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The Essential Homesteader's Garden

Prep, grow, can, eat: Plant now for feasts throughout the year.

Written by Elizabeth Millard
 Adobe ©valya82
An aesthetically pleasing landscape of flowers and shrubs is a feast for the eyes and soul, but you need nourishment for your belly, too. Why not focus on plants that will sustain you this season as well as months down the line? That’s what a homestead garden is all about.

When considering what to plant now that can be preserved for future meals, here are our top tips:

Grow what you’ll eat.

This seems almost too obvious, and yet it’s a common misstep. Just because cabbage and onions store well, doesn’t mean they’re good choices if the people in your family dislike them. If there are options everyone gobbles up, like green beans, make sure to plant extra, so you’ll have enough to eat fresh during the summer and to can for use in the winter.

Look at recipes first.

Usually, you harvest fruits and veggies and then find ways to prepare them. But with self-sufficiency in mind, you’ll want to think ahead. Choose key canning projects and plant accordingly. A few easy options: pickles, jam, salsa and pasta sauce. Tomatoes are incredibly versatile when it comes to canning, so be sure to plant a hearty selection, such as Amish Paste, San Marzano and Roma. Each variety has myriad uses and recipe possibilities.

Know the yield.

Some plants are legendary in terms of output. Canning will put your bumper crop to good use. Zucchini, cucumbers, summer squash, beans, cherry tomatoes, onions and hot peppers are all classic homestead veggies. And don’t forget the fruit! Depending on your climate, berry bushes and apple, pear and plum trees will provide an abundant harvest. Plus, they’ll beautify your yard in the process.

Think beyond canning.

While canning is the traditional method to prepare a harvest for off-season enjoyment, there are many other ways to preserve vegetables. For example, a dehydrator allows you to dry carrots, potatoes, zucchini, green beans and broccoli, which can all be thrown into a soup when the snow is piling up. Or, invest in a few crocks and try your hand at fermentation, particularly with cruciferous vegetables like cauliflower, bok choy and Brussels sprouts.

Start small and scale up.

It’s very easy to get enthusiastic, plant a ton of different edibles and then find yourself stuck in the kitchen for weeks trying to put it all up. Remember that a homestead garden is often a lifestyle shift, so adopt a long-range approach and take it slow. Plant a small plot of your top favorites to test the waters and see where it goes. You can always expand as you get more comfortable — just don’t overwhelm yourself at the start. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and your dream homesteader garden won’t be either.

Don’t forget herbs.

Most herbs are easy to grow, and they are even easier to preserve since you can hang them up to dry or use a dehydrator. Some flavorful choices include mint, basil, oregano, cilantro, chives and thyme.

Containers vs. tilling.

If you haven’t grown edible plants in your space before, container gardening can be very handy because you may need to move your crop if there’s too much sun or shade. Containers also make it easier to water and weed. As you ramp up production, though, it’s likely you’ll find it easier to have an in-ground garden space that you can till when you’re ready to plant in spring.

Practice composting.

One of the richest sources of nutrients for your soil is compost, so designating a place or having a container where you can put fruit and vegetable scraps is a great idea. Plus, in true homesteader fashion, you can use some of the compost to start your own worm farm!

Take notes.

You don’t have to write a gardening book, but jotting down a few notes from season to season will help you weed out mistakes. Did you plant too many cucumbers? Did potato beetles sabotage your first crop? Were the salsa peppers too hot or did you make too much of it? You might think you’ll remember — and you may — but homestead gardens have so many components that it’s useful to have a written record.
As you expand your homestead garden, you’ll learn what works and what doesn’t. So get planting to enjoy a harvest now and all year round.

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