Spring is finally here! This is one of the busiest times of year on any farm, especially if you plan on having a large garden. On our homestead, we try to grow as much of our own food as possible. For us, harvesting and preserving are every bit as important as planting. We do a combination of freezing, dehydrating, and canning to preserve the harvest each year. We begin harvesting some things in early spring, so I like to have all of my essential supplies for preserving the harvest ready to go right after we start planting. Being prepared for harvesting and preserving is the best way to make sure none of your hard work goes to waste. Here’s how we gear up for harvest season!
Tips and Supplies for Freezing the Harvest:
Freezing your homegrown produce is probably one of the easiest ways to preserve the harvest. Sometimes, you’ll have just a little bit of something… like hot peppers, for example. If there’s not enough of a particular crop ready to can at the same time, you can pop it in the freezer as it ripens, so nothing goes to waste. I’ve also found that some things just don’t can well, like summer squash and okra. And, freezing is my favorite way to preserve certain herbs, especially parsley, basil, and chives. Here are the supplies I keep on hand for freezing the harvest:
- Disposable Loaf Pans and Casserole Dishes: I use these a lot during harvest season for making things like zucchini bread and casseroles to pop in the freezer. It’s a great way to use up surplus produce, and they are oven safe, too. It’s so nice to have a few quick meals in the freezer for those nights when you’re just too tired to cook!
- Colander and a Large Stock Pot: You’ll need these for blanching vegetables before freezing.
- Sheet Trays: If you freeze your fruits and vegetables on sheet trays before you put them in freezer bags, they won’t clump together.
- Freezer Containers: If you plan on making soups or sauces ahead to keep in the freezer, it’s nice to keep a supply of freezer containers on hand. You can also use these for making freezer jam.
- Zip Top Freezer Bags: You’ll want to have both gallon and quart size bags ready to go in large quantities.
- Fold Top Baggies: These come in handy for separating things into portion sizes. Put what you need for one meal in a baggie and then put the individual baggies in gallon freezer bags. That way, you can grab exactly what you need, and there’s no waste.
Tips and Supplies for Dehydrating the Harvest:
Dehydrating is also an easy way to preserve fruits, veggies, and herbs. My dehydrator runs almost continuously from early spring all the way through the end of the growing season. Most of the herbs I grow are preserved in the dehydrator because it’s much too humid here to hang them to dry. Some of my other favorite things to dehydrate are green onions, mushrooms, and any type of fruit. Here are the supplies I like to have on hand for dehydrating:
- A Dehydrator: You don’t have to spend hundreds of dollars on a dehydrator but do get one that allows you to adjust the temperature. Herbs and edible flowers should always be dehydrated on the lowest temperature, but fruits, veggies, and jerky require a higher setting.
- Bottled Lemon Juice or Fruit Fresh: Dipping fruit in a solution of either bottled lemon juice or fruit fresh will prevent them from turning brown in the dehydrator.
- Stock Pot and Colander: For blanching veggies before freezing.
- Vacuum Sealer: Most dehydrated foods can be stored in vacuum sealed bags.
- Mylar Bags and Oxygen Absorbers: If you are dehydrating something that you want to store for a long time, consider using a mylar bag. They don’t take up nearly as much room as jars, and they don’t let in any light, which can really shorten the shelf life of dehydrated foods. Some foods have sharp edges after you dehydrate them and mylar bags are much more puncture resistant than vacuum seal bags, too.
- Jars in Various Sizes: I use jars for storing smaller quantities of things that I use regularly.
Tips and Supplies for Canning the Harvest:
In my opinion, canning is the best way to preserve tomato products, jams, pickles, and green beans. I can other things too, but these items make up the bulk of our home canned goods each year. Here are the supplies I keep on hand for canning the harvest:
- Pressure Canner and Water Bath Canner: At the beginning of the season, you should check your pressure canner to make sure the gasket is in good condition and the gauge working properly. Some gauges need to be recalibrated each year, so check your owner’s manual for maintenance instructions. You should also have a rack to keep your jars off the bottom of the canner during processing. My water bath canner came with a basket for lifting jars in and out of the water, and I find it very convenient.
- Jar Lifter Tongs and a Canning Funnel
- Large Stock Pots: You really can’t have too many of these. I use them for cooking large batches of tomatoes, soups, and sauces before canning. In a pinch, they can also be used for water bath canning.
- Jars in Quarts, Pints, and ½ Pints with Lids and Rings: You can’t have too many of these either! I stay on the lookout for cheap canning jars on Craigslist, Facebook Buy and Sell Groups, and at garage sales all year round.
- Bottled Lemon Juice/ Citric Acid: For raising the acidity level on certain canned foods.
- White Vinegar: You need vinegar with 5% acidity for canning. Keep at least a couple gallons on hand during canning season
- Canning/ Pickling Salt
- Pickling Spice
- Powdered or Liquid Pectin: For Making Jams and Jellies
Safety is of the utmost importance when canning, freezing, or dehydrating. Whether you are brand new to home preserving, or you have years of practice, I also recommend keeping a copy The Ball Blue Book Guide to Preserving with the rest of your equipment to answer any questions as they come up. Having these supplies on hand ensures that nothing goes to waste as it ripens in the garden.