5 Ways to Preserve Your Garden Harvest

One of the best feelings from having a little backyard garden is having more food than you know what to do with. And you really don’t need much space to find yourself in that situation. With just a single 4’x8′ garden bed (32 sqft) you can find yourself having more tomatoes or string beans or cucumbers than you know what to do with. When you have more than you need the extra can be given away – to family, friends, and neighbors. You also have the option to preserve your garden harvest so that it lasts longer than it would otherwise.

There are multiple ways that you can preserve your bountiful harvests. And while you’ll have a lot of choose from, some fruits and vegetables have specific needs. There are 5 common ways that you can preserve your garden harvest, and we’ll discuss each along with what you can preserve that way, and any tools you might need for the process.

Preserve Your Garden Harvest

1. Water Bath Canning

Water bath canning is a way to preserve acidic food by boiling fully submerged jars of food in water. It’s important to know that the food you preserve using this method needs to be acidic (pH 4.6 or less). By boiling your jars at 212°F, you will be raising the temperature of the food to prevent it from spoiling. This creates an anaerobic state (absent of oxygen) inside a vacuum sealed jar. It will destroy mold, yeast, and enzymes that can spoil your food. 

What You Can Preserve

When it comes to water bath canning, you can only use highly acidic food, or food that has been made acidic. This is because acidic foods naturally resist bacteria, yeast, mold, and enzymes that can cause food to spoil. For water bath canning you can preserve fruit, jams and jellies, salsa, tomatoes, and sauces (with acidulation), pickles and relishes, chutney, and pie fillings. These are all either highly acidic foods or foods that are made acidic with lemon juice and vinegar. When in doubt, do extra research to understand the pH level of what you’re interested in canning.

Tools Required

It’s important to have the right tools for water bath canning. You’ll need a water bath canner. This is essentially a tall pot that you can place your jars in to boil. Your jars need to be upright when you boil them. You’ll also need a rack. The rack is placed inside the pot and is used to prevent your glass jars from sitting on the bottom of the pan where temperatures are the highest. This is a way to prevent your jars from cracking, and it can also help you lift your jars out of your pan once they are done.

You’ll want glass jars with lids and bands to store your preserved food. While you can use your glass jars over and over, you can only use a lid once for preserving. The bands are important to keep your jar lids on tight while your jars are in their water bath. After you remove your jars from their bath and you hear the seals pop you can remove the bands if you want. Bands can be used more than once, but I find they eventually start to rust and need to be replaced.

There are some other canning accessories that I find very useful. A jar lifter will help when removing your jars from boiling hot water, and A jar funnel helps to get any sort of jam, relish, chutney, or salsa into the jars without making a mess. 

2. Pressure Canning

There are two types of canning – water bath canning and pressure canning. Botulism bacteria is killed at the temperature of boiling water, however, botulism spores can survive that temperature. To eliminate the spores it requires either an acidic environment (water bath canning) or cooking the food at a much higher temperature (pressure canning).

Pressure canning is required for low-acid foods. Pressure canners cook food to 240°F (something regular boilings does not accomplish). Any unpickled vegetable, soup stock, and anything including animal products cannot be processed in boiling water – it must be canned using a pressure canner.

What You Can Preserve

Any low-acid foods with a cumulative pH of 4.6 or higher need to be pressure canned. This means the food must be processed at a temperature of 240°F to create an anaerobic state and destroy all of the bacteria, spores, and other toxins. The following require a higher temperature of pressure canning: meat, poultry, seafood, vegetables, chili, soup, stew, and meat sauces. Pressure canning works for asparagus, carrots, carrots, green beans, mushrooms, okra, peas, potatoes, pumpkin, and squash. When in doubt, do extra research to understand the pH level of what you’re interested in canning.

Tools Required

You can use the same jars and accessories that you use for water bath canning. The main difference and tool you need for pressure canning is a pressure canner. A pressure canner is different from most pots you have because it requires an airtight lid. Pressure canners have lids with seals that are clamped to the canner, along with vent locks, and overpressure plugs to ensure safety so that the pressure doesn’t build up too much.

3. Freezing

Freezing your harvest is a pretty self-explanatory and simple way to preserve your produce. When you freeze your produce properly it maintains the color, flavor, and nutrients. Bacteria, yeast, and mold are halted when temperatures are freezing.

To kill bacteria and prevent the action of flavor-altering enzymes, vegetables should be blanched before they’re frozen. This means they should be submerged in boiling water for a minute or two on average and then immediately submerged in ice water to prevent further cooking. The vegetables should then be spread out on a sheet pan in the freezer. Once the vegetables have frozen solid they can be stored in freezer bags or containers.

Fruit, on the other hand, should only be rinsed and dried first. Then it should be spread out on a sheet pan in the freezer. Once the fruit has frozen it can then be stored in freezer bags or containers.

What You Can Preserve

Freezing is not recommended for produce that has a high water content, which includes salad greens, cucumbers, cabbage, and watermelon.

The following vegetables can be frozen: asparagus, beans, beets, broccoli, cauliflowers, brussels sprouts, carrots, corn, greens, kale, okra, parsnips, turnips, rutabagas, potatoes, pumpkin, peas, and squash.

The following fruit can be frozen: raspberries, strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, cranberries, cherries, pineapple, kiwi, mango,  peaches, bananas,  and rhubarb.

Tools Required

No special tools are required for freezing your produce. You’ll want to blanch your vegetables before you store them in airtight containers and keep them in the freezer. If you don’t already have one, a blancher can be very useful for prepping your produce before freezing.

4. Dehydrating

Dehydrating can preserve your garden harvest by using dry air to remove the water in your food. By removing water, it kills microorganisms because they need water to survive. You can dehydrate fruit, vegetables, and herbs from your garden.

What You Can Preserve

Dehydration works well with a wide range of fruits and vegetables. Some of the fruits your can dehydrate include: apples, apricots, bananas, blueberries, cranberries, cherries, citrus peel, coconut, grapes, nectarines, peaches, pears, pineapples, plums, and strawberries. Fruit can be dehydrated in slices and pieces, or they can be pureed and dried into sheets of fruit leather.

Some of the vegetables you can dehydrate include: asparagus, beans, beets, broccoli, carrots, cauliflower, celery, corn, eggplant, greens, kale, mushrooms, okra, onions, peas, peppers, popcorn, potatoes, pumpkin, squash, tomatoes, and turnips.

You can also dehydrate any herbs that you have.

Tools Required

You can dehydrate your food using three different methods – by sun, oven, or food dehydrator. To use the sun as a method you need to be located where its hot and dry (not Florida – it’s too humid here).

Optimal drying temperatures can range from 125°F to 165°F. If you use your oven and a sheet pan you can adjust your oven to the lowest temperature and dehydrate your food that way. Oven drying can take anywhere from 6 to 24 hours. If you opt to use a food dehydrator they come with directions for proper usage and drying times.

5. Fermenting

Fermenting is a way of preserving your food by creating an anaerobic environment (absent of oxygen) for good bacteria to grow. Typically a salt brine is used to draw both water and sugar out of the vegetable, which helps lactic acid bacteria to grow. The sugar is turned into lactic acid, which creates the fermentation process. Lactic acid prevents food from spoiling. Unlike other preserving methods, fermenting creates additional health benefits of creating healthy probiotics and enzymes.

What You Can Preserve

Common vegetables that you can ferment include beets, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, cucumbers, garlic, kohlrabi, onions, peppers, radishes, snap beans and turnips.

Tools Required

To start fermenting your own food you can purchase a Fermenting kit for wide mouth jars. This basically takes wide mouth jars that you would use for canning and replaces the lid with one that allows you to remove oxygen from the jar to allow for the fermenting process.

 

What’s your favorite way to preserve your garden harvest? Comment below!

Preserve Your Garden Harvest

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