Carla Carlisle looks on the bright side

An email yesterday from my friend Susie in Maine: ‘Solid rain through June and July, no hay crop at all. Out of 30 tomatoes planted out in three batches, I have exactly one almost ripe paste tomato. My vegetable garden is gone, either drowned or eaten by slugs, although, in compensation I guess, the blueberries are great. ‘Maine’s woes include a terrible year for lobster and the closing of many of the lumber and pulp mills due to the dead housing market. Scientists say that this wet, wet world is Maine’s future, so I’m investing in another 10ft by 20ft greenhouse, this one  on skids à la Eliot Coleman’s moveable greenhouse.

It arrives next week.’ Although I should be doing 10 other things, I google ‘Eliot Coleman’s greenhouses’ and spend the next hour at We too need a new greenhouse ours are dilapidated eyesores. After studying the site and watching the video on my computer, I am converted to the idea of one that moves. Meanwhile, however, I console myself with Eliot Coleman’s latest book, which has a bumper crop of a title: The Winter Harvest Handbook: Year Round Vegetable Production Using Deep Organic Techniques and Unheated Greenhouses. It’s considered the ‘Bible for small farmers’ in the back-to-the-land movement.

I’m not so much a back-to-the-land girl as a back-to-the- hotel girl, but I like the idea of strolling to the greenhouse in January and picking a bouquet of tender lettuces. And I see the future. What the wine cellar was to the 1990s, the root cellar will be to the decade ahead. Susie’s emails always send me off somewhere. Last year, she described making mozzarella and ricotta with the milk from the Jersey cow who lives down the road, endeavours that led me to

When I got my Red Polls, I was attracted by their designation as ‘dual-purpose’, which mean cattle who also produce milk. I had visions of a Red Poll Camembert, but I only got as far as ordering one of those nice stainless-steel cone-shaped cheese buckets. In my experience, ‘dual-purpose’ is an extremely tenuous description. Which is not to say that I’ve given up all dreams of cheesemaking, just that Susie is way ahead of me. She now has two Saanen goats. Go to, and you’ll find goats as pale as virgin brides, solemn, pink-skinned and, with a 24-hour yield of 4.29kg at 3.58% butterfat, they’re bountiful producers.

And if this makes you long to make your own Crottin de Chèvre, then go to, where you’ll learn where Saanens can be found in the UK. Her emails from Maine are like updates from E. B. White. Tucked inside a treatise on poultry-house ventilation and wing repairs in geese are Susie’s latest book recommendations. Since April, she has led me to Tove Jansson’s The Summer Book, Sebastian Barry’s Annie Dunne and Tim Winton’s Breath,books by writers I’m now firmly attached to (just go to, one of the few remaining independent bookshops). I believe Susie’s late-night missives provide a healthy balance: I prefer whining to counting my blessings, Susie is inclined to look on the bright side.

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This morning, her email arrived with ‘GOOD NEWS’ as the subject. Scientists at Ohio University have stumbled onto a major breakthrough that could be the key to bringing hydrogen fuel cells into widespread use. By placing a nickel-based electrode in a vial of urine and applying a small electrical current, hydro-gen gas is produced. ‘One cow can provide enough energy to supply hot water for 19 houses,’ says Prof Geraldine Botte. The commercial version of the technology will be ready next year. If ur-in(e) doubt, go to