Planting a canning garden

Follow these tips to plan a canning garden that provides food year-round and avoids waste.

Think about what produce you plan to eat fresh as well as what you plan to preserve.
Think about what produce you plan to eat fresh as well as what you plan to preserve.

It may be hard to believe given Michigan weather but gardening season is right around the corner. Now is the time to start planning the produce you want to grow this summer and order seeds. This is also the time to think about how much food you will want to preserve later in the year, and account for that when planning your garden.

Choosing what to plant

If you have never preserved food by canning but want to begin, start small. Pick one or two canned items you want to try, like salsa and tomatoes or peas and beans. Trying to do too much the first year can be overwhelming. Thinking about the canned goods you eat most, and also what vegetables grow best in your area can help you decide what is best to plant.

If you want to can something that has multiple ingredients, like salsa, make a list of the ingredients to make sure you will have everything you need. For example, most salsa requires tomatoes, onions and peppers. Depending on the recipe, some herbs like garlic and cilantro may be needed and you could consider growing these too.

Deciding how much to plant

Next, consider how much product you want to make. The more pints or quarts you want to store for winter, the more plants you will need to grow to provide produce. Also, remember to think about the fruit and vegetables that you plan to eat fresh. If you want to can tomatoes or salsa as well as eat fresh tomatoes, you will have to grow enough for both. 

The National Center for Home Food Preservation provides some guidance on produce yields relating to canning. For example, 35 pounds of tomatoes yields roughly 7 quarts or 9 pints of tomato sauce. While it’s hard to determine how many pounds each plant will yield, if you start keeping records, it will get easier with time to determine how many plants you need. Consider keeping a journal, gardening notebook or spreadsheet that lists how much you planted and how much you harvested. There are also garden-tracking apps for smartphones.

Always use an up to date, science-based recipe for canning

For a great tasting and food safe product, always follow a science-based recipe when canning. The National Center for Home Food Preservation provides the USDA Complete Guide to Home Canning.

Save money and improve nutrition

Gardening and canning go hand-in-hand and can save you money in the long run. Home canning also allows you to control the amount of ingredients like salt and sugar, which can lead to healthier eating. Don’t forget that you can also preserve produce by drying and freezing. These are good ways to avoid food waste and save produce for later if you have more produce than you can use right away.

If you’re looking for additional help with gardening, contact your local Michigan State University Extension office or reach out to your local Master Gardener group, which can provide advice based on the region of your garden.

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