By mid-summer, southern gardeners are busy harvesting butter beans, cantaloupes, corn, cucumbers, okra, peas, peppers, squash, and melons. Raspberries come in around July, along with peaches, blackberries, and blueberries.
Tomatoes are also plentiful until frost. Use a canner to preserve your favorite varieties for making into delicious sauces, stews, soups, and other dishes. For extra flavor, tuck a couple of fresh basil leaves into the jars before you process them.
Tomatoes are easy to freeze. Start by rinsing the tomatoes under cool water. Then gently lower them into a pot of boiling water for 30 to 60 seconds. Remove the tomatoes from the water, drain them, and allow them to cool. The skins should slip off easily, so you can use your hands to peel them.
Cut the tomatoes into quarters, and discard the core and any bad spots. Put the pieces into freezer bags and store at 0 degrees F for up to 8 months.
Mid-summer is also a good time to harvest thyme, oregano, parsley, and other herbs to use later in your recipes. To preserve their flavor and oils, pick the herbs before they produce flowers and set seeds. Gather the leaves after the morning dew dries, but before the heat of the day sets in.
To freeze herbs, rinse the leaves, shake them dry, and chop them coarsely. Then freeze them in ice cube trays filled with some water. When they’re frozen, pop the cubes out of the tray and store them in freezer bags. Don’t have ice cube trays? Freeze the chopped herbs on a cookie sheet instead, bag them, and return them to the freezer.
Herbs can also be air dried. Again, start by rinsing them. Then spread them in a single layer to dry thoroughly on cloth or paper towels. Tie the herbs into small, loose bundles, and hang them upside down in a warm, dry spot with good air circulation.
Many gardeners like to dry sliced tomatoes or squash in dehydrators, which are also useful for preserving apples, plums, pears, and other fruits. Follow the manufacturer’s directions for setting the temperature and rotating the trays in your unit.
If you’re going to freeze vegetables, pick your produce at its peak. Most veggies will need blanching for various amounts of time in boiling water or steam, and some may require pre-cooking. Check with your local extension service office for details, or visit the USDA Web site for more information. After you fill your freezer bags and containers, be sure to label them with the date. Most frozen vegetables stored at 0 degrees F should be used within 12 to 18 months. A vaccum sealer can remove air from your storage bags and help your foods last longer.