I used to garden by looking at seed catalogs, making lists, planting and growing stuff, and then putting up whatever I got. I still do some of that, but over the years I've also learned to do something else.
I still have about 3 months before I can put much into the ground, so it's a good time to tidy up the pantry, take a little inventory, and figure out where we should focus our energies when it comes to growing groceries.
Step 1 - Take Stock I start in the pantry, by looking to see what we have on the shelves. Are we out of anything? What are we low on? How will we ever go through all this applesauce? Did we really eat that many green beans? This helps me figure out if I should plant a small amount, average amount or large amount of a given garden plant. Because gardening is far from foolproof, you can never be certain about yeilds, but this gives me a starting point.
Step 2 - Make a Grocery List If you use a menu rotation like I do, or even if you just have a feel for how much of a given item your family eats, you will know if you want to can 1 batch of pickles or 8 batches of pickles. Did you try a new canning recipe that your family loves? Do you need to put up more of that this year? Put it on the list. When I look around my pantry, I can see that this is a sweet relish year. I am down to two jars, and we use sweet relish in our tuna salad, so sweet relish goes on my list. I got a bit 'dilly bean crazy' last year, and put up a lot of them. I do love them dearly, and I eat them often, but this year I won't put up as many.
Step 3 - Check the Recipes Once you have your list, get out your canning recipes. They will help you make a more complete list. For example, Chili Sauce is mostly tomatoes, but it's also got onions and sweet red peppers in it. If you're going to can beef stew you could grow potatoes, carrots, onion, celery, thyme, and possibly a cow. (I am SO not there yet!)
The recipes not only help you determine which secondary ingredients you could grow, they will also remind you about spices you might need to stock, whether or not you will need vinegar and sugar, etc. Looking at all of this now gives you time to stock up on supplies gradually, where the expense isn't such a shock.
Step 4 - What About Supplies? Do you have enough canning jars? Do you need freezer containers? If so, you can purchase some each month instead of all at once, much like stocking up on sugar or vinegar. Or, if you're like me, you can start looking at thrift stores, yard sales, and on craigslist for the things you need. Post a 'wanted' ad on freecycle, asking for canning and freezing supplies. You never know when you'll be blessed with a bounty of them. Also, keep in mind that you'll be emptying jars and freezer containers in the months between planning and harvest.
And that, dear friends, is how I spend this time when it's too early to start seedlings indoors. I think that's about it for this installment. In Part 2 I will talk about how we make our list, plan our garden, buy seeds and more!
How do you make your garden plans? What helps you decide what to plant...and how much?
Here's to a great gardening year!
-Laura at TenThingsFarm
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