How To Freeze Your Broccoli Harvest

  • Broccoli is high in Potassium, Fiber, Vitamin A, Vitamin B-6, & it has more Vitamin C than an Orange!!  As if you needed another reason to eat tons of this yummy veggie!

Broccoli harvest happens all at once rather than sporadically throughout the season like, say, green beans for instance. If you can’t eat it all fresh straight out of the garden, freezing is the best method to preserve it for another meal and it’s really easy too!  Select firm, tight broccoli heads to preserve!

You Will Need:

  • Large Knife
  • Cutting Board
  • Large Pot
  • Cookie Sheets Lined With Freezer Paper/ Food Saver
  • Colander
  • Salt
  • Ice

The Method:

First, give your broccoli a good rinse to remove any dirt. Then cut away the leaves. (I like to save them for the chickens.) Then fill a large pot with enough water to cover the broccoli and let it come to a boil and begin to prepare the broccoli for blanching.

Broccoli with the leaves gone.

Now run a sink full of cold water. For every gallon of water in the sink add 1 tablespoon salt and dissolve it to create a brine. Cut the broccoli florets off the stalk and put them in the brine bath and allow them to soak for at least five minutes. – This actually has nothing to do with adding flavor, nor does it aid in preserving the broccoli. It’s to get rid of any worms (caterpillars) or bugs that may be inside that pretty stalk of broccoli you brought in from your garden. Even the most perfect looking broccoli will have bugs hiding in it, so don’t freak out it’s just a fact of life! The brine kills them and they fall out of the broccoli florets. Typically they sink to the bottom of the brine bath, but when fishing the broccoli out of the sink for the final rinse in the colander you will need to look to make sure none got stuck to the florets.

This is why we brine folks! I’ll take my broccoli without the added protein THANKS
Broccoli In The Brine

 

After the brine, rinse the broccoli in the colander and give them a good swishing around. Cut up the stalks into bite sized pieces and toss them in the pot of boiling water. Add the florets. Allow the broccoli to cook for 3-5 min or until it is bright green.

Chopped stalks

Drain the broccoli into a colander and fill a large bowl with ice water. Add the broccoli, gently stir it around to cool it. This stops the cooking process and prevents the enzymes in the vegetable from breaking down the food any further. Drain once more. From here you can pack the broccoli cuts into food saver bags and freeze them OR you can spread the cuts out on freezer paper lined cookie sheets and pop them in the freezer for about 4 hours or overnight. Once frozen, grab a corner of the freezer paper and pull it towards you. The broccoli should free from the paper in perfect loose pieces, then bag the broccoli in portion sized bags and store them in the freezer.

Blanched Broccoli Ready For Freezing


Have fun broccoli-ing!

Creek Valley Farm

I think strawberries are natures way of apologizing for the heat that’s about to come in the following months. Each year our family looks forward to stuffing our faces with gobs of the sweet red berries any way we can get them: strawberry pie, shortcake, jam…and it’s so sad when they are gone. Growing our own strawberries also falls in the “eventually” category around here (along with asparagus) – If I would have just planted them when I moved here years ago I could be feasting on my very own heaping pile of strawberries as we speak. I keep putting it off because as soon as I make the investment I know we would find our forever home and I would have to leave it all behind.

The other thing is: Why bother planting strawberries and waiting years for them to produce a large crop when just a few miles away, nestled on gentle hills off a country road lies an amazing family owned strawberry farm? I have been going to Creek Valley Farm to pick and buy berries ever since I can remember and I recently got to chat with Aaron Smith about his families unique crop.

Strawberries in the Field
Fresh Picked Raspberries

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nearly 40 years ago Stanley and Carol Smith planted their first small strawberry patch in Waldron Michigan after they were first married. They and their children Aaron & Stephanie still work the farm today. These days the Smith family’s strawberry patch sprawls over ten acres and they didn’t stop at strawberries. About an acre is dedicated to blackberries and raspberries too! They grow around 8 different varieties of strawberries, some “early” bearing and some “late” bearing, with a customer favorite being Jewel, a large juicy variety. Keeping a mix of plants helps to keep their crop a constant throughout the month of June, when there is a lull in activity after planting their fields of corn, beans, & wheat.

Stephanie, packing harvested berries into quart boxes.

The strawberry business isn’t as simple as “plant it and they will come”. I talked with Stephanie and Carol about the challenges they face with weather. Remember those late frosts we got this year? For the Smith family it meant sleepless nights checking temperatures and spraying the strawberry blossoms with water to form ice on the blooms to protect them from the damaging frost, because no viable blossoms means no berries. Thankfully their efforts were successful and they were able to save their crop, but other Michigan strawberry farmers weren’t so lucky. The hard frosts coupled with the heavy rain we got in the following weeks took it’s toll on many strawberry crops across the state.

Selling a fresh perishable product that isn’t preserved in any way is its own challenge. The berries are meant to be consumed or cooked with immediately for optimum flavor and freshness. I learned that a lot of their sales aren’t from people stopping at their big red barn to purchase fruit like I thought but rather wholesale, to places like St. Johns Produce, Glei’s Orchards & Greenhouse, and several other local businesses that sell fresh fruit. You will also see them set up at local farmers markets.

Already picked berries waiting to go home with you.

Under the lean to of their pole barn you will find a table filled with flats of berries already picked and waiting to go home with you. To be honest, this is the route I take, maybe when my boys are a bit older that will change. OR you could choose the U-Pick option. If you take this route you will be directed towards the U-Pick Specialist, Sarah. She’s been working at Creek Valley Farm during strawberry season for 9 years.

Sarah, The U-Pick Specialist, will help you when you come to pick fresh strawberries.

Sarah will show you the places to pick, and tell you how to pick, which is helpful not only to them but to those of us who haven’t picked a strawberry in years or maybe even never at all. You must pick all the red berries whether they be large or small, then place a flag at the point where you stopped. This way the folks that come after you get to pick in an unpicked over spot. I had a great time chatting with Sarah about her job. We talked about how grocery store berries can’t beat the flavor of the strawberries here at Creek Valley Farm and she says it largely has to do with the fact that the California grown strawberries that are found in grocery stores across the country are picked before they are ripe otherwise they would spoil before they made it to their destination. This results in firm red berries sure, but they have zero flavor. Buying your strawberries locally from Creek Valley Farm and farms like it ensure that you are getting produce at it’s sweetest and juiciest peak. In my book these tasty little berries are worth every last penny!

One of the things I love about coming to Creek Valley Farm to purchase strawberries every year is the family atmosphere. They remember their customers and greet each one while happily answering any questions you may have. Walking around their beautiful farm to the U-Pick section was really peaceful, it was a beautiful day with a slight breeze and I could hear the creek babbling nearby. The hills, the quiet, delicious berries, and the great people who run this farm are the stuff memories are made of. Taking your family here to pick berries will last with you your whole life, like it has for me. Your kids wont remember it was hot or that it was hard work picking, but they will remember the feeling of accomplishment when they fill their berry box and they will remember the giant strawberry pie heaped with whipped cream you made for desert that night.

If you’d like to visit Creek Valley Farm to get the whole strawberry experience you can stop by during business hours at: 6600 East Camden Road, Waldron, MI 49288 or Click here to like them on Facebook and keep updated on all the goings on of the farm. I hope you stop to get berries here this season, I guarantee you will not be disappointed.

Already stopped out to Creek Valley Farm to get berries and you want to try something new? Try my recipe for FRESH STRAWBERRY SHORTCAKE ICE CREAM!

Prune Your Blackberries To Maximize Yield

While all bramble fruit seem pretty no muss no fuss, they actually do require some tender loving twice a year. They will continue to fruit and reproduce without pruning of course, but they won’t be nearly as vibrant from season to season if you don’t devote just a little time to them. These pruning methods can be applied to raspberries, too, since the plants’ growing habits are the same.

There are several kinds of blackberry plants that behave in all sorts of different ways. The three main types are Erect, Trailing, and Thorn-less. It helps to know what type you have when it comes to trellising the canes. I happen to have erect blackberries, they have tall arching canes and I do not trellis them. I find that they do just fine without it for our circumstances, though perhaps in the future it would be nice to do an upgrade. No matter the type you have, they all like to be pruned in the same manner. Pruning has many benefits including helping ward off diseases, larger berries, and higher yield.

 

Blackberry Primocane, This primocane is ready to be tip pruned!

Blackberry canes are “biennial” meaning that the canes live for two years. In nearly all varieties first year canes will not bear fruit and are called “primocanes”; they are easy to spot because they are bright green. In the spring you will want to tip prune the first few inches from the primocanes when they are still shorter than 3 feet tall. This makes the primocane grow a thicker stem that will support a larger fruit load next year, and send off more lateral branches where more berries will grow. You will notice in the fall that the primocanes will have grown their thin brown bark in preparation for the winter and next year

Blackberry runners or “suckers” Suckers will pop up 2-3 feet away from your blackberry patch, we like to dig them up and plant them back in the row!

Some varieties of blackberries send runners or “suckers” off a few feet away from the patch. If the suckers look nice, we like to dig them up and plant them back in the row. Its a nice free way to expand our patch. -Suckers are primocanes.

The current year’s fruiting canes are called “floricanes”. Besides blossoming and bearing fruit these canes can be identified by their thin brown bark. After their fruit ripens the leaves on these canes start to fizzle out. In the winter trim the spent floricanes back to the crown. In winter when there are no leaves and the brand new floricanes for the coming season look the same at first glance as last year’s dead floricanes, pruning can be a little tricky if it’s your first time. Last year’s spent floricanes will look brown while new floricanes (last years primocanes) will have a purplish tint when compared with each other. Another way to tell them apart is to look for the remnants of last years fruiting blooms. And if that isn’t quite enough to make you certain you are about to chop the right cane, you can take your clippers and scrape a teeny bit of bark off. If it is green underneath the bark you have a new cane, if its brown you have a dead cane that needs to be pruned. Getting rid of the spent canes in the winter before fruiting helps the plant to focus nutrients on the new floricanes.

Blackberry floricane
Floricanes Bearing Fruit

 

Dead Floricane
A Spent Floricane, This guy needs to be pruned. Notice last years blossom ends where the fruit formed.

When pruning there are a few tools you will need:

* A good pair of hand clippers
* Leather gloves and or kevlar sleeves
* Alchohol wipes
* Wagon, to haul away the debris

In between cuts wipe your clippers off with an alcohol wipe to prevent spreading diseases from one plant to another, especially if you are moving between species (raspberries, black raspberries etc.) sure it takes a little more time but this one simple bio-security measure can protect your berry investment for years to come.  All bramble fruit is susceptible to a wide array of fungal diseases and other icky stuff so it is always a good practice to burn the pruned canes after the job is done to prevent spreading disease.  Wild black raspberries are notorious for giving diseases to domesticated bramble fruit so do your best to keep your blackberry patch well and away from wild varieties.  But please folks, don’t rip them out as they are an important food for our beloved wildlife.