This article also published at Sustainable Dakota Digest.
A small piece of ground or even a container garden can produce enough tomatoes – or most any fruit or vegetable for preserving.
Harvest dates for produce grown in South Dakota can range from May to November. Dakota Rural Action publishes a handy chart of South Dakota Harvest Dates.
Plenty of publications are available online to help you learn the ins and outs of gardening, and to acquaint you with the various styles of gardening – traditional gardens and container gardens, to name a few.
Start planning that canning garden by determining which style garden works best for you.
Then figure out what to grow. Start small, do not overdo it.
There is nothing more discouraging that having home grown produce spoil because you cannot get it canned, frozen, pickled or dehydrated fast enough.
A small crack on a tomato or a black spot can be cut out. Fully ripe tomatoes make excellent juice. Tomatoes that are moldy or smell bad belong on the compost heap. So do mushy or molding cucumbers. Limp or overgrown cucumbers make excellent relish.
Fifteen tomato plants will easily yield 15 quarts of tomatoes. Would those fifteen quarts help get your family through the winter?
Just know that you might not be canning all 15 of those quarts at the same time.
The season will start with slow yields, maybe one or two ripe tomatoes a day. When August rolls around, prepare to can and freeze. This is peak tomato season.
A raised bed garden just 6-feet by 4-feet could hold those 15 tomato plants. This compact space makes it easy to manage the garden. Weeding, watering and harvesting will be a breeze.
The four-feet width makes it possible to reach the center of the garden without walking on the soil. This means you could plant some other things around those tomato plants.
This type of intensive planting or companion planting is a common practice in Southeast Asia and other areas of the world where land and water are scarce.
This type garden is not planted in rows, but rather in “blocks.” A tomato plant might be surrounded with lettuce, carrots and onions or chive plants.
This method of planting conserves water, garden space, and helps keep weeds down.
Beans and cucumbers make good companion plants. They could share a raised bed.
Plant a dozen or so bean plants in one-third of the bed and plant a 12 to 15 cucumber plants in the rest of the bed.
The cucumbers will yield 15 to 20 quarts of 3- to 4-inch pickles or up to 30 quarts of 1- to 2-inch pickles.
The beans will yield 15 or more quarts of beans – either canned or frozen.
If garden space is not available, tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, squash and herbs can easily be grown in a container garden.
Just imagine a mini-herb garden in an old water pail sitting just outside your sunny kitchen door. All you have to do is step outside to snip off oregano, basil, thyme, rosemary, chives or lemon balm to add to the tomatoes you are canning.
Enjoy your gardening experience. There is nothing quite like produce fresh from your own garden. And nothing tastes better on a cold winter night than tomatoes or other produce home-canned from your own garden.
Canning and gardening questions are welcomed in the comment section.
Vegetable Gardening, Rhoda Burrows and David Graper, South Dakota State University Extension, http://pubstorage.sdstate.edu/AgBio_Publications/articles/EC668.pdf
South Dakota Harvest, Dakota Rural Action, http://sdlocalfood.org/dates.htm
Growing Tomatoes in the Home Garden, Rhoda Burrows, SDSU Extension, http://pubstorage.sdstate.edu/AgBio_Publications/articles/FS915.pdf
Specialized Gardening Techniques: Wide-row Planting, Square Foot Gardening and Raised Beds, University of Wisconsin Extension, Helen C. Harrison, http://learningstore.uwex.edu/assets/pdfs/A3384.PDF
Raised Bed Gardening, Christopher J. Starbuck, University of Missouri Extension, http://extension.missouri.edu/p/g6985
Small Space Gardening, Mother Earth News, Feb./Mar. 2012, http://www.motherearthnews.com/article.aspx?id=2147498802
Growing Cucumbers, Peppers, Squash and Tomatoes In Containers, Ohio State University Extension, http://ohioline.osu.edu/hyg-fact/1000/1645.html
Container Gardens, Colorado State University Extension, http://www.ext.colostate.edu/pubs/garden/07238.html
Vegetable Gardening in Containers, Joseph J. Masabni, Aglife Extension, Texas A & M, http://aggie-horticulture.tamu.edu/publications/guides/e-545_vegetable_gardening_containers.pdf
Carrots love tomatoes, companion planting for a healthy garden, Mother Earth News, Feb./Mar. 1992 http://www.motherearthnews.com/organic-gardening/carrots-love-tomatoes-companion-planting-for-a-healthy-garden-zb0z11zbug.aspx