1. Stockpile Your Fruit for the Long Winter
I enjoy turning the bounty of my garden and local farms into food to enjoy later and give as gifts, and it gives me a wonderful sense of thrifty satisfaction that warms my nickel-pinching heart. Some early apples have started to fall that, along with my frozen blackberries, will go into apple-blackberry jelly. And a storm lent me a helping hand by knocking a few pears out of the tops of the trees, where I couldn’t reach them, to use in pear butter.
If you plan on doing some canning and preserving yourself, stock up on these reusable lids and rubber seals. They’re free of hormone-disrupting BPA, which is used to line the bottoms of standard metal canning lids. They cost a bit more up front but will pay for themselves in a few seasons and work with standard canning jars and rings.
For more preserving ideas, see:
Try Canning to Turn Summer Fruit into Preserves and Jellies
Holiday Gifts From Summer Gardens
Keep Cool with Easy Fruit (Un)Preserves
2. Preserve Flowers and Herbs
Another good Labor Day activity: A ramble through the woods and fields for wildflowers and wild edibles. Wildflowers can be pressed between the pages of old phone books so I'll have some pressed flowers to turn into decorated cards and other gifts later in the fall. I’ll also take a few bags with me to bring home any flavorful wild apples or other fall fruits I may run into an abundant supply of.
For tips on pressing flowers and foraging for wild fruit, like apples and wineberries, see:
7 Wild Fruits That May Be Growing in Your Backyard
Holiday Gifts From Summer Gardens, Part 2
3. Create Some Herbal Infusions
If I’m really industrious, I may harvest some of my frost-tender herbs such as basil and pineapple sage to freeze in ice cubes for winter use. I also want to be sure to cut back my stevia plant soon in preparation for bringing it in for the winter and dry the trimmings for sweetening winter teas. For tips on drying and freezing herbs, see Easy Ways to Preserve Herbs.
Feeling even more industrious? Fresh herbs can be used to make herbal-infused vodkas and herb-flavored sugars that you can hand out over the holidays, or just enjoy yourself in a hot toddy or your weekend baking.
Learn More: Grow a Cocktail Garden
4. Gear Up for a Busy School or Work Week
If preserving food isn’t your thing, this long weekend is the perfect time to prep healthy, inexpensive, and low-impact lunches for yourself or your children. Here are some of my favorite tips for making packed lunches easily and without the excess sugar, fat, and salt—or the wasteful and toxic packaging—of processed foods. For an extra-nice touch, sew a few cheerful cloth napkins from fabric scraps you have lying around, and hit the thrift stores for some cheap, reusable silverware.
Small containers of organic yogurt and fruit are perfect additions to lunch bags or after-school snack fodder, but they ain’t cheap and all those little plastic pots are pretty wasteful. Make your own yogurt for a fraction of the cost (at my supermarket I can buy about 4 times as much organic whole milk as yogurt for the same price). Whip up a few quarts and it will last you at least 3 to 4 weeks. While you’re at it, turn some organic milk into delicious homemade pudding and spoon that into jars to stash next to your yogurt.
For more easy, DIY lunch ideas, see Reusable Lunch Bags Save Cash, Cut Waste. And if you’re finishing up any back-to-school shopping, download Rodale.com's Nontoxic Back-to-School Shopping Guide e-book!
5. Throw a Party!
This is, after all, summer's big blowout, so make it fun! Rid your grill of a summer’s worth of burned burgers with these nontoxic grill-cleaning tips, then toss on a homemade grilled pizza. Try this recipe that you can make ahead for super-quick and easy crusts for your pizza. Looking for some snacks that aren’t loaded with nasty ingredients and a huge price tag? Try my baked potato sticks and kale crisps or whip up a few batches of tasty whole=grain crackers.
And should that crowd get restive, here are some Labor Day activities for your back yard or for indoors (in case the weather outside is frightful).
Web Extra: Check out our Summer Entertainment page.