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!  

  • 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. Pepper tip: foliar feed your pepper plants with Epsom salts. Put one tablespoon of Epsom salts (plain, unscented) into 1 litre of water and mix until all the salt is dissolved. Put into a spray bottle and spray on your plants when they start to bloom and then every three weeks. The plants will produce peppers like crazy.

    Potato storage tip: have you heard of a "potato clamp"? It's a way to store the potatoes outdoors (or in a garage, barn, etc) during the winter. If you're storing them outdoors and you're concerned about rodents, metal garbage cans are great. This also works for all root vegetables.

    Lastly: Sanity is not statistical. Just because everyone else doesn't do it doesn't mean they're not insane. ;)

  2. Hmmm...beans and tomatoes are two things we seem to have in common this year. As a matter of fact I would consider both of these to have produced bumper crops this year. Right now, I am hoping to let my remaining beans grow big enough to get next year's seeds from, and maybe I'll even try some as a dried legume.

  3. I visited some mates back in the US, and one of them owns a farm. One of the issues they had was storage solutions for some of their farm produce, especially at times when the weather wasn’t really cooperating well. It was interesting to meet a few people who have great solutions for long term storage for wheat and rice but still they have some issues to cover.

  4. I would not start canning if I can help it. It's a tedious process and you need so much of it… It will clutter my self storage unit up with lots of jars and other glass units of the stuff! Haha!