Garden Planning for Preservation: Best Foods to Freeze, Can, Dehydrate and Ferment

Boost your household’s food security by garden planning with future preservation projects in mind. Grow these crops and varieties to harvest the best foods to freeze, can, dehydrate and ferment.


| February/March 2016



Preserving

Certain strategies can make your food preserver’s garden a success. Draw a map of your garden, noting which crops and varieties you plan to grow, to ensure you plant to meet your preservation goals. Also, you could even install an outdoor harvest kitchen near your garden to make canning and preserving more accessible and enjoyable.


Illustration by Lyn Wellsand

Our vegetable gardens offer us beautiful, fresh bounty during the growing season — and they also have the potential to increase our food security the rest of the year. When you craft a plan to put up some of the crops you grow, you’re preparing for the future, simplifying winter meals, reducing waste, and saving money, too.

As you plan your garden with preservation in mind, consider what your family loves to eat versus what they merely tolerate. Talk with your household members about what you want your meals to look like for the following year. If you’re aiming for year-round veggie self-sufficiency, calculate how many times per week on average your family eats a particular crop, and multiply that figure by 52 (number of weeks in a year). Then, use our chart of crop yields in Garden Planning: Guidelines for Growing Vegetables to arrive at a rough calculation of how much of that crop to plant. Or, to start smaller, jump in with any of the following ideas, organized from the easiest to grow and preserve to the crops and storage methods that require more expertise or a longer-term commitment.

Easy Crops and Preservation Projects

From a preservation perspective, some vegetables are much more flexible to work with than others. I suggest starting with tomatoes, peppers, onions, cucumbers, green beans, summer squash, leafy greens and carrots because, with proper variety selection, they’re all easy to grow in most regions, and they lend themselves to a plethora of simple preservation projects, such as freezing, pickling and water bath canning. Note that water bath canning and pressure canning each require a distinct type of canner and have unique safety guidelines, and most beginners start with water bath canning.

One of my favorite methods is to peel and chop tomatoes and put them in 1-quart freezer bags with several chopped hot peppers and onions. When I want to make a pot of chili in winter, all I have to do is brown some ground meat and add spices and a bag of these frozen veggies. I use tomatoes, sweet peppers and onions in canned pizza and pasta sauces, and freeze bags of tomatoes and onions for later use in soups, too. Try ‘Carmen’ sweet peppers, which deliver high yields and superb flavor.

When deciding what to plant for future preservation projects, you’ll also want to evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of each crop variety. If you use a large slicing tomato to make pasta or pizza sauce, for example, you’ll have to start with twice as many pounds of tomatoes as you would use if you had chosen a paste variety, which has denser, meatier flesh and less water content. You’d have to cook slicing tomatoes a lot longer to get the thicker consistency you’ll want in a sauce. Although you can use any type of tomato to make a sauce, the paste varieties, such as ‘Roma,’ ‘Amish Paste’ and ‘Striped Roman,’ will make the task much quicker. (See Best Tomato Varieties to Grow This Year for many more tomato variety recommendations by type.) Also, remember that preservation projects needn’t be solo pursuits in a hot kitchen. Plan a canning party (even outdoors!) to share harvests and the labor.

So how many tomatoes should you sow? Depending on the variety and your growing conditions, you can expect about 15 to 25 pounds per plant, so make calculations based on how many pounds you think your family will go through in a year. Many years ago, when we lived in the suburbs, we found that just eight ‘Big Boy’ tomato plants could produce enough tomatoes for freezing whole and canning pasta sauce for our five-person family’s annual needs. In Sustainable Market Farming, author Pam Dawling describes planting 250 paste tomatoes and 90 slicing tomatoes in a community garden for 100 people, and canning about 500 gallons of sauce annually from the harvests.





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