Tag: food preservation

Garden Update: August 2023

It’s becoming abundantly clear to me—as if I somehow hadn’t already learned my lesson—that it’s near impossible to do anything else but garden during garden season.

Keeping up with this site has been a challenge. I’ve been making recipes and taking photos and making notes, but finding time to sit down and type it all out has become quite difficult. I suspect that once the end of fall hits and we roll into winter, that’s when I’ll be able to sit down and write about all of my kitchen adventures.

When I tell people we have a big garden and it keeps us busy, I don’t think they truly understand the scale of it until they see it. I had some new friends come to our place for the first time this summer for a BBQ. I gave them the address, but then added “there’s no number on the house, so look for the garden, you’ll understand when you see it”.

Most properties in our area have just plain grass front yards. There are a few front yard gardeners in the area, but they still come nowhere near matching our scale.

The first thing that’s immediately noticeable, especially in late summer, are the sunflowers. My husband lines our front fence with sunflowers and we easily have the tallest ones in the neighbourhood, with them regularly reaching up to 15 feet in height. Along one side of our property is our wall of corn. So when you’re pulling up to your house and you’ve never been there before, it’s like a cube of greenery. And once you pass through the front gate, it’s been described as almost like a secret garden, likely aided by the fact that the sunflowers sort of hang over the entryway, making it look almost magical.

The Crops and the Harvests

The purpose of our front yard has evolved over the years, but it’ll be our fruit garden moving forward. Here’s where we have in the front:

  • Those sunflowers I mentioned along our front fence
  • Snap peas
  • Scarlet runner beans
  • Saskatoons (also known as juneberries or service berries)
  • Raspberries
  • Blueberries
  • Strawberries
  • Grapes
  • Watermelon
  • Horseradish (not a fruit but it’s where we planted it years ago)
  • Goji berries (we planted the bush this year, haven’t had fruit yet)
  • We also tend to plant squash in the front to fill up the remaining space. In future years, this remaining space will likely be taken up with more fruit bushes. Currently, though, we have:
    • Acorn squash
    • Butternut squash

The front yard is also our most floral area, with a lilac bush, a rose bush, a double flowering plum tree (which just gives us flowers, no fruit), lilies, pots of flowers, and a handful of other things.

Along the side of the house, we have:

  • Corn
  • Snap peas
  • Basil
  • Rosemary
  • Thyme
  • Parsley
  • Mint
  • Dill

Our back yard is bit of a mishmash:

  • Various flowers and non-edible plants
  • Borage (an edible flower/plant but we mostly grow it to keep the bees happy)
  • Ginger
  • Garlic (and garlic scapes!)
  • Green onions / spring onions
  • Mustard
  • Spinach
  • Celery
  • Pumpkin
  • Peppers
    • Bell peppers
    • Banana peppers

That’s all we can fit on our property, but we don’t stop there.

Our neighbour to the west is a lifelong gardener but isn’t able to manage his entire garden anymore, so he lets us plant what we want as long as we take care of it. We do, and we share some of our harvest with him, and we help him maintain the patches of produce he’s growing for himself.

On that property, we have:

  • Beans
    • Black beans
    • Kidney beans
  • Tomatoes (several types and sizes)
  • Popcorn
  • Peppers
    • Bell peppers
    • Banana peppers
    • Jalapeno peppers
    • Cayenne peppers
    • Scotch bonnet peppers
  • Squash
    • Butternut squash
    • Acorn squash
    • Pumpkin (both small edible pumpkins and big jack-o-lantern pumpkins)
  • Melon
    • Honeydew melon
    • Watermelon
  • Potatoes
    • Yukon gold potatoes
    • Red-skinned potatoes (good for canning!)
  • Cucumber
  • Alaskan peas (good for canning!)
  • Onions
  • Shallots
  • Beets
  • Broccoli
  • Brussels sprouts
  • Swiss chard
  • Rhubarb
  • Horseradish

This list still isn’t over.

Our neighbours on the east side have asked us to help them garden a bit—partly because they hate yard work and partly to cut their grocery bill a bit. Since it’s primarily us that would be tending to it and we’re already stretched thin, at this time we’re just doing a little strip along the shared fence between our properties. We share our harvest with them, particularly if it’s something we’ve grown on their property; one of the folks living there loves the corn.

Over there, we have:

  • Corn
  • Tomatoes
  • Potatoes
  • Parsnips
  • Carrots

They’re eager to get rid of their grass, so as a solution for next year, they’ll likely put a tarp over their grass and we’ll plant all our squash and melons around the perimeter, filling their yard with the big leafy plants—essentially, the effect of a giant garden, but with minimal work since it just requires watering around the edges.

And… that’s still not it.

That’s what we’re growing, but that’s not the limit of what we’re harvesting.

My husband up on the ladder picking cherries

I’ve also managed to gather:

  • Apples from a friend’s trees (200+ pounds with more coming this week!)
  • Sour cherries from a tree on that same friend’s property
  • Grapes—boxes and boxes of grapes—from a friend’s vine
    • While we have grapes, so far we get just a few bunches a year, most of which the birds eat
  • Saskatoons, foraged by my step-dad from a local park
    • We have our own Saskatoon bush, but the birds ate every single berry before I had a chance to harvest them. I distinctly remember looking at the bush on a Saturday evening and thinking “Hmm… some of these are ready for picking, I’ll start harvesting tomorrow morning so I get them before the birds do.” The next morning, the bush was bare.
  • Chokecherries, also foraged by my step-dad from a local park
    • With this, he had the specific request that I make chokecherry wine because he has good memories of his mom doing the same. Here’s hoping my wine lives up to that memory!
  • Pin cherries, also foraged by my step-dad from a local park

This has been and will likely continue to be a year of abundance. Last year with approximately the same number of plants, we had an abundance of broccoli but everything else did just okay. This year, everything is in abundance… except the broccoli. At this point I have more than a year’s supply of certain vegetables, and there’s still more coming.

The Preserving Plans

With a garden as big and as overly-productive as ours, the huge challenge is always: How the heck do you preserve all of it so you don’t end up throwing out tons of food?

Well, the answer to that will slowly be revealed over the coming year as I upload all my recipes here. However, I will say that it’s definitely a challenge.

Our little house doesn’t have a basement. (We have a little dug-out crawlspace where the furnace and hot water tank are, but it’s prone to flooding in storms and in the spring melt, so we can’t store stuff there.) Until recently, we only had a side-by-side fridge/freezer. This year I bought a 3.5 cubic foot deep freezer that fits nicely in our kitchen, doubling our freezer space.

However, I rely heavily on my mom’s house. She has a cold storage room in the basement that’s perfect for the potatoes and a deep freezer twice the size of ours that’s great for the rhubarb and various other things that get frozen.

But if we froze everything, we’d need a dozen freezers.

When my husband started in on this ambitious garden project (which began as just a strip in the back yard), I quickly taught myself farm wife skills, to borrow a phrase from a friend. I’ve written about my food processing journey here, but over the years I’ve learned what I like frozen, what I like canned, what I like dehydrated, and what’s fine to just sit as-is.

The biggest challenge has been to get an understanding of what my husband and I like to eat. Sure, there are hundreds or thousands of recipes online to preserve food, but if you don’t like the end result then it’s the same as just not doing anything.

For example, there are lots of great jelly and jam recipes, but we don’t eat jelly or jam. (The one exception is this Inferno Wine Jelly that tastes amazing on a bagel breakfast sandwich.) We’re also not really dessert people, so there’s no point in canning up a bunch of fruit pie fillings. These dislikes of ours immediately cut out a lot of uses for the fruit that we grow.

This Year’s Theme

One challenge I gave myself this year was to try making a bunch of different wines. It’s a great way to use up some of the produce and it ultimately saves us a ton of money down the road. (Here in Manitoba, alcohol is quite expensive.)

The wines I’ve made and plan to make this year include:

  • Dandelion wine (done and aging, but I’ve made it before and know it’s good)
  • Apple wine (super delicious and more coming)
  • Lilac wine (nicely sweet and floral)
  • Cherry wine (still fermenting)
  • Corn cob wine (got some cobs stored in the freezer)
  • Grape wine (notoriously difficult to make but I’ll try it!)
  • Parsnip wine (made it before, quite nice)
  • Rhubarb wine (a favourite of a friend of ours)
  • Chokecherry wine
  • Rose hip wine (not sure about this one for this year)
  • Hot pepper wine (just came across this idea yesterday, so I need to dig in more before deciding to do it or not)

In addition to wine, I have various recipes for flavouring store-bought alcohol. So far all the ones I’ve tried have been incredibly good. These recipes will show up on this site, likely in the winter. So far I’ve tried or will soon be trying:

  • Rhubarb ginger gin (a crowd favourite)
  • Sour cherry liqueur (mind-blowingly good)
  • Sour cherry gin (fantastic over ice)
  • Apple cinnamon brandy
  • Apple pie liqueur
  • Dandelion cordial
  • Hot pepper vodka

Looking Ahead to September

As August slowly reaches its end and we head into September, and then on into the fall, the busiest time of the year for me is about to be here. The tomatoes are just starting to ripen and soon I’ll have boxes and boxes of them. The potato plants are dying off, which means in a few weeks we can dig them up. And the kidney beans and black beans are forming now, and they’ll eventually mature and dry and be ready for harvest.

My husband has his own routine for the end of summer and oncoming of fall. He carefully puts away all the sticks he’s used to brace plants, he prepares the gardens for the winter, and he plants garlic cloves so they pop up first thing in the spring.

The best part of winter, though, is enjoying the fruits of our labours—all of those home-grown and preserved vegetables, the fancy drinks and wines that remind us of summers when the weather is hitting -40 C, and perhaps most importantly, sharing this abundance with family and friends.

But as winter sets in, there’s always one thing on our mind…planning for the upcoming garden season.