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Subsistence gardening

Posted by grassman84 MA (My Page) on
Tue, Aug 19, 08 at 12:26

I know that part of it is that canning and preserving is a lost art, but I dont feel that surviving year round on my backyard garden is feasible. My goal is not true subsistence, but enjoyment. I know if my survival depended on it, then it can be done as it was before electricity. There would be lots of root veggies and canning would be a must. But how about now with a freezer as an option? Here in the colder climates (I'm in New England) with a short growing season, fall is obviously bounty time. But what to do for the other 9 months of the year? I have the space and resources available that I could probably grow and harvest enough quantity of veggies, but is it realistic to expect to enjoy as many different varieties throughout the year as it is during fall? Trying to freeze the quantity needed to last throughout the year seems impossible. And not everything lends itself well to freezing. Canning (and I admit that I haven't eaten canned veggies) seems a less appetizing option. It would allow for storing a greater variety, however.

Does anyone have a system in place that allows them to fully "enjoy" the fruits (as it were) of their labor year round?


Follow-Up Postings:

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RE: Subsistence gardening

At least two people have put years of experimentation and results into book form, and their results may help you decide how self-reliant you can or want to be.

John Jeavons, author of How to Grow More Vegetables, also includes information on "calorie crops"--beans and grains--in the latest (7th) edition of his book. It's available on line and in libraries.

Eliot Coleman, author of Four-Season Harvest, works in Maine, so his climate situation is very similar to yours.

Seed Savers Exchange offers at least one book on "non-electric" methods of preserving your harvest. See seedsaversexchange.org for more information.

Have fun!

in el cerrito


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RE: Subsistence gardening

Before freezers and fruit imported from the Southern hemisphere much of the diet was seasonal. No strawberries or asparagus in the winter. Winter was the time for squash, potatoes, onions, sauerkraut, corn meal, dried beans and so on. Fresh fruits and vegetables were a special treat when they were in season. That's part of the answer to your question.

If you pursue the subsistence idea, it will make a difference in which crops you focus your gardening on.

Jim


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I don't agree that "canning is a must". I can't stand canned veggies, I'd rather eat stored root crops any day of the winter. Canned fruit - including tomatoes - is mighty nice but not a necessity for subsistence. The great thing is that canning (jarring, to be more accurate) fruit is a snap compared to veggies. I usually jar a bunch of applesauce to eat in early spring when the stored apples are gone.

Jam is super easy to put up. Any kind of fruit is easy and there is extremely little chance of accidental sickening from eating it. Even in a zone 5 you should be able to have veggies on the hoof for 8-9 months. Carrots and parsnips can be dug all winter. Walking onions will give you something green for all but the most frozen part of the year, and if you get good snow-cover you can dig them green any time.


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Don't forget dehydrating things. I get great use of my small counter top dehydrator. I dry everything and it so easy to just boil a pot of water and bring it back to life.


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RE: Subsistence gardening

If you had the resources to build a greenhouse and then enough money to pay for electric and heating throughout the winter, why couldn't a person grow a garden year round? Would there be enough sunlight or would you have to rig up artificial light as well? It wouldn't have to be a huge greenhouse, just enough for four or six raised beds. I don't know anybody who has done this, so I'm curious.


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RE: Subsistence gardening

All of the above statements are true. With fruits and vegetables it is quite possible in several ways to supply nourishment all year round. Subsistence, however, is a different can of worms. It implies that you meet all your needs. At one time, there were subsistence farmers, they grew grains for food and livestock, fruits and vegetables for eating, (the root cellar and dried fruits and vegtables in the winter)Flax and cotton for clothing, trees for fuel. Some surplus had to be sold to pay taxes and maybe buy a few condiments. Today there is no spinning wheel in the parlor or anyone who knows how sit and spin. ( There are of course but mighty few) Of course if you have an adequate external supply of money you can do most anything.


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RE: Subsistence gardening

I come from a family of five. We did not have a freezer until the early 50s. We would process a beef, two hogs, countless chickens, all the fruit and vegetables for a year. It takes a serious commitment from all members of the family including the children. About the only thing we would buy at the store was paper products (hated that Sears catalog). Spices were sold door to door by the Raughley man, milk was delivered and butter was churned at the farm. My mother made the soap from rancid butter and lye and we often brushed out teeth with baking soda. It would be too lengthy to give an overview here but I would be happy to answer any questions that I can. This subject would make a good entry for my journal this winter though.


John

Here is a link that might be useful: Johns Journal


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RE: Subsistence gardening

I've been thinking about this for the past few years and started to actually work towards doing it this year, getting inspired by a friend who is working towards supplying all the food for his small family. I've been gardening for 25 years but always for pleasure or business, never to supply myself with any serious amount of food until recently. I have a decent deep freeze and I am learning to can, but here's the thing I noticed with the freezing--it uses a lot more energy than canning or drying (much less root cellaring). You've got to cook it, then keep it frozen, then cook it twice as long again when you want to eat it. That is a huge energy investment. I don't like canned vegetables either, but I am canning fruits and jams. I don't think root cellaring is a viable choice for me at this point.

I think providing all your own food from a garden requires being a vegetarian, although having chickens would really, really help. I just found out that fowl are not allowed in my town. I was ready to try two chickens.:( In the future, I would like to have a couple chickens and maybe a couple of goats.

One thing I learned this year was that I need to plant a lot more than I did, and I had a good sized veggie garden this year. I also had some failures, like with broccoli (not enough water). Deviating from the plan I carefully constructed over many hours this winter has caused me more problems than everything else put together. So that's another thing I learned this year: stick to the plan.

This fall I am building a cold frame to see how that works out here. I think that is one way to have veggies available in winter, although how many it can supply I will find out. I have grown lettuce indoors in winter under fluorescents, but now I can no longer digest the stuff, so that's out. I do think a certain amount of change in nutrition is mandatory if you are trying to live off your garden and you live in a continental climate (hot summers, cold winters) rather than, say, the tropics or a maritime climate.

It's an adventure, that's for sure.

I already know how to spin, so that's taken care of.:)


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RE: Subsistence gardening

Home food preserving is still very much alive and thriving in many parts of the country, mostly rural true, but available to all. One need only drop in over at the Harvest Forum here to discover HOW thriving it is. Smoking and brining all kinds of meats, root cellaring, canning, dehydrating, and even freezing. Just check out one of the many "What have you put up so far this year?" discussions.

Many of us would never think to let the fall harvest period pass with putting by that harvest and we garden and shop accordingly. Meats, fresh and dried beans, fruits vegetables, herbs and seasonings, flour, cornmeal, etc. are all preservation ready. Granted, dairy products pose some problems but that's about it.

Personal taste preferences will call for some experimentation of course and some eating habits may need to be altered at times. Total sustainability? Likely not unless one lives a very rural lifestyle. But it is possible to attain a high degree of it with a bit of work. ;)

Dave


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Cranky, the problem with sustaining a vegetarian diet from the immediate environs is where to get your fats. Oil is a difficult thing to produce from a garden. You have to grow, harvest, and process some kind of oil-seeds. I've been thinking about that for some time and have come up with the idea that it will be easier in florida, where I aim to try it with avocados and peanuts.

If one keeps a milk cow, fat is a convenient by-product, as is the manure. And dairy is protein-rich. I kind of like the idea of a cow, or at least the idea of knowing and controlling the quality of my dairy products.


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Yeah, pnbrown, that's why I was thinking of goats--because of the fats thing and also because I like cheese and butter. Goat butter is very delicious. I could never consume the output of a cow, and they are much more trouble to take care of, the way I understand it. Not to mention big.:)

You can also get fats from nuts, but I would think it would be difficult to press them for the oil. I didn't even think of that. But you can just eat a small handful and get your daily fats that way and stay vegan if you want.

digdirt, I have been shopping with the idea of stocking up, and I have to say it was unexpected what a good feeling it gives me to look in the pantry and see 25-lb sacks of lentils, boxes of oatcrackers, multiple tea tins, and such like. This feeling is what made me get serious about the canning, in fact. I want to look in my pantry and see a heck of a lot more, stuff I made.


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I am also here in New England, and I can tell you that if you make judicious use of coldframes you can get some kind of harvest of at least lettuces and hardy greens through most of the Winter. The dead cold of January and early February are about the only weeks I get nothing from my garden. I am currently planting lettuces everywhere in small patches each week so that I will be able to snip and snip again over the Winter. I have pop-up covers that go over my raised beds to retard frost. Coleman's book helped me to figure out the whole cold protection strategy. As many of you, I could be more aggressive and really make more of the situation, but I have other stuff to do and am not on a subsistence level. I sure would welcome that challenge, though, if I ever had to put up food for the year. I think it is fascinating that we can do so much to preserve foods for safe eating many months later. I do not can at this time, but would like to add that skill to my repertoire and have purchased an older instruction book on the topic. Currently I freeze what I can, but as some have mentioned even that is a lot of work because you cannot just throw raw vegetables in the freezer. I often cook up large batches of vegetable-heavy recipes and freeze those in small portions.


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I do not can at this time, but would like to add that skill to my repertoire and have purchased an older instruction book on the topic.

raisemybeds - take care. Most old instruction books on home canning are no longer considered safe. The link below is to the current USDA guidelines for canning, pickling, freezing, and drying. It also has many of the tested and approved recipes. A new edition of the Ball Blue Book is considered the best and safest place to start. Plus regular classes are also available through your local country extension office. ;)

Dave

Here is a link that might be useful: National Center for Home Food Preservation


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My first husband was the son of subsistence farmers. The family of eight lived on the father's part time job and it was less than 2K a year. Even back then, that was just about enough to pay the taxes, buy coffee..salt and flour and a little gas for the tractor. He had used mules until right before I married into the family. My mother's family were Quakers in a small, rural community and she also grew up with a hog in the backyard, chickens, and canning and preserving. I feel absolutely rich from learning at their hands, and then adding decades of my own experience.

This year, several of our family members butchered a couple cows, and I have chickens (meat and eggs). I grow almost all of our own vegetables, and my fruit trees are maturing now and I don't even have to go to orchards anymore for that. I can, or have canned almost anything possible to put by that way. Three or four hundred quarts a year of it. Make all my own jellies and jams. Grow my own herbs. Have my own berries and brambles.

I wish I had a smokehouse, because an aunt by marriage had one and their hams always showed up at family reunions. I had a root cellar at one time. That's something a lot of people could take advantage of but don't. I do have greenhouses, because that is what I do for a living. I sometimes use them for season extenders for my vegetables, but the costs of running them for food is prohibitive in my zone. I'd suggest pit greenhouses, tunnels and cold frames.

You bet we eat seasonally to get fresh. I don't feel deprived for it, either, because there's always a new season coming on. My canned goods aren't eating fresh, but they're the next best thing. I run two freezers, but don't use them for fruits or vegetables. I use them to store big bags of flours, and noodles I roll out pound after pound. I do just like I did when I was a kid.........IOW enjoy things like citrus or bananas as a treat, but not an everyday staple.

I still suffer from sticker shock at the markets, and honestly don't know how people who don't grow a lot of their own food eat well.


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RE: Subsistence gardening

  • Posted by glib 5.5 (My Page) on
    Tue, Aug 19, 08 at 22:00

One of the aspects of eating locally is that, at least where winters are cold, your diet can become quite lacking in Vit. C. I see that in more temperate climates, where fuzzy kiwis can be grown, one can effectively live off of them until May (they last a very long time in the cellar), My in laws, for example, do it with six large female kiwis. One kiwi has the Vit. C of 2.5 oranges.

I tend to freeze but not can, and only the things that I enjoy. If the economic situation becomes much worse, I will become more organized of course. What I preserve:

- herb salt, a mixture about 50/50 salt and herbs, which is made in July and September when herbs are at their peak (I have a few square yards), and goes into everything; pasta, roasts, fish, salad, etc.

- herbal tea: dried mint, lemon balm, and linden blossoms, mostly made in June and July

- ziploc bags of Roma tomatoes, blanched and frozen, for pastas and stews (about 20, 2lb each)

- ziploc bags of fresh shelled beans and peas (no blanching needed, as many as the garden can give me, they are wonderful), frozen

- carrot greens, carrot pulp from juicer, and onion peels, all frozen in bags, for winter stock together with soup bones below

- about 75 lbs of grassfed cow, plus soup bones, which really help you in the winter, all frozen

- maybe 7 whole grassfed chicken, frozen

I always brew a 5 or 10 gallons of beer and or cider, and I am hoping to plant lots of aronias for freezing. I also just bought a smoker.


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RE: Subsistence gardening

Wow, this is another interesting thread that seems to be generating a lot of comment, which is good to see.

I am trying to be as self-sufficient as possible, not because I have to, but because I want to. I guess it's my little way of rebelling against the trends in our society that I don't approve of. I lead a pretty quiet, simple life, and I think our society moves too fast, people need too much external stimulation to feel "happy," that sort of thing. Gardening is pretty much my overriding passion.

I have slightly over 2 acres in a suburban setting, that was once rural. The biggest influence on me was my mother, who grew up a farm girl in the depths of the Great Depression. She always had a large garden, canned, froze, dehydrated, etc. Not too much experience with animals, since they weren't legal due to zoning where I grew up, but we did manage to sneak some chickens, ducks, and rabbits in from time to time.

I've been working on building up and improving my garden over the past decade or so. I'm up to about 50 some fruit trees, lots of small fruits, berries, etc., herbs, well, you get the idea, pretty much anything that will grow in my climate.

The past year, especially, I've expanded and enlarged a lot of my garden area -- my motto is, "the lawn MUST die." And, so it does, with the help of some Roundup, my Troy-Built rear-tine tiller, and black plastic.

This year, a couple of my newest experiments have been grain crops and seed crops -- I've planted amaranth, about 8 different kind of dent/flour corns, quinoa, oats, barley, spring wheat, millets, ragi (an Indian grain), sorghum, a whole variety of dried beans, field peas, and even rice (although it doesn't look good for getting a crop from that here in Michigan, since we had a very cool spring and June, and it's just now starting to send up seed heads).

I'm now at the point of getting some of these things harvested, but haven't had time to process them yet. The barley, wheat, and oats are in my garage in large boxes, all dried, waiting for me to process them and extract the grain. Field peas were picked, shelled, dried, and are in the freezer in a big bag. I'm just now starting to get the very first dried ears of 'Northstine Dent' field corn, an heirloom from N. Michigan which is extra early, the other types will be at least another month before harvest.

It's been interesting to say the least. I don't know how practical some of the grains, like the wheat, oats, barley, or the beans will really be, based on the time and work as compared to the cost of buying them from the store. But, it's a labor of love as much as anything.

I do think, that, with careful planning, even in the north, a dedicated gardener could grow most of their food and have something to eat all year round with use of preservation techniques and the right crops. After all, the Irish lived almost exclusively on a diet of potatoes, feeding a family on plots that averaged about an acre total. Of course, we all know the tragic results of their reliance on a monoculture for all of their sustenance, something NOT to repeat -- lesson there, be very diverse in your plantings.

My other experiment this winter is going to be an indoor salad garden under lights. This came about sort of by serendipity this past spring -- I started lettuce, escarole, and some brassicas under lights in my spare bedroom quite early, planting them in March. Well, by the time weather was really mild enough for them to go out in late April, some of them were so big they were essentially ready to harvest, and looked really healthy. In fact, some of the leaf lettuces, which I had transplanted from the cell packs into 4" pots, NEVER made the garden, instead going straight into salads. So, I said to myself, if I can do this in the spring for transplants, why not just grow it all winter? I bought two 2 foot wide x 4 x long 5 shelf metal storage shelves at Target, 10 4 foot florescent shop light fixtures at the Depot. Haven't set it up yet, but it's going to go in my basement, where temps all winter will average about 64-66 degrees. I also have 2 soil heating mats which help promote good seedling germination and growth. My plan is to grow salad items like lettuce, spinach, mesclin mix, things that grow very quickly, ready to harvest in a month or less, as well as a couple of herbs. And, although it's probably too cool, I've got a couple of sweet pickle and mini-belle peppers potted up to go under the lights, just to see.

And, another experiment, I'm making a cold frame within my greenhouse, which is unheated, just to see how salad greens do over the winter. If Elliot Coleman can do it in Maine, I probably can do similar in Michigan.

Dennis
SE Michigan


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Me and my planned 3 beds covered with hoop covers this winter pale in comparison. But I love learning about this issue, which is why I signed up over at Freedomgardens.org to begin with. So many folks there are homesteaders it's not even funny. I'm excited to start canning with my mother and brother this year.

My mom's family had a root cellar and one full city lot made into a garden. They ate what they grew because life was hard for a family of six on a copper miner's wage. I hope to learn from my mom what it takes so I can pass it along to my kids, even if their generation thinks food comes from McDonalds. /shudder

Here is a link that might be useful: Sinfonian's garden adventure


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Dennis, I'd be interested to pick your brain about the grains. I've got kamut and barley they grew wonderfully, but I have no idea when to harvest them.


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mxbarbie, these types of cereal grains are havested when the straw is completely golden-brown, and the seeds are hard and dry in the heads. The best way to tell if you're unsure is to pick a seed head, pull it apart, and test the grains with your fingernails and by biting into them. If they're so hard and dry you can't puncture or bite them, they are fully ripe. If they still have some moisture and are starchy=chewy, like really old, overripe sweet corn, then they really should stay in the field to ripen and dry further.

Of course, because of birds and weather, sometimes this isn't always possible. If you have trouble with these things, you can pick them at the semi-hard but still somewhat starchy/chewy stage, when the straws have lost almost all traces of green, and hang in bundles or spread out on a tarp, etc., someplace like your garage, so they will dry further.

And, there comes a point in the field where the heads will "shatter" and fall apart if left too long, so you need to avoid this, too. It's just one of those things you learn by trial and error.

Dennis
SE Michigan


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Wow, lots of great things to think about. It's interesting to see the committment people have to some of these ideas. My dream some day has always been to be able to cut the ties to big business and live a true subsistence life. Of course the wife just laughs knowing that we wouldn't have the first clue how to make a go of it. But I dream. My intent here is really to become self sufficient in at least one area, and maybe build from there. Being able to supply all my veggie needs for the year (and fruit to a lesser extent) is my goal. Lots of great ideas here that I need to really think more about: seasonal plantings, cold frames, dehydrating, mini greenhouse, canning - the list goes on.

I'll worry about the goats, chicken and cow down the road. But some day . . . . .


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I lived my first 18 years in a remote area where everybody was subsistence farmers - four families, three related - squatters and did not even pay taxes.

We had a ridiculous surplus of food but as someone noted above "... [all] the diet was seasonal..." . They used pork fat and butter. Sold hams for a bit of cash to buy salt and fabric and shoes. Some had heard of concerns about vitamin C but for the life of me I cannot remember what, if anything, they did about that concern. They did a lot of dried fruit. Do dried fruits contain vitamin C? We had a lot of pickled stuff, kraut, cucumbers, fruits. Do these pickled things have vitamin C?


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RE: Subsistence gardening - I forgot to mention honey.

I forgot to mention, honey played an important part in many foods.

(And my grandmother grew and chewed her own tobacco. Nasty stuff.)


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I was reading last night that sauerkraut and other naturally fermented pickles have a lot of vitamin C.


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(Raising hand) Uh, I actually do know how to spin, although I've always used a drop spindle, not a wheel. I also sew, crochet, and quilt.

When I first started, gardening was more a hobby than anything, and a way to get fresh, tasty, organic food. I knew where it came from. I knew what went into it. But the longer I'm out of work, combined with grocery store sticker shock, the more important the garden becomes. I don't know if I'll get into canning. I grew up on canned vegetables, and I hated them. But I do plan to freeze for this winter: peaches, tomato paste, cherries, etc. And I am slowly learning more about gardening (learning from my mistakes, basically) and will be slowly expanding and growing more things. A friend of mine was kind enough to give me a freezer he wasn't using when I moved into my house. And if I ever get the bucks and can do some remodeling, I want someone to build a proper root cellar either in the basement or the garage.

Even though I just live in suburbia, with a reasonably sized but not huge yard, I find that I'm more in tune with the seasons now. And I mean that in more than a New Age-y way. When the cherries are ripe, they must be picked. Once picked, you have to do something with them. NOW. The garden has its own schedule and hasn't bothered to consult me about it.

A good book on this subject is ANIMAL, VEGETABLE, MIRACLE by Barbara Kingsolver. She and her family bought a farm and committed themselves for one year to live, with only a few exceptions (like coffee), off their own labors. When asparagus first comes up in the spring, you eat a lot of asparagus. If peaches aren't in season, you do not eat fresh peaches, even if they're on sale at the grocery store.

Really good book.


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RE: Subsistence gardening

Yes dried fruit does contain vitamin C , just in lessor amounts than fresh. However with fruit I usually use a lime or lemon honey dip that tends to raise the vitamin C value. Drying probably preserves the most nutrients in general. My preservation methods are dry freeze or cold storage. Drying is a favorite because it is just so efficient. Its light, long lasting, stable and compact. You could probably live off a back pack for a month with dry food. I just dried some Roma halves and I expect this to be a winter treat.

Season extending , crop selection and cold storage also work well. Turnips in New England were the vitamin C goto crop.They saved Germany once too as well as being praised by ancient Rome as being a major crop. These keep very well in cold storage. Kale is also rich in vitamin C and is viable in a northern climate for months after say tomatoes. A killing frost in October does not bother Kale and picking in early December is expected and probably available to pick until January with cold frames while also able to keep a while after picking. It can take 10 degree lows after all.
Butternut squash also has vitamin C and eating those is possible past old Orthodox or even Chinese New Year.

I don't mind buying some food because after all I live in a suburban setting. However going to Michigan and picking fruit off the tree is also part of the mix and I am happy to support it as being local. I dried lots of peach and nectarines from my last visit. Ground cherries looks like they will be part of my own produce fruit option along with some melons and I hope soon to be service berries and currants. Ground cherries also seem to keep very well.

Any thing in the onion family will bring a fresh source by early spring from chives to wild ramps. It certainly very doable because only a few generations ago that is what people did.



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"Even though I just live in suburbia, with a reasonably sized but not huge yard, I find that I'm more in tune with the seasons now. And I mean that in more than a New Age-y way. When the cherries are ripe, they must be picked. Once picked, you have to do something with them. NOW. The garden has its own schedule and hasn't bothered to consult me about it."

This is so true. One thing I am always relearning about growing food or really any kind of gardening is that I am not, in fact, the center of the universe. Plants don't wait until I get in the mood to deal with them. It is a great treatment for self-centeredness.


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Sorry thats , dry, freeze or cold storage. I do not dry freeze.


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Will have to come back and read through the whole thread later... I have beans to blanch. ;) Just wanted to point you to a nifty book I just bought last week:

Here is a link that might be useful: Preserving Food Without Freezing or Canning: Traditional Techniques


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I decided that this would be the year when 75% of what I eat comes from my garden; maybe 10% from locally-grown fruits that I'll freeze, and the rest from the store. I'm well on my way to filling the freezer and am dehydrating lots of things too - i found that drying cabbage works really well for soups in the winter and dried cherry tomatoes are like candy they're so sweet. And pickling - everything from asparagus to snap peas.

Anyway, that's going to be my experiment.

I'm inspired from reading this thread to plant a fall garden of greens and lettuces. I do have a greenhouse - I don't want to pay to heat it, but I might be able to grow greens, etc. in it as well.


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