Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Preservation Step 1: Finding Space

We just received our new chest freezer, replacing the 1960s era ice cream freezer that leaked and was so noisy we kept it on the patio.  I am thrilled to have 8.8 cubic feet of freezer storage now.  It is nearly silent, EnergyStar rated (will only cost about $28/year to run), and I no longer have to run out in the rain to get a pot roast using a rubber mallet to chip it out of the icicles. 
So shiny!
This made me think back to the first year I had the garden and the challenges associated with the harvest.  So this post is a brief discussion about finding space. 

Ideally, a garden should be able to produce a year's worth of each fruit or vegetable.  Excepting of course those that just don't preserve well and are best eaten fresh.  Ideally you'll also have a huge pantry to store all of this in, or a root cellar, freezer, etc.  Surprisingly a year's worth of vegetables and fruits both frozen and canned can take up a lot of space.

Best investments for your preserved harvest? A chest freezer, and a few cabinets, or a large shelving unit that will fit somewhere convenient to the kitchen, but out of the way.  Also, it helps to train your family and have designated space in the fridge for canned/frozen foods.  I can't tell you how many times my daughter has taken a freezer jam out of the freezer because she somehow is blinded by the refrigerator light and can't see the open one already there.   Generally things like salsa, relish, pickles, and jam aren't eaten in one or two sittings and having multiples open in the fridge will likely leave you throwing out quite a bit.

My ~100 sq. ft. garden actually does produce nearly a year's worth of many things, but since we live in a fairly small home I have had to squeeze my preserved foods into whatever space I can fit them.  This is less convenient than I'd like and leads to a lot of confusion about whether we are out of things or not. 

This year, with the freezer inside and adjacent to the kitchen, and a new shelving unit (for my grow room, remember?) just around the corner from it, i should be able to keep things more organized and fit much more than previously.  Including storing my winter squashes and other cured foods up on top of the shelf.  Pumpkins can be a pain in the butt when the only place you have to store them for 6 months is the floor in the laundry room.  Plus hanging drying herbs and other foods all over your kitchen is not particularly practical. 

Since my shelf unit has barred shelves instead of solid ones everything should get adequate airflow too. 

If you are planning a vegetable garden for the first time and plan to preserve your harvest make sure you have the space to do it.  This may mean a new chest freezer, which is a great option because so many things can be frozen so easily.  Freezing veggies and fruits is just a matter of cleaning them, blanching them, and stuffing them into freezer bags labeled with the food name and date.  Freezer jam is simpler to make than canned jam as well.  Also you can make up stock from meat bones and veggie scraps and freeze it in plastic containers.  Pre-make and freeze all sorts of things to save you time and money during the year:  handmade pot stickers, pizzas, burritos, quiches, pies, soups, anything you can buy in the freezer section you can make up and freeze yourself.  There is one other major advantage to having an extra freezer:  Costco!  Or, buying in bulk anywhere.  You can save a lot of money buying meats when there is a BOGO sale, or at wholesale stores like Costco.  Even better with a large enough freezer you can order a half or quarter of a cow or pig from your local butcher shop, sometimes even selecting which cuts you prefer or requesting free range or grass fed animals.  Buying half a cow often works out to about half the price per pound of meat and you know the meat is top quality since it is slaughtered, butchered, and then you are called to come pick it up.  Plus meat sold this way is generally local as well.  A large freezer is well worth the cost.

For canned and dried goods you'll want airtight containers, canning equipment, paper and plastic bags... but more importantly enough space to not only dry or cure these foods but also to hang them, or store the cans and containers.  in fact, one of the things no one really seems to mention about seed saving is just how much space it takes!  All those flower heads need a lot of room to have air flow in order to dry their seeds, and mesh screens covered in fruit seeds that are drying will likely take over your house.  Plus, you have to bag and store all of those seeds somewhere cool and dry until next Spring.

A huge pantry or a root cellar work great for these things, otherwise you'll have to get creative.  A cool basement can be great for storing roots and cured veggies like winter squash, it'll even work fine for storing things in glass or plastic (dried herbs in glass jars, or canned foods), but a basement is often too moist for actually doing the drying and curing.  Setting a metal box full of straw along the coolest side of your house can work well for a root cellar.  Just dig it into the dirt as much as possible, tuck hay bales around the box to insulate it, fill with layers of hay and root crops so that the roots aren't touching each other.  If you live in an area that freezes solid during the winter you should dig the box completely into the soil and top the lid with more hay bales.  

When in doubt find way to carve space out wherever you can.  Stash cured squash under your bed, tuck a box of cans and jars in your closet, into empty nooks in your cabinets, on bookshelves, on top of the fridge, etc.  Hang onion and garlic braids, and chili ristras from the ceiling.  If needed you may even be able to store some things at a friend's house, or if you have more than you can eat in a year just give away the extras you can't find room for.


  1. A chest freezer is definitely on our 'to buy' list this year. Not only will we soon have half a cow to preserve, but I would love having the option of freezing whatever produce that I don't have time to can.

    I am glad I stumbled on your blog; I look forward to reading more!

  2. I'm glad you stumbled onto it too! It's nice to have another reader, i was starting to think i was just writing for myself. ;)