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Too Much = Enough

August 1, 2014
Dark Red Norland

Dark Red Norland

I’m often asked how to plan how much food to grow to take you through the year.  Or is all that food for you?  Sure looks like a lot of work.  Planning for abundance/enough is a lot of work, work that is hard to quantify.  Cheap potatoes in the store do not tell the story of the farmer who made sure those uniformly sized potatoes wended their way to the produce aisle in the grocery store.

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In the home garden you see it all, the real state of things.  Potatoes come in all different sizes, and they all pretty much taste the same whether they are large or small.  The homegrown food year takes you through all the seasons.  Storage crops that require little or no maintenance beyond harvesting and correct storage are the key to a well fed homestead.  Potatoes, winter squash, onions and garlic can be grown in large quantities and stored with no processing.  How sweet is that.  But it requires diligence in variety selection, timing of planting, weeding, harvesting and storing.  In our location, planting is usually delayed in early spring by our normal wet weather.  Enter the unheated greenhouse.

getting ready for round three

getting ready for round three

The unheated greenhouse provides a dry place to garden in the Pacific Northwest in early spring.  We’re just now planting this space with fall and winter crops.  We started planting in this space in early March, a little of this and a little of that, basically an early garden for us.  Potatoes, peas, onions, cabbage, kohlrabi, carrots, beets, greens galore, strawberries and herbs.  It’s deer proof, and gives us some control over our food supply.

Making room for the next succession

Making room for the next succession

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Fruit is the same, I probably have planted too many blueberry bushes over the years, especially now that I am trying to keep them picked in between putting up the hay crop.  It’s been a great year for blueberries, rain at just the right time.  Those bushes are loaded and the berries are large and flavorful.  Still it’s better to have too many than too few.

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Come winter, we never regret the time spent tending the berry patch or the picking of those berries and squirreling them away in the freezer.

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Enough?  To get enough milk to get enough cream to make enough butter, I need a cow like the one (Miss Jane) in the photo above this one.  The calf gets the milk it needs first, the rest is for us.  Look at those bags, you see the difference.  The brown cow in the lower photo can only produce enough milk for her calf, not me, and she is half dairy.  Still not a surplus of milk.  Maybe a little, but definitely not in the abundance category.

The answer to the abundance question is the elephant in room.  The P word.  Production.  Ouch, that’s a cuss word to some.  So do you buy your butter from some faceless store or do you make it yourself?  The store butter protects the consumer from the view of the dairy cow somewhere that produced the cream so a factory could make that butter for you.  Or the milk, or the beef on your hamburger bun, or your lettuce wrap if you’re gluten-free.  Production is required for food no matter if it’s produced at home like ours, or if you purchase it in the store.  Vegan?  Coconut oil doesn’t grow on trees…or wait, yes it does.  But what does it take to get that coconut oil to you?  A lot.  Production, fuel etc., it’s not without guilt.

Planning for production isn’t a bad thing.  What do you eat?  Don’t bother planting or preserving things you will not eat.  A lot of things have disappeared over the years in our garden.  Broccoli?  Hardly plant any at all.  We prefer cauliflower, cabbage, kale, kohlrabi and brussels sprouts over broccoli.  Shell peas?  Too much work, snap peas succession planted give us our fill of peas, and if they get ahead of us, we can let them go to seed for the next crop.

How to plan?  What do you eat?  How much do you cook?  How does your mind categorize things?  By the each, pound, or bushel?  I use my 52 Plan, 52 weeks in the year, and then the question of how much of ________ do you eat a week?  One chicken?  One quart of salsa? Seven onions or potatoes?  There is no magic book or template to answer those questions, because even if you’re armed with the extension service list of how many pounds of this and that, make so many quarts of this and that, you still have to plan for a little bit of crop failure of some kind.  Don’t plant a dozen broccoli plants and expect a dozen perfect heads.  The sheep may get out or the deer may show up.  Insects, weather, rodents, operator error, so many things to go wrong before you even get to the harvesting stage.  Even long-term storage type foods spoil before the expiration date.  I still have winter squash, garlic, potatoes, and onions from the 2013 growing season.  But I have moved on.  The fresh garlic is in, we have been eating sweet onions and potatoes I planted early for months now.  The old stuff becomes compost or feed for the livestock, it’s pretty easy to turn winter squash into eggs.  You always want to plan an overlap of crops, or staggered harvesting times.  We rarely eat jam, so day-neutral or everbearing strawberries work for us.  Fresh strawberries all summer long into fall are delicious.  There are so many ways to work your personal food system and make it fit your needs.

Stuttgarter onions

Stuttgarter onions

Each year you will get better at planning, and you will know what is a waste of time and effort.  All those dilly beans no one eats.  Don’t bother.  And probably no one wants them for gifts either.  Grow what you will use.  Expand or reduce your palate as needed.  Try something new each year, or try less.  Less preserving, more fresh eating, keep a few hens for the surplus.  It’s never a waste to have enough.

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38 Comments leave one →
  1. Jennifer permalink
    August 1, 2014 8:53 am

    So true about it never being a waste to have enough. I find myself putting in more blueberries, blackberries, musk melons, onions, and anything else that can dry/cold store or else go in the freezer. Yep, we freeze our musk melons, after cutting them up, and later I make ice cream with them. Canteloupe ice cream is divine. If I can freeze it and my family will eat it, it’s grown in our garden. I do can a few things but find freezing is often easier and makes me more apt to grow it. It often seems like enough is never enough, especially with two growing kids in the house.

    • August 1, 2014 10:51 am

      Jennifer, we freeze quite a bit too, all our meat, butter, pesto, mushrooms, peppers, and tons of berries, but we have started to back off on freezing veggies, in lieu of eating more fresh, or rather growing more winter hardy or storage veggies. I’m going to have to try freezing the melons, I think I will have way more than we can eat fresh this year…maybe. 🙂

      • Jennifer permalink
        August 1, 2014 1:14 pm

        you have to use the melons in something like ice cream or a smoothie. They tend to become mushy and watery after thawing. Melon ice cream is like a bowl of sunshine in the middle of winter.

        • August 1, 2014 1:16 pm

          Jennifer, sounds great, ice cream is a regular treat around here once the cow has her calf 🙂

  2. Barb in CA permalink
    August 1, 2014 9:05 am

    So much to chew on here! Both encouraging and challenging. I get a little more each time you share your perspective on planning for abundance. Is Miss Jane showing no further signs of freshening? We are waiting on pins and needles!

    • August 1, 2014 11:01 am

      Barb, that cow knows we are all waiting…she was 10 days late last year…so early next week maybe? We’ve declared a truce, I let her have free rein of the pasture all day, and go bring her back at dusk if she hasn’t come down to the barn yet. Keeping her close at night is working better.

  3. August 1, 2014 10:21 am

    Very well said – I’d rather have a reassuring surplus despite the extra work – than not enough. Any outdated, less than prime produce goes to pigs, chickens……extra potatoes go back in the ground the following year. When I trade for Sockeye – I can enough for two years – got caught short once because the run was lousy and the fisheries shut the catch down.
    Dilly Beans 😄 I’m reminded of a dozen quarts of sweet pickles still sitting unopened on the shelf because hubby said he’d eat those if I made them, as he doesn’t like dill pickles. Hah – out they go this year – and no more wasting time on those!

    • August 1, 2014 10:45 am

      Ugh, the pickle thing. I can get by with one quart of dill pickles every year or two, but we do eat a lot of bread and butter pickles. When the pigs turn up their noses at the pickles you know you wasted your time. I make a pumpkin pickle too, but a little of those goes a long way because I am the only one that eats them. I’m seeing a lot of applesauce in my future this fall, our apples are loaded, even the keepers.

      • August 1, 2014 11:21 am

        Mmmm – I turn surplus apple into apple butter – that’s where it’s nice to have an outside cookstove – you can just leave it hang out at the back of the thing until it cooks down.

        • August 1, 2014 11:25 am

          Apple butter lasts for years here…now chunky applesauce that’s a different story!

  4. August 1, 2014 10:21 am

    Nita- how do you store your alliums so that you still have good ones at this time? I just finished curing and processing my garlic and shallots, and am trying to figure out how to keep them so they’ll stay nice for a long time. The onions are still curing, so how to keep them will be appreciated as well.

    I don’t have a basement, root cellar, or cold barn to keep them in.

    • August 1, 2014 10:40 am

      Paula, I’m down to a few of the storage onions, but for the most part I just fill the gap with Walla Walla and the Red Tropea onions, the Walla Wallas last all summer in the ground, dig as needed, and my storage onions aren’t even close to ready because I start them late. No point in trying to store something in the summer that needs cool temps…so by pushing the planting date to later in year (despite what experts tell us) my storage onions are ready at the end of summer. We need to remember I learned from folks who actually made it a point to feed themselves all year on what they grew in our climate, so experts to them were the people they learned from. I doubt you will get anyone but me maybe to tell you to plant your keeping onions in late May and to use sets… . As for storage, alliums need cool and dry, your garage maybe and a way to bring them in if we get cold temps like last year. I store mine in onion bags in the basement with my canned goods, in an unheated room. I don’t have a garage 😉

      • Bee permalink
        August 1, 2014 11:32 am

        I ran across an article on planting onion seed in fall for early spring harvest, which is something I’ve never tried. Apparently it works well in zone 7 gardens (that would be me), so I’m going to take a stab at it this year. Storage space is my biggest problem, because I don’t have a basement or root cellar.

        • August 1, 2014 12:58 pm

          Bee, yes do Walla Walla or Siskiyou Sweets they do very well if you can keep them weeded. That’s my problem, keeping those little guys weeded over winter or actually into spring due to wet soil is my bugaboo. But it does work, especially if you have a raised bed or something you really have control over.

          http://www.siskiyouseeds.com/product.asp?specific=2010

    • Jeannie permalink
      August 28, 2014 11:56 am

      Paula, I have found my garlic and Walla Walla do not last more than a few months in the garage. I cut up my onions and dehydrate them. You can add them to anything with some liquid as it cooks and they rehydrate. I also cut up and dehydrate my garlic also. It is nice to have a years supply of organic onions and garlic in the pantry. I hate cutting up cloves of garlic every time I make a meal and getting my hands all garlicky.

  5. August 1, 2014 10:43 am

    It’s amazing how much more in tune with my home I’ve become since eating this way. Humungous supermarket strawberries in February don’t even interest me. At all. That’s some big bump Jane is sporting 🙂

    I love your blueberries and their blue container.

    • August 1, 2014 10:56 am

      Jackie, I know isn’t it true? I did buy a flat of fresh June bearing Hoods (divine) but they disappeared so fast it wasn’t funny. Hood season in Oregon is fleeting!

      That bump is driving me crazy! I want to meet that calf!

      Gotta love pyrex!

      • August 3, 2014 3:38 am

        I’ll bet. Cute as they all are, my calves look pretty much the same – yours are exciting surprises.

  6. August 1, 2014 12:55 pm

    It’s really interesting to see the progress of your garden and compare it to mine. It seems like you are still in the full swing of harvesting, but my garden is over and done for the season, seeded to cover crops. Talk about short season! I start planting in late Feb and am done by mid June, except for some really sweet juicy watermelons I just cut yesterday :). I probably could have kept my squash going longer if I knew what I was doing…we have borers here, so pepo squashes don’t last long. I’m doing butternuts for the fall, but they’ve been slow to come up. We have had the most bizarre summer: two big rains in July, and it’s been around 72 degrees for 5 days straight…in July….in TEXAS… absolutely unheard of. I compare our seasons because it helps me process all the things I learn from you and adapt them to my climate if applicable. Of course I talk to north Texas gardeners, too, but you actually grow a large percentage of your own food, and they don’t, so your tips are most practical. I am hoping to learn to grow all of my own vegetables one day, and some chickens would help me immensely in the eggs/meat/eat-up-the-surplus department. But alas, I currently live in an apartment.

    I’m a total newbie. This is my second year growing a vegetable garden (or any garden, for that matter.) It’s only my third year being the “family cook” for my family of one husband lol. Up until I got married, I was in school. No time for cooking–I was encouraged to make good grades so I could get a “good job”. Yeah, right. I didn’t know anything about food then, either, nor did I understand its value. I’m still trying to get the hang of meal planning. It’s hard to plan for just two people who eat like little birds, and not let things go to waste (this is why I need chickens!) Your list of questions really has me thinking. What the heck do we eat? Not near as much vegetables as I would like to. What do we eat a lot of? I go through a lot of garlic and onions. Carrots (hard to grow here, going to try this fall)….Lots of pasta sauce and salsa…potatoes (we can get two season’s worth here)…beans. We love beans, but I have not been even marginally succesful with them. Bush beans sure do take up a lot of space for no return. Maybe I just have to find the right variety, or try poles. I was successful with Red Russian kale as our braising greens. I did not grow up eating greens, so I tried them for the sake of nutrition and hoped for the best. Sometimes they were delicious, sometimes they were bitter and gross. I hope it was just the weather that caused that, and not my poor cooking lol!

    Anyway…I wrote a book, sorry. Great post, I know you’ve written about this before, but as someone above said, everytime you repeat a topic, you add new bits to it that help us greenhorns understand better. Thanks for giving us something to chew on.

    Emily

    • August 4, 2014 4:45 am

      Emily,
      I have some of the same issues you do, with limited space, and needing to plant the right amount for two people; for example, I planted four pole bean vines this year. Ridiculous — but I have no desire to drown in green beans, as some of my friends do, and don’t want to preserve them; just want enough to eat them a couple of times a week, which this amount provides, for months (barring crop failure). A few more wouldn’t have hurt, but I was running short of room. May plant some more, to try to provide some extra for Thanksgiving. I had no luck with bush beans either, for some reason; they grow like mad for everyone else, but wouldn’t do a darn thing for me. The pole beans, however, are handy in that they keep producing for much longer.
      Kale is sweeter in cold weather than hot.
      You’ll probably find that your meal planning and diet shift over time, as you garden more. You can freeze the extras of some recipes (that don’t contain potatoes), so that you have some meals ready to pull out and heat up when you’re tired, which can be a nice way of dealing with too many leftovers. I always freeze half of each batch of muffins, because we don’t go through them fast enough.

  7. August 1, 2014 3:17 pm

    Such a great post. I miss our little garden so much and cannot wait to settle in on a piece of land and start growing food again. These posts really keep me going and teach me a lot. Thank you so much for posting!

    • August 1, 2014 4:00 pm

      Ohmygosh Meg, I was thinking I need you to come help me weed! “Quick Cocoa Cake” for my birthday celebration tonight! Looks delicious, although it’s got cream cheese frosting and strawberries, since Jane had decided not to bless us with cream just yet 😦

      • Bee permalink
        August 1, 2014 5:20 pm

        Happy Birthday, Nita; enjoy your cake!

        • Stumplifter (Andrea) permalink
          August 1, 2014 7:19 pm

          Quick cocoa cake sounds like a yummy way to honor your day. I am raising my glass of milk to you in honor of your latest revolution ’round the sun. Perhaps Miss Jane has a gift planned for you, too.

          On the ‘putting up’ front, we’ve been out of fermented garlic dills for months now- finally broke down awhile ago and bought a jar of store bought. . . Yuck, big mistake. Got my first crock brewing now- can’t wait. I love experimenting and trying new things- this year’s experiements so far are strawberry vinegar (think winter spinach salads), and fermen-pickled collard stems with garlic and dill- alright I’ll admit I have a garlic dill pickle problem-there are worse things. . .

          Oh yeah, almost forgot to send a giant thank you for the recipe for rhubarb juice- what a revelation. Squirreling these deep in the larder out of sight til the cold days. . .

  8. CassieOz permalink
    August 1, 2014 3:44 pm

    It’s the depths of winter here (snow, sleet and hail yesterday) so that’s seed catalogue time. I’ve got some lettuce, kale, carrots, parsnips and leeks still in the patch (sheltered from winds by the machinery shed) but it’s time to think of spring. Here, I start my tomatoes and peppers on a heat mat pretty soon.

    The complication in planning this year is I’m scheduled for two surgeries over the next three months and DH is no gardener, and I’m not mobile (on two crutches) until much later in the year. I may need to rely heavily on buying seedlings this spring. It does my heart good to hear of the harvest and abundance at the other side of the world as the wind roars past outside.

    Don’t tell MIss Jane that I want her to calve before I head for surgery on Thursday, or she’ll just cross all her legs and be even more stubborn 🙂

    • August 1, 2014 3:57 pm

      I won’t tell her, I just did my rounds early, and she was within locking in distance, so I closed her in for the night. She can hang out with the horse on the ridge. We noticed a few years ago that all us animals here like to lay near the buried waterlines. That’s what she’s been doing all week for her late pregnancy naps, so she’s got an acre of grass, some negative ions for napping, and fresh water and minerals. Now we just need that baby to make it’s presence known. Still wrinkly and no strutting, so I’m not checking on her in the middle of the night yet… Good luck on the first surgery, and we’ll be sending good thoughts your way. I planted fall kohlrabi, chicory and lettuce transplants today and watered them in well. 90F today 😦

  9. August 1, 2014 4:16 pm

    You have me breathlessly waiting for Jane’s calf to make her appearance, too! Sending best vibes for a happy delivery.

  10. Karen permalink
    August 1, 2014 7:33 pm

    Last night on the news they showed a farmer in CA bulldozing fruit trees. Tough to watch and a wake up call. The news these days is not good on so many fronts. Makes this topic that much more important. We expanded the veg garden this spring and have invested even more effort in providing for our needs in other areas as well. Haven’t gotten the rhythm down yet but continue to work harder to get to the place where too much equals enough. Thanks for showing us the way.

  11. August 2, 2014 2:28 am

    On another blog, they inventory in June (I think) the entire pantry/freezer/root cellar. It gave them an idea of what they used during the year.

    I started doing the veg freezer and dehydrated stuff 2 years ago. It is a big help to see usage. I like to have a bit too much planned, just in case as you said. And the pigs and chickens don’t mind the old freezer or root cellar stuff a bit.

    I don’t do the meat freezer because that’s pretty much set: 50 – 75 broilers, 1 beefer every second year, 1 pig a year. I don’t can much so there’s not much of that to inventory.

  12. August 3, 2014 12:13 pm

    Now I know I need to get some blueberry bushes in, such gorgeous photos. I just love this informative type of post! We also aspire to grow as much of our food as possible, just basically buy the pioneer type staples at the co-op, like coffee beans, flour, a few grains and chocolate. I FINALLY got my husband to switch from store bought ketchup to my home canned salsa. It feels amazing to eat this way from the farm, and saves bigtime money too!

  13. Racquel permalink
    August 3, 2014 4:36 pm

    I disagree about the Dilly Beans. My extended family begs for them.

  14. Beth in Ky permalink
    August 4, 2014 4:31 am

    LoL on the dilly beans! One thing I can for gifts is sliced green tomatoes for frying. At Christmas time those are treasured in Ky! Make my Mississippi born son-in-law a dozen every year. Those are pretty blueberry pictures… do you have the lid to that blue “refrigerator box”?

    • August 4, 2014 5:03 am

      Beth, on the dilly bean front, my mom used to make chutney that no one liked, but she made it every year 😦 My lesson to quit making things that don’t get eaten over the winter. That’s interesting about the canned tomatoes I never would have thought of that. Yes, I have the lids for the set, but I keep those put away…unless I’m storing leftovers, otherwise you know what might happen.

  15. August 11, 2014 3:56 am

    Matron,
    I clicked on Ben’s mention of you to get to this post. What a bountiful and lovely time of year! Do you have just the right soil for those gorgeous blueberries? Here in Nebraska we have to bend over backwards to get blueberry bushes to grow and produce. Lovely post.

    • August 11, 2014 4:28 am

      Amy, yes, the Vaccinium species does well here growing wild in our naturally acidic soils, so blueberries are quite prolific 🙂

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