This time of year, you can't take a day off from working in the gardens because if you don't, a lot can happen. The cucumbers or squash grow twice their size overnight and then they are too large to be eaten. If you don't pick the tomatoes, then they are too ripe to eat for most people, so only can be used in cooking. The fruit on the trees are a constant trial and error. If you pick them too soon, they are green and loose their flavor. If you wait until they are ripe, then you loose 1/2 of the crop to bird pecks or insects entering into the stem area. So Frank and I usually pick every day or every other day on each tree that looks like it is getting close to being perfectly ripe, hand picking just the ones that are ripe and fresh and ready to eat today.
Then the sorting begins. We sort through the fruits and vegetables to weed out the ones with flaws, too soft, bugs, pecks, etc. Those go into our house box to be used for jams or jellys or freezing by us as we cut out all the bad spots. Then the best of the best is saved for my Community Supportive Agriculture (CSA) members and that produce goes into their boxes each week. If there is anything left over, then I put it out onto my roadside stand. If, by chance there are rotten ones, then that produce goes to the chickens or to the compost pile or to friends who have animals.
You might be surprised and dismayed at how much produce is thrown away by farmers or those that sell at farmer's markets. It is an inevitable part of providing fruits and vegetables to the public and most people think all fruit should be perfect looking, perfect sizes, never soft. If you can or freeze or make pickles, preserves, jellys or jams, ask people at the markets if they sell lightly soft fruits or fruits with slight imperfections. They will be just as good to freeze and can, as long as you cut off anything that has bruises or soft spots. And normally the prices per case/lug are a lot less than those that are considered perfect.
Last week Frank and I put up 18 pints and 3 qts of bread and butter pickles. Today we are planning on processing dill pickles. If you go to the store and purchase a jar of pickles, it now costs more than $3.00 a jar. We are going to use the larger pickles from our garden, slice them up and they will turn out just yummy, especially this fall and winter when the cucumber plants are gone. It is a very gratifying feeling to know that we planted the seeds, watered them, weeded around them, picked them and processed them to eat all year round, right here on Windmill Farm. Canning is an "old-fashioned" thing to do, but in these hard economic times, it may be time to dust off that old cookbook, or bring out your mother's or grandmother's recipes and try your hand at canning fruits and vegetables. You might be surprised how much your family may want to join in on the process or how much they enjoy eating canned peaches; frozen peaches; frozen beans, pickles, whatever you decide to do. And you will be very surprised how much money you can save by putting some food aside now for later.
Well, during the time that it took to write this blog, my cucumbers and squash have grown another inch!!! Better get back to work.
Until next time, remember to buy fresh, buy local, know where your food comes from, support your small local farmer, like Frank and I. Get to know your local small farmers, they love to hear how much you enjoy their produce, we sure do.