Plan the Perfect Canning Garden to Save Yourself Tons of Time and Money
We all know that canning is a great way to preserve an abundant harvest, but for some of us, it can be an irregular proposition. For years, I approached canning as a way to save garden produce that my family couldn’t eat before it spoiled. Now, I know how much better it is to plan a canning garden around what I’d to preserve instead.
Any garden will serve you best if you start with a plan. Knowing your crops’ purpose allows you to get the maximum production out of your space and vastly reduces waste. You can even plan ahead for specific recipes. Whether you want a supply of home-grown salsa all year or you can’t get enough of green bean salad, an organized blueprint reduces waste and makes your job easier.
If you approach canning in a haphazard way right now – a few jars of peaches when they start falling off the tree or a few cans of tomatoes when you can’t make enough fresh pasta sauce during the summer – we’re going to show you how to plan your garden specifically for canning. Even if you plant foods specifically for preserving now, we’ll show you how to make the most of your space and time to take your canning garden to the next level.
Planning for Canning
Planning a canning garden is the ideal way to maximize your garden space and utilize your time. By preparing your garden ahead of time, you can be sure that you have what you need to feed everyone without a bunch of waste. You can also ensure that veggies are ripening at the same time, so you’ll be able to preserve everything at once.
We often talk about succession planting when it comes to garden planning, which lets a gardener have a small amount of food coming in for meals throughout the growing season. Planning for canning is different because we think in bulk so that we’re harvesting a large amount and the right variety off produce on the day we expect to process.
It’s tempting to plant the things you want to eat without thinking ahead, but you need to plan your garden as if it were a grocery store list. The first step is to think about what you like to eat and what you want more of when your garden isn’t producing.
In the winter when your garden is dormant what food does your family yearn for? What foods always sit in the pantry uneaten? Also, think about what you end up buying at the grocery store most often. If you are always picking up canned corn, be sure to plant that.
Make a list of what foods your family likes best. If this is your first time growing a garden for canning, start small, and pick one or two crops that are your favorites.
Tomatoes and green beans are the most commonly canned items, but cucumbers, carrots, and corn are also popular and simple to start with. If you want to go a bit more advanced, think about grouping plants to produce a favorite dish.
My family eats a lot of Mexican inspired food. One of my favorite things to do is to plant a salsa garden for salsa preserves. So I grow cilantro, onions, tomatoes, peppers all together and plan the timing, so they mature at the same time when I am ready to make salsa.
If your family loves root vegetables, you might want to plan a garden full of beets, rutabagas, and carrots. If you adore a green bean salad, plant lots of beans, onions, garlic, and asparagus. The options are endless.
Plan Your Garden Space
Once you have your plants picked out, it’s time to plan things out. A blueprint lets you plan your crop rotation, pest control, fertilizer schedule, and plant varieties. It’s also a great way to keep track of what you grow from year to year. You can look back at last year’s plot and see what worked and what didn’t.
Draw a Garden Map
The first step in planning a garden is to map things out. This can be as simple as sketching out an outline on a piece of paper or as sophisticated as using a software program. The next step is to calculate how much space you have for planting.
Now it’s time to choose how many plants you need. There are a lot of figures out there stating how many square feet your garden should be based on the size of your family and if you plan to preserve part of your harvest. Those figures are going to vary quite a bit depending on multiple factors, such as what you grow and how well the plants produce. Storey’s publishing has some great online worksheets to get you started that let you input what you want out of your garden.
You may think that a canning garden needs lots of space and 100-foot rows of green beans. But a well-planned garden has space for things you want to eat fresh and things you plan to can so you have a year-round supply of food, all in an area that isn’t as large as you might think.
No matter what size your canning garden, you can grow enough to preserve. If your space is limited or are you a fan of the Square Foot Gardening method, you can grow an abundance in 4-foot square beds.
For instance, take one of your 4-foot garden beds and plant 144 green bean seeds 4-inches apart in each direction you will average 35 pounds of green beans. A bushel of green beans weighs approximately 30 pounds and will make 14 to 18 quarts.
You can do the same thing with carrots. In one 4-foot bed, you can plant 256 seeds 3-inches apart and harvest thirty pounds of carrots. This will net you about 15 quarts of diced carrots.
There are several charts online that give you the yield of pounds to quarts for canning purposes.
If you have a canning garden that is between 400 to 800 square feet you have a bit more room to spread out. If you have a larger garden and are using a traditional row method, fifty feet of green beans would yield you about 30 pounds of beans. And fifty feet of carrots would be about 50 pounds.
The trick with a more extensive garden is organization. You have more room to spread out which can be tempting to plant too many of certain crops. Try to reign in your desire to plant the whole garden in one sitting and spend some time considering what you need and want.
If you have plenty of space, you may also want to see what is selling at your local farmer’s market and plant that with the goal of selling your excess produce.
One of the keys to planning a canning garden is to focus on timing. If you plan to process your food in late September, take a look at the maturity dates on your plants and schedule your planting so everything matures at approximately the same time. If you’d rather stagger your canning, plan ahead for that.
You may also want to sow a few plants in succession so that you have a fresh supply of food before or after canning as well.
You can see an example of how I schedule my plantings in the recipe for a salsa garden below.
Plant Varieties for Your Canning Garden
When you are canning, you are subjecting your vegetables to extreme heat and pressure. It is important to have varieties that can stand up to the rigors of the process – not to mention being a hardy, productive plant so you can maximize yields.