The Four-Season Pantry - Eating Nutritious Food from the Garden, Year-Round
Feeding Ourselves - It is all about nutrition and how to provide it, year-round, every day, multiple times. You can either:
- Eat things in their freshest state, which means for us means straight from the soil, the focus of this page
- Store things that are still alive, in a state of "suspended animation"
- Preserve things through the one-time use of as little added energy as possible (solar drying, steam-canning, steam-juicing)
- Or you can use some continuously energy-sucking appliance to slow food's inevitable nutrient loss, a choice we would like to help you avoid
By "garden" we mean the largest sense of the term. 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 have 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 methods 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. The first page shows the menu, while the second page is the the color key to the foods. You will need a copy of Adobe Reader to view these PDF files.
- For the "Summer Solstice Menu" from Larisa's workshop, just Click Here for the free Adobe PDF file download.
- And for the "Winter Solstice Menu" from her workshop, just Click Here.
You may 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 through solar 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 is available now, to plan for what is coming on, and to provide for the winter months by appropriate preservation methods. And by "appropriate" you may note that we have left out energy-sucking refrigerators and freezers. These large appliances use more energy than what the food inside them can supply in calories.
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 our Alliums Year-Round chart from Larisa's workshop, "Eating Year-Round from the Garden", to see our many available options. We have "multiple redundancy" so that we never really run out.
Need all of 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, "Feeding Ourselves", now in its second
edition, 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 once
again it has been updated to better reflect our most recent dietary
changes, including entirely gluten-free, whole-food grain recipes and
more about harvesting and using local nuts, with additional information
on growing and processing home-grown foods of all sorts. If you liked
"Pantry", or the first edition of Feeding Ourselves, you will love this
From the back cover of Feeding Ourselves: This book came about after many decades of trial and error in the quest for real, homegrown, organic local cuisine throughout the entire year. We've been gardening and preserving food to fuel our off-grid homestead lifestyle since the 1970's, determined to sever our reliance on the petrol-fueled American food system. Some of our explorations led to us to rediscover and integrate old methods, like root cellaring, into our routines. Other experiments resulted in the design of our solar food dryer. Our approach to this effort is from a vegan, gluten-free perspective. Over the years, Larisa taught workshops on food preservation, including many summers at the Midwest Renewable Energy Fair. In 1997, she decided to write a small book, "A Pantry Full of Sunshine" which she self-published to answer the frequently asked questions that couldn't be covered in an hour-long workshop. Now, over a decade later, this little book's limited scope became evident and we felt that there was much more to reveal about how we put food on our table. This seasonal guide features down-home advice from Minnesota. There is a focus on energy efficiency, both in cooking and food preservation. Whether you want to grow and eat vegetables, fruits, legumes, grains, nuts, seeds, herbs, spices, or sweeteners, we hope our approach will inspire you to explore feeding yourself, from the ground up. We intend this book to be merely a source of ideas and food for thought. While this is what works for us, it may not suit you, and is not meant to be a detailed plan of action. Feel free to creatively adapt our ways to fit your circumstances. Enjoy the abundance!
To see a free Adobe PDF file of the second edition's 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. You 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), just Click Here (requires Adobe Reader to read the download). Clicking the download link takes you to PayPal's secure order form and gives you a link to the PDF via Payhip.com. The file size is over 8 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||Activities||Current 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|
* 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/CSAs begin
|Strawberries, Peas, Greens, Rhubarb, Coles, Tomatoes, Beans|
|July - Summer Eating||* Harvest|
* 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 carrots, 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 spoilage||Sprouts, Indoor Greens, Soups, Stews, Roots, Pickles, etc., etc.|
Some Examples of "Season Extension"
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", made from 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 have a miniature greenhouse. This works well on garden beds or other wide patches of soil. 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 is screwed through the wall glazing. Lots of silicone caulk 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 spring/fall porch garden. These are shown in late April and are nearly fully mature They will be eaten up soon to make way for younger lettuce transplants going into the outdoor garden. These are shown in rectangular plastic "window box" planters that are getting brittle from sun exposure. They are being replaced with larger rectangular boxes made from painted aluminum "flashing" and cedar 2-by-8s.
Some of Our Garden Oddities
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. We have since switched (in 2013) to Ginseng Red and Willow Leaf, both of which have willow-like leaves that are less shading to the soil beneath them (allowing soil temperatures to get a bit higher), and which seem less attractive to slugs.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 to keep them humid. After a couple of weeks they move to the pantry where it is a bit cooler. The only drawback to these things is that they grow quite deeply and they are somewhat fragile, so dig deep and do not 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 root-stocks. 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.