In the heat of spring fever, it's easy to underestimate just how much produce your little backyard garden can pump out. As you plant this year's crops, develop a plan to make the most of the harvest.
Plant with preservation in mind, and you can savor garden-fresh flavors well into winter. Discover ways to stretch the season – and share the sun-ripened wealth.
People have been successfully preserving food for thousands of years. Modern interpretations of tried-and-true methods make preserving food almost easy (there's still some time and effort involved). These are some of the most common ways to preserve food.
- Cold storage. Older homes included root cellars for cold food storage. In the modern era of energy-efficient homes, however, basements with dirt floors are tough to come by. In cold regions, an unheated bedroom or attached garage that doesn't freeze can provide effective cool storage, especially for winter squash, potatoes, garlic, cabbage and onions.
- Canning. Use either pressure canning or the boiling water method. If you're uncertain about canning, find a seasoned canner to teach you.
- Freezing. For long-term storage, you need a chest-type freezer that holds food at zero degrees. Different foods require treatments prior to freezing. Learn more about freezing. Remember to freeze things in quantities that make sense – for instance, 2 cups of green beans or 2 tablespoons of pesto. Grill or oven-roast vegetables before freezing for fantastic flavors.
- Drying. Dehydrating removes moisture without actually cooking the produce. You can dry foods outdoors in warmest regions, or use a microwave, conventional oven or food dehydrator.
- Pickling. For quick use, pickle fruits and vegetables and store them in the refrigerator. For longer storage, team the pickling process with the boiling water canning method. Follow pickling recipes exactly to ensure you have proper acidity.
Consider these tips as you weigh options for dealing with homegrown produce.
- Growing savings. When you grow your own fresh produce, canning offers an affordable way to extend the harvest. Get a canning book and research recipes your family would like. Plant your garden to provide as many of the ingredients as possible.
- Combining methods. Often, as the garden starts producing, many crops ripen at the same time. Consider combining methods when produce is abundant and time is in short supply. For instance, freeze fresh ingredients for canning later. Just remember that food textures change after freezing. This method works best with items like fruit that you'll turn into jams or sauces.
- Finding supplies. Save money on canning supplies by shopping thrift stores and yard sales. Consider placing ads online or at your local senior center to find jars no longer being used. Many dollar stores carry canning supplies. Shop around to find the best deals where you live. When using secondhand jars, always check lips for cracks or chips. Do not use these jars for canning. Always use new canning jar lids each time you can.
- Enjoying the product. Many first-time preservers are worried about food safety. When opening preserved food, don't consume anything that's moldy or has odd colors or odors.
Hit the Market
Many local farmers markets offer slots for modest fees for home gardeners. This is a great project for a child who's a budding entrepreneur. They can tend and harvest a garden patch, sell the yield and earn a little money.
Share the Sun-Ripened Wealth
- Check with your local food pantry to see if it's willing to offer fresh produce to families in need. To find a local pantry, visit AmpleHarvest.org.
- If you have fruit or nut trees, place an ad online or in your local shopper offering the produce. Many home canners are very eager to harvest free fruit, saving you a garden chore.