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.
 

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.

 

 

Alyssum

by Sandy Swegel

It’s time to give the last garden award of the year: Latest Bloomer of the Year. Late blooming flowers are important because they are the last nectar and pollen sources of the season for bees and other pollinators. Bees especially show up on sunny Fall days when the warmth prompts the bees to leave the hive but freezes have already killed off all the flowers except for a hardy few who have little warm micro-ecosystems.

It’s a tie this year. The day after Thanksgiving only two flowers were in bloom: Sweet Alyssum, Lobularia maritima, the annual, and yellow perennial alyssum, Aurinia saxatilis.

Perennial alyssum is the Spring yellow cascading ground-cover known as “Basket of Gold“. It’s glory days are Spring, but it throws out tiny yellow flowers here and there most of the year. The cooler weather of Fall spurs on more flowers and the bees can see those bright yellow flowers from far away.

White or Sweet Allysum is the annual often found in planters mixed with geraniums. It is sturdy, blooms all season and has a very sweet smell. Bees love it all season long. It reseeded itself which is how it made itself at home between pavers on a stone patio. Adorable, hardy and bee food. What a flower!

So, dear Alyssums, we salute you this year as latest bloomers. The bees appreciate your food and the humans love your beauty as winter gray takes over our once colorful gardens.Basket-of-gold AlyssumSweet AlyssumPhotos:

http://typesofflower.com/alyssum-flower-beautiful-meaning-with-gently-care-flower/alyssum-flower-annual-or-perennial/
https://roundrockgarden.wordpress.com/tag/parsley/

 

Garlic: Last crop of the season.

by Sandy Swegel

It’s still unseasonably warm in many parts of the country. Most but not all leaves have fallen. Tomatoes are miraculously still ripening…there won’t be many green tomatoes this year. But the easiest crop of all can be planted very quickly if you haven’t gotten it in the ground yet.

Garlic gets planted in the fall because it does best with a cooling period before growth. Garlic grows very easily and will grow even in poorer soil. But give it good garden soil and good moisture (winter rains and snow usually take care of the moisture) and you’ll have fabulous tasting fresh garlic all year…scapes in Spring and cloves in summer. It really does taste better than the traditional store-bought.

If your soil is fairly soft and porous, you can just poke your gloved finger down into the soil and drop a single clove in…pointy side up. My soil is tough so I carve a hole with my hori hori knife. You can leave the paper on the clove. Space the garlic about six inches apart. You can do rows or a grid. Press the dirt back on the hole. Mulch if you have some leaves or compost. Water if your soil is dry.

 

Truthfully, planting garlic takes less time than chopping up garlic for dinner. The traditional time for planting garlic is October-November. Our local garlic market farmer says she’s been known to be in the fields Thanksgiving morning brushing away snow and pressing the cloves in. Just get it done. If you don’t have fancy planting cloves, just use some organic garlic from the grocery store this year.

 

You can get fancier and fussier about planting garlic and amend the soil or pre-soak cloves or dig perfectly measured trenches. But I’m outta time and interest this year….thinking about Thanksgiving already. So I’m going for “good enough” because I’m just so busy this year and garlic is very forgiving.

The garlic will be finished maybe late June so choose a part of the garden you won’t need until them. Someplace the squash will eventually grow over is a good spot.

Photo:
http://www.rodalesorganiclife.com/garden/trick-planting-healthy-garlic

 

Drought again?!

by Sandy Swegel

Unseasonably warm weather means I finally had time to get some more bulbs planted this week.  It has been warm and sunny this fall but I didn’t fully realize how drought had snuck up on us until I went to dig the deep holes for the daffodils.  In decent garden soil that has had regular if modest irrigation all year, the soil below six inches was dry dry dry.  Pulverized dirt dry.  During times of drought, the soil all over dries down.  The water table recedes and deep-rooted trees and grasses have used up whatever water is available.  We can keep irrigating with an inch of water a week on the surface, but it’s not possible to water enough to keep the soil moist deep in the ground if there’s no natural rainfall.

Drought really snuck up on lots of the US this year.  Except for poor southern California, most of the country started the year with good water.  Now significant parts of the plains and southeast (as well as southern California which started the year dry) are experiencing moderate to severe drought.  See the drought monitor for your area.  http://droughtmonitor.unl.edu  In my area, we went from an awesome spring to virtually no rain since July.

So what’s happening in your garden now?  Here’s what happens in moderate drought:

Soil with clay in it turns hard and cracks open.  (The clay shrinks when it dries out.)

Soil critters go into self-preservation mode.   During times of drought, they have varying survival techniques from as simple as laying eggs for the next generation once conditions improve.  Earthworms go into a hibernation-like state called estivation.  Balled up little earthworms are what I found in my garden bed when I was planting bulbs.

What can you do besides pray for rain or snow or freeze?

Give your trees and shrubs a good long slow-watering now.  Trees need 10 gallons of water per inch of trunk diameter once a month.  If your irrigation is still turn on, you can run it longer than usual.  Or put a light sprinkler on for several hours.  Here’s a great fact-sheet on ways to water trees during drought.   http://www.colostate.edu/Dept/CoopExt/4dmg/Trees/caring.htm

Otherwise, leave the soil alone.  Digging in too dry soil ruins soil texture just like digging in too wet soil.  The soil I had dug for the daffodils was like dust when I filled the holes back in.

Pay attention to rain or snow this month.  If you aren’t getting significant precipitation, water the trees and shrubs once a month even if the ground is frozen.

And pray for rain.

 

Trapped by Nature

by Sandy Swegel

Traffic jams and Mother Nature conspired yesterday to make me notice. I had to get to work early and as I reached the top of a hill I could see the traffic on the single highway was at a dead stop for miles. In my hurry that day I had also let my cell phone battery run down and the car charger was suddenly broken. I decided I was too impatient to wait and tried a detour but soon it was obvious a thousand other people were trying this too. So I was driving about five miles per hour for 45 minutes with no smartphone, no music or news to listen to, and it was the best thing that happened to me all week.

Forced idleness tricked me into simply being and observing. My detour took me thru areas of small farms just after sunrise. So many wonders.

There was a hundred-year-old cottonwood tree with only the outer three feet of all the branches turned bright yellow. Every other leaf was dark green. It looked like a punk rocker hairstyle. Then traffic inched on and I saw fields of organic kale. Some frozen solid and white frosted. Others just an acre away but three feet or so upslope were dark green. Cold sinks into low areas and that morning the frost line ran right through the field of kale. Traffic inched forward and I saw flocks of chickens put out to free range surrounded by the flimsiest electric fence. I laughed out loud and remembered my first chickens where we installed one of those portable electric fences. We stood back proudly and watched as our chickens figured out right away that even with clipped wings they could fly up to the top of the short electric fence and not get shocked because they were birds and didn’t have a foot touching the ground to conduct electricity. They just jumped off into a neighboring field.

 

The rest of the slow ride gave me dozens more magical moments. A hay field already finished for the year had hot air ballooners just starting to inflate tiny collapsed balloons. Down the way, llamas stood at fierce guard between the big noisy cars and their sheep munching quietly in the background. Hawks and huge birds of prey were swooping as if on roller coasters on the winds coming off the mountain

I hope events conspire to give you a rest sometime. Life is so busy and full of thinking and doing that we grown-ups don’t get delighted so often. And much as we’d like, we can’t force the magic. I drove the same way home that day. The cottonwood tree had turned more normal yellow during the day. The chickens were locked away safely from coyotes and I forgot to look for the llamas because I was thinking about dinner. So if you have a moment today when the grandeur of Nature breaks through the mundane…be sure to notice and be happy.

 

Free Peony Bushes in Ten Minutes

by Sandy Swegel

In the last post, I talked about Grandma’s method for making rose bushes. Today, I have a method for peonies taught by my older friend’s great-grandmother who was born in the 19th century. It’s not a method I’ve been able to find on the internet but it is VERY reliable.

Most people propagate peonies by digging up the roots, dividing and replanting. That definitely works but often the peonies go into a sulk and don’t bloom the next year. Plus an old root ball is huge and it takes a lot of effort to dig it up and cut it up.

 

Great-grandmother Pat’s method was to take a sharp shovel and cut through the peony root around the edge to grab a small chunk of eyes and the roots that go with them. I usually aim for 3-5 eyes and am sure to push the shovel deep to get their attached roots. This may seem brutal to the mama peony plant, but I have done this for years and every time, the mama plant puts out even more new eyes there the next year. On a big old root, you can take several cuttings from different sides of the crown.

 

This process takes ten minutes because it is worth your effort to prepare the soil for the new peony and make sure the soil is loose and fertile. I mix in some compost. I usually have a spot at least twice the size of the peony roots. It is important if you want blooms in the future to plant the rhizome so the eyes are 2 inches or less from the surface. I do mulch for winter protection here in zone 5 but pull the mulch aside in spring.

The new plant doesn’t always put out a bloom the first year and not every transplant survives, but most survive and manage to put out a few blooms. In another year, the peony looks fully developed. The best part is that the original mama plant is completely undisturbed by the process and looks as gorgeous as ever.

Simple. I think these old methods are so effective because our grandmothers and great-grandmothers were too busy working without all the modern conveniences to have time to be fussy with their gardens. They needed simple fast methods to make their gardens beautiful.

Photos:
http://www.theplantexpert.com/peonies/PlantingPeonies.html
https://www.gardenia.net/guide/peonies-that-do-not-require-staking

 

Food for Fall Pollinators

by Sandy Swegel

Fall is a great time for birds and bears.  Gardens and natural areas are full of seeds and berries for getting the calories needed for winter.  Pollinators like bees, flies, butterflies, moths and insects need nectar and pollen food sources.  When I was in the foothills this weekend I noticed that native sources of nectar weren’t very evident. We haven’t had much rain so some late-season flowers finished earlier.  There were still tiny white aster blooms and stray late blooms of Penstemon, Liatris and Gaillardia, but this is nothing like the abundant feast of spring.  Poor pollinators…Fall must be a difficult time…addicted to sugar all summer and then have it all cut off.

 

Fall is one time when it’s good to have nice irrigated areas with annuals and non-native plants so that you can feed the pollinators of fall who are still active.  In home gardens this week I saw dozens of butterflies, bees and moths on late-season annuals like Verbena bonariensis, Cosmos, Zinnias.  Our love of home gardening is very helpful to pollinators.

 

Cornell University released a study this year about monarch butterflies.  While it is true that milkweed is the only food of the caterpillars, adult butterflies eat from all flowering plants.  This time of year the monarchs need a lot of nectar and pollen to give them the strength to migrate back home.  The monarchs can find nectar in areas gardened or farmed by humans.

 

So for those of us who love pollinators, providing some fall habitat with blooming flowers is very helpful to butterflies and all the pollinators. The longer in the season they eat, the better the chance they’ll survive winter.  To get ideas for what to grow, notice what might still be blooming in wild areas and where the pollinators are actively feeding in gardens.   Each year I give out awards to the plants I know for things like “First Bloom of the Year” or “Best Season Long Performer.”  The last award of the growing season is “Last Bloom of the Year.”  Sometime in November long after a hard frost, there is still some little single perennial flower that had several bees visiting it.  Most years it is blue Scabiosa, but Borage is putting up a last-minute burst into bloom.  Who won the last bloom of 2016 in your habitat?

Photos:

http://monarchbutterflygarden.net/are-native-only-wildlife-gardens-starving-fall-pollinators/

http://diet.yukozimo.com/what-do-honey-bees-eat/

 

Fall Berries

Fall Berries

 

We think of maple leaves when we think of Fall color, but berries that ripen in the Fall offer vivid color that lasts well into winter.  They also provide food for birds and small mammals when there’s not much else to eat in winter.  Words cannot adequately describe the wild colors you’ll enjoy once all those showy leaves fall.  All these plants grow in Zone 5 with some irrigation.  (Some are quite xeric but then stay small.)

Orange and red berries
Pyracantha, mountain ash, cotoneaster, hawthorn

 

Blues and purples and blacks

Chokecherries, viburnum, juniper

 

And finally, the outrageous pinks!!!

Beauty berry

 

Photos:

http://extension.illinois.edu/ShrubSelector/detail_plant.cfm?PlantID=421

http://www.sunset.com/garden/flowers-plants/plants-with-beautiful-fall-berries

http://www.onlinenurseryco.com/mountain-ash-trees/

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Juniper_berries_lush.jpg

http://lathamsnursery.com/?product=viburnum-blue-muffin-3g-viburnum-dentatum-christom

http://www.onlyfoods.net/chokecherry.html