Better Planning for An Abundant Harvest

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Better Planning for An Abundant Harvest

As I begin planning my vegetable garden for the coming spring season, I have a different approach than I have in years past.

Traditionally, my family and I discuss our 3 main crops: tomatoes, cucumbers, and melons. We compare descriptions in catalogs and on websites to decide which varieties we would like to experiment with, and I add them to the list that already includes our tried-and-true favorites. Once that list is complete, we move on to other things we have never tried to grow or maybe have tried, without success, and are ready to try again.

When we are well into the growing season, I take inventory of the crops that look as though they will be successes, and I begin researching recipe websites for ways to use our harvest. This has always worked out okay in the past, but last summer I found myself with lots of these baskets of jalapenos that I had no use for.

Our spring was very harsh in the Midwest, and when it looked as though our tomato and pepper plants were not going to thrive, my husband decided we needed to start over. The new plants took off and provided us with an abundant harvest, but so did our original plantings! I ended up with nearly 30 tomato plants and 7 jalapeno plants. We normally have 15 and 3, respectively. Tomatoes are a main ingredient in so many dishes that, while the excess harvest created extra work in the garden, it was a welcome "problem." The jalapenos, not so much. I froze what we normally use in a year. Although we rarely use them, I canned what we could reasonably eat in a year. Since a little bit goes a long way, sharing the harvest with others didn't do much to reduce the excess I had.

I began researching recipes for ways to use the remaining harvest. I was excited to be able to make plenty jalapeno jelly and raspberry-jalapeno jam. However, beyond those 2 recipes, my recipe search was unsuccessful. The reason was not for lack of recipes that sounded good. The problem was lacking the ingredients to make the recipes. Since I had not planned ahead for these recipes, I was faced with buying the needed herbs and spices I had not grown in my own garden. To purchase what I needed would have been very costly. Not only did this go against my frugal nature, because I was unsure we would even like the flavors of these recipes, it made no sense to make the kind of investment I was looking at. I ended up drying a half a basket of the jalapenos and composting the remaining 3 1/2. The thought of having to wait another year to try those bread and butter pickled jalapenos led to a vow to approach my garden plans differently.

I received my first seed catalog in the mail at the beginning of December. As in years past, I immediately began earmarking pages. But before I place my final order, you can bet I will have already researched recipes, and I will be armed with a more complete final list of seeds to buy.