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Looking to preserve your fall harvest? Here are some tips

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If you have a magic touch for raising fruits and vegetables, you probably have a lot more produce on hand than you can eat all at once. Sometimes you give your extras to friends and neighbors; sometimes you cook and freeze some of the produce yourself.

If you have a really green thumb, you’ll probably want to check out other ways of preserving your harvest. After all, you want to take as much advantage as you can out of our year-round gardening season in Arizona.

In fact, you’re no doubt ready to plant your winter vegetables right now. Fall is a great time to start cauliflower, celery, chard, garlic, kale, kohlrabi, lettuce, onions and more in central and southern Arizona.

You can find suggestions on how to preserve the bounty of your garden, by checking out the National Center for Home Food Preservation (funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which is funded by you and me, of course).

Did you know, for example, that pickling is not just for cucumbers anymore? According to the center, you can also pickle peaches, okra, squash, beans, spiced apples, crabapples, corn relish and peppers. You can also find tips online for smoking fish at home or how to stuff your own sausage.

But if you’re really serious about all this growing and harvesting, start thinking about investing in some labor-saving food processing equipment, such as:

• If you want to dry herbs or fruits and vegetables, you can hang them on a portable rack out in the sunshine by day and indoors by night. But if you want to do it quickly, you might be interested in buying a dehydrator that uses electricity to heat your produce. They can do the job quickly at 140 degrees F. and the result is reportedly tastier, too.

• If you want to freeze fruits and vegetables, you need to heat vegetables in boiling water for a very short time. Buy a blancher with a blanching basket and cover to do it more easily.

• You can also buy a vacuum sealer machine that will preserve blanched vegetables inside specially designed bags that can then be stored for two to three years in your freezer. The sealing process prevents dehydration and freezer burn. The vacuum sealer sucks all the air out of the bag and then seals the bag’s opening with heat. You can also use the vacuum sealer to help preserve meat and fish a whole lot longer in your freezer.

• If you want to get serious about canning, you can even buy a “pressure canner” for processing low acid foods such as vegetables, meat and fish. These foods require a temperature higher than that of boiling water in order to destroy harmful microorganisms. It’s easier to reach and maintain the proper temperature using a pressure canner. Modern pressure canners have removable racks, an automatic vent/cover lock, a vent pipe (steam vent), and a safety fuse. Use only canners that have the Underwriter’s Laboratory (UL) approval to ensure their safety.

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