How do you decide which way to store what you have grown in your garden? For me, there is a thinking process to go through, often subconsciously, that I thought would be good for me to write down for future reference.
First, the methods of storage that are possible for me.
- Canning, water bath or pressure
- Drying, natural or with dehydrator
- Environmental control: cold pantry, dark corner, refrigerator
- In ground, to be dug later
Next, note which methods work best for what produce.
- Does it preserve taste and nutrition adequately?
- From which storage method am I most likely to use the produce?
- Can it be done at a rate that allows for enough of the item to be saved?
- How much space do I have to allot for the results of a particular method?
Here are some examples of my thinking on these points:
Freezing is preferred for green vegetables, but the space is limited. It is easy to use them right out of the freezer. I have decided that pressure canning is not worth the work for vegetables, since no one in the family really likes the taste or texture. Dehydrating is my second choice, partly because it is new to me and I am still learning about it, but partly because I find it takes longer than freezing for the same amount of produce. Also, I have to develop the habit of thinking of using the dehydrated vegetable, and it seems to take more time to make many of them edible, although I haven’t timed it. Except I know about green peas for sure. They seem to become very hard when dehydrated and I have yet to bring them back to “soft.”
Water bath canning seems to be the best option for most fruit and (pureed) tomatoes. We like the taste and texture and eat those peaches, pears, and applesauce regularly. The tomatoes go right into sauces and soups. Since fruit is generally not cooked to eat it, and is often a more casual lunch affair, it is hard to plan ahead to let it thaw if frozen. Dried fruit IS becoming more common at our house. The dried apricots have been much more popular than those I canned. Also, dried cherries are being eaten as snacks and in cooking, whereas the frozen cherries have been neglected. I like a few dried tomatoes for snacks, plus they give spaghetti sauce a nice flavor and consistency boost.
Though I have air dried a few things in the past, I have only been using a dehydrator for about three years. It has been useful to have the dehydrating option when I run out of freezer space. Storing dried goods is definitely space efficient. They shrink so much that they take up less room, and it is easy to find a suitable location to keep them. I do particularly like having dried carrots and zucchini to add to my cooking. The fruit leather is in high demand. I have added the step of vacuum sealing the dehydrated and frozen garden produce, which can be done in special plastic bags OR in regular canning jars. For some reason, I think the vacuum sealing process is quite fun and find myself giggling when I do it! I have been tempted to get another dehydrator in order to use this method more.
We were able to turn one of the basement rooms into a root cellar/cold pantry of sorts. It doesn’t stay quite as cold as is recommended for a root cellar, but things I put down there do last longer than up in the kitchen. There is only so much room in the refrigerator, and the shelves in the cold pantry make it easy to find items. We just have to remember what is down there and not put off going to get things when we think of it. I think of it as an opportunity to do stair repeats! Potatoes, onions, lemons, and extra supplies of all sorts of kitchen staples are all kept in the cold pantry, so this storage method is for purchased groceries, too. I have an abundance of pumpkins down there, which I am finding make an excellent substitute for sweet potatoes in the menu. And I store my seeds in this cold pantry.
One of my friends leaves her carrots in the ground under a layer of insulating straw and fabric that makes it easy to remove snow. She has limited indoor storage space. I have never quite gotten this done, but I do leave the potatoes and carrots in the ground until the last possible moment. Then, they go in the cold pantry. The leeks and onions can be a little easier for me to get from the frozen ground, but I really want to dehydrate some because it is SO easy to use them that way!
And lastly, I just fermented cabbage (into sauerkraut) for the first time this year. Now, it is being held in the refrigerator, since I only made 5 pints and we’re already down to 3 pints. I am inspired to research larger sauerkraut crocks for next year.
So, as I review all of this, I notice two things. One, I am constantly learning more about my methods of crop storage and new options. And two, even if I have guidelines, they will be adjusted based on harvest results and schedule for any given year. I recommend two books along these lines. Preserving Summer’s Bounty, a Rodale Garden Book, covers several methods for processing and saving the harvest. Root Cellaring, by Mike and Nancy Bubel, discusses many variations of the idea of root cellar storage. But, I also recommend that each gardener enjoy what they can get stored and not worry about the rest.