Plucking the vegetables from the earth and chopping them up can really be a connection we are all missing these days.

There’s no need to go into detail that 2020 was strange, but one good thing that may have come out of it is more downtime and many people looking to grow and preserve their own food.
The process offers a way to cut grocery costs and boost the body with more healthy foods and nutrients.
Plus, plucking the veggies from the earth and chopping them up can really be a connection we are all missing these days with Zoom this and Facetime that.
As you start to look at canning recipes, you may be enticed by Pinterest images showing row after row of mason jars filled with a rainbow of canned goodies.
Images like that from experienced canners or those who chose to make that their job and lifestyle can cause your garden goals to be set unrealistically higher than you can manage, especially if you are just starting out.
While we’re not here to crush canning dreams, it’s best to consider a few reasonable questions to work backwards from the end product you desire back to what your seeds and plants you should sow now.
First, what can you grow and grow well? Look back on your garden from past years. If cucumbers never seem to grow to maturity, pickles might not be in your future.
Likewise, if you are constantly leaving squash on your neighbor’s doorstep, perhaps canning squash is for you. Also consider what you already have established. If you have mature berry bushes, think of a plan this year to be prepared for the bumper crop, like jams or jellies. If the asparagus seems to grow faster than it can land on the grill in the summer, consider canning the excess for the fall.
Another thing to consider is time.
If you know your child is pursuing their Olympic soccer career one chaotic weekend of travel soccer at a time, will you honestly have time to make 100 jars of salsa or will you be literally left with rotten tomatoes? Many times a canning project will take at least a half of a day, if not stretching into a weekend, between prepping, slicing, boiling and then the best part, sufficiently washing all the gear.
Like any new quest, set a doable goal of an item or two to start your canning career off with and build as you get more confident.
What will the people in your house actually eat? What kind of meals do you like to cook? Is salsa used often with chicken or tacos to spice things up? Is spaghetti in constant rotation, making sauce a good time investment? Or are they slightly picky, and will cans of pickled beets likely collect dust? It’s important to be honest, otherwise you’ll find yourself stewing over stewed tomatoes you spent a weekend on that look like they might end up as chicken food.
Another thought to keep in mind is what you want for ingredients or what you like to incorporate into a meal. Carrots are always great to keep on hand for a family who enjoys a hearty soup in the winter, whereas green beans work well for a family who keeps a casserole on rotation.
Now that you’ve chosen your focus, it’s time to consider how much to plant. Make a list of what you grow, then list underneath what you’ll be using it for. For example, under tomatoes, list salsa, pasta sauce, and fire roasted tomatoes.
Don’t forget — you’ll want to account for all the goodness you’ll be eating fresh from the vine throughout the summer too.
Next, do some research on your recipes to guess how many pounds of produce you will need. For example, 35 pounds of tomatoes yields roughly seven quarts of tomato sauce — and that’s not counting the fresh tomatoes you’ll want for your BLT sandwiches this summer!
Also don’t forget about friends and family who might drop a few (or more) hints about your blackberry jam or pickled beets. If you are a generous soul, try to think about what you might like to give as gifts as well and account for that.
From there, pick your varieties for seeds and plants that have high yields, especially if you have a smaller garden plot to work with.
Check the back of seed packets as well, oftentimes you’ll see a distinction that says it’s a variety that will work well for canning whether it’s because of a higher acid content on a tomato or thicker skin on a pepper.
Another trick to start now to make for an easier time later is to stagger your planting. If you get an early enough start that there’s plenty of warm weather weeks for veggies to hit maturity, you could plan to have your tomatoes come off earlier so you can get them out of the way before your cucumbers so you can space out your canning.
Likewise, if you’d like to knock them all out in a marathon of an extended weekend, plant so everything does become ripe at the same time.
Now if you have something with multiple ingredients like salsa on your list, make sure you plant your peppers, tomatoes and cilantro to come off at the same time.
If you get nervous figuring out exact numbers to plant or if despite your plans, your crop simply doesn’t flourish, fret not.
Many produce stands will offer canner’s specials or bulk buys. See if you can grab some “ugly” seconds that will still taste just as good or see if a neighbor will swap successes with you.
While this seems like a lot of work to do, remember, this is the starter year! All this groundwork will be something to build on year to year. Keep a little notebook in your garden tool area and make notes that help you remember and adjust what you planted that left you with too much, too little, or, if you are lucky, just the right amount of produce.
Quick details like how many seeds or plants you planted, when you planted, and how many pounds you ended up with will all be helpful.
Canning is an option that makes your days spent digging in the dirt even more worthwhile, as it allows you to enjoy your garden’s goodness through the fall and winter. Make a plan now to enjoy later.