Each year, as my garden produces more and more delicious homegrown produce, I look for new ways to use up every bit of the harvest, so that nothing goes to waste. When I started gardening more than 15 years ago, I gave away almost everything our family couldn’t eat right away. Don’t get me wrong – I still share some with friends and family. However, I now put more effort into preserving the extra as much as possible so that my family has plenty to eat in the fall and winter months.
What we can’t (or perhaps won’t) eat fresh, is either canned, frozen or dried, put away for a rainy day. Personally, I’m very concerned about my family’s food security these days. Between skyrocketing food prices, the drought in California, and potential economic unrest looming, I want to beef up my pantry as much as I can with the resources I have on hand. And there is no better resource than a garden that is producing free food!
Ways to Save That Garden Bounty
1. Yes, you can … CAN!
Canning has grown in popularity by leaps and bounds, and it is easy to see why. Canning is an economical (and dare I say fun) way to save food for your family. Don’t know how to can? No problem. There are plenty of books and courses available that can teach you how to can from the comfort of your own kitchen. And many of them are free from your library! I am a completely self-taught canner.
Armed with nothing more than the Internet and my trusty Ball Blue Book, I taught myself all the canning skills I now use year after year.
2. Freeze your assets
One of the best things I ever did for our family’s budget was to buy a chest freezer. Since that purchase, we have been able to stockpile a nice amount of food. Freezing is a wonderful way to store your extra garden bounty. Fresh corn, strawberries, blueberries, peas, even most beans freeze nicely. I freeze homemade pesto and herb butter, as well. The possibilities are quite endless … if you have extra freezer space! But be warned: You may love freezing produce so much that you’ll want to purchase a third freezer!
3. Dehydrating is easy
Almost everything from the garden can be dehydrated – fruits and herbs, as well as peppers and tomatoes! One of my favorite things to dehydrate is jalapeno peppers to use in my winter soups and stews. I also love to dry tomatoes for use in pasta dishes. With a dehydrator, you can even dehydrate meat!
Dehydrating food is remarkably easy with a basic food dehydrator. Just slice up your fruits or veggies and place them in the dehydrator. Plug it in for about 24 hours, and go about your business. You’ll have all sorts of easy-to-store food in less than a day. It’s a fantastic way to use up those extra herbs you grow. I regularly dehydrate my excess oregano. It’s much fresher tasting than store-bought dried oregano.
If you don’t have a dehydrator yet, that’s OK, too. Many foods can be dehydrated with just a pan and an oven or solar power from the sun.
Also … Share the love
While I probably keep 80-90 percent of what my garden produces, I do try to give some away to our family, friends and neighbors. This is my way of sharing the love of gardening with others. Perhaps it will inspire someone to eat healthier or grow his or her own food, too. And, it just feels good to share!
Believe it or not, my extra bags of squash and zucchini have inspired more than one or two friends to start their own garden plots at home. I figure this is my way of leading by example.
Some gardeners like to give their extra produce away to churches, food pantries, soup kitchens and other civic agencies. This is a wonderful idea! However, be sure to check your local regulations first. Many agencies have to turn away fresh food unless it comes from a pre-approved vendor like a grocery store or supermarket. (Sad, but true.)
While learning food preservation techniques can take a little time and effort, it’s well worth the sacrifice. This fall and winter you will be thanking yourself for learning these important skills. You might even see a nice reduction in your grocery budget as well!
Tell us your favorite ways for preserving food in the comments section below.