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The Basics of Canning Your Harvest at Home

canning suppliesIt’s so rewarding, to be able to harvest a plant that you grew yourself with bare hands. You’ve witnessed its cycle and ability to reproduce, which is pretty awesome in my book. Harvesting your plant’s growth may have been your initial intention when you first planted your seeds, but what’s the best way to preserve it? This is when you’ll want to consider canning your harvest at home.

Safety is important when you begin canning your harvest at home. You wouldn’t want all of your hard work to amount to rotten veggies and fruit. Sure, you’ve grown a bunch of fruit and vegetables, but you can only have so many before it becomes excessive on your dinner plate. That’s why it’s a good idea to can your harvest.

The Benefits of Canning Your Harvest at Home

You’ve obviously done all of the work of growing your own food at home, organically. But what happens when you have too much harvest? What if you can’t freeze everything or eat it all within a week? That’s when you want to consider canning your harvest at home.

Canning your harvest at home could mean a lifetime of home-grown fruits and veggies. You can work hard all year round to produce your harvest, and enjoy it well after you’ve picked everything off the plants. When canning, you’ll want to ensure everything is sterilized, clean and safe to avoid ruining your harvest or making yourself sick.

This can go south pretty quickly, but if you’re amazing at following instructions, your harvest should be okay!

The Basics of Canning Your Harvest at Home

1. Gather Your “Cans”

You can use a variety of storage to can your harvest, including the most affordable and common choice: mason jars. Mason jars are pretty inexpensive if you have a couple of bucks lying around. You can even find a pack of 12 pints and quarts starting at 3 bucks. Mason jars are like my best friends in my household, they can house pretty much anything you need them to, including your harvest.

If you’re using a recycled mason jar, be sure it is free of any cracks or chips. Also, avoid using mayo jars or other thin-glassed containers, as they are easily broken during processing. Also notable with recycled mason jars, the rubber gasket along the rim of the flat lid can deteriorate, so ensure the lids are new. Lids consist of these flat disks as well as a screw-on metal band, so make sure you have both of those pieces!

2. Cleaning and Sterilization

Grab a pot large enough to hold the lids and jars. Then, fill it with water and bring to a boil. Once boiling, you’ll want to completely rinse both the lids and jars thoroughly in the boiling water. Since the lids are most likely made out of metal, leave them in the boiling hot water up until they are ready to be used. Remove the boiling hot water from the stove (or wherever you decided to boil the water) and let it sit until everything is ready to be canned. Once you remove the pot from the stove top, add the jars to hot water to sit there until you’re ready to use everything.

Avoid grabbing the items in the water with your bare hands. Use any clean tool to remove the jars and lids. Be sure the tool has also been cleaned and sterilized.

3. Prepare Your Produce

Once the jars and lids are completely sterile, you’ll want to begin slicing and dicing your produce. Depending on the harvest, you’ll want to dice them accordingly. Typically, veggies should be sliced up into two-inch pieces, avoid over slicing and use your best judgment to ensure the pieces aren’t too small. Leave cutting up any fruit last, as these tend to brown much quicker.

For all of your produce, be sure you are only canning the ripest ones. You don’t want to can any overripe or blemished produce. Also avoid using any utensils or chopping surfaces that contain any aluminum, copper, iron, or chipped enamel, as these will rot your produce. At this time, you’ll want to boil additional water used to store your produce in.

4. Fill ‘Er Up!

checking on canning process

You can begin adding your produce loosely into your jars using a spoon or ladle appropriately sized for the jars. Avoid over packing and intermingling your produce, as it can rot much quicker this way.

Following that, you can fill your jars with boiling water. If desired, you can also use a variety of liquid to store your produce in, including:

  • fresh white grape juice,
  • pickling solution
  • or sweet syrup.

Ensure all of your liquid and produce is as fresh as possible though.

When you’re filling your jars, you’ll want to be sure there is some headspace, as the produce will expand over time. Too much headroom will cause the jars to not close properly, as will too little headspace. Leave about 1/2 an inch of headspace.

Using a spoon or spatula, push down the produce to the bottom of the jar, and swirl it around slightly to loosen any air bubbles. Now, you’re ready to cap these bad boys!

Avoid tightening the lids too much, and be sure to wipe off any liquid surrounding the rims of the jars as well as on the outside of the jars before screwing on the lids.

5. Processing

Grab your canning pot (like this one), which should be large enough to house all of your canned goods. Then, bring a generous amount of water to a boil in the pot. Your pot should have a rack at the bottom to avoid the cans from burning. Rest the jars on top of the rack as they sit in the boiling water. This process will last anywhere from 5 to 20 minutes depending on the altitude you are processing at.

Refer to this altitude chart to determine how long to process for.

Once your jars are done processing, allow the jars to sit for 5 minutes without the heat turned on. Then, remove them safely with an appropriate lifting/grabbing tool, and allow them to sit on a towel as they adjust to room temperature. Let the jars sit undisturbed for 12 to 24 hours, and avoid loosening/tightening the lids.

Also, beware that jars can break due to the temperature difference when removed from the boiling water, so be sure they are left in a safe place when removed.

canning at home

6. Check

As your jars begin to cool, a pop is typically heard over the cooling process as the lids begin to contract. Once you feel the cooling process is over, and you’ve waited for 12 to 24 hours, check the lids to see if they contract or bend when pressed on. If they stay sturdy and do not move, remove the twistable band from the jar. Check to see if the flat lid comes off when you try to remove it lightly. If they do not come off, you’re good to go!

7. Store & Enjoy

You’ll want to date and mark which jars contain which contents, as well as the dates they were processed on. Store your cans in a cool, dry and dark place as they sit and wait to be opened up and enjoyed. Depending on the type of mason jars you used, you can store the contents inside anywhere from one year to several years. Typically, the contents inside will go bad once the seal is loosened and/or the lid has popped up/off.

That’s it! Now, go enjoy growing your veggies and canning your harvest at home this coming season!