Sunday, June 14, 2015

What If You Can't Garden - Part 1

There is a blog called "Thoughts From Frank and Fern" that I regularly read.  If you don't, you should.  They are a wealth of information on homestead related subjects as well as communications.  Fern just posted a question to her readers concerning sustainable gardening.  She wanted to know what folks would do with their gardens if they knew that a catastrophic event was just around the corner.  You can read the article here.  I'll wait.

Now Fern's article got me to thinking.  There are many of us who, for a myriad of reasons, can not garden.  In my case, health issues prevent that activity.  And I live in a small apartment in the burbs, surrounded by concrete and asphalt.  The very best I can do to grow food are buckets of tomatoes on the communal deck of my building and herbs in pots on my windowsills.  That's not going to go very far to keep me alive for a year.  So I have come up with a few solutions to the problem that might give others in the same circumstances an idea or two.

If you can afford to invest in a pressure canner, jars and lids, do so.  I realize that the initial cost can stretch a fixed income budget, but it is well worth it in the long run.  Also look into the price of a dehydrator.  It should have the ability to set the temperature for various foods.  There are blogs and videos out there that tout the wonders of the top of the line canners and dehydrators.  They would be nice to own, but not necessary.  I have a pressure canner that cost around $60 at Walmart and another that cost a bit more that was a gift from one of my sons.  Together they cost less than the top of the line canner, and both work just fine.  My two dehydrators are from Fleet Farm and together cost less than half of the top of the line dehydrator, even with the addition of extra trays and plastic mesh liners.  

So if you don't have a garden, what do you can, you ask.  I'll tell you.

I can meat - hamburger, meatballs, beef roast, beef cubes, pork roast, pork cubes, ham cubes, chicken breast chunks, chicken breast cubes, whole chicken thighs, turkey shreds (cooked, removed from the bones and cut into about one-inch pieces), broth from cooking the turkey, bacon, sausage, pepperoni.  And if I am lucky enough to have a hunter in the family who gets a deer, I can venison.  All but the venison are purchased on sale at the grocery.  I freeze enough sale meat for about two weeks of meals and can the rest.  Should I lose electricity for a length of time, I still am able to can up the meat in the freezer before it goes bad.  Home canned meat will keep for years if stored in a relatively cool, dark place.  And it tastes good.  And doesn't get freezer burn.

I can vegetables.  The Farmer's Market is my favorite place to find these.  I have canned tomatoes, tomato sauce, tomato sauce with green peppers and onions, pasta sauce, pizza sauce, cabbage, sauerkraut, Amish slaw, potato cubes, potato chunks with carrots, potato cubes with peas and carrots, and butternut squash, all from the Farmer's Market.  Except the peas.

My local grocery runs an occasional sale on frozen vegetables - usually 10 for $10.  When this sale occurs, I stock up as much as possible.  Then I can the frozen vegetables.  And why would anybody in their right mind can frozen vegetables, you ask?  Because they keep longer in jars than in a freezer.  Because I can most of them in half-pint jars that are just right for one or two people, and some in pint jars for meals and other uses.  And because I can't grow them myself, but I still want jars of canned vegetables on my shelves.  And because most of the time it is cheaper to can the frozen vegetables than it is to buy individual cans at the store.  At present I have on my shelves from frozen:
Sweet corn, peas, peas and carrots, mixed vegetables and green beans.  All taste just like the canned vegetables sold in stores with the exception of the green beans.  Those are just a bit softer, but that doesn't bother me although some might not like them.

I can fruit in various forms.  The city stores don't seem to carry lugs of fruit for canning, but the outlying farming community stores sometimes do.  I have canned both peaches and pears from those stores.  We have a number of apple orchards in my area.  Most are tourist trap places where there are pony rides and camel rides and those inflated bouncy things for the kids and restaurants and gift shops that sell everything apple related and oh, yeah, you can pick your own apples at highly inflated prices.  I no longer go to those places.  There are a few smaller orchards that sell bushels of apples for cheap, if you don't care that each apple isn't the perfect size or the perfect color or it has a blemish on the skin.  I don't care.  I'm going to peel them and cut them up and make something from them.  As long as the quality of the apples are good inside the skin, I don't worry about appearances.  I'm kind of that way with people, too.  Anyway I make and can applesauce and apple pie filling, mostly.  If have made apple jam and may try some apple butter this fall.  I also make jam and jelly out of whatever fruit I can find.  And I get cases of cranberries from the Farmers Market that are used for cranberry juice and cranberry sauce.

I think we all like homemade soup.  This can be successfully canned as well.  I make turkey vegetable, ham and bean, split pea and ham, vegetable soup and chili.  All are great when you just want a quick meal.  Just open a jar, add a pint of meat if you want, heat it up and dinner is served.  I also keep canned Great Northern beans on my shelves.  That is sort of like a convenience food because I don't need to soak the beans overnight or wait a length of time for them to cook.  They are cooked and ready to use right from the jar.  I may can a few other varieties of beans just to have on hand for quick meals.

This post is already too long, so I will talk about dehydrating tomorrow.  There are many other foods that people home can, according to their own families' likes and dislikes.  What I have listed are the basics that are on my shelves.  I tend to can ingredients except for the soups and then put dishes together at the cooking stage of things.  Works better for me that way.  And this post is not intended to be a brag fest about my canning abilities.  It is all about putting an idea or two out there with the hope that someone else in my position - retired, living on a fixed income and being an apartment dweller - may find this helpful.


  1. Good post. I do the same thing as our climate does not allow me to grow tomatoes, squash, beans and the warm weather veggies. I can our home grown meat, too. Soups and bone broth. The solitude and peace and quiet of where I live is the trade off.

  2. Seems like there are always trade offs, aren't there. I have heard some say that they can't prep because they can't garden or keep meat animals, which is one reason I wrote this post. Even though some of us have less than ideal conditions, we can still find ways to take care of ourselves, at least for a time, which is more than one can say for those who refuse to do anything at all.

  3. Vicki - You certainly preserve a lot of different foods ;)

    I love the dehydrator most people use. Would love one for our autumns but they use just too much power for just too long for our system.

  4. hi. i read frank and fern, and we have no land of our own. have two small raised beds and that took it out of me as i am 66 and have health 'issues'.
    finally got a pressure canner this winter and am looking at the fleet farm site, thanks to you.
    want a dehydrator but the $$$!
    daughter and i discussed this a couple of years ago and thought that dehydrating would probably fill the bill since dehydrated food weighs a lot less and seems more convenient , not to mention cost of canning jars.
    hoping to soon get a dehydrator.
    there are amish and other farms here and any produce in bulk i should be able to get nearby, but i'll not be able to produce enough myself.
    thanks for the inspiring post [sometimes i feel like giving up].
    looking forward to your dehydrating post!!
    deb h.

  5. Dani...I am blessed in that I can use as much electric as I want as it is included in my rent. So is the gas for my kitchen stove. But I am careful and use both as if I were paying the bill. It helps to have a landlord who is interested in food preservation.

    My memory seems to be fading away these days, and I can't recall if you ever posted any more about a solar dehydrator. Did you ever find plans for one that would work for you?

  6. deb... Don't ever, ever, ever give up. I always figured that if I got to the point of giving up, I might just as well crawl into bed, pull the covers up over my head and lay there, waiting to die. But I seem to be way too stubborn and ornery for that! :)

    I completely understand the frustrations of physical limitations. I turned 69 last week, and it seems that every year I find some different body part that doesn't want to work the way it should! I whine that I want to live where I can have a garden, but truth be known, there is no earthly way I could do the work any more. The hardest part is admitting that to myself.

    I don't know how it is in your area, but here garage sales are popular. Once in a while we will see that perhaps Grandma has died and the kids and grandkids are cleaning out her house, selling what they can. Grandmas used canning jars. Kids and grandkids don't. Those sales are a good place to find jars. Same goes for dehydrators. Sometimes a person either buys one or is gifted one. They make jerky a couple of times and then decide it is easier to just buy it at the store. The dehydrator goes in the garage sale or to the thrift shop. I've seen them both places for very little money. Just be sure it has a control for temperature. That's important.

    I know that the way I do things is not sustainable. Eventually, in a real SHTF situation, the food will run out. But it will run out a lot quicker for those who sit back and do nothing to help themselves. At least we will have a cushion of time to figure out what to do next.

  7. hi.
    i am still trying to adjust to the fact that i am at the stage where the garden would be too much for me. very hard to kiss lost youth and strength goodbye!!
    don't have any sons, but in this day and age they would probably be states away in order to have jobs. we live in the 'rust belt'.
    you are blest to have your son and others close to you.
    may i know exactly which dehydrators you have? do you have a preference. i've got the fleet farm page up and there are so many dehydrators- round, square, small, large, expandable.

  8. Deb...Both of my dehydrators are NESCO brand. I checked the Fleet Farm website and didn't see my exact dehydrator advertised, but either of the two Snackmaster ones are pretty much the same. Mine are a few years old, so probably aren't listed any more. I prefer the dehydrators with the heating element and fan in the top, for the reasons I explained in my post. I would stay away from the square dehydrator because of the unusual shape. I have, I think, 22 trays, some of which came from my first dehydrator. In sticking with the most common round shape, it is easy to find extra trays. When drying food, it is necessary about halfway through the process to rotate the trays, putting the top ones on the bottom and bringing the bottom ones to the top. I hear that with the expensive dehydrators you don't have to do that, but considering the difference in price between NESCO and Excalibur, I'll put up with rotating trays!

    This getting older thing isn't much fun, is it?! It irritates me when I have to ask for help with something that just a few years ago I could manage alone. I am so very lucky to have my adult kids close. I guess what it boils down to is that I am still able to live on my own and I am not in a nursing home, which would be a particular kind of hell for me. When I look at it that way, having a few limitations isn't so bad.

  9. Hi Vicki. I just found this article, and a number of others, that you wrote and wanted to say thank you for your kind words and the link.

    You have very eloquently outlined some valuable information for all of us. Sharing your example of preparedness will no doubt help other folks identify some things that they can do to provide for their families in difficult times.

    Great articles, Vicki, I'm glad I found them.



  10. Fern...I'm the one thanking you and Frank for the articles you write. I have found so much of your writing useful to me and I really appreciate it.

    I wrote this series because I wanted folks to know that even if they can not homestead for whatever reasons and even if they are living in an apartment and even are no longer young, they can still do SOMETHING. I see so many who haven't a clue and it is worrysome, especially for those of my vintage.

    Thank you for your kind words.