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Tuesday, January 25, 2022

Long-term Food: Growing and Storing as a solution

Original Article:

by Mic Roland

Our approach to long-term food storage is two-pronged. The more active prong is improved sustainability — growing new food each year. Stored food eventually runs out. The only sustainable long-term food solution is to make new food.

That said, our less-active prong is to store bulk foods that we do not grow, like wheat and rice. These are intended to help stretch what our current gardens’ produce — which is not enough to live on alone at the moment. The other part of this second prong is having a fair pantry of grocery store foods — cans, boxes, bottles, etc. — to tide is over during a short-term isolation and to provide some variety during a long-term even when we’re cooking more with our bulk supplies.
Gardening With Long-Term in Mind

Seeing our gardens as a long-term food source guides what we grow. Generally, we grow what will keep well, time-shifting our harvest for eating during the winter. For the past many years, I’ve been working on making the Native-American companion planting — The Three Sisters — do well in my location. The hard-kernel corn (not a sweet corn) is a carb. The pole beans are a protein. The squash is a vitamin supplement. Those simple foods, while not exciting in the culinary sense, did sustain Native Americans for many centuries. I like being sustained.

We devote only a little space to ephemerals like lettuce and radishes, preferring crops that can be stored. We grow root crops such as carrots, beets, potatoes, and turnips as they keep fairly well in the right conditions. Onions and garlic keep well once dried off. Root crops can be kept “fresh” in the coolness of a root cellar.
Preserving Perishables

Some of our produce, like green beans, apples, and raspberries have a relatively short shelf life as “fresh” but can be preserved for later. We employ a variety of preservation techniques for the harvest of our gardens.

Hot Water Bath Canning — We make salsa out of our tomatoes, onions, peppers, and zucchini (as a filler). We also can just tomatoes and tomato juice. We slice up and can our pears and apples as just plain apples or pie filling. Cucumbers become pickles. We have canned up jams too, though we have about a hundred-year supply of jam already, so not so much of that lately. Our old canner actually had a hole wear through the bottom and had to buy a new one.
Using an old Mirror 22 qt.

Pressure Canning — Low-acid or low-sugar foods like green beans and beets must be pressure canned. When the green beans kick in during the summer, we can’t eat them all. We save them up for a canning session’s worth and put them away for winter. Usually, the flock has a few “retirees” in the fall, so we can up some chicken meat for winter meals.

Dry Storage — Shelled corn and dried beans are kept in mesh bags or, sometimes vacuum-sealed in quart jars. Hot peppers get strung up and allowed to dry for storage. During the very low humidity conditions of winter, dry storage in room air has been sufficient. Keeping things dry enough during the humidity of summer is more of a challenge.

Canned apple wedges

Root Cellar — Actually, it’s our garage. It’s a concrete-walled space that is mostly earth-sheltered. It stays moderately cool in summer and is our ‘drive-in fridge’ in winter, hovering around 35°. There, we store the garden’s squash, pumpkins, and some apples. Root crops are stored in a big bucket of sand. They stay good throughout the winter. Onions and garlic are kept dry and cool there too.

Fermenting — We grow cabbages, some of which get prepared into meals during autumn, but most gets turned into sauerkraut and stored in jars for winter consumption. The sauerkraut sometimes gets enhanced with carrot shavings and/or onions, for fun.

Dehydrating — As long as we’ve got grid power, we use our little Excalibur dehydrator to dry apple bits for winter cooking. We dehydrate eggs during the heavy-laying days of summer to compensate for the egg scarcity during the autumn molt and low-production winter. We also make fruit leather from our berries, saving them up in the freezer until there’s enough for a batch.

Mylar Bags — Thus far, the mylar bags and oxygen absorbers have been more for purchased bulk foods like the wheat berries. It is nice to have some longer-term foods protected for farther down the road, if need be.
An Eye Toward Long-Term

We also harvest seeds to ensure that we’ll have food next year too. By saving the seeds from things that did well in our garden year after year, we are (little by little) improving our harvests. Whatever grew well in our location, we want more of that and save those seeds. Whatever did poorly, we don’t need to devote space to that next year.

Long-Term food needs to look beyond storing purchased foods. If you can’t buy replacements, storage will eventually run out.

What do you do to preserve your harvest for later consumption?

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