Enjoy your bountiful harvest by storing it properly with this helpful how-to guide.
It’s common for several crops in the EarthBox® gardening system to produce so much that you may end up with more than you can eat or give away. Cucumbers, tomatoes, and zucchini can easily overproduce, for example. But there’s no need to lose any of your surplus harvest, since there are many food preservation methods you can use to store your fresh produce for future enjoyment: oiling/waxing, freezing, dehydrating, canning, and pickling.
By following some simple storage steps, you can enjoy a luscious bounty months from now, while others are paying top grocery store prices for produce. . .
It's important to get your surplus harvest stored as soon as possible, so plan before you pluck. Once everything's been picked, brought indoors, and washed; it’s time to get to work.
Oiling & Waxing
Winter squash naturally keeps for months, depending on the variety and if the skin is thick enough with no mold or soft spots. To keep your squash for as long as possible, thoroughly clean and dry the fruit, then let it “cure” or air dry on a mesh screen in a warm area for 2 weeks. After curing, oil buff each fruit with vegetable oil and a clean cloth until the fruit is no longer greasy. Store winter squash away in a cool, dry, dark area until it’s ready to be used. Rutabagas can be given a quick coating of wax by being dipped in paraffin, which will prevent moisture loss and preserve them for several months.
Most fruit and vegetables can be frozen to preserve them for later use. Herbs can be packed into ice cube trays, filled with oil, and frozen for later usage in stews, sauces, and soups. Peppers cut into strips, halved strawberries, and diced onions arranged separately on baking sheets can be frozen to later be packed into bags without clumping together.
Blanching is also a great option for freezing vegetables such as broccoli and cauliflower, as well as corn kernels and string beans. Furthermore, the heat will help clean off any remaining dirt and kill some bacteria. Blanching is simple: cut vegetables into bite-size pieces and submerge them in boiling water for a few seconds or steam them for a few minutes, then plunge them into an ice bath. Lay each piece on a towel to dry, then place them on a baking sheet and put in the freezer. Once the pieces are frozen, you can store them in a labeled bag.
Herbs, diced onions, minced garlic, and more can all be dehydrated easily in your oven if you don’t own a specialty food dehydrator. Simply set your oven to the lowest setting (usually between 170° and 200° F) and place food on parchment-lined baking sheets inside for 6-8 hours. Bits of peppers, celery, and carrots also store well when dehydrated and are easily rehydrated when added to soup. You can even make your own kale chips or “sun-dried” tomatoes with this method and save a ton of money instead of buying them at the store.
When it comes to home canning, you have a couple options: dice up food and preserve it in liquid for use in a recipe later on, or make a specific recipe and preserve it. The first option allows you to work as quickly as possible up front and get your surplus harvest preserved and out of the way. The latter option means that you need to decide on a few recipes to make all at once and then can them to simply reheat when needed later on down the road. If you have the time now, consider doing the work upfront and making a few large batches of soup or sauce—your future self will be grateful when you come home late from work and all you need to do is reheat something that is ready-made. Always refer to the most up-to-date canning and preserving guidelines, and check to make sure your equipment, jars, and lids are in good shape.
More than just cucumbers can be pickled, and you might even find you enjoy certain foods better when they’ve been pickled, such as green beans or beets. Pickled foods add an unexpected, yet pleasant, twist to nearly any type of dish—salads, meat, cheese fondue, and sandwiches can all be made better with just a little bit of something pickled. There are many pickle recipes out there ranging from sweet, to hot, and herbed—just be certain to refer to the most up-to-date canning and pickling guidelines, and check that your equipment, jars, and lids are in good shape.
When it comes to storing your surplus harvest, remember: what you put in is what you get out. If you properly prepare and preserve only the best quality, freshest produce, then you should enjoy the same quality when it comes time to eat it for dinner. If the produce has been mishandled or isn't very healthy in the first place, it won't improve through any preservation method.
Here are a few basic storage guidelines:
- Store your produce in the proper container or bag
- Label and date all bags and containers; tag any produce being stored long-term, such as winter squash
- Store produce appropriately and with the correct temperatures and humidity levels
With a little care, you can enjoy your fresh produce for months. In fact, you may have enough to last you right up until the harvest next year, since properly prepared and stored produce can maintain its quality for 12-18 months.
Tell us in the comments: What do you do to store your surplus harvest? Don't forget to head on over to our newly re-launched EarthBox Forum and share your favorite recipes, too!