It’s a common gardening conundrum: What do you do with the excess produce from your garden harvest? Give away as much as you can to friends and neighbors? Fill a box marked FREE and set it out on the curb? Try to sneak another zucchini into dinner for the 40th time? You don’t have to waste excess food from the garden! You can preserve your summer harvest to eat throughout the year with these five great food preservation methods.

1. Canning

Canning is a method of preserving food by sealing it in sterile, air-tight glass mason jars. Foods can be pre-cooked or raw, simple or elaborate when canned, but many canning methods do employ the use of heat to sterilize and seal the jars, so some cooking may occur. The internet is full of canned food recipes, with everything from fresh tomatoes to multi-fruit jellies, but the basic method is pretty simple. Once canned, unopened foods can have a shelf life of approximately one year when stored properly.

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2. Drying

Drying or dehydrating foods is one of the oldest methods of food preservation. Many fruits and herbs can be safely sun-dried, or dried outdoors due to their high sugar and acid content that deters spoilage. However, vegetables should always be dried in a dehydrator. Additionally, humid climates, or climates with great temperature fluctuations between day and night, are not ideal for drying outdoors. Dehydrating foods is an easy way to preserve foods in their whole, natural state, but blending or mixing foods prior to dehydrating can create unique dishes, some of which are vital in raw food cuisine. Check out these great recipes for Chocolate Strawberry Fruit Roll Ups, Sour Cream and Onion Kale Chips, or Watermelon Jerky that employ the use of a dehydrator.

3. Pickling/Fermenting

Pickling or fermenting food both reduces spoilage by increasing either the vinegar or the natural alcohol content of foods, making it inhospitable to unfriendly molds and bacteria, and increases the good probiotic content. Fermented foods have recently had a lot of press since the lactic acid created during fermentation is a fantastic digestive aid, and making them at home can be simple and fun. Try whipping up a some delicious and healthy kombucha, tangy raw Sauerkraut, or homemade Kimchi. Or go old school and can up a batch of classic Dill Pickles with cukes from the garden. Also, check out these Foods You Can Pickle and How.

4. Freezing

While not a long-term method of preservation, freezing your harvest can keep fruits, vegetables and herbs fresh for up to a year. However, not all foods do well in a freezer, so be sure to investigate before using this method. Place whole foods, or foods cut in chunks on a metal tray, in the freezer and transfer to air tight containers or freezer bags when solid. Foods can also be pre-mixed, chopped or blended prior to freezing, or parboiled/precooked. Check this reference guide for the best way to freeze your particular food type.

5. Oil Pack

Preserving foods in oil gives the double benefit of storing food and creating a delicious flavor-infused oil. This method is fantastic for herbs, as well as tomatoes, olives, onions, garlic, peppers, eggplant, squash and many other vegetables. Oil prevents the spread of harmful spoilage by reducing the oxidation of the contents, which maintains the integrity of the food, but can also establish anaerobic conditions which actually favor the growth of some harmful types of bacteria. This can be combated by adding an acid, such as vinegar, at a ratio of three to one (the weight of vegetables to the weight of the vinegar). While this method can result in delectable foods, it is the most fickle of these methods, so caution and care should always be used.

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Save the summer squash for dinner next January, and preserve your harvest for year round enjoyment!

Image source: Alpha/Flickr