Category Archives: Beginner Homesteading

Our Vegetable Garden {2017}

Our-Vegetable-Garden-2017-1I am so excited to share with you all what our garden plans look like for the year! 2017 marks the second year of our vegetable garden at the new house. I’m super excited and super nervous all at the same time. I feel like last year was really just a test to see how it went, but this year I feel more pressure for everything to go perfectly. However, if you’re a gardener, you know that things never go perfectly! 😉

Last year, I ran into multiple issues throughout the growing season including bugs, weeds, powdery mildew, and poor soil drainage. Despite all of these issues, we did end up having a very productive season. (You can check out our 2016 gardening yields here!)  I don’t want to revisit those issues this year so we are mixing it up a little bit. I truly believe that if we can overcome these issues, we can have an extremely productive garden and eliminate the need for supplementing with produce from local farms.

We have spent a lot of time talking, thinking and planning this year, to find ways to avoid some of these issues. This is what we came up with.

What we’re doing differently this year:

Weed Prevention: Weeds were a H-U-G-E problem in our garden last year. So much so, that it was difficult for me to even keep up with weeding. So this year the name of the game is prevention. If we keep the weeds from taking over, maybe we will have a fighting chance! We prefer to not use chemicals in the garden so, we are going to lay black agricultural plastic to help keep the weeds at bay. I will keep you updated on how this goes!

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Plant Placement: We ran into some issues last year with poor soil drainage which resulted in slow development in our tomatoes, peppers and kale. It also prevented most of our seeds on the lower half of our garden from even germinating. We will be planting more “water-loving” plants in the front left corner of the garden (which is the lowest point in our garden) and placing the pickier plants in the back of the garden. We will also be planting a different variety of plants than we did last year. I’ll share the specifics below!

Drainage Pit: My creative, handy hubby came up with the idea to put a drainage pit into the lowest corner of our garden. Similar to what a lot of people have in their basement, we installed a sump-pump in the pit and have been diverting the water to a drainage ditch along the back of our property. In case you want to try this method too, I will be detailing the process in an upcoming blog post!

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Seed Starting: I have shared in the past that seed-starting is not my forte. In fact, every time I have attempted it in the past, it has ended in tall, stringy, wilted little stems. After doing some research and buying a few new supplies, we decided to give it another try. We are attempting this on a very small-scale with only about 36 plants. Six plants of six different varieties.  I’m already thinking ahead to next year. If the seed starting goes well this year, we may try starting all of our own plants at home next year. That is something we have never attempted before. We typically purchase certain vegetables already started at a local farm and then start the remainder from seeds right in the garden. This would be a huge undertaking for us, but I’m very excited at the prospect of growing everything from seed right at home! It would be a huge step in the right direction towards self-sufficiency. I will keep you posted on how it turns out this year and what we plan to do next year!

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Fall & Winter Planting: We will be trying our first cover crop at the end of the growing season this year. We will be planting winter rye to aid in boosting the quality of our soil. This will also help with weed prevention throughout the fall & spring months, prevent the soil from eroding due to rain, snow, and spring thaw, and will also provide added nutrients when we till it into the soil in the spring. We’ll also plant onions and garlic in the fall. We used to do this every year, however the past several years we haven’t gotten around to it. But I’m making it a priority this year!

Soil Improvement: Another method we are trying to improve our soil drainage is to boost the quality of the soil. This is a project that will span over several years. We added a bale of peat moss to the soil in the spring. In the fall, we will be adding a load of high quality top soil to the garden. We will also be adding nutrient-rich compost and composted local horse manure. The compost pile is still a work in process-we will be starting this over the summer! I’m really excited to start researching and learning more about composting! And of course I’ll be sharing what I learn with you guys!

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What we are planting in the garden this year:

24 Regular Tomato Plants (Mt. Merit)
12 Roma Tomato Plants (Mariana)
2 Cherry Tomato Plants
3 Jalapeno Pepper Plants (Centella)
8 Bell Pepper Plants (King Arthur)
1 Dill Plant
1 Cilantro Plant
2 Basil Plants

Vegetables we are planting from seed:
Cucumbers *Plus 6 plants we started from seed in the house*
Beets
Carrots
Parsnips
Bush Beans
Snow Peas
Leaf Lettuce Blend *Plus 6 plants we started from seed in the house*
Spinach *Plus 6 plants we started from seed in the house*
Swish Chard-Bright Lights *Plus 6 plants we started from seed in the house*
Red and Yellow Potatoes *Technically not seeds*

One of our main goals with our garden this year is to eliminate the need to supplement with vegetables from local farms for our canning needs. The majority of our canning is tomato products: tomato soup, salsa and stewed tomatoes. We are more than doubling our tomato plants this year and we also added some variety with the plants. We are planting 24 regular tomatoes, 12 roma tomatoes and also 1 or 2 cherry tomatoes! In the past, we have planted only regular tomatoes. If all goes well, this will be yet another step in the right direction towards self-sufficiency.

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The Herb Garden:

We added a rosemary plant and an oregano plant to the herb garden this spring. My oregano did not come back this spring, so I had to replace it. And the rosemary is an annual, not a perennial. So we plant this every year! The following is a list of the herbs that we already had in the herb garden: Lavender, Spearmint, Lemon Balm, Tarragon and Chives. These have all been coming back year after year and are healthy as ever!

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So that’s what our garden plans are for the season. What are your plans for your vegetable and herb gardens this year? Share your thoughts in the comments below-I love to hear from my readers!

Home & Garden Update {May 2017}

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Hello Friends! And welcome to the May home and garden update! I know it has been pretty quiet around the blog lately. The reason is because I recently returned to my full-time job after my maternity leave so sadly came to an end (as all good things do). So needless to say, life has been a little crazy around our home over the past month or so. To be quite honest, life has seemed pretty overwhelming lately. With trying to care for a 4 month old, manage my home, do well at my day job, write for the blog, and not to mention just life in general, the list of things to do never seems to end. It’s all about time-management, priorities, and routines! This has been a time of learning, stretching and growing for our little family but we are settling into a nice routine now. Going forward, things may not be quite as active around the blog as they used to be but my goal is to have a minimum of one post per week and more consistent updates on Facebook too!

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I know it has been some time since I posted a monthly homestead update. Looking back over my posts, the last one was actually back in September. So, we have a lot of catching up to do!

With the arrival of spring, we are very anxious to get outside and get our vegetable garden planted for the season! So far, our strawberry patch is overflowing with flowers and green berries and our apple trees have little baby apples on them!! It is so exciting to see our plants coming to life for the season and being productive! We are also trying to start some of our vegetables from seed this year (which is something we haven’t had luck with in the past), so I will keep you updated on how this goes! So far, so good!

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This month we have spent a lot of time planning for the summer season ahead of us. We have our garden all planned out, including a new drainage system that we added to help with the standing water. (You’ll hear more about this in an upcoming blog post!) We also have several smaller projects planned for around the house/yard as well (you can read about these below!)

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Last summer proved to be quite challenging for me in the gardening department. Keeping up with our vegetable garden and the herb garden while pregnant and working full-time proved to be harder than I had expected. And looking ahead to this spring and summer, I expect it to be equally challenging (if not more) with a little one to keep an eye on too!

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Here is an overview of some of the goals that we have set for ourselves…

Goals that we want to achieve this month:

In the Yard/Garden:

  • Prep the vegetable garden for planting at the end of the month:
    Weed removal
    Tilling the dirt
    Adding some nutrients to the soil including peat moss and local horse manure
    Laying plastic to help with weed control
    Adding a drainage system
  • Moving daffodil bulbs. We have some daffodils that come up in the yard every spring and I want to dig these up and plant them in my gardens around the house.
  • Planting Hyacinth and Tulip bulbs. We purchased some flowers around Easter and I want to get these planted in my gardens too.
  • Wrangling my spearmint plant. My spearmint started to take over last summer and this spring it has continued its conquest to take over my herb garden. I have a plan to try to get it under control.
  • Add deer repellent around the fruit trees.
  • Getting the vegetable garden planted over Memorial Day Weekend. (If the weather cooperates!)
  • Getting the flowers planted in various pots and planters around the house and yard.
  • Freshen the landscaping-We usually add fresh mulch every year, however, this year (in an effort to save time & money) we will simply rake/stir up the current mulch to give it a fresh look.
  • Continue treating the yard for weeds.
  • Clean out the bluebird box from last year.
  • Adding a fire ring to our back yard for campfires and cookouts!

Around the House:

  • Wash all of the windows in the house and get the screens back in the windows.
  • Spring Cleaning: wash walls and scrub carpets.
  • Organization Overhaul!! I want to organize the entire house, room by room, drawer by drawer. This is definitely not a 1 month project but I want to at least get it started this month! I have some time off of work, so I hope to take advantage of this and get a good start on this!
  • Adding a large sun shade to our back porch, so we can enjoy our back porch more this summer. It gets full sunlight from one side during the morning (which isn’t so bad). And it gets full sunlight in the late afternoon through the evening which makes it almost unbearable during the summer.

Longer Term Goals:

  • Adding Lean-To over our wood-pile
  • Stump Removal
  • Garage Project:
    Adding Insulation to the garage walls
    Paint the walls
    Lay Tile Flooring (Black & White Checkerboard Pattern)
    Add a workbench, toolboxes, and cabinets
    Add plywood flooring to the loft above the garage for storage space
  • Building a fire pit

Some of the goals we have accomplished since our last update:

  • Finish plumbing in the shed.
  • Adding insulation to the garage walls.
  • Run co-ax cable from our attic to our basement for a t.v. antennae. We were able to eliminate the expense of cable t.v.
  • Roll out the yard.
  • Fertilize the yard. (Weed & Feed)
  • Finished the nursery

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There always seems to be a million things to do around the house, yard, and garden. I’m sure I’ve forgotten to add some items on the above list. But little by little we are getting things accomplished!

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What is on your to do list this spring? What goals have you put in place for yourself? Share your thoughts in the comments below-I love to hear from my readers!

4 Winter Homesteading Tasks

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You may think that when the frigid temperatures of winter have set in and the snow is piling up outside your windows that there isn’t much you can do to be productive on your homestead. On the contrary, the cold months of winter are the perfect time to buckle down and be productive. The blustery days of winter can prove to be very long, so what better time to get busy planning and preparing for the upcoming season.

Here are a few ideas on how to stay busy…

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#1 Plan Your Garden

What better way to bring some brightness and cheer to your winter day than to sit down and let your mind drift away to the warm days of spring, when you will be tilling up the fresh soil of your garden and planting the seeds that you will nurture throughout the summer. Spend some time thinking on what you picture your summer garden looking like for the coming season. Put some thought into what kind of preparations you need to make. Do you need to add compost or fertilizer to your soil? Are you thinking of expanding your garden or increasing the variety of plants this year? Write down any tasks that you need to complete in advance to prepare your garden for planting. After all, you need to have a solid base in order to have a thriving garden. Then comes the fun part, compile a list of each vegetable that you would like to plant and decide whether you want to purchase plants or seeds for each type. Any time you are making plans or setting goals, it is important to put your ideas to paper. Make a rough sketch of what you picture your garden looking like and map out where you plan to plant each vegetable. Make sure that you are allowing enough room for each type and don’t forget to leave enough space for paths in between the vegetables-you want to be able to get in to weed and to harvest!

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The next step is to pull out your stack of seed catalogs that I know you have been collecting. January is typically the time that I begin to have seed catalogs showing up in my mailbox. I love to flip through the pages, read the descriptions of each delicious variety, and choose the exact variety that’s right for my garden. My first time through the catalog, I mark each variety that I think I might like to plant. Then on my second time back through, I read and re-read the descriptions to narrow down my selection to what I am actually going to order. It’s important to pay attention to what type of soil each plant thrives in. Also, ensure that the flavor, size of fruit, color, and time to harvest are all within your desired outcome. Then I place my order and look forward to the day that the seeds will show up in my mailbox, and ultimately the day that I will be planting them in my garden!

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#2 Set Homesteading Goals for the Year

If you haven’t done this already, now is a great time to reflect on all that you accomplished in the previous year! I like to write these thoughts down in my gardening & homesteading journal. I have a simple notebook where I keep track of what we planted, what the harvest yields were and also how much this resulted in our canning & preserving. What accomplishments are you really proud of? Where did you fall short?

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Now, look to the coming year. What do you want to accomplish this year in your garden and on your homestead? Are there any home improvements you want to make? List them! Do you want to expand your garden or do you have specific goals for gardening yields? List them! Whatever your goals and aspirations are-write them down! Now, take a look at that list, make a plan and put it on paper! Break it down by month and choose specific tasks to be completed each month. If you want, you can be even more specific and break it down by week. Keep this list somewhere where you will see it often-place it on a bulletin board or in your homesteading binder. Just be sure that you don’t leave it in your notebook or stash it in a stack of papers, never to be seen or thought of again. A plan is no good if it isn’t put into action!

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#3 Read & Learn New Things

I don’t know about you, but when I think of winter, I picture myself curled up on the couch with a good book and a steaming cup of coffee while the snow falls outside the window. So of course, this is the perfect time to pull out that stack of new books and get caught up on my reading! I like to choose books that remind me of the warm days of summer and also that are going to be beneficial to me. Some topics that I like to choose from are homesteading, gardening, handmade crafts, canning and a variety other useful skills.

Reading & learning doesn’t need to stop with getting caught up on your stack of books though. Head to the internet to have an even broader selection of topics and reading material. I typically have a list of topics and tasks that I would like to learn more about. Of course, my favorite online resource is Pinterest! If you can think of a topic that you want to learn more about-you will find it on Pinterest! From there, choose several blogs on your chosen topic to visit regularly to continue expanding your knowledge on the topic.

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#4 Learn a New Task

This is also the perfect time to spend learning and practicing a new skill. Choose a new activity or hobby and dive in! Maybe you have been dying to dust off your sewing machine and really learn how to use it. Or, maybe you have a new cookbook and you want to learn how to bake your own bread from scratch. The possibilities are endless!

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What activities do you like to fill your winter days with? Share your ideas and thoughts in the comments below! I always love to hear from my readers!

Planning and Preparing our Vegetable Garden: Part 3

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Today, I will be sharing with you the next set of steps in the process we followed to ensure that we set ourselves up for gardening success! This is the third post in a series of four total, sharing our experience-From the planning stages through to the finished product, trouble-shooting throughout the season, and improvements we plan to make next year. So, make sure you continue to check back so you don’t miss any posts in this great gardening series!

If you missed the first post, check it out here!

If you missed the second post, check it out here!

So far we’ve covered the planning process which included planning out our garden, choosing the best location and what supplies we needed to be successful. Next we covered how we got our garden plot ready, including building our fence and preparing the soil….Now what’s left? In my personal opinion, the best part of the whole gardening process-choosing and planting our veggies and seeds!!

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This is the largest garden we have ever planted, so we had the opportunity to plant a lot more variety than we have in the past. We have a “core” group of vegetables that we like to plant every year which include tomatoes, bell peppers, kale, beets & carrots. This list also usually includes green beans-however, we still have quite a stock of these canned from previous years, so we decided to skip them this year. When you are choosing what to plant in your own garden, be sure to consider what your family likes to eat. Make sure that you choose foods that you use a lot of and your family loves to eat. Also keep in mind the quantity that would be fitting for your family! Sometimes, you can be very surprised by the quantity that even a small garden produces over the course of the summer. If there is going to be more harvest than what you can eat fresh, make sure that you have a plan in place for what you are going to do with the surplus. You can store root vegetables (potatoes, carrots, etc) in a cool dark place like a root cellar or even in your basement. Other vegetables can be preserved by canning, freezing or dehydrating. It’s important to have a plan, so that your harvest that you put so much time and effort into, doesn’t go to waste!

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We typically plant a variety of both plants and seeds. Some plants, I just find harder to start from seed because we would have to start them inside. I don’t know why, but we have always struggled with starting seeds indoors prior to garden season beginning. This is just not a talent I have acquired yet. So typically we like to stick with buying plants at a local greenhouse for a few vegetables and the rest we sow directly into the garden.

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Let’s get right down to the details…here is what we planted…

Plants

12 Tomatoes
8 Bell Peppers
8 Kale
3 Jalapeno Peppers
Strawberries (a whole bunch!)*

Seeds

Arugula*
Swiss Chard*
Lettuce
Cucumbers*
Cantaloupe*
Delicata Squash*
Acorn Squash*
Butternut Squash*
Pie Pumpkins*
Turnips*
Beets
Carrots
Peas*
Sweet Corn

All of the vegetable listed above with an asterisk beside them are ones we were planting for the first time. As you can see, there are quite a few vegetables that we were planting for the first time this year.

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We did run into some soil drainage issues so unfortunately we did not have luck with some of our seeds. Our greens (arugula, Swiss chard and lettuce) did not come up. Our root vegetables (beets, carrots, and turnips) did not do well either. They started to come up, but then the seedlings did not survive. We planted a second round of root vegetables later in the summer. They did grow, however they did not produce very good vegetables. Even though we ran into some issues, we were still very happy with our overall results! Take a look at our garden yields…

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Tomatoes: We picked well over 14 dozen red tomatoes from our 12 tomato plants. This isn’t including the ones we picked to eat fresh, this is only counting the ones picked for canning. These were made into stewed tomatoes and tomato soup. We also picked a large quantity of green tomatoes before our first frost (not included in the total count). We made these into salsa verde.

Bell Peppers: I didn’t keep as close of a count of these but my estimate is 40-50 peppers.

Jalapeno Peppers: We picked 105 peppers from our jalapeno  plants. A portion we pickled and canned. And the second portion we smoked and ground into chipotle powder.

Potatoes: Our potatoes didn’t do extremely well, however we had enough to can some for the winter. And we also enjoyed one meal of fresh roasted potatoes! They were delicious!!

Squash: Overall, our squash plants did not do well because we got a bad case of powdery mildew pretty early into the season. I had never had issues with this before, so by the time I realized there was something wrong with my plants, it was too late and it had already destroyed the plants. This caused quite a hit to our squash yields, but we still have enough to enjoy throughout the fall! Here are the individual numbers for our squash…

Butternut Squash: 8

Acorn Squash: 2

Delicata Squash: 2

Pie Pumpkins: 2

Sweet Corn: We got 37 ears of corn! This was our first time planting corn, so that was an exciting result!! Some of them were pretty small but we still harvested enough to have one fresh meal of grilled corn and some to freeze for the winter!

Kale & Peas: These I do not have an exact “harvest” amount on. We just cut these as they were ready to eat and had a pretty steady supply throughout the entire summer!

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Check back soon! Part 4 will be covering how we resolved the issues that we ran into throughout the season. I will also share what improvements we plan to make next year to have better results!

What are your favorite fruits or vegetables to plant in your garden? What are your tips & tricks for planning & preparing your vegetable garden? Share your thoughts in the comments below-I love to hear from my readers!

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2016 Garden Results and Canning Totals

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Well, we had ourselves quite a busy summer! Thinking back to the beginning of the season, it is hard to believe how far we have come. We started out from scratch with our vegetable garden in the springtime. This is our first year with a garden at the new house and there was a lot of work involved with getting it ready. I’ve been writing a 4-part series on our garden planning process…check it out here.  It was much larger than any garden we have ever had before. However, now that we have made it through the end of the growing season, I can say that it was definitely worth all of the hard work and effort that we put into it! Now, in the coming years planting will be a much easier task because everything is set up-the fence and water source. We will just need to till up the ground, add some fresh nutrients and get to planting! Take a look at our garden results and canning/preserving totals…

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Garden Yields

Tomatoes: We picked well over 14 dozen red tomatoes from our 12 tomato plants. This isn’t including the ones we picked to eat fresh, this is only counting the ones picked for canning. These were made into stewed tomatoes and tomato soup. We also picked a large quantity of green tomatoes last month before our first frost (not included in the total count). We made these into salsa verde.

Bell Peppers: I didn’t keep as close of a count of these but my estimate is 40-50 peppers.

Jalapeno Peppers: We picked 105 peppers from our jalapeno  plants. A portion we pickled and canned. And the second portion we smoked and ground into chipotle powder.

Potatoes: Our potatoes didn’t do extremely well, however we had enough to can some for the winter. And we also enjoyed one meal of fresh roasted potatoes! They were delicious!!

Squash: Overall, our squash plants did not do well because we got a bad case of powdery mildew pretty early into the season. I had never had issues with this before, so by the time I realized there was something wrong with my plants, it was too late and it had already destroyed the plants. This caused quite a hit to our squash yields, but we still have enough to enjoy throughout the fall! Here are the individual numbers for our squash…

Butternut Squash: 8

Acorn Squash: 2

Delicata Squash: 2

Pie Pumpkins: 2

Sweet Corn: We got 37 ears of corn! This was our first time planting corn, so that was an exciting result!! Some of them were pretty small but we still harvested enough to have one fresh meal of grilled corn and some to freeze for the winter!

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Supplemented

We didn’t really need to supplement too much this year, however, we have never had luck with tomatoes in the past. So, I got nervous and bought some extras just in case!

Regular Tomatoes: 1/2 bushel
Roma Tomatoes: 1/2 bushel
Pie Pumpkins: 3

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Canning Totals:

Stewed Tomatoes: 17 Quarts
Tomato Soup: 17 Quarts
Salsa: 27 Pints (14 jalapeno salsa & 13 regular salsa)
Salsa Verde: 6 pints and 1-1/2 Pint
Pickled Jalapeno Peppers: 12-1/2 Pints
Potatoes: 9 Pints

Miscellaneous Preserving:

Frozen Bell Peppers-4 packs: 8 bags (We use these for stuffed peppers.)
Frozen Pepper Slices: 7 Bags (We use these for sauteing for sandwiches, etc.)
Frozen Pumpkin Puree: 8 Quart Freezer bags, 12-17 oz each
Frozen Corn: 4 Quart Freezer Bars

Overall, I am very happy with our gardening and canning results this year! We did have a few bumps in the road that hindered our productivity, but I’m excited to try again next year and hopefully overcome these issues! My goal is to eliminate the need to supplement by buying at farms and be able to completely supply our own vegetables! We have definitely made a lot of progress and I hope to continue to make progress in the coming years!

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How did your garden do this year? What are your favorite vegetables to can? Share your thoughts in the comments below-I love to hear from my readers!