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Ask the Master Gardener: Choosing the best vegetable varieties for food preservation

By: Laurie Meyerpeter Placer County Master Gardener
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Question: I want to do more food preservation this year. I was a newbie food preserver this past summer and I found that my garden didn’t seem to be as productive as I needed for pickling and canning. Which vegetables and varieties work best for this goal? Answer: When preserving food, cooks often find it is best to have an abundance of garden veggies ready to can at one time. While some vegetables are very productive over the entire season, they are not as desirable for food preservation because their output is spread out — not concentrated. Cooks often find that having a concentrated harvest at one time streamlines preservation efforts and is more efficient. Many vegetables have been developed over the years with this in mind, including many heirloom varieties. When choosing tomatoes, look for “determinate” varieties, also known as bush tomatoes. These produce their main crop at one time, although they often continue to produce a smaller crop after the main crop has been harvested. There are many delicious varieties but a commonly available one is “Roma.” In addition to being a determinate type of tomato, it’s a paste type. Paste-type tomatoes have less water and more “meat,” which is important when canning and making sauces. Many cooks with small gardens prefer bush beans for making “Dilly Bean” pickles and other preserving because these types of beans produce a heavy crop all at once in a small space. In contrast, pole beans produce a sustained crop through a longer season, but with fewer beans at any one time. There are many varieties of bush beans; choose the variety that best suits your need. After a few pickings, bush bean production slows and you want to tear the plants out and plant a second crop for harvest later in the season. Any cucumber can be pickled and any pickling cucumber can be eaten fresh. But if you want to make pickles, consider planting special pickling varieties. Pickling cucumbers are easily grown from seed and you’ll have many varieties to choose from. For a small garden, consider training them on a trellis. And don’t forget the excessively-productive zucchini. Zucchini can be made into a number of great recipes including zucchini relish, which is better than cucumber relish in my opinion. For great information on safely canning and preserving your harvest, contact the Master Food Preservers in El Dorado or Sacramento counties.