As summer begins to wind down and the warm days of August begin to get shorter, we are blessed with the fruits of our hard labor. Plans made in February have now come to fruition. If we are lucky, large bags of produce begin to come in from the garden. In some years we have failed crops, which have turned into lessons. This time of year is a busy time and it is easy to see why our forefathers would have a party or festival after harvest time ends. A few times of year will test your resolve as much as harvest season, that is why it is important to not only have a plan, but to posses the skills needed to make the most of your harvest. Another consideration is space for your freshly grown food. Early on we would often run out of freezer space and/or mason jars. This is why it is important to think about the harvest early as you would when planning your garden.
Over the years we have learned how much food we really needed for the winter, we found it best to package our food so that we know how many meals are in each freezer bag. Too many years we were down to only beans by February. There is one of those lessons learned!
Early on in the summer, kale, spinach and lettuce begin to come into the house. We blanch and freeze the kale and spinach (see our previous blog on freezing kale). We try to keep it in meal sized bags because it can be hard to break apart once frozen. Sometimes we freeze it in ice cube trays in order to make smaller servings, each cube is perfect for an omelette in the morning.
Later, onions and garlic are harvested they are laid in the sun for a day or two, then hung in a cool place to cure. It is important to have good airflow so an oscillating fan on a low speed can really help. This year we braided the onions which not only helped them dry but made a beautiful display in our kitchen.
Next up are the squash and cucumbers. These guys come in by the bucket load. They can overwhelm you quickly. We make lots of pickles and can them with a hot water bath canner. They are very easy to make. The squash becomes bread, dinners, and this year we pre-breaded and froze some. Even with all of these uses we can not use up what we grow. We came up with a great idea to build a small farm stand when our boys were little.
It encouraged them to help in the garden, and taught them a little bit about money. As they got older and had jobs we took over the stand and use it as a means to offset our ever growing feed and seed costs. It is fun to design the chalkboard that lists the prices. And our neighbors are always happy when it is full.
In mid August, the tomatoes will start to ripen and it is time to put your nose to the grindstone. Skinning, seeding, and canning every night can test even the best marriage. We know that there are food mills and products out there to aid in the process, but we find that hand skinning and seeding works best for us and has the highest yield. Plus, getting so up close and personal with your food just makes you appreciate it a little more.
Wave after wave of beautiful fruit will have you seeing tomatoes in your sleep, but you will be happy in December when you pop open a fresh jar from your own garden. A glass of wine while working makes the task seem less like chore, and if your are smart you buy your wife’s favorite vintage. We can the tomatoes using a water bath canner as well. If you are getting into homesteading this will be one of the first harvest tools you will need. You will never look at a can of tomatoes in the store the same again.
As the tomatoes slow down the peppers will speed up these are easily processed. You can freeze smaller hot peppers whole. We like to slice the bell peppers before freezing to save space. We also pickle some of the hot ones for sandwiches. Along with peppers we harvest corn which we blanch on the cob and then cut off and freeze to save space.
It is important to freeze in a thin layer on wax paper and then put it in a freezer bag. If you don’t you will have one big corn cube.
Throughout the summer and fall there are many other vegetables that get harvested such as peas, pumpkins, turnips, beets, beans, carrots and hops.
Sometimes it seems like the harvest never ends and It can be overwhelming. The real key is to put something up every night. When your kitchen table is full of produce you need to attack it the way you attack a dirty room. Start in one corner and work your way around. Harvest time can seem glamorous and who doesn’t love to post their harvest pictures on instagram or facebook. Never forget that these pictures are just a snapshot of hours of hard work and planning. So the next time you bring in a bag of tomatoes and say “honey we have to can tomatoes tonight” make sure you stopped for that bottle of Chardonnay first. Happy harvesting.