Low-impact Living at the Elder Grove Homestead

The Four-Season Pantry

Eating Nutritious Food from the Garden, Year-Round

Feeding Ourselves - It's all about nutrition and how to provide it, year-round, every day, multiple times. You can either:

A mix of these strategies will be needed to have home grown, local food all year and this process of providing more self-sufficient meals will be a series of steps, trial and error, successes and failures until you discover what works for you. Each year is a new opportunity for growth and learning, so take heart and dive into the best meals you can put on the table.

To clarify, by "garden" we mean the largest sense of the term. This includes what you plant in a highly cultivated space, the wild greens/herbs, mushrooms, fruits, and nuts that grow nearby, and what you can grow indoors in pots or sprout in jars. We would also include foods purchased from local/regional farmers. This page explores our approach to putting home-grown foods on the table 365 days a year in the temperate zone of the northern U.S.

Begin the Process

You have to start somewhere so, if you're buying all of your food at the grocery store, you will move toward the goal of producing/harvesting/sourcing locally 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 opposing 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 into 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 run out.

Need all of the details?

Our latest co-authored book, "Feeding Ourselves", now in its second edition, includes our unique solar food dryer and other energy-saving food preservation methods (steam-juicing and steam-canning) that fit into our overall scheme of nourishing ourselves year-round in a fairly harsh climate. This edition has been updated with our years of experiences in raising and utilizing staple crops like gluten-free grains, legumes, and nuts.

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
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/CSAs 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 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 spoilageSprouts, 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 "cap" 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 the lid off on sunny days but leave the cone in place 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 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.

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 round 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.

Some of Our Garden Harvests

In terms of unusual (for our climate) roots to store for the winter, we've had really good luck with Sweet Potatoes. This is a 20-foot long row of Georgia Jets 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. Later we added a purple variety into the mix. The harvest in 2006 was triple the yield of our regular potatoes! We store them in insulated plastic coolers. First, they are carefully hand cleaned to get most of the soil off, then placed indoors in a very 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 roots are that they grow quite deeply and they are somewhat fragile, so dig deep and do not hurry! 

  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, and these "mother" roots are stored in a tray of vermiculite until spring, about mid April here. Then the tray of "mother" potatoes are brought out into subdued light, in a warm spot and watered to wake them up. Once leafy sprouts form and grow to about 6" tall, they are removed from the root and stuck into a 4" pot out of direct light. You need to baby the slips along while they take root. Move into direct light after a few days, and when conditions are right outdoors (well after last frost) they can be hardened off in a cold frame and finally into the garden. And when you're done removing sprouts from the mother roots, you can still eat the sweet potato!

This shows a size comparison with Larisa's 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 Minnesota! And they store very well throughout the winter into the next summer, 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 post harvest time. It took about 8 steamer loads to get them all steam-juiced into 7+ gallons of pasteurized juice and two gallons of fruit leather. Not bad for Minnesota!

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 after the dry summer of 2012.