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Planning and Canning (Part 1)

March 7, 2012

Last year Nate and I dove head-first into gardening.  We built three raised beds, decided that wasn’t enough, and built a fourth.  Neither of us have any real experience when it comes to gardening, so we were incredibly surprised when our garden flourished.  Last fall I had already started planning what we are going to grow this year.  The plan is to build one more bed, and also another bed that’s twice the size of one of the regular beds.  One of the main reasons we’re building more beds is because we want to have enough produce to can for the winter.

I also want to have two full beds dedicated to strawberries so that I can make lots of jam.  I planted half a bed of strawberries last year, not knowing much about strawberries or how they tend to grow.  It turns out strawberries are runners, meaning they produce off-shoots which turn into new little baby strawberry plants, which then develop and produce more runners.  The strawberries have now taken over the full bed and are also growing into the grassy dirt around the bed.  I plan on transplanting those suckers into a new bed for an even larger strawberry harvest this year, which means I won’t need to go strawberry picking and pay like $30 for a flat of berries because I will have my very own!  Of course I’m probably jinxing myself by preemptively writing about it on my blog, but let’s hope not.

Let’s talk some more about strawberry jam.  A half pint of artisanal strawberry jam will set you back around $4. For someone who puts strawberry jam in yogurt, on toast, and eats it with a spoon straight from the jar, that’s an expensive habit.  I’ve pondered canning for some time, but that’s about as far as I got.  I like to think it’s because when I was little I remember my mom and her friend canning peach chutney and it took all day, made a huge mess, and then we had more peach chutney than anyone knew what to do with (my sister has the exact same memories, so I know it wasn’t just me!).  Plus, when I was 11 I didn’t even like peach chutney.  So why bother with canning?

My next canning experience was Peace Corps.  I decided I was going to make salsa and marinara sauce, so I bought the ingredients at the market and spent a Saturday afternoon chopping vegetables and standing over the stove stirring.  My host mom helped me and all we did was pour the hot sauce into jars, turn them upside down, wrap them in blankets and leave them in the corner.  Much to my surprise, the jars sealed and no one got sick from eating my canned salsa or marinara sauce.  I look back and don’t really count this experience as “canning” per say because this isn’t a recommended canning method.  To properly seal jars you need to use boiling water to suck out the oxygen so the bacteria can’t grow.

 

This brings me back to canning at home.  I had a lot of frozen fruit in the freezer that I’d picked the year before that I’d never used and decided something needed to be done with it.  So I decided I would make jam.  Let’s just say that canning is way easier and a lot less painful than I remembered, which is, in large part, why we are expanding our garden. Part 2 of this post will provide the jam-making details!

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