Many of us spent our summer tending to our crops. Whether our gardens are on a large plot of farmland or a small garden oasis in the heart of a bustling city, it’s time to start packing in those planters and using or preserving your bounty.
All gardeners know that the yield from their garden can vary every season. Sure, it may be exciting to wake up one morning and see that all of your tomatoes are ripe and ready to be eaten, or sad to see that your zucchinis are starting to go bad because you’re leaving them outside for too long. Just as it is important to know how plant and to tend to your garden to produce the best possible harvest, it is also important to know how to use and store your surplus growth.
Different vegetables require different conditions for proper storage. Temperature and humidity play the biggest role in determining the shelf-life and taste of your harvest. Freezing vegetables can also extend their life, so don’t feel obligated to eat all 40 green peppers you’ve picked in one sitting.
Fruits, especially berries, freeze very well after being picked. You can thaw them and use them in recipes, cereals, or eat them raw. Throw frozen fruit directly into a blender with some milk and juice to make a delicious, fresh smoothie!
Freezing works well for preserving vegetables too, however only freeze ingredients that require cooking before eating. Cucumbers, lettuce, and celery should not be frozen.
Blanching your vegetables before freezing them will prevent the natural enzymes from breaking down vitamin C. Below are simple instructions for blanching and freezing vegetables. Note: Fruit does not need to be blanched before freezing and storing.
1. Carefully pick your produce slightly early, just before the vegetables are fully ripe.
2. Wash them thoroughly, removing inedible parts and bruises.
3. Cut your veggies to desired storage size and shape.
4. Set aside a large bowl of ice water.
5. Boil or steam the vegetables for sufficient time to blanch (Every 30 seconds or so, remove a piece, cool in ice water, and taste. Most veggies take 2-5 minutes.)
6. Remove veggies with slotted spoon or tongs and plunge into ice water to prevent further cooking.
7. Once cooled, pat veggies dry and place them in freezer bags or the containers you’re using to freeze them, and place in freezer.
Defrost and enjoy as crudités, in recipes, or a healthy snack!
Have too many vegetables to store and need a way to use them? Make soups, stews, and stocks using your garden harvest. Aside from freezing and storing your crops, use lots of them at once by cooking them down into hearty dinners.
Garden vegetable soups are a lot of fun, easy to make, and totally customizable to what you like and what you have on hand. Vegetable broth is the perfect base for a garden vegetable soup, and can be homemade or store-bought. Below is a very easy recipe for a soup the whole family will love!
Garden Harvest Soup
4 cups vegetable broth (homemade or purchased)
1 tbsp canola oil
3 large onions, chopped
5 stalks of celery, chopped
2 tomatoes, diced
3 large carrots, chopped
2 cups fresh corn
2 tbsp fresh parsley OR 1 tsp dried parsley
1 tsp garlic powder
3 bay leaves
Fresh garlic, chopped, measured to taste
1. In a large pot, combine oil, onions, and fresh garlic over medium heat. Cook for 2 minutes, until they just start to brown.
2. Add vegetable broth, celery, carrots, bay leaves and parsley. Let the mixture cook over low-medium heat for about an hour, stirring occasionally.
3. Mix in tomatoes, corn, garlic powder, salt and pepper to taste, slowly adding water if soup becomes too thick.
4. Allow soup to simmer for another hour, or until ingredients are completely soft.
5. Remove bay leaves.
6. Serve hot, refrigerate, or freeze for several weeks.
Add noodles, potatoes, beans or meat to your soup if you like. Replace ingredients with ones you have on hand. This soup is a great way to use a lot of vegetables from your harvest and to keep you and your loved ones full, warm, and healthy.
If you are fortunate to grow a surplus of fruits and vegetables, don’t fret! After freezing, storing, and using what you can, be creative with the rest of your harvest! Give baskets of fresh veggies to your neighbors, friends, teachers, or bosses. Make a large pot of soup for the nearest homeless shelter. Bake cookies, pies, and treats for bake sales or fundraisers. If you really have too much to give away, consider setting up a table at a local farmer’s market, or speaking to restaurants in your area, perhaps selling what you have left over. Don’t just throw away food because you have too much! Someone will always be grateful for it. Happy harvesting!