URBAN GARDENING: What to do with a bumper crop

Rebecca Cuttler commutes to her food-giving plot and shares the wealth of local gardening info in her new weekly column, Abundant City.

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Blanch and freeze it

Blanching and freezing is the perfect solution for spinach, kale, zucchini, peas, tomatoes, corn and other “main crops." Wash your veggies, remove the stems, chop them into portions and dunk them briefly into a pot of boiling water to deactivate the enzymes that can destroy flavour and nutrients, followed by an ice-water bath to preserve colour. Then squeeze out the excess water and freeze in portions.  Better yet, make your own ready-to-eat frozen meals like stir-fry mixes, spanakopita or stuffed zucchini. The work you put in now will be well rewarded with a freezer stocked with healthy, cheap year-round convenience foods.

Pickle it

Cabbage, mustard greens, cucumbers, carrots, beets and radishes are all perfect candidates for making probiotic lacto-fermented pickles. All you need is some salt and a collection of big glass jars, and you can be like me, living with a fridge stuffed with pickled things that will stay fresh for a long time. For a wealth of information on how to pickle things safely and deliciously, I recommend reading The Art of Fermentation by Sandor Katz.

Can it

Unlike the methods above, canning doesn’t require energy-intensive fridge and freezer use. You can do so much with it, from salsas to jams and beyond. It’s getting easier to access the training and equipment needed to make canned goods.

Give it away

There’s only one thing to do with lettuce and other delicate salad greens, and that’s give them away. Pre-wash them and package individual portions for your friends, family and co-workers. If they hesitate about taking it, emphasize the fact that they’re doing you a favour, and ask them to make a donation to a favourite charity. Or, cook a garden-to-table dinner and share the bounty.

Dry it

Strong herbs like mint, fennel, sage, lavender, thyme and oregano are notorious for yielding far more than most of us can eat. Hang freshly washed bundles in a cool, dry place with lots of airflow, and crumble the fully dried leaves into jars, discarding the stems. You’ll never buy mint tea again.

Compost it or let it go to seed

If you can’t keep up with the harvest, that’s okay. Let your plants bolt and allow the flowers to attract beneficial insects to your garden. Once the seed pods have dried out, save them for planting next year or just shake them in place and allow them to self-sow. Or, simply pull your plants out and compost them to maintain soil fertility.

Growing food is so much more than a trend. It’s a complex discipline, a healing force for the planet, and a fascinating learning practice.

Rebecca Cuttler is an urban gardening teacher, member of the Vancouver Food Policy Council and board member of the Environmental Youth Alliance. She blogs about urban food gardening at abundantcity.net.

Our first harvest of June yielded mustard greens, peas, chives, radishes, parsley and much more. Photo by Rebecca Cuttler.

These chard plants were tiny just a couple of weeks ago. Now, they’re overcrowded and really need to be thinned. There are cucumber plants in there somewhere too! Photo by Rebecca Cuttler.

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