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Ask Jackie Online
By Jackie Clay

May 10, 2007
Jackie Clay
Jackie Clay answers questions on any aspect of low-tech, self-reliant living.
Click Here to learn how to Ask Jackie a question.

Transplanting tomatoes

I tried transplanting tomato plants last year with little success. What vegetable plants transplant from indoor starts well and is there something I should have done to the tomatoes to help them adjust to the outdoor environment? Thanks for your help. Love the magazine!

Renee Goodman
Greencastle, Indiana

I’m so sorry you had trouble with transplanting your tomatoes last spring. They really are among the easiest of garden plants to transplant, too. Here are a few hints: First, when you transplant them from the seedling tray to their individual cells or containers, plant them deep enough that only the top few leaves show above the potting medium. Tomatoes are hardy buggers and will set roots all along the stem, making them grow even better.

As they approach setting out time, take them to a sheltered place outside in the warm sun for an hour or two, letting them gradually acclimate to “outside.” Then extend the time slowly. Keep them out of severe winds and hard sunlight. You don’t want them on the south side of your house, right up against a white wall, for instance; you don’t want to cook them!

Less of this hardening off is necessary when you plant the seedlings in Wall’o Water plant protectors. These tipis protect the plants from wind and the fluctuations of temperature.

When it is time to set them out, do it on a moderate day, not a hot day. And again, plant them so that only the top “bunch” of leaves are out of the soil. If the plants have grown spindly and leggy, having a very long stem, dig a trench and lay the plant down in the trench, gently curving the very top upward. Now bury the root ball and stem. As before, the entire stem will grow roots and soon this weakling plant will astound you. I don’t mulch my plants until they are growing well and the temperatures have warmed up well. Mulching too early will actually keep the roots too cool to grow well.

Good luck this year and buy a new wheelbarrow for your huge harvest!

—Jackie

One-piece jar lids

I am planning to make homemade jam/jelly for favors for my daughter’s wedding. I had planned to purchase half-pint Ball jars with regular two piece continuous thread seals, but someone suggested using the 1 1/2 ounce jars (the kind fancy jellies at specialty shops come in) to save time and money. (I’ll be processing about 250 jars). These require a lid with what is called a lug seal (one turn closes it). Are these safe to use, and are they processed using a boiling water bath just like the CT seals? Any information would be appreciated.

Judy Groff
Feasterville, Pennsylvania

I have used these jars for tiny amounts of jams and jellies. Yes, you use them the same as you do the two-piece lids. However, I would suggest using the little 4 ounce Ball jars that are available (sometimes only on special order). That would give your guests a better taste of your preserves and might work better for you in the long run. As you found out, there really isn’t much information available on using the lug seal jars and for the home canner, it is sort of an experimental method.

Personally, I wouldn’t want to experiment at my daughter’s wedding! I’m just too chicken.

—Jackie

Making powdered eggs

I have many laying hens, and since there are just two of us here, we obviously get more eggs than we can eat. I give away a lot of eggs, but was wondering how do I make my own powdered eggs so I can put them up for lean times?

Marty Young
Huntington, Massachusetts

Powdered eggs is one food I just have not had the nerve to dehydrate, chiefly because of the salmonella danger. I know people have done it, but then some people still insist on canning green beans in a waterbath canner, an insane practice in my opinion. I would suggest selling your eggs and putting the money into a kitty for feed for the hens or to buy your powdered eggs. Either way makes a circle of self-sufficiency.

—Jackie

What to plant in hoop house

We have just been blessed with the rental of a home on 33 acres, including lots of (organic) raised beds, and a huge hoop house, with even more organic raised beds inside there, plus of course acres and acres of great land.

I’ve got lots of ideas and plans for gardening, in the hopes of putting up as much food as possible this year, but I’ve just realized that with those raised beds inside it, the greenhouse is for more than starting transplants.

With no shortage of garden space on this place, what crops or considerations should I be keeping in mind to plant and grow all season inside the greenhouse? I have thought of a couple of tropicals, like kiwi, banana and lemons, but what “regular” crops would I want in there, and why?

By the way, I am in southwestern Oregon, immediately north of the California border, and right on the inside fringe of the coastal range, at about 1800 ft. elevation. I would guess (gotta check that!).

Thanks so much for all your canning articles! I am SOOOO excited about all the opportunities here for growing and preserving our food!

Tracey Roberts
Cave Junction, Oregon

Boy, you have been blessed! Holy mackerel, most people would kill for your new property! It beats the heck out of renting an apartment.

It sounds like you’ve stumbled into paradise. As I’m not familiar with your growing climate, I’m not sure as to the tropicals. Is the hoop house heated in any way? Will it need to be to keep your tropical fruits growing happily? If you don’t know, ask a local nursery or two. More than one opinion is always a good idea.

Regular crops? I would for sure grow tomatoes and peppers. Both of these crops are really perennials from South America, originally, and love the protection and heat a greenhouse provides. Not only will these give you fresh food for an extended time, but will provide you with an off-season crop to sell if you wish.

Likewise, cukes, muskmelons and watermelons are a good choice for the same reason. While the bulk of our own food is homegrown and home canned, so far I do not have the availability to grow salad crops, tomatoes or peppers, let alone melons. So it’s yucky store food from who-knows-where. But this spring we are adding a big four season garden room on the south side of our new log house and an enclosed porch as well. In a year, we’ll do away with the store-bought fresh veggies. Hooray!

You can also grow greens and snow peas during the winter, for added variety. And I’ll bet you’ll come up with a whole lot more, as time and your experience goes on. Again, CONGRATULATIONS!

—Jackie

Smelly canned beets

I canned many jars of beets last year from our garden in Warren, Oregon. The beets were wonderful when fresh, but my beautiful jars full of beets have an awful smell when you first unseal them. We have eaten them and have survived...but the smell is awful and is almost like a gas. You can smell it throughout the room when a jar is unsealed. I used the recipe in the Ball canning book.

Thanks!

Linda
Eblboregon at yahoo.com

Your beets should not have an awful smell when they are opened. You do not say if these are canned or pickled beets, but my guess is that they are plain canned beets. It sounds like they are trying to go bad. Are they firmly sealed? If not, throw them out. I’m not sure what went wrong, but something obviously did. Beets are among the easiest of vegetables to pressure can, which I assume you did, following the instructions in the Ball canning book.

The old standby for eating home canned food is: Does it LOOK good? (as in normal) Does the seal require prying to remove the lid? Does it SMELL good (as in normal) and finally, does it TASTE good after being heated for 10 minutes at boiling temperatures? I hate to tell you but your beets fail the SMELL part of this test. I would not want to eat them. Go over your process, reading the book again. Most times we can find something we did wrong. We did not exhaust the canner enough before closing off the steam and building up pressure. We did not hold the pressure even during the entire processing time or we read the processing time wrong (for instance we looked at pickled beets’ time, which are not pressure canned) or we “hurried” the pressure back to zero by fooling around with the petcock to let steam escape or by removing the weight too soon.

Better luck next crop.

—Jackie

Canning Indian curry

I want to can Indian curry. I made two batches and sent to the state lab and the pH’s came to 4.6 and 4.4. The ingredients are:

Onions, tomatoes, garlic, ginger, vegetable oil, and some dry spices. I first fry the onions until they are almost beige-like in color then I add the garlic, ginger, then the spices, then the tomatoes. (the oil is about 1/4 cup for a pint jar)

My Department. of Agriculture representative took two batches from me and sent them to the state lab and the pH was 4.6 and 4.4. She said that she wants me to get the pH closer to 4.1. She told me to acidify the onions, garlic, and ginger and the tomatoes are ok since I used canned tomatoes.

She told me when the pH level is corrected then I will heat the sauce to 185 degrees F then do a hot fill hold process, then turn the jar upside down, wait 3-4 minutes then turn it right side up again.

My questions are:

1. Is the oil going to matter? I asked her many times and she said she doesn’t see any reason the oil would matter and there should not be any reason it won’t can. If the jar seals does that mean it’s ok or will it eventually come unsealed again? I did a test can today on one jar and it sealed but I don’t know if they just come unsealed later?

2. a. Do I need to do any further processing on this recipe or can I safely do a hot fill hold with just heating it to 185 degrees? What if I want to add other veggies, do I just acidify them or should I be using a pressure canner for this? The representative from the Department of Agriculture told me just to acidify and continue as mentioned.

2 b. Can I use the two piece lids or is there a reason I have to use the one piece type of lids? If two piece can be used will the oil prevent it from sealing properly or make it come unsealed eventually?)

3. I read on the FDA website about acidified foods:

Acidified foods rely almost entirely on reduced pH for preservation. The heat treatment given to acidified foods is primarily for the purpose of destroying the vegetative cells of microorganisms of public health significance and those of non-health significance capable of reproducing in the food under the conditions in which the food is stored, distributed, retailed or held by the user. Usually these treatments are applied at temperatures of 212 degrees F [100 degrees C] or less. These heat treatments are not sufficient to destroy heat resistant spore forming microorganisms, which are prevented from germinating and growing by the reduced ph. www.fda.gov/ora/inspect_ref/igs/acidfgde.htm

Is this applicable to this recipe?

4. Is there a reasonably priced proper pH meter I can use to test my recipe many times myself before sending it to the lab to be tested again? I looked up pH meters on the internet but I know nothing about these instruments so I don’t know what I need, how much I should spend, or even if they are reliable.

Aisha Chaudhry
Huntington, West Virginia

So, did your Department of Agriculture representative tell you how to “acidify” your onions, garlic and ginger? Usually this is done with vinegar, as in when you make relishes and vegetable pickles. But this might affect the flavor of your curry. I am quite concerned that you are told to use a hot fill hold process, then turn the jar upside down for 3-4 minutes then turn it right side up again. This is NOT a recommended canning method anymore; it has been replaced by processing in a water bath canner for a minimum of 10 minutes.

I would prefer to see you pressure can your curry. You would not have to worry about the acidity question at all. You would pressure can at 10 pounds pressure, unless you live at an altitude above 1,000 feet and must adjust your pressure to suit your altitude; consult your canning manual for directions, for 45 minutes for pints and half-pints.

Yes, sometimes the oil does matter. If some oil seeps under the lid during processing, it can keep the lid from sealing properly. Usually this results in seals that fail right away; they never seal.

You should be able to test your own recipe for its acidity by using simple litmus paper. Your local pharmacist or high school science teacher should be able to help you here. When you are starting out learning to home can, it would be better to practice on tried and true recipes from a canning manual before going out and experimenting on new and different ones. You’re likely to become so frustrated you give up and that’s always a bad choice.

—Jackie

Recipe for hot pickles

I used to make a recipe for hot pickles but can’t seem to remember what I used for the brine in the jars. I layered the pickle chunks then a layer of jalepeno peppers and so on and so on til the jars were almost full. Then I would put a brine in there and cook til the jars sealed. The longer the jars sat the hotter they got (which my husband loved taking them to duck camp every year) But I can’t seem to find the recipe I used to make the brine.Could you help me please.

Thank you much,

Kari
karibiech1 at charter.net

One recipe that I use sounds like it would work fine for your pickles. First slice your cucumbers into one big mixing bowl and sprinkle liberally with salt and cover with ice water. Then slice your jalepenos into another bowl and do the same. Let set overnight. Drain and rinse in the morning.

Boil enough vinegar to cover the pickles with 1 Tbsp. mixed pickling spices, tied in a bag. If you like a sweeter hot pickle, add sugar to taste. Pack your pickles in a hot jar, in layers to suit you. Pour boiling vinegar brine over pickles to within ½” of the top of the jar. Cap jars. Process jars for 10 minutes in a boiling water bath.

I hope this makes your husband’s duck hunting buddies run for the ice water!

—Jackie

Drying popcorn

Do you have any suggestions for getting some moisture back in your homegrown popcorn if it has become too dry and doesn’t pop well?

Thanks!

Beth Booher
Covington, Ohio

Sure thing, Beth. Put it in a quart canning jar and with your fingers, sprinkle a bit of water on it. Not wetting it, just sprinkling. Then put the top on it and wait a day or two. Your popcorn should pop real well. I don’t sprinkle too big a batch at a time, for fear of encouraging mold growth. I wouldn’t do this to a gallon at a time, for instance. But a quart works real well. Another hint is to sprinkle a bit of water into your hot grease, just before pouring in your “sprinkled” popcorn. Watch out for spatters, though. The additional steam generated helps popcorn that has dried out too much to pop well to explode. Good eating from the Popcorn Queen of Minnesota. (Isn’t popcorn the sixth food group?)

—Jackie

Canning honey

I make a lot of herbal medicines, I have a lot this year and was wondering if you can can honey in a pressure cooker and if so the best way to do it?

Marie Howe
Monroe, Washington

I have never canned honey at all. If it is just strained and poured into sterile jars and capped, it will remain pristine for years. Should it crystallize, I just set it in a sink full of hot water or in the warming oven of my wood range and it soon re-liquifies. The less processing our food requires, the better, I truly believe.

—Jackie

Grain mills

I have been looking for a grain mill I can afford. I have looked at several models online and the one that gets the highest rating is about $300. More than I can spend. I do not need one that is electric, as I am willing to grind by hand. I see some smaller hand models but there is a note that it takes quite a while to grind this way.

Do you have any recommendations?

Grace E. Swanson
Prior Lake, Minnesota

Yeah, I would like a wonderful $300 grain mill too, but it’s way out of our budget. My little grain mill was much cheaper and it does a great job, too. No, I wouldn’t want to grind a hundred pounds of wheat through it at one time, but it sure does enough for a few batches of bread in not so long a time. I don’t get tired grinding and it makes a decent flour, too. Mine is a Back to Basics Handmill and cost $49 on sale and came from EMERGENCY ESSENTIALS, 653 N 1500 West, Orem, UT 84057 or www.BePrepared.com. The current price is $69.95.

—Jackie

Trimming tough hooves

I love your articles and I am hoping that this vet tip will help someone else. We had a little goat (small nubian) and her feet were as tough as nails. I had a vet tell me a trick that really helps. Take a gallon plastic food bag with no ziplock or cut it off and put an old rag, I use old towels or washcloths, and then place it in the plastic bag and put 1/4 Cup corn oil (vegetable oil would be fine) and then take the animals foot and place it inside the rag that has been saturated with the oil and then duct tape the plastic bag boot on the hoof. This works best when it is warm outside. I don’t do it too tight, but I put duct tape on the bottom of the plastic bag and then on the sides up the leg, only to the top of the bag, which should be just above the hoof. The next day you will be able to cut through hooves like they are butter. The vet said you could also do this with any kind of foot rot medication that you may need to treat your animal with. She looks like she had moon boots on but it is better than the other alternative of a lame goat. Her standing in mud didn’t soften up her hooves. In the newspaper a while ago they said that some animals had to be put down because their feet were too hard and they were considered a loss. I wish they could have tried this. It may not have worked but it may have. There is nothing that replaces timely foot care, but tough hooves are a problem no matter what length. Could this possibly be a nutritional issue? My other goats are fine though. I have used so many of your great tips, I hope that this can help some one else. Just remember not too tight with the tape, for you don’t want to cut off their circulation.

M. Chapin
Fresno, Ohio

Great idea with the oil! If you can keep your goat in Moon Boots without the other goats laughing her out of the barnyard. No. Just kidding. Mud has always worked with my animals. I really doubt that the newspaper was right about hard hooves being a reason to put animals down. I’ve trimmed a whole lot of feet in my day, from goats to draft horses, and I’ve always gotten the job done using sharp hoof nippers and a sharp rasp or with goats, a good pair of sharp, good quality pointed pruning shears. And a lot of experience. With goats, those long ski toes I first snip across the ski, cutting off the long part. This leaves a “tunnel” from the toe to work the pruners into and begin cutting toenail towards the heel. By working back and forth up and down the foot, it is quite quickly flat and even. If pruning shears won’t do the job on hard feet, I use the horse nippers. Out of hundreds of goats, I’ve never failed to produce a decent trimming job, no matter how hard the feet. But the oil trick sure sounds slick. I’ll sure try it if I need softer goat feet!

—Jackie

Potato water as leavening

Is it possible to use potatoes or the water they’re cooked in as the sole leavening agent in a basic bread recipe? If so, how, and can the leavening be made from instant potatoes as well as fresh-cooked? Will the bread rise as high as a loaf made from regular yeast? I’ve searched the net and can’t find an answer. Thanks for your great column and all your help over the years.

Kay Yount

Elizabeth, Arkansas
yountfarm at centurytel.net

Yes you can, but when you use potatoes or potato water, you are trying to capture wild yeast from the air. Many times you can, but sometimes the yeast you catch isn’t a nice tasting yeast for your bread. Usually most people opt for using a little “tame” yeast with the potato water to grow it in. This is more dependable. What is done is to use the potato water as the main liquid ingredient in a bread. Enough flour and the sugar in the recipe is mixed with the water to make a batter. This is left uncovered overnight, or up to 3 days, hopefully to catch wild yeast. You can help it by adding a little dry yeast. Add more dry yeast and you will have to wait a shorter period of time. The “sponge” should be nice and bubbly and smell yeasty, not stinky.

Just adding potato water as the main liquid in any recipe of bread results in a very nice quality bread with a rich taste. (And it doesn’t require “luck” as in catching wild yeast!)

—Jackie




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