Monday, February 13, 2012

Prepping 101: Garden Crop Selection for Storage

Welcome back to our series on prepping basics!

For many of us, it is time to place our garden seed orders and get our seedlings started.  That makes February a great time to think about the choices we make regarding our garden plants and the ability we have to make those veggies last throughout the year. 

Most of us make our decisions on what to plant based on what we like to eat and what we can reasonably grow on our property and in our microclimate.  These are important concerns.  But, for those of you starting your prepping adventure, I encourage you to think about how you will preserve those veggies for winter use and whether you are making choices that could get you through an emergency of short, medium, or even extended term.

Some of the choices I make:

Veggies that Extend the Season:  Lettuces, chard, and other leafy greens are natural season extenders, growing well in even frosty conditions either under row covers, in a pop-up greenhouse, or in a planter in your sunniest window.  While these products don't keep well and aren't very high in calories, they will give you a much-needed burst of vitamins in your diet if you are cut off from grocery stores and living on your pantry supplies.  Radishes and sprouts will do the same and have the advantage of maturing quickly.

Buy:  High-nutrient greens like Swiss chard, spinach, mustard, and other specialty greens.   Try to get some heat-tolerant and some cold-tolerant varieties.  Also order your favorite radish and some sprouting seeds, like broccoli or onions.

Veggies/Fruits to Freeze:  I tend to think of the freezer as life support for my garden produce.  Obviously, any kind of grid collapse is going to drastically shorten the life of food in your freezer.  On the other hand, freezing is very easy and frozen food items can serve as pretty easy insurance against wildly fluctuating food prices such as those that might be found in an economic upheaval.

Because I have a small freezer, I use my freezer space for meat and for fruits and veggies that freeze better than they can or dry, like berries and shredded zucchini.  I also tend to freeze green beans and sliced carrots, even though these will can well.

Buy:  Berry plants and bushes, and summer squash seeds.

Veggies/Fruits to Water Bath Can:  The majority of my food preservation each season is done with a water bath canner, which is very easy to learn to use and is very scalable; you can put up a single pint jar or a whole canner full of quarts with relative ease.  Water bath canners are intended to preserve high-acid products, so I use mine to put up jams, preserves, pickles, and tomatoes.

Buy:  Tomatoes for various uses, including paste tomatoes (gives sauces a thickness and richness) and slicers (make great juice in addition to being fabulous raw).  Order cucumbers and zucchini for pickles and relishes.  Also put in a few berry plants and bushes. 

Veggies to Pressure Can:  Pressure canning is for low-acid fruits and vegetables, and I won't lie:  it is more of a production than water-bath canning.  Nonetheless, it is the only way to make some foods into a shelf-stable product.  In addition to canning stock and meats, pressure canning is the natural way to preserve some relatively high-energy veggies like corn and beans.

Buy:  Corn if you have space for more than four rows (for pollination purposes).  Also, order the highest-yield beans you can find. 

Veggies/Herbs to Dry:  Drying is one of the oldest forms of food preservation, and, in a pinch, you can make a solar dryer if you find yourself off the grid.  I dry tomatoes and some berries, plus a wide variety of culinary and medicinal herbs.  If you can grow nothing else, I highly recommend that you find room for some herb plants and dry your extra for winter; herbs carry a number of healthy phytochemicals that we are only beginning to understand, and the extra pop of flavor could make a diet of pantry supplies much more palatable.

Buy:  Seeds or plants of herbs that dry well, including basils, oregano, marjoram, thyme, sage, and rosemary.  Many of these will also weather the winter in a pot, so you may not have to dry very much to guarantee your supply.  Dried tomatoes are also shelf-stable if stored in oil, or they keep dry if you tuck them in your freezer.

Veggies to Cellar:  Finally, some of the foods that we most associate with winter have this connotation because they store well without much preservation effort.  Winter squash, potatoes, onions, and carrots all will keep for several months in a cool spot in your house.  These crops are the backbone of your prepping, because they will provide enough calories, mass, and satisfying mouth-feel to round out a meal or extend more expensive foods like meat, dairy, and grain.

Buy:  Seeds for carrots and winter squash; starts for potatoes (seed potatoes) and onions.  Grow as much as you have room for.

These are my decisions based on our lot size, growing zone, microclimate, and personal tastes.  What are you growing in your 2012 prepping garden?
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1 comment :

  1. The past year or two, we've worked on growing the 'meat and taters' staples of our diet and we've eliminated a lot of fun, but useless stuff.

    This year, we'll definitely be growing potatoes again...last year we grew 110#, this year I'd like to double that. We'll also be dedicating a lot more space to root veggies like onions, carrots, beets, sweet potatoes.

    We generally grow white half-runner snap beans and 3-35 ft rows are enough to can and eat fresh.

    Tomatoes are fun to experiment with, but we keep going back to plain old slicer/juicers, paste/salsa varieties and a couple cherries for salads. 40 plants normally supply enough for our needs...especially when added to freebies from my farmer cousin :)

    We have about 13 varieties of fruit and berries...adding gooseberries this year. Maybe a few more cranberries.

    I normally grow winter squash, but my farmer cousin indicated that's foolish when I can walk across the road and get however much I want. I love my farmer cousin :)