Tuesday, May 24, 2016

How to make the most of home fruit production

I love gardening. Ever since I was a kid and realized that people could grow their own food, I wondered why everyone paid good money for what they could produce themselves. Now that I'm older, I get it somewhat. It's a lot of time and effort to grow all of your own food, not to mention prohibitive in how much land it takes. But a little bit of food? Well, with the number of blogs out there detailing apartment gardening, clearly everyone could grow something.

This spring, I helped my parents to put in a large raised bed. It's a project which all three generations in this house are excited about and can help with. The Munchkin, in fact, has tried her hand at naked gardening. The wave of the future? It's not any crazier than some other garden trends.

At the moment, we have peas and potatoes growing well, spinach, lettuce, and carrots in their infancy, and perennial fruit going crazy. The apple tree, which last year produced a sad crop of less than twenty apples, needs to be thinned out soon before it kills itself with over-laden branches.

The cherry tree, a gift to my mother for her birthday about five years ago, has set its first real crop. I'll still be buying cherries at the farmer's market this summer, because I love them and can easily eat pounds of them in a single day, but my mom keeps marveling at how many cherries are growing. It's a sight that makes me really happy too.

The blueberry bushes are small, but they're covered in green fruits.

Lastly, we have strawberries. Last summer, the strawberry bed was moved. It had been right next to the house, in a shady spot, and the berries never did very well. There were a decent number of them, and they were always decadently sweet and strawberry-ish, but they were tiny.
After my mom and I picked through and ate some.
We decided to leave a few for the guys to eat.
This year, however? Oh boy. They are loving their new, sunnier spot in the yard, and rewarding us for this change by producing massive amounts of fruit. The berries are bigger, but just as tasty. "Melt-in-your-mouth good", my mom pronounced them. On any given day we don't collect too much ripe fruit, the largest haul so far being about what comes in the smaller plastic tubs at the grocery store. But, they're sweeter and more flavorful than any we could get at the store. Not to mention, we need to pick the ripe fruit every day. In the last week we've probably picked roughly $15 worth of fruit, had we bought it at the grocery store.* That rate of return for a few plants, which will continue to grow and produce fruit for years to come, is well worth it.

Naturally, I want to make the most of the fruit we're getting. However, we don't put any pesticides on our plants, so some of them get eaten by bugs. The ones which are very far gone get left out there, as a sort of sacrifice to the bugs in the hope that they leave the other berries alone. (Ha! Yeah, that'll happen.) But what about the berries which are almost perfect and just have a small part where bugs have nibbled on them? I don't want to toss those away. I was, in the beginning. Then, when I thought about how many berries I was wasting that way, I was just cutting off the buggy parts and eating the rest (still delicious), but now that we're getting so many perfectly good berries, I can be a little pickier. That doesn't mean I want to throw those buggy ones away, however.

I love strawberry jam, but realized that none of us would want to give up the good berries for weeks, just for jam. Better to eat them fresh. The
See the hole where a bug got to it? So small.
Why waste the rest of the fruit?
buggy berries, on the other hand, are perfect for making jam later on. Since I don't get too many all at once, I'm setting them aside in a bag, in the freezer, to collect. At the end of summer, or when the plants stop producing, I'll make jam.

This was just the first day's collection of less-than-perfect fruit.
How much would I be throwing away over the course of the summer
if I was picky about the bugs? Tons. The answer is, tons. And that would
be a real shame.
We don't actually eat a lot of jam, but it's fun to make and a great little treat. I'll mix it into yogurt, or use it instead of syrup, or, very occasionally, put some on toast for the Munchkin. She goes crazy for it, of course, and I feel better about making my own jam because I know exactly how much sugar is or isn't added. Plus, I get to experiment with different flavor combinations. Last summer's vanilla-cinnamon plum jam was a major hit, so much so that HusbandX has already requested I make it again this year. We'll see what the favorite ends up being this year. Perhaps strawberry-balsamic vinegar jam?

*Remember, we're growing these organically, so this is a comparison to organic prices. Non-organic, it's probably more like $10. Still, I'll take not paying $10, and for a better/tastier product, any day.

1 comment:

  1. Wow, this makes me wish we had any yard at all to grow things. (Ok, and that I didn't have such a black thumb.) Thank goodness for the farmers' market! Good to hear you and your mom are enjoying the harvest so far.