Growing vegetables in a home garden provides health benefits and saves money, but to really make the most of the food grown in the garden, preservation is necessary. Vegetables cleaned and prepared in the summer or fall save hours of shopping and preparation in the kitchen during the months to come. Home-preserved food is just as delicious as fresh-picked and costs less than buying foods at the grocery store or market.
Storage and Preservation Suggestions
Knowing the best preservation methods for the types of vegetables grown is a key factor to successful preservation.
The easiest vegetables to store without preserving are potatoes, carrots, beets, onions, winter squash, and turnips.
The best vegetables for freezing are snap beans, shell beans, lima beans, asparagus, peas, corn, all greens (except for lettuce), and berries.
The most successful canned vegetables are tomatoes, snap beans, shell beans, peas, corn, and some fruits.
Finally, the best vegetable choices for dehydrating are lima beans, kidney beans, peas, corn, onions, and some fruits such as apples.
Using a Root Cellar for Storage
It so happens that the old trick of putting away root vegetables and some fruits in a cool, moist place is both easy and cheap; for certain things, it is the best method of storage. Fruits and vegetables are best stored at 35 to 45 degrees Fahrenheit, in darkness and protected from rodents.
A small basement or cellar storage section about 10-by-6 feet, enough room for storage shelves, is adequate space for potatoes, onions, carrots, and other such vegetables. Good insulation and a close-fitted insulated door are important, especially if there is a furnace in the basement. An earthen floor is best, as it provides the proper humidity. If utilizing a basement with a cement floor, sprinkle the floor with water every day or two, or keep a bucket of water in the room.
It is often difficult to lower the temperature to 40 degrees Fahrenheit or less when the weather is still warm, so leave root crops in the soil until the ground is almost ready to freeze. Tomatoes, onions, squash and pumpkins, however, must be brought in before the first killing frost.
Freezing as a Storage Method
It costs little to run a freezer; about the same as an electric refrigerator. In comparison with canned foods, most frozen foods taste better, look better, and maintain more nutritional value. Freshly picked vegetables and fruits have a better flavor if frozen immediately rather than allowing to sit for a few days. As an example of just how easy it is to use freezing as a method of preservation, here are the steps involved in freezing green peas:
HOW TO FREEZE PEAS
1. Pick the peas from the garden.
2. Shell and wash the peas, discarding old or imperfect ones.
3. Blanch peas by placing them in a colander or wire basket and immersing them in rapidly boiling water for one minute. Immediately immerse peas in cold running water.
4. Allow time for the water to drain thoroughly then pour peas into a moisture-proof bag or container, seal, and place in the freezer.
Quick freezing fruits is just as simple. To freeze strawberries, for instance, remove stems, wash, place in a single layer on a towel to dry. After drying, cover lightly with granulated sugar, package, and freeze. If not adding sugar, then use the alternative method described next.
An alternative method for freezing any type of berry is to: wash the berries and remove stems, place in a single layer on a towel to dry. When dry, once again place the berries in a single layer on a baking sheet and place in the freezer until frozen solid (usually about two to four hours). The berries can now be easily stored in a freezer bag or container. The beauty of this method is that the berries don’t stick together and can easily be removed in small quantities as needed.
Canning is more time-consuming than freezing foods. However, the savings in canning fruits and vegetables instead of buying them is tremendous. The process is not complicated, but it does require accuracy. Canning foods using a pressure canner is recommended, and it’s the safest way to preserve vegetables. To make the work easier, gather and set up all necessary equipment before preparing the food. Plan to prepare 100 quarts of fruit and vegetables for each member of the family. Consult the guides that accompany store-bought jars, which outline the process of canning for a variety of foods.
Preserving foods by dehydration is a process whereby warm air is slowly circulated around the foods, wicking and evaporating the moisture from them. Food dehydrators are relatively inexpensive and easy to find at home goods stores or online. Indoor types run on electricity and usually have controls that can be adjusted based on the food and drying time required. Outdoor – or solar – dehydrators rely on the sun and air to dry foods.
Preparing food to be dehydrated is relatively the same as canning or freezing. Select the best vegetables without blemishes. Consult a dehydrating guide for the best methods of preparation and dehydrating times. On average, it takes 10 hours to dry the food thoroughly — longer if the climate is more humid. Once done, place the dehydrated foods in glass jars or airtight bags. Adding a food-safe oxygen absorber packet to the container will help keep residual moisture away from food. Dehydrated foods typically have a longer shelf life than canned foods. Dried vegetables may be reconstituted by dropping them in boiling water or adding them directly to soups and stews. Dried fruits may be consumed “raw.”
Growing vegetables is a rewarding experience, and while preservation methods vary, and can even be a bit challenging, the extra effort pays off. You’ll save a lot of money on groceries and nothing beats the chance to savor the flavorful memories of summer on a cold winter’s day.