On good ideas


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.

21 responses to “On good ideas

  1. It’s on the list. When will your book be published?

  2. awesome! he’s my fave, too. i bring four season harvest out to the garden with me sometimes, and it’s getting a little grubby. can’t wait to read the new book (though i’m sure it will overwhelm me at this point; i don’t mind.)

  3. Love Eliot Coleman. I also have been known to rant against guru-ization and cult of personality, but to me Coleman is an anti-guru, just presenting information he’s gathered in a way that’s totally accessible, engaging, and enthusiastic. Can’t wait to read it, and thanks for the heads up!

  4. Eliot has got to be one of the most innovative thinkers out there with respect to market gardening. If you stop to think about what all he’s talking about, you realize that he puts in immense amounts of work effort and must keep incredibly detailed records. I wish we had more farmers like him in all areas of farming. Actually, I think we do have an increasing number of innovative farmers; it’s an unremarked revolution in our time. I make this judgement from the blogs that I look at, including one in Michigan I shall not name for fear of embarrassing her ladyship…..:-)

    I think I have each of his four books and every one of them stimulates so many ideas. I’m relatively new to gardening, having focussed on expanding my garden area each year for the past several years. I’m done expanding and now it’s time to start thinking about growing more crops year-round (here in central Wisconsin). My goal is to become food self-sufficient.

    Coleman clearly is the man I go back to time after time for ideas. I’m currently reading his latest book that you talked about above. It is so well-written, and with so many ideas that I can only read a chapter or two at a time. El, you are absolutely right in your enthusiasm for him.

  5. El, your second paragraph is why I ‘read’ you.. Another great post!

  6. Elliott Coleman and his wife Barbara Damrosh are a constant inspiration for me.

    Dang!!! a new book??? like I need a new gardening book. But indeed if it”s the caliber of his previous one,s I should go break the little piggy…

  7. I’m so excited to see that he has a new book out, he and Barbara are my gardening go-to’s. I used to skip classes when I was in university so I could watch Gardening Naturally – I probably should have taken that as a sign!

  8. Coleman was one writer who really jump-started my thinking about food. I still think of him when I pick more than one item per hand, thus speeding my harvesting.

    Good to see there’s a new book out and I think I’ll search for old videos too.

  9. The Four Season Harvest is my gardening bible. His new book will be on my to read list.

  10. I’m going to look for this book this weekend at the library. Like you, I am generally “anti-guru”, but year around gardening is something I am fascinated by. Even though I am a very small scale (4 Seasons) type, seeing how people with bigger plans and market goals manage things could give a few insights I’m sure, and a peak into the wider world of food production and growing…

  11. Yes, I remember you saying Eliot was coming out with a new book and you would be posting about it. But I didn’t realize that Coleman is your “guru.” That explains lots. A great guru to have. With DNA going back to the Nearings. It all fits. I’ll get it soon as well. Wish we had space for a greenhouse here in the District of Columbia, a mile from MO and her White House garden.

  12. El, thanks for stopping by my site. I have linked your blog since last year. Always enjoy your articles. Both my wife and I were raised on working farms now we live in the city. However my backyard fence line (instead of flowers) has tomatoes, chard, chili and bell peppers, three varieties of squash, cucumbers, two varieties of egg plants, onions, and an enormous herb garden with about every herb that will survive Arkansas summers. We feed the neighborhood. If people would just plant on any spot of earth they have or in a flower pot, they would live so much better, healthier, and contribute to the ecology of our planet. Plus there is the satisfaction of growing and eating your own produce. I’ll climb off my soapbox now. It’s dawn with a glorious day ahead so I have to pick the fruits of the yard for dinner tonight.

  13. Hi Pamela. I think about the book idea, but it would be a lot of blah-blah about me, and I don’t claim I am my favorite subject matter so…how interesting would that be? Sigh.

    Serina, it will make you think you need to do more weeding! The photos in it are breathtaking in their beauty. All those lovely rows of pretty produce: I mean, I have lots of produce but not all of it is entering a beauty contest, you know?

    Milkweedy, you are welcome. I knew it was coming out and I was terribly excited. Now that I have it, I am happy, but maybe a touch disappointed; I guess I wanted another landmark learn-a-lot book and it’s just more modest than that. But heck: YOU are growing stuff for others, maybe you’ll find a ton of tips!!

    Dennis, I had that same thing happen: I wanted to devour the whole book at once but couldn’t. I do laud your goal towards home-grown self-sufficiency: if you do it like you’re doing it (incrementally, not one fell swoop) then reaching the goal isn’t so hard. Baby steps! But thank you.

    Randi, sometimes I need to editorialize. You understand I am sure….

    Sylvie, he does a fair bit of ranting, and for us he’s preaching to the choir but yes, it might need some of your library’s shelf space!

    Cheryl, I adore Barbara too; I look forward to every Thursday and her WaPo article. I might have to try to find some of these videos on Hulu or whatever: it would be fun to see the two of them in action!

    He definitely encourages different possibilities, doesn’t he, Stef? It makes me happy.

    Good, Lindsay. Keep that dream of having a greenhouse of your own one day!

    MC, yeah, I’m only of the self-sufficiency scale but I look to any kind of tips too. Check it out though!

    Ed, yeah, he’s very influential. Especially what Dennis said in his comment: the guy just has a lot of good ideas, and keeps on top of things. And yes, yes; the Nearings. In my dreams I am Scott, as he seemed a right determined cuss, you know? As it is, I am just bumping along. But your gardens look quite lovely, and frankly sometimes I wish I still had a city garden: it was a lot more manageable!!!!

    Thank you, Don! The days that I manage to get up at dawn and walk in the dew are precious times to me, and happen far too frequently despite my best efforts. You are quite right of course that nearly any patch of land can yield glorious grub to anyone who has a desire to grow food, or flowers, or herbs. Herbs are the easiest of all so more people should try them, don’t you think? And I am delighted to learn you share your bounty.

  14. You wouldn’t be the audience for your own book- look how many people read and learn from your blog. You should put it on the list.

  15. Ha, thats funny, the book was on the new table at the library and I snatched it up and then set it here next to the computer to do my stuff, and wa-la, a review from you! Cool!
    I really like his four season book too, I really need to bone up on my extending the harvest stuff……….

  16. I just finished his last chapter where he talks about “deep” organic farming. In that chapter he really gets on his soapbox, talking about how organic farming is as old as agriculture, how the idea was taken over by the USDA and big farming and thus watered down into “shallow” organic farming. He pulls no punches, is forthright, and I love it! No, he does not come over as a crank; he is too well-read and too good a writer. I happen to believe he is right.

  17. Pamela, I’m considering it. The market’s kind of flooded though with city girl meets garden stories.

    Hi Shawna! Like everything, getting the swing going takes some time, but you should consider it knowing how much you love home-grown goodness of all kinds.

    Dennis, isn’t he great? I have a quote of his to stick up on the sidebar once I get the chance to type it up. I think he’s right too, and I would shop at his store, wouldn’t you?

  18. Elliot Coleman is very great.
    We have three high tunnels currently, and are having four more installed for the upcoming fall and winter seasons.
    Last fall / winter was our first experimenting with the high tunnels and we’ve since toured several Winter CSA farms and been to a couple workshops. His movable high tunnels are a GREAT idea. I saw a couple of these guys in action; it really makes growing year round in a small space a good possibility.
    I hope we have it a little more together now!

  19. I’ve wondered if I need this book, ie does it have a lot of new or enhanced information for a home gardener, or is it mostly a Four Season repeat aimed at market gardeners and/or people with really big gardens? Do you think it has enough new info to justify the purchase for me, or should I just see if my library will buy it and check it out for myself?

    • Hi Li’l Ned,

      That depends, I suppose. How big is your home garden, and how many ambitions do you have for it? The book has some charts that are quite helpful for understanding the winter-growing process in both a barely-heated greenhouse and an unheated one. He also covers low tunnels and coldframes. It is much more techniques-oriented than Four Season Harvest, helpful to both home gardeners and small market growers. Really there’s only one chapter in it I don’t find useful, and that’s the marketing chapter, but otherwise, I am quite happy I have it. Go see it at your library and decide, I guess!

  20. Thanks for the enhanced book info. On further thought, I will probably just go ahead and buy it, for a couple of reasons. 1. I might learn something (no duh)…… 2. Even reading the same material over again in a new format always deepens my understanding and adds a push towards ACTION ….. and 3. putting my money into Eliot and Barbara’s pocket is a nice material affirmation and support for their work.

    BTW I just found your blog yesterday (thus the late comment on your original post) and am really enjoying the feel and flavor of it.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s