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Monday, January 20, 2014

Eating Locally in the Winter

Even when the harvest is over and it's cold outside, there are still ways to continue eating locally throughout the winter. Our friends over at Farm Folk City Folk have some awesome suggestions.

Credit: Magnolia Lim

Why Eat Locally?

Eating food grown and raised locally is fundamental to the creation of a sustainable food system. It decreases the impact our lifestyle choices have on the environment, keeps money in our local economy, and builds community. By planting winter gardens, storing and preserving our harvest when it is abundant, and celebrating what's "in season", eating locally year round is possible.

Harvest Preservation

Preservation techniques halt ripening and prevent spoilage so our favourite flavours may be enjoyed beyond their seasonal availability.

Home canning is a traditional method of food preservation. There are two methods that are suitable to safely preserve a seasonal harvest.
  • Hot water bath canning uses boiling water to sterilize food and kill micro-organisms. Suitable for high acid foods like fruits and tomatoes with a pH below 4.5.
  • Pressure canning is suitable for high and low acid foods. Low acid foods have a greater potential to grow botulism and so require higher temperatures to be preserved safely.

Dehydrating is a method of preserving food that removes the water. Without moisture, micro-organisms cannot grow. To dry food you can use the heat of the sun, hot air currents or the heat of your oven 110 degrees Celsius. Drying time depends on the type of food, thickness of the piece and the chosen method.

Freezing is an excellent way to preserve small amounts of seasonal surplus for winter.

Fermentation is employed in food preservation techniques to create lactic acid in sour foods such as sauerkraut, dry sausages, kimchi, and yoghurt or create vinegar (acetic acid) for use in pickling foods.

Home Storage

Consider storing part of your harvest so you can enjoy it in the late fall and winter. You can leave the plants in the ground, or harvest the crop and store it in a cool place indoors.

Leave green leafy vegetables in the ground for continued harvest late into the fall, or perhaps even all winter if you live in the mild coastal climate. Try this method with kale, Brussels sprouts, or Swiss chard. Some people have had success leaving carrots in the ground; others have found themselves providing a food supply to worms or mice!

If you have access to a cool place, not subject to freezing -- such as a shed, an unheated garage, or an unheated area of a basement -- you could use this space to store a portion of your harvest.

Although produce should be stored in humid conditions, you don’t want water condensing on the produce. To prevent this, provide ventilation or air circulation. Since you’re dealing with natural processes, expect to lose a few items to spoilage -- commercial processors do!

To cut down losses, check produce before you store it, and remove pieces with cuts or bruises that allow a foothold for spoilage. As well, do a weekly inspection and remove any pieces that are deteriorating so that they don’t affect others.


Sprouting, which involves forcing the growth of new shoots from a bean or seed, is a great starter project for those who are new to gardening or looking for ways to liven up their diet. Sprouting can be done at home and does not require any special equipment.

One of the most common sprouting methods is the jar method.

To sprout seeds in a jar, you will need a large glass canning jar, a mesh lid, and a handful of seeds. Virtually any seed can be sprouted, from pumpkin seeds and lentils to more traditional bean or alfalfa sprouts.

Place the seeds in the jar and cover them with water. Seeds need to be soaked prior to sprouting. The amount of soaking time required will depend on the type of seed.

Once soaked, the water should be tipped out of the jar and the seeds rinsed. Keep the jar in a moderately shaded area and tilt it at an angle, with the mesh opening down, so that the water can drain. You may want to place it over a shallow dish or bowl. Leave the jar inverted, and continue to rinse the sprouts two to three times per day. Seeds should begin to sprout within one to two days.

Sprouts are best eaten fresh and tend to mould if kept too long. Experiment with different types of seeds to see which sprouts you like best. You may also want to try mixing a variety of seeds and sprouting them in combination. Once fully sprouted, refrigerate.

Greenhouse Gardening

A simple greenhouse -- needing neither artificial light nor heat -- can extend the growing season from early spring to late fall and prevent tender perennials from freezing.

A greenhouse does not need to be large to be effective, but it does need to be well-ventilated, oriented to maximize its exposure to daytime sunlight, and insulated to hold captured heat. An apartment or townhouse with its own deck or rooftop garden can support a smaller cold frame.

If space is not a deterrent, you may want to consider a larger, free-standing or attached greenhouse. If your garden space is limited and you plan to use the greenhouse as your primary planting site, an "attached" greenhouse -- one that is connected to one of the walls of your home or garage -- may be the best option. In addition to being easily accessed, attached greenhouses can also help to heat your home, transferring captured solar energy through the shared wall. Attached greenhouses can also provide an extension of your indoor living space.

Indoor Gardening

If you have lots of light coming in your windows, growing vegetables and legumes inside your house or apartment can be fun and economical, with virtually no weeding.

It is important to have your plants on a raised surface, so they absorb as much sunlight as possible. If you have a valance or curtain rod, it is possible to lace string between your plant pots and curtain rods for plants that grow upwards (e.g. snowpeas).

The only special task with your indoor garden is pollination. As bees don’t come inside often, pollinate the flowers yourself by delicately brushing the pollen with a very soft, small paintbrush.

Snowpeas, lettuce, spinach, herbs, beans, carrots, beets, and even corn have been grown indoors -- even with north-western exposure!

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