Home gardens have seen a big uptick in popularity over the last few years, largely due to the COVID-19 pandemic. People spending more time at home have the time and dedication to grow their own fruits and vegetables.
Gardening is a fantastic way to promote a healthy lifestyle, stay active, and do something beneficial for the planet.
However, you can’t eat all of your harvest at once, and the last thing you want is for all of your hard work to go to waste. Storing and preserving garden produce is part of the process, allowing you to enjoy the fruits (and vegetables!) of your labor all year long, so you’ll be able to feed your family for an ample amount of time without much extra work.
Whether you’re new to gardening or you’ve had a green thumb for years, but are new to preserving, we have a few tips that can get you started, including best practices and different ways to store your harvest effectively.
Before you even consider your storage options, it’s crucial to prepare your produce properly. That starts with harvesting at the right time.
If you’ve been growing for a while, you probably have a sense of when it’s time to reap the rewards of your work. However, if you’re new to gardening, understand that it’s usually best to harvest your produce just before it reaches full maturity. Once it’s reached that “prime” spot, it will start to lose its looks and its value very quickly, so err on the side of being early rather than late.
Once you’ve harvested your produce, divide it up and decide how it’s going to be used. You might want to use some of it immediately, store some “as is,” and turn other items into sauces, pickles, or break them down into purees.
You should also have a backup plan in place for vegetables that go past their prime before you can use or store them properly. That way it doesn’t have to be a complete loss! The best thing you can do with fruits or veggies that are about to go bad is to turn them into compost. It’s a great way to give back to your garden and enrich the soil for your next planting. Composting is also a fantastic way to establish a more sustainable garden.
Cleanliness Is Next To…
With any produce that you want to can or preserve for a long time, make sure you go through the proper steps of cleaning it and drying it, so you’ll reduce the risk of bacteria growing and spreading. If you’re not sure how to wash your produce, follow these simple steps:
- Wash your hands for 20 seconds before handling any produce.
- Rinse your produce with gentle, clean tap water to remove any visible dirt.
- Use a gentle scrub brush to get harder spots off heartier produce.
- Never use chemicals to clean your produce.
- Dry thoroughly with a paper towel or clean cloth.
Once you’ve harvested your produce, decided what to do with it, and everything is clean, you’re ready to store and preserve it for months!
Some items from your garden will last a long time in the freezer or a root cellar/cold room. While you can freeze just about anything, the vegetables that work best for this method include
- Green beans
- Winter greens
Make sure your items are as dry as possible before you freeze them so they don’t form ice crystals. Store them in airtight freezer bags to boost the “shelf life” even more, and you can take out as much as you need whenever you need a quick side dish for dinner or an ingredient in a casserole, soup, or stew. Most frozen vegetables will be good for 8–12 months.
Dehydrating your produce isn’t as common as canning or freezing. However, some fruits and vegetables take very well to this process, especially if you plan on using them as ingredients in soups or stews. Things like carrots, peppers, tomatoes, apples, and oranges are all great options for drying and dehydrating.
Choosing to preserve your produce this way isn’t just effective in helping it last longer. It’s a wonderful way to “trick” your kids (and perhaps yourself) into eating healthier snacks. Dried apples and bananas, for example, are as crunchy as chips and can make for a nutrient-packed snack. You can rehydrate dried veggies in a recipe. Or snack on them with a bit of salt or other seasonings.
Speaking of salt, it’s another fine option for preserving and fermenting. Vegetables preserved with salt (or salt and vinegar) can be stored in a can or jar for months. Salting is also considered brining, and people often use it in different pickling methods for dishes like cucumber pickles, kimchi, and sauerkraut.
Canning is one of the most widely known and common forms of produce preservation. People have canned food for centuries, and it remains one of the best ways to store produce, with most low-acid fruits and vegetables lasting anywhere from 2 to 5 years on the shelf in a cool, dry place.
If you’re new to the canning process, some of the best produce items to try include:
Canning helps to preserve a lot of the nutrients in your produce. It’s a great option for long-term shelf-stable products. Not everyone has a lot of freezer space or options for cold storage, and canning makes it easy to keep your produce for months (or years) without having to worry too much about temperature.
The canning process takes a bit of time and practice to get right, especially to ensure you get a tight seal on your jars or cans and know that everything is completely sterile. However, once you’ve tried it a few times, you’ll quickly become a pro!
Investing your time and energy in a home garden is a wonderful way to eat better, stay active, and do something good for the environment. However, if you’re worried about planting too much or what to do with your harvest, consider storing and preserving as much as possible!
As you can see, there are multiple methods to consider. Consider your resources, how you want to use your produce, and how long you want to store it. Knowing what will best fit your needs will make it easier to decide on the right preservation method.