One of our goals at Over the Fence is to find ways to produce fresh food throughout the year. To this end, we consulted the first name in North American season extension, Eliot Coleman. After traveling to Europe to research year-round crop production and conducting experiments on his own land in Maine, he developed a variety of techniques for covering crops, overwintering seedbeds, and winter harvesting. Anytime you speak with someone who is trying harness Mother Nature’s more subtle powers, you’re likely to hear his name. We’d love to visit his aptly named Four Season Farm. Someday… In the meantime, we’ve seem some of his ideas in action around Columbus at Swainway Urban Farm, Harmonious Homestead, and Peace, Love, and Freedom Farm.
After reading as much of Coleman as we could get our hands on, we purchased 20 – 10 foot lengths of 1/2″ EMT and borrowed a bending tool to make our first low tunnel hoops last winter. You can read about that process here. We experimented with them a bit in the spring for an early harvest, but didn’t have much luck. We needed to start earlier, producing a fall garden that could evolve over-winter. This year we were ready.
In late August, we got a variety of cold-hardy seeds into the ground and sprouting – kale, arugula, swiss chard, spinach, scallions, beets, carrots, tatsoi, and a variety of mustards. We tried corn salad, or mache, a Coleman favorite for winter harvest but after two rounds of planting saw no germination and gave up. For now. By September we had two full rows of greens going just as strong as we had in the spring. We’re eating from them everyday, occasionally sharing with CSA friends though at this point we are selfishly relishing the fruits of our experiment.
Last week, in anticipation of our first overnight frost, we covered the beds with our low tunnel hoops and 6-mil greenhouse plastic. The plastic is secured with clamps and, for the time being, held down on the ground with burlap coffee sacks. Something a bit heavier will likely be in order as it gets colder and windier.
A quick temperature experiment showed that on a partly sunny day in the mid-forties, inside the tunnel was just above sixty. Yesterday was unseasonably warm, in the low sixties. We didn’t measure the temperature inside the hoop, but it felt warm and smelled of rich, damp earth. A true joy to behold in early November.
Hope to keep these going at least through our Thanksgiving feast! We’ll let you know how it goes.