For a gardener or forager, this time of year is just crazy busy. It seems like every plant in the universe has conspired to come ripe at the same minute, demanding your attention. The tomatoes are ready all at once. The corn should have been picked two days ago. It’s time to turn the basil into pesto before the first frost kills it. Busy, busy, busy.
There are still things you can plant, of course. Garlic gets planted in the early fall, for harvest the next summer. You could probably plant some lettuce or spinach in time to eat it before the frost kills it off. If the garden plot is actually getting bare, sprinkle in some ground cover like clover, which will hold the soil and fix nitrogen for next year’s crops. But basically, it’s the season for freezing, canning and dehydrating.
In my family, we have been doing all three … as fast as we can. Hundreds of apples have been falling on the ground under trees in my neighbors’ yards, so my job has been to collect them, cut out the bad parts and deliver them to my brother-in-law for pressing into apple cider; we have made about 10 gallons so far.
The freezers are getting pretty full right now, including the one above the refrigerator and the chest freezer in the basement, and my son’s house nearby, with frozen aronia, rhubarb, currants, elderberries, and the cider from the apple pressing.
The dehydrators are taking a brief break while I work on other storage methods.
The canning jars are ready and the first jellies have been made, even while most of the fruit waits in the freezer.
As a novice, I am learning that there is a season to these things. Early spring brings wild and planted greens. Fruits ripen at different times during the summer, so we have to pay attention. Dehydrating fruits and veggies in your car works on warm, sunny days. (Just spread out a thin layer of product on a black cotton cloth on top a cookie sheet in the sun, cracking the windows a bit to avoid actual cooking.) Canning is more pleasant when the weather is cooler and the windows are open. Wine-making can happen at any time of the year, as long as you have freezer space for the fruits until you are ready.
We could learn from the squirrels, of course. Even if you didn’t plant a garden at all, even if you didn’t forage a single wild plum from the Greenway or a single elderberry from Minnehaha Creek, you can save a ton of money by buying now and eating later.
Consider a shopping trip to the nearest farmers’ market. In late September and October, the markets are loaded with late-season produce. If you buy a basket of green peppers and wash, core, chop and freeze them, you will have a yummy addition to many a winter meal. If you stock up on winter squashes and onions, store them in a cool, dark place, they will probably last until spring without refrigeration. (Apples, onions, potatoes and carrots should be stored as separately as possibly, since some release ripening gasses that rot the others.)
A couple of years ago, my wife made a trip to the downtown farmers’ market and spent under $80 for enough onions and vegetables to last us until April—and we eat a lot of veggies! Although not certified organic, they hadn’t been sprayed and their cost was between a third and a tenth of the grocery store price for organics.
All this stuff takes time, naturally, so if you are a professional football player who gets a million dollars a game, it probably makes more sense to pay a migrant farmer to do your work for you, or to fly in your caviar from Russia. But for the rest of us, it begins to make sense as an active way to stretch your food budget. My suggestion is to start small: freeze something delicious for later. See how long food keeps in a corner of the basement. Then take one of the canning or food preservation classes listed below. I have taken a number of them, and I can tell you that it takes away the fear and builds confidence immediately.
Through Oct. 7, 10 a.m. on. Free Exhibit.
“The incredible edible garden,”
McNeely Conservatory at the Como Zoo,
1225 Estabrook Dr., St Paul.
651-487-8201 or www.comozooconservatory.org/
Sept. 5, 6 to 7:30 p.m. Free but RSVP required.
“Tomato seed-saving,” Randolph and View, St Paul.
612-821-2358 or www.excotc.org/class/tomato-seed-saving
Sept. 6, 6 to 7:30 p.m. Free.
“Fall yard and garden care,” Northeast Library,
2200 Central Ave. N.E., Mpls.
612-54306775 or www.hclib.org/-pub/events
Sept. 8, 1 to 2:30 p.m. Free.
“Pruning trees and shrubs,”
St. Louis Park Library, 3240 Library Lane,
St. Louis Park. 612-543-6125 or
Sept. 12, 6:30 to 8 p.m.
Free but RSVP required.
1958 Rice St., Maplewood.
612-821-2358 or www.excotc.org/
Sept. 13, 6:30 to 8 p.m. $20.
“Preserve your harvest – dry, freeze and store,”
MN State Horticulture Society, 2705 Lincoln Dr.,
Roseville. Register at www.northerngardener.org/
Sept. 14 to 16, campground open noon
Friday. $20 donation.
“Gathering of the guilds,”
a permaculture skill-share camp-out
involving many skills like composting, mushrooms, bees, rain catchment, etc.,
Harmony Park Music Garden, 79503 –
298th St., Clarks Grove, MN.
Sept. 15, 3 to 4:30 p.m. Free.
Southeast Library, 1222 –
4th St. S.E., Mpls. 612-543-6725 or
Sept. 16, 2:30 to 4:30 p.m.
$20 or free to Food Hub members.
“Herb preservation,” Van Cleve Park,
601-15th Ave S.E., Mpls. RSVP required at
Sept. 18, 6:30 to 8 p.m. Free.
“Beautiful no-mow lawns”
(including edible), MN State
Horticultural Society, 2705 Lincoln Dr.,
Sept. 19, 6:30 to 8 p.m. Free but RSVP required.
“Backyard beekeeping,” 36th and Pleasant,
Mpls. 612-821-2358 or www.excotc.org/class/
Sept. 20, 6 to 7:30 p.m. Free but RSVP
required. “Growing berries in Minnesota,”
East Lake Library, 2727 E. Lake, Mpls.
Sept. 22, 9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.
$20 for 1 class through $45 for all 3.
“Pruning” at 9, “Composting” at 10:15, “Mulching”
at 11:30, Muriel Sahlin Arboretum, Roseville
Central Park, 2525 N. Dale St., Roseville.
Sept. 22, 11 a.m. Free but RSVP.
“Cooking with apples,” Gertens, 5500 Blaine Ave.,
Inver Grove Heights.
Sept. 22, 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.
$20 or free to Food Hub members.
“Tomato products” like salsa,
University Lutheran Church, 601-13th Ave.
S.E., Mpls. RSVP required at
Sept. 24, 6 to 8:30 p.m.
Free but RSVP required.
“Backyard success with apples,”
Rogers Library, 21300 John Milless
Dr., Rogers. 612-543-6050 or