I know. I know. You haven’t even got a seed in the ground and I wat to talk about preserving but this is actually the time to start thinking about how to save what you grow.

Step one:  Do an updated inventory of what you ran short of or had an excess of so you know how you did. There is no point in planning to put up another 25 pints of jam (like I did) if you still have 18 jars left over. If you ran out of applesauce in February, you will obviously need to put up a lot more.

Look over your equipment: Is your canner in good shape? Sometimes the wire basket needs to be replaced. Can you find all of the other stuff like the funnel, jar lifter, spoons and so on? I keep all  my canning equipment in a bin so I never have to waste time hunting for something I really need. Pressure canners should receive a good going over. Is the seal in good shape? Do you have all of the small pieces? I hope you have a manual for each piece of equipment. If not, you can try going on-line and ordering one from the company. You really need the manual for your pressure canner. I keep all of mine together in a folder and store it with my cookbooks.

Jars: Did you run out last year? Now is the time to check out Craig’s list or free cycle and try to scrounge up some free ones. Check each jar before use for small nicks or cracks. There is no more onerous job than cleaning out the canner when a jar of sauce breaks and spill the contents all over the place. How about lids. I buy mine by the case as I want a few year’s worth put away. You can reuse the rings if they are not rusty or bent but the lids need to new. When they seal to a jar, the lids develop an indentation an may not seal again. I sure wish some enterprising family would start up a local factory that produced lids.

Dehydrators: If you dry any food, you should now be thinking about how you will store the food. It needs to be kept dry and in the dark. I used canning jars with some of those used lids. I mark used lids with a big X, made with an indelible marker so I don’t mix up new and used.

Freezer storage: I have tried all kids of containers for freezer storage. The thing that works the best is the environmentally sound. I like heavy duty plastic bags that I can suck the air out of. I actually have a pretty nifty system that sucks out the air and seals the bag on a heated strip but to be honest, most of the time I use a zipper bag and suck the air out of the bag with a straw. I stick the straw in one corner, sip up to the straw, suck out he air and, very quickly remove the straw and finish the seal. If I am just doing a few bags, it isn’t worth the trouble of setting up the bag sealer. I know it is better if I reuse plastic food containers but I always seem to have a problem with freezer burn when I do that. I do reuse the bags as often as I can but I still hate going to plastic bags.

A few random thoughts on preserving: Before putting my jars in the cellar this year, I am going to give them a good washing. I had a problem with mold on the surface of some jars that held sweet foods. I must have left sugar residue on them. What a mess! I had to cart them all upstairs, wash them and cart them back down. The mold wouldn’t hurt the food-it was well sealed inside-but it looked terrible and I coudn’t leave it there.

Get your freezer defrosted before putting up those first peas. Plan an eat it up couple of weeks where you finish up the last bits and drabs of freezer food. Do the same with your canned food.

If you need some guidance, don’t bother with the county extension service. At least in Massachusetts, there is no one on staff to do workshops or classes. I found good information on the USDA canning site. Ball has a good one too. Now is the time to update your resources. Old books may have outdated information. I have actually seen things recommended that are really not safe like inversion canning. Make sure you know you altitude so you can adjust canning times.

Be sure you know the best way to preserve different foods. You can’t can pumpkin or winter squash (they are too dense to reach the right internal temperature). Some things are better dried and some should only be canned for the best results. Storey has several good food preservation books.