Waste not, want not. As a survival gardener, you know better than to let perfectly good food go bad, but if you don’t yet know what to do with it, your bounty can all too easily spoil. Here are some methods to make the most of your harvest.
Storing Root Crops, Onions, Fruit & Squash
Certain crops are easy to store how they are. Most winter squash can be kept in sunshine for a few days; once the cut-off stalk dries, store in a fairly cool space for several months. Onions too should be cured in a warm place, then stored somewhere dark and cool.
Some fruit varieties, such as late autumn apples, are listed as savers, in which case you should make sure that the fruit you want to keep is clean and blemish-free. It is better to store fruit lying on racks that permit airflow so that one bad apple doesn’t spoil the barrel.
Root crops benefit from being stored in sand or sawdust, somewhere cool and dark, but if the ground does not freeze up in winter you can usually leave them in the ground for continued harvest.
One of the easiest ways of storing home-grown crops is freezing them, but if you are preparing for a day when you can’t rely on your freezer, that is not an option. Vegetables tend to fare better from freezing if quickly blanched in boiling water first. Berries do not need that kind of treatment. Some fruits, such as apples, fare better in the freezer if you process them first, for example by making applesauce.
There are many ways to dry food. An electric dehydrator is an easy option, but you could simply put your oven on low, leave the door open, and allow the food to dry there for several hours. You could also use sunshine, or augment it by building a solar dehydrator. Unlike with freezing, dried produce isn’t ruined by an electric outage, and unlike canned goods, when dried goods have gone dangerously bad you can easily tell.
You can dry fruit, berries, vegetables and mushrooms. Simply slice them thinly and dry as mentioned. To reduce the risk of mold, allow dried fruit to condition in room temperature with good airflow for 5–10 days before packing.
There are two ways to can foods: with a hot water bath on the stove and with a special pressure canner. The water bath technique is easier and requires no special equipment, but can only heat jars to 100°C. This is perfectly safe when you’re dealing with acidic foods, like fruits or tomatoes. When canning low acidity foods, however, you need to exceed 115°C. That is where a pressure canner comes in.
For water bath canning, you will need sterilized canning jars, lids and a pot that is taller than your tallest canning jar. Simply place your jam, apple sauce, chutney or fruits in jars filled with syrup, then stir with a spoon or knife to remove any air bubbles, and wipe the lid ring clean. Put the lids on, and place the jars into the pot, making sure that they do not touch. Cover with water, and allow to boil for at least ten minutes. After 12–24 hours of cooling in room temperature, there should be a small indent in the middle of your metal lids, showing that a seal has been achieved. If not, try once more, and if it still fails, freeze or eat!
A pressure canner works similarly, but instead of a regular pot, you use a special canner, monitoring the steam and pressure. Your canner will come with instructions specific to your model, as well as instructions on how much pressure and time to apply to various foodstuffs.