Front Porch Garden



We are fortunate to have Jan Dawson and Andy Reinhart, who operate Jandy’s Farm Market near Bellefontaine, Ohio, for friends. Nearly everything they do or say has potential for my scribblings. The photo above is a picture of their front porch. Need I say more?  I tease them that they have turned their porch into a garden simply because they are addicted to gardening and can’t quit just because winter is here. But actually there is plenty of method to this winter madness when you can saunter out on your porch without bundling up or wading through snow and gather your salad for the next meal.

You can kind of see from the photo how they’ve converted the porch into a garden. There’s a footer and low wall on the three sides away from the house, with windows all around. The roof, not in the photo, is mostly triple-wall polycarbonate. They removed some of the rocks and sandy soil from the porch area, and added a foot or so of topsoil and compost. The idea was, of course, that with the sun shining through roof and windows, the porch would stay warm enough to grow some vegetables all winter and when necessary they can open the door to the house for supplementary heat (they heat with wood). “But the house heat doesn’t seem to make that much difference,” Andy says. “The porch so far averages around 55 degrees on cold sunless days and opening the door to the house doesn’t seem to change that much. Ordinarily on many days when the sun shines the porch can warm up fairly well without any supplemental heat, but this late fall and winter so far, there have been few sunny days, so plant growth has been slow.”

They describe their winter gardening as more of a holding than growing  operation. They transfer plants growing in the fall garden outside into the porch garden as cold weather approaches. Some are seedlings and some are more fully grown. In the porch environment, a half grown lettuce plant will survive quite well all winter although it may not grow much. Small seedlings grow some when the sun shines. So far they have experimented with lettuce, celery, arugula, spinach, and radishes and plan to add carrots next year. The best luck they’ve experienced so far is with celery. Plants from which they harvested stalks in the summer garden grow new stalks  and when transplanted to the porch continue to grow. “They make only green stalks but good for cooking,” says Jan.

The radishes they planted directly into the porch soil did not develop roots but the peppery young leaves are good in salads. Leaf lettuce, especially the red-leaved kinds, did fine, started outside in the fall and transplanted to the porch garden. Bibb lettuce worked fairly well. Spinach did okay on the porch too, and early experimentation seems to indicate that when planted directly into the porch soil, it germinates in late fall about as well as in the spring garden outside.

“The key is timing— when to move the plants into the porch garden, especially the lettuce,” says Andy. “So far the bigger transplants have done the best. They might not grow much more, but they hold their freshness very well.”

They already have a greenhouse for starting regular season vegetables, but they figure their porch garden would work well for that purpose too. In this case some heating coils in the soil might help. “So far the biggest advantage to the porch garden is that we have not seen any aphids or white flies on the plants. A little too cool for them,” says Jan.

Andy normally thinks arugula is a bit too astringent for his taste but grown on the porch it maintains its full nutty flavor without the bitterness. Potted plants of all kinds could be kept on the porch.  And the porch is perfect for herbs, says Jan. “The parsley just loves it out there.”

The one unforeseen mystery of the porch garden is a mole that has taken up residence. How it got there they are not sure. My thinking is that some moles get addicted to gardening too and won’t quit just because it’s winter.


@Ken- I love Seed Savers for heirloom seeds. Such pretty packets.

I also agree. The Asian greens have a shorter growing period and will also withstand much lower temperatures. I have a small outdoor unheated greenhouse and my Asian crops have endured several nights of minus 9 degrees C and have remained edible.


Besides the corn varieties to use and the whole thing about “de-germed” verses whole kernel I would like to know the best process for grinding corn. What type of equipment, wet ground or not. If not how dry should it be? How to store it or do you have to always fresh grind it (Maybe that is why the de-germed meal is what you buy at the store)?

The bantam sweet corn which is not shrunken kernel makes the best corn bread I ever ate.
I found it to be almost a light fluffy cake consistency. With that said I have not tried any other varieties to compare with except “store bought”.

I did not try any shrunken kernel nor popcorn. For that matter I don’t really know the difference between flint or dent corn. Seed catalogs get a little murky on the descriptions.

I for one would love to produce all my own corn meal and grits that are not adulterated with the latest gene splicing technology. I just don’t know where to start and spring is just around the corner. (I need to buy seed, any suggestions?) I have to believe your readers would love the information as well. I am sure some have vast experience like yourself.


This cold weather is a challenge on our front porch garden. We covered the plants with sheets of row cover and nothing has frozen yet. We keep the door open to the porch all day while our wood burner stove keeps us and the porch warm. Still harvesting lettuce, parsley and celery!

Ken, we learned that sweet corn makes good corn meal but is too gummy. For years, we grew and ground Reid’s Yellow Dent field corn for cornmeal. Very good and people drove out of their way to get some from us. You have convinced me to write a blog post about corn meal which I will sooner rather than later. Meanwhile, I bet others have ideas. I think there are lots of people looking into growing heritage corns and I think some of the older hybrids make good corn meal too. Gene


I have a request on a topic you know something about and I am sure many of your readers do as well. I have read your comments or references in your books about making corn meal from popcorn and sweet corn. I have experimented with bantam sweet corn will great success but I have a really hard time getting it ground up properly. I have one of those cheap steel hand crank mills (corona?) and found if you soak the corn all day you can grind it course, dry it in the oven and then regrind it again at least twice. I am also keeping the meal in the freezer for fear it will go rancid since it is whole kernel corn.

I know I am missing something. Surely it can not be that hard to grind corn. What types of corn make good meal, equipment needed, and what is the procedure for grinding and storage? I noticed the store bought meal says it is “degermed”. Throw in a few good recipes your wife makes as well. Your comments would surely be well received and I am sure many of your followers have a few tips as well.

I would love to have a porch garden and if I really hit the big time a solar greenhouse like the Nearing’s had in Maine. ( I just purchased their book on the subject) Sitting here looking at that picture while nursing my flu bug, warms my heart. Thank you for the post.

What an inspiring post for such a cold and windy night. I hope you have your wood stove fired up. Wishing you an awesome New Year.

My wife potted eight of the celery plants last fall. They are in five gallon pots. We gave two to friends and have the rest in the south window of the garage. Kept moist and pruned, they will go on almost forever. We read an internet post from a lady who has kept celery going for several years by vigorous use. It will be interesting to see if we can duplicate her results. Since we use celery as a culinary herb and not for raw eating the strength of the unblanched stalk is not a problem.

A four season room on the south side of the house is the main focus of our savings plan. About three years off.

Stay toasty warm.

Your neighbors should check out The Northlands Winter Greenhouse Manual by Carol Ford and Chuck Waibel. They designed a low-tech, low-input passive solar greenhouse for Minnesota’s frigid climate and ran a winter CSA until Chuck passed away. Several more have been constructed, with the U of MN doing research in a few of them this winter.

They found the traditional “winter harvest” crops that Eliot Coleman recommended were not as ideal as some of the Asian greens, which will grow in lower light conditions and spend less of the darkest months in a holding pattern.

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