As I was making strawberry jam this morning, the estimation process I was going through reminded me that this was where I began, fourteen years ago. I’ve made it fairly clear that I think the world would be a much happier place if nearly everyone had chickens and greenhouses in their back yards, and normally walked around with dirty knees, muddy boots and juice-stained hands. Alas, not everyone shares my dream, but more than a few of you keep coming back here to read this blog, so…I’m going to keep blathering on about the things I hold dear, like making lots of strawberry jam.
I started small. Granted, I started as a city girl: each spring found me at the Minneapolis Farmers’ Market trolling the aisles for the best price on the tiniest, tastiest strawberries for my year’s-worth of strawberry jam. For myself, as a single person, four pints was sufficient to keep myself in jam. Repeat the routine for raspberries, green beans, tomatoes and one trip per summer down to this neck of the woods for a bushel of peaches and I had (for me) a full larder, a full freezer. My backyard garden helped with tomato and bean preservation, but my yard was far too shady and small to really have sufficiency in mind.
Fast-forward to five years ago: we’re on a farm now, I am married and have a toddler. The garden is in, the local fruit farms beckon with their wares, and I have started to go a little crazier in the stocking-the-larder department. My initial aim was to have enough “usual” stuff to can and freeze, but I had no ambitions to be self-sufficient in certain things like onions, carrots, celery or even garlic. I had dreams of a greenhouse, dreams of chickens, but this first spring I was happy just to have 1500 square feet of raised-bed gardens. And this first spring, I put away two flats of strawberries in jam. Whew! Thirty-two pints of jam!
Today I still harbor no ambition to be self-sufficient in fruit: I can still forage or glean or even outright buy fruit at much less cost (labor) than it would take me to grow all of my own. But vegetables? Certainly, vegetables are do-able, and the amazing varieties of vegetables one can grow from seed should be reason enough to turn over some dirt to grow them. Even onions and garlic became less daunting, and geez, I have even mastered leeks! And I don’t think I will ever be satisfied with a store-bought carrot again.
Anyway, the point of all this is to just start small. Go ahead and try to put away enough strawberry jam to last your household until next year. Figure out how many row feet you will need to freeze enough dinner-side sized bags of green beans for a year. Plant enough garlic to take you through from July to April, when the first heads of green garlic can greedily be pulled up and eaten. It’s a fun game, and it will make you feel proud of yourself, seeing all those gleaming rows of jars, frozen bags, and braided ropes of garlic heads just waiting to be eaten.