Top five methods to preserve your harvest
You can make the most of your garden harvest by keeping everything fresh and harvesting fruits and vegetables as soon as they are ready. Leaving them on the vine or stem for too long and they can attract pests and diseases. Flavor and texture also tend to deteriorate over time.
Fruits can be simmered and pureed and then either canned or frozen. It can also be dried into fruit leather. Vegetables can be cooked, pureed, and then frozen for later use in soups, casseroles, and other recipes. All those zucchini can be cooked into Chocolate Zucchini Cake for a popular dessert that always disappears quickly. They can also be stuffed and frozen for a simple pop-in-the-oven dinner.
Freshly picked and washed produce can be placed in a resealable plastic bag or container and stored in the freezer. If you have an abundance of tomatoes that you will be canning, this is an excellent way to retain that fresh flavor while waiting for enough ripe fruit to warrant firing up the stove. Peas and beans should be hulled before freezing, but those pods can be tossed into a separate freezer bag to be used to make soup stock come winter.
Canning tomatoes is an easy way to store food from your garden. The acidity in tomatoes makes them far less likely to develop mold. That being said, enlist the help of an experienced canner and be sure to follow food safety guidelines whenever canning.
Many fruits and vegetables from your garden can be dried for future use and easy storage. Grapes, peas, and beans can be dried at room temperature. For other foods, you can use a commercial dehydrator or your oven. Times and temperatures vary, depending on the type of food and its thickness. You can look online or go to your local library for specific instructions.
Sometimes, your garden will simply produce more food than you can use. Family, friends, and neighbors should always top the list when your garden produces abundance. Local food banks and other charities are nearly always happy to accept donations of fresh fruits and vegetables.
Rather than tossing out the fruits of your labor, make the most of your harvest with these simple methods for prolonging your garden's shelf life.
by UC Master Gardener Kate Russell
Photo: UC, Melissa Womack
This article first appeared in the August 17, 2017 issue of South Valley Magazine.