Review of Eliot Coleman’s Four Season Harvest

Wondering if you really can grow food year round? Ever seen Four Season Harvest on the book shelves and wondered if it would be all that useful in the garden? Here’s a little book review to help you out.

Gardening Book I Use for Season Extension

Why has it taken me so long to review this book?! Maybe its because I’m so used to Four Season Harvest being by my side every early spring and fall planting that I just assumed you were already using it, too. This was the first book I read on the subject of season extension in the garden and I’ve used it ever since.

What is season extension? It is harvesting year round, even in winter. I grew up Northern California where the growing season is eleven months long; where basil reseeds and citrus drops heavy and juicy in the middle of January. Though I have gardened since childhood, I didn’t know anything about growing in a place with real winter until I moved to Utah. I despaired of ever having a long growing season again!

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Four Season Harvest

After reading Four Season Harvest I realized that I could, with a little bit of effort, have something fresh to eat from my garden every month of the year.

Eliot Coleman, the author, begins by explaining the various ways to garden:

  • small space and large space
  • organic and natural method, low-spray
  • Veggie and fruits
  • Etc

Growing Dirt for a Four Season Harvest

The author also teaches about the foundation of every productive garden, the soil. Compost and soil building get two chapters in all their various aspects of glory. Anything you might want to know about naturally building the health of soil is covered here. You won’t find information on which commercial product to add to your garden soil to make it more productive. You will, however, learn to add biological components to feed your soil over time, producing beautiful dirt. Every good gardener knows that what they’re really growing is good dirt!

To learn more about growing good dirt, you may want to expand your knowledge with this simple and easy to use book:

Seed it Right

Seed selection is also in Four Season Harvest. It is imperative that, no matter what season in which we’re trying to grow, we choose the right seed for our climate and time of year. No sense wasting time and money on seeds that won’t thrive in our climate. With quality charts and suggestions, Coleman walks you through many ideas and possible harvests for your climate.

To help you further with figuring out what to plant in your climate, be sure to check out the resource below. Angi from Schneiderpeeps created it to help normal gardeners like you and me to be able to grow as much food as possible in our climate.

Animals in the Garden for a Four Season Harvest?

The book also covers the inclusion of animals in the garden. In the author’s garden ducks are used to eat bugs, do light weeding and provide manure for the soil. Poultry is a popular choice to perform these vital functions in the garden – ducks, chickens, guineas are all popular choices. This concept will not be new to anyone who is familiar with permaculture.

If you don’t have the ability to keep animals on your property, then this will simply be good information for when you move to a place less restrictive.

Cover it and Keep it

Also included is quality information on the various methods of  covering your garden. Covering your harvest is what provides season extension in areas with severe winters. These cover include items like

  • cold frames
  • hoop houses
  • greenhouses

Coleman provides extremely practical and useful information on these covers. He provides his personal experience with each method in The Four Season Harvest. And isn’t experience on of the best teachers, especially in the garden?

Each of these covers come with their own set of pros and cons. Costs and construction are discussed, as well as how to use them. We tried horticultural plastic our first winter in Utah. The plastic did work to keep us harvesting kale and claytonia, but it got shredded in our winter winds. So, we went back into Four Season Harvest to see what Mr. Coleman had to say about our options.

To End the Four Season Harvest

Root cellars and natural pest controls bring up the rear of the book.

Coleman includes a lot about his travels in France and what he learned there about the folk culture methods of four season harvesting. Those snippets of narrative are fun. They also provide some practical examples of what any of us can be doing in our own yards.

One of the best parts of this book are the tables and charts for organizing your brain and your garden. I for one can’t keep track of what I’m doing when I’m gardening twelve months a year and living the rest of my life. So, it’s nice to have a chart to which I can refer when I want to know when to put in cover crops or when to sow my Mache.

There are also charts of crop rotation, root cellaring, harvest season of cold frame crops, succession planting and more.

Bottom line, I highly recommend buying Four Season Harvest and putting it some place you can easily pull it out and use it throughout the year.

I read his Winter Harvest Handbook but its more geared for the market gardener, although the information is really similar between the two.

I have yet to read his New Organic Grower , so if anyone has cracked it, let me know what you think!

What I’m Doing in My Zone 5 Garden

In my zone 5 climate this week we began indoors several herbs and perennial flowers, as well as some cold season crops like:

  • Brussels Sprouts
  • broccoli
  • artichoke
  • and even some early leaf lettuces

Organizing My Seeds with My Kids

I went through my seed stash and separated all indoor started seeds into groups and bagged them. The kids will be taking over the seed starting once the new baby comes. The kids and I organized them into these piles:

  • 8-10 weeks BLSF (Before Last Spring Frost)
  • 6-8 weeks BLSF
  • 4-6 BLSF

This has turned out to be so handy that I’m going to do it every year. It’s so simple to go down and grab everything I need at once instead of riffling through my seed files every time I need to plant.

I’m marking on the calendar when each will need to go into covered flats and get placed on our “warming mats” on the seed starting rack. Our “mats” are actually the old, colored rope lights that warm up to the perfect temp of around 60 degrees. The new rope lights won’t work because they’re all LEDs and they don’t get as warm.

To learn more about the basics of gardening, you may want to check out The Gardening Notebook below:

Seeds Need Specific Temperatures to Sprout

Starting a lot of medicinal herbs and finicky perennials this year has meant that I’ve got a lot of seeds that need cold stratification. That is, some cold/wet conditioning to help the seeds germinate. This process is really just to trick the seed into thinking its gone through a vernal cycle.

Most of the time I can just put those flats into my garage. However, this winter has been seriously cold so I’ve kept them on the bottom of my seed rack, closest to the tile floor of my laundry room which sports a chilly 50 degree ambiance. Some seeds require months of this cold/wet treatment, others will benefit from just a few days.

Be sure to check your seed packet for more information, and even consult your books and the Internet. Not all seed packets are created equal as some are really quite bare of useful information and others are full of it.

My favorite seed packets are from:

The reason I like these is because I don’t have to look around for further growing information. These packets are full of useful information and detail. Plus, with the exception of Select Seeds whose packets are pleasant but with no illustration of the plant, they’re pretty. I’m very shallow when it comes to graphics.

This time of year is one of my favorites; its like that moment before a performer walks onto the stage to deliver their first lines. There’s a lot of anticipation of great seasons to come and it all begins here, while its still cold and gray and the curtain is drawn across spring. But, it is coming…opening night will arrive and we’ll all be up to our elbows in dark, spring soil!

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11 thoughts on “Review of Eliot Coleman’s Four Season Harvest

  1. Thanks for sharing this on The HomeAcre Hop!!! Can’t wait to see what you share this coming Thursday 🙂 Here’s the super easy link to the next hop!

    If you haven’t checked out Wildcrafing Wednesday yet, please do! 🙂 It’s a hop I co-host for herbal remedies, natural living, real food recipes, and self sufficient living. Here’s the link for tomorrow’s hop:

  2. I really appreciated your review. One of the extension agents referred back to this book frequently when I went for my Master Gardener certification and I have always wanted to read it. It has been on my wish list for ages…Thanks for sharing. 🙂

    1. Nope, in Texas, you sure wouldn’t need this one! I remember what that was like, such a long growing season, since I’m originally from California. In Utah, though, wow – winter means business! See you next month…

  3. Thanks for the article. As I ponder your words, and as a beginner gardening, I think it makes sense for me to get good at the practice then move into the 4 season approach. I really like the idea of living off our land as much as possible. I am learning to preserve our food, but would rather keep that to a minimum and just eat fresh. Thanks again for sharing.

    1. So glad you stopped by, Tara! I think it’s good to begin with the end in mind, so reading books about season extension and harvesting year round is a great idea. Even if, as you say, you don’t feel quite ready for that. Honestly, even after so many years of gardening, some years I still botch the whole plan and we barely scrape by with tomatoes and green beans. Whatever. I always tell myself, “That’s why God invented next year!”

      Wishing you a plentiful gardening year!

  4. just bought this but started doing this in fall of 2015. I thought it time to get more specific info. This is great time of year, actual labor not here yet, just planning and maybe a bit of dreaming. Doing 2nd transplant today but eyeing those high tunnels…….

    1. I have high tunnel aspirations, too, Toby! We’ve done various smaller versions, but I’d sure love a large one. I’ve thought, too, about an in-ground greenhouse. So many ideas, so little time!

      Thanks for stopping by!

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