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Once the garden begins to come in with fresh, organic, homegrown vegetables, the canning season can quickly become overwhelming. Use these 10 simple tips to prepare for the canning season.
Whether you grow your own fresh vegetables or get them from the local farmer’s market, the advantage of doing at-home canning is that you can preserve fruits and vegetables when they are at their peak of both flavor and nutrition.
And by doing just a few simple steps, you can make the overwhelm of canning season a lot less stressful.
Here in Tennessee, we have a really long growing season, and by the end of it, I find myself really tired, so I do all I can before the season begins to remove as much overwhelm as possible.
Any tips or strategies you can implement to prepare for canning season will only help things to go a lot smoother. No matter how much you plan on canning.
TIPS TO PREPARE FOR CANNING SEASON
GIVE THE KITCHEN A GOOD SCRUBBING
I know your kitchen is kept clean and organized regularly but once canning season begins, you may find your pantry in a bit of disarray or some splatters of tomatoes on the wall. So giving it a good scrubbing before it all begins will only give you peace of mind.
This includes countertops, cabinet doors, utensil drawers, the stove, as well as your canning and preserving food supply area.
SET REALISTIC GOALS & NUMBERS FOR THE SEASON
Know how much your family uses and how much you may need for holiday gifts and exchanges. For example, if you use whole canned tomatoes once a week – your goal would be to put up 52+ jars. But, keep in mind, if you plan to give home-canned food as holiday gifts, you will need to increase this number.
A good tip or habit I have learned is to put up at least 2 extra runs, 14-18 more jars than you expect to need. Things happen. You may need to help out a friend or neighbor, donate to the local food bank, or a number of things can happen. So being prepared is only a benefit.
TAKE INVENTORY OF THE PANTRY
I know when I first started doing home canning I had no idea how much I needed to put up. I knew what my family eat, such as dill pickles, beets, applesauce, green beans, etc., but had never really thought about how much we eat.
I’d never been concerned with being self-sufficient, at the time. I was used to running to the grocery store when we needed something. So it was a real challenge in the beginning. But it has continued to get easier as I can from year to year.
So, if you inventory your pantry and find you have 40 jars of canned carrots left from the 80 you canned last season, then you don’t need to put up as much. Keeping clear and accurate notes in your homesteading binder, canning journal or a simple notebook is a huge help.
Looking to find safe storage time for your home-canned foods? The National Center For Home Food Preservation can provide all this.
REVIEW AND REFRESH YOUR KNOWLEDGE AND SKILLS
Don’t leave things to memory. I know each season when I first begin, I’m a bit rusty and have a bit of a time remembering what I did last season.
So when I review my notes and read over my lists from last season, it helps me to get my rhythm going.
REVIEW CANNING RECIPES
Keep a list of safe canning books, recipes for home canning, and links in your canning binder for quick reference. Make a list of ingredients you will need for the season and stock up on these. And don’t forget to check the dates on what you already have.
- Pickling Spices
- Canning Salt
- Regular 5% Vinegar
- Organic Sugar
- Pamona Pectin
- Citric Acid
- Apple Cider Vinegar
- Bottled Lemon Juice
I always recommend buying in bulk. The cost is more up-front but in the end, the savings adds up.
INVENTORY AND ORGANIZE CANNING SUPPLIES ON HAND
Take a good look and inventory the home canning food supplies you have on hand. Make a list of what supplies you will need for the season.
- JARS – Do you still have enough jars for the season? Are they free from cracks, nicks, or chips? Organize them by size so you can easily keep count of what you may need.
- Canning Lids – Lehman’s is a good place to get these. They sell them in bulk as well. Lids are only one-time-use so it takes a lot each season.
- Canning Rings – These should be free from dents and rust. You don’t actually have to have a lot of them. Canning bands are only kept on the jars for 24 hours and then removed. They should not be stored on canning shelves with bands. In my house, I at times can upward of 50-60 jars a day, so I tend to keep many around.
MUST HAVE CANNING TOOLS –
- Jar Lifter – Never go into canning season without a spare. I always keep 2 on hand. If the handle breaks on one, you have a backup. Trust me, if you do a lot of canning, it will happen sooner or later.
- Magnetic Lid Lifter – This one comes in a convenient pack of 4. Never too many.
- Stainless Steel Funnel – I recommend 2 of these as well. An additional one is always needed.
- Bubble Remover / Headspace Ruler
- Pots, Saucepans, and Stockpots
CANNING UTENSILS –
- Vegetable Peelers and Scrubbers – I love the grip on this one. It’s perfect for holding.
- Long handled-spoons
- Black Sharpie Markers- for marking dates and contents
Some of these items may be hard to source or find with the present situation of many looking for food security. Stores are having a hard time keeping inventory so it’s better to order extra and early rather than to wait.
tHOROUGHLY INSPECT CANNERS AND THEIR PARTS
There are two main types of canning – water bath canning and pressure canning. Each one has parts that should be inspected before the canning season begins.
Beginning canners will need to invest in home canning equipment, but experienced ones will need inventory to see what may need to be replaced.
Not 100% sure about how the canning parts work and what to look for? Go to my FREE Introduction to Canning Guide to learn in detail about canners.
WATER BATH CANNER
This is a large pot that can hold up to 7 quarts at a time. Closely inspect the handles for cracks and weak spots. A water bath canner is really heavy when full. Make sure to have no rust holes in the bottom.
Also, look over the canning rack as well too. Make sure the handles are sturdy and secure. You don’t want to be lifting a heavy canner off the eye and have a handle break. Not only will your jars break, but the water is boiling at 212 degrees, so don’t get it on you.
I use this 21.5-qt granite ware canner. We have well water too so my canner is really dirty looking inside. This does not hinder the canning process at all. These do have to be replaced every so often, so if you prefer, you can invest in stainless steel. I’m just old school and enjoy seeing the large black one sitting on my stove. It reminds me of my childhood
There are two main types of pressure canners – one that utilizes a gasket and then one that does not. I use a Presto canner with a gasket system.
If you use a canner with a gasket, inspect it well for cracks, tears, and dry rotting. If you have any of these, the canner will not seal and your food will not seal properly. I recommend keeping an extra one, if not two gaskets on hand.
If your canner uses a gauge, you should have it tested every year before the canning season begins. Your local extension office should be able to do this for you.
PLAN TO SOURCE LOCAL WHAT YOU CAN’T OR DON’T GROW
Not everyone has an area large enough to grow your own fresh vegetables. We don’t have enough space to grow corn, so I get it from the local Amish farm or the farmers market.
We also love watermelons and cantaloupe and don’t have space to grow these either.
So before the canning season begins and you’ve done your inventory, add to it the fruits and vegetables you may not be able to grow. And then, search the site Pick Your Own, click your state to see when these fresh foods are at their peak of harvest for your area. Or do a google search. (ex. – TN expected harvest dates)
Make notes or plans in your canning journal to seek out these items during prime harvest season. If in doubt, go to your local farmers market and ask when these can be expected. Everyone there is most likely eager to be helpful.
mORE CANNING POSTS:
- How to Build Your Own Canning Shelves (DIY)
- How to Properly Sterilize Jars for Canning
- Water Bath Canning Problems and Solutions
Dianne Hadorn is the owner of Hidden Springs Homestead nestled in the hills of East Tennessee. She is a Master Gardener and enjoys helping others learn how to grow and preserve their own food and sharing tips for living a more self-sufficient lifestyle.