Mother Earth News Blogs > Homesteading and Livestock

Homesteading and Livestock

Self-reliance and sustainability in the 21st century.

Living Off Grid - How we grow winter vegetables

StartsI 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?

First PlantingI 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.

heat jugsWorst 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  and