Book Review: The New Organic Grower, 30th Anniversary Edition, Eliot Coleman

Cover photo of Eliot Coleman’s The New Organic Grower from Chelsea Green

The New Organic Grower, 30th Anniversary Edition, Eliot Coleman, Chelsea Green, published October 2018.  ISBN 978-1-60358-817-1, 304 pages, $29.95 Full color photos and illustrations throughout.

This anniversary edition comes almost 30 years since the first edition in 1989. There was also a 1995 edition, which I’m guessing is the one on the bookshelves of most people farming today. Given that carrots grow the same way they did 30 years ago you may be wondering if you need the new edition. Eliot Coleman’s wisdom was good in 1989 – how much better can it get?

The first thing I noticed is that the new book is half the thickness of the old one. That’s mostly because the quality of recycled paper has made vast improvements! This book is 304 pages, the old one was 340. Most of the reduction is in the Recommended Tools and Suppliers section. Eliot recommends using the internet. Of course the internet doesn’t say which work well for Eliot, but he can be seen talking about which tools he likes on videos and in Johnny’s seed catalog.

Much of the text remains just the same. The new preface is the same as that of the 1995 edition, with a bit more travel and research trips. The drawings have gone, to make way for the photos by Barbara Damrosch. The addition of color photos is the second most obvious change, and mouth-watering they are! I do regret the loss of a few specific drawings, especially the crop spacing ones and related chart. With hindsight, I realize the previous editions contained several crop spacing charts. To my relief, these have not disappeared, but have been consolidated and rationalized in the chapter about setting out transplants. The newer chart is more functional if less characterful.

The other main kind of change is the introduction to newer tools and equipment: Jang seeder, 4-row and 6-row seeders, Quick-Cut greens Harvester, Cool-Bot, screen pyramids, and Quick Hoops.  Coldframes have ceded to low tunnels; large soil blocks have been replaced by 6″ pots. The 15-page historical progress of moveable hoophouses has gone, to focus 6 pages on the current preferred type/method, but no diagrams. The Season Extension chapter has lots new.

As I started reading I was disappointed at so little new. But then I started to find information I had forgotten, or not registered on previous readings! If, like me, you have not opened this book for 10 years, you’ll probably find useful tips. And Eliot only writes about things that have been tested out on his farm. Naturally, for those of us in different climate zones, this brings limitations. We’ll have to look elsewhere for more regionally appropriate details, but we can rely on the truth of what Eliot says works in Maine, and extrapolate from that.

There is a new little chapter The Self-Fed Farm, on combining vegetable and small-livestock farming, which I welcome, for its plain common sense on how to be resilient and get the best food supply from a small farm.

There’s a 2-page section by Barbara Damrosch on cut flowers, which can often be a way to bring in higher income to balance the national expectation for cheap food (yes, it would be good if we could change this expectation, but meanwhile we need to survive to tackle that challenge over the long haul.)

Much has gone from the 1995 28-page Winter Harvest Project chapter, which is now a slimmer 7 pages. Perhaps the extra material is covered in the Winter Harvest Handbook.

The annotated bibliography has only a few additions. The notes that used to be in the margins are now collected up at the end of the book. The metric conversions are now in place in the text, everywhere needed. No longer do we need to make our own conversions, using charts. I’m happy about that, and it will make the book easier to use in the large metric part of the world.

The chapter A Final Question – Why Farm? has been replaced by The Adventure of Organic Farming, which is Eliot’s answer to his earlier question. It’s a potted memoir of how rock-climbing led him to organic farming, along with his perspective (which is a long one, remember) on the Organic Farming movement. He quotes Eric Hoffer “Every great cause begins as a movement, becomes a business, and eventually degenerates into a racket.” We now have “organic” dairies of thousands of cows, and “organic hydroponic” vegetables grown without benefit of soil. Only by buying direct from the farmers can people be sure of good quality and care for the environment and the planet’s long-term future. Or by growing your own, of course. Have at it!

If you haven’t opened any of Eliot’s books for ten years, it’s time you did. If you haven’t got the 1995 edition or the 1989 edition, buy this. If beautiful photos will help inspire you or your crew, buy this.

Cover crops slideshow, Hoophouse style and design article

Last week I went to the annual conference of the Virginia Association for Biological Farming, held at Hot Springs Resort, Virginia. There were about 430 attendees, a big increase from last year. I gave two presentations, Spring and Summer Hoophouses, and Cover Crops. Here’s the Cover Crops slideshow.

In case you were there and missed the handouts, here they are:

Spring and Summer Hoophouses Handout

Cover Crops for Vegetable Growers 4pg Handout 2016

Crimson clover is a beautiful and useful cover crop.
Photo Kathryn Simmons


My next two events are

Jan 25-28, 2017 Southern Sustainable Agriculture Working Group Practical Tools and Solutions for Sustaining Family Farms Conference Location: Hyatt Regency Hotel and Convention Center, 401 West High St, Lexington, KY 40507. 888 421 1442, 800 233 1234. Registration: http://www.ssawg.org/registration

I’m presenting two brand new 90 minute workshops: Diversify your Vegetable Crops (Friday 2-3.30pm) and Storage Vegetables for Off-Season Sales (Saturday 8.15-9.45 am). Workshops will be recorded. Book signing (Thursday 5pm) and sales.

Feb 1-4 2017 PASA Farming for the Future Conference 2000 people Location: Penn Stater Convention Center, State College, PA Registration: http://conference.pasafarming.org/

I’m presenting three 80 minute Workshops: Sweet Potatoes, (Friday Feb 2 12.50pm), Crop Rotations for Vegetables and Cover Crops,  (Saturday 8.30am), and Succession Planting, (Sat 3.40pm). Workshops will be recorded. Book-signings and sales.

Sweet potato harvest 2014
Photo Nina Gentle


The January 2017 issue of Growing for Market is out. It includes my article on Hoophouse style and design. As well as the Gothic/Quonset
decision and that on whether to choose  roll-up, drop-down or no sidewalls, this article discusses roads, utilities, irrigation, in-ground insulation, end-wall design, inflation, airflow fans, and bed layout to match your chosen method of cultivation.

Other articles include Barbara Damrosch on flower production on a small vegetable farm (beautiful photos!), Emily Oakley on planning to  grow only what you can sell (words of wisdom), Eric and Joanna Reuter with part two of their series online weather tools for farmers, Jed Beach on how to avoid and fix common financial mistakes we farmers make, and Jane Tanner on local food hubs. Plenty of good reading!

The first issue of Growing for Market that I ever picked up (years ago) had an article about flame-weeding carrots. I realized that that one article was going to save us more than the price of a subscription. Just one good idea, clearly explained, can save so much wasted time!

We won’t starve or get scurvy! Plenty of food in the winter hoophouse!
Photo Twin Oaks Community

Local foodie blog, Organic Broadcaster, Climate Hub winter forecast

Radish Quick Pickles Photo by Bridget Aleshire

Radish Quick Pickles
Photo by Bridget Aleshire

For foodies who want recipes and a food blog centered in our part of the country, using seasonal produce, see sustainexistence sustainable sustenance for our existence. This blog is written by one of my fellow Twin Oakers, so you can be sure that you’ll find dishes you can make if you are growing in our bio-region. The latest post is a Pretty Salads gallery and includes Apple Rhubarb Flower Salad; Cucumber, Apple, & Pear salad; the famous Massaged Kale; Mixed Greens & Purples with Feta; Wild-Harvested Salads and more. Other posts include recipes for the under-appreciated rutabagas and turnips, what to do with eggplant, and a series on delicious soups. I can especially vouch for the soups!

This blog makes a nice companion to my blog, as you’ll never find recipes on mine! (Joys of community living #305: I never have to cook!). While I was looking for the link to Sustainexistence, I found another interesting blog with a post from Louisa, A Ride Across America | An Unlikely Hotbed of Food Activism in Small-Town Virginia. Over the course of eight weeks, Ben Towill, the co-owner of the Fat Radish, and the photographer Patrick Dougherty are biking 4,500 miles across the U.S. to talk to strangers about food. Each week, they’ll file a post about their discoveries. While in our area, they visited the Louisa County Community Cupboard, which is worth knowing about if you grow food nearby and have extra. You can take it there and help those less well-off.


Pulling plastic over the hoophouse frame. Photo Bridget Aleshire

Pulling plastic over the hoophouse frame.
Photo Bridget Aleshire

My latest post on the Mother Earth News Organic Gardening blog is

How to Put New Plastic on a Hoophouse (High Tunnel): A Step-by-Step Guide.  This is based on our recent experience of replacing just the outer layer, as well as our previous replacements of both layers on the same day.


broadcaster-picture-e1443112899347For more winter reading see the Organic Broadcaster November/December issue. There are articles on silvopasture, the benefits of organic, how to do cost assessments of various crops and markets, collective marketing, organic no-till, a review of Laura Lengnick’s Resilient Agriculture, the MOSES Conference, and the controversial practice of aquaponics. Well, it’s not the practice of aquaponics that’s controversial, but rather whether a system without soil can ever be truly organic.

Take Back Organic by Dave Chapman, is a report from the National Organic Coalition (NOC) meeting. Many hydroponic operations are gaining organic certification, even though most organic farmers disagree with the USDA decision to allow hydroponics.”Keep the Soil in Organic” has become a rallying cry. Others include “Take Back Organic,” “Soil Matters,” “Keep Organic Real For Me,” “Dirt Matters,” and “Soil Grown.”.

“On the first day of the meeting, a group of Vermont farmers gathered outside at lunchtime for a protest against the weakened organic standards. It started with a procession of marchers and tractors (and one beautiful delivery truck!). . . . As the standards get watered down to become “Certified Sort Of Organic,” we see something  precious that we have worked at for a long time being diluted.”

Eliot Coleman, one of the mentors of organic farming, addressed the meeting and read the following parts of the 1980 USDA report called “Report  and Recommendations on Organic Farming”. That report listed some of the “basic tenets” of organic agriculture:
“Feed the Soil, Not the Plant — Healthy plants, animals, and humans result from balanced, biologically active soil.”  “Soil is the Source of Life — Soil quality and balance (that is, soil with proper levels of organic matter, bacterial and biological activity, trace elements, and other nutrients) are essential to the long-term future of agriculture. Human and animal health are directly related to the health of the soil.”

There is now a USDA Task Force on Hydroponics and Aquaponics in Organic. Unfairly, two thirds of the task force members were selected for their support of including hydroponics and aquaponics in organic certification.

Barbara Damrosch wrote about the farmers demonstration in the Washington Post
www.keepthesoilinorganic.org is a blog on the topic of keeping aquaculture and hydroponics separate from organic certification.


And lastly, for today, here’s a link to the Southeast Regional Climate Hub (SERCH).  SERCH connects the public, academic, and private sector organizations, researchers, and outreach specialists and provides technical support, tools and strategies for responding to climate change. Their goal is to help producers cope with challenges associated with drought, heat stress, excessive moisture, longer growing seasons, and changes in pest pressures.

The current El Niño is on track to be one of the largest on record (since 1950, and. has the potential to surpass the 1997/1998 event, which has been the strongest El Niño so far. Most climate models are in agreement that this episode will peak during the winter and subside to neutral conditions in the spring or summer of 2016. Above average precipitation is expected across the Southeast (see the map below).

off01_prcp

off01_tempTemperature is harder to predict. Sometimes an El Niño can cause above average temperature, sometimes below normal. Currently, December looks like being above average for both temperature and precipitation. In winter, the Arctic Oscillation (AO) plays a strong role in our temperatures. The past two winters have demonstrated this. The AO switches phases fairly unpredictably over weeks or sometimes just days. If it weakens, we can expect nasty cold temperatures again, as Arctic air zooms south to greet us.

El Niño can also cause storms to track along the southern states, if the right temperatures are in place. The SERCH Winter Season Outlook concludes: “However, I do not expect this winter to receive above normal snowfall. For most of the winter, I believe it will be above normal for temperature and precipitation.”