Stocking Up For Free

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

  • GoneWithTheWind August 15, 2013, 10:37 am

    Often apple trees that are not being picked will produce many small apples and most will be infected by worms. I have gleaned from these trees and although this might sound a little unsavory I have found that even apples with worms in them have more then half the apple intact and edible. It is a simple matter to determine where the wormy part begins and ends and the rest is untouched. Of course you can’t simply store them you must cut them up and use them or can them. Another fruit common around here is blackberries. They are so abundant that one could literally pick a years supply of food in a few weeks. I admit I don’t want to live on blackberries for a year but they are great food and good any time and it is nice to know that with a little planning and a little work you could pick and can a lot of blackberries.

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  • Ray August 16, 2013, 6:28 am

    Dried apples are one of my all time favorites, well dried fruit in general. Free makes it that much sweeter. Last summer a truck with wheat on board dumped about 600lb alongside our road, all I needed was a scoop and broom to pick up about 350lb’s FREE food. I pick blackberrys every summer, we also have loads of wild strawberrys , persimmons, plums, and on rare lucky years peaches. I have allways been amazed at the free food people pass up.

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  • The Road Warrior August 18, 2013, 9:40 am

    Unfortunately, I’m not on any gleaning lists, but it’s a brilliant idea. Luckily, I’m in the land of 10,000 orchards here in Southwest Maine, and apples are easy and very inexpensive to come by, plus a wonderful way to spend some family time together. Now if I can only keep my son from climbing the trees…

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  • Rastus McGee August 29, 2013, 7:06 pm

    I know ’bout how to and have most every thing to eat there is but does anyone have a preferred way to to do persimmons besides eatn the possums that eat them?

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