When you plant your garden, it’s so easy to imagine all of the great tasting, healthy food that will come from those tiny seeds and plants. Many people grow not only enough to eat during the summer but enough so they can preserve those garden delights for cold winter nights. Spring is a great time to make sure your canning gear is ready for production when your garden starts producing more than you can eat.

It’s important to make sure the dial gauge on your canner is working accurately. The only safe way to can vegetables is pressure canning. (Tomatoes are an exception. They can be processed in a boiling water bath.) In order to assure bacteria are destroyed, the water in the canner must reach 240 degrees. The only way to reach temperatures this high is in a pressure canner. Have the dial gauge tested to assure your canner is reaching accurate temperatures. Check with your local Extension office to see if they can test your gauge.

Another thing you can do to prepare for the canning process is to check your jars thoroughly for cracks and chips. Jars that are cracked or chipped can break during the canning process. Jars that are chipped around the rim can prevent a proper seal. Use only jars that are made for home canning. Jars that were made for other purposes can break and may not seal properly. The screw band of the lid can be used year after year if it is in good condition, but each flat placed on the top of the jar needs to be new.

Lastly, check the recipes you are using to can your products. Recipes published before 1989 may not be accurate. In 1989, processing times were changed for many vegetables. This occurred because there were more reported incidences of foodborne illness from home-canned food. To get up-to-date information on processing times for home-canned vegetables, contact your local Extension office or check out the food preservation resources on the MU Extension website, specifically the Quality for Keeps series.

While you’re waiting for the green beans and tomatoes to ripen, go ahead and eat the ones you processed last summer. For maximum quality, it is recommended that you use your home canned foods within one year.