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Organic Gardening

Get dirty, have fun and grow more food with great gardening tips from real-life gardeners.

Planting With Preserving in Mind

canningWith the First Day of Spring only a few short weeks away (yay!), momentum is gaining for ordering gardening books and seeds. I’ve received our first two orders of seeds and just ordered a new skin for our greenhouse. So, I’m obviously anticipating the coming growing season. And, for me, that means planning for what I want to can, dry, and otherwise preserve when harvest time rolls around. In order to have enough stores to last through the next winter, one must know the quantity of product that will be needed.

The possibilities are mouth-watering and tempting. Tomatoes, apples, string beans, carrots, peas, okra, parsnips, rutabagas, turnips,  berries, pears, cherries, apricots, peaches, plums, pickling cucumbers, grapes, greens, beets, garlic, onions, potatoes, asparagus, peppers, herbs, squash, and other items all lend themselves well to canning, drying or freezing. Some methods work better for certain items than others. In this instance, we will focus on vegetables designated for canning, and the quantities to plan on growing for “putting up the harvest.”

Standard canning recipes will state the number of pounds or cups of a prepared item, i.e., tomatoes, cucumbers, etc., needed to produce a given number of finished jars of product. And, you need to make sure you have enough product to prevent a shortfall when canning time arrives. Several variables, including soil composition, weather, and moisture, will influence how well your plants grow. To assure success (as much as one can!) choose varieties that are disease-resistant. Many seed packets or information stakes in potted plants will indicate how many ounces or pounds the fruits of healthy, mature plants can potentially yield (example: certain tomato varieties may weigh over a pound each at harvest). Knowing approximate plant yields will guide you when growing produce intended for canning.

Don’t forget the herbs and plants needed for flavoring: basil, dill, oregano, thyme, marjoram, sage, parsley, cilantro, etc.. Plant sufficient quantities of onions, garlic, celery, various peppers, and other any special items for sauces, salsas, relishes, and so on. If you usually dry these plants for use later on, too, be sure to plant sufficient seeds for a bountiful crop.

Here are a few canning quantity guidelines:

Obviously, the yield in pounds from any given plant depends on the variety. The larger the vegetable, the fewer needed to equal a pound. Remember, though, that larger specimens are often less flavorful than smaller varieties.

We usually grow about 75 tomato plants of various kinds: Roma, beefsteak, white, orange, purple, and several grape and cherry tomato varieties. Mixing different types within a jar makes for a great burst of flavor when those tomatoes opened and used in a stew, soup, or other recipe. Of course, you can be a purist and stick to one variety per canning batch; it’s all up to you. (Just don’t forget to add lemon juice for acid for all canned tomatoes!)

We also dry quite a few tomatoes and onions and chop them into recipes later on. In my next “mini-series” entries here, I’ll discuss that process. Meanwhile, for more details on quantities for canning and other food preservation methods, the Ball Blue Book of Preserving and Deanna DeLong’s How to Dry Foods are reliable sources of information recommended by food preservation authorities. 

Photo by Fotolia/Olga Volodina