Off-Grid and Free: Gardening North of the 56th Parallel (with Video)

Reader Contribution by Ron Melchiore
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The cool, rainy spring we had this year has set our garden back a bit and now we’re trying to catch up. Unfortunately, summer has proved to be abnormally rainy also. Seems like it’s either feast or famine since last year was unusually dry. We had a good 7 feet of beautiful sandy beach last year, and today, there is none. In fact, the dock is almost under water.

Being above the 56th parallel, we have a short growing season with potential for frost at any time throughout the summer months. Winter has a nasty habit of sticking with us even though the calendar may say “spring.”

Start Early with Hoop Houses

One of the ways we get an early start to the gardening season is by setting up hoop houses. All planted seedlings get a fabric cover of N-Sulate Frost Fabric, a medium-weight, permeable, UV-treated cloth which raises the temperature beneath it by 6 to 8 degrees. We have found this product to be far superior to Reemay both in its durability (our sheets are going on 10 years old) and for its greater frost protection.

Even if you live in the milder climes of the United States, using N-Sulate will allow you to get your garden off to a much earlier start with earlier harvests. We suspend this material over wire hoops so it’s not laying directly on the plants.

Finally, over the growing beds, we set up hoops of PVC pipe which are covered with greenhouse plastic to give a few more degrees of protection. A few years we’ve had the hoop houses partially collapsing from the weight of late spring snows and yet our plants, including tender corn seedlings, survived just fine.

Season Extension with Greenhouses

The greenhouse, as always, is doing very well. Our tomatoes, peppers and melons are growing like weeds. Here again, we do a few things to get an early season jump.

Long before the last frost, young seedlings are planted in the greenhouse and covered with Reemay. Recycled gallon milk jugs filled with water are randomly placed around plants to absorb heat throughout the day which radiates back during the night. I place a small kerosene heater in the greenhouse and it is my mission and job to run the heater on any night approaching freezing or colder. That makes for a poor nights sleep since I monitor temperatures diligently.

For me to blithely sleep through the night while our young, carefully nurtured seedlings keel over and die from freezing would be an unrecoverable disaster. I would get a serious spanking for that misdeed!

In some past years, the stems of a few tomato plants got a stem rot which we believe to be fungal in nature. We’re trying something new to eliminate that. We cut old plastic one gallon milk jugs into plastic collars and placed them around the base of the plants at planting time. We are careful not to water inside the collar.

In other words, we are careful that the stem never gets wet and soil residue is never splattered on to the stem. We think that will go a long way to solving that problem. We’ll know in another month.

Strawberries are in full bloom and we should have a decent crop this year. It won’t be a record-setter but should keep us satisfied. Hard to believe one could get sick of eating strawberries but it happens. My record harvest in a previous year was 130 quarts. That’s a lot of berries in a narrow picking window. Of course, we froze bags of them and made jam, but still, 32 gallons of strawberries was a lot to pick and consume. Not that I’m complaining. It was a nice problem to have.

Part of the strawberry success is making sure any runners are pinched off so the plant can devote all its energy to fruit production. The only other thing I do is lightly fertilize each spring just as the plants are leafing out and then cover the patch with a layer of N-Sulate fabric until warm weather settles in for good.

Video: My Path to the Wilderness

I’d like to share a video with my readers which took me forever to create. I have about 300 hours in it. Let’s just say, the movie making didn’t go real smooth. But I persevered and I’m very pleased with the results. It visually reinforces my previous blog posts for MOTHER EARTH NEWS and ties some things together. It gives you a better sense of who we are, how we got started, and how we ended up in the wilderness.

The video is broken into four segments: I start with homesteading in Maine. Then, for those adventurers among us, we’ll go for a winter’s thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail followed by a cross country bicycle trip and finally, the last segment is about our life in the Canadian wilderness.

I’ve been blessed to have lived an unconventional life for the last 36 years. I’m eager to share my experiences and help others. I hope my story gives a measure of confidence and inspiration to those contemplating a life change, be it homesteading or another dream of some kind. When I set out to homestead in Maine so long ago, I had no idea where that adventure would ultimately take me. It’s been quite the journey!

Ron Melchioreand his wife Johanna currently live alone 100 miles in the wilderness of Northern Saskatchewan. Ron is the author of Off Grid and Free: My Path to the Wilderness published by Moon Willow Pressand is available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble. Connect with Ron at In the Wildernessand on Facebookand Pinterest. Read all of his MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

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