Food, Community And All Things Sustainable

March 16, 2012

Planning the Garden for Canning - or Freezing or Pickling or Dehydrating

This article was also published at Sustainable Dakota Digest. Photos courtesy of Maria Birch, Sharon Enos and Susan Weisflock.
Photo courtesy of Maria Birch

How many quarts of home canned tomatoes will your family eat over the winter? No matter if it is just one quart or fifty quarts, you can grow those tomatoes right in your garden.

A small piece of ground or even a container garden can produce enough tomatoes – or most any fruit or vegetable for preserving.

Photo courtesy of Susan Weisflock
Harvest dates for produce grown in South Dakota can range from May to November. Dakota Rural Action publishes a handy chart of South Dakota Harvest Dates.

Plenty of publications are available online to help you learn the ins and outs of gardening, and to acquaint you with the various styles of gardening – traditional gardens and container gardens, to name a few.

Start planning that canning garden by determining which style garden works best for you.Then figure out what to grow. Start small, do not overdo it. There is nothing more discouraging that having home grown produce spoil because you cannot get it canned, frozen, pickled or dehydrated fast enough.

A small crack on a tomato or a black spot can be cut out. Fully ripe tomatoes make excellent juice. Tomatoes that are moldy or smell bad belong on the compost heap. So do mushy or molding cucumbers. Limp or overgrown cucumbers make excellent relish.

Photo courtesy of Susan Weisflock
Fifteen tomato plants will easily yield 15 quarts of tomatoes. Would those fifteen quarts help get your family through the winter?

Just know that you might not be canning all 15 of those quarts at the same time. The season will start with slow yields, maybe one or two ripe tomatoes a day. When August rolls around, prepare to can and freeze. This is peak tomato season.

A raised bed garden just 6-feet by 4-feet could hold those 15 tomato plants. This compact space makes it easy to manage the garden. Weeding, watering and harvesting will be a breeze. The four-feet width makes it possible to reach the center of the garden without walking on the soil.

Photo courtesy of Sharon Enos
This means you could plant some other things around those tomato plants. This type of intensive planting or companion planting is a common practice in Southeast Asia and other areas of the world where land and water are scarce. This type garden is not planted in rows, but rather in “blocks.”

A tomato plant might be surrounded with lettuce, carrots and onions or chive plants. This method of planting conserves water, garden space, and helps keep weeds down.

Beans and cucumbers make good companion plants. They could share a raised bed. Plant a dozen or so bean plants in one-third of the bed and plant a 12 to 15 cucumber plants in the rest of the bed. The cucumbers will yield 15 to 20 quarts of 3- to 4-inch pickles or up to 30 quarts of 1- to 2-inch pickles.

The beans will yield 15 or more quarts of beans – either canned or frozen. If garden space is not available, tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, squash and herbs can easily be grown in a container garden.

Photo courtesy of Maria Birch
Just imagine a mini-herb garden in an old water pail sitting just outside in the sun near your kitchen door. All you have to do is step outside to snip off oregano, basil, thyme, rosemary, chives or lemon balm to add to the tomatoes you are canning.

Enjoy your gardening experience. There is nothing quite like produce fresh from your own garden. And nothing tastes better on a cold winter night than tomatoes or other produce home-canned from your own garden. 

Photo courtesy of Susan Weisflock

Resource Materials
Vegetable Gardening, Rhoda Burrows and David Graper, South Dakota State University Extension,

South Dakota Harvest, Dakota Rural Action,

Growing Tomatoes in the Home Garden, Rhoda Burrows, SDSU Extension,

Specialized Gardening Techniques: Wide-row Planting, Square Foot Gardening and Raised Beds, University of Wisconsin Extension, Helen C. Harrison,

Raised Bed Gardening, Christopher J. Starbuck, University of Missouri Extension,

Small Space Gardening, Mother Earth News, Feb./Mar. 2012,

Growing Cucumbers, Peppers, Squash and Tomatoes In Containers, Ohio State University Extension,

Container Gardens, Colorado State University Extension,

Vegetable Gardening in Containers, Joseph J. Masabni, Aglife Extension, Texas A & M,

Carrots love tomatoes, companion planting for a healthy garden, Mother Earth News,  Feb./Mar. 1992

March 13, 2012

Planning to Can. Gardens Optional

This article appears also at Sustainable Dakota Digest

In the past few years, there has been a renewed interest in home gardening and home food preservation – canning, dehydrating, freezing and pickling or fermenting.

These days it is not necessary to grow a garden in order to have fresh produce for preserving.

Nor is it necessary to preserve huge quantities of produce.

A new trend is small batch canning. Preserving just four or five half-pints of strawberry jam or a half dozen jars of salsa are two examples of small batch canning.

Persons without a garden can purchase fresh in-season produce at the local farmers market or directly from the farmer or grower.

Ten pounds of tomatoes would make about a half-dozen pint jars of salsa. A bushel of tomatoes, weighing about 54 pounds, will yield 15 to 20 quarts of whole or chopped tomatoes, or 12 to 15 quarts of juice.

Freezing tomatoes is an easy preservation method. Wash, remove the stem, and place the tomato on a cookie sheet. Put the cookie sheet into the freezer for about a half hour or until the tomatoes start to firm up. Place tomatoes in a zip lock bag and store in the freezer.

To remove skin from a frozen tomato, put the tomato in a pan of cold water. When the skin splits, use a knife to peel the skin from the tomato.

Twelve to 15 tomatoes plants in a garden will yield 15 or 20 quarts of canned tomatoes.

Photo by Maria Birch.

A 48-pound bushel of 3- to 4-inch cucumbers will yield 16 to 24 quarts of pickles. A bushel of 1- to 2-inch cucumbers will yield 35 to 40 quarts of gherkins.

Refrigerator dills are easy to make. Place sliced onions, garlic and dill in a jar. Add cucumbers to the jar. A mixture of vinegar, water, sugar and spices are poured over the ingredients in the jar. A lid is placed on the jar, and it is stored in the refrigerator. It will be ready to eat in about two weeks.

About a dozen cucumber plants will yield enough cucumbers for those 16 or so quarts of dill pickles.
Two pounds of fresh green beans will yield one quart frozen beans. Snip off the ends, cut in one-inch pieces, blanch and place in a quart-size freezer container.

A dozen green bean plants in a garden or containers will provide plenty of beans for freezing.

One word of advice for both gardening and food preservation: start small, learn the basics and go from there.
The size of the garden can increase as you gain skills.

Photo by Maria Birch.

The amount of food preserved can likewise increase as you gain confidence in your skills.

Fruits and acidified foods (pickled items) are safely canned with a boiling water bath canner. Other foods – vegetables and meats – require a pressure canner.

Plenty of information about gardening and home preservation is available online or in print.

One of the best online sources for home preservation is the National Center for Home Food Preservation,

March 11, 2012

The Larder

It's that time of year again when the larder is getting low. Need to do some Planning for Canning to stock up that larder. Stay tuned for info and tips on how to figure it all out.

February 25, 2012

Ground Works

A while back I met the Ground Works folks from Sioux Falls. What an incredible organization. Their tag line - Growing Opportunities nails it.

They work to bring gardens to school children. You can read more about them in their very first newsletter found on their Ground Works blog. Click on the "It's About Their Stories' link.