Sunday, 22 April 2012 00:00

How we grow winter food!

off grid, living off grid, self sufficient, homestead, sustainableI think we have established in past blogs that sustainability is a good thing and anything you can do in that regard is good. One of the ways we have attempted to become more sustainable is to grow our own food. The advantages are obvious but it’s okay if we state the obvious over and over until all of us get it. Food safety and independence are two good reasons to grow your own food.

We had a pretty good size garden the first year we moved here and we canned food from the garden for the winter. This year I am going to build a storage bin in our garage to store root vegetables like potatoes and carrots. This past year we just put them in a box in the garage.

One whole wall of our garage is built out of concrete and is basically underground, much like a basement wall. The two ends of the garage are insulated and the other long wall is the living space from the house and therefore heated. The end result is that even though our temperatures can go below zero degrees Fahrenheit, the garage never freezes. It’s just like a root cellar.

I’m going to build triangular corner shelving out of plywood and wood framing and put a fairly large lip on the outside edge of the shelves to form a box to put sawdust and vegetables in. Even without sawdust, our potatoes at this time are just like they were coming out of the ground. Very few sprouts!

Between the new storage bins and canning, I think food storage is adequate for the year. Our garden produces June through September and we can easily grow enough vegetables to last us all year, but what about winter fresh veggies?

off grid, living off grid, self sufficient, homestead, sustainableI had read an article in one of our garden magazines years ago about a guy in Wisconsin who claimed that if you attached a raised bed or planter to the side of the house, you could plant vegetables in the winter and they would not freeze so we just had to give it a try and the picture to the left is what we ended up with – insulated raised bed/cold frames.

They are attached to the south end of the house. The panels are insulated with double wall polycarbonate and the beds are completely filled with dirt. Neither of the beds is heated.

This was our first test this winter. It seems we had a lot of reasons why we didn’t get them planted until March but that’s what happened. Keep in mind that in March our temperatures were still in the low 20’s every day and several times even in the upper teens. I did check the dirt several times during the coldest months and it was never frozen.

The simple idea is that one side of the beds is the house which never freezes and in fact is heated. As long as you have the insulated panels on top amplifying the sun’s heat (when it shines) and are planting cold weather plants like broccoli, cauliflower, spinach and other greens, you can grow vegetables in the winter.

off grid, living off grid, self sufficient, homestead, sustainableWorst case scenario is that we can extend our short growing season by four months. Instead of June thru September, we know we can go from March to end of October and I’m pretty sure that with a few tricks like these water filled black painted plastic jugs to help hold heat at night, we can do even better than eight months.

Sometimes the simplest ideas work and this is one of those. I know some of you have been doing this for many years but we haven’t and I can’t tell you how excited we are to be cold weather educated at this point. This next year we are going to have the garden, root cellar quality food storage, and cold weather growing ability to have fresh home grown vegetables almost all year long. That’s sustainability!

Ed and Laurie Essex live off grid in the Okanogan Highlands of Washington State where they operate their website goodideasforlife.com  and Off Grid Works.

 

Related items

  • Winter Gardening Updated

    off grid, living off grid, self sufficient, homestead, sustainable

    I wrote an article in January (More Winter Fresh Veggie Choices) about winter gardening. Specifically our insulated cold frame attached to the south side of the house, our EasyGreen Automatic Sprouter, our hydroponic experiment called EzGro Garden, and our free range chickens.

    Many people have written us asking how the EzGro experiment turned out and also for more detail. We are pleased to say it has been a success. I’m not sure the creator of this hydroponic unit ever intended it to be used the way we have but I know he would be happy with the results.

    off grid, living off grid, self sufficient, homestead, sustainableEzGro Garden – This is a brand new experiment for us and it is going very well. It is a vertical hydroponic garden. It doesn’t take up very much space (14” x 14”), it uses less than 1 Amp of power for 18 minutes per day and is easy to use and takes very little time to operate.

    It comes with everything you need including stackable pots for anywhere from 20 – 80 different plants depending on what type they are.

    Once you set it up you fill the pots with the media (made from ground coconut husk) provided.

    Next you mix the nutrition supplements provided with water and pour them into the base (reservoir). Add the pump to the water and program your timer. We’ve set our timer to pump the nutritionally supplemented water every hour for two minutes from 8:00 AM to 4:00 PM. Your timer programming may be different depending on what you plant.

    The last step is to plant your seeds in the pots. We would recommend just one plant per pot to start out with.

    We add water to the reservoir every two weeks and the nutrients every four weeks. You can grow plants even faster by cutting those times in half and a few other tricks users have come up with this past year. Use the Contact form from one of our websites for more information.

    off grid, living off grid, self sufficient, homestead, sustainableOurs plants didn’t start out too well but we aren’t using grow lights. We just set it in front of a window during the coldest and darkest time of the year – December and January. During that time period we went almost two months without sun. Once the sun started showing itself again these plants just took off. As long as you have good light you don’t need growing lights!

    You plant a seed for whatever you want and they usually come up in just one or two days! We are still in the process of experimentation but what we have done so far has worked very well. Right now we are growing lettuce, cucumbers, and spinach. Why spinach – I don’t know. We have tons of it in the cold frame! We must have a lot of seed.  Anyway, as soon as we eat this crop we are going to plant something different.  Strawberries are popular with this product and so are flowers.

    We have been posting our progress on our Facebook page. Several Facebook friends have been using these gardens for a while and they just love them. Some have them inside like us, some outside on the patio or deck and some on the covered back porch. They seem to be very versatile.

    off grid, living off grid, self sufficient, homestead, sustainableoff grid, living off grid, self sufficient, homestead, sustainableThese units don’t fall into the “self sufficient” category. Only our garden and insulated cold frames do that. They require electricity and the routine purchase of special nutrients to be added to the water. That being said however, the amount of power required to run these is about the same amount as our laptop – for 18 minutes per day and the nutrients should last a full year.

    The bottom line is that they allow you to grow your own fresh food, even during winter including the harsher and colder climates like we have. They allow you to grow food no matter how busy you are and no matter where you live, even a condo or apartment and those are all good reasons to share our success with you.

    Ed and Laurie Essex live off grid in the Okanogan Highlands of Washington State where they operate their website goodideasforlife.com and Off Grid Works .

  • More Winter Fresh Veggie Choices

    off grid, living off grid, self sufficient, homestead, sustainableIts 13F degrees outside and there is over 3’ of snow on our garden. We have plenty of canned vegetables from last summer but what about fresh greens?

    We are new at all of this but each year we experiment a little more and try to expand on our fresh vegetable options.

    We live off grid in a cold climate. That limits our options somewhat. If we had an insulated greenhouse it would have to be heated. We don’t have the electrical surplus to go towards an electric heater and don’t want to spend the money for an alternative heat source such as propane or kerosene or heating oil so we have turned to other options.

    off grid, living off grid, self sufficient, homestead, sustainableLaurie had been using an EasyGreen Automatic Sprouter before we moved here. It is an electric appliance but it only takes about 22 watts of power to operate the mister for 15 minutes 8 times per day which is so minimal it just isn’t much of a factor even for us.

    It comes with  multiple trays so you can grow a variety of fresh sprouts at the same time or you can stagger the trays by planting one tray on Monday, another on Tuesday etc so that you have a constant supply of a variety of sprouts. This is a great winter option for anyone but also for those of us producing our own power.

    off grid, living off grid, self sufficient, homestead, sustainableAs some of you already know, when we built this house we added two experimental insulated cold frames to the south end of the house. We never got around to trying them out the first year but we had some success last spring when it was still cold – as low as 18F degrees.

    This year we transplanted some cold weather plants from the garden in October and they are still thriving. The coldest it has been is 12F degrees. The picture shows spinach and swiss chard. There are even a few volunteer mushrooms in there!

    The cold frames are attached to the house. That gives them one side that is always heated. The top is made of 8 mm (2 layers) poly-carbonate panels. This is the same material many greenhouses are made of. It seems to work pretty well. The idea is that during the day the sun will heat the plants and earth. There is enough heat there from the sun and at night the house, that it doesn’t freeze. We haven’t had much sun and the soil did freeze in one of the planters this winter but the plants are okay. You just need to make sure you plant “cold weather friendly” plants like spinach, chard, beets and beet greens, carrots, broccoli, and cauliflower. Last late winter we did broccoli and cauliflower. They grew just fine but got too tall for these enclosures.

    We sell a portable version of the insulated cold frame on our website Good ideas For Life for those of you who live in condos and apartments. If nothing else these units can extend a growing season two months earlier and two months later than usual.

    off grid, living off grid, self sufficient, homestead, sustainableOur latest experiment involves a hydroponic garden. It is made in the USA. We have always avoided hydroponics because of the expense and the large amount of floor space required to keep them. Most hydroponics also require growing lights and that just isn’t conducive to solar generated power. This system is different in that it is a vertical space saver and it doesn’t require growing lights although they can be used of desired. This system has a pump but like the EasyGreen it takes almost no real power. It runs for two minutes at a time eight times per day and draws less than one amp.

    Ours is currently located in a south window in the bedroom but that is the coldest part of the house this time of year. Still it is growing. Not as fast as we would like but I’m sure that is due to temperature which is 65F degrees and the shortest growing days of the year in Dec/Jan.

    If it works we will sell these on our website Good Ideas for Life. We only sell products we use ourselves so that we know they will work.

    We also have our chickens. Eggs are not plentiful in this cold weather but we are still getting a few eggs and they are mentioned here because most people can have a few hens even in the city with a small coop or chicken tractor.

    We take the time to share these things with you because Laurie and I firmly believe in growing as much of your own food as possible while at the same time realizing how busy everyone is with day to day living.

    It is kind of fun and we are excited about all of the new things  coming out that can help us grow our own food no matter where you live.

    Ed and Laurie Essex live off grid in the Okanogan Highlands of Washington State where they operate their website goodideasforlife.com  and Off Grid Works.