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Archive for September, 2007

Jackie Clay

Evenings are a time to relax and review the day

Thursday, September 27th, 2007

I scarcely ever miss a sunrise or sunset. The sunrise is so exciting and vibrant, hearlding the new day. I always wonder what it will bring and flash through the plans for what I need to and want to do today. But by sunrise, I’m ready to stand and watch the sun sink below the pine-jagged horizon and review what I actually got done. You KNOW it’s never what you thought you could get done, don’t you?


Well, today I got an envelope in the mail from the contractor’s supply store, Nortrax in Duluth, containing a little 3/8″ steel ball bearing. That little shiny ball is what we lost out of the bulldozer last Sunday, when David released the grease to get more room to get our thrown track back on. That one, tiny, teeny little ball blocks the release port underneath where we were supposed to “slightly” release the cap screw instead of take it out. And that o tiny little ball put us out of the clearning business for a whole week! Oh. By the way, it would have cost 53 cents, but they didn’t even charge me for it. Nice guys!!!

Then I put up some more jelly. Today it was spiced apple and wild plum. You see I had made 18 jars of wild plum yesterday, from the plums David had brought home from his friends on Sunday….before the bulldozer episode… My friend, Jeri Bonnette, has a steam juicer, a Mehu Miaja, which juices all types of fruit with very little effort. So I offered her half of the juice for juicing my bucket of plums. Of course she jumped at the offer and we both ended up with a gallon jug full of wine pink plum juice.

I put up the jelly yesterday and had 3 cups left over in the fridge. I worried that it might start to ferment so I opened a quart of crab apple juice and mixed the two. While it heated, I got to wondering about adding a pinch of cinnamon and some almond extract. Mmmmm. Well, I did just that and ended up with the best mixed jelly I’ve ever made. Good idea!!! (You add the almond extract when it’s at a rolling boil so it doesn’t boil out.) It made wonderful ruby red jelly that tastes oh so good too!

After I made the jelly, I went through my spring catalogs and boxed up a bunch for the recycling. It’s amazing how many “second” catalogs they send! I think I ended up pitching five Parks, four Gurneys, six Burgess/Interstate/Etc./Etc. catalogs and many others….all in color!!!! Gee, if they would just send ONE good catalog and reduce their prices some, they’d make more money and not make me go through all that work!!! I shudder to think what all those catalogs cost the companies. And I kept one of each catalog, too, just for reference. I’m talking about the ones I threw away. Wow!

Have you noticed how much the “shipping and handling” is now? Most charge over $7.99. And that’s if you only want a few packs of seeds. It sure makes growing open pollinated varieties and saving your own seeds look better and better doesn’t it? I know I grow more and more each year.

I’m sorting out more ripening tomatoes from the tubs full in the new greenhouse. It’s amazing; I made pizza sauce yesterday out of all the ripe ones and already today I’ve got a whole lot more that are getting red. These will be spaghetti sauce so I can use up the rest of my green bell peppers before they get too soft. Mmmm I’m getting hungry already.

So when that old sun begins to set, I stop mid-chores and visit my friendly donkeys, Moose and Beauty and watch it go. It’s been a good day. They think so too.

Readers’ questions:

Cat doo doo in garden

Hello! Are cats using garden beds as a litter box a danger to edible plants or herbs growing in them? Cats seem to enjoy our gardens and want to verify it isn’t a hazzard due to bacteria.

Alonzo Paul
Blackwood, New Jersey

I’m sure the cats do enjoy your garden beds….but it’s not a real good idea to let them do you-know-what in them. Not only are there some diseases that can be transmitted from cats to people (chiefly toxoplasmosis), but also some parasites could be picked up from feces, as well. To keep the kittys happy, and your family safer, consider fencing the beds with chicken wire, then making the cats their own bed, unfenced and perhaps containing some catnip and flowers, as well as some digable black dirt….just for fun.

The cats do a lot to keep down garden pests, such as voles, field mice and chipmunks, so it’s a good thing having them around. We just need to focus their potty manners to a healthier alternative. — Jackie

Highbush cranberries

Hi Jackie- First I would like to tell you that you are my favorite in the magazine. And I really enjoy reading about your everyday life in the backwoods of Minnesota. I would like to know if you have ever grown or are familiar with Highbush Cranberries. I have read that they need a moist ground and then read somewhere else that they are drought tolerant. Also have you ever made jelly or sauce with the fruit? I live in Northeast Michigan (zone 4) and plan on growing them in a southern exposure. I am curious to hear if you had any dealing with them and if they are worth the effort.

Craig Lough
Hawks, Michigan

YES! HIGHBUSH CRANBERRIES ARE DEFINITELY worth growing or hunting up in the edges of the lowland woods. I haven’t planted any yet because they’re quite common in the wild around here. They DO like moist woodlands, but are just as happy with drier ground. I’ve seen some planted in the rocky islands of the side of a Hardies up here that were loaded. Go figure. They make terrific, very beautiful jellies, jam and sauce. It’s a sparkling ruby red. Gorgeous. — Jackie

Will my salsa last?

We just canned some salsa by hot water bath. It was mostly tomatoe based, but had a lot of peppers, onions, and celery. The jars all sealed but will the salsa last, since it was not pressure canned? No vinegar was added, just some lemon juice.

David Keefer
Willard, Ohio

Your salsa is PROBABLY alright; according to most recipes I’ve seen for salsa, there can be quite a few peppers, onions and celery or other veggies before it needs to be processed in a pressure canner, especially when you have already added “some” lemon juice. But it’s a good idea to follow a tried and true recipe, as far as the amounts of vegetables in your salsa, as compared to how much tomato. The spices or amount of heat in it doesn’t matter one whit. There’s a fine line here between safe and questionable, and we don’t want to make an error in judgement. — Jackie

Jackie Clay

Sometimes it’s time to quit

Sunday, September 23rd, 2007

Well, not quit, quit, but hang ‘er up for awhile to regroup.  Let me explain.  Yesterday afternoon was a gorgeous fall day.  The sun was out, making the colors of the autumn trees brilliant and the moist warm soil simply smell wonderful.  Definitely a time to do something outdoors.

bulldozer-trouble-002-copy.jpgI was working in the house, getting ready to can up some on-sale turkey breasts and David took the bulldozer down the hill to do some clearing in front of his main deer stand.  During the three years we’ve been here, those little popple trees went from shoulder high little wisps to twenty foot high bushy tree trees.  There were also some large bunches of alder and a few fir trees that needed to be cleared out of the area to ensure a good shooting lane in several directions.  No one wants to shoot a deer they can’t see at least a good portion of.

When I finished working, I went down to help David chain up the trees and watched as he pulled them out just like I pull weeds out of the garden rows.  That 1010 John Deere has plenty of power without even thinking about it.  I can only be a few minutes outside at a time because I don’t dare leave Mom home alone, so I jumped on the four wheeler and went back up the hill to check on her.  I told David he shouldn’t take the crawler across the little creek closer to his stand.  It was getting late in the afternoon and I didn’t want problems.

So of course when I came back, where was the crawler?  Yep.  Well it was going okay, but I just had this feeling…..  And when he turned around in tight quarters, the track hit a stump and peeled off.  Ker-screech.  Nifty……  The rear end was down in the swampy creek and the blade was up on high ground.

We worked until almost dark with a huge pry bar (tanker’s bar), raising the front end of the dozer up with the down pressure on the blade.  Then David had the idea of releasing the grease pressure in the tightening arm to let the grease out that provides track tension.  To do this, he unscrewed the bolt that is on top of the assembly.  Sure enough, when he shoved back on the front wheel and track, the assembly slid backwards, a big gob of grease popped out the top.  So he did it twice more, shoving against it for all he was worth. Lots of grease and the tension was much less.

I wanted to read the shop manual first, but it was almost dark and what the heck, maybe the kid’s right?

Right.  Well, we got the track back on and went to re-fill the grease by pumping it into the special fitting with the factory grease gun made for that purpose.  But as we pumped, it was evident we were out of grease!  Had to gently back it out the way it was and go to town this morning for more grease.

We returned all gung ho, but were quickly shot down when grease not only went into the fitting but ran out in a steady stream from a hole underneath.  At this point I went back up and read the shop manual.  What we should have done last night was to unscrew the cap bolt SLIGHTLY to allow the grease to escape from the hole underneath.  Oh oh!

I talked to my friend Will, in Washington, and he said he thinks there was a little spring/ball valve in there that blew out with that first big gob of grease.  Oh great.  I went back down and dug around in the piles of grease that I could find.  Nothing.

To make a long story short, we put the track on like five times totalled and got kind of smart by jaming a heavy bolt against the tightener to hold the tensioner tight enough to drive it up the hill, back home.  David almost made it too, but near the top, the bolt bent and….you guessed it, the track came off again.  Now we’re talking about a track that weighs probably four hundred pounds here and it’s NOT handy to handle.

We’d just about had enough of the bulldozer for the day and just parked it.  We quit.  Kind of.  Tomorrow I’ll call a John Deere parts dealer and find out what we need and get it ordered.  In the mean time, we’ll have a mental health vacation for a couple of days.  Read the directions first!

Readers’ questions:

Canning goat’s milk

I have a question that may or may not be able to be answered. I have nubian does in milk and want to can some of their milk. There are directions for this in my Goats Produce Too book to both use a
hwb or pressure canner. However, I would also like to can sweetened condensed milk. Would the addition of the sugar change the canning time? (Goat’s produce says to can at 15 lbs. pressure for 10 minutes)

Jammie Payne
Moody, Texas

No.  The addition of sugar won’t affect the processing time of your milk.  I process my milk at 11 pounds pressure for 10 minutes, but it would depend on your altitude.  I live at 1,500 feet above sea level.  But when I lived in Montana, I was at 7,400 feet and processed everything at 15 pounds pressure.  — Jackie

Jackie Clay

A stormy day

Saturday, September 22nd, 2007

Today was a real stormy day. You name it; we had lots of rain, 50 mph winds with higher gusts, thunder and lightening. Needless to say I didn’t get anything much accomplished outside, other than daily must-do chores. But sometimes we need a rainy day. Yep, we’ve had a spell of severe drought, so the rain was needed. Last week we got 5″ in two hours, with another 2″ today. It’s good to see our creek running happily bank-full again. This time last year it was dry. As in cracked mud dry! And our beaver ponds were 3′ low. The poor beavers.

But this fall they’re happy. No predators can access their underwater home entrances. And I’m happy because this rain should save our fruit trees and is already bringing out new green grass in the horse pasture. Last night there were 7 deer happily grazing out there with our horses.


However, after a tremendously stormy day, I decided to drive out to the mailbox and see if there were any trees down on the trail. Usually after such a storm we have a few small dead popple trees across it. David was supposed to have a football game (which was cancelled because of lightening) and was not home. I went to get the chainsaw out of the generator shed and discovered that half of the drywall ceiling had fallen to the floor! Oh neat! And it was also on my chainsaw, about 6 feet in from the door.

I’d felt sick all day and didn’t feel up to wrestling with that heavy sheetrock, so I just left it and drove out the drive. I got about half a mile and saw one huge fir tree that had blown down, fortunately falling away from the drive. Then a little farther on, there was another one. And it was laying right across the trail.

I went home and gave our friend Jim Bonnette a call to see if he could bring his saw and give me a hand. He cheerfully said he’d be right there. And he was. We made short work of the tree and he left with my profuse thanks.

It’s times like this when I’m glad to have great friends and neighbors. True, they live three miles away, but when I really need help, I have it. Like when I was weak and feeling sick after a chemo treatment two and a half years ago, and Paul and Marcia came over and helped David and a carpenter lay sheeting on the new house sub-floor in the rain so the logs could be set on it the next day.

I’ve heard so many people say they want to move way out in the backwoods and have nothing to do with anyone. Such a mistake. For in doing so you miss out on so much common, old-fashioned neighborliness. I’m too busy for ladies luncheons, church functions, clubs, etc. But I’m never too busy to give a friend a hand when they need it, visit on the phone for a few minutes or stop in the store and chat with a neighbor. You get what you give.

I’ve posted readers’ questions with my answers below:

Canning “cooked” meals

I am subscriber to BHM and regularly read your articles especially with regard to Home Canning. Earlier this year on a trip to Chicago I bought an American pressure canner (and accessories).So
far I have canned one jar of green beans (It’s a start I guess). As the beans were raw I understand the importance of the timings, etc. However I was wondering whether I could simply can any “Cooked” meal without having to worry about the recipes – for example can we simply make surplus casserole or pasta for dinner one night without worrying about using a canning recipe and then Can using the timings for the longest timed ingredient? if so will the food be overcooked as it will have already been fully cooked.

I guess I’m hoping the answer will be you can can any cooked meal by simply pressure canning for 10 mins – although I suspect this is wishful thinking!!! We live in Hong Kong and my wife and I and our two boys are experimenting with various backwoods Home Skills so that when we return to England in a few years we can downshift.

So far we have managed to grow a whole range of organic vegetables using square foot gardening techniques (yard is all concrete), make sausages plus build a still to produce ethanol and we are about to make our first batch of soap from beef fat (luckily we can get Lye out here).

Simon Paine
Hong Kong
Email –

To answer your canning question; yes and no. Yes you can certainly home can any meal you’ve made in large quantity. But NO, you can’t shortchange the processing time because the food is already pre-cooked. And Yes, some foods will be overcooked, namely pasta dishes and potato casseroles. They’ll get mushy on you. Such things as stews, chili, soup and bean dishes are fine canned up after you are done with the meal. Other candidates are turkey, chicken, beef and other meats.

The key to canning up any recipe is to process it for the longest time required for any one ingredient. This cannot be shortchanged. — Jackie

How long does canned food last?

How long does canned food last? Does the place of storage matter? I live in Florida where the humidity is high. Does this shorten the shelf life of canned foods?

Roger Lee
Sarasota, Florida

Canned foods last nearly indefinitely; at least 20 years in most cases. Home canned foods will retain an attractive color and texture if they are stored out of the direct sunlight in a relatively dry and cool place. Dampness can affect the length of storage if it causes the lids to rust. Removing the rings after processing will help this as it keeps moisture from being trapped between the ring and lid.

The only time I’ve had problems with moisture/dampness was in a damp basement storage area and this was corrected by using a dehumidifier in the summer and a wood stove down there in the winter. — Jackie

Jackie Clay

Scavenging the frozen garden

Wednesday, September 19th, 2007

Yes, it’s kind of sad, going down to our frozen garden that bit the dust last week after a night of 24 degrees. All the tomato vines are shrunken and black, hanging dejectedly over the edges of their cages. The corn stalks are all yellow brown and dry. The squash and watermelon vines are nearly gone, they’re so black and frozen. But here and there is still a sign of food. Two nights ago, I left the garden gate open and a deer wandered in; actually it was two deer, a doe and fawn. Then nibbled on the Swiss chard leaves, a few tomatoes, the dead beans, then went down and snacked on a few of the too-small-to-be-ripe watermelons and muskmelons.

But wait! There were some that were red and yellow inside the rind the deer left. So I reached down and grabbed another one about the same size and ripped it apart with my hands. It was glowing yellow (it was a Yellow Doll ice box melon). So I stood there sucking juice, biting into that crisp, cold, oh-so-sweet watermelon. Juice ran down my chin, smeared on my cheeks as I spit seeds and happily ate it all myself! Talk about ambrosia.david-eating-watermelon-002-copy.jpg

So I mentioned it to David and he had to make a stab at finding himself a watermelon. And the first one he picked was also very ripe. Although frosted and definitely non-keepers, his melon was drippy sweet too. He ate his treat, then we walked through the garden finding other treasures.

There are still some unfrozen green tomatoes left that were hiding when we picked the garden. Visions of green tomato mincemeat and green tomato pie came instantly to mind. I’ve got bushels of ripening tomatoes already in the house, but these are a bonus.

Today I made 8 pints and 8 half pints of chipotle salsa from the first batch of ripe tomatoes that ripened indoors. And boy was THAT good! Tomorrow I hope to get a batch of sweet watermelon rind pickles made up. Mmmmm. Those sweet, spicy pickles are oh so good.

david-eating-watermelon-005-copy.jpgWe also found that our rutabagas are HUGE this year. I’m talking about the size of a soccer ball on down. And the parsnips are getting nearly big enough to pull. But I like to leave them in till the ground threatens to freeze. In milder climates you can leave them in the ground all winter, but here they freeze in and when you pull them in the spring, the roots are all hairy. The carrots are also getting some size on them. Carrots don’t like hot weather and that’s all we had this summer, along with no rain.

Our garden has been so good this year that I’m having to buy more pints and half pints! Not that I’m complaining. The pantry is looking oh so good and hunting season is right around the corner. I have a wall hanging in my kitchen that says LET US BE TRULY THANKFUL!

And we are.

I’ve posted readers’ questions and answers below:

Adding Salicylic Acid to peppers?

Can I add 25 grams of Salicylic Acid to one bushel of hot peppers, when I grind them? Someone told me that it preserved them better. I read the cautions on the bottle, and it says that it shouldn’t be swallowed.

Julie Francisco
East Providence, Rhode Island

Skip the salicylic acid. If you process the peppers right, you won’t have any worries about them keeping. I add nothing to my peppers other than vinegar, sometimes salt and spices. They always are fine. — Jackie

Homesteading dreams

I’m a city slicker (Chicago) who has had enough of the noise, congestion, and people of a big city and I’m planning to buy property (possibly Maine) and move ASAP. I’ve started volunteering on an small organic farm in Spring Green Wisconsin (to gain experience) – and I love it. I have also started buying books on small scale organic farming. Here is my question: I have had gardens in the past, so I know a bit about growing veggies. But the more I read, the more overwhelmed I get. What is your advice to someone who is going to make the leap with some but not much country living experience? My goal is to be as self reliant as possible and grow as much of my own food as possible. I plan to have some chickens for eggs (protein). I plan to get something with a field or two to grow some wheat (or whatever) animals eat…but most of the property will be wooded. Any basic steps you would take if you were in my shoes? Anything to avoid?

Ken James
Chicago, Illinois

Congratulations! I was born in Detroit and have never been back. In fact, I haven’t lived even close to a small town, let alone in one, since then, either.

First of all, try to pick the best place for your new homestead. This isn’t as easy as it sounds; but it isn’t all that hard, either. I’ve always tried to find a place that has some cleared land for pasture and gardens; it’s a daunting job to clear out big woods for these things, believe me! Find land that is not too low; it’s hard to put in a septic on low land, as it’s hard to garden or build as well. Any land can be homesteaded, but it’s a lot easier if you have decent soil to start with. We’ve homesteaded land that was red clay, rocks and high desert. But then it would have been easier and nicer if it was fluffy black dirt!

Get and read the BHM anthologies and a few gardening/homesteading books. Carla Emery’s Encyclopedia of Country Living is a real good one, covering just about anything you’d have questiions about. Read my blog and send in questions as you have them. I’ll always try to help you.

But don’t worry too much. Thousands of people have been in your shoes and have made the switch successfully. Go slow at first and learn a little at a time. It’s not rocket science, although some “experts” make you think it is….so they seem smart, maybe? There are different ways of doing things; all of which work. So when you get conflicting ideas, weed ’em out and decide what will work for you. For instance, some people swear only raised beds and intensive gardening is worth the effort. Others have used rows for years. Still others, me included, use a combination of wide rows, raised beds AND rows.

The “secret” of a good garden is to improve the soil any way you can, keep down the weeds, start cold sensitive plants inside and transplant out when the frost danger is over and to water deeply yet not leave the plants soggy.

Good luck and happy homestead dreams!!! — Jackie

Floating peaches and pears

I love to hot bath my peaches and pears but they seem to float to the top of the jar. I have tried packing them as tight as possible without bruising the fruit, but they still float to the top! This happens to my pickled beets also. What am I doing wrong, or what should I be doing?

Ara Anderson
Gillette, Wyoming

To prevent your fruit and pickled beets from floating to the top, heat them in the syrup/brine before you pack them. If you hot pack them, they won’t float when the jars cool. Floating fruit is not a problem, other than the looks. Tomatoes do this too. You’re doing nothing wrong. — Jackie

Jackie Clay

The great chicken coop makeover….with recycled material of course!

Monday, September 17th, 2007

With winter right around the corner….or a couple of corners, I hope…..I decided our hens would like a warmer coop.  They survived the last couple of winters, but just the same, an uninsulated coop here in norther Minnesota is still cold when it’s -35!  I don’t knit or I would have knitted them little jackets!

So in lieu of that, I decided to take the scraps of insulation board laying around the yard from our house, the old pieces of paneling Tom had given me from his mobile home storage building and scraps of miscellaneous lumber and put it all together to make a warmer hen house out of our old thrown together one.

Last week I used the short scraps of tongue and groove 2″x6″ lumber to side the coop.  Yep!  That would definitely make it warmer because our chief wind comes from the west.  But I still had all this insulation and paneling to get rid of.  And what better use for it than to insulate the inside of the coop to make it even cozier.  So starting with the ceiling, I cut pieces of insulation board to fit right over the rafters, leaving an air space above.  This will cut down condensation that can sometimes be a problem with a chicken house.
First I tacked the insulation board to the rafters, making kind of a patchwork quilt ceiling.  By measuring, I was able to cut pieces to fit, utilizing the leftovers I had.  It was easily cut with a carperpenter’s hand saw.  Before I saw Tom cut it this way, I’d always used a knife to score the board.  The saw is definitely faster and easier!  It’s like cutting butter.  Well firm butter anyway.

Then I sorted out the old paneling and began cutting that to fit as well, trying to make as nice a job as I could out of it.  I don’t suppose the hens will care, but I have to look at every day too!  If you don’t cover insulation, the chickens will actually eat it.  They seem to enjoy it too, but I don’t suppose it’s good for them.  And it soon makes big holes in their nice warm walls.

Now I only have one more end to go, and the weather looks good for tomorrow.  I even took a break this afternoon and made a window box for the coop!  I had this neat worm hole piece of 2″x6″ I had to get rid of, you see….  It turned out nice and is now on the west window of the coop, all set for spring flowers.  They can’t reach it, to eat the flowers either.

If I can only have enough warm weather left to slap a coat of stain and sealer on it on the outside and finish up the insulation on the inside.  It’s like that here on the homestead….always a project to get finished and not enough time, money or good weather to get it done.  But we live with dreams; it’s what life’s made of.

I’ve printed readers’ questions with my answers below:

Bread will not last that long

I recently purchased some German made bread at Aldi’s, it contains no preservatives, however, it indicates the expiration date as a year from now, is that possible, my daughter seems to think it
was a mis printed expiration date. The ingredients are simple, whole kernel rye, water, wholemeal rye flour, salt, oat fiber, and yeast.

Lou Jensen
West Winfield, New York

Sorry.  It’s a typo.  No bread will last that long and remain good, not even in the freezer!  Boy I wish it would.  Most homemade bread starts to go moldy after several days….if it’s around that long, that is! — Jackie

« Read the rest of this entry »

Jackie Clay

Eating up all the garden mistakes

Friday, September 14th, 2007

This last few days have been sort of a blur of frenzied picking, hauling, digging, hauling and stacking garden produce in the new greenhouse, away from the freezing cold that has suddenly descended on us with a vengance.

For the last three days we’ve been picking, then going out, remembering another section of freeze sensitive plants that we missed and picking them too.


But one of the benefits of this sudden harvest is that we get to eat up all our “mistakes” and very ripe produce. Or produce that will not keep and doesn’t lend itself to canning very well. Included in this are potatoes that I’ve cut or skinned with the digging fork, bits of Swiss Chard that aren’t worth canning, tiny summer squash, big cucumbers and very ripe tomatoes.

So this time of the year we eat well. Really well, as I try to use up all those vegetables before they go bad. For instance, we have winter squash that the stem broke off while we picked it. They are prone to rotting in storage, so (Gee!) we have to eat them! Now we eat our fill of all sorts of odds and ends, joyfully.I picked half a dozen small ears of sweet corn; our very last, three large cucumbers we’d missed, two sweet onions that got stepped on during harvest, a dozen summer squash and a small basket full of Swiss chard. So for dinner tonight, we had corn on the cob, a cucumber salad with sweet onions sliced with them, fried sliced summer squash and more onions, with a sliced green pepper and steamed Swiss chard. I also opened a pint of sliced ham, and we had a harvest feast.

I smiled. Our feast was just to keep food from going bad. Gee ain’t life hard here on our backwoods homestead???

I’ve posted readers’ questions and answers below:

Blanching beans

We made a mistake on our green beans process for frozen beeans we froze them without blanching we wanted to know if the beans have been the freezer a month and we blanch them now and re-freeze will they be ok or have we lost that crop?

Daniel Leitch
Fremont, Michigan

If I were you, I’d just leave well enough alone and eat the beans relatively soon. Blanching stops the ripening process and maintains the best flavor. But I’ve frozen some vegetables withouth blanching and they turned out perfectly fine. For long-term storage, though, blanching makes a big difference in the flavor so it is recommended. — Jackie

« Read the rest of this entry »

Jackie Clay

It’s here; freeze warning!

Tuesday, September 11th, 2007

We had out frost scare last week, then it got nice and warm again. It’s that period ever fall when we get a break, then it’s like God’s testing us to see if we’ll make good use of the time He gave us. Tonight it’s not a frost scare, but a full blown FREEZE warning. The high today was 45 degrees and it’s already down to 36 degrees at 9:00 P.M. But we had plenty of warning. Our good old NOAA (by the way, I misspelled it last time!) weather radio kept us informed of a really cold front headed our way and we’ve had two days to get ready.

frost-harvest-008-psd-copy.jpgThere won’t be any “cover plants”; it’ll be too cold for that to do any good. We had the same thing happen last year. We didn’t think it would get so cold and it did; plants froze black under all the tarps we spent hours spreading out.

This time we knew it would freeze hard and we’ve spent two full days picking everything in the garden that would not live through a freeze; tomtoes, peppers, squash, melons, herbs and the potatoes and onions we’d dug to see how they looked.

I was getting this feeling of panic this afternoon. David, of course, was in school and I had a whole lot of stuff to get in before dark. But then lo! Our friend, Jim, called to see if he could get a few wheelbarrows full of sand for his septic pipe repair. I told him sure thing and kept on picking. He came over, bearing a chile plant in a pot for me, then went to dig sand into his pickup.

Awhile later, he walke down and asked if he could help; he and Jeri had finished picking their garden that morning. Because I was not insane, I graciously and very gratefully accepted his offer. Together, we picked two bushels of green tomatoes to add to the two bushels I had already picked and hauled in yesterday.

frost-harvest-010-psd-copy.jpgAnd David voluntarily skipped football practice to help me finish up the garden. We picked, picked and picked. He hauled bins and buckets full of produce up to the house and we stashed it in the new greenhouse. It’s now pretty much weathertight, except for a few minor cracks and will keep the harvest cool but unfrozen until we can sort and use it where we need to.

I picked the green tomatoes into several different plastic totes, according to their size and ripeness. When I do this, each box ripens in the house at about the same time, avoiding rotten tomatoes in the middle of a box. I actually lose very few this way and end up canning a whole lot of tomato products after it freezes, all at once, rather than a little at a time.

Because we can’t stand to have beautiful plants killed by the freeze, David and I dug up three nice bell pepper plants to join those already in our greenhouse, and the chile that Jim brought over this afternoon. Then, at dark, we dug up a Chilly Chile (non-hot chile) from the flower bed in the yard. Sigh. I really hate to lose all my nice annuals and other frost sensitive plants.

But that’s how it is when you live with nature; you soon find out that nature isn’t always gentle and kind; it has no mercy or feelings. When stuff happens, it happens and you’d better learn to deal with it. Our here in the backwoods, cute little animals are born and you also find a chick drowned in the drinking water or a baby goat layed on by it’s own mother. Those little seeds you’ve nurtured all spring, the plants they become all summer will also die when the freeze comes. It’s all part of homesteading and it makes each and every success so much more gratifying and wonderous.

I’ve posted readers’ questions and answers below:

Mirro pressure canner

My father gave me his 12 quart mirro pressure canner and cooker model m-0512 I would like to can green beans there are no instructions with it and I cant find a manual on line, I don’t know
the first thing about a pressure cooker.

Pam Duncan
Waterford, Michigan

You’re not so far in the dark as you think, Pam. Just buy a Ball Blue Book canning manual at you local grocery or hardware store (Wal Mart even has them!) and follow the directions in there. It’s simple and quick to learn to can green beans. They are nearly impossible to mess up. That’s why most beginners start with them.

Basically you’re going to add a couple of inches of water to the canner to produce the steam that processes the food. Put in the wire or aluminum rack or plate to keep the jars off the bottom of the canner. Then you heat the canner up a bit, add your jars of food, put the lid on it and tighten it down securely with the petcock or steam valve open. Turn on the heat and wait until the steam ejects forcefully for a few minutes.

Shut down the petcock or steam valve to let it build up pressure to 10 pounds. Process the beans or 25 minutes for pints or 30 minutes for quarts. Turn off the heat and let the dial return to zero. Carefully open the steam valve to let any remaining steam blow off then open the lid away from you so your face doesn’t get burned by the steam in the kettle.

Remove the jars to a folded dry towel on a counter or table to cool. That’s it.

This is an abreviated instruction, but will give you a good idea. Again, buy or borrow a book and read the directions and you’ll feel more confident. Good canning!


Pam, it just dawned on me that the Mirro Model 0512 has a weight instead of a gauge. With the weight, there are three holes, one for 5, 10 and 15 pounds pressure. You’ll use the 10 pound one unless you live at an altitude above 2,000 feet.

With the weight, you exhaust the canner, then put the weight on the steam valve. Begin timing when the weight jiggles 2-3 times per minute. If it jiggles more, turn down the heat a bit; less, turn it up a bit until it gets right. Then hold it there by gentle heat adjustments. — Jackie

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Jackie Clay

Do you ever have one of those days???

Monday, September 10th, 2007

Misguided people think that everything is always rosy and runs smoothly on our homestead. Ha ha! They should have been here today. It started out pretty normal. I was finishing up on my latest building project, siding our chicken coop with pieces left over from our new greenhouse/porch addition. Those short pieces of 2″x6″ tongue and groove lumber were just too nice to be sawn up for firewood. Mmmm. So I had this idea to piece them together and side the chicken coop. For the last few days I’ve been sorting and fitting them together, nailing them over the old OSB sheets. Not only is it turning out nice looking, but will make the coop sturdier and more weather tight.
Then, because my corn is about done, I decided I’d better pick it to can this afternoon. That was a good idea until it started raining. Now I’m not complaining about the rain; we’ve been in drought all summer. (The day before yesterday it broke and we got 5″ all at once!) But I wanted to get that corn done today. So I picked in the rain. Oh well. I don’t melt.

So I picked the corn; two baskets full. That’s about all we’ll have left. The heat and drought stopped the plants growth and made them ready for fall…..three weeks early. I brought the corn in and sat on the porch, watching the rain fall, shucking those wonderful ears.

I got them all canned up, too. Eight pints and nine half pints; not much, but it is better than a kick in the pants, when combined with the other three cannings earlier.

Then the trouble started in earnest. Our main generator is having fuel issues; we think a fuel pump is shot; it blows gas out of the muffler; not a good thing! It’s still under warrantee, but we have to take it to Virginia, 25 miles south of us to get it worked on and they aren’t open on the weekend. So we started running our #1 backup generator. Until the lights went out and the generator was still running! Eeeek. A circuit board had went. It was running but not generating.

ears-fo-corn-psd-copy.jpgDavid came home about then, when I was switching generators with a flashlight in my teeth.
He backed the truck up the drive while I walked, up to the old mobile home where our old #3 generator sat. He got almost up there and the truck died and wouldn’t start. That was unusual; it’s a dependable truck. David had just opened the hood when I asked him if he’d bumped the gas tank switch. We only put gas in the rear tank because the front one leaks.

Ahhh. That was it! OKAY! So the truck roared to life and we brought the generator back down to the generator shed where the yard was becoming littered with dead generators. So he went to plug it in and discovered that the generator outlet was not the same as our main plug. I pointed to the adaptor on the wall and he grabbed that and made the connection.

He started it with a few pulls and we plugged in the house; no power! What??? Then he unplugged the adaptor and looked at it. One of the wires had come loose. Cool. Easy to fix. Well by then, we were both flustered and he quickly shoved the wire in and screwed down the screw. Power again. But why were the house lights SO bright????

I told David to run in and turn on the faucet to run water into the storage tank while we had a genarator running because it was low and we’re having Bill and Kelly up for his birthday tomorrow, along with my sister, Sue and her son, Sean. No water would not be fun.

But David came boiling out of the house in two seconds, tore to the generator and shut it off quicker than I can tell about it. “Come on, Mom!” he said, running for the house. “Oh crap!” I thought, quickly following him, “We’re burning the house down.”

Well it wasn’t that bad but the TV in the living room was smoking. No we didn’t catch fire, but basically what had happened is that in his hurry, David had hooked the ground wire to a hot outlet. Oops! So he went to check out the adaptor again by flashlight. I suggested checking the other end to see what the wires were hooked to and he did…..and succeeded in pulling ALL the wires out of the female end of the adaptor. It was one of those days!!!

Luckily, our friend Tom was home when David called and David was able to drive to Cook and get help in re-wiring the adaptor. And when he got home an hour later, we got the generator home and I’m busily blogging. At 12 midnight. But the computer didn’t fry and neither did David’s video games or VCR. Hooray! All’s well that ends well.

I’ve printed readers’ questions with my answers below.

Beets in brine

How long should beets remain in brine before they are eaten? We are bottling pickled beets for the first time.

Paula Beer-Eligh
Pictou Nova, Scotia Canada

Generally I like to wait at least 3 weeks before trying any pickles; it takes a while for the vegetables to absorb the spices and vinegar that make them taste pickled. At 3 months, the beets have reached their ultimate taste, where they will remain until eaten. — Jackie

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