September 4, 2020  

In my Gardening with Nature newsletter I usually talk about ways to garden to help wildlife, birds, bees, butterflies and beneficial insects. But so often when we talk about Nature, we exclude ourselves. Human beings are also part of Nature and when gardening we should think of our neighbors, friends, and family, too. 

One of the ways to support and help our community is to share our harvest. It's estimated 1 out of every 6 Americans are food insecure. This means they're not sure where their next meal will come from. This is especially prevalent during this time of the covid-19 virus pandemic. Early September can be a bountiful time in many vegetable gardens. Our garden is overflowing with tomatoes, peppers, beans, squashes and root crops. Why not share some of that bounty with your neighbors, and those that are struggling to get by, by donating to a local food shelf or food pantry?

Finding a Local Food Shelf or Pantry

The first step is to find a local food shelf or pantry that's accepting fresh garden produce. These could be local non-profits, churches or other community organizations. If you're having trouble finding one, check out Ample Harvest. This is a nationwide, non-profit organization dedicated to encouraging and helping local home gardeners grow extra food in summer for those in need. 

Ample Harvest has a map locating food shelves around the country. All you have to do is enter your zip code and up pops any food shelves in your area. They also provide tips on how to donate your produce. The first step is to contact your local food shelf to see if they accept fresh produce, what types they will take and when you should deliver it. Many food shelves are open only certain days, so dropping off your beans or squash is best the day before they're open. Only donate produce that is clean, healthy and at the right state of maturity. Even if you only have a few vegetables to donate, this could make the difference to a family trying to stretch their food dollars and feed their kids healthy food.

Ample Harvest also is looking for food shelves that aren't listed in their database. You can enter your local food shelf or pantry to be part of their system.

Gleaning Food

Another way to help share the abundance of the garden season is to volunteer with local gleaning groups. Gleaning is an ancient practice that promotes the collection of unharvested crops for distribution to needy populations. It was once recognized as a legal right for the poor in other countries. Gleaners go into farms and gardens that have finished harvesting and harvest the good quality produce that's remaining. Farms often will produce more than they can harvest and sell and are happy to have their extra produce used in this way. Even community gardens or private gardeners sometimes will want gleaning groups to come in and harvest for them. Gleaning organizations then work with local food shelves and hunger organizations to get this fresh produce into the hands of families that need it. 

The National Gleaning Project is a project of the Center for Agriculture and Food Systems at Vermont Law School. They help coordinate local gleaning projects around the country. On their website you can look up your state and find local gleaning groups to contact and volunteer. 

They also provide important information about rules and regulations different states have concerning gleaning activities. It's always best to work with an established gleaning group than going out and gleaning on your own. 

Swapping and Giving it Away

Another way to share your bountiful harvest is to create a produce swap. I know we often have lots of one type of vegetable and little of another. It might be due to pest or weather problems or simply we didn't grow that vegetable this year.

Using your local on-line forums, school, library and town hall, you can advertise a get- together to swap produce. You can designate a time and place (maybe even in a public space outdoors), encourage people to wear masks and social distance, and have them come swap produce. It could be as simple as everyone lays out their produce and takes turns going through taking some veggies that they need or want. Anything left over can be donated to the local food shelf. This is simplest to do with neighbors, friends or family. 

Speaking of which, you also can simply give it away. I'm always amazed that produce left on a table by the road with a free sign usually disappears within a day. It's an anonymous way to help people with extra food for their kitchen.

About Charlie Nardozzi

Charlie Nardozzi is an award winning, nationally recognized garden writer, speaker, radio, and television personality. He has worked for more than 30 years bringing expert gardening information to home gardeners through radio, television, talks, tours, on-line, and the printed page. Charlie delights in making gardening information simple, easy, fun and accessible to everyone. He's the author of 6 books, has three radio shows in New England and a TV show. He leads Garden Tours around the world and consults with organizations and companies about gardening programs. See more about him at Gardening With Charlie.


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Share the Harvest

October is one of my favorite months. The temperatures begin to cool down. The rich purple flowers of fall-blooming colchicums and crocuses burst from the ground like the royal goblets of garden gnomes. Asters brighten woodlands, prairies, roadsides, and alleys with thousands of miniature stars. Maples, ashes, redbuds, and witch hazels don their brilliant autumn coats in shades of scarlet and gold. And summer vegetable plants are weighted down with their bounty.

Nurturing Community

Young people who have been labeled 'bad' or 'at-risk' are often referred to us, says Shannon Thompson, Director of Youthlinks, a nonprofit in Rockland, Maine, that matches adolescents with community service opportunities. But as they work in the garden, then share their harvest, we get to see a side of them that few adults have a chance to see: a thoughtful, compassionate, generous spirit.

Storing the Harvest

But even if you aren't still harvesting directly from your garden, you can enjoy many vegetables fresh long into the winter if you store them correctly. Winter squash, pumpkins, carrots, parsnips, beets, and turnips can all be stored for months as long as you can provide them with the storage conditions they need.

Harvesting Peas

One of the marvelous things about growing your own vegetables is that you decide when it's time to harvest. You can pick your vegetables just before preparing them, knowing that you have the youngest, freshest ones in town. Most commercial gardeners won't pick the youngest vegetables because they earn more money for heavier crops. But generally, the younger the harvest, the more tender and flavorful it is.

Stretching the Pepper and Eggplant Season

The best way to get the most out of your garden is to extend the harvest. There are a few ways to do this. You can start harvesting as soon as there's something to eat. This tricks the plant into producing more. If your growing season is long enough, you can make successive plantings a week or so apart at the beginning of the season. Because you'll be harvesting at intervals, this method can be a big plus if you don't have the time to do all your canning, freezing or pickling at once. A fun way to get a longer season from your peppers and eggplant is to bring a couple of plants indoors when the outdoor gardening season is over. This gives you a double bonus for a while; more produce per plant and lush, green houseplants. Before you attempt to bring your plants indoors, however, make sure they're healthy and insect free, and that you have a good indoor location for them. They'll need a sunny window or a grow light.

Preserving Your Pepper, Eggplant and Okra Harvest

To enjoy your harvest of peppers, eggplant, and okra longer, considered freezing, canning, or drying the harvest. Here's how.

Blackberry Care & Harvesting

Each year blackberry plants produce new canes from the crown just below the soil surface, and from roots that extend some distance out. Each cane lives for 2 years. The first year a cane produces only leaves, the second year it bears fruit. It won't fruit again, so old canes should be pruned out as soon as possible after the harvest to prevent disease from attacking the plant. Pruning reduces stress on the plants. Keep enough fruiting canes to have a good crop and remove the rest along with undesired root suckers each year. There are two different types of blackberries, upright and trailing, and each requires a different pruning method. The upright ones produce arching canes that can just support themselves. Included in this group are the semi-uprights, which flop a bit but can be treated just like the uprights. The trailing types sprawl and must be supported on wires.

Keeping the Harvest

Eating fresh veggies just hours -- or less -- after they were picked in the garden is one of the best things about summer! But as the gardening season begins to wind down, there's no need to give up the pleasures of fresh, homegrown produce. Of course, gardeners have long been canning, freezing, and drying the harvest to enjoy over the winter months. But there are also a number of crops that will keep without any additional processing, provided you can give them the storage conditions they need. Some can even be "stored" right in the garden, as long as you give them some protection from the elements.

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