Author Archives: clara

Real Farmer Care

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Founded by farmer Clara Coleman in January 2020, Real Farmer Care’s founding mission is to support farmer’s self-care needs, while centering the voices of BIPOC farmers (Black, Indigenous, People Of Color) & LGBTQ farmers, and allocating donated funds directly to farmers.

Self-care activities are inexpensive, but rarely prioritized. Farmer self-care looks like treating themselves to a delicious dinner at one of the restaurants where they supply local products, a deep tissue massage for their overworked muscles, a family fun day outing, a date night with their partner while their kids have a babysitter, or even a new pair of boot insoles for their tired feet.

Fifty percent of Real Farmer Care recipients are BIPOC farmers. BIPOC farmers are disproportionately impacted in access to land, education and capital by systemic racism. On top of all of the common challenges that exist in farming, this means that BIPOC growers face substantial additional hurdles that impact their everyday wellness and livelihood. Therefore, making space to center and prioritize their needs in the Real Farmer Care project is paramount.

The more we care for our farmers, the more successful they can be at caring for themselves, our communities, and the land.

Please support Real Farmer Care with a donation today by visiting Real Farmer Care’s Donation Page in partnership with National Young Farmers Coalition.

To learn more and meet farmer recipients, visit and follow on Instagram and Facebook.

Real Farmer Care is fiscally sponsored through the National Young Farmers Coalition, a 501c3 nonprofit organization. Your contribution is tax deductible to the extent allowable by law.

Recent Presentations and Speaking Engagements

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yfc2015Clara gave two workshops – 1) Agrarian Resource Collaboration: Sustainable Midsize Four-Season Farming for the Northeast; and 2) Designing and Managing the Moveable Greenhouse – at the 2015 National Young Farmers Conference December 3rd & 4th at Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture in New York.

Clara gave the keynote talk at the Arizona Highlands Garden Conference on Saturday September 19th, 2015 in Flagstaff, Arizona! For more info or to register, please visit the website.arizonaconference

In case you missed it, check out the presentation on YouTube!
foodtanktalkClara is participating in’s Monthly Speaker Series on Wednesday July 15th at 12PM. She will be leading an hour Webinar on Bringing Four-Season Farming to the Next Generation. For more info and to register, visit Food Tank’s websiteciftworkshopOn Thursday April 30th from 9 am to 12 pm at the Toledo Botanical Garden in Ohio, Clara will speak on season-extension techniques such as using movable greenhouses, Cathedral Tunnels, low-tunnels, cold-frames and quickhoops. This free event is sponsored by the Center for Innovative Food Technology (CIFT), Toledo Botanical Garden, and supported by the Ohio Department of Agriculture specialty crop block grant. For more information, please visit CIFT’s website.

pasaconferenceClara is a featured presenter at this year’s PASA Farming for the Future Winter Conference in State College, PA February 3-7 2015. She will be doing a four-season farming presentation entitled Four Season Forward: The Latest Innovations in Four-Season Vegetable Production. Registration and more information can be found at PASA’s website.

nofany2015 NOFA-NY Winter Conference January 23-25, 2015 Saratoga Springs, NY
Clara is a featured presenter at this year’s NOFA-NY Winter Conference. She will be doing a four-season farming presentation entitled Four Season Forward: The Latest Innovations in Four-Season Vegetable Production and an interactive workshop with Adam Lemieux of Johnny’s Selected Seeds on Modular Cathedral Tunnel Building for Four-Season Vegetable Production. Registration and more information can be found at NOFA-NY’s website.

Attending Winter Conferences on Agriculture

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stonebarnsconferenceAs fall crops are harvested and stored, and fresh winter crops are carefully tended in high tunnels for an extended year-round harvest in the Northeast, many farmers and gardeners are eagerly anticipating the winter conference season. Numerous agricultural conferences are held during the winter months when most farmers have more time to gather, learn and assimilate the abundance of farming information available at these conferences. Conferences are typically offered through state or regional farming associations, and comprise of two to three days of presentations and workshops by many renowned and experienced farmers. Keynote speakers offer inspiration and delicious food is always guaranteed. A vendor and trade show area is also common and provides an excellent place to learn about the latest farming equipment, supplies and seeds available.

Since there are numerous conferences and many are worth attending for the diversity of information and networking opportunities, it may seem overwhelming to decide which ones to choose. Below is a list of recommendations of winter conferences located in the Northeast and Mid-West regions.

NOFA – the Northeast Organic Farming Association represents six states, namely MA, NH, VT, NY, CT and NJ, and it offers a separate conference for each state.
• One of my favorites is the NOFA-NY Winter Conference. In its 33rd year, it attracts over 1,100 participants and takes place in Saratoga Springs, NY on January 23-25, 2015. This year’s theme is ‘Soil: The Root of the Movement’ and Wes Jackson, President of the Land Institute, is the keynote speaker. Many interesting workshops are offered during the three days, including one I am giving on the latest innovations on four-season vegetable production.
• Another popular conference for vegetable growers is the NOFA-VT Winter Conference which is hosted each year at the University of Vermont in Burlington, VT and is scheduled for February 14th and 15th 2015.

PASA – The Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture’s 24th Annual Farming for the Future Conference is widely regarded as one of the best in the East and brings together over 2,000 farmers, processors, consumers, students, environmentalists, and business and community leaders in State College, PA on February 4th through the 7th 2015. With over 100 workshops, including one I am offering on four-season farming, it is definitely a conference not to be missed.

MOSES – The Midwest Organic and Sustainable Education Service offers a winter conference February 26th through 28th 2015 in La Crosse, Wisconsin. The event draws more than 3,000 farmers, advocates, educators, and students to the La Crosse Center and offers educational workshops, inspiring keynote speakers, and a two-floor Exhibitor Hall to check out the latest in farming supplies and equipment.

National Young Farmers Conference – For new and beginning farmers, Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture offers an excellent conference December 3-5th 2014 in Potantico Hills, NY. Many renowned farmers including Eliot Coleman, Jack Algiere, Jean-Martin Fortier and Richard Wiswall offer outstanding presentations on farm design, technique, and the economics of farming.

MOFGA – The Maine Organic Farmer and Gardener Association’s annual Farmer to Farmer Conference typically takes place in early November and is an impressive gathering of experienced New England farmers and gardeners. Learn from some of the best in Maine!

Whichever conferences you choose to attend, the experience is guaranteed to inform, educate, connect and inspire your farming aspirations for the season to come.

Transitioning the High Tunnel to Fall/Winter Crops

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hightunnelandquickhoopsSeptember is in full swing in the Northeast – the mornings feel fresh and crisp, the days are still sunny and warm, and those glorious heirloom tomatoes are still sweet and juicy, but the nights are undeniably cooler and the daylight hours are lessening by a few minutes each day. Sadly, the dog days of summer are over and winter is just around the corner. But the change of seasons does not mean we need to abandon our high tunnels for the outdoor fall harvesting and stockpiling of storage crops like winter squash, onions and potatoes in preparation for a long, cold winter. On the contrary, with dependable cold-hardy crop selection and smart planning, a high tunnel will produce an abundance of fresh vegetables throughout the winter months, and now is the time to begin transitioning the beds to these fall and winter crops.
Most outdoor plantings of fall crops such as broccoli and other brassicas, beets, and carrots have already been planted during the late summer, and many will begin to require the protection of a row cover over low tunnel hoops as the nights dip into the low 40’s. Radishes, salad turnips, and salad greens such as arugula, lettuce mix, Asian greens, and spinach can be successfully grown outdoors with sowings beginning in early September and continuing as late as September 19th for arugula and Asian greens.
High tunnels have the advantage of extending the season and protecting summer crops like tomatoes and peppers into the late fall, and they also provide an ideal growing environment and extra protection from cold temperatures for late fall/winter crops, but it is important to anticipate the transition of the beds from summer to fall planted crops to ensure adequate growth before too many daylight hours are lost. Here in the Northeast, we can lose over three hours of daylight from the time period of the summer solstice in June until the fall equinox in September. When anticipating crop planning in the high tunnel, this fall transition can prove to be challenging for many farmers since most are reluctant to pull out a productive marketable crop and replace it with a temporarily un-harvestable crop. Furthermore, the growing conditions in the high tunnel can be too hot and dry to successfully germinate and grow many of the longer maturing crops which prefer to grow during the cooler temperatures of autumn. A movable high tunnel, which can be moved over the outdoor planted crop in late autumn, can easily remedy these issues so it is an important option to consider when investing in a new high tunnel (See Blog post ‘To Move or Not to Move’ for more info).
Without having access to a movable tunnel, the best method to transition from summer to fall/winter crops is to perform it in stages. For instance, the center beds of the high tunnel may still have productive trellised tomatoes in September, whereas the edge beds may have grown an earlier crop of cucumbers or summer squash now at the end of the productive phase. For an unheated or ‘Cold’ tunnel, these former cucumber/squash beds would be selected to be re-planted with the longer maturing fall/winter crops such as fresh winter carrots, kale, chard, scallions, or even direct seeded with a fall crop of spinach. Then, once the tomatoes have finished producing at the beginning of October, the empty beds can be direct seeded with faster maturing salad greens like baby leaf lettuce or transplanted with two-week old spinach seedlings. With the additional protection of an inner row cover over low tunnel hoops, these crops would then be harvestable around the end of November and then weekly throughout the winter depending on the severity of the weather conditions and its effect on regrowth for ‘cut-and-come-again’ crops.
For a ‘Cool’ high tunnel, which is minimally heated to 35 degrees F at night, the benefits of adding a little supplemental heat include expanded diversity to more cold-sensitive crops, increased productivity with more consistent regrowth and succession plantings, and slightly more flexible planting dates for certain crops. Arugula and baby leaf lettuce, for example, can be sown as late as October 20th and succession sowings can be continued all winter long. Radishes and salad turnips can be successively sown starting in late September and through late October, and will provide fresh harvests through the end of December. Fresh herbs like parsley, if sown by mid-July and transplanted in the fall, can also be productive in the ‘Cool’ tunnel all winter long. Carrots can even be sown on November 30th and then will be ready to surprise customers with freshly harvested baby carrots on April 1st!
With additional forethought and proper planning, a high tunnel can be organized to be productive with a diverse array of crops during the entire year. By following these general guidelines, continuing to experiment with varying planting dates and cold-hardy varieties, a four-season high tunnel is guaranteed to delight and surpass your expectations all year long.

Irrigation Options for High Tunnels

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netafimoverheadsprinklerheadOne of the most important factors to consider when adding a high tunnel or managing an existing one is irrigation. It might not seem obvious, especially when you live in a moist and humid climate with plenty of annual rainfall, but the growing conditions created within an enclosed plastic or glass greenhouse structure are essentially the same as an irrigated desert – sunny, hot and dry with only a controlled source of water. The simplest and most economical solution is to use a watering can or hose with a hand-held sprinkler attachment to water manually, and while this option may work well within a small high tunnel or even during an emergency situation, this method is quite cumbersome, time-consuming and sometimes challenging to gauge if and when you have watered sufficiently. How do you know if you have watered enough? The general rule of thumb is one inch per week during the growing season, whether it is supplied by actual rainfall or irrigation. And there is a common old-timer’s expression in New England that asks, “Did the moisture meet?” In other words, did the moisture that was applied go deep enough into the soil to meet the lower layer where the soil still holds moisture? If the answer is no, then it is typically more effective and much more efficient to supply water through various irrigation options. Some of the most popular and common approaches include overhead sprinkler irrigation systems and surface drip irrigation systems, both for their ease of installation, dependability, automation, and efficient water use. Combining the two options together in one high tunnel can also be an effective solution for many growers, especially if following four-season methods and growing crops year round. The simplest and lowest cost solution is a portable hose and sprinkler head system but it does involve more monitoring and manual repositioning of the sprinkler head in order to provide even coverage and avoid overwatering. The various options are described in more detail below.

Portable Hose with Sprinkler Head Option:
A ten-foot by twelve-foot plot or 120 square feet is about as large an area most people would want to water by hand so since most high tunnels cover a much larger area square footage, the simplest and most economical option for watering is to have some type of portable sprinkler system available. The key component is a good quality commercial sprinkler head – the Wobbler head for instance is manufactured by Netafim and it delivers water in large drops rather than a fine spray to ensure better coverage. The Wobbler can be mounted on commercially available stands or you can make your own with whatever length of ½-inch threaded pipe. The other end is screwed into a stable base and it is fitted with a quick connect garden hose coupler to easily receive a hose attachment. Multiple bases with Wobbler heads can be attached together every 20-feet or so to provide even coverage over the length of a 100-foot long high tunnel.

Surface Drip Irrigation Option:
Surface drip irrigation is a popular and very efficient method for irrigating crops in the high tunnel by delivering a uniform, precise and timely application of water. The method involves constructing a network of drip irrigation tape which is placed on the surface of the soil and down a row along the base of the plants in order to deliver steady drops of water directly to the root zone. Most drip tape is made from flexible polyethylene plastic tubing and has small drip emitters spaced evenly every 8 to 12 inches. You can customize the system to be as small or as large as you need, and also to the specific needs of the crops you are growing. Single row crops with longer maturity times such as tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, eggplant, summer squash, etc. perform exceptionally well with drip irrigation. The flavor of tomatoes in particular, can be sweetened and intensified if the overall quantity of water is restricted and reduced. Two problems such as foliar disease and the splitting of fruit, which are commonly seen from overhead watering, are typically reduced from the practice of drip irrigation.
Installing a drip system can be very straight forward since a simple set up only requires a spigot, a filter and a hose to provide the water and the set up requires only minimal water pressure to operate. An automated timer can also be added so that you can set the system to turn on once or twice a day. Since drip tape allows better control over the amount of water being applied, the crops are healthier and less water is wasted. Drip irrigation is often used with plastic mulch for transplanted crops to conserve moisture and create a more consistent moisture level in the soil. Another advantage is the option to add natural fertilizers such as fish and seaweed emulsions to the water before being applied. This method is called fertigation and is an effective means of adding nutrients directly to the root zone of the crops throughout the growing season. More information on drip tape irrigation such as how to set up your specific system as well as all the necessary supplies and materials can be found at one popular supplier,

Overhead Sprinkler Irrigation Option:
An overhead irrigation system is a plastic water piping network suspended from the framework of the high tunnel, and it consists of very small, lightweight spray emitting nozzles that hang down every 3 to 6 feet from the plastic pipe (see above photo). With such a system you can hook a hose to one end of the pipe and water the whole high tunnel from above. It is popular when growing leafy greens and other tightly spaced crops where the drip tape positioned on the surface of the beds would inhibit dense plantings. Most supplies and parts can be sourced from your local hardware stores and irrigation specialists.
In the unheated four-season high tunnel, overhead systems are more reliable and easier to use than drip systems since the water in drip tape can freeze causing the tape to split and blocking the flow of water. To prevent the overhead pipes from freezing and splitting, it is important to set up the overhead sprinkler system with valves at both ends in order to empty out the water from the pipes after each irrigation session.
With many high tunnels being used year-round for four-season production, it can be very useful to have both a surface drip system available for summer use to irrigate tomatoes for example and an overhead system available for late fall/early spring use when it can still be necessary to irrigate newly germinating crops and cold-hardy greens such as spinach. In the Northeast, the need to irrigate during the winter months may happen infrequently since the winter sun is low in the sky, the water table is higher and there is very little evaporation from the soil. But you do not want to become too complacent and ignore irrigating all together since a series of sunny winter days with air temperatures above freezing can heat up and dry out a high tunnel much more than you might think.

Other Innovations:
A rainwater catchment system, which collects the rainwater off of the high tunnel into a storage tank, is an innovative solution to reuse naturally occurring rainfall. The expanse of a high tunnel yields a large volume of water with every measurable rainfall. Approximately 900 gallons of water will flow from the roof of a 30′ by 96′ high tunnel with a half-inch rain event. The water collected from the high tunnel from runoff should only be used for irrigation through a drip system since the water collected could contain high levels of bacteria. Many resources are available online for more information.

Whichever irrigation option you choose, a reliable and functional system is essential for managing proper moisture for crop health, and can be an enormous benefit to the continued success of your high tunnel.

Efficient Layout, Bed Preparation and Crop Selection for High Tunnels

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Efficient Layout, Bed Preparation and Crop Selection for High Tunnels
Adding a high tunnel or greenhouse to your commercial farm or home garden is a considerable investment and in order to quickly maximize your return, the growing space should be efficiently managed both in terms of high tunnel bed layout, bed preparation techniques, and crop selection. The total growing area square footage of a high tunnel is the measurement of the width multiplied by its length and most often, at least 30% of that will be allocated to paths or walkways, so it is especially important to create an efficient bed layout to maximize the use of the interior growing space. Over the years, I have visited many farms and witnessed various high tunnel layout designs but the most efficient layout follows a standard 30-inch wide bed with 12-inch wide pathways. Imagine you have a 20-foot by 50-foot high tunnel, which equals a maximum of 1000 square feet of interior growing space. For instance, if this high tunnel is laid out longitudinally using 30-inch wide beds with 12-inch paths in between and we leave 2 feet on either end as an entrance walkway area, this configuration leaves us 6 beds at 46 feet long for a total of 690 square feet of actual growing space. With only 690 square feet of actual growing space, it is critically important to select appropriate crops to take advantage of the specific growing season including the season extension benefits of a protected growing space as well as the increased vertical growing space of the high tunnel. Below are some simple steps for bed layout and bed preparation as well as some tips for selecting crops to maximize production.

Simple Steps for High Tunnel Bed Layout:

1. Collect all necessary tools and supplies for bed layout including a roll of 800’ Mason String on reel, wooden stakes, hammers, two 50-foot tape measures, shovels, and bed preparation rakes (which can be sourced from Johnny’s Selected Seeds)
2. After initial rototilling of soil, extend one 50-foot tape measure along the width of the high tunnel, and then extend the other along the opposite width of the tunnel.
3. Beginning at one end of the tape measure, hammer wooden stakes into the soil at consecutive intervals of 30-inch wide beds, followed by 12-inch wide paths (or your chosen measurements).
4. Follow the same steps for the tape measure at the opposite end of the tunnel.
5. Attach the mason string to a stake marking the path on the far right or left side of the tunnel and extend the string to the opposite stake at the other end of the tunnel, securely wrap the string around this stake, then around the adjacent path stake, finally bring the string back to the front of the tunnel effectively marking the pathway.
6. Keeping the string elevated above the soil surface, continue unspooling the string in this fashion to mark the next bed, and then the next path, and so forth until all of the beds and paths have been marked with the string.
7. Next, take a shovel and begin shoveling the top 2-inches of soil from the path and place on top of the adjacent beds as you make your way down each pathway. Continue until all pathways are clearly defined as ‘sunken paths.’ Remove the string by rolling up the reel.

Simple Steps for Bed Preparation Prior to Direct Seeding or Transplanting:

1. Collect all necessary tools and supplies for bed preparation including Bed Preparation Rake; Tilther with a battery powered drill; or a 3-Tooth Cultivator; soil amendments and compost if adding and bring to work area. Bed Preparation Rake, Tilther and 3-Tooth Cultivator, Seedbed Roller, and Row Markers can be sourced from Johnny’s Selected Seeds.
2. Using Bed Preparation Rake, rake all beds smooth and level by pushing rocks and larger soil clods into the pathways.
3. If adding soil amendments, measure out for each bed and mix into an empty bucket, then spread evenly over the surface of each bed.
4. Using the Tilther or a 3-Tooth Cultivator, tilth each bed, doing two or three passes, to evenly incorporate the amendments into the top 3-inches of soil.
5. If adding compost, spread evenly over surface of beds and follow with another couple of passes of tilthing.
6. If direct seeding, first use a Seedbed Roller to prepare a smooth, firm seed bed.
7. If transplanting, slide red plastic Row Markers on select teeth of the Bed Preparation Rake to mark rows or create a grid pattern.

Crop Selection and Tips to Maximize Production in High Tunnels:

1. Select crops appropriate for the season including heat-loving crops like tomatoes, cucumbers and peppers during the summer season, and cold-hardy greens like spinach and kale during the late fall/winter/early spring seasons.
2. Consider growing ‘cut-and-come-again’ or multiple harvest crops such as baby lettuce mixes and salad greens as opposed to lettuce heads; indeterminate tomatoes as opposed to determinate or bush varieties; spinach, which is first harvested at baby size leaf-by-leaf for multiple harvests as opposed to one complete harvest at maturity; kale, which is also harvested leaf-by-leaf multiple times for baby leaf or bunches as opposed to one single harvest of a broccoli head at maturity.
3. Choose varieties which have been bred and selected to perform best in the growing conditions of a high tunnel or greenhouse, including a greenhouse-specific lettuce mix and parthenocarpic or self-fertilizing varieties of crops.
4. Always consider the vertical growing space in a high tunnel and grow crops which can be pruned and trellised such as indeterminate tomatoes and cucumbers.
5. Densely seed or transplant multiple rows of salad mixes, greens, carrots, radishes and other quick growing crops.
6. Consider multiple succession plantings of various crops throughout a season.
7. After the final harvest of a crop, avoid leaving the beds bare for longer than necessary. After bed preparation, seed or transplant whenever an empty growing space becomes available.
8. Closer plant spacing and multiple succession plantings within a season require frequent applications of compost and soil amendments.
9. Perform annual soil tests to monitor soil health and fertility.
10. Keep good records and experiment!

Benefits of a Dedicated Seed Starting Greenhouse

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herbstartsSpindly, leggy tomato transplants and bushy, overgrown lettuce seedlings reaching for light and competing for space on a kitchen counter or near a bedroom window are all too common occurrences for new and small-scale farmers and gardeners this time of year. Rather than spending your early spring days clearing more counter space, moving furniture and shuffling plant starts around the house as they rapidly outgrow their soil blocks, pots or trays, consider the many advantages of investing and building a Seed Starting Greenhouse on your property.
1) INCREASED SPACE – One of the primary benefits of a dedicated Seed Starting Greenhouse is having increased space for managing and caring for your transplants, especially when doing multiple transplanting and succession cropping cycles common to four-season farm planning and production. After germination, transplants need sufficient space from one another, adequate sunlight, and good air circulation to grow properly before being transplanted outdoors. Any decent sized high tunnel or greenhouse can offer a big improvement on available space, but it should be ideally set up to accommodate a seed starting and transplant growing process, including a gravel or concrete floor, a heater, ventilation fans, a watering system, benches, heat mats, germination chambers, as well as seeding and potting areas with bins of potting soil and other seed starting supplies. Some common greenhouse sizes are 22 feet by 48 feet, 30 feet by 72 feet or even as larger as 34 feet by 96 feet, all of which are sold from greenhouse manufacturing companies such as Rimol Greenhouse Systems. You can easily maximize floor space with an efficient bench layout design and reduce heating costs by sectioning off areas of the greenhouse with hanging sheets of plastic in early spring when only a smaller heated space is needed. Some greenhouses are even set up with half of the space as a seed starting area using gravel or concrete floor and the other half with in-ground beds for production. But due to undesirable soil compaction issues, it is best to avoid using a high tunnel for seed starting activities early in the spring and then switching the space over to in-ground crop production later in the season.
2) IMPROVED HEALTH OF TRANSPLANTS – A good rule of thumb is the healthier the transplant is going into the ground, the healthier the plant will be growing and producing throughout the season. Due to the increased space, better light availability, watering frequency, and a climate controlled environment as a result of using heaters, horizontal air flow (HAF) fans, endwall exhaust fans, ridge vents, roll-up sides, radiant heat bench tops, heat mats, automated overhead watering systems, misters, grow lights, etc., the health of the transplants can be dramatically improved. The specific benefits of these options can be discussed with your greenhouse supplier.
3) RETURN ON INVESTMENT – Once the decision has been made to purchase and build a dedicated Seed Starting Greenhouse, the main consideration is the additional cost. Of course there are various ways to reduce the cost by shopping around, comparing and selecting options, finding a good deal on a used model, and even building your own, but there are also many creative solutions to quickly return on your investment of a new, well designed and constructed greenhouse. With the addition of all this new dedicated space for the primary purpose of plant propagation, one option is to grow plant starts, bedding plants, and hanging baskets to sell to customers in the spring. Another idea is to grow micro-greens during off-peak usage times including early spring and late fall and sell the product to restaurants and local markets. Any unused space in late fall can also provide additional areas to dry and cure storage crops such as onions. And my favorite idea is to use the space to host a farm dinner, a teaching seminar or other farm-related events. Whatever creative ways you find to maximize the benefit of having a dedicated Seed Starting Greenhouse, it is clear that the plants will always be the winners and the space will be used and appreciated to its full capacity for many types of activities.

Seeds, Glorious Seeds!

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soilblocksSeeds, Glorious Seeds!!
With icy cold temperatures and low light levels typical to the winters of the Northeast, one of my preferred activities to help dispel the potential gloom is to fervently peruse the endless collection of seed catalogs constantly filling my mailbox. This pastime always reminds me of the 1968 British musical film ‘Oliver!’ where the emaciated orphan boys march to the dining hall to receive their daily ration of unappetizing gruel while wistfully singing ‘But there’s nothing to stop us from getting a thrill when we all close our eyes and imagine Food, Glorious Food!’ While they sing about ‘Hot sausage and mustard, cold jelly and custard’, I envision the abundance of what can be grown from the seeds of sweet juicy heirloom tomatoes and purple Peruvian fingerling potatoes.
While I find this time enjoyable, the actual process of selecting crops, seed varieties and quantities can be quite challenging – the sheer number of seed catalogs alone can be overwhelming, and how much and when to place an order to ensure an adequate seed supply poses further challenges. In this posting, I will offer some tips to help make the seed ordering process just as pleasurable as the images of ‘Seeds, Glorious Seeds’ seen in your fruitful imaginations.
Seed Catalog Choices – There are over a hundred of various seed catalogs circulating through the snail mail system so it can be overwhelming to choose the best ones. I typically order from list of about a dozen favorites, but the majority of my orders may only come from 5 or 6 seed companies, those including: Johnny’s Selected Seeds is my #1 favorite for the quality and varied seed selection, the company’s commitment to sustainable growing practices or suppliers, and the wide selection of tested tools and other gardening necessities. For organic seeds, High Mowing Seeds sells 100% organic seeds with over 600 varieties available and their company is located in Wolcott, Vermont. High Mowing Seeds also created the Safe Seed Pledge in 1999, along with 9 other seed companies, to affirm their commitment to non-GMO (genetically modified organism) seeds. Fedco Seeds is located in Waterville, Maine and specializes in many cold-hardy varieties. For heirloom seeds, the Seed Savers Exchange is a non-profit dedicated to saving and sharing heirloom seeds. For a great selection of seed potatoes, Wood Prairie Farm is a Maine certified organic family farm started in 1976 by Jim and Lisa Gerritsen. One of my new favorites is Adaptive Seeds which specializes in rare, diverse and resilient open pollinated seed selections. Some of my most successful winter kale varieties are sourced from Adaptive Seeds. And if I am ever in need of a standard and/or reliable hybrid variety, I generally use Burpee Seeds.
Anticipating Quantity – A good rule of thumb is to always order at least 1/3 more than you anticipate growing in order to plan for irregular or poor germination issues, and potential crop failures at any point during the growing season. There are many computer spreadsheet programs you can use to help calculate your seed requirements based on production goals and some seed companies, such as Johnny Selected Seeds have a Seed Calculator feature available to use on their website.
When To Order – Place your order as soon as possible! New and popular seed varieties typically sell out, sometimes as early as mid-January, so the earlier you can get your order placed, the better. For convenience, try to take advantage of seed companies who use websites to place orders online, but if you feel more comfortable placing it over the phone with a live person, there are many knowledgeable and helpful sales representatives to answer questions and take your order.
Happy seed ordering!

Past Presentations and Speaking Engagements

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SBYFC20147th Annual National Young Farmers Conference Dec 3-5, 2014 at Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture Clara Coleman and Adam Lemieux of Johnny’s Selected Seeds will be presenting on ‘Designing and Managing the Moveable Greenhouse.’ More information can be found here.

mfteventOctober 14th, 2014 – Mainstreaming: Local Food to Institutions – at Colby College
Clara is the opening keynote for this inspiring event to increase local food supply to Maine’s institutions. For more information and to register for this free event, please visit Maine Farmland Trust’s website.

catherdraltunnelframeModular Cathedral Tunnel Building for Four-Season Vegetable Production Workshop w/Clara Coleman
Sponsored by: Golden Well Farm & Apiaries, 2 Wolves Center and ACORN
Join Clara Coleman on Saturday April 26th as she leads a 3-hour interactive demonstration workshop on how to construct a modular movable Cathedral Tunnel for small-scale four-season vegetable production. With the increased demand for affordable, simple and well-constructed high tunnel structures, Clara’s father Eliot Coleman designed and created this 14′ by 16′ modular movable Cathedral Tunnel at Four Season Farm last season. For as low as $2 per square foot, you can learn where to source materials, how to fabricate parts and the steps involved in constructing a modular Cathedral Tunnel for your farm or home garden. A detailed instruction manual will be provided to attendees along with a supplies list and calculator for estimating cost of materials. Best four-season growing practices, techniques, effective tools, and crop scheduling will also be discussed and time at the end for Q & A. Clara will be assisted by Adam Lemieux, Product Manager of Tools and Supplies at Johnny’s Selected Seeds and the creator of the Tool Dude’s Blog.

Location: The Nash Farm, home of Golden Well Farm & Apiaries 1089 River Road, New Haven VT – View Google Map
Follow signs to Parking area along River Road, walk across the bridge, and then walk up driveway.

Cost: $30 pre-register 2 Wolves Center or Golden Well Farm & Apiaries
$40 day of event
Ages 15 and younger free
Scholarships available, please inquire.

Rain or shine! Come weather prepared! And, if the weather is nice, you’re welcome to bring a bag lunch to enjoy on the farm.

More info: 2 Wolves Center or Golden Well Farm & Apiaries or call 802.870.0361

COBCConferenceClara is the featured four-season farming presenter at the 2014 Certified Organic Associations of British Columbia Winter Conference in Nanaimo, British Columbia Canada on Sunday, February 23rd 2014. Clara’s sister Melissa Coleman will be giving the opening keynote on this year’s conference theme of Work-Life Balance. Click here for registration information.


Eliot and Clara will be leading a Cathedral Tunnel building workshop at the 2013 Young Farmers Conference at Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture on Friday, December 6th.


Cathedral Tunnel Building Workshop with Eliot Coleman at MOFGA’s 37th Annual Common Ground County Fair September 20th – 22nd, 2013!


On Tuesday, October 1st, 2013, Clara Coleman will be presenting a Low Tunnel Workshop at the Boyd Street Urban Farm at 5PM in association with Johnny’s Selected Seeds and Cultivating Community.

aroostookworkshopflyerThe Southern Aroostook County Soil & Water Conservation District presents Clara Coleman leading a Four Season Forward Workshop on producing year-round crops using high tunnels, low tunnels and Quick Hoops on September 11th 2013.Clara tilther
Workshop featured on Local WAGM TV8 News!

On Saturday, August 17th, 2013, Clara Coleman will be the featured farmer for the 2013 Follow the Farmer Seminar at A Joyful Noise Farm in Black Forest, Colorado .

Clara will lead two separate 2-hour workshops at the farm. The workshops will be a hands-on running dialogue with Clara and the small group accompanying her. The goal of the workshop is to give you a first hand view of a working small farm through the eyes of one of the nation’s foremost experts on organic four-season growing.

For more information or to register, please visit A Joyful Noise Farm.


Barbara Damrosch & Eliot Coleman invite you to join –

Clara Coleman and John Piotti of Maine Farmland Trust for an unforgettable dinner prepared and executed by Chef David Levi of the much anticipated Vinland Restaurant (opening in Portland summer 2013)

…and a chance to hear about how four-season farming can help Maine farms thrive.


Multiple courses plus wines
by Chef David Levi

Four Season Farm
609 Weir Cove Road
Harborside, Maine

Saturday, June 15
5:30 – refreshments in garden
6:15 – farm tour by Eliot Coleman
6:45 – remarks by John Piotti and Clara Coleman
7:00 – dinner
$300 per person
Dinner value of $100 allows guests a $200 tax-deductible contribution to MFT

RSVP by June 5 to Rachel Taker, 207-338-6575
Ask for a list of local accommodations, if desired.

MAINE FARMLAND TRUST has recently teamed up with Clara Coleman to help more Maine farmers benefit from the four-season farming techniques pioneered by Clara’s father, Eliot Coleman.