3 Creative Ways to Use Your Garden Surplus

By , SparkPeople Blogger
There are many benefits to growing your own food in a backyard garden. Early in the summer, many of us are able to keep up with what our gardens produce as we take our precious products from the garden directly to our tables. As the summer goes on, keeping up can become a challenge. We check the garden before heading out of town on vacation and realize there are many things that are ripe and ready for use but we don't have time to do anything with them. Or, perhaps our green thumbs have produced more than we can keep up with at the table and our storage space is already filled to capacity. What are we to do?

Here are 3 creative ideas to help you put your extra garden produce to good use.

There comes a time in almost every gardeners summer when there is more produced than can be used. Making salsa or properly storing, freezing or canning the extras are certainly a traditional and recommended option. However, if you are short on time or storage space, here are 3 creative ideas for your extra produce that you may not have thought of.
  1. Give them away – Tough financial times may make fresh produce hard to afford for some of your neighbors. Offering your surplus provides the perfect opportunity for those that might really have a need or just a desire to include fresh produce in their diet a reality with dignity still in tact. Place your extra produce by your mailbox with a large sign that says "FREE" and see just how fast your surplus disappears.
  2. Donate to a nearby food pantry or homeless shelter – Most community food banks or food pantries offer canned vegetables if any at all to those that come in need of food. Drop in shelters rarely provide fresh vegetables as part of their meal offerings for those that come in search of a cool and dry place to stay and receive a meal. Making fresh produce available to outreach opportunities like these in your community will get your extras in the hands of those that need it and will put a smile on your face at the same time because you were able to make a difference. Check with local outreach organizations and churches in your community to find a local food pantry or drop in center. Feed America is the nation's leading domestic hunger relief charity and their website can help you find a food bank that serves your community.
  3. Use your social networking connection – Send out a "tweet" or post a status update letting your local networking friends know you have fresh produce to spare. Encourage those that are interested to come by and pick it up. Better yet, invite them to come and pick it for themselves which saves you some work! What a great and creative way to socialize AND provide your extra produce to a local friend or acquaintance.

What other creative ideas do you have for garden surplus this summer?

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We do most of the above plus swap produce, jams and chutneys between family members. I love that my partners x2 brothers and his mum all have veggie gardens, our gatherings are always so giving! Report
thanks for the great topic and all the wonderful ideas on dealing with surplus food. We are eating our lettuce so fast I think I am turning green, and tomorrow I'll bring a bunch around the neighborhood and share. Report
I freeze as much as will fit in my freezer, so I can use it all year. I slice dark leafy greens and green onions and freeze them in ziploc bags, make pesto and freeze it in ice cube trays, tomato sauce and baba ganoush and freeze it in muffin tins. You can also freeze cropped broccoli, cauliflower, sliced squash and peppers, corn cut off the ears, whole tomatoes and green beans, chopped onions, minced garlic. I don't cook anything before I freeze it. It all goes in raw. I also can pickled vegetables and fruit jam but freezing is easier and faster. Report
I love the idea of gardening - growing my own food to be healthy and sharing it with others :) Report
I do not have a garden. When I buy from the farmer's market, I try to buy in bulk. I will use what I need for the meal I plan to have and then freeze the rest. There is nothing better than garden green beans in the dead of winter. Tonya Report
I share with family and friends, bag and freeze some and the rabbits we raise get the rest :) Report
I've been distributing extra produce to my neighbors. It's great to see their faces light up when I come unexpectedly to their door with lettuce, spinach, herbs, and radishes. I'll have bags of tomatoes to share later this season; I planted way too many. My neighbors have shared home made bread, preserves, jams, brandy and gourmet ketchup (cranberry/tomato) with us. It's a great way to grow neighborhood friendships. Report
I haven't tried this idea but I am growing green onions for the first time ever. A friend told me that if I get too many at once to take some of the ripe ones and flip them and bury them to grow bigger onions. She said when I do pick the ripe green onions, pick every other one. This will leave enough room underground for the flipped onions to grow bigger. Again, haven't tried it but I plan to later in the summer. Report
What a great way to do something healthy for yourself and a community service at the same time! Report
We have excess going to go to waste so going to look up local food bank and some senior citizen homes. Thank you Report
We bring the pumpkins to my daughter's school about a week before Halloween.... The art teacher lets each child pick one for their art project.... They are really creative.... Jack-O-Lanterns.... The art teacher ask for extras for the adult autism class that she volunteers at in the community too.... The highway department asked for some pumpkins to decorate their office.... and the neighbor kids came to pick their own pumpkins.... They were a big hit.... and they grow with out replanting each year too.... Report
We bring our extra vegetables to church... We have paper lunch bags for people to bag up their selections (so they don't get their clothes or cars dirty).... The elderly people really love it.... Report
If you live in an area with a zoo, you may be able to donate excess produce to them. When I lived in Indianapolis, my landlord farmed pumpkins. After Halloween, all the excess pumpkins went to the zoo. I guess elephants love them. You never know, you could put a smile on the face of an orangutan or an elephant! :)) Report
If you live in an area with a zoo, you may be able to donate excess produce to them. When I lived in Indianapolis, my landlord farmed pumpkins. After Halloween, all the excess pumpkins went to the zoo. I guess elephants love them. You never know, you could put a smile on the face of an orangutan or an elephant! :)) Report
What a great thing!
We've tried having the big gardens in the past but something alwasy seems to happen that they never get taken care of. This year, I worked the veggies into my flower beds and tried to not over plant. I'm gonna learn to can this year as well and dehydrate. (I've heard not to do the onion family in the house when dehydrating - not sure the why's on that...)
Another place to take veggies to is the local jail. We live in a small town so our jail isn't that large but the inmates could use some nutrition as well. Course, I'm a huge fan of that sheriff in Az that makes the inmates grow their own food! Animal shelters also - they don't just have dogs and cats, they also have animals that love produce come in to them espically now with the economy like it is.
Check with your food banks before you assume you can take it there, I don't know if they can always accept home grown? You would think they could but... Report
Take to your local Senior Center or the Woman's Shelter. They really enjoy getting it. Report
Unfortunately living in the city I only have a windowsill garden. I got some hierloom lettuce (leaves not heads) have have come up nicely. I'm on my second harvest. Looks like I will get a total of four side salads out of them. I already have two myself and gave enough to my mother for a side salad. She thought it was good tasting lettuce.
I have I'm trying my second attempt at chives and radishes. The first attempt bombed. So far very promising. I have one lone tomatoe plant, from seed that's hanging in there.
And lastly my snow/snap peas. They are growing like vines,I which I wasn't aware of would happen when I planted them. Those I'm worried about.
I did have left over seeds that I offered to my freinds and family. Report
Great. Report
Love your idea to share, we planted tomato plants and the rain and he bugs killed them this year, I was so looking forward to my tomato sandwiches Report
Prepare samplings to encourage others to grow their own & different ways they may consume various veggies. Report
Set-up a Vegetable Stand on weekends & make extra money! Garage Sales are rampant in my neighborhood & setting one up at end of my drive has helped to buy more food! And I get to promote Sparks & meet neighbors I didn't know. Report
There are several shut-ins in my area so I always make sure that they have fresh fruits, nuts and vegetables. I fill a box every week with what is ripe or near ripe and their doors steps in the late evening so they find it in the morning. I don't want them to feel that they owe me anything when I come over to visit them. There are enough farmers in our area that it could be from one of them. I guess I am their secret fresh produce Claus. Report
I learned how to can in self-defense. DH's garden produces much more than we can eat. I make jams and jellies that I sell at a local Farmers Market. I will also take in surplus and sell it there. The money I make helps buy what we don't grow - meat, milk, eggs and bread. Report
My church has a Shared Giving table for produce, jam, breads, cakes, etc. Folks drop cash into a basket, and the money goes toward our apportionments (money paid to the church conference for administrative purposes). Report
We have a truck garden during the summer. We are with a program that gives
$ 50 dollars worth of free veggies to senior citizens during the summer who qualify income wise. Other stuff we take to our church and give away or to a soup kitchen. I also can and freeze. Report
I share with my neighbors and friends. Report
Our garden is small and we really don't get a lot of excess produce, but I do my darndest to make sure nothing goes to waste. Heck, I even make pickles out of watermelon rinds! LOL

I do a lot of freezing and canning during the summer and fall and pass veggies on to my adult kids and people at work. Our local food pantries stress that they want donations of non-perishable items and they won't accept home-canned foods due to health department regulations. I will have to contact the homeless shelters and find out if they accept fresh produce.

Every year during the holidays, my workplace "adopts" a needy family. Perhaps I can donate home-canned items there?

I love the idea of taking them to the Senior Center. Most retirees are on small, fixed incomes and some fresh veggies would surely be welcomed.

Thanks for this blogl IT really is making me think about how I can help others with my excess. Report
Great ideas! Of course food pantry came to mind immediately, and sharing with neighbors... but how did this girl gadget geek NOT think about announcing a surplus on Facebook or Twitter? LOL! Most of my Twitter friends are not local, but lots of nearby friends on Facebook! :D Report
My mom cans and freezes her leftovers. Then if there is no immediate need for her extras, she is able to keep them and give them away later............like to me when I go to visit :) I love you mom! Report
We put up what we think we can use and the rest is donated to our local women's shelter or homeless shelter.

I just have some tomatoes coming in. My neighbor already said she wants some when they ripen. :-) Report
Take some of your surplus vegetables and flowers to work. Many of your co-workers may not have their own gardens and would enjoy some fresh veggies. Of course, the food bank is always a great place to donate. Report
When we had a garden, a fairly large one, we had a lot of produce and we traded with other people for our produce. They felt like they were not taking something free and we got something we wanted that we used more of either vegetables or clothes or something else we used. Report
Iways have a surplus but my friends and family clean that up! I planted a garden over 7 yrs ago and thought it was so big! Each yer seems as tho we make it bigger. The whole family loves the veggies out of the garden. Report
Talk about surplus....I have over 30 successful tomato plants, all different kinds too, getting ready to produce fruit within the next week!
I'm gonna can everything I can manage (I'm new at it this year, look out!) and I plan on hooking up my family and friends with as much as they'll take.
And of course, I'm eating a lot of fresh veggies this year!
We just got our first zucchini! Report
I always give some to my neighbours and what I dont grow they give me so we have a nice set up going. I have also started eating different vegetables as I grow things that I would not normally buy and have discovered I love them. Report
giving is a reward in its self we have what I would call a med garden and we have a lot to share thanks Report
I always share from my garden and my flower beds. I grow a lot of perennials and I always save the seeds. I catalog them and give them away. Plus, when my Hostas get so big, I separate them and give them away! I have Petunias, Snapdragons, and Marigolds that when they begin to seed, I save them and put them back in the ground, and viola, I have a flower garden of annuals growing the next year! Report
We don't waste anything from our garden. Things like chives and rhubarb grow like weeds we still use them all. The rhubarb shrub produces a lot of rhubarb stalks in a very short time. We make rhubarb pie, rhubarb bread, rhubarb jam and anything you can think of. When we have excess we cut them up and freeze them until enough for a block party and invite our neighbors over for a great time. Report
I can't think of a better idea than you have already stated. GIVE ! GIVE! GIVE! Report
wonderful topic. this is my first year gardening too. I figured ANYTHING would be gravy so I guess some radishes, onions, carrots, dill and peas count as gravy. Potatoes and squash are "trying"! Hmm, mixed metaphor there. Great idea to use social media. Not sure our food pantry is set up to deal with fresh goods, but I'm sure there's a way around it. Maybe in connection with a fair? (We're rural). Report
I wish I had garden surplus! I just started gardening for the first time this year and so far, I'm not noticing a whole lot of growth. Oh well. I won't give up.

I want to strongly recommend donating fresh food to food banks and shelters. I work for a children's shelter and our food budget is pitiful. The kids eat horribly and they hardly EVER get fresh food (everything is frozen, canned, or out of a box & just add water). I hate it, but unfortunately, we don't have the financial means to do a complete nutritional make-over like I'd like to. Report
Freeze for the winter, take a bounty day and create veggie dishes for those days when you haven't the time to shop. Of course, share with everyone around you. Report
We dehydrate mixed dark greens (kale, mustards etc) & onions, can use in winter to add to soups or to make healthy dips. Almost anything can go in Salsa, relish, or pickles for canning, ratatouille or soup base for freezing. We also put extras on the road with a sign to help yourself, it never lasts beyond the day. If you are overrun with one kind of crop (rhubarb, for example) you can send an email to friends letting them know you are willing to share if they will come pick it up - you'll get a friendly visit and will get rid of some produce at the same time.
One word of encouragement for the newbie gardeners - everyone in my area is getting washed out this year as well, our raised beds are the only areas dry enough to have survived so far - we'll be planting again soon for late crops (beans and peas and carrots and beets etc), will raise the beds a bit more to increase drainage and will hope for the best. If all else fails, plant a few more greens and spacesaving plants in pots and you can cover them if they get too much rain. I also find that if I stick a few plants here and there around the house I can sometimes fool the bugs - Kale gets eaten by bugs everywhere but on two plants this year but that's still plenty left for us. Some areas of lettuce have rotted, but enough has survived to keep us happy. Good luck to all gardeners, hoping for a sunny end to the growing season! Report
We give some to are neighbor but i plan on canning a lot this year.. making my own sauce canned veg or frozen .. Report
I share with family first as they do with me with their surplus eggs. But if room is tight, there's always dehydrating too! Report
I wish I had a surplus... half of my garden (lettuce, swiss chard, carrots, zucchini) did not survive and bugs, squirrels and birds got the rest... Report
I wish I wish I had this problem! I'm a novice gardener and the bugs are truly enjoying the bounty of my garden! Report
When we have an overabundance of veggies from the garden we take them to church. They have a table set up in the back of the church and we put them there and the people that want them can take what they want. Report
Last year we had an abundance of plums & we told our neighbors, friends & church members to come help us enjoy our bounty. They picked what they wanted & we made some new friends in the process. This year I have already let everyone know that the plums are getting ripe & we have a bounty again this year & this is just with two trees. Report