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Thursday, March 3, 2011

Gardening and Preserving

Why do you garden? Is it for the flowers, the fruit, the physical activity? Just as you should have a garden plan before you buy your seeds and plants, you should have a goal plan before you begin gardening. You can approach gardening in a haphazard manner where you just handle the task directly in front of you as you stumble down the garden path or you can view it as an opportunity to impact your household for months and years to come. One of these opportunities is to plant with your harvest in mind.

Envision the herbs, vegetables, and fruits that will reward your efforts. I think almost all of us can agree that produce picked fresh from the garden surpasses store-bought options in just about every category. Taste, appearance, freshness, and choice are always better in a home garden. With proper planning, cultivation, and care, your harvest will be overflowing. Then what?

Do you have a plan for that abundance? Do you eat as many fresh vegetables as you can and then end up dumping bushels in the compost pile because you can't eat any more? Do you leave bags of zucchini on your neighbors' doorsteps in the dead of night? Do you leave fruit withering on the tree because you don't have any place to store it? Or do you preserve?

What to do with all of these plums?

Preserving herbs, vegetables, and fruits is easy, inexpensive, and carries the tastes of the harvest well into the winter. I choose what I plant with preservation in mind and recommend you do the same.

Much of my personal focus is on jams and jellies. I'm a certified Master Food Preserver and marry those skills with my gardening. I've taught many classes on canning, dehydrating, and jelly making to show the average person that the process of processing is not hard. Gardening and preserving go hand in hand.

I grow strawberries because they're relatively easy, taste great fresh from the garden, and are wonderful in jam. When the strawberries begin to ripen they do so quickly and you can suddenly have pounds of them in a few, short days. Too many to eat so quickly, it only takes a few pounds to make a few pint jars of strawberry jam.

My two Concord grape vines would give me close to 25 pounds of fruit, all ready to pick in the same week. The birds enjoyed many of the luscious berries, but that still left a lot for me. Too much to eat, turning the grapes into grape juice provided the base for dozens of jars of Concord grape jelly.

Getting juice from my grapes.

With a large garden, it's difficult not to grow multiple tomato plants. In a good year the tomatoes ripen and are ready to pick by the bushel. There are many to give as gifts to family and friends and many to savor myself. It's painful to see a single tomato go to waste after all of the effort to get them to harvest. A few quart jars, a big pot of water, and a few hours in the afternoon, and I'll have canned tomatoes that will last until the next harvest, assuming they're not eaten first.

Dehydrating offers options too. I grow chile peppers with dehydrating in mind; after drying they keep for a long time and are easy to throw into a big pot of chili. Almost all of my herbs are dried at harvest; I am still using the thyme, rosemary, oregano, sage, tarragon, and peppermint from last year's harvest.

Pickling is one of my favorite things to do. I've mentioned before about my green beans and their sole purpose -- to be pickled. My wife and I met and ultimately married because she loved my pickled green beans (there were other reasons too). Turning your cucumbers into pickles and your cabbage into sauerkraut is easy to do.

Making pickled green beans.

Many of my plant choices are preservation based. I grow rhubarb to pair with the strawberries in pie and in jelly. I grow raspberries and blackberries for the jam. All of my fruit trees are because of the potential jams and jellies; the taste of plum jam and apricot jam made from my own fruit far exceeded anything you can buy. My peppers aren't only dried, they're pickled too. Tomatoes, garlic, onions, peppers, and cilantro have all been harvested in my garden to make salsa, which is frozen or canned.

One year's preserved harvest.

Almost everything you can grow in your herb, vegetable, and fruit gardens can be preserved. If you haven't thought about food preservation before, think about it for this season. Knowing you can save some of your harvest might open you up to new growing opportunities.

Local Extension offices usually offer classes in preserving food. You can find many online resources like these from Colorado State University. No home should be without the "Ball Blue Book", a great preservation guide from the Ball Corporation, the company that makes many of the jars and supplies for canning.

I'll talk more about specific preservation subjects in days ahead. Most of it is so easy you can teach yourself with a little guidance from a book or advisor. For now, think about the plants you plan to grow and how you can preserve them. Also think about what plants you would like to grow, if you could preserve them. Incorporate preservation into your garden planning.
Why do you garden? Is it for the flowers, the fruit, the physical activity? Just as you should have a garden plan before you buy your seeds and plants, you should have a goal plan before you begin gardening. You can approach gardening in a haphazard manner where you just handle the task directly in front of you as you stumble down the garden path or you can view it as an opportunity to impact your household for months and years to come. One of these opportunities is to plant with your harvest in mind.

Envision the herbs, vegetables, and fruits that will reward your efforts. I think almost all of us can agree that produce picked fresh from the garden surpasses store-bought options in just about every category. Taste, appearance, freshness, and choice are always better in a home garden. With proper planning, cultivation, and care, your harvest will be overflowing. Then what?

Do you have a plan for that abundance? Do you eat as many fresh vegetables as you can and then end up dumping bushels in the compost pile because you can't eat any more? Do you leave bags of zucchini on your neighbors' doorsteps in the dead of night? Do you leave fruit withering on the tree because you don't have any place to store it? Or do you preserve?

What to do with all of these plums?

Preserving herbs, vegetables, and fruits is easy, inexpensive, and carries the tastes of the harvest well into the winter. I choose what I plant with preservation in mind and recommend you do the same.

Much of my personal focus is on jams and jellies. I'm a certified Master Food Preserver and marry those skills with my gardening. I've taught many classes on canning, dehydrating, and jelly making to show the average person that the process of processing is not hard. Gardening and preserving go hand in hand.

I grow strawberries because they're relatively easy, taste great fresh from the garden, and are wonderful in jam. When the strawberries begin to ripen they do so quickly and you can suddenly have pounds of them in a few, short days. Too many to eat so quickly, it only takes a few pounds to make a few pint jars of strawberry jam.

My two Concord grape vines would give me close to 25 pounds of fruit, all ready to pick in the same week. The birds enjoyed many of the luscious berries, but that still left a lot for me. Too much to eat, turning the grapes into grape juice provided the base for dozens of jars of Concord grape jelly.

Getting juice from my grapes.

With a large garden, it's difficult not to grow multiple tomato plants. In a good year the tomatoes ripen and are ready to pick by the bushel. There are many to give as gifts to family and friends and many to savor myself. It's painful to see a single tomato go to waste after all of the effort to get them to harvest. A few quart jars, a big pot of water, and a few hours in the afternoon, and I'll have canned tomatoes that will last until the next harvest, assuming they're not eaten first.

Dehydrating offers options too. I grow chile peppers with dehydrating in mind; after drying they keep for a long time and are easy to throw into a big pot of chili. Almost all of my herbs are dried at harvest; I am still using the thyme, rosemary, oregano, sage, tarragon, and peppermint from last year's harvest.

Pickling is one of my favorite things to do. I've mentioned before about my green beans and their sole purpose -- to be pickled. My wife and I met and ultimately married because she loved my pickled green beans (there were other reasons too). Turning your cucumbers into pickles and your cabbage into sauerkraut is easy to do.

Making pickled green beans.

Many of my plant choices are preservation based. I grow rhubarb to pair with the strawberries in pie and in jelly. I grow raspberries and blackberries for the jam. All of my fruit trees are because of the potential jams and jellies; the taste of plum jam and apricot jam made from my own fruit far exceeded anything you can buy. My peppers aren't only dried, they're pickled too. Tomatoes, garlic, onions, peppers, and cilantro have all been harvested in my garden to make salsa, which is frozen or canned.

One year's preserved harvest.

Almost everything you can grow in your herb, vegetable, and fruit gardens can be preserved. If you haven't thought about food preservation before, think about it for this season. Knowing you can save some of your harvest might open you up to new growing opportunities.

Local Extension offices usually offer classes in preserving food. You can find many online resources like
these from Colorado State University. No home should be without the "Ball Blue Book", a great preservation guide from the Ball Corporation, the company that makes many of the jars and supplies for canning.

I'll talk more about specific preservation subjects in days ahead. Most of it is so easy you can teach yourself with a little guidance from a book or advisor. For now, think about the plants you plan to grow and how you can preserve them. Also think about what plants you would like to grow, if you could preserve them. Incorporate preservation into your garden planning.

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