You’ve planted and lovingly tended your vegetable garden all season long and are ready for the big harvest. Now what?
While that might seem like a facetious question, it’s not uncommon for new or produce-rich gardeners to feel overwhelmed. Here’s what my husband and I do with some of the bounty each year:
Beets, carrots and parsnips: After twisting off their green tops, we store layers of these root crops in damp sand in a bin that we keep in our chilly garage. They also store well in plastic bags inside a refrigerator’s vegetable drawer.
Green beans: Throughout the summer, I’ve harvested green beans every few days and snapped them into 1 1/2-inch-long pieces. I bring a pot of water to a boil, toss in a pound of beans at a time and let the water return to the boil for two minutes. I strain out the beans and plunge them into cold water to stop the cooking action. This process is called “blanching.” The blanched beans are drained, put into freezer bags and frozen.
Onions: Once the stalks fall over, it’s time to pull them up and let the bulbs cure in an area where they will be sheltered from rain and bright sunlight. When the stalks and outer skin are papery and dry, we store most of the harvest in our dark basement. We also coarsely chop a portion of the onions, put them into freezer bags and pop them into the freezer. Later, when we’re making a pot of soup or need to saute onions for a dish, the frozen onions make a quick job of it.
Peppers: Since fresh peppers have a short shelf life, we either chop them up and freeze them in bags for later use or add them to tomato sauce that will be frozen.
Pumpkins and winter squash: It’s important to harvest them at the right time by doing the thumbnail test: try pushing your nail into the skin of your squash or pumpkins. If it easily cuts through, it’s not ripe; if the nail doesn’t cut into it, it’s ready. Leave an inch of stem on the fruit when harvesting. Place squash and pumpkins in a sunny area and let them cure for two weeks. After that, place them in a dark area like a basement or closet. Most will store for a few months. Cubed squash can also be frozen in bags for later use.
Swiss chard: Did you know you can freeze chard leaves? Just wash the fresh leaves, trim off the lower part of the stems and place them into freezer bags. The frozen leaves are easy to chop and add to winter soups. You can also saute chopped chard leaves with onions and freeze them; use in place of spinach.
Tomatoes: If you still have green tomatoes, put them under sheets of newspaper in a darkened area and they will ripen. An easy way to process ripe tomatoes is by making oven-roasted sauce. Place quartered tomatoes, sliced onions, peppers and garlic into a roasting pan. Drizzle the veggies with olive oil and roast them at 400 degrees for about 2 1/2 to 3 hours, stirring occasionally. Add fresh or dried herbs to taste, place everything in a deep kettle and use an immersion blender to combine the flavors. Pour the sauce into freezer containers for later use in pasta dishes or fabulous homemade tomato soup.
Most importantly, if you have more produce than you can use, donate it to your local food bank. Fresh vegetables and fruits are always a welcome addition to the diets of those in need.