Tuesday, August 9

Homestead Gardening - What to Preserve Each Month

 Most people think of gardening as a summer activity, and it is, but to be truly productive, you'll want to learn about year-round gardening and preserving.  You've heard of buying 'in season,' but now it's time to learn how to preserve your own harvest with the seasons!

If you're new to the world of canning and food preservation, start here with the basics.    You'll want to invest in a good canning system, canning utensils, and possibly a pressure canner, too.  It should be noted that InstaPots are NOT advised for pressure canning.

Remember that the months may vary a bit based on your latitude and hemisphere.


Dried beans are a meat-free protein that have a long storage life, which means you can always have them on hand.  When you first shuck the beans, allow them to dry thoroughly.  I like to throw all of them in the dehydrator (on one of the fruit leather sheets, to keep from slipping through the holes) overnight to make sure they are good and dried.  You don't want to open your jars down the line and find a moldy mess!  Once they are dried, if you store them properly, they should be good for several years in your pantry.  Bear in mind that the longer they sit on the shelf, the longer they will take to cook later.  To keep dried beans as fresh as possible, store them in food-safe storage containers with tight-fitting lids.  Store in a cool, dry place out of direct sunlight.  (Cooking tip: If beans have been sitting on the shelf for more than a year, add ¼ tsp of baking soda to each pound of beans, when you cook them, to soften them.)

Having meats pre-cooked is a big draw for busy moms, but they get expensive at the store.  Look for locally-raised meats, and try to put up a variety.  Meats vary in how they need to be preserved, but generally cooking them and pressure canning will cut down on a good deal of time.  Here's a great post to help you learn to can just about any meat.  By having the meat pre-prepped, you can toss it in with some rice, quinoa, or pasta, and canned veggies for a quick warm up on the stove.

If you want to have the soups completely made and ready-to-eat, you'll definitely need a pressure canner to safely preserve them.  When you're canning the soup, just put in the basic ingredients - you can add a thickener when you cook it.  The same goes for grains - they will need to be added at the time of heating.  You'll just want the meat, vegetables, and broth.  You can also preserve basic broth this way, with nothing else in it.  It can be added to any casserole, soup, sauce or even just a basic rice pot for added protein.  Check out the Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving for individual pressure canning times and temperatures.

Planted in the fall, root vegetables have had time to size up and are ready to be harvested and preserved.  Carrots and beets may be fresh, while potatoes will most likely be the leftovers of last year's crop, so check for firmness.  This is a more advanced project that will require a pressure canner.  Here are detailed instructions for each of the different root vegetables to ensure success!

Herbs can easily be dried and preserved for use cooking throughout the year.  This is a good project to do with children, and is the natural extension of starting an herb garden.  If you want to turn herbs into a science unit study, check out Teaching Kids About Herbs.  In this year-long course, you'll learn about many herbs!  Each month, your child will learn about a new herb and how to use it.

Jams and preserves are one of the easiest things to preserve, and they are a yummy way to experience summer in the dead of winter.  Most berries are highly perishable, so making jam is the perfect form of preservation.  Jam is made with mashed fruit, while preserves have whole berries and pieces of fruit in them.  Beginners will be happy to hear that you can make these with three ingredients (berries, pectin, and sugar), and they don't have to be pressure canned.  Here's a quick video tutorial.

Cucumbers can be...overwhelming.  So much so that one year I actually cheered when the pig tore up the vines because we still had tons of pickles leftover from the year before!  Pickles are about the easiest thing to can, and what I generally recommend beginners start on.  There are several different varieties to play around with, and you can also try out chow-chow and relish.  Vinegar, pickling spices, and cucumbers -- easy peasy!

Tomatoes...if you grow them then you know that once they begin appearing on the vine, they start coming in fast and furious.  It can feel like you're drowning in tomatoes at times!  Some canned tomatoes can be water bathed, while others need to be pressurized.  Be sure to check the Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving for specific information on what you want to use them to make.  We make a lot of spaghetti sauce and salsa because those two items compliment our meal preferences.  We also like to dehydrate cherry tomatoes to use as salad toppers.  If you're feeling adventurous, go for a gourmet catsup or barbecue sauce!

If you have beehives, or access to a local apiary, then you know there's nothing quite like wild honey.  It's a cure-all and notable for it's amazing ability to help with seasonal allergies.  Honey will last several years if properly stored.  You will want to put it in an airtight container kept in a cool, dark place.  It's a little trickier to store the honey with the honeycomb in it because sometimes it has moisture content you may be unaware of, and that affects the storage.  The honeycomb may also cause your honey to crystallize faster.  However, the honeycomb is excellent!  If you want to store comb in your honey, read more here.

Fall is a fantastic time to pick up bulk boxes of apples, and to make your house smell heavenly with the smell of them turning into applesauce and apple butter.  Both of these can be water bath canned and are good for beginners.  Apple pie filling is a little more complicated, but can also be water bathed and is perfect for a quick and easy dessert.  You can use the core and peelings, too, to make apple cider vinegar!

Pumpkin is my favorite fruit, and "pumpkin spice season" my favorite time of year!  Each year, we plant several pumpkins and use them throughout the year in pies, pumpkin breads, and even in cookies.  It's also pretty low-maintenance.  You can keep it on the pantry floor at room temperature, and it will last several months.  However, it requires a bit more for processing as it's not safe to can pureed pumpkin, so we typically roast the pumpkins in the oven, scoop the puree, and freeze it in quart sized bags.  If you absolutely must can your pumpkin (no freezer space), please follow these instructions and be safe.

After Thanksgiving, you can usually pick up fresh cranberries at a decent price.  Most of us don't live near cranberry bogs, but if you do, grab some local ones.  You can preserve cranberries in small batches for condiments, smoothie mixes, and even your holiday side dishes.  These can be frozen or canned.  Our favorite thing to do with these is make cranberry juice!

You may also be interested in....

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