Cultivating a vegetable garden is an important part of becoming self-sufficient. When a disaster strikes, the food grown in that garden can literally make the difference between life and death for the family.
That’s why starting a garden now, before a crisis can hit, is essential for preparing your family. Not only will it help you build your food stockpile, but it will allow you the time you need to have, in order to learn the necessary skills, before you have to use them.
Gardening has its limitations, though; at least, it does for most people. Few are as fortunate as I am, living in a climate that is warm enough that you can grow produce outdoors in your garden year-round. However, you don’t need a warm climate in order to grow produce year round. With a few steps of preparation, you can grow year-round in pretty much any climate.
There are a couple of keys that we need to consider here. First of all, many plants will continue to grow up until the first frost. That first frost kills most plants, ending the growing season. However, if it doesn’t get down to freezing, the plant, and the fruit growing on it, still continue growing. The second is that other than freezing temperatures, the important temperature for plants is the soil temperature, not the air temperature. Growing zones for plants are all based upon soil temperatures.
Adjusting Soil Temperature
It’s actually quite easy to adjust soil temperature. Anyone who has done composting knows that the process of breaking down the compost  generates a lot of heat. So, adding a layer of compost to your plant beds will increase the temperature, allowing warmer climate plants to be grown in a cooler climate, as well as extending the growing season.
Keep in mind that this won’t overcome the problem of the air temperature freezing the plants and fruit and killing them. Plant circulation is not as fast as animal circulation, so it does nothing to help the plant overcome freezing temperatures.
Even if you are not planning on gardening through the winter, it can be useful to add that layer of compost over your planting beds in the fall. The heat generated will help to protect the roots of perennial plants, so that they come back early in the spring. It will also give the compost the winter to break down, adding nutrients to the soil.
Moving Your Garden Indoors
Plants need three basic things to grow: soil, sunlight and water. They get their nutrients from the soil, so the quality of the soil is actually the most important of those three ingredients. While most people plant their gardens in their backyard, using the soil that is already there, many serious gardeners build raised beds  for their gardens. Raised beds provide a number of benefits, chief among them the ability to more easily establish good soil for the plants.
About the only difference between a raised bed and a pot is size. However, the pot provides one benefit over the raised bed: Even though it is smaller, it is portable, so that you can easily move your pot. That means that it is easy to move that pot indoors in the wintertime and back outdoors when the weather warms up again.
I have a lot of friends up north who grow tomatoes every year. They always have the same problems, year after year. First of all, they have to start their tomato seedlings indoors to get a jump on the season. Then they have to wait until they are sure there won’t be any more freezing weather so that they can transplant the seedlings in their garden. Then, when fall rolls around, they end up losing a whole bunch of tomatoes to the first frost.
I suggested to a few of them that they change their strategy. Instead of planting seedlings and then moving them outdoors, why not just plant their tomatoes in pots? Then, when fall rolls around, they can move the pots indoors and continue harvesting their tomatoes.
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One problem in moving plants indoors: They may not have enough light. Ideally, you want to put them in a window. Bay and bow windows are ideal for this, as they provide a ledge to put the pots on, but any window can be modified to make it an ideal area for your plants. All that is needed is to put a shelf for the pots to sit on.
With plants like tomatoes and peppers, you might want to add a trellis to hold the plants up, rather than using a tomato cage. This can be easily accomplished by putting some screw eyes into the window casing and tying wire or string across the window. The plants can then be attached to the trellis.
Adding a Greenhouse
An even better way of moving your garden indoors to continue growing your plants is to add a greenhouse to your home. The greenhouse  is actually the original passive solar structure, which all passive solar homes are based on. The clear glass allows the sunlight in, so that it can be absorbed by the dark ground and pathways. That allows it to be converted to heat. At the same time, compost adds heat to the greenhouse and the windows provide at least some insulation to keep the heat inside.
You don’t have to spend a lot of money to add a greenhouse to your home. Greenhouses can be made of a wood or PVC pipe structure, with clear plastic stretched over it. Between the solar heating and compost, your greenhouse might be able to keep warm enough to keep your plants alive. If not, you can add heat to the greenhouse by putting a small heater in it.
If you have a compost bin, it should be inside your greenhouse, so that it can help to heat the area. A compost bin will generate a lot of free heat. I guess that makes it a “green” energy technology.
Multiple layers of plastic will make a lot of difference in the insulation value of your greenhouse. You’d be surprised how much warmer it will be, if you just add a second layer of plastic, which won’t cost a whole lot more.
If you have a north-facing home, you could add your greenhouse right off your back door. That way, you could open the door from your kitchen and be in the greenhouse. Opening this door would also allow some of the heat from your home to circulate into the greenhouse, keeping it warmer. Of course, your home furnace will need to work a bit harder to heat the larger area.
Gardening isn’t simply a spring and summer hobby. Grow a few plants indoors this winter, and you’ll discover the beauty and joy of “winter gardening.”
What are your winter gardening tips? Share them in the section below: