Day 316 of 365
One of the first lessons I learned as a beginning homesteader was that eating what you grow can be more difficult than it seems on the surface. When you are working full time, raising a family, and caring for animals, your days are pretty full, usually too full. Adding harvest to those duties can be a challenge, especially when you are used to eating from a grocery store. I was not at all used to eating from a garden, so there was a learning curve.
We knew we wanted to change the way our family ate, and we knew we didn’t want to waste. We had a pretty good plan for using all of the food, but I didn’t realize how time consuming harvest could be. In the first year or two, some good food went by us. Thankfully, it mostly went to the chickens, but it was hard to waste some of it. Growing your own food will teach you so much about waste. Wasting food feels like a sin once you see the work and water resources that go into growing it.
If you are planning to step up your homesteading game this year and grow more of your own food, I thought I might share some tips about planning at the beginning, using what you harvest, and making the most of what you grow.
1. In your planning, think about what you can grow that you will use for sure. We started with things like green beans, potatoes, carrots, and tomatoes because we were already a lot of these things and buying fresh or frozen from the store. These were staples we knew we could use. So, when you plan, think about what you and your family will really eat. I have some other tips about tricking picky children into eating from the garden if it’s not their preference, but that’s another post.
2. After you decide on what foods you will grow, write these foods down in a notebook. List each food, and make a list of meals or snacks that you can make that will use these foods. In the planning stages, start looking for recipes. Add your favorites to your notebook right now.
3. If you want to grow enough of each food to “put up” to eat the rest of the year, make a plan on how you will put up those foods. We can a little and freeze a lot but hope to can more this coming year now that we finally have a pressure canner. If you plan to can, make sure you have some jars purchased well in advance. I have seen them be pretty much sold out in the stores during harvest season, even before the pandemic. You can also put up food by dehydrating, It’s something we are looking into, and you can do some pretty cool things. If you want to do that, make sure you have all of your supplies in advance. Since we have never dehydrated food, I don’t know if those supplies sell out too, but I promise harvest season is intense enough without worrying about getting supplies. It’s good to be prepared if you are planning to put up food.
4. During the height of harvest, take some days off from work if you can. I have found that it’s easier to spend a couple of full days blanching and freezing carrots or making tomato sauce rather than trying to get all of the materials and tools out and doing it over and over and over again at the end of a day at work. It’s so much better if you make one or two messes instead of six or seven.
5. Finally, just remember it is all a process. You have to be patient with yourself. In the first couple of years, we weren’t prepared for how prolific green beans were. They are quite prolific!
Oh, one more tip! Plant something just for fun that you think you or your family might eat. I wouldn’t plan a lot of different things you aren’t sure about, but it’s good to do something fun and see what you think. It’s a great way to get your kids involved too, who can be great helpers during harvest. Even our grumpy teenager chips in during harvest, and it turns out he likes Kohlrabi.
Hopefully, these tips will be helpful if you are just getting started gardening or putting up food. We now grow at least 60% of our own food, and we are planning to do a little more this coming year. It’s all a process of learning and growing and meeting goals (whatever your goals are) on your own time.
And I hope all of this practical advice doesn’t take the romanticism out of eating what you grow. It’s a magnificent thing to do. The food is so good. The food you eat from your garden tastes worlds better than anything at the grocery store, and as you develop your skills, you will save hundreds to thousands of dollars on your grocery bill.
*I thought it may help to see a list of our usual harvest and how we adjust our eating habits to use what is in the garden. I am leaving things out for sure, but I hope it gives you a general idea of how we make use of the garden harvest.
In May, we start eating salads every single night. They are either sides or the meals. These early salads just have greens, radishes, and cheese, but we eat them every night in May and June. Ron will replant greens in mid summer, and then we will have salads and wrap with the greens and fall vegetables. We also use the rhubarb to make muffins, jams, and pies.
Sugar Pod Peas
In June, we add beets, peas, and Kohlrabi to the salads. I also make stir fries a lot during this time, as well as vegetable lo mien. We eat the sugar pod peas and Kohlrabi as snacks, as well as the strawberries. Oh, how I love the strawberries. We freeze broccoli and cauliflower and some of the strawberries. I also make strawberry jam. I have always made low-sugar recipes, but I am hoping to learn how to use honey this year.
In July, I do a lot of different stir fries. There are some fantastic recipes with beets that I really love. I had no idea how much I loved beets until I had them not pickled. I like pickled beets, but I love them just being their beet-selves. We also start eating potatoes again, which I love. We usually seem to run out of potatoes in May or so, so we go a few months without potatoes. The raspberries are our snacks, and I always make at least one raspberry-peach pie. It’s hard to find good peaches, but I try to every year. The raspberry-peach pie is a special celebration around here.
We also freeze most of the green beans, though we do eat some fresh. I am hoping to can green beans this year. The green beans will feed us all year. We store the potatoes in a large black back in our basement cold room. It’s not as good as a root cellar, but it does fairly well. Just keep the dirt on them, and they will last many months. I also always make raspberry jam.
Oxheart Carrots (I adore these carrots)
This is the month that really feels like harvest, and it gets a little wild around here. This is the month we put up most of the food we will eat throughout the long winter. With that much freezing and canning and prepping going on, dinner is a little wild. I will make a lot of wraps (I make homemade tortillas with whole grain flour), and we eat those all the time. But we’ll have green beans on the side. Sometimes, we have peppers on the side of that. Sometimes, for dinner, I’m like, “Here is a plate of corn on the cob with tomatoes on the side, and, here, have another tomato. You like tomatoes, right?”
In terms of putting up, we freeze blueberries (a lot of them) and make jam. We make the spaghetti sauce I shared before out of the tomatoes, onions, garlic, peppers, and herbs from the garden. We freeze green beans, corn, and carrots and will not buy any of these foods for the rest of the year. The same goes with potatoes and onions.
Scarlet Nantes Carrots
In this last month of harvest, we enjoy the last of the fresh corn and tomatoes, and the pears are especially treasured. I make pear crisp but eat them fresh, of course. We bake the squash and will eat fresh carrots as snacks into October.
We continue to use the tomatoes, peppers, and onions to make sauce. We are hoping to can whole or diced tomatoes this year as well for winter soups. We freeze the carrots and the last of the corn.