Gardening for a one-person home is sometimes more daunting than planting for a huge family. It’s hard to know what to do with an abundance of produce that you simply cannot eat before it goes bad, especially if you’re a better gardener than you are a cook. And there are only so many tomatoes you want to can each autumn. If you’ve watched your homegrown produce spoil one too many times, then you’ll be happy to hear that a few simple adjustments can ensure your garden produce is enjoyed far and wide, with little additional work for you.
We reached out to our savvy readers via Facebook to find out how they handle having more fresh produce than mouths to feed; the responses we received were both economical and heartwarming. Whether they “ding-dong ditch” bags of produce to neighbors, or find new ways to freeze single servings, these gardeners certainly don’t let their harvests go to waste.
“I use a lot of pint and half-pint canning jars to freeze food in small portions. I try to avoid leftovers, although it’s challenging at times.” — Randy Wood
“I can everything! There’s an entire wall of my kitchen, ceiling to floor, that contains canned goods. I grow herbs, tomatoes, peppers, curcubits, greens, garlic, onions, blueberries, and a variety of flowers for the pollinators. I use the water-bath method for canning acidic items, and the pressure-canning methods for non-acidic foods. A pressure canner will help you safely preserve a wider variety of edibles. For example, with my pressure canner, I put up pork tenderloin in brown gravy, preserve catfish in lemon water, and can plain jalapeños in half-pints for dips or for adding to homemade pizzas.” — Yvonne Coates
“When shucking peas or gathering onions, garlic, and other compostables, I simmer the excess into a thick broth. I don’t use much water when cooking, but I use a lot of broth. After it’s cooked down, I put my broth in pint jars and freeze it.” — Chris Chudzik
“I grind my jalapeños, mix them with a little water, and freeze them in single servings in ice cube trays, which I then store in plastic bags and keep in the freezer. This preserving method works for roasted garlic and other things, too.” — BJ Green
“Greens, such as kale and collards, are great because you can pick off the bit you want and leave the rest to grow. I also have two chickens to eat all the produce that I can’t!” — Cody Henderhan
“Whenever I make soup stock, I freeze it in separate batches of about 8 cups apiece. Then I give them away as Christmas presents to others who live alone.” — Dice Portz
“I live near an apartment complex for seniors and the disabled. I have a big yard with a lot of fruit trees — far more than I could ever use. I invite my elderly and disabled neighbors to visit my garden and pick what they like. One elderly couple was so grateful that the wife made jams and jellies from the fruit and shared with everyone in the complex!
“I was inspired by my parents. We didn’t have a lot, but we did raise most of our own food. My parents couldn’t bear to see anyone go without. They regularly shared whatever they had. Sometimes it was eggs, or grapes, or peaches. I only remember my mom accepting payment once. Most of the time my dad would swap food for help fixing fences or something along those lines.” — Joanne Rivas
“I grow small, single-serving squash varieties, such as Delicata, and then I donate extras to the food bank at which I volunteer.” — Kathryn Phillips
“I make enough salsa to get me through winter and to send home with each of my four children. The rest of the veggies I pickle or freeze. I eat what I grow and grow what I eat. My garden is only 12 by 12 feet, but if I have excess veggies, I’ll trade with other widows in my community who may grow different produce than what I have in my garden.” — Marlene Kutcher
“I live in an apartment in the city, so I have containers outside in the summer and herbs in the windows during winter. I coordinate my summer grilling menus with what’s ready for harvest in my container garden. I freeze as many tomatoes as possible, and ding-dong ditch the extra vegetables to my neighbors in the building. No one has ever complained!” — Diane Lilliputian
“My garden is the best place for relaxation; time just disappears when I’m there. I keep some produce for the family, and the rest I give to close relatives, neighbors, friends, and friends of friends — and I don’t forget the needy. Nothing is for sale. The Bible says, ‘Freely you have received; freely give.’” — Giorgos Kouzapas
“I often donate excess produce to the local food bank. I’ve also cooked extra servings of nutrient-packed and easy-to-freeze meals, such as soups and pastas, and then delivered the meals to friends or neighbors who I knew were experiencing tough times.” — Karen Keiser-Sausa
“I grow lots of tomatoes, cucumbers, bell peppers, jalapeños, and zucchini, but I can’t eat them all myself. So what I end up doing is giving some to my daughters and grandkids. What they don’t take, I set out on a table at the preschool my daughter runs for the parents to take home. I know they’ll be put to good use, and it helps me keep up with bumper crops without being up to my ears in tomatoes.” — Dennis Weixelman
“I had my husband build a 6-by-3-foot arch of PVC pipe and hogwire (a heavy metal mesh). Then, I planted spaghetti squash on both sides in raised beds with lots of compost. The result is a beautiful arch of giant squash plants that I estimate will produce at least 300 pounds of squash, with more starting every day from lovely yellow blossoms. Being on the arch, the squash won’t rot from sitting on the ground, and there’s a lot of air circulation around the plants. My husband will eat what he can, and we’ll donate the rest.” — Alice W. Cain
“I’ve started gardening in raised beds since I’m usually only cooking for one or two people. With the smaller growing space, I’m limited to just a few vegetable plants. So, to maximize my space, I also begin succession planting 2 to 3 weeks after the first plants come up. Anything that I can’t eat, I either freeze or give away to bigger families.” — Angel Robinson Byron
If you’re cooking for one person, the harvest can be overwhelming when it arrives, but extra produce can mean a world of difference both for your personal meals and for those to whom your excess finds its way. If you run out of storage space, and your neighbors and friends refuse to take even one more zucchini, it may be worthwhile to donate to your local food bank, as a few of our readers above mentioned. Contrary to popular belief, most food banks will happily take fresh foods, which are often least available to those who need the nutrition most — learn more at Fall Harvest for Those in Need. Don’t know where your nearest food bank is? Head over to Feeding America and select “Find A Food Bank.” Who knows? Maybe you’ll find a passion for volunteering to complement your green thumb.
Jordan Carley is a budding patio gardener, herbalist, and writer. She currently serves as the editorial intern for Heirloom Gardener.