Many vegetable gardeners out there such as yourself grow more fruits and vegetables then you can consume before they start to decay or rot. While giving away a portion of what you grow, whether it's to a friendly neighbor or simply a donation to a local soup kitchen or food pantry, is a good thing, you can also preserve much of your harvest for the months in which you are not able to grow in abundance or at all.
While many methods for preservation exist, there are two common ones that have been around for quite some time and are becoming more popular every day. You can tell when something is becoming popular when more and more stores carry a line of products to handle the tasks of that "something".
In this case that "something" is food preservation and the two popular methods for handling such a task are boiling water canning and pressure canning. Each serves a specific purpose, which i will get to in a moment, and both are valuable as well as easy to do. They each require some basic equipment, a little know how.
The method of boiling water canning is used when foods are high in acid, such as lemons, peaches, tomatoes, plums and so on. These, and many other items like them, have a pH level at or below 4.6, meaning they have a high acidic content.
This method is conducted by bringing a pot of water to boil at 212 degrees Fahrenheit and submerging jars filled with whatever you are preserving into the boiling water and letting them sit there for a period of time.
High acid foods are processed using this method. Sometimes, recipes call for adding lemon juice so as to increase the acidity of the mixture. The combination of the high acid and the temperature at which the jars are boiled at result in destroying molds, yeasts, various forms of bacteria and inactivate some enzymes.
I will talk about pressure canning in a moment, however, never use the boiling water method to preserve foods that are not high in acid such as beans, peas or corn. For those items you need a temperature of 240 degrees Fahrenheit to destroy bacterial spores that exist in low acid foods, and that can only be obtained with pressure canning.
That brings me to the second method of canning, pressure canning. The only way you are going to get the water in your pot up to 240 degrees Fahrenheit is through pressure canning. This temperature is important because it destroys all bacteria, spores and toxins that low acid foods produce.
Besides the popular varieties of veggies mentioned earlier that fall into the category needed to be pressure canned, okra, carrots, beets and turnips are a few more. These veggies are above the 4.6 pH level.
There is a special piece of equipment used for this method called a pressure canner. No surprise there right? The basic items of this canner are the base, a lid, the gauge (dial or weighted) and a rack. The total cost for this canning package, which is sold as a complete set (although you can buy replacement pieces), runs anywhere from $60 to $100.
The way it works is to submerge your jars of low acidic foods into the base and place them on the rack inside, place the lid on your canner and use the gauge to monitor the pressure and temperature. The gauge will release small amounts of steam to maintain the proper pressure inside the container.
Be sure to follow the maintenance instructions that come with your pressure canner. The gauge which measures the pressure in your canner, should be tested for accuracy (dial gauge only) usually once per year and replaced if the reading is off by 5psi (pounds per square inch) or more. A weighted gauge does not need to be tested for accuracy but must be replaced if there is any damage to it.
Some helpful utensils such as a jar lifter, jar funnel bubble remove, headspace tool and lid wand, make canning that much easier as each of these utensils can be used in both methods.
I would recommend starting off with something easy. I canned peaches as my first run through the canning process. It was easy because I was able to use the boiling water method, which I had the proper items needed already in my home. Then I moved to tomatoes and pickles still using the boiling water method and finally beans doing some pressure canning.
Like anything else it takes practice. Don't be afraid to make a few mistakes, or in my case, messes, along the way, and you will be fine.
About the Author
Mike Podlesny is the owner of Mike the Gardener Enterprises, LLC, an online vegetable gardening retailer of seeds and supplies, as well as the exclusive home for the Seeds of the Month Club.