Friday, May 30, 2014

Deciding What to Plant and How to Preserve It.

Because we are putting in our Homestead gardens right now, we have this summer's food preserving to consider. How many plants of each type is an important decision. You don't want to plant too much of one thing and not enough of another. And how many jars of this are left from last year and how many bags in the freezer of that is integral to the decisions we make.

It can be complex to manage garden space, time, resources and appetite. And when you are attempting to be self sufficient it does not pay to waste or disregard any of these factors.
I have been using Ed Hume's Garden Almanac for several years and I really have had very good success with it. It has a planting chart in the middle which gives you the number of plants for a family of four, for easy reference. This makes it a lot easier to decide on how many rows of what to plant.
One of the main quandaries for me is how to preserve what we grow so that it gets eaten in a timely manner. If something tastes or looks slightly off, my experience is that we put off eating it until it is too old to eat. That is important to know about ourselves and instead of putting all that work into preserving food we will end up feeding to the chickens, we keep what works each year and drop the rest.
Our most recent failure was canning plums which looked beautiful in the jar but came out of the jar like disgusting bags of goo. I would rather put that work into other things.

We have used the freezer in the past to do most of our preserving, and it is the very easy option. But we are trying to take this one step further and preserve our food with methods that will not be vulnerable to our frequent power outages.

The Homestead is on top of a hill, all by itself and the power line that comes to it makes its way through a lot of timber. Since we are the only ones on this half mile stretch of wire, the Power Company does not view us as a high priority. So when we have a wind storm and our power goes down, we call the Power Company and then we wait...

Sometimes we wait four or five days for our power to be restored. In the meantime we can't really open the freezer or it will substantially decrease the amount of time that the contents will stay frozen. So we sit in limbo. Having food to eat but unable to access it. We cheat sometimes if it is very cold out or we think the power might be back soon, but it gets us thinking about how silly it is to be so dependent on the Electricity.

One item that has definitely been a big help in our quest to use the freezer less is our dehydrators. 

I picked my first one up at a garage sale and we used it so much that every time I see one at a thrift store or yard sale, I snap it up. 

We found out this was the very best way to preserve our plums for winter. They are chewy and tangy. A real treat in the depths of winter or on a car trip. My dad keeps the dryers cranking for a week or so and put away about 50 quarts of these yummy little delights last year.

 It's also my favorite for mushrooms.

Buck has become the families expert on fermenting foods like cucumbers and cabbage. 

He makes the BEST kraut. He keeps it chugging away on the counter year around, so we are definitely putting in several plants of those.

When it comes to things in jars, we love our jams and peaches. 
I also like to turn our tomatoes into pre-made pasta sauce in jars because I find we use it much more often if it is already seasoned and simmered down. It makes a fantastic last minute meal for us. And this knowledge informs what type of tomato I would like to plant more of- a sauce tomato like Howard German. I however, do not bother drying our tomatoes. Oregon tomatoes just don't have that intense flavor that I want in my dried tomatoes, and they take forever to dry.

My mom and grandma used to can chicken and venison, but we haven't yet. I have a future post on why, but for now I'll say it takes a set of special skills and tools to can meat and low acid foods safely and I haven't been that brave yet.
So these things go in the freezer for now.

I will say it has taken a few years for us to learn what and how much to plant let alone how much we will actually eat. We tend to think we love something more than we really do. For instance we went to a lot of trouble making a ton of strawberry jam a couple of years ago. We just gave away several pints of it because, well, there is only so much jam you can eat. I would say next time 12 pints of each type of jam would do us just fine. Sometimes it's hard to remember that condiments last for weeks in the fridge and variety is a nice thing to have in the winter.

Then other times I only make a few jars of something and we wish all winter we had made more. Like my pickled pepper experiment and the few jars of apple sauce I made. There will be much more of those two this winter!

What are your favorite foods and methods for preserving them?


  1. My new favorite tomato preserving option is to roast them with a little olive oil, garlic and herbs. I just slice them in half and drizzle everything on top. Let em slow roast and then bag em up and into the freezer. The roasting gives them a fabulous flavor that I add to things all winter. I have to stop myself from eating them all straight out of the oven though....they are SO yummy.

  2. That is horrible about the power company viewing you as less important. I would complain, complain, complain. You could lose a lot of expensive food because of that.

  3. Making homemade pasta sauce takes a considerable amount of tomatoes and we never have enough tomatoes for that. So...my current solution is to can tomato paste in half pints and then make sauce from that by adding water, honey, herbs, etc. I DO think it's important to keep an inventory. This year we aren't growing bush beans because there are still 30+ quarts in the basement and contrary to what some people think, jars don't preserve food indefinitely. Instead of bush beans we are growing shelling beans for use in soups and chili. These are relatively easy to grow and don't take up much room in the cupboard. We have yet to purchase a chest freezer because we also receive power outages, so we can and dehydrate almost everything (except pesto, peppers, strawberries, etc.). We use our electric dehydrator but have a lot of success with our solar food dehydrator http://simplyresourceful.blogspot.com/2011/06/solar-food-dehydrator.html


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