Book review: Four-Season Harvest: Organic Vegetables From Your Home Garden All Year Long by Eliot Coleman (2nd ed.)


In a conversational tone – like you leaned over the fence and asked for advice from the neighbor with the enviable garden – the author explains how to keep on producing salad greens and a variety of other crops right through the winter and into spring, without breaking the bank on a heated greenhouse. “This book won’t discuss heat pumps, thermal mass, solar gain, or R factors because they are too complicated. They make the simple joys of food production seem more industrial than poetic. Given the option, we choose poetry.” [pg 79]

The idea here is that you can grow whatever they grow at your latitude in Europe, where they have the same day length, so long as you provide some protection to offset the difference in climate. It’s not about providing warmth, but providing protection from freezing and the rapid weather changes of the US climate which stress and kill winter plants. He covers simple, easy-to-use season-extenders such as cold frames, low tunnels, and row covers, and more complicated ones such as greenhouses and high tunnels (known around here as poly tunnels). Your food will be seasonal – not the perpetual summer you get with a heated greenhouse – but it will be fresh from the garden. Coleman, who lives in Maine, is about even (latitudinally) with southwestern France, which he visited in the winter to see what they were growing and how. Throughout the book, he relates anecdotes about his trip to show what can be done with or without complicated systems and equipment, and the variety of food plants (some new, some old, some new again) that can be produced.

The system is simple, requiring more planning than physical work. “You can’t wait until winter to plant the winter garden. Most of the crops must be planted in late summer and early fall. That’s because the rate of growth diminishes with the shortening days until it almost stops around November 15. If you don’t plant until then, it’s too late. By then the plants need to be grown to the size for harvesting. They will hibernate successfully in the shelter of the cold frame . . . The vigorous growth that took place in the fall, plus some slow winter regrowth, provides plenty of food to harvest until February, when the days have lengthened enough for serious growth to begin again.” [pg 80]

Coleman is an impressive gardener, with his perpetual harvest, homemade custom cultivation tools, high tunnel with “pampered fig trees” [pg 111] on a brick patio, and mobile greenhouse. Yes, mobile. He explains the construction and use of this fantastic structure for the adventurous reader. It looks more or less like a normal poly tunnel, but it runs on wooden rails twice or even five times the length of the tunnel, which can be dragged from one plot to the next along the rails by two people with ropes. With careful planning and well-timed planting and greenhouse moving you can extend every season and out-produce every other gardener on the block. He makes it sound both easy and downright magical. If we had the space for one I’d be out there right now, setting one up so we could start a CSA!

— Amanda


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