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Archive for August, 2008

Jackie Clay

We had a big freeze, but the harvest goes on as usual

Wednesday, August 27th, 2008

You know that “frost” warning I told you about? Well, we did the usual; covered the tomato and pepper plants…I didn’t have enough tarps for everything… Then just before dark, I turned on the weather radio that we live by, just to make sure. The “scattered frost” they had talked about all day had been upgraded to a FREEZE WARNING! Oh crap! Temperatures predicted to be from 28 to 30 degrees. Double crap! Luckily, David was home from haying and both of us went down with buckets and tubs to pick what we could.

Last year, the plants and all the fruit that was left on the vine froze dead, black under our tarps at 28 degrees.

We picked by flashlight, every large tomato, pepper, cuke, and bean that we could find. Then I set up the sprinklers for morning. Sometimes when plants freeze or are frosted, you can save them by heavily watering them just before dawn, continuing until the sun comes up and the temperatures moderate.

I set the alarm for 5 A.M. Dawn was to be at 6 A.M. Boy did it freeze! The corn leaves felt like ice in the cold clear early morning. I turned on the generator and threw the well switch. Would the hoses be frozen? If so, I was toast. Luckily, the sprinklers spit a bit, then started to revolve very slowly as the ice in them melted. I watered and watered, walking through the icy wet plants until my pants and shoes were soaked. I moved the sprinklers here and there, then back again, desperately watching the sun creep up into the sky.

I kept at it for 2 1/2 hours until the well had no more water; I would have to wait for 1/2 an hour for it to re-fill. By then I’d be too late… So I figured I’d done all I could and went to the house, remembering the corn leaves iced thickly from my sprinkling.

My legs and feet were also like ice, and I couldn’t warm up.

But when I got up later on, the garden looked remarkably good. I think I’ve saved a lot of the corn and squash, as well as most of the tomatoes and beans. Some of the corn leaves were frozen too badly and are turning brown, but most look okay. I’m a week away from getting ripe corn, which I need to can. So I’ll see what happens…

Meanwhile, I’m canning up a storm. Today I made more mixed vegetables. When I pulled carrots, I about fainted; most were at least three inches across at the tops and were pretty hefty all the way down. I guess I’ll be canning up a lot of carrots pretty soon! Maybe I’ll have to use the bulldozer to harvest them and a chainsaw to cut them up? Wow!

Readers’ Questions:

Mayonnaise recipe, chipped beef, and rancid beans

I have a very good time at homesteading. By reading your blog I can tell that you do too! Do you have a recipe for mayonnaise? I know it probably takes eggs, but not sure what else. Also a recipe for chip beef gravy. My husband loves it. I have some dried beans that now have a rancid taste. Have you ever made bean flour, or is it even possible. A brainstorm I had was to grind the beans into flour and use to thicken stews and soups. Do you think that this is possible or would the flavor come out?

Mary Ann Nelson
Franklin, West Virginia

Here’s a mayonnaise recipe for you:
2 egg yolks
1/2 tsp. powdered mustard
1/8 tsp. sugar
1/4 tsp. salt
5 tsp white vinegar
1 1/2 cups salad oil
4 tsp. hot water
Beat egg yolks, salt, mustard, sugar and 1 tsp. vinegar until thick and smooth. Add 1/4 cup oil slowly while beating in 1 tsp. vinegar and 1 tsp. hot water. Beat well. Alternate oil with vinegar and hot water until all is used up and your mayonnaise is smooth. Will keep covered in refrigerator for up to 1 week.

I make my chipped beef gravy as simply a white sauce. I melt 2 Tbsp. butter in a sauce pan slowly. Then I mix in 2 Tbsp. flour to make a paste. Slowly add about 1 cup of milk, heating while stirring to make it smooth. Add more milk as needed to make a sauce as thick as you like. Then add your shredded chipped beef and gently heat; don’t boil.

Yes, you can make bean flour by grinding your beans, even in your blender. But don’t use your rancid beans; the flavor won’t go away or be covered up. The yuck will stay with you. Feed your beans to the chickens or hog and try keeping the next ones in a more airtight container. I have some that are ten years old and are still perfect. In fact, I once ate some that were 1,500 years old (only a few; I planted the others to increase them), and they tasted fine. Have fun on your homestead. You’re right; I DO love my little bit of the backwoods. — Jackie

Pickled eggs

Have you ever canned pickled eggs and if so do you have a recipe? I am a very recent subscriber and do enjoy your articles very much.

Bonnie Benore
Yelm, Washington

There is a recipe for pickled eggs in the current issue of Backwoods Home Magazine, in the article I did on preserving food. Check it out for details and enjoy your eggs! — Jackie

Canning different vegetables at the same time

Maybe a silly question, but a friend has been “rumored” to come help me learn how to use my new pressure canner. Now, can or can you not – (no pun intended!) put two types of veggies in the same canner? Say, 3 of carrots and 4 of green beans. She said the juices would mingle, but I thought you didn’t put water over the tops in a pressure canner.

Tammy Amland
Howard Lake, Minnesota

No question is a silly question. Yes, you may put different vegetables in the canner at the same time to save both room and your time, as well. No, the juices won’t mingle. Just be sure that you either pick different vegetables with the same time requirements or else process them for the length of time required for the vegetable with the longest time required. Yes, the shorter time vegetables will slightly overcook, but that’s not usually much of a problem, compared to the time and energy you save. — Jackie

Canned bacon

No question, just info! You’ve asked, I’ve forgotten, and you’ve mentioned again, where can I get canned bacon?


First time in 20 years its been available in America. They also have canned deserts, canned WHOLE CHICKENS, canned cheeses, all sorts of goodies! please pass along to the readers!

Alex Hahn
Fairfield, California

Canning potatoes

I just received 60 pounds of small red potatoes, and everything I can find says I have to peel them to can them. Can they just be scrubbed and then canned?

Linda Fisher
Klamath, California

YES, you can process your new potatoes without peeling them. In fact, new potatoes can up much nicer with the peels on them. Just scrub them up till they’re clean and go on with your recipe. They’re great that way. — Jackie

Canning grapes

I just received 48 cups of grapes and I only have a pressure canner. Can I can them, 1 cup grapes, 1 cup sugar, fill with boiling water and pressure can them for 20 minutes at 10 lbs pressure? Also, I recently canned 40 quarts of turkey broth and when I removed them from the canner the jars pinged numerous times. They all sealed, but I was surprised by all of this pinging and wondering what would have caused it.

Marcia Speltslambert
Clay City, Indiana

You’ll be happier with your grapes if you water bath can them. Simply use your pressure canner as a water bath canner. ANY large kettle will do, as long as the jars can be covered by at least an inch of boiling water. Just be sure that they have something under them, whether it is a folded kitchen towel, wire rack or whatever, so they don’t sit right on the very hot bottom of the kettle. I made a rack that lasted over 10 years out of a wire covering of an old dart board and another from a wire grill cover from the dollar store. — Jackie

Half-gallon jars, butternut squash, and laying hens

I have several questions that I cannot find an answer for: 1) I recently purchased new Ball 1/2 gallon canning jars. I cannot find any info on canning with these, in my Ball Blue Book or elsewhere. Should I just relegate them to holding dehydrated foods?

2) I have lots of butternut squash from the garden and want to can it as a butternut squash soup. The info I have found says not to can squash puree as it is too dense and would probably not reach a uniform temperature. Does that also hold true for the soup?

3) I have read conflicting info on how long chickens continue to lay. I read in one of your online columns about someone who had chickens laying into their seventh year. The owner of our feed store says the average is about 2 years. My girls are 2 1/2 years old and have just stopped laying. Should I get replacements? I miss having fresh eggs.

Debbie Boutelier
Prattville, Alabama

The canning experts do not recommend canning in half gallon and larger jars anymore because some people canned dense items in them, such as split pea soup and roast beef in large pieces, and these foods didn’t heat sufficiently in the center, as to kill dangerous bacteria and their toxic spores. I still can foods such as soups, broths, tomatoes, etc. in them, using a 10 minute longer processing time than required for quarts. While this used to be an approved canning method, and I have never had trouble, I still can’t recommend that others can in half gallon jars.

You can process your squash soup. It isn’t as dense as pureed squash, so you won’t have any trouble with it heating thoroughly.

While experts tell us to get rid of our two year old hens, actually, they’ll molt after their spring/summer laying cycle, then start in again in the fall. To keep them laying during the winter, keep them decently warm and keep a light on at night in the coop. Not only will this trick their biological clock, but will keep them moving around and eating more, which produces more eggs. I’ve got hens that are five and six years old, and they still beat my younger hens at laying. — Jackie

Tomato soup

I made some home canned tomato soup tonight. I was wondering if it would be safe for me to add a specific amount of sugar directly to each jar of pulp? I add the salt that way but thought the sugar might need to dissolve or something. I concentrate the tomato pulp and add spices and sugar to it but it’s hard to judge the sweetness of a BIG pot o’ boiling ‘maters. Do you ever can concentrated tomato soup? How much sugar should I add per pint jar? I don’t have a recipe. I’m wingin’ it here! I will be adding 1/2 a jar of milk when I open them to make it.

Cathy Ostrowski
Amherst, New York

I can an all purpose tomato sauce, with added spices and a bit of brown sugar to taste. This, I use for pizza sauce, in meatloaf, tomato soup, as well as dozens of other things. The sweetness of a recipe depends on your own personal definition of “sweet enough”; it varies greatly between people. I’d add your sugar when you’re making your concentrate, then add your milk, when you’re ready to use it. Then taste it. If it needs more sweetness, simply add a little sugar when you make your soup. It’s quick, easy and more dependable that way. Then next time you make your concentrate, just add that much more sugar to your initial recipe. — Jackie

Jackie Clay

Harvest is in full swing now; (puff pant puff pant)

Tuesday, August 26th, 2008

It’s THAT time of year. You plan for it, you dream of it, you drool for it, and then you grouse about it; harvest time. Our garden is terrific this year. And all of a sudden, it’s hitting me square in the behind! I started out dinking with a batch of mixed vegetables, then the carrots I’d thinned. Again. Pretty laid back. Then IT happened.

Everything is ripe at once. Oh my! Cucumbers, green beans, dragon’s tongue beans, peas, onions, carrots, and very soon the corn and tomatoes. Cool! But I’m also trying to take care of Mom and help Tom out on the additions so we can have it ready for a wood stove, come fall. Fall, which is roaring down on me like an out of control freight train.

Tomorrow, they’re even saying the F word on the weather radio. Yes, possible scattered pockets of FROST! EEEK! My corn really needs two more weeks; some is still immature, like my tomatoes. I’ll try to cover what I can, but the corn patch is just too big to do anything with. I’ll just have to pray about that. The root crops will be fine, but my melons, squash, corn, and beans are in peril, not to mention my wonderful tomatoes. Now where is that huge tarp?

Tune in next blog and we’ll all see what happens! Wish me luck!

Readers’ questions:

Canning meat

I’m going to try pressure canning some beef this fall for the first time. I need to pick up cans yet. Can you give me a rough estimate on how many cans it takes, say like about how many pint jars for every 10 pounds of beef? I’ll be packing with broth.

Ellie Boast
De Smet, South Dakota

It really depends on what you are going to be canning. For instance, if you put up deboned steaks, packed fairly tightly into a wide mouthed jar, you’ll get more ounces per jar. However, if you do like I did today, and canned meatballs in tomato sauce, you’ll get less per jar because of the type of product. Out of 10 pounds of ground beef, I got 9 quarts and three pints of end product. If I had been putting up chunks of roast or steak, I would probably have gotten about six quarts because there would have been less liquid because the larger flat pieces fit tighter together than stacks of meatballs. — Jackie

Food storage

I just received the newest issue and look forward to reading your article on dehydrating with a fine tooth comb. I recently used some dehydrated chili on a backpacking trip and it came out GREAT! Now I am inspired to do other stuff for quick and easy meals with very little storage.

I would like some suggestions on using a shed (wooden, next to the house) for a pantry. I have a small kitchen with no room for bulk food storage. I am currently using a small cabinet in the garage for my overflow, which is not insulated nor does it have heat or A/C. I would like a larger dedicated food storage area just outside the kitchen (will not have A/C).

Our winter overnight lows only get to about the mid 20s but the summers/early fall get quite hot. Humidity is also an issue. I am certain that I can keep the rain and most critters out, but what other issue do I need to take into account?

Sharon Payne
Buena Park, California

I would suggest insulating your shed, not only to keep it warmer in the winter, but cooler in the summer. Adding ventilation, via vents or a small attic fan/vent will also do much to help keep air moving and cut down on humidity. Make your shelves out of 2″ thick lumber. I’ve seen a lot of storage shelves made out of 1″ material and they all sag and threaten collapse sooner or later. This also goes for store-bought book shelves. The only ones I’ve used with success are the ones that hold my popcorn tins with dry flours, noodles and dehydrated foods in them. These don’t weigh as much as do my stacks of full canning jars in the pantry. On our old farm, I had shelves in my basement made out of rough-cut one inch lumber and one night there was a terrible crash. Yep, one of the shelves had broken, dumping jars and jars of food on the cement floor! What a mess. Let my mistake help you to not make the same one. Your shed idea is a good one. I would probably add a sturdy locking outside door…or even NOT have an outside door if the shed is accessible to your kitchen or house. In the years to come, food just might become a real target for thieves. — Jackie

Potato seeds

Well, we got the tire, did everything according to direction and are now waiting to harvest our crop of potatoes. However, can anyone tell me why our potato plants have small “tomato” looking fruit on them? Looks like a tomato but smells like a potato! We do have a couple of tomato plants hanging upside down close by but I wasn’t aware these two would cross-pollinate, let alone bear fruit!

Mallory J. Babcock
Troy, Pennsylvania

Your potato did NOT have an affair with your tomatoes! These are potato seeds. They follow the blossoms. Although when we plant seed potatoes, we plant parts of the potato, itself, potatoes CAN be raised from seed. It isn’t as sure a thing as using cut potato sets, though. The seed must be truly mature to be viable, which takes a long growing season. Some seed won’t produce the true variety you want and it takes a long, long season to start that seed indoors, then move the individual plants out; more work less dependable results. You can just ignore the seeds and not worry about them a bit; it’s a natural process. — Jackie

Fig jam

My mom has a fig tree bearing enough fruit to make fig jam for a year. If I cannot do all at once, can the figs be frozen, then used? If not, do you have a very easy recipe that does not require a lot of time to do?

Connie Aldredge
Fountain Valley, California

Yes, you can freeze your figs and make jam later on, when you have more time. A lot of people do this with other fruits, as well, including berries, cherries, plums, and others. Sometimes this time of the year gets pretty hectic, doesn’t it? — Jackie

Concord grape jelly

This is my first attempt at making concord grape jelly, well any jelly for that matter. I followed the recipe which called for 4 cups grape juice 1/2 cup water and 3 cups sugar. I followed the instructions, step by step, with the water bath, and used a thermometer to make sure the water was hot enough (it said to cook it until it was 8 degrees above boiling) the first batch was very watery so I thought maybe I didn’t cook it long enough so i cooked it again and it is still very watery. Should I throw the jars out? (I got 9 8-ounce jars) (I pretty much picked the vines clean so we wont have any more this year) or can I add more sugar and recook or should I use the pectin stuff and how much? What a mess. My husband said we can always used it for “grape syrup on pancakes.” Any advice would be appreciated.

Wayne & Carol Pitsenberger
Sevierville, Tennessee

You started with a harder way to make jelly; with no pectin. While grape jelly often sets well with no added pectin, sometimes it takes a little experience in getting the jell point just right. You want to boil it down till when you dip up a spoonful with a clean spoon and hold it above your kettle, the jelly oozes together, making a sheet instead of drops when it pours back into the kettle. Yours probably didn’t reach this point. But don’t throw it out. Pick up a box of powdered pectin. Then get ready to make jelly again. You’ll need bottled lemon juice. To each quart of jelly, dumped into a large saucepan so you can wash and sterilize your jars again, you’ll need 1/4 cup sugar, 1/2 cup water, 2 Tbsp. bottled lemon juice and 4 tsp. powdered pectin. Add all that in another large saucepan and bring to a boil, mixing well. Add your jelly and bring that to a boil, boiling 1/2 minute. Pour out into your sterilized jars and put hot, previously simmered NEW lids on the jars and process 10 minutes in a boiling water bath canner. This will set for you. Until you get more experience, why don’t you use powdered pectin and use the recipes in the box. After quite a bit of success that way, you can try different methods and you’ll probably succeed quite well. Enjoy. — Jackie

Jars not sealing

I have been doing a lot of canning and have always used the Kerr/Ball lids. Today I was hauling more jars to the shelves and I noticed that on a few jars the lids had unsealed. These jars of peaches have been stored for a few weeks. I was going to take my corn to the shelf too and noticed 2 more jars where the lid unsealed. Am I doing something wrong or is this a bad batch of lids? I am very careful about wiping jars and making sure there is enough head space in the jar.

Would it help if I left the rings on?

Cindy Hills
Wild Rose, Wisconsin

It is possible you got bad lids, but I really don’t think that’s the problem. Did you simmer your lids? Once I was in a hurry and just kind of like dipped them into the boiled water. Mistake! I had several jars in two batches that didn’t seal. Are you only tightening your rings “firmly tight”? Another time, I was in a bad mood after fighting with the kids on a hot day. I guess I took out my frustration on the rings; they were REALLY tight. Yep, more unsealed jars; the jars couldn’t exhaust like they should. It’s a wonder I didn’t break jars! Because you had failures with both pressure canned and water bath processed foods, I wouldn’t look at your canner for a problem like a gauge that was misreading. I know things like this are frustrating. I hope you have much better luck in the future. — Jackie

Canned meatball recipes

Will you please share the recipes for your meatballs and the different sauces you have canned them in? I have been canning everything I can get my hands on, since buying my first pressure canner this spring, and have enjoyed every minute. If it can’t get away from me, I put it in a jar. I love hearing those lids ping and pop! Since I’m starting out new, I’ve had to purchase jars, but our local Ace Hardware is selling them for $7.00 a dozen until the end of August, so each payday I buy a few more. Everyone else is selling them for $12, so I’m getting as many as possible from Ace. I just wanted to say thank you for encouraging people to try new things. I’m having such a wonderful time.

Rosemarie Wesolek
Mahaffey, Pennsylvania

I’m having fun canning right now. I first made meatballs, using institutional sized cream of mushroom soup, diluted with water mixed with the drippings from the pan I cooked the meatballs in. I was frying my meatballs in two frying pans but a friend told me she put hers into a roasting pan and baked them. They brown on all sides with no fussing around turning them over all the time. I did that today and it worked great! My meatballs in mushroom sauce goes like this: I used 10 pounds of hamburger (on sale, of course!). To that, I mixed 1 cup chopped onions, 1 Tbsp. black pepper and 4 Tbsp. seasoning salt. I smushed that in well with my hands and formed up the meatballs. You can also mix in cracker crumbs or oatmeal and eggs, like you do meatloaf, if you wish. Bake the meatballs in roasting pans at 350 degrees, until just done; they shrink down. Pour off most of the grease. Dip the meatballs out with a wooden spoon and gently slip into wide mouth canning jars. While the meatballs are baking, heat 2 family sized or 1 institutional size can of cream of mushroom soup and half a can of water in a large saucepan to nearly boiling. Add your pan drippings, diluted with another 1/2 can of water. Pour this into your mushroom soup and mix well. Ladle this over your meatballs, to within 1 inch of the top. Process at 10 pounds pressure for 90 minutes for quarts or 75 minutes for pints. If you live at an altitude over 1,000 feet, consult your canning manual for instructions on adjusting your pressure to suit your altitude.

Today I made meatballs with green peppers and onions, with tomato sauce. I simply added chopped green peppers to the other recipe and mixed in well, topping the full jars with home canned tomato sauce from last season.

Tomorrow, I’m making Italian meatballs, using garlic, onion, basil, and oregano and using the tomato sauce. Instant spaghetti meatballs! It’s so fun!

Remember, all meat products are processed for the same time, so you can use any recipe you like. — Jackie

Jackie Clay

Mom checks out her houseplants while I can and help build on our addition

Wednesday, August 20th, 2008

This has been a busy week! The garden is doing itself proud. Stuff out there is looking awesome. Now if we just don’t get a sneaky frost! Will’s pea patch (aka new strawberry bed) is nearly waist high and I picked a market basket full on Sunday. I spent the afternoon, pleasantly on the porch, shucking peas while Mom pointed out this and that flower in her vast houseplant collection. She has fancy begonias, miniature African violets, hibiscus, succulents and cactus, to name only a few.

Then on Monday, I picked green beans, onions, huge carrots and a bucket full of potatoes (from only 2 hills!) and set to cutting them up to add to the peas to make mixed vegetables. I even cut up a few yellow summer squash to add to the mixture. It turned out great. I got 10 quarts and 18 pints, all totaled. And that’s just a start. Wow are they pretty jars!

Today I put up meatballs in mushroom sauce. Our local market has hamburger in bulk on sale for $1.69, so I’m buying several 10 pound rolls to can up different flavors of meatballs; the mushroom soup ones, tomato sauce with green pepper slices and Italian. I did a few last year and they were a huge hit with everyone. I just loved them! So after I do the hamburger ones, I plan on grinding venison at hunting season and doing more meatballs! Mmmm. And quick meals, too!

All the time this has been going on, I’m helping our carpenter friend, Tom, work on our new addition which will house our wood stove. It’s a pay-as-you-go situation; I earn some cash, pay Tom, get more done, wait, work, pay. But I won’t owe a soul when it’s finished…even though it does take longer that way. It’s so satisfying that way. At night I go out there and sit, enjoying the night breezes, the crickets and gorgeous stars. Ah….my beautiful backwoods…..

Readers’ Questions:
Canning tomatoes

We just canned about 8 quarts and 4 pints of tomatoes and it wasn’t until the last batch (4 pints) that I remembered to get the air bubbles out. They were in a boiling water bath for 40 minutes and popped right when I took them out of the bath. There are still some visible air bubbles in the jar, which is filled with stewed tiny whole romas and a tomato juice/sauce pack. There is at least 1/2-1 inch headroom at the top, will this be enough to prevent the air bubbles from popping the top? Should I just refrigerate them to be safe or start over? Thank you so much your help is greatly appreciated!

Alexander Bellos
Mt. Sinai , New York

Your tomatoes are fine, despite tiny air bubbles; they’ll go away as they find their way to the top of the jar. As long as the jars sealed you are just fine. Enjoy your tomatoes! My first ones are just now ripe and I’m so excited! — Jackie

Wheat bread

You may have already covered this but I am starting my food stock and would like to practice making whole grain “wheat” breads. I see the recipes call for bread flour or white flour. Can breads be made from wheat flour alone? I want to stock just the basics.

Scott Haman
Lambertville, Michigan

Bread flour is simply high gluten white flour. Yes, you can certainly make bread out of plain or whole wheat flour. Whole wheat flour alone makes a very dense bread, but actually I prefer it to white bread. If you like a lighter bread, use some (or all) white unbleached flour or add gluten to your recipe to boost its rising ability. I don’t stock gluten in my pantry; I’m satisfied with my bread. I either use all or part whole wheat flour, but I do sometimes make white bread too. It depends on the occasion and my whims! — Jackie

Garlic seeds

I Went out to pull the garlic and most of the stems had a little bunch of very small cloves at the top. Are these seeds for next year? They are too little to peel and use. Then discovered that the onion tops had done the same thing. Are these tiny onions able to be planted and grow the real thing?

Gail Erman
Palisade, Colorado

You CAN plant those tiny bulblets this fall and get garlic and onions next year. The catch is that they won’t produce as large a bulb as do those resulting from planting a clove of garlic or an onion set or plant in the spring. My onions that I thought the deer had eaten last year came up this spring so I let them grow. And they are doing the same thing yours are; tiny sprouting bulblets on the flower stalk. In nature, the stalk bends down and the tiny sets contact the ground and root….much like walking onions do. Then they begin to grow and overwinter to go on to produce seed next year. Of course you can use the bulb or onion, even if it is a bit small. And you can chop up the green leaves to use like you would chives. At any rate, they are lots of fun! — Jackie

Tomatoes taste odd

I planted several varieties of tomatoes, mostly beefsteak, early boys and girls, however I got a couple of odd ball varieties from a yard sale which had no tags. After an odd start to the growing season the tomatoes are coming on. I picked some and when I tried them on sandwiches the skins had a perfumy taste which wasn’t good. I thought maybe I had lotion on my hands but then next day I picked some more and they had that same taste. Now, not all the tomatoes have that taste. I did add some potash around the bases about a month ago at the recommendation of my neighbor who lives across the street. He had his soil tested at the University of Minnesota and potash was lacking around here. Could this be why some of the tomatoes have an off taste or maybe it was my mystery tomatoes? My husband and I have been looking forward to our own tomatoes and now I’m a tad put off by them. Any ideas?

By the way, you really do need to put a book together about gardening and canning, I’m always pulling out my back issues or going on line to look you up. Good luck on the addition.

Laurie Hammer
Blaine, Minnesota

Boy Laurie, I’ve grown tomatoes for (gee!) fifty years, and I’ve yet to have perfumy tomato skins. I doubt that your potash had anything to do with it. I really can’t figure it out, either. Maybe you can slip the skins off the offending tomatoes and either use them that way in sandwiches or can them up. Maybe it’s just the skin? (You didn’t spray your tomatoes with a soap based organic insecticide, did you? Just an idea…. — Jackie

Growing fruits and vegetables in Montana

We just bought some raw land at 6400 feet in the Garnet Mtns. of Montana. We plan to spend a few summers out there building our homestead before we move out there full time. I’d like to begin planting fruit trees and berries so they will be producing well by the time we make the big move. Any suggestions about what and how to plant. We are fortunate; we have a west facing slope and a few nice springs that were still bubbling in August of this year.

What are your thoughts on free range cattle, deer, and bear in the area munching on the new plants? We can fence the “garden” area in the same way we have put barbed wire up in the areas where the springs are bubbling. Do you think it’d be much of a deterrent?

Also, I read that you have a regular propane and a wood stove. We are concerned about using our wood stove in Montana in the summer because of the risk if a spark causing a fire. How do you handle your cooking? The mountain folks we’ve met don’t start a fire at all until the snow flies. Sounds reasonable, but the small fire on the cook stove making coffee in the morning would warm a chilly cabin. Is there an option they have missed? Thanks again for sharing your knowledge!

Lyn Ankelman
Thorsby, Alabama

You definitely need to fence your garden/orchard area. When we first bought our place way up in the Elkhorns, in Montana, I planted a bunch of tomatoes and peppers to get a head start. Unfortunately, the elk thought that was nice of me. When we made our next trip up, they’d pulled each and every one up out of my Wall’o Waters! So I made a scarecrow (scare-elk) out of some of my husband’s sweaty used clothes. I even had it hold a gun-shaped branch. In the morning, I went out to the garden, feeling very smug. No plants and hundreds of milling elk tracks. And my scare-elk was lying face down in the middle of it, with muddy elk-nose prints all over the white T shirt! Yep. Then we fenced! For our main garden, I used lodgepole rails, six feet tall and never had a critter jump in, although we had abundant elk and moose. Our larger garden, we just had surrounded with chicken run 6′ high on one side, 5′ high jack-leg fence with a barbed wire on top on two sides, and a regular barbed wire fence 5′ high on the other. That worked, or they were tired of laughing at me. In much of the West, cattle have free range and if you don’t want them around, you have to fence them out. If you don’t, you’ll have constant battles with them trampling your flowers, yard and garden. Fortunately, cattle are easier to fence out than their wild cousins.

I used a fire in my wood range in most years, during the summer, in the cool of the morning or evening. BUT when there was a dry spell, I did not. You’re right, a spark from your stovepipe could ignite the whole woods.. I took the precaution of tying a screen over the top of the stovepipe, just in the summer, just in case. You need to use your judgment. I used the propane stove when there was fire danger or if it was just plain too hot to cook with wood. Have an exciting adventure — Jackie

Canning jars

My husband and I will soon be moving to the country where we plan on doing a lot of gardening and canning. We want to invest in some canning jars and are trying to decide/research wide mouth versus regular mouth, quart versus pint, etc., and were wondering if you would mind sharing about what percent of your canning is done with regular mouth jars and what percent with widemouth? Do you have a preference? Also, about what percent quart/pint jars do you use? Lastly, out of curiosity, we were wondering about how many jars total each gardening season an experienced gardener/canner like yourself cans?

Peggy Gallagher
Garland, Texas

Good questions Peggy. I use both wide mouth and regular jars, pints, quarts, and half pints. Each has their uses for me. I try not to use many wide mouth jars because the lids are SO expensive! But for some things, such as large pieces of meat and some things that don’t readily slide out of jars, the wide mouth jars work much better. For instance, today I made up a batch of meat balls in mushroom soup to can. I used wide mouth jars so that the meat balls won’t break up when I dump them into a pot to heat. I can most things both in pints and quarts, as sometimes there are just two of us eating, but then at other times, I am feeding three or four people and pints are not enough. I find that half pints have plenty of uses. For instance, I’m canning a lot of meat in them to use as flavorings in, say, scalloped potatoes and ham or a casserole. It makes the meat go a long way, making the best use of it. I also can up some vegetables in half pints so I can dump this or that into a mixed dish without having leftovers. I’d say that right now I can about one third quarts, a little more than one third pints, with the remainder, half pints. While I never deplete my pantry, I probably can up at least 500 jars a year. I don’t can tons and tons at a time, but I just keep doing medium and small batches, pretty much year around, as the seasons and store sales allow.

Don’t let that figure scare you. Remember that there are 52 weeks in a year, so that’s not a huge amount, eaten each week. Don’t think that you must buy new jars, either. Pick up all the good used ones, CHEAP, where you can; yard sales, notices on bulletin boards, ads in the paper, word of mouth. You’ll be amazed at all the jars out there just waiting for you! Good canning! — Jackie

Installing a hand pump

We are signing the papers today on our place in the country. It is only 2 acres but I have finally have the opportunity to do more than micro gardening. I hope you can help because no one I have asked seems to understand what the question really is. The house is in the Ozark Mountains (central to eastern). The well on the place is 100 ft deep and cased down that far as the previous well had collapsed and he didn’t want to re-drill again. I have been trying to find out if that means the well is 100ft deep and there is water in it, water surface is not 100 ft down, OR if it means the surface is 100 ft down. The reason is I would like a hand pump for future power failures and most have 100ft in the description. It could mean the difference between one that is affordable now vs one that must be saved for. Can you help?

Corning, Arkansas

Congratulations on your new homestead! Generally, when it is said that a well is 100 feet deep, that means to the bottom of the hole. There is usually water up in the hole, much further, say, 30 feet or so. I can’t be sure, of course, that this applies in your case. The best thing would be to talk to the owner or real estate agent and ask them point blank, how far down is the water level, and how deep the well actually IS. Then you’ll have your question answered definitely. Having a hand pump for a well is a great idea for power outages. Be sure your casing is large enough to allow both your electric pump pipes and the hand pump to fit. — Jackie

Drying flint corn and tomatoes with split skins

I have two questions:
1. I planted flint corn for the first time last year, but most of it got a bad case of smut before it was able to dry out. This year, the corn looks great and it looks like it’s ready to be dried. Based on what I’ve read, I should let it dry on the stalk, but I’m wondering if I can harvest it and dry it in a more controlled manner instead to avoid things like smut or insect infestations. We live in an ideal climate for outdoor drying on racks or screens, so would it make any difference to do it that way?

2. All my canning manuals say I can’t use tomatoes that have split skins. But because of the extreme heat here, most of my tomatoes split (especially the heirlooms), and then heal over. They aren’t rotten, there’s no visible mold present, and we just cut that part out when we eat them. Can I just cut that part out when I’m canning them too?

Robin Dodge
Val Verde, California

As long as your corn is dry, you can snap off the ears and dry them wherever you wish, as long as there is plenty of good airflow. The corn is dry when you can’t shove your thumbnail into a kernel. It will continue to dry after this, whether on the stalk or on racks/screens or hanging in your barn. Yep, I know what the canning manuals say. I use cracked tomatoes, and just cut out the cracked part, watching for any signs of mold or spoiled tomatoes. You don’t want to can these! Canning manuals err on the side of caution, in effect keeping us safe from possible mistakes and misjudgments. Some people would probably can up rotten, moldy tomatoes without the warning, I guess. Use common sense and you’ll be fine. — Jackie

Jackie Clay

The pin cherries are ripe; jelly tonight!

Monday, August 18th, 2008

Once again, I’ve been racing the cedar waxwings to the beautiful crop of wild pin cherries on the edges of our driveway. It’s hard to be mad at those gorgeous masked birds, even when flocks of them descend on the very tree I’m planning to pick…or AM picking in. But I still try to beat them to the best trees and it’s always a race. Of course, the best cherries are in the tops of the trees and they usually get those, anyway. But this year I just had to have some of them. I solved the problem by gently bending the tops of the small trees down and holding them at picking height with rubber bungie cords fastened to our trusty old four wheeler.

However, as I picked, in flew the cedar waxwing flock!! I ended up picking with the birds hopping and fluttering about my head, scolding me for all they were worth while gobbling down as many cherries as their crops could possibly hold. It’s a wonder they could even fly!

But I also got my stash and am juicing them down right now. I use the sour cherry jelly recipe from the pectin boxes and it makes great jelly. (You can tell pin cherries from chokecherries because chokecherries grow on a long stem in a bunch, like grapes, while pin cherries grow on individual long stems like pie cherries. Also, when ripe, chokecherries are dark purple, almost black. Pin cherries are VERY bright red, looking like mini pie cherries. And that red color makes the jelly bright, jewel red. Wow!!

I love my backwoods orchard.

Readers’ Questions:

Growing grain

I had to chuckle at your $7.99/lb potatoes!! Speaking of food, have you been to the feed store lately? Can you believe the cost of feed for chickens and other farm animals? Unbelievable! I am looking at ways to grow some feed for chickens for next year. Instead of mowing lawn I would rather put my time and energy into something more worthwhile like growing and harvesting chicken feed! Any suggestions? I like your orchard idea in past postings. Do the chickens eat the oats and wheat?

This year I doubled our garden size. Anyone need any green beans? I have them coming out of my ears! But I am very thankful. Now is the time of year that I start pulling out tired plants that aren’t going to produce anymore. What do you suggest I plant in the soil now? I want to keep out weeds and enhance the soil. I am trying to make things easier for myself as each year passes since I’m not getting any younger!!

Cindy Hills
Wild Rose, Wisconsin

You bet I’ve checked out the feed prices; every month. And every month, they’ve climbed over a dollar. Wow! YES chickens eat oats and wheat, and corn and millet. Check out my article in the latest issue of BHM (Sept/Oct Issue #113) on growing grain for plenty of how-to information. Planting rye in the spent garden is a great way to keep down weeds and add organic material later on. You can till it in later on in the spring and you’ll enjoy better soil and a more weed free garden. I feed the oats to the goats and chickens and we will harvest the wheat for us this time. But we’re planning on expanding on our grain growing idea. I’ll keep you posted! — Jackie

Tomatoes splitting

Here in Texas, we’ve been having 100+ degree days for several weeks now. My tomato plants are doing fairly well, as long as I can keep enough water on them (challenging) and they keep setting fruit. My problem is, the fruits are ripening fairly small, and very often, as they’re turning orange/red, they’re splitting open and ruining before I can pick them.

Should I be picking them green and letting them ripen in the kitchen, or should I call about done with these plants, and plant more when it cools off some this fall?

Aaron Neal
Fort Worth, Texas

If you can get some shade on your tomato plants, it’ll help them survive the stress of the heat. There is shade cloth available from greenhouse supply houses or you can even make your own rustic shade house by draping old curtains over a line stretched between two fence posts pounded into the ground. You don’t want total shade, only a part-day shade. Some folks even make brush arbors out of poles in the ground, cross poles up above the vines, with brush laid on them to shade the plants; sort of like a Native American brush arbor. As you guessed, as soon as your heat moderates, the tomatoes should revive and produce better. Keep at the watering. If you can use a soaker hose or drip irrigation, it’ll help immensely….especially if you can also mulch the roots of the plants to hold in what precious moisture you can give them. Yes, you can pick your tomatoes green and bring them in if they continue to split on ripening. Don’t put them in a sunny window; they often rot that way. Just put them on a shelf, out of the sun and watch them ripen. — Jackie

Broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and carrots

Are Broccoli, Brussels sprout, or carrot leaves eatable? I want to use everything I can from my garden. The broccoli has HUGE leaves and almost no heads. Is that too much water by any chance?

Gail Erman
Palisade, Colorado

Broccoli and Brussels sprout leaves are edible, but tend to be tough. Chop yours up and remove the heavy ribs. A relatively long steaming usually makes them quite good. Carrot leaves don’t do much for me; they are pretty strong flavored. Your big leaves and small heads are usually caused by too much compost or rotten manure. I was worried about our new beds. My boyfriend, Will, built us new raised beds and added lots of rotten manure. I thought maybe we’d have that problem. But, luckily that wasn’t the case. We have huge plants and huge heads of both broccoli and cauliflower. — Jackie

Removing rocks from soil

Is there a manual-, ATV-, or tractor-drawn implement that will help “de-rock” a fairly large area? We have some VERY rocky (sandstone?) soil in SW MO that I wonder if it can ever be turned into a productive garden, short of using raised beds.

For the most part, hay grows well in the pasture areas, but after digging a basement and grading the end result, the soil all around the house is a garden of rocks. Not only are they in the way of a garden, but also for mowing the area which will become the front/rear yard. We’ve bush-hogged everything for now, but would eventually like to be able to use a smaller riding mower after the larger rocks are removed.

San Di Mas, California

There is a “rock rake” or “landscape rake” available that we plan on buying when we can afford it. It can be towed behind a small tractor, riding lawnmower or ATV. We, too have tons of rocks. I mean TONS of rocks! But by keeping at them, we’re able to garden. At the house, we opted for having manure and black dirt hauled in to bury the rocks. Besides the rocks, our yard is sand and gravel with hardly any organic material at all. By covering the rocks with manure and black dirt, we solved both problems and our new yard is now growing nice grass and we can safely mow it. Now our backyard is another story, yet. It’s rocks, rocks, and more rocks. I planted wildflower seed this spring and at least they grow. As we can afford it, we’ll improve one section at a time by removing what rocks we can, hauling manure on the sections, then having a load of black dirt hauled in. It will take time and work…not to mention money, but by spreading it out over a couple of years, we will be able to do it and have great yards.

Our garden, likewise, was done one section at a time; rock picking, tilling, rock picking, hauling manure, and planting rock-tolerant plants such as beans and corn on the worst spots. Root crops, we planted on the better spots with less rocks. Slowly, our garden is getting bigger and more productive. Yours will too! — Jackie

Jackie Clay

We’re hard at work on our new addition, racing winter

Monday, August 11th, 2008

It’s said that here in northern Minnesota there are two seasons, winter and getting ready for winter. Boy is that true! Like you’ve seen, we’ve been getting ready for next winter from late last winter, when David was hauling firewood home from clear cuts nearby. With the price of heating fuel climbing steadily, I know we HAVE to get another wood stove in the house. There’s really no way to do that with the house as it was, as there is simply no room for one. So we’re adding on.

When we get done, we’ll have a living room, WITH a wood stove and I can move the dining room table into the small room that serves as the living room now. Wow! What an improvement! My kitchen is kind of small, and with two stoves in it (wood and gas), along with a dining room table, it’s really crowded.

This addition is kind of big, being not only a living room, but entryway and small laundry room, too! I’ll actually have a closet for hanging coats in the winter, mittens, gloves and muddy boots, BEFORE they end up in the house. Track, track, track!

Like all our projects, this one is coming together, slowly, but surely. Today we got the rafters up on the main part, with the living room still undone. It’s kind of complicated because it’s an octagonal shape with multiple angles to the walls and roof lines. But it’s going to be SO nice when it gets done.

My sweetie, Will, volunteered to do a rock wall behind the new wood stove, as he likes working with stone. We have lots of homegrown rock around here. Not only will that look great, but it’ll add a lot of thermal mass to hold heat. And we have lots of windows in the new addition, to soak up the sun during the winter. I sit in that new room at night and look up at the stars. It’s too bad I can’t have a glass dome for a roof! We have GREAT night skies up here.

Readers’ Questions:

Getting rid of voles

We moved to an “end of the road” property (which we love) in January, and once the snow finished in April, got the garden plowed and fenced for deer and rabbit. I succeeded in getting the garden up and growing, despite the 15 degree below normal temperatures one week, and the over 100 degree the next. But now there’s a problem that I can’t find the answer for. We now have voles, who love to eat the radishes and squash plants especially. The voles are much more destruction than moles or gophers, and the only thing that has stopped them at all was the bobcat, but he also succeeded in destroying portions of the garden. I don’t want to use poison in the garden, so what can I do to stop them?

Chris Cunningham
Falls City, Oregon

Beating voles is not easy, but it can be done; I’ve done it on two different homesteads. First of all, be sure your perimeter of the garden is bare or tightly mowed grass for some distance away. Voles tunnel through tall grass to access your garden. They are naturally afraid of predators and don’t like to cross wide open spaces. This also makes it easier for predators, including your cat (you have one, don’t you…if not, consider one; cats are great vole hunters) to catch them. As voles reproduce abundantly, it does take some time to get rid of them. Don’t expect miracles. You can also help by trapping them in old fashioned mouse traps, set under board tipis so your cat doesn’t get in them. Bait with grain or peanut butter. Then “run your trapline” twice a day to reset traps as needed. Keep any garden residue cleaned up. This means spent bean plants, old cauliflower leaves, etc. Do what you can do to keep down weeds. All of these harbor and encourage voles. Anytime you plant new trees, be sure you protect the bottom three feet with aluminum window screen. In the winter, voles will tunnel under the snow and dead grass to your baby trees and completely strip the tender bark from the trunk. This kills the trees. You don’t see any evidence until spring; then it’s too late. — Jackie

Eating cattails

I have heard that you can eat every part of the cat-tail, the marsh weed. Can you expound? The idea appeals to me.

John Coble
Jacksonville, Arkansas

Yes, you can eat just about every part of the cattail. And it’s good, too. The tender white part of the new shoots are flavored like cucumbers. I like them salted or with just a little vinegar, sliced or nibbled whole. The roots are tuberous and when dug out of the mud, can be washed well and roasted whole like baked potatoes. They are starchy and taste great with broiled fish or venison. The pollen (the yellowish stuff on top of the beginning brown fluffy seed head) can be gathered and used as a flour substitute in breads or even pancakes. To gather this, bend the stalk over and whack the pollen off with a short stick into a tight basket or bowl. You can substitute 1/3 cattail pollen for flour in your recipe.

Do use caution when you use the roots or shoots; know how clean the water is where you are harvesting it. Cattails will grow in all water, from pristine to very foul. You don’t want to harvest from polluted waters! Enjoy your new vegetable and grain! — Jackie

Canning steak

Thanks to you my wife and I have boldly canned where none of our ancestors have canned before, that is, stews, chili, meatloaf, chicken, etc. I hear you mention canning steaks and would like a clarification: can I take a rib-eye steak off the BBQ and cut it to fit a jar, then process it as any other meat in a pressure canner but without adding liquid?

Dan Norgard
Prescott Valley, Arizona

You sure can, Dan. But I’d add a broth to it, as I’ve found that meat canned without liquid tends to be dry and stringy instead of moist and tender. I think you’ll like the result much better that way. By the way, I’m really, really glad to hear you’re canning up a storm! What used to be a nearly lost art has experienced a huge revival lately, and I’m oh so glad to be a part of it. — Jackie

Japanese beetles

My raspberry bushes were very bothered by Japanese beetles this year and last. I picked off hundreds of them and was wondering if you have this same problem. Is there another way to treat the problem without using chemicals. I had so few good berries for all the bushes and the amount of space they took up in my garden. Do you fence your berries? I am thinking of moving mine to a field where there is heavy deer infestation and was wondering if the deer would feast on the berries. What variety of berries do you grow?

Deborah Motylinski
Brecksville, Ohio

I’m sorry to hear your trouble with Japanese beetles. They can sure be a pest. About like Colorado potato bugs! You might like some of the natural biologic remedies in the Gardens Alive! catalog ( There are several products available that are quite effective on them. No, I haven’t had trouble with them. And sorry, but deer really like tame raspberries; they ate mine down to the ground before I fenced the garden. Although our homestead is young; we’ve been here only four years, I’ve got Bristol black raspberries, blackberries, two varieties of red raspberries (Heritage and Latham), Kiwi Gold yellow raspberries, plus tall bush blueberries (Patriot and Northsky), currents and gooseberries. We love our berries! I hope yours do better soon! — Jackie

Laying hens and cover crops

First I want to say thank you for sharing all your knowledge. I live on what is gradually becoming a working homestead and your advice has been greatly appreciated. I have three questions. 1) We have 9 pullets that should start laying at the end of September. We also have 3 others that I know are old enough to lay because when we brought them home I got 2 eggs the first two days. I am feeding the pullets a grower starter feed (they all get kitchen leftovers). Can the 3 new hens just continue to eat this till I change the feed to a laying feed for the other 9 or what should I do? 2) We have a small orchard started, 3 apples, 2 cherries, a pear, and a peach. Right now what is growing in the orchard is brome grass. Is there a more beneficial cover crop I can grow there? 3) I will have my raised beds finished and ready for next year’s gardens. I want to grow something in between the beds that I won’t have to mow (maybe clover?). At some point in the future I would like to get some goats for milk. Is there something that I can grow that will be beneficial for them and still work for in between the beds? Again thank you for your time and advice.

Kristi Ewing
Mondamin, Iowa

You can just feed all your chickens the grower feed until you switch them to laying mash. I also feed my chickens plain old scratch feed; it’s cheaper and with what all else I give them (extra goat milk, garden and kitchen scraps), plus being on free range, they do very well, indeed. Alfalfa (annual works great if you can work your soil in the orchard every spring a bit) or one of the lower growing clovers (alsike or medium red) work well in an orchard as they put nitrogen into the soil and help keep the soil from compacting. Of course, they also help keep down the weed population. Don’t plant right up to the trees; keep a good mulch on the trees out to the drip line (but pulled away from the trunk a few inches to discourage voles and insect/fungus infestations). When the legumes are planted right up to the trees, they tend to compete with the tree for nutrients, like they were weeds. Some people like planting white Dutch clover between their beds, but I’ve had trouble with it becoming invasive because of its deep roots. Personally, I prefer a wood chip mulch. You don’t have to mow it, it holds moisture, looks neat and is easy to walk on. I cut my goats armfuls of our oats/clover mix from our orchard twice a day. They love it and they’re oh so fat and shiny from eating it. We recently got two new goats that were a little thin. On this diet, they have both put on weight and their hair is now shining…not to mention doubling on milk production! And our seed cost less than $5! — Jackie

Using gray water for plants

I remember reading an article somewhere about using soapy water to water plants. We have been saving soapy shower and washing machine water for some time. We have used it for our plants but not garden. What are your thoughts. We were in Wolf Spring, Montana a year ago June. We were headed south and stopped for snacks at small store just off interstate. At the time we didn’t know you were living in area or we’d have stopped by for lunch. Hah!

Maxine & Bill Page
Brevard, North Carolina

Yes, you can use your gray water (waste water, other than water that’s been through your toilet) to water your garden plants, provided that you don’t use heavy cleaning chemicals in this water. Don’t use this water on vegetables you will be directly eating; i.e. lettuce, carrots, beets, potatoes. It’s fine for fruit trees, shrubs, flowers, corn, tomatoes (if you water just the roots, don’t pour ON the tomatoes themselves), peppers, berry bushes, etc. We moved from our homestead in the Wolf Creek, Montana area four and a half years ago. We would have been happy to have had you stop up for a visit! The store you stopped at was one we frequented quite a bit (if it was Wolf CREEK, not Wolf Spring, which it probably was). As you went north, when you got to the tiny town, Craig, we lived to the east, 7 miles up in those big mountains across the Missouri River. — Jackie

Water bath canner

My question is: can a pressure canner pot and lid double as a boiling-water canner? If you fill the pressure canner pot with water at least one inch above the jars and place the lid on, but not lock it, will it work? Logically it seems like it would, but I don’t really want to risk spoilage or waste with the high-acid fruits I want to can.

Sarah Eygabroat
Olympia , Washington

Sure, you can use ANY large pot for a water bath canner, providing the water will cover the jars by at least an inch before it is at a good boil. Just set your lid on the canner and don’t latch it tight. I’ve canned a pint or two in a large sauce pot. Just don’t put any jar in such a container without having something under the jar so it isn’t on direct heat or the bottom will break out of the jar. Even a folded kitchen towel under the jars will work. I’ve cut a round wire grill top so it fits in some of my stock pots for this purpose. I got one from the dump, the other wire grill top from the dollar store. They’re cheap retrofits for my smaller stock pot/water bath canners! — Jackie

Moving home-canned goods to a higher altitude

I was wondering about transporting home canned foods. We will be vacationing in Montana and I want to take some of our home canned foods with us. Here’s my concern: I live and can at my home in Alabama at about 500 feet above sea level. I will be taking this home canned food to Montana to an elevation of 6200-6400 ft. Will the change in elevation cause the seals to fail? I have noticed pringles cans in Montana have bulging paper seals and figured the regular home canned foods would have similar reactions to changes in altitude. Should I do anything special as I transport these foods for our vacation?

Lyn Ankelman
Thorsby, Alabama

Good news! You won’t have a bit of trouble with your home canned foods on your trip. We’ve moved from different altitudes, and have never had the slightest bit of trouble. Yes, we noticed about the chips, too. When we lived at 7,400 feet in Montana, we’d buy potato chips in town, which was 3,000 feet lower than we were. When they got home, the bags would look like balloons! Very interesting. My son, David, used to have fun with those bags when they’d blow off the snowmobile and he’d have to run over the snowdrifts to chase them down! — Jackie

Jackie Clay

Today I saw $7.99 eight-pound bags of potatoes at the store!

Friday, August 8th, 2008

Holy mackerel, $1.00 a pound for plain old potatoes that weren’t that nice, to begin with. My heart just about stopped. My potatoes are doing wonderful, the plants being nearly up to my waist, but I thought I’d pick up a 10 pound bag so I could let mine get bigger. I’ve been digging around the plants a bit and am finding lots of fist sized ‘taters. I really wanted to let them get bigger, but NO WAY will I spend that much for potatoes!

I about cringe every time I go to the store, as the prices just keep going up and up and up. Cheese that used to be $3 a pound is now $4.99, flour that used to be .99 a 5 pound bag is now $2.99. Meat? Oh yeah, some was in the $10.99 range a POUND. Now where’s that deer?

I am so grateful to have such a huge, wonderful garden. We’ll have bushels of onions, carrots, potatoes and cabbages. The squash vines are so rampant that they threaten to cover the rototiller. The corn’s tasseling out nicely and is over my head and the tomatoes are full of fat green fruits. We might not have lots, but we’ll eat like kings!

Readers’ Questions:

Canning condensed milk and ricotta cheese

1) Do you have directions for canning sweetened condensed milk from real milk? I’ve seen recipes using powdered milk, but I have been blessed with a cow who is a good producer, and would like to try to can up some from “scratch”.

2) I’ve been making ricotta cheese in my crock pot and would like to know, also, how to can this, please?

Sarah Axsom
Natchitoches, Louisiana

Sorry, but I don’t know how a person would make sweetened condensed milk, although regular home canned milk comes close to condensed milk in taste and appearance; you’d just have to add the sugar yourself. You might give that a try.

I’ve canned several hard cheeses, but haven’t done ricotta, nor do I know anyone else that’s done it. I’m thinking that the softer cheeses might not make good candidates for canning, due to their texture and delicate flavor. Wish I had better news for you. — Jackie

Canning lard

I will be getting around 200 lbs of lard needing rendering tomorrow. Rendering I can do, the problem is what to do with it afterward. Can you can lard? I really don’t have enough room in the fridge or freezer for it all.

Traci Smith
Lockwood , Missouri

Pour your rendered lard into hot, sterilized wide mouth quart jars to within 1/2″ of the top. Wipe the rims clean and put a hot, previously simmered new lid on the jar and screw down the ring firmly tight. The jars will seal on cooling. These jars will last a long time stored in a cool, dark place. Enjoy your lard! It makes terrific pastry crusts! I’m jealous no matter what my arteries say. — Jackie

Country jobs

I am looking for work for a female in the country. What are possible jobs I can look for?

Sadonna Abair
Saint Petersburg, Florida

It depends largely on what you know how to do or are willing to learn. I’ve done a lot of different work in the country for pay: Grooming dogs, farm work, working at horse farms, cleaning barns, milking cows, training horses, house cleaning, working in a veterinary clinic, maintenance on a country “estate,” to name a few. I never looked for work as a “female,” I’m as liberated as I can stand!

There’s always a need for home care help for the elderly, and there are a lot of elderly folks out there who would like to stay in their country home but need help with housework, driving to doctor appointments, etc. Finding work has never been a problem for me. Just use your imagination and you’ll come up with lots of choices! — Jackie

Manure tea

I have a follow-up question to your response a couple of months ago on the manure tea. You said “Just don’t pour/spray ANY manure tea on plants you will be eating, such as greens, tomatoes, etc.” Don’t you eventually eat something from all the plants in the garden? Do you mean you cannot use manure tea on any of the plants you will eat from? Or you just cannot get the tea on the actual fruit or vegetable you are going to eat – the tomato itself, the zucchini, etc.? I am a little confused. We are new to gardening and your information is really helpful.

Brenda Palmer
Bakersfield, California

Sorry to have been confusing. I meant don’t put manure tea on plants or fruits of plants that you will be eating. For instance don’t spray manure tea on lettuce you’ll be using for a salad, on a tomato that you’ll be eating or a summer squash you’ll harvest in a few days. It’s okay for plants to absorb the manure tea from the roots. You won’t get any bacteria that way, as if you’d eat it right off the vegetable. — Jackie

Pruning grapes

I pruned back my grapes in March. This is the first pruning but I’ve had the grapes for 3 years. Last year I had plenty of grapes but this year nothing. I know it’s to late to worry about getting any grapes. But did I do something wrong? If I did I sure don’t want to do it again. Oh the vines came back strong but no grapes. Thanks.

Pete Ricupero
Shelocta, Pennsylvania

Most grapes bear grapes on year old wood, so you, in effect, cut off your grapes for this year. Next year, they’ll be back. If you’d like to learn to prune your grapes for optimum harvest, check online for many sources. Enter “prune grapes” and you’ll come up with tons of information. Grapes are so much fun and beautiful, too! — Jackie

Jackie Clay

The wheat is heading out and the black raspberries are ripe

Monday, August 4th, 2008

With the rain we’ve had, along with the hot weather, our whole homestead is booming. Yesterday, I went out to the orchard to cut the goats an armload of oats and clover from the south end. The oats have been headed out for three days and I’m cutting them for the goats to help our feed costs. If you haven’t NOTICED, grain prices have been climbing about $1 a week for awhile, making our goat feed double what it was at this time last year. Ouch!

I looked to the north, toward where our wheat is planted and lo! There were heads of wheat sticking happily up from the stalks. Wow! It’s so exciting. Where last year, we had brush, rocks, logs and ugly, this year we have growing fruit trees and a lovely wheat patch!

Then I went down to the garden to check on things. It rained, but not very much. Did I need to water or not? I ran my fingers around beneath a potato plant and found tennis ball sized red potatoes. Wow! And frost should be another month away. We’ll have to build big potato crates this year! And yes, I did need to water. The soil beneath the potato plants was kind of dry and I don’t want to stop the growth or end up with hollow heart in my potatoes from irregular watering.

On the way back up to the faucet, I stopped to browse the black raspberry bushes. The are loaded with berries, and now they are getting black. I couldn’t resist them. I ate a whole handful on my way back up the hill. Mmmmmm. My reward for all that mulching this spring. It definitely paid off. Munch, munch, smack……

Readers’ Questions:

Historical food preservation

I’m doing some research on historical food preservation techniques. Information is a bit scarce, but I have some workable theories and need to test them. How do I go about finding a food lab willing to help for free? (I don’t have much money to spare for this project.)

Melanie Rehbein
Fitchburg, Wisconsin

I don’t have an answer for you, Melanie. Any readers out there have any ideas? For some information on old, traditional techniques, read the Foxfire books. There is a lot of “old timey” food preservation methods in them you might find interesting. — Jackie

Drying sweet corn

Everything is so beautiful around your home so I know you work hard. I have a lot of sweet corn that was given to me this year and my son thought he was helping me while I was sick and put it all in the freezer in the shucks, only it was too hard and I was wondering if there is any way to take it out of the freezer and dry it? I had planned to dry it and was going to sun dry it if possible. It is close to 100 here all week and I think that would be hot enough to dry corn if it is okay to dry it for corn meal.

Brenda Jarrell
Varnville South Carolina

Yes, you can thaw the corn and cut it off the cobs to either dehydrate it or can it. Before you do, I’d try a couple of ears, then eat the corn, just to make sure it tastes fine, which it probably does. Putting corn in the freezer, shuck and all, isn’t a recommended method of freezing, but hopefully it hasn’t been in there too long for it to affect the flavor. I usually make my cornmeal out of mature, dry corn, not dehydrted “green” corn. I have known people who have ground dehydrated corn, though, and used it for cornmeal. I, personally, haven’t done it yet. Our corn is up to my shoulders now, and just barely thinking about tasseling out. We’re so excited! — Jackie

Canning giardineria

Can You Can Italian Giardineria?

Bruce Ansell
Midlothian, Virginia

Yes, you can home can your own giardineria. It’s basically an “end of the garden pickle,” including vegetables, such as carrots, peppers, onions, cauliflower, etc., put up in a vinegar/sugar brine. If you use olive oil, as some recipes do, go lightly with it as oil sometimes causes lid seals to fail.

A basic recipe would be 3 cups wine vinegar, 1 cup sugar, 1 cauliflower, 2 cups pickling or sliced onions, 2 cups carrots, 1 cup sweet red peppers, seeded 1/2 cup sliced fennel. Prepare vegetables and soak overnight in a brine of 1 cup pickling salt to 1 gallon of ice water. Drain, rinse, drain, then put vegetables on to simmer until just barely tender. While doing this, sterilize and keep hot your canning jars and bring your pickling solution of vinegar and sugar to a boil. When vegetables are barely tender, drain and add to boiling pickling solution. Boil 1 minute and ladle out into hot jars, filling them to 1/2″ of the top. Fill the jar to within 1/2″ of the top with pickling brine. Process for 10 minutes in a boiling water bath canner. You may substitute vegetables, but keep the pickling solution the same for safe canning. Good luck with your recipe! — Jackie

Keeping chickens in

I have 15 white rock chickens, first ones I’ve had since I was a kid. Two roosters, 13 hens. I have one hen who is insistent on getting out of my fenced lot (1.5 acre).

I’m trying to decide; I have, I think, two choices…1. put her in the crock pot before the rest of the flock decides she’s got a good idea 2. let the neighbor’s large Labrador have her (this dog is VERY interested in any chicken that is close to the fence); or, a coyote or fox.

Inside the fence I have three dogs; outside, she has no protection, so I’m thinkin’ it’s just a matter of time. I’ve already scooped her up with a fishing net once this morning; she went right back over before I had the net hung up in the garage. I gave the rest of the flock some feed and put them in the pen while I’m trying to figure out if I should just let nature take its course.

Also, thanks to you for getting me into canning; I had not thought to put in a raised bed, but your discussions got me started.

Elton Wylie
Temple, Texas

I would probably plan on chicken and dumplings for dinner next week. The only option would be to secure your fence. No chicken, no matter how determined, can force through a well built fence. And, white rocks can’t fly worth a darned, either. I’ve had crappy fences in the past and they were a pain in the neck; someone was always getting out and In to places I didn’t want them. Let me tell you, a good fence is a thing of joy! We’re FINALLY getting there, thank God! — Jackie

Cat litter keeps deer out

I was a little confused about your answer on the deer problem. One of my good friends, a horticulturist at Magnolia Gardens in South Carolina, advises everyone what they use to keep the deer out of the gardens – used cat litter! Deer do not know the difference between cat and bobcat scat, and won’t go near a spread of cat dirt. They put litter boxes in the barns for the kitties, and regularly (once or twice a week) dump the used sand all around the outer perimeter of the gardens. They have hundreds of deer in the park – but not one will go near the flowers and veggies. I had a yard full of half-wild cats and no deer ever ate my plants either… the cats also hunted rabbits and snakes. Cats are useful in more ways than as mousers, as long as you don’t make cuddle pets out of them…

Beatrice Jones
Cody, Nebraska

I’ve used recycled cat litter (isn’t that a nice name!) to rid my pasture/lawn of gophers by pouring it down the holes. But it didn’t do ANYTHING for my deer problem. We have three wolf hybrids and let them run in the garden. Yes, they tinkled on the grass and weeds around the fence. NO, the deer didn’t give a rip. In fact, they hopped the fence and chased our mighty “wolves” onto the porch. So much for the predator idea. I also don’t like using used cat litter where people could come in contact with it, as there are several health issues that can arise (parasites and diseases) from this practice. Likewise, I don’t use dog yard leavings in my compost pile or garden, either. Just to be safe. Yes, cats are useful on the homestead. Very much so. But if the deer were afraid of the cat litter smell, it’s a different brand of deer your friend deals with! Hey, if it works, what the heck. It just never worked for me….nor did any other type of “predator urine” deterrant. — Jackie

Pruning tomatoes

Do you prune your tomatoes? I have read several articles online that say you should remove the suckers. Some sites even suggest removing all branches except for the ones that have fruit or flowers. My tomatoes are small and tasteless.

Bethpage, Tennessee

The only time I prune my tomatoes is during the last weeks of fall, just before our final freeze which will kill the plants. Then I whack off the tops and tips of the branches of the plant so that the new flowers and tiny green tomatoes are cut off. This directs all the plant’s energy into making the remaining tomatoes get big and/or ripe quicker. I know some folks are religious tomato pruners; I am not. I just let nature take its course and I get a lot of terrific tomatoes. — Jackie

Goat feed

Are the any home garden vegetables or fruits that are NOT safe to feed my goats.

Kathy Harris
Fresno, California

The only ones that I can think of are rhubarb leaves, as they are toxic. My goats get just about everything and anything left over or “extra” in the garden, including potato peelings, carrot tops, big zucchinis, immature squash in the fall, after a freeze, melon rinds, extra onion tops, etc. etc. Goats love the garden too! — Jackie

Canning salsa

I am wanting to can salsa using tomatoes, pepper, onions, and garlic. I’m not for sure if I can give them the hot water bath, or if I have to pressure cook them.

Becke Treas
Littlefield, Texas

You have to be a little careful with salsas, in that you have an acid enough product. What you can do is to look at the basic salsa recipes in the Ball Blue Book canning manual, for amounts of tomatoes, peppers, onions, etc., along with any vinegar or lemon juice added for extra acidity. Then just adjust the spices to suit your own tastes. You need to keep the acidity up so you can process your salsas in a water bath canner. This keeps the vegetables tasting “fresh” instead of “cooked”, as they would if you pressure canned them. You can pick up a Ball Blue Book canning handbook at any store that carries canning supplies, including WalMart, for a low cost. Good salsa making! I make several different ones, including a corn and black bean salsa! — Jackie

Sweetening fruit preserves without sugar

I’ve been trying to find a way to make fruit preserves without sugar (or artificial sweeteners) but using agave nectar instead. There’s lots out there for sweetened with Splenda, but I’m looking for something a bit less processed than that. Agave seems to be the answer, however I cannot find a single recipe that uses agave for preserves. Do you have any ideas of how to substitute sugar with agave?

Joy Kohl
Austin, Texas

You can use agave for fruit preserves AND also Splenda (for you other readers who asked). I just stumbled onto Pamona’s Universal Pectin’s website. With this product, you can use any (or NO) added sugar or sweetener. You can usually buy Pamona’s Pectin at health food stores or through the company, itself. Check out for more information. — Jackie


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