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Eating Locally Year-Round from the "Garden" - Even in frigid Minnesota!                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     

And by "garden" we mean the larger sense of the word. This includes what you plant in a highly cultivated space, the wild greens, mushrooms, fruits, vegetables, and herbs that grow in your neighborhood, what you can grow indoors in pots or jars, and even what you've stored for the off-season as dried, canned, pickled, juiced, root-cellared, or dry-stored food. There are so many possibilities, including foods purchased from local/regional farmers! This page explores the ones we use, including techniques and equipment used to extend the growing season in the temperate zone of the northern U.S. If you are unfamiliar with the basic concept of "local food", its common definition, the ramifications of its reduced greenhouse gas emissions, lowered resource and pesticide use, etc., just Click Here for an excellent article from WorldWatch by Sarah DeWeerdt called, "Is Local Food Better?"


Begin the Process

Start from the point of buying all of your food and move toward the goal of producing as much as you can. It need not be an overwhelming burden. Begin with one ingredient, become proficient, and try another one. Over time, fewer ingredients will be purchased, especially from non-local sources. The following two menus are given as samples to start you thinking about the process. You'll notice that different times of year offer very different, but equally interesting, choices. Working backward from the ingredient you need will map out the steps to put a given item on your table.

For instance, garlic bulbs are planted in the Fall and harvested around the end of July in the next year. They can be live-stored, depending on the variety, until the next harvest.  Strawberries are usually started from transplants in the Spring or sometimes in the Fall, and begin producing the following year. They have a short fresh harvest window, but can be preserved by dehydrating or canning/bottling.  Tomatoes are started indoors in early Spring and produce fruit from mid-Summer until frost. Canned or dehydrated tomatoes can be a menu backbone for much of the year if you preserve enough. Just knowing what is in season for your locale can help shape your menus to take advantage of what's available now, to plan for what's coming on, and to provide for the Winter months by appropriate preservation methods.

For the "Summer Solstice Menu" from Larisa's workshop, just Click Here for the free Adobe PDF file download. The first page shows the menu, while the second page is the the color key to the foods.

And for the "Winter Solstice Menu" from her workshop, just Click Here.

And if you need a current copy of Adobe Reader to read these files, you can get a free download by Clicking Here.


Redundancy: It works in engineering, and it works in cooking too!

Part of eating seasonally is being willing to substitute ingredients in your recipes. For example, onions are a base ingredient in much of our cooking, but "onion" covers a wide range of possibilities. Check out the "Alliums Year-Round" chart to see our many available options. We have "multiple redundancy" so that we never really run out.

For the "Alliums Year-Round" chart shown in Larisa's workshop, "Eating Year-Round from the Garden", just Click Here  for the free Adobe PDF file download.



Need all the details? Lots of folks have either downloaded or purchased a hard copy of "Pantry Full of Sunshine", Larisa's book based on many of the questions she fielded at workshops about her unique solar food dryer and her other energy-saving food preservation methods, like steam-juicing and steam-canning. Our latest co-authored book includes all of "Pantry's" information plus it is greatly expanded to show how food preservation fits into our overall scheme of nourishing ourselves year-round in a fairly harsh climate. And it is updated with recipes that better reflect our most recent dietary changes, including entirely gluten-free grains, with information on growing and processing home-grown foods of all sorts. If you liked "Pantry" you will love this one!

To see a free Adobe PDF file of the covers and table of contents, just Click Here.

Physical copies of "Feeding Ourselves"
(184 pages, spiral-bound) cost $23.50 each, postpaid in the U.S. (please add $1.38 sales tax if you are ordering in Minnesota), or $20.00 plus shipping elsewhere in the world. Contact us for international shipping costs. All others can simply send a personal check, traveler's check, or postal money order to:

GeoPathfinder/Larisa Walk/Bob Dahse
30319 Wiscoy Ridge Road
Winona, MN, 55987-5651


OR: To order a physical copy of "Feeding Ourselves" using PayPal, Click Here. Clicking this takes you (very slowly if you have a dial-up connection) to a new screen with a "Buy Now" button, and this links to PayPal's secure order form where you can pay by credit card, checking account, or an existing PayPal account balance.


OR: To order a downloadable Adobe PDF file of "Feeding Ourselves" for about half price ($10.00), Click Here or the button at the left (requires Adobe Reader to read the download). Clicking this takes you to PayPal's secure order form and gives you a link to the PDF via Payloadz.com. The file size is 7.53 MB so, depending on your connection speed, it may take some time to download.



Eating Year-Round from the Garden, the Year in Review


Month & Theme
ActivitiesCurrent Edibles
January - PLAN!!


* Mapping plant placement based on plant covers, bed preparation, succession planting, companion plants, etc. 
* Ordering seeds 
* Joining a C.S.A. to fill in the gaps?
Sprouts, Preserved Foods (dried, root-cellared, canned, etc.)
February - Start Seeds

* Start onions, leeks, celery, parsley, lettuce, coles, & herbs
* Pruning
* Tool preparation
Sprouts, Preserved Foods (dried, root-cellared, canned, etc.)
March - Hope for Spring
* Spread soil minerals
* Early crops in beds prepared last Fall
* Fall-seeded plants are up!
Perennial Onions, Early Greens, Sprouts, Preserved Foods
April - Spring Into Action* Soil preparation
* Transplant onions, lettuce, coles
* Direct seed peas, greens
* Green manuring/cultivation
Fresh Greens (wild and garden), Root Cellar Remnants, Parsnips and "Sunchokes"
May - Plant!!!* Intense gardening work
* Majority of garden planted this month
* Be prepared for late frosts with plant covers, early watering, etc.
Asparagus, Morel Mushrooms, Greens of all sorts
June -  Weed!!!* Start preserving herbs and excess greens (wild and cultivated)
* Plant Fall root crops
* Bug patrol
* Farmer's market shopping/CSA's begin
Strawberries, Peas, Greens, Rhubarb, Coles, Tomatoes, Beans
July - Summer Eating* Harvest
* Eat
* Preserve the excess, ideally by drying
Summer Squash, Potatoes, Corn, Peas, Beans, Peppers, Tomatoes, Bramble Berries, Cherries
August - Harvest* Preserve lots of food (sauce, salsa, kraut, pickles)
* Green manure the empty beds
* Plant outdoor Fall crops
Apples, Plums, Melons, and All of the Above
September - Storage* Make cider/juice
* Dig potatoes
* Plant garlic, green manure crops, and late-Fall/Winter greens
* Pick dry beans
* Be prepared for early frost
Fall Greens, Grapes, Winter Squash, and Summer Garden Remnants
October - Wrap It Up* Dig carrors, beets, sweet potatoes
* Garden clean-up
* Prepare early Spring beds
* Plant for Spring crops
* Mulch garlic, etc.
Fall Greens, Final Warm Season Crops, Transition into Winter Diet
November - Eat!!!* Clean and store tools
* Start planning next year's garden
Enjoy the Fruits of Your Labors!
December - Dream* Check root cellar and canned goods for spoilageSprouts, Indoor Greens, Soups, Stews, Roots, Pickles, etc., etc.


Some Examples of "Season Extention"

This is one of our season extenders, a "cloche", or cone-shaped cold frame made from a scrap piece of Kalwall, fiber reinforced polyester, greenhouse glazing material. It's cut as a half-circle, then epoxied and riveted on the seam. Note the old zinc canning lid on top for those really cold nights! You can take it off on sunny days but leave the cone for plants that like the extra daytime heat.

This "cattle panel" of 1/4-inch galvanized steel was cut into thirds, then bent into a half-tube by a local metal shop. With Kalwall ends and some clear vinyl over the top you've got a miniature greenhouse. This works well on beds or wide patches. For narrow beds or rows, look a little further down the page.

This is our in-ground, pit-type cold frame used for starting plants and keeping cold-tolerant greens going throughout the Winter. The walls are foam-insulated, 4-inch concrete blocks, held together with darkly-dyed block-bond cement. The frame is "plastic wood" decking with 10 mm thick, polycarbonate "Twin-wall" greenhouse glazing covers. They are held with loose pin hinges, the pin made from a 4" C-shaped piece of 9-guage wire. It can act as a normal hinge or as a prop to hold the panel slightly open.

This is our little greenhouse built over the cold frame, in an early stage, showing just the leveled earth, surrounded by a rock pile to hold it in place, and the EMT (electrical metal tubing) and "hog panels" that support the glazing. The EMT was bent using a 3/4" pipe bender, at 6-inch intervals, to match the angle made when I tied the front and back sides of a hog panel at points that gave the desired shape. The hog panels are connected with stainless steel hose clamps.

This is an early Spring photo of some of the salads we'll be eating for dinner, mainly lettuces and spinach. The back bed, with the pit greenhouse isn't shown. This bed looks much messier in the Summer when it's full of mature greens, going to seed to prepare for next year's crop. Normally we just use the greenhouse for over-wintering greens (mustard and chard) for our chickens, along with some spinach and chard for ourselves. These crops are allowed to go to seed the following summer so that we will have an abundant seed supply for re-planting. We also over-winter carrots, leeks, winter radishes, beets, broccoli, and other biennial crops for seed production. Most of our lettuces are grown year-round, either indoors or on our porch, in trays for fresh eating.

This is the completed solar greenhouse with cold frame. The cold frame is used in all four seasons. The greenhouse is used in three. The polycarbonate glazing is riveted to some galvanized pipe strapping on the inside of the hog panels. I used 1" galvanized washers and long, 1/4" steel rivets. The door is hinged to a piece of ACQ-treated wood that's screwed through the wall glazing. Lots of silicone seals all the joints.

This shows another use for "cattle panels", cut in half lengthwise, hinged on top using wire, set over a double row of tomato plants, then covered in plastic when it's chilly outside. This works well for narrow beds or single rows. We've used vinyl (flexible, but horribly plastic-smelling PVC) simply because it's thick (for wind resistance) and it can withstand sunlight for so many more years than polyethylene. If you do the same, bake it in the sun for a long time before you use it on plants! Or better yet, spring for some real cross-linked, 3 or 4-year life, polyethylene greenhouse plastic, or just use semi-sheer drapery material if you are only trying to prevent a light frost.

This lettuce is part of our Winter indoor garden. These are shown in early November and are nearly fully mature They will be eaten up soon to make way for younger lettuce transplants. The pots we use are rectangular clay, about 16 inches long,  inches wide, and 7 inches deep. We grow three palnts in this space, filling the pot with almost 100% garden compost. To prepare for growing, we heat the pots on our woodstove and apply wax to the interior so that water loss from the soil into the pot is greatly reduced. We then whitewash the exterior with diluted white latex paint to reflect some of the sunlight that might otherwise overheat the roots. Note the translucent exterior window shutters with the vertical grooves. They are made from 1/4-inch thick polycarbonate panels, giving the normally double-glazed windows an extra 2 layers, and a total of 3 insulating airspaces. 

Here you can see some more recent transplants in the clay pots below, and more that are in 4-inch plastic pots on a narrow window shelf. The plastic pots sit in a shallow watering tray made from 6-inch aluminum flashing, bent upward along the edges and folded inward at the corners. This allows us to continuously bottom-water the plants by just adding water to the tray each day.

This shows the two solar cookers we use. The one on the left is more of a slow cooker, while the parabolic dish on the right focuses the Sun's energy enough to bake, boil, or fry stuff. It was purchased many years ago from Zomeworks, in Albuquerque, NM. There is a Pyrex bowl at the center that holds either another inverted Pyrex bowl on top, to hold pots for boiling, or a steel rack that holds pans for baking/frying. Cooked food usually goes from here into an insulated, double-walled, stainless steel "hot box" (pictured further below) to stay warm or cook further.

And this is our latest addition to the kitchen. Essentially it's a solar-powered oven. We started with the notion that we needed to divert more electricity from our photovoltaic (PV) solar array to other useful chores. With our recent system upgrade to gain enough solar input to charge an electric car, the excess electricity can be quite substantial. So we came up with the idea of building a 12-volt electric oven. The models available on websites catering to RV enthusiasts and over-the-road truckers simply weren't built to last and were uninsulated.

We initially built this one using two recycled stainless steel tanks, a "barrel-stove" door kit, four 300-watt, 12-volt, (0.5 ohm) resistance heating elements, some heavy-gauge wiring, and about 7 gallons of horticultural vermiculite as insulation. The switches at the bottom front each added in one more heating element to the single 300-watt element that was active when the unit was switched on. With all four switched in, burning up 1200 watts of power, the unit could quickly reach over 500 F. And the insulation keeps the temperature stable for long periods, greatly increasing the efficiency.

Recently we rebuilt the oven with two 30-watt heating elements (5 ohm) and two of the initial 300-watt elements. Now, when we manually switch it on at the breaker box, or when we switch the breaker that allows the charge controller to divert excess solar power to the oven automatically, a 30-watt resistor begins heating. The second switch adds another 30 watts, and the remaining switches each can can 300 more, for a total of 660 watts. The extra heating power simply proved unnecessary with this much insulation.

Here you can see the first pot of veggie stew coasting down to 150 F after cooking at 250 F for an hour. The heating elements are at the bottom, just below a ceramic floor tile that acts as a heat-retaining, heat-distributing oven shelf. It's supported by three 3/8" steel rods under the tile, just to make sure the heating elements are protected. This unit allows us to utilize sunshine while baking/cooking larger pots of food. The cooker has a standard range outlet connection, allowing us to wheel it into the kitchen or our "summer kitchen", the sauna, when we don't want to heat up the house. When we DO want to use it as a "divert load", to heat the house during winter, we just switch on a couple of heating elements (or let the charge controller do this for us) and leave the door open. This works well to utilize excess sunshine when we are already heating water with wood-stove fires at night and don't want to overheat the hot water tank by diverting sunshine during the day.

This is the latest addition to our sauna. It replaces a tiny airtight box stove that was adequate for sauna heating but too small for much cooking. We wanted to be able to better utilize the sauna as a "summer kitchen", a quaint old custom from grandma's day, when she didn't want to overheat the house with a cookstove fire in the summer (since the only option was a woodstove, not gas, electric, or microwave!). A separate building was built outdoors, usually near the kitchen, for summer cooking. With screens on the windows and doors, the sauna does this for us also. This stove is from the early 1900's, built in Chicago, but with four of its cast iron top plates replaced with a single, less leaky, steel plate. Now we can do canning and steam juicing (not to mention regular cooking and baking) outside the kitchen when we don't want to overheat the house. These are often antiques but many firms offer modern versions which are usually larger. As you can see from the 36-inch wide corrugated steel on the wall behind it, this stove isn't as small as what it replaces, but it's still small as wood cookstoves go.













And this device is a REAL energy saver. Basically it is just two cheap, thin, stainless steel cooking pots with lids, one inside the other. They are joined together using polyurethane foam which acts as a highly efficient insulator. Even the lids are bound together with foam, creating a space that allows food that has reached the boiling point to keep cooking without an additional heat source. The same sort of device, in different form, has been used in many cultures, often called a "hay box" cooker. This one is simply a bit fancier, even though it sits in an old ceramic crock on the floor of our kitchen.

Using it is so easy! And it saves so much energy normally used in cooking. For instance, beans can take hours to thoroughly cook. Instead, soak them in water overnight, drain and refill the pot with water, then bring them to a boil for 10 to 15 minutes (depending on the size of the bean) using whatever form of energy you currently use for cooking (gas, electric, wood, coal, peat, sunshine, whatever). Next you put them in a "retained heat cooker" such as this and wait for maybe an hour. Perfectly cooked beans come out! We use this thing anywhere from one to three times per day and would feel lost without it.

But, as with all beans in the genus Phaseolus (common beans), you MUST first boil them to alter a chemical that is especially high in red kidney beans. Failure to do so can cause poisoning, as you will find at this link. Definitely read it if you currently use a "slow-cooker", which does not actually reach the boiling point!

Construction of this "hot-box" involved first putting a 1.5-inch, solid polystyrene foam block in the bottom between the two pots to maintain a space. Next I spray-foamed the area between the pots with polyurethane caulk, starting low and spiraling up with the caulk can until the space was slightly overfilled. The lids were set upside-down with a rigid foam block between them and similarly foamed with polyurethane caulk. Excess foam was then trimmed from the pots and lids and clear silicone caulk was applied thinly to each raw foam surface. Then waxed paper was cut to sit flat on the silicone smeared on each side. The waxed paper acts as a "release agent", allowing the lids and pots to conform to each other without sticking. The lids were pushed down onto the top of the pots and the silicone was allowed to cure. Excess silicone and waxed paper were trimmed off the next day and the unit was ready to use.

Another way of using extra solar power:

We recently tried some experiments designed to cut our use of fossil fuels even further by attempting to generate our own cooking gas instead of using compressed propane (LP gas) for some of our cooking needs. While this proved less than fully successful in our rather cold climate, even during a record-breakingly hot summer, we tried another approach which has worked quite well. Pictured here are two 120-volt AC electric cook-top units, one using 1500 watts, the other 900 watts. We initially bought the one on the right locally and it worked well for most of our cooking but it could not replace gas as a heating source for canning foods. It simply would not put out enough heat once its cast-iron top plate reached its maximum temperature, at which point the unit would turn off and on repeatedly to maintain that temperature. The heater would not sustain the hard boil required for canning. So we bought the unit on the left online and we use it almost exclusively for canning as its output is easily high enough to do the job. We can actually turn its temperature (duty cycle) control down a bit and it will still sustain a full, rolling boil in the canner. If you have an inverter large enough to handle the load, and enough solar electrical input to maintain your other needs even on cloudy days, these cook-tops can use the excess solar energy that is inevitable on really sunny days. They are especially handy when intermittent clouds lower the temperature of the direct-solar parabolic cooker too much.




Support Our Research: Have you found the information above helpful? If you would like to make a financial contribution to our on-going research in these or any of our other efforts, just Click Here to get a PayPal payment link that allows you to send us any amount you wish.



Some of our garden oddities

We'd love to bore you with loads of garden photos, but in the interest of getting this page to load more quickly we've included only a few highlights. I'll soon add a PDF link with more.

In terms of unusual (for our climate) roots to store for the winter, we've had really good luck with Georgia Jet Sweet Potatoes. This is a 20-foot long row in our worst, most clayey soil. The harvest in 2006 was triple the yield of our regular potatoes! We store them in a couple of insulated plastic coolers. First, they are carefully hand cleaned to get most of the soil off, then stored indoors in a warm spot with a towel over them. After a couple of weeks they move to the pantry where it's a bit cooler. The only drawback to these things is that they grow quite deeply and they're fragile, so dig deep and don't hurry!

This shows one of our root-cellar plastic coolers, in this case filled with carrots. Note the sprouts, as these had been in storage outdoors, on the cool north side of our sauna, for a couple of months in the Fall (waiting for colder weather to cool down the root cellar).

This is a close-up of one hill of Georgia Jets, the yield of one little sprout (of many) from a sweet potato we stored through the Winter. One of these may be chosen to produce next year's sprouts. The potatoes sprout best in subdued light, but in a warm spot. We just remove a large, fully leafed out sprout from the potato in the Spring, pot it up in a 4" pot, and baby it along while it gets roots. When we see more growth, and conditions are right outdoors, it moves to the greenhouse and finally the garden. And when you're done removing sprouts you can still eat the sweet potato!

This shows a size comparison with my foot-long foot. The big potato you see weighed 2 and 1/4 pounds, matching the biggest regular potato we've ever grown. Not bad for a semi-tropical plant grown in the frigid upper midwest! And they store very well throughout the winter, if we don't just eat them all too soon!

This photo shows part of our 2011 peach harvest still hanging on the overloaded branches of 4 trees that bore fruit that year. We did not expect this much fruit set so we didn't thin fruits in the spring. You can see the branches bending under the weight but none of them snapped. If we had thinned them they would probably have ripened much sooner on the trees and they would have been a bit sweeter.

Here we see Larisa with about a third of the 2011 peach harvest. We picked these early, just before a predicted hard frost that never actually happened. So we ended up moving these, along with a bunch more a couple of weeks later (before a REAL freeze) into the house for further ripening time.

Here are some of the peaches indoors, gradually getting softer, a little sweeter, and more ripe. We selected the ripest ones for processing in the steam juicer about every other day, after a couple of weeks ripening time. I seem to remember that it took 8 steamer loads to get them all steam-juiced into 7+ gallons of pasteurized juice and two gallons of fruit leather. Not bad for the frozen North!

2011 was a good year for apples too. Here Larisa is starting to harvest one of our two Gala trees on M7 rootstocks. These trees also drooped branches to the ground and obviously the trees should have been thinned in the spring. But fruit size remained pretty good. This variety filled about 4 insulated coolers with winter storage apples.

And even though it wasn't a terrific year for the local Elm Oyster mushrooms (too dry) we still ended up with some beauties to slice up for the food dryer. This photo shows one of the bigger specimens on a scale indicating about 13 ounces. We ended up with a little over a gallon of dried mushrooms for the pantry in 2011, but only 3 quarts in the dry summer of 2012.