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!
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.
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
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
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.
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?
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?
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?
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