings and research of Eliot Coleman, owner of Four Season Farm in Maine. In organic farming circles, Coleman is a rock star, a guru whose books make it sound so practical and so easy to undertake winter farming that you might find yourself at Home Depot purchasing PVC pipe and plastic sheeting material before you've finished reading the first couple of chapters of "The Winter Harvest Handbook." Coleman's argument for winter farming is simple: it has precedent. More than a century ago, French market gardeners were growing and harvesting most of the food that was sold in Paris' markets during the winter months in glass-topped, manure-heated, wooden cold frames (it's worth noting that farmers in Irondequoit were doing similar things around the same time in order to get a jump on the area's short growing season). Coleman reasons that what was possible then is possible now, and on a larger scale.
Winter farming, as Coleman explains it, requires an understanding of the practicalities and timing of winter planting and harvesting. Winter crops must be sown well before the first killing frost so that the plants are mature enough to withstand short, cold days by going "dormant" - overwintering - until the sun returns in late February. As Brian Beh of Raindance Harvest in Ontario, New York puts it, "From December through February your greenhouse is essentially a refrigerator," where your crops wait for spring.
Coleman advocates the use of rounded or peaked greenhouse frames covered with as little as a single layer of heavy-duty plastic sheeting to protect vegetables from the worst of the cold and all of the wind. Used properly these hoophouses can help farmers achieve near-miraculous results: baby greens grown in the ground and harvested almost year-round; the sweetest carrots you've ever tasted harvested in March; spinach, chard, kale, and other frost-hardy greens harvested until Christmas, and then overwintered for a second crop in early March as the days get longer.
It sounds like a fairy tale that organic farmers read to their children at night to inspire them, but this model of cheap, sustainable, and profitable winter farming has caught on - not only at Freshwise, but also with local organic growers like Raindance's Beh and Fred Forsburg of Livonia, with the Rochester-based supermarket chain Wegmans, and with the federal government, which launched a pilot program late in 2009 to encourage farmers to invest in high-tunnel hoophouses and give extended season farming a try.
According to Ivy Allen, Public Affairs Specialist for the New York office of the USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service, hundreds of farmers applied for grants that would potentially reimburse them at a rate of $2 per square foot for the purchase and installation of one or more hoophouses on their land. Forty-one of the grants were awarded statewide, and already her agency is getting requests for applications for next year's grant cycle.
Robert Hadad, a regional specialist with the Cornell Cooperative Extension Service, says the robust interest in winter farming is a function of the burgeoning interest in winter vegetables on the part of savvy locavores. Demand, Hadad says, "is greater than supply, and I don't think we've come close to meeting the demand that is potentially there" for winter crops. Pointing to the success of late-season markets like the one in Brighton and the newly initiated Highland Park winter market, Hadad sees programs like the NRCS hoophouse project as a way to "encourage farmers to move up and make an investment in the next step" - to invest in extended-season farming with at least some of the risk taken off of the table.
Hadad speculates that a hoophouse can pay for itself in three years or less. Still, finding the money, the time, and the labor can be a real challenge to growers who are already stretched to the limit and may not have the resources to invest in something that even the most successful of local practitioners admit is still largely an experimental enterprise.
Fred Forsburg, the only recipient of an NRCS grant in Livingston County, says that he is "still in the experimental stage" of winter farming. Until now, he used the four hoophouses on his Honeyhill Farm to control the environment in which he grows organic heirloom tomatoes. This winter, he hopes to harvest a crop of leeks from his fifth, and newest, hoophouse, and looks forward to pulling overwintered scallions in March. Even veteran winter farmers describe their efforts as a work in progress. Brian Beh, who has been producing winter crops of lettuces and greens in four hoophouses in Ontario for the past four years, still claims that "this is still in the development phase. We are all just trying to work it through" to find the right balance between cost and profit that will make winter farming economically sustainable. "At the moment," he says, "no one is getting rich."
In Eliot Coleman's estimation, a good measure of the point at which winter farming is paying off is when the return on the investment in each square foot of cultivated ground amounts to $1.50. This is a number that kept coming up time and time again over the course of several weeks of visits and interviews with farmers both large and small. But few are the small to mid-sized farming operations that can afford to undertake the investment necessary to experiment with winter farming long enough to find it.
T.J. Tyler of Freshwise suggested that without the support of Foodlink it would have been impossible to transition his greenhouse to winter farming without undertaking what he describes as "major loanage." Other farmers I spoke to are interested in extended-season farming, but don't want to take on the additional debt that they would have to incur to do it.
Enter the Wegmans Organic Research Farm in Canandaigua. On a snowy December morning, I'm standing on a windswept hillside overlooking Canandaigua Lake with Stency Wegman and farm manager Jamie Robinson. We are brushing several inches of snow away from yellow-green heads of Romanesco, a broccoli that has some of the characteristics of cauliflower. Robinson looks at the heads and announces that they will need to be taken in before they freeze again: vegetables like this can stand to be frozen once or twice, but a long, hard freeze will ruin them.
Up on the hill above the Romanesco bed stand two unheated hoophouses. Over near the treeline stands another. Inside them, it's not quite summer, but it feels and smells like early spring. In the houses closest to the Romanesco patch, densely packed rows of rainbow chard, arugula, and carrots are growing directly in the soil underneath cloth-like row covers that keep in the heat and most of the moisture. The chard and the arugula look like they will be ready to harvest in a few weeks, the carrots are the length of my pinky and intensely sweet because freezing temperatures cause carrots and other root vegetables to concentrate their sugars. All of these vegetables were slated to be harvested and on sale at the Wegmans flagship store in Pittsford before Christmas.
In the next 1,440-square-foot hoophouse, tiny spinach plants stand dormant, strong enough to withstand the cold, but not to grow in any appreciable way until February. In another structure, row upon row of perfect spinach grows under the cover of a double-layer hoophouse (the gap between the sheets of plastic inflated to create an insulating pocket of air). The space is so well sealed that moisture rising from the ground condenses on the steel roof supports and "rains" back down on the deep green leaves that grow most densely beneath the drips. In the nearby barn, several dozen trays of microgreens sit under grow-lamps awaiting harvest and shipment in one-ounce containers to Pittsford, where they will sell for $4.99 each.
What the team at the farm has accomplished in its first season of winter farming is stunning, and even more impressive is what it plans to do over the next year or so. Stency Wegman says that while it currently produces some vegetables that are sold in the Pittsford store, the Organic Research Farm isn't intended to supplant the local growers with whom the grocery chain has developed a working relationship over the years. Particularly in regard to winter farming and extended-season production, the farm is intended to act as a research laboratory, and its findings will be shared with the 540 local producers who are part of the Wegmans farming "family."
Wegmans' Organic Research Farm began operation in 2007, but it was not until April 2010 that Danny and Stency Wegman consulted with Eliot Coleman about a winter-farming project. Farm manager Jamie Robinson describes the farm as a potential scale model of everything that a producer would need in order to produce organic winter vegetables according to the chain's exacting standards, and says that the company intends to start bringing local growers to the farm in time for the 2012 growing season to share what it has learned.
In the final analysis, winter farming, like all farming, is ultimately about matching supply with demand to make a profit. As both Robert Hadad and Fred Forsburg, who is also on the board of the Brighton Long Season Market, have observed, the success of winter markets, even during these tough economic times, suggests that while fresh and local produce is certainly more expensive than produce grown elsewhere and shipped in, that there is a "perceived value" in local produce.
According to Walter Nelson, the agriculture-program leader for the Monroe County branch of the Cornell Cooperative Extension, "People want to know who grew [their food] and where it came from," and they are "willing to pay extra to look the producer in the eye and say, ‘How did you grow this?'"
In a time when every penny counts, Hadad says, "when people are spending money on vegetables they want to buy the best," not necessarily the cheapest - although for some shoppers who struggle to feed their families that is certainly a prime consideration.
When a bag of salad greens tops $5, even the most ardent locavore is likely to at least hesitate before pulling out his or her wallet. Brian Beh of Raindance Farms worries that he cannot compete with produce, even organic produce, trucked in from across the country: his $4 bags of lettuce sometimes approach twice the price of the out-of-state competition. At the point at which the cost of his lettuce is double that of the competition, he says, he begins to lose customers - even "savvy, educated consumers...who are interested in nutrition, in minimizing their carbon footprint, and eating fresh, local food."
Fred Forsburg is less concerned. While his customers demand quality, most of them "drive Chevys, not Mercedes," and see buying his produce as a judicious use of their food dollars. People who know and appreciate good food, in Forsburg's estimation, will always pay for quality over quantity.
Read the original article.
Our Organic Christmas Wish
Wegmans Blog - December 19, 2010
In the last blog update about our organic farm in Canandaigua, NY we shared our Christmas wish of a winter harvest of vegetables. And we did it!
We got some help from our friend, organic farmer and author Eliot Coleman, who’s been a great resource for our folks down at the farm. With his guidance, we decided to use movable “hoop houses” to protect the plants from our cold Northeastern climate.
Eliot also suggested a few starter crops that could stand up to the conditions up here: carrots, Swiss chard, arugula and spinach.
We started these crops from seed, planting them in the fall. Then we put up our hoop houses around them as the first frost came our way. The biggest challenge was keeping the plants warm enough to grow. Too cold—and the plants lie dormant with no growth...
Read the entire article here.
Deep vs. Shallow Organic, and Why Gardeners Need to Know the Difference
August 13, 2010
Eliot Coleman is an organic farmer, author, and agricultural innovator. He farms, year-round, in Maine, thanks to systems he's developed for taking advantage of certain plants' ability to grow even in the most frigid temperatures. In his latest book, The Winter Harvest Handbook (a fabulous read, by the way) he makes a distinction between what he calls "deep" versus "shallow" organic. I think it's an important distinction, and one that any eco-minded gardener would do well to keep in mind. From Coleman:
"Deep organic farmers, in addition to rejecting agricultural chemicals, look for better ways to farm. Inspired by the elegance of Nature's systems, they try to mimic the patterns of the natural world's soil-plant economy." He goes on to say that they do this by:
* Using cover crops or green manures
* Making and using compost
* Avoiding pest problems in the first place by managing soil tilth and moisture levels, rotating crops, and continually working toward improving the levels of nutrients and organic matter in the soil.
In short, "deep" organic farming works with nature, and the farmer's (or gardener's) main goal is to ensure both healthy crops and a healthy planet. As he says, this agricultural philosophy is worrisome to the agro-industrial powers that be, because it is impossible to "quantify, control, or to profit from."
"Shallow" organic farmers (and gardeners) play right into the hands of the agro-chemical industry. Again, Coleman:
"Shallow-organic farmers, on the other hand, after rejecting agricultural chemicals, look for quick-fix inputs. Trapped in a belief that the natural world is inadequate, they end up mimicking the patterns of chemical agriculture." For example:
* Buying bagged and bottled organic fertilizers to temporarily treat the symptoms of infertile soil
* Treating plant and disease problems with commercially-available organic sprays and powders
* Looking to industry for the solutions to their soil and plant health problems
Coleman makes the excellent point that "the industrial agricultural establishment looks on shallow-organic farming as an acceptable variation of chemical agribusiness since it is an easy system to quantify, to control, and to profit from in the same ways it has done with chemical farming. Shallow-organic....sustains the dependence on middlemen and fertilizer salesmen."
When I read this section of Coleman's book, I felt vindicated. Here's someone who is, and has been, on the front lines of pushing organic agriculture since the 60's, and he's saying something I've believed in my own heart for a long time. As a gardener, I know that it feels better, that it feels more right, to make compost, plant cover crops, and care for my soil rather than buy some pelletized who-knows-what to feed my plants. It's the attitude behind "shallow" organic that makes it acceptable for so many gardeners to go out and buy "organic" fertilizers and potting soil from a major agrochemical company. It just doesn't make sense to me. It's like putting our power, as gardeners, as nurturers of the Earth, into the hands of Scotts, Monsanto, et al. Why in the world would we want to do that?
Read the whole article here.
Road Trip: Four Season Farm
The Harvard Community Garden
August 5, 2010
Last week, we ventured up to Harborside, Maine to visit famed farmers Eliot Coleman and Barbara Damrosch to try to glean some grains of garden wisdom. The drive was a bit daunting, and we stopped once on the way to grab lunch…
After a long drive through some of the most twisting and scenic back roads I’ve ever experienced, we finally arrived at our goal: the lovely Four Season Farm.
As we already knew, the name is more than just a catchy phrase: it’s also their normal operating mode. These farmers have developed techniques and adapted growing patterns such that they are able to grow and harvest vegetables grown outdoors, without heat sources, all winter in Maine. For more information, I strongly recommend the Winter Harvest Handbook, which contains all the information necessary to do the same.
Read the whole article here.
Winter greens - with careful planning and a little protection, several crops can make it from fall to spring
The Concord Monitor
July 25, 2010
It's easy to find locally grown fresh produce in summer, but come winter what's a salad-hungry Granite Stater to do? If you're a gardener, the answer is easy - grow your own winter-hardy vegetables. While tomatoes and corn won't flourish through a New Hampshire winter, there are dozens of crops that will, including lettuce, broccoli, kale, chard, collards, spinach, turnips, carrots, beets and parsley. All it takes is some low-tech protection from the cold and careful planning.
Many New Englanders already use cold-frames to extend the growing season. These are bottomless boxes usually built with one side higher than the other so that the top is slanted, covered with a hinged window of glass or plastic. The box is stashed in a warm spot in the garden (next to a south-facing wall is a favorite location) and the plants are grown inside the box.
Cold frames can be great for small crops, such as baby lettuce, but you have to watch them like a hawk. Leave the top closed on a sunny day, and you'll fry the seedlings. Forget to close it at night, and you'll have a salad slushy in the morning. Luckily, garden supply companies sell temperature- triggered automatic openers that can keep an eye on your veggies while you're at work. Still, even the most tricked-out cold frame is no match for a killing frost; when nighttime temperatures regularly fall below 24 degrees, cold frame veggies either die or go dormant.
However, if your cold-frame is inside a bigger cold frame, you should be able to harvest fresh vegetables all winter. This technique has been perfected by Maine market-gardener Eliot Coleman and is the mainstay of his profitable vegetable business. Coleman's latest book, The Winter Harvest Handbook: Year-Round Vegetable Production Using Deep-Organic Techniques and Unheated Greenhouses, is a must-read for anyone interested in harvesting salad greens and other vegetables when the snow is flying.
Coleman spent years studying the techniques of intensive market growers in France, the so-called maraichers, farmers who tilled tiny plots within the city limits of Paris during the 19th century. Using the city's abundant horse manure as both a fertilizer and a source of warmth for tender fruits and vegetables, the maraichers not only fed their fellow-citizens year-round, but exported high-quality produce all over Europe.
Coleman still hews to the maraichers' basic tenets - keep soil fertility high using organic materials, such as manure; plant intensively and rotate crops; figure out what varieties grow best in your conditions; and protect crops from the cold to extend the season. Coleman, however, has the added advantage of modern materials and technology, such as special fabrics that keep plants warm while letting in the light, plastic-covered greenhouses and drip irrigation.
He estimates that every layer of protection a farmer gives his vegetables is akin to moving the garden 500 miles south. By growing his winter crops inside an unheated plastic-covered greenhouse, and covering them with spun-poly fabric when the temperatures drop below freezing, he is able to create a Zone 8 microclimate on his Zone 5 farm.
Light and dark
Cold isn't the only problem for northern farmers, though. Light (or the lack of it) is another limiting factor for winter growers, but it's not a deal-breaker. You might be surprised to learn that Concord sits at a latitude of 43.208 degrees - about the same as the sunny Mediterranean city of Marseilles. Even with a winter cloud cover, we get enough light in New Hampshire to grow dozens of vegetables right through the darkest part of the year.
As long as daylight lasts 10 or more hours, most cold-hardy plants (with some protection from extreme weather) will continue growing. If such plants are well-established by the time days grow short, they will fall into a dormant state during the dark days of winter, not really growing but not dying either, ready to be picked whenever you like.
Around here, the big drop-off in light happens between October and November, when there's a 27 percent reduction in day length. November, December and January all have about nine hours of light a day. In February, day-length jumps back up by 25 percent and finally tops 10 hours.
What this means is that, with proper protection, vegetables will grow (albeit slowly) right into November. Those that aren't harvested for Thanksgiving and Christmas feasts, if they have had sufficient time to grow before November, will go dormant for the three darkest months and then spring back to life and growth in February. Even plants that have been killed to the ground by frost will often re-grow in February, and seeds planted in midwinter, if watered and protected, will sprout in the growing light of late winter.
Greenhouses, though, are relatively expensive and take up a great deal of space, which is why in recent years New England farmers have embraced "high tunnels." High tunnels look something like miniature hoop-houses. They're constructed of 10 foot lengths of half-inch electrical conduit bent into hoops about 5 feet across. The ends of the hoops are inserted 5 or 6 inches into the soil; the hoops are spaced about 5 feet apart so that they form the skeleton of a tunnel.
The garden bed beneath the hoops is planted either with seeds or seedlings and then the hoops are covered with light spun-poly fabric that's held in place with sandbags or rocks. Some of these crops, like fast-growing mesclun, will be harvested before winter really sets in. Others, such as onions, are timed to get big enough during the fall growing season that they can survive winter dormancy, reemerging to produce super-early spring crops.
High hoops can also be used to protect already established crops that are frost-tender, such as peppers and tomatoes, as well as to extend the season for well-established cold-hardy crops, such as carrots and lettuce, when an early freeze threatens. They are also invaluable in spring to protect crops from cold weather and pests.
For crops intended to over-winter and resume growing in spring, an additional layer of plastic is added over the spun-poly fabric in late November or early December, when the weather gets to be too much for the delicate fabric. The plastic, when pulled taught and firmly weighted at both ends of the hoops, should stand up to snow and wind all winter. When spring arrives, the plastic is lifted to vent the tunnel and removed altogether when the weather settles.
The trickiest parts of four-season growing are choosing the right varieties and timing their planting. Though certain kinds of vegetables are regarded as cold-hardy, broccoli and lettuce for instance, not all varieties of broccoli and lettuce are ideal for winter production. Seed catalogs geared toward northern growers, like Johnny's Selected Seeds (johnnyseeds.com) and Fedco (fedcoseeds.com), are full of good advice about which varieties do best during cold, short days, as is Coleman's book (see our handy chart for cold-hardy vegetables and recommended varieties).
Keep in mind that certain kinds of vegetables are sensitive to day length and you'll need to seek out varieties that don't mind short days. Many kinds of onions, for instance, will only form bulbs when days are long and nights are short and these varieties won't be happy in a winter greenhouse. However, the short-day varieties of onion usually grown in the South, such as Walla Walla Sweet and Vidalia, planted in fall will over-winter in high hoop tunnels to produce a very early onion crop in spring.
When to plant is the other difficult part of the equation. Seed catalogs and packets usually show the number of days it takes from seeding (or in some cases, transplanting) to maturity. For example, Black Seeded Simpson, a cold-hardy lettuce, is, on average, ready to harvest 42 days after seeding. In fall, however, when the weather is colder and days are growing shorter, it could take a week or two longer to get a mature head of lettuce. To be on the safe side, add 12 to the number of days to maturity on the seed packet. For outdoor seeding, use this number to count back from the first expected frost in your area to find a planting date. In Concord, there's a 50 percent chance we'll see a frost by Oct. 1. So if we figure Black Seeded Simpson lettuce planted as a fall crop takes 54 days to maturity, that means we should seed it in the garden by the beginning of August - if it is not going to be protected in any way.
Black Seeded Simpson, though, as well as many other varieties of lettuce, can take temperatures well below freezing and bounce back again, especially if it has the protection of a cold-frame, greenhouse or high tunnel. This means lettuce can be seeded as late as September for fall and winter crops that will be protected.
In fact, lettuce started inside and transplanted as well-established seedlings can be transferred to a high hoop or greenhouse as late as October.
Keep in mind that you want transplants to be big enough to be well-established when the cold and dark set in, but if they're too big they may bolt or be frost sensitive. Even Coleman with his years of experience says he's still experimenting with varieties and planting schedules. Plan on plenty of experimentation and some failures along the way, but don't give up; the rewards are well worth the effort.
Last year, for the first time, we harvested fresh food from our unheated greenhouse during every month of the year. There's nothing that cures the winter blues faster than a homegrown salad in January.
Pink Petunias In The Snow
July 6, 2010
When the dogstar is aglow
plant petunias in the snow.
When the snow begins to melt
Wrap your hollyhocks in felt.
When the felt begins to bloom
pick the apples off your broom.
When the broom begins to wear
weed the turnips in your chair.
When the chair begins to rock
prune the snowdrops in your sock.
When the sock is full of holes
blame the whole things on moles.
When the moles inquire: "Why
pick on us?" say simply "I
will instruct you how to grow
pink petunias in the snow. - NM Bodecker
Note: Today is the first day of my month-long fall gardening class, which will help more people keep that delicious fresh food coming as long as possible. There are still spots in the class if you'd like to join us - email me at email@example.com.- it isn't too late, we're just getting started! I will not actually be able to teach you how to grow pink petunias in the snow, sadly, but you can blame that on the moles, and be happy with the food and flowers that keep coming well into and through the winter.
Every year it happens to some folks - for whatever reason, the garden either doesn't get in early enough or doesn't do well. We get to the beginning of July and we're left with a sense of frustration that it is too late to do anything about it. Or maybe you are having a good year, and what you mostly want is to keep that going as long as possible - sure, you are preserving and ready to root cellar, but your favorite foods are the ones that come fresh from the garden and you want to know how long you can keep that going.
Read the whole article here.
Not Dabbling In Normal
It's Time to Think About the Fall/Winter Garden
June 30, 2010
The past couple years I’ve been reading more and more about winter gardening. It’s tough to do in my climate (zone 5), but it’s not impossible. One of my winter gardening heroes is Eliot Coleman (author of: The Winter Harvest Handbook and Four-Season Harvest: Organic Vegetables from Your Home Garden All Year Long). I have read his books over and over and have experimented a little bit with his methods. My main problems with winter gardening is the lack of garden space. My entire garden is taken up by summer crops with no space left for winter crops. As I expand my garden and grow more at my mom’s, I’m starting to have a small bit of space available for attempting to grow things for winter harvest.
Earlier this month I spent some time with my calendar noting time to start all the fall crops. For those of you interested in winter gardening that live in a zone 4-5 I thought I’d make sure to note the dates and what to start. It’s time to start fall cabbages, broccoli, brussels sprouts, radicchio, cauliflower and leeks. Next week it will be time to start fall carrots as well. I figure if I add a few things each year, in a couple years I’ll be harvesting all year long!
Grow-hio: Midwestern farmers rely on Eliot Coleman’s advice for cold-weather farming
By Jennifer M. aka Baklava Queen @ 12:12 pm on 28 December 2009.
As winter approaches, even the most knowledgeable of local-foods-loving shoppers have wondered what fresh produce they will find over the winter months, and the opening of a year-round market here in Wooster has only increased the frequency of that musing. Happily, I can point to a handful of our producer members who are likely to have greens and other vegetables coming from their high tunnels or hoop houses, taking a page from Eliot Coleman, the all-season farmer from Maine and author of the new book "The Winter Harvest Handbook: Year Round Vegetable Production Using Deep Organic Techniques and Unheated Greenhouses."
Coleman has established himself in recent years as an innovative organic farmer working in challenging conditions and finding ingenious solutions. His key suggestion for growing fresh crops throughout even the harsh Maine winters involves the use of unheated greenhouses paired with floating row covers to increase the temperature around tender crops. This system has evolved to include movable cold houses that can be shifted from summer hot house crops such as tomatoes over to summer-started winter crops of greens and roots. By getting a jump start while the days are long enough to promote growth, the plants reach near-maturity before the days shorten significantly, and they can then be picked in succession throughout the winter months.
"In other words," Coleman explains, "we were not extending the growing season as one hopes to do in a heated greenhouse but, rather, we were extending the harvest season."
Over the past few decades, he has tried other solutions, such as brief minimal heating in the greenhouses and a wider variety of crops, and "The Winter Harvest Handbook" brings his previous books (especially "Four-Season Harvest") up to date. Through all the testing and use of different methods, he has kept the goals of simplicity, low cost, and energy efficiency in mind. The farm's processes have also been organized carefully: "We aim for a goal of never leaving a greenhouse bed unplanted, and we come pretty close."
Read the whole article here.
Back to the garden
By Jan Gardner
May 10, 2009
With the economy in the doldrums and first lady Michelle Obama having planted a vegetable garden at the White House, growing your own food is suddenly the thing to do. New books offer help to novices as well as experienced hands.
For those who want to grow vegetables year-round, Maine farmer Eliot Coleman has written "The Winter Harvest Handbook" (Chelsea Green), based on his decades of experimentation with movable unheated plastic greenhouses. Among Coleman's devotees is Martha Stewart, who harvests fresh vegetables and salad greens throughout the winter from her "cold house" in Bedford, N.Y.
You Can Harvest Your Garden All Year Round
The Four Secrets of Year-Round Vegetable Gardening Revealed
© Deborah Bier
May 12, 2009
By practicing the four secrets of winter gardening, local climate conditions are largely removed, leaving the power and strength of the sun to grow your crops. Here they are in a nutshell: provide a small amount of cover for the plants, choose the right plants to grow, have them at full maturity by the time there are only 10 hours of light daily, and don't water them over the winter.
The small amount of cover can be a greenhouse, hoop house or cold frame plus the polyspun floating row cover fabric. The right plants are the many winter hardy vegetables found among the mustard, cole, onion, lettuce and beet families. For full maturity, starting them in late summer and growing them unprotected through the pre-frost part of the fall will give you the mature plants you want. And not providing them with extra water in the coldest months means they will not turn into piles of mush once they freeze.
The reason for maturity is that during the most wintry months, the plants will not grow once the sunlight stays below about 10 hours daily. They enter into a kind of suspended animation, and re-start their growth again when the hours of light lengthen as the season moves along.
Protecting the plants from experiencing freezing temperatures is not the point, believe it or not. Well-chosen varieties will be able to experience being frozen for a period of time. It is due to the protection you give them that they will thaw out at some point during the day, and can be ready to harvest when you want them.
They will over time get a little worn out from the repeated freezing and thawing, but you will be withholding water from them to prevent their cell walls from exploding when they freeze, which is what turns plants into piles of brown, smelly decaying matter after that first killing frost melts. Give them enough water during their growing time, and most will make it through to provide you with a fresh harvest during the darkest weeks.
With the protection afforded by a cold frame, greenhouse or hoop house -- all plus floating row cover -- you can also get a jump on spring planting and extend the summer and fall growing seasons.