Planting a garden can yield great rewards – a homegrown tomato always trumps the ones sold in large grocery store chains – but it can lead to excessive amounts of produce.
Gardeners can very well find themselves up to their necks in tomatoes.
Desaree Jimenez, Family and Consumer Sciences/4-H Agent at the Los Alamos Cooperative Extension Service, said there are many ways to enjoy all the fruits and vegetables a garden produces without letting any of it spoil.
Some of the options are water bath and pressure canning, dehydration, and freezing. Which option is chosen depends on space, equipment, and the type of food that needs to be preserved.
“Equipment, personal preference, and how much work you want to do should be considered,” Jimenez said.
“The easiest,” Jimenez said, “is freezing.
This is appropriate for foods with lower water content, but not for foods such as watermelon.”
Fruits and vegetables need to be blanched prior to packing in order to kill pathogens and inactivate enzymes that hasten food spoilage. To ensure the use of the earlier-packed foods first, Jimenez recommends labeling items with the date frozen and later noting containers removed from the freezer. Frozen food generally has a shelf life of six to twelve months, after which it is still edible, but its quality decreases. She recommends putting older frozen food in the front and placing the newer additions in the back. Save room by laying items flat and stacking them.
If you choose to can your produce, Jimenez recommends starting with jams and jellies as well as fruits with high acidity, which kills bacteria. She discourages people from canning low acidity foods such as mashed potatoes, pumpkin, and red chile. In addition to preventing bacterial growth, it is necessary to destroy spores than can later release a toxin. Therefore, canning must be done at a sufficiently high temperature for sufficient time to kill spores.
The options for canning are a hot water bath or a pressure canner. Both require an initial investment for the appropriate vessel, a rack, jars, lids, rings, and a jar lifter. The only items not reusable are the rings. Pressure canning equipment is more expensive, but the equipment will last a long time, with occasional replacement of some parts such as gaskets. You can save on your initial investment by purchasing canning kits.
For dehydrating food, Jimenez said there are a number of things you can use from an oven to special food dehydrators. She added that she has known people who have dehydrated food in the back of their cars.
Before pursuing any of these options, Jimenez recommends getting educated.
The NMSU Cooperative Extension Office has a lot of information on its website, https://aces.nmsu.edu/. Additionally, Cooperative Extension Offices across the state are offering short videos on food preservation on YouTube. The USDA is another good source, she said.
Wherever people turn to for information, Jimenez said it is important that the source is credible.
“Make sure they use a reliable source with researched back information,” she said.