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Gap Months and Fresh Food on the Horizon

April 10, 2014

This time of year will tell you if you planned your pantry well enough last year.  Pantry planning and preserving the harvest is a tall order to fill.  Many times you do have to strike while the iron is hot and preserve a bounteous crop.  Crops fail, time runs out, or life gets in the way.  Our once in a blue moon crop is Italian prunes.  My favorite.  We’ve had two good years in a row, I can’t escape the feeling that we won’t continue to be so lucky.  It’s about the same with wild mushrooms, you just never know what you’re going to get until you get it.

So as a preserver you soldier on planning for a good crop.  You also try to hedge your bets by using a variety of techniques to bring food to the table year-round.  I would be lost without our freezers, but to have a well-rounded pantry you can’t just rely on a freezer, you need to dehydrate, ferment, can, store and push your seasons by eating fresh for as much of the year as you can.

potting on

potting on

March 29, 2014

March 29, 2014

April 10, 2014

April 10, 2014

Looking at my canned stores right now I can see if my planning worked out and matched our food needs this past winter.  I didn’t can near enough tomato soup, but I have too many whole tomatoes.  I tended to reach for the glut sauce that was a mix of tomatoes and herbs much more than the plain whole tomatoes.  Tomatoes figured heavily in my canning efforts last year, and we’re low on sauce, salsa, soup and glut sauce.  Sigh.  All those tomatoey dishes also leaves me short on canned summer squash.

Cocozelle summer squash

Cocozelle summer squash

and dried oregano.

Greek oregano

Greek oregano

Soon we’ll be eating fresh again.  My thanks to the greenhouse.

Maxibel filet bean

Maxibel filet bean

Dark Red Norland potato

Dark Red Norland potato

MelissaF1 savoy cabbage

MelissaF1 savoy cabbage

Besides canning stores, I have to stare into the depths of the freezers and really reassess what we used, and make adjustments to my seeding and planting plans if need be.  For me the freezer tends to be never-never land unless the item being frozen is in a recognizable form.  Soups and precooked foods just end up being dog food here.  Actually old dog food, because I have good intentions when I commit the item to the freezer and then when I thaw it out – yuck.  Now I just save a step and electricity and give it to the dogs when we’re tired of eating it.  I always have a stock pot going making bone broth, so to take some broth, add some vegetables or leftover meat and make soup is like convenience food in my kitchen.

Freezer stores here consist of meats, butter, berries, fruits, mushrooms, peppers and some vegetables.  Now in early April we are right about where I expected we would be, things are dwindling, but as greens become available, the need/want for berries and fruit seems to wane.  As the years have gone by I have tended to freeze less vegetables in favor of seasonal eating of some crops and just some eating some crops fresh.  Snap peas come to mind.  I have several gallon bags of pods still in the freezer, and peas up and growing in the greenhouse.  We did not eat them at all.

Dry storage crops like potatoes, winter squash, onions and garlic are holding up well too.  It looks like we’ll have a good overlap which is where I like to be this time of year.

So again a learning experience with the pantry.  I’m trying to see the extras as chicken food and not a total waste.

Did you preserve anything last year that you decided was a waste of time?

36 Comments leave one →
  1. April 10, 2014 9:53 am

    I was also counting my bottled tomato stores yesterday.. we should swap, I have not got enough whole tomatoes, but still a few jars of lovely thick heavy tomat comserva. I am hoping for a good cucumber year, maybe a few less bugs after this dreadful winter. Your green house looks wonderful.. kale! Oh I can not have enough kale, it is my favourite american green. I hope the rest of your day goes well.. c

    • April 10, 2014 10:03 am

      C., thought of Daisy, I am just starting to dry off Jane. The thought of not milking for a few months is a relief and a fright at the same time.

      I forgot about pickles, we are going through those pretty fast too. It’s a long wait for cucumbers 😦 Fingers crossed for a good year!

      • April 10, 2014 10:29 am

        Yes i hope we have a decent year. Daisy is milking 50 pounds twice a day, and no spring grass yet, this is all on oats and hay and carrots. I am planting a Daisy garden this year, copying your idea outright. She loves the greens. Is it going to be hard to dry off Jane with the spring grasses?

        • April 10, 2014 11:39 am

          C. Wow Daisy! That makes my arms hurt, no wonder you have a machine. Daisy is one lucky girl now that she has you convince to plant her a garden 😉

          Yes, it’s hard to dry them off now but it will only get worse so I bit the bullet, and stopped. She’s pretty perplexed about the whole thing, routine change and all, but it’ll be better in the long run. Kicking myself for not getting her bred sooner last summer 😦 Bad milkmaid!

  2. April 10, 2014 10:02 am

    I canned jalepenos, which was a waste because we don’t use them that much. I canned a ginger zucchini soup that was awesome out of the pot but the ginger turned bitter when it canned. I’ll need to instead next year can it and then add the ginger later when I heat it up.

    Need more: pears (no pears on the trees last year cause of a late frost and my almost 3 year old can eat half a pint a day if I let him), cole slaw, wax/green beans, apple sauce, and cabbage. Need to can most everything in pints instead of quarts, as well, because I use them up better that way.

    • April 10, 2014 10:05 am

      Me too on the pints. I would rather waste a lid than the food. I did my tomato soup in pints and quarts and use one of each for a meal. Perfect.

      Good tip on the ginger.

      • April 10, 2014 11:18 am

        Oh yeah. We didn’t get any tomatoes last year, at least not enough to can any. I need to can crushed tomatoes, tomato sauce, tomato skin soup and salsa. Can’t believe I forgot that 🙂

  3. April 10, 2014 11:27 am

    Not last year but the year before I canned apple pie filling. Alas, I’m really not a pie maker and even if I were, I’d be better off with frozen un-prepared fruit (cherries, peaches), than canned mushy pie filling, as it turns out. I think I’m like you in that I cook fresh and from scratch and pre-cooked meals don’t get used up from the freezer that much. Only exception: Borschtsch. I’m the only one in the family who really loves it, so I freeze it in individual portions for me to have lunch. (Home-fermented kraut is in it, of course, I’m German after all).

    I was working my berries yesterday (pruning, long overdue) and hope I can get a good harvest this year. Might be my first real gooseberry harvest, if all goes well. Can’t wait.

    The thing I have been craving lately is fresh Kale. The stuff at the stores looks sad and mine is only 5 inches tall. Your greenhouse is my idea of heaven.

  4. Cindy permalink
    April 10, 2014 11:40 am

    Too many potatoes – from an error in ordering… and garlic that I know won’t keep until the next round is in… and that from an error in greed! If anyone feels vampires approaching, please let me know!

  5. Victoria permalink
    April 10, 2014 12:19 pm

    I’m doing fairly well; I don’t even try to grow all my food on site, and one of my focuses this year has been using everything I grow or buy locally in season, instead of having three year old stuff sitting at the bottom of the freezer while I’m paying for groceries at the store.

    For fruit, I’ve finished the strawberries and blueberries, but still have cherries and rhubarb in the freezer. Since the rhubarb is free, I’m not so concerned about that one 🙂 Applesauce stocks are looking good; last year was finally an applesauce year again, and hopefully I have a 2-4 year supply set aside (I only make sauce with apples from trees owned by family members that have never been sprayed; this means that some years I don’t get any sauce).

    For vegetables, I’ve still got some carrots and parsnips in the garden, and 2 winter squash that need to be eaten up.

    For prepared food, I make a lot of soup for the freezer when ingredients are in season. In my household, it get used up as a quick & easy meal, especially good when someone is sick. I’ve got a little bit of ratatouille, a reasonable amount of 3 sisters stew, and some potato leek soup left.

  6. April 10, 2014 1:36 pm

    I pickled way too many peppers and made a new salsa version that could just be water bath canned (using an acid source addition) that turned out gross (to me – other’s liked it okay.) It was a waste and will go in the compost pile. I also made WAY too many actual pickles! I still have two gallons in the fridge.
    I needed to grow more chives and herbs and more salad greens in succession. That’s where I’m concentrating this year.
    I find it so refreshing and comforting to read this post and realize that someone as well planned and put together as you still has things that get defrosted and go straight to the compost. It makes me feel less like a bad veggie planner/gardener!

    • April 10, 2014 2:01 pm

      Thanks for that Lindsy, I feel the same. At the time you hate see something go to “waste.” Only later to see the effort was wasted to preserve it to begin with.

      For me I have finally caved to my annual tendencies, I just do better with annuals, and now treat some of my biennials and perennials as annuals. Strawberries, sage and oregano come to mind. I only have oregano left because I felt guilty about tilling it up so I dug it up and moved it. I am just not a good weeder around perennials. You might try your salsa for a soup base, pork stew with cilantro comes to mind – we eats lots of that here, and it uses up the salsa pretty good. I can hide a multitude of canning sins, er ah, canning projects in a stew like this. Yummy even in summer!

      • Sheila Z permalink
        April 11, 2014 7:58 am

        I had a batch of canned salsa that was just kind of meh. I like mine spicy, this was decidedly not. I’ve been using it up by adding a glug to refried beans. Using it as a soup base is another great idea. I’ll have to try that.

  7. Bev permalink
    April 10, 2014 5:01 pm

    Becasue of freezing in winter we can’t leave our root crops in the ground. We love beets. Always make pickled beets. I had some space in the freezer this year. I cooked,sliced the beets, then froze them. Thaw, add salt, pepper, vinegar and oil. Great salad. Last year was bad for local fruit. Hoping this year it will be better. That is the one thing I want to can or freeze more of. Store canned fruit just doesn’t taste the same as ripe from the tree. It was 70 degrees today, wonderful and warm!

  8. April 10, 2014 5:17 pm

    Believe it or not I canned too many jams and jellies 3 years ago and I’m still working my way through them…we just don’t use that much. I can about 400 pounds of tomatoes and always run out…but this year I made tons of plain old tomato sauce (no salt, pepper or stuff) and I’ll have just enough to get me through till harvest. I don’t can much in quart jar, but lots and lots of pints.

    • Sheila Z permalink
      April 11, 2014 8:04 am

      I second the excess of jams dilemma. Jam is so much fun to make, but I just don’t use that much anymore. Need to learn that a couple of dozen jars is enough for the year. I think this year I’m only going to make my two favorites, raspberry and apricot. All the other fruits I’m just going to freeze plain and if I get really desperate I can always make a batch of jam from frozen fruit.

  9. April 10, 2014 5:44 pm

    Gardens are in now here in central Florida we have had green beans, kale, turnip greens and small red potatoes. We have some lovely yellow squash and green, they bloom, set on veggies and then the veggies stay small and get worms in them. I can’t find what is causing this. We even put seven dust on them and still no squash big enough to use. Love your blog and look forward to each new post. Give Jane an extra pat for me.

    • M in NC permalink
      April 17, 2014 4:09 am

      Ellie – your problem may be a small moth(?) that is laying eggs on the squash. I’m not sure that dusting is effective. We tend to hand-spray with the insecticidal soap — or make some with water – green palmolive and a capful of strong mouthwash. The little borers tend to get a few of the gourds, but after a while they have all hatched and moved on. Then we have to deal with the Squash bugs (some call them stink bugs). They lay eggs by the dozens on the leaves — more soapy water for the eggs and the bugs and a lot of hand-picking of the varmints.

      I’m in central NC … I just have lettuce and itty-bity snow pease.We had a freeze warning lastnight (34 deg at 5am this morning).

      M in NC

  10. Bee permalink
    April 10, 2014 7:36 pm

    Still have lots of meat, grated zucchini and fruits. Chard, asparagus, green onions and lettuce coming in from the garden. Home made butter is long gone. I probably overdid the fermented pickled veggies, as I still have quite a few quarts left. And there’s several batches of tallow and lard I never did get rendered; guess I’d better get busy.

  11. Asa permalink
    April 10, 2014 9:03 pm

    I made black current jam to use in the Swedish yoghurt-cousin “fil” but then my son, who is the one eating breakfast at home, decided he did not like the fil any more which means we have lots of cans left. That kind of jam is supposed to be runny but I was too early making it so it got jelly. That turned out to be a good thing since we don’t have enough fruits and berries to make jam for bread to last a year and now we can use it for both. I hope to have more beetroots for slice pickles next year, my soil is hard and we only got some last year. What exactly do you do with your summer squash to preserve it, and what do you cook from it? Due to climat I cannot really grow what I would like to use so I have to learn how to use things I can grow. Summer squash regularly gives good crops and every fall I see people asking what to do with it :-). I made a pickle with carrot, squash and cohlrabbi to go into a kind of cold sauce served with fried fish but we have not really eaten any fried fish so it just sits in the larder – tried it “bare” with meat but did not really like it. The year before last we made jelly for serving with meat from wild orange berries growin in trees that have flat flocks of many small white flowers in spring and leaves that sit in pairs along a small stem, finished by one single leave (do you know which one I mean, the birds love them in autumn and they taste horrible before you add sugar but are a little bit better after frozen?). Anyway, we didn’t have time to pick any last year and we really missed out. Sorry for long post, I find it really interesting to read both your blog and the comments and even if much is alike here, I learn lots of things that are new to me, thank you to all of you.

    • April 10, 2014 9:13 pm

      Asa, lovely comment 🙂 Rowan or Mountain Ash maybe?

      • Asa permalink
        April 11, 2014 12:10 am

        That seems to be it, although when I google it they mean the same tree, is it? We have Ash (well, not up here where I am) and that is a different tree. At least I think it’s called Ash in English but now I don’t really remember where I got that from… we don’t really learn plant English at school :-). Do you use the Rowan berries as well? In Swedish I found several recepies for a (not so sweet I guess) beverage made of them as well, usually someone’s grandmother used to make it but I haven’t tried that. Me and my son both tried the mashed left overs after we drained off the liquid for the jelly (I read somewhere you could make jam out of the leftovers, like you can from strawberries) and I wish someone had got that on film because even if we were sceptical, the taste was undescribable. At that point I thought about throwing it all away because I was absolutely sure that I had burnt it, but since I had already spent quite a lot of time on it, I decided to go all the way. The jelly is kind of sweet and bitter at the same time and takes some getting used to, but it is addictive and nowhere near the mashed leftovers. Don’t try them.

  12. April 11, 2014 2:15 am

    Though we put in 90 lbs of wild blueberries the first of August, we ran out last week. We are a long time from putting things into the ground here. It’s still frozen in places. Hoping it will finish thawing with the 5 days of 60’s coming.

    We seem to be in good shape with most of our frozen things. As I get closer to the time to put things in the freezer (June), I’ll have a better idea of what we’ll need more/less of.

    It’s been so consistently cold here my storage onions are still in very good shape, very few sprouted. Silver lining in every cloud… I knew last year I didn’t have enough garlic, so I planted even more for this year. It’s just coming up now.

  13. April 11, 2014 11:09 am

    We still have some veg like leeks, parsnips and beans in the freezer, along with tomato sauce, but I would have liked more carrots. I hope this year to get them in before it gets too dry. I timed it badly last year, we had a two month drought right after planting seeds. I wish I was more organised in the greenhouse, but our chickens and caravan (trailer) are still in there, as it is still not quite time to take them outside. I have got some seeds started and I noticed the kale has come up anyway, so that’s good news.

    • April 11, 2014 11:11 am

      Just realised I didn’t really answer your question either. This year there wasn’t anything that was a waste of time, but last year we decided that most fermented food is just too salty for our taste and so we don’t do a whole load. I also do not have to do chutney every year, if we have a big enough batch to last two and chutney matures nicely

  14. Trish permalink
    April 11, 2014 4:02 pm

    Matron, After looking at your photos I am wondering why you don’t use soil blocks? We switched to them a couple years ago and just love them. But I’m sure they aren’t for everyone. Do you have an opinion?

    • April 11, 2014 5:46 pm

      Trish, I dunno maybe the same answer as to why I don’t use cottage cheese containers or egg cartons for starting plants. I’ve not had anything but good luck with the supplies that I use, the flats, and pots last for years if you take care of them, and some folks I know use the soil blockers and then pot up to larger pots to sell their plants – so at this point, it works, I don’t see much point in changing. I am sure they work great and know people who use them and believe in them, plus I am huge fan of Eliot Coleman so I guess maybe the simple answer is that I don’t see any real reason to change what works for me, and I can’t imagine my plant customers coming prepared to get soil blocks…

      I used to propagate dwarf conifers in hand-built cedar flats, and finally switched to plastic flats, I still have those plastic flats I bought 30 years ago, but the cedar ones are long gone.

      Why did you switch? Petroleum?

      • Trish permalink
        April 12, 2014 9:35 am

        Yeah, it makes sense to stick with what you know works well! We switched over for 3 reasons:
        First, to cut down on the use of plastic. Second, I think soil blocks are easier on people who aren’t the most conscientious of seed starters, because the roots densely fill out the block and then stop growing. They don’t wrap around and around and get root bound, so if you are lazy about not moving them up to a bigger container, its ok. And also we had issues with the roots growing out the bottom of the plastic pots and then getting ripped off when transplanting. It seems like not having to remove the plants from the containers made it easier on the plants (and less set up and clean up too, since after transplanting you only have flats to pick up, no pots.). And finally, our third reason, which doesn’t apply to you because you have a great climate and greenhouse: they save a lot of room on the light table. We have limited space and a cold climate (it was -13 two mornings ago), and I don’t want to to have to heat my greenhouse, so I start plants under lights in my entryway. We use 2″ blocks and can start 55 blocks per tray, so I can get a lot more starts under the lights. I do have to transplant the tomatoes and some cucurbits into larger pots before they go in their final spots, but by that time they can live in the greenhouse (I use a seed starting mat to warm them at night), so space isn’t as much an issue.

        The things we do to get beautiful plants in a cold climate! I too am a huge fan of Eliot Coleman and have learned so much from his books.

        You know, there is one more reason. Using the soil blocker is SUPER FUN. We joke that it is the playdoh fun factory for adults. 🙂

        • April 12, 2014 10:09 am

          Trish, all good points, one thing I learned from old timer gardeners/propagators was that you need to do some root pruning/disturbance when transplanting to stimulate new root growth. That may or may not be true but it explains why I can be so careful transplanting and then watch a kid plunk down the plants, shove dirt around them and off they go, kids and plants.

          I don’t use lights, just waiting instead for the time when we have enough natural light to get things going, so I start tomatoes and peppers about the first week of March in a 200 cell flat (to save space on my heat mat) and then only pot up once. By using the greenhouse and not getting in a hurry, I have stocky plants that are warm enough to grow, and semi-hardened off by planting time. I have to plant my tomatoes in the hoophouse anyway, so when they are ready to plant I don’t have to wait for outside conditions and keep potting into bigger and bigger sizes. Avoiding plastic and getting a crop just doesn’t work here reliably. One of the best things about hoophouse tomatoes is taking the blight worry out of the tomato crop.

          I try to justify my plastic/petroleum use by going with the excuse that I’m growing the food here and it’s not being handled and shipped from somewhere else. That might not really be a good enough reason though, but it sounds good in my mind 😉 Oh yeah, and I know my farmer!

        • Trish permalink
          April 12, 2014 11:04 am

          Sounds like a great reason to me! And really, its not a lot of plastic since you are re-using it all over and over. Your climate sounds dreamy to me, even if you do need a high tunnel for tomatoes (2′ of snow here… and we need a greenhouse for tomatoes)!

        • April 12, 2014 11:56 am

          Trish, that sounds terrible! I hate to brag but we are having a great spring so far, although it’s seeming like our dry spells are getting a little extended more than I would like 😦

          Hope your snow melts soon!

  15. April 11, 2014 6:19 pm

    I need to freeze fewer berries and can less jam. Did a bit better last year, but things still need adjusting.
    For Asa, Rowans are often called Mountain Ash, especially in North America, and are in the family Rosaceae.
    Ash is a different kind of tree, related to olives and lilacs, in the Oleaceae family. (And I had no idea, before looking that up, that olives and lilacs were related).

  16. April 15, 2014 4:00 am

    I still have canned peaches left from last year. They are okay, but the fresh strawberries are in now, and I don’t want to eat canned peaches when I can have fresh strawberries. I ran out of blueberries (frozen) and dill pickles. I thought I had planned for enough pickles, but we are about 6 quarts shy of what we need.

  17. Racquel permalink
    April 30, 2014 7:13 pm

    My garden efforts last year did not seem to be very effective or productive. Between the weeds, insects and disease problems of a wet, wet, climate I did not get very much put up in jars or into the freezer. So my problem is mostly running out of what we like.. Also there are a few things we only plant every few years and I can enough for 3 years if I am able. so I am low on those items right now as well. My pantry is getting pretty empty. I do have tons of pickles I put up 2 years ago that we haven’t used because they are very disappointing.
    I had what I thought was a huge disaster last year and scorched a huge batch of tomatoes. I decided to try and save them by making “roasted” tomato salsa. It turned out so good that everyone wants me to make more. I’ve never canned salsa before because I didn’t think it would be very good so it was a very nice surprise.


  1. marisaFood in Jars

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