In Search of the Lean Six Life

Smarter, not harder. Preferrably A LOT smarter.


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How to Suck at Gardening and Still Feed Your Family

I am not the world’s best gardener, but I think I have unlocked the biggest secret to achieving some kind of success at growing and harvesting your own food.

Perseverance.

Last year, my strawberry crop was decimated by storms of Biblical proportions that flooded cities and washed away roads. Honestly I was “lucky” that my biggest loss was a few gallons of strawberries.

This spring, the weather continues to be bipolar – running the heat a few days as temps plummet into the 40s over night, in May! And then flipping on the AC less than a week later. But the precipitation has remained at manageable levels. With a little supplemental drip irrigation, my strawberries have flourished.

(Although I always found it strange that my Junebearing strawberries produce fruit in May… possibly due to their location on the warmer side of the house.)

Strawberries galore!

Strawberries galore!

So far, I have harvested enough strawberries to be worth sorting them. Unheard of. Normally we eat whatever we can, and freeze whatever remains before they can go bad. The frozen berries get used in smoothies and baked goods throughout the year until the next crop. This abundance despite the fact that a skunk has taken up residence under our shed (sigh) and helps herself to several berries each night (deeper sigh).

When sorting, I save the biggest and ripest for eating. These sit out on my kitchen counter, where they lure the children into eating something healthy. (Yay, fresh fruit!)

The smallest and lumpiest berries I put aside for the freezer. Berries with too many seeds as well. Since these will get cooked into desserts or blended into smoothies, their size and awkward shape matters less.

Strawberries for Eating (left), Freeze Drying (center), and Freezing (right)

Strawberries for eating (left), freeze drying (center), and freezing (right)… the lighting really doesn’t do justice to the colors!

The third category – new for me this year! – includes the berries of decent size which just aren’t quite ripe enough. Picked when not quite at their flavor peak… picked a day or two early to ensure the skunk doesn’t get them first! These are getting sliced then processed in our Harvest Right freeze dryer. Because the freeze dryer removes all moisture from the fruit, the weak, watery flavor of less ripe fruit becomes concentrated into delicious thin, crispy wafers.

Half the batch gets saved for long term storage (up to 25 years, if the ads are correct) and the other half gets scarfed down even faster than the fresh berries. (While drinking plenty of water, of course.)

Point being, if I had let last year’s disaster discourage and derail me, if I had quit following the loss of the whole harvest, I wouldn’t be enjoying the bounty now. Of course, who knows what next year will bring! Good ol’ Maryland!


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Berry Grateful

Welcome to my new series: how to suck at gardening and still feed your family!

One of the greatest disappointments we face when producing our own food is a scrawny, mangled harvest.

Mangled berries are still edible!

Mangled berries are still edible!

It’s important to keep trying, and not let your spoils, well, spoil.

Those mangled berries are edible, so use them! They are great in shakes, fruit leather, jams and syrups.


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Green Tomato Salsa

A.k.a., what to do with all the unripe tomatoes when cold weather hits.

Chop green tomatoes. Add diced garlic, diced red onion, hot peppers (another “harvest before it freezes outside crop”), and cilantro (also salvaged pre-freezing weather). Let stand for a few hours, stirring occasionally. Add additional seasonings to taste – more of any of the ingredients, and / or salt, pepper, lime juice. Whatever you like, it’s your salsa after all!


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Ceci N’est Pas Une Diet Blog

I know, I know, I’ve been blogging about food and diet a lot lately.

Just a reminder, this is NOT a diet blog, even though it looks like one from time to time.  Or a lot, even.

This is a personal productivity and effectiveness blog.  It’s an exploring-ways-to-be-more-awesome blog. It’s a getting the most out of the short time we have on this planet blog. Finding ways to do things smarter, not harder.

The best way to know if things are getting better, is to have metrics that you can record over time. This allows you to make small adjustments, measure results, and then change accordingly to see if the numbers are reflecting the desired change. To do this effectively, you need to have a good starting baseline.

One my consistent failings in all my year’s gardening has been tracking yield. My beloved journal/calendar/diary keeps me straight on timing, but I have no way to know if things like succession planting or different vegetable varieties is really impacting my yield.

This year, I’m committed to better tracking to establish that baseline. To that end: behold! My first measurable garden output of the year!

Asparagus fresh from the backyard

Asparagus fresh from the backyard

(Note this is not “subsistence farming” or even significantly impacting my grocery budget – this much asparagus sells right now for probably 5 USD or less.  Frankly, if it’s in season for your home garden, it’s in season for the farmers around you, and they have economies of scale which allow them to sell the same produce for WAY less than it costs you to grow it yourself. But a backyard garden is noble and worthy for other reasons… probably that will be (yet another) future blog post.)