That pretty much sums up this farmers life. Growing, harvesting, preparing, eating and storing food. A not so delicate dance of decrepitude, as food starts to decay immediately upon harvest and many times in the case of winter gardening, overnight after a hard freeze. Sigh. Where to begin? It is a chicken and egg thing. Humans have engaged in stopping the spoilage of food since they started eating. These days we have it a little easier with refrigeration. I have no desire to be off-grid, so you won’t find any tips on how to get rid of your freezer or things like that. The grid we want to be off of is the supermarket food grid. I for one believe that you’re not saving any power by not storing more food in a home freezer and instead buying food at the store. No, we don’t grow everything we eat, but quite a bit of what we eat we do grow. Preserving takes many forms, freezing, a bit of canning, dehydrating, and fermenting all play a role in addition to eating fresh for many months, and growing specific crops that store well with added preservation tasks.
Our personal food system has evolved quite a bit as I alluded to in my last post. I grew up planting garden in May as soon as we could work the soil, then direct seeding everything just about, except tomatoes and pepper plants bought at the store. Then you would wait, you might get your first lettuce salad mid-July and the first ripe tomato in late August in our location. Meanwhile you concerned yourself with the march of fruits coming on, and those were preserved into canned fruit, jams, jellies, juice etc. I knew no one who dehydrated anything except Italian prunes when I was a kid. If you had a dairy cow, you would be churning the bounty of grassfed cream to beat the band and freezing your butter.
But, I think the biggest change in our preserving/eating habits has come about because we built a greenhouse for season extension. I know it may seem silly to some to build a structure to garden in, when maybe a cold frame or some wire hoops and row cover would work, but we just don’t have the heat units here to ripen several summer crops that we really like, so for us a greenhouse made the most sense, it’s pretty disappointing to babysit tomato plants all season and then as soon as the fall rains come, bam! Late blight.
Because it is serious garden real estate, we cram as many successions and different types of crops in the greenhouse as possible. Tomatoes take all summer to mature, and they provide shade and a microclimate in the greenhouse for cool weather crops too. In the photo above you see the tomatoes on the left and on the right a row of brassicas shaded from the hot afternoon sun and near the sidewall where a cool breeze blows. It may seem counter-intuitive to say the brassicas inside get a little more shade with the tomatoes and lower light due to the greenhouse poly. Make no mistake, it’s hot in there, but outside in the garden those brassicas might be in a real hot spot.
Another benefit of the greenhouse that didn’t dawn on us until reality slapped us on the face was that a greenhouse (as long as the doors are shut) is an excellent deer proof gardening space for some particularly sumptuous crops that eluded us for many years due to deer pressure. The sweetest to come to mind, is strawberries. Oh the joy, to have strawberries every week of the summer, instead of walking to the garden with colander in hand only to find that overnight the deer have eaten every last ripe strawberry! The next part of that saga is that deer
like love strawberry plants too as a chaser to their previous night’s strawberry drunk. It smarts a little to have to stop at the berry stand to buy overpriced non-organic strawberries, when you already spent $$ and countless hours of labor tending your crop.
In all honesty I had wanted a greenhouse for years. I had no idea how I would use it other than “to grow things.”
Now it’s our everything garden space from late winter through to late fall. We start our seeds in there, we start our first regular garden crops in there, and we use it as a hardening off space to transition tender transplants for their life in the outside gardens. Who knew?
Next a peek in the freezers to see what we can see.