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.
 

Fall Blooming Plants for Pollinators

Photo of a honey bee on a purple aster bloom.

photo courtesy of pixabay – 1735564

by Heather Stone

As the days become shorter and the nights cooler and the season shifts from summer to fall many of us can find our gardens to be a little lackluster. Not much is blooming after the abundance of color throughout the spring and summer.

 

This is where fall blooming plants come in. There are many native and non-native plants that bloom in late summer and fall that can keep your garden filled with color.

 

But, autumn-blooming plants don’t just benefit the gardener. As the bountiful blossoms of spring and summer decrease, it is important to provide pollinators with plenty of food sources as they begin to prepare for winter. Hummingbirds and butterflies will need plenty to eat before heading south and the honeybees and native bees need to gather as much pollen and nectar as possible to create winter food stores.

 

Here is a list of fall blooming plants that make great additions to the garden.

 

Perennials:

  1. Asters-there are various species of asters native to different parts of North America. Most plants have flowers in shades of white, blue, purple and pink. They are drought tolerant, grow to around 2-3’ and do best in full sun to part shade. Attractive to various species of bees, including bumblebees and leafcutter bees. Some species help fuel monarch butterfly migration.Photo of purple aster blooms.
  2. Black-Eyed Susan-the brilliant yellow flowers of Black-eyed Susan are long blooming and loved by both bees and birds.
  3. Blanket Flower– this tough plant needs little water, blooms a long time and it’s orange, red and yellow flowers are beautiful. Of course, the pollinators love it too!

Want to know more about the pollinators that visit blanket flower? Check out this link: https://bit.ly/2BvEmj4

  1. Liatris-the tall pinkish-purple flower spikes bloom late summer and attract a plethora of bees and butterflies.
  2. Goldenrod– when the goldenrod starts to bloom I know fall is just around the corner. There are a variety of native goldenrods all being easy to grow, drought tolerant and excellent bee plants.
  3. Purple Coneflower– this long-lived perennial comes to life in late summer with a striking display of large purple flowers and attracts a variety of bees and butterflies.Photo of honey bee on purple coneflower bloom.
  4. Garlic Chives- when the white star-shaped flowers of garlic chives start to bloom they are abuzz with so many bees you won’t believe your eyes. They are a late season nectar source for butterflies too.

Photo of the white blooms of garlic chive.

Annuals:

These flowers have been working hard in the garden all summer and will continue to bloom until the first frost strikes.

  1. Cosmos– these drought-tolerant flowers come in shades of pink, white and red and will begin to bloom in late summer and last well into fall.
  2. Cleome-with ample nectar stores, the pink to lavender flowers of this western native are loved by bees and butterflies.
  3. Calendula-this long-time garden favorite loves the cooler weather of fall and its flowers of yellow, orange and gold add a great splash of color to the garden.
  4. Borage– the long-blooming, blue, star-shaped flowers are adored by the bees.

    Single blue Borage bloom.

    Photo courtesy of Pixabay virginie-I

Check out this blog post about borage- https://bit.ly/2MtXMKv

  1. Mexican Sunflower– loved by bees, butterflies and hummingbirds the vibrant orange blooms will last until frost.
  2. Marigolds– this garden staple will add a blast of color to your border and looks great in pots.
  3. Sunflowers-nothing is more cheerful than a sunflower and the bees, butterflies and birds adore them.
  4. Zinnias– with blooms in every color of the rainbow these long-lasting flowers are a great addition to the garden and the bees love them.
  5. Pincushion Flower– both the perennial and annual varieties of the pincushion flower produce a sweet fragrance that attracts butterflies, bees and hummingbirds. Regular deadheading of the spent blossoms will keep these beauties blooming all season long.
 

Back To School

by Sam Doll
Back to School Learning Gardens.

What do you think of when you imagine a classroom? Do you think of rows of desks, educational posters, a whiteboard with a professionally dressed teacher at the front? There may be a few toys or tablets with games designed to teach kids their alphabet or basic math.

That traditional classroom is useful for certain things, like learning grammar and division, but it is really inadequate for teaching kids about the world they live in and interact with every day. This is especially true with food.

Most kids, especially those from low-income or urban areas have very little understanding of what food actually is or where it comes from. Kids learn through their senses, so when they aren’t given the opportunity to actually see and touch and understand how food comes from the earth to their plate, it is hard for them to have a deep understanding of the food system and it is harder for them to make healthy choices. Ketchup has no connection to a tomato and the tomato has no connection to the earth.

We know that good nutrition is linked to higher academic achievement. We also know that gardening has many positive outcomes for children, including better nutrition, social skills, and academic achievement.

That is why school learning gardens are such a powerful education tool. These outdoor classrooms can be installed either on school campuses or remotely and provide a unique, hands-on opportunity for kids to learn lessons in nutrition, science, and community while getting a tasty, healthy snack right from the garden!

One of the biggest organizations pushing for school learning gardens is Big Green. Started by Kimbal Musk, food entrepreneur and brother of Elon Musk. Big Green installs learning gardens at low-income schools across the country.

They provide dedicated garden instructors, so teachers aren’t being asked to do more than they already are and kids are getting information straight from the experts. Started in Boulder, Colorado (BBB Seed’s hometown), Big Green has built learning gardens at over 378 schools in seven states.

At BBB Seed, we are dedicated to educating people of all ages about the benefits of eating healthy, protecting our pollinators, and gardening with organic methods. To get educational materials sent straight to your email, make sure to sign up for our newsletter at the bottom of the ‘home’ page.

 

 

Preserving Herbs in Vinegar

Infusing vinegars with herbs.

photo courtesy of Anelka / pixabay

By Heather Stone

Last week we talked about drying as an easy way to preserve your herb harvest. This week we are going to dive into infusing herbs in vinegar. There is lots of room for creativity when making infused vinegars. You can infuse single herbs, a combination of herbs, herbs with flowers and don’t forget fruit. The possibilities are endless.

The end product can be used in a number of ways including; salad dressings, marinades, rubs, sauces, beverages and more. Beautifully bottled vinegars also make great gifts.

 

  • First, you will need to choose your vinegar. There are many varieties of vinegar including white, apple cider, rice, champagne and wine vinegars. Milder tasting vinegars are well suited for delicate herbs and flowers. Your more robust herbs do best in wine vinegar. Really it’s up to you and what you like best.

 

 

  • Wash and gently pat dry your herbs. Make sure you are using the best quality leaves and flowers, leaving behind those that are bruised, brown or have been nibbled on.

 

  • Place three to four sprigs of fresh herbs or 3-4 tablespoons of dried herbs per pint of vinegar.

 

  • Cover your container tightly with a non-metallic lid and place it in a cool, dark place to infuse. Allow it to steep for 2-4 weeks, giving it an occasional shake.

 

  • Once your vinegar has reached your desired flavor, remove the herbs and place the vinegar into a sterilized jar or bottle. Don’t forget to label and date your vinegars! Stored in a cool, dark place your vinegar should last 4-5 months. Refrigerate for longer storage.

 

Chives with pink blossoms.

Photo courtesy of TanteTati / pixabay

Some of my favorites include:

A bottle of taragon infused vivegar.

Photo courtesy of mammela / pixabay

French tarragon in apple cider vinegar

Chive blossoms in rice vinegar- the beautiful blossoms turn the vinegar a beautiful shade of pink

Violets in white wine vinegar- this vinegar turns an amazing shade of purple

Raspberries in cider vinegar

Parsley, thyme and sage in red wine vinegar

 

Check out these links for more ideas for flavor combinations.

https://theherbalacademy.com/making-herbal-vinegars/

http://www.frontiercoop.com/community/how-to/herbal-vinegars

https://nchfp.uga.edu/publications/uga/uga_flavored_vinegars.pdf

 

 

5 TIPS FOR TAKING YOUR JAM FROM GOOD TO GREAT

By Engrid WinslowThree jars of great jams.

 

If you are questioning whether making your own jams and preserves is worth the effort the answer would be absolutely “YES!!!!!”  If you’ve never made your own jam before check out the tutorials and instructions on these two websites:

https://www.freshpreserving.com/canning-101-getting-started.html

http://foodinjars.com/canning-101-archive/

 

 

Here are some ways that you can boost the flavors of your jams to heights that are extraordinary:

A box of 'Sure Jell" Pectin for making great jams. Pectin for making great jams.

 

  • Mix more than one fruit together! Peaches and raspberries make a great couple not to mention the classic old-fashioned strawberry & rhubarb.  Try other mixtures too and be surprised by the flavor profiles you can create.
  • Add a surprise element. Consider adding herbs or spices to your jams like strawberry with basil, apricot with rosemary, lavender and peach, pear with vanilla bean, cherry and jalapeno, pear butter with ginger,  or even lemon zest and juice to your blueberries, strawberries or blackberries to make Blueberry Lemonade, etc.  Or make limeade with lime zest and juice
  • Speaking of additions, some recipes call for lemon juice and some don’t but you will find that adding lemon juice and a bit of salt really brighten and intensify the flavors.
  • Check out some amazing books for even more great ideas.

 

Front cover of the book, "Blue Ribbon Canning". Front cover of the book, "Naturally Sweet Food in Jars". Front cover of the book, "Food In Jars".

 

 

 

 

So now you are all set and can get creative and make delicious preserves and jams to give to family, neighbors and friends.  Homemade jam and a package of scone mix is also a great hostess gift.  Share your ideas and creations with us here.

 

Drying: An Easy Way to Preserve Your Herbs

A Jar of dried spice leaves.

Photo courtesy of monicore / pixabay

Leaves

If you’re harvesting leaves, the best time to pick is before the plant begins to flower.

Flowers
If you’re harvesting flowers, harvest the blossoms just before they are in full bloom.

Seeds
If you’re harvesting seeds, the seeds should remain on the plant until they are fully mature and begin to dry.

 

Here are three easy methods for drying your newly harvested herbs.

Air drying
Air drying is the easiest method of drying herbs and can be done in several ways. One way is to air dry in bundles. First, gather the stems in a loose bundle. You want good air circulation throughout and around the bundle. Next, hang them stem side up in an area that is warm, dry, dust- free and out of direct sunlight. Finally, your herbs are ready when they are dry and

crumbly to the touch. This can take anywhere from four days or

up to two weeks if temperatures are on the cooler side.

Drying seeds? Place a paper bag loosely over the bundle to catch any seeds that might fall.

If you are working with a smaller quantity or have plants with delicate leaves or flowers you can place them on a drying rack or screen. This can be a piece of cheesecloth, a window screen or a brown paper bag with holes punched in it. Just like drying in bundles you want good air circulation and to keep the herbs warm, dry and out of direct sunlight.

Preserving herbs by tying bundles of spices to hang from a beam.

Photo courtesy of pixabay

Dehydrating
Using an electric food dehydrator is a great way to quickly dry your herbs, which can be helpful if you live in an area with high humidity. Keeping the dehydrator on the lowest temperature setting, follow the instructions on your dehydrator for how to place the leaves and recommended drying times.

Oven Drying
For oven drying, begin by placing individual leaves on a lined baking sheet. Set your oven to its lowest temperature and keep a close eye on them. You don’t want them to dry out too quickly.

Now that your herbs are thoroughly dry you want to store them properly to maintain their quality and taste. You can store your herbs in jars (glass or plastic) with tight-fitting lids or in well-sealed plastic bags. Make sure to label your containers with the herbs name and date. Keep your herbs in a cool, dark place to maintain freshness.

 

12 Easy Ways to Save Water Now

Kitchen faucet with running water.

Photo courtesy of kaboompics / pixabay

 by Heather Stone

No matter where you live reducing your water use is important. Water is a finite resource and we are using more of it than ever. Did you know that the average American uses 88 gallons of water a day at home? In comparison, Europeans use about half that and in sub –Saharan Africa persons average only 2-5 gallons a day. Now most of us aren’t likely to get our water usage to that level, there are many ways we can reduce our water consumption in the home.

When it comes to saving water, the little things do really add up. Here is a list of 12 easy things you can do in your home to reduce your water consumption and lower your water bill.

1. Repair leaks. Drip, drip, drip. This is the sound of a precious resource being wasted. Fix those leaking toilets and showers! This can make a big difference. The average family can waste 180 gallons per week or 9,400 gallons of water annually from household leaks. Nationwide, these household leaks can waste almost 900 billion gallons of water in a year. Not sure if your toilet is leaking. Place 10-12 drops of food coloring in your tank, don’t flush. Check back in thirty minutes. If there is color in the bowl, you have a leak.
2. Install water saving fixtures like faucet aerators and low flow showerheads. These low cost and easy to install items can significantly reduce water volume. If you have a little more money to spend replacing your old toilet with a low –flow model can save 50-80 gallons of water a day.
3. Don’t use your toilet as a wastebasket. Whenever you flush that tissue or bit of trash down the toilet you’re wasting gallons of water. Put it in the trash instead.
4. Take short showers instead of baths. Turn off the water while you are soaping up.
5. How many gallons of water go down the drain while we wait for the shower to warm up? Collect that water in a large bucket and use it to flush the toilet or water plants.
6. Turn off the water to brush your teeth. The average faucet releases 2 gallons of water a minute.
7. Fill the sink to shave instead of letting the water run.
8. Only run your dishwasher when it’s full.
9. Fill a basin with water for rinsing your dishes. Use this water to water your plants or flush your toilet.
10. Limit the use of your garbage disposal. Try composting those food scraps instead!
11. Wash your fruit and veggies in a tub or bucket instead of rinsing under running water. This can save gallons of water from going down the drain.
12. Only run your washing machine when it’s full and skip the permanent press cycle. Most machines use 5 gallons of water for that extra rinse.

Want to determine your personal water footprint? Check out this water footprint calculator.

 

 

What Is Green Manure?

By Engrid WinslowBlooms of Alsike Clover.

So, you’ve heard of cover crops, right?  Green Manure is a cover crop that is tilled into the soil while it is still green and alive.  There are many different types of plants that are used as cover crops but are most commonly peas, clovers, vetch, rye, oats, buckwheat, barley and mustard. Always trim them back before tilling in and before they go to seed. This green plant matter provides a burst of microbial life to the soil which is important in enriching your vegetable or flower beds in the spring. Different types of cover crops provide different benefits to the soil ranging from:

 

  • Preventing soil erosion
  • Stabilizing soil temperatures
  • Reducing water loss
  • Reducing weeds
  • Fixing soil nitrogen (peas and vetch)
  • Providing habitat and food for pollinators (clover, vetch and buckwheat)
  • Accumulating phosphorus in the soil
  • Reducing nutrient loss during the winter

 

When choosing a cover crop you should be aware that some form deep roots (i.e. rye) and can be more difficult to till into the soil.  Peas, barley and oats are much easier to work into your beds and never, ever let vetches go to seed or you will have a rampant weed on your hands.

 

A great time to plant cover crops also occurs in the fall after the first hard freeze and you have pulled out all those dead tomato and cucumber plants. Check out our Green Manure which contains a great mixture of peas, two types of vetch, rye and oats. You’ll be giving your soil something to do over the winter. Gardeners have become more aware in recent years that there are microbes living in the soil all year round. They have a symbiotic relationship with plant roots and need them to stay alive.

Package of Green Manure Seed Mix.