A large vegetable garden provides an enjoyable past time that also provides you with plenty of fresh garden food. Finding a way to utilize all the garden food you are producing with a minimum of waste requires ongoing effort. Gardeners are usually busiest in the summer and fall as the main harvests from their food plot are coming in. Developing a plan to use and preserve the garden bounty in advance ensures minimum waste.
Harvest fruits as they ripen so they don't rot on the plant. This includes tomatoes, peppers, beans and any vegetable that produces a fruit. Use as much of this garden fruit fresh as possible by planning meals that utilize mainly garden ingredients. For example, if your garden is producing mainly tomatoes and peppers at this time, use them in pasta, stir fries, or salads.
Pick leafy garden vegetables, since these typically won't rot on the plant. This includes lettuce, spinach and kale. These foods remain fresh and flavorful until the plant sends up a seed stalk in summer, a process called bolting. Only harvest what you need for each meal, since the plant will continue to grow and produce more leaves after each picking.
Refrigerate excess garden produce to extend its shelf life after harvesting. All vegetables except for root crops retain their freshness in the refrigerator for a week or more. To minimize flavor and nutrient loss, place the vegetables in a perforated storage bag and keep them in the vegetable crisper. Wash and slice the vegetables right before you serve it, since washing and slicing prior to refrigeration an limit the storage life of the vegetables.
Freeze excess vegetables if you have more garden food than you can properly use within a week. Peppers, spinach, beans and peas all freeze well. Root vegetables, with the exception of carrots, typically don't freeze well. Blanch most garden foods in boiling water for two to four minutes prior to freezing to improve their quality. Always package in sealed, freezer safe containers to minimize the chances of freezer burn. Most garden food retains its flavor for three to six months in the freezer.
Consider canning as one way to utilize and preserve garden food. High-acid foods, such as tomatoes, only require boiling water bath canning to preserve them safely. Low-acid foods, such as beans, require a pressure canner to ensure food safety. County extension offices have information available on safe canning methods for a variety of garden food, or you can purchase a book on safe canning. Use published recipes that have been tested to ensure the food doesn't become contaminated by illness causing bacteria during the canning process.
Stagger your planting so not all the garden food reaches maturity at once. This way you have time to use it all instead of having to pick everything at the same time. Seed packets provide information on the expected date of maturity, which allows you to make an educated guess as to the likely harvesting window for the particular garden food.