Thursday, March 17, 2011

Three (or Four) Season Harvests

A few years ago, friends bought a house with a cold frame. They're not gardeners, so they gave it to me. I'm still perfecting the planning involved it making the best use of my cold frame, but this year the weather cooperated and provided a great crop.

For those who don't know, a cold frame is basically a small un-heated greenhouse that relies on sunlight for warmth. Many gardeners use old window sashes for the tops. (Note: Beware of lead paint if using old sashes). Last year, we harvested greens until early January when a hard frost killed everything. While the weather was tough in the northeast this year, with snow on the ground from December until yesterday, snow is an excellent insulator. Several feet of snow kept the temperature in the cold frame just right for our crops.

Last week, once enough snow had melted, we looked inside and were pleasantly surprised to find spinach, swiss chard, arugula, mesclun mix, beets, carrots, parsley, and rosemary still growing. They're not the huge leafy plants we get in the late spring and early summer, but they're tender, local, and fresh. We enjoyed a lovely meal of brown rice and tilapia atop fresh arugula. What a treat in early March! Knowing they had planted and harvested the very arugula that arrived on their dinner plates, my kids ate every bite and wanted more.

If you think you'd like to try your hand at four season vegetable gardening, I recommend the book Four-Season Harvest: Organic Vegetables from Your Home Garden All Year Long by Eliot Coleman

Now is the perfect time to plan for your fall/winter garden. If you want a cold-frame, you'll need time to purchase it and install it or build it from scratch. You'll also need to plant in it by late summer. The plants need sufficient time to grow before the cold weather arrives. Little growth happens during the winter months- rather you harvest what has already grown.

For the locavores in my readership, this is a perfect way to enjoy fresh, local greens all year long without the added environmental impact of transporting them from somewhere warmer or having to heat a greenhouse. If the word Locavore is new to you, check out my previous post, The Locavore Way.

Like I've mentioned before, you don't need to be the perfect gardener to get good results. Don't let perfectionism stop you from jumping in. My kids and I were pretty haphazard about planting our cold frame and we planted our seeds a bit late- it was nearly September. But we watered them well and the weather cooperated. We ate greens until December when it was first covered in snow. Then we left it buried until last week. I'm sure we could have had more productivity if I were better organized, but even one salad in the middle of winter is fantastic! Give it a try. And let us know how it goes.

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