Your garden is growing great and there is an over abundance of produce. You are eating as much as you can, but there is just too much all at one time. You could just compost all the excess or give it away, but why not preserve your harvest so you can enjoy it all winter long.
Picture this in your head for a moment; your frozen strawberries becomes strawberry shortcake in October, a pumpkin from the root cellar becomes a pumpkin pie in November. Dehydrated fruit leather becomes a healthy gift in December. A can of tomatoes becomes marinara in January. Freeze dried blueberries flavor your kombucha in February. And the sauerkraut and pickled okra is good all winter long. What a wonderful way to make the bounty of summer last all year. So let’s go through how to extend your home-grown fruits and veggies into breakfasts, lunches and dinners long past the summer growing season.
One of the easiest ways to preserve your fruits and vegetables is to dehydrate it. What can you dehydrate? All kinds of things. Your herbs are easy peasy to dehydrate. If you live in a dry climate, you could just hang a bundle up to air dry. The rest of us need to use a dehydrator. A dehydrator is also so much more versatile than just drying your herbs. You can make fruit leathers, check out this recipe for tomato leathers. That’s reason enough to get a dehydrator. Or you can make kale or zucchini chips. If you have an abundant garlic crop, you can make your own garlic powder. The possibilities are almost endless. Dehydrated food lasts up to 4 years.
The range of price and features varies widely. If you just want to use it on rare occasion and on simple things like herbs a simple, turn it on, turn it off dehydrator is all you need. A Presto should fit the bill. Inexpensive and easy for the beginner. No learning curve or special recipes. This is a great entry level dehydrator.
If you are planning on doing a lot of dehydrating or you want timers, temperature controles and other handy options, an Excalibur is the cream of the crop. This is a work horse that will keep on going for years and years.
One of my favorite ways to preserve food is canning. I grew up as a small child going out to a u-pick,with my family, and bringing home bushels full of tomatoes. Then my mom, two sisters and I would sit at the kitchen table and peel and can tomatoes. That night we would listen to the popping of the cans as they sealed. That was the sound of a whole year long of eating from the jars of tomatoes that we had put up. Canned food will last up to 3 years.
But do your home work. Some fruit/vegetables work well in a water bath, but most need a pressure canner. Take the time to learn the proper way to can and you will have safe, healthy, yummy meals all year long.
Freezers are very useful for many fruits and vegetables too. What can be better than a breakfast of hot muffins filled with the blueberries from your freezer, accompanied by scrambled eggs that are made from the eggs you froze during the abundance of the summer, since your chickens and ducks are taking the dark days of winter off from laying. Sealing them up tight can make them last longer, taste fresher and maintain the nutrition until the next crop comes in. Frozen food can last up to 2 years if properly sealed.
How about making souerkraut and other lacto fermented vegetables. (kohlrabi is my favorite) These are really good for your digestion. And homemade is much better tasting than the store bought varieties. This is also one of the easiest ways to preserve your harvest. Very little to buy and you can have this fermenting in no time. Will last up to 1 year.
Freeze drying, while it produces superior food that will last longer than any of these other ways, it is not for everyone. Mainly because of the price of the machine. But if you are going to produce all your own food from your homestead, it may be worth the price. After all it will last for years and will pay for itself in food savings. Freeze dried food can last up to 25 years and retain 97% of its nutritional value. That’s reason enough to consider a freeze dryer!
Ok, that sounds a bit hokey, but work with me here people. After all, this is where I have the smallest knowledge base. Here in south Florida we call basements or cellars, swimming pools. 🙂 So if you are lucky enough to have one, great! It’s a great place to keep winter squash and potatoes and apples. I do know, however, that many pumpkins and squashes will last in a cool place in your house for quite a while even without a root cellar. Make sure you line the floor under your produce to collect any drips that might occur and check it once a week and remove anything that starts to spoil. As the saying goes, one bad apple can spoil the whole batch. Food in a root cellar can last 3 to 12 months.
Every method of preservation does not work equally well for all foods. But with several of these wonderful methods, I’m sure you will be preserving your harvest in no time, so you can have plenty of food all winter long.