You finally put in the muscle and mental effort to install the garden that you delicately planned out… or you just walked boldly out into the patchy turf grass with a shovel one day and started digging your way to your dreams, carving a tame legacy from the wilderness of your lawn.
Either way, your effort is starting to pay off as okra, tomatoes, squash and even green zucchini are all coming out of the garden by the agrarian magic that fills your sorcerer’s hat with fresh and delicious vegetables.
Your first harvests were all documented painstakingly on Instagram and Facebook, as you announced in images, “Yes, this scrappy little pile of ripe cherry tomatoes is definitely too big to fit in the palm of one hand, it truly requires both hands to show the world, no, to prove to the world that from this barren wasteland of neglected soil, the savagery of Mother Earth, in all her unpredictability (in your back yard), I have forged food from the marriage of seed and soil, with only my iron will and cunning as tools.”
*(grammar lovers, I challenge you to diagram that sentence)
And that was just the cherry tomatoes!
Two weeks later, your children are posing for pictures next to a zucchini that hid under a leaf while harvesting and it grew so large in those extra days on the vine that after the pictures, an adult has to carry it into the house because the kids can’t. Still in awe of abundance and productivity, you carry it into the house, thinking, “I know I saw some great recipes for zucchini bread online, I’ll grate this into freezer bags and freeze it for later!”
As for the tomatoes, the birds found some and the summer heat split others before you could harvest them all, so the rows between your tomatoes are now littered with the fallen. Then your kids figured out that lightly rotten tomatoes might be the perfect summer projectile weapon, they’re even non-toxic and 100% biodegradable. On the way back into the house, you stop to wipe your feet to avoid tracking rotten cherry tomato guts onto the back porch.
Another week of summer goes by before your neighbors and coworkers start avoiding you when they see any sign that you might be trying to offer them a grocery bag full of okra and squash with a few tomatoes mixed in for good measure. The produce drawers of their refrigerators are also filling up with your aging vegetables on their way to becoming fuzzy mush.
What went wrong? How did this awesome natural magic turn into a smellier, stickier version of the Sorcerer’s Apprentice minus the helpful brooms?
More importantly, how can you make sure that your garden continues to be a source of joy, abundance and healthy food all season instead of a river of compost or feed for the pigs?
Here are three tips to help you navigate an amazing harvest:
1. Use Heirloom Seeds to Slow Your Grow!
Lots of modern seeds have been selectively bred to produce as many vegetables as possible as quickly as possible, which is great if you are a market gardener with multiple successions of each plant and a system in place to get them all out of the field and to market ASAP. On the other hand, if you are a household with considerably smaller demand that’s spread out over the whole season, you might be happier with heirloom varieties that produce over the whole season instead of all at the beginning. This doesn’t mean they won’t produce abundantly, it just might help spread out the harvest work load.
2. Pickle and Can and Clap Your Hands!
You’ve already planted the garden. The tidal wave of tomatoes, squash, cucumbers and other summer bounty is rising up before you deliciously, ominously. How do you brace yourself for this neighbor-alienating wave of flavor? You buy salt, lots and lots of pickling or kosher salt and vinegar and get busy pickling and canning all of the goodness for those days in winter when you’ll wish for a taste of this forgotten summer. Making pickles through fermentation or using vinegar is also a great way to bring new flavors to the table when you think you can’t possible eat another serving of sauteed yellow squash. Here’s a general quick pickle recipe to get you started. Fermentation and canning can seem like undiscovered countries when you start researching them, luckily, some luminaries have gone before us and sent back their detailed instructions:
(or, if you are really ready to drink the kombucha)
Another great book, this one full of pickling wisdom and recipes from Japan:
Quick & Easy Tsukemono: Japanese Pickling Recipes
by Ikaku Hisamatsu
And for the canner:
Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving
by Judi Kingry and Lauren Devine
3. Sharing (the work) is Caring!
As proud as you may feel blowing your horn or plenty all over your friends and neighbors, the fact remains that many people don’t really know what to do with garden fresh veggies these days. Even those who have some good ideas might not have the time to turn two tomatoes and some okra into a side dish every night of the week.
So, use your garden to bring your friends and family closer together by having a party to process the vegetables together. There are all kinds of versions of this, linking us back to the traditional ways that cultures around the world have prepared and preserved food for millennia. Harvest festivals everywhere center around gathering every able-bodied person to help bring in the harvest and then, you name it: stomp the grapes into juice for wine, put up the tobacco to cure, thresh the wheat from the chaff, roast the green chiles, harvest the apples and turn them into a million different things, etc. etc.
Now it’s your turn.
Here are the basics:
- Pick a date that you know you and your friends can stockpile a TON of at least one kind of vegetable, the more, the tastier
- Find a canning/pickling recipe that fits the season’s ingredients and scales easily like salsa, pickles, relish, sauerkraut or tomato sauce to name a few
- Invite the people you love to be around and with whom you want to share healthy, delicious life, food, make babies, yada yada yada, you get the idea
- Tell them to bring extra equipment called for by the recipe like blenders, canning supplies, lots of mason jars with lids that fit, or ziploc bags
- Make it a potluck or order pizza and tell everyone to bring beer
- Eat, drink, be merry and then pickle/blend/stew/process all of your ingredients according to the recipe
- Send everyone home with hearts full of good times and jars full of homemade, preserved deliciousness for the weeks to come
Follow these tips, and you might even have time to turn that grated zucchini in your freezer into a couple of loaves of zucchini bread after all!
Garden and live well,