Now that your fruit and vegetables have ripened, it’s time to harvest. While this is arguably the most exciting step in the process, it does bring its own set of challenges. Namely, what to do with all your extra fruit and veg. After all, unless you intend to sell your produce or have lots of friends and family to share with, you’re sure to have plenty of leftovers. That’s why we’ve put together this handy article to help you figure out how to preserve your harvest. We’re here to help give you all the info you’ll need to pickle, can, and freeze with confidence.
Before diving into how to store and preserve your fruit and vegetables, we first need to touch on how to properly prep them. A crucial step in the process, without properly cleaning and drying your harvest, your preservation methods may fail, or your stored vegetables could be overcome by mould or disease. So, what steps do you need to take to properly prepare your picked produce?
Well, first things first, sort through your fruits and veggies, removing any damaged or spoiled pieces that could harbour bacteria. Then, rinse your vegetables under cool water, removing any dirt. Place fragile fruit like berries in a colander to prevent them from getting damaged during washing. Next, if you are working with root vegetables like carrots, parsnips, or potatoes, you may want to peel the skin before preserving. However, this is not necessary and is down to personal preference.
Blanching your veggies
You may also choose to ‘blanch’ your veggies before finding a way to preserve them. Blanching is the term used to describe placing them in boiling water for a few minutes, briefly cooking your vegetables before immediately transferring them into ice-cold water to stop the cooking process. Blanching is known to help preserve the texture, colour, and nutrients in your veggies. Plus, it also helps prevent spoilage and is recommended if you plan on freezing your harvested vegetables.
Whether or not you have chosen to blanch your many vegetables, the final step in the preparation process is properly draining and drying them. Use paper towels to pat off your fruit and veggies to remove all access moisture. It’s easy to overlook this step and rush it. However, we strongly recommend avoiding this. Any leftover moisture can lead to mould or other diseases growing and spreading, damaging your produce. So take care to properly dry each piece before preserving it.
We recommend following the blanching process described above if you want to freeze your leftover vegetables. This will help to preserve their flavour and limit the risk of disease, as it kills any microorganisms that could be present on the surface of your veg. Once this process has been completed, it’s time to lay your vegetables out. Place them in a single layer on a baking tray and slide them into the freezer. Once they have been frozen solid, transfer the veggies into freezer bags or place in a sealed, airtight container. Make sure to label the container/bag with the date they were frozen.
For fruit, the process is a little different. You won’t need to worry about the blanching process. Instead, for delicate fruit like berries, you can skip straight to placing the fruit out on a baking sheet and freezing. Then, transfer to a bag or container. However, for fruit that tends to brown, like apples, pears, peaches and apricots, you may want to treat them with Vitamin C before freezing. Vitamin C is an antioxidant that can prevent browning, and a quick ‘wash’ can be made by mixing 1/2 a teaspoon of finely crushed vitamin C tablets and 3 tablespoons of water. Simply sprinkle this over your cut fruit pieces before freezing.
Expect frozen fruit to last up to a year and vegetables to last approximately 18 months.
Pickling your fruit and vegetables is an easy way to store your produce for longer. Although it is not a long-term storage solution like freezing or canning, it does help to ensure that nothing goes to waste. Plus, the process only requires water, sugar, salt, and vinegar. To pickle, you must make a solution known as a ‘brine’. This mixture will preserve your fruit and veggies and keep them fresh for a few months. Just follow the recipe below to make your own.
- 500ml of water
- 500ml of white vinegar
- 50g of granulated sugar
- 25g of salt
- Glass jars for storage
- Combine all the ingredients in a saucepan and place over a medium heat.
- Stir until the sugar and salt have fully dissolved.
- Bring to a gentle simmer for approximately 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.
- Remove after the time has passed and allow the brine to cool.
Once your brine has cooled and is ready to go, all you need to do is prepare your produce. Fill your jar and pour the brine on top, ensuring that the fruits or veggies are fully submerged, with just a little space left at the top of the jar. Then, seal the jar and store it in the refrigerator. Again, don’t forget to label the bottom of your jar with the date your produce was pickled.
While pickling is much more common with vegetables, you can also pickle fruits too! Pears, peaches, grapes, cherries, and blueberries are just a few fruits that can be kept fresh and given a fun new flavour using this method.
You can also use jars to ‘can’ your fruits and veggies. This method is a great way to preserve your harvest for longer and has a better shelf life than if you were to pickle. Peaches, green beans, peppers and tomatoes are just some crops from your garden harvest that can be stored using this method.
How to can your produce
- Clean and sterilise your jars and prepare your fruit and vegetables. Certain vegetables must go through the blanching process as part of this preparation.
- Pack your chosen produce (keeping one variety to one jar), leaving about an inch from the top of the free.
- Pour in your hot water, brine, or syrup to fill the jar whilst still leaving space at the top. Depending on what fruit or veggie you’re canning, the recipe may differ. Feel free to do a quick google search to check.
- Then, scrape alongside the sides of your filled jars to get rid of any air bubbles. You can use a knife to do this.
- Screw on the lids to secure the contents, but don’t screw it on too tightly.
- Place the sealed jars into a water bath, completely submerging them.
- Bring the water that they are submerged in to a boil.
- After they have been boiling for the correct amount of time according to your recipe (just find one online according to want you want to can), turn off the heat and allow the jars to sit in the water for a few minutes.
- Use a jar lifter to carefully remove the jars and place them onto a tea towel.
- Keep them sitting out to cool for 24 hours.
- Once cooled, check that they are sealed correctly by pressing down on the centre of the lid. If the lid does not flex or move, they have been successfully sealed. Well done!
- Finally, label your jars and store them in a dry, cool environment.
Canned fruit and veggies can last up to two years when stored correctly. However, we would recommend consuming your goodies within the first year to enjoy the best flavour. Once you have opened one of your jars, consume the contents within five days and keep refrigerated.
Produce can also be preserved by salting. A tried and tested process that works well for a range of vegetables and even citrus fruits like lemons. Salting draws out the moisture from the produce, limiting the risk of mould and prolonging their life. Great, especially for green beans, corn and cucumbers, salting can increase their lifespan by up to 6 months. It’s important to note that you cannot use sea salt or regular table salt for this process. Instead, use special pickling/canning salt; you should be able to find this online.
You can either use salt in a brine or by rubbing it directly onto your vegetables. If using in a brine, it’s best to just fill your jar full of veggies up with just water and salt (about 4 tablespoons of salt for every 1 litre of water). Though, if rubbing directly onto your vegetables, you should use roughly 1 tablespoon of salt for every 680g of veggies. To make kimchi, shred your cabbage before rubbing in the salt, then simply pack tightly into a jar, and the moisture taken from the veggies will create its own brine.
Love snacking on some dried mango or banana chips? If so, drying may be the perfect technique for you. It requires less work than canning or pickling, plus dried fruit and veggies are incredibly easy to store. Just place them in a perforated plastic bag, label them and keep them in your cupboard for easy snacking. Your dried produce should last for months when stored correctly.
There are several methods you can use when drying out your fruit. You could opt to dry them in the sun, use your oven or even a dehydrator. If you want to dry them in the sun:
- Slice your chosen fruit or veggie into thin, even pieces.
- Place them on a baking sheet and simply set them out in the sun in an area with good ventilation.
- Cover the trays with cheesecloth to protect them from bugs, and then simply wait until the slices shrivel and are ready.
If you want to speed up the process by using your oven:
- Once again, chop and place your fruit or veggies on a lined baking tray.
- Preheat your oven to a low setting. About 140 (60°C) to 150°F (65°C), and keep the door slightly ajar to let the moisture escape.
- Leave it for around six hours, checking back regularly to see if the fruit has turned shrivelled and chewy. Once this occurs, it’s time to take them out.
Once the drying process has been completed, they will be ready for immediate use, so feel free to start snacking or add some to your granola. Some fruits and vegetables that work well dried include:
- Green beans
Now that you know all about the best methods for preserving your harvest, you’ll need to think about where the best place to store all of your dried, frozen and canned veggies is. Just like preserving, there are several different methods of storage, and certain crops or preservation methods need different storage conditions. However, as a general rule of thumb, the best method of storing is indoors in a generally cool and dry, dark place that is also well-ventilated. So, we recommend storing in a cool pantry or cupboard, as exposure to excessive heat and light can lead to faster spoilage, shortening the life of your carefully preserved harvest. Just don’t forget to correctly label your jars or freezer bags, and remember that once opened canned veggies require storage in the refrigerator.
Now that you know just how to harvest and store your vegetables and fruits, it’s time to plant your next batch of delicious onions and garlic, and whatever else you want to see on your plate next season. Just visit our online shop to discover our incredible range of seeds and accessories. If you’re curious to learn more ways to make your garden great, check out our knowledge hub. Plus, don’t hesitate to share your own tips with us on social media (@gardeningexpress). We would love to hear from you!