In one of his books, Eliot Coleman (my winter gardening guru, often mentioned here) talks about looking for “the hidden farm” on his own organic farm. His land is in Maine, and they grow intensively (great soil plus close-spaced plantings and quick cycling of crops). How can he possibly squeeze more production out of the land he already has? Is there another farm hiding there somewhere?
One of his thoughts for “the hidden farm” is to set low hoops on outdoor (normally dormant) garden beds, sowing them with cold-loving quick lettuces and the like outside the bookends of first and last frost, like right now. The advantage of low hoops are fairly obvious. With cheap and easily moved materials, he is able to eke out more crops on land that was otherwise dormant. Another thought is turning one of his cold (unheated) greenhouses into a cool greenhouse: minimal heating (to 35 degrees at night) means he can get three crops in the time that a cold one gives him two.
Even if we’re not bent on feeding the masses or making pots of money, it behooves us all to consider “the hidden farm” within our own gardens. Granted, Coleman mostly speaks to professional growers, though his Four Season Harvest remains the exception for “I should try that too” accessibility. You might not on your own need to cycle three crops in one garden bed. But what about two?
Listen: I come at succession planting mostly out of thrift. I am thrifty with my time, and thrifty with my seeds, and very generous with beneficial, free(ish) things like compost, mulch, rain water and volunteer plants. It only makes sense that I yank out a plant that’s on the slowing side of production: more stuff needs to grow, right now! And (there’s always an “and” when I enumerate my garden tactics) more plants in a tighter space means less weeding and mulching for the time-pressed gardener.
So I often look for my own hidden farm, and this year I’ve begun to capture some path space between the greenhouse beds. Shoot, things want to grow there anyway, why not make it official by closing off the last two feet or so of the path? Oh yeah: the one problem is that half of both greenhouses are prone to flooding, west to east, and blocking off the water’s flow isn’t my best lightbulb-y idea. But the north halves of both greenhouses are mostly game.
Another hidden-farm idea I have put into practice is not a terribly radical one. It just has to do with my compost pile location. Granted, my “pile” occupies a space 10’wide and 15′ long and 4-5′ high…it’s kinda big in other words. But I have been moving its location annually, and sowing nutrient pigs like winter squash and corn in its former location. Those ground-based beds have the best soil on our land, I tells ya.
I also appreciate a vertical farm and grow lots of things on trellises, even if they’d rather flop all over my precious horizontal real estate (I’m looking at you, butternut squash and sweet potatoes). My trellises range from simple teepees out of twigs to structures made out of recycled irrigation piping to repurposed cattle fencing. I am also a huge fan of this netting: weave it over the top rail that of a 2×2 wood frame and you’re golden.
Anyway, the off season for many of us gardeners soon approacheth! Time to start noodling around, trying to find a hidden farm or two of your own. You’ll have lots of hours before the shovels come out again.
Does global warming count as a hidden farm? This is by far the latest I have harvested tomatoes. The bread just came out of the hot oven, now the toms and the cauliflower will join the pot of beans in the medium oven. It is odd doing all this work in a t-shirt this late in the season. I could even still hear the tree frogs.