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Preserving Your Fall Harvest

Preserving Your Fall Harvest

By Ashleigh Smith, True Leaf Market
Photographs courtesy of True Leaf Market

I love growing fresh fruits and vegetables in my garden, but I hate wasting food. Even with the use of fresh-saving devices such as BluApple, that absorb ethylene gas and slow fruit ripening, I have lost so much of my harvest before it could be used. It makes me feel like I not only wasted food but also valuable effort and resources by throwing perfectly good food away or letting it rot in the garden.

Now, I know it’s not really wasted as the fruits and vegetative material will decompose and improve the soil for the following year. But there are several ways to use and preserve your well-deserved harvest. Depending on what the produce is, you can ferment, freeze, dry or dehydrate, and more! Enjoy your fall and late winter harvest into the next growing season.

One of my favorite ways to preserve a fall harvest is fermentation. You can extend the life of your zucchini, carrots, cabbage, etc. with very little effort and great outcomes. Fermentation is simple and easy. Use a fermentation jar to hold your cut-up vegetables, add your starter culture or brine, submerge the vegetables using a coil or weight, and watch for the signs that it is ready to eat. You will know your jar is ready to eat when there are small bubbles throughout the jar, a vinegar-like smell, and it tastes good. No additional equipment or skill is required beyond normal meal preparation ability. Fermentations can last 4-18 months depending on storage conditions. A cool, dark place will yield the longest shelf-life.

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Freezing is also among the easiest food preservation methods. It is also one of the best ways to use produce throughout the year as it lasts 8-10 months. Some of my favorite vegetables to freeze include corn, peas, carrots, cauliflower, and broccoli. Many more vegetables may be frozen including squash, onions, peppers, celery, and a variety of herbs. Just be sure to avoid vegetables with high water contents that become mushy when thawed. These include cucumbers, cabbage, and lettuce. If you enjoy cooking with or using greens such as spinach and kale in smoothies, you may want to consider freezing your fall/winter leafy green crops as well.

To prevent vegetables from becoming mushy and developing freezer burn, blanch them first. Blanching is an easy process that will help your produce retain its quality over time. First, clean and trim your vegetables as you would normally before cooking. This includes shelling peas and beans, removing roots and leaves and trimming large stems back. For vegetables like broccoli and cauliflower, you will probably want to cut them down to medium florets and pieces.

Second, submerge the vegetables into a pot of boiling water. Small or cut vegetables should remain in the boiling water for only 2-3 minutes with the time increasing for larger vegetables. Most won’t need to exceed 5 minutes, except for large full ears of corn maxing out at 7 minutes. Immediately transfer the vegetables to an ice bath. I recommend using a 5-gallon bucket as it is easy to fill, empty, and handle large batches. Once cooled, dry well with a towel. Avoid blanching onions or peppers before freezing. Then, either lay your produce out on a sheet pan to freeze without clumping or package right away in a freezer-safe container.

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If you are looking for simple and easy ways to preserve your food, you should consider drying. This method has been used for centuries to preserve foods. Like freezing and fermenting, it requires very little equipment, takes up little space, and has a shelf-life of 4-12 months. I like preserving foods with the drying method because it provides easy, light, and nutritional snacks when you are on the go. To dry foods at home, you may use a food dehydrator or simply use your oven. For the oven method, set the temperature between 140-150 degrees Fahrenheit.

Like in the freezing process, vegetables benefit from blanching before drying. Place your fruits or vegetables on a tray, or mesh tray for small pieces, and place them in the oven. Be sure to leave the door open a few inches so there is room for the moisture to escape. When done, they should be crunchy and brittle. Store in an air-tight container to prevent moisture reabsorption. An oxygen absorber packet may be included if your dried food has a moisture level of less than 10%. Test this by verifying that your fruits or vegetables are crisp and brittle. If you can bend your dried fruits and vegetables at all after they have been stored, there is too much moisture. To prevent foodborne illness, discard dried food stored with an oxygen-removing packet that has reabsorbed moisture.

In addition to these practices, canning, pickling, juicing, and leaving root vegetables in the ground are popular options for preserving your harvest. Regardless of the method you choose, we suggest using glass jars when possible. Glass jars come in several sizes and are one of the few containers that can be reused over several decades. Additionally, they can keep your precious harvest and stored seeds safe from pests and other potential damage.

For seed storage, add an oxy-free packet to your jar. This will remove the oxygen in the container helping to preserve your seeds for much longer. As you use the seeds, check to see if you need to replace the oxygen absorber packet. If you can still feel the powder inside the packet, it is good. A rock-hard packet is ready to be replaced.

Keep your food good from seed to plate. Gardening can be tricky but preserving your harvest doesn’t have to be. Learn more: www.trueleafmarket.com.

Ashleigh Smith is the managing editor at True Leaf Market, with a bachelor's degree in Horticulture from Brigham Young University - Idaho. True Leaf Market is a national certified organic, non-GMO seed and horticultural company based in Salt Lake City, Utah. The True Leaf Market staff specializes in supplying a large selection of conventional, heirloom, and organic seeds to home gardeners everywhere. Learn more about fermentation, supplies, seeds, and other seed-growing ideas: www.trueleafmarket.com.


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