When starting a garden it is easy to get excited and start buying seeds for 12 types of lettuce and various melons. They are very tasty fresh but when thinking about eating that food over the cold winter, foods that will preserve and store well are your best bet. It is okay to have a couple of lettuce plants, a couple of melon plants, and so on but the bulk of what you are mainly growing should be things you can either can, store, freeze, or refrigerate over the coming year.
A lot of things CAN be canned but think about the things you will actually eat. This past year in order to preserve the squash I had grown I made squash pickles. Come to find out I don’t like squash pickles so there are 4 or 5 cans of squash pickles that I will probably throw out when it comes time to can again.
Some of the most useful things to grow for canning are the things that can be used in multiple ways. Tomatoes can be juiced for various soups or just for drinking, canned whole for chunkier soups and sauces, made into actual sauce, made into salsa, or even packed in olive oil and put into the fridge. Investing in growing many types of tomatoes and knowing which types to make into juice and which types to make into other types of canned goods will pack your pantry until the next tomato season.
Other vegetables such as corn, green beans, and even carrots can pack your pantry full of foods that can be used in multiple ways and are easy to grow. My green beans lasted me until mid-December so I know I didn’t can enough of those and will be growing more of them this year than I did last year but since I am the only person who likes them I’m not going to can 100 jars or anything because I don’t want to waste food.
Some vegetables are just able to be put into a cool dark place and left there. Onions for example can be pulled out of the ground, allowed to cure for about a week in a shady spot, and then braided or just put straight into storage. Most onions, if stored correctly, should last months and months. Garlic is another crop that is easy to plant, easy to grow, easy to harvest and will last for months and months. The hardneck variety will last the longest in storage but the soft neck variety can be braided for easier storage.
Cabbage is another vegetable that can be stored. If you have a cool dry spot to keep the cabbage in it will last for a really long time. Peel the outside leaves away and reveal a perfectly edible and fresh cabbage all year long.
Carrots are also a good storage vegetable if you buy the right variety. Look for a storage variety of carrots and then you can store them in the dirt in a tote and eat on them through the year. Same with potatoes, grow, stick in the dirt and have fresh potatoes all year long.
Drying is mostly for herbs like basil, thyme, parsley, rosemary, and other spices you could buy in the grocery store but you can also dry tomatoes, apples, and various fruits. Stick them in a dehydrator or for the herbs just let them hang and dry out naturally.
I have my own favorite vegetables and fruits to freeze like zucchini, corn, berries, and broccoli but there are a lot of things you can freeze. Make up a batch of pesto with your basil leaves and freeze them in ice cubes and then store them in plastic bags or tubs until use. You can freeze spinach, kale, brussels sprouts, cabbage, and even tomatoes as well (even though I don’t like frozen tomatoes personally.) This all just depends on your freezer space and not on your imagination.
When it comes to gardening for preservation make sure to sit down and really think about what it is you like to eat during the cold winter months. If you love soups and stews and starchy dishes, grow lots of tomatoes, corn, beans, and potatoes. If you love roasted veggies go with broccoli, asparagus, onions, green beans, and other really delicious roasted veggies. It all depends on your lifestyle and what you like.
You don’t want to end up with 40 jars of pickles if you don’t like pickles that much.