If I have ever given the impression that we are polished farmers or gardeners, I must apologize. This is no where near the case.
This is our second year having our own garden, first year for chickens, first year learning to freeze the harvest, first year using the pressure canner. It’s the first year we’ve really put some effort into producing our own food, and the first year we’ve really managed to follow through on our spring intentions clear to fall.
Although much of our garden did not do well, we have still come out ahead. From our $100 investment in the spring, and the gifts of our neighbors and friends throughout the season, we have two nearly-full freezers and a still filling pantry.
We purchased seed for lettuce, carrots, corn, beans, cucumbers, pumpkins, parsley, thyme, oregano. We purchased plants for tomatoes, peppers, cabbage. We were given additional corn seed, and were given the starts for the sweet potatoes. We purchased a bag of seed potatoes, but then split that with Frank’s mother.
We were given basil, sage, chives, and cotton as plants.
Of all this – the corn failed and the beans brought a very weak harvest. But I still froze 9 quarts of beans, and we were given corn from three different neighbors. I have five quarts of corn frozen, and also used it (and some green beans) in five quarts of vegetable soup.
The tomatoes and cucumbers have been the greatest successes so far, and I have nearly 30 jars of different pickles canned; bread and butter, cinnamon pickles, honey pickles. The tomatoes and flourishing green peppers have so far produced 24 jars of salsa, 16 quarts of roasted pepper tomato soup. Sick of making pickles, I even found a cucumber jelly recipe, and made four small jars of that when I made the season’s first batch of hot pepper jelly – so far, four pints of that.
I have six quarts of carrots frozen, and others cleaned and soaking in water to be pressure canned tomorrow.
I have rosemary, oregano, sage and lavender hanging to dry. I have parsley, thyme, chives and lemon balm preserved in the freezer.
And I nearly forgot to mention the early harvest of leaf lettuce, garlic and onions.
All this from a second-attempt garden that, my most measures, did not do all that well.
The herb bed has been a total success, but the vegetable garden… Well — that could use improvement for sure.
In a year when the value of the dollar has dropped so drastically, our garden, by far, has been our best investment. (Keep in mind, we didn’t pay for our fencing. We scrounged old fence from around the farm and expanded on the fence we had from last year.)
Even the canning supplies and freezer bags were less than a single trip to the grocery store. We’ve been collecting jars for two years, and began buying lids and rings (although we’ve been saving rings too) in March and April, before seasonal demands cause their prices to increase. Freezer bags came from the Dollar Store, which had quarts and gallons, but alas the pint bags I had to get elsewhere.
In the spring, I read articles that noted raising a garden was just as expensive as purchasing those groceries at a store. In our experience, this has just not been the case.
Our chickens have also been a good investment. We purchased four for $20 in late May, spent $20 on grit, mash and oyster shells (We were given a chicken tractor), and since then have spent $12 on more mash since then. I have no idea how many eggs we’ve been through. At least 20 dozen. I know I’ve made $30 from donations from my city-dwelling relatives. (It’s illegal, of course, to sell eggs in West Virginia without an egg permit.)
I suppose you can do the math… The arrived, say, the beginning of June. And, not counting the first two adjustment weeks, the four hens pretty much lay on a schedule that works out to be: four eggs a day, four eggs a day, three eggs, two eggs, then no eggs. So, that’s thirteen eggs, a baker’s dozen, every five days. On average. Some days, they’re off a little, and this winter, they won’t lay as much in summer, but it really is nice knowing that we’ll always have eggs.
Right now, I have eighteen hard-boiled eggs, a dozen pickled eggs of two different flavors, and 12 dozen fresh eggs in my refrigerator. I have sixteen scrambled eggs frozen in the freezer (two eggs per bag, for baking or for breakfast.)
Within the next week or so, I’m going to get four more hens. The man who sold us Daisy Dewdrop, our beagle, is now selling Cocoa Maran hens for $3 each. So, for another $12 I’ll be doubling my flock. The new hens will lay dark chocolate brown shelled eggs.
For the winter, the new hens will live in a hay-bale coop, slowly being integrated with the original four. By spring, when the haybale coop is destructed, they’ll have hopefully set their new pecking order without too much bloodshed and injury.
Next spring, I do intend to get my egg permit. With that, I can sell eggs to the two local mom-and-pop stores in my region, and at the local Farmer’s Market.
I graduated from high school, three different colleges, won association awards, created a magazine.
But the feeling of accomplishment you get when you stand in front of a freezer packed with food you planted, food you tended, food you fed and watered and harvested… Food you washed and prepared and cooked and created and canned.
The feeling of accomplishment is deeper.
When you graduate, or meet a milestone, or win an award — it seems that there is always the implied worry of “What next?” Those are accmplishments that serve as mile-markers to see where you go from there.
But with the harvested garden, you are not faced with worries of the future, but instead a sense of security. You have the rewards of your labor before you, waiting to be enjoyed.
You success is your sustenance for the upcoming months, using methods and manners of a culture and tradition that in many, many places, was almost lost.
Still, with the shelves and freezer filling, I do think about the future. Deer meat, facing the pressure canner for the first time, and what other foods can I produce myself?
Even with my bounty, I impose the “What next” into my life.
When the garden is solid and white beneath snow…
When deer season is past and the freezers and shelves will hold no more…
When we shut ourselves in to endure the chill of winter….
What shall I do next?
I’m going to learn to bake my own bread.