May 2018
Homeplace & Community

How to Garden With Preserving in Mind

Feeding your family throughout the year from your own yard can be fun and rewarding.

Vegetable gardening can be fun, rewarding and save some food dollars, but can be expensive if you do not put some planning into it. There is a humorous book by William Alexander titled, "The $64 Tomato," that discusses one man’s quest for the perfect garden and how it ended up costing him $64 per tomato (among other things). This figure is the result of the input costs associated with gardening. The costs can add up quickly, even for a small garden. The trick is to limit the costs while maximizing the yield.

Saving money is not the only benefit of growing your own vegetables, either. There are many more such as food safety and security (knowing what soil, pesticides, fertilizer, etc. vegetables are grown in), and knowing how the vegetables are handled while they are growing and harvested because you are the only one handling them. Another thing is the great physical exercise as well as gaining more self-confidence because you were able to plant, nurture and grow some fantastic-looking tomatoes, corn, okra, squash, etc. and providing your family nutritious meals.

How could you get much fresher than your own backyard?


Garden Primer

The basic ingredients for a successful vegetable garden are adequate sun; rich, balanced soil; and sufficient water. Knowledge of suitable vegetable choices for your growing zone, orientation of the garden, drainage, proper planting and maintenance all contribute to a bountiful harvest.

Here are some tips for growing your own vegetables that can save some money on a few grocery bills:

Start with a plan – You need to do some research first and talk with your local county Extension agent who deals with home horticulture and pick up some vegetable-growing pamphlets. Decide what you want to grow and determine what will be necessary to be successful.

Plan the garden on paper first – Do you want raised beds or have enough land for an in-ground garden?

Whichever way, you will need to do a soil test first to see what is needed to supplement the soil for the best plants possible.

Soil test kits are available from your local County Extension office or your local Quality Co-op when you go to buy seeds and/or plants.

Select vegetables you like – This is simple. You are not likely to take care of or eat vegetables you do not like. Do not waste your time or money planting them in the garden. When deciding what to plant, consider the foods you regularly purchase that you can make at home. What is expensive to buy (i.e., fresh fruit), easy to grow in your area and your family favorites?

Start small – Like many things, gardening takes practice. Plants will require regular watering, maintenance and harvesting. Growing many, different vegetables in a large garden can be overwhelming for new gardeners and can ultimately lead to failure.

You will need to plan according to the full size of the vegetable plants. For instance, you need to allow more room for a squash plant to spread out than a pepper or tomato plant.

You might also want to plant your vegetables at different times, called succession planting, so not everything comes in at the same time.

Limit yourself to just a few types of vegetables the first year. When you become more confident in your abilities and resources, increase the size of the vegetable garden and grow a wider variety of crops.


Best Vegetables for Canning

Canning is the process of packing vegetables in a glass jar and sealing them with lids to ensure no bacterial growth is possible inside of the jar. This is a very popular and effective method of preserving vegetables. Although it is most often used in the average home for canning jams and pickles.

If you have any questions about whether a vegetable is suitable for canning, simply look at the canned foods on a grocery store’s shelves. Most commercially canned foods can be easily replicated at home, meaning you could can these vegetables yourself: carrots, beans, peas, potatoes, asparagus, peppers, tomatoes, corn, winter squash, beets, pickled onions, pickled cucumbers and cabbage.

Some can be raw packed, with just boiling water poured over them, while other vegetables are better blanched before being canned. Tomatoes are an interesting choice because not only can you preserve them as whole blanched tomatoes and as pastes but can also create your own pasta sauces and can jars of delicious red bounty for enjoyment year-round.

Your local county Extension office has all kinds of information on safe canning methods. Visit any state Extension or the National Center for Home Food Preservation website to find recipes and techniques for home canning and preserving. When canning vegetables, please be careful to use safe, tested recipes from these websites because of the fear of botulism that can grow very well in improperly home-canned vegetables.


Best Vegetables for Freezing

Freezing a good portion of the harvest is also an excellent choice, especially if you have the extra freezer space. Many gardeners purchase second … and third … freezers for the sole purpose of storing their food reserves! Here are some of the best vegetables for freezing: broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, spinach, carrots, corn, winter and summer squash, onions, asparagus, peas, artichokes, Brussels sprouts, eggplant and mushrooms.

Tomatoes are best stored in the freezer if they have already been processed. This means fresh whole tomatoes could succumb to freezer burn, but pasta sauces, purees and pastes should store just fine in the freezer for up to six months. It is often easier to freeze sauces, purees and pastes in ice trays first. Once the blocks have frozen solid, pop them out and store in dated and labeled freezer bags. This will let you simply take out the exact amount you need when cooking.

This method is also useful for freezing eggs and foods such as vegetable stock or other sauces.


Angela Treadaway is a Regional Extension Agent in Food Safety. For any questions on food safety or preparation of vegetables, contact her at 205-410-3696 or your local county Extension office.