On a quick end to the canning season

Look at all that empty space!  It makes me so happy!

For the first time ever, I have all my major canning* done before 1 September.

And even more importantly, I have done less of it than in years past.  What is up with that?  Shouldn’t I be, you know, squirreling away as many canned goodies as I am able for the future?  The answer I am coming up with is “No, not necessarily.”

I suppose a bit of background needed for this seemingly contrary stand.  One, I have assessed with the years what it is exactly we eat out of the canned goods and have adjusted accordingly.  Pickles are virtually nonexistent, for one example, and I will never again can beet greens for myself, as I ate them only grudgingly.  Two, I began to do a lot more root cellaring of certain vegetables, but even that has waned in the last couple of years to just potatoes, apples and onions.  And three, most importantly, I am now growing food year-round.  And considering the nutritional superiority of fresh produce over the canned stuff, I feel less compelled to run to the basement for a jar than to grab a basket and go harvest something for dinner.

The majority of the jars you see on those shelves above, then, are convenience items needed to put together a quick meal.  The bottom shelf holds stocks and beans and bean soups.  The next shelf up holds salsas, chutneys, and mustards:  these will continue to be filled as I find the time.  All of the second shelf down from the top is tomatoes and tomato products, from juices on the left progressing to sauce to sauce with stuff to ratatouille and glut sauce to barbecue sauce and ketchup.  The top shelf is fruits to butters to jam.

And the holes in the shelves?  It’s not apple season yet so one of those shelves is destined to hold apple sauce.  And, hah, the bottom-most shelf is either going to hold bottles of home-bottled wine(!) or a rack for cheese-curing later this fall.  Whee!

*I only use a pressure canner, which is how I can get away with having chicken stock and bean salsas and the like. And, produce-wise, the freezer only holds fruits, chevre and meat now, no veggies at all.

23 responses to “On a quick end to the canning season

  1. El, this is exactly the post I wanted to read. This idea of how much of what does take some sussing out and, as usual, you’ve managed to do the leg work for many of us. This has been on my mind as i’ve looked at untouched jars from last year and am learning what actually does get eaten and what tends to gather dust.

  2. I feel like I’m at least a few years away from trying to go year-round on my garden, although the idea appeals to me. Next year, my challenges will be keeping more of the garden going through fall and seed saving. That being said, I have enjoyed reading people’s account of year-round garden, and I wonder how you keep the soil from getting depleted using this technique. Do you fallow half of it in the winter or something? Do you plant a cover-crop?

    I have about 1,000 square feet of beds, and ended up planting perhaps 75% of it last year. I harvested a lot, but nowhere near enough to say that it was too much. If I was to leave half the garden fallow each year, or plant a cover crop, it seems like I’d need twice as much space just to stay even.

    • Hi Joshua: quickly, with a few exceptions, most of the outdoor gardens are fallow for the winter. I mulch them very heavily (6-8″) with leaf much and compost though so I am unconcerned by depletion; every little thing I add really helps with the soils. Indoors in the greenhouses is another matter. I do worry about those soils because I do a lot of hose watering in the summer and that brings out the salts in the clay soils in there. So every time I change crops on the indoor beds, I pull out the old plants and then fork in a few inches of compost into them, let them rest a week or more, then replant/reseed. This has helped immensely but it requires I am, er, on top of things! And I have to be merciless and rip out, often, plants that are still actively producing.

  3. I am several years behind you on a lot of things, like figuring out what we really eat and what I need to grow, etc. This year’s garden was only my second, and I learned a lot from it. I am going to attempt a year round garden and have a half-assed system for making a giant cloche or green house cover for my raised beds.

    Last year I got twelve pounds of tomatillos off two plants and canned 32 half-pints of salsa verde, of which we still have more than half. I didn’t plant tomatillos this year, but did plant peppers, which I’m waiting to turn red so I can harvest and dry them. We managed to run out of home canned tomato sauce just as this year’s tomatoes started ripening, but I don’t think I’m going to get near as much sauce done this year because of the weather. Lesson learned: plant earlier varieties. I did do pickles, because we eat pickles, and I did do jam because, we eat jam. I froze green beans, but they’re weren’t enough for all winter. I grew them in with Three Sisters; next year I’ll grow a bunch by themselves. We like green beans.

    It’s unfortunately not cold enough in this part of Oregon for a root cellar, nor do I have a basement, so I haven’t figured out what to do about cold storage of stuff like potatoes and other roots. Onions got braided and they’ll go into the garage once it gets cold. The garage is really not the best place for food, though. Pumpkins will go on the floor under the benches on the north side of the kitchen, once they’re ready and harvested and cured.

    I think the answer really is year-round gardening. I sure hope I can make it work!

    • Paula,

      Regarding root cellaring, I haven’t done this personally, but one extreme solution that I have heard of is to acquire a broken chest freezer or refrigerator or anything like that, then bury it so that the lid is flush with the ground. Ideally, this would be done on the north side of the house, so it is shaded as much as possible, or some other area that gets shade.

      This requires a lot of labor unless you’ve got access to a backhoe, but I have read that it makes root cellaring possible even in areas where the ambient temperature is warmer than would otherwise be possible. My chest freezer is about 3′ deep, and you can imagine how cool the earth must be that far down, even if it’s 100 degrees outside.

      If you’re asking yourself where you can get a broken freezer, I suggest Craigslist.org. Just put an ad up, “WANTED: BROKEN CHEST FREEZER, $10, WILL HAUL AWAY.” There’s a pretty good chance you’ll get one.

  4. Hmmmm. I’m leaning toward more tomato products, but the tomatoes aren’t really cooperating. . .
    I’m not eating jam much lately, so I just need enough to keep the kids in PB&Js. It’s all a matter of learning and adjusting.

  5. That is what food security looks like.

  6. I’m trying to do the same things. It sure makes it cooler in my kitchen this time of year.

  7. Oooh, I love all your cans! How awesome!

  8. yep, no pickle here either. No more. Lots of fruit though as fresh fruit is the hardest to get fresh in the winter (and lots of frozen berries too this year).

    My canned good pantry occupies several small spaces. I love seeing yours all there. Make me rethink mine….

  9. Its definitely a process that takes a few years to figure out, and the end result is going to be different for every household. Plus some years you just have better harvests than others.

    I have to laugh at the pickle reference, this is the first year I’ve actually had any luck with my pickling cukes, and I’ve just been plugging away making small batches (3 or 4 jars) as I have fruit. No goals or point of reference to go on–and last week I realized I have 37 jars in my basement! Oops!

  10. This is the direction I am leaning towards, too. More fresh, more root cellar.

    Keeping records of canned/eaten or just spending some time thinking about eating habits id a good way to keep from getting gluts or running out.

    A pint of jam a week makes 52 pints. Do you need a pint every week? Even during fresh fruit and berry season?

    A pint or two of pickles a month?

    A quart of tomatoes a week?

    Then do the math.

  11. You grow food ALL YEAR LONG??? In Wisconson?? WOW!

  12. Me, I like pickles. But I absolutley agree about the wisdom of looking at what you actually eat in the way of canned goods, and want to eat. Sometimes I take the idea of “preserving” too far, need to remember I’m preserving “for the winter”, not “for posterity”!

    Even here in zone 4 it’s possible to harvest fresh through the winter, given the right greenhouse set-up, though perhaps not so abundantly as you can in your balmy 6B. Goes without saying that freshest is bestest!


  13. We moved from zone 4 to zone 7 this year, so I didn’t even have a garden! A tough thing all around, but I have big plans for next year and will do the prep work this fall, I’m so excited!

    As for preserving, I’ve found a great farm stand and made peach jam for the first time (mmmm). I plan to pickle beets and can tomatoes too. (Huge deals on tomatoes here!) I did bring my two gallons of wine-in-progress and can’t wait for it to be ready to bottle! It will be a nice treat after planting next spring!

  14. Do huckleberries grow in Michigan? If so, when will they be ripe? (is it too late!?) Where do they grow?

    New to Michigan and still learning a lot.

    • Good question, Mari. I believe they’re natives of the west coast and the PNW especially…kinda don’t think they’re Michigan crops unless someone’s brought them in and is growing them. I would go to localharvest.org and see if you can find some… Otherwise, red raspberries are ripening now! My absolute favorite berry, hand’s down. Don’t tell my blueberries, gooseberries, currants or lingonberries this though.

  15. I agree that one learns what the family eats over other things and if we have to eat through one more jar of pickles…lol. However, I cannot make enough Habanero Jelly even though those pepper plants produce enough to heat the state of Michigan for a month. We lived in Chetek Wisconsin for several years and I miss the gardening up north with the black soil. Currently we live in southern Missouri and there is nothing but red rocky clay soil, ick. The only answer is raised beds, except our Amish plow their fields and produce the best produce I’ve seen here. Another thing I miss from up north is the rasberries, bigger than your thumb. We can’t grow them down here, too hot I suppose. Thank you for all of your information, I’ll keeping up with them :o)

  16. El,
    I’m a fairly new reader so bear with me if you have already answered this question: Do you have a great ketchup recipe that you could share? I’ve tried several without the best success…..

  17. All: I think that everyone needs to figure out what works best for them and their own consumption patterns. For some, that might mean a lot more canning; others might like root cellaring, others year-round growing. From six solid years of doing the former two, the latter has turned out to work well for us the last three years, which means I rely less on cellaring and even less on canning. A good thing!

    Randi, well, years of lightbulb (duh!) moments have led me to these conclusions. All I can really say is “be flexible,” because as we know well our gardens or our other food ventures are flexible in themselves. But yeah, if it’s a great year for tomatoes, put away all you can!

    Joshua, well, year-round growing is also terribly fun for me as there’s no gardening here from January to March, period, what with the ground snow-covered and all, so…instead of relishing the break like a sensible person I am still out throwing dirt around and harvesting stuff. It’s what makes me happy as well as well-fed, frankly. Seed-saving is part of it all, as is succession-planting. With all of it, I don’t worry ahead of time for potential problems like soil depletion. If I spent any energy worrying about potential problems, frankly, I would be worried into inactivity! Not a good m.o.

    Paula, yeah, it’s a learning curve, whether it’s your second year or your 22nd. I think there’s a lot of interesting things you can figure out in lieu of a formal root cellar, though. Check out the Bubels’ Root Cellaring and Nancy Bubel’s Seed Starting because both book do a fabulous job of talking about the needs of plants, whether in storage or in growing needs. It’s just more ammunition, frankly, to keep your larder stocked.

    Stef, I hope it warms up just enough for you to get a huge supply of late September tomatoes. And jam. Me, I love the stuff; apricot jam atop chevre on toast = breakfast heaven!

    Joel, thanks! Full freezers help too.

    Hi Mom. Indeed! Though now it’s gotten cool and I don’t mind the hiss of the pressure canner…

    Thanks, Meems!

    Sylvie, I like having all the cans in one place. There’re places for everything according to the needs of the stuff I guess; our pantry is great for dried goods and unfortunately our fridge is where the cheese cures in the summer but when the temperature drops those hard cheeses (cheddar, colby, parmesan, blues, gouda) will move to the basement alongside these jars. More room for yogurt then in the fridge! And yeah I have the same problem in the winter too with no fresh fruit except apples and pears. That’s why I went nuts this year canning peaches. That yogurt loves peaches.

    Sara, this could mean you have given yourself a break from planting cucumbers next year…if that helps!

    et, exactamundo, great math. Some folks have a hard time with that, and yeah, others new to the idea of a pantry and home-cooking might either balk or overstock. It’s just something you need a couple of years/decent seasons to figure out, I guess.

    Patrice, my guru is a guy in Maine who grows stuff all year long; his name is Eliot Coleman. See the tab above that says “Greenhouses, etc.”

    Brett, not to put any pressure on anyone but I guess I also do the two-season thing as a bet-hedger: if it’s a great year for tomatoes, I can enough for two years. Etc. So, posterity = 2 years to me…does that help? And yeah make sure your siting for your greenhouse takes great advantage of that sun, and try to site it out of the wind, and you’ll have great luck.

    Liz, I thought of you and was tempted to blog about my temptation to make peach wine this year. I quashed that idea though! And yes, moving does have a way of kind of messing with one’s gardening plans: glad to learn you’ve found a great source for peaches and tomatoes. I adore peach season!

    Hi Sharon! Yeah, raised beds are the key for me too with all the clay stuff we’ve got…plus I find them easier to care for. You know, your hot weather in MO does have its advantages; I can’t grow decent melons at all, at least not melons of any great size. I wonder if you can find some heat-loving raspberries, though, and just grow them in the shade of the house or something.

    Hi Elizabeth. My recipe is a take on one of the recipes in the Ball Book of Home Preservation, which frankly has loads of great recipes, something like 400. I think celery seeds are the answer more often than not for what makes ketchup tastes authentic. My best advice is keep tasting it as it’s cooking and adjust accordingly. It’s not going to change much in taste once you can it, unlike other things that “cook” in the canner. Good luck!

  18. Hey lady, can I ask you about canning beans? Are you talking green beans or dried beans? I’ve been contemplating buying dried beans in bulk, soaking/sprouting them and then canning them for those days when I don’t think ahead to pressure cook what I have on hand. I do have a pressure canner and could definitely do beans…just wondering if you have any experience with this?
    Happy September to you!

    • Same to you, Amanda…saw your groundhogs and kind of freaked out! Wow those puppies are big.

      To answer your question: dried beans! I precook them slightly then can them up, figuring the canning process will finish the cooking process. Often, the liquid goes all gelatinous but that’s fine; it liquifies in the pan when you cook them…plus, there’s no need to wash them unlike canned beans from wherever in cans lined with BPE. I do plain beans for quick stuff and then if I make too many beans, I will come up with a use for them a la soup or chili or whatever then can that chili. Even simpler than freezing in my opinion. Just think what you can pull off a shelf when you’re starving after a 3 a.m. birth!

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