Even well-seasoned gardeners can find themselves with a larger harvest of any veggie than they expected. Our garden is running amok with squash this year, both summer and winter types. The last three years we had a poor winter-squash harvest, so this season we planted a lot more. We had no idea the crookneck summer squash plant (shown) would be quite this prolific. Apparently, the bees liked all the squash flowers and came flying in to help.
This is a good problem to have, but how can it be dealt with?
It’s a running joke amongst food growers that you can sneak into your neighbor’s yard at night and leave a box of zucchini on their porch. When we had our restaurant business, people would do just that.
There are other ways that you can share your produce than by dumping on friends and family. Consider contacting your local food bank to see if they can use it. Oftentimes veterans’ centers will be happy to take any extras you have to use in their kitchens. A soup kitchen or woman’s shelter would be good places to donate to. We bring our extras to a local place of worship, and they distribute whatever we give to families who can use the help. I have even see roadside signs that say “Please take what you need” and they leave it at that.
Whether by water-bath method or pressure canning, you can store your extra produce for at least two years. High-acid foods like pickles and high-sugar foods such as jam are easy to make and safely put up using a water bath canner. This works well too if you have a small quantity to preserve. When we didn’t have enough strawberries or blueberries or raspberries to make jam, we combined them. Now Triple Berry Jam is one of our favorites.
The same way you can buy veggies and vegetable combinations at the market, you can freeze vegetables at home. Freezing often is simply a matter of steaming the veggies for a few minutes, then letting them dry. Spread out on a cookie sheet to freeze, then transfer to a smaller container. Many gardeners like to vacuum seal their frozen produce.
This ancient method of removing most of the moisture from a plant is steadily increasing in popularity amongst gardeners. It is easy to do and the veggies not only take up much less space, they retain more of their nutritional value. When rehydrated, they look almost the same as they did previously. They store longer, too. If you have never tasted a dehydrated slice of watermelon, you don’t know what you are missing. It’s better than candy, really.
5. Cold Holding
A simple root cellar works well for many vegetables, such as sweet potatoes, onions, winter squash and potatoes. Other produce such as carrots, cabbage and brussel sprouts can also be held fresh, but require a little more effort to maintain the right humidity levels.
One of the oldest methods of storing food is my keeping it submerged in its own fluids, usually drawn out by salt. A well-known example of this is sauerkraut, but not the vinegar-soaked stuff you can buy in the markets. Real sauerkraut is is crunchy and flavorful, with no vinegar at all. It is also one of the healthiest ways to store food, as the fermentation process produces probiotics that naturally help with digestion.
Gardening Jones is a master gardener in Pennsylvania. Learn more at gardeningjones.com/blog.
Make your harvest last longer with the advice in The Joy of Keeping a Root Cellar: The Ultimate Guide to Canning, Freezing, Drying, Smoking and Cellaring the Harvest.
Learn how to can your harvest—and much more—in the book Homesteading.