If you don’t preserve the harvest, you can’t eat it later. I’m all for sharing the extras, and I do! But extra for means that I have grown enough to last me for the next year! Figuring out how much that would be is something I still struggle with. Last year I grew 250 lbs of tomatoes and made 22 quarts of sauce. I still have 10 or jars left – we don’t eat a whole lot of pasta – so I probably don’t need to put up more this year unless I want to share or trade.
But I have put up other things already. The ways of preserving plant foods are
- water bath canning
- pressure canning
- root cellaring
Basic water bath canning is good for acidic fruits and veggies. Some examples of these include
- things pickled in vinegar
Pressure canning is for low acid veggies and meats. It takes special equipment, boiling times are a lot longer, and you have to follow the directions carefully or risk death. No, I’m not kidding. Low acid foods can grow botulism, one of the most toxic substances know to humans. I don’t favor this method for a number of reasons, but I’ve done it and I know how to do it right. On the plus side, you can, once you know some good techniques, create long term storage foods. The down side is that the high heat denatures proteins, which is not healthy, and cooks a lot of the flavor out of the food. I save this method for premade chili which already has lots of flavor. (I HATE it with chicken.)
Drying also takes special equipment and some skills with rehydrating the food. I have a round food dehydrator and while it was very reasonably priced, it takes a long time to do the job and space in the machine is rather limited. Recently I was able to borrow a friend’s Excalibur dehydrator, which I used on beef liver and some of my snow peas. What a difference. It had more than enough space for the project and was easier to handle than my round one. My cats often get the liver and other organ meats, and veggies generally go into winter soups. But there is a great deal I don’t yet know about dehydrated foods and I look forward to learning more.
Something you won’t need a dehydrator for are beans and grains as those dry on the plant.
Freezing is an excellent method for food preservation in terms of nutrition, palatability and easy preparation later. But if you are in an areas that tends to loose power, make sure you have a back energy source for that freezer. Nothing is more depressing than loosing a freezer full of preserved food. I don’t freeze a lot as my freezer is generally full of pastured meat and I don’t have a ton of space for veggies. But this year I grew snow peas and froze several pounds. If you have the space, green beans, whole tomatoes, and nearly any lightly cooked vegetable can be frozen. (not potatoes, their texture changes)
Fermenting is really my favorite method, although only a portion of my harvest goes onto fermenting jars. Fermented vegetables will keep for a surprisingly long time. Sandor Katz, who is a huge advocate for fermenting and wrote Wild Fermentation: The Flavor, Nutrition, and Craft of Live-Culture Foods tells of making miso, a traditional Japanese ferment used as a condiment. The older it is, the better it tastes, and he describes having a 9 year old miso in his basement. I have one that is 7 years old and its fine. That being said, vegetables tend to get mushy as they age even if they are safe to eat, so I toss any veggies that don’t get consumed after a year. But they really do last that long. The tougher the vegetable, the longer it is viable and tasty. Root veggies and cabbage last the longest, while softer veggies, such as cucumber ferments – traditional pickles – need to be eaten much sooner.
The last method for preserving the harvest is root cellaring. Searching “root cellar construction” on Youtube will give you lots of ideas on how to make one if you have the space. I don’t, so I make use of our unfinished, unheated back basement. My potatoes live there until spring when they start to sprout. Root cellar temperatures are quite stable, and this also happens to be where I store my miso and other fermented vegetables. The things one can store in a root cellar include
Potatoes should be in paper, while other roots do well in damp sand. Winter squash should be hardened off outside, and alliums should be cured before storage in a root cellar.
I hope you enjoy your harvest throughout the winter!