Fall Harvesting and Preserving the Bounty

Jars of home canned tomatoes and pickles.

Fall Harvesting, and why I like it the best.

I think fall harvesting is one of my favorite times in the garden. Normally the weather is cooler, the plants are slowing down production, and canning is just more comfortable to do when it’s cooler. This year however, we saw unseasonably cool, cloudy and rainy days and downright cold nights during August and early September. Some of my tomato plants started to die back. Powdery mildew did in the squash, and the peppers stopped budding. The picture above is from last year.

That all changed about a week ago. The summer-like weather over the past week has rejuvenated the peppers and the tomatoes are ripening up again! The daytime temps are to stay in the mid to upper 80’s through Wednesday, that will be 13 straight days. A new fall record here! Our typical fall weather returns on Thursday, with daytime temps in the mid 60’s and nights in the mid to upper 40’s. Seriously, no need to pull up the plants for a while. Our average first frost date is around October 15th.

Pick it now or wait?

When the weather starts feeling like Fall again, you really need to keep an eye on temperatures and forecasts. The thought of “I don’t need to pick that yet” can quickly turn into “I should have picked that yesterday”. Some crops actually like cooler weather and some can withstand a light frost. Those would be the cool weather crops like cabbage, Brussels sprouts, broccoli and cauliflower. Parsnips are best left in the ground for a few frosts, but harvest before the ground freezes.

Others, like tomatoes, peppers, summer squash, cucumbers, eggplant and corn do best in summer’s heat. They will stop producing with 50 degree days and cold nights. If the weather guy (or gal) says there is going to be a frost, do some Fall harvesting or have something ready to cover your plants. Old sheets work great. If daytime temps are consistently in the 50’s or below, peppers will stop budding, and in the low 40’s will stop developing. Place those unripe tomatoes on the counter to fully ripen, bunches of grape tomatoes will ripen that way, too.

What to do with mass quantities of veggies?

Over the past few weeks I’ve managed to harvest about 63 pounds of veggies. About 2/3 of this was tomatoes. I still have canned sauce and tomatoes from last year, as well as numerous quarts of spaghetti sauce in the freezer, so I am dehydrating a lot of it. I’m grinding half of what I dehydrate into a powder. This can be used to bind “runny” sauces, add flavor to any dish, make dips and even a quick cup of tomato soup. The rest will stay in small pieces to be added to soups, stews and chili over the winter. See before and after dehydrating 3 pounds of quartered San Marzano tomatoes. In the last pic you can also see the jar of powdered tomatoes, ripening tomatoes and some of the bread butter pickles I canned last week.

Fresh sliced tomatoes in dehydrator. Tomatoes after dehydrating. Close up of dried tomatoes in a quart jar. Jar of powdered dehydrated tomatoes.

Don’t want to can tomatoes? Just wash, core, peel if you want, and pack them in freezer containers. You can build up your frozen stockpile until you have enough for that big kettle of homemade sauce. Then you can freeze that in meal size portions to enjoy on cold winter days!

Other veggies: what I did and what you can do, too!

The 8 pounds of eggplant got washed and cut up, tossed with olive oil then roasted until lightly browned and tender. This was vacuum sealed in 1 cup portions for side dishes, adding to soup or making pasta sauce. I still have breaded and fried eggplant, vacuum sealed and frozen from last year.

IF the woodchuck hadn’t continually munched down my green beans I would have frozen them, also. Just wash and trim off the ends, drop them in boiling water for a quick 3 minute blanch, cool quickly in ice water, drain, pack and freeze.

Peppers are easy. Just wash, remove stem and seeds, then dice or slice as you like. Place them on a cookie sheet or tray and freeze. Once frozen, pack them into freezer containers or vacuum seal in bags. You can do onions the same way. No blanching needed.

Okra dries nicely, and if you’re like me, the only person in the house that likes it, it makes sense to dehydrate it. I can easily re-hydrate a little to add to just my plate, without “contaminating” the whole meal.

Corn is time consuming (husking takes forever) but not hard to process. Husk corn, wash and drop a few ears in boiling water. Boil for 4 minutes and then drop into ice water for another 4 minutes to cool it quickly. Hold ears upright and carefully cut the kernels from the cob. Pack into containers and freeze. You can also freeze it on the cob, but it’s not as great as when it’s fresh. This year I brought home 9 dozen ears from a local organic farm (about 2 bushels). I dried 2 pounds of kernels and froze about 40 pounds. I also made sweet corn jam after simmering some of the cobs in the corn blanching water. Really!

Fresh sweet corn. Large kettle of corn, ready for packaging for the freezer. Sweet corn baaged and ready for the freezer. Jars of home canned sweet corn jam.

Got an abundance of Herbs?

Most perennial herbs, like sage, chives and oregano do fine in cool weather. Basil, dill, coriander, savory and other tender herbs will die if you just talk about frost in front of them. Herbs can be dried by hanging small bunches in a dry airy place or using a dehydrator. They can be chopped and frozen in ice cube trays using olive oil, melted butter or just water. Imagine having your own fresh pesto in winter! Just blend fresh basil with olive oil and garlic in a food processor and freeze small portions in an ice cube tray. It’s best to add the parmesan cheese after you thaw it.

Thyme spread out on drying trays. Chives spread out on drying racks. Excalibur dehydrator. Fresh herbs in olive oil in ice cube tray.

It’s also apple season here!

I hate paying high prices at the grocery store, so we pick and preserve quarts of apples for pies, cobblers and other desserts. Wash, peel, core and cut the apples into the desired size and drop them into a large kettle of water with lemon juice (prevents browning). Figure about 6 large pie apples per quart. Use firm pie apples like Winesap, Gala, Jona Gold, Northern Spy, Granny Smith, etc. Softer apples like MacIntosh get too soft to can, but makes an excellent apple sauce that is also easy to can.

Canning apples. It’s not rocket science. Really, it’s not.

Drain slices and put in a large pot. For every 5 pounds (about 16 cups) add 2 cups of water. Bring to a boil and let it boil for 5 minutes to blanch. Pack apple slices into clean, sterilized jars to 1 inch from the top. Add boiling blanching water to 1/2 inch from the top of the jar. Run a plastic knife or chopstick around the inside of the jar to release and air bubbles and add more liquid if necessary. Wipe the rim with a damp cloth, top with a new canning lid and screw on the ring. (Yeah, I know this pic shows canning peaches…same process, just pretend they’re apples…)

Canning tomatoes tools.

Process in a boiling water bath for 20 minutes, add 5 minutes for altitudes 1000-3000 ft, 10 minutes for 3000-6000 ft or add 15 minutes for altitudes over 6000 ft. When the time is done, remove jars carefully with a jar lifter and place on a folded towel, leaving an inch between jars. Allow them to cool without moving them, out of drafts, for 12 to 24 hours. Check to be sure they sealed, remove rings and wash any sticky residue off jars. Store in a cool dark place.

If you want to sweeten them a bit, use a light syrup instead of just water. Dissolve 1 cup of sugar in every 2 cups of water needed, or use 3/4 cup of honey per 2 cups of water. Process same as above. The National Center for Home Food Preservation goes into more detail about safe canning practices and specifics for different fruits and veggies, pickles, jams, sauces and more. Here is their link for canning apples.

This website and blog is here to help you and to encourage organic vegetable gardening and preserving the harvest. If you have any questions about fall harvesting, gardening, canning, freezing or dehydrating, or if you have a gardening or preserving topic that you would like me to write about, please comment below. I always look forward to hearing from you!


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