Generations of people have been canning their excess garden produce in order to enjoy the fruits of their labor year round. Canning is less common now than it was in years past, but some people still do can.
I only can certain items like tomato sauce, salsa, and pickles. I prefer to freeze beans, peas, and other vegetables. However, that is just my personal preference. There are some drawbacks to canning: you will need some supplies to can your produce correctly, and canning it does take some time. My personal opinion is that the drawbacks are negligible compared to the satisfaction I get opening up a jar of homegrown tomato sauce on a cold winter day!
In order to can correctly, you will need a large stock pot or a water bath canner, some tongs to life the hot jars out of the water, mason jars, lids, and bands. I would strongly encourage those just starting out to purchase a book on canning or contact your local agricultural extension office, or check the USDA website to get information on processing times in order to correctly can your produce. You can purchase a copy of the Ball Blue Book for canning here http://www.freshpreserving.com/pages/home/258.php?pid=292&product=304. You can also go online to get the latest information from the USDA here http://www.uga.edu/nchfp/publications/publications_usda.html
This is where I get my information.
You will also need a dry, cool place to store your leftover mason jars, supplies, and bands when they are not in use. This is important as the bands can rust if they are exposed to humid or damp conditions. Rusty bands can warp, which means that you will not be able to use them again.
While it can cost you quite a bit if you go out and purchase new canning supplies, you can find ways to reduce your out of pocket expenses. Try looking in Craigslist or with your local Freecycle group to see if you can find any mason jars or canning supplies. You might even find supplies at yard sales, thrift stores, or estate sales. This can lower your out of pocket expenses considerably. In addition, canning supplies often go on sale during the summer months. You might want to wait for the sale to stock up on your supplies.
Before you can your produce, simply clean your supplies and purchase new lids for the mason jars. Some people prefer to use “wide mouth mason jars” as it makes filling the jars much easier and quicker. If you decide to use the wide mouth mason jars, you will need to use bands and lids designed for this type of jar. Make sure that you purchase the correct supplies! There is nothing more frustrating that getting ready to can only to discover that you need to purchase more supplies because you have purchased the wrong ones. Some people prefer to use a mixture of regular mason jars and wide mouth jars. I find this to be slightly confusing, but use whatever method works best for you personally.
Although canning may sound like a complex and time consuming task. In reality, it isn’t. Once you get started, you will be amazed at how quickly the canning process goes.