Saving fresh garden produce is one of the most satisfying hobbies in the world. There is just something so rewarding about picking something out of your garden and saving it back so you can enjoy it all winter long. If you are interested in learning how to preserve your garden vegetables and fruits, here are the top things I think you need to know.
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Top Things to Know When Preserving Garden Produce
My earliest memories of canning are when I was a young girl and we would all start listening for that little ‘pop’ sound telling us that Mom’s tomatos had sealed! Over the past many years we have had many gardens with varying degrees of success. This year though is the best in quite a while! The squash, cucumbers and zucchini just keep producing. Pair that with what I can get at the local Amish markets and I have been staying quite busy!
Get the Right Tools
Freezing: The easiest way to get started preserving garden produce is to fill your freezer. Most produce can be safely frozen and stored for months. You can preserve produce in freezer bags or use a seal a meal type gadget that removes the air. Some vegetables work better when you flash freeze them on a tray before dropping them in baggies. This allows you to only take out the amount you want for each serving.
Canning: There are two types of canners that are typically used to preserve garden produce.
- Water Bath Canners are great for tomatoes, pickles and jellies. These are simply large pans that you fill with water and then boil the jars for the prescribed amount of time.
- Pressure Canners are required for other produce like corn. These are a little more involved and bring the cans to a specific pressure that is maintained while boiling the water.
Most people start with a water bath canner and then progress to a pressure canner later on in their journey of preserving food.
Dehydrating: If you decide to dry fruits and vegetables, I highly recommend a dehdrator. Sure, you can use your oven for some products but a dehdrator makes the process work more efficiently. I have a 5 tray Nesco dehydrator that I have used for years and it still works great. The key is chopping up the food in small consistent sized pieces and then drying them on the proper setting for a set amount of time. I often put fruit like blueberries or strawberries and leave it running in the garage over night so the dried fruit will be ready the next day.
Follow Safety Protocols
Research before you get started. Not all food can be safely canned in a water bath canner; sometimes you need a pressure canner. Do internet searches for new recipes to try but always check against best safety practices.
Remember to process the produce at the right temperatures for the prescribed amount of time in order to guarantee your preserved food is tasty and safe when you want to eat it.
Buy What You Don’t Grow
Not everyone can plant a full garden but that doesn’t mean you can’t preserve a full range of fruits and vegetables. Find your local farmer’s market or local produce stand and buy what you can’t grow in your yard.
Keep an Inventory
Once you spend all the time canning, freezing and dehydrating all your produce, make sure you keep an inventory of what you have preserved. Not only will this help you plan for you how much you have saved back but it will also help you prepare next year. If you can 10 jars of pickles and run out in November, you will know that you need to do more next year. But if you get to next summer and still have jelly stored back, you will know that you don’t need to can quite so much of that variety.
This does not have to be an elaborate system. Just make a simple spreadsheet on Google Drive or use a notebook that you update as you add to or take out produce.
Store in the Right Place
All canned and dehydrated food should be stored in cool, dry locations. A garage or barn is not a good place for long-term food storage. Choose a pantry, closet, or cabinet that is in a safe location so your hard work doesn’t go to waste. I have a cabinet in our basement where the food stays at a consistent temperature year-round. This keeps the food safe and free of any ants, bugs, or small rodents that might try to get into or around the food storage area.
You may think that you will never forget which jelly is which, but if you end up making new varieties over the course of the long growing season, you may get them mixed up. Some of my jellies look very similar in the cabinet and it is a bit difficult to know if I have pulled out honeysuckle or dandelion jelly!
Do you already preserve summer garden produce? What are your tips for new beginners? Or are you just thinking about getting started? I’d love to hear how your journey toward canning, freezing and dehydrating is going!
Want more tips on canning? Check out these 10 mistakes to avoid when canning your vegetables!