Planting for Your Family's Health
It’s only been a couple generations since we planted gardens so the family could eat fruits and vegetables over the winter. Our great grandmothers and grandfathers would tirelessly plant and can so they could eat through periods when it was difficult to go to the store. Those were more independent times, when it seemed silly to buy things you could produce at home.
Now is a great moment for all of us to reignite that self-reliance by getting back into gardening. It’s an activity that shows us how our food is grown and what chemicals were (and weren’t) used.
Here are some tips for getting the most from your garden.
First, Pick Your Plot
Finding a spot for your garden is the first step. If you are out in the country and can plot out a piece of land to put up your garden, this part is easy.
For people who live in the city, it is a little more difficult, but not impossible. Container gardens are great, and as you do some research, you’ll find out quite a bit can be grown in a container.
Decide What to Grow (And How)
The second aspect of a garden that needs to be thought out is how you will handle what you grow. A few questions to answer are: How long does the produce you select store? Where are you going to store it? Are you going to can or dehydrate it?
Our ancestors knew a thing or two about storing food—that is how we were able to eat peaches in December. How did they know this, though? It was passed down through generations, and that’s knowledge many of us have lost.
Here are some things our grandparents knew about storing the most common canning foods:
- Potatoes – Keep them in a cool, dark place like a root cellar, with sawdust over the top (not dirt). They can last for months this way. Do not wash the dirt off, just brush it off and put the potatoes in a bin where it is cool (42 degrees is best.)
- Apples – Do not store apples with any of your foods. Store them in another room. Spartans, galas, and many varieties store well. Keep them in a cool, dark location with nothing else in the room. Store them in a single layer, so if one spoils it does not ruin the entire box.
- Winter pears – After the first frost, pick them. Like apples, arrange them in a single layer, because if one goes bad it will spoil the entire box. Pears can be stored with your other vegetables.
- Cabbage – Pull cabbage out of the ground root and all, dust off the dirt, and hang it upside down in a cool, dark location. It can last for months this way.
- Turnips, rutabaga, radish – Root vegetables can be stored in a cool, dark location for months.
- Tomatoes – Pick these when they are large and still green, and by the time they ripen and can be used a couple weeks or even a month will have passed.
- Carrots – These root vegetables keep very well if they remain intact. You can even leave them in the ground and pick them throughout the fall and early winter if you don’t have a place to store them. If you do want to store them, you can throw them in a box in a cool, dark location.
Make sure you do not cut into anything you are going to store. Once you have pulled a stem or cut anything, you’ve begun the process of rotting and your produce will not keep.
Pick Up the Forgotten Art of Dehydrating
Another recommendation from past generations is dehydrating. Most every fruit and vegetable can be dehydrated and kept for months. Then, when you want to use them, you can either pull them out and re-hydrate or just use them in their desiccated form.
Make sure when you store dehydrated food you use a darker jar or storage container. Light will make foods lose color, and though they will taste fine, they will not look great. To make the most of dehydrated foods, it is wise to purchase a vacuum sealer to prevent oxygen exposure and spoiling.
Lastly, you can freeze your fruits and vegetables for later use. Again, getting something that removes oxygen from your storage container makes it last much longer, so you will not have to worry about your foods getting freezer burn.
Store for Stew
One tip from generations past is to put everything in one bag that makes stew (carrots, onions, celery, etc.) and freeze it. That way when you go to make stew in the winter, instead of cutting up vegetables all day or trying to figure out what you need, you’ll have everything in one handy bag.
The same goes for zucchini. Shred some for bread and slice the rest for a side dish. That way it is already prepared when you go to grab it throughout the winter.
Learn How to Can
Then there is always canning. Canning is a great way to store food, easy to do, and most of it does not require any special storage conditions.
The first thing you’ll want to do is get your hands on a canning book with tricks and tips from experts who have been doing it for generations. Most will give you instructions for making what you want and concise directions on how to can that item.
There is so much more to gardening than just growing things you like to eat; it’s also about how to store an item so you can use it when you need it.
Planning out how you are going to grow your garden is one step, but you also need to figure out the best storage plan that works for you and your family.