This year's harvest and next year's plans

Since I started my journey last year to become more self-sufficient, I've learned a lot about how to process and store various foods.  Learning almost completely from internet sources, I froze beans, peas, corn, carrots, peppers, and broccoli and canned peaches, applesauce, and spaghetti sauce.  The produce put up in the summer and fall lasted nearly til the next growing season, and I had to buy very few veggies from Meijer or other stores. 

This year I did even more.  While I am in no way close to being as food self-sufficient as I eventually want to be, I've made a lot of progress (especially considering that I was pregnant).  Starting in the spring, I planted a small 4x8' garden with broccoli, two types of tomatoes, and yellow peppers.  Some of the broccoli I started from seeds, but the rest were started plants from a local nursery.  I've never had a vegetable garden before, and I am amazed at how well everything grew with very little care.  I had a decent broccoli harvest, LOADS of tomatoes, and a few peppers. 

I also learned how to make jam.  I bought strawberries from the farmers market, but harvested my own mulberries (from my backyard, no less) and raspberries.  All of the jams turned out well, but raspberry was everyone's favorite.  That one was made kind of spur of the moment, after a friend mentioned that he had a bunch of wild black raspberry bushes on his property.  He let my mom and I pick (and brought me a big container that he had picked himself), and I made the jam with the last berries of the season. 

I picked blueberries for the first time, which is loads of fun when you're gigantically pregnant...!  I ended up with almost 10 lbs.  I dehydrated some and they turned out like little blueberry rocks, but they softened up after being in storage for a little while.  The rest are in the freezer for pancakes, muffins, bread, and maybe pie.

I dehydrated cherries from the market to use in my homemade granola bars or in salad.

I froze the same veggies as last year, minus carrots which are always available locally, but refined my technique a bit.  I've learned to let broccoli dry a bit so that it doesn't get soggy, plus I steamed it instead of blanching.  Last year's was only suitable for stir-fry since it was so mushy.  I bought a Reynolds Handi-Vac system, which is basically a cheap vacuum sealer, and used it for all my freezer veggies.  Hopefully it will work to prevent freezer burn, since last year's veggies ended up very frosty after a few months.

I canned corn and peaches.  Peaches are a major pain in the butt to can, but they taste like a little bit of summer when you open a jar in the middle of winter.  The corn was because the frozen corn starts to taste like the freezer after about 6 months...  So hopefully that canned corn will get us through once the frozen runs out.

I learned how to make basil pesto and froze some of that for later. 

My spaghetti sauce turned out WAY better this year than last year's.  I found a great recipe online, then tweaked it to my taste.  Even my mom likes it.  :)  Most of the tomatoes were bought from the market, but I got about 5-7 lbs off my plants that were tossed in as well.  There's really nothing better than making something edible from something you grew!

Then came applesauce...  I bought mixed seconds from the market instead of using just golden delicious and fuji.  I don't know that it tastes any better, but it was loads cheaper.  I also bought an apple peeler/corer/slicer which sped things up a lot.

On Saturday I bought another half-bushel of seconds and made apple butter.  It turned out well, but not seasoned enough, so this morning I dumped out my jars, added more spices, and cooked it more.  I ended up with 8 oz less than I had, but the flavor is much improved.  Thankfully apples don't require a long processing time, otherwise I would have just had to live with it.

As an experiment I boiled a chicken, froze the stock, and canned the meat.  I haven't yet tried the canned chicken, but it'll be very convenient to have on hand for stir-fry and other recipes.

In addition to learning to store more foods, I also learned how to cook more.  I've found awesome recipes for beef stew, chicken pot pie, roasted red pepper cream sauce, basil cream sauce, no-knead bread, and quite a few others.  It may not sound like much, but until a few years ago I never really bothered with cooking from scratch.  I had a few staples that I'd make (sloppy joes, some crockpot meals, steak, stir-fry), but wasn't interested in learning more. I still don't have as much time to cook as I would like, but I'm getting there.

Next year we are definitely going to have a bigger garden.  Shayne is going to make me more raised beds, and we'll remake the existing one so that it's deeper (and nicer looking!).  I'm going to stick to the 4x8' size, since it makes organization easy and I can reach across the beds without having to step onto the soil.  I'm going to plant a full bed of roma tomatoes (16 plants), red and yellow peppers, broccoli, potatoes, onions, and maybe some corn, squash, and carrots.

We're also going to build more shelves in the basement for more storage space.  As I learn more about canning and storing food, I'm finding that our existing pantry and shelving just aren't cutting it.  Plus, most ready-made shelving has a large area between shelves.  If I'm storing canned goods, I only need a 12 to 16" between shelves.  So I'm wasting a lot of space.

And, I'd really like to get those chickens.  We've been taking about it for 2 years.  I bought coop plans last spring.  Maybe next spring or summer we can get 2 or 3 hens and see how it goes.