It's hard work keeping a garden, buying local food, and foraging from the earth. It's worthwhile and rewarding work to be sure but it is still hard work. It's work that increases our independence and food security, work that can in some instances help us save some money and live a bit more frugally, and it is work that connects us to the earth and our homes deeply. Make the most of that work and maximize homegrown harvests by letting nothing go to waste and getting a little creative at the same time.
Waste Not, Want Not
Many of the leaves of the things we eat are also edible and useful. Admittedly we can get overwhelmed by the sheer amount of greens in a garden but they can be used for so much more than just salad. Beet greens, turnip leaves, radish leaves and more are all edible and give us many tasty ways to get frugally creative.
You don't have to be a certified herbalist to make a few basic herbal remedies. Use what's growing in your yard or in the woods for simple, yet effective medicines. Even if herbal study isn't something you want to delve deeply into, there are plenty of simple D.I.Y. projects that make use of common weeds and culinary herbs:
- Make an herbal healing salve
- Infuse honey for tasty and healing uses – consider mint or oregano
- Create tinctures or glycerites
- Steep herbs in oil for sore joints, overworked muscles, and much more.
Create Customized Personal Care & Homemaking Products
Many flowers and weeds can be used to create customized personal care products for lotions, balms, and more while also allowing us to clean our home with things found right in the backyard or garden:
- Use herbs for cleaning like this thyme counter cleaning spray
- Make oils for balms and lotions – consider violets, chamomile, and rosemary for starters
- Combine herbs and salts for a relaxing and rejuvenating bath soak
Homebrew can take on many forms. We can turn fruits and vegetables, even weeds into homemade wine or mead. Toss some herbs into homemade beer for homegrown flavor. We can also simply steep herbs, weeds, fruits, vegetables, and nuts into purchased liquor for a homemade cordial. Cordials don't require as much equipment as homebrew and can also make for delightful adult beverages.
Use the Seeds
Despite our best intentions, some plants bolt or go to seed before we've had a chance to use it. Let those seeds dry and harvest them either for next year's garden or for winter sprouts. Radishes, for instance, cross notoriously and in a small garden that might not provide the best results for next year's garden. However, those seeds make for delicious sprouts during the dark and cold days of winter.
Trade the Excess
It happens to most every gardener: the rutabagas produce incredibly well but the snow peas were eaten by voles – the apple tree is prolific but the squash succumbed to powdery mildew, etc. etc. Find a local community of gardeners open to bartering and trading. Your apples might just be the thing the person overrun by squash needs. Trade the excess and get what might be lacking while also building a nice community of local gardeners.
Compost is an important part of the garden and it should be where all the things that can't be eaten or used in some other way should go. Pea vines and pods, tomato plants, bits of rotten produce, grass clippings, leaves, and on and on. Compost will only help everything grow better next year. Improving the soil, will only improve yields and increase food security in future years.
As the summer season begins, remember to take the time to do all that food work now and increase your food security by making the most of every growing thing.
What's your best tip to maximize the homegrown harvest?