Using a Greenhouse or Sunroom

The best way to be self-sufficient and self-reliant is to have an adequate source of food all year round... whether you grow it in summer months and preserve it, or have it freshly growing and picked when needed. This is the key to being self-reliant, because, as you know, if you don't concentrate on the food aspect of living, you aren't self-reliant.

I once read a permaculture book, whose title I forget, that had pictures of her south-facing room. In there, she grew much of her fruit and veggies that she preferred to eat fresh. This included, amazingly enough, a tomato plant that was several years old, and so tall it reached her ceiling and curved along it.

We have two small windows facing the south in our current home. One of the conditions of our next home is that it have an entire room with windows on the southside, even if we have to build it ourselves. Whether it be that room, or a seperate building (greenhouse), we'll be growing:
  • bananas
  • lemon
  • lime
  • miniature columnar apple
  • miniature columnar peach
  • blueberries
  • strawberries
  • tomatoes
  • greens
  • carrots, carrots and more carrots
  • eggplant
  • onions
  • zucchini
  • yellow crookneck squash
  • string beans
  • herbs (many kinds)
Plants Versus Storage:
I recently saw (I think on PBS) a professional greenhouse for tomatoes. The tomatoes started on the ground and wound all the way up to the ceiling. This was a professional situation so I'm quite sure their storage area was somewhere else. As a homesteader, it's advised to keep your supplies closest to where you use them the most. We're opting for benches (pictured here) in our greenhouse, and probably something similar in our sunroom.

Keeping the Greenhouse Warm in Winter:
Winters here get very cold, sometimes below zero and sometimes snowed in. If there isn't a means of heating the greenhouse, any plants in there will freeze. Beyond what you may read in books or on the internet, this is our plan...

We will be surrounding the greenhouse: barn to left and garage to the right. That will give the greenhouse lots of heat. If you can't do that, you could heat with space heaters, but those are a little dicey and need attention in hopes that they won't burn down the building during the night.

You could also provide heat via animals! Yep... chickens or rabbits or other small animals. There's math involved (calculating BTU's, body mass, etc.), and you have to provide adequate summer housing, watering, etc., but I've heard of people very successfully using this method.

Consider not only extending your fresh-produce season, but increasing it! Make use of your south-facing (or north-facing in the southern hemisphere) windows to grow many fresh veggies and fruits in your home.

Perennial Trees

VHTS (Very Hungry Tween Son) loves fresh fruit, especially apples and pears. He eats at least one of each a day, provided they are here in our house. He has a problem with most tree nuts, but since he hasn't tried all of them, we might be able to find a couple that do well with him.

Meanwhile, here's a list of perennial trees that bear edible food. Source:

Perennial Trees:

  • American wild plum, Prunus americana

  • Apple, Malus domestica

  • Avocado, Persea americana

  • Black cherry, Prunus serotina

  • Chestnut crab, Malus sp.

  • Choke cherry, Prunus virginiana

  • Citrus, Citrus sp.

  • Cornelian cherry, Cornus mas

  • Eastern Redbud, Cercis occidentalis

  • Fig, Ficus carica

  • Glossy black chokeberry, Aronia melanocarpa

  • Hawthorn, Cratagus sp.

  • Hazel nut, Corylus americana, C. cornuta, C. avellana

  • Loquat, Eriobotrya japonica

  • Maidenhair tree, Ginkgo, Ginkgo biloba

  • Monkey puzzle, Araucaria araucana

  • Pear, Pyrus sp.

  • Persimmon, Diospyros sp.

  • Pin cherry, Prunus pensylvanica

  • Plum, Prunus sp.

  • Quince, Cydonia oblonga

  • Serviceberry, Juneberry, Amelanchier sp.

  • Sweet Chestnut, Castanea sativa

  • Tart cherry, Prunus sp
I didn't notice the pinion pine on here - pine nuts are wonderful sources of protein, and the beautiful appearance of the fir tree on our property is wonderful. Pinecones can be collected for fire-fuel, or filled with peanut butter and rolled in birdseed, then hung for birds in the winter.

Actually, very few tree nuts are listed here. We'll have lots of walnuts, pecans, almonds, butternut, chestnut and filberts. Some of these come in miniature size, making it easy to harvest.

We have a cherry tree at our current homestead but if we don't get the cherries the moment they are ready, the birds get to them. We're planning on planting cherry bushes at the next homestead, because they will grow closer to the ground, allowing us to cover them with a netting. They will also be easier to pick.

We have read about many different kinds of apple trees. If we plan it right, we could have several different kinds of apples, each bearing at different times, allowing us to have freshly-picked apples practically all year round!

There's also something called a "Fruit Cocktail" tree, "Fruit Salad" or also known as a "5-in-One" tree - apricots, plums, nectarines, etc. How exciting!

We love bananas, avocados and citrus like lime and lemon, but we'll grow those in our future greenhouse or sunroom. I love thinking about going into the sunroom in my jammies, blizzard going on outside, and picking a couple of bananas for my breakfast.

Perennial Vines

We've been trying to eat as organic as possible lately, which means it's almost impossible to find grapes that haven't been imported to the USA or sprayed with pesticide, and that we can afford. We will definitely have lots of grapes at our new homestead, not only for eating at the table, but also for dehydrating, canning, freezing (to make juice in the winter) and to make wine.


  • Grape, River or Frost, Vitis riparia

  • Grape, Table or Wine, Vitis sp.

  • Kiwi, Actinidia sp
Is this really it? Not a very long list. What about the passion fruit?

Last installment of this list of perennial plants that provide food is: Perennial Trees. Tomorrow!

Perennial Shrubs and Berries

I love fruit. If I had access to fresh fruit, especially berries, every day, that's mostly what I'd eat. Fruit is also great to freeze, can as jams, and dehydrate.

We have about 12 strawberry plants and 2 raspberries and 5 blackberries right now. Unfortunately we can't really take them with us when we leave. So we'll have a lot of them to buy when we get to our next (and last, please god) homestead. We'll also have a greenhouse as soon as possible so that we can grow blueberries and strawberries year-round.

Here's the list of perennial shrubs and berries (mostly fruits!) found at

Shrubs and Berries
  • American elderberry, Sambucus canadensis

  • American highbush cranberry, Viburnum trilobatum

  • Blackberry, Rubus allegheniensis

  • Black raspberries, Rubus occidentalis

  • Blueberry, Vaccinium angustifolium, V. corybosium

  • Cranberry, Vaccinium macrocarpon

  • Elderberry, Sambucus nigra

  • Golden currants, Ribes aureum

  • Golden raspberries, Rubus sp.

  • Gooseberries, Ribes spp.

  • Hobblebush, Viburnum alnifolium

  • Honeyberry, Lonicera caerule

  • Huckberry, Vaccinium sp.

  • Huckleberry, Gaylussacia baccata

  • Lingonberry, Vaccinium vitis-idaea

  • Nannyberry, Viburnum lentago

  • Red raspberries, Rubus idaeus

  • Regent Serviceberry Amelanchier alnifolia 'Regent'

  • Sa berry, Hippophae rhamnoides

  • Silverbuffalo berry, Sheperdia argentea

  • Smooth sumac, Rhus glabra

  • Staghorn sumac, Rhus typhina

  • Strawberry, alpine, Fragaria vesca

  • Srawberry, Fragaria virginiana

  • Timbleberry, Rubus parviflorus

  • Wild rose, Rosa blanda or sp
We will also have to add bayberry: the berries are used to make light-green wax for candles, and I've heard that some people eat the berries!

Tomorrow: Perennial Vines

Perennial Herbs

Borage pictured to the right.

Herbs are very necessary for a homesteader. They are great for spicing up foods, to make toiletries, for general home use, and for a home apothecary. These are just the herbs listed at

Perennial Herbs:
  • Anise hyssop, Agastache foeniculum

  • Basil, Ocimum basilicum

  • Catnip, Nepeta cataria

  • Chives, Allium schoenoprasum

  • Fennel, Foeniculum vulgare

  • Feverfew, Chrysanthemum parthenium

  • French tarragon, Artemisia dranunculus

  • Garlic chives, Allium tuberosum

  • Lavender, Lavandula angustifolia

  • Lovage, Levisticum officinale

  • Mint, Mentha sp.

  • Oregano, Origanum vulgare

  • Parsley, Petroselinum crispum

  • Rosemary, Rosemarinus officinalis

  • Sage, Salvia

  • Shiso, Japanese Red Mint, Perilla frutescens

  • Thyme, Thymus vulgaris
We do plan to have a greenhouse for herbs we use year round. We also plan to grow other herbs like soapwort (to make shampoo and soap) and echinacea.

Note: We planted borage last year, which is supposed to be an annual. It grew huge, with large fuzzy leaves. We left it in the ground and it got brown, so we assumed the worst. We had a few days of sub-zero temperature, and several days of snow. On a warm day this past February, we notice it was greening a little bit. We waited. This weekend we noticed not only had it survived but it was getting all big and bushy again! I'm not saying it will do that for everyone, but it did it for us! Could we have gotten a perennial strain of borage? Or maybe I got the seeds mixed up and it wasn't borage at all? (Borage pictured above.)

Tomorrow... perennial shrubs and berries

Perennial Vegetables

We've been doing a lot of thinking, before and since my last posting of what we really want out of a homestead.

Okay, I'll admit it. We're a three-person family of which the 2 adults (er hum) are, well, lazy. The kid just wants to play, so he grumbles (a little) doing chores. We never get to sleep in on weekends, but want to. We're procrastinators. Hubby will do hard work but only if prodded (read: nagged). I am physically disabled so hard work is very limited.

So we're working on a plan for our next homestead. Part of that plan is to have as many perennial vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, etc. as possible. This posting will deal with perennial vegetables.

We live near Denver, Colorado in USA so we get very cold weather. So here goes:

  • Asparagus: We already have 6 plants. We planted two first-year plants per trash can (bucket) last year, so a total of 3 buckets and 6 plants. They really ferned out last summer, had a few stalks (which we didn't eat), then wintered in our family room under grow lights. We moved them outside in April, watered them, and last weekend notice 4 of the 6 are growing stalks! Hubby is really the only one in our little family who likes asparagus, but I have found that dehydrated and pulverized into a powder... it works well hidden in pizza sauce. Very high in vitamins and minerals, and dries well.

  • Rhubarb: It's used as a fruit, but is actually a vegetable. My mother-in-law has rhubarb growing in her backyard, so she split a plant and gave us some last Spring (2008). It grew pretty well last year, but thought we'd lost it because we saw lots of holes in the leaves. We thought insects had gotten to it. It was dead by August. We never moved it because, well, we're lazy! About 3 weeks ago, we noticed new green leaves where there was only dead brown ones from last year. Today, there are about 25 huge healthy stalks and lots of green leaves. Again, Hubby is the only one who likes this but doesn't know how to cook it. I think when it turns cool out on Thursday, I'll go cut some stalks and place them in the dehydrator. After they've dried, I'll turn them into a powder and add them to a homemade strawberry syrup. Yum! Rhubarb is very high in vitamins and minerals, and dries well.

The following list is from I'm going to have to do some more research to find out which of these will actually grow in cold weather. I don't even know what many of these are!

Perennial Vegetables and Greens:

  • Arrowhead, Sagittaria sagittifolia

  • Arugula, rocket, Diplotaxis erucoides

  • Asparagus, Asparagus officinalis

  • Chicory, Cichorium sp.

  • Comfrey, Symphytum sp.

  • Earth Pea, Lathyrus tuberosa

  • Elephant Garlic, Allium ampeloprasum

  • Galangal, Thai ginger, Alpinia galangal

  • Garlic, Allium sativum

  • Ginger, Zingiber officinale

  • Globe artichoke, Cynara scolymus

  • Golden shallots, Allium cepa var. aggregatum

  • Ground nut, Agrios americana

  • Horseradish, Amoracia sp.

  • Jerusalem artichokes, sunchoke, Helianthus tuberosus

  • New Zealand Spinach, Tetragonia

  • Oca, New Zealand yam, Oxalis tuberosa

  • Peruvian parsnip, Arracacia xanthorrhiza

  • Rhubarb, Rhuem rhabarbarum

  • Sea beet, Beta vulgaris ssp.maritima

  • Sea kale, Crambe maritima

  • Sorrel, Rumex acetosa

  • Sweet potato, Ipomoea batatas

  • Taro, Colocasia esculenta

  • Turmeric, Indian saffron, Curcuma domestica

  • Waterchestnuts, Eleocharis dulcis

  • Welsh onion, Allium sp.

  • Yacon, Smallanthus sonchifolius

  • Yam, Dioscorea batata
Tomorrow: perennial herbs!