Make a plan for preserving your garden’s bounty

Spring is the perfect time to start planning to preserve some of the fresh produce you grow at home.

Part of your gardening plan should include what to do with all the fresh produce your garden yields. Preparing fresh produce for meals, making fresh salads, using it in sandwiches and offering crudités for meals and snacks are all great ways to use that fresh produce. However, sometimes there’s just too much to use when everything gets ripe at the same. Selling it at a farmers market or giving it away to family and friends are two options, but preserving it for later use is another great way to use all the produce. 

Some produce such as lettuce can only be used when it is fresh. However, the majority of fresh fruits and vegetables can be preserved. Your plan might include freezing, canning, or drying your harvest for meals in the colder months. 

If you have freezer space available such as an upright or chest freezer, freezing your extra produce is a great option. Pick up freezer quality bags or freezer plastic containers to have available when produce is ready. 

An advantage to canning produce is the ability to store the jars without taking up freezer space. Choose a cool dry place to store them. Canning equipment requires an investment in jars, lids, rings, a jar lifter, and a water bath canner and/or a pressure canner depending on which produce you are planning on preserving. Pressure canners with a dial gauge should be checked for accuracy on an annual basis. 

Dehydrating fresh produce is another way to keep your produce especially if you don’t have a lot of storage space. Dehydrating can be done in a dehydrator or in an oven. Sun drying is not recommended for Michigan due to the humidity during the summer. A food dehydrator can be purchased for less than $100.00 and many times you can find used dehydrators at garage sales. Choose a dehydrator with a thermostat that allows you to choose between several numerical temperatures instead of just low, medium or high. 

Michigan State University Extension has many resources to assist with preserving fresh produce. Michigan Fresh offers fact sheets on how to preserve a number of types of fresh fruits and vegetables. In addition, there is an online food preservation course available for a small fee.  

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