Preserving the Harvest

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Depending on where you live and when you planted your garden, you’ve most likely been enjoying the fruits of your labor. We’ve had a good year, though it’s been difficult to keep the birds away.

One of the best things about having your own garden is that you can walk right out into your backyard and pick some fresh produce and eat it right there, on the spot. No running to the grocery store or the farmer’s market, no standing in line, no $4 for a pound of strawberries, and no pesticides or other “unknowns” to wash off.

But what about your excess harvest? We’ve produced way more food than we can handle all at once, and so we’ve had to consider our options when it comes to preserving our ‘leftover’ vegetables. What follows is an overview of some of the things you’ll need, as well as an indication of the costs involved.


Freezing is one of the easiest ways to store vegetables, and if you blanch (i.e., ‘flash boil’) the vegetables before you freeze them, they will retain their nutrients much better and keep much longer. We’ve been able to freeze some of just about everything, expect our spinach.

  • Cost: Super cheap
  • Needs: A box of Ziploc freezer bags


This is great for things like cucumbers or beets. I’m not sure if you can pickle tomatoes or peppers. Pickling looks to be a bit more difficult to master than other methods – the process itself is easy, but apparently takes ‘just the right touch’ to be successful.

  • Cost: Moderate
  • Needs: Canning salt, pressure/water bath canner, vinegar, jars, lids, rings, spices, brine


Most people think of fruits when you mention preserves, but vegetables are catching on as well. I recently had a great jalapeno jelly that greatly complimented my bagel with cheese. You can do freezer jam as well, which is very common. It’s quicker, cheaper, yummier, and doesn’t have as many preservatives.

  • Cost: Moderate (cheap after you have a canner)
  • Needs: Water bath canner or pressure canner, pectin, jars, lids, rings, freezer containers (if you decide to do freezer jam)


There are two canning methods: pressure canning and water bath canning. I still have memories of the kitchen in my childhood home being covered with jars full of tomatoes and peaches that we enjoyed all winter long. We’ve grew seven tomato plants as well as lot of carrots, peas. All are suitable for canning.

If you are persistent you can pick up canning jars at Salvation Army, Savers, or Goodwill-type places.

  • Cost: Moderate (need lots of cans, lids and rings and a canner)
  • Needs: Cans, lids, rings, pressure or water bath canner


A food dehydrator is a necessity here, and since we don’t have one, we didn’t dry any food this year.

  • Cost: High
  • Needs: Food dehydrator, storage bags, or containers


If you’re a fan of V8, you can use a juicer or a blender to create your own tasty beverages. Tomatoes, peppers, carrots, and radishes can be combined to make a tasty treat. Adding a bit of lemon juice can help equalize the tastes. We’re big fans of tomatoes, so I’m sure some of this juice will find its way into our fridge. This can be frozen, as well.

  • Cost: Moderate
  • Needs: cans, lids, rings, pressure or water bath canner


Some foods (like potatoes and radishes) can be easily stored in a cool, dry area.

  • Cost: Free (unless you buy boxes or bags)
  • Needs: Boxes or bags

The bottom line

You don’t have to have a green thumb to cash in on the benefits of canning, preserving and storing food. If you’re unable to maintain a garden, another option is to stockpile produce from local growers. Stop by local orchards and farms, farmer’s markets, and roadside stands and inquire about bulk deals. Take your spoils home, preserve the in whichever method you prefer, and enjoy nutritious produce all winter long!

For a very full rundown on the exact specifics of each of these preservation methods, check out

12 Responses to “Preserving the Harvest”

  1. Anonymous

    So many wonderful ideas here! I’d love to point out something about the food dehydrator, though. While it’s true that it requires an initially high investment, I’ve found that it’s a product that really saves you money over time. This is true of a lot of these other methods as well, of course, since they let you buy in bulk and preserve foods but for me the dehydrator has really provided a range of food options that some of the other methods have not. I’ve even used it to make money by sellign dried goods which are really popular around here!

  2. Anonymous

    I’ve been canning & preserving for about 50 years. The first 20 years most of my produce was purchased at the farmers market or from the field where we picked our own. We raised our own beef, pork & poultry for the freezer, milked our own cow & always had fresh eggs. I churned and cooked & baked from scratch & still do.

    When I remarried my husband had & still has about a 1/2 acre in garden (He is 75 years old & still works part time, also). I can tomatoes, juice, sauce, make sauerkraut. can corn, beets, carrots, beans, peas, make pickles, can & freeze pears & peaches (when someone doesn’t come in at night & clean out our tree). I freeze wild dewberries, make mustang grape juice & jelly, wild plum juice & jelly & freeze figs & make fig preserves. We have our own onions & potatoes each year until almost time to harvest again. I also dry onions & cabbage. When I catch a good sale I dry celery,mushrooms, broccoli, cauliflower & am willing to try dehydrating almost anything that we enjoy. We don’t care for the taste of home canned potatoes and I’ve had no luck with getting a decent dried product from them. I do dry squash, green peppers and fruits also. Canning your own beef, pork, poultry,soups, stews, & chili for quick meals is time consuming, but oh so worth it. Recipes for these things are in your Ball Blue Book of canning & preserving or go to the University of Georgia site for USDA approved canning information. Just be sure you follow the guidelines for SAFE canning. Botulism has no smell or tast, but is deadly.
    A person can get almost all of the equipment needed for any type of food preservation at thrift stores, garage sales & estate sales for very reasonable prices or check your local ReUseIt group for free items. Research what is needed & know what to buy & what you’re buying. You may get stuck with things that don’t work occasionaly, but you can still come out ahead if you always check out the item carefully, including plugging in those electrical appliances to check them out before you buy.

    Sorry to get so wound up, but I am very passionate about this subject and firmly believe that everyone should be as self sufficent as possible (I’m almost 70 years old & still work part time). This allows you to be in charge of your own health & works wonders for your financial health.

  3. Anonymous

    Pickles can’t be that hard. We were successful last year, and they were the first thing we had ever canned ourselves.

    We did 2 kinds of dill, one batch of bread-and-butter and 1 batch of sweet relish. All were done with the water bath canning.

  4. Anonymous

    Gardens are great! This is the first year that my wife and I have expanded our meager garden to our entire back yard, save a little wiggle room. And what did it all cost? Well… let’s see: $200+ in landscape timbers (a garden should look good too); $400 for a chest freezer; unrecorded amounts for canning jars and miscellaneous whatever; $200 for a small tiller (actually bought that last year); $60 for a peach, plum and apple tree. We bought these last year too, but this year we realized that the apple and plum need another apple and plum before they’ll produce fruit. And what did I say about wiggle room? Well, maybe our neighbor would like tree or two?

    So all-in-all, there was a fair amount of money spent but the yield was fantastic not to mention the fun of toiling barefoot in the dirt in the hot summer sun. No, I am not being sarcastic; it is truly a great experience, one that I look forward to continuing. I mean it’s not just about the money savings, I don’t believe we’ve realized that part yet, it’s also about being at one with nature (that didn’t sound corning did it?).

  5. Anonymous

    I wish this excess my issue. I spent $31 on potting soil, 2 tomato plants, organic bug spray and a couple hours. I got a free 1/2 barrel to plant in, put it in the sunniest part of our SMALL urban yard and it gets only 5 hours of sun. I watered every day that it didn’t get significant rain.

    This year’s yield: 1 tomato. It’s my $31 tomato, is almost ripe and it better be the best tomato I’ve ever tasted.

  6. Anonymous

    this is timely – i’m making pesto tonight to freeze, and the tomatos are just getting ripe here.

    Some homemade preserves are a lot cheaper than storebought stuff (pesto is definitely one – and basil is pretty forgiving). Some of it is just lots, lots better. I’ve cut back on my canning the last few years but there are a few things I just won’t give up.

  7. Anonymous

    For two years now, we’ve been canning California Peach Chutney using the peaches from my friend Jenny’s peach tree in July. The peaches ripen all at once and are incredibly juicy and delicious. 2009 Peach Chutney yield: 35 ½ pts and 7 pts, for a total of 49 cups. Wonderful gifts. I posted a photo on facebook, but don’t know how to share it in a comment.

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