Find out how to prepare for the harvest with these 5 steps! We all dream of a huge garden that produces enough food for our family and animals... but if you've never had a garden that yields that much food before, you might find yourself overwhelmed when those dreams start to come true.
Last year we moved to the country and started setting up our homestead on 8 acres of family land. We skipped the spring/summer growing season as we prepared other parts of the property, and only planted a small test garden in the fall.
The test garden did very well and we were excited to see how well the spring/summer garden would do with our new found love of Back to Eden gardening.
We doubled the size of our garden bed to 30x30ft and planted some of our favorite plants, again, thinking this would be a test garden for the season...
In fact, most things we only planted 5-10 plants of, just to see how they would grow!
Growing up, my grandfather always kept a garden and when I was a teenager, that garden grew to be large enough to produce all the food for the 6 people in our household, and then some. Since I was there to participate in the harvesting and preserving of that food, I thought I was ready to deal with anything our little garden could produce.
Boy was I in for a shock! As prepared as I thought I was, I had no idea how much produce I would be facing in a very short amount of time from just a small space!!
Preparing For the Harvest
Here are the things I wish I had known and done before our produce came in, to insure that nothing was wasted, and that I didn't go crazy trying to keep up with everything.
Step 1: Finish All Other Projects
The BIGGEST thing I wish I had known to do before the harvest came in, was simply to make sure I didn't have any other major projects or commitments to distract me from dealing with our bounty.
The same thing goes for anyone who will be helping you with the garden and food preservation. In my case, that would be my mom and my husband. Both of whom had large projects and commitments they were attending to when we started harvesting our produce.
It's taken a few weeks, but we've all been able to wrap everything up so that we are all free to deal with the food as the season progresses.
Step 2: Make Sure You Have Help
This goes hand in hand with step one. Make sure that you actually ask for help!
Don't assume that you will be able to do everything on your own, especially if you have children who need supervision still. If you have kids who no longer need supervision every moment, then enlist their help!
They can snap beans, shell peas, shuck corn, and so on!
Step 3: Make a Plan
This is another big one. Do you know what to do with all the produce you will be bringing in?
Beyond "I'm going to preserve it", what will you do? Do you have recipes ready? Will you have room for everything that you will be canning??
We ended up having to completely redesign our pantry in order to make room for all of the food that we were harvesting and putting up.
Additionally, there are lots of different things you can do with the various things you may be growing. Make decisions on what you want to do with each item before you are faced with a mountain of produce.
This will allow you to get all of the ingredients before hand, instead of creating a situation where you have to dash to the store!
Step 4: Check Your Food Preservation Options
If this is your first time with a large harvest, you may also be new to canning. Before your harvest starts coming in, make sure you know exactly which food preservation methods you will be using.
Fruits, Tomatoes, Cucumbers: These foods are acceptable for water bath canning. I would recommend grabbing a copy of the Ball Blue Canning Book to make sure that you are following approved recipes.
Vegetables, Meats: These foods need to be pressure canned to ensure safe consumption. And again, I would recommend the Ball Blue Canning Book.
Note: If you will be canning, make sure you have enough jars! Most store only carry a few dozen at a time, and they are usually more expensive than buying them in bulk online.
>> Grab your jars here, I usually buy 10-20 dozen at a time. Be sure to get Kerr or Ball jars for best quality!
Make sure you have several dozen washed at all times, so you aren't trying to clean jars and process food at the same time! While it can be done, of course, it's easier to just focus on one and then the other!
Dehydration: If you are planning to make use of dried goods, a dehydrator is a must have piece of equipment. I wish I had known how much produce I was going to have, because I could use at least 2 more dehydrators on hand!
Freezing: Freezing food is another great way to store your excess food if the produce in question doesn't lend itself to canning or dehydrating (corn on the cob, for example), or if you're just not comfortable yet with the canning process.
One note about freezing, you do have to have an awful lot of freezer space, and things can easily be lost due to a power outage. I would highly recommend canning and dehydrating as much as you can so as not to rely on the freezer lasting!
Step 5: Prepare Emotionally
This is the step that really took me by surprise. I had no idea how emotional our first harvest would be.
I'm not talking about the elation of bringing in your first cucumber, I'm talking about the fatigue that you feel when you are faced with yet another day of canning pickles...
Even though you will be THRILLED to have such a bounty, you may find yourself overwhelmed by the repeated task of processing, and the never ending pile of produce that awaits you each day.
The 3rd week in a row where I canned cucumbers daily saw a few tears shed. In fact, I chucked all the cukes that day out to the chickens.
So just be ready to put more energy than you think you might need to into the harvest!