Plan a garden for preservation well in advance
Do you grow your fruits and vegetables? Growing food can be a great joy. Bringing food from garden to plate can give you the instant reward of tasting your hard work in action. If you do not already, consider using part of next year’s edible garden space for food you will store. There is a new dimension to the joy of harvesting when you participate in the preservation of the food you grow. Opening a pantry in the depths of winter to find a jar of your own food can be a special treat. The taste of this summer’s jam in the middle of January can brighten the spirits of any gardener.
Even if you do not know a thing about food preservation, you will soon realize that planning a vegetable garden for canning or freezing is different than a garden for fresh produce. Production gardens, with an eye for storage, can take a little bit of time and research. The lettuce in my salad and the tomato that I enjoy on my sandwiches in the summer months simply won’t keep.
There are a number of choices in any garden plan, but here are a few things about your variety selections to consider:
Pest resistance: Preservation methods slow the growth of bacteria and fungus but cannot completely stop it. It is important that food selected for preservation be free from all defects. Planting varieties with resistance to common pests will help ensure fruits and vegetables that can be put up. Using resistant varieties will also reduce or remove the need to use pesticides to ensure unblemished produce.
Ripening: Choose a cultivar that tends to ripen all at once, rather than over the entire season. Avoid succession planting. This will allow you to can or freeze similarly-sized fruits and vegetables in large batches. Bear in mind that some preservation processes will require you to harvest when the produce is slightly under-ripe.
Heat-tolerance: Flavors and textures change when subjected to heat processes. Many garden plants have cultivars that are more suitable for canning than others. For example, choose pie cherries, sauce apples, prune plums, or paste tomatoes over those for table or fresh use.
Timing: Most cultivars will indicate whether the plant tends to be “early season,” “mid-season” or “late season.” The time to maturity should be noted, as well. Use this as a guide to help you determine ideal planting times for your varieties.
It is a good idea to plan a garden for preservation well in advance. Research your preservation needs: Read your recipes and instructions thoroughly as a part of your garden planning. Try to space out the harvesting times so that you will have time to process the fruit of your labor. Nothing is more heartbreaking than having buckets of food and no time! Take into consideration your resources, so that you’re not overwhelmed when the harvest comes.
Wendy Wolpert is an OSU Extension Master Gardener volunteer.