On the hidden farm

Anything hiding in the new greenhouse?

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?

How about the old still messy one?  Tomatoes (back left wall) in mid-November count I think…

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.

That big thing in the back is cardoon.  It and its close relative the artichoke love the greenhouses.

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.

And here we are on the bed opposite.  See what I mean about standing water?

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.

13 responses to “On the hidden farm

  1. For the first time I’ve covered one of my garden beds to grow salad greens through the winter. I’m also using a cold frame for the first time over winter. Your post has me thinking about what else I can do to extend my grow seasons.

    You mention quick lettuces. Do you just mean regular lettuces because they grow quickly? Or do you mean a certain type that grows quicker than “regular” lettuces?

  2. a compost pile 10′ by 15′? whoa! Was it always that big, or is it bigger now that you have the goats?

  3. The hidden farms we’re working on next are inside and along the fence lines of some of our paddocks. We’re planting apple trees in the north west paddock and raspberries along the south fence of the north east paddock. You have to pay attention to what animal is in each paddock, I suppose. Goats would probably love to eat those raspberries and apple trees, but for the animals we keep there this should work well and better capitalize on the space we have. Especially, since there seems to be less and less of it all the time.

  4. We’re still in our first year at this house, but I’m starting to learn where the light and shade (mostly shade) are through the year, and where I can tuck plants in. We won’t ever have a hugely productive veggie garden here, but the avocado tree (source of all shade) is great and the chickens are doing just fine. Now, if I can just find a patch sunny enough for a few tomatoes…

  5. I designed my new compost bins to rotate around the garden too. Its a good way to force myself not to plant Solanaceae in the same place twice, at least for one bed. Even if I just leave it in a spot for the winter, I figure that’s a few months of leaching goodness into the soil.

    We went from t-shirt weather to the 20s this week, but I managed to pick raspberries on tuesday, craziness for this time of year!

    • Compost *bins,* Sara? I envy you your city niceties! Out here, mine are just…shitpiles. No hiding it… But back when I had a bin when I first moved here, I grew the most amazing cantaloupes directly out of my bin, in fact, they used the bin as their trellis. It’s a performance I haven’t been able to repeat, sadly. And yes, the cold’s here now too as of today, and it apparently is here to stay.

  6. Laser operated heat gun…love it : ) I love that oven you made. I have to read up on the plan this winter. Wish you lived in the state so I could bother you with questions.

  7. It’s different here, but I still find things growing where I don’t expect them. Badly-heated compost, lazy gardening, etc. Controlling volunteers is going to be my chore next year. I think your end of row idea is ingenious.

  8. I love your idea of moving the compost pile annually and making that area a garden. I may give that a try.


  9. When do the snowflakes start falling on your posts?

  10. A hot compost pile is also a great way to burn out weeds and seeds under it.

    Could you line your greenhouse paths with sawdust or woodchips? You can often get it for free, or make it yourself! My garden is on a suburban block, and the soil is clay, so my beds are prone to flooding. I built the beds up and improved the soil, which helps, but I didn’t stop awful puddles until I put leftover woodchip mulch on the paths. It’s absorbent, and eventually it breaks down enough that I use it for potting mix and replace it (about once a year).

  11. I think sorrel would enjoy that small down slope bed…

  12. Hi Fritz: well, I just meant regular lettuces that you’ll use up quickly (think baby or just leaf lettuces) because they won’t have time to flesh out fully before winter comes and stays. I am glad to hear you’re doing some post-season extension, I think you’ll like it…the lettuces really do love it when it’s chilly.

    Sylvie, the goats sure help but i have always been a bit of a compost making fool (stealing curb-side bags in the city, getting a neighbor’s horse poo delivered, etc. on top of the chickens and grass/leaves from the mower). Now I feel rich with the stuff.

    Good idea, Diana, doing things between fences. Yeah my experience is goats love anything bushy, except maybe the whole ribes clan (a pity as the side 40 is filled with brambles). Pigs, though. Suppose you just need them to stay where they are, too?

    Lyssa, an avocado tree! that sounds so…otherworldly! And I suppose the chickies like the windfalls, full of good Omega 3s. Good luck finding some sun though.

    WF, shall we all start calling you Haji? Congratulations. What a wonderful experience, especially in your changes of accommodations!! Now back to the reality of winter and farm life, eh? Anyway I think Mrs WF would absolutely love an oven like this one. Hint.

    Stef, yeah I read your post about out-of-control tomatoes. I did like stringing mine up the way I did: they all got sunshine and they all did really well…but I did need to prune them and remove all suckers until they got to be about 4-5′ tall. It wasn’t hard because there was so much space between them. But yeah, often “volunteer” is another word for “weed” in my book.

    Lynn, do. It just makes sense especially if you leave a bit of the compost behind…the new plants really love it. Good luck!

    John, I had to look it up but sometime after 1 Dec, expect some snow!

    Kate, great suggestion. If I can get it, the woodchips go to the outside garden paths as they get even muddier than inside. But inside, well, I love the look of woodchips but I am in the vicious cycle of what am I encouraging if I have them, in this case, slugs and sowbugs (roly-polies) love woodchips, so, I just can’t have them (they eat my plants esp. in the spring when they must get tired of a winter’s worth of eating woodchips).

    Sylvie, love sorrel. My biggest fan is a French friend: I give her bags full. My plant is a monster too. But indeed, downhill: they’ll get more light!

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