Friday, November 1, 2013

Preserving Food and Sanity - Part Three

I'm not sure I have much more to share since Stephanie and Regina did so well in sharing their thoughts. (But if you know me well, you know that I always have something more to talk about.)

If you haven't read the first two installments, read the question that sparked the topic and first answer here and the second answer here.

1. If you have never preserved food, give yourself time to learn this new skill. It is far better to start small, maybe with one kind of vegetable than to attempt to grow all you own food and get discouraged. I wrote about this topic in garden planning. Make small, attainable goals, learn from your mistakes and successes, and use your experience to have a better garden the next year. Eventually you will be the expert that others turn to for advice.

2. Borrow others' experience. Regina touched on this but I wanted to mention again that as useful as books and magazines are, an experienced friend is your best asset in growing and preserving food. If you know few people who garden, you might need to get creative in finding that experience. But if you ask questions, take notes, and listen, you may find help at a local greenhouse, your extension office, or the elderly man who sits behind you at church.

3. Keep good records. I'm often asked how much to plant or preserve, but I find that question impossible to answer. How fertile is your soil? What pest problems do you have? How much of this vegetable will your family eat in a year? The variations are limitless. I'm not even sure how much I should plant some years - and can certainly not give any other person good advice. 

But your records will be invaluable. I have a ruled notebook that I write down all my preserving records. In the back, I have written down canning and freezing information. For years, I had to call my mom many times each summer because I couldn't remember how long to can peaches (only one example). I finally decided to save myself all those phone calls and write it down!

I also have a 3-ring binder that I have all sorts of gardening info. I save my packing list from the seed company so I remember what seeds I ordered. I sketch my garden plan so I remember what I planted where and can rotate the vegetables the next year. I also like to write down a few notes about when I planted the garden, what the weather was like, and any particular problems. Some years I have included harvest dates, or dates when I bought fruit from a local orchard.

On my most organized years, I utilized my calendar. I knew I wouldn't pull out my binder every time I planted another row of beans, or we picked the first strawberry. I kept a green pen by my calendar and wrote garden notes right on the calendar. At the end of the year, it was easy to flip through the calendar looking for green ink to record the garden info in the garden notebook.

After a few years, you will have your own resource of information and will know if you need to plant more bean seeds or fewer, plant earlier or later, and how much to put in your freezer or can in jars.

4. My house doesn't have priority at canning season. I have a few goals to keep my head above water but otherwise, I try to remember that for this season, I can't be particular about my house. My goals (which are not always met) are to wash up all the dishes before I go to bed, clean the bathrooms every week, and have one of the children vacuum the dining room every day. If these three things are done (plus some laundry) and the children do general pick up of their toys, I can ignore the other dust and dirt for a while.

5. I don't even attempt to homeschool during the busiest gardening season. Several years ago, I learned that trying to start school the last week of August when my garden was in peak season was a recipe for a crazy mom. I decided that I would do anything to avoid starting school during peak harvest season.

For us, the answer has been to homeschool in July. We usually finish our school year in mid-May. After a six week break, the children need something to keep them occupied, especially since July is often our hottest weather. July is also in between the planting and harvesting. I may have green beans in July, but little else. For the last two years, we have planned to have four weeks of school in July. We then take a six week break until mid-September. This gives us a three-month summer vacation, but divided in the busiest garden season. An added advantage has been that the children have a refresher course mid-summer and do not forget as much.

This is what works for us- you find what works for you! I know some moms who homeschool for three days a week in summer so they have a day or two to work on bigger projects like harvesting.

6. Even those of us who have grown up helping our mom's garden, still have to make choices for our sanity. I have decided not to grow peas. We love peas, but with the garden space they take and the time, I choose to go to a local  pick-my-own patch. They also have a shelling machine so I can pick and shell my peas in a few hours and be done for the year. Regina chooses to buy her peas and limas at a produce farm. They cost more, but her husband thinks it is good use of money to save her the time of picking. And Stephanie buys cases of petite peas already packaged and freezes them.

In an ideal world, maybe we would grow and preserve all our own food, but well, I can't do it all. I have not grown lima beans for years, though they are my husband's favorite vegetable. Limas seem to be ready to harvest during the busiest harvest time, so he tells me not to plant them. I haven't made pickles for at least five years. We don't eat that many pickles, so I just buy a jar occasionally. (I was given some cucumbers by a friend last year and made some pickle relish.) I find that as my family grows, I have to put away more of the basics, so some of the "extras" that I did as a new bride, are set aside.

What does your family like to eat? How much time can you give to a garden? What is most important to you? Do you want fresh salads, or frozen green beans? Do you want home canned fruit, or tomato sauce? Can you do it all? Maybe. But, especially if gardening is new for you, I wouldn't recommend it!

Is there any more questions I missed? Do you have some good hints on preserving food without going crazy? I'd love to hear your hints because I know there is much more I can learn!


  1. Well MY family likes pickles and anything pickled. I could never get away with a jar of store bought. There would be a riot. :)

  2. could you please post the winners of the give-a-ways?

  3. Great articles..:-) I would love to see some recipes for the soups that you girls can with directions on canning. It would be a great blog...haha..was that a sudle hint..haha. thanks ladies..enjoying your blog Gina!

    1. If you put in canned soup on the search bar, you'll find three different kinds of canned soups here on this blog - hamburger, chicken, and vegetable.

      Maybe that will do until Regina and Stephanie decide to try their hand at blogging!

  4. I spent this weekend canning carrots and potatoes. I was disappointed that 4 jars did not 'pop' ! A friend told me that as long as the lid is sealed, it doesn't HAVE to pop! I am relieved, as that makes sense to me...but wondering what you 'experts' have to say! A while back, I fed some potentially very good beans to the chickens, because the lid hadn't popped. Had to pry the lid off...What is the real scoop on that business?
    Thanks in advance!

    1. I actually don't listen for the "ping" sound. I just check each jar after it cools. I push on the top of the lid with my finger. If it does not flex but is securely tight to the jar, I consider it sealed. If you had to pry off the lid, it was probably sealed.

      Does that make sense?


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