Are your kitchen counters groaning with fresh produce? Here’s what to do with all that extra garden harvest…
Late summer is the time when garden’s bounty overflows, leaving even the most avid garden planners feeling swamped with tomatoes, summer squash, peppers, and more.
For my family, tomatoes are always one of the greatest contributors to the overwhelm, usually followed by summer squash (though not this year, as we lost all of ours early on to pests). Tomatilloes have also proved overly prolific in our garden, and lettuce sometimes comes on faster than we expect.
But whether you’re a novice gardener who isn’t sure how much of anything to plant, or a more advanced who loves adding new and interesting varieties to the garden every year, most of us tend to end up with more bounty from our garden than we can possibly eat.
So what should you do with all this excess produce?
Fortunately, there are plenty of ways that you can put your extra garden harvest to good use! Of course, preserving your summer bounty for the cooler months is a great way to enjoy your own homegrown food year-round.
Here are a few ideas for keeping your excess garden harvest from going to waste (we love pickling, freezing, and canning – plus swapping with neighbors who have too much of something else!):
Freeze-drying is a great option for those who like to stockpile food, live in very cold areas with extended winters, and like to be prepared for the occasional emergency—or those with excess harvest. Fresh or cooked food is put into a dryer that freezes it to -50 degrees, then removes moisture and seals it in oxygen-proof packaging to preserve freshness. It takes about 24 hours, requires no refrigeration, preserves taste and nutrition, and saves money.
Your tomatoes, squash, corn, beans, peas, and cucumbers will be waiting for you to enjoy them whenever you get the itch or the need—all you have to do is add a bit of water to rehydrate them and you’re good to go.
Can or Freeze
…If you’re overrun with produce and would like to enjoy it during the off-season, there are a number of foods that are easily used in canning. Canning vegetables and fruits is the process of packing them in a glass jar and sealing them with lids that ensure no bacteria growth is possible…
Beans, carrots, peas, potatoes, asparagus, squash, cucumbers, tomatoes, cabbage, peppers, beets, onions, and corn can all be canned. If you’re into pickled veggies, reach for peppers, beets, onions, and cucumbers.
Freezing vegetables is another great option, but be sure you have enough freezer space to accommodate all the freezer bags you fill. Broccoli, cauliflower, spinach, onions, peas, squash, carrots, corn, artichokes, eggplant, mushrooms, and brussels sprouts all freeze well. It’s a good idea to blanch the produce first before placing it into airtight freezer bags—and remember to label each bag with its contents and freeze date…
Share or Donate
Aside from simply giving zucchinis and cucumbers to your neighbors and family members, there are several ways you can share your excess harvest while helping other people out. If you live in an urban area, place your excess fruits and vegetables in a box or a basket with a sign that says “Free Food! Please take and enjoy.” in your front yard by the curb. Make sure to remove any spoiled food that is left over, placing those in the compost pile, and then replenishing the box daily with more excess harvest.
Many food banks and soup kitchens accept excess harvest from your backyard garden, but you’ll want to call ahead to make sure the ones in your area do accept perishable food. Ask about their guidelines for delivery, and if they have days that are preferable to receiving donations…