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The Vegetable Invasion: What to Do With a Summer Garden Overage

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If you’re stashing your summer veggie crop in every available square inch of storage space, and your friends no longer say “Gimme!” when you offer them extra tomatoes or zucchini, take charge of your surplus and do something smart with it. From new recipes to ways you can extend the usefulness of what you grow, here are some ideas for getting the most from your garden.

It’s un-canny

Do you have the time and inclination to can your excess tomatoes? Think luscious tomato puree you can use for soup, marinara, homemade Bloody Mary mix, or even the base for a zingy salad dressing.

You can substitute your own puree in any recipe that calls for the canned equivalent, but your tomatoes may produce thinner results than the (often too salty) version you buy in the grocery store. Once you’ve cooked and milled your tomatoes to remove the seeds, let your puree cool.

Plan on keeping puree canned—or frozen—for a year. In the refrigerator, puree can stay fresh for up to five days

Be a good citizen

Food deserts leave entire neighborhoods without viable places to buy affordable groceries. In many communities, a combination of nonprofit food pantries and food giveaway sites provides staples in underserved areas, but they’re often long on boxed or canned goods and short on fresh food.

Round up your extras and head for the nearest food pantry, or a community food bank run through a neighborhood association, school, or faith group. If you’re not sure where to go with your bumper crop, try a food rescue locator. Don’t forget to call first and verify when the group you select accepts donations.

Plan ahead for next time

To avoid drowning in garden goodies, use planting guidelines to size up your harvest so it matches your household. Count your seeds and match them to number of mouths you feed.

For example, if you allocate four tomato seeds per person each time you plant, your yield should scale proportionately to your family. Of course, if you’re in love with beets, your oldest has developed a passion for squash, or any other vegetable is a big hit at your dinner table, you can adjust the guidelines to assure a suitable bounty.

Compost your overage

Use excess veggies to nourish your trees, shrubs, flowers, and your next vegetable planting. If you’ve overplanted so much that you simply can’t eat up everything that grows, add past-their-prime specimens to your compost.

Don’t yet have a compost pile? Set yours up in the shade at least six feet from your home and any wooden structures, and try to place it where a garden hose can reach so you can moisten it. You’ll want other material in the pile besides vegetables, but they’re high in nitrogen and really help produce good material.

Plant for your menu

Next time you select and plan your planting, think recipes as well as ingredients, and seed your garden so it grows meals. Vegetable pies and garden chowders make great additions to a summer or fall menu, and your produce can contribute to baked goods as well as main dishes and sides. You also can prepare some terrific juices as a great breakfast starter or a treat to chill for an afternoon beverage.

Tomato, tomahto

Too many juicy tomatoes can be a great problem to have, given the advantages of fresh food over prepared products. Take full advantage of the opportunity to grow and control what you eat, so you know exactly what’s in every dish. Even if your garden’s an overachiever this year, plan ahead to make next year’s crop just the right size.

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