This year, I've decided to be proactive in finding ways to preserve some of the surplus for the winter months.
Not only does this save me some cash, but it allows me to enjoy zero pesticide, organic produce out of season for even more serious savings.
Aside from just healthy eating, your garden can and should be used to save you a few bucks.
Here are five easy ways to waste less of your excess saving you money, time and effort during the off-season.
And shhhh. I have one secret at the very end of this post that I'm willing to bet you've never thought of!!
How's your garden going this year?
1.) Freeze - Yes, even the produce you thought impossible.
But preserving extra produce in freezer bags makes me happy because it's so easy.
Especially if you have a chest freezer, a must-have for any gardener. Here are a few suggestions of what you might want to try.
- Garlic Who knew? But garlic is very versatile when it comes to freezing. You can freeze it raw. And you can freeze whole, unpeeled bulbs, individual cloves (peeled or unpeeled), or chopped garlic. I prefer to freeze whole as I believe it does lose more flavor when chopped up. When defrosted you can dice, mince, or slice super thin for fresh garlic out of season. One observation is that garlic scent permeates my entire freezer if I don't either triple freezer bag it or store it in an airtight container.
- Zucchini - Summer squash gets a bad rap when it comes to freezing. Too much water content means too mushy to freeze. But I've discovered that if you shred them using a cheese grater they freeze pretty well. Take your shreds and drain excess water using a colander. Then gently squeeze out any extra water using a paper towel or even your bare hands. Try freezing in smaller, one quart freezer bags. The smaller size allows you to freeze just one or two cups in each bag. Make sure you use a Sharpie marker to label your bags with the exact amount put in. So when it's used for pancakes, fritters, zucchini muffins, or bread you'll have precise measurements.
- One last tip? When you defrost, drain the water out again in a colander. Squeeze dry those shreds using a paper towel in the sink. This will decrease the water content making them easier to work with.
- Celery - Celery is heavily sprayed and therefore loaded in pesticide and other harmful chemicals. And if you are a celery fan and put it in all of your soups and stews, organic can get pricey. Non-organic celery costs about $2.79 a bunch and organic is over $4 even in-season. Sometimes you can buy celery on super sale for a $1 each, but those are chemically-laden. Bleh. It might surprise you how easily it freezes. I like to chop mine up so it's ready to plop in my chili or chicken noodle soup. And the ease factor can't be beat. I do about 5-6 gallon freezer bags each time. Then I sever the frozen chunks off from the bag and dump them into the simmering pot. The rest goes right back to the freezer for next time. Each 1 gallon bag lasts for about four or five soup uses. It doesn't get any easier than this!
- Tomatoes - My MIL freezes her tomatoes whole with much success in freezer bags. I've sliced them up and lightly sauteed them with garlic, onion and fresh herbs including basil and oregano. Then I freeze that mixture in Ziploc bags for a tasty topping out of season. When re-heating on the stove, I'm sure to add a few fresh herbs again. Keep in mind that frozen tomatoes work best in soups, stews and sauces from their frozen state. It's the easiest way to save your harvest. In fact, their bright flavor might even be better in the dead of winter when desperate. But don't freeze a July tomato expecting it to taste homegrown fresh in January. It won't. But it's still pretty tasty!
- Onions and peppers - You can buy frozen onions in bags at the grocery store. Sometimes you buy solo, sometimes they are combined with peppers. Neither are tasty in your omelettes or soups because they have zero flavor. Why not chop and freeze your own for later use? Homegrown is always better, always tastier. Dice, mince, slice, whatever your size preference is and freeze in small bags. I'd still freeze the onions and peppers separately to give you the most flexibility. Label your bags with a marker!
- Carrots - One year I had a humongous carrot crop. So many carrots to use right away and I couldn't even give them away. So I chopped them up and froze in bags. The result? Every time I went to make a soup or stew that required carrot, I pulled the bag from the freezer and dumped in. It was thrilling. Making chicken noodle soup was a breeze. The celery, onion and carrot was ready-to-go in my freezer and all I had to do was pull the three bags out. Instead of taking an hour, I could assemble a big pot of soup in just 10 minutes with no immediate chopping required. This is really convenient when you have a head cold, want homemade soup now and don't have the energy to do all that chopping!
2.) Make baby food
For my second, I didn't even try. Too tired and cranky.
So what a great way to use your extra produce - make pureed baby food for your baby, grandchild or a friends baby.
Love straight from your garden.
Take your steamed excess green beans, carrots, beets, radishes, broccoli, cauliflower, zucchini, and even cucumbers and peppers and puree them for baby.
You can use sterilized old baby food plastic containers with lids or just buy new ones in the smallest size possible.
After you make your puree, freeze for future use. They will be received with great joy! Trust me.
Create new flavor combinations minus the additives and sugars the store-bought variety always has.
3.) Dry those herbs
Not only to save you money but allow you to enjoy those herbs out of season.
Many people wait till the end of the season to dry and freeze their herbs but I say do it now while the crop is still plentiful.
The natural pruning will also encourage continued plant growth.
And if your herbs are like mine, they tend to get tougher, more buggy and less tender as the summer wanes on.
Dry now to enjoy herbs while still in their prime.
4.) Make use of those U-Pick Farms and buy cheap produce to freeze
Certain berries like blueberries and blackberries freeze extremely well. Almost as good as fresh!
They work wonders in your berry smoothie out of season and give you that winter pick-me-up.
Why not stock up while the going is good? There's still a U-Pick farm by me that charges $2.29 a pound when you pick over 10 pounds of blueberries.
Maybe you have a similar farm near you? We eat to our hearts content (the signs say this is fine!) then freeze the rest in one gallon bags for that "rainy day."
How many times have you cooked up a dozen corn to find only a few of them actually got eaten and you're left with eight ears?
If you slice the corn off the cob while still warm and freeze it in bags, you will be thrilled to make corn chowder out of season using corn that tastes like real corn.
The frozen stuff, or worse, the canned variety just isn't the same! No flavor.
5.) Save the seeds, spuds, cloves for next year!
Or, if you ended up with a bumper crop, why not save the seeds to plant the following year? You already know what you're getting and that you like it.
Or maybe you're just not up for shredding your baseball bat zucchini, why not harvest the seeds from those bats for next year?
And if you loved your sunflowers or pumpkins, now is the time to save and invest for next year.
Save a few of your small potatoes to plant whole for next year.
Larger spuds can be used but will need to be cut prior to planting. Each seed piece should contain at least two or three eyes and weigh about 2 ounces.
Don't wash off the dirt prior to storage as it may cause your potatoes to rot. Store in a cool, dark place at around 50 F until ready to plant to discourage premature sprouting.
Mother-in-law to the rescue. She gave me a few bulbs (hers were huge) and I saved the biggest cloves for planting purposes.
I tend to save between 1-3 cloves from each bulb to plant in the fall. This encourages the biggest growth possible. Because with garlic...bigger is truly better.
The chemicals they are treated with prevent sprouting during storage, meaning when you need them to sprout to grow your own, they won't be able too.
Besides, commercial growers tend to use the same fields year after year which increases the chance that disease has infected the tubers or cloves.
This increases your chances of unsuccessful sprouting too.
Bonus spin - Dessert Pies!
Imagine how happy you'll be at Thanksgiving when all you have to do is grab the pie from the freezer, bake and dash to the next family gathering?
You can actually watch the parade for once and not be covered in flour in a messy kitchen.
One year, I was so wrapped up in pie making that my youngest daughter took a humongous tube of Vaseline and covered her entire head. Not cool.
With two plentiful apple trees and two pears trees on our property it's a nice way to use a few apples as "they go downhill."
And I was shocked at how cheap and easy it is to make your own pie crusts.
Ridiculous that I was buying the very inferior store-bought kinds. I'll share my crust recipe come fall!