garden planning for less dependency on electricity?

elisa_z5December 3, 2012

Hurricane Sandy dumped 3 feet of heavy wet snow, and the electricity was out for 2 weeks. People around here are talking about canning their meat instead of freezing it, and I'm still checking and tossing one bag after another of my wonderful garden produce from the freezer that was supposed to last us through the winter.

Plus, I confess, the National Geographic article on sun activity (solar storms) that can blast electricity systems with little warning, also got me thinking.

So, wondering if anyone else has been thinking about this -- ways to plant and harvest and store so that there is less dependency on the freezer in order to have food out of season, and of course in order not to waste the harvest.

What I've thought of so far:

plant more root crops, some to leave in the ground over winter, some to bring into the cellar. (Things I leave in the ground under hay: carrots, parsnips, leeks, rutabagas--can anything else be left in?)

plant 2 rows of winter greens instead of only one -- these are under cover, and are the usual leafy greens -- spinach, lettuce, mache, arugula, mustard, tatsoi, etc. What else can be grown in the winter?

Also thinking of canning some things that I previously was freezing, but I think that's a discussion for a different forum.

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chervil2(z5 MA)

I had success with drying Juliet tomatoes as a method of food preservation. I learned the hard way, that these halved plum tomatoes must be very dry for storage. Otherwise, mold is present. I failed with dehydrating green beans due to mold, too. Next time, I will dry them for a longer time. Some garden foods last a long time in the house at ambient temperature and include tomatillos, squash, sweet potatoes, onions, shallots, and grains.

    Bookmark   December 3, 2012 at 7:56PM
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1) buy a small generator. In three weeks, you would have had to run it only a couple of times.

2) transfer the freezer someplace where you can roll it outside in the shade in winter. The heat loss is proportional to the temperature difference. If it takes two days to unfreeze at 68C, it is going to take 20 days if the average temperature outside is 35C. At least move the freezer in the garage.

Absolutely go heavy with turnip, rutabaga, beets, carrots, parsnips, and butternut squash. All incredibly healthy. Carrots and parsnips are best left in the ground, but the first three should go in the garage in a plastic tote, covered with moist sand. Butternuts are best kept in the house.

Onions, garlic, cardoon and cabbage are also a must. Onions and garlic can hang in the garage, cardoon and cabbage can be outside under leaves.

The greens, it is up to you. I make 6 or 7 hoop houses every winter, each covering a 4X12 bed. They have some arugula, but mostly kale, collard, and lacinato. I plant a few dozens garlic bulbils for shoots in March. But I think you need the cover for the greens.

Then there are the indoors shoots. Sunflower shoots are my favorites, and I grow them in compost trays, and when I toss the compost, it stays together due to the countless roots. I use it as mulch in the garden. You can have two trays going so one is always producing.

Herbs can be ground in the food processor, 1/3 coarse salt, 2/3 herbs. We are always using herbs in conjunction with salt, so why not have herbed salt? We have five jars in the fridge, and that covers the year.

I find winter vegetables to be a little heavy, and bloating. I have to have some cleansers to take during winter. Beet does support the liver, but the best veggies at keeping you non-lethargic are radicchio (under cover), cardoon (under leaves), and celery. For celery (which has naturalized in my garden), I have large ziploc bags in the freezer, together with tomatoes and chili peppers. We prize the celery above the other two frozen veggies. I also make cardoon tea (very bitter).

Our freezers are mostly meat and apples (the apple freezer is held between 35 and 41 F by a thermostat). We only freeze the three veggies mentioned above, perhaps 30 lbs total, most of the vegetables are in the garden, in outside root cellars, or in the garage.

    Bookmark   December 3, 2012 at 8:51PM
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I find that finely-chopped raw red cabbage is a good cleanser.

Glib, is your naturalized celery a typical commercial cultivar or the old-fashioned english kind?

    Bookmark   December 3, 2012 at 9:43PM
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jean001a(Portland OR 7b)

glib said "the apple freezer is held between 35 and 41 F"

Perhaps you hit the wrong keys? That sounds like a refrigerator.

    Bookmark   December 3, 2012 at 11:59PM
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jrslick (North Central Kansas, Zone 5B)

We have thought about that too, not that we are doomsday planners or anything, but we are dependent on our electricity for our freezers. We have two huge deep freezers that are full of pork and beef that we raised. There are some vegetables, but not many. We rely on our winter high tunnels for most of that. We usually have winter squash too, but this year it was a total loss due to deer and drought. We also keep onions, sweet potatoes, and garlic in the house. We have carrots outside and use them alot in the winter. We usually eat carrots 5 to 7 days a week somehow with a meal or snack. They are sweet as candy.

Here is our biggest tunnel.

The way we figure if we do loose electricity (longest we have been without it is 4.5 days. The meat didn't thaw, we kept putting frozen water bottles and freezer packs on everything. We took them outside at night to refreeze. We could find someone who has electricity and negotiate a deal or trade for the use of a generator. We want to get one, but haven't spent our money.

Also, with all our high tunnels, we do have access to fresh produce that we could trade or consume ourselves. Our biggest problem is running water.

We have a wood stove and wood for it, but it has a blower on it. While it does heat the room without the blower, the blower makes it much nicer.


    Bookmark   December 4, 2012 at 12:34AM
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Canning and dehydrating for all!

...and cellar fruits/veggies for those in proper climates (the only thing I consider lucky about people who have to deal with cold winters).

As an aside...inspired by Jay's comment...home grown carrots are a very neglected "better than store bought" crop, imo. There's a lot of varieties that have such a better flavor/sweetness profile that the home gardener can grow because they're not good shippers or they don't store long enough for most commercial growers to bother with. Too many (imo) opt for the "odd color" carrots over investigating some of the sweeter orange carrot varieties available for the home gardener.

    Bookmark   December 4, 2012 at 1:38AM
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...forgot to add a link to the National Center for Home Food Preservation

Check the left side of the page for safe canning, drying, freezing, pickling, etc information.

Here is a link that might be useful: National Center for Home Food Preservation

    Bookmark   December 4, 2012 at 1:40AM
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sunnibel7 Md 7(7)

I would second the buying of a generator. We have one that does a small part of the house, and it really is a great boon during those long outages. You only have to run it a few times to keep things cold as long as your are careful not to keep opening the fridge and freezer. Ours also runs the pump in the basement, so running water is also available. Of course, could just switch to solar and geothermal etc, for some of that and be right off the grid! I also can and dehydrate and have the long keepers, so my frozen veg are not so important. They are more like treats.

    Bookmark   December 4, 2012 at 11:05AM
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I think your last answer - canning - is best overall. It takes energy to do, so it's not free, but it eliminates refrigeration, and avoids the damage freezing entails. I rely on root crops - beets carrots and potatoes - and most keep for as long as it takes for me to eat them. I also freeze, and I'm always worried about losing the whole freezer. Usually, our power outages are just a few hours, so I'm trusting to that.

    Bookmark   December 4, 2012 at 1:56PM
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Hi, the apple freezer is a freezer attached to a brewing thermostat set at 38F. It works like a refrigerator at a fraction of the cost (in power, and in initial cost, since you can find old working freezers for $100 on Craigslist).

My celery is a semi-wild variety, deep green with thin 1ft stalks. It is very good IMHO, intensely flavored and certainly with a lot of phytochemicals. It all goes in soups, chilis, and juices of mixed vegetables. I think I bought it from Territorial originally, but I do not know the name. It is very different from regular celery, closer to a giant italian parsley with thick stems. It reseeds prodigiously. It even overwintered uncovered last winter.

If you want seeds, send a SASE (perhaps with some of your walking onions in it!), but it may be doing so well for me because of my moist, heavy, well mulched soil.

    Bookmark   December 4, 2012 at 2:48PM
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flora_uk(SW UK 8/9)

glib - do you think what you have is smallage?

    Bookmark   December 4, 2012 at 4:34PM
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What a wealth of great ideas! Thanks, everyone.

Drying -- I had totally forgotten about that. I would think food dehydrators would be a Craigslist staple item (like bread machines)

Glib -- have you found a way to harvest sunflower shoots that doesn't take forever? They grow at different rates, so I find myself clipping one at a time, and last winter I didn't even bother with them (but with Annie's Goddess dressing they are amazing!) Also, thanks for giving me hope for my downstairs freezer -- we bailed and went to the city before the storm, so without us here burning wood, the room it was in was probably about 40 degrees. I still haven't dug down to the bottom (where all the pesto is!) Fingers crossed that some of it lasted.

Cabbage under leaves -- is that still rooted and buried in leaves, or harvested and under leaves? Cabbage has always rotted for me in storage, so I'd given up on it, but I never tried storing it outside. My grandfather said in Italy they used to dig a hole and fill it with cabbage layered between hay.

Jay, you're killing me with photos of your tunnels -- there 's just so much envy a person can take, okay? :)

Generator, solar, going off the grid . . . all ideas we're contemplating. We are already off the grid for everything except electricity. (BIG except, since it pumps the water from our spring)

Thanks for the links, thanks for the ideas!

    Bookmark   December 4, 2012 at 7:06PM
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Glib, sounds like what I have, which was advertised as smallage. It overwintered easily and self-seeded very copiously as you describe, but so far I haven't found that many new seedlings, maybe because I let weeds get established in the area.

    Bookmark   December 4, 2012 at 7:31PM
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Yes, I think I have smallage. It is probably well suited to my site. So far it has started from self-seeding once, in 2011, when we had one foot of rain in May. Nothing last year (extremely dry spring) but it overwintered and so I still ended with a lot. It does not overwinter in a cold year without good mulching.

Yes, cabbage and cardoon (with roots and chunks of dirt attached) do much better under straw (or hay, I presume) than under leaves. Leaves make them rot faster, surely due to poor air circulation, but leaves is what I have. Cardoon rots faster than cabbage.

For sunflower shoots, the secret to growing at the same rate is pre-soaking at high temperature (12 hrs, 80-85F, even 90F, I use the corkscrew light in ice chest trick, also need a weight to keep them underwater), followed by more heat in the early days. I put the tray on an air vent until it is clear that germination is ongoing. The time difference is all in the germination delay.

    Bookmark   December 4, 2012 at 8:13PM
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Glib --That's brilliant about the sunflower sprouts -- will try it. Our kitchen goes down to about 50 degrees during the night, so sounds like I should bring them into the bedroom or stove room once they're spread on the planting medium, too.

I have hay but no leaves -- will try the new storage method as well.

Thanks again!

    Bookmark   December 4, 2012 at 9:34PM
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Yup, dehydrating anything that will dehydrate is the way to go.

If you want to dehydrate large amounts of produce without reliance on electricity, buy one of those sheet metal storage building kits, spray paint it black, and put it somewhere that gets as much full sun during the summer as possible.

It will *EASILY* get up to dehydrating temperatures in there during the summer (well, as long as you are far enough south that your summer temps hit 90+ degrees), and you can fill the entire thing with those metal shelves to put your trays on.

    Bookmark   December 5, 2012 at 12:34PM
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albert_135(Sunset 2 or 3)

Where I grew up we had no electricity.

We relied heavily upon cured meat. (They used two or more different kinds of salt, pepper and sugar mixed and spread over the meat, wrapped it all in paper, and waited a long time. This was always done during freezing weather in early winter.)

Several varieties of dry beans, peas (Called "crowder peas" or "cow peas"), dry white corn and root crops figured predominantly in our winter diets.

Many fruits were dried.

Many things were canned in jars, even meat.

Whenever possible they tried keep more than one season of stashed foodstuffs on hand.

When in season everything was consumed fresh.

[Lots of chicken and fish that were killed immediately before meals - I guess that wouldn't work too well for a disaster reserve.]

    Bookmark   December 5, 2012 at 1:33PM
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albert -- thanks for sharing your memories :)

Ed -- we don't get 90+ temps except maybe once every 3 or 4 years (altitude) but I do like the idea of drying wi/out electricity. Could always just try it and see what happens.

    Bookmark   December 6, 2012 at 1:47PM
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Al, where and when was that?

    Bookmark   December 6, 2012 at 3:16PM
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Ah, down here we usually top 100 for a least a week or two every year, and 90+ all summer long.

Before you spend a lot money on it, you could always test it. Get a metal garbage can, paint it black, and put a thermometer in it.

If it hits 130-140 in there, you're golden.

    Bookmark   December 6, 2012 at 4:03PM
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