Everyone interested in stashing food away for hard times, should know this one word. Gleaning.
Take apples for example. A full sized, mature, healthy apple tree can put on 20 bushels of apples in a good year. Apple trees can outlive their planters. It’s not uncommon to find fruit bearing trees in yards of elderly widows. Even families with kids can find themselves overwhelmed by a bumper crop. The apples we’re processing in my house this week came from just such a family. They have a giant apple tree, my neighbor on his ladder was only reaching the bottom 15% of this tree. They made 2 batches of apple sauce and a few pies and realized there was still 15 bushels on the tree, about to fall on their lawn and rot. So they started passing the word to every gleaner they know. My neighbors happened to be one of those that got the heads up. We’re on the gleaner grid through them, mostly. When they are headed out to a tree or vine patch, they always knock on our door to see if we want any. :-D I always tell them I’ll just follow them out so I can fill my car trunk. (And I always take a kid, this is important stuff to learn.)
Gleaning can sometimes be done without having to pick anything yourself. If there’s something you like to preserve, be it pickles or squash or beans, get friendly with some local gardeners, and mention your willingness to take overflows of veg. I know there are time when I get a bumper crop of something and I wish I knew with front porch to leave it on. We get random boxes at work full of cucumbers with FREE written on them, clearly home grown over production.
There are even organized gleaning efforts in some rural areas to combat food shortages. Farmers, CSA’s and orchards/fruit producers can call the gleaning organization when there is excess product that they either can’t harvest in time or can’t sell for some reason. The gleaning organization keeps a pool of volunteers and sends them out with a big van when that call comes in, then distributes to food pantries or meals on wheels or something like that.
If you’re not on the gleaners grid for your area, it can be as easy as knocking on doors. Fully loaded apple trees are not hard to spot if you simply remain aware of your surroundings as you go about your normal errands. (Hint, such awareness is easier if you’re not driving, another habit you should get into.) After locating the fruit sources, quiet surveillance is in order. For instance in my town this year apples are in full swing. Pears are not far behind the apples this year. But the maroon colored plum trees were bare of fruit when I peeked in the two I know of a couple of months ago. Just by keeping my eyes open, I already know who’s likely to need to get rid of fruit, and when they’re likely to be in overload state.
Gleaning takes the most basic of equipment. Buckets or baskets or sturdy mesh bags. Gloves (for thorny vine crops) and long sleeves for protection. Sturdy shoes, sometimes the tree is in the “back 40.” My neighbor has a truck, and he likes to bring a ladder. I’m a nimble hippy with a small car and I just climb the trees. For any tree climbers among our readers, I recommend the reusable grocery bags over buckets, they are easier to climb with, and easier to lower down to the ground.
We should finish up with our apple preserving next week, and have a small break before we get our bulk order of peaches in, and the pear trees are ready. What are you preserving? How much comes from free sources?
– Calamity Jane