Mercury Rising 鳯女

Politics, life, and other things that matter

Winter Farming — In Vermont

Posted by Phoenix Woman on January 10, 2010

Yes, Vermont. Here’s how — by crafting giant greenhouses that move back and forth on rails skids (thanks, Slim!):

When Pete Johnson, a leader among New England’s organic farmers, set out one day last fall to pull an 18,000-pound greenhouse, in fits and starts, over a field-grown plot of lettuce, he inched forward an idea that could help make fresh local produce available year-round, even in Vermont.It was late October. For most of his fellow farmers, harvest time was over until spring. But Mr. Johnson was just revving up his tractor – and his dream.

He wants to extend the growing season into winter, and to start spring crops in late winter, in ground protected temporarily by movable greenhouses. Johnson had seen this done experimentally elsewhere. But he was trying it on a commercial scale, with greenhouses 200 feet long – twice the length of a basketball court and two-thirds as wide.


Johnson’s tractor was connected by steel cables to one of the front corners of one of his greenhouses. His facilities manager, Steve Perkins, sat at the wheel of a second tractor connected to the other front corner of the greenhouse. A chilly autumn wind rippled the lightweight fabric covering rows of salad greens. But even unheated, the greenhouse might protect plants enough to keep them producing through the winter: That was the idea.


As fall gave way to winter, Johnson saw his vision vindicated. Through weeks of snow and some single-digit temperatures, Johnson supplied his community-supported agriculture (CSA) customers with fresh lettuce and other greens grown inside the unheated greenhouse. (In CSA consumers buy food directly from local farmers.)

Those plants stopped growing during Vermont’s deep January freeze (minus 30 degrees one week), but Johnson expects to start harvesting new growth in mid-February. “And that’s pretty cool to get fresh greens from unheated greenhouses all but one month of the winter,” he says.

This is amazing. If Pete’s Greens can do it in Vermont, it can be done just about anywhere.

5 Responses to “Winter Farming — In Vermont”

  1. Charles II said

    That’s one of the wonderful things about America… the willingness of small businessmen to give completely whacky ideas a whirl.

    • He apparently has a whole system of crop rotation where some fields are growing things and others are being fertilized by free-range chicken manure while they provide green feed for the chickens. It’s getting very close to a closed-loop scheme, with outside outputs being reduced with each growing season.

      • jo6pac said

        Thanks, I not starting my green house until March and it won’t move but as Charles says there’s enough people out there willing to try anything.

  2. Minnesota Slim said

    Interesting site cite, PW. Thanks. This could work in Minnesota (but not in my yard — if I’m ambitious I’ll put in a coldframe this year). One quibble: it’s on skids, not rails. It’s below zero again tonight, but perusing the seed catalogs is sparking dreams of warmer days ahead.

    • Ah, my bad. I was thinking how much better it would be if he *had* put it on rails — then moving the frame would have taken all of five minutes with the tractor — and apparently my wishful thinking got transmuted into the article. (Seriously, though: I’m betting that he could probably get some rail for free from abandoned rail lines, if he asked the railroad in question.)

      Speaking of ambition: I really should hustle my butt and get some tomato seedlings started. Think I’ll go with cherry tomatoes again this year.

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