Self-reliance and sustainability in the 21st century.
The Small Home, Big Decisions series follows Jennifer and her husband, Tyler, as they build a self-reliant homestead on a piece of country property in northeastern Kansas. The series will delve into questions that arise during their building process and the decisions they make along the way. The posts are a work in progress, written as their home-building adventure unfolds.
A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to visit Four Season Farm, the home and farm of esteemed market gardeners and writers Eliot Coleman and Barbara Damrosch. I wanted to learn about how their successful farm and homestead had been established, and what steps they took to get where they are today. Their farm is located in Harborside, Maine, which has long winters and, this year, exceptionally heavy snowfall. Case in point: I arrived in late April, and snow was still on the ground (see below) and the first tulips were just bulging, readying for bloom. Even by coastal Maine standards this was unseasonably late.
The decades of organic gardening experience in this climate has resulted in Barbara and Eliot’s mastery of hoop house and greenhouse culture. Despite the long winter and dormant trees outside, the interior of their large season-extending structures were teeming with richly hued plant life, from carrots and radishes to kale and lettuce (shown in first photo). Most of the hoop houses are set up on tracks (shown below), which allows them to be moved from one end of a long bed to the other. Crops can thus be easily rotated, soil can be amended with various cover crops and with the addition of chickens, and crops can be started in a hoop house and then allowed to grow in the open later in the season.
Even their home garden relies on a glass house and a couple of small hoop houses (photo below). The glass house looked like it had jumped ahead a few months and become a late-spring garden, with flowering bok choy, tall spinach and full heads of lettuce. The hoop houses (in the background) were helping some early season tulips bloom to be ready for the Saturday farmers market Eliot and Barbara attend through winter.
After a couple of days working in the greenhouse, hoop houses, and informally interviewing Barbara and Eliot (read: generally chatting and having a grand ole time), I came away with a renewed direction and determination for our own home and farm project. I was reminded that having fun is a big, necessary part of the process, as are trial and error (which crop rotations worked best), paying attention to the little, daily details on your farm (whether the greenhouse fans are on), and repeating what works and stopping what failed. After more than four decades working on their farm, it’s now operating as a well-oiled machine — one that’s based on soil health, diversification and good marketing.
I highly recommend the books the couple has written about season-extending gardening techniques, such as Four Season Harvest, and delicious ways to prepare your seasonal garden harvests, most notably the Four Season Farm Gardener’s Cookbook.
We’ll return to our wet and rainy, which means slow-going, house-building project in the next post. I know, I know — patience is a virtue.
Photos by Jennifer Kongs
Jennifer Kongs is the Managing Editor at MOTHER EARTH NEWS magazine. When she’s not working at the magazine, she’s likely in her garden, on the local running trails or in her kitchen instead. You can connect directly with Jennifer and Tyler by leaving a comment below!