With the cold weather here threatening to strip the world of fresh produce, it’s important to make the most of fall’s harvest, that last push of homegrown fruit and veg before dipping into the naturally preserved reserves. Hopefully, all those bountiful summer harvests have stocked the cupboards with canned tomatoes, pickled delights and dehydrated treats. Possibly, you’ve packed the freezer with assorted berries, stock veggies and smoothie-making fruits. Hang onto to those as long as possible by utilizing what the fall garden provides, a great collection of protein-rich peas, nutrient-packed greens and long-lasting fruits.  It’s time to utilize all those hearty fall squashes and pumpkins for filling soups, roast those delicious root vegetables (turnips, swede, parsnips) and bake pies with the fantastic melee of apples and pears. Making the most of your fall harvest means using what’s fresh from the garden as much as possible for as long as possible, then finding away to make the rest last through winter.

Tips for the Garden:

First things first, getting the goods from a fall harvest has to start in the garden. That means growing the right stuff at the right time and caring for it in the right way. Check out these tips to help you on your way to well-stocked veggie drawer.

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Fast-growing Crops

Lettuce, radishes, cabbages and beets make it is easier to put out a little last-minute produce. I like to harvest them as I go, enjoying the outer leaves for daily salads. Don’t forget that greens from many root vegetables are edible and delicious well before the root is ready to eat.

Frost Resistant Foods

Spinach and kale are crazy nutritious at just the right time, when everything else is dying back. Leave these crops in as long as possible, into the first frost, and take advantage of their high tolerance for cold.

Use Protection

Once night temperatures start to dip too low for comfort, you’ll need to be sure to protect your plants. Some sort of cover, literally a sheet or blanket, will keep the frost of them and allow the growing season to extend. Cold frames are a fancier but possibly more effective way to keep things growing longer.

The times they are a’changing, the days getting shorter. Remember when considering a fall crop to give stuff a little longer than typical for maturing. Autumn days become increasingly shorter than summer, so stuff takes a little longer to grow. Most fall veg prefers to be planted around September, but some of the faster-growing crops can work later.

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Tips for the Kitchen:

Hopefully, your fall harvest will be too plentiful to deal with during the season. That’ll mean more good eats during the wintertime. Here are some great ways to stretch the cornucopia a little further.

Save the Seeds

Don’t throw away the seeds from all those squash and pumpkins. You can dry or roast them and store them for later. They make fantastic additions to salads and soups, as well as calorie-rich snacks. Kick it up a little by adding funky (healthy) spices like turmeric, garlic powder and cumin.

Make it Last

Preserving stuff is a great way to extend your bounty. Freezing fresh veggies right away is one of the best ways of capturing the nutrients within. I also love to dehydrate stuff, both veggies and fruits. Then, there are all sorts of options for canning, pickling and fermenting to explore.

Shelf Life Considerations

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The shelf life for some things is quite long. Roots, like potatoes, carrots, radish, turnips, beets and so on, are built to last and will do for months. Other fruit and veg with thicker skins, apples or acorn squash, will hold tight for quite a while, ready when you need them.

Whatever the case, whether you have your own garden or not, be sure to take advantage of fall produce by supporting local farmers and farmer’s markets, eating plenty of fresh food. It’s better for you and better for the world.

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Image Source: David O’Hare/Flickr

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