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When you live somewhere that receives snow during the winter, it’s easy to get cabin fever and be eager for spring gardening. Fortunately, you can help drive away those winter blues by planning your garden even if there’s snow on the ground or it’s a blizzard outside. Winter garden planning now gives you a head start on this year’s garden and can help you see beyond the snow and cold and into the green and thriving.

Find Inspiration for Your Winter Garden Planning

Flipping through gardening catalogs and checking your favorite gardening websites is a great way to find inspiration for your warm-weather gardening. Visit any indoor gardening shows your area offers or indoor gardens open year-round for additional inspiration. Once you have some interesting ideas that have you seeing green gardens instead of snowy fields, it’s time to focus on pertinent details from last year’s garden.

Evaluating the Garden’s Success

Even experienced gardeners have issues with their vegetables and flowers occasionally. It’s important to take any gardening missteps or miscalculations as a chance to learn and not view them as failures. Think back to last year’s garden and evaluate what worked well and what needed some more help. If some of your bulbs failed to come up, try to figure out why before planting more. If you found yourself with an oversupply of certain vegetables no one ate, re-examine your selections. When your favorite new plant just didn’t thrive as you hoped, consider relocating it to a better environment.

Find Potential Beneath the Snow

Hopefully, you don’t have to go outside in the snow and cold to view your garden plot but if you do, take notes on size and layout of your usual plot. When there’s nothing growing, you have a better picture of the space and structure of your gardens. Try to remember how your various flowers and vegetables grew in their spots and whether they had enough sunlight, water and shade. Make sure you match your plants to the right type of soil and shade locations to avoid the frustration of struggling or dying flowers and vegetables.

Flower Gardens

If colorful flowerbeds represent your garden of choice, think back to last year’s color combinations and consider if they worked together. Consider rearranging the color palette for greater visual appeal and incorporate plants that provide color year-round.  Having flowers that bloom during different times of the year helps the garden stay vibrant through the changing weather and helps avoid changing out perennials halfway through the season.

When you start planning your garden despite the snow in the air and on the ground, you give yourself ample time to get everything right while daydreaming of warmer days. A little winter garden planning is a great to beat those cold season blues!

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Can Do

How to preserve food (canning) originally from the OHH Blog.

This page gives you step-by-step instructions on the basics of canning. Other ways to store food includes: freezingdehydrating and cold storage. Recipes for canning foods can be found here and some of our all-time favorites are linked below.

“…preserve, or perish. Can, or be canned. Put up, or shut up… Whether you’re a hobbyist dabbling in canning your farmers market finds or an expert gardener with a bountiful harvest,… food grown and lovingly tended just tastes better.” – Nicole Sipe, Canning and Preserving (Hobby Farms: A Popular Kitchen Series, Volume 1)

Canning Science

When food is sterilized in a jar it can be stored for very long periods of time without refrigeration. You can thank the French army for that one. The challenge was sent out to anyone who could figure out a way to easily feed troops during battle. A local brewer met that challenge and the rest is history. Folks have been canning and perfecting canning techniques since the 1800’s.

Modern-day methods are as easy as can be. All you need is time, a few supplies and a good recipe. There are two methods: water bath and pressure canning. Which one you do depends on the foods you choose to can.

Water bath: Cooked or raw foods that are high in acidity can be stored in sterilized jars and placed into boiling water to seal the jars tight and prevent spoilage. These include most fruits and anything that gets pickled.

Pressure canning: Most vegetables and cooked recipes that are low in acidity are pressurized in a cooker for thorough sterilization and sealed tight to prevent spoilage. This method takes a lot longer to do and can strip much of the nutritional value of the food, but is still leagues above store-bought canned food.

How To’s

Water Bath Method

Supplies for the water bath method include a canning pot and rack, a ladle, wide-mouth funnel, tongs for lifting jars, magnetic lid lifter and jars with lids and screw bands. Some of these are usually found in an all-in-one kit in hardware stores, department stores or online. Additional helpful items include a timer, a large stainless mixing bowl, a scale, labels or a marking pen, kitchen towels and a stirring stick.

The water bath method is simple and you should not feel intimidated at all. Start by washing your jars, lids, screw bands, funnel, stir stick and anything that will come in contact with food. The USDA says to sterilize jars, lids and funnels (and anything that will come in contact with the inside of the jar) prior to canning, while other experts point out that the jar will be sterilized if processed for longer than 10 minutes anyway. I avoid the controversy and stick my jars in the sterilization cycle of the dishwasher or boil them for at least 10 minutes. Done.

Prepare your recipe. For jellies, jams, preserves, chutneys, salsas, pickled foods and anything that has enough acidity and pectin*, prepare it and keep it hot until you’re ready to fill the hot, sterilized jars. You can also cold-pack foods by adding the raw food to the jar and filling it with boiling water and seasonings. Bring a pot of water to a (barely) gentle boil. (You want enough water to cover the jars by an inch.) The closer the food is in temperature to that of the pot of water the better, because a drastic temperature change in the glass can shatter it, and what a shame that would be!

 

Tip: An easy way to make sure you add enough water to the pot is to 1) fill your jars with water for weight, 2) add them to the pot and fill with water to cover by 1 1/2 inches, and 3) take the jars out and you have exactly enough water to bring to a gentle boil.

 

 

Tip: A good way to set jelly, jam or preserves is to keep a saucer in the fridge (to stay cold) and use it for “testing”. Pour a teeny bit onto the cold plate and let it sit for a minute or two, then take a spoon (or your finger) and push into the mixture to see if it “crinkles” to your liking. If not, then repeat this test every 5 minutes until it’s just right. If you have a thermometer and know your altitude, then you can also go by the following chart:

Sea Level

1,000 ft

2,000 ft

3,000 ft

4,000 ft

5,000 ft

6,000 ft

7,000 ft

8,000 ft

220° F

218° F

216° F

214° F

212° F

211° F

209° F

207° F

205° F

(Source: National Center For Home Food Preservation.)

 

Leave a 1/2 inch space headroom in the jar and wipe the rim with a clean towel. Screw on the lid and screw band until it’s finger-tight. Fill one or two at a time and set on the rack, quickly filling more jars to finish filling the pot. The jars should not touch the sides of the pot or each other, so do not over-fill the pot.

Once they’re all in and fully submerged, cover and bring the water up to a rapid boil. Process the jars for 15 minutes or according to the recipe instructions.

After processing, turn off the heat and wait a few minutes. Using the tongs, remove each jar carefully and set on a kitchen towel. (Using a towel prevents a drastic temperature change.) You will start to hear them “pop” which means the lids have sealed.

But don’t be tempted to shelve them just yet… they should sit still and completely cool down before you move them to prevent any problems. After they’ve cooled, tap the lid to make sure the seal is good and then label them with the contents and date.

Tip: If any jars do not seal, don’t you fret. This usually means there is an imperfection in the rim of the jar and you can reprocess the contents within 24 hours. Or, just refrigerate it and eat it right away.

Pressure Canning Method

Supplies include a pressure canner and rack, a ladle, wide-mouth funnel, tongs for lifting jars and jars with lids and screw bands. Some of these are usually found in an all-in-one kit in hardware stores, department stores or online. Additional helpful items include a timer, a large stainless mixing bowl, a scale, labels or a marking pen, kitchen towels and a stirring stick.

Stews and soups**, sauces, vegetables, meats and seafood, are pressure canned. Make sure you find recipes that are specific to canning since the process will alter the taste of the food. As above, wash everything that comes in contact with the food. Sterilizing the jars and lids is unnecessary since the length of time to process sterilizes the food and jars anyway, so just make sure they’re clean and rinsed well. Fill the jars and leave a 1/2 inch space headroom in the jar and wipe the rim with a clean towel. Screw on the lid and screw band until it’s finger-tight. Add all jars to the pot, but again, do not over-fill and do not let them touch the sides.

The canner will only need about 3 quarts water in the bottom (or whatever the operating instructions say). For extra safety, I heat up the water to try and match the temperature of the jars. When operating the pressure canner, you should always do so according to the instructions. They are all similar yet different, if that makes any sense..?

For instance: My pressure canner has a vent to allow pressure to be released.

I add the weight after 10 minutes. And then watch the gauge carefully as it begins to rise.

pressure's on

I use the weight only to level off the pressure when needed. Other canners may have a slightly different procedure, so it is important to read the instructions and follow them exactly. Do this with caution though… the pressure should change ever so gradually or it could result in loss of liquid in some of your jars.

One major difference between the water bath method and pressure canning is time. Extra time is needed for the pressure canner to build up to the right pressure, to process the jars to reach sterilization, and to return to normal pressure when finished. You must not rush this process. It can take hours longer than water bath canning so set aside enough time by planning and preparing for it. The good news is that most pressure canners are very tall, which means you can stack the jars vertically and do large batches all at once.

Like riding a bike: once you get it down, it’ll just come naturally.

Start With Easy

For your first batch of canned goodies, do a fruit and use the water bath method. Find a local farm and pick some blackberries or apples. Blackberries can be cooked down and turned into jam or preserves, and you can cook and blend apples into applesauce. You’ll be amazed at how easy it really is! Whole fruits like peaches and pears can be packed with syrup, and tomatoes can be peeled, diced and packed with a touch of lemon juice (or vinegar) and salt. Get these down and you’ll want to try more.

Why not try:

Plum Jammy
Tomato Salsa
Applesauce, Stewed Tomatoes and more quickies
Easy Canned Peppers
Even Easier Pickles and Relish

*Don’t be fooled. Store-bought pectin is the biggest scam of all time! Okay, maybe I exaggerated a bit, but did you know that all fruit contains its own natural form of pectin? Yes, you can set/preserve anything without adding the powdered stuff. In my recipes, sugar and/or homemade apple or lemon pectin is added to cooked fruit for the purpose of gelling. Lemon juice and/or vinegar adds the acid used for preserving. And that’s all you need. So don’t short-cut it; keep it natural and homemade, and save your pennies!

**FYI: Though just about anything can be canned, you have to know the rules. Soups and stews will do well as long as they don’t contain flour or any other thickener. Dishes that are naturally thick (like pea soup) need to combined with extra water (about 1:1) so the center of the food is safely sterilized. All meats need to be pressure canned for the recommended time – no exceptions – usually 70 minutes or longer. Follow a good recipe and when in doubt, freeze it.

Tip: What spoils food is the various bacterium out there. Process the food for the recommended time to sterilize it and end that threat.

Tip: Don’t leave too much head space in your jar because air causes food to darken in color.


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