Harvest season for me started Labor Day.
I spent the entire day digging up Russian Banana fingerling, All Blue and Red Rose potatoes, plus picking Asian pears, apples, carrots and Brussels sprouts. It took three times as long to clean and store everything then it did to pick the huge harvest.
One of the greatest joys of edible gardening is being able to store, freeze, dry and even can excess crops for winter enjoyment. Call me old-fashioned, but I feel a deep kinship to my ancestors who came to this country, raised large families and fed them from either the home gardens of my Hungarian side of the family or the farm my Irish-Cherokee grandfather worked.
I feel I shouldn’t waste anything grown in my organic garden. So, after I share with neighbors and family and give large amounts to Plant a Row for the Hungry, I preserve the remaining vegetables and fruits.
I picked five Brussels sprouts stalks, and it took hours to cut, trim and blanch them all, but I have enough of the tasty vegetables for the entire winter in my freezer.
I blanched the sprouts to freeze, scrubbed carrots and potatoes for storage and dipped the fruit in a bath of water with a tablespoon of bleach to kill any lingering bacteria or fungi before refrigerating. Next, I picked all the ripe tomatoes in the garden, roasted them and made spaghetti sauce, which I froze in pint containers.
It was a long day’s work, but satisfying.
Failure is part of the process
Last year, I read about how to make an instant outdoor root cellar and wanted to try it, given that my basement has cement floors and is partially heated, like most modern homes. With my husband’s help, we constructed one. He dug a deep hole in which we set a new 32-gallon plastic trash can. In it, I layered damp sand and root vegetables such as carrots, potatoes and beets, finishing with a thick layer of damp sand. The top was attached and covered with two feet of shredded leaves and straw. It didn’t work. Moisture leaked into the can and iced the vegetables. Everything rotted when thawed.
Each heirloom potato variety has a different flavor, but they're all terrific!
This year, I set up an area in the basement, in the coldest and darkest area, with plastic bins lined with a layer of damp sand. Here I’m storing the potatoes and carrots. Onions, winter squash and a couple of pumpkins will be stored adjacent in a dry area when they are harvested. Apples go upstairs in an extra refrigerator, because they exude ethylene gas that makes other vegetables and fruits ripen rapidly and rot.
The apple crop was big, too, this year. When refrigerated, apples will remain tasty for up to six months.
I picked over two bushels of Asian pears, more than we could eat, give away and share with the hungry. The crisp, juicy fruits only keep about six weeks in the refrigerator. And, they must be stored in sealed bags to prevent dehydration. I hate to lose this exquisite fruit treat, so I borrowed a dehydrator from a friend to dry wedges of the pears into fruit crisps.
How do you preserve the extras from your garden? Are you a canner (I’m not!) or do you have unique methods of dealing with big harvests?
Doreen Howard has written for The Old Farmer's Almanac All-Seasons Garden Guide for 15 years and is the former garden editor at Woman’s Day as well as a photographer. She has grown more than 300 varieties of heirloom edibles and flowers in the last two decades.
In stores now!
Look for Doreen's newest book, Heirloom Flavor: Yesterday's Best-Tasting Vegetables, Fruits and Herbs for Today's Cook. Find in stores everywhere including Walmart and on the Web including amazon.com.