I am one of the lucky people who grew up in the country. My widowed mother stayed on the farm after my father died in a farming accident. She was of the opinion that her family was safer on the farm. I have sometime questioned that. As I get older I know that we did all grow up. What I did not realize is that by growing up on a farm a learned many skills that have come in very handy over the years.
Living in the rural area on a twenty plus acre parcel of land; I am able to use many of those skills. These skills include gardening, canning fruits and vegetables, freezing, and dehydrating.
I encourage everyone to have a little space that they can use for producing your own food. You may have plenty of land and are able to have animals and fruits and vegetables are just a few edible plants in your window seal.
Don’t overdo it the first time you attempt your gardening. Pick a few vegetables and fruits that you will enjoy eating.
As you page through any seed catalog, you will discover that each vegetable and fruit is usually available in a number of varieties. Some may be particularly good for freezing; others maintain their quality best when canned. Certain varieties dry better than others, and some hold their flavor and texture well in underground storage. If you’re planning to preserve a good part of your harvest, you’d do well to decide how you will be storing your garden surplus before you order your seeds and then choose those fruits and vegetables accordingly. If your family does not like a particular vegetable or fruit; don’t buy the seeds or starts. They still will not enjoy eating it just because you went to all the hard work of growing and storing this food.
If you are growing your own food, you’ve got it made over those who must rely on the grocery store or the supermarket for their daily sustenance, because you can pick and process the food that grows from your soil when its quality is at its very best. This means that you harvest fruits and vegetables when they have reached just the right stage of maturity for eating, canning, freezing, drying, or underground storage, and you don’t have to lose any time in getting the food from the ground into safekeeping, either.
Whether you want your vegetables or fruits very ripe or just barely so at the time you harvest them depends upon the specific food and what you intend to do with it. In most cases, vegetables have their finest flavor when they are still young and tender: Pease and corn while they taste sweet and not starchy; snap beans while the pods are tender and fleshy, before the beans inside the pods get plump; summer squash while their skins are still soft. Carrots and beets have a sweet flavor, and leafy vegetables are crisp but not tough and fibrous, when they are young. This is the stage at which you’ll want to preserve their goodness.
Fruits, on the other hand, are usually at their best when ripe for this is when their sugar and vitamin contents are at their peak. If you’re going to can, freeze, dry or store them, you’ll want them fully mature. But if you plan to use your fruits for jellies and preserves, you will not want them all at their ripest because their pectin content—which helps them to gel-decreases as the fruit reaches maturity. In order to make better jellies, some of the guavas, apples, plums or currants you are using should be less than fully ripe.
With the exception of perhaps a few gardening wizards, it is impossible to control just when your peaches, pears, apples and berries will be mature. Once planted, fruit trees and berry plants will bear their fruit year after year when the time is right. You’re at their mercy and must be prepared to harvest just when the pickings are ready if you want to get the fruit at its best.
Vegetables are a different story. Because most are annuals and bear several weeks after they are planted, you can plan your garden to allow for succession planting that extend the harvesting season for you and furnish you with a continuous supply of fresh food. This means that you can eat fresh vegetables over several smaller harvests if you wish (and your weather cooperates) and be able to preserve small batches at a time as vegetables ripen.
By planting three smaller crops of tomatoes instead of one large crop, you won’t be deluged with more tomatoes than you can possibly eat and process at one time. Space your three pea plants ten days apart in early spring and you’ll have three harvests of peas and still plenty of time to plant a later crop of something else in the same plots after all the peas are picked. Vegetables lake salad greens that do not keep well should be planted twice. Plant early lettuce about a month before the last frost and follow it with cauliflower. After the onions are out of the ground, put some fall lettuce in their place for September salads. If corn is one of your favorites and you’ve been waiting out the long winter for the first ears to come in, by all means, eat all the early-maturing corn you want, but make sure that enough late corn has been planted for freezing later on.
Vegetables that keep well in underground storage like cabbage, squash, and the root crops, should be harvested as late in the season as possible so you won’t have to worry about keeping vegetables cool during a warm September or early October. Some vegetable, like carrots, parsnips, and Jerusalem artichokes, can be left right in the ground over the winter, so it is wise to plant some late crops of these vegetables just for this purpose. Green and yellow beans, planted in early May, can be followed by cabbage in mid-July that can be stored right in the ground over the winter and into the early spring.