No Rest for the Permie

text and photos by David Homa

Well, the 2010 growing season was amazing if you had irrigation, but other than that  we couldn’t complain about sunny days and temperatures soaring into the high eighties and nineties.  It was a good year for both perennial and annual plantings. Now that summer is over, we are faced with the reality of a dwindling harvest.  As the temperatures begin to drop at night, I reminisce of cold February afternoons and shoveling the paths to my greenhouses.  I remember selling greens in March from seeds I had planted that previous fall. I remember that my garden really never sleeps and my harvest continues.

It has been nearly five years since I began this quest for successful four season gardening in Maine.  Some years have better than others and some years I thought about buying my greens at Hannaford’s.  Sure you can dry, can, freeze, or ferment your harvest for those cold months, but the taste of fresh spinach and mizuna at a Thanksgiving table or the joys of cutting arugula and kale for that someone special on Valentine’s Day cannot be beat.  You can taste every food mile in that salad from California, and that’s not a good thing.

Since the “why” about growing year round pretty much answers itself, the “how” consumes many a conversation.  I’ll speak of row covers, UV film, cold frames, hoop houses, high tunnels, and thermal mass, and you’ll see the spark in my eyes all the while. The four season gardener is a strange breed.  Season Extension becomes an act of engineering and a leap of faith.  It seems that we are cheating nature, controlling nature… such an act saved for human beings.  My structures of choice are hoop houses, both large (8’x16’) and small (4’x6’). The common thread is growing by passive solar means in winter.  The layers of row cover and UV greenhouse film can transport me to winter climates of Maryland and Virginia.  These structures and layers are combined with sowing the right seeds in September to achieve successful season extension.  So while the perennial beds sleep, the salad greens and assorted veggies evade winter cold hands in my hoop houses.