If you enthusiastically threw a bunch of seeds in the ground this spring in a desire to grow more of your own food, chances are by now you’ve got a hefty harvest. You may in fact be feeling like a victim of your own success as the veggies outrun your ability to consume them (salad for breakfast or not!). It’s a fact that even seasoned gardeners tend to forget from year to year: getting the food growing is one thing; capturing the fleeting bounty once it comes is another.
Being ready with some techniques to preserve our summer harvest is as much a part of feeding ourselves as growing the food is. Which techniques you use depends on the produce you have on hand and simple personal preference. Are you more apt to enjoy zucchini later in relish, dehydrated as chips, frozen for stir fries, pureed into soup, or grated into muffins? If you have enough of it, maybe all of the above! Cabbage does well fermented into sauerkraut whereas excess arugula would be better-suited to pesto. But how to learn these skills? Luckily the Cochrane community and the internet abound with resources. Local growers at the farmers market are often happy to share their favourite ways of “putting up” the harvest, as are members of groups like the Cochrane & District Horticultural Society, Cochrane Community Gardens Society, Cochrane Gardeners on Facebook, and Cultivate Cochrane. A parent, grandparent, or neighbour may have the tips or equipment (canner, fermenting crock, etc.) you need to get started. And, although many of them have moved online for the moment, classes are still an excellent way to actually take a process in visually (How tight do you fill that jar? What does the right consistency look like? How finely should it be chopped?). From Calgary to Canmore, a quick internet search should bring up several opportunities to sign up and learn from experienced locals.
The list of preservation methods is long: drying, salt curing, freezing, fermenting, pickling, cellaring, oils, vinegars, and more. Unless you’re a professional chef or an insatiable experimenter, there’s no need to master them all. Getting comfortable with a couple of techniques will be less overwhelming and may be all you really need. But you’ll want something in your back pocket when your garden does what it was intended to do and presents you with a profusion of fresh food. Come winter you’ll be glad you didn’t let it go to waste!
Jackie Skrypnek is the President of Cultivate Cochrane. Cultivate Cochrane has downloadable resource guides on its website and will be adding one about food preservation in the fall. Visit cultivatecochrane.com.