Eliot Coleman: Four Season Harvest – Organic Vegetables from Your Home Garden All Year Long. Revised & updated edition.
Chelsea Green Publishing, 1999. Paperback 234pp
Four Season Harvest is a book about “extending the harvest season not the growing season”. In the words of Coleman’s wife Barbara Damrosch in the Foreword: “It’s about gardening and eating in a manner appropriate to each season”. These are sentiments close to my own values to use food that is fresh, seasonal and local. This was one of the first books we bought on this subject and it has stood the test of time against newer publications.
Eliot Coleman is a leading proponent of organic gardening and farming as well as being an author. He advocates working with nature and the soil using simple and effective techniques. He lives and gardens in Maine, [state], USA. This is an edition of his 1992 book revised in 1999 after a research trip to France. There Coleman & Damrosch ‘re-discovered’ knowledge of year-round growing and harvesting from French gardeners. This edition contains great advice and inspiration from this source. The story of their French trip unfolds wonderfully throughout the book and is an inspiration.
Four Season Harvest is well designed and laid out in two column format. Kathy Bray’s black & white illustrations are beautiful and helpful. There is a colour inset section in the middle of the book which contains useful photographs taken by Damrosch.
In the first two Chapters Coleman makes the case for the all year round harvest. He advocates not just that you extend the summer harvest into late-autumn, but that you should plant cold tolerant crops too. He usefully explains how your latitude, day length and temperature will affect what will germinate and grow. He then outlines how to begin to create a productive garden that is also a place for you to live and work in happily.
In the next three chapters Coleman takes you through making compost to feed your garden, how to assess, plan and prepare your plot and where to source seeds from both conventional and ‘alternative’ sources.
He then explains how to do outdoor gardening and suggests ways to use ducks as garden helpers. He describes the contribution of covered gardening if you use greenhouses, polytunnels, cold frames and cloches. These contain detailed explanations and he delivers lots of useful advice and experience. He includes a number of useful tables to help with planting and cropping dates and sequences.
Chapter 11 is a really useful chapter about the ‘Indoor Harvest’. He tells you about how to store root crops in cellars or clamps and producing shoot harvests by ‘forcing’ vegetables. He also gives some basic information about how to dehydrate your produce to preserve it.
In Chapter 12 he explains about what he calls ‘Balanced Gardening’: methods using organic principles and polyculture.
The four Appendices are a mine of useful information. Appendix A gives extensive details for a range of plants how to plant, cultivate, harvest and store them. Appendix B contains resources about climate and temperature. The last two appendices discuss the ecological impact of plastic in the garden and gives information about sources of supply and tools. There is an extensive Bibliography and comprehensive index.
The prose is clear and the descriptive passages evoke and emote his love of his garden and of the French gardens. This book is clearly a distillation of many years careful and thoughtful study around the world. Coleman writes mainly from a United States perspective but there is good data for Western Europe. I think there is enough information for the knowledge to translate well to other parts of the world.
This is a book that we continue to go back to for reference and inspiration year after year. I don’t think it is so comprehensive that it should be the only text on your bookshelf on this subject. I do, however, think it’s an essential read.