3 Ways to Preserve Your Garden Goodies

Don’t toss your harvest at the end of the season. Use these methods to make it last.

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During a good season, a backyard garden can produce a surplus of food. You can give some to friends, family and neighbors. You can even bring a basket of tomatoes to work. But if you want to make your garden goodies last, preservation is the way to go. How to preserve the food grown in your garden will depend on the type of food and your intended use. Here is everything you’ll need to keep eating fresh all year.

Drying and Dehydrating

Drying, or dehydrating, keeps food safe by removing bacteria-attracting moisture. The University of Minnesota lists five methods for drying food at home: dehydrator, oven, sun, air and microwave. A dehydrator is the most reliable form of drying food. It delivers more uniform, high-quality results in half the time. It is ideal for someone who has a lot of excess food or who lives in a humid climate. There is a long list of foods that can be dehydrated, so this kitchen appliance will come in handy for homegrown and store-bought items alike. Nesco’s Snackmaster Pro Food Dehydrator is a highly-rated option for under $100, while their larger Gardenmaster Dehydrator is more expensive and advanced.

Dehydrating food in an oven takes double or triple the amount of time, and it eats up more energy. A microwave can dry small batches of herbs but won’t work for fruits and vegetables. Sun drying and air drying are vulnerable to humidity and pests, although an indoor herb drying rack can be effective for herbs and flowers. Once they are completely dry, transfer your herbs to spice shakers and place them on your spice rack.

Canning and Pickling

Like air and sun drying, canning and pickling are age-old techniques. With the right pickle brine, extra cucumbers become a delectable side dish for hamburgers and hot dogs. And you can turn your bountiful tomato harvest into homemade pasta sauce or a perfectly spicy salsa without any expensive technology — a boiling water bath is enough to seal the jars. However, if you plan to can any meat, or low-acid foods such as vegetables, a pressure canner is a safer option because it can heat the jars to a much higher temperature.

A pressure canner is different from a pressure cooker, but there are some combination items on the market if you want to save space. Small combination pressure canners and cookers start at around $100, while large, high-end models can be $300 or more.

Improper canning can create the right environment for botulinum toxin, which causes, as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) explains, a rare illness called botulism. Using the right amount of heat and acidity during canning will prevent it. The National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) and the National Center for Home Food Preservation (NCHFP) provide the Complete Guide to Home Canning, a U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) publication that explains how to preserve food safely and includes specific recipes.

Freezing and Vacuum Sealing

You can buy pre-frozen fruits, vegetables and meats, but you can get even better quality by freezing your garden goodies at home. If you’re wondering how to preserve food with little time commitment, the freezer is your best bet. When stored properly in a rigid container like Rubbermaid or Tupperware, or in a flexible freezer bag like a Ziploc, frozen food can last for months. NCHFP says that fruits and veggies can last for up to a year when frozen this way. They also provide an exhaustive list of instructions for freezing almost every kind of food. And FoodSaver, one of the leading manufacturers of vacuum sealers, says their systems can make food last five times longer than traditional containers.

Be sure to label everything before putting it in your freezer, and don’t forget to use what you freeze before it goes bad. Writing the date and item description will help you maintain an organized freezer and a waste-free home.

Mikayla Borchert
Mikayla is an assistant editor for Family Handyman, specializing in indoor and outdoor gardening, organization and décor. She has one cat and holds a B.A. in English from the University of Minnesota. Outside of work, she likes running, skiing, hiking and tending her balcony garden.