As the weather starts to cool at the end of the summer, it’s time to think about the late season harvest and how to preserve the good stuff still remaining in your garden. Fruits, vegetables and even your favorite flowers can offer edibles that will keep into the cooler months and seeds that will allow you to grow your favorite plants again next year. Sometimes over-zealous birds or wasps may encourage you to crop your edibles all at once or a little before their time. And maybe you grew a particularly fine-looking plant from which you’d love to harvest seeds for next year. All these are great reasons to find ways to preserve the late season harvest.
Drying, freezing, canning and storing are the most popular ways to preserve your late season harvest. Some materials respond better to one way or another and some are more labor intensive.
Drying: if you have a cool, dark, airy place with very low humidity, you can often tie leafy plants like herbs in bunches and hang them upside down to dry. There are many different styled dehydrators that will aid with drying, especially if you don’t have a perfect area available. In the case of juicy fruits and vegetables, a little extra help with drying makes a lot of sense. Certain plants are particularly amenable to drying, like tomatoes (the new Tomaccio variety is supposed to dry well right on the vine) or varieties of grapes that are grown to dry as raisins or plums grown for prunes. Most grapes will still dry to quite decently-flavored raisins, though some can be tastier and larger than others.
Drying is the only viable way to preserve you seeds for planting next year. Most seeds need little special treatment once dried on the plant or off. But they will last longer if kept in glass jars. I like to use little baby food jars for medium and small seeds. You can label and stack a lot of jars in a small space.
Freezing: if you have room in your freezer, freezing can be a very easy way to extend the life of your late season crops. In most cases it’s advisable first to parboil fruits and vegetables to destroy bacteria and other elements that will encourage breakdown of stored food. Make sure you seal your frozen food well and label it clearly.
Canning in glass jars: this can become a little more involved, but well-canned food can often last for years. If you use glass jars, make sure to boil them in a double boiler until they are sterile. Sealing with melted canning wax is still a good idea, though not all recipes require it. The fun part of canning is that you can pack your food in water, oil, preserve it cooked or raw or even cook up some tasty recipes before preserving it.
Storing: this is the age old way of keeping root crops fresh through the winter. Some old homes still have root cellars where root crops could be kept cool, dry and dark without fear of frost. It still works well, particularly for crops like yams, potatoes, beets, carrots and other root crops. The concept is simply to copy leaving these plants in the ground in a frost-free soil while they are in their dormant, winter rest. Layering your vegetables with soil or sand in boxes should keep them fresh until they come back to life at the end of the winter. You will want to use them up before they start to germinate again or the roots will become soft and shriveled. There are ways to store and preserve sweet foods in sugar and other edible preservatives, too.
These are the most common ways to lengthen the useful time you can get from your garden produce. And there are hundreds of variations on how to dry, freeze, can or otherwise store your crops. Some can be fun projects to entertain the whole family. There’s no reason to let any of your late season harvest go to waste. And if you don’t want to be bothered with preserving your surplus fruits and vegetables, look to local sources that will be more than happy to take your extras to help feed the hungry.