It seems that every year, more and more people are coming back to the art and joy of gardening.
Not just because they love the feel of getting their hands in the soil – but because they ultimately want to feed their families better tasting and healthier food while saving money. As food prices continue to rise – people are looking to the garden to offset the cost.
This spring, with just a little extra planning – you can maximize those gardening efforts into a virtual year-round pantry – and in the process, take a big bite out of those escalating grocery bills!
As much as we enjoy our garden for the fresh tomatoes, peppers, corn, green beans and more – we create our garden plan each year with the additional goal of canning and freezing enough of the harvest to feed our family year-round.
We’ve figured out that the best way to maximize our effort is to plan now for what we want to eat later. It’s really no different than the age-old concept of planning out your week’s meals before heading to the grocery. It eliminates ending up with produce that you have no idea what to do with in late fall – and not enough of the ones you need to can and freeze to feed your family. Here are some helpful tips to help
Growing A Garden For Canning
Take stock now of what you eat and need year-round
This may sound simple – but its easy to overlook! Nothing can beat the taste of a freshly picked ear of corn, or a spring onion pulled right from the ground. But sometimes we get caught up in thinking only about the fresh – and not about what you and your family eat and enjoy the most all year long. The key is to take both the fresh and year-round concepts and translate it into your garden plan – planting enough to satisfy both needs.
A great example for us is tomato juice. Mary and I love our homemade tomato juice. Its delicious and most importantly – we know exactly what goes into it – just our organic tomatoes! On average – we go through a quart jar every week, meaning we need a minimum of 52 quarts canned to get us through. The result: A dedicated row planted each year for our juicing tomatoes. Last year that row netted over 70 quarts!
Tomatoes in fact take up a large part of our garden space because we use so many tomato based products throughout the year. Homemade pasta sauce, salsa, picante, pizza sauce and ketchup are all big hits in the house. We make a pasta dish almost weekly for a family meal – and the kids can devour a jar of salsa in a single sitting. The result – 3 entire rows in our garden each year dedicated to La Roma and Celebrity tomatoes – great for making sauces, salsas and more.
Plant More Of What You Currently Buy:
This is also the time to think about what you buy now and that you could grow or grow more of to preserve. We fell in love with the taste of our canned green beans last year, and just didn’t plant enough to store as many as we would eat. So for this year, we have bumped up the number of planting rows from one to four.
All of this planning can save big money! We have not purchased a store bought can or jar of tomato juice, salsa, picante or pasta sauce in three years. Just using a conservative estimate – that saves us nearly $500 to $700 a year on those items alone. The best part – it’s home grown food with no preservatives or chemicals – what could be better than that?!
Growing For The Freezer and Freezing Smart:
The same concept goes into freezing. We love to use peppers, onions, and snap peas in stir fry’s and other dishes, so we make sure to plant enough to eat fresh, and preserve some by freezing for later. We also freeze a large quantity of our Cajun Belle and Jalapeno peppers to use later as quick appetizers.
When we first started out – we would simply freeze them into big bags – only to find out we could never use them up quick enough before going bad. Now – we freeze sliced green peppers, onion, and snap peas in the perfect dish serving size. Come winter – it’s a snap (no pun intended) to pull them out and throw them in whatever we are making. No waste of time or produce!
Thinking Outside Of The Box With Surplus Vegetables:
You also have to think outside of the proverbial box when a certain plant goes crazy and your left with a huge surplus. A few years back – we had a mammoth crop of hot peppers. We love them more than anybody – but there are only so many fresh jalapenos and habaneros you can eat in a given day without shooting flames from your head. The solution: We decided to take the extras and dry them on low heat in the oven and our smoker. The result – some of the best homemade pepper grind, flakes and chili powder we have ever tasted. We’ve since cut back on the amount of peppers we grow – but we make sure to include enough every year to roast a few pans for our needs.
So this year as you think about the garden and all of those amazing fresh things you will grow and eat – put a little extra thought into what you want year round – you will be rewarded with some great winter produce – and huge savings on your grocery bill!
– Jim and Mary