Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Canning, gardening and food storage

Summer is over.  I'd cry if I wasn't so tired of gardening and canning!  I wrote to a friend earlier this week that I've been praying for frost so I can quit with the garden but I was just kidding!

I've had amazing success with my garden this year and considering the dry weather this summer I feel truly blessed that it did so well - and most of it happened by accident.

We poured on the mulch all summer - load after load as we cleaned out the chicken coops.  In some places the mulch is now several inches deep and as a result I didn't water my garden all summer after the initial few days when the plants and seeds were put in.  I am as surprised as anyone that the garden was as lush as it was with no water. We did get minimal rain off and on - more than eastern Ontario for sure.  I am excited about the possibilities - one less chore to do in the hot summer and less stress on the well when things are already low.

I've read many people's accounts of moving to the country to take up gardening and raising livestock. With no prior experience the common theme is their oft repeated tales of woe and just how difficult it is to do what seems like something straightforward.  They are right - overwhelming-completely-totally RIGHT.  This is our third summer on the farm for those of you who are counting.  The first summer didn't count in the gardening-department  because we arrived in late June and didn't do anything except moan at the weeds and deal with settling in as a family.  I did spend some time getting the garden ready for the following year - after all I HAD gardened before and knew to some extent what was needed.  Last year's garden was better than I deserved for all the weeds and we did manage to dig out most of the tree stumps, overgrown perennials, rocks, old pots and garbage before the fall.

This spring as I've mentioned before we dumped load after load of manure on the garden and tilled it in.  I planted about half the total space knowing there were more tree stumps to dig out and shrubs to move in the other half.  Again I have been blessed beyond what I deserve in garden bounty.  

There are still beans producing out there and I wish for my conscience sake they would die because really-and-truly -I don't want any more!  I would give them away but the bean pods are bursting with beans and they don't look very appetizing. I planted two 45 foot rows of beans - that may have been a few too many!

The tomatoes are in the same category.  Oh MY - tomatoes everywhere.  I've been picking and canning them for weeks.  I still have several pails of green ones to deal with and I'm not sure what I will do with 100 quarts of green-tomato-whatever but waste-not-want-not.  I am going to try hanging some of the plants upside-down in the garage and see if they will ripen there.  My tomato cages were a complete and utter failure as I suspected they would be.  The patch was a jungle of vines and there was no way to pick without standing on some of the tomatoes no matter how carefully I walked. Next year I'm building wooden trellis' so the plants will hopefully grow UP instead of fall over.

My green pepper plants looked amazing - the leaves were shiny and green and healthy looking but production was not so great - I think because we added too much manure.  We got less than 1/4 of the peppers I was hoping for so we went to the pick-your-own pace nearby and picked 2 bushels to chop and freeze for the year.  My own would have been cheaper but considering the grocery store price of nearly a dollar each my two bushels with 70 - 80 peppers in each was a bargain at $41.00.  

Freezing peppers is my favorite way of preserving them.  It takes several hours of washing and chopping but for 40 bucks I won't buy another pepper for cooking for the year.  Someone asked if they could be used in salads - not the fresh kind as they come out of the freezer mushy but they are great for stir fries, casseroles or soup.  My Mom came over for coffee and she got drafted to help chop - thanks Mom!  Dehydration is another common way to store peppers but I am not as fond of them as frozen so in the freezer they went!

I didn't grow potatoes this year but I caught some really great sales at the grocery store a few weeks ago and I decided to can some.  Because they are low acid they require the pressure canner of course - aren't they pretty?  Wonderfully simple meals almost ready to eat!

Potatoes are best if stored in a cold cellar but we have not been able to figure out YET how to keep the basement cool enough for them to last - last year all the potatoes rotted in record time.  I've got a few ideas but I am running out of time - again!

A friend came for a quick visit yesterday to pick up her chicken order - hi Nina!  We chatted in the sunshine about healthy food and the effects of GMO on our food supply, backyard chickens, pesticide free gardens and free range eggs.  I was cooking up some turkeys to can and had another pot of tomatoes simmering on the stove to can later in the day while a basket of peppers muddied the floor.  I have three canners and various pots and pans and dirty dishes in the kitchen while the dining room table is covered with canning jars, baskets of squash, notebooks, cook books and my "canning bible".

Seriously - who lives like this??!  At a time when most people my age are looking at being empty nesters, decluttering and simplifying because it's just the two of them I've gone the other route completely!  I am making life MORE difficult and collecting equipment at an alarming rate.  I bought out the dollar store of canning lids the other night - 120 boxes...I'm sure some people think I'm crazy.

I am perfectly sane - most of the time.  So why am I doing this?  That is THE question.  There's more than one reason.

That was in 2005!  Read this as well: 

  • I'm concerned with our food supply and how it is being taken over by big companies who are more interested in money than what is good and healthy for us to eat.
  • "People are fed by the FOOD industry which pays no attention to HEALTH and are treated by the HEALTH industry that pays no attention to FOOD." Wendell Berry
  • I like knowing exactly what I'm eating - there are no pesticides, herbicides or GMO in the food I preserve myself because I don't spray and I use organic and heirloom seeds..
  • I am concerned about situations - once unheard of - all over the world where economies are failing and cutbacks are resulting in more and more people needing public assistance or who are eating out of dumpsters.  I think that many of us in developed nations can barely imagine that life could ever be like that here - I'm sure the people in Greece and Spain once thought so too.
  • Our just-in-time delivery systems and long food chains from miles away are all just one crack from disaster.  Why are we eating apples from California when we grow them in Canada anyway???
  • I was a home schooling Mom for many years and the desire to learn has never gone away - call me a romantic fool emulating Laura Ingalls Wilder!
There are many reasons to be concerned - practically NONE of which I can do much about but taking care of my family as best I can by growing and preserving healthy fruits and vegetable and free range meats and eggs IS something I can do.  Some of you don't have room for a huge garden but you can support small farmers and buy locally grown, pesticide free produce, meat and eggs.  I challenge you to see what you can do to take some further steps to protecting your own food security.

I could think of many more reasons but I have to get back to canning the turkey and the great recipe I found for pickled green tomatoes!

So what are YOU gonna do about it?


  1. Ha ha! We understand completely Anita!!! As you know, we ran a CSA this year. It was an overwhelming success in terms of the quantity, quality and variety of produce that our members rec'd. But wow... what A LOT of work! We too, were hoping for frost to come so that we could stop picking beans etc.... and Cam was talking to another CSA owner and she said the same thing! I don't think anyone truly has any concept of the work involved in our food, until you have grown it, harvested and prepared it yourself!

    1. Michelle - I'm still in the figuring it out stage in many ways - I can't imagine having it sorted out enough to actually feed other people a variety of vegetables at the same time. It's a skill that most people don't even know exists. I can see a CSA in my future but maybe I should come for a visit some fall when you're still tired of it all so you can talk me out of it! :)

    2. Well, as long as you don't mind working long hours in the hot sun and humidity for no pay, you'd love it! :)
      I know of 4 local CSAs that WON'T be operating next year.... essentially everyone says the same thing... way too much work for no income!

  2. Try looking up recipes for Green Tomato Relish. My husband's grandmother makes a ton of it each year, and even people who don't like relish like this. It can be used in lots of recipes, and as a topping. Of course, around here we love some fried green tomatoes too, with some buttermilk ranch dressing to dip them in.

    1. I've never tried fried green tomatoes but this will be the year! We could eat them every day for months with just the leftovers :) I made cucumber relish last year and we maybe ate 5 jars all year - that was pushing it. I need to find a recipe that uses relish in it - relish brownies or something so we actually eat it up. Think anyone would notice???

  3. Well done.


  4. I know how you feel and it is so hard to just leave the stuff out there. Last year I left my green tomatoes on the vine cut the vines and put them in the garage in an attempt to ripen them. What I got was a lot of flies and 95% percent of the tomatoes had to be thrown away. You can try wrapping them in paper and putting them in a box as long as you check on them to make sure they aren't rotting. A garage just isn't warm enough nor has enough light. It becomes a huge mess.

    1. My grandmother used to put them in newspaper and then a paper bag. I can't remember if she wrapped then individually or not.

      You can always make green tomato chutney


    2. Thanks sista - that seals the deal for me about even bothering with hanging them up. I will do some of them up in their green state but I think the rest will become compost for next year.

      oldschool - I could just being you a bushel or 5 next week - I'll just leave them on the porch like some people do with squash :)

  5. Fine by have a couple of hours to help? Lol


  6. You sound just like me--I could have written this! I'm going away on the 30th for a couple weeks and I'm working hard to bring in everything that can be preserved--and leaving in the garden whatever is left that could stand frost if we get it (but not too much, don't want to waste). So on Friday I'm harvesting all the tomatoes and putting them in the (heated) garage with the hope that they'll ripen slowly and be ready for me when I get back--or at least not be rotten by then. Any that are semi-ripe I'll put in the fridge. I preserved a lot of green tomatoes a couple of years ago, including relishes (like Orange Tomato Relish that we really liked) but we don't really eat relish, so it's all just sitting in the pantry. I thought of making pickled tomatoes (yummy) but they have to marinate in a brine for 3 weeks before canning and I don't have time for that. So it's either leave them on the vine and hope my kids remember to water and that they don't get killed by cold (they are under cover, but cold does permeate to some degree), or pick them all and hope they'll ripen slowly enough in the garage. It's only two weeks...

    I hear you on the beans. I had friends come and pick some, too, but I was so tired of them by the end that I pulled up all the plants one day--even the ones that had just started producing. I mean, I really had to get done with the beans and get on to the next item to preserve! I feel bad now about wasting that promise; must have been a bad day!

    This year I decided to try growing second crops of some things--like peas and spinach and spinach. WHAT was I thinking? I hope they survive until I get home... The cauliflowers are looking good; they should be ready to harvest and share when I get back.

    I really admire Cam and Michelle for their little CSA. It's on my horizon, too, but only in a tiny way. As it is I'm just inviting a small group of friends to come visit occasionally and take excess beans and cucumbers off my hands, and introduce them to some new vegetables. So far I haven't charged anybody for anything, but I did plan out a Pik-a-Bit thing this year to offer the neighbours. My computer caught a virus just when I was about to print off and distribute the document, so it never happened. Maybe next year...

    For now, I'm looking forward to a couple weeks of rest from the garden, and I'll deal with whatever fallout there is when I return.

  7. HI Connie! It takes awhile to get used to the seasonal challenges. My raspberries are going full tilt right now - I wasn't expecting that either :) I'm glad I'm not the only one struggling with this problem :)

  8. Enjoyed the beautiful photos of your garden, but have a fear of ending up overworked if we plant one. I just do not have that many hours to devote to food storage, since we homeschool and I also have a part-time job. Maybe we could start small. We also do not have much space to store food right now: only a small fridge and the freezer in it, and limited pantry space. Your post inspired me to consider doing SOMETHING and I forwarded it to my husband and a few friends. One of them replied back and sent me a link to this website that she has discovered recently.

    I think your mulch may have been the key to your success. You should check out the Back to Eden site and film and see if this could help make gardening easier for you.

    Terrie in Alabama

    1. Hi Terrie - I'm so glad I could help inspire you :) I have seen the Back to Eden film - three times!!! I love it! I have found that it takes time to get things prepared that way and to get it weed free. I have to wonder when that will happen.

      There are times and seasons for everything. When I was home schooling I didn't have time to do all of this either but I did make a start - learning right along side the kids. My daughter - now 22 - cans with me most of the time and is accomplished at almost every skill needed to run a home. We focused on many of those skills during our time of schooling and I have never regretted it!! Your kids may be too young now but it's never to early to start!

      If you are creative enough to start home schooling I KNOW you will find a way - we home schoolers are a resourceful bunch huh?? :)

    2. Thanks for the encouragement! This is actually our 19th year of homeschool. My step-son is almost 28, our daughter is 21, and our younger son is 11. Today we are making progress inside--replacing carpet. Maybe soon we can work outside, preparing for a garden. Still need to find a good source for wood chips. I agree that homeschoolers are creative and resourceful. I will do what I can now, and keep adding a little at a time. Also enjoyed your chicken post today. We have considered raising a few chickens. Maybe one day!

      Terrie in Alabama

  9. Sorry to be late in commenting, but I've been away...what an awesome post! Yes, Monsanto is taking over the world and it's so important to be growing and raising our own food. I'm still harvesting my gardens and always feel that I'm behind. Plus, I need the space to get my garlic planted, so I may have to pull all the tomatoes to make room.

    I admire your energy when it comes to canning! It's not my favourite thing, but I have 36 jars of green tomato relish!! Kind of over-did it this year.

    I love your jars of potatoes. I'm still afraid of my brand new pressure canner that has been sitting in the cupboard for the past 2 years :-(. Maybe one day...

  10. My Uncle-you planting a garden on your property?
    Me-yeah I was thinking of raised beds
    Uncle-no you should just plant directly into the ground
    Me-is this how you get yours to grow?
    Uncle-yeah I till the soil,throw the seeds in there and ask the Lord to let it grow good.
    My Uncle is 83 years old still grows a garden and they want for nothing when it comes to food.I do believe I have learned his secret lol.He's had a garden all his life,he's lived in one place most of that time,so yeah Im listening.Can you imagine how fertile his soil is by now?

    So yeah congrats on your garden it looked really nice.I bet the more you work that soil the better it will produce for you.


Join the family - join the conversation - share your own adventures - I LOVE comments!