Did you know that the city of Portland, Maine, gets just as much sunlight as the Mediterranean coast of France? That means that, once you’ve taken care of the coldness problem, it should be possible to raise and harvest the same crops as those lucky Europeans. Eliot Coleman, the guru of the four-season harvest, can teach you how.
From The Ethicurean:
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.”
Coleman makes a solid case that all of this experimentation has proven worthwhile, and “The Winter Harvest Handbook” offers extensive details for everything from preparing the beds to maintaining and harvesting the crops. The methods outlined can be translated elsewhere to continue to provide healthful fresh food throughout the year as well as to increase the profits of “dedicated local grower[s]… selling a premium product.”