Yesterday, for some extremely odd reason, I woke up early, with lots of energy. So I cleaned out the pantry. I’m clearly crazy.
It got me to thinking, though, that I have not really talked a whole bunch about our successes (and failures) with storing our produce from the garden. With time on my hands, this morning, it seems like a good time to share that information.
As you may recall, I canned a lot of jam, jelly, salsa, and fruit this fall. Most of it is still there. The jam and jelly and salsa we have been using a bit at a time, but we make tons extra, and give it away as gifts, so I don’t have a set amount to make each year. We don’t seem to eat a lot of canned fruit through the winter – when we really enjoy it is in the spring and summer, eaten with a spoon in lieu of a meal on a hot day, or served over ice cream. I did discover, however, that while it is fine to leave the skin on the pears and the nectarines, it is truly essential to skin the peaches prior to canning – the fuzz on my tongue makes me feel like I’m trying to eat a cat. At any rate, the canning pantry is still quite full, and that’s about what we expected for this time of year.
The root cellar has been a mixed success. We harvested mid-September through mid-October, but there were still a lot of warm days after some of the crops were pulled in. However, some of the roots (like beets) don’t like frost, and our first frost came mid-September, so Nature set our harvest date for us. We were expecting a hard freeze and even heavy snow by Halloween, which would be normal enough for this area, but in fact, we did not get real cold and snow until mid-November. Oh, well. Better to harvest a little early than to lose the harvest entirely!
The root cellar started out fairly humid, as the basement had been flooded in the spring, due to a water delivery fellow who did not know where the hole for filling the cistern was, and chose wrong – the dirt floor of the root cellar absorbed a fair bit of water. However, our furnace is in the basement, and has really dried things out down there. We put most of the root veggies (except the potatoes) in plastic rubbermaid containers, covered with garbage bags (that we could move on or off to control the humidity), in order to prevent them from drying out too much. That has worked better for some things than others, and we’ve had occasional problems with mold, as a result.
The turnips, most of which had some level of worm damage, had to be disposed of in late November or early December. Some, we cut the mushy bits off and fed to the goats, but a lot of them just had to be composted. When they went, it was very fast; a couple of weeks prior, I had taken out a turnip for soup, and had not noticed any issues with the rest of the bag. If we have bees next fall, we might try cutting out the damaged bits and waxing them, but I’m not willing to dip my food in paraffin, which is a petroleum product, so we did not do that this year. Apparently, due to the amount of canola (a relative of turnips, broccoli, and cabbage) grown in this area, turnip pests are heavy and endemic, and we have been told we are doing well if we get any crop at all, especially without spraying, so we’re not too disappointed with our results.
The beets are still going strong. They have not gotten moldy, wrinkly, mushy, or otherwise disgusting. Too bad we did not get much of a harvest, as they look to be one of the big successes in the cellar.
The carrots are doing so-so. We had early problems with rot from too much humidity, but now we’re finding an awful lot of limp, wrinkly roots that taste bitter. There are still a lot of good ones, but Hubby is saying he does not think they’ll last much into February, at the rate we’re going. Given that we harvested something in the realm of 200 pounds, we will have plenty of carrots right up until they get too gross to eat. Happily, the non-wrinkly carrots still taste fantastic.
I can see why potatoes are a staple in northern climates. They are all still fine, almost as crunchy as the day we harvested them, with no special care at all. We just dumped them in burlap sacks in the root cellar and ignored them, really. We used the blemished ones early – we assumed that the scars from the digging fork would probably cause them to rot early – but we have not found a single rotten potato yet at all.
We bought a 20 pound bag of cabbages from the store in the fall – sometime before Halloween – they were very cheap, and I wanted to know how well they would store. Some of the outer leaves have gotten dried out, but you just peel off the top few layers, and the cabbage underneath is fine. They will clearly do well in our cellar.
We’ve also been keeping eggs in the root cellar, as we’ve long since run out of room in the fridge – there’s four dozen in the cellar, and two dozen in the fridge, right at the moment. We really weren’t prepared for winter eggs. The cellar seems to keep them just fine, and we’ve eaten eggs out of there that were several weeks old, and they were as tasty as the ones from the fridge. I’ve read that you can store fresh, unwashed eggs in the fridge for up to 9 months, or up to 2 or 3 months on the counter, so presumably the root cellar is a fine place for them.
We did not keep the onions in the root cellar; they and the winter squash went in an unused bedroom with the furnace vent covered, so they stayed cool and dry. We had one squash (a very small one, probably immature when we picked it) go bad in December, but the rest are still fine. We’ve picked out the odd mushy onion, but they are also going strong.
The tomatoes were mostly goners in late November and early December.
We still have some frozen fruit from prior years, but we are going to have to freeze up quite a lot more this year, as I am absolutely burning through it right now. We did not put much fruit in the freezer this year, as we did not find the local U-pick operations in time. Hopefully, the strawberries, raspberries, and blueberries we planted will start bearing this year or next, and we can just freeze our own, though I question if we will really have enough to be able to get through the whole year.
We figured out our annual corn quota a few years ago, and we’re on track to have enough again this year. I wish we’d had more peas to freeze, though. We’ve got plenty of green beans; probably even more than we’ll use this year, as it has been so mild we’ve not really been making soup, which is where I usually go through the bulk of my frozen beans.
We are still buying a lot from the store, especially dairy and fresh fruit and veggies, as, with me being pregnant, we need to keep up eating lots of good, fresh food. However, our days of buying frozen fruit and veggies from anywhere else are over, and I am impressed with the beets and potatoes. I don’t imagine the root cellar will carry us all the way through to the early harvests in July, but I am curious how close we’ll get. All in all, I am happy with these early attempts at feeding ourselves from our own land, though we still have lots to learn!