There’s no doubt my husband and I have a large garden, by any standard – if it were much larger, we’d have to call it a field. Seriously, at 150-by-60 feet, we’ve got more than enough room to grow a bounty of vegetables to eat fresh and preserve for later in the year. Even if we had a smaller garden, good weather and healthy plants would yield us more produce than we’d know what to do with. If you’re like us and overflowing in the fruit and veggie department, here are three options that’ll keep your extra produce from becoming compost.
While it takes a bit of work, you can stock your pantry with enough canned tomatoes, green beans, pickles and more to last you all winter.
Photo Credit: Megan Bame
A sign encourages passersby to stop by your stand, and it lets them know what’s available for the day.
Photo Credit: Megan Bame
An attractive produce display creates curb appeal and helps your customers easily select what they want.
Photo Credit: Megan Bame
You can bet that neighbors, family, friends and co-workers would be glad to take a few fresh fruits and vegetables off your hands every now and then. If they seem a little reluctant to try something different – like a unique veggie they’ve never tasted or prepared before – you might even present them with a recipe or two to go along with your harvest offering. And if you find yourself overrun by a particular crop, like tomatoes or cucumbers, consider donating your overflow to a soup kitchen, food pantry, nursing home or day care, where fresh, nutritious produce may be an infrequent treat.
Growing extra to share your food is one idea the Garden Writers Association encourages through a program dubbed Plant a Row for the Hungry. As the name implies, vegetable gardeners are asked to intentionally plant more than they need, so they can share the surplus with service programs in local communities that feed the hungry. Whether you purposefully plant extra or simply find yourself with more than you can eat, look to share some portion of your garden with someone in need.
Canning, freezing and drying are three food preservation methods that allow you and your family to enjoy the fruits of your labor long after winter’s arrived. Canning is primarily done in pint- or quart-size glass mason jars. Canned food, like green beans, tomatoes and pickled veggies, are heat-processed to kill microorganisms that cause food spoilage or food-borne illness. Depending on the food’s acidity, canning can be done using a water-bath canner or a pressure canner (low-acid foods should only be processed in a pressure canner).
Freezing fruits and veggies is usually considered easier than canning. Produce generally retains its flavor and nutrients when frozen, but the texture may be softer than when eaten fresh. (Frozen produce is often perfect for soups, cobblers and casseroles.)
Frozen fruit is often packed in sugar or syrup, while vegetables should undergo a process called “blanching.” Blanching heats the food to the center as quickly as possible to kill surface bacteria and to inactivate enzymes that cause undesirable changes. The heated produce is then quickly cooled by plunging it into ice water. (Different produce requires different blanching times, so be sure to find the timing that’s right for what you’re freezing.)
Dried fruits – and even dried vegetables – are becoming popular snacks, and this is another way to save your harvest. You can also dry your herbs. Use a special food dehydrator for your produce. Dried apples make a great snack, dried citruses are terrific for crafting, and dried herbs can save lots of money. Some dehydrators even come with a recipe for making your own fruit leather – a treat that the kids will love.
When it comes to any kind of food preservation, remember that the quality of the preserved product is directly related to the quality of the fresh product. So be sure to choose mature produce without bruises or blemishes (or at the very least, cut away any unsavory parts).
We’ve all seen the roadside produce stands. You’ve probably even stopped at one or two to pick up some fresh veggies. If you’ve got extra food, consider setting up your own stand. It doesn’t take much effort, and it’s a great way to make a few extra bucks.
A table, tent, money box and sign should get you started. (Oh, and don’t forget the veggies!) Many roadside stands are self-service, relying on the honor system for proper payment. Produce is typically sold by the pound, but you can also sell it by item. (If you choose to sell by weight, you may need to get your scale certified for accuracy by your state’s division of Weights and Measures.)
If you’re not manning the stand, be sure to check it daily for produce that needs to be discarded or restocked. If you’re at home, do make an effort to catch folks at the stand and strike up a conversation. Folks stop by a roadside stand for many reasons: convenience; assurance of fresh, local produce; or a lack of space, know-how or time to grow their own garden. A little chat and encouragement will likely keep them coming back – and may even encourage them to try their own hand at gardening.
Remember, roadside stands don’t have to be limited to fresh produce, either. If you’ve got fresh-cut or dried flowers, they might also sell well from a roadside stand. Be aware, though – it’s not a good idea to sell processed foods (like canned goods, preserves or baked goods) at your stand unless your kitchen’s been inspected by the Health Department.
Every growing season is different from the next. Some years you might have a bounty, while others may be a little bleak due to weather or pest problems. With a little experience, it’s easier to gauge how much you should plant for your own table without getting too much surplus. But if you’ve got the extra, be sure to consider sharing, saving or selling the fruits of your labor. It’s sure to make someone’s dinner table that much brighter!