The saying goes, you strike while the fire is hot. And notwithstanding that it is wise advice if you are blacksmithing anything, it also can apply when it comes to the seasons generally used to grow food; the sustenance that you need to have all year round. Now with Aquaponics indoors you don’t have to worry so much about the weather and warmth of the ground of where you are planting, but if you are doing anything with a permaculture method, a.k.a. Backyard Gardening then that saying becomes apropo. Summer is the most productive time of the year for most outside gardens, and most of what grows requires hot weather.

So how can you stretch summer’s harvest to all year long? We explore four common ways that help you to become more self reliant in saving what you grow in the summer for use throughout the year. Below we discuss:

  1. Dehydrating
  2. Freezing prepared meals
  3. Freeze-drying
  4. Home Canning

A couple of these methods and tools are easy to start and very inexpensive to get going. Others on our list require a sizable investment either of money (for the equipment) or in time. The main idea here is to expand awareness of these tools so that people who want to take more control over their food supply surely can.

Let’s begin!

1. Dehydration – Perfect for most single foods and herbs.

Air and moisture are the one two punch of how food can spoil. And that is with any type of preservation and storage method. When you draw out the moisture out of a single item of food: meat, fruit, and vegetables can stave off the spoilage factor and keep the item eatable. Take for instance fresh herbs out of the garden. Can be a benefit to you in a fresh or dried/dehydrated state.

The problem is that many herbs either only grow during the warmest months of the year or they do not offer their best flavors when the temperatures drop. Thyme, different types of basils, and other green leafies have certain times of year (usually in the summer months) when it is best to grow and harvest.

Mind you, dehydration is different from freeze-drying. It also has a generally shorter shelf life than foods that are freeze dried and dehydrated foods should be used throughout the year. 1 year dehydrated vs. 5-14 years freeze drying. If you are looking for a food preservation method to last for decades, then freeze-drying is the way to go.

How Dehydration Works for You

Dehydration uses air and sometimes heat to remove moisture from food. The process is not exact as most dehydrators remove only 90 +/- percent of moisture from foods. That is enough to prevent most bacteria, molds, and even yeasts from causing the food to spoil.

Now this is a method of preservation that can be on a cheap side of the dial, especially if you have a sun room, or a greenhouse that is away from pesky munchers and vermin. This Air Drying method has stood the test of time and can take a few days to complete. Other methods you can try are:

  1. Oven Drying – An oven can be used if you can set the temperature low enough (down to 140°F), but it will use more energy than a commercial dehydrator or other home constructed options. (Use an oven thermometer to check the temp.) To dehydrate food in an oven, set temp to warm and prop door open 2-6 inches. Place a fan near the oven door to improve air circulation. Use cooling racks on cookie sheets and space racks 2-3 inches apart.
  2. Solar Drying – A Sun Oven can be used as a food dehydrator as well as an oven. Take a search on Amazon or EBay and o can find quite a few.You can also build your own solar food dryer and there are plenty of plans online to guide you through it all.

Regarding health, dehydrated foods contain active enzymes as the process acts only to slow down their processes rather than to destroy them. Cooking food destroys enzymes such as during the canning process.

Examples of Dehydrating times for Foods:

  • Apricots – 24-36 hours
  • Bananas – 8-10 hours
  • Berries – 24-35 hours
  • Cherries – 8-12 hours
  • Plums – 24-26 hours
  • Pineapple – 24-26 hours

Dehydrating also preserves liquids, such as fruit juices by turning them into leathers. In fact, there are many ways to use a dehydrator to preserve summers bounty.It is a wise move for things you dehydrate to be stored in air-tight containers (Jars or Mylar bags) that have been vacuumed and an added absorber to the container.

2. Cook and Freeze Prepared Meals

The next method that is economical to undertake is Freezing Prepared Meals. Easy as making a meal and placing serving portions in a reliable container (to keep from Freezer Burn) and having space in your freezer. Your family’s favorites, casseroles, and dishes like lasagna, even soups can be frozen and reheated at a later date.

Freezer burn is the result of air drying a small section of the food during the freezing process. The air exchange causes chemical changes within the food, which then results in an odd taste. Not every type of food freezes well.

Proper planning and dinner discipline are a must with this, that you can enjoy the taste and the nutritional value of what you like to cook and eat most.

3. Freeze-drying Foods

You hear about this with all those Prepper ads out there with their buckets and bags of meals you can eat in a pinch, and have for 25+ years in storage. Freeze drying foods do indeed increase the shelf life of the food from a year or so to 10-30 years. It is a process that goes beyond dehydrating food and removes as much as 95 percent of the water in foods. It is an expensive food preservation process to get started, but the use of a home freeze dryer over time can be very cost effective.

The process uses three steps:

  1. Freezing
  2. Low-heat vacuum
  3. Sealing

It is the pressure that allows freeze drying to remove more water than just dehydrating foods. Like a pressure canner, the pressure changes how water moves from a solid to a liquid and gas.

In freeze-drying, water goes from a solid to a gas without becoming a liquid. Under pressure, the vacuum removes the gas as water transitions from a solid to a vapor. For long term access to food storage, this is your “bag”.

4. Canning

There are records of people 600 or so years ago using methods like canning to keep food for the winter. Canning is definitely an old but tried and true way of preserving food. It uses heat to kill organisms in food and then seals the environment so that new populations of organisms cannot cause the food to spoil.

There two basic types of canning are:

  1. Water bath
  2. Pressure

A water bath process is used for foods that are high in acids. The water bath itself seals the container while the acid in the foods kills off the organisms. Both methods of canning cook food and then preserve it.

Pressure canning uses a pressure cooker to create a seal quickly, and this is done at higher temperatures than a water bath. Water bath canning uses boiling water, which boils at 212°F. A pressure canner can heat water to 240°F because it traps the steam forcing convection to raise the temperature.

Which Foods to Water Bath?

A classic water bath preserve is jam. Fruits and fruit juices are perfect for water bath preserving. Other foods include pickles, condiments such as acidic ketchup, tomatoes, salsas and other tomato products providing that they are high in acids. You can add acids, such as vitamin C to bring acid levels up so that food is safe to consume.

Which foods to Can with a Pressure Canner?

All foods that are not high in acidity, such as meats, corn, beans, etc. Foods without high acidity are prime targets for Clostridium Botulinum – the organism that causes botulism.

On both Canning methods, ensure that the seal has been made before you set it on your shelf, nothing worse to get into a season or two and find that a batch did not seal properly, it’s very disheartening.

Overall TakeAway

Preserving your garden’s harvest for use all year long is a simple way to save money on groceries and to also to gain more control over access to quality food. By so doing you can be truly Food Independent and secure your sources of food.

Each of these food preservation methods offers strengths and weaknesses, but together they provide a complete toolkit for addressing safe food preservation for the short and long term.

  1. Dehydrating works best for many foods. The shelf life for dehydrated food varies a lot between food types. Again when you dehydrate the foods place them in as air-tight of a storage container as possible. Using this method adds to the preserved foods ability to last throughout the year.
  2. Cooking or assembling meals and then freezing – This is probably the most efficient way to preserve foods but involves the most planning. It is easy and affordable to make extra servings of something and then stick them in the freezer. This method works well for bread, such as banana bread, chili, soups, casseroles, and even sauces, such as tomato sauce.
  3. Freeze drying – This is a method that is not all that easy to use, plan a series of freeze drying sessions at times in the near future. It offers a way to store food longer, so there is less pressure to use food in the first year following its harvest.
  4. Canning is a process, and it can be time-consuming, but it works well for dealing with huge batches of foods such as tomato harvests and is my preferred method for preserving corn.

In a nutshell, these preserving methods give you a few good ways to grow more of the food they use throughout the year.

Knowing how to preserve your harvest even without refrigeration is an important way to deal with surpluses and avoid waste, as well as to see you through months when your garden isn’t as plentiful.

The first step to successful longer-term preservation is understanding what makes produce spoil in the first place. When it comes to food storage, your biggest enemies are:

  • Some foods begin to dry out when exposed to oxygen for prolonged periods. You may notice changes such as lettuce becoming limp and wilted, oranges shrinking and hardening, or the skin of cucumbers starting to wrinkle.
  • Humidity is often a good thing when it comes to fruits and veggies, but too much moisture can lead to quicker rotting. That’s why, for example, greens stay fresh so much longer when stored with paper towels between the leaves.
  • Ethylene gas. A natural plant hormone, ethylene gas speeds up ripening when exposed to oxygen and carbon dioxide. Some veggies and fruits release this gas as they age. The release of ethylene gas affect other nearby produce, so foods that produce ethylene should be kept away from foods that are sensitive to it.
  • Produce tends to be rich in natural enzymes that provide essential health benefits for our bodies. These enzymes become active when the food is cut or peeled. They are also sensitive to heat and will cause the food to spoil quickly once cut.
  • Other chemical changes. Oxygen, sun exposure, and high temperatures all work together to escalate the spoilage of your produce. In general, store your food away from heat and sunlight, and eat any pieces with natural cuts or bruises first.

Do keep in mind that any mishandled produce may contain unsafe microorganisms that can cause illness if ingested. Any pathogens in your fresh food can quickly multiply at room temperature, make your food spoil faster, and potentially spread to other foods nearby. Do not eat anything that you suspect may be contaminated or rotten.

Let’s look at the best ways to preserve your whole harvest with no refrigeration.

Resources to seek more info from –

  1. The Ball Blue Book of Canning and Preserving Recipes – Ball
  2. Freezing Cooked Foods for Future Meals – Freezer Bag Tips – University of Nebraska
  3. Freezing and Food Safety – USDA
  4. 4- Step Process – HarvestRight