If you are interested in being more self-sufficient, to have nutritious food at the ready, reduce your food bill or just want to save the extras from the garden this year, there are simple ways to preserve many different crops from the garden: freezing, drying, canning, and pickling.
I only do canning of high acid vegetables like tomatoes or pickling so only a large pot is needed. If you decide to can low acid vegetables, then a high pressure canner is needed. See a few of my favorite sites and resources for canning.
Spring Crops for a Food Preservation Garden
Crops that are easy to put away for year-round eating include beets, basil, broccoli, cabbage, carrots, cucumbers, eggplant, garlic, green beans, greens, herbs, onions, peas and snow peas, peppers, tomatoes and squash.
The easiest to start with are herbs. Spices are very expensive in the store. Herbs are carefree and produce alot that can be dried or frozen to use year round. My two favorites are making pesto from basil (Basil basics-harvesting, preserving, growing basil) and using a variety of dried herbs to make my own "Herbes de Provence" that I add to almost every dish. Because many kitchen herbs used in North America are from the Mediterranean region, they thrive in mediocre soil and dry conditions.
For spring and fall planting for a preservation garden: beets, broccoli, cabbage, carrots, garlic, greens, cool season herbs like cilantro and parsley, onions, peas, potatoes and snow peas. Beets, broccoli, cabbage, carrots, greens, and snow peas should be blanched and then frozen. Blanching stops the degradation of the vegetable in the freezer, increasing the shelf life to months. Blanching simply means putting into boiling water and then immediately into ice water or very cold water to stop the cooking of the vegetable. For the bigger veggies, 3 minutes in boiling water is sufficient. For greens, just a couple of minutes. After blanching, remove the excess water. I like to then put on a cookie sheet in the freezer in a single layer. After freezing, I put in freezer bags. This way, your veggies will defrost quicker and you can remove only what you want to use for that meal. If just put directly into the freezer bag, they will all freeze together in one big block.
Dry any vegetable, store in a sealed jar, and rehydrate when needed for cooking. The trick is to make sure that they are dried enough that they will not mold. If in doubt, your dried produce can be stored in the frig or freezer, taking up much less room than the whole vegetable.
I also like to grow sprouting broccoli as it can be harvested for 8 months of the year. Carrots and onions can be left in the ground over the winter and pulled when needed. My favorite onion to grow is Egyptian walking onions. It produces a small bulb that is just the right size for using for one meal. It can be grown in a pot, too, and harvested year round.
Garlic is planted in the fall and harvested in mid summer. There are three ways I preserve garlic. One is to harden off and keep several garlic bulbs to use fresh. The second is to separate the cloves and put into vinegar with peppers. I store these jars in the refrigerator. This preserves the garlic and adds a little kick. Have garlic any time you need it, just pickle some! The third is to dry some garlic cloves to make garlic powder.
Summer Crops for a Food Preservation Garden
For summer planting of a preservation garden: Corn, cucumbers, eggplant, green beans, warm season herbs like basil and rosemary, peppers, squash.
I don't blanch my summer vegetables before freezing. If you want to keep them in the freezer longer than 4 to 6 months, blanching is the best way to go. For small peppers, I freeze them whole. Large peppers and all tomatoes, I slice and freeze. As the tomato harvest heats up, any that we can't eat, I freeze. Come fall when it cools off, I will take all of last year's frozen tomatoes and make into sauce. A few tomato plants give us enough to freeze and make sauce for the coming year.
For peppers, I also make hot sauce and dry them to make chili powders. For eggplant and squash, I like to freeze them whole. When I am ready to eat them, I slice them while frozen and grill. If you are going to use them in recipes, I would cut them into the size you want to use in your recipes, blanch and freeze. This past summer, I made spaghetti and lasagna noodles them, blanched them and froze them in quart bags. For the lasagna noodles, first lay them flat on a cookie sheet to freeze before putting into a freezer bag.
Green beans, I break into the size I will use in my recipes and freeze. Cucumbers I make into pickles. Make your own pickles without a store bought seasoning mix.
For corn, the easiest way to store is just blanching the whole ear of corn. After removing the silks, you can either freeze whole or slice off the cob and freeze the kernels.
All your summer vegetables can be dried as well
Now you are ready to eat fresh and preserve the extras to get you through to next year's garden.
Melodie Metje began edible gardening and blogging while living on a golf course. She has now retired to the lake, but continues to grow edibles in her flower garden. For more tips on organic gardening in small spaces, see her blog at www.VictoryGardenOnTheGolfCourse.com. Read all of Melodie's MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.
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