I often hear vegetable growing enthusiasts bemoaning the small size of their carrots or cabbages. Later they will be disappointed at the short season of their cauliflowers – failing to eat them before the curds start to open out and flower truly.
This is why it pays to be greedy in your veggie garden. Start to eat things as soon as they are edible. One, small, perfectly formed cauliflower a week for a few months, can bring much more enjoyment and sustainability to your life than two weeks getting bored of continual cauli consumption. Particularly when the produce is past its best.
In the veg patch remember size doesn’t matter (unless you’re growing for the village fete I admit) and it pays to be flexible. With this, plus the ‘waste less food’ bandwagon in mind; here are some simple tips to help get the most from your vegetable patch and inch that little bit closer to a self sufficient life.
Size Doesn’t Matter
Start eating produce as early as possible. This extends the season and variety of foods available to you. It will reduce the chance of you forcing yourself to eat stuff just to prevent it going bad. Also vegetables are often in their prime taste-wise before they finish growing. Pick some young beetroots and they need hardly any cooking, no peeling, are packed with goodness and most importantly taste a world away from those overgrown, woody old offerings you could pick up at the grocers.
You’re going to the effort of growing your own so eat it while its better than anything you could buy.
Pick and Come Again
This isn’t just for lettuce you know. Expand the theory to other plants you only need a bit of and maybe they’ll carry on producing for you. At the very least crops left to carry on growing will mean more greens for your poultry.
Celery is rarely consumed in bulk so why pull up the whole plant? Take off individual stems as required. We find five or six plants will keep us going for six months or more. Simply cut one stalk off two or three plants a few times a week and they just keep on coming. See what else this approach works for.
Be Versatile with Your Vegetables
Okay so you really fancy a simple supper of Orecchiette with Broccoli. But, you haven’t got enough of the prime sprouting stuff – see what else you could add – beans, broad-bean tops or a small compact green cauli. Supper will be different to your plans. That’s a good thing. Variety is the spice of life after all!
Just try to be flexible – there is no law forcing you to always keep exactly to a specific recipe. In fact you might be surprised at some of the lovely new dishes you create.
If it Cannot all be Eaten – Preserve it.
Pickles, jams, canning and chutneys might not be your thing. If so, keep things simple. Hanging up some peppers to dry in the wind, slicing some tomatoes to be dried by the sun or blanching some beans to be frozen by your freezer compartment are not too technical but well worth doing. There are lots of specifics for freezing, drying and salting as well as canning recipes in Keeping the Harvest
There are lots of lazy ways to preserve your excess produce. Just don’t forget to label things and most importantly eat the preserves. You’ll be glad of your efforts in the depths of winter when you’re reminiscing about the tomato glut yet still consuming oil stored sun-dried tomatoes or sauces from your freezer.
Proper Storage Saves Waste
Don’t waste all your hard work by allowing a fork speared potato or thick necked onion spoil the entire crop. Only put perfect specimens into storage. Dry thoroughly and prepare fully for storage. Make sure the storage area is clean, dry, cool and pest free. Generally mud is best left where it is!
Remember to check your stored produce regularly so any spoilage doesn’t have time to take hold of the whole batch.
You might expect this to be a given for the vegetable grower. Sadly though its often not the case. We can supplement the plot with the same year-round selection of supermarket produce and ignore the seasons completely in our kitchen, veg plot or no veg plot.
I’m not saying don’t buy anything additional to eat, though that would be the ultimate goal for a self sufficient life. But, make your veg plot the first source of your food. Base your eating pans on what is available there. If you’ve got cabbage to spare make a decision to eat cabbage today. Find a recipe later to include it. So base your meals around ingredients first, recipes second.
We find the simplest way to make the most of every crop is to visit the plot every day and see what’s available to eat. If your plot is further from home you’ll need to plan further in advance but the principle is the same. Supper is planned around what vegetables are looking good, in abundance, waiting to be replaced by another crop etc, at the moment.
Not visiting the plot regularly is the easiest way to miss food in its prime and let crops build into an unmanageable glut.
We all have setbacks, failures and even downright disasters. But with some lateral, flexible thinking they may well prove manageable.
A too warm storage shed caused half of last years onion crop to start sprouting. Rather than assign them to the compost bin Mr DB replanted them. Now each bulb is a healthy large bunch of strong scallions. As we’ve now used all our stored onions we’re using these unorthodox bulbs for all our onion needs (raw & cooked). Yes they taste slightly different but they still taste good which is the important thing. A good ragu with our sprouty spring onions is just as delicious as one made with ordinary bulbs from store. It just has more green bits!
Similarly this years sprouting broccoli has failed miserably to deliver in the sprouting stakes. So instead, its been a source of spring greens. I’m disappointed we didn’t get much sprouting broccoli but I’ve enjoyed the fresh greens.
I guess what I’m really saying is that to get the most from your vegetable patch, allotment, huerto, kitchen garden, balcony or indeed windowsill you need to be flexible. Adapt to what is available to you and don’t dismiss the faulty crop!
For a more self sufficient future