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Cold Winter Gardening

Back in 1973 there was an energy crisis. Fuel prices were sky high due to the OPEC decision to deliberately cut worldwide fuel supplies. My family, consisting of me, my wife and three small children, lived near Atlanta, Georgia. As an experiment, and not because of any financial difficulties, we decided to attempt something entirely new. I was employed by the Navy as a pilot at Dobbins AFB at the time with a good income. Nevertheless, we decided to live the entire winter without heating the house, just to see if it could be done, and what would be the difficulties. This was my wife’s idea, not mine. Her thinking was to save energy, but I had other reasons. Being a hardy individual with an interest in survival, I agreed to it. We also decided to try gardening throughout the winter. I thought it would be impossible, but this would test that theory once and for all. In Atlanta that cold winter the temperatures went down to just four degrees Fahrenheit above zero and we had snow on many occasions.

In late summer and into the fall we planted our winter garden in a fifteen by twenty foot area that would be in the full sun throughout the winter. When it began getting cold I began building an inexpensive make-shift greenhouse around the garden, but this was not the usual kind of greenhouse. I deduced that a tall structure would not work and allow too much the heat to escape at night.

My structure consisted of two posts just two feet tall at two ends of the rectangular garden furthest from the sun’s path. I nailed a four inch pine pole from the top of one vertical post to the other. I then ran about eight thinner and unsecured two to three inch pine poles over the entire garden equally spaced and perpendicular to the ridge pole, reaching to the ground at the side of the garden closest to the sun. Over the posts I placed hog wire fencing with six inch holes and on top of that I placed two layers of three mil Mylar plastic I got from a construction site, running the plastic sheeting well over the wooden frame and anchored the plastic down with addition poles along all the sides.

The garden consisted of root crops like beets, carrots, etc., as well as kale, Swiss chard, and lettuce. To harvest the crops I’d simply peeled back the plastic covering and lifted the hog wire fencing when required. I am happy to report that the garden provided fresh and delicious food throughout the winter. Not even the lettuce was damaged by the cold of the winter.

Living in the house without its usual heat pump heating system turned on all winter presented little problem for our family. We found that because of the daytime heat of the sun there was always enough warmth in the house so that the water pipes did not freeze. It was actually comfortable most to the time and even the children didn‘t complain. On occasion, in the coldest parts of the house on the coldest nights, we ran the water at a trickle from the faucets to keep pipes from freezing. We wore winter snow suits all the time over our long under ware. We also wore gloves and wool head covering all winter. Cooking helped warm the living areas of our well-insulated house.

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