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Preserving your harvest

Updated: Oct 8, 2021

A bountiful harvest is great and all, but what do you do with the rewards of all your hard work in the garden?

Some of the best advice offered beginning vegetable gardeners is only plant what you will use. While typically focused on the types of veggies, this concept also applys to the volume. For example, if you hate eggplant, don't grow any. And what do you do with 10 pounds of tomatos harvested on a weekly basis?

The first aspect is sound, but in addition to using your harvest when freshly picked, you can also apply time honored storage methods to enhance healthy meals even while the garden has long stopped producing during the winter cold. Most popular methods of preserving your harvest are canning or pickling, drying and freezing.

Canning offers a way to cook and seal many varieties of vegetables including tomatos, green beans, corn and peas. Pickling is a favorite way to save cucumbers, but also peppers, green beans and even green tomatos. Both methods allow you to store jars in room temperature.

While commercial canneries actually do use metal cans in their process, the average person uses reusable mason jars. Both the glass part and the threaded band can be used over and over again, the only part that must be replaced is the wafer lid. Canning without pickling uses heat to sterilize the jars. Some vegetables require pressure processing accomplished with a pressure canner. This gets the produce heated to levels that will kill any bacteria that may be in the produce in the jars.

Pickling can be done with heat, called a hot water bath, or through natural fermentation. Pickling with a hot water bath involves a pickling solution, a combination of vinegar, salt and water. Herbs and spices can be added to the jars to enhance flavors. The salt and vinegar acts as a preservative, the water keeps the flavors of the salt and vinegar from overwhelming the pickles.

When canning and pickling, the hot jars are removed from the canner and allowed to cool gradually. The mason lids will seal as the contents cool, often making a "klink

In fermentation, cucumbers are put into a solution with some salt added and stored in a cool place like a root cellar, if possible. Cabbage is another popular fermentation vegetable aka sauerkraut.

Drying is also popular with many of the same varieties. An advantage of drying is that some methods require no elecricity for efficient storage. Sun dried tomatos and peppers can be vacuum sealed or jarred for long term storage.

Finally, many varieties of fruits and vegetables can be frozen. Blanching can help preserve flavor and color in frozen vegetables like green beans. Freezing is simple if you have the space in your freezer. You can extend the frozen life of your harvest by vacuum packing the goods prior to freezing. The down side of freezing for storage is the power required to keep the freezer running. Should you suffer a power outage, your frozen goods might be compromized.

Outside of the freezer, canned and dried goods always keep best if stored in a cool, dark place. If you don't have a cellar, an interior closet in the house would be best.

Even though your harvest might last years if preserved by canning, drying or freezing, it's always good to date the containers and rotate your foods to use up the older packages in a timely fashion. This will ensure that your stored goods will offer good taste and nutrition; stored too long, foods can lose consistency, flavor, vitamins and nutritive value.

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