The weather outside may still be wintry, but inside Martha's greenhouse, it's lush as can be. Here, she shares how she grows vibrant produce year-round, and a few simple ways she puts her harvest to flavorful use.
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Martha with basket of greens
Credit: Paola + Murray

I started dreaming about a vegetable greenhouse—a place where I could grow delicious, nutritious produce all year long—decades ago, when I met the organic farmer and author Eliot Coleman. Eliot was famous for developing a unique, year-round method of cultivating organic vegetables in the ground in unheated greenhouses in Maine, and was providing local restaurants and markets with glorious vegetables. I learned more techniques later at Stone Barns Center for Food & Agriculture, in Pocantico Hills, New York. There, farm director Jack Algiere grows everything from seed in an immense, energy-efficient soil-based greenhouse, nurturing vegetables and fruits with incredible flavors.

When I built this greenhouse, I initially sowed directly into newly dug beds in the floor. It worked, but the plants did not stay in tidy rows, which made it difficult to harvest them. My farmer friends Steve and Cindy, who worked at Triple Chick Farm in Maine at the time, suggested a geometric installation of 16 white-oak boxes. (Each one is 6 by 7 feet and 8 inches deep; there's also a 5-by-16-foot box for fig trees and six raised planter boxes along the windows.) I filled them with Vermont Compost's Fort Vee potting soil, a rich and fertile blend. Lots of greenhouse growers in the Northeast swear by the mix, and I have been extremely pleased with the results. For seeds, I prefer Johnny's Selected Seeds and Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds (especially Salanova lettuces); they do exceptionally well in these conditions.

My vegetables grow fast and taste wonderful, and there are no weeds! My daily green juice and salads are more flavorful, my herbs are fragrant and bright, and I have more than enough to share with my daughter and grandchildren.

Even a small greenhouse (kits are available online) can produce a plethora of vegetables and supply you with homegrown produce all year, too. Give it a try—you'll be so happy.

Martha's greenhouse
Credit: Paola + Murray

Rolling Routine

To yield continuous crops all winter, Martha plants beds successively, starting once temperatures cool down in the fall and resowing weekly until spring.

greenhouse with grapefruit tree
Credit: Paola + Murray

Quick Picks

Martha gathers produce daily for juices and other meals. To keep the soil healthy, she rotates where she plants greens, herbs, peppers, and root vegetables every year. A potted grapefruit tree thrives in the back.

Martha’s Greenhouse-Vegetable Soup
Kale Salad With Fried Capers and Golden Raisins
chicory plant
Left: Credit: Johnny Miller
Center: Credit: Johnny Miller
Right: Credit: Paola + Murray

Farm to Table

Martha uses these verdant greens in her own recipes—and so can you. Packed with spinach, Savoy cabbage, potatoes, carrots, and celery, Martha's Greenhouse-Vegetable Soup, left, is fresh-tasting and filling. The Kale Salad with Fried Capers and Golden Raisins, center, gets sweetness from the latter and a salty crunch from the former, plus croutons. Martha also grows chicory, right, for salads and soups.

basket of greens
Credit: Paola + Murray

In Her Basket

As for the green varieties Martha is snipping now? All can be seen here, in her basket. Cutting celery is easy to grow—this versatile veg has thin stalks and a strong flavor. Tuscan kale, also known as lacinato or dinosaur, is an Italian iteration that is delicious raw or cooked. She has another variety in the works: Siberian kale is a highly productive, frost-tolerant plant with tender, curly leaves.

Martha grows several lettuce types—including red salad-bowl (snipping individual leaves from this speedy grower encourages more growth), Red Cross (a variety of butterhead, it flaunts large, reddish leaves), and royal oak-leaf (many lettuces can turn bitter growing in the heat; this one doesn't)—and two parsley varieties. Curly-leaf parsley take two to three months to mature from seed, while the flat-leaf plant is used to brighten pastas and soups—it has a bolder flavor than its curly cousin.

growing lamps in greenhouse
radicchio plant
Left: Credit: Paola + Murray
Right: Credit: Paola + Murray

Light Fantastic

After daylight saving time ends, grow lamps, left, provide supplemental light, and when temperatures rise, fans keep air circulating. Pathways offer easy access. Martha plants several kinds of radicchio, right, many of which take on a reddish hue, to add color and bite to salads.

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