Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Winter Growing of Vegetables in Cold Climates – Practical or Necessary?

The following exchange regarding growing during the winter vs extending your growing season with the Mittleider Method and storing your bounty for use during the winter is instructive.

A gentleman wrote: “we need year round food growing in northern Utah and southern Idaho, not to mention northern Nevada. Who do I contact to get involved with promoting that?”

My first reply was: “Are you interested in doing it yourself? There are difficulties to overcome, including lack of sunlight days in winter, and extreme cold during 4 months of the year. In order to make year-round growing feasible you first need an inexpensive heat source.

Some folks have tried burying their greenhouse. If you put it into a hillside on the North and insulate very well it can help. Also, some folks fill black plastic barrels with water, and the radiant heat as the water cools each night helps keep the greenhouse air from freezing. And if you have access to a thermal water or heat source you could probably do it if you have the sunlight.

Of course you might be able to grow enough for family survival by sprouting, and such. And growing the cool-weather crops gives some success if you can maintain 50+ degrees in the daytime and avoid hard frosts at night.

We fully agree that people need to be growing their own food in a serious way”.

He then told me he lives near some hot springs, and tries to get people interested in helping him finance a greenhouse operation, with little success so far. He enclosed an Idaho Department of Water Resources paper from 1988 about greenhouse growing,

My final response was: “Let me make some observations about year-round growing, and about alternatives.

In my view, unless things can be done by and for a substantial portion of the people it is probably not worth taking heroic measures to do the thing.

If there is a very small community and a large geothermal heat source it might be possible to grow enough for the community, but the cost is high even then.

Our experience in 30+ countries has been that if food is grown using the Mittleider Method, so much is produced that there is ample to store and use throughout the winter months.

And cool storage is MUCH less costly than building and heating a greenhouse through the winter. All you have to do is build underground and insulate.

Fall crops of potatoes, cabbage, carrots, turnips, beets, winter squashes, and even tomatoes can be stored and used fresh for many months if done properly. I've eaten tomatoes from my garden in January. And cabbage and carrots look and taste as if fresh picked as late as April of the next year.

I recommend you study the articles I've written on 1) extending the growing season both Spring and Fall, and 2) winter food storage. Using the inexpensive materials and procedures I describe can add as much as 3 months to your growing season, and proper winter storage can give you fresh vegetables for up to 6 months. Those articles can be found in the Archives of the, and in the FAQ section at

Add to that the increased yields obtained with the Mittleider Method - amounting to 3 to 10 times traditional yields - and there is usually little real need to grow during the coldest winter months in my opinion."

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