It's 13 degrees Fahrenheit outside and there's over 3 feet 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.
Laurie 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.
As 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 18 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 12 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 8mm (2 layers) polycarbonate 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.
Our 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 websites goodideasforlife.com and offgridworks.com.