It’s an amazing sight and a wonderful feeling – seeing your kitchen garden filled with ripe tomatoes, colorful peppers and all your other favorite herbs and vegetables. You’ve worked all season long to keep your veggie garden healthy, and now your bountiful harvest is in. What delicious meals you plan on making!

Vacuum sealer

Vacuum sealers create an airtight package so your garden produce will keep fresh for a longer time in your refrigerator or freezer.

Five month in freezer

Air can cause freezer burn on your homegrown harvest. These vegetables were vacuum-sealed and frozen 5 months ago and are still fresh and colorful.

Photo Credit: Mary Moore

Cleaned leak

Step 1: Before sealing your veggies, wash and dry them thoroughly. Remove any spoiled or damaged parts.

Photo Credit: Mary Moore

Sliced leaks

Step 2: Slice your veggie into smaller pieces for easy preservation.

Photo Credit: Mary Moore

Leaks in sealer bag

Step 3: Place sliced vegetables in a bag to be sealed. Use the bags recommended by the manufacturer to ensure that the vegetables will be properly preserved.

Photo Credit: Mary Moore

Vacuumed sealed leaks

Step 4: Use your vacuum sealer to remove all air from the bag and tightly seal it. Your food is now ready to freeze for enjoyment long after your vegetable harvesting has ended.

Photo Credit: Mary Moore

Of course, it’s after you’ve enjoyed those first few dishes that you (as well as many home gardeners) start to realize that you can’t keep cooking the same meals day after day. You need to consider preserving your delicious homegrown produce for future culinary creations. While canning is a great way to preserve your food, it can take hours of work. Freezing, on the other hand, is an effective way to preserve your vegetables so they stay fresh for enjoyment later in the year, long after the gardening season has passed. One of the best ways to freeze a large amount of produce quickly and safely is with a vacuum sealer.

Whether you choose a hand-held sealer that uses bags with a special vent, or you use a model that seals your bags using heat, the principle behind vacuum sealers is basically the same: Freezer burn is caused by having air next to food when the food is frozen. Even in the freezer, oxygen breaks down food, resulting in a loss of taste and texture. The best way to prevent freezer burn is to remove the air. Now that said, vacuum-sealing your garden harvest is not a substitute for refrigeration or freezing – it’s meant to create an airtight container so your produce will keep for a longer time in your fridge or freezer.

Here’s how it works…

Basic Freezing Instructions

Start with homegrown vegetables that are ripe and in good shape. (The fresher your veggies, the better they’ll taste when you thaw them out later.) Thoroughly clean any dirt off your harvest and remove any bruised, wilted or damaged parts.

Slice your vegetables and prepare them as if you’re going to cook them. (So if you’re freezing green beans, remove the ends and snap the middle section into small pieces. If you’re preserving corn, either freeze it right on the cob or remove the corn kernels from it first.) Blanch the vegetables in boiling water, then immerse them in cold water to stop the cooking process. Drain thoroughly, as water can interfere with the vacuuming process and the seal.

Place your blanched vegetables into the bag or container recommended by your sealer’s manufacturer. Make sure you have left enough room at the top of the bag to allow it to fit completely into the vacuum opening and allow it to seal.

If you’re using a heat-sealing unit, you’ll need to place the open end of the bag into the vacuum opening. (Check your user’s manual for complete instructions.) Some of the newer units on the market are automated and you only need to press the start button. If you’ve got a manual model, you’ll need to press down on the top of the unit until all of the air has been vacuumed out and the seal is completed. (When working with moist items, I usually move the bag slightly and create a second seal, just to make sure the package is completely closed.) If you’re using a hand-held model, be sure that you fit the unit snugly into the vent and completely remove all air before you allow the bag or container to seal.

At this point, your veggies are ready to put straight into the freezer. How long will your produce remain fresh? Although it varies with the type of vacuum sealer you choose, my FoodSaver® sealer’s user manual states that vegetables will stay good for 2-3 years when blanched and frozen in their bags. (But really, who can wait that long to enjoy a homegrown harvest?!)

So, when your summer squash produces more food than you can eat, and your blueberries and strawberries have amazing yields, take advantage of this helpful gadget to preserve your harvest – and enjoy the bounty all year long!