Hello fellow homesteaders, I’m Chelsea, and I’d like to welcome you to the Little Mountain Ranch, where we embrace the values of self-sufficiency, grow our own produce, and preserve the bounties of our gardens. Food preservation has become an essential skill for us, ensuring we have access to nutritious and delicious food all year round. If you’re just starting your journey into homesteading and food preservation, I’m here to share some beginner-friendly tips that have proven invaluable on our own Little Mountain Ranch.
Harvest at the Peak of Freshness
One of the secrets to successful food preservation starts long before you even think about canning or freezing. It all begins with harvesting your produce at the peak of freshness. Whether it’s the vibrant red tomatoes from your garden, or the fragrant herbs you’ve nurtured with care, the timing of the harvest can make all the difference in flavor and shelf life.
Why it matters: Picking fruits and vegetables at their prime ensures you capture the most flavor and nutrients. Overripe or underripe produce might not store as well and may lack the fullness of flavor you desire.
For example, tomatoes should be picked when they are firm and fully colored, but not overly ripe. Herbs, on the other hand, are best harvested just before they flower for the most robust flavor. I want to add here that life can get busy, especially during the summer when the harvest is coming in, and I don’t always have time to get things out of the garden at the peak ripeness, and that’s ok! Late is better than never and as long as it’s harvested before it rots on the vine, it will still can, freeze or be eaten fresh just fine.
Choose the Right Preservation Method
Once you’ve harvested your garden’s treasures, it’s time to select the right preservation method. There are several ways to go about this, and each has its unique advantages. Here are a few options to consider:
Canning is an excellent method to preserve fruits, vegetables, and even homemade sauces. It involves sealing your produce in airtight jars to prevent spoilage and maintain freshness. It’s a great way to store items like jams, pickles, and tomatoes and my preferred method of preserving.
Tip: Follow proper canning techniques, including cleaning your jars, lids and even the rings and using the correct canning times and pressure if your pressure canning for different foods. It’s also important to inspect your jars for any signs of spoilage before consumption.
Freezing is a convenient and beginner-friendly option for preserving a wide range of produce, such as berries, peas, and corn. To maintain the quality of your frozen goods, it’s essential to blanch most vegetables before freezing and use proper freezer-safe containers. I freeze peppers, celery and onions without blanching, but most other veggies require it for optimal flavour and colour. Blanching requires 2-3 minutes in boiling water and then straight into ice water until cooled completely. To avoid everything freezing into one big mass, dry your veg as best you can, lay on parchment-lined cookie sheets and flash freeze before bagging or vacuum sealing.
Tip: Invest in a good vacuum sealer to keep your items fresh and free from freezer burn. Label and date your frozen packages to ensure you use the oldest items first.
Drying is a great way to preserve herbs, fruits, and vegetables. You can use a dehydrator or simply air dry your harvest. Dried produce takes up less space and can last for months or even years when stored correctly.
Tip: Store your dried items in airtight containers away from direct sunlight and moisture. Check for any signs of moisture or mould growth.
Storage and Organization
Proper storage and organization are vital for a successful food preservation system. I am terrible at labelling during the height of the preservation season, but I can attest to how wonderful it is to walk into my pantry and see everything neatly labelled. My husband is the organized one on this team and keeps our pantry labelled and items dated. rotating stock, and keeping an inventory of our preserved goods makes restocking so much easier. Here’s how you can keep your preserved food in tip-top shape:
Label Everything: Use a permanent marker or labels to clearly mark the contents and the date of preservation on each jar, bag, or container. This prevents confusion and helps you use older items before newer ones.
Rotation: Adopt a “first in, first out” system to ensure you consume the oldest preserved food first. This helps prevent food waste by using items before they reach their expiration date.
Inventory: Create an inventory list of your preserved items. This makes it easy to see what you have on hand, what’s running low, and what needs to be preserved in the coming season.
We’ve also found it helpful to maintain a designated storage area for our preserved goods, such as a cool, dark pantry or cellar. Proper storage conditions are essential for extending the shelf life of your preserved food.
Food preservation is an essential skill for homesteaders on a journey towards self-sufficiency. By harvesting at the peak of freshness, choosing the right preservation method, and practicing proper storage and organization, you can enjoy the flavors of your garden year-round. So, whether you’re a seasoned homesteader or just starting out, remember that we are always here to offer advice and share our experiences.
For more valuable tips on homesteading, gardening, and food preservation, explore our Youtube Channel and join the growing community of self-sufficient living enthusiasts.
Lots of love,