If you'd like to take the next step as a gardener, to really push your growing season and harvest fresh food from your garden well into winter, you should definitely give Eliot Coleman's The Winter Harvest Handbook a look. While it tends to be much more technical than your average gardening book (and is generally meant for small farmers) you'll gain a thorough education in the art of gardening year-round.
The Winter Harvest Handbook
Eliot Coleman's The Winter Harvest Handbook, published by Chelsea Green, is through, technical, and a complete resource for any gardener or small farmer interested in growing year-round. Coleman begins with looking at the history of winter gardening and the techniques used by farmers in the past to extend their seasons. He takes that knowledge and expands upon it, and, throughout the rest of the book, shares ways we can do the same in our own garden. One of the main tools used by French farmers in the past was actually horse manure. They would make "hot beds" using horse manure as a base, bales of straw as sides, and glass over the top. The decomposing manure would heat this miniature greenhouse, allowing the farmer to start and grow seeds outdoors that much earlier.
Most of us aren't lucky enough to have an endless supply of horse manure sitting around (a phrase you'd only hear from a gardener, without a doubt) but there are still options for growing year round. In The Winter Harvest Handbook, Coleman outlines several ideas for doing so, including:
- The Cool Greenhouse
- The Cold Greenhouse
- Low tunnels and cold frames
The Cool Greenhouse
The price of heating a greenhouse throughout the winter in cold regions is just not feasible for many gardeners and farmers. Coleman wanted to figure out a way to keep crops growing even in the coldest part of winter, but not have to pay an arm and a leg for heating costs. So he started using what he calls "cool greenhouses." These are minimally-heated greenhouses -- in fact, Coleman sets the thermostat so that the temperature in the cool house is kept at just above freezing -- no higher. He found that with just this small amount of heat, he's able to continue growing and harvesting cool season vegetables such as carrots, mache, mesclun, and spinach all year long.
The Cold Greenhouse
Coleman's "cold greenhouse" is kept unheated. These greenhouses are excellent for over-wintering cool season veggies, and for allowing you to harvest crops such as leafy greens much later than you'd normally be able to. There isn't much active growing taking place in a cold greenhouse. Its main purpose is to allow you to harvest longer, and to get a jump on the spring season, since seeds you sowed in the fall were over-wintered (even as tiny plants) and they'll then be ahead of any crops you sow in the spring. He also makes use of floating row covers inside the cold greenhouses to buy a few extra degrees of protection.
Low Tunnels and Cold Frames
Most gardeners have heard of cold frames. They're very useful for hardening off seedlings, growing an early crop of greens, or over-wintering cuttings and other plants. Low tunnels are small, removable tunnels that you can place over your garden beds to extend the season. These are both very do-able options for most home gardeners.
Coleman also covers topics such as necessary tools for gardening, a yearly gardening schedule, using a greenhouse for summer growing, designing a greenhouse, intensive cropping, soil preparation, pests and diseases, and an explanation of deep organic gardening. Overall, I highly recommend this book, with the caveat that it is at times much more technical than the average home gardener will ever require a book to be. However, I'm of the opinion that I'd much rather have all of the information available than just some of it, and Coleman's The Winter Harvest Handbook definitely delivers.