Saving Seed

Saving Seeds from Heirloom VegetablesSaving seeds from heirloom vegetables.

by Rebecca Hansen

What are “heirloom” vegetables? An heirloom vegetable is a non-hybrid, open-pollinated variety that has been passed down from generation to generation and, in some cases, can be traced back hundreds of years.  These seed lines have been carefully selected to maintain uniformity and consistency for germination.  Heirloom seeds become ‘heirloom’ because they exhibit exceptional traits desired by the gardener.  Often this means the plants are more colorful, flavorful, unique, or have great germination and vigor.  Often the traits are location dependent.  Meaning, seeds planted in one garden will not produce in the same manner in another location.  We encourage you to try heirloom seeds, see which have the qualities for your area to become your favorites, and make them into your own very special seed line.  Seed saving from heirloom vegetables is easy and fun.

Gardeners have found that as seeds are selected and saved over many years, production is increased and the quality is improved, creating plants that will produce best for that locale and will resist diseases and pests of that locale.  Contributing to genetic diversity strengthens the ecosystem. Historically farmers and local gardeners have created and sustained this rich genetic heritage by learning to save their own seeds from varieties that perform best in their own mini-ecosystems.  The current trend toward mono-crops where only one seed type is used to produce a crop worldwide is eliminating the ability to be able to find genetic variations that will withstand emerging pathogens and climate changes.

Planting your crop:  Start with good Heirloom Seed varieties.  Keep in mind that to allow the plants to produce seed and to allow the seed to fully mature, you will have to allow for a longer growing season.  This can be done by starting plants indoors and arranging for protection from frost in the late season. You will be growing some for food or flower harvest and some for seed production.  Fully mature seeds will be viable (able to germinate) and produce vigorous plants.  You may want to do some research on the different flower types for proper pollination techniques and plant with row/species separation in mind, to prevent cross-pollination.  You may look into caging procedures to isolate species that are in flower at the same time.  By caging different plants on alternate days, you can take advantage of the pollinators to do the work without cross-pollinating your crop.  Cage one plant or group on one day and early the next day, before the bees wake, transfer your cage to a different plant or group.  Some crops are biennial and do not produce seed until the next year, so you will need to determine whether you should leave the roots in the ground over the winter or dig and store them.

There are many publications with detailed information on seed saving and growing techniques for each species.  “Seed to Seed” by Suzanne Ashworth, 2002 by Seed Savers Exchange, Inc. is a good way to get started. www.seedsavers.org.  Also, Easy instructions for seed saving, written by the International Seed Saving Institute, a non-profit established to teach seed saving, can be found at:http://www.seedsave.org/issi/issi_904.html

Harvesting and collecting seed:  When saving seeds from heirloom vegetables look for favorable characteristics such as; freeze and cold tolerance, heat tolerance, adaptability, winter hardiness, early maturation, vigor (strong germination, and growth), flavor, color, size, texture, etc. Also, look for desirable traits such as; vine or plant type, seed type, specific disease resistance.  Plan to be ready to harvest the seed as they mature.  Often the pods will pop open when you are not around to collect the seed and it will be lost.

Allow the seed pods to remain on the plant in the ground for as long as possible.  Usually, the seed will not continue to mature after the pods are cut from the plant.  The process of cleaning and separating (thresh) the seeds from the chaff (pods and stems) is easy for a small home gardener.  Break apart the pods by crushing or breaking the pods and collecting the seed.  Sometimes the chaff can be blown away from the seed, by pouring the seed onto a pan in front of a small fan or by using cleaning screens that come with different sized openings.

A TRIO OF WINTER SOUPS

Image of a cauldron of bubbling soup over a fire.

photo courtesy of Pixabay

From the Kitchen of Engrid Winslow

Maybe you have figured out by now that I have a long-standing love affair with all things Italian? No, well then, here I am giving you a trio of Italian winter soups. The first one hails from Emelia Romagna and the next is from Umbria followed by a traditional Tuscan bean soup. By the way, a great source for traditional Italian foods of all types, including beans, check out www.Gustiamo.com. If you prefer to stay in the USA, www.ranchogordo.com is also a wonderful source for heirloom beans and grains. Both websites have wonderful recipes as well. All of the recipes serve 4-6 people with some leftovers.

 

Sausage and Lentil Soup

  • 1/2 yellow onion
  • 1 large carrot, peeled
  • 3 Tbsp of Tomato Paste
  • 1/3 Cup Chicken stock or water
  • 850 grams (1 large can) whole peeled tomatoes
  • 2 cups lentils (the tiny Italian ones, called Lenticchini, are preferred)
  • 1 lb. sweet Italian Sausage
  • Olive Oil
  • Salt & Pepper to taste

 

Cooking the Lentils:

Wash the lentils in a strainer. In a large pot (big enough to hold cooked lentils, sausage and sauce), cover the lentils with 1.5 inches or 2 fingers worth of water. Cook the lentils over medium-high heat until the water boils and then decrease flame to low and cover the lentils. Stir occasionally and add more water as needed until the lentils are soft ((about 45 min).  Add salt and pepper to taste.

 

Make the “Soffritto”:

Grate the onion, carrot, celery, and garlic. Add olive oil to a deep frying pan (big enough to hold the vegetables and sausage) and place over medium-low heat. Add the grated vegetables to the frying pan and let reduce, occasionally stirring until soft (10-15 min).

 

Combine the Ingredients:

While the soffritto is developing, remove the casing from the sausage and mash flat using the back of a spoon or your hands. Once the vegetables have turned a golden hue and the onions are translucent, add the mashed sausage. Once the sausage has browned add the tomato paste, 1/3 cup of water or stock and stir. Puree the whole peeled tomatoes and, after the sausage mixture has cooked for ten minutes, pour in the tomatoes and stir. Allow it to simmer for 25 min, covered on medium-low heat. Add the lentils and season to taste with salt and pepper.

 

 

Umbrian Farro Soup

 

  • 1 cup chopped yellow onion
  • 3/4 cup chopped celery, medium chop
  • 3/4 cup chopped carrot
  • 2 minced cloves garlic2 1/2 ounces dried porcini mushrooms
  • 21/2 cups tomato sauce (canned or homemade)
  • 3 cups cooked farro, cooked al dente
  • 1 quart beef stock (use vegetable stock if desired for a vegetarian version

Directions

  1. Sauté the onions, celery, and carrots until translucent.
  2. Heat 1 cup of the beef stock and add the porcini to reconstitute.
  3. Use an immersion blender or food processor to blend about 3/4 of the vegetables, the garlic, 1 cup of the cooked farro, and all of the porcini and liquid until smooth.
  4. Add back to the pot and add the remaining farro, vegetables and stock. Add 2 1/2 cups of tomato sauce. Season and simmer for 30 minutes. Taste and add salt and pepper as needed.
  5. Drizzle with a bit of olive oil and Parmigiano Reggiano (optional)

 

Tuscan Bean Soup with Squash and Kale

 (Zuppa Frantoiana)

 

 

  • 1 finely chopped carrot
  • 1 stick finely chopped celery
  • 1 small finely chopped onion
  • 1 14 ounce can (400 grams) of cooked Borlotti (cranberry) beans (you can also use cannellini beans or chickpeas)
  • 1 cup of pumpkin or butternut squash, peeled and diced
  • 2 medium potatoes, peeled and diced
  • 1 small bunch of cavolo nero (Also known as Dinosaur or Tuscan) kale (you could use Swiss chard, beet greens, collards or spinach instead)
  • 4 cups of water or vegetable stock
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • Extra virgin olive oil, for drizzling

Gently cook the carrot, celery and onion in a few tablespoons of olive oil and a good pinch of salt in a heavy-bottomed saucepan on low heat. Let the vegetables sweat, not color, for about 10 minutes or until softened. Add the borlotti beans with about a cup of water (enough to cover) and bring to a simmer. Cook 15 minutes. Blend about half of the mixture to a smooth paste and return to the pot.

In the meantime, prepare the cavolo nero kale by slicing out the long, central stalk of the leaves and discarding and chop just the leaves roughly.

Add the pumpkin, potatoes and cavolo nero (if using silverbeet or spinach hold onto it until a few minutes towards the end of cooking) and top with enough water or stock to cover (up to 4 cups or 1 liter) and cook for 30 minutes, uncovered, over an active simmer so that the liquid reduces slightly and the vegetables are tender. Adjust seasoning.

Serve with a good grinding of black pepper, a drizzle of olive oil, and toasted bread rubbed with garlic and drizzled with olive oil.

 

BBB Seed’s Wildflowers to Attract Butterflies and Birds

by Heather Stone

Photo of two birds on a birdbath.

Photo courtesy of pixabay

It brings great pleasure to see more birds and butterflies about the garden and we as gardeners can do a lot to attract and protect the birds and butterflies that visit our garden. These critters simply need a safe place to live and healthy food to eat.

Wildflowers to attract butterfly and birds seed packet.

Butterflies

For butterflies, providing food (host plants) for caterpillars, nectar sources for adult butterflies and a safe place to overwinter can all be accomplished in a small area. Caterpillars of some species of butterflies have very specific larval host plants, while some will eat a wide range of species. Nectar is the primary food source for most adult butterflies. Planting nectar-rich plants in the garden is sure to attract more butterflies. Depending on the species, butterflies overwinter in all stages of life from egg to adult. Some places they overwinter include leaf litter, the bases of bunch grasses, rock piles, brush or wood piles, behind loose tree bark and near their host plants.

 

Birds

Just like butterflies birds need healthy food to eat and shelter. Start by planting native plants in your garden that provide seeds, berries, nuts and nectar. Shrubs and trees, especially evergreen species, provide excellent shelter and nesting sites for birds. Birds also need a year-round water source such as a bird bath. Providing nesting boxes and offering food in feeders will attract even more birds.

Photo of an orange and yellow butterfly on a marigold bloom.

Photo courtesy of pixabay.

Try planting our Birds and Butterflies mix to attract more birds and butterflies to your landscape. The mixture of annuals, perennials, introduced and native wildflowers is designed to attract butterflies over a long season of bloom from spring until fall and a variety of birds to the seeds come autumn.

 

Sources:  Gardening for Butterflies, The Xerces Society

https://www.nwf.org/sitecore/content/Home/Garden-for-Wildlife/Wildlife/Attracting-Birds

Using Your Frozen Summer Bounty (Part 1 – PESTO)

by Engrid Winslow

Summer Bounty

Photo courtesy of pixabay

Frozen summer bounty.

Already the bounty of vegetables and herbs from the summer garden are becoming a distant memory. It’s time to dig into the freezer and start to use up some of those precious flavors in the cold winter months.

 

Let’s start with the delicious pesto(s) you made and froze back in June [Pesto Secrets] which is so useful in so many more ways than pasta. Pesto pairs particularly well with such winter delights as frozen roasted or sundried cherry tomatoes [Summer Harvest] and creamy mozzarella or burrata cheese so think of ways to include those items in some of the ideas listed below. But let’s look at some special spins on pesto.

 

*  Stir into softly scrambled eggs, or drizzle on top of a frittata

*  Mix with mayonnaise and use as an aioli on bread, in sandwiches or as a dip with vegetables

*  Spread it on a sandwich – especially a hot pressed sandwich like a Panini or grilled cheese

*  Substitute for tomato sauce on a pizza

*  Drizzle on soups such as Minestrone or Pasta e Fagioli

* Mix into salad dressing

* Toss with roasted veggies from potatoes to broccoli to eggplant

*  Serve with grilled steak, chicken, pork or even fish

*  Stir into the filling for a quiche

*  Add to chicken salad

*  Put it in a quesadilla or on pita bread sandwiches

*  Top a turkey burger with it

*  Stir into mashed potatoes or cauliflower

*  Mix it in with quinoa, rice or other grains

*  Add it to meatball, burger or meatloaf mixtures

*  Bake it into puff pastry with feta cheese and tomatoes

Here are a few others.

Let us know if you have other uses beyond pasta for the delicious pesto you made and froze this summer!

The History of the Jack-O-Lantern

History of the jack-o-lantern.

photo courtesy of pixabay

 

by Heather Stone

As the last days of October approach pumpkins carved in an array of faces and lit from within by candles dress porches, stoops, windows and walkways. The jack-o-lantern as we know it is a true American icon of Halloween, but where and how did this tradition begin?

There are several theories on the origin history of the jack-o-lantern. In 17th century Britain, an unknown man or night watchman carrying a lantern was referred to as “Jack of the lantern.”

During the same century in Ireland the “lanterns of Jack” were one of many names to describe the strange phenomenon of lights seen flickering over the peat bogs. These lights are known by many names including the “will o’ the wisps.”

Scooping out the innards of a jack-o-lantern.

photo courtesy of pixabay

My favorite history of the jack-o-lantern theory is based on an old Irish folktale about a man named Stingy Jack who tricked the Devil. The legend of “Stingy Jack” has many forms. Here is one.

Stingy Jack invited the Devil to have a drink with him, but Stingy Jack didn’t want to pay for his drink, so he convinced the Devil to turn himself into a coin (the Devil being able to take one any form) that Jack could use to buy their drinks. After the Devil turned himself into a coin, Jack decided to keep the money placing it in his pocket. Inside his pocket lay a silver cross preventing the Devil from changing back into his original form. Jack agreed to free the Devil, under the condition that he would not bother Jack for one year. The next year, Jack again tricked the Devil into climbing into a tree to pick a piece of fruit. While he was up in the tree, Jack carved a sign of the cross into the tree’s bark so that the Devil could not come down until the Devil promised Jack not to bother him for ten more years. Eventually, Jack died and legend has it that God would not allow him into heaven and the Devil angry from being tricked didn’t want Jack either. The Devil is said to have sent Jack off into the night with only a burning ember to guide his way. Jack but this ember into a carved out turnip and roams the earth to this day.

 

In Ireland, folks began carving faces into turnips to ward off Stingy Jack and evil spirits on All Hallow’s Eve. Beets were used in England. This tradition likely came to America with immigrants from these countries. The pumpkin being plentiful here and easy to carve became today’s jack-o-lantern.

Read more about the Queen of Halloween.

All About Gourds

by Heather Stone

Photo of mixed gourds.

Photo courtesy of pixabay – Couleur

 

Fall is here and pumpkins and gourds can be found in abundance. From the farm stand to the local grocery store, these colorful and sometimes funny shaped fruits are part of the season. But, did you know that gourds are one of the oldest cultivated plants? Originally grown to make storage vessels and utensils, nowadays we largely use them for decoration. A member of the Cucurbit family along with cucumbers, squash and melon, gourds grow on large, vigorous vines that can be trained along fences or up trellises.

 

Humans around the world have utilized gourds for a very long time for a variety of purposes. Most commonly, gourds were used for storage containers, utensils, dippers and dishes. Gourds were also used for creating musical instruments such as shakers, maracas, drums and various stringed instruments resembling a banjo. Some of the earliest guitars and violins in the United States were made from gourds by African slaves.

 

There are three types of gourds:

  • Cucurbita pepo are the colorful little ornamental gourds that make good decorations.
  • Lagenaria siceraria are the hard-shelled gourds . Varieties include the Speckled swan gourds, bottle gourds, dipper gourds, birdhouse gourds and powderhorn gourds. Hard-shelled gourds have been grown for over five thousand years for use as containers, utensils and drinking vessels.
  • Luffa aegyptiaca is the well-known bath sponge. When dry, the outer shell is scraped off and the inner fiber is used as a sponge.

 

Gourds are easy to grow and come in a wide array of colors, shapes and sizes. Sow the seeds in a sunny location after all chance of frost has passed. Gourds will grow in almost any soil and under most conditions. Ideally, train the vines up a trellis or fence to keep the fruits off the ground while ripening and drying.  Most gourds reach maturity in 90-150 days. Harvest after the shells harden by cutting the fruits from the vines with 1-2 inches of stem attached. Cure them for a week in a warm, dry location with good air circulation.

Photo of dried gourds made into baskets.

photo courtesy of pixabay – mikegoad

To fully dry your gourds for crafting:

 

  • Place gourds in a warm, dark spot.
  • Regularly turn your gourds so air reaches all sides.
  • When you can hear the seeds rattle inside your gourd, it is fully dry and ready for use.
  • This drying period can take several weeks depending on the variety and size of the gourd.

 

You can create a number of things from your homegrown gourds.

 

Here’s the how-to for turning that birdhouse gourd into a birdhouse.

Want to make a bowl or two? Here’s a great tutorial.

Sources: http://indianagourdsociety.org/education/Gourds_In_American_History_2010.pdf

https://homeguides.sfgate.com/decorative-gourds-57941.html

https://www.almanac.com/blog/gardening/garden-journal/gourds-types-gourds-growing-gourds-curing-gourds

What’s Happening in the Honeybee Hive as Winter Starts to Close In

Photo of an open shed on a foggy heath housing several honeybee hives.

by Engrid Winslow

This part 2 of a series on what happens in the honeybee hive in winter, what beekeepers do to manage their beehives and how you can also help to sustain honeybees and other pollinators.

Winter in a hive of honey bees is tough. Honey bees are the only bees who overwinter as a colony (more about the lifecycle of bumblebees and native bees will follow in later articles) which makes them much more vulnerable to the vagaries of winter weather. Here’s what is happening in the hive as fall changes into early winter.

Honey bees are amazingly resourceful at helping to winter-proofing their hives. They use a special substance called propyls to seal up all the cracks and crannies that could let in wind and moisture during the cold rainy months. Whenever the beekeeper checks on the hives (temperatures must be above 50 degrees and sunny) the bees do an admirable job of sealing everything back up again.

Honeybees are not warm-blooded and depend on clustering in order to combat the winter temperatures. The worker bees who are left in the honeybee hive in winter after the drones (male bees) have been evicted are all daughters of the Queen Bee and are devoted to protecting her and whatever small amounts of brood remain in the hive. As winter settles in, days darken and temperatures really drop, the Queen lays fewer and fewer eggs until stopping completely. The remaining cluster of bees is made of those who hatched late in the fall and these few daughters center around the Queen. They rotate from the center, where the Queen is protected from the elements to the outside of the bee cluster.  They create warmth in the cluster by unhinging their wings at the shoulder muscle and vibrating them (also referred to as “shivering”). No foraging takes place (well, after all, what flowers are blooming in the winter anyway?) and the hive is dependent on the stores of honey and pollen that has been stored from the summer. The bees on the outside of the cluster are usually able to feed off the pollen and honey which is stored on the outside of the frame around the brood. When temperatures are warm enough the bees will venture out for “cleansing flights” – yes, that’s a delicate name for what they need to do! But otherwise, they are “socked in” for the winter months.

Beekeepers will continue to supplement food for their hives, depending on temperatures, as they hope and pray the bees will survive to expand their colonies next spring and summer.  Check out this youtube video to hear the amazing sound created by the bees in this winter hive.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Yqr40loMhJw

 

 

Seed Hoarders

Chipmunk sitting on a sunflower head eating seeds. Seed Saving

photo courtesy of pixabay -evitaochel

Thank goodness that “Hoarders” TV show doesn’t ever focus on seed hoarders. Gardeners who are very tidy and organized and otherwise not people who collect or hoard things can secretly have boxes full of seed from years and years of  seed saving.  Sometimes the seeds are gifts from friends, or seeds ordered because you forgot you have some leftover and bought more or just surplus seeds from generous seed packages. I knew my seed habit was getting out of hand once I started seed saving, myself – now I have paper bags full of saved seeds and had to move from the tiny shoebox to a big box.

This year, I’ve come up with a way to use those old seeds without feeling too guilty…and I’ll save some money, too.  Early Fall is the traditional time to put in cover crops…seeds that will germinate and grow some but die back with a freeze or simply be chopped down and turned into the soil to replenish it in the Spring.  Cover crops get lots of organic matter into the soil without much trouble. But there’s no reason you have to use an official “cover crop.”  The idea is just young plants that get chopped up and mixed in with the soil.

This year, I decided to turn some of my seed hoards to cover my garden soil this winter. (Let’s not be ridiculous and use all those good seeds.)

So as I have clear patches of the garden after harvesting, I’m going to remove the big debris, lightly rake the soil and sprinkle out old and gathered seed.  Many of the old seeds won’t germinate but there’s enough that will make a good protective cover.  And as long as you PROMISE to turn the cover crops in before perennials establish themselves, you can even include old packets of grass seed.

My cover crops won’t be as cute as when I put in just winter rye and get a nice even green lawn effect….but it will be great fun to guess what is what!

My seed saving cover crop this year includes:

Years of half-used radish seeds, hybrid tomato seeds from 1996, leftover lawn patch seeds that got wet in the bag, cabbage seeds I forgot about and never gave garden space too, dill, cilantro, caraway and fennel seeds collected from previous years gardens, hollyhocks collected from alleyways. Lots of black-eyed susans, marigolds and cosmos.  While I’m on the seed purge, I’m cleaning out the kitchen pantry and throwing in old spices (coriander, dill, mustard seed) and old whole wheat berries that have bugs, or old beans I’ll never like. Talk about recycling!

You can decide which seeds are iffy by checking out this list of lifespans of vegetable seeds:

Vegetable Seed Lifspan

Phew. Now that I understand which seeds will happily last until next year, I can order from the End of Year Seed Sale and have good viable fresh seed to save in my seed box for next Spring.

HIVE HAPPENINGS IN SEPTEMBER

Two beekeepers in bee suits inspecting a hive.

photo courtesy of pixabay – topp-digital-foto

By Engrid Winslow

Have you ever wondered what beekeepers actually do? Did you think that they just put hives in fields and then visit to collect honey every once in a while? Well in Hive Happenings, we are going to take you inside the duties of a beekeeper in the first of a series of articles explaining what the bees are up to and how a beekeeper helps them to survive and thrive.

Two jars of golden honey with a honey dipper.

photo courtesy of pixabay – fancycrave1

Honeybees are the only bees that overwinter as a colony and cold weather can be stressful enough that many colonies will not survive without some help from a beekeeper. Even with that help, a hive that is weak or doesn’t have enough food stored or suffers from a mite infestation will not make it through.  Each colony has worked very hard all spring and summer collecting honey and pollen to feed the new brood that the queen spends all day (and night!) laying. They are also storing extra honey and pollen to make it through the winter when there is very little forage (in most parts of the country).  Every colony needs 60-90 pounds of honey to survive the cold season. A responsible beekeeper only harvests whatever extra honey has been stored by the hive. Beekeepers watch their hives grow during the season and add “honey supers” on top of a two-deep hive colony with a “queen excluder” between the hive and the supers. Some hives will produce many of these supers that hold the excess honey – it varies by the colony and by the amount of forage available during the season. The excluder ensures that no brood is laid in the supers. In the early fall, beekeepers check to make sure that the honey stores are capped with wax and proceed to harvest the honey in a variety of ways ranging from using a “capping scratcher” with the frames set over a bucket to using electric or manual extracting machines.

Honey is a marvelous thing to have for personal use, to sell or to give to friends and family as gifts. The National Honey Board website has numerous recipes for all types of dishes using honey as an ingredient.  Check them out at National Honey Board.

There are many other duties for the beekeeper to take care of as the weather cools and, concurrently, the hive is also preparing itself for winter. The queen slows down her egg laying, drones are evicted from the hive and the colony shrinks to a size that can huddle together when it’s cold outside. I’ll share more of this information in my next blog about honeybees.

How To Can Fruit: A Beginners Guide

Poster for A beginners Guide to Canning Fruit.

by Sam Doll

 

Summer is the perfect time to enjoy fresh, local fruit. Whether it’s plump, Maine blueberries or sweet, Colorado peaches, every part of the country is offering up a local bounty of great unique fruits.

The only problem is that it is hard to make these harvests last! Maybe want to save a local treat for winter or you just have more than you know what to do with? Well, the best way to preserve your local fruit harvest is to can them!

Here is our beginners guide to canning fruit at home.

*Important Note*

Whenever you are canning, make sure to strictly follow a tested recipe from a trusted source. Canning is safe when done properly, but improperly canned food can harbor dangerous pathogens.

We recommend recipes from the following sources:

The National Center for Home Food Preservation

Ball/Kerr Food Preservation

Or your local extension office!

Also, if you are above 1,000 ft, make sure to adjust the processing time on your recipe for altitude!

Equipment

Water-Bath Canning Kit

Most fruits are naturally acidic foods, which means you should be able to process your canned fruit using a water-bath canning kit. For non-acidic foods, you will need to use a pressure canner, which can heat foods to higher temperatures than water-bath canners can.

*Processing is just the step of heating the jars for a certain period to kill off all dangerous bacteria.

A canning kit usually consists of the following

  • A large metal pot with a lid
  • A rack to keep the jars off the bottom of the pot and for lifting jars in and out of the bath.
  • A magnetic wand for retrieving lids and rings
  • A jar lifter
  • A canning funnel
  • A paddle to check fluid height and for removing bubbles

We recommend the Ball Enamel Water Bath Canning Kit

If you don’t want to use a kit, you can always assemble a makeshift water-bath canner out of your normal kitchenware. Just make sure that there is enough headspace to cover the jars with at least an inch of water and that you can place some sort of rack in the bottom of it to prevent the jars from touching and breaking from the direct heat.

Canning Jars and Lids

Photo of many canning jars.

photo courtesy of Pixabay – Lolame

Equally important as the water-bath canner, having the proper containers is essential for successful home canning.

Make sure you are using clean, canning grade jars designed for home canning. These mason jars are sturdier and safer than commercial glass jars and their availability makes them easy to replace and get lids for.

While the lid rings can be reused, make sure only to use new canning lids when preserving food. Old lids will not seal properly and can lead to improperly processed food.

Choosing and Preparing your Fruit

As always, the best ingredients make the best, finished product. This is especially true when trying to preserve fruit. Fruit needs to be fresh and sturdy to keep their color and shape throughout the canning process.

Fresh, firm fruits will do best for canning. Don’t wait until the fruit is at peak ripeness, because the heat from the processing will soften them. If they are too soft to start with, your end product will be mushy.

Thoroughly and gently wash your fruit to remove any dirt and debris. Bacteria can hide and survive in dirt, so do your best to make sure that all your fruit is cleaned.

If you want to preserve your fruit peeled, you can either use a vegetable peeler for hardier fruits, like apples, or you can use the blanching method for stone fruit like peaches or even tomatoes.

Here is a handy guide for blanching and peeling stone fruit.

Canning Liquids

For the canning process to actually work its magic and properly preserve your food, there needs to be a liquid that can transfer the heat from the bath and sides of your jars to the food. There are a variety of different liquids that you can pack your fruit in: water, juices, and syrups are most common.

Water and juices are useful for hardier fruits that don’t need much to preserve the shape, color, and texture of the fruit. Apples, pears, and peaches can all be packed in water.

Syrups are more common and are a great way to preserve the fruits shape, color, and flavor. You can pack all fruit in syrups from very light to very heavy. However, heavier syrups are better for fruits that are tart or sour, while very light syrups do well for naturally very sweet fruits.

For specific syrup ratios and fruit recommendations, check out this guide by NCHFP

Packing

Packing is the step right before processing your fruit. Packing is, very simply, how you package your fruit into the jars.

Hot Packing

Hot packing is the more preferred method to pack your fruits when water-bath canning. It often involves heating the fruit to a boil in the packing liquid and then packing them into the clean jars before processing.

Some very juicy fruits can be heated without packing liquid to cook out their juices, and then packed into the jars with that fluid.

Since hot packed fruit have already been cooked, you do not have to worry about them shrinking during processing.

Cold or Raw Packing

Cold packing is when you tightly pack cold fruit into the jars and then pour the hot packing liquid over them before processing. This is not as recommended as hot packing since the fruit will shrink and release fluid during processing and it is not the most efficient use of jar space.

Processing

  1. After packing your jars, use a plastic spatula or paddle to remove any bubbles trapped in the fruit by sliding it down the sides of the jar. Check your headspace and, if necessary, add more packing fluid (headspace is dependent on the type of jar you have).
  2. Wipe the rim with a damp cloth to remove any debris or residue and ensure a clean seal.
  3. Gently screw on a new, clean lid and rim until it is finger tight. Do not over tighten!
  4. Bring the water bath to a simmer (~180° F) for hot packing or ~140° F for cold packing.
  5. Keeping the jars straight up and down, lift the jars and slowly lower them into the bath. A jar lifter can be helpful here, so you don’t burn yourself.
  6. Make sure there is at least an inch of water above the lids. If not, heat water to a boil and fill the bath to the proper level before moving on.
  7. Bring the bath to a full boil. Once the bath has reached a rolling boil, place the lid on the bath and start the processing timer according to your recipe.
  8. Once the timer has finished, remove the lid and turn the heat off. Wait 5 minutes before removing jars.
  9. Remove jars and place them on a towel or rack. Make sure to keep them upright. Wait for 12 to 24 hours before checking if the jars sealed properly. Do not touch the lids!
  10. After letting them sit, check the seal by pushing down lightly on the center of the lid. If it is firm and doesn’t move or “pop”, they should be ready to be cleaned and labeled.