Tomatoes are rolling off the counters, the squash are squashing your bread, corn is taking over the kitchen corners and zucchini is zucking it up (I could carry it only so far)… sounds like you, my friend, have a lot of extra produce. A veritable produce infestation. Which is great when it’s one or two items from the garden, but if you’re inundated this article is for you.
Let me guess. You planted the single best garden in your neighborhood this spring with ALL the vegetables. ALL. THE. VEGATABLES (and technically the fruit…because, tomatoes). Now ALL those veggies are taking over our life; no matter how fast you attempt to use them up, the next day there’s more perfectly ripe for the picking and they’re going bad faster than a Chicago politician.
Will the madness ever end?!
Fortunately, yes. Peak harvest time only lasts about a month, actually. But, that doesn’t solve your problem of the plethora of pesky un-used produce already posturing about your abode does it? Not to worry, here’s a list I’ve compiled of possible ways to get rid of your excess pile of garden goodies. These range from sharing, selling, donating, or preserving your extra produce.
Share, Swap, Trade your extra produce
Do you have a crap ton of tomatoes, but nary an apple on your trees? Does your neighbor have apples up the ying-yang, but their tomatoes didn’t produce at all? The perfect thing to do is swap your extras. Just be sure to ask them before just leaving bags of produce on their front steps (I had this happen with a neighbor once. Bags upon bags of summer squash and zucchini kept appearing while I was at work. Eventually I started peddling them around the neighborhood…there’s only so many times a gal can put zucchini in everything that she makes, and I already had pounds shredded and in the freezer).
Sell your extra produce
If you are of an entrepreneurial mindset, you could set up a road side stand of your extra veggies, or have a “pick your own” set up, or even rent a booth or table at your local farmers market. Depending upon business, you could make not only your gardening expenses back but maybe even a profit. Be sure to look into any ordinances or city rules/regulations or what is needed to have a farmers market booth before going ahead with this option.
Donate your extra produce
Lastly, another way to get rid of all your garden’s extras is to donate it to either a food/soup kitchen, drop boxes off at local churches, or to our local foodbank. It is best to call ahead (especially to the kitchens and foodbanks) to see what exactly they can and cannot receive and donations – different areas have different laws and rules. Most foodbanks distribute only canned and dried goods for the majority of the year; imagine how wonderful it would be to receive a bag of garden fresh vegetables or some local orchard apples along with the dried pasta and canned soup.
What happens if you’ve done all of the above, but still have a lot of extra? One of the best ways to go about using up your garden excess is preserve them in some way, to be enjoyed later the coming winter. The three big ways are canning, drying, and freezing.
Preserving Extra Produce
You can can the extra produce. Canning, for those unaware, is the process of preserving food through sealing it in glass jars with a lid. You can make either pickles, jams or jellies, soups, pie fillings, or just preserve the food as is. There are damn near literally thousands of resources for recipes, tips, directions, and what not for canning. So much information in fact, that I am not even going to attempt to go any deeper into the pool than right now. Google, the local library, your Grandma or Mother, strangers in line at the grocery store are all your friends and resources if you want to jump into the canning game
But, I will say that I personally love my Gammy’s genius and sneaky way of using extra zucchini – she makes a mock marmalade with shredded zuc and either apricot or orange Jell-O. No one knows until you tell them. Incredibly tasty. Super easy. Best of both worlds.
Another way to get rid of extra produce is to dry it. Preserving your harvest through drying is an easier and less time consuming way than canning (though it requires patience since things don’t dehydrate in seconds). Herbs, peppers, garlic, and onions are ideal for stringing and drying – where you thread kitchen twine through the produce or wrap it around the stem and hang them in a place with good air circulation. Or, you could try a food dehydrator. Personally, I use the Victorio Food Dehydrator. It’s a it spendier than other options, but it lasts forever.
Other types of produce, especially soft or juicy ones, do best with dehydration in an oven or in a dehydrator. One neat side benefit of drying your extra produce this way is that as the fruit or veg loses its water content, the flavors concentrate and intensify. Think about how flavorful a sun-dried or oven-dried tomato is compared to a water-filled one and you have a good idea on how flavorful those little gems can be.
You can always get rid of extra produce by freezing it. This is the easiest and least time commitment consuming of the three preserving techniques. Most of the time you can just simply put the produce you want to freeze on a cookie sheet in a single layer and put the sheet in the freezer until the food is solid and then bag and tag for long-term deep freeze. For bagging, we’d recommend the double zipper freezer bags from Ziploc.
But, there are some fruits and veggies that either need or can be helped by some extra processing before getting the big chill.
Starchy produce (corn, potatoes, etc.) need a quick blanching before freezing up. Blanching? What the hell is blanching? It is simply giving the produce of your choice a quick bath in boiling water to help part cook it. And it’s a good idea to slice, dice, shred, or otherwise break down your potatoes in come way before blanching, freezing, bagging/tagging, and storing.
Herbs are another bit of produce that could benefit from some extra attention before getting cold. If you happen to have old ice cube trays (or you buy a mess of them for cheap at the dollar store), you’re half way towards freezing your tasty flavor enhancers. First, chop up the herbs – you can either mix them all together or keep them separate, your choice. After placing them in the tray cubbies, fill the tray with an oil. I prefer olive, but a canola or vegetable oil works too. Put the trays in the freezer, and when they are solid, toss them in a freezer bag or container and tag them. The best part about preserving your herbs this way is that not only do you have approx. 2 tablespoons of chopped herbs pre-measured, but you also have about the same amount of oil ready to roll for your next recipe. Winning!
“Now Casey” I hear you say, “I see you use the words bag and tag a few times. What the hell does that mean?”
Baggin’ and taggin’ extra produce
Good question. It’s simply the process of bagging or container-ing up all your frozen goodies, marking with a sharpie the date you are freezing it and the contents within the bag or container – no sense in working this hard to preserve your extra garden goodies if, five months from now, you have no idea what is in that bag at the back of the freezer.
Gardening is an incredibly rewarding process to be sure. And the process of finding creative ways to use the extras your hard work produces can be equally as fun…until you realize you have too much to even possible fathom using up on your own. Hopefully one, two, heck maybe all of these suggestions will help you to use up that extra produce your plot produced this year.