Kentucky-grown vegetables can be ‘what’s for dinner’ even in middle of winter

(Photo from University of Wisconsin)

It’s January, and I had Kentucky-grown tomatoes this week for dinner.

(Photo from University of Wisconsin)

How, you might ask? It’s obvious, given the recent polar vortex, 1 to 3 inches of snow and short winter days, that this tomato was not grown anywhere in our state recently. However, during the long, cold, winter months I am able to enjoy summer produce straight from my freezer or a can that I prepared myself.

Canning and freezing food is a relic of the past. I know my grandparents grew up doing it, but with our modern conveniences of grocery stores it’s just not a necessity now. However, I am both encouraged and surprised to see many people my own age taking part in this food practice.

Freezing and canning food has many benefits. For my household of two, there is no way that we could possibly consume all the food our garden produces during the short window of time in the summer. Storing our produce helps us not waste those valuable vegetables.

Storing food also saves me money. During the summer if I’m purchasing my produce from the farmer’s market, usually the prices are very reasonable. I am able to purchase extra to set aside for freezing or canning, which saves me money at the grocery store later on in the winter. Storing our food also helps cut down on our meal prep times during the winter. I am able to come home from work, thaw a few bags of vegetables and throw them in with whatever I am cooking for dinner.

When the weather is sunny and 80 degrees, and I’m enjoying my long summer days playing outside, the last thing I want to do is think about how I’ll be spending my days in the middle of winter. Storing food does take some preparation, but it’s not unmanageable.

I prepare by setting aside the produce I want to store each week during the summer and fall. Whether it’s excess from my own garden that I’m not going to cook with, or extra that I purchased from the farmer’s market, I store it in my refrigerator so it doesn’t ripen any further. During the weekend, I set aside a few hours of my time to prep and store my food. For me, this usually means cutting up tomatoes, peppers, squash and eggplant into slices and putting serving size amounts into freezer bags.

I create my own vacuum seal by zipping the top of the bag almost closed, inserting a drinking straw and sucking all the extra air out. Other times, I choose to can rather than freeze, and my prep time may be longer.

I am no expert, but after taking a class at my local extension office, I know the basics and regularly can things in my boiling water canner. Tomato juice, applesauce and various pickled vegetables are all in my repertoire.

Canning and freezing produce takes extra time and planning, but there is nothing like the feeling of accomplishment you get with a freezer full of vegetables at the end of the growing season. After all the prep work is done, the hardest part is waiting until the dead of winter to eat the fruits of your labor! Start thinking ahead now and you can enjoy your produce in the winter months as well.

blair hecker

Blair Hecker is an environmental educator with Bluegrass Greensource.  She began her work for Greensource in 2010, after graduating from Georgetown College with a bachelor of arts in religion.  At Bluegrass Greensource, Blair works with elementary students in Fayette and surrounding counties.  She is dedicated to educating Central Kentucky students about environmental issues and loves to watch them become passionate about their own environment.  On any given day, you can find Blair playing with worms, dumpster diving or turning old junk into new recycled creations. Contact Blair to schedule activities with your elementary-aged students.


This article appeared in KY Forward on January 23, 2014.


There are benefits to being a lazy grounds-keeper like animal food, time

I don’t know about you but this year’s oddly cool July had me thinking about autumn far earlier than I would’ve liked. Thoughts of autumn bring recognition of a changing landscape full of flowers past their prime, withering cucumber plants and other raggedy landscape items.

This time of year is bittersweet – the warm sunny days tending those seeds and nurturing them into plants are quickly growing shorter as summer fades. The lively green that once painted Kentucky’s lawns and public spaces grows a bit more yellow while spindly plants seemingly beg to be added to the Herbie. Erasing evidence of summer when autumn rolls around is expected by all but the most lazy gardeners and groundskeepers, but I urge you to refrain from giving in to that lawn-keeping social pressure.

800px-MockvalleyWildlife, particularly our bird friends, benefit greatly from the drying plants and seeds that our once-lush yards can provide. To clear these away as soon as they appear deprives local wildlife of both food sources and materials to shelter through the winter. With increasing urbanization and suburban expansion, allowing room for other non-human animals is vital to maintaining a healthy ecosystem.

Leaves can be turned easily into mulch or composted for flowerbeds and vegetable gardens, while seed pods provide continuous feeding for birds as other food sources like berries vanish. Bluegrass Greensource offers year-round lawncare tips to help you keep your yard in shape while reducing your ecological footprint.

The Humane Society offers tips that can reduce your autumn to-do list while also improving the lives of your backyard visitors which include things such as skipping the raking, leaving those dried flowers for their seed pods, creating a brush pile, and leaving water out for animals as sources become scarce.

Being a “lazy” gardener need not be a shameful experience when one considers the benefits to our local ecosystems. In fact, reducing the amount of autumn lawn chores has the added bonus of freeing up precious time – and what person couldn’t use that?

Off the top, there are many things one could do with the time freed of fall chores. Instead of chopping down those plants for hours, use the time instead to explore local ecosystems with your child, go for a long walk, catch a movie at the Kentucky Theatre, run at the Arboretum, veg out on the couch with a good book, or share your new lazy gardening philosophy with your neighbors over coffee. In addition to improving the quality of your own life, you’ll also be improving the lives of our feathered and furry friends this fall. And for that, I’m sure they would thank us.

Lisa Conley is an Outreach Specialist for Bluegrass Greensource.

This article appeared in KY Forward on August 22, 2013.