I borrowed Eliot Coleman’s Four Season Harvest from a neighbor nearly a year ago and only just started reading it the other day. Its a book I’ve been aware of for a while as a gardening classic and now I know why it is so loved and recommended. If you are even a little bit interested in growing your own food you’ll be ecstatic about it after you read this book. Okay, maybe you have to be a little more than a little bit interested to reach ecstasy but I’m pretty excited. If it weren’t so darn hot today I’d probably be outside laying out garden expansions. Perhaps I will simply peruse some online seed catalogs and make plans for my late summer and fall plantings.
Actually its a little hard for me to sit on my hands right now because I want to put all of the Coleman’s (his wife, Barbara Damrosch, is also a writer) practices into use right now but I’d have to destroy my current crops in order to do that fully and I’m not giving up all of those promising green tomatoes to do it. Plus, that would just be silly and its not the intention of the book to force you to start from scratch. If you are starting from scratch they give you some excellent plans to follow for doing that.
I am going to stop pulling the clover out of the beds. If I could find seeds quickly (and for free at this point in the month) I’d be out there throwing down more seeds so that the entire bed could be covered in clover. Clover is a ‘green manure‘ that organic growers use to protect soil. Clover stores nitrogen and can later be turned for soil improvement. I think the term used for the practice of planting it along with your vegetables is ‘under cropping.’ Farmers who are certified organic are required to use clover or other cover crops for overwintering their fields.
Basically by using this practice in your garden you are choosing a weed you and your tomatoes (for example) can live with which in turn helps to keep other weeds at bay and improves your soil at the same time. I actually saw a picture in a magazine of some tomatoes under cropped with sweet alyssum which was lovely and apparently there is a pest that the alyssum keeps away as well. I don’t know alyssum would actually improve the soil in any particular way though – I haven’t found anything outside of pest control which is no small matter by itself (I wonder if you could mix alyssum and clover and have the best of both worlds?).
So, get yourself a copy of Four Season Harvest or head over to Four Season Farm. The book has been around long enough that your local library probably has a copy.