Preserving the Harvest

A favorite book of mine is “Prodigal Summer” by Barbara Kingsolver. In the novel, one woman remarks to another that such a mess has been created while putting up cherries, it looks as if a murder occurred in the red-splashed kitchen. If you have enough of a harvest this year to get messy preserving it, here is what you need to know.

Grandma’s recipes may not be safe. This is because canning has changed since it was introduced, and scientists have found ways to make it better. For safety’s sake, follow the guidelines published in the USDA Complete Guide to Home Canning. The text is available free online. Full-color, spiral-bound printed copies can be purchased for $15 from University of Nevada Cooperative Extension, 4955 Energy Way in Reno.

With this resource in hand, you can learn and apply proper canning practices. These practices include selecting and washing fresh foods carefully, peeling some fresh foods, adding lemon juice or vinegar to some foods and hot packing many foods. Use acceptable jars and self-sealing lids, and pay special attention to the processing time.

It is essential for food safety to process jars in a boiling-water or pressure canner for the correct period of time. When calculating how long to process foods, take into account your location. Are you at a high altitude? Be careful! Water boils at a lower temperature the higher you go. Lower temperatures are less effective in killing harmful microorganisms. To compensate, a longer processing time is required. The USDA guide includes process times for various altitudes in its recipes.

Proper canning practices, from selecting to processing foods, conquer food waste. This is because they prevent the growth of undesirable microorganisms, destroy enzymes and remove oxygen. They also create good, tight seals on jars which keep liquids in. All of this prevents spoilage.

Canning foods at home conquers food waste. Photo by Joy Newton.
Canning foods at home conquers food waste. Photo by Joy Newton.

Once you have triumphed over food waste and home-canned goods adorn every surface in your kitchen for all to behold, look at them closely. Make sure they pass the USDA’s appearance, fruit and vegetable, and liquid or syrup tests published in the guide. Then, store your canned goods treasure trove properly. Storage temperatures below 95 degrees F are required to keep spoilage at bay. Temperatures between 50-70 degrees F are ideal for the best retention of quality.

If you find yourself in a kitchen murder scene due to an overly abundant harvest like the one described in “Prodigal Summer,” consider getting rid of the evidence by starting a cottage industry business. Nevada Revised Statute 446.866 allows for limited amounts of non-potentially hazardous foods such as jams, jellies, preserves, and dried fruits and herbs to be made and sold at home. Before you get started, consult the Nevada Division of Public and Behavioral Health’s Cottage Food Program. They can provide detailed information about the law and the necessary paperwork.

To learn more about safely storing what your garden gives you for home or cottage industry use, attend Grow Your Own, Nevada! classes. For information, visit


Ashley Andrews is the horticulture assistant with University of Nevada Cooperative Extension. Horticulture questions? Ask a master gardener, 775-336-0265 or, or visit, or