Once you start building up a decent productive vegetable garden, you often end up with an excess of garden produce.
We are now at the point where we have several months a year that we have enough homegrown veggies to cover our basic needs. In the height of the Summer months, with swaps with friends and neighbours and our own produce, we often get away with not buying much fruit and almost no veggies, with the exception of some lettuce, potatoes, lemons, and avocados.
Planning around your garden produce
However, not buying from the supermarket means we have to think outside the square a little bit. When you rely on the supermarket or fruit & veg shop for produce, you can buy whatever is a good price and is in season, then cook based on what you have purchased.
When you are relying on the garden, you have to consider a bit more carefully what to cook, based on what is ready in your garden. As you can’t always predict exactly when something will be ready, you have to play it by ear a bit more.
This week we have a lot of turnips, daikon radishes, lettuce, collards, and onions in the garden. That means soups, some Japanese, and some Mexican dishes will be on the menu this week. Fortunately, we like pretty much everything (allergies prevent us eating a couple of cuisines like Thai, but we would if we could). We will be having quesasdillas, burrito bowls, soup, and a riff on okonomiyaki (delicious Japanese pancakes). I’ve had to figure this out ahead of time because I’m not too sure what to make with a fridge full of turnips, radishes and collard greens, once I’ve given some away. It’s part of the fun and challenge of home gardening.
The other thing I do is preserve and save excess so I have it later in the year when I wish I had a couple of turnips or beets in the fridge.
What can you do with excess produce?
I still have some produce from last season in my freezer, including bags of washed and chopped raw rhubarb and spinach, grated zucchini, and stewed rhubarb and apple. I use these to supplement the fresh veggies to the point that I can stretch out both homegrown garden produce and store bought veggies.
Freezing is an easy and cost-effective way to save garden produce. I shred zucchini, carrots, beetroot, and freeze in one cup portions in snap lock bags. For the zucchini, squeeze out as much water as you can first. I use these shredded veggies in chillies, pasta sauces, cakes, muffins, and soups.
To freeze green beans, broccoli, or cauliflower, wash and trim, then spread on a tray lined with baking paper. Place in a bag once frozen. To freeze excess tomatoes you can just put them in a bag whole. Then when you thaw them, they slip out of their skins. Squeeze out the seeds and then you can use in any recipe you would use canned tomatoes. Chillies can also be thrown into a bag whole, and used either straight from the freezer, or thawed. They last for a long time like that.
I chop rhubarb into 2.5 cm (one-inch) lengths and freeze in bags or containers, then use straight from frozen in muffins, crumbles, or you can roast or stew with apples.
For leafy greens like spinach or kale, wash well, then shred and freeze. Use straight from the bag in pasta dishes or soups.
For soft fruits, like peaches, place in a large heatproof bowl. Cut an ‘X’ in the base of the fruit. Carefully pour boiling water over the fruit and let sit until the water cools enough to dip your hands in safely. The skin will come away from the fruit easily. Peel it away, then quarter the fruit and place in one or two cup portions in snap lock bags and freeze. I use these for muffins, crumbles, or pies when Summer is over, and I am missing those delicious soft fruits. I don’t have a peach tree but my friend does – we usually swap other things during the year and at peach time, we receive a couple of bags of delicious freestone peaches.
I use snap lock backs and usually reuse them once or twice (don’t do this if you have used them to freeze meats or dairy products). Make sure to squeeze the air out to prevent freezer burn.
Make jam, chutney, pickles, passata, ketchup, or bottle your produce. I tend to make jams, chutneys or pickles because it’s an easy way to preserve excess produce for shelf stable storage, but these methods do use more sugar than bottling (also I don’t have a bottling kit). I also really enjoy making jams and pickles; it’s a relaxing time for me. You have to prepare ahead of time though: many recipes require a step the night before, and you need to make sure you have enough jars, lids, and some equipment. I don’t bother with recipes that require water bathing for shelf stability, or that only stay fresh for a couple of weeks (with the exception of lime or lemon curd – because these are so delicious it’s worth it).
Because I make these from my garden produce, we don’t buy many condiments, aside from the basics. The quality of homemade jams and pickles is much higher than the supermarket kind, and I know exactly what is in the jar. Although it is quite high in sugar, we don’t it much of it, so I don’t see it as a health issue. If I was eating it daily, I would worry about it more.
Commonly I make marmalade in Winter, a peach and apricot jam in Summer, and a rhubarb and ginger jam in Autumn. I also often make a lime curd when I have an abundance of eggs and limes, and I pickle beetroot, onions, eggplant, and last year I made a delicious rhubarb ketchup. Last year we planted a couple of plum trees, so I am hoping to one day have enough plums to make my grandmother’s famous satsuma plum sauce, which I still occasionally dream about.
I have a dehydrator and use this a couple of times a year to dry excess fruits like chillies and peaches. Last season I dried a lot of chillies and ground them up to make chilli powder. It is so hot that we are still slowly using it months later. I used some in a recipe recently: a quarter teaspoon replaced a whole teaspoon in the recipe, and it was still very spicy.
I wouldn’t necessarily recommend buying a dehydrator unless you intend to dry quite a lot. However, they last a long time and do not use much electricity. We have had ours for over ten years, and it is still working as well as the day we bought it. We have a Snackmaker Ezidri, which is a mid-priced model. It’s handy to have and I like the option to use it. However you can also use your oven on low, or just freeze your produce instead.
I keep pumpkins downstairs in my pantry, and use the most perishable first (that is the thin skinned varieties, like Kent). The thicker-skinned pumpkins like Queensland Blue and Jarrahdale are still there from last season. I check them periodically to make sure they are still in good condition, and make a plan to eat one every couple of weeks.
There are a billion recipes for muffins, cakes, brownies, etc using veggies, including vegan options. I love a zucchini loaf or carrot cake, personally. Almost all of these freeze well for later consumption. Also check out chocolate beetroot recipes – amazing.
Give it away!
One of the great parts of gardening is of course, sharing the produce you grow. I always have some eggs to share, as well as some veggies at different times of the year. But not everyone wants or can use the vegetables I grow. I learned this the hard way one year when I brought a bag of kale into the office. This was before kale was dubbed a superfood and kale smoothies were a thing. No-one wanted it! I ended up having to take it back home.
Give it away to friends, family, co-workers – but ask first if they want it so you don’t experience my kale conundrum. You could put it on a Grow Free cart. I also give away the jams and pickles, or swap them. Although I love making them, to be honest I do make more than we can eat. Sharing is fun because I often receive a jar of something else back at a later date. A friend’s husband once gave us an amazing feijoa jam that was so, so delicious. I don’t grow them, so it was lovely to try something really different that we would never be able to buy.