26 May 2010
In The Garden With the Fluvanna Master Gardeners
By Irene C. Burke - Fluvanna Master Gardener
Fluvanna County Extension Office: 434.591.1950
Whether its your own plot or local Community Sustainable Agriculture (CSA) vegetable gardens, fruit patches and orchards are set to produce plenty this season. What are you going to do with the surplus? Donate to a charitable food pantry? Disperse among your neighbors? Sell at a farmers market? Preserve for later use?
Because of safety issues, food preservation is very serious work. Drying, freezing, canning, or smoking: none of these processes is simple or risk free, especially for the beginner. Reduce hazard by using step-by-step instructions found at most U.S. cooperative extension websites. For Virginia, study http://pubs.ext.vt.edu/category/food-preservation.html. Check also food preservation class schedules. Louisa Extension will offer a workshop June 15.
Based on how much you plant, they will also help you calculate expected harvest and the numbers of people served. Though few gardeners factor-in this calculation with their garden plans, it is worth your consideration for the next season cool weather crops or the summer of 2011.
After you have preserved your bounty you must store it and that has its own timeline. The safe food-storage chart at the Virginia Cooperative Extension (VCE) website shows shelf life from months to years for canned and frozen fruits and vegetables. At the same website there is a discussion of which process maintains original taste and texture. Even canned applesauce has a preferred texture not too grainy, not too soupy.
Besides power interruption plans, freezing has its entry fees: electricity (approximately $100/year), freezer ($150-800), containers and packaging. ConsumerReports.org rates manual defrost chest freezers as the most reliable, energy efficient and least expensive (about $400).
For low-acid foods (carrots, peas, squash) safe canning means an investment in a pressure canner ($78-200), reusable glass jars ($18/dozen), new lids and seals. For high-acid foods (tomatoes, applesauce) youll spend less for the recommended boiling water bath with a large stovetop kettle ($19 for a 21.5-quart canner with rack). But jar, lid and seal costs remain the same.
For variety, dry fruits, vegetables and herbs with home-use dehydrators ($120-250). Final packaging in airtight glass or plastic containers adds to the annual price tag.
Home-based smoking equipment exacts its dues as well ($300-1000). Like dehydration, the perennial bottom line includes packaging.
After the initial outlay for reusable equipment (freezers and canners), many gardeners rethink their food preservation goals. Think long-term and the expenses diminish sharply.
The only uncertainty, with minimal repair, is the durability of your equipment. Extend lifespan beyond manufacturers projections with meticulous care. The fastidious homemaker keeps his culinary tools far beyond the expiration date.
Include your precious time as a crucial cost. Natural forces (sun, rain, disease and pests) determine harvest, not you, and sometimes they are most inconvenient. For those days when theres no time for preserving, alert your chosen charity of its good fortune, so that produce is not left to rot. Overripe fruit and vegetables send potent signals to damaging insects and other hungry invaders: fungi, viruses and bacteria.
Regardless of family size, there is a food preservation plan that will work for you. Begin slowly. Start small. Seek advice from the pros.
Tip of the Week
Blast aphids from rose buds with a jet of water. Remove tent caterpillars by hand. Burn, drown, or enclose the silky glop in a plastic grocery bag and send to the landfill. Lace bugs on azaleas are usually a function of location. Excessive heat and light, stress the shrub, making it vulnerable to this scourge. Relocate to dappled shade.