Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Garden News



Heather's garden--Jake Putnam photo
Garden Harvest: A Full Time Job

Boise--Teacher Heather Glass put her career on hold last spring to take up gardening full time. Her goal was to produce enough food to last her family through the winter, with two-thirds of her garden harvested this year, she says she's accomplished that goal.

"To be self sustaining and truly eat all winter long from the garden you have to commit," said Glass. "You have to pre-cook meals and freeze them; you have to learn how to can the food. You can't eat out of the garden all year, you have to treat it, cook it to make it through the winter. I think we will make it this year."

Glass lives with retired dentist, Ted Glass, her father in Boise's northwest foothills on an acre of land. The garden is neatly laid out with a clever drip irrigation system that's stingy with water. Heather plants, weeds, stays on top of the latest bugs and pests while Ted runs the tractor and handles irrigation.

"I'd say we're up two-thirds from last year," said Ted Glass. "Our yields are up because of the irrigation, and because we planted more." Heather Glass says to be self-sustaining they have to have variety, plus herbs, fruit trees and foodstuffs that can be cooked, canned and frozen.

"About 80-85 percent of what we eat comes from the garden, that’s minus meat and staples like mayonnaise. Sometimes ill buy lettuce in the winter for a fresh salad, but for the most part everything comes from the garden. This year we are stocked with soups and stews, chili, so I'm spending a lot of time in the kitchen," said Heather.

Heather started cooking the first of August with the harvest and has been at it every since. "I’m in the kitchen this time of year about 8 hours a day. I'm cooking things like spegetti sauce, and eggplant parmesan. I cut it into sections and section it off. I make green bean medley with green beans, carrots and corn. I measure it, seal freeze it, and so I prep a lot of stuff to get it in the freezer and in individual containers."

Brenda Schmidt of Jarden Home Brands, the Indiana company that makes Ball and Kerr canning jars and other supplies for home preservation, said retail sales increased by 30 percent in 2008 over 2007 and have increased another 30 percent so far this year over 2008.

''We have found that many people planted vegetable gardens or utilized locally grown produce, and now — canning season — they are fresh-preserving those products for year-round use and as a way to cut back on their grocery bills,'' she said.

However, the company's research shows that the recession is driving only part of the sales increase. The rest is due to the continuing interest in locally grown foods and a desire to control one's food sources. ''Canning allows you to create the foods you want on the terms that you want. You can control all of it,'' Schmidt said.

This is my first year," said the former teacher. "Since I moved to Boise I've been freezing everything. I decided that if something happens, I don't want to depend on electricity, its another way to preserve. I wish I had learned about canning before. I've been teaching myself, carefully reading all the books on it. I’m taking a canning class from the U of I extension service. It’s a science, you have to be very careful."

Canning involves processing jars at temperatures high enough to kill bacteria, yeast and mold, which can contaminate food. Canning recipes contain processing time guidelines, which should be followed carefully. It's important to have up-to-date information. Glass says Grandma's 50-year-old recipe for canning tomatoes isn't the one you want to use today. Guidelines change over time because pH levels of fruits and vegetables vary as hybrids are produced.

Glass says even the soil a food is grown in can affect how it will react to home-canning methods. Scientific research is constantly being updated to provide the best information to prevent spoilage.

Ted and Heather Glass rarely eat out, they're on a tight budget. They report their garden has saved them thousands in food costs. "I think just this summer alone we cut at least $2-thousand dollars in groceries, we might save another $2-3 thousand this winter.

"It’s a commitment, its been one of my biggest pleasures of my life, growing a garden, preparing the food, watching things grow, coming down the stairs with a big basket of tomatoes, it’s absolutely a passion. I can't see doing anything else right now, especially in this economy," said Heather Glass.

Gardners like Ted and Heather are part of an urban trend back to agriculture and home grown foods, due in part by the economy, and the growing concept of wanting to know where your food comes from. The Glass's have found out the hard way that gardening and growing your own food is time-consuming, back breaking work.

"It’s a commitment to grow a small garden and a few tomatoes here and there with a salad here and there, that’s nice and it’s nice to have fresh produce, but it isn’t sustainability. This is a full time job, it's my life and I love it," said Heather Glass.

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