Does nature encourage hoarding? A friend of mine recently took two days off work so that she could keep up with canning the onslaught of tomatoes. A winemaker friend, who gets about 12 hours off during harvest, spends 10 of it manically making salsa and turning zucchinis into bread and soups to freeze.
I’ve been slicing pears on a mandolin (my husband calls it a banjo) and dehydrating them for winter snacks. When it comes to fruits, nuts and vegetables, nature heaps it on us all at once. It’s a healthy hoard, but to prevent waste, you’ve got to be organized.
Do the math. If you don’t own your own business or if you are so stressed that canning on a vacation day will send you on a path to some expensive therapy, then putting up preserves is probably not the best way to spend your precious time off.
If it’s your idea of a relaxing hobby, then go for it, or maybe if you’re unemployed, retired or independently wealthy, it’s worth it to have fruits and veggies from your own garden pickled, preserved, jammed and frozen to consume over the year. Just make sure to look at the costs versus the benefits. It might be much more beneficial and fun to share your fresh produce with friends and neighbors.
• Consider your storage. If you are going to go the can-pickle-jam route, make sure you have space cleared somewhere clean and cool for the final products. And only buy as many jars as you need each year.
• Friendly exchange: Get your friends together and discuss what you’ll be planting next year so you can all share. If you don’t have fruit trees, but have a vegetable garden, find someone who has fruit but needs vegetables.
• Grow the pricey stuff. I don’t know about you, but it makes sense for me to grow kale, since we eat a lot of it and organic kale is relatively expensive. Using tunnels or cold frames you can extend the growing season. Fresh herbs are also expensive yet easy to grow. Pesto, from basil, is simple to make in large batches and is so fun to have around to jazz up meals.
• Juice it. If you simply can’t eat another salad, throw the greens and lemon cucumbers into the juicer with an apple and a lemon and you have a fabulously healthy drink. This is a money saver if you are into fresh green juice, which is expensive to buy.
• Know your strengths. For some reason, we don’t do well with zucchini or tomatoes, which seem to grow great for our buddies in Yountville. We have success with Italian green beans, rainbow chard and asparagus, so next year we might rely on the kindness of strangers for zucchini and save the bed space for more chard.
• Take notes. If you don’t already, start this year and make notes on what grew well, what didn’t, what you loved to eat and what you wouldn’t eat, what your friends grew and what they didn’t. Keep the notebook with your gardening supplies so that you don’t have to rely on your memory when you plan your garden next year.
• Don’t be bullied. Gardening is becoming competitive, but not everyone has the time or the inclination for it. A hard-working friend recently purchased a gardenless home after years of tending raised beds and fruit trees. “I’m so over it,” she said. “Thank the goddess for Whole Foods.”