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Thursday, October 29, 2020

Growing Our Retirement "Garden"

And the harvest is finally done. I canned my last 2 pints of jelly on Wednesday afternoon. I am now moving on to the management phase. I can't plant anything else in the outdoor garden at this point in the season. So it is up to me to ensure that we use the produce of my efforts wisely. 

I was thinking the other day that keeping a garden can be likened to the lifetime challenge of earning enough income to set aside assets for the years when earning potential drops off.

In the early weeks of a garden, it doesn't look like a lot of progress is taking place, but that progress is under the soil's top layer and perhaps just barely breaking through the crust to show a small green blade or two. Similarly, in the early years of a career, there is often little leftover to set aside for financial growth. However, despite little to show for a burgeoning career, the groundwork for later success is being laid. And of course, everyone knows that it is wise to live below your means at all income levels, so that the small amount you can set aside during this phase has time on its side for maximum growth.

By early summer, most gardens will have something that can be harvested for the table. And as summer develops, opportunities for putting aside some of the garden's bounty increase. In early summer, I was canning rhubarb, trying several different flavor and texture ideas. In the life of a career, this is the period when incomes are rising enough to afford a few luxuries. It's also the time to increase contributions to retirement accounts and other investments for use a couple of decades into the future.

Late summer brings the bulk of the harvest from the garden. I made pickles, salsa, chutney, jams, jellies, preserves, and relishes with my garden bounty in late summer. This is the period in a garden's life when the maximum amount of produce is set aside for winter. Similarly, these would be the later years of a person's income-producing career. The maximum allowable amount for contributions to retirement accounts in the US include a catch-up bonus for individuals over age 50. This makes sense as this time in an individual's career often coincides with one's peak annual income. 

The last of the harvest in my area is brought in sometime in early fall. I work to harvest and preserve as much as I can during this time each year. I don't want to let a single opportunity to preserve our produce pass me by. Likewise, I find that my husband and I are being extra cautious with our income in this period of our lives so that we can set aside as much as possible for later years. There may be opportunities to earn a little side money after retirement, in the same way that winter offers tiny opportunities to grow produce indoors, such as with sprouting lentils.

When the harvest is complete, we can look at our pantry, fridge and freezer and see that we have indeed enough to get through winter. Similarly, I hope that at the end of our income-producing years, we will be able to look at our assets and see that there is enough for all of our future needs. We can't just open all of the jars and start using our produce haphazardly in the same way that we can't start spending our retirement funds without any sort of plan in place. This is the management phase that I mentioned in the opening. With my canned produce, I have made a plan for how to use it all up while ensuring variety in what we eat. I wouldn't want to end the winter with nothing but plum jam to eat for the last week. So I've made a plan. I hope that when my husband and I retire that we will have a comprehensive plan to ensure that we don't "eat up" all of our investments in the early years by spending recklessly, leaving us with a paltry amount for our final years. 

In addition to setting aside produce for the winter, I also harvest some seeds at the end of the gardening season for starting the next year's garden. At the end of my life, I hope that I'll be leaving some "seeds" to my offspring and  a couple of charitable organizations for the next generation to plant. Careful planting, regular cultivation, and diligent harvesting yields a bounty both for our table and our pocketbooks.

Just some thoughts rambling through my mind as I put the last 2 pints of crabapple jelly onto the shelf. There, the mass of jars look beautiful. Enjoy your weekend, friends!


  1. Good comparisons between a garden and saving for retirement. It is nice for us to be close to retirement years and see our early saving did what it was supposed to--provide a comfortable income for our later years. We feel blessed to be in this situation.

    1. Hi Live and Learn,
      Setting aside money early in one's career (even if just a small amount) is so much easier than trying to catch up later on. I'm glad for you and Ward, for the peace of mind that this much provide the two of you.
      Have a great weekend, Live and Learn.

  2. I love that analogy. If I can visualize concepts in more concrete ways, it makes decision making more clear. I also love the variety of jams, jellies and sauces you've made. I'd love to expand my culinary tastes into the world of relishes - my husband doesn't care for sweet relishes. Do you have some savory ones you love and what do you serve them with? Also, things like your preserved figs - I wouldn't have any idea how to use them up. Please enlighten? Have a good weekend Lili!

    1. Hi Ruthie,
      Thank you.
      Oh, I do. I make a dill relish that has garlic, celery seeds, dried red pepper (or flakes),vinegar, salt, and dill weed added to finely chopped green tomatoes. The same recipe can be used with zucchini or cucumbers, too. Here's the post where I originally gave that recipe (I've got it someplace more recent ,too, but this was quick to find).

      Dill Green Tomato Relish

      We use this relish for hot dogs, burgers, in egg salad, anywhere you'd use sweet pickle relish.

      I made 2 kinds of preserved, unripe figs this year, sweet pickled whole unripe figs, much like gherkins, and sweet, preserved whole unripe figs (no vinegar in this one). I'll use the pickled figs as an accompaniment for meals, like a mini side dish to something like roast chicken, baked beans, or a casserole. I served the first of the sweet preserved figs last night, quartered and on a plate with small squares of gingerbread cake. I also plan on serving them alongside dishes of rice pudding or with plain cookies (like shortbread), as a dessert item. These were yummy. The liquid on these was so delicious I poured off a bit to just sip up.
      It's fun to make a variety of different pickles and relishes, I think.

      Wishing you a wonderful weekend, Ruthie!

  3. A beautiful way to explain both the garden and life Lili.

    1. Thank you for the kind words, Cheryl.
      Have a wonderful weekend!

  4. Wow. You could publish your thoughts.

    My husband made green tomato relish out of some of our tomatoes and I thought of you. It's really tasty and a good use for tomatoes that don't ripen. Meanwhile, we had some tomatoes that ripened indoors after he picked them, but they just don't taste as good for fresh eating, so I used them as my tomato base for a soup I made last night. So, I guess, in keeping with your analogy, that sometimes we have to use our limited resources in a creative way. Ha.

    1. Hi Kris,
      Thank you for such kind words!

      I think using green tomatoes in relish is such a good use of the ones that likely won't ripen. Good job saving the indoor-ripened ones! I bet the soup was delicious and made such great use of those tomatoes.
      I agree. When they've ripened for a while indoors, they tend to be mushier than vine ripened ones and a little lack luster in flavor, sadly. Mine also tend to get a little wrinkly when they've been ripening for more than a couple of weeks indoors. I usually toss those ones all chopped into a pot of soup.

      Enjoy your evening, Kris!


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