November 2, 2010

The Big Question: Have We Grown & Stored Enough???

Continuing from my last post, Jewels of the Summer Harvest, the question about my food storage is, have I grown and stored enough to feed us until the next harvest? Our ultimate goal is to be food self-sufficient. Realistically, this has to be taken in steps, so my food preservation goal for 2010, focused on only one food category, to grow and preserve all the vegetables we would need.

In this post, I've looked at that and a little more. This is an important analysis, because it will help me determine how much to plant next year. Of course, it's hard to pick a starting point of when we'll dip into our stores. Something like pizza sauce, I'll start using as soon as I run out of the previous year's. Things like dinner vegetables aren't so clear cut. If I have something fresh growing in the garden, I prefer to use that. But if we get a hankering for sautéd okra, then I'll get some out of the freezer regardless of what else is growing in the garden.

With all that in mind, I've tried to estimate our needs by food categories: fruit, vegetables, and meat, but also things like jams & jellies, soups, sauces, and starches. In the past, I simply used 52 weeks as a basis for this. For example, if we wanted to eat green beans once per week, then I needed to can 52 quarts of green beans. This time, I tried to take into consideration the fact that during summer months, we will be eating fresh from the garden. Also, I'm learning to overwinter root vegetables in the garden itself, so these don't need to be stored, since they are available as long as the ground isn't frozen. Someday we'll add a greenhouse, and that will change storage needs again.

These estimates are approximate minimal needs for just the two of us. That's my starting point. Of course, I'd like to have more for the times we are feeding more. Or, for the times when a certain crop doesn't do very well. For example, my sweet corn didn't do well this summer, so all I got for food storage was one pint to freeze. But again, these are things I'm working toward. Things that will have to be taken in steps.

Here's what I've calculating for our first year, using only months when none is available fresh:

Fruit - calculated in pints, though frozen fruits are in quart bags
  • need: one pint every 2 days = 3.5 pints per week for 9 months (40 weeks) = 140 pints
  • have: 91 pints worth (including applesauce, not from homegrown apples)
Veggies - We've been eating fresh from June all the way through October, and I still have fresh beets, turnips, carrots, cabbages, and Swiss chard in the garden. Based on that:
  • need: one quart every 2 days - 3.5 quarts per week for 26 weeks (Nov - May) = 91 quarts
  • have in storage: 92.5 quarts + winter squashes (one per meal) = 99 quarts worth in the pantry so far, plus broccoli, which hasn't been harvested yet, and turnips, beets, and carrots which I can overwinter under mulch in the garden.
Meat - need for 12 months -
This one's tougher. If I can get three meals from one chicken for the two of us, then our 11 chickens will last us for 33 meals. Since DH likes meat for dinner, that's obviously not nearly enough. We're already planning on raising a big batch of meat chickens next year. We're also discussing more soups and stews, which will stretch our supply out some. He'll accept eggs, however, we usually use these for breakfast, lunch, and baking. I can go through 2 dozen eggs a week easily, so my 12 frozen dozen won't last but a month and a half during non-laying season. We talk about substituting complete vegetable proteins, for example the black turtle beans with whole grains, but he still misses his meat. This is where saving fats from bacon and sausages, and bones helps. If I sauté my onions and veggies in these fats, or cook soup or beans with bones, it gives the dish a meaty flavor, and that helps. I have over a gallon of dried black turtle beans, so there is a lot of soup and bean dishes. We're discussing getting a couple of pigs next year, also raising a couple meat goats. The question here though, is are we ready to butcher more than just chickens???

I do purchase locally pasture raised beef and pork. These are a bit more expensive, but with the money I save from growing our own fruits and vegetables, we have extra dollars in our food budget for this.

Soups - I love soup for lunch, and make a lot of soup from leftovers, dried beans (of which I have over 2 gallons of homegrown dried black turtle beans), or split peas (purchased in bulk). That makes it hard to calculate how much canned or frozen soup I really need.  It's just nice to have the convenience of ready-to-heat soups on hand. I'm not even going to try to guess how much I need. I'll just make a note of when I run out, and plan for more next year.
  • need: as many as I can manage
  • have: 16 quarts. Will probably end up saving these for shopping and errand days. 
Pizza/pasta sauce -
  • need 26 pints for pizza, more for other pasta dishes
  • have 33 pints tomato based sauce + 5 pints pesto for pasta
Jams & Jellies - again hard to estimate
  • need - 26 pints if we go through one pint per 2 weeks (that's a guess)
  • have - 26.5 pints. That's just squeaking by, isn't it!
Pickles (specifically cucumber pickles) 
  • need - I'm guessing minimum about 26 pints a year (one per 2 weeks), but DH loves his pickles so double that would be better
  • have - 13 pints. Obviously need to plant more cukes! This doesn't include pickled beets, which have yet to be sampled.

Starches - all meals, year round. So far we've only grown potatoes in this category. We harvested in July and 3 months later, out of 125 pounds, we have about 22 pounds left (some lost during storage, some made into soup, quite a few eaten.) We still have fall potatoes yet to be harvested. That's an important dinner starch, but I also need to consider flour for bread and baked goods. I'm planning an experimental patch of winter wheat soon, and next year we'll try to grow field corn.

Eggs - included with proteins above, but if I try to consider what I'll need on a weekly basis, I'd say we can go through 2 dozen easily. I have 12 dozen frozen, so that's 6 weeks worth. Not sure how long my hens will lay, nor how egg production will decrease as they get older, so I still have some experimenting to do before I can calculate this one with at least a small amount of accuracy.

In addition, I have frozen broth; dessert ingredients like pie fillings; ingredients like dried onions and frozen green peppers; dried fruits I'll use for baking such as figs, bananas, and watermelons; pickle relish; enough pumpkin for 2 holiday pies; dehydrated tomatoes, pesto, and herbs. Bulk purchases include beans, grains, flours, and meat.

So. To answer my own question, have we grown and stored enough? In terms of my first short term goal, yes. For this year, it was to grow and preserve all our vegetable needs. On that score, we've been successful both with dinner vegetables and pizza sauce. As a bonus, we're still getting fresh veggies from the garden and will have root crops in the ground. For some things I'll have to wait and see, for example,  how long the frozen green peppers and dried onions last. Next year I can make adjustments accordingly. My bonus category is jams and jellies. Hopefully we do have just enough till strawberry season comes around in the spring.

Other categories remain as future goals, meat and starches for example. Even though we don't have a year's worth of potatoes, I've learned a lot and can plan for more next year. Meat self-sufficiency will take longer to reach, as it requires preparation for the animals, and the ability to feed them too. Grains too, as we need to learn how to grow and harvest them. Fruits are waiting on our fruit trees to mature. The things I didn't mention are sweeteners and fats. In the future we'll have bees, and if we do get pigs, we'll have some of the fats too. It's one step at a time, and I'm happy with how far we've journeyed to date.

In reality, this is a lot of guesswork. It is one of those issues which is best answered experientially. Since this is the first year (in this place and with this garden) that I'm making a deliberate effort in this direction, I won't actually know how accurate I've been until this time next year, I'll have a better idea of when I ran out of certain items, and whether or not I'll need to plant more. One step at a time. I can't say that often enough.

The Big Question: Have We Grown & Stored Enough??? © November 2010 by Leigh at


Kids and Canning Jars said...

What an awesome inspiring list. I am wanting to lean more about winter/ roots in the garden. Can you reccoment a book or website? Love the list of actuals and needed. Good job!


Unknown said...

You have my mind number crunching and it's late and I don't want to go to sleep counting canning jars ;-/ So I will get back here tomorrow...mean time I'll leave you with what folks do round here for that extra leverage if you will. They have a few extras for barter always my friends tell me. Some beef for some pork etc even up - price wise. Emma grows the best taders and Mary the best squash so folks barter for them now for next year what Emma and Mary don't grow or their soil won't allow. Hope I explained that right. I may blog about this. Till tomorrow....

Leigh said...

Melissa, thank you! It is so encouraging any time you all are inspired by something I write.

Good question about books or websites, but I honestly don't know of any specific to the topic. I just picked up tidbits of information here and there, and started experimenting.

The gist of it is this: that cool weather root crops (like parsnips, carrots, beets, and rutabagas) will survive in the ground and remain accessible as long as the ground isn't too frozen to dig them out. A 6 - 8 inch layer of mulch is recommended to help protect the ground from freezing. I think this works because they're biennials, and are waiting to grow again in the spring.

Another way to store them in the ground, is to dig a trench or pit, line it with straw or leaves, put the roots in, and mulch well. There is a book, Preserving Food Without Freezing or Canning, that shows several ways to do this. It's a great book because it has a lot of other "forgotten" food storage techniques as well.

Toodie, you are touching on a really important concept, that of community. You explained it very well. I do hope you blog about it! It should be a goal for all of us, really.

Woolly Bits said...

I agree with the others, very impressive. though not possible for us:(( we don't have enough land to consider growing all our veggie foods (incl. "starch"). and we don't have the climate to be truly successful with grains. never mind the land we'd need to keep our own cattle and pigs. it's just not feasible, all we can do is try to supplement our vegetable needs as much as possible. I don't think I'd be able to slaughter pigs though. the animals are quite large and you do need a lot of space to slaughter - and afterwards to prepare all the meat. apart from the fact that we still shy away from killing chicken - never mind a pig:)) I know, we're cowards.... but looking at your numbers I'd say you're already pretty good in achieving your goals - considering that you've only started with this a year ago!

Renee Nefe said...

I think in this day and age it would take some relearning to be able to do this. I've grown up as an X generation grocery store shopper. X meaning I have no idea how long it's been since anyone in my family history has tried to do this.
I'm so looking forward to see how you do this year.

Alison said...

I see that I'm not the first person to be inspired by this list!!

Planning for food is something I find very hard in our household, even on a weekly basis. I used to find it so much easier, when it was just me- but my other half is a picky, faddy eater. A while back, he was eating at least one banana every day, for three weeks - then he decided that, actually he didn't like them. Except he didn't tell me for a while, so the household banana influx was exceeding the exit rate... I think we're still getting through the frozen, overripe bananas that that one generated! Never mind that we couldn't possibly grow them in the UK anyway...

Leigh, do you eat many nuts? Do you have the potential to produce your own? Also, what will you plan to do for milling grains? Part of me is very keen to use a quern stone - the other part of me is very aware of the damaged teeth I've seen from archaeological digs. Damaged, because the bread the people ate every day contained so much grit it actively eroded their teeth! Not so fun.

Renee Nefe said...

I have the same problem as Alison... but times two! I have two picky eaters who will like something and then all the sudden change their mind without telling me the shopper. sigh!

I was coming back to tell you that I sit down with a calendar to plan out our menu...making sure to note any activities that might mean we need a quick dinner. Then I usually make our meals so that we have left-overs (plan overs) for the next day...I cook on one day, and take care of the dishwasher on the other day. However, we always end up with something that messes that all up. If I had to plan out meals for a year I don't know how I could do it.

Leigh said...

Bettina, when I read comments like yours, I am reminded at how fortunate we are to live in an area that has the gardening potential it does. I know a number of you live in places less hospitable toward extended gardening practices,and I ponder that sometimes. Every place has it's challenges, for me it's the heat. There are some things I'd love to grow but it's just too hot. Still, I'm able to have good variety. It would be very challenging indeed, to try to be food self-sufficient in some parts of the world. Unless one was willing to live on a limited variety of food! :o

Renee, that's exactly right and it's the biggest challenge Dan and I face. So many practices that were common once are nearly forgotten. We are having to learn new ways of doing things as well as accept our geological limitations. It isn't often easy. Sometimes we encounter folks for whom the concept is so foreign, that they think we're totally off our rockers!

I thought it was interesting how you plan your food needs. We almost approach it from opposite directions. You plan the menu and shop according. I just buy or grow things we like and then figure out each meal a day or two at a time. It would definitely be a challenge to have picky eaters like you and Alison do.

Alison, yes to growing nuts. We have several pecan trees, a hickory tree, and have planted an almond tree. Nuts is one thing Dan is fussy about, so I don't think about trying to plant more.

I've been thinking about your and Renee's fussy eaters, and wonder if folks whose food preferences change quickly, could adapted more easily to seasonal eating. That's a challenge for me, because I tend to want the same things all the time. It would be easier if my tastes changed with the seasons. :)

The Mom said...

You are so amazing! I'm aiming for the same things, but have only about 1/3 acre and there are 4 of us. Some things are easier than others. Great job!

ShuttlePilot said...


I've just spent the last hour+ enjoying your homesteading adventures. You've brought back many memories for me, of my 20's when I was a "back to the land" kind of gal, complete with wood cook stove and no electricity nor indoor plumbing even.

There is, indeed, a lot of work and planning that must be done, but your "jewels" really are priceless. One word: YUM!

I'm just now getting back into my own daily rhythm and have been getting in spinning, but not yet much weaving. That's about to change in the next couple of days as I plan and wind a new warp.

Visiting this blog, was like sitting down and having a cup of coffee with an old friend -- hey, that's what it is! :)

Am looking forward now to each new installment. Now, I'm off to explore some of your links.


Katrien said...

It'll take a couple of years growing and using up the food - and running out. I'm so impressed, though, with what you've done, both the accomplishments and the preparations! You're an inspiration!

Leigh said...

Heather, you know, I think we all struggle somewhat with the amount of land we have. Sometimes our 5 acres doesn't seem like enough (like the days when Dan wants a horse), other days it seems like we will never be able to tend to it all. Some areas the weeds are out of control and I can't seem to find the time to conquer them. The folks I'm really impressed with are the Dervaes (Little Homestead in the City).The amount of food they produce on 1/10th of an acre astounds me.

Jane! I am so happy to hear from you! I've thought about you often, wondered how you're doing, and waiting patiently until you start blogging again. Sounds like our pasts are something else we have in common, LOL.

Katrien, that's what I figure too. It will all boil down to experience in the end. I'm finally figuring out what will help me most will be to record the weight of seed planted, how much produce I was able to put by from it, and how long it lasted us. For the time being, I'm just putting up everything I can and keeping track of it.

Vicki said...

Leigh, I've said it a bunch but I'm going to say it again....I love your blog. I can so relate to what ShuttlePilot said because that is exactly what I did when I first found your blog and this most recent post continues to amaze and inspire. I will be reading faithfully to see how you make out with all your food stores.

Leigh said...

Alison, sorry. I answered about the nut trees, but failed to mention that yes, I do have a grain mill. It's hand operated, but it has excellent torque and makes fine flour. I'm hoping to get it set up soon, and will post about that too.

Vicki, I truly appreciate that. Comments like yours and Jane's inspire me too, to press on, to overcome, to keep on writing and recording. Toodie mentioned a community to share and barter; that's what we are on the internet too. A community to encourage one another and share ideas. As Renee said, so much of this knowledge has been forgotten. We learn from one another.

bspinner said...

I was looking at your last post and remembered how much pride my mom had in her canning room in our basement. The shelvers were full and having a family of five come spring we used every bit of what she canned. Since we were potato farmers we had as many of those as we wanted in the warehouse in town.
Your set up is very impressive!!!

Benita said...

For "Guesswork" you have done a lot of thinking and calculating on this subject.

And you are thinking about your future needs, too, which shows great planning. Getting pigs is a good idea, they are walking garbage disposals that turn that food garbage and left overs into wonderful meat for the winter.

And meat chickens, too. I remember that one year we butchered nearly 100 chickens and that fed us and my grandparents for the year, and this was on top of the half beef and half hog we had taken to the locker plant.

I am impressed at what you have accomplished.

Nezzy (Cow Patty Surprise) said...

You are quite the little industrialist ant aren't ya? We butcher and keep the freezers of us and our two children's freezers filled. I really don't put up many veggies. I bad. I can purchase the frozen so cheap and I spend all my energy on my flower gardens. My dear MIL always put out a veggie garden big enough to feed the whole dang country!

God bless ya and have a incredible day sweetie!!!

It was good to hear from ya! :o)

What Pigs Don't Know said...

I always enjoy your posts, and these last two on storing were no exception. Thank you for the insider's look at your "pantry" and how you go about deciding what/how much to plant. Many great tips for those of us new to food storage. Thanks! -Carrie

Leigh said...

Barb, I think there is just something fulfilling about having a work from our hands. Whether it's gardening and canning, knitting, sewing, weaving, furniture making, whatever; there's a sense of fulfillment in having something to show for what we do.

Benita, I confess to being maddeningly analytical. In some ways it seems like it might just be easier to put up as much as I can and then just wait and see when I run out. :)

We're thinking that getting a pig during the summer would be fairly inexpensive to feed, considering the amount of vegetable "waste" we have from gardening and canning. Not sure if we'll be prepared this spring, but the one after that for sure.

Nezzy, I'm trying! Beef is one thing I can't see us raising on our own. Not enough pasture for one thing. Still, meat is the biggest expense, so being able to butcher and store all one needed would be a huge blessing.

Carrie, thanks! I'm sure there are other ways to approach it. These are the only ones I've figured out. Eventually it ought to become 2nd nature, but that will take a few more years to say the least.

Unknown said...

We're doing the same thing - except that, for now, we're not growing our own. HOW do you figure out what you're going to need for an entire year? And then, without the ability to stop time, how do you get it all preserved and stored in time?

I feel like I canned like mad throughout the fall. I have less than 80 pints of meat canned, and only a dozen jars of potatoes. Not a dent in our needs, not even enough to get us through to the summer.

The Preserving Without Canning or Freezing book should be arriving at my door in the next day or so. I was expecting it today.

I'm going to enjoy reading your blog, since you're doing some of the same things I am.

Leigh said...

Canadian Doomer, that's the million dollar question, isn't it? I tried to figure what we'd need based on how many times a week we'd want to eat that particular item. The growing part though, is a lot of it is trial and error. In the end, I'll have to wait and see if my estimates were correct. I think it may take several years before we can actually meet all our own vegetable needs. We're learning about raising our own meat too, but feel we need to raise our own feed as well.

Basically I operate on the principle that something is better than nothing. Some garden is better than none. Some food stored is better than none. Right now I'm focusing on learning to save all my own seed as well as preserving everything I can! Preserving Without Canning or Freezing is a great book. I also want to get some Tattler reusable canning lids.