Can it!

  • Follow Gardening

You hope your garden is so successful you are waist high in squash. If your neighbors and friends are avoiding eye contact when you approach with arm loads of fresh produce, however, consider saving it for another day.

Canning, drying, freezing and pickling are ways to save produce for later in the year, when you wish there were still tomatoes to pick. You have to do it correctly to be safe, though .

Although mother is usually right, the way she canned foods 20 or 30 years ago isn't the right way to do it these days. We are more aware of bacteria and viruses , said Betty English, the Family and Consumer Sciences extension agent for Richmond and Columbia counties.

Ms. English taught one food-preservation class this year and a second class this month is already full, she said. It seems that more people have taken to vegetable gardening this year and want to save their bounty.

Before you roll up your sleeves, Ms. English advises, you should consider a few things.

If you are canning for the first time, there is an investment in equipment, jars and lids. Freezing or drying foods means higher utility bills, too. And you must have a cool, dark and dry place to store the end product, and a garage isn't going to cut it. (There is a danger of heat and cold damage in an unheated/uncooled area. You need a stable temperature.)

If you want to can, there is only one kind of canning jar - the kind with a two-part lid that consists of an outer ring and the vacuum suction flat lid. You can reuse the jars and outer metal rings but not the rubberized lids, Ms. English said.

If you want to freeze produce, only use containers designed for freezing. The empty, plastic butter container isn't going to work, Ms. English said.

To dry food, you need a dehumidifier to take the moisture out. You can do it in your oven if it will go as low as 140 degrees, Ms. English said. If the temperature is higher than that you are not drying, you're cooking. It will take 18 to 24 hours for fruits and vegetables, she said.

For more information, see ugaextension.com or fcs.uga.edu/extension and search for "food preservation." Information is also available at Ms. English's office, as is the book So Easy to Preserve, the University of Georgia's how-to book. The National Center for Food Preservation is at the university's campus in Athens. Its Web site is www.uga.edu/nchfp.

Ms. English said she is willing to conduct more canning classes if there is enough interest. The classes are $50, and that includes the book.

To get on a list, call Ms. English at (706) 821-2356 or send e-mail to benglish@uga.edu.

Reach Sandy Hodson at (706) 823-3226 or sandy.hodson@augustachronicle.com.

Join the growing conversation with the Garden Gnome at blogs.augusta.com.

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