Our garden this year had its goods and bads, but we did get plenty of stuff we want to keep. For preserving the harvest this year we’re going to do a little bit of everything, including canning, freezing, dehydration, fermenting cool dry storage. But here’s the deelio, before you do any preserving, you need to take some things into consideration:
What Are You Going to Use these Veggies For?
How you want to use your preserved vegetables can help you decide which method you want to use to preserve. Do you want to use the veggies as ingredients for recipes, or are you ore interested in heat and eat type meals? Or, are you looking for a part of a meal, like a spaghetti sauce or a condiment or seasoning like salsa or herbs. For example, tomatoes can be canned to be made into sauce, OR you can just make the sauce and can it. You can freeze onions to throw into a recipe, or dehydrate them to grind for seasoning. Or, you can just freeze an entire casserole…it’s all in what you are looking for and how much time you want to invest.
How Much Space Do You Have for Storage?
Space can typically be one of the main factors in what and how things are preserved. If you have a chest freezer vs. a fridge freezer, well, you obviously can freeze more stuff. If you don’t have much room in the pantry, then you probably will have to be careful not to over do it on the canning.
I know when I lived in an apartment, cool dry storage and freezer space where just not things for me. But, I did have enough pantry/closet space to store canned goods, so we had plenty of those. It’s important to evaluate your storage space so that you can appropriately preserve the harvest and not be overtaken by say frozen foods when you only have a fridge freezer.
How Long Do You Want the Veggies to Keep?
We go through a lot of fresh onions, and we had a bumper crop of onions. That means that we are going to preserve then in cool dry storage as long as we can. We also froze some pre-chopped, to toss in recipes where freshness isn’t as key, but we’re hoping the fresh ones will keep in storage for a few months. Once we start worrying about them ‘turning’, then we can do a secondary preservation of freezing or dehydrating for soups or onion powder.
Some items can be kept ‘fresh’ without processing longer than others, too. Like tomatoes. We use a lot of tomatoes as well, but keeping them fresh on the counter is only feasible for a week or so. That means they get canned for future use. Fresh tomatoes are only winter available from the grocery store for us…or hopefully from our tower garden this winter!
How Much of Each Veggie do you Need?
Just because you could can 100 jars of tomatoes, doesn’t mean you should. Will you actually use them before next year’s garden starts producing fresh veggies? Before we start our preserving the harvest, I do a high level analyzation of what we might actually use. I do a quick review in my mind, of say, how many recipes we make each month that use canned tomatoes. For me that is about 2 times per month and the jar size would be pint. That means I am planning on a minimum of 24 pints of canned tomatoes this year, with a max of say 36 pints. Same thing with the pre-cooked meals we’ve been doing. We try to keep an inventory and then make sure we use them before just overflowing the freezer.
And, we don’t preserve things like corn…we don’t actually even grow corn. We like it fresh and we eat/use it minimally, so we just buy that business. Same goes for peas, and I prefer fresh green beans, so I just get those at the grocery store. This is the kind of review you want to do before just sticking stuff in the freezer on in cans and then never using it.
Now let’s talk methods of preservation methods. Each method has it’s benefits and here’s where we’ll review those said benefits.
Method One: Canning
Canning is great for keeping this for a longer time, and most things can be canned. Here in Minnesota, tomatoes and cucumbers in pickle format are the big canning item, but beans, corn, peas, cauliflower…really most veggies can be canned. But, as previously mentioned, you make things like tomato sauce, spaghetti sauce, pizza sauce, salsa, juice and on and on and on….and then can all that.
Method Two: Freezing
If you have the space…meaning a chest freezer…freezing is quick, easy and awesome. You can freeze pre-chopped onions, peppers and herbs. You can just do a quick blanche on any veggie, toss it in a freezer bag and then in freezer–easy! Another great option for freezer…again previously mentioned….recipes! We freeze Dals, Soups, roasted veggies, casseroles and whatever else strikes our freezing fancy.
We also use freezing as a primary preservation method for tomatoes while waiting for the full harvest to complete. Then we thaw and can–secondary preservation–perfect way to get all the canning part of the process done at once.
Method Three: Dehydration
I usually do some dehydrating every year, primarily herbs. This year, in addition to the herbs we dehydrated some of our vast array of hot peppers and ground them into powders. I also did some potatoes to grind and use for soup thickening. Now you can dehydrate lots of veggies…onions, garlic, beans, etc… It all depends on the goals you have for use of your preserved veggies.
Method Four: Fermenting
I am fairly new to fermenting, but my Mom has been doing it quite a bit, so we’ve been doing some experimenting ourselves. We did some fermented hot peppers, pickles and zucchini sour kraut. My mom did some green beans, cabbage and carrots and a salsa. All of them have been tasty so far, although we’re haven’t really had the zucchini yet, I’m gonna cook that up with some vegan sausage…watch for it on instagram!
Method Five: Cool Dry Storage
When it comes to cool dry storage, root vegetables are particularily good, including potatoes, onions, garlic. Hard squashes and pumpkins also keep well in a cellar-like situation. Other veggies, like cabbage, cauliflower and carrots will keep for an extended time, but a refrigerator or extra-cool and dry storage is best for them.
Harvested items kept in cool dry storage are also ideal for secondary preservation methods at a later date, when you’re not swamped with a constant stream of new harvest. We plan on storing our carrots, potatoes and onions as long as possible, and then secondarily preserving them via freezing and/or dehydration.
At this point we are still working at preserving the harvest. We have six pints of tomatoes canned with more in the freezer and garden to BE canned. We have frozen some onions, peppers and recipes AND we’ve dehydrated some of our herbs and peppers. Plus, we haven’t even started with carrots yet..and it’s looking like we MIGHT even get some Brussel sprouts!
It’s work, but it’s amazing when in the frozen tundra days of February in Minnesota head down to your pantry or freezer and grab some preserved veggies from your very own garden. You know exactly how they were grown, no middle man to make you wonder. We hope your harvest was as or more abundant then ours and that our tips and ideas were helpful!
And, we’d love to hear any of your preservation tips with a comment!
Kelly (& Steffan)
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