Living Off Grid – How we grow winter vegetables

Reader Contribution by Ed Essex
1 / 3
2 / 3
3 / 3

I 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

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?

I 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.

Worst 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