Sunday, January 3, 2010
Cold Frame Farming: An Answer to Eating Local Through the Winter
It’s cold up here in the Northeast this time of year. It was so cold today that ice lined the inside of the windowpanes in my bedroom, which is located a little too far from the heat radius of the downstairs woodstove. The man on the radio is forecasting the second big winter storm of the season and outside a few ominous flakes start to fly. Winter is upon us. It is time for wool socks and long underwear, never-ending cups of tea and pots of root vegetable soups. This is New England, after all, and one must learn to love the bitter, unpredictable winter weather or migrate elsewhere. I do not mind the cold, or the snow. I will say, however, that for the sustainable foodie and the localvore, winter in the North can be a trying time.
For all those winter has left tending a few sun deprived potted herbs and facing down yet another potato or butternut squash in the kitchen, I bring you a glimmer of green hope. It is possible, even in these northern climes, to keep growing hearty greens through most of the winter. A four season harvest, as outlined by organic gardening guru Eliot Coleman, really only requires a cold frame (unheated) greenhouse or similar structure to enable the harvesting of greens that can stand up to the frost, such as kale. As long as you keep the cold frame clear of snow and ice, the limited winter sunlight is plenty for the plants to grow without freezing, no electricity needed.
This isn’t anything new. Coleman has been using this method for decades, inspired by similar operations in Europe. Although Coleman has a dedicated following, especially in Maine where his farm is located, it surprises me that this method has yet to catch on at the commercial level. At my local food co-op I sighed to see the last of the local kale disappear from the shelves in late November, replaced by shipments from far-off California. If I ever start a farm perhaps it will be a winter harvest-only farm, and fill the need for local, un-wilted greens in the midwinter months. It seems like it could be quite the niche market as the number of consumers committed to sustainable, local food grows.
On a smaller scale, cold frame farming can easily be incorporated into kitchen gardens, as long as you don’t mind braving the elements to tend to your greens. It requires only a small investment and minimal inputs. Growing your own food is about as sustainable and local as you can get, and let me tell you, it feels so good to be able to breeze past that bagged spinach at the grocery store without giving it even a second look. Finding fresh local food in the winter can be really difficult, but perhaps the answer is to grow it yourself in a cold frame.