Why in the world would I write and publish a fall preservation guide in January? We’re nowhere near fall. In fact, we’re not even near late spring, when gardens are actually starting to grow. We don’t need to worry about doing any of this work for months yet. So then why am I writing this now?
The answer is, because you need to plan, prepare, and save in advance for the preservation you’re going to do.
Last year I looked all over the internet for months trying to find this information. I needed to know exactly when certain items came into season; if they grew in my area (I was surprised by at least one thing last year!; whether they could be canned, frozen, or both; how much I should expect to pay per pound; where I might be able to source the items; how much of each item I would need (based on how many jars I wanted to fill; etc.! And although I found some of this information, most of it wasn’t there.
There was certainly no definitive guide to how all this works. I found I way under budgeted, I missed certain items because I didn’t quite have the season right, and I found some prices to be “too expensive” when in fact they turned out to be a lot better than I’d thought. So now I’m going to pass along what I’ve learned to you!
Yes, it really is time to plan now. I started on January 1st. I want to know I have a good plan in place, and the money saved up so that I can really make use of this summer’s bounty. It’s especially important because I’ll be having a baby right in the middle of the preservation season, but it’s really important for everyone.
Last year I tried to budget about $200 for produce. I figured that would be plenty, because I’d find everything at peak season in large quantities for $0.50 a lb. or so. Right? Wrong. Not to mention that the sheer quantity that I needed of certain items just made that number impossible to stick to. It’s not realistic at all to think that you can put up enough food to feed your family for 6 to 10 months for just $200 [unless maybe if you grow it all yourself...]! But I didn’t think of it that way.
Our general budget this year: $1500. Much more accurate.
What does your family really eat?
This is important. There are many things that can be canned, but if your family’s not going to eat it, it’s useless. For example, I love the idea of jams and jellies. But my family doesn’t like them, so there’s no point in canning them.
We also found that the CSA we had last year was really heavy on sweet potatoes, kale, swiss chard, squash, and other foods we don’t like very much. And they didn’t have corn, carrots, onions, or other foods we really like at all. So our cost was not nearly as low as it appeared to be because we weren’t getting the produce we really wanted. We’ll be searching for a CSA this year that has more of what we really want, but we’re prepared to just buy individually from farms, in bulk, on items that we like the most.
So for us, our list of foods that we really want to preserve looks like this:
- Tomato sauce 30 qts.
- Diced tomatoes 20 pts.
- Tomato puree 20 qts.
- Salsa 10 pts.
- Applesauce 20 qts.
- Sliced apples 10 qts.
- Diced pears 30 qts.
- Sour dill pickles (fermented] 5 qts.
- Green beans 15 lbs.
- Peas 30 lbs.
- Corn 100 lbs.
- Peach slices 100 lbs.
- Strawberries 50 lbs.
- Blueberries 75 lbs.
- Raspberries 10 lbs.
- Pumpkin puree 10 cups
- Green peppers 40 peppers
- Broccoli 100 lbs.
- Zucchini, shredded 20 cups
Dried (a large glass jar of each, about 20 oz.):
- Mint (will also make extract
So, that’s what my family will eat. Yeah, we really like corn, peaches, and blueberries. I use the fruit for smoothies, which we have almost everyday. The kids also love to eat blueberries plain, and I like to bake with them. Plus I make yogurt popsicles for them with the fruit.
This list is based on what I made last year and what I believe we will eat next year. There are certain things we always eat a lot of, and other things we really only want a little of, like raspberries or pumpkin puree.
Next I have to know one important thing: do I need a pressure canner for any of this? As it happens, no, I don’t. Anything that might have required one I’ve chosen to freeze instead. Plus, in certain cases, we’re choosing to freeze even if we could can, like the peaches, because that’s how we prefer them. At this point, 50 lbs. of peaches are nearly gone from my freezer, while a dozen quarts are sitting on the shelves, basically untouched.
If this is your first year, you will want to look at old meal plans to see what your family really likes and uses a lot of, and decide based on that what you think you will want. If you eat peanut butter and jelly everyday for lunch, clearly you’ll want to make a lot of jelly. These are only estimates the first few years, so just do the best you can. If you have too much, they’ll last awhile; if you don’t make enough, write down for next year that you want to double the amount or whatever you need.
Choosing Quantities and Pricing
It was easy to say, “I want to make 30 quarts of tomato sauce.” But then I had to buy my tomatoes in pounds. How many pounds of tomatoes do I really need for 30 quarts of sauce?
There are charts out there but they do vary widely. I’m going to give you what I found to be generally true when I canned things last year.
Lbs. of food per quart:
- Tomatoes: Romas, 3 lbs. per quart. Other, 4 lbs. per quart (more juice
- Apples: 3 lbs. per quart
- Peaches: 3 lbs. per quart
- Pears: 2 lbs. per quart (it might have been slightly more, but less than 3 lbs.
- Apple butter: 6 lbs. per quart
- Corn: 1 doz. ears is about 4 lbs.
I didn’t can much more than that, but most fruit would be pretty similar. Figure around 3 lbs. of fruit per quart. You’ll need slightly less for large pieces and more for purees.
It’s also worth noting that you will often buy larger quantities in “quarts,” “pecks,” and “bushels.” These are not fixed weight quantities. They are sold by volume, so the weight will vary from item to item. There are 8 quarts in a peck, 4 pecks in a bushel. A bushel varies from 3o to 5o lbs. Apples are about 42 lbs. per bushel, and peaches are about 48 lbs. per bushel. Expect a bushel to weigh around 45 lbs. for most of the above fruits and vegetables, as they are similar.
Then how much are you going to spend? Like I said, I’d had visions of $0.50/lb. dancing in my head. And I figured corn would be $2.50 a dozen. But…not so much. As noted above, they don’t always sell them by the pound, they sell by quarts, pecks, and bushels. At least if you want large quantities. You can also often find price breaks as you buy each larger quantity. Here’s what I found to be realistic, in Central Ohio:
- Apples were $0.50 to $1/lb.
- Peaches were around $1/lb.
- Pears were $2/lb.
- Blueberries were $2.50 to $3.00 lb. (I’d love to find a way to reduce this, but I checked several places last year and could not find better)
- Strawberries were $1.75/lb.
- Broccoli was $1.25 to $1.75/lb.
- Raspberries were $3.50/lb.
- Tomatoes were $0.75 to $1/lb.
- Basil (and other herbs) was often $2 for a big bag
If you’re in a different area, I have talked to some people and found that these prices are probably similar in most of the country, although there will be exceptions.
So now I know how many quarts and lbs. I need, and how much I need to spend per item. I can plan ahead and save up the money I’ll need.
Don’t forget canning supplies if you don’t have enough. I only have about 60 or 80 quart jars, so I’ll need to buy more this year. You can check stores now, because they may have some left on clearance. Same with lids. Buy in advance if you possibly can. But, estimate how many jars, freezer bags, etc. that you will need now and start stocking up. Craig’s List and garage sales can be great places to get jars too. Just check prices because you can find them at Walmart for $8/dozen, so don’t pay more than that for used jars!
Seasons for Produce
Now, when are these foods in season? Most are in season only for a couple weeks, with the exception of apples (two months, although each variety is a week or two each. Since I’m in central Ohio, I’ll be telling you what’s in season here. But this should be true throughout most of the Northern half of the country, and some will be true throughout. It’s universal enough to be useful anyway.
- Late May/Early June: Strawberries (wait till after the second week of June and you might miss them!.
- Mid June/early August: Broccoli. Try to get it on the earlier side.
- Early July/late August: Basil and other herbs.
- Mid July/Mid August: Tomatoes. They might last a bit longer, into September, if it doesn’t get too cold. They can also be delayed until late August if the early summer was cool. Definitely in late August. They tend to stop rather suddenly, so get them while you can!
- Early August: Corn. If you see corn at your farmer’s markets, but also still out in the fields, don’t be fooled into thinking “this is just the beginning.” You’ve only got a couple weeks to buy sweet corn; that corn in the field is for animal feed.
- Late July/early August: Peaches. Yes, they do grow in Northern climates! These will last a few weeks.
- July/August: Green peppers. They produce in a similar time frame to tomatoes.
- Late July/early August: Blueberries. Depending on variety, you might find them a couple weeks earlier or later, but this is a fast crop, gone in just a couple weeks. Where possible, look for Amish farms for the best deals.
- Early September/Late October: Apples. Check carefully depending on what variety you want, as each is only in season for a couple weeks. Jonathon and Golden Delicious were our favorite sauce apples and they’re both mid season.
- Late September/early October: Pears. These tend to be hard to find, so if you find them for a good price, snatch them up!
Most foods that are canned are available in July and August, with the exception of pears and apples. Plan your preserving ahead of time, and realize you’ll be working in batches over a period of weeks. It may take a few days to get through all of something. Or, if you are gardening, you may only get a few pounds at once [depending on how many plants you have, obviously!]. I thought that I’d be literally doing all my canning at once in a two or three week period, but that’s not how it turned out. It’s really over a 6 or 8 week period, longer if you wait on the later arriving apples.
So now you can put a plan in place! You know what you want, how much, how much it’ll cost, and when you’ll need to do it. Start saving up and sourcing your food now, talking to as many farmers as you can. Take advantage of local farmer’s markets as soon as they open to hook up with farmers for later in the season deals. Planning ahead means prepared, and you’ll save lots of money!
Do you preserve food in the fall? What do you do and how much do you spend?