Friday, February 17, 2012

Gardens are for Growing Groceries - Part 1

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
linked to the Living Well Blog Hop and Homestead Barn Hop


Tammy said...

Lol, I'm guilty of 'seed catalog gardening'!

This is our first garden, and we're trying the square foot method. If we like it/it's successful, we'll expand in the fall.

Thanks for the great tips to keep in mind as we go along!

Laura @ LivingOurWay said...

I love this! We are not this organized yet but we hope to be one day soon. I have been going through our cabinets lately and eating everything that is going on two years old to make room for the new stuff. We didn't even get to make blueberry jam last year so all the blueberry jam must be eaten so we can make more this year.

Clint Baker said...

Good post! It is amazing how much growing your own saves you in the long run!

Blackberry brambles said...

I have always planted what we ate, but to add to the garden things I needed to use to make other things I've not until this year, I'm growing my herbs, garlic and keeping onions. I'm really excited about the garden this year.

Ten Things Farm said...

Best wishes with your first garden, Tammy! Talk to people local to you about what does and doesn't work, because every area is different. :)

Laura, I think it's definitely a process, and not something I just figured out one day in a moment of pondering. Having too much blueberry jam sounds like a very happy problem! :)

Clint, I totally agree - but I also do it because I love being outside with my mitts in the dirt. I really get a lot - emotionally and spiritually - out of the process too! :)

Blackberry, one of my 'inspirations' came the year I was making a batch of chili sauce and I didn't have any red peppers and they were $1.50 each. It takes several to make chili sauce, and no one had them on sale, and tomatoes won't hold too long, so I was stuck! I learned from that to check my recipes and do my best to grow as much of the stuff as I can. Enjoy your herbs and onions! :)

Sandra said...


FanTAStic post. I used to grow (or try to grow) what we would eat - but we're all learning to eat what I can grow. It's an adjustment, but worth it. IN a month or so, I'll be putting in my first bed of sweet potatoes. I'm so excited and hoping for success - I KNOW we would eat them...the question is whether I can grow them!

I really love how you took it through thinking out the entire season - having the ingredients for what you will put up, and even the containers to do so.

Ten Things Farm said...

Thanks, Sandra! I do think it comes down to a combination of what your family eats and what will actually grow where you live, for sure! We used to live in Hawaii, and when I first planted in my little 10x10 community garden plot, I planted like I was in Illinois. It didn't go so well.

Sweet potatoes are on my list to try - Irish potatoes do spectacularly well here, but really, they are a completely different critter, so I'm not sure about the sweets. I hope you get a good crop!

-Laura, who loves bananas, but just can't get them to grow here, hee hee!

Starla Mystic said...

I am a victim of catalog gardening as well. I also plant a bit of everything I have seeds for rather then what my family will really eat. Thank you for this article. It really made me think more about what I am starting for my garden.

Anonymous said...

Inviting you the Carnival of Home Preserving on my blog every Friday. Hope to see you there. Laura Williams’ Musings

The most recent edition - - open until Thursday 6/7.


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