August 27, 2014

6 Steps to Make Harvesting Easier - Photo courtesy iStock/Thinkstock (HobbyFarms.com)

Labor Day is around corner. While the rest of the country packs in one last bit of summer fun, we hobby farmers won’t be lounging in the hammock. Ironically, the three-day holiday weekend coincides with peak harvest, when everywhere we look we see piles of pumpkins, bushels of apples and garden beds needing fall cover crops. In other words: We see work—probably not a prime time to break out the grill.

However, Labor Day weekend reminds us that farm living shouldn’t be all work and no play. The majority of us probably chose this homesteading lifestyle because we harbor a deep desire to dig our hands in the soil, grow our own food and eat from the garden year-round. Just as with summer food processing, the key to a successful harvest is keeping a balanced perspective. It does take time and labor to accomplish that continual to-do list, but you must also understand that no matter how much effort and time you put in, you’ll never be “done” harvesting this time of year.

In the spirit of Labor Day, here’s how we efficiently use of our time here on our Wisconsin farm as we process the garden harvest:

1. Break Down Tasks
Of course it feels overwhelming to look at pumpkins in the field when you need to make a pumpkin pie for a potluck tonight. The key to keeping your sanity is to break each big task into multiple steps over several days.

On Day 1, we harvest the pumpkins. On Day 2, we roast and purée them, allowing ample time to cool. On Day 3, we then have the joy of baking pie without all the stress. Taking little bites makes the harvest manageable and gives us a feeling of accomplishment when the day’s task is fully checked off.

2. Prioritize and Plan
Remember, not everything needs harvested and processed immediately. We’re at the tail end of harvesting our pickling cucumbers, and we find they pickle best (and keep that crunch) when we process them as close to harvest as possible. So tonight, we pickle cucumbers, and the broccoli that needs blanched and frozen waits until tomorrow.

3. Write a Meal Plan
It may sounds a little nerdy, but we find writing out a weekly meal plan helps us maintain balance. Without a meal plan, we tend to fall into super quick meals, like a basic sandwich or cheese and crackers, rather than enjoying all the fresh vegetables we worked so hard to grow.

Meal planning also helps us be more efficient in preserving, as we can combine tasks. For example, when it starts to get cooler, we crave our favorite . We’ll the plan a larger broccoli processing session around the soup making, so we can blanch all the broccoli at once. We’ll use some that night in the soup and freeze the rest.

4. Switch Up Tasks
If your body aches and feels sore, everything slows down, so it’s important never to do the same motion continuously for too long.

“Varying your activities and not doing any one thing for too long is one of the best things you can do for your body,” says Liz Brensinger, our friend who co-owns Green Heron Tools, a company that designs ergonomic hand tools for woman farmers. “Personally, now that I’m in my 50s, I’m more acutely aware of my body after I’ve been working in the same position for too long and know to change tasks.”

5. Cushion Your Feet
Even as you’re switching up tasks, there’s no getting around being on your feet for hours at a time. We’ve placed gel-filled mats in our kitchen to provide support and alleviate pressure on our heels, shoulders and back. The ones we use are manufactured without toxic heavy metals and make a huge difference in our ability to stand for long periods of time.

6. Have Fun
Above all, remember to keep things fun. If you start getting cranky over your Labor Day to-do list and envious of friends taking off to go fishing, take this as a sign that you need some time off. Allow yourself to roll out the grill for a farmstead burger party—topped off, of course, with the heirloom tomatoes and greens you already harvested.

Savoring the good life,

John and Lisa's Signatures

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