Harvesting and Preserving Garden Greens
Saving Money With Your Garden
Sure, it saves money to have greens fresh from your garden, but you can save even more when you learn how to freeze your greens.
What kind of greens can you freeze?
- Mustard greens
- Collard greens
- Swiss chard
- Ruby chard
- Turnip greens
Best of all? They keep that fresh-from-the-garden taste for up to a year. Here's how to do it.
When To Pick Your Greens
Pick your greens first thing in the morning. This will maximize the moisture in them. As the day gets hotter, greens pull some of their moisture toward their roots and away from the leaves. You want all of that moisture when you preserve your harvest.
Plan a morning when you can pick your greens early and then freeze them immediately. Greens will begin to wilt fairly soon after picking, and you want to capture as much of that fresh goodness as possible.
The Importance of Cleaning Your Greens
It is vitally important that you clean your greens thoroughly. If you don't, you may end up with grains of dirt or sand in them—there are few things worse than taking a bite of yummy greens and feeling grit in your teeth.
Here's the best way to wash your greens.
- Put the picked greens in a large pot or pan of water and swish them around for a minute.
- Remove the greens, pour the water out, and fully rinse out your pot or pan.\
- Repeat. This time, after you swish them around, let them sit in the water for about a half-hour.
- When you return to them, DON'T SWISH THE WATER. Carefully remove the greens, then rinse and wash the pot.
I put up swiss chard, and I wash each green individually rather than doing the soaking method mentioned above. It may seem tedious, but it doesn't really take all that long.
Cleaning the greens is the hardest part. Don't get discouraged, but do make sure that you have thoroughly washed all the dirt from the leaves.
Preparing Greens for the Freezer
- After the greens are washed, chop them roughly and put them into a large pot on the stove. The water that clings to the leaves is all the liquid you need.
- Set the temperature (or fire, if you use a gas stove) to medium. You want to let the greens wilt—they will turn a brilliant green color.
- A large, full pot of greens will cook down to about 1/3 of your pot, maybe even less. This usually takes about 15 minutes.
- You aren't cooking the greens, you're only wilting them. Once they're wilted, remove the pot from the stove and let them come to room temperature.
Bagging and Freezing Your Greens
Get a box of freezer bags (not sandwich bags, which aren't thick enough to protect your vegetables)—I use the quart size. Using a black marker, write the name of your greens on the package and put a date on it. Greens are best if they're eaten within one year from putting in the freezer.
Why should you write what they are on the package? If you put up collards and, say, mustard greens, you may not be able to tell which is which just by looking once the packages are frozen. It only takes a minute to label your bags.
I put two cups of greens into each quart bag—it's the right amount for us. If you have a larger family or are preparing (usually) just for one person, you can put one cup, or three.
Lay the bags on the counter and press all the air out of them, then seal them. Move the contents around in the bag with your fingers so the package lays as flat as possible. Clear away space in your freezer where the bags will lay flat to freeze. Once they're frozen you can move them to a part of the freezer that works best for you.
That's all there is to it!
Final Important Tips
- Make sure you move the contents in the bags so that the bag lays as flat as possible.
- Make a space in your freezer where you can lay the bags FLAT, and on top of each other is fine. Once they are frozen in neat flat bags you can then move them to another part of the freezer if you like.
- You'll be glad you took the time to freeze them in evenly-shaped bags! The first time I did this I tossed the bags into the freezer willy-nilly, and then later discovered that I had these odd-shaped packages that wouldn't rest on top of each other. They took up too much room in my small freezer.
How To Cook Them Later
- 1/2 small onion, chopped
- Package of frozen greens
- 2 tablespoons white vinegar
- 2 tablespoons sugar
- Salt to taste
- Soften the chopped onion in about 2 tbsp. of olive oil till they are translucent.
- Add in your greens (still frozen is fine) and put your temperature to low.
- After the greens and onions have cooked for about a half-hour, add in the vinegar, sugar and salt to taste.
You may need more vinegar and sugar—they usually are used in a 1-to-1 ratio. You'll love having fresh greens—maybe even in the dead of winter—and they taste as if they were just harvested from your garden.