Even a modest backyard garden can result in an overabundance of homegrown fruits and vegetables, leading to wasted food. You don't have to stuff yourself full of excess produce, give it all away or let it rot - just can it. Home canning is a great way to preserve your garden harvest. Fresher and tastier than store-bought canned goods, home-canned food saves money and reduces packaging waste, too.

 

Food can be preserved in glass mason jars using either hot water bath or pressure canner methods. Heating the jars kills microorganisms that cause spoilage, and as the jars cool, air pressure seals the lids tightly. When stored in a dark, cool, dry location, sealed home-canned goods have a shelf life of about one year. Canning your produce is an ideal way to maintain a more local diet year-round, rather than relying on store-bought goods outside the growing season.

 

You can preserve virtually anything you grow in your garden with home canning. Get creative and add herbs, spices and other items to your fruits and vegetables, or make salsa, sauces and soups.

 

Home Canning Materials

To get started, you'll need the following items:

  • Glass mason jars with lids and sealing rings, sterilized in boiling water and fully dried
  • Large pot or pressure canner
  • Canning rack, to hold jars inside the pot
  • Wide-mouth funnel and ladle, to fill jars
  • Tongs or jar lifters, to remove cans from the pot
  • Home canning guide, such as the USDA's Complete Guide to Home Canning

 

The Basics of Canning Food

High-acid foods such as tomatoes, jams and jellies can be canned in a hot water bath. Sterilized jars are packed with food, sealed and completely submerged in boiling water for 5 to 85 minutes depending on the type of food and the size of the jars. Boiling removes the oxygen that remains in the jar to form a tight seal. This method can only be used with foods that have a pH of 4.6 or less, as the heat used isn't high enough to prevent the growth of a bacteria called Clostridium botulinum.

 

Modern pressure canners make home canning easier and safer than ever before, and come in a variety of sizes fitting up to two layers of pint-sized jars. Jars filled with food are placed on a rack inside the canner with 2-3 ices of water and processed at high temperatures. This method is ideal for low-acid foods including most vegetables.

 

Home canning is not difficult, but the risk of bacteria growth from improperly canned food requires careful attention to safety guidelines. Always follow instructions from a reliable source of home canning information, such as the National Center for Home Food Preservation.