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These are my 8 tips for getting it all done and staying sane during the harvest and preserving season. From a mom, wife, and full time homesteader with a day job, I totally get how hard it is to try and do it all. These are my tips for keeping the sanity during the harvest and preserving season (at least, as sane as a homesteader ever can be!)
Though these tips are geared towards harvest and preserving season, they're truly applicable to all areas of our lives, but they have particularly helped me stay sane during this busy time of life.
In case you missed it, we've got lots of great past episodes on the podcast and this podcast is a way you can have winter to do some work for you to improve your soil over the fallow months.
Episode #38 Fall Garden Prep to Improve Your Soil
Listen to this post Episode #89 (just push play below) and all our episodes of the
Pioneering Today Podcast while you're on the go, scrubbing the house, cooking up dinner (can I get an invite?), or mucking out stalls! I post new episodes Friday mornings.
Tip #1 Remember your why. It can be easy to forget why we decided this whole homesteading, grow it and preserve it yourself was such a good idea when we're exhausted and literally up to our elbows in green beans, tomatoes and the weeds are waist high. (Just saying, I believe it's a sign of a good gardener when there's a few weeds about, at least, that's what I tell myself because there's always a few weeds or stragglers that don't belong there).
I remind myself that I'm feeding my family healthy food that doesn't have pesticide loads and GMO's, all of which can greatly impact our health. We drastically cut our food bill down by growing and preserving our own food, even when we purchase the food in season from local sources.
I just purchased 25 pounds of pears. Our heirloom seeds, ability and practice of growing our own food, and the preserves we put up are an insurance against the unknown and a preparedness plan we can count on, because we do it year in and year out.
All of this is insurance to better higher quality food that will nourish our bodies and pulls us together as a family unit. If you need to, write out your why.
By saving money from growing your own groceries and putting up your own food pantry, what can you put that extra money towards? Maybe its a savings account, maybe its paying off debt, maybe its a vacation, maybe its a higher quality of food on the items you don't grow yourself, maybe its a night out where you're not cooking or pulling weeds….
Tip #2. Prioritize. There's this fallacy that we can do it all. I tend to fall into this line of thinking myself. But no one can do it all. This has probably helped me the most on my time management. Pick the things that absolutely have to be done today and leave the rest.
When it comes to preserving the harvest, there are some things that can be preserved and dealt with later. Tomatoes freeze just fine and can then be easily skinned without hot water blanching. All of my berries, cherries, and grapes can be frozen and then later turned into jams, jellies, syrups, pie fillings, and fruit butters. If I only have enough time to do one preserving thing for the day, I pick that which can't wait or be held off.
Green beans and cucumber have top priority. Mainly because crisp pickles happen with fresh just picked cucumbers, even fermented ones. If I don't have enough cucumbers to can a run, then I'll toss some in a jar for another batch of fermented pickles. We count on our green beans as one of our main vegetables for the year (and we never purchase them from the store) so when they're ready to pick and can, they get my main focus. In just two weeks, I will put up about 60+ jars of green beans.
If something else comes along during that time, if it can't wait until I'm done with the beans either in the fridge or the freezer, I say no and don't buy it or pass if it's offered from someones else's garden.
Apples store quite well in the fridge (if you have a root cellar with proper humidity, they do well there) so if I have other crops that need to be canned or preserved, I give them my attention time, knowing the apples will wait. Tip: if you're picking the fruit, always leave the stem on, this will help the food store longer.
Tip #3. Put up what you're really going to eat. When I'm deciding what to preserve, I go with the foods I know we're going to eat a lot of and use up. While that spicy plum sauce sounds wonderful, I know my family will eat more apple sauce and plum butter than they will the spicy plum sauce. (I'm not saying don't try new fun recipes, but when you're pressed for resources, go with the true and trusted).
My family loves strawberry and blueberry jam, the white grape jelly I made a few years ago still has a jar in the back of the pantry. Therefore, I haven't made any in the past two years because I know it's not a big mover in our pantry.
Speaking of easy and putting up food, grab our Jam & Jelly Trouble Shooting Guide, because no one has time for mistakes or failed batches of jam when they can easily be avoided or fixed with this free guide!
(When you sign up for our FREE Guide you'll get the option for a super special pricing to join our Home Fruit Preservation e-Course!) Click here!
That fruit canning ecourse is exactly what I needed as a new canner! Well worth the $7.
Tip #4. Preserve it in the form where you'll get the most use out of it. This will come down to personal preference a lot of the time. But with apples, I love to make home canned apple pie filling as it's a base for pies but also for cakes and quick desserts.
Applesauce is eaten over pancakes, biscuits, or just by itself, can be cooked down into a thicker butter, or made into fruit leather, and I also use it in place of oil when I'm baking. This means I get a lot more mileage out of a jar of applesauce than I would a jar of apple jam. Not that I don't like both, but if pressed for time, I go with the most versatile.
Same thing for tomato sauce. I can turn basic tomato sauce into pizza sauce and spaghetti sauce and the time of cooking. It's much faster for me to make a quick basic tomato sauce than it is to simmer or chop up onions and garlic and herbs (note: approved canning recipes only). Plus, I can quickly alter it at the time of use.
Tip #5. Schedule in the time. Let's face it, we all have the same 24 hours in a day. While generally speaking we can't take off from work to get our harvest and preserving in (but if you've got extra vacation hours and want to use 'em…) we can block out time where we'd normally be watching television, reading a book, scrolling on Facebook, or maybe even sleeping. Now I'm not saying to cut yourself short on sleep, because we truly need at least 7 hours (this girl likes 8) in order to stay healthy and function.
But during harvest time, I know I can't can a run at 8 o'clock at night, but I can go to bed at 9:30 instead of 10 and get up at 5:30 am instead of 6:am and get a run of beans done before work, even if it means skipping some of my normal activities. Once the food is in the canner, then I can sneak in what I'd normally be doing at that time like a shortened workout or writing time. This is totally going to depend on your schedule, but I bet you can find some wiggle room.
Tip #6. Split it into batches and get help. If I'm scheduling an early morning canning run, I make sure the produce is picked the night before and prepped. Green beans are in the fridge, fruit is ripe and ready to go, or broth has been simmering in the slow cooker all night.
If I'm planning on canning a run of beans when I get home from work at 7 pm, then my husband and kids (who get home before me) will pick the beans and start snapping them so I just have to can them. Enlisting the help of all present hands on the homestead is a huge help. It also teaches the kids where the food comes from, how to work together as a family, and is just plain needed in order for us to live this lifestyle with both Mom and Dad working outside the home.
If you eat it, you help put it up. Pretty much is how we roll around here.
Tip #7. Celebrate what you've accomplished. I think it's a homesteader thing to always want to do more…. but the danger in this is not celebrating and enjoying what we're doing and have already done. If you harvested one thing from your garden, that's one item of food you didn't buy from the store. If you canned 5 jars of food, that's 5 things you can feed your family this winter.
Tip #8. Improvise when needed. Didn't get the fall garden started from seed like you wanted? Grab some starts from the nursery and slap them in the ground. Who cares who started them and if they're a week or so late? (Might be talking 'bout myself here this year).
Waited too long and it's way too late for even starts? Sow a cover crop or throw down some good compost and manure.
Go with what you can do at the time, don't beat yourself if it's not what you wanted, plan for next year and accept the season you're in right now.
Concerned about all the chemicals and GMO's in your food? I created these 5 free videos to share with you on how we can our food at home, the critical step in successfully seed saving, and getting the most from the crops you have! Sign up here–> 5 Free Videos to Increase Self-Sufficiency
Melissa K. Norris inspires people's faith and pioneer roots with her books, podcast, and blog. Melissa lives with her husband and two children in their own little house in the big woods in the foothills of the North Cascade Mountains. When she's not wrangling chickens and cattle, you can find her stuffing Mason jars with homegrown food and playing with flour and sugar in the kitchen.