With spring here and summer fast approaching, growing a vegetable garden for self-sustenance is one of the best things you can do on your own or with your family. With your own home-grown produce, you can be sure of what goes into your food.
But what to do with the excess food from your produce? Can them! Canning is one of the methods that you can use to preserve food. By canning your food, you can preserve them for later consumption and eliminate waste.
Here are some vegetables you can grow around or inside your home that can also be preserved after harvesting.
Asparagus, a spring vegetable, is related to onions and garlic. While native to Europe, any region with cool winters won’t have a problem growing asparagus. Although they’re hardy plants, one thing to note about asparagus is it takes a bit of time before you can harvest them for canning—2 years for a light harvest, and 3 for a full one. But this pays off eventually because they can be productive for at least a decade.
Beets are one of the most popular products for preserving. They’re tasty and quite easy to grow on your own. So easy, in fact, that you can even grow them inside your house.
Beets thrive during the cool seasons of spring and fall, or in winter if you’re further down south. Soft soil free of obstacles and debris (like rocks and roots from larger trees) work best, even sandy soil. After planting them, they’ll be ready for harvest in eight weeks.
There are many kinds of cabbages to choose from, so it won’t be difficult finding one that will suit your garden and your needs. Cabbages are very easy to grow (although you have to watch out for pests that feed on their leaves) and ready for harvest in two to three months, depending on the type of cabbage.
After harvesting your cabbages, you can turn them into sauerkraut to preserve them, or freeze or dehydrate them.
While the orange carrot is the most recognizable kind for most people, there are other kinds (Danvers, Purple, Nantes, White, and more.) that you can grow that will suit the soil and environment that you’re in. Whether you have shallow, deep, packed or loose soil, chances are there’s a carrot to suit your garden.
Like beets, carrots also favor cool weather and thrive under the sun. While it may take up to four months for carrots to mature, some types can be harvested in less than three months. After harvesting, carrots can be canned in a variety of ways.
While trickier to grow and, on its own, not a very substantial source of energy, celery can provide flavor to dishes and can be canned with other produce (like tomatoes).
While celery is usually heavily reliant on water and likes fertile soil, there are cultivars that will be able to grow with what you have in hand, making this vegetable a year-round crop.
If you want to plant your own corn, be warned that they can be very picky when it comes to where they want to grow and the conditions around them. They’re also vulnerable to common pests and demand consistent soil moisture.
What’s good about corn, though, is it can be harvested in as little as two months (depending on the variety). But be mindful of the harvest time for the variety that you have, since corn can be very strict when it comes to its optimal harvest time.
Freshly-harvested corn is the best kind of corn for canning. Aside from canning, corn can also be frozen to extend its shelf life.
Another cool-season vegetable that you can plant during the spring or fall, lettuce can be canned for its leaves. There are many types of lettuce, but overall, they can be hardy plants and quick to grow and harvest. Most varieties can be harvested in less than two months, with second and even third harvests possible.
Properly stored, canned lettuce will last for at least a week or two without losing much of its moisture and crispiness.
With warmer days ahead, it’s the perfect time to plant peppers in time for a fall harvest. And even if you don’t have much space for a garden, peppers are hardy enough to be grown indoors!
Most pepper varieties prefer warm temperatures for them to grow. However, there are enough varieties out there for you to try and lengthen your harvest season.
With different kinds of peppers to choose from, from sweet to hot, they can bring flavor to your other dishes or you can eat them on their own. They’re also easy to can, whether pickled or unprocessed and can last for more than a year in storage.
Like corn, potatoes have become a staple food for many people and probably one of the most popular vegetables in the United States.
If you decide to grow your own potatoes, know that they are mostly cool-season (frost-free) plants, making them perfect for most of the northern parts of the country, but planting them during the fall or winter in warmer regions also works well.
However, when canning potatoes, take extra care when canning to avoid botulism. Don’t can potatoes using a hot water bath canner. When canning potatoes, use the pressure canning method instead.
With the thaw, pumpkins are also a good candidate for growing and canning. The ideal months to start growing pumpkins are May (or late June to July in warmer regions), or when you’re sure you will have a hundred days of frost-free weather.
Pumpkins will need rich, dry soil. They require lots of water but be careful when watering them during overcast days—dampness will make your pumpkin more susceptible to rot. They’re also voracious feeders, so fertilizing them on a regular basis is a must. Other than these and the usual maintenance against pests, pumpkins are fairly easy to grow.
Like potatoes, pumpkins are low-acid food and pressure canning is the only prescribed method for preserving them. After harvesting, carve, peel and cube your pumpkins and put them in a pot of water to boil. Transfer them to clean jars and use a pressure canner to seal them.
Botulism and other illnesses are real risks that you can encounter when canning, especially with low-acid foods such as vegetables. Remember to make sure that your canning environment as well as tools are clean and sterile.
If you’re just starting out with canning, start with smaller batches first until you get the hang of it, so you won’t end up with a large stock of bad food just in case.
For more information about safe canning check out the National Center for Home Food Preservation’s Canning Information page.