Even though summer heat is slowly fading, we won’t easily forget this past spring and summer, which brought abundant moisture along with hail, tornadoes and plant havoc. The good news is that fall is the time to wind down, reflect on the summer growing season, enjoy the harvest and transition to fall.
Let’s not mention frost — but keep it in the back of your mind.
This month focuses on vegetable harvesting and preserving what you can for fall and winter eats. There’s still time to put in new perennials and divide plants for next season’s blooms. Shop for deals on trees and shrubs but get them in the ground yesterday, without delay.
Preserve the harvest
Planning a well-stocked freezer and pantry of home-grown fruits and vegetables means some work now, but oh how happy you’ll be enjoying home-preserved peaches, herbs or tomatoes later when a foot of snow arrives and you don’t have to drive to the store. If your crops got hailed out or were less bountiful, purchase locally grown food at grocery stores, farmers markets, community-supported agricultural programs or farm shares, then choose the preservation methods of choice.
There are several methods of “putting up”: freezing, canning, drying, fermenting, pickling and dry storage. If you lack the preservation skills and experience, there are helpful websites to help; see the resource links below for more in-depth information.
Most important, harvest your fruits, herbs and vegetables at their peak and toss or compost any that are damaged, bruised, over- or under-ripe. If the fruit or vegetable doesn’t taste good after harvest, the flavor won’t improve when preserved.
Freezing vegetables is super quick and easy. The general rule prior to freezing vegetables is to blanch first, which means briefly immersing washed vegetables in water that’s at a rolling boil. Blanching helps prevent loss of color, texture and flavor. Times vary per vegetable. Once done, plunge into cold water to immediately stop the blanching process, drain and place in freezer bags.
Vegetables that can be blanched and then frozen include beans (green, snap, wax, lima, butter, pinto), cauliflower, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, peas, carrots, kohlrabi, rhubarb, summer squash, sweet corn, tomatoes, and peppers. Be sure to fully cook beets, pumpkins, winter squash and sweet potatoes before freezing.
Vegetables that don’t freeze well include cabbage, cucumbers, watermelon, celery, cress, endive, lettuce, parsley and radish.
Freezing fresh fruits: Wash, stem, dry and freeze on cookie sheets first, then store into freezer bags: blueberries, blackberries, huckleberries, elderberries, gooseberries, strawberries, raspberries, currants and rhubarb (which technically a vegetable, used as fruit).
Drying or dehydrating removes the moisture from food so that bacteria, yeast and mold won’t grow. Food dehydration equipment and ovens are most often used. The produce that dries well includes apples, peaches, pears, tomatoes, grapes, plums and herbs.
Pickling means fruits or vegetables are preserved in vinegar or brine. Add more flavor by including spices, herbs or sugar. Commonly pickled foods include cucumbers, peppers, green beans, onions, okra, and radish. Watermelon, peaches and nectarines can also be pickled.
Fermentation: Fruits or vegetables are cured in a salt or water brine for a week or longer. No vinegar is added, which helps the food produce lactic acid, preserving the food and acting as a probiotic.
Water bath canning food is the age-old method of preserving home-grown crops. The goal is to force air out of the jar (can) and create an environment to keep out bacteria. Additional boiling time needs to be added for high altitudes. Increase processing time by one minute for each 1,000 feet above sea level if processing time at sea level is 20 minutes or less. If it’s more than 20 minutes, increase by two minutes per 1,000 feet.
Water bath canning is for high-acid foods, including tomatoes, pickles, sauerkraut, peaches, pears, apricots, plums, lemons, gooseberries and blackberries.
Steam pressure canning: A steam pressure heavy kettle with lid, safety valve, vent and pressure gauge is used to process low-acid foods to a temperature of 240 degrees. Low-acid foods include okra, carrots, beets, turnips, green beans, asparagus, lima beans, peas and corn.
Dry storage requires using an area in the house that remains cool but doesn’t freeze. This works well for storing produce for several weeks. Root crops like potatoes, onions, shallots, garlic, pumpkins and winter squash store well in dry, cool conditions.
Food Preservation in Colorado
Storage of Home-Grown Vegetables
Colorado State University Preserve Smart
National Center for Home Food Preservation
Donate Extra Produce
Betty Cahill speaks and writes about gardening in the Rocky Mountain Region. Visit her site at http://gardenpunchlist.blogspot.com/ for even more gardening tips.
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