-8 (-22 C) air temp, but crystal clear early morning sunshine streaming through the windows. Steel cut oats simmering on the stove and the kids, animals, and I snuggled up reading on the couch in this first hour after dawn. Perfect morning to be reading about growing food every month of the year in Coleman’s Winter Harvest Handbook. I live in Wisconsin. As this morning so aptly depicts, it gets wicked ass cold.
But what is so vital to be able to get one’s head around is that temperature can be dealt with through slight modification of environment and very careful selection of species. ** Sunlight is the key **. And that is where latitude – the “sun lines” come in. I am at 43 degrees north. That is way up there, right? Follow the line around the map to Europe and be amazed. Nice and Marseilles, France. Florence, Italy. Monaco. Shit – I am further SOUTH than Milan, Turin, Bordeaux and Venice. Of course they get a massive benefit from the Gulf Stream, but there is plenty of sun 9 months of the year to grow a huge variety of crops. And from November – January (Coleman’s “Persephone” months) when the day length is under 10 hours, spinach, mache, claytonia will still grow if the temp is kept above 20 degrees or so and they are started early enough. Crops like leeks, kale, carrots, etc can be harvested fresh from the soil from covered spaces (even mulch) in a condition and quality far superior to any root cellar.
As those who track the blog on Facebook know, In the coming weeks I will be building a 12×30 unheated Hoop House in the backyard. And while it will be unheated, you all know me well enough by now to understand that this will be far more than a sheet of plastic over a garden bed. Details to come. I am never going to grow ‘maters in January, but the potatoes and onions in the cellar will go a helluva lot further on the table when augmented by FRESH carrots, leeks, after a crisp, nutrient dense salad of fresh picked greens. In Wisconsin… in January. I have a dream – and its already proven, so its just a matter of building the system and learning the skills. Permaculture is far from only being about fruit tree guilds and nitrogen fixing under-stories. It is about finding sustainable ways to feed our society and build capacity for future generations.
Of course, growing under plastic is a transitional technology – plastic is made from oil. But there are brutally hard truths about the coming decades – those 8-9 BILLIONs of people aren’t going to be fed on our current ag systems as oil gets more expensive– and we have a moral imperative in the first world to get our shit together and stop mining the soil of the developing world to feed our fat asses. If you are worried about the embodied energy of the plastic consider the facts – it last for at least 5 years with care and used intensely can allow for 3x the harvests from the same amount of space. Far more important – the additional yield is during the times of the year when most of us are importing almost all of our produce. If the energy and moral sides don’t sway you – then the added resiliency of your own food supply might. With careful planning it will be possible to walk out my backdoor 365 days a year (again – in Wisconsin) and pick meals worth of produce fresh from the soil for my family.
I will ever be one to embrace technology and tools to help us transition to a better future if those transitional tools meet my criteria; I will break eggs to make my permacultural transition omelet as I muddle through to find solutions to the problems of our age.
Be the Change.
If you would like to purchase the Winter Harvest Handbook and are not able to do so from a local bookseller, consider clicking through this link to buy a copy. Proceeds will help us with our work being the change. This is something I will be doing more of, though I promise to do so only for books that have profoundly influenced my planning or thinking. Coleman’s book is insanely helpful on this topic – I have read it at least 4 times cover to cover and reference it several more times a year for my planning.
The Winter Harvest Handbook: Year Round Vegetable Production Using Deep Organic Techniques and Unheated Greenhouses