My garden guru has a new book. It’s all about winter gardening, and I am so pleased he wrote it.
You have to understand one thing about me: I am guru-less as a matter of principle. I never quite could understand the need to follow, be it some kind of spiritual leader or some kind of money person or some kind of visionary politician: good ideas speak to me, not the people who spout them. Plus, I am a firm believer in the idea that the best shepherd follows his flock, leading from behind.
And Eliot Coleman is chock-full of good ideas, and very familiar with the phrase “you can do it.” A born tinkerer, it has been his fervent goal to work with less and less inputs, growing the things that will best grow in the conditions they are given. For this reason, he “discovered” the unheated winter greenhouses used in Europe for the last 100 years or so. The northern half of the U.S. and southern Canada, though colder than Europe in the winter, have a lot more sunlight: thus, we can also grow things in the winter, despite the cold.
This new book, however, is geared much more toward the small market grower, much like his first big published book, the New Organic Grower. Sure, there are a ton of tips in it; in particular, he makes some fine distinctions regarding the methods his farm employs to grow their produce. All his greenhouses, save one, are mobile. To aerate the soil, he moves each greenhouse twice a year over a single rectangle of land: dead in the middle of this land is an electrical hookup and a hose bibb so the structure always has access to both. He has one greenhouse that stays in place, and is heated to just above freezing. It is in this greenhouse that he and his workers clean their lettuces and produce year-round.
He also makes a fine labeling distinction between these greenhouses. See, *I* call my own growing structures “greenhouses” because most people have no idea what a high tunnel, hoophouse or polytunnel are, and I don’t want to be so imperious as to school them on the distinction. He thinks “greenhouse” is inaccurate because it is not the glassed-in, immovable enclosure filled with palms and orchids that most people know. “Hot house” is accurate, but only for half the year. So, his movable, unheated greenhouses? He calls them “cold houses,” and the one where he’s got a propane heater in it a “cool house.” I like this distinction.
For the average homeowner itching to perhaps extend their season beyond spring-summer-fall, this might not be the best book to own. To really get dreaming on what’s possible in your back yard, Four-Season Harvest is your book. He wrote this for just this kind of ambition, and it’s what got me noodling around with sketches and graphs years ago. He details coldframes to low tunnels to the cold- and even cool houses above, including charts and lists of crops you can grow.
What I admire about the man is his extreme passion for fresh produce. Everyone should have a farmer like him nearby: wouldn’t that be a wonderful world? Fresh produce year-round, local, and using “deep organic” methods…and that’s why he wrote this book: it’s his dream too!
SO: small market growers? BUY THIS BOOK.