Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Harvest House

We had such a large harvest from our garden this year that here it is mid-December and I'm still processing it. This is a long post, so grab yourself a cup of hot tea and join me on our harvesting and preserving journey.

Here's what portions of the garden looked like in mid-August:

I'll start with the popcorn.

I'd been interested in growing popcorn for quite some time, but every variety seemed to take too long for our short growing season. Finally I found what promised to be a suitably short-season heirloom variety.

Here it's "knee high by the Fourth of July."

And here it is late August.

It grew well, but it seemed the ears took a long time for form.

However the harvest was abundant.

Popcorn isn't like sweet corn. Even fresh on the cob, the kernels are hard and un-bite-able. But this particular variety was almost as pretty as Indian corn.

Over the next few days after harvesting, I shucked it all.

A chipmunk appreciated the underformed ears.

On the cob, the total weight was 89 lbs.

I spread it out on the floor of a spare room to dry. (The gap in the middle is where I spilled some water on the newspaper.)

Kinda cool, no?

After it was dry, and over a period of weeks, I shelled the corn. It's stubborn stuff. I couldn't just rub it off like regular dried sweet corn. Instead, I put several ears at a time into a small canvas bag, whacked it with a rubber mallet (which loosened the kernels), and then was able to rub the remainder off (while wearing garden gloves -- a must!). And in case you're wondering, I couldn't use a corn sheller because it would damage the kernel; if a popcorn kernel is broken or damaged, it won't pop.

It was laborious work, but in the end yielded 37.75 lb. of shelled popcorn. Since popcorn is one of our favorite snacks, this is wonderful.


I harvested this August 14. If there's one thing that grows well here, it's garlic.

The garlic just sorta sat around for several weeks. I actually gave a lot of it away to friends and neighbors for planting. In early November, I sat down and peeled what remained.

Then I chopped and canned it. Because I gave away so much, I only ended up with seven pints of canned chopped garlic.

I reserved 150 cloves for planting...

...which I did late (Nov. 8).

Once planted, I gave the bed a straw mulch.

Except for some light weeding next summer (and watering, of course), this is all I have to do with the garlic until next harvest.

Onions. We love onions, so I planted five tires' worth -- four of yellow, one of red.

This year we harvested 18 lbs. of red onions and 40 lbs. of yellow. Actually, we grew a lot more than that -- probably double that amount. We ate off the onion beds for weeks before harvesting the remainder in the fall.

Pears. I already posted all about the actions of the Magic Pear Fairy, who harvested about 100 lbs.

Potatoes. We planted five beds of potatoes: four yellow, one red.

Altogether we got 80 lbs. of taters.

I sorted them according to size, and (in the absence of a basement or root cellar) stored them in the canning closet (the coolest, darkest part of our house).

Poppies. Or more specifically, poppy seed heads.

I love poppy seeds and wanted to try growing my own. It worked.

Although I only planted one dedicated bed of seed poppies, I ended up scattering them in numerous other beds as well. They're a pretty and useful addition to any garden.

The seeds fall out of the pods easily enough. I tapped them into a glass jar.

Then I sieved them through fine mesh strainers to remove (most of) the debris. I did this several times.

I ended up with about a pint and a half of seeds. In retrospect, I could have saved myself a lot of time and effort by putting a handful of seed pods into a plastic bowl with a tight lid, and slamming them around a whole bunch. I'll do that next year.

Peas. I consider these one of the loveliest of garden crops. From two beds, I harvested (I think) five pounds (I forgot to weigh the amount from the second bed).

Yield: 15 pints.

Cayennes. They're a favorite with Younger Daughter, but in her absence I only planted one bed ... which, as it turns out, was more than enough.

Just before the first frost, I pulled all the plants, then sorted the ripe from the unripe.

I ended up with 0.75 lb. of ripe cayennes, and 5.5 lbs. of green (unripe). I put the ripe ones in a colander to dry.

I spread the green peppers on some shelves to let them ripen.

Over several weeks, most of them turned red. I gave a lot of them to a neighbor who loves spicy foods.

Tomatoes. As is typical around here, not many ripened before the first frost.

So we ended up picking most of them green.

We put them in shallow boxes with bananas (for ethylene, the fruit-ripening gas).

And then -- this was critical -- we tucked mosquito netting around the boxes to keep fruit flies out. This kept the tomatoes from rotting prematurely.

Over the next few weeks, the tomatoes gradually ripened. When enough at a time got red, we collected them...

...and ran them through the food strainer to make purée. (It goes much quicker with two people -- Don was the chopper, I was the grinder.)

It's a messy job, but the food strainer makes it a whole lot easier. (Notice the towel on the floor to catch the splatter.)

From the first batch we processed, we ended up with six gallons of purée, which we froze.

A couple weeks later, we processed the rest and got another four gallons of purée.

These bags are now in the freezer. Over the winter with the wood cookstove in constant use, I'll gradually cook the purée down into tomato sauce and can it.

We took the tomato skins from the second, smaller batch of tomatoes we processed, and started a batch of tomato vinegar.


Our trees are still very young, and this year the plums and peaches took the year off; but we got a fair amount of apples for such baby trees -- 20 lbs.

I turned this into pie filling. First step, peeling. (Notice Darcy's interested nose.)

Filling the canning jars.

End result: Seven quarts.

Carrots. There's something so pretty about carrots. We planted three beds.

The funny thing about carrots is I absolutely hate them raw, but I adore them cooked. Absolutely stinkin' love them cooked. They're probably second only to broccoli as my favorite vegetable.

Because carrots are so forgiving about when they're harvested, I waited until early November to pull them.

Total harvest, 45 lbs.

Then they sat around in the barn for another three weeks until I finally got around to processing them, which I did just a few days ago. First, trimming off the greens.

Some of the carrots were pretty funny.

A few were just too small to bother with.

What to do with all the trimmed greens?

Why, give them to the cows, of course! Better than candy.

Next step, peeling.

Then dicing.

Finally, canning.

I did this in several batches over a couple of days.

Final yield: 48 pints.

The last thing I'm processing this season is actually something I harvested last season -- dried beans.

I dried the bean pods, but then they sat, literally, for a whole year. I decided it was time to stop procrastinating and get them shelled.

Prepper gardeners are almost obsessively focused on dried beans, with good reason. They pack a mighty punch in term of protein and nutrition. But they're not without their drawbacks.

Dried beans have a low yield when compared to other crops. From one tire, I can harvest 30 ears of corn, or 15 lbs. of potatoes, or 15 lbs. of carrots. But I'll only get eight ounces of dried beans.

For us, dried beans will only ever be an "overflow" crop, something to plant if I have spare room. That's because we have other protein sources -- chickens, eggs, beef, and eventually nuts. If beans are your only source of protein in a prepper-gardening situation, then yes, plant a lot. Just be aware of their low yield.

They're also labor-intensive. Sure, you can stuff the dried pods in a pillowcase and stomp around on it (highly recommended), but don't think for a minute that technique will dislodge every last bean. In fact, I've discovered it only dislodges about half the beans. There's no getting around the need to hand-pick through the stomped pods to maximize the harvest.

Still, it's not a terrible task. I found it rather soothing, akin to doing a puzzle. (These are calypso beans, by the way.)

Dried beans are a patient crop, allowing a homesteader the chance to get everything else processed first and shell them gradually over cold winter days. I'm still shelling them, but I'm going to guesstimate I'll end up with 10 lbs.

Now step back a moment and pretend you didn't read any of the above, and try to see everything with outside eyes.

One day in mid-October, we had a fellow come over to give us an estimate for some repair work we needed done to the outside of the house. He caught me splitting wood:

As Don showed him what he wanted done, I looked over things with fresh eyes, the eyes of a stranger, and I realized it looked like Harvest House around our place.

Outside was a wheelbarrow full of pears (I sent the gentleman home with two bulging bags)...

...a crate of garlic:

...some late-season watermelon and cantaloupe:

...and a tub bulging with cayennes.

Inside was a basket of eggs:

...a few pears reserved for fresh eating:

...two large boxes of ripening tomatoes:

...and canning projects in progress:

So there you have it, our Harvest House.


  1. It is amazing what can be accomplished if you commit to making a little progress day after day after day. You and Don did that PLUS you found time to be teachers. Thank you.
    Montana Guy

  2. What a wonderful post! You deserve to feel a great deal of satisfaction over a good job done.

  3. Wow! What a great feeling to provide for yourselves.
    Side note, my husband’s grandmother took to using her old wringer washer to clean and “peel” her carrots before she canned them. A few minutes in the washer accomplished the job lickety split.

  4. Have you tried the popcorn yet? Can you tell a difference in the taste?

    1. It pops smaller than conventional popcorn, but the taste is wonderful. A little "richer."

      - Patrice

  5. Two bulging bags of pears, and even more set aside for fresh eating? Why, one might suspect (gasp!) that you might be the Magic Pear Fairy! Who'd a thunk it?

  6. So beautiful! A labor of love. All of it. I'll bet your pantry is lovely.

  7. All of your hard work has been rewarded! This was a wonderful post and I am jealous. Not so much because of all the great food but because at my age I can no longer do the work. I can remember a feed sack full of pop corn ears hanging from a rafter in the garage / tractor parking spot with a big steel tin hat to keep the mice away. We used to have popcorn a lot. My parents standard wedding gift for years was a popcorn popper and some corn and oil so that the young married couple could entertain their friends cheaply.

  8. I just reread the posting and have noticed that you are canning mostly pints. I am assuming that this is because of the downsizing of the family with the girls gone? When I started buying jars I tried to get quarts until it struck me that a pint of almost anything was enough for the wife and myself.

    1. Yes, exactly. I'll can turkey stock and chicken meat in quart jars, but these days almost everything else is in pints.

      BTW, buy your jars second-hand whenever possible (just make sure the rims are not chipped). They're usually -- not always, but usually -- a whole lot cheaper that way. Yard sales are great places to look.

      - Patrice

    2. I've gotten a bunch of my canning jars from yard sales and estate sales. Just know how much you'll pay for a box of new jars, though. Some people selling them don't know that around here, they're typically 75 cents new, so charging 80 cents at a yard sale for a used jar is not going to get them sold!

  9. Great post, Patrice! I just have a question about the beans. Is the yield so small because of the type of bean, or are all dry beans such poor yield? I was planning next years garden, and have allowed two 75' rows for dry beans. I'm thinking now I should allow for four rows. Thanks

    1. As far as I know, all dried beans are like that. I'd say, plant four rows.

      - Patrice

    2. I plant two lengths of cattle panels with climbing pinto beans and even in a bad year harvest a gallon of dried beans. In an excellent year I get double that.

    3. Pole beans always have a much larger yield than Bush beans, but most folks dont grow them because they dont want to fool with the trellising. Easiest way I've found to do it is drive a pole in the ground, take a cattle panel and bend it up against the post, attach it with strong zip ties. Then about 4 feet away drive in another post and attach the other side of the panel so you have an arch. This works best with two people so somebody can be holding the arch until you get the second side attached. Works great for pole beans, cucumbers, or anything you need to climb. It's very pretty too. And it's fairly easy to take down when you dont want it there anymore.

  10. That is amazing Patrice. Well done!

    A good confirmation on beans - I can grow them easy enough, but the yield is always abysmal.

  11. Holy cow! When all the work is done, you must feel great satisfaction.

    Tomato vinegar? I would like to hear more about that! I froze my tomatoes skin and all, mostly chopped but some whole (first time trying it) and so far, they've made amazing sauce, seeds, skin and all! That taste of summer...

  12. My brother and his wife live in a mid-western prairie city, in a 1950's to early '60's (built) neighborhood. 1200 sq. ft main floor, 2 car (inline) detached garage and yard appreciate for the house size (small). They have 8 raised beds and grow an amazing amount of produce. They hunt and fish a lot and she has many medicinal plants among her food crops. (She is an RN but very serious about homeopathic cures when applicable.) They buy very little at the store. I live on 160 acres 200 miles west of them and the Dioxin over spray from my neighbors allows me almost no fresh produce. I see what you do and they do and dream.....Natokadn

  13. We also plant a large garden and I preserve as much as possible. It is wonderful to "shop" my root cellar instead of the grocery store. I like knowing where my food comes from and how it is grown. I can food all year round. The season dictates what I am preserving, fruits and veggies in the summer, broth, soups, and meats in the winter. I overheard my hubby tell a friend that if he disappears to check the jars in the basement!😆

  14. I pressure canned carrots last year but they were mushy. Any suggestions?

    1. Nope. Due to the high temps and lengthy processing time, canned carrots are likely to be mushy regardless. I like them that way so it doesn't bother me, but perhaps if you cut your pieces a bit bigger than I did, it might help.

      Just don't think you can get away with water-bath canning carrots, because you can't.

      - Patrice

    2. I dehydrated a bunch a few years ago. I didn't prepare any as a dish of "just" carrots, but in soups and with roasts they tasted like fresh..fabulous! Natokadn

  15. All that garlic got chopped ...

    *blink blink blink*

    You definitely need to try paprika marinated garlic cloves, they're fantastic with grilled food and vegetable dips.

    I wouldn't dream of chopping up all that garlic -- I'd have preserved most of it as paprika marinated garlic cloves.

    In a pinch, you can find chopped garlic in a grocery store, but the only shops here in the States that reliably carry paprika marinated garlic cloves are Eastern European shops, and here they are a considerable distance away.

    Also, have you ever tried ajvar (aka "Serbian red pepper relish") or ljutenica (aka "Serbian hot relish")?

    See if you can get a jar of each, and if you like them, that's something to do with some of your produce. They're great with grilled flatbreads and crispbreads, and you probably already have the right kind of flour for those on hand.

    You are also already raising nearly everything you'd need for both of those Serbian veggie relishes aside from some eggplants, and the produce might actually keep a bit longer in those forms.

    Since you don't seem to be wild about cayenne but you don't seem to mind slightly spicy stuff, that's why I'm suggesting the Serbian relishes as something to try next time.

  16. Really? Is that all? What the heck do you do with all your spare time???? Awesome Job!!!!

  17. Can you give us some more details on how you keep your potatoes?? They drive me crazy. They're our favorite starch around here; we eat them boiled and baked and fried and mashed, roasted, made into soup... And I can't get them to keep more than about 2 or 3 weeks. Granted, I buy our potatoes, but it would be nice to be able to buy them in quantity when they're ready locally and keep them a while.

    I don't have a basement or a cellar, or for that matter a truly unheated room. About the only method of keeping them I've come up with is canning, which limits their uses somewhat (and is, to be frank, the only canning project that always leaves me with fears of botulism).

    1. We're kinda in the same boat as you. If we had a root cellar or other means of storage, we'd grow lots and lots more potatoes, but we have to limit ourselves since they would only go bad.

      The best advice is simply keep them as cool and dark as you can. Don't put them in any container that doesn't breathe, or they'll rot (or rot faster). If you have an unheated garage, that might work better than the house (unless your garage experiences subfreezing temps). Sorry I can't be more helpful.

      - Patrice

    2. You can store potatoes right in the ground. You have to dig a special kind of hole and cover it with straw. It's basically a mini cellar.

  18. the easiest way of thrashing dried beans i have found is to put them in a large bucket and use the weed eater to thrash them , saves a great deal of work and knocks every bean from its pod .

  19. My cocker spaniels love carrots! They would have done anything for those funny carrots. I might grow some popcorn next year, just for the fun of whacking the ears to get the kernels out. It must have reduced your stress level by banging those corn ears! I have canned tomatoes, peas, and apples. I think everyone who eats should experience gardening and canning to understand what it takes to get just a little food to the table! Love your articles.
    -Stealth Spaniel

  20. Tomato vinegar. Never thought of that, though it makes sense since tomatoes are a fruit. Sounds like something to try out next year. Thanks for the idea!

  21. Two questions... what do you do with all your extra eggs and do you butcher your chickens?

    1. 1. Sell them (mostly to neighbors); and 2. No (we should, but we don't).

      - Patrice

  22. Don't know where you get your onion sets from but Dixondale Farms has the best sweetest onions I've ever planted. Candy is our favorite. They have 3 different planting varieties for sunlight duration.

    1. Actually, I'm not fond of sweet onions. In my opinion, an onion should "bite" me back. The hotter the better!

      - Patrice

  23. Amazing. We moved to a farm in N. Idaho last year and have yet to plant our garden. What is the variety of popcorn you planted? I think we will try it. Kids love popcorn.

    1. "Early Pink" by Territorial Seeds. I added a hyperlink in the post.

      - Patrice

  24. Your Horn Of Plenty runneth over Patrice!