This past Saturday I attended a workshop by Eliot Coleman. He and his wife are highly recognized garden writers who own Four Season Farm in Maine. Their farm is an experimental market garden that produces vegetables year-round. It is a model of small-scale sustainable agriculture. Much of their winter farming is in unheated greenhouses. If they can grow crops in Maine in winter, with lows down to 5 degrees F and hurricane-force winds, I was sure he could teach Nevadans how to be successful winter growers too.
Eliot's motto is "nothing is impossible." He says, "The key to success is a farmer's passion rather than the scale of the farm." Many of his practices are based on historical practices in France since "There are no new ideas in agriculture." He uses two layers of protection, sometimes with cold frames outside covered with straw mats or with his plastic greenhouses with straw mats or fabric shields (row covers) protecting the crops inside. He also uses "quick hoop low tunnels" which are 10-foot half circle covered with plastic or fabric held down by sandbags. Eliot's greenhouses are anchored with 4,000-pound ground anchors. They are on tracks with wheels, so he can move them seasonally over different beds depending on crop requirements.
He feels the thing that makes all things work is compost. It is his fertilizer, his pest control and his growth medium. They make their own compost at Four Season Farm using the tops from root veggies, spoiled hay, seaweed, horse manure and whatever else the farm and surrounding area provides. Eliot thinks that horse manure, particularly from horses bedded on straw, is great for compost. Goat, rabbit or sheep manure is also good, but he doesn't have access to that. He spends time every day on his compost.
What crops does Four Seasons Farm grow in the winter? They are known for their cold grown super sweet carrots. They also grow an annual crop called corn salad or mache. Other crops include endive, wild arugula (hardier than hybrids) and Asian vegetables and greens, which they have found to be extremely cold-resistant.
If you want more information, I suggest you check out the farm website, http://www.fourseasonfarm.com/ or buy one of Eliot Coleman's many books.
JoAnne Skelly is the Carson City/Storey County Extension educator for University of Nevada Cooperative Extension and may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 887-2252.