MAYBE IT IS BECAUSE I GREW UP IN MAINE that I find Eliot Coleman’s book Four-Season Harvest* so astonishing. Coleman’s farm is located in down east Maine, more than 150 miles north of where I grew up. As a boy, I don’t remember ANYONE even considering gardening past September, even though the climate in my hometown may be a little warmer than where Coleman is located. When I was growing up there, all the gardens were long gone by Halloween.
As a result, a lot of gardeners were left not having their fill of gardening. If you’re one of those gardeners with a desire to garden longer and more successfully, you should put Four-Season Harvest on your reading list. It will be even more helpful than Coleman’s newer Winter Harvest Handbook, which today is the seventh bestselling gardening book on Amazon (not counting the free Kindle books).
Easy, not complex gardening
Unlike Winter Harvest Handbook, Four-Season Harvest is more oriented toward the backyard gardener. It shows you various methods for producing food throughout the year, but the emphasis is on making things easier. Coleman recognizes that growing food year round must seem like a daunting task to the everyday gardener. There’s a number of places where, as a self-described vegetable “loony,” he discusses more complex and effective methods, only to recommend simpler and easier ways of doing things.
But like Winter Harvest Handbook, the central theme of Four-Season Harvest makes the case that we should be growing the same vegetables as other places with the same latitude and day length. Coleman shows that, in the colder months, he can grow the same vegetables in Maine as gardeners are growing in the much warmer South of France. He accomplishes this by using unheated hoop houses, cold frames and row covers. According to Coleman, the protective layer provided by these tools is like putting on a windbreaker. It helps bring the Maine climate closer to the naturally milder conditions that you would find in southern France.
Mistakes are not a problem
Coleman’s gardening philosophy is a forgiving one. Mistakes are easily corrected because of year round succession planting. If something doesn’t work out, “Take a hoe and rake, clean off the area and replant it with whatever crop comes next in the sequence,” says Coleman. Gone is the fear of mistakes. The short growing season no longer restricts you to one chance to get it right.
I’m going to make some changes to my gardening plans based on what I’ve learned from Four-Season Harvest. For one thing, I’m going to severely limit the number of leaves I put in my compost piles “because they mat together and create an airless condition,” says Coleman. “Leaf decomposition takes place primarily through the action of fungi rather than bacteria. Thus, it seems to work better if leaves are piled separately.”
There is much more in Four-Season Harvest than just using hoop houses to extend the gardening season. He also looks at other ways to garden in the cold of winter, including forcing root crops like Belgium endive, beets and parsley to spout inside so that you can eat their young, tender leaves.
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