Food preservation is always key and central to our summertime gardening efforts. As new urban and rural homesteaders soon come to realize, all our produce of a common kind mature at near the same time. Clearly, the summer-long sweat of our brow isn’t worth a mere week or two of eating an over-abundant supply of fresh fruit or vegetables. It’s simply too much in too short a window of time. Food preservation comes roaring in, second in priority and right on the heels of gardening’s first priority, which is learning how to plant a garden in the first place. I’d truly encourage others to do what I did which is to take a rather in-depth food preservation course. I took a 30 hour certification class through Cornell University’s cooperative education extension office. Fabulous class that was. Once I realized that I didn’t just need to be a ‘canner’ to preserve my food, my confidence grew enormously. Now, I do indeed can extensively and learned how to both hot water and pressure can in the course. But, what I also learned is the power of freezing, drying, smoking, curing and fermenting, as well. Once you begin to understand that you can preserve a huge swath of your vegetables without spending six hours in the kitchen doing a ‘canning’ exercise, it removes the sense of failure to preserve your harvest due to ‘no time’ to preserve. If, for example I have a huge amount of tomatoes, I can hot water bath can them, freeze them OR dry them. I just got a ton of beans. I will likely dry these versus pressure can them due to the ease of drying. I quickly became very fond of drying for many reasons. First, it is very simple to do with a little food dehydrator. Second, it doesn’t really ‘take over’ the kitchen. Third, the dried veges store for the greatest length of time and keep food preserved at the highest quality of all preservation methods (dried veges in a cold dark place can last ten years). Fourth, the dried foods compact to such a small size, then expand again upon rehydration, they take up a much smaller amount of space (non-electricity dependant like a freezer) for the same sized product stored in other forms. Last, (fifth) – because I do a great deal of soups in summer, fall, winter and spring, using the dried onions, beans, carrots, leeks, etc. all do exceptionally well rehydrating from dried form. You can also make little dried bags of these veges with a simple bouillion cube thrown in and have camping meals in the form of pre-made soup mix, no problem. Yes indeed, these end up being the sample ‘survival’ food kits you’ve now made on your own that people pay hundreds if not thousands of dollars for on prepper sites. Now I am not a prepper. I simply save the high yield of vegetables in my garden so I can use them all year round and have learned what every other ancient civilization has done and that includes squirrels — they save their harvest to carry them through their winters. Now that is not really that groundbreaking is it? Nor is it difficult. In fact, it’s highly rewarding and cuts down on grocery bills tremendously. So, our farm’s advice for new urban and/or rural homesteaders is right after plotting your garden and buying your seeds in your first year, go take a food preservation class or pick up a good book on the subject that covers all the various forms of food preservation. It will truly open your eyes and imagination to the possibilities in front of you that removes stress, gives you ample ‘options’ based on the time you have in a given week and unleashes your efforts even on a 1/4 acre plot of land. You can raise so much more food yourself than you may even imagine and it can last you all year long.
~ Lori Davis