Tuesday, 26 February 2013 00:00

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 .

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  • Our Garden At 4200′ Elevation

    off grid, living off grid, self sufficient, homestead, sustainableNot only are we new at living off grid but we are also new at gardening. This is only our second year but our garden is doing well. Laurie is the prime planter, caretaker, and waterer. We have twice as many types of vegetables as we did last year and almost all of them are thriving.

    Starting January 01, 2012 I started keeping a weekly journal of everything from daily temperatures and weather to how much wood we were burning, when the snow started to melt, and other things that matter to us living where we do. This spring and summer I have included the garden topics so we would have a better idea ahead of time next year on when we could do our seedlings and starts inside the house prior to transplanting them into the garden.

    We live at an elevation of 4200’. The snow left this year by April 25 but the ground was still frozen. I finally rototilled the garden May 18. By that time people down in the valley were already mowing their lawns and seeing their first vegetables popping out of the ground.

    We were eating fresh vegetables out of our insulated cold frames – spinach, broccoli, and cauliflower. Once those were all done we replaced them with cherry tomato plants and more spinach in late May.

    off grid, living off grid, self sufficient, homestead, sustainableOn June 10, I made an entry into the journal that the beans had come up and died. The temperatures were still in the 30’s. That is cold even for here. The other veggies – peas, spinach, garlic, zucchini, potatoes, tomatoes, cauliflower and broccoli were all okay. Now that we have all this recorded, next year we will adjust our planting times accordingly. By June 25, everything had been planted including the corn.

    By July 20, only five weeks later I recorded the following – “Garden – is growing like crazy. Corn is 3’ tall. Beans ½ up the pole. Tomatoes just starting to show, eating lettuce, spinach, and peas. Potatoes are waist high”. We were later than the valley gardens but coming on strong. Mother Nature just seems to know how to get it done.

    Our corn is only 6’ tall but the ears are already 2/3 filled out. We even have ears of corn on stalks that are only 4’ tall.

    off grid, living off grid, self sufficient, homestead, sustainableAugust 19 – “Garden – corn husks are showing. Beans are blossomed. Tomatoes are green. Potatoes are almost done, dying off now. Peas are done. Broccoli and cauliflower are coming on strong. Cucumbers are starting to develop. Carrots just starting to show green tops. Zucchini – lots and lots right now. Lettuce – too many – dying. Beets did not come up – again.”

    This journal is going to be so helpful for future garden planning.

    We water our garden from our two cisterns which receive water off our house roof when it rains. It hasn’t rained here in six weeks and we are finally having to pump water out of the well for the garden. When we installed the cisterns we put an extra pipe and valve into the cisterns from our pressurized water system. All I have to do is turn a valve and the cisterns will fill up from our pressure water system. One item of interest concerning water is that we know the prior property owners hauled water for their garden from a spring over a mile away, all by hand. They used the same well we do. Cisterns work and because of them our slow producing well has not been over used and is still producing enough for all of our needs. We have never run out of water.

    Laurie waters everything by hand which saves a lot of water as opposed to using some other means like a sprinkler that waters every square inch of garden including those areas that don’t have plants. This time of year it doesn’t take much water, just a little more time to do it by hand.

    off grid, living off grid, self sufficient, homestead, sustainableWe have been eating out of the garden or insulated cold frames since April when it was 18 degrees F. This next year we are going to try to grow vegetables in the cold frames the year ‘round. We are eating, canning and freezing everything we grow. We have given away plenty of produce as well.

    We live in the heart of apple orchard country. I have been told by everyone that we can’t grow apples this high. We’ll see about that next year. One thing at a time. I do know there are crab apple trees two miles from us on an old homestead. I wouldn’t bet against us.

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

     
  • 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.

     
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