First, I must qualify my title. I love the dehydrator. You can read here, why we dehydrate and how much we love the time it saves. But I want to talk today about the harvest as a whole, and how you can manage to preserve your harvest with the little time that most of us have.
Let’s start with this scenario.
Its harvest time!!! Other than planting, it’s one of my favorite ‘homesteading’ jobs. To reap what we sow, and to have a working plan in place to save or preserve what we can is extremely rewarding.
One of the first harvestable vegetables in our garden are peas. We never used to save any. In part because we ate so many fresh, and because peas are one of the least expensive vegetables to buy in the store. You have to plant a huge amount of peas to fill up your freezer. We never really felt it was worth it.
And then one spring . . . we had a ginormous amount of peas come in. We couldn’t keep up with them. We sure didn’t want them to waste, so what was best? When the peas come in, the weeds are also becoming prolific and I have never cared for the idea of cloning myself so I needed to figure out how to best spend my time.
We found peas stored best and quickest by steaming them. They need less than two minutes in hot water, and then two minutes plunged into cold/ice water.
I roll them out on clean towels to quickly drain and into a freezer bag. As long as I keep up on them, the task is painless.
I also enlist help with those who like to sit and watch a movie in the evening. We pod peas together and it has become a fun family event. All hands on deck!
I have also dehydrated peas, but they do need to be steamed. I might as well simply stick them in the freezer. The flavor of your own peas from the freezer is so good, we now purposefully grow enough to put up every year.
They make the best pea soup ever.
Next, strawberries. Easy as pie. We don’t even rinse unless necessary. They come in from the garden and one of two things happen.
They are spread out and frozen on trays the put into freezer bags, or they are smashed and put into freezer bags. It all depends on how much I have to harvest and how much time I have.
I will take them out to make into jams when I have time later.
Can you dehydrate them? Yes. But unless you can freeze dry, they don’t taste quite so good, at least not to us.
Freezing is quick and easy. No steaming, no prepping unless you want to.
Next comes the greens. By this, I mean spinach and small kale. Even some of your darker lettuces can be easily harvested. Cut them off near the ground, and after gathering a good pile, wash and steam them.
I have my steamer going, I go out and harvest a large mound as they shrink so much when cooked. I then bring them in and after a quick steaming, chill, and freeze. Again, quick and easy and they take up very little room.
Kale and spinach are also excellent for drying, pulverizing and saving in jars for broths. I can’t even begin to tell you how satisfying it is to make your own vegetable broth for the winter.
It is overflowing with nutrition, vitamins, anti-oxidants and even fiber. Well worth growing food just to create your own superfood broths. (Post coming soon just on this.)
We cheat when it comes to the following vegetables. We like the ease of the harvest and have never had any issues with it.
Green beans, broccoli and corn make up a large portion of our harvest. First, we dehydrate. Yes, it is best if the food is steamed first to stop the enzymes, that protects color as well as flavor, but we have never had an issue with preserving them without steaming.
You can also freeze green beans without steaming them. I just pulled out a bag of green beans out of the freezer from 9 months ago and stuck it in a stew. Wow. SO GOOD. They tasted fresh. And the process was so quick and easy.
Pick – cut up – freeze. (I press out as much air as possible from the bag, I think this helps preserve color and some flavor as well.
If we need to, the vegetables are simply brought in, washed, dried and frozen.
Our number one preference is to dehydrate. Green beans take longer if they are not steamed, but ultimately, it all depends on how you like your food later on. We like both flavors, but because dehydrating is easier and preserves nutrients so well, it wins!!
Corn also takes longer, but you can put up a lot of corn without a hassle in an Excalibur 9-tray dehydrator. There are many who are forgoing the purchase of a dehydrator for simply using their oven. I haven’t done that, but it seems easy enough.
Set your oven to the lowest setting, preferably under 170 degrees, and warm until done, 6-8 hours. Stirring every few hours for even drying. The downside is unless you have a convection oven, you have no fan to circulate the air.
Broccoli is a brilliant addition to soup broths once dehydrated. Simply blend it along with the rest of your vegetables. It is not strong tasting and adds so much nutrition.
Dehydrated corn can be ground into your own flour! Now, that is cool. Way cool, as my daughter used to say.
Tomatoes. This is one vegetable we do not like dehydrated. As we are so busy at harvest time, most of my tomatoes go into the freezer for later. Super easy, no stress. I will can tomato sauce later. I have a pretty quick method for that as well.
I don’t make a seasoned sauce because I would have to pressure can it.
I simply take the tomatoes out of the freezer, as they unthaw the skins pop off. They lose a lot of juice. I can my juice as it makes great soup bases later.
The tomatoes are cooked, then added to hot sterilized jars and hot water bathed with a little lemon juice in each one. That ensures there is enough acidity in them to be safe.
With two hot water canners going, I can do 28 quarts in a day.
If you have room for an extra refrigerator, I would highly recommend it. Can you put it in a garage that doesn’t go below freezing, an unused corner of a back room? This could be a mini root cellar for you.
Root crops like carrots, beets, rutabagas, potatoes can all be stored for later. They last well and keep for a long time. Make sure what you grow says ‘for storage’ on it. Some carrots will only keep for a short time, while some, like ‘Nantz Fancy’ and ‘Belero’, keep for the winter.
It is so satisfying to put up your own food. You can create your own ‘store’ and eat healthier and cheaper then you would at the local grocery store. Not too mention how convenient it is to harvest a crop and stick it in your ‘mini root cellar’ with very little effort.
Best harvesting of all! It’s almost addicting. No wonder so many are turning back to ways of when times were simpler. Noticed I didn’t say easier. I know it really depends on where you are at in life. Growing, harvesting, and eating our own food fills something deep down inside of us. Despite the hard work, and at times, crop failures, over-all, this life creates a haven of peace.
For me, it’s my own contribution to my family to have healthy, organic food on hand, that costs much less than organic from the store.
If you like to can, you can pull out your veggies from the freezer or ‘root cellar’ and can at your leisure!
I would love to hear your food preservation tips and stories. What do you do to preserve your food? What tricks of the trade have you learned?
Until then –
Food is simply sunlight in cold storage.
John Harvey Kellog.