It’s high summer here in the Pacific Northwet and, (I apologize for this next part), it’s been a very pleasant one indeed – Lots of sun interspersed with decent period of cool and plenty of rain. This means the garden is very, very happy. Despite the recent broad scale heat wave, reports from friends all across the country indicate similar bounties – This begs the question, what should we do with home grown produce?
Planting and growing a garden is an exercise that can easily lead to excess. Starters and seed packs look so dang appealing, we load up maybe more than we need. Add the unknown factor of actual produce yield, and we can easily find ourselves swimming in the stuff – Ask anyone who’s planted zucchini about that – especially the folks who don’t like zucchini…
So what should we do with our garden bounty? The answer is to have a plan, and confirm that what you have in mind is doable in the time you’ll likely have. Just as we don’t cook as often as we’d like to, (or think we will), our best laid plans for dealing with a lot of produce have to be tempered by reality. It is absolutely possible to grow a lot of veggies and keep waste to a minimum – Here are some ideas you might find appealing for your situation.
A lot of gardeners fail to take into account the amount of work actually needed – Something needs to be done daily. Frankly, this is a privilege and not a chore, and should be recognized as such. With as crappy as the world’s gotten lately, stepping into your garden after a day of reality is a gift. Watering, weeding, trimming, checking for pests, harvesting – It’s all good therapy, and it’ll keep your garden healthy and productive. And do ask yourself how often things you’ve grown rot on the vine – it happens a lot in home gardens. Making sure that what you’ve grown makes it to someone’s table really is job #1.
Stagger your planting. For one thing, doing so ensures that the kits keep on coming, and has the added benefit of making harvesting more manageable. Read up on the expected times from plating to harvest for what you grow, so you can plan accordingly. This simple step will help quite a bit, and it’s fun too – having new stuff growing and thriving is absolutely good for the soul as well as the stomach.
Be realistic about what will get used right away. With the way and frequency most folks cook, that’s an unlikely scenario. A lot of homegrown produce gets wasted because we don’t take this factor seriously enough. All that stuff looks great sitting on the counter or in the fridge, right up to the point that it starts to rot and has to be tossed. If you come all the way through the non-productive months with stuff from your garden frozen, dried, or canned, you’re doing well. Yes, fresh tastes best, but home grown is a delight any time of the year.
Some form of meal planning is a must, to avoid waste and get the most out of what we buy or grow. When harvest season is in full swing for your garden, take into account what’s fresh now, as well as what will be within the next few days, and incorporate as much of that as you can into your planning. That’ll go a long way toward limiting garden waste.
You don’t need a vacuum sealer to freeze stuff, but you do want to have sufficient, appropriate containers or wraps to get the job done. A lot of fruit and veggies will fit canning jars or glass storage containers with airtight lids, and a layer of parchment with another of metal foil on top of that will also do a fine job. Any of those options will do a good job of resisting freezer burn too.
A dehydrator does the best job of drying, but your oven on warm, or plain old solar radiation, will do fine. Store dried produce in airtight glass containers. From fruit and veggies to herbs, this is a great way to extend the harvest year round. Keep this stuff in a cool, dry corner of your kitchen out of direct sunlight, for best longevity and flavor retention.
Pickling is a great way to enjoy your homegrown goodies. A fridge pickle can be done very quickly indeed, with a minimum of fuss.
Share the bounty liberally. This is what we’re called to do as humans and members of a community. Contrary to all too common belief, food banks and shelters are happy to take excess home garden produce. It’s a wonderful gift to those in need, and if the opportunity doesn’t feed your desire for a couple more starts of this and that, I don’t know what will. Got older folks who can’t garden any more in your neighborhood? How about single parents, or young moms with their hands seriously full? Far too many of us are shy about asking, and we shouldn’t be – Chances are very good that your offer will be gratefully accepted and appreciated. How about your coworkers? Are folks at the job blown away when you describe all that you’re growing? They’ll be all the more thrilled when you share the bounty – Maybe even them zucchini.