I often get asked, "what are you going to do with all that produce?"
Sometimes people enquire because their first thought when seeing a glut of homegrown food is waste but here's how I see an oversupply of produce:
- Success – Whenever we get a great harvest I see the achievement. Backyard farming isn't always, throw the seeds in a bed wait 4 to 12 weeks and gather a ton of food, in fact, it's far from it. Just like a big farm, growing your own vegetables and fruit takes work plus you tend to have good seasons and bad, so that's why when a top crop comes along that produces more than we can physically eat, I'm always excited and happy.
- Preserving – I jump at the opportunity to preserve food because it's the best way to keep an overabundance of produce to use later when certain foods are out of season. Eating fresh produce is king; however, preserving food has huge advantages and there's a common misconception that preserved foods aren't as healthy but most preserved foods are healthy and in some cases more healthier! It's hard to think of a better way to use an excess of homegrown produce than preserving it.
- Sharing – Giving away produce is a special thing to do and your own organic fruit & veg make the best gifts! Don't underestimate how much people appreciate receiving your freshly grown goods and sharing your produce is not just a freebie giveaway it also helps inspire others to grow their own and facilitates a better community around you.
- Bartering – We don't always have to give away our goods for nothing and exchanging some produce for another is something humans have been doing for thousands of years. You grow lemons and your neighbour grows oranges both grow too many for themselves so they swap the excess and everyone is sweet (and sour).
- Selling – The local markets or a pop-up stall can bring in a tidy little income (usually tax free) for those who have a glut of produce. Extra funds like this can help pay the bills or even fund your self-sufficient lifestyle!
- Food for animals – Extra produce is always excitedly accepted by our chickens and ducks – just like us, they love fresh fruit and vegetables! We shouldn't think feeding perfectly good produce to animals is a waste because it's really just converting it into another product beneficial to us such as: eggs, meat, healthier livestock, etc.
- Propagation – Don't forget to keep some produce as propagation material for the next crop. Some of the best tubers, seeds, rhizomes, should be kept not eaten and this can also mean leaving plants in ground to grow to seed so growing more than you require for consumption will enable you to grow more again next time.
- Composting – Often commercial orchards will leave excess fruit fall from the tree and rot on the ground – I do the same. Maybe I don't practice this method on a big scale… but the odd bit of fruit left under the tree will add extra nutrients back into the soil and be reabsorbed by the fruit tree. Sometimes we gather up old excess produce and simply throw it in our compost bays to make a rich valuable compost that gets recycled back into the garden. Composting is never a waste of produce it's just a way to change its form into something useful again.
Olives are a classic preserved crop whereas apples are best fresh but an over abundance is still handy (image above)
Growing more than you need as insurance
Generally, I try to ensure an oversupply of produce for the reasons above but also as Insurance.
Plants can sometimes under perform and produce an unexpectedly small harvest. Cucumbers and pumpkins are a good example whereby even with hand pollination (to ensure flowers are fertile) crops can still be sparse one season and then plentiful the next. In other words, there are many reasons why a crop might fail (even given perfect conditions) so I like to insure against loss by growing more than I need. This could mean a few more extra tomato plants, a back-up sowing of salad crops, an extra orange tree, etc. That way, if something does go wrong or the season doesn't yield a plentiful harvest we should still get a reasonable amount of produce to get by. On the other hand, if all the plants grow tremendously then that's even better as it means more food to utilise in the many different ways detailed above.
Growing and harvesting more produce in your backyard then you can actually consume is by no means a wasteful exercise or an example of a "greedy gardener" – it's actually a great strategy to employ as long as you use this glut wisely. Never EVER throw excess produce in the bin!
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