With the gardening season on the horizon, it is important you think about what you are going to do with the bountiful crops you harvest this fall. Most gardeners have been pleasantly surprised to discover there plants produce far more fruits and veggies than they could ever actually eat fresh. Although the stuff you grow in your garden is typically mouth-watering good, it tastes best fresh. When you are harvesting oodles of berries, peas and beans in a single day, you only have a few short days to eat it all before the produce starts to lose some of the rich flavors and crispness that makes them so good. You need to be prepared to preserve your garden’s bounty.
There are three main methods prepper’s prefer, but there is also a third we will discuss.
Home-canning is something your granny probably did. Maybe she had a pantry filled with all kinds of fruits and veggies that she canned herself. Back then, that was normal. In today’s world, it is a bit of a rarity. People tend to favor the commercially-prepared, easy-to-grab cans of food from the market rather than spend the time growing and preserving their own food. A prepper knows the value of home-canning. You will save money on your food preps and take comfort knowing your family is eating food you hand-picked and prepared with love and care.
Canning requires some basic tools. You can get everything you need for under $100 if you bargain shop and don’t mind buying used jars. Used jars, canners and other equipment are perfectly capable of being used as long as you inspect the pieces to make sure they are all in good working order.
Things you will need to can at home include;
- Pressure canner
- Jars, lids, bands
- Jar tongs
- Jar funnel (not required, but makes life easier)
If you have never canned before, think about taking a class at your local college or co-op. Home-canning is typically safe, if you know what you are doing. It is very possible to do it wrong and end up creating a deadly jar of peas.
Pickling is the practice of preserving food by anaerobic fermentation in brine or vinegar. The resulting product is called a pickle. This process gives the food an unique twist in flavor. In East Asia, vinaigrette (vinegar and oil) is utilized as the pickling medium.
Another distinguishing characteristic is a pH 4.6 or lower, which is adequate to kill most bacteria. Pickling can preserve perishable foods for months. Antimicrobial spices and herbs, such as mustard seed, garlic, cinnamon or cloves, are often added. If the food contains enough moisture, a pickling brine can be produced simply by adding dry salt. For instance, German sauerkraut and Korean kimchi are created by salting the vegetables to extract out excessive water. Natural fermentation at room temperature, by lactic acid bacteria, creates the required acidity. Other pickles are made by putting vegetables in vinegar. Unlike the canning process, pickling (this includes fermentation) does not require that the food be completely sterile before it is sealed. The acidity or salinity of the solution, the temperature of fermentation, and the exclusion of oxygen determine which microorganisms dominate, and determine the flavor of the end product.
This is an old favorite that has been around for centuries. Drying food removes about 90 percent of the moisture from the food, which is what causes it to spoil. Without moisture, you can put meat, fruits and veggies on your shelf and let it sit for years, when stored properly. There are a couple of different methods to drying food.
A dehydrator is probably the most common and easiest method used today. You simply slice up your food, put it on the trays of the dehydrator and let the machine do its thing. Within about 6 hours, your food is ready to be packed away for storage. You can make fruit leathers, which are a favorite for the kids and are perfect for storing in your bug out bags.
Some people use an oven to dry their food, which is fine, but a little more labor intensive. You will need to monitor the food closely. Ideally, for food to dehydrate properly, it needs to be done with low heat over a period of time. Most ovens do not go much lower than 175 degrees, which is too hot to properly dehydrate food. You would need to leave the oven door open and turn your food items regularly.
The sun is an old tried and true method. However, the sun drying method only works if there is a full day of hot sun in the summer. You would not be able to dry your crops on a cool fall day when many items are harvested. You will want to construct a solar dryer to protect your drying food from pests and debris falling onto it during the drying process. This process can take a full day, sometimes two depending on the heat of the sun and the thickness of the food you are drying.
Drying food is a bit of an art. You will want to spend some time practicing today, so you are not trying to learn the ropes when you actually need it. Learn what a properly dried piece of food looks and feels like. Storing food that isn’t dry enough will result in it molding and ultimately ruining that particular supply. You will quickly be able to tell what is safe to put in storage and what needs a little more time as you perfect your dehydrating skill.
Freezing meats, fruits and vegetables is certainly an option and often a favorite because the food is as close to fresh as possible. However, if you are preparing to ride out a SHTF situation, the likelihood you will have electricity to keep your freezer running and your food preserved is pretty slim. All that food you put in the freezer would have to be eaten quickly or it goes to waste. If the disaster happens in the middle of the summer, you could feasibly dry the food in the sun, but if disaster strikes any of the other 10 months out of the year, you have a freezer full of food that will go to waste.
You would do yourself a big favor by freezing about 20 to 25 percent of your harvest and choosing one of the above methods for the remaining preservation. You simply cannot afford to risk losing a lot of food because the power goes out. Even if you have a generator, an extended disaster could make it difficult for you to obtain the fuel needed to run the generator.
Preserving the food your grow is an excellent training opportunity. If and when disaster does strike, you will need to be able to preserve the food you grow to carry you through the long winters when there are not any grocery stores around. Home preservation is a skill you will want to teach your children so they will be familiar with it when they grow up and have their own families.