Simple Tips & Tricks to Preserve Your Garden Harvest

As I mentioned here, once the first of the produce starts getting close to being harvested, I'm busy planning for garden preserving!

Garden Preserving – A Marathon, Not A Race

This means from the middle of July until about the end of September, my kitchen looks like a (very ill-managed) factory!  The canner takes up permanent residence on my stove and my dishwasher is constantly loaded with all sorts of garden preserving utensils.

And me?  Well, I'm basically plumb-tuckered!

Garden Preserving – Tips, Tricks & Ideas

So, naturally, I'm always looking for more efficient ways to make my tasks less stressful and create less waste in the process!  This, of course, involves a lot of pinterest!  Over the last couple years, I've come up with some methods and ideas that I use to help make things easier on myself.

Garden Preserving – Preparation

The single most effective thing you can do to have a simpler garden preserving season is to prepare.  This doesn't have to be a lot of legwork, and it will pay off big time.  Prepare for your garden preserving by doing the following:

  • Know what you want to do with your produce.  Have a plan and try to stick to it.  If you know you need 15 cans of salsa, 25 of tomato paste, and 12 of juice, then try to meet those goals with the produce you have.  Stagger your batches to ensure you make at least some of each preserve before you run out of the goods.  Obviously you may need to adjust your numbers once you see your bounty for the year!
  • Keep up on the garden preserving.  As I mentioned in my harvest post, try to pick something everyday if it's ready.  This way you'll be doing little bits at a time when it's convenient, instead of trying to do huge batches when you only have an hour or two.  This is also helpful for using up those beet tops and other “waste” parts that might not get used otherwise.
  • Have your ingredients on standby.  Making pickles this year?  Make sure you have your salt, onions, and garlic!  Jam?  Pectin is a must.  This is, of course, on top of making sure you have your sealers, rings and seals at the ready!  Don't wait until the produce is starting to go soft to decide to run to the store, they might be all out and you'll be left scrambling to round up your ingredients.  Check flyers, too.  A lot of times these things will come on sale through the summer so stock up if you can.
  • Make a plan for the “waste”.  Most times we use something from our garden, there's a bit of waste.  Whether it be beet or carrot tops, pea shells, or potato skins.  A lot of nutrients are found in these “waste” products so if you can find a way to incorporate them into your meals (stocks/broths, beetniks, salads), that's a big plus (and saves on garbage).  If nothing else, toss them into your garden and till them in at the end of the year for a nice compost.

Garden Preserving – Canning Equipment

Equally as important as preparation is the equipment you use.  I mentioned having it all at the ready – your ingredients, cans, pots, canner, funnels, spoons, etc.  Whatever you use to make your canning process simpler, pull it out a few days ahead and make sure everything is in working condition.

Money Saving Tip – For a high-capacity, wide mouth funnel take an empty jug (canola oil, clamato, vinegar), cut the bottom off, give it a good wash, and VOILA.  This is great for salsa and bread and butter pickles.  Washable and reusable.  If you don't want to store it from year to year, just toss it in the recycling with the rest of your plastics and make a new one next year.

In preparation for garden preserving, I like to get my jars, rings and seals all ready to go and my canner heated up (if necessary).  Here's the methods I use to keep everything organized and clean:

  • Use the dishwasher to sanitize.  I run my jars through the dishwasher on a short, hot setting so they're nice and steamy when I'm ready to use them for garden preserving.  Be careful not to burn yourself transferring them!
  • Use the oven to keep jars toasty.  Most of the canning I do is just with the seals and heat.  This works best if both are warm.  To keep my jars warm, I set my oven to 200degrees, fill a rectangle roaster with jars, and pop 'em in while I'm preparing my goods.  When I need a jar I just grab one (with oven mitts) and close the door to let the rest keep warm.  I very rarely have issues with jars not sealing using this method.
  • Use a pot of water to keep seals hot.  As I mentioned, the jars and sealers need to be warm-hot to seal properly and quickly (it is not necessary for rings to be hot).  I keep a pot of water on the stove with my seals in it and pull them out individually as I need.  Very important not to boil the seals – this can cause the seal to warp and not seal properly on the jar.  Special note: seals need to be dry to seal.  Use a clean tea-towel to wipe the seal before setting it on the jar.

Garden Preserving – Freezing Equipment

There's some great guides on pinterest on what you should freeze and what's better to can.  Pumpkin puree, for example, cannot be canned easily due to varying/unknown acidity levels, and is better to be frozen.

If you're new to garden preserving, you might be wondering why we wouldn't just freeze everything.  Isn't it easier and cleaner to just throw the produce in a bag and toss it in the freezer?  While, yes, that would be easier, that's not how we freeze garden produce.

The key to freezing for lasting freshness is to blanch, blanch, blanch!  Blanching is a fancy term for shock boiling and cooling.  You want to dump your produce in boiling water for a very short time (think 1-4 minutes).  You'll then dunk it in ice water for the same amount of time.

Freezing has it's place in the garden preserving world, and I have some insights to help you keep your process quick and easy.

  • Have everything prepared.  Again, preparation is key with garden preserving!  Have all your peas shelled, beans chopped, and spinach clean and ready to go before you start the first batch.
  • Set up a station.  Blanching is very needy.  You can't go to far since you're only timing very short increments.  Don't think you'll get your cold water bath ready while your peas are in the hot water.  You won't have time.  Get your station set up – hot water, cold water with ice, strainer, towels, containers – before you start dunking anything.  Note: the strainer station can be longer since you want to make sure all the moisture is out before you freeze.  Plus you can add multiple batches if you have a big enough strainer or colander.

  • Consider reusable containers over zip-top bags.  Last year I made the switch to totally reusable freezer containers.  The year before I kind of dabbled in using Pyrex and Anchor glass containers, and then picked up a bunch of plastics for a really decent price at WalMart.  I will say, I much prefer the glass.  A lot of my plastic containers ended up cracked or broken from being frozen then dropped.  I guess I could just be more careful.  Plus, y'know, glass is better for the environment, etc.  The downside to the glass ones is the lids have a tendency to crack on the edge after some time.  To be fair, I've only had this problem with Anchor.  Glass also doesn't stack and store quite as nicely as the plastic, and it's heavier and more pricey.

Garden Preserving – When You're Full Up

So it's been a bumper year, has it?  Your freezers, shelves, closets, cupboards, and drawers are all full.  You've tried about 3 new recipes for each type of produce, and you're sure you'll be eating green beans at every meal for the next 6 months.

And you STILL have garden preserving that could be done!

If you haven't already exhausted all your resources on passing fruits and veggies to family and friends – get on it. They've all had enough of your zucchini, too?  Refer to this list to help you find some people in need of your goods.  Just make sure they're okay with fresh food before you haul it to them:

  • Daycares
  • Nursing homes, care homes, extended care facilities
  • Local families or individuals who may not be able to have a garden.  I've taken zucchini and cucumbers to our bingo club and came home with an empty basket
  • Hospitals
  • Neighbours (great way to introduce yourself to that new family up the road)
  • Food pantry or soup kitchen

Part of the appeal of growing a garden is being able to share your fresh food, yummy baked goods and preserves with those around you.  With these tips you'll be able to take full advantage of your harvest, leaving you less stressed and more fulfilled.

This content was created by original creator of this website, Katelynn Hegedus.

Got any additional tips and tricks?  Favourite canning recipe?  We'd all love to hear them!  Drop a line, or leave a comment!

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