Solutions for Self-Reliance

What to Do with What You Grow After The Harvest

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Severe storms in Michigan knocked out power for over 45,000 people living in Detroit. The earthquake that hit the San Francisco Bay area left over 70,000 homes without power. Over 25,000 people lost power when Hurricane Iselle hit Hawaii in.

On top of the devastation that these events caused in August, they brought with them a problem that’s less immediately obvious: without power, most homes can’t keep their food fresh and safe to eat.

Uncooked meats, leftovers, even some fruits and vegetables… our society is dependent on refrigeration as its main source of preservation. Whether your food comes from a home garden or a big-box store, without some form of preservation it’s going to go bad. This can be especially problematic for those who either grow food at home or buy in bulk, since this can result in a lot of food that needs to be preserved.

Within 24 hours of losing power a lot of food becomes iffy, and after that it can actually get hotter inside the refrigerator than outside. If you lose power for two or three days or more, everything in your fridge will have to be tossed out and replaced.

Even if you don’t have to endure a power outage, refrigeration isn’t a perfect means to preserve all of your food. This can cause problems for people with gardens, especially if they are new to gardening; many gardeners aren’t prepared for the abundance that a well-maintained garden can produce. This can result in a scramble to find friends and neighbors to give fresh produce to before it starts to go bad, especially as the harvest season progresses and everything starts coming in.

Fortunately, there are alternatives to food preservation that can help you to preserve your harvests and prepare for worst-case scenarios. You actually have several options available to you when it comes to preserving your harvest and enjoying its bounty all year long.

Drying

One of the easiest ways to preserve food is by drying it.

This can be accomplished in a number of ways, ranging from the use of food dehydrators or low-temperature ovens to the ultimate low-tech solution of preparing your food and placing it to dry in the sun. Mold, mildew, and bacteria typically requires moisture to grow, and drying fruits, vegetables, meats, and herbs removes this moisture.

When it comes time to eat dried foods, you can either eat them as-is (they make a great snack) or rehydrate them by covering them with boiling water until they become tender.

Canning

Another option for preserving your food is canning it. Canning cooks your food enough to kill any harmful bacteria or other impurities and then seals it in an airtight jar until you’re ready to use it.

Canning is a bit more involved than drying because you need to prepare the food that you’re canning, boil the jars and lids to sterilize and prepare them, and both fill and seal the jars while everything is still hot.

The end result is worth it, though, since canned foods will stay good for months or even years without any maintenance so long as the seal is intact. Just make sure that everything is sterilized when you start to prevent unwanted contamination during the canning process.

Freezing

Freezing is in some ways similar to canning in that you prepare your food and then place it in an environment where it is protected from bacteria and other contaminants.

The difference, of course, is that in this case you’re placing it in a freezer to lower its temperature to the point that spoilage can’t occur.

While it’s possible to just stick whole fruits and vegetables in the freezer, they won’t turn out very well once they thaw; at the very least they should be prepared and blanched before freezing, and sealed in freezer-safe bags to help prevent freezer burn.

Frozen foods will thaw reasonably well, though they typically do degrade over time. Once thawed, they shouldn’t be refrozen; this is something to keep in mind if you lose power for an extended period of time.

Pickling and Fermentation

Pickling is similar to canning, but it goes an extra step to preserve your fruits or vegetables by introducing an acidic brine to the mix.

The brine allows for controlled fermentation of your food by select anaerobic bacteria, killing off potentially harmful molds or bacterial strains while preserving your harvest against future breakdown.

Different recipes call for different fermentation times, with some requiring only a week of pickling while others require several weeks of fermentation to achieve the desired flavor.

While you might be used to only using pickling techniques for cucumber pickles, you can use pickling and fermentation for a wide range of vegetables including okra, tomatoes, cauliflower, and carrots. Fermentation is also used to preserve cabbage in dishes such as sauerkraut and kimchi.

Enjoying Your Harvest

These aren’t even all of the options available to you when it comes to preserving food. Fruits, vegetables, and even some flowers can be used to make jams and jellies. If you’ve got access to fresh meat or fish as well, you can smoke it, cure it, and even can or dry it for later use. Some preservation techniques work better with certain crops than others, so you might find yourself using a combination of different techniques to get the most out of your excess once the harvest starts coming in.

Regardless of the techniques that you use, you’ll reap the benefits of learning to preserve your food for years to come. Having access to stored fruits and vegetables will ensure that you’re eating healthy even if things fall apart, and being able to grow and store the food yourself means that you’ve got everything you need to sustain yourself right there at home.

Perhaps more importantly, it also means that you know not only what goes into the food that you eat, but what goes into how it’s preserved as well.

Which preservation method are you most interested in learning more about? Let us know in the comments below!

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