We are still weeks away from Lughnasadh, but the harvest season is already in full swing here on the homestead. I love gardening. I love providing and preserving healthy food for my family. But honestly, harvest season is exhausting. It’s intense and labor intensive. It is easy to get overwhelmed. To hopefully save you that frustration, here are my top five tips to avoid harvest season burnout.
Stagger Your Planting Dates
The first year that I used raised garden beds, I planted around 40 tomato plants. I started the seeds early. Then, I transplanted all of the seedlings one Saturday. I was so excited. It took me about two months to realize my mistake. Have you figured out what I did wrong?
On average, a tomato plant produces 10 pounds of fruit per season. So at harvest season, we were suddenly drowning in tomatoes. Then, the summer squash harvest began at the same time. We ate tomatoes and squash at every meal every single day. We peeled and canned all day every weekend, but we just couldn’t keep up.
Thankfully, I learned from my mistakes. I now stagger planting. Instead of planting 40 tomatoes one weekend, I plant 10 plants one weekend. Then two weeks later, I plant 10 more and so forth until the garden is full.
That way, everything isn’t ready to harvest at one time. During the Great Depression, my Grandmother would easily can 100 jars a day. I can’t match that level of production at this point, and that is okay. I’m doing what I can with where I am right now.
Only Plant Vegetables That Your Family Wants to Eat
This may seem obvious, but please bear with me. Only plant what your family actually enjoys eating. Asparagus might grow extremely well in your area. However if no one in your family likes asparagus, what will you do with a seemingly endless supply of asparagus? Unfortunately, the fact that a vegetable is homegrown does not magically change someone’s taste buds.
As of today, I have already harvested approximately 100 pounds of cucumbers this year. If my family didn’t eat pickles or cucumbers, I would be stuck with a lot of vegetables that were of no use to us. Your time is precious and in limited supply. We all only get 24 hours in a day. Don’t waste your precious energy on food no one in your household wants to eat.
Have a Plan
Before planting, make sure that you have a plan for preserving the harvest. I have to confess that this is one of my favorite hobbies. I am one of those people who read cookbooks for fun. However even if cooking isn’t your favorite hobby, take some time to think about what you want to make with the vegetables from your garden.
My family loves berry cobbler. However, we currently have ten blackberry canes. If I only used the berries for cobbler, we would have to eat an entire cobbler every day during harvest season. While I am sure my family would try to rise to the challenge, eating a cobbler a day isn’t a very healthy decision. Instead, I make a few cobblers. Then, I freeze quite a few berries to use in smoothies during the year. Next, I make three batches of berry jam and jelly. And if there is any fruit left after that, I can pie filling. Always have more than one option for preserving your harvest.
The Ball and Kerr Canning website is a wonderful resource for food preservation recipies and ideas.
Freeze What You Can & Process It Later
I currently have approximately 90 pounds of Roma tomatoes in the freezer, and I am harvesting more every day. After the cucumber, zucchini and summer squash harvest slows down, I will begin canning this year’s tomato sauce. Freezing the tomatoes is giving me time to focus on canning pickles.
Buying a small chest freezer is one of the best investments that we have made recently. After quite a bit of research, we ended up finding an energy efficient model. It only uses about $30 in electricity every year.
If you plan to make sauce, tomatoes freeze quite well. When you are ready to can them, simply pull the tomatoes out of the freezer and run them under hot water. The skins will literally fall off. Then, let them thaw in a bowl. Tomatoes have a high water content. Once thawed, they are quite mushy, but that is perfect for making sauce.
My Grandmother would can summer squash, but now the USDA advises against it. The National Center for Home Food Preservation recommends that we blanch squash before freezing. In my experience, it is beneficial to peel the squash first. When we didn’t, the peel became quite tough when thawed.
Many other fruits and vegetables can be frozen. The National Center for Home Food Preservation’s website is my go to resource for information about freezing produce.
Schedule Days Off
Harvest season often feels like a race. New vegetables are picked every day. It’s our job to preserve them while they are still at their peak. There is always something to do. However, it is important to slow down every so often.
On the weekend of July 1st, I spent an entire day away from the homestead. I went to an herbal salve and remedy class in a nearby town. It was amazing. I met new people and learned quite a few new things. Afterward, I felt recharged.
“Self-care has become a new priority – the revelation that it’s perfectly permissible to listen to your body and do what it needs.”Frances Ryan
In the midst of everything, don’t forget to take care of yourself.
What are your favorite ways to avoid harvest season burnout? What are you currently harvesting? Please leave a comment below and let me know. I would love to hear from you.