What We Grow & Why

In a previous post, I shared the many things we grow, and I thought I would unpack what we do with those foods, how we store them, and what it means for our harvest in a separate post. And this happens to be that post. So here we go.

I’ll first share we have two chokecherry trees in our yard that we harvest from and turn into our favorite jelly and syrup. Our rhubarb plant does pretty well for the same purpose of jelly and syrup, but makes a tasty dessert cake or bread now and then, too! Once the apple trees start producing, we’ll be making apple chips and apple sauce from those. When our pear trees bear fruit, we hope to have enough to can sliced pears – they’re delicious, but especially in the doldrums of winter!

Tomatoes:

When I slice too many of them, they burn my hands. These acidic wonders that I can’t stand to eat on their own, serve a myriad of purposes here on our homestead. Salsa is their primary purpose here, but we also can crushed tomatoes. I have found canning crushed tomatoes is far easier, and I can use them in stews, soups, and fresh sauce. I had my doubts and thought I would need to do the intense and time-consuming procedure for pasta sauce, but no… crushed is definitely the way to go. We also freeze tomatoes whole (the skins slide right off after being frozen) and either feed them to the chickens in the winter or slice them up and use them for fresh sauces or casseroles.

Peppers:

I am extremely sensitive to spice. Like more sensitive than you probably think when you hear the word “sensitive”. I have to be very careful with what peppers I consume, how, and even in handling them. Peppers on our homestead are used for salsa, and the sweet bell peppers I will sometimes use for fajitas or omelets. Mostly, though, we grow peppers for salsa. We also grow varieties to dehydrate and make our own seasoning powder (like paprika and cayenne) but otherwise, we don’t use these outside of salsa making.

Garlic (& Onions):

We eat fresh whenever possible (especially for their health-power in broth), but I also dehydrate it and make my own powder. They store well, and are a must-have for us!

Celery:

Of course, fresh celery is delicious and nutritious! My primary use for this, though, is in soups and broths. I dice and freeze celery in vacuum-sealed portions of 1/4 c and 1/2 c, and add them to whatever dish I need to through the winter. I also dehydrated celery last year and made my own celery powder to add to various dishes, and it was quite delicious!

Raspberries, Blackberries, Strawberries:

I don’t get to do anything elaborate with these in preserving them, because they don’t last very long around here. The kids devour them like candy, but I’m glad to have fresh fruit in our own backyard! I hope to grow more berries (and grapes!) over time.

Ground Cherries:

I had never heard of these until we were ordering seeds for this property the first time, and I got some to try out. We LOVE ground cherries! We eat them fresh, once we peel the paper husk away, and they’re a sweet, juicy snack. I haven’t tried yet, but I hear it makes a wonderful jelly or compote to top cheesecake with. Our favorite, though, is to add them to a coffee cake recipe we have on hand. I freeze these by the bagful and we use them for coffee cake throughout the year. I can’t believe we had never heard of them before recently – these are a little garden treasure!

Spinach/Kale/Lettuce:

The lettuce we use fresh for salads or wraps. Kale we use fresh (in omelets, yum!), but we also dehydrate it and make salted kale chips. Chickens also LOVE kale so we try to grow enough to give them treats. The spinach we use fresh for salads, omelets, or whatever we can think of, but I also cook, then freeze it, to add to soups or casseroles later.

Cucumbers:

Pickles. We have two varieties we like: Zany Pickles, and Dill Pickles. Pickles are a great snack option for hungry kiddos, so even though I’m not a huge fan myself, I’m happy to be able to keep a supply on hand in our pantry.

Green Beans:

We like the Cantare variety, as they’re narrower and sweeter – almost like an uncut french style green bean. These make a fantastic side to almost any dish, and we like them best when they’re steamed and we add some butter and salt. After harvesting, I blanch and freeze these to use later but if we have enough this year, I’d like to try my hand at pickling a few and see how they fare.

Peas:

We grow a homesteader pea and sugar snap pea. These pretty much get frozen as soon as they’re picked, then come a meal where they’ll be a tasty side, I steam them and add butter and salt. My family “only” likes to eat sugar snaps straight off the vine, but they’ve come around to eating cooked peas we’ve grown from our garden. Cooked peas are my favorite, so I’m glad they’re slowly joining me in this one.

Black Beans & Hidatsa Red Beans:

I grow these to dry them, and then we have a store of dry beans or canned beans. I like to can beans whenever possible because, in any meal, I can pop open a jar and have a side ready to go. Beans make [taco] meat stretch a lot further, too, so growing my own beans to can is a big deal. They’re also great additions to soups and are an absolute staple in my pantry.

Carrots:

We don’t grow many of these, but the kids love to snack on fresh carrots. We haven’t found a variety that stores exceptionally well, so we eat them fresh until they’re gone. I’ve also dehydrated some to make carrot chips, but they make a better decoration than a snack. No one was in love with the chips. If we start juicing again, however, carrots will be great to have on hand.

Zucchini:

This is the million dollar crop right here. We make zoodles (zucchini noodles), cube and have it as a side (sautéed in butter with salt and pepper, and sometimes I can sneak some onions in there), or we shred it and freeze it for baking later. We make all kinds of desserts with zucchini – muffins, cupcakes, chocolate cake, bread – it’s a miracle veggie, and I’m thankful it’s so prolific because we use and store a ton of it. We also use it to supplement our pickle supply!

Pumpkins:

We don’t grow pumpkins for show or carving; we grow them specifically for eating. We grow a luxury pie pumpkin and I cook them and puree them and store in the freezer in 2 c. portions. Also, you cannot beat roasted pumpkin seeds. Sometimes once we’ve filled the freezer with pumpkin puree, we’ll feed the chickens fresh pumpkin just so we can harvest seeds and roast them. Best. Snack. Ever. (Sometimes we sacrifice the pumpkin seeds, though, because they are a natural de-wormer for chickens, and the chickens also love the seeds. It’s good to share, I guess.)

Spaghetti Squash:

We had this for the first time last year and I love it. It tastes great, it stores REALLY well, and it’s great to have on hand, especially if you’re gluten-free. There’s a chicken dish we make with spaghetti squash that we’ve become quite fond of, so we’re growing it from now on.

Buttercup Squash:

We don’t grow many of these, but just enough to keep a couple on hand. They have a mild, sweeter flavor, and they’re easier to grow than sweet potatoes (which are my favorite). They keep really well, and you can also roast the seeds if you’re looking for more seeds to roast… and really, who isn’t?

Butternut Squash:

This is the squash that got me to love squash. I love it pureed with melted butter and cinnamon. It also makes a great pumpkin substitute for muffins or pies, and it keeps forever. We’ve eaten butternut squash we had kept for a year on a shelf! It’s a must.

Golden beets:

We don’t like beets. Because they taste like beets. But beets are super healthy for you, so we try. We grow golden beets because they taste less like dirt, and we slice and dehydrate them into chips. Considering our gardening priority is salsa, having corn-free chips is a bonus. Especially when they’re made from the super-healthy beet.

Potatoes:

Do I really have to justify why we grow potatoes? I would eat them every meal if I could. My favorite is to slather the outside of a potato with olive oil and salt and bake it in the oven. The kids go crazy over the skins of the potatoes when they’re cooked that way. I also love mashed, fried, or hashed potatoes, and they’re my favorite addition to stews or soups. You can’t go wrong with potatoes. Plus, if stored right, they will last months and months. There’s nothing more comforting than a piping hot baked potato as a side to your meal on those cold winter nights.

We’ve grown cabbage before (wanted to make sauerkraut) but the cabbage moths destroyed it. Same with our broccoli and brussels sprouts.

We also won’t grow any melon this year (we’ve grown Dakota Sisters melon and watermelon previously) because we just don’t have the room – and we can’t keep up with them. (You can cube and freeze melon and use it later, but we still have several melon cubes in our freezer to work through yet!)

One crop I’m disappointed we won’t have room for this year is sorghum. It’s a great GF grain that the chickens love, and you can grind it and make your own GF flour to use from it. We just don’t have the space to make it work this year, though.

As we expand the garden and get a better handle on how much of what foods we consume over a year, we’ll add or take away from this list as it suits us. The main thing, though, is we grow and preserve our own nutrient-dense food, and the garden provides food for us the whole year through, thanks to canning and freezing. There’s nothing better than eating fresh, homegrown food – especially during those long, cold, winter months.

Just plant!

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