For a slew of reasons, we’ve come to believe in this culture that growing vegetables through the snowy winter months is impossible. The common arguments are that the weather is too cold, or that the days are too dark. Eliot Coleman, author of The Winter Harvest Handbook: Year-Round Vegetable Production Using Deep Organic Techniques and Unheated Greenhouses, has proven us all wrong. By learning from—and building upon—16th and 17th century techniques, Eliot is able to grow amazing amounts of organic vegetable all year-round at his farm in Harborside, Maine.
In his book, Eliot discusses the history of winter gardening and the innovative techniques that, as Eliot points out, were nearly lost for all time.
The following is an excerpt from The Winter Harvest Handbook, in which Eliot points out the benefits of a nearly-ancient method of urban food production.
If year-round production of fresh local vegetables is your goal, and you like the idea of being small-scale and space efficient, then you will find no model more inspiring than that of the Parisian growers of 150 years ago. La culture maraîchère (market gardening) in Paris during the second half of the nineteenth century was the impressive result of years of improvement in both protected and outdoor vegetable production. The earliest developments in season extension (using primitive predecessors of the cold frame) had begun in the royal potager (vegetable garden) at Versailles under the celebrated head gardener La Quintinie in the 1670s and ’80s. Those early beginnings reached their impressive climax in the hands of the Parisian maraîchers (market gardeners) between 1850 and 1900.
The “French garden system” (as it was called in English) was impressive for reasons that sound very up-to-date today.