Our farm in Maine is both traditional and nontraditional. We are traditional during the “growing season”—the summer months—when we produce fresh vegetables for sale. But we also produce fresh vegetables for sale during the winter months—the “back side of the calendar,” so to speak. We achieve that winter harvest by growing cold-hardy salad and root crops in simple unheated greenhouses. Extending the season to the whole year (or at least most of it) means that we can hold our markets, keep our crew employed, and provide a more balanced year-round income. We believe our nontraditional winter vegetable production system has potential for growers in any part of the world where cold weather presently constrains production.
Our first serious investigation of the winter harvest began in the late 1970s. Simplicity, low external inputs, and high-quality outputs have always been the guiding criteria for any new project. Our goal was to find the lowest tech and most economical way to extend fresh-vegetable harvest through the winter months. Low-tech winter production began with old-time glass-covered cold frames and moved on to placing the frames inside simple greenhouses. That beginning evolved into larger, but almost as simple, 30-by-100-foot mobile greenhouses with an inner layer of lightweight row-cover material replacing the cold frames. The economics focused on seeing how much we could produce without incurring the cost of supplemental heat.
Since beginning commercial year-round production in 1995, we have recorded the evolution of our systems. This book describes the crops, the tools, the planting schedules, and the techniques we presently use to manage a four-season farming operation. It expands the instructions in our self-published pamphlet, The Winter Harvest Manual, and both supplements and updates the winter-harvest information in The New Organic Grower (revised edition, 1995). I have not repeated in this book material on important topics such as crop rotation, green manures, soil-block making, and so forth, that were extensively covered in The New Organic Grower.
These systems are not static. We are continually evolving them. We look forward to hearing from all those growers who will make great improvements in these systems and who will lead the way in the coming small-farm revival.
June 1, 2008