For some hunters, harvest season comes only in the fall or spring. For others, it may be both. But for me, its year round. I hunt for meat, but a dinner plate is not complete without some yummy sides; especially fresh, home-grown veggies! So from fall to summer –and back around again – I am constantly working on keeping our freezer stocked with deer meat, fish, wild hog, and any other game along with different vegetables that I can prepare a meal with. So this time of year I pick from my own garden or hunt down the prettiest vegetables I can find!
Growing a garden is definitely a lot of hard work! It takes preparation in the off-season, just like you would for deer season, and each year can be different. This year, the late season of warmer weather and daily rainfall has affected the soils acidity and moisture levels, resulting in a late start and a lot of root rot! Most everyone I’ve talked with has had trouble with their backyard gardens this year. Even my uncle in South Georgia, who is a year round farmer, has had some trouble with his crop fields.
My garden consists of five rows of Silver Queen corn (the best!), one row of okra, yellow crookneck squash, zucchini, tomatoes, grape tomatoes, a couple of green bell pepper plants, mammoth jalapeno plants, cucumbers, and one eggplant. It may sound like a lot, but really it’s not, especially when several seeds don’t sprout up. This year my garden is struggling due to the weather, but I’m still nurturing it to help it grow. Sometimes we have to try harder and work more fervently in life, whether it’s a garden, a flower bed, or deer food plots. Last deer season was a struggle for me, but I didn’t give up. Towards the end of the season I brought home two small does to put in the freezer and to me, that’s better than nothing because I helped provide meat for the table.
You know how we act whenever the first day of the season opens for a specific game? We’re in the woods in the front row, ready to take aim and bag the biggest or fattest animal we see! Well that’s how it is with me and vegetables. Once the veggies are in, you gotta get ‘em because they won’t last long! But wait! There’s even more planning with that! How many bushels of peas should I buy? When will I have time to put them up in the freezer? Will I have a Saturday to spare to pick corn, shuck it, silk it, cream it, and freeze it? Is okra ready? Have the prices increased this year? You just can’t do it all in one evening, that’s for sure! It’s a process that takes time and effort when it comes to canning or freezing vegetables.
There are certain things I don’t grow in my garden, such as beans or peas. It takes a lot of rows, a lot of picking, and a lot of shelling to get several bushels of peas to put up for the year. Back in the day when I was a kid, I would shell peas for mom in the summer, but now since I work full time, I just don’t have time for this tedious chore. So every year I go to the Farmer’s Market to purchase shelled peas by the bushel. I then take them home, wash them, blanch them, cool them, put in freezer zip lock bags, and stack in the freezer. My favorite peas are zipper peas, white acre peas, black eyes, butter beans, and butter peas. There are several other types of peas that are grown in the south that you can purchase such as pink eyes, ford hooks, purple hulls, speckled butter beans, dixie lee crowders, cream 40’s, cream 12’s, and many more! I also try to fill the freezer up with squash, zucchini, okra, and corn. Silver Queen Corn is my absolute favorite! If you want several bags to put away, you can plan on an entire Saturday doing that. It starts with getting up at 6:00am to go pick it before it gets hot, unless you purchased a bushel or more the day before, then you can sleep in a little! Once you’re home with a few bushels, you shuck it, silk it, cut the ends off, clean it, clean it again, cream it, blanch it, cool it, bag it, and finally, freeze it. Don’t forget you gotta deal with worms, the sweet sticky juice, silks flying everywhere, flies, and HOT weather. But to me, it’s worth the pain because it’s the best corn you’ll ever eat! I’ve become a corn snob over it. I won’t buy it in the store. That frozen stuff in the yellow tube is just NOT the same!!!
I write about this because I absolutely enjoy this time of year. My mom taught me what there is to know about vegetables and now I understand why she worked so hard at it. Yea, I still go to the grocery store, but only to get dessert. Just kidding! I was raised this way and there’s nothing like having cream corn, zipper peas, and nice hunk of deer back-strap on a plate! And don’t forget a hot fluffy biscuit smeared with may-haw jelly! I’m proud of the knowledge my mom passed on to me so I can share it with others. I get a satisfaction out of teaching others about our beautiful southern ways…..from deer hunting to harvesting veggies. It’s a year round way of life. So I hope you’re not afraid to get your hands dirty and make yourself sweat! I promise your next meal will taste so much better! It’s guarantee.