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Preserving LARGE amounts of food by any method ... need help

 
pollinator
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1. Historically most of preservation have been dehydration (honey, prunes, raisins, dried spices/leaves, dried beans/nuts/grains, dried mushroom)
2. Alot of animal products had a hybrid ferment+Dehydration (fermented milk dehydrated to cheese, fermented mince meat dehydrated to sausages/etc)
3. A few things were just fermented mostly just as a sauce or condiment (soy sauce, fish sauce, pickles, kimchi, sauerkraut, etc)
4. Alot of starch fermentation happened too (rice-sake, wheat/barley-beer, fruit-wines, etc)

Lowering moisture content (boiling-evaporation, solar/air flow-evaporation, freeze:dry-sublimation, smoking/air flow-evaporation)
Chemical inhibitors (salt, nitrate, preservative, modified atmosphere, smoke, alcohol)
Being out competed (fermentation with 'good-microbes')
Canning/Freezing/etc
 
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My 2 cents and then 2 questions. I'm still figuring it out but there are a few things I want to add.

1: wine.  Not that you have to be drunk all winter, but many things can be preserved this way and wine makes awesome stew in winter. It requires watching, but gives you another option for preservation that requires less initial time and heat.

2: vinegar. Wine's sour cousin. Works as an additive to so many dishes. About as easy as doing nothing.

3. Regarding solar dehydrator: when I was 17 I made a solar oven on my parent's roof with two shoe boxes, a pane of glass, newspaper, aluminum foil, and glue. Yes,
It got up to cooking temps. What I learned was it doesn't take much to use the sun's heat.  Where else do you get a hot,  dehydrating environment? How about your car's windshield? Maybe the rafters of your attic? Maybe between your windows and your curtains? Your cold frames or green house vent? Don't think about what it looks like, consider what it does at the moment. You might not need specialty equipment.

Now question 1: I am getting in my harvest of elderberries.  They are not sweet, they have a grassy flavor no one really wants to dwell on. I can turn them into wine, freeze for winter jamming, or dry them. Maybe I should do all three?

Question 2: I save seed, but during summer my herb drying and seed saving room slowly turns into a ginormous mess. I can't seem to process things I hang to dry fast enough. Any suggestions on that? It is so bad I couldn't even tell what I harvested last year and so I ended up throwing out a batch of arugula seed because I didn't remember growing it and it didn't look like the brassicas I did remember growing. I've also had to throw out herbs because I ran out of room and they clumped together and molded. Thanks!

 
S Bengi
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Elderberry, I would say ferment, maybe dry then ferment.

I would say prep stuff in the off season,
Prepare all your seed storage bags and shelving system, setup/label/organize them.
Label the "dehydrator"  With this all setup up, you will be able to just reach and put them away.
You could even send a noob out and say here is a seed bag labelled arugula, find the seed-tray labelled arugula and put them in arugula seed bag I just gave you. Do the same for the rest of the labelled seed storage bags in the corner.
 
pollinator
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John Todd wrote: I know what I want: to efficiently preserve all that garden produce.  



Prepping food to put in a dehydrator is extremely time-consuming. Freezing is much faster. Summer squash, cucumbers, and okra will often keep from a week to a long time in a spare room. Refrigerating slows down ripening.
 
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Random thoughts:

FREEZE DRYING: Lasts the longest. Just be aware it's not "turn on and forget". You have to maintenance the machine too. I know "Harvest Right" freeze dryers you have to change the oil in the vacuum pump EVERY TIME you use it. Obviously, the machines are expensive...but also, if you invest in one of these, you can make alot of money selling freeze dried food. Especially rewarding to me would be to sell my own produce this way. Easy money maker, just get your "Cottage Food" license, or similar in your state, follow the rules, and you will always have plenty of food on hand that will literally last at least 20 years. I put dried items in mason jars with lids, bands, and a strip of masking tape on the outside for my label.

SOLAR DRYING: The cheapest. An all metal shed from lowes 250.00 8x10. Put it together tight, use fine steel wool on ANY gap that would allow bugs in (is heatproof of course). Put lots of vents with fine screen/steel wool at the bottom and top for airflow. Add heatproof drying racks (steel ones also at Lowes would work great). Hooks for larger items if needed.

SOLAR CANNING: I don't know if this is an original idea, probably not, but I like to solar can things from time to time. I have an "S.O.S." solar cooker, and I put all kinds of things in mason jars, with the lids and bands. Cook the food in the jar, once it cools it seals itself and you're good to go! Just be careful with things that expand, like rice and such...you can do it just make sure to read how much cooked product it produces

Just things I do...
~Patrick
 
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Patrick, vacuum canning is worth mentioning. Should be good for rice. Its not expensive if you already have a food saver. The attachment sucks air out of mason jars. Rice, flours, cereal, etc.
 
gardener
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Amit Enventres wrote:

Now question 1: I am getting in my harvest of elderberries.  They are not sweet, they have a grassy flavor no one really wants to dwell on. I can turn them into wine, freeze for winter jamming, or dry them. Maybe I should do all three?



I would vote for drying some and storing it for making Elderberry syrup. According to reading I did, it's one of the better natural anti-virals, so having some available to keep your own and the neighborhood's immune system boosted  if something nasty comes around, would be a choice I would make.

That's not likely a use for the whole crop. If you find the berries hard to find good uses for, the flowers are also harvested and used in things which won't help this year, but could next.
 
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Patrick Dillman wrote:

SOLAR CANNING: I don't know if this is an original idea, probably not, but I like to solar can things from time to time. I have an "S.O.S." solar cooker, and I put all kinds of things in mason jars, with the lids and bands. Cook the food in the jar, once it cools it seals itself and you're good to go! Just be careful with things that expand, like rice and such...you can do it just make sure to read how much cooked product it produces

Just things I do...
~Patrick



I may have misunderstood, here, but are you recommending canning things like jam and meat and cooked rice in a solar cooker?  I am not familiar with solar cookers, but if you don't have some sort of temperature control, high-acid foods may not be all that shelf stable, and, without pressure, low-acid foods have the potential to carry botulism - as far as I know, the only way to achieve high enough temperatures to destroy the botulism spores is with pressure (in a pressure canner).  Botulism is rare, but very serious, and not something to be taken lightly.  
 
Jay Angler
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I'd like to raise a few more points:
1. It's really important to "grow what you eat" and "eat what you grow". That might seem self-explanatory, but I know too many people who have a freezer full of tomatoes that are 3 years old (if not older). There's no point growing or expending the energy to process food that your family has no interest in eating. Sometimes that means trying different recipes or different processing systems to make the food more to the taste of the recipients. For example, I've got a friend who adores broad beans and eats them as a major part of a meal. My family really only enjoys them if they're part of a soup or stew. Neither of these options is "better" than the other - they're just two approaches to try.
2. I calculate how much of a particular food to process based on how many times per week it is likely to be part of a meal. Sometimes I'm limited by the availability of a particular produce or the time to harvest and preserve it, but when people seem to be pushing me to make more applesauce instead of tossing the apples to the Geese and Muscovy, I have to remind them that we usually only eat applesauce once every couple of weeks. I know people who might eat it every day or two, but not happening here. Diet can be influenced over time and with experimentation, but I can remember reading about Britain during WWII. Despite serious food shortages, the people really only wanted to buy and eat food that was familiar to them. Under stressful situations, people crave whatever qualifies as "comfort food" to them. If they're desperate enough, they may eat things they don't like, but not out of choice.
3. I am also working on approaching food storage from the efficiency perspective. For example, this evening I tested my canning kettle and I can fit 4 x 500 ml and 4 x 250 ml jars in all at once. My large cook pot can hold enough applesauce to fill that many jars. So tonight I started the applesauce heating, then the jars sterilizing. I filled the jars and put them back in the kettle for their boiling water bath. When they came out, I tossed a metal basket in the canner and started blanching broad beans. Since the water was already hot, this saved both time and energy. I did 4 baskets of beans, tipping the metal basket into a large bowl with the plastic basket from my salad spinner in it. After each basket of beans had cooled for 3 minutes, I lifted the basket out of the cool water into the actual salad spinner and spun it. This got most of the water out, so they'll freeze faster. The canning kettle then got carried to the front porch to cool and tomorrow I'll use the water on some deserving plants. I add ice cubes to the cooling water each time I add hot beans so they cool efficiently without using fresh water for each batch. The cooling water got added to the canner at the end so that it, too, will land on plants. Combining processing applesauce and beans back to back saved energy, time and cleaning up.
 
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Don't know if this is the best thread in which to place this and please let me know if it's come up before.

For many in more moderate climates, kale can be left in the ground and protected and can still be enjoyed fresh though the winter months if still producing.  In our region, bitter cold will eventually kill what is left in the garden and in years past we would round up the remaining plants before this killing weather arrived, blanch the leaves in a pot, and store packets of leaves in the deep freeze.  As they had been cold up until harvest, they had been sweetening so went into the freezer tasting quite good.

For two years running now, we've done something different and maybe others have done this already.  If you have quite a few plants, they can be cut near the base so that you have plenty of stalk to still 'feed' the leaves for a while.  The plants are then placed into a sack....we've used extra feed bags laying around from when grain is delivered...and the kale is stored in these bags in a cool room or garage.  Remarkably, the leaves that are plucked for dinners in the weeks that follow just keep getting more tender and more sweet.  As long as the plants have had decent humidity in the bags, they seem to keep for several weeks this way.  The frozen leaves that were blanched can start being used after these more fresh plants are used up.  Anyone tried this or tried keeping them longer?  Thanks!
 
pollinator
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With the enthusiasm of seed collecting and planting, sometimes we can get overwhelmed with the produce once it comes in. I'm very guilty of that. I don't have a knack for business, so I will not have a road side stand, but that would be an option.
You don't have to process all of it, or keep all of it.. May I suggest bartering? My neighbor was proud of her tomatoes last year. Mine looked sick. I gave my tomatoes to the chickens. I had mushrooms, eggs, honey and I have extra sunchokes and banana peppers so I could get a lot of tomatoes. We can trade the raw products. That is also a great way to get along well with your neighbors. This year, my tomatoes are great but we'll find something else to exchange. Next year, I will get a lot of asparagus as my 50 plants will be on their 3rd year. I was able to pull a few meals already, carefully. But I love them FRESH [I don't like them canned or frozen], and my hubby doesn't care for them. I figure on connecting with the local Farmer's market and having someone else sell it for me.
At home, it is only hubby and me, so the humongous garden is giving a lot. I know we won't eat it all. We can't. That is why there are food pantries, because it feels good to do good.
I still have the enjoyment of nurturing my garden and pulling great produce, process what I can/ what I know we will eat, and do away with the rest.
This year, we have the additional problem of not enough glass jars because of the pandemic. So I had a better look at the pantry and yes, I do have jam and tomato... stuff... at least 4 years old, with the label ripped off. You all know what I mean. That will go the the chickens and I will get my jars back. I was all in the canning / drying  / preserving mode, but after a while, you notice that some stuff just does never get on the table: These beets: I opened the pressure cooker too soon and a lot of the juice left the jar, and they look a lot paler than they should. ---> chickens. The garlic didn't cure properly, so I found myself in needs of small jars to chop it and I added olive oil to it and I keep it in the fridge. I noticed that once it is cleaned and chopped, hubby loves to use it. If he has to peel it himself, not so much. By the way, if you have nice garlic, it will keep a long time without problem: I eat it a lot: I cut the top, leaving the central "handle" on my stiff necks. I place it in a little ramekin and add a little olive oil. then I nuke it for 2 minutes. Use a baby spoon to pull the cloves out separately. Yum! It is so good and tender, nutty and sweet... and good for you.
 
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Part of the answer to controlling the harvest is in planning the planting.  Make selections that help to ensure that everything does not have to be processed at the same time.
 
Cécile Stelzer Johnson
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John F Dean wrote:Part of the answer to controlling the harvest is in planning the planting.  Make selections that help to ensure that everything does not have to be processed at the same time.



True that, John.
Although the *timing* may be difficult if you have a short growing season and the crops will overlap, some other choices are totally in our hands:
*** Don't grow stuff your family won't eat, even if you read that such and such a plant offers mirific benefits and your family *should* eat them because it is good for them. [My hubby won't touch sweet peas, so I know that whatever sweet peas I plant, I will be the only one eating them!]
*** If you have only a small handkerchief of a garden, don't plant things that will roam to the next county. [Yes, pumpkins, I'm looking at you]
*** Also, if you have a small garden, you might want to select the more expensive crops [like asparagus and mushrooms over zucchini]. In season, the farmer's market will overflow with zucchinis, cukes, even tomatoes, at a much lower price than out of season. You will help the small farmer and you can spread the processing at your convenience, somewhat.
*** if possible, grow things that will keep without processing [lentils, wheat, green beans in grain form, garlic]. For those, just plant, water and weed. You will only need to harvest and cure but not convert to canned, frozen or dehydrated goods.
 
John F Dean
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Yes, when I lived in MN we could see snow in June and Sept.  I just accepted what I got from the garden and was thankful.  My one huge error when I lived there was not to have a high tunnel.
 
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My best way is: to share my surplus (after making some preserves and keeping some in the freezer) with friends. When they have surplus, they share with me too.
 
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We used a metal 55 gal barrel, cut in half, placed on top the cinder blocks. Dig down a little to set the fire. A nice hot fire underneath brings it to temp, then adjust to keep at temp for appropriate time. A scrap of plywood for a lid worked well. It fit 16 - half gallon bottles, or 20 something quarts. Cannot set the bottles on the bottom of the barrel, usually built a platform few inches high, from pallets or whatever. It does have to allow water to move through. Takes tending, but worked well for many years, until a neighbor noticed and felt we were working too hard, brought over his propane cooker that we set the barrel on. Same set up, more efficient, except couldn't cook dinner in the coals. Sometimes the wind does blow, so we had a peice of corrugated tin or plywood to lean against the cooking barrel to protect the fire from the wind and regulate the temperature.
 
Cécile Stelzer Johnson
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Perhaps I'm not the one to answer to this problem because I don't have industrial quantities of foods to preserve [still way more than enough though].
One element, however seems to be missing: Personal choice. I explain:
Green beans are great canned. Frozen, however, even after blanching, they really suck.
Asparagus, great fresh, undercooked and bright green and to give fresh to friends/ neighbors [maybe trade, which is another option] Frozen [after blanching, of course and the color is off, and canning it makes them fall apart. Not OK.
Blackberries: Jams/ jellies, juice are OK. Frozen, however, they lose their sweetness and have zero palatability: Just seeds getting caught between my teeth.
If we insist that "because we have so much, we MUST put it all away", well, this might go a long way in explaining why we end up with jars of food that we never take out of the pantry, bags we never get out of the freezer because we take one look at it and feel... Nope, not today [I'd have to be really hungry to eat the slop that has lost its color].
I wanted to can beets, for example. We don't eat beets all that often. But I made a "big batch" because : "It would be a pity to let all this food go the waste". Well, the jars are still sitting in the pantry and they've gone from a delightful garnet color to an "Oh, my God, what is that off brown crap?" In so doing, I wasted my time, the gas it took to can it, the lids to cover them and the pantry room that could house other things.
Someone mentioned converting it to livestock food. Sometimes, that is the best solution: It gives you a lot of free time to do more pressing things...and you will eat it in meat form, so that is not a waste IMHO.
Corn, I can eat canned or frozen, peas, either. One thing that I can in industrial quantities every 4 years is sauerkraut.
Those are my personal choices. I realize they may not be everyone's though.
 
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We freeze, can in jars, & give to family & friends, also feed chickens & pigs with scraps & spoiled/ over ripe food.
 
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Where I live, most of the food harvests in the late summer/fall. I find that leaving my canner on my stove during this time makes it easy to can often. I also dehydrate often at this time. My deydrator sits out and I do one batch after another. When I can tomatoes, I dehydrate the skins I remove and blend them with jalepano skins for a seasoning. I want to dry more peppers and soup veggies this year. I find these are foods I use often.
 
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Have you tried freeze drying your harvest?
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