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Preserving the Harvest

This article was written by in Family and Life. 4 comments.


If you planted your garden in mid-to late April like we did, you’ve already started to see the beginnings of your harvest. Our green onions have been out of control for a little while now, and our radishes are starting to get nice and big as well. We’re just now getting great peas and beans, and out tomatoes are right around the corner. It looks like it’s going to be a good year for the garden (if we can keep the birds away).

One of the best things about having your own garden is that you can walk right out into your backyard and pick some fresh produce and eat it right there, on the spot. No running to the grocery store or the farmer’s market to stand in line, no $4 for a pound of strawberries, and no pesticides or other “unknowns” to wash off.

It’s never too early to start thinking about how you’re going to handle the extra harvest from your garden. Taking a little time to prepare can help ensure that your hard work and tasty vegetables don’t go to waste. We’re going to have way more food than we can handle all at once, and so we’ve been looking into different ways to preserve our ‘leftover’ vegetables.

Getting a basic idea of what you are going to need equipment-wise can help you prepare. Based on materials you might already have the cost will be unique for each individual situation, but I’ve estimated the following costs out on the assumption that you’re starting from scratch (like we are).

Freezing

We are definitely going to try this method. It’s one of the easiest ways to store vegetables, and if you blanch (‘flash boil’) the vegetables before you freeze them they will retain their nutrients much better and keep much longer. We’ll be able to freeze some of just about everything, expect our spinach.

Cost: Super Cheap
Needs: A box of Freezer Ziplock Bags (wish we had some extra freezer space, but the freezer above our fridge will have to do.)

Pickling

I’d like to try this one out, but I don’t know if our cucumber plants are going to survive the constant attacks from the birds. We don’t have any beets, and I’m not sure if you can pickle tomatoes or peppers. Pickling looks to be a bit more difficult to master than other methods – the process itself is easy but apparently takes ‘just the right touch’ to be successful.

Cost: Moderate
Needs: Canning salt, pressure/water bath canner, vinegar, jars, lids, rings, spices, brine

Jams/Jellies

Most people think of fruits when you mention preserves, but vegetables are catching on as well. I recently had a great jalapeno jelly that greatly complimented my bagel with cheese. We didn’t end up growing strawberries, so we’ll probably skip the ‘preserving’ this year

You can do freezer jam as well, which is very common. It’s quicker, cheaper, yummier, and doesn’t have as many preservatives.

Cost: Moderate (cheap after you have a canner)
Needs: Water Bath canner or pressure canner, pectin, jars, lids, rings, freezer containers (if you decide to do freezer jam)

Canning

There are two canning methods: pressure canning and water bath canning. I still have memories of our entire kitchen table being covered with jars full of tomatoes and peaches that we enjoyed all winter long. We’ve got seven tomato plants and a lot of carrots, peas and beans that will be canned if they aren’t frozen.

If you are persistent you can pick up canning jars at Salvation Army, Savers or Goodwill-type places.

Cost: Moderate (need lots of cans, lids and rings and a canner)
Needs: cans, lids, rings, pressure or water bath canner

Drying

A food dehydrator is a necessity here, and since we don’t have one we will not be drying this year.

Cost: High
Needs: Food Dehydrator, storage bags or containers

Juices

If you’re a fan of V8 you can use a juicer or a blender to create your own tasty beverages. Tomatoes, peppers, carrots and radishes would all add up to be a tasty treat. Adding a bit of lemon juice can help equalize the tastes. SD Gal is a big fan of tomatoes and I’m sure some of this juice will find its way into our fridge. This could be frozen as well.

You can also do fruit juices. My mother used to make an excellent grape juice by putting the grapes straight into the jar. I don’t remember exactly what else she did, but boy was it good!

Cost: Moderate
Needs: cans, lids, rings, pressure or water bath canner

Storing

Some foods (like potatoes and radishes) can be easily stored in a cool, dry area.

Cost: Free (unless you buy boxes or bags)
Needs: Boxes or bags

You don’t have to have a green thumb to cash in on the benefits of canning, preserving and storing food. If you are unable to have your own garden, another option is to build a stockpile of produce from local growers. Stop by local orchards and farms, farmer’s markets, and roadside fruit /vegetable stands and inquire about special deals at each. Take your spoils home, preserve the in whichever method you prefer, and enjoy nutritious produce all winter long!

For a very full rundown on the exact specifics of each of these preservation methods, check out PickYourOwn.org.

Updated July 8, 2010 and originally published July 23, 2009. If you enjoyed this article, subscribe to the RSS feed or receive daily emails. Follow @ConsumerismComm on Twitter and visit our Facebook page for more updates.

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About the author

Jeff is an aspiring advertising professional with goals to start his own business. He is a reformed saver who blogs regularly at Stretchy Dollar in addition to his weekly column at Consumerism Commentary. View all articles by .

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar Matt Jabs

Very timely & excellent post.

In fact, I am waiting for my pressure canner to arrive… I just ordered it off Amazon.com earlier this week. Mrs. Jabs & I intend to freeze and can all our produce.

Another tip… since we didn’t grow EVERYTHING in our garden that we would have liked, we plan to buy large amounts of local organic produce from our farmers market, and preserve it so we do not have to buy out of season during the winter.

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avatar thisisbeth

Just adding to the thought of canning–make spaghetti sauce to can. It makes for quick, truly homemade meals later on–just boil the pasta and heat up the sauce.

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avatar Leigh

another vote for freezing! It’s quick and inexpensive and if I can do it so can everyone else. We did invest in a small energy star deep freezer earlier this year and I’ve been making full use of it.

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avatar Sarah

Just a safety note. If canning non-acid foods (for example, most vegetables), you need a pressure cooker to prevent developing Botulism contamination, which can be lethal. Lots of good info at National Center for Home Food Preservation (www.uga.edu/nchfp/).

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