In Search of the Lean Six Life

Smarter, not harder. Preferrably A LOT smarter.


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If You See and Old Pea…

Leave it be!

Today’s post in the “How to suck at gardening and still feed your family” series: what to do with the old peas that you somehow overlooked while harvesting.

These peas are past their prime, but are still valuable to the gardener!

These peas are past their prime, but are still valuable to the gardener!

The pod is turning yellow and drying out. By this stage, this pea is still edible but the flavor would be more starchy than sweet.

I used to pick these and compost them, or toss them as a treat to our small flock of backyard hens. They love peas almost as much as I do, and don’t really care if they are a bit past their prime!

My backyard flock

My backyard flock

But then I learned that peas are self-pollinating. For the most part, any given flower on a pea plant is most likely to fertilize itself, meaning that it will produce seeds whose characteristics are true to the parent plant. (OK, technically this only happens for open pollinated rather hybrid plants … but there are a lot fewer hybridized versions of peas than, say tomatoes.)

So rather than tossing these too-old-to-eat-peas, now I leave them on the plant to the bitter end. As I am pulling up the dead, withered plants, I locate those peas and collect them to dry and plant next season. This year, I even plan to label them so I know which variety of pea is which! (Oops?)

(As an aside, I plant several cultivars of pea – and many of the other vegetables I grow –  because they each have slightly different conditions in which they thrive. For instance this has been an amazing year for the sugar snap peas, although it’s only been “ok” for the bush-size shelling peas.)

Once the peas are collected and dried thoroughly, they can be stored in envelopes until the next time you plant. Peas, in central MD, can be planted both in the spring and fall. By keeping your own pea seeds, you become more self-sufficient and less reliant on businesses that want to control (monetize) every aspect of our lives. Additionally, you can harvest seeds from plants that do especially well in your growing conditions, or that have a particularly good flavor, and continue those strains that work best for you!


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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.