Canning is so much fun. It is also convenient as it provides you with food with a shelf life of one to five years. But when is canning season, and how do you prepare for it?
Canning takes place throughout the year. However, certain products can only be canned during specific seasons using the boiling water bath, steam canning, or pressure canning method. Jams are usually canned in the summer and spring, mustard during winter, and apple chutney in autumn.
Now let’s take a look at how to properly prepare for canning season.
Set Canning Goals
This post includes affiliate links.
The first aspect of preparing for canning season is setting some canning goals. One important aspect of preparing for canning season is to really think through what you want to accomplish, and how you’re going to accomplish it.
Pro tip: Especially if it’s getting close to canning season, I recommend you buy a moderate amount of canning jars and lids NOW, even before set goals. The reason is that these supplies are hard to find once canning season starts. Order some now, and then purchase more if you decide you need more once you do all your planning. Since Amazon is flooded with cheap knock-offs, I now buy all of my canning supplies at my local Walmart, or online from Lehman’s.
Setting Specific Canning Goals
Why do you want to can? Is it to just preserve some food you buy at the grocery store before it goes bad? Do you have a desire to grow and preserve enough food to feed your family for a year?
When setting goals, be specific. For example, if you want to can enough tomatoes to last an entire year, determine how many pints or quarts of tomatoes you need for the year.
Obviously, life never goes exactly the way we plan, but starting with a basic but specific plan helps you properly prepare for canning season.
Determine How You’ll Accomplish Your Canning Goals
Again, using a year’s worth of canned tomatoes as an example, think about how to get all you need to can a year’s worth of tomatoes.
Regarding what you’ll need, let’s start with the obvious – tomatoes! The first question is, where will you get the tomatoes? Do you plan to grow them? Will you buy them at a local farmer’s market? Or perhaps you plan to just buy tomatoes in bulk when they go on sale at your local grocery store.
If you plan to grow your own tomatoes, how many tomato plants do you need to produce enough tomatoes to meet your home-canned tomatoes goal? Do you have a backup plan if your tomato plants don’t produce as much as planned? A deep dive into planning your garden is beyond the scope of this article, but I just want to get you thinking about where you’ll get what you plan to can.
Pro Tip: If you plan to grow your own tomatoes and other produce for both fresh eating and preserving, I recommend True Leaf Market. Use this link to get $5 off your first order from True Leaf Market.
When Will You Can the Food?
Another important aspect of planning for canning season is to anticipate when you’ll can the food. Now this is a little tricky since you won’t know exactly when your garden produce will be ready to can.
However, with a bit of planning it’s easy to get a ballpark idea of when you’ll harvest those tomatoes and other delicious fruit and vegetables.
If you plan to do small batch canning, it’s easy to squeeze canning sessions into your normal weekly schedule. However, if you plan to grow or buy food to can on a larger scale, it’s important to plan canning sessions on your calendar.
Avoid making other big commitments during the same time when you’ll have fresh produce that needs canning before it goes bad!
Where Will You Store Your Home-Canned Food?
If you’re anything like me, you may have more enthusiasm regarding canning, than space to store the food you can. So, when you do your canning planning, be sure to figure out where you’ll store all your home-canned goods.
If you’re unsure about how much space you need, I find it easiest to grab some jars, and put them on my shelves or in my cupboard to see how many fit.
Even if I don’t yet have all the jars I need, it’s easy enough to figure out how many jars fit in the space I have. As an example, I can check to see how many jars deep I can go on my shelf, and how many jars fit across the length of the shelf.
If I find that I can fit three wide-mouth quart jars deep and seven across on one shelf, I know I have enough room for 21 wide-mouth quart jars per shelf. If I have seven shelves, when I multiple 21×7, I quickly discover that I have room for 147 wide-mouth quart jars.
Obviously, you may want to do a mix of jar sizes, but the same basic principle applies. Don’t stress too much over this! Most likely things won’t turn out exactly the way you plan. If you get a ballpark idea of the number of jars you have room for, you’ll be fine! The main thing to avoid is planning to can 500 quarts of food when you only have room for 200 jars.
Pro Tip: Consider the space you have before you buy shelves to store your home-canned food. Thankfully, this selection of shelves from Amazon come in all shapes and sizes, so you’re sure to find a combination of shelves that work for your space.
Making Room for More Jars of Home-Canned Food
Now let’s say that you really need to can 500 quarts of food and only have room for 200 jars. If that’s the case, it’s time to get creative! Do you have a closet you can clean out and use to store canned goods? Can you get under-the-bed storage containers? (Note that even if you use risers to make your bed higher, due to the shorter height, pints fit under a bed better than quarts.)
Also consider stacking some of your jars with the following caveats. First, never stack canning jars directly on top of other jars. Doing so may result in false seals on your lids. However, you can put a piece of thick cardboard between the layers.
Also, make sure your shelves are sturdy enough to handle the weight of stacked jars. Some shelves are flimsy, and you don’t want to lose all your hard work and the money you’ve laid out to can when shelves collapse!
Make Sure You Have Enough Supplies to Meet Your Canning Goals
Once you’ve set your canning goals and figured out where you’ll store all your home-canned food, it’s time so make sure you have all the supplies you need.
Most of us have experienced shortages of both canning lids and jars. Other products such as Clear Jel may also be in short supply during canning season. You may even have trouble finding canners.
Because of that, it’s important to buy everything you need long before canning season.
First, let’s talk about the basic canning supplies you need to get started canning, and then we’ll dive into the specifics.
Canning Jars and Lids
I used to buy canning jars and lids on Amazon. However, in recent years, inferior knock off products are sold under the names of Ball/Kerr. Because of that, I now buy all my canning jars and lids at my local Walmart OR order them from a smaller online retailer such as Lehman’s. I personally like supporting smaller businesses, and I’m assured I’m getting the real thing.
Depending on the type of canning you plan to do, you need the following:
- Water Bath Canner or Steam Canner
- Pressure Canner
I happen to use a Nesco Smart Canner which does both water bath and pressure canning. You can buy the Nesco here on Amazon. If you can’t get the Nesco but want to use a smart canner, the Carey is the exact same canner as the Nesco. You can get the Carey here on Amazon.
Canning Season by Season
The great news is that even though summer is probably the biggest canning season, there’s an opportunity to can year-round. Here’s my breakdown of what to can when. I’ll also get into what to can in the off season.
Food to Can in the Summer
First, let’s take a look at the types of food you can expect to harvest or purchase at farmer’s markets during the summer.
- Strawberry jam
- Zucchini relish
- Blueberry and raspberry jams
- Pickled garlic
- Whole cherries
- Red-pepper jelly
- Dill pickles
- Corn salsa
- Tomato relish
- Whole peaches
- Pickled green beans
Food to Can in the Spring
Now let’s take a look at the types of food you can can in the spring.
- Rhubarb jam
Food to Can in the Winter
In the winter, the following items can be canned:
- Orange and grapefruit marmalades,
- Cranberry sauce.
- Pickled onions
Food to Can in the Autumn
Autumn is a perfect time to can the following items.
- Pear butter
- Grape jelly
- Apple chutney
- Cauliflower piccalilli
Obviously, the above are just examples, but you can also plan to can many related products during the specific season. As an example, during the season to can pear butter, it makes sense to can pears. When it’s canning season for apple chutney, it’s also canning season for apple pie filling and applesauce.
What to Can in the Off Season
As you can see, there truly is no “off” season for canning. However, there are times when you have less to can. This is especially true if you primarily can what you grow in your garden and you live in a climate with harsh winters.
I actually love the off season for canning because it gives me time to can items that I simply don’t have time to can during the summer.
As an example, when you don’t have any fresh produce to can, it’s the perfect time to can beans and meat. You can also use can foods such as soups, stews, and chili during the off season.
Canning Season Checklist
To recap, here are the things you want to do to make sure you have everything in place for canning season.
- Set canning goals. Know how much you want to can well before canning season starts.
- If you plan to grow your own food to can, order seeds and other gardening supplies. I buy most of my gardening supplies from True Leaf Market. Use this link to get $5 off your first order.
- Make room to store the food you can. Purchase additional shelving if needed.
- Stock up on canning jars and lids. I purchase mine from Lehman’s or my local Walmart.
- Buy any other canning supplies you may need such as this canning set, Pickle Crisp, Fruit Pectin Powder, etc.
- Depending on the type of canning you plan to do, make sure you get your canners before canning season. I recommend having at least one water bath canner and one pressure canner. If like me you prefer to use a smart canner, you only need to purchase one. I like the Nesco Smart Canner. If by chance the Nesco is out of stock, grab a Carey if you can. They are the exact same canner, sold under different brand names.
It’s Always Canning Season!
As you can see, especially when you add in foods such as beans and meat that you can can any time of year, it’s always canning season!
While you may find certain times of year more intense canning seasons, to keep a well-stocked prepper pantry, plan to can throughout the year.
Canning truly takes place year-round, and there’s always something delicious just begging to be canned. (That is, if food had personality and the ability to beg!)
The bottom line is to always be prepared to can whatever comes your way, so that you can take advantage of every single opportunity to can that comes your way. Canning truly is one of the best ways to preserve food in season that you can enjoy throughout the year.
So get out a notebook, jot down some ideas and a list of what you need, and make sure there’s room in your pantry for all the food just waiting to be canned.
Related Canning Articles
If you enjoyed this article, you may also enjoy these articles.
- Is Canning without a Canner Possible?
- Pressure Canning Vs. Water Bath | What’s the Difference?
- What are Safe Canning Methods?
- What is Headspace in Canning?
- How Tight Should a Ring be When Canning?
- Canning Mistakes that Can Kill You
Here are some of my favorite canning tools
Thank you for reading this article. I hope you found it helpful as you strive to stock your pantry with delicious home-canned food! Here are some tools that I use as a canner that I’m hoping you’ll also find helpful. These are affiliate links, so if you do decide to use any of them, I’ll earn a commission. Please know that these are the tools that I actually use and recommend and believe in 100%!
Nesco Smart Canner: You can see that many of the posts on my site show me using the Nesco canner. This is by far my favorite canner to use, and because of that, it’s the one that I recommend. Note that the Nesco and Carey Smart Canners are the exact same thing. So, if you go to Amazon and see that Nesco canners are out of stock, but the Carey is available (or cheaper!), then by all means buy a Carey. As long as you have either a Nesco or Carey, you can follow along with what I demonstrate on this blog.
Tattler Reusable Lids: I use both Tattler and Harvest Guard reusable canning lids. They are both American made, made by the same family. I prefer to buy my Tattler lids from Lehman’s, since they are a small, family-owned company. You can get Tattler lids from Lehman’s here, but if you prefer to buy from Amazon, you can get them here.
Metal Canning Lids: I have always been a fan of Ball canning lids. However, due to cheap knock offs on Amazon that claim to be Ball lids, I no longer purchase them from Amazon. You can get them from Lehman’s here. Another solid brand that Lehman’s sells is Superb. They are thicker and seem to have better quality gaskets. Here are the regular mouth lids and here are the wide mouth lids.
Norpo Canning Tools Boxed Set: I love this set of canning tools because it truly includes all the basics that you need, whether you’re water bath or pressure canning. Occasionally I’ve lost one of the items in the set and to replace it, had to buy it separately. It’s definitely more cost effective to buy the entire set.
The Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving: This is the first canning book that I purchased, and it’s still the one that I refer to most often. Especially when you’re first learning to can, it’s important to use trusted recipes and instructions that you know are safe. This book provides some great canning recipes to get you started, and also gives a lot of great “how to” canning information. When in doubt, look it up in the Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving!