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Ask Jackie headline

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Jackie Clay answers questions for BHM Subscribers & Customers
on any aspect of low-tech, self-reliant living.

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Archive for July, 2008

Jackie Clay

Blueberries are ripe!

Tuesday, July 29th, 2008

I’ve been watching the wild blueberries since spring. Last year, after suffering that cold winter with drought and no snow cover, many of the bushes died back and those left didn’t produce enough to keep a chipmunk alive. But this year they all have new growth and were blooming madly in late May. Luckily, we didn’t get a late freeze to kill the blossoms, or a drought this summer. So we have blueberries. And this week they were ripe.

Of course they aren’t as wonderful as they were three years ago, when they made the bushes blue. But they are good enough that I’m picking every day. It is a slow process, as they aren’t bunched up in handfuls. But, still, I keep pecking away at it and have put up 14 half pints of blueberry jam and 10 half pints, plus 2 pints of blueberries for muffins, pancakes, pies and other goodies, so far. Those little partly full baskets do fill the jars, eventually. It makes it a little hard, because I can’t get far from Mom, and have to check in on her every 15 minutes or so. But the shelves are slowly filling up and there are still a lot of berries out there and more to ripen.

It’s lucky they came in this week because Tom, our carpenter friend, is waiting for me to get more money; we’re doing another addition on the house so we can put in a wood stove for winter. Fuel is NOT going to go down, and it’s already out of sight. Yes, propane is convenient and neat. But I will not pay the price. My money comes too dear for that when I live in the woods. I’m sure glad I don’t live in the city! Oh yeah!

Readers’ questions:

Sealing jelly

I have a lot of past years homemade jelly in pint jars and I would like to give as gifts in smaller jelly jars. Is it ok to put in 1/2 pint or smaller jelly jars and just seal the lid in a pan of boiling water upside down?

Becky Johnson
Rhinelander, Wisconsin

I’ve never done this. If you want to experiment, I’d slowly heat a pint of jelly, with the lid off, in a double boiler. When (and IF) it liquefies, bring it to a boil and quickly ladle it out into your half pint, hot, sterilized jars to within 1/8″ of the top. Process these (right side up) in a boiling water bath for 5 minutes for jelly and 10 minutes for jam. Let me know how this works. I’m sure other readers would be interested, too. — Jackie

Storing vegetables without canning

I would like to store some vegetables and things if possible without canning them. I live in Florida where I cannot have a basement because of the water level on my land and a root cellar is not an option. What other choices do I have?

Dawn Kicklighter
Plant City, Florida

One option is to tip a barrel on its side, with the opening tipped upward somewhat and dirt heaped over and around it for insulation. Vegetables can be layered in the barrel on harvest, then the front covered with a lid, straw for insulation and a tarp to keep the rain from rotting the straw during storage. This usually works quite well. Another way I’ve seen some folks store vegetables in warm climates is to use an old chest type freezer like the barrel. You just sit it in an out of the way, shaded spot, heap dirt up to almost the lid. Then you add your vegetables and put a layer of baled straw on the top, with a tarp over that. The only disadvantage of these methods is that you must remove the straw and cover before accessing your stored vegetables. To tell the truth, I much prefer canning, as once it’s in the jar, it will never get soft, go rotten, or be eaten by mice. — Jackie

Kimchi recipe

I was wondering if you could tell me how to make kimchi. I don’t want to can it, just like to know how to make it. My husband was in the service, and he used to eat it when he was overseas. Walmart sells it, but at about $4.00 a pint.

Kathy Jasperson
Belle, Missouri

There are literally hundreds of kimchi recipes. Some include anchovies and baby shrimp, others include dikon radishes instead of cabbage. Here’s the one I used. You can also go online and type in kimchi recipes for many, many more.

1 large head cabbage
1 cup pickling salt
5 cups ice water
1 long white radish, grated
1 onion, sliced finely
2 tsp chopped garlic
1/2 cup chili paste
1 Tbsp sugar

Remove core of cabbage and cut into small chunks. Mix salt and water and pour over cabbage in large bowl. Weight down so brine covers cabbage. Let sit on counter overnight. In morning, mix the rest of the ingredients in another bowl. Drain cabbage, rinse and drain dry. Mix chili, etc. with cabbage quite well. Pack well in wide mouth glass canning jars. Press down well to get rid of any airspaces. Put lid on tightly. Let sit in a warm, dark area at room temperature for 2-3 days (depending on the temperature…longer if it’s cool), then refrigerate until use. Then return to fridge after each use until gone.

Kimchi stinks because of the fermentation and the onion/garlic, but it’s addicting! Good kimchi making! — Jackie

Jackie Clay

A visit to the apple man, Beryl Novak

Thursday, July 24th, 2008

Because we’re starting a new homestead and planting lots of fruit trees, I was tickled to meet a self-taught fruit tree expert while shopping last year. Since then, I’ve been to his homestead up north of us twice. My second visit was yesterday for a photo shoot for an article I just finished on grafting fruit trees. (I had taken a bunch of pictures when he was here this spring, teaching me an easy method of grafting. But when I went to attach the photos to my article, I discovered that they’d been accidentally deleted!)

What started out as a cussing and gnashing of teeth and a sleepless night turned out to be a thoroughly enjoyable afternoon visiting Beryl and his huge orchard. I’ve never seen so many grafts on a tree in my life. And they are from around the world, too. How exciting!

We spent a couple of hours talking fruit tree varieties, hardiness, grafting, economics and just plain visiting. Because of caring for Mom, I seldom “get away”, so this was a real huge treat for me. And I learned a lot, too. Just goes to show you that out of the awfullest accident can come something wonderful.

Oh. I got new photos, too.

Readers’ questions:

Written any books?

Was wondering if you have written any books? Not, that you have extra time :) Just thought I could find all the answers in the books.
Julie Jaco
Senatobia, Mississippi

I have written a couple of books, including the rewrite of A VETERINARY GUIDE FOR ANIMAL OWNERS. But I haven’t done one on canning or
self reliant living. Yet. I’m trying to figure out something now. I’ll keep you posted. — Jackie

Canning goats milk

I hope it’s OK that I subscribe though our village library. We showed BHM to our local library so they could get a subscription that all the country folk in our little bit of wilderness could enjoy it. I hope you will still consider answering my question, because I think it is a really important one.

I would really like to can my excess goat milk, however since it is a low acid, high protein food I have put it in the “high risk” category for botulism. However, I noticed in your column you have given a recipe to can it at a time/temp that is far less than what is normally done for high risk foods.

Am I missing something? Is there a reason why you have not treated milk as a potential source of botulism? Clearly it can be done safely, as demonstrated by all the cans of “evaporated milk” at the grocery store.
Diane Thompson c/o Nazko Library
Quesnel, BC Canada

Milk is high in lactic acid. This is why your milk sours, not rots and your cheese molds instead of rotting. Remember all those cheeses that are aged in caves in Europe for months and months? Meat would rot. Cheese only ages. Remember, you make yogurt from milk at room or slightly warmer temperatures and you eat it. If you left a chicken or hamburger out like that, it’d probably kill you. Meat is not acid, therefore is a higher risk food. Does this make sense to you? Hope so. I know some “experts” frown on canning milk and other dairy products, but they conveniently forget the lactic acid factor. — Jackie

Canning Kimchi and sauerkraut

We sell big generators to farmers and this year I had a greatful farmer give me cases of cabbage. I am making sauerkraut out of most of it and kimchee out of the rest. Question #1: I can’t find directions for canning kimchee. Most recipes say refrigerate until it starts to stink. Question #2: I was also wondering since this is my first try at sauerkraut if you had any canning or krauting advice. I’m about two weeks into my krauting and have a 25 lb crock going.
Laura Battin
Milwaukie, Oregon

I have no information on canning kimchi. Three of my adopted children were Korean and they loved kimchi because they had eaten it for years in their birth country. So I learned to make it. Because it keeps for months in the fridge or any other cool place, I never had any reason to can it. I tried to find a recipe for you, but couldn’t. I’ll keep looking. As for the sauerkraut, you can certainly can that. When it has fermented, dip it out and pack it into sterilized jars to within 1/2″ of the top. Fill with juice or a brine made of 2 Tbsp salt to one quart of water to cover the kraut. Process quarts for 30 minutes in a boiling water bath. — Jackie

Moldy pickles

I accidentally deleted a question from a man who had tried my sour pickle recipe and it developed mold on it after 6 days. He asked what he should do. Here’s my answer:

If there was just a little mold, dip it out and re-submerge the pickles. If there was lots, you’ll have to toss the batch. Mold usually happens when the pickles were not completely submerged in the brine. Only a little bit sticking out will cause this. Better luck in the future! — Jackie

Jackie Clay

Look how Will’s raised beds make a difference!

Monday, July 21st, 2008

While he was here, my sweetie made us five nice raised beds in our new house garden. Into each one, he dumped at least a wheelbarrow and half of rotted manure from the donkey pen. This was well mixed in with the black dirt we filled the beds with, then topped with six inches of more black dirt.

This spring, I planted a dozen broccoli plants; the aphids got the rest. Six, I planted in the raised beds. The other six, I planted in a new section of our main garden. The six in the raised beds kind of kept up with the ones down in the garden for a few weeks, then WOW! they shot up. And up. And up. Now they look like something from prehistoric times.

The ones down in the garden didn’t get any manure, so I’m sure that had something to do with it, too, but just look how the plants like the loose soil and manure in the raised beds. I guess I’ve become a believer! Nifty! Just wait till next year.

Readers’ questions:

Gardening in tires

My wife and I have been a subscriber to Backwoods home since the early 90’s. We have been a fan of yours since we first read one of your articles in Backwoods Home Magazine. You have helped us and taught us a lot over the years. We garden and raise animals on our little spot overlooking the Mississippi River. You have taught us to raise, can, store, prepare and survive. For this I just wanted to say Thanks. Four years ago our tiller threw a rod. Spring came and we wanted a garden so I tried something a little different, and I thought you might get a kick out of our garden. If you get a chance you can see it at Again, thanks for all you do.

Dale McPherson
Drummonds, Tennessee

Wow, Dale. Good idea. My friends, Jim and Jeri Bonnette also garden in tires. It’s a good way to go for a lot of crops. I loved your pictures! What are the bricks for in the tires? I’m nosy. And I can always learn. — Jackie

Steam in pressure gauge

Two questions. I just got a new All American Pressure canner. Is it normal for the pressure gauge to fill with steam & water droplets? Also, when canning meat like meatballs do you need to add liquid? Or would they dry out? I just did a batch of my homemade meat sauce & had no blowouts they look wonderful…can you tell I’m so excited? My MRE collection is growing. Glad the hail missed you! May fair weather bless your season!

Tracey Morris
Prunedale, California

No, the pressure gauge doesn’t usually have steam and water drops in it; I’d call the company customer relations department. The steam will probably warp the insert with the pressure numbers on it and maybe rust the dial. I’d sure check. They may send you a new gauge; they just screw on and off easily with a wrench.

When I can meatballs, I add a sauce. So far, I’ve added spaghetti sauce, tomato sauce with green pepper slices and cream of mushroom soup (without the milk, but with added water so it’s liquid). All of these turned out absolutely great! I’ve been canning for over forty years and I’m STILL excited about it! I’m glad you’ve gotten off to a great start. — Jackie

Home canning book

I know it’s not as if you don’t have millions of other things to do, but how about adding one more and put together a home canning recipe book for all us canning enthusiasts. You cover so many more things than the Ball Blue Book.

I’ve noticed that there are a lot of repeat questions, so maybe there would be a way to compile them together by food category. Keep up the good work. I really enjoy your articles and love the magazine.

Melodee Brymer
Hearne, Texas

I’ve been giving it some thought. But you’re right; I’ve got a whole lot to do and with David either working or in school, I’m the Indian and the chief…just not much time for great projects. Winter’s coming, and maybe I’ll have a little more time. It may happen! — Jackie

Pruning cucumber vines

I have cukes plant going all over the place. Would I hurt the plant if I trim some of the vines from it?

Hollis Jones
WiIlmington, Delaware

Don’t overdo the pruning of the vines. This sometimes is okay, but sometimes the plants resent pruning and quit bearing. Instead, gently pick up the vines and lay them in a direction you want them to head. I always trellis mine because of this natural tendency. That way I can raise many more cukes in an area than I could otherwise…and I don’t have to wade through vines. It’s also much easier to see the cukes so you don’t end up with boats. — Jackie

Blackberry pie filling

My question is about blackberry pie filling I just canned (water bath). The jars seemed to have leaked some of the contents, but they are sealed really well. I removed the bands and cleaned the jars well. Do you think there is any problem with this? I have more blackberries than I know what to do with & I am running out of freezer space. Also, any other suggestions of what to do with all these berries besides jelly or jam? Thanks for your help!

Lori Hinkle
Dongola, Illinois

No, Lori, you don’t have a problem with them losing liquid out of the jars. This is a common thing, but it usually happens during pressure canning. It may just be that the blackberries packed down during canning; they are kind of easy to squash. This makes the contents of the jar seem less. You can also dehydrate blackberries. This way you can keep them on the shelf in a small container. You can use these in muffins, sauces, sweet roll filling, tarts, on ice cream and yogurt. If that doesn’t solve your problem, send ’em to me! Sounds like you’ve got a bounty this year. Good for you! — Jackie

Cats in the garden

My wife and I have been a fan for years. We are having a problem with cats. They are using the front garden as a toilet and we would like to do something other than picking them off with the twenty two. We are in a transition stage and I cant get to my back issues and I know I saw something about cats and keeping them out of the garden. After some research I found… Keeping cats out of the garden by Tom R. Kovach, but like I said I can’t get at my back issues. Thanks and keep the great articles coming. Yours are the first I read.

Marty Connelly
Auburn , New York

Sorry you are having kitty problems. Mom’s cat, Monty, was trying to use my nice new raised beds that Will built for me as a cat box. Of course they were very inviting, but I didn’t want cat poop in my carrot bed! Yuck! So I just ran scrap 3′ fence around the whole thing, enclosing all five beds and our new pea/strawberry bed. No more cat problems and Monty now uses the sand down the hill. A much better choice! I’ve tried different things, but the fence works best. You can use the cheap plastic fencing for cats; they really don’t challenge it like varmints do. Good luck. — Jackie

Storing raisins

I found many boxes of raisins on sale. Can I can them? If not what is the best way to put them up?

Elizabeth Walker
Adel, Georgia

Luckily raisins are just dehydrated grapes. So they will stay fine, in the bag, for over a year. I’ve had some that I bought in 2000 and they are still great. I put my on sale raisins, still in the bag, in my big popcorn tins. This keeps out possible rodent problems and keeps them handy. — Jackie

Rounded cucumbers

My cucumbers started growing great, but now they are starting to have a rounder shape or some are round on bottom and they have a pointy tip on them. Why?

Carrie Coomer
charlestown, Indiana

This is usually from stress. This time of the year, it’s usually a combination heat and insufficient water. Cukes are a high percentage of water, themselves, so the vines need abundant water in order to make nice long, filled out cucumbers. Try mulching them, giving them a side dressing of rotted manure, then keep them watered. And stand back. — Jackie

Saving squash seeds

I have planted heirloom seeds for squash and melons. How do I get seeds from the current crop to use another year? How long does the fruit need to remain on the plants in order to harvest? The zucchini are BIG and solid, not many seeds when picked to eat.

Donald Allen
Afton, Texas

It’s easy to save seeds from squash and melons. All you do is let the fruits mature well. For melons and winter squash, this only means to pick them when they are very ripe; the seeds are ready then. Pick them out, put them on a pie pan in a dry area away from rodents and swish your hand around in them once a day until they are very dry. Your summer squash need to mature past where you would normally eat them. This means letting them get huge. Then the skins get a little hard, like winter squash. Pick them before they start to rot, though. Once you get into seed saving, you’ll really have fun….and save a bunch of money, too. — Jackie

Jackie Clay

Hail and a tornado…almost

Wednesday, July 16th, 2008

Our carpenter friend, Tom, was here yesterday, working on our latest addition to the house, which will be a living room and entryway, including a small laundry room. It looked stormy all evening, but as he was packing to leave, we walked out of the house and saw REAL scary looking clouds just east of us. There was one ugly green one that dropped a big white cylinder-shaped cloud that called our attention. There was actually rotation to it and the outside kept pulling up into the cloud above.

We looked north, toward Cook, and saw big black clouds with plenty of lightening and two big white sheets of precipitation dropping toward the ground; hail! Hail: the gardener’s dreaded enemy, right behind frost.

Would we get sucked up in a tornado? Or would our garden get wiped out by hail? I turned on the weather radio to keep track of the storm. We continued to watch our tornado in the making thing; it was heading slowly to the south. Tom left and I did chores, keeping an eye on both storms.

Later on I heard that there WAS a tornado, or several of them. One was 15 miles away at Sand Lake and the other about the same distance south of us at Buhl. Neither did any damage, fortunately. There was also hail, but we didn’t get any of that, either. This time! Whew! Sometimes Mother Nature is sweet and gentle, but sometimes, she plays hard and for keeps. It’s the challenge that keeps us on our toes, I think.

Readers’ questions:

Canning meat

I have started canning for the first time. Yesterday, I canned deboned chicken in my new pressure canner. It looks like two of my jars leaked some liquid during the processing, but the lids look like they’re tightly sealed. However, about a half inch of meat at the top is not covered with liquid. Is this okay or do I need to add more liquid and reprocess? I also read where you can your own ground meat. Do you add liquid to it after packing it in the jar? If so, what kind of liquid?

Pam Dietz
Eunice, Louisiana

Congratulations, Pam, good job! No worries on the chicken. It’s quite common for some foods to exhaust liquid out of the jar during pressure canning. This happens most often with meats that are processed for quite a while. The chicken is fine; no need to do anything. Yes, I can ground beef. Some I just brown and pack into jars and squish down. I add no liquid. Some, I can with tomato sauce, seasoned for spaghetti sauce. Other times, I add taco seasonings for instant taco filling. But there is no need to add liquid. I do add a bit of water to plain browned hamburger and pack that with it, but I never pour water or broth on it in the jar. — Jackie

Canned bacon

In the current issue someone asked about canned bacon. I found a site that sells some precooked and canned bacon but they only sell by the case. is the site. hope that helps.

Jerald Lupinek
Wasco, California

Thanks for the information; I passed it on to BHM a couple of weeks ago, but some readers may have missed it and will appreciate your tip. Thanks! — Jackie

Gardening in the desert

I just recently subscribed to BHM and love it. I have been reading off the website for months. My question is this: We live smack dab in the middle of the Mojave Desert. I would love to have a small garden but have had a hard time growing things. When your summers start in May at 90 degrees and last all the way till October with plenty of days that are 113 or higher causing some of your tomatoes to actually cook on the vine it gets frustrating. What do you do? Thankfully we will be moving to middle Tennessee within the next two years. But in the mean time, any suggestions?

Johanna Labiosa
Ridgecrest, California

Your best bet is to plant where there is shade, at least part of the afternoon. For instance, try on the north side of your house or another outbuilding. If this is not possible, build a rustic shade arbor (4 posts and cross poles on top) over the plants. You want some sun, but shade, too to moderate the sun’s rays. Drip irrigation helps ensure that the roots stay cooler and the plant gets enough water without wet leaves to “cook” the plant. Work in as much organic material under your plants as you can, before you plant, then pile a thick mulch over your drip lines and all around your plants. This also helps moderate the temperature on the roots, keep moisture from evaporating and cuts down your weed problems. — Jackie

Canning summer squash

My husband and I are new subscribers to Backwoods Home Magazine. We’re learning a lot from the magazine and your articles. This summer we have an abundance of yellow squash. We like to cook it in stir frys and smother it with onions and butter. Is there any way of storing or preserving this vegetable that we love so much? I’ve heard that yellow squash should not be canned. Is this true? I would greatly appreciate your input.

Pam Dietz
Eunice, Louisiana

Summer squash CAN be home canned, but you probably wouldn’t like the product; I don’t. My friend, Jeri, slices summer squash onto a cookie sheet and quick freezes it in her freezer. Then she pours it into freezer bags to use in her stir frys. She said it works well this way. Maybe you’d like to try that. — Jackie

Hulling buckwheat

In a previous issue you answered a question about hulling buckwheat. Unfortunately, that issue 105 is not in the archives and I cannot find mine. Could you please answer the question of is there a way to hull buckwheat on a small scale? All of the machinery I can find on line is for large commercial hulling.

J. Michael Ledbetter
Jamestown, Tennessee

Sorry, but you can’t hull buckwheat effectively at home. I just grind mine, hull and all when I add it to multi-grain bread. This wouldn’t probably work for buckwheat pancakes, etc. as there’s a lot of fiber. — Jackie

Floating tomatoes

HELP! I just canned 4 quarts of home grown tomatoes but the water in the canner had a tomato smell to it like some of the tomato came out during processing. I processed at 6 lbs for 40 minutes. All the seals were good but all the tomato is at the top of the jar and the liquid is at the bottom. I’m going to eat these even if it kills me (I hope not). Boy that was alot of work if it all goes bad, but I really want to learn this art.

Stephen Joseph
Denison, Texas

You don’t have as much of a problem as you think. It’s common for some tomato juice to blow out of the jars during canning, especially during pressure canning. As long as the seals are fine, you’re good to go. If you hot pack your tomatoes, they won’t float to the top like yours did. This happens when you put cold tomatoes in the jars, then either squash them to make juice to cover or pour boiling water over them. If you first heat the tomatoes and juice to boiling, ladle them into the jars and process, they won’t float. Floating tomatoes are perfectly fine, just not beautiful. Enjoy. — Jackie

Canning bacon grease

My son thinks bacon is it’s own “food group,” and we always have tons of bacon grease around. I am trying desperately to keep from freezing anything that isn’t vital, as our freezers are getting very old and we are VERY rural, and prone to power outages in the winter. We have a generator, but at the cost of propane, I hate to use it to run a bunch of freezers. So, can you pressure bacon grease? If so, for how long?

Patricia Crowder
Holyoke, Colorado

I honestly have never tried to can bacon grease. But if I did, I’d pour melted grease into pint or half pint jars and process them at 10 pounds for 75 minutes in a pressure canner (bacon grease is from meat). I’ve canned butter and it canned up fine, even though it was greasy, so maybe bacon grease would too. Let me know. — Jackie

Jackie Clay

Moose has surgery

Monday, July 14th, 2008

Remember our two donkeys, Beauty and Moose? Moose was a jack, or an entire male donkey. We do not plan on breeding donkeys and a jack can become a problem when you have other horses/donkeys. They sometimes bite viciously, trying to “chase” a jenny into heat. I’ve seen their ears ripped and gashes in their body. Moose is such a sweet guy, I did NOT want this kind of behavior to begin. So reluctantly, I called our friend and veterinarian, Dr. John Fisher, from Cook.

I was a nervous wreck. I’d heard that donkeys often had problems with anesthetics and also with bleeding following castration. Moose is a great pet, and I sure didn’t want to lose him. But it needed doing before he matured.

Luckily, the anesthetic worked perfectly, and the surgery was routine. He was a little staggery, but was up walking fifteen minutes from the time the surgery began. John left and I went back up to the house when Moose started eating grass.

Two hours later, I went down to check on him and he was bleeding pretty bad. Panic! I called John from the pasture and tore up to the house to get elastic bandages and something to pack him with. Luckily I had some Depends pads for urinary incontinence from Mom. I grabbed those, a Depends, the elastic bandages, some blood stopper powder and a kitchen towel.

Would Moose even let me work on him after what had been done to him? David was gone haying, and I had no help. I was relieved when Moose seemed to know I was trying to help him. He never lifted a leg, but stood while I worked. My hands were bloody and I began packing, wrapping and packing some more. It was a hard spot to put pressure on. Finally, I had him wrapped pretty well, but he was bleeding through the pads, etc. I folded a kitchen towel and pushed that up against the area of the incision. It was hot and I was scared.

About then, John came and he also had some elastic wraps, but these had adhesive on the back, making them hold in place better. We wrapped some more, and the bleeding stopped. Whew! I was a wreck.

I washed my hands at the water tank, then rode the four wheeler around the lower trail Will had pushed next to the woods. I stopped by the spring, where he had dug a nice holding pond for the water and washed my face in the cold water. I stayed there for a few minutes, getting settled down, enjoying the dappled shade and sparkling water. Wouldn’t this water be great, when pumped up to our garden next year? It’ll save on our generator and the well pump, too.

I kept Moose tied for 24 hours, then cautiously unwrapped him. No bleeding. Today he’s just fine and I brought him lots of treats for being such a good boy when I desperately needed him to be. Animals are SO smart.

Readers’ questions:

Using splenda in canning

I planted lots of extra beets this year because we loved pickled beets. The only problem is that they have so much sugar. Do you have a canning recipe that uses less sugar? Can you use Splenda in canning? Thanks for such great information. Your garden looks wonderful!

Donna Clements
Hoquiam, Washington

Sorry, Donna, but I’ve tried sugar substitutes because of my late husband, Bob’s diabetes, and really wasn’t too happy with the result. Why don’t you do up a small batch with Splenda and see if you like them?

We’re tickled with the garden this year! My potatoes are blooming as nice as flowers. — Jackie

Making pickles

I hope you have some cucumber advice. I usually don’t have a lot of luck with them, so I didn’t plant many. But this year they are doing so well I’m getting more than we can eat fresh. I thought about making pickles, but all the recipes I’ve found call for more cukes than I’m getting at one time. Do you have a recipe that makes small patches or have any other suggestions for them? Or can I save the cukes in the fridge until I get enough for a batch?

Sandy Higgins
Allen, Maryland

What I do when I have this problem (usually at the beginning of the season), is to just divide the recipe to fit my needs. For instance, cut the amounts in half or thirds. That way you can put up a few jars at a time until the main crop hits. — Jackie

Worming animals

I remember reading the question about worming animals organically & your response that the touted herbs didn’t not work very well. In looking up info on another question I came across this page

The owners of this organic farm had all the problems you described but finally found an answer. The best part is that they did the follow up lab work to prove the results. Maybe this might help others. (I love the improvised drencher.)

My question: is it possible to make turpentine at home? or would a can off the shelf work?

Stephanie Arnold
Corning, Arkansas

This is an interesting solution. Turpentine has been used for a “cure all” for centuries. And, it looks like it may help animals with internal parasites. No. You really can’t make turpentine at home. I would recommend using organic turpentine, as was suggested in the article; off the shelf turpentine might work, but I don’t have any experience/information about it. — Jackie

Canning from freezer

I am wanting to can some of the stuff from my freezer to make more room. Have you ever canned frozen vegetables and meat that has been frozen? If so, are there any tips so the vegetables don’t end up mushy?

Laraine Hanson
Kenai, Alaska

Yes I have canned both vegetables and meat from my freezer. And frozen game animals hanging in a tree outside, too!! The vegetables were when we lost power and were living on grid. I canned all day and night for two days before I began losing food.

What works best is to can up the vegetables with meat or broth, as mixed meals in a jar. Not only do they turn out pretty good, but these jars make quick, tasty meals when you’re in a hurry. The key to un-mushy vegetables is to bring them TO a boil, but not boil them before you put them into the jars to process. They boil enough during processing. Good luck. — Jackie

Lots of spinach seeds

My spinach crop did well and now I have spinach seed coming out my ears. I hate to throw it away. Do you know is it safe to sprout and eat on salads or can it be ground for flour. I am hoping there is something I can do with it as I have about a gallon of it!

Sandy Coates
Indian Valley, Idaho

Yes, you can use spinach as sprouts or let the sprouts grow just a little to use as micro salad ingredients. I’ve never ground it for flour. Another use would be to use the spinach seed in the future for wide beds, heavily seeded, to clip and can. Home canned spinach is very good! — Jackie

Electricity or solar?

I always look forward to everything you write and it is great to have your blog! I have this dilemma–and I figured your experience would be helpful to know what to do. I have a couple acres that I have a small cabin on. The well has just been drilled, and I am trying to decide whether to go ahead and hook up to the electricity which is on the road by my place, or try to go the generator/solar power route? It is just me here the majority of the time. I am putting in a half acre of gardens and raspberries, and have a small orchard with 8 fruit trees that is separate. The pasture is not irrigated at this point. I don’t have a lot of money, but want to use what I do have wisely! What would you do?

Lynn Royal
Olympia, Washington

If I was in your position, I’d go ahead and hook up to power, provided that it can be done relatively cheaply. I would have a backup generator and later on down the road, try to pick up some deep cycle batteries and a solar panel or two. It’s a great idea to be off grid, but it IS either kind of inconvenient if you’re poor or expensive if you can afford it. We’re off grid because it’d cost us about $50,000 to hook up to power. Yeah, right. I’ll do it tomorrow. Ha ha. So we got along first with the generator, then added a battery bank and saved over 1/2 on our gas consumption. Now we’re aiming at a couple of solar panels to help charge…and to cut down even more. Then it’ll be more panels and a wind generator, way down the road sometime. Be as prepared to be off grid, if it becomes necessary, but it’s cheaper to pay a light bill than fork out money for alternative energy components all at once. — Jackie

Storing potatoes

We took your suggestions of using tires to plant potatoes and the potato plants have been growing very well. Now I would like to know the best storage container for the harvested potatoes, especially here in the hot, humid south.

Veronica Hinkle
Hodges, South Carolina

I’ve had the best luck using slatted wooden crates. These allow some air flow along the sides and bottom and are sturdy enough to take the weight of the potatoes. I hope your crop needs lots of crates! — Jackie

Canning seasonings

I will have an abundance of jalapeno peppers this year. I would like to make some Italian Beef “seasonings” with the peppers. I thought I would try canning them with some onions, garlic, fresh basil, fresh oregano, about 1/2 teaspoon of salt, and 1 tablespoon of vinegar per jar. I plan to pack the above in 1/2 pint jars with boiling water and process them at 10 pounds of pressure for 20 minutes. Can you think of any reason why this would not work?

David Runde
Teutopolis, Illinois

I would up your processing time to 35 minutes for pints and half pints. Otherwise, I think your recipe would can up nicely. — Jackie

Canning mixed vegetables

What do you think of canning frozen mixed vegetables.? I use them alot, but what if we lost power, I would like to can them and want to know if this is possible. Also, I buy my chicken frozen and would also like to can it, What do you think and how would I do it? I have a garden and have been trying to make it bigger, but can only do so much. Thank you for your time and knowledge! I greatly appreciate all that you give in the magazine, and I too believe that times are fixing to get really bad.

Tina Ross
Eureka Springs, Arkansas

It depends on a couple of things. What frozen mixed vegetables? The corn/peas/carrots types can up fine, provided that you can get them at a cheap enough price to make canning them worth while. (You can buy canned vegetables cheaper than frozen ones, usually…and don’t have the work.) The mixed vegetables that have cauliflower and broccoli really don’t can up well; the cauliflower and broccoli are strong tasting and most folks don’t like the taste, which overwhelms the other vegetables in the mix. I make my own canned mixed vegetables, using green beans, potatoes, peas and carrots. Sometimes I throw in a few rutabagas too. It’s surprising at how much you can get out of a few of this and that. It might also be a good idea to pick up the raw vegetables and make your own mix, adding what you do have in your garden. For instance, buy some carrots, use your own green beans, buy potatoes and use your own peas. Suddenly you have your own home canned mixed vegetables at a lower cost than the frozen ones. Good canning! — Jackie

Preserving vegetables

I live in a small condo. We are not in the financial position to move to the country. I am trying to become self-reliant. How do I store such vegetables as potatoes for a long period of time? I know that I can preserve some of them by canning. A root cellar is not an option. I just started canning after reading your articles.

Linda Anderson
Powell, Tennessee

Good for you! Everyone can help themselves to be more self reliant; living in the country just makes it go a step further. Dehydrating is a good way to store vegetables, especially where room to keep your bounty is a factor. You can store many bushels of dehydrated vegetables on a small shelving unit. I just finished an article covering dehydrating and some other food preservation methods, for the coming issue of BHM. This might help you quite a bit. Dehydrating food is very easy and fun, too. Of course I also can a whole lot of food, too! I’m glad you are learning to can. Fun, isn’t it? — Jackie

Cleaning a wood cook stove

I just bought a old Log Cabin outside Baudette. My question is how can I clean the old cook stove? It is cast iron and covered in rust. But it is in good shape otherwise. Any clue?

Donald Franck
Plainview, Minnesota

Sure, Don. I’ve done that before! If the rust is thick, use a wire brush first, then steel wool pads and lots of elbow grease. Once it is pretty clean, build a small fire and open the window. It’ll stink. Then while it’s still warm, rub the cast surfaces with a rag dampened with grease or olive oil. Rub it in well; don’t over-do the grease or oil or it’ll smoke to beat the band. Let the fire go out and rub the surfaces well with a dry cloth. This makes it shine and repels more rust. After several uses, you can use stove blacking if you wish. I just use the oil; I like the soft, natural look of the iron. — Jackie

Jackie Clay

The flower gardens are looking great…and so is our woodpile

Wednesday, July 9th, 2008

Besides all the great improvements going on around here, the big garden, our new house garden and keeping busy taking care of Mom, I have had a few minutes to work in the flowers….and work in the wood. I can’t be long at any one job because I can’t leave Mom alone for more than about 15 minutes. Her mind’s kind of fuzzy sometimes and she panics if I’m outside too long. So my work flits from this to that and back a few times a day. I try to keep mostly at one project until it gets whipped. But mostly I’ve got a few fish frying, so to speak.

It’s said that in Minnesota you have two seasons; winter and getting ready for winter. That’s true. And we’ve been splitting, hauling and piling wood under our porch where it’ll stay handy and dry for winter. So far we’ve got six truck loads under there, with a whole lot more left to cut and split. That’s the “grunt” work.

To reward myself, I take a few minutes most every day and work in my flower beds. My aim is mostly perennials that won’t need constant weeding and care. So far I’ve planted day lilies, oriental lilies, peonies, roses, columbines, iris, phlox, veronica, clematis, hostas, and more. Of course I stuff some annuals among them and my violas and pansies are not only perennial, but also reseed themselves prolifically. Love that!

Last year the flowers were kind of blah; we had an open, cold winter and a lot of them winter killed. But I kept pulling the weeds, which NEVER winter kill and planting more flowers. It paid off big dividends this spring, and it only gets better. WOW!

So I have my vegetables and fruits to feed us, the wood to keep us warm and the flowers to make it all worthwhile. Pretty darned nice out here in the backwoods!

Readers’ questions:

Food for a year

Great pictures of your garden! I too spend hours out there weeding! But that’s ok we need the food. Plus it’s so soothing and restful listening to all the birds.

We too are concerned about the economy and food supplies. We live on a limited income and don’t want to be caught off guard next winter when the prices go too high and we can’t afford food! I can only fathom a guess as to how high some prices will be during the winter based on how high they are now! Especially fruit and vegetables in the produce department!

Anyway, can you give a suggested list of things we should have on hand and the quantity desired for , lets say 3-4 people? I really need help in the meat area, flour, dried beans and whatever else you feel are the “basics” to eat with. This would be for a year until we can garden again and raise more chicken.

I have never stocked up like this before on food and have no idea if I need 1 bag of flour or several. What is the deal with dried beans? I am just starting to use them so don’t’ know much about them. Root crops that you speak of?

Last year I had 100 lbs potatoes, 50 lbs of onions, 1 bushel of carrots, 1/2 bushel of beets, not enough green beans since I only canned about 50 pints and have 1 left! I also put up peaches, pears, applesauce, pie filling, tomato juice, and whole tomatoes. Anything else I should be looking at?

I hope this wouldn’t’ be too much trouble but I am sure there are others who wonder too. I will have our own eggs and lots of home grown chicken too. What does your mom suggest too?

Thanks so much for sharing with us all that you know!! I appreciate it!

Cindy Hills
Wild Rose, Wisconsin

It’s real hard to pin down just how much a family “needs” to last a year, especially when everybody has different tastes, likes and dislikes. There is a whole lot of difference between “survival” and getting along well during hard times. When we were isolated on a mountain top in Montana, I went through 25 pounds of flour a month for the three of us. I also used about 10 pounds of whole wheat flours, 10 pounds of sugar (including canning time), 5 pounds of cornmeal and 5 pounds of masa harina de maize (corn flour).

To help you figure out your home canned food needs, remember that there are 52 weeks in a year. Therefore if you plan on eating meat twice a week, you’ll have to put up 104 pints/quarts of meat. I found that this was a little misleading, however, as I also had leftovers and extra meat that I saved for another recipe/meal…so the meat actually went farther. I’ve been canning up “meals in a jar,” which include chili, meatballs, etc. that not only include meat but other home raised foods. So I not only have meat and poultry in jars, but mixed meals, as well.

Remember to have about 25 pounds of dry beans, 50 pounds of rice, dry noodles (unless you plan on making your own), split peas, lentils, etc., depending again on your family’s likes. There’s no sense in storing up a bunch of stuff your family really doesn’t like. I’d recommend that you pick up a copy of the BHM SURVIVAL AND PREPAREDNESS GUIDE. It has a whole lot more tips on just how much and what you should consider storing. — Jackie

Fall garden

I was glad to hear that your mother is doing better. I also am glad you had Will with you while she was sick and to help out with all the work you do. My question: if you could have a fall garden what would you put in it? I didn’t do do very well with my summer one. I didn’t know that the boys had been feeding the deer and turkey in the corner by the woods. So you can guess what happened. Not much to eat and nothing to can. So I am hoping to get in a fall one and fence it in because there is no use in putting all the money in seeds for the deer. I read your blog and love to read Backwoods Home but I get through it the day I get it.

Brenda Jarrell
Varneville, South Carolina

I would get on that fencing job as soon as possible. I can’t tell you how much relief it is to go to the garden and not have to worry about what is missing today! And the sooner you get it fenced, the sooner you can get to planting. If you get it fenced fairly soon, you could still get in some bush beans and carrots. Besides those, you can put in your fall crops; turnips, collards, broccoli, greens of all sorts. To speed your broccoli up, start seeds inside now so you can plant nice starts out in the garden when the weather cools down some. I’m glad Mom’s doing well, too. I can hardly wait till September. Will is planning all sorts of projects for his next two week vacation here! — Jackie

Eliminating weeds

Due to the fact that I’m about to have a July baby, I wasn’t able to do a huge garden because of timing, heat and exhaustion. Just a few tomatoes and peppers for enjoyment. I’m already thinking of what to do with next year’s garden, and what’s really bugging me is weeds! We call them “Frankenweeds”. They are huge and stubborn.

We cannot eliminate them. We’ve done pine straw, weed tarp, newspaper, pulling by hand, and they just keep coming back. I don’t want to use chemical killers and I do compost my yard and kitchen waste. All I can come up with is that we live in a very semi-tropical climate for almost 6-8 months, and the sun, heat and moisture we experience are just ideal for weeds thrive.

Any suggestions? Could my yard waste in the compost bin be the culprit, or do I just have to put up with the weeds as a normal part of gardening? As always, thanks for your advice; I’m really jealous of the pictures of your garden…wow!

Andrea Del Gardo
Myrtle Beach, South Carolina

The only way your yard waste could be a problem would be if you put weeds/grasses in it that had already gone to seed. NO you don’t have to live with the weeds. You can get a handle on them. The first few years is tough, because you do have them. But if you keep after them, you will get them under control. If your garden is too big for you to do this, consider keeping half or a part anyway, fallow. Either keep tilling it up to kill all the weeds in it, throw down an old chunk of carpet after watering it well, or plant a thick cover crop, such as Will and I just did in our new strawberry bed (peas) to choke out the germinating weeds. My garden wasn’t anything to brag about the year I had radiation, chemo, Bob died and we were building our new log house. I was pretty ashamed of all the weeds, but oh well, I did the best I could at the time and I was able to can from it, anyway. As you can see, it looks a whole lot better now…and the weeds are very manageable. In a year or two more, I will have them pretty much whipped. My big help is mulch, mulch, mulch. Just don’t mulch with hay or anything else that has seeds in it; I did and ended up with a hay field in my garden from old hay seeds. Ooops! Straw, THICK pine straw, dry grass (without seeds or chemicals) or dry yard leaves all work well. Any weeds that do show up can be pulled easily because their roots are tender. — Jackie

Jackie Clay

Our cover crops are doing great!

Thursday, July 3rd, 2008

We planted cover crops in the orchard (wheat, a small strip of oats and alfalfa) and peas in the future strawberry bed in the new house garden. We did this to help keep grasses and weeds in check in these two new areas, as well as to help build soil fertility. AND besides helping our soil, we will get to harvest a crop of green peas to eat and put up, seed for next year, wheat to grind, some oats and alfalfa for the goats this summer and the knowledge that we’re keeping down nasty tough weeds.

After the frost, I’ll be tilling in the leftover straw and pea vines, then spreading manure over the orchard to help enrich the soil. The new strawberry bed has already had a nice coating, thanks to Will, when he was on “vacation” here. Yes, we sure love our cover crops and the great benefit they give to the whole garden!

Readers’ questions:

Using old jelly jars

I just came across an entire box of the old jelly jars from when parafin was used complete with the plastic lids. Is it entirely unsafe to parafin seal? I would hate for that entire box of jars to go to waste if it was possible to use them.

Amanda Weingard
Dover, Delaware

Your old jelly jars can still be used. You won’t poison your family if the wax seal fails, but if it does you could find mold on your jelly. I used to put up dozens and dozens of these types of jars of jelly and jam every single year. The two problems I had were that the mice could chew through the wax (when there was no lid) and that sometimes the wax would draw away from the edges of the jar and let the top of the jelly mold. With lids, the mice are no problem. And really very few jars of jelly actually molded. Heck, I’d use ’em. — Jackie

Canning milk, butter, and cheese

Hi Jackie, I would like to try canning milk, butter and cheese. Is there any reason that you can’t can store bought milk,butter. If not when you can the milk you would have to heat it to near boiling wouldn’t you before you could put it in the jar? I love your articles. Thanks

Katherine Jasperson
Belle, Missouri

You can certainly can store milk and butter, as well as cheese. And yes, you do have to heat any milk to nearly simmering just before you put it into hot sterilized jars to can. Be aware that canning butter and cheese is still considered “experimental” canning; some “experts” of course say we shouldn’t. — Jackie

Grinding wheat

I have been a BHM subscriber and HUGE fan of your column for years. You are such an inspiration to me. I have purchased a K-Tec grinder from a friend and I love how quickly and finely it grinds flour. My question is how do I achieve a flour that is equivalent to store bought all-purpose flour. I have various types of wheat berries—hard red winter, hard white winter, hard white spring, prairie gold and soft white berries. I would like to be able to grind my own fresh all-purpose flour not just whole wheat. Whenever I have used my freshly ground flour for breads or rolls they turn out too heavy. I have been using only the home ground flour without the addition of store bought all-purpose or bread flour. I would appreciate your recipe for corn and flour tortillas along with one for cinnamon bread or rolls if you would care to share them. I tried a tortilla recipe I found the internet but I didn’t like the taste and it was too oily.

Patrice Lindsey
Lockport, Illinois

You really can’t make store all purpose flour at home; they bleach and otherwise treat store flour. You CAN get very good results by using a good hard wheat, such as Prairie Gold, then grinding it several times. When you use it, be sure to sift it at least twice; that “fluffs” it up. Also, use gluten as a dough enhancer. It helps whole wheat flour rise easier. Another help is to let your baked goods rise at least twice; the more it rises and you punch it down, the lighter the bread becomes when baked. You can mix some store unbleached flour with your home ground flours if it will get a product you are happier with. Corn tortillas are real easy; just mix 2c masa harina de maize (corn flour, not corn meal) with just enough warm water to make a stiff dough. Work it into a big ball, then break off golf ball size pieces and roll them up and stack them in a covered bowl. To make your tortillas, either lay a ball on a piece of wax paper, with another laid on top of it and press down with a pie plate and roll thinner with a rolling pin or use a tortilla press. I use the press and further roll them thinner with a rolling pin. Be sure to use wax paper beneath and on top of the tortilla or it will stick like crazy! You can gently bake the tortillas on a griddle or frying pan until done or else deep fry them, depending on what you want as an end product. Flour tortillas are easy too. Just mix 2 c flour with 1/4 c shortening; cut in till shortening is in small pieces. Add 1/2 tsp salt, 1/2 tsp baking powder and mix well. Then mix in 3/4 c warm water. Mix well, then knead till smooth. Divide into 12 balls. Let stand, covered for 30 minutes. Then roll out into tortillas and bake on a medium heat on a griddle or heavy frying pan. Turn and do the other side. Enjoy!

To make cinnamon bread, just use a standard sweet dough recipe, then roll the dough out into a rectangle. Lightly coat the dough with butter. Then sprinkle sugar and cinnamon over the butter. Roll up jelly roll style and make your loaves. When mine is done, I butter the top of the loaf then sprinkle brown sugar and cinnamon on it and pop it into the overn for a few more minutes. Pretty good! — Jackie

Foraging and gardening in desert

Hi, Jackie! I stumbled onto this site while looking for some canning recipes and I have to say I’m impressed! I have been checking out all your helpful information for the past few days and have learned a lot! Here’s my question: I live in far West Texas, which is pretty much a desert. I am interested in two things: foraging and gardening. I would be interested in finding out what the best plants are in this region for foraging (or if it’s even practical in my area). Also, what would be the most efficient way to raise a garden here as we get very little rain, and keeping a garden watered and tended to in 115 degree heat with a major evaporation rate proves a little problematic. Would it be best to grow in pots of some sort or invest in building a greenhouse?

Maradith Thackerson
Wickett, Texas

Hi, Maradith, glad to meet you. I’d like to send you to Native Seed/SEARCH. They have tons of Native varieties of seed that will do well in your area. Most are from the southern part of the Southwest and northern Mexico. Because they ARE native to the climate, they will produce a crop for you when other store varieties will just curl up and die. Foraging is possible anywhere. Your biggest prizes are probably going to be mesquite and various cactus products (prickly pear pads, fruits). We lived in New Mexico and I really enjoyed the wild foods where my friend said “nothing grew but rocks and cactus!). I wouldn’t grow in containers because in your climate you will probably have trouble keeping the plant roots cool enough. Same deal in the greenhouse. I had great luck growing outside. I used a lot of mulch and drip lines. As soon as your plants are planted or seeds have germinated and gained some size, you can lay down your drip lines, then mulch over them to protect them from the sun’s rays and also to help hold moisture where it’ll do some good instead of just evaporating. You’ll quickly learn which crops you’ll need the drip lines for and which you can water conventionally during the evening. Crops like corn and beans are tougher, where tomatoes and peppers really like more water. It’ll take some experimenting and study, but it definitely can be done. Have fun! By the way, check out Wilderness Way magazine for lots of foraging tips for the Southwest! — Jackie

Substitute sugar in canning

I was wondering for a sugar substitute for canning could I use stevia a natural sweetener in place of granulated sugar?

Margo Morrill
Charlotte, North Carolina

I believe you could for sweetening fruits and juice. But it won’t work for jelly, jams and preserves because the sugar helps the pectin to jell the product. You might try it with sugar free powdered pectin to see how it’d work. Let us know, okay? — Jackie

Seedlings need water

A little under a month ago, we planted carrots, parsnips, broccoli, lettuce and cabbages amongst other things, from seed. We had a lot of issues getting regular water out to the garden during that time, but solved that 2 weeks ago. My question is – none of these seeds have sprouted yet, and I believe it’s because we didn’t water deeply enough. Are they done, and I need to re-seed, or do you think the good watering the beds are now getting will “jump start” them into sprouting?

Kevin Long
Elizabeth, Colorado

Yeah…..Mmmm I guess what I’d do is to plant another row of each about four inches away from the first one. I think your seeds probably tried to germinate and the seedling died from lack of water, but they MIGHT just be waiting for water, too. If they do germinate, you’ll have double rows. The cabbage and broccoli, you can transplant when they get big enough so you won’t have two closely spaced rows of those big crops. The rest will be fine with togetherness. The best of luck! — Jackie

Jackie Clay

It’s the last of June and the garden’s taking off big guns

Wednesday, July 2nd, 2008

We’ve been having nice heavy rains, then hot weather.  Just what the garden loves.  Luckily for me, who doesn’t love hot weather, it cools off nicely at night.  Whew!  The Bristol black raspberries I planted last year and the year before kind of grew last year; enough to give me a handful of berries.  But this spring, they’ve taken off.  I pruned them, mostly to rid them of half-dead canes, then I’ve mulched them heavily with rotted oat hay left over from the goat pen.  They eat the round bales that we shove up against the stock panels, but there’s always the weathered outside shell of the bales that they leave.  And does it make great mulch.  Sure, some oats spring up out of it, but they are easily pulled.  Just look at my black raspberries!  They’re shooting up and the older canes are loaded with flowers.  Eat your heart out Will.  I get to eat ALL the berries!

Because the weather’s been so great, not only has the garden been growing but also the weeds.  So the last few days, I’ve been down there a lot, hoeing and hand weeding between the plants.  So far I’ve done the potatoes, which have started blooming, the wide bed of onions, the new 100 foot row of asparagus, two 30 foot rows of carrots, the 25 new Latham red raspberries and the cabbage.  After I did the tomato staking/caging, I threaded my soaker hoses in close to the plants, then, after making sure they were working well, I threw a good layer of oat hay mulch around each one.  They love it!

This year, because of the drastic increases in all things, I feel like I’m on a mission with the garden!  Mom, too, is uneasy with the economy.  She keeps asking me if I’ve planted plenty of squash, rutabagas, and whether I have dry beans enough in the pantry.  Oh, yes I do!  And I also just planted six more double rows of beans, just for safety’s sake.  We like to eat around here….and eat well!

Readers’ questions:

Canning milk

My questions involves canning milk.  In the newest issue you tell about how to can.  BUT how long of a shelf life canned and can it be kept on a pantry shelf or refrige it?  I was talking to the Amish couple that I buy my raw milk from and they said I should seperate the cream from the milk otherwise it might funny ( cream and the milk would seperate in the jars and possible for the cream to curl).  What would you recommend?

Ralph Lincoln
Berlin, Pennsylvania

Home canned milk is stored in your pantry; once it’s canned, it will keep good for years.  Yes, it will help the appearance of home canned milk to separate it first.  Home canned milk isn’t like fresh milk or milk from the fridge, but it IS good, especially for cooking and making ice cream, etc.  Sometimes it gets to the point that any good milk is better than powdered milk.  Of course, I always have a good supply of powdered milk on hand, too, but I only use that for baking….we can’t stand the taste. — Jackie

Mason bees

Are you a bee keeper and do you have many hives? Are you also familiar with Mason Bees?  We have Mason Bees to polinate our fruit trees and garden.  We are so grateful for all your wealth of knowledge and sharing it with us readers of Backwoods Home Magazine.

Pam Foster
Richfield, Minnesota

I used to be a bee keeper and really loved working with them.  Bees are very interesting and fun to hang out with.  Yes, I’m familiar with Mason bees.  They do a good job of pollinating, but I really like having the honey!  Our current pollinators include bumblebees, butterflies, hummingbird moths and other native insects.  I’d like to have bees again, but Will is VERY allergic to bee stings, so much so that he has to carry injection pens in his pocket.  I’m not sure if we’ll do bees again at some point in the future or not yet. — Jackie

Planting wheat

I live in South Mississippi and would like to plant some wheat.  I have planted wheat for the wildlife before, but never for human consumption.  What type of wheat and when would I need to plant it to have a decent crop in South Mississippi.

Trent Robertson
Leakesville, Mississippi

I’d check with your County Extension office, usually located in the courthouse for precise information.  Unfortunately, I have never lived even close to your climate, so don’t really have the information you need.  But if you’ve raised wheat for wildlife before, you sure have the basics down.  Go for it! — Jackie

Corn question

What would cause corn to tassel at 1-3 feet tall? We live in the northern part of middle Tennessee. This question is for my neighbor.

Tammy Hanson
Bethpage, Tennessee

Corn usually tassels prematurely because of stress.  This often includes lack of water and/or infertile soil.  If your neighbor makes sure that the growing corn receives at least 1″ of water (measure it in a glass set near a plant during watering) a week or more in hot, dry spells and adds plenty of rotted manure to her corn patch, I think her corn will be huge next year!  Also be sure she is planting a standard sized sweet corn.  Old timey corns such as Golden Bantam are often very short to start with.  Add some stress, and BANG; short corn. — Jackie


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