My Rocky Mountain Winter Garden

Clara Coleman uses the low-tech method developed by her father, Eliot Coleman, to create a Rocky Mountain winter garden that supplies salad greens all winter long.

| December 2003/January 2004

This Rocky Mountain winter garden uses the low-tech method developed by Eliot Coleman to produce salad greens all winter long.

My Rocky Mountain Winter Garden

In the following story, Clara Coleman reports on her first experience using a low-tech method developed by her father, Eliot Coleman, for growing salad greens in wintertime. In a companion piece beginning on Page 26, Eliot outlines the evolution of his method, now being adopted by gardeners and farmers throughout North America. Read the article here: Gardening Techniques for Year-Round Vegetable Production. — MOTHER

On a cold and rainy mid-September day last year, I planted tiny seeds in a patch of muddy earth and embarked on a seemingly contradictory journey of winter gardening in the Rocky Mountains, in Woody Creek, Colorado. Crouched over my new garden — a 6-by-24-foot raised bed surrounded by 24 bales of musty hay, I felt skeptical that it would succeed, despite reassurances from my father, Eliot Coleman. A long-time proponent of winter food production, he assured me that my winter garden would not only work but would amaze me with the simplicity of its care and the perseverance of its plants.

"The simpler, the better," he always says, so I used spoiled bales from a nearby horse farm, perfect for making a well-insulated base, and a few old 2-by-4's to set across the top. Dad furnished a 20-by-30-foot sheet of still-usable greenhouse plastic sheeting, and that took care of my materials.

Even though the mid-September planting date seemed a little late for some varieties, given the cold mountain climate of my location, my dad says all of the cold-hardy crops we chose were worth planting. I did have the advantage of being on the 38th parallel of latitude, which means I get longer days and more winter sun than he does on the 44th parallel in Maine, or than his Dutch gardening friends and mentors do way up on the 52nd parallel in Holland.

We chose spinach, mache (also called corn salad), arugula, tatsoi and a few other greens to plant. Spinach, Dad says, will germinate and grow at temperatures only slightly above freezing; cold temperatures and short days keep it in prime condition. Mâche, which grows in a small rosette of tender leaves about the size of a thumb, is another winter wonder green because of its incredible resistance to cold. Historically, Dad says, mache was a staple of French winter salads and was harvested wild in Europe for salads long before it was domesticated.

10/23/2013 9:46:58 AM

Would you be able to share the cold frame design? Thank you. Richard

10/23/2013 9:44:47 AM

I have just moved from Glenwood Springs to Elizabeth, Co. We are at 39.5 degrees latitude. I have a free standing greenhouse and would like to know how Clara is going to winterize her greenhouse. If someone could get this comment to her it would be greatly appreciated.

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