Think Spring, Plan Your Pantry

If you’re anything like me, by the time February draws to a close you are so ready for spring!  But most of the time it still seems so far away.  The ground is likely covered with snow.  Everything is wet and sloppy.  The sun likes to hide.

You’re still eating lots of winter comfort foods and living off your freezer stock from last year.


As March approaches I’m anxious for fresh foods.  While they aren’t quite available yet, it’s time to start thinking about them.

Now is the perfect time to plan how you want to stock your pantry and freezer during the spring, summer and fall.  Doing so can save you money and keep your family well fed.

Maybe you already have a good inventory of what you preserved last year.  That is a great start.  Even if you don’t you can still start planning for the coming produce season now.

Here are general guidelines of when some produce is available in the area and some ideas of ways to preserve it.  Make a list of the ones you want, find recipes, put the plans in your calendar so you know when you’ll have to do it and stock up on all of your supplies.

When spring does finally decide to show up you’ll be ready to stock your pantry for a full year of healthy food.

Produce Season:

  • Early – mid June: strawberry, rhubarb, asparagus
  • Mid – late June: strawberry, rhubarb, asparagus, sugar snap peas, zucchini, summer squash, cherry, cucumber, raspberry
  • Early – mid July: strawberry, asparagus, zucchini, summer squash, cherry, cucumber, raspberry, blueberry, apricot, peach, cherry, nectarine
  • Mid – late July: zucchini, summer squash, cucumber, raspberry, blueberry, peach, nectarine, corn, plum, melon
  • Early – mid August: zucchini, summer squash, cucumber, raspberry, peach, nectarine, plum, corn, melon
  • Mid – late August: zucchini, summer squash, raspberry, peach, nectarine, plum, corn, melon, apples, pears,  cauliflower, broccoli, squash, brussels sprouts, peppers, tomatoes, beets, potatoes, carrots, cabbage
  • Early – mid September: corn, melon, apples, pears, plums, peaches, cauliflower, broccoli, squash, brussels sprouts, nectarine, peppers, tomatoes, beets, potatoes, carrots, cabbage
  • Mid – late September: corn, melon, apples, pears, plums, peaches, cauliflower, broccoli, squash, brussels sprouts, nectarine, peppers, tomatoes, beets, potatoes, carrots, cabbage
  • Early – mid October: apples, pears, cauliflower, broccoli, squash, brussels sprouts, peppers, beets, potatoes, carrots, cabbage

Preserving Ideas:

  • Berries: jam, jelly, pancake/ice cream topping, frozen, pie, fruit leather, dried, relish/salsa, baked goods
  • Stone fruits: jam, jelly, frozen, canned, pie, dried, fruit butter
  • Zucchini/summer squash: salsa, tomato sauce, frozen, sweet bread
  • Apples/pears: canned, pies, sauce, butter
  • Tomatoes/peppers/onions: pasta sauce, chili sauce, salsa
  • Squash: bake and freeze
  • Corn/broccoli/cauliflower/peppers: frozen

apple butter


Apple Butter

makes 4 1/2 – 5 1/2 pts.

  • 4 1/2 qts. apples, peeled, cored and sliced (16-17 LARGE apples)
  • 1 qt. water
  • 1 qt. apple cider
  • 3 cups cane sugar
  • 1 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1 tsp. allspice
  • 1/4 tsp. cloves
Cook apples with water until soft (5-10 min.).  Press through sieve or food mill on the finest setting.  Add the cider and sugar.  Bring to a boil.  Cook on low until thick (about 3 hours).  Add spices.  Process 10 minutes in boiling water bath.
Mary Voogt is a follower of Christ, a wife, and a mother of two. After 6 years as an electrical engineer she now stays home full time. She is passionate about real food and enjoys spending lots of time in the kitchen cooking and baking from scratch. She blogs at Homemade Dutch Apple Pie on a variety of topics including digestive issues, OCD, anxiety, infertility, natural parenting and healthy food.

See how her garden grows {08.10.12 update}

One month after my first garden update, my plants have grown beyond recognition.

Instead of neat little rows, they’ve begun climbing where they will, spreading out and producing a beautiful bounty.

I left a volunteer tomato plant in the middle of my garden. It sat beautifully between my cucumber trellis and the cabbage plants and dill. Except now it’s overtaking the all.

organic gardening

Among my broccoli (which got huge by the way) and trellised cucumbers and tomatoes are a few basil plants, though it takes some doing just to find them.

organic gardening

Speaking of trellised cucumbers, I very much like growing them up our garden fence. It’s much easier to find and harvest the cukes when I can easily see them from both sides. next year I plan on doing much more of this instead of using the trellis we built. (above picture) The fence is sturdy enough when tied to the stakes, and the ‘weave’ of the fence is also large enough to allow me to pull them out from either side.

Thinking about it, we should have used this fencing instead of chicken wire for our foldable trellis.

growing cucumbers on a trellis

We also have a few melons coming along quite nicely, though only one small pumpkin showed up. I’m quite bummed that powdery mildew took out all but one pumpkin plant and has hit my my squash as well. The zucchini plants were sacrificed since they are so close to the cucumbers and well…..we like pickles more than we like zucchini. The mildew is  making a move on my cucumbers, but so far I’m keeping it at bay by pulling diseased leaves and spraying with milk every few days. I’m pretty sure it came from my one nursery purchased pumpkin, as that one got it first and it took off like wildfire. Next year I also need to make sure I plant my vine plants a bit further apart to keep this from happening.

organci gardening

We also started to battle the Japanese beetles, they were destroying my green bean plants even with my go-to natural bug repellant on them. Once I finally found an adult bug on them and figured out what was going on, we purchased those bug bags right away!

I’ll bet we caught a few hundred just in the first day. The chomping of the green bean leaves has greatly diminished and hopefully we get a decent harvest out of the plants we do have. (many seedlings were scorched by the sun)

organic gardening japenese beetles

My other garden nemesis showed up in full force as well a couple of weeks ago – the tomato hornworm. Within a week I had quite a few plants that had areas stripped bare and I couldn’t find the worms! Finally, I noticed that if I went out right away in the morning, they’d still be out eating. (they must head to the inside of the plant during the day…..?) So each morning for a few days my chickens got a breakfast of two to three very large and very gross looking tomato hornworms.

organic gardening tomato worms

All in all, I’m very hopeful for a good harvest this year, though I am worried that if we get too much rain, after having so little, that my tomatoes will start bursting as they ripen…….

How are your gardens coming along? Any major setbacks or accomplishments?

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Adventures in Gardening

My family and I just moved to our ‘soon to be’ hobby farm last fall.

We moved so we could do things like raise livestock and grow a great big garden. When we lived in a neighborhood, we always turned a little earth and plopped a few garden center veggie seedlings in the ground around mid May.  That never yielded much success… …….as soon as my squash would start to flower and it would look like our patience was about to pay off, a grub would come along and hollow out the stalk of my little plant, or when the green tomatoes were just starting to turn a beautiful shade of red, I’d forget to water them, then to make up for the self-inflicted drought, I’d water the heck out of them and cause them all to split.

Sob stories of my unsuccessful gardening like these are many!  I joke about having a black thumb, but that was really just my excuse not to learn the art of organic gardening.Rhode Island Red

When we moved to the country,  we knew that it was time to get serious about developing a supply of food that our family could depend on. Last fall we started out with chickens!  (That’s been a learning curve!  But perhaps a good story for another post……)

And all winter long, we’ve been dreaming of spring! Reading every gardening book I can get my hands on, mapping out my veggie plot, and pouring over seed catalogs, waiting for the moment that first little green leaf would poke itself through the earth and sing promises of summer abundance!

We began in early February…  My husband built this set up in our furnace room.

Starting Seeds Indoors

Within a few days, our tomato plants of varying variety began to emerge!!  Followed shortly by the cabbage.  And after giving up on the pepper plants (notice them stacked up on top of each other at the back.  I didn’t water them for WEEKS), about 6 weeks after planting them, they began to sprout!

We figure that half(or less) of our seedlings won’t make it to maturity.  So we’ve planted enough to give us some replacements when the inevitable happens.

After further reading, I’m not convinced that starting seeds early is going to be worth the trouble.  Sounds like you really have to baby the transplants.  I learned new vocabulary like ‘hardening off’ which is the process of getting little seedlings used to being outdoors a few hours at a time.  Sounds like a lot of work to me!  Transplanted seedlings are the vegetable equivalent of a Mama’s Boy……..  Maybe the extra attention will pay off and I’ll end up with the Bill Gates of tomato plants, but I’m wondering if all this hand holding and coddling with be worth my time {shrug} Time will tell!

So, while the jury is still out on the topic of starting seedlings indoors, I found a few plants that I can actually plant outside now!  Here in West Michigan, our avg date of last frost is around mid May.  (Find last frost dates)

When to Plant

Plants are classified as very hardy, frost tolerant, tender, and hot weather.  Very hardy plants can be seeded directly in the ground 4-6 weeks before avg date of last frost and frost tolerant plants can go in 2-3 weeks before last frost date.  Tender plants go in the ground right around the last frost, and hot weather plants 2-3 weeks later.  Knowing what veggies to plant when will allow you to get started earlier than you thought, and also protect vulnerable plants from the colder weather.

I found a wonderful resource from Mother Earth News.  They have garden planning software that will tailor a planting calendar to your area.  And then it will even e-mail you when it’s time to plant or harvest something!  I’ve had a lot of fun playing with my 30 day free trial.  After that it’s only $25/yr, a steal for all the helpful tools that it has!!

Success with Succession Gardening

I also found a great book, ‘Starter Vegetable Gardens’ that includes plans for gardens of all sizes.   One thing I love about this book is, it gives you ideas of what to plant after your cool weather crops are finished.  That way there will never be an unproductive empty spot in my garden!

The idea behind succession gardening is that once a plant has been harvested for the season, you can plant something in it’s place that won’t need the same nutrients that the first plant has already depleted from the soil.  It’s a give and take relationship between the 2 plants!

Another form of succession gardening is crop rotation.  The idea is simple, by changing things up, pest and disease won’t have a chance to set in!  No need for nasty chemicals. Also, certain plants will deposit nutrients into the soil and you can follow it up with a plant that will need that nutrient.  No need for artificial fertilizer.

Found this neat chart while researching companion planting:


credit to


Can’t we all just get along?- Companion Planting

While a ‘Spaghetti Sauce’ garden sounds cute, it doesn’t work well.  Suggestions to plant tomatoes and oregano together aren’t based on anything scientific.  Tomatoes and Oregano both need the same nutrients from the soil at the same time.  Neither one will be happy in a bed together.   Instead plant carrots with your tomatoes and watch how each plant thrives!

(Seeds of Change has a great chart that lists companions and their benefits)

A fun example of a companion garden is an ancient combination that was discovered by Native Americans called the ‘3 Sisters Garden’; corns, beans, and squash.

Corn becomes a natural trellis for the beans to climb.  Beans fix nitrogen on their roots, improving the overall soil fertility by providing nitrogen that the corn will need in years to come.  The bean vines also help support the corn plants, making them less likely to fall over in a gust of strong wind.  Shallow-rooted squash vines become the ultimate organic mulch, choking out would be weeds and keeping the soil cool and moist. Spiny squash plants also help discourage insects from attacking your corn and beans.  At the end of the season, the left over stalks and vines can be turned into the soil to replenish lost nutrients and improve the overall quality of the turf.

Corn, beans and squash also work well together in your body!  Corn is great source of carbohydrates, the dried beans provide the protein, balancing the  corns lack of important amino acids.  Finally, squash yields both vitamins from the fruit and healthful, delicious oil from the seeds

And here’s one of those beautiful natural teachable moments!  With a little research online, you’ll come up with a treasure trove of ideas to dig a little deeper into this technique with your kids; a great segway into Native American history.  Your kids will love to grow an Indian Garden.  And then (maybe…..fingers crossed…) they’ll enjoy eating the beans and squash they grew.

photot credit: Mother Earth News


Feeling overwhelmed?  K.I.S.S.

It’s so easy to feel overwhelmed by all the gardening lingo and the millions of different things to consider!  But I think there’s really no such thing as failure in gardening. Any flop is a lesson learned. The important thing is that you dig in and learn a little something about providing something fresh and healthy for your family!  A great place to start is with something as simple as a “bag garden“.  Mother Earth News site has a simple plan to get you started.  All you’ll need is a few bags of organic topsoil and some seed packets!

My Mom has done this with great success for a few years in a row.  She works full time and would rather spend her free time chasing horses and Grandkids than pulling weeds.  And this works for her.

Here we go!

So, we’re off to a good start over here…  My seeds are sprouting (well, most of them).  And my garden tools are gathered up and ready to roll.  As soon as we get an afternoon with some sun, my 5 little monkeys and I will begin turning up the dirt!  We’ll start out with some very hardy seeds like broccoli, kale, lettuce, potatoes, and onions.  And gradually as the weather warms, we’ll add things to out plot one by one.  One thing is for certain, I’m going to learn A LOT more about gardening this summer and I’ll be certain to fill you in on what flops and what flourishes.

Now get off the computer and GET OUT AND GO PLAY IN THE DIRT!!