Homesteading, Organic Gardening, How to Farm, Preparedness, Self-Reliance
The Happy Homesteader Blog
While my pantry is never bare and every season around here is a season to preserve food, this time of year is when things are the leanest. July and August are the biggest canning periods and by now we have usually gone through much of last summer's harvest, but are enjoying the winter harvest. Since warm season crops are already in the ground, then it won't be long before these veggies roll around again. I thought it might be helpful for those of you who are putting in your first garden or perfecting your garden this year to think about food preservation. After all, the aim of a garden is not just fresh produce, but also what you can stock up on. You should think ahead about what your family likes to eat and how you like to prepare it so that you have a good idea of what to plant and preserve. That way you can plan in planting extra of the veggies you want in your pantry or freezer. Here's an example from our house.
Our fall/winter garden
In the fall we plant cool season crops that will grow to some degree of height before the coldest days of winter arrive. The winter weather stalls their growth, but since they are cold hardy plants, they don't die back. Instead, they wait for a warm day here and there for little growth spurts and then when the very early spring hits they take off. By the end of spring they are usually finished growing and begin to bolt or send up seed heads, which means the plants are too mature to eat and are ready for seed saving or feeding the compost pile. While these crops have already been pulled from the garden now that it's May, here is what was added to the pantry from the winter garden for our favorite recipes:
- turnips and rutabagas: diced and dehydrated or frozen for future roasting or mashing
- carrots and parsnips: sliced in coins and dehydrated or frozen for future roasting or adding to stews, some carrots shredded and dehydrated in serving sizes for carrot cake
- beets: sliced and dehydrated or frozen for future boiling or adding to salads, canned jars of pickled beets, and frozen bags of greens in serving sizes for a side dish sauteed with garlic
- greens (swiss chard, kale, collards): bags of frozen greens in serving sizes for a side dish or adding to soups plus larger amounts for slow cooking with a ham hock, the ribs of giant swiss chard sliced and dehydrated for adding to soups or sauteing.
- broccoli: florets flash frozen so that we can pull out a handful at a time for numerous dishes, broccoli is so useful that it's one we never seem to have enough of
- cabbage: jars of sauerkraut
Our spring garden
Once we see the first sign of winter breaking, which is usually around the beginning of March, we plant the cool season crops all over again. It's helpful for me to see what we didn't grow enough of the previous fall so that I know to grow more in the spring. Also, without the threat of any prolonged winter weather, we can grow additional crops that are slightly more vulnerable, like lettuce and arugula. Besides filling in the gaps that were lean from the winter garden, we added the following to the pantry:
- arugula: made into pesto and flash frozen in ice cube blocks
- spinach: frozen in serving sizes for sauteing
- green peas: flash frozen so we can pull out a handful at a time for boiling or adding to stir-fry, etc.
- potatoes: stored in a basket in the dark garage
- onions and garlic (planted in the fall but not ready until now): cured and stored in a basket in the dark garage, if any onions sent up flower stalks then they are diced and dehydrated because these won't store as long, if garlic sent up seeds stalks then they are peeled, pickled and canned
This is the biggie! There are just so many veggies we love in the summer and so many that lend themselves to stocking up on that we have at least two gardens going at once. One is for smaller items while other parts of the farm are planted in crops like corn. After the last frost date we start planting the warm season crops and many of them we even plant in succession to keep them going all the way until the fall. Indeterminate crops (ones that produce here and there through out the season) are continuously preserved in small batches. Determinate crops (ones that have one flush of vegetables to harvest all at once) are preserved all at once in a few very exhausting days! Here's what last summer brought:
- summer squash and zucchini: pureed and frozen as soup bases, shredded and frozen in serving sizes for breads and muffins, flash frozen for side dishes or adding to stir-fry, etc.
- okra: sliced and dehydrated for stews, small pods frozen whole for grilling, some sliced and then breaded and flash frozen for frying, canned pickled okra
- cucumbers: canned into sweet and dill pickles and relish
- melons: just a few cantaloupes are pureed and frozen for bread, smoothies, or popsicles, watermelon rind pickled and canned
- eggplant: diced and dehydrated for stews and ratatouille, sliced then breaded and frozen for eggplant parmesan, pureed and frozen for baba ghanoush
- peppers: sliced and dehydrated for adding to lots of things, whole bell peppers cored and frozen for stuffed peppers, hot peppers dried whole and some powdered for adding spice, jalapeno's pickled and canned for adding to sandwiches or nachos, pepper jelly canned for eating on crackers or using to make sauces for meat
- greenbeans: chopped and canned, some flash frozen just because we like the taste better
- dried beans (lima, black-eyed peas, kidney, black beans): all of these are left on the plant to dry and once dried they are picked and shelled, we keep gallons and gallons of dried beans for so many uses
- winter squash (acorn, butternut, spaghetti): stored in a basket in the dark garage
- sweet potatoes: stored in a basket in the dark garage
- tomatoes: sun dried tomatoes for adding to pasta or pizza, cans after cans of crushed, diced, pureed, and juiced tomatoes, dehydrated tomato leather to be rehydrated into tomato paste
- corn: some canned into creamed corn and whole kernel corn and the rest dried and stored by the gallons
- peanuts: stored in a basket in the dark garage to be roasted and eaten as a snack
And this just includes singular vegetables. I didn't even list the shelves of canned food that we combine into pre-made items like salsa, spaghetti sauce, soup, etc. I also didn't include any fruits, which are canned into things like applesauce, peaches in syrup, or cobbler filling. The last items we are always busy canning or curing are meat products, all of which are grown on the homestead. I'm exhausted just thinking about it all! I hope this gives you a sense of how important food preservation is to a homesteader. I don't think a day goes by where I don't do something related to growing, harvesting, or preserving our food, but the result, as you can see, is a stocked pantry. At any point in time I have many meals just waiting to be made. If you are trying your hand at gardening this year, try growing a little extra of some of the items listed above and put some food by for your own pantry.
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