May 2017
Homeplace & Community

Spring Means Planting Time

And Time to Think About Preserving Your Harvest

 

Angela Treadaway with some of the vegetables she grew last year in her raised bed gardens.

 It’s almost gardening time. Many horticulturist grandmothers and grandfathers used to or still plant a thriving garden. The safest time to start your summer garden is in April after the fear of the last frost, usually on Good Friday. I don’t know when the exact time to plant would be but I know I can’t wait to get my raised beds ready. I have already started preparing the ground, amending the soil from my winter veggies such as cabbage, kale and spinach that are hardier to cold weather. I have had raised beds for about five years now and have been really happy with the results. As you can see from my picture, last year we had plenty.

Growing your own vegetables in a raised bed or a container garden is the way to go if you have limited space. In a raised bed or container, you can control many things such as the soil type, moisture, weeds, bending over and breaking your back, pests and so many other things. You can produce enough to feed your family. If you have enough room to have a couple of raised beds, you could grow enough to preserve for later in the year when fruits and veggies are not at their peak.

Whether you grow your own or possibly buy from the many farmers markets, you need to preserve it in some manner as soon as possible because soon after it is harvested it will begin to spoil or ripen. The main methods of food preservation are canning, freezing and drying. Preserving food at home means having:

 

CANNING

Canning is the process in which foods are placed in jars and heated to a temperature to destroy microorganisms and inactivate enzymes. This heating and later cooling forms a vacuum seal. The vacuum seal prevents other microorganisms from recontaminating the food within the jar. High-acid foods such as fruits and tomatoes can be processed or canned in boiling water; low-acid foods such as vegetables and meats must be processed in a pressure canner at 240 degrees (10 pounds pressure for a certain amount of time).

Pickling is another form of canning. Pickled products have an increased acidity that makes it difficult for most bacteria to grow. Pickled products are also heated in jars at boiling temperatures to destroy any other microorganisms present and to form a vacuum in the jar.

Jams and Jellies have very high sugar contents. The sugar binds with the liquid, making it difficult for microorganisms to grow. To prevent surface contamination after the product is made and possible yeast or mold growth, jams and jellies are canned, frozen or refrigerated.

 

FREEZING

Freezing reduces the temperature of the food so microorganisms cannot grow, yet some may still live. Enzyme activity is slowed down but not stopped during freezing.

Enzymes in Vegetables must be inactivated by blanching in order to prevent loss of color, flavor and nutrients. The vegetable is exposed to boiling water or steam for a specified time and then quickly cooled in ice water to prevent cooking. Blanching also helps to destroy microorganisms on the surface of the vegetable.

Enzymes in Fruits can cause browning and loss of vitamin C, and are controlled by the addition of ascorbic acid. While peeling, place the fruit in a solution of water and ascorbic acid.

 

DRYING

Drying removes most of the moisture from foods. Thus microorganisms cannot grow and enzyme action is slowed down. Dried foods should be stored in airtight containers to prevent moisture from rehydrating the products and allowing microbial growth.

 

If you are interested in learning more about how to make your own raised bed and food preservation basics, contact your local county Extension office or go to our website at www.aces.edu and check out our publications.

Happy Planting and Preserving!!!

 

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.