What’s in Your Food Pantry?

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If you’ve got some interest in growing your garden to stock your pantry there are some things you will want to think about. Planting for the pantry means you can enjoy more of your own tasty fruits and vegetables throughout the year, and helps deal with more produce coming off the vines than your family can appreciate in a short period of time.

Fresh produce is always wonderful, but if you would like to put up enough for freezing, dehydrating, preserving or canning you need to get proactive with a plan. The first question to answer is what plants are you going to grow? What do you and your family like to eat? Choose varieties that are proven to produce well in your area.

Save yourself some frustration by choosing those varieties that are suited to your site conditions and also have been bred to have disease resistance. That is super important in our neck of the woods. The warm, wet hug of our summer weather can be too welcoming to fungal pathogens if there is also a preferred food source for them in our garden produce.

Another aspect to look into in addition to disease resistance is heat tolerance. Many vegetables will stop setting fruit at higher temperatures so be sure to look for

Seed packets

Seed Packets

heat-tolerant or “heat-set” varieties. Bush variety (determinant type) tomatoes will all produce at the same time so are good choices if you decide you want to have an earlier once and done crop.

If blueberries are your heart’s desire, then your soil pH will be an important consideration. Blueberries prefer soil that is much more acidic than your typical vegetable garden. Predictive Soil testing by the N.C. Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services can provide information about the soil pH you’re dealing with when you submit a sample. Pine bark and pine needles are lower in pH and are good mulch products for blueberry plantings.

Once you’ve decided what you’d like to grow, take a look at the days from planting to maturity/harvest. Some crops grow faster than others and can be harvested leaving an empty place in the garden for a successive planting of that crop or something completely different. As a gardener you are the “property manager” of very productive real estate and with careful planning you can ensure that you have productive “tenants” for the full season. There are quite a few garden planner tools available, several of them online and at low or no charge. These can help you determine what crops will work within your square footage and planting time availability.

Some of the failsafe crops that work great for gardeners new and experienced are tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, and beans. Great fresh as well as for storing for later recipes. Keep in mind that there are varieties developed for specific purposes such as Roma tomatoes for tomato sauce production. They have characteristics that are selected to produce an intended end result, like extra meatiness and fewer seeds for a thicker sauce. If you love homemade pickles, smaller varieties of cucumbers that fit into the canning jars are less work than larger salad slicers.

Smaller successive plantings of the same crop can also save you from having to pull an all-day kitchen processing duty. Bountiful harvests are beautiful, but also mean lots of prep and processing in a short periods of time. Another tip to keep in mind is to plant early, mid and late varieties of your fruits and vegetables. That way you have achieved season extension, interesting changes in texture and flavor and you don’t wear yourself out processing everything at once.

Not every variety is available in the grocery store so give your imagination and taste buds a treat and plant varieties that aren’t mass produced, but still work in your area. Just remember that where there is food there will be food eaters – six-legged, four-legged, two-legged, or hundred-legged. Being vigilant, observant AND proactive with protection will be more worthwhile to you than trying to “spray away the problem” after your goods are under attack. There are lots of reasons including great tastes and self-sufficiency to get out into the garden!

Minda Daughtry is the Horticulture Agent for North Carolina Cooperative Extension in Lee County.