Over recent years my shelves have begun to strain under the weight of an eclectic assortment of books concerned with sustainable food production. They range from academic treatises and philosophical musings through to popular science and all the way to veg growing 'manuals' that fulfill my nerdish desire for facts, figures and the knowledge of others. The Winter Harvest Handbook is a rarity; it is all of the above.
For those of us not blessed with a tropical growing season, the problem of producing fresh food in the winter months without huge energy inputs is a real concern and Eliot Coleman goes a very long way in this book to providing the solutions. These aren't merely theoretical but genuinely practicable, tried and tested. The author has a string of accolades and qualifications to his name but the only thing you really need to know is that he is making a decent living by doing exactly what he describes in the book. As well as being a pretty good read, the level of detail described makes this a potentially invaluable reference book for anyone with an un-heated greenhouse in their back garden, all the way to someone considering a commercial scale operation.
Simple winter growing
The principle concepts described in the book are alarmingly simple – cold hardy veg varieties, a double layer of protection (like a cold frame inside a polytunnel) and cleverly planned successional planting – but the results and glorious colour photos are genuinely inspiring. As with so many stories of success in the brave new world of ecological or 'deep-organic' food production, the breakthrough at Four Season Farm was a realization that working within the limits of nature yielded the best results. For Eliot Coleman, greenhouses ceased to be an expensive bubble of perpetual summer and became a cost effective, elegant creation of a nice mild winter. Or, as he describes it himself, '"'It was like the difference between sitting inside by the fire on a cold day and being outside with enough layers of clothes on to keep you comfortable."
Tim Green, farmer and filmmaker, was part of the team that made BBC2's 'A Farm For the Future'.
US customers can buy this book from Chelsea Green Publishing
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