By the Book
New Reference Promotes Indoor Yields and Profits
by Sharon Tregaskis
For organic growers facing an increasingly uncertain climate – ecologically and economically – Andrew Mefferd offers a 245-page compendium on the best practices for managing eight high-profit crops in The Greenhouse and Hoophouse Grower’s Handbook: Organic Vegetable Production Using Protected Culture. Published in February by Chelsea Green, the Handbook boasts full-color photographs of recommended practices (and those to avoid), plus appendices on hydroponics, pests and diseases, and tools and supplies, as well as an extensive index and a bibliography of additional resources. If only the encyclopedic reference were laminated, to prevent the inevitable potting soil and water stains it’s sure to acquire with regular use.
Mefferd devotes the first half of his effort to five chapters covering the basics of protected culture—the history of indoor growing, the contemporary rationale for the practice, and such details as structure types, siting, and management of both plants and economic considerations. While much of the material in this section will be familiar to growers with a few years of indoor management under their belts, the section should be required reading for commercial growers weighing whether or not to diversify their efforts by growing under glass or plastic, as well as for aspiring farmers still refining their business plans.
The second half of the book tackles crop-specific practices associated with the eight high-profit crops teased on the cover. (Spoiler alert: Mefferd tackles tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, eggplant, and “leafy crops,” a category that spans lettuce, herbs, and microgreens.) In addition to such issues as optimal spacing, trellising options, and crop-specific techniques for managing the diseases and pests most likely to plague indoor cultivation, the author also tackles such intermediate skills as grafting and tactics for promoting either vegetative or generative growth.
Mefferd knows of what he speaks. He apprenticed on farms in Pennsylvania, California, Washington, Virginia, New York, and Maine, and worked for seven years in the Johnny’s Selected Seeds research department, traveling around the world to consult with researchers and farmers on best practices. He field-tested his observations on his own farm in Maine, and serves as editor and publisher of Growing for Market. “One thing I’ve discovered,” he writes, “is that the principles of protected growing are the same whether your house covers 100 square feet or 100 acres.”