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

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