Ways to Work with Excess Garden Produce

By Vicki Spencer, Master Gardener

The first time I heard the term “bumper crop” was in 1980 while living in China. After the Cultural Revolution turned the country upside down and China had not yet entered the global market, food was scarce … except for eggplant. We ate it twice a day, every day, all summer long. I didn’t grow up on a farm, so even though I was unfamiliar with the term, I did know how some years are better than others for particular crops.

Several years earlier, my family participated in a community garden. Our plot was about 7,500 square feet and when our first year’s harvest came in, my dad said we could feed an army. Clearly, we planted much more than our extended family could consume. Every day from late summer to fall we gave friends paper bags filled with salad greens, peas, tomatoes, peppers, beans, corn, onions, broccoli, cucumbers, carrots and just about every other vegetable you can grow in Colorado. Only recently did I discover a better way to share an abundant harvest when a friend gave me a decorative display of freshly picked garden vegetables. She arranged them on a repurposed produce tray to be as cheerful as a floral bouquet.

Creating a platter with a variety of vegetables can reduce the burden of your gift. After all, a large sack of peas can take an hour or more to shell. Too many ears of corn can take too much time to shuck, and it’s not as sweet if it sits around for a week. If your friends are not gardeners, they may not appreciate having to figure out what to do with your bounty.

Zucchini grows readily in Colorado and one year we definitely had a bumper crop. We had so much we were tempted to stand on the corner and give zucchini to every car that passed. The small ones are great for stir-fry, but what do you do with the ones that hide under leaves to become the size of a small torpedo? I collected recipes from family, friends, newspapers and magazines (this was before the internet) and did a lot of cooking. I made dozens of different kinds of bread and casseroles to freeze and give away. But an all-time favorite — after the kids got over the “yuck” factor of vegetables in cookies — was lemon zucchini cookies.

While grating zucchini for cookies, I measured the excess into recipe-sized freezer bags for the future. Freezing the surplus is convenient, but canning might be unavoidable if you lack freezer space. You can make it more fun by hosting a canning party. Divide the tasks — cook, bottle sterilizer, jar filler, sealer and labeler — among friends and rotate once in a while for variety. While the jars cool, you can enjoy drinks and appetizers. Then, after decorating the jars, everyone can take their share home for gifts or winter consumption.

Depending upon your bumper crop, you can get creative and find other uses beyond eating. Fortunately, we have the internet today and can explore composting methods, how to save seeds or a multitude of art projects. If you think about it, a bumper crop is really a blessing.

Gardener Vicki Spencer has an eclectic background in conservation, water, natural resources and more.