Most people are familiar with the concept of “Christmas in July” as the time to buy discounted decorations for a holiday still half a year away. But when you are trying to live sustainably, Christmas in July means figuring out what to do now to eat well through winter. So, this week I kicked off our continuing efforts to get ready for winter with canning.

After my first round, I decided “canning” should be called “jarring” for two reasons. First, you put your food in glass jars to preserve it. Second, it is quite jarring (as in shocking) to see an abundant harvest dwindle down to a week or two of winter vegetables - especially when you know that a can of green beans only costs $0.79 at the grocery store.

Before

Collage of Raw Ingredients

“Business Tasha” calculated that even at minimum wage you can buy nine cans of beans in exchange for an hour of work. Meanwhile, back at the reLuxe Ranch, growing time aside, it takes two hours to pick, prepare, and “can” the same quantity of goods. As I ran through the numbers in my head, part of me thought it made sense to work a minimum wage job and buy beans.

But when I held the jar of my winter beans in my hands, the numbers no longer added up. That jar held things infinitely more valuable than the grocery store price - experience, self-reliance, appreciation and wonder for nature, the pleasure of doing, taste, love… The alchemy of home-grown plus hand-made transformed the equivalent of $0.79 of beans into an invaluable life lesson.

By round two of canning, I realized I didn’t care about the grocery store beans - I wanted to eat my own beans for Christmas.

Other lessons learned:

  • Plan your garden to have enough surplus at once to make it worthwhile to lug out and heat up the pressure canner. Staggered planting is great for fresh veggies in season, but you also need to think about growing your favorites in bulk so you can pick 50 pounds in the same week.

  • The basic steps to canning un-pickled/non-acid vegetables (spinach, beans, beets, soups, etc.) are simple. Visit this site for a crash course: http://nchfp.uga.edu. If you can read and have a pressure canner, you can do it. The hard part (for me) is maintaining constant pressure, so be ready to stand around the kitchen watching your pressure gauge.
  • When in doubt, stick it in the fridge and eat it in a week. Botulism is rare, but real no reason to gamble on an iffy can.

  • Pick a lot more than you think you need to especially spinach!

  • Last but not least, while you work, think of your Christmas dinner and of making your friends and family happy with your delicious home canned goods. You get a lot more than $0.79 worth of beans through this process, so enjoy it.

After

Canned Goods