Growing your own vegetable garden is an immensely rewarding experience, but it’s not uncommon to find yourself either with a small harvest of one or more crops, or with small bits of produce here and there that may seem too insignificant to preserve or even make a meal out of.
However, when you put all of that effort into growing your own fruits and vegetables, it would be a crying shame to let any of it go to waste. And with the soaring cost of food these days, every little bit of food you don’t have to purchase from the grocery store counts!
If you’re wondering what to do with a little bit of this and a little bit of that, here are a few creative and practical ways to utilize those tiny bits of food that come out of your vegetable garden.
1. Make a True Garden Salad
Make a salad out of a few handfuls of various garden greens, a handful of cherry tomatoes (or one or two larger tomatoes cut up), some sliced up root vegetables (think carrots, radishes, turnips and beets), a few snap peas and/or beans and a few sprigs of fresh herbs, and you’ve got yourself a fresh garden salad that even chefs would swoon over!
Take it up an extra notch by dressing it with a vinaigrette made from your own homemade infused vinegar! (See below for more information on infused vinegars, or check out the recipe section of the Summer 2023 issue of Modern Homesteading Magazine for a Blackberry Infused Vinegar that is delicious over salads!)
2. Make a Quick Soup or Stir Fry
Like salads, soups and stir fries both offer great ways to use up odds and ends from your garden. If making a stir fry, start with a little rice or some soba noodles and then sauté whatever vegetables you’ve got in a little oil with some soy sauce and rice wine vinegar (or whatever sauce you prefer) and you’ve got yourself a meal!
If you have laying hens, consider cracking an egg or two in your stir fry for some extra protein. If making a soup, use the next idea on this list to create your own flavorful broth out of garden scraps.
3. Create Flavorful Broth
Small vegetable scraps, such as carrot tops, onion skins, herb stems and leafy greens can be transformed into a delicious homemade vegetable broth. Collect these scraps in a freezer bag and store them until you have enough to make a batch. Simmer the scraps in water along with some aromatics like garlic, bay leaves, peppercorns and some salt for flavor. Strain the liquid, and you’ll have a flavorful and nutritious broth to use as a base for soups, stews, or sauces.
You can also add veggie scraps to homemade meat broth like chicken or beef broth. Make a big batch and then freeze it or can it with this easy recipe for canning homemade broth or stock.
4. Whip Up a Garden Pesto
When we think of pesto, basil usually comes to mind. But you can make a pesto out of just about any type of leafy green. Kale, arugula, carrot tops, radish greens or beet greens can all be transformed into a vibrant and tasty pesto.
Blend the greens with garlic, nuts (such as pine nuts, walnuts, or almonds), Parmesan cheese, olive oil, and a squeeze of lemon juice. This versatile pesto can be used as a pasta sauce, spread on sandwiches, or as a dip for fresh vegetables. Use it fresh or portion it out into small freezer bags and freeze it to enjoy it all year long!
If you grow your own hardneck garlic and are wondering what to do with an abundance of garlic scapes, garlic scape pesto is another great way to ensure nothing goes to waste.
5. Make Fresh Salsa
Smaller harvests of tomatoes, jalapeños, herbs, and onions, can be combined to create flavorful salsas. Dice the tomatoes, peppers and onions, finely chop the herbs and mix them together with some lime juice and a pinch of salt. Experiment with different combinations and different varieties of tomatoes, peppers, onions and herbs to find your favorite flavors. This easy homemade salsa can be enjoyed with tortilla chips, used as a topping for grilled meats, or added to salads for an extra kick.
If you want to preserve salsa, you can freeze it or can it so long as you follow a tested canning recipe like the House Salsa recipe in the Summer 2022 issue of Modern Homesteading Magazine. Or try this fermented salsa recipe from Melissa K. Norris, which allows you to preserve a handful of fresh ingredients in a delicious and healthy way!
6. Craft Infused Vinegars and Oils
Herb stems such as basil, rosemary, thyme, and mint can be used to infuse their fragrant flavors into vinegars and oils. If making an infused vinegar, fill a glass bottle or jar with the herb stems and pour in vinegar (white vinegar or apple cider vinegar are great options) and let it sit for a few weeks to allow time for the flavors to infuse before straining.
You can also use any type of herbs or garlic to infuse flavour into olive oil, however do be cautious when using fresh herbs and garlic as they can pose a risk of botulism when infused into oil and allowed to sit for extended periods of time. Either use the oil fresh within a few days or freeze for later use. Here is some information on safely making your own infused oils at home.
You can also follow the recipe and instructions for making garlic confit and garlic oil in the Fall 2022 issue of Modern Homesteading Magazine.
Infused vinegars and oils can be used alone or together in dressings, marinades, or drizzled over roasted vegetables to add a burst of flavor.
7. Prepare Flavorful Herb Salts or Compound Butter
If you have an abundance of fresh herbs like parsley, sage, or basil, consider making herb salts. Simply mix finely chopped herbs with coarse sea salt and spread the mixture on a baking sheet. Allow it to air dry for a few days, then transfer it to a jar for storage.
Herb salts can be used to season a variety of dishes, including roasted vegetables, grilled meats, or even sprinkled over popcorn for a unique twist. Herbed salts are also delicious sprinkled over sliced, vine-ripened tomatoes!
You can also preserve your fresh herbs by making compound butter. Simply chop a handful of fresh herbs and mix with room temperature butter until well combined. Use immediately or wrap compound butter in plastic wrap and roll it into logs. Refrigerate for up to one month or freeze for up to 6 months. Enjoy compound butter spread on breads and biscuits, melted over meats and vegetables, or mixed in with mashed potatoes or pasta dishes.
For full instructions and best herb combinations for compound butter, check out this step-by-step guide to making your own herbed compound butter at home.
8. Make Refrigerator Pickles
If you only have a small handful of cucumbers or a mixture of a few different kinds of vegetables, you can easily make a jar of refrigerator pickles even if you don’t have enough to can.
Prepare a pickling solution by heating equal parts vinegar and water with a little salt (one tablespoon of salt per cup of vinegar). Add some pickling spices and herbs like peppercorns, dill and bay leaves s and bring the mixture to a simmer over medium heat.
Pack a Mason jar with cucumbers or other fresh, washed and trimmed or sliced vegetables; Carrots, cauliflower, beets, peppers, beans and sliced onions are good candidates. You may also want to add a clove or two of fresh garlic and/or a hot pepper to each jar for added flavor.
Pour the vinegar solution over top until the vegetables are completely covered. Put a lid on the jar and shake well. Allow your pickles to sit in the fridge and develop flavor for at least 3 days before eating them. They’ll last in fridge for up to 3 months.
9. Try Your Hand At Fermenting
Fermenting is another easy way to preserve small batches of vegetables from your garden. Turn a small head of cabbage into a batch of sauerkraut, kimchi or curtido (all of these recipes can be found in the August 2021 issue of Modern Homesteading Magazine). Or create a simple brine out of water and salt (use 1 to 3 tablespoons of additive-free salt for every 4 cups of non-chlorinated water) and use that to ferment all sorts of different vegetables, including cucumbers, carrots, beets, radishes, peppers, beans and more!
Simply pack clean glass jars with vegetables (either one type of vegetable or a mixture) and pour the saltwater brine overtop, ensuring the vegetables are completely covered. Place a pickle pebble or other fermentation weight on top to keep the vegetables beneath the brine and then cover loosely with a lid (or use fermentation lids).
Place jar(s) on your countertop or somewhere at room temperature and allow them to ferment for around 7 to 10 days. (If using a lid that does not allow any air to escape, remember to burp your jar(s) once a day to release any built up CO2).
When you’re happy with the flavor, transfer your jar(s) to the fridge or to cold storage (like a basement or root cellar) to slow down the fermentation process. They will store in the fridge or cold storage for 3 to 4 months on average before the quality starts to degrade and they begin to go soft.
10. Unleash Your Children (Or Your Chickens) On the Garden
When all else fails, if you have children or grandchildren, let them comb through your garden beds on a hunt for fruits and veggies. Children are masters at finding that one strawberry, blueberry or green bean that you missed, and the tend to get excited over even the most underdeveloped baby carrot!
Let them snack their way through the garden. Encourage them to gather handfuls of fresh herbs and flowers to make their own perfumes and magic potions. Or try one of the aforementioned kitchen projects with them.
If you don’t have children but you DO have chickens or other livestock like rabbits, pigs or cows, they will also be happy to take your garden scraps and turn them into eggs, meat and fertilizer! Just be warned that if you unleash them on your garden before the season is over, it might be the last harvest you get;)
When it comes to making the most of small harvests and using the little bits of food that come out of your vegetable garden, creativity is key. By incorporating these practical ideas, you can transform what might have otherwise gone to waste into delicious and flavorful additions to your meals.
Embrace the opportunity to reduce waste, maximize your garden harvest, save little extra money at the grocery store and savor the fresh flavors and unbeatable nutrition that a home garden provides.
Do you have any other ideas for making use of small garden harvests? Share them in the comments below!
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