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Archive for April, 2010

Jackie Clay

We got our pond!

Tuesday, April 27th, 2010

This Friday, our friend, Dale Rinne, brought his excavator over and not only dug out the footings for Will’s bridge over the creek, but dug out our spring catchment basin, making a nice, attractive pond. It isn’t overly deep, but will hold thousands of gallons of water for not only emergency fire fighting, our garden/orchard irrigation, but also for wildlife too. The deer already would rather drink from our spring than the beaver pond or creek.

David stayed home from school (excused absence) to help doze the gravel away that Dale dug out. We’ll be using this gravel on our mile-long driveway, making that nice. This is a totally win-win situation! And after all that nice gravel is hauled onto the drive, we’ll grade and cover the banks with black dirt and plant wildflowers and ferns, making the whole area totally gorgeous! I’m SO happy with this project! After the silt settles out of the water, it’ll be clear and gorgeous. When our lab, Spencer, swims in the pond, his coat is wonderfully soft and shining. I think I’ll use that water on MY own hair!

Readers’ Questions:

Making sauces

In the last Ask Jackie blog sent today, “tax day”, a lady was telling you about how she makes beef broth. You commented that this is the way you do tomato sauces to save all of the constant attention and stirring. Could you please tell us the steps you take in making sauces.

J. Michael Ledbetter
Jamestown, Tennessee

Sure. All I do is run my tomatoes through my tomato strainer, removing seeds and skins. This leaves a puree. Instead of simmering it for hours to thicken it, risking scorching as it gets thick, I put it in a turkey roasting pan, with the cover off, in my oven, with only the lowest setting. I leave it for hours, only stirring it once or twice. Often this is overnight; I usually get up to answer “nature’s call” a time or two, so I stir it then. In the morning, it’s usually nearly thick enough to can. I take it out of the oven, add spices and other ingredients, depending on what I’m making (catsup, barbecue sauce, spaghetti sauce, etc.), then finish it on the stovetop, ladle it into jars, and process it. That makes these foods much quicker and much less work. That I love! — Jackie

Making tomato sauce

We started gardening and canning last summer. When we canned tomato sauce some of our batches had a burnt smell and taste to it while other batches did not. How can we prevent that from happening this year?

Frank Henry
West Mansfield, Ohio

You probably had some batches that scorched during the boiling down process. This is why I switched to oven cooking down my tomato sauces (see above question). You must be very careful not to scorch your tomato sauce as it thickens, for even a little scorching on the bottom of a pan will affect the taste of all of the sauce. You need to keep stirring as the sauce thickens. Electric stoves are particularly bad for this. I have a friend who puts a cast iron griddle on top of her electric burner to spread out the heat when she makes tomato sauce. It works for her! — Jackie

Storing dried pasta

My question is on storage of dried pasta products. I know that the pasta needs to be in airtight storage, but can I store the boxes or bags of pasta in an airtight container to keep the bugs out or do I need to take the pasta out of the store-bought containers and put it in airtight storage?

Stacy Dayton
Haralson, Georgia

I store most of my store-bought pasta in the bags/boxes that it comes in, in another airtight container, such as my popcorn tins or garbage cans. If you’re having trouble with pantry moths in your grain/flour products, I’d freeze all the bags BEFORE you store them, just to be sure. And invest in pantry moth traps; they’re cheap and quite effective. — Jackie

Cooking old dried beans

We have Jacob Cattle Beans that are several years old. Have tried making baked beans with these but they never seem to soften up and are really quite hard even after baking for 6-9 hours. What preparations should I do prior to baking these beans?

Rhona and Brad Barrie
Strong, Maine

Are you soaking the beans overnight? Almost all dry beans must be soaked prior to baking so they get tender during baking. If they still won’t get soft enough, I’d recommend making up a batch of baked beans to can (see my canning book), then can ’em up. The pressure canning makes even old beans get tender. I love that! — Jackie

Volunteer pumpkins

Jackie, last fall I threw my daughter’s Halloween pumpkin into our composter, and I guess it didn’t compost, because now I have about 7-8 seedlings that are sprouting up in my garden. The seeds must have survived tilling, when we planted our garden a month ago. The plants are growing up around some herbs and a few tomatoes. They are doing fantastic, as is the rest of my garden, but I’m wondering if they’ll choke out my other plants? Who knew pumpkin seeds could be so hearty? Any suggestions on how to keep everything going? I’ve never grown pumpkins before, and I’d like to keep them going if they won’t hurt my tomatoes and herbs.

Andrea Del Gardo
Myrtle Beach, South Carolina

You’ve discovered one of the surprises in gardening! I always have a few wildlings in my garden every year that I can’t bear to kill. But your pumpkin vines WILL cover your tomatoes and herbs. I’d suggest transplanting the pumpkin plants, while small, to a location where they can grow happily. Be sure to take plenty of soil so you don’t stress the roots. — Jackie

Preventing seeds from molding

I tried to dry some asparagus bean seeds last year (to plant this year) but they got moldy. How can that be prevented? Can a moldy seed still become a healthy plant?

Jack Kavanaugh
Groton, Connecticut

To dry seed, just lay the mature seed out in a pie plate or other large, flat surface, in a warm, dry location. Every few days, stir them around with your hand. In a week or two, they should be dry enough for storage. Store them in an airtight container such as a tin or jar. That way they can not get damp from room humidity or other moisture, which will cause mold.
Sorry, but most moldy seed is not viable. You can try a few seeds folded up in a damp paper towel or wash cloth. Keep them damp for two weeks, in a warm location. If they are good, you’ll notice sprouts. If not, there will be nothing but possibly more mold. — Jackie

Starting rhubarb

My neighbor would like a start of rhubarb. My plants are about 12 inches high now. When is the best time to divide this? Thanks for all your help last year, this year the rhubarb is nice & healthy.

Julia Crow
Gardnerville, Nevada

This would be a good time to divide it, providing your plants are well established. Dividing young plants is hard on them, so be sure they are at least three years old before doing it. I’m glad your rhubarb has improved! — Jackie

Storing whole wheat flour

Last year I purchased about 20 lbs of whole wheat flour. I vacuumed packed it as soon as I got home. It is kept in a food grade bucket, in the coolest part of the house. I read that it spoils with time. Do you believe the vacuum seal will slow that process down? I have started using it in my cooking now.

Urbana, Illinois

Yes, I think you’ll find that vacuum packing will slow down fresh grains’ tendency to get rancid after storage. It won’t “spoil,” but can become rancid. If it tastes and smells fine, it still is. Enjoy it. — Jackie

Canning bulk buys

Can large bulk buys from warehouse stores be recanned. Products such as ketchup, olives, bbq sauce, fruit, etc?

Susan Shupe
Greeley, Colorado

Re-canning bulk foods is in the “experimental” category, as there is no “expert” advice. However, I’ve done it for years, using the “normal” times and/or pressures recommended for the food you are going to re-can, as though it were fresh. I heat it up to simmering, pack it and then can as normal. And I haven’t had a failure, yet, after years of doing so. I started doing this with my own foods, such as canning tomato sauce, then later on when I had more time or cheap meat, making spaghetti sauce, meatballs in tomato sauce, or barbecue sauce, etc. — Jackie

Jackie Clay

Work on the new pasture continues

Wednesday, April 21st, 2010

As the spring weather continues to be warm and very dry, we’ve been working hard on clearing and preparing the new pasture for seeding. It was a terrible tangle of old logging debris, low ground willow, and alder brush. Will dozed it off a bit two years ago, then further cleared again this winter. Finally, it’s down to tidying up by removing old stumps, pieces of log, big roots, etc. So yesterday, Will, David, and I walked the pasture, picking up this trash and loading it into the bucket of our Ford tractor. It took many trips to the edge of the woods, where we have piles of brush and debris, but pretty soon, we did have it fairly clean.

Then Will began tearing up the ground with the old John Deere field cultivator he rescued from our friend and neighbor’s junk pile. When we got it, the tires were rotted and the whole thing was rusty. But after putting on a pair of tires from the dump, loosening up the rusty parts, we were able to get it to working. There is absolutely NO way this ground could be plowed yet. In a few years we will, but now we just want to get it ready to seed into pasture. So we used the old field cultivator. Trouble was that even by removing the outermost teeth, it was still too much for the tractor on the wet spots and hillside. So we finished with Old Yeller.

As soon as Will finished, I hooked up to the disc and further chopped the sod and roots. Today I dragged a harrow over it with the four wheeler, and seeded it into reed canary grass (handles wet conditions well), birdsfoot trefoil, and alsike clover, with oats as a nurse crop. Again I harrowed it to cover the seed, while Will went to work tearing up the worst spots that were not finished yet. That went well, and tomorrow, we’ll seed in that. And pray for rain!

Readers’ Questions:

Amish relish

Just rec’d my new Jackie canning book. Love it but have a question. On page 95, Amish Relish, I do not see an amount listed for vinegar. How much vinegar and is it cider or white?

Lois Kraushaar
Havensville, Kansas

Oops! You win a “find Jackie’s mistakes” prize! That should be 2 quarts of vinegar. Either white or cider. White vinegar will make a brighter relish, but cider tastes stronger, so choose either. We’ll remedy that error on the next printing. Thanks for finding it. — Jackie

Okra seeds and haltering a calf

Last year I had several cowhorn okra plants to get over 6ft tall and 6ft wide with many branches. I would like to share the seeds I have left over with anyone that would like some. The man at the feed store told me that they no longer carried cowhorn okra because it had become hard to come by. Anyone wanting these seeds just need to email me. My email is:…

…I also had a question about our calf. When should we put a halter on her? And will her mother hurt us if we take her out of the pen without her?

Deanna Lynne White
Lacombe, Louisiana

I like to start putting a halter on calves right after birth or as young as possible, as they learn quicker and are much less strong then. Mama cows vary, but if your cow is fairly tame, she should go along with taking the calf out of the pen. But you should try it a little at a time. Keep the baby close at first, then see how that goes. You may need to go slow or Mama may just act relieved! — Jackie

Preserving eggs

I’m new at food preservation and homesteading. I’ve recently gotten several ducks, 3 Pekings and a mated pair of Rouens. The Rouens are starting to give eggs and I’d like to know what are the best techniques to preserve eggs? Thank you again for your help.

Laura H.
Macon, Georgia

Fresh eggs will keep in your refrigerator for many weeks, as do the eggs you buy in the store, which are weeks old when you buy them. While you can pack them in waterglass and keep them in a crock in the cool basement, I don’t do that any more as it is a slimy dive for each egg that I don’t relish. You can freeze your eggs, just like you do chicken eggs, breaking them and pouring them into a plastic freezer box. You can either freeze whole eggs, with the yolk and white in the same container or separate the whites and yolks, as some recipes call for so many egg whites or yolks. — Jackie

Freezing goat milk

Not a question but a solution to a problem. For once I have something to give, not ask. When I have extra goat/s milk, I like to freeze it for next winter. I don’t like putting it in plastic, so I freeze in glass jars. The danger of course is the breakage. SO, here’s the solution. Put in milk, leaving a large head space, then lay the jar down sideways in the freezer until frozen. Then you can sit it up. By laying on the side, the air space is spread out and does not break the glass.

Gail Erman
Palisades, Colorado

Good news for folks wanting to freeze their extra milk, Gail! — Jackie

Canning meatloaf

I think I read where you canned meatloaf. Maybe not. Can baked leftover meat loaf be canned?

Nancy Foster
Dallas City, Illinois

I seldom have any meatloaf left over! It’s one of our favorite “snack” foods, the day after it was for dinner, sliced and on a sandwich or just plain. But yes, it can be canned. I’d suggest using a thin tomato sauce, ladled over meatloaf slices about an inch thick. Boil the tomato sauce, then ladle over warm meatloaf. Leave 1″ of headspace and process as for any meat; 10 pounds pressure, 75 minutes for pints and 90 minutes for quarts, taking altitude adjustments into consideration (see your canning book for instructions on this).

What works great, now that dense products are not recommended for canning — and meatloaf is a dense product — is to make meatloaf-seasoned meat balls and can them, after browning, in a tomato sauce. You can then season them and use in spaghetti or bake on opening, as “meatloaf”. — Jackie

Jackie Clay

So you think it doesn’t matter what seed starting soil you use?

Thursday, April 15th, 2010

So you think it doesn’t matter what seed starting soil you use?

Last year I used Miracle Gro Mix to start seeds and have NEVER had such rotten plants — bad germination and terrible seedlings. This year I used ProMix, which costs $7 a 3 cu foot bag more than the former. BUT this year I had nearly 100% germination and the plants took off like rockets. Just take a look and see the difference! Of course, I’ve also made my own seed starting soil, using rotted compost, peat, and vermiculite, but I just didn’t have time this year (again!). But at least I will have very strong plants to set out. Not like last year when I was embarrassed to have folks see “Jackie Clay’s” puny seedlings. Thank God they did grow and produce for us, though.

I got my comfrey set out and it is starting to come up already. Of course, when you get plants and roots from a friend they are always better than those you get through the mail, anyway. Today I also set out ten wild plum seedling trees from Fedco in my little garden/orchard north of the new training ring. Now we have horseradish, comfrey, blackberries, and wild plums down there. And our garden is 500 feet safe from being invaded by these great, but exuberant species!

I saw Mama Fox today, twice, by her den where she has babies. I was planting those plum trees and she was hanging around in the woods, keeping an eye on me, but not real scared. I think she knows we aren’t dangerous.

Readers’ Questions:

Using an older canning book

I have a question in regards to canning foods. I’m VERY new at this endeavor and just wanted to clarify something. I’ve been reading BHM for about a year now and haven’t come across the answer to this question so, I need to ask.

You’ve stated that when canning we need to get a recent canning book that discusses processing times, ect. I have a 2003 copy of the Ball Blue Book of Preserving. The book has lots of recipes that sound interesting, but the things I want to can the most are my family recipes, such as my mother’s meat spaghetti sauce. Since I’m not following their recipes, how long do I process it and at what pressure? How do I learn that? Is it somewhere in the book that I’m overlooking? Or, am I only supposed to can recipes in their book?

Joanna Huffman
Port St. Lucie, Florida

When new to canning, it’s best to follow tried and true recipes. But if you’ll forgive me for plugging my own book, I really think you’ll find it more down to earth useful than the one you’re using now. You CAN use family recipes, but you need to process them for the length of time and method used for a very similar recipe (most ingredients, but for seasonings the same), to avoid pitfalls.

Never fear, the more you can, the more you’ll learn and be able to spread your wings safely. — Jackie

Making beef broth

Just wanted to pass on a tip to make a great beef broth. A friend of mine years ago (she was in her 80’s when she gave me this tip and it came from her mother) would always take all of her beef bones, carrots, celery and onion (I add a few pepper corns) and put them in a roasting pan and cook them in the oven on a low temp (250 degree’s) for the whole day (12 hours at least and usually at night while she slept) and then cooked them in water as soon as she woke up in a large pot on a low simmer. She would cool and strain the bones and then chill the broth over night for the fat to raise to the top for ease of removal. (In the winter time I put my broth with a tight lid in my van to free up fridge space). Then she would take the fat off and bring the broth back to a boil and then can (omit the bring to a boil if you are going to freeze). I can honestly say that this is the best broth I have ever had or made. I am not sure what the baking of the bones do but somehow it intensifies the flavor of the broth and it is delicious. I use this broth in everything from soups to gravies to spaghetti sauce. I must admit that I have two roaster ovens (electric) and I make all of my broths in them due to the ease of the whole process. I brown the bones and vegies and then simply add the water which makes this a one pot wonder for me and frees up my stove and oven but I did make broth the traditional way on a jelly roll pan (instead of a roaster) for years and years. This extra work (which really isn’t much) is well worth the effort. I am making a large batch of beef broth as I write this and I am fondly remembering my wonderful friend Marylin. The smell of Marylin’s broth always brings back fond memories of a very special person.

Michelle Chapin
Fresno, Ohio

This is a great idea, Michelle. I do my tomato sauces this way to avoid all that stirring and standing over the pot. I’ll sure use this tip myself! Thanks! — Jackie

Making pumpkin butter

My family loves pumpkin butter, but our pumpkins did not do well last year. We are running low and I need to make some more. I have no pumpkins and cannot find any for sale this time of year. I was wondering if I can make pumpkin butter from canned pumpkin? If so do you have, or know where I can get a recipe.

Sarah Jo Smith
Irwin, Pennsylvania

Yes you can use canned pumpkin for your pumpkin butter. (Remember that it is not recommended that you home can pureed pumpkin, though.) Either use store pumpkin or drain your cubed pumpkin, then puree it well. Add cinnamon, allspice, cloves, and sugar to your taste, then heat well in either a crockpot or in a double boiler to keep it from scorching. Stir well, then ladle into pint jars and refrigerate or freeze for longer term storage. — Jackie

Jackie Clay

We have 7 new baby goats, just in time for Mom’s birthday!

Tuesday, April 13th, 2010

Four of our doe goats all kidded within three days, this year. What a surprise! Usually it’s a bit more drawn out. And to make it even more unusual, our two does that were kept out of the triplets both kidded within an hour of each other! We were hoping for a nice buck, as we lost our beautiful big Boer buck, Thor, due to a stomach impaction. And we got 5 bucks! What a choice. We can’t pick from two, one from Jewel — one of the triplet does — and one from Buffy — our white, HUGE milker. So we’re keeping both of them, at least for awhile, for further evaluation.

As Mom’s 94th birthday and Easter fell so close together, we decided to combine our family celebration for both days, and big homestead feast, this Sunday, bringing Mom home from the nursing home for the day. We all had a great time, including my grandson, Mason, who got to play with Clown, one of our baby goats. Mom also loved Clown and doesn’t want us to sell her. We won’t.

Will and I have been busily working on getting ready for strawberries and 100 asparagus plants, which will be coming next week. He used his new plow to plow furrows in the berry patch for them, so we don’t have to dig deep holes for each of the plants. With a good lining of black composted manure, they should set in nicely. We’ve also been working on building our new training ring for the horses. All the posts are now set 3′ in the ground, plumbed and tamped in, carefully avoiding the fox den at the end of the ring. Mama fox has a litter down in the den and we’re excitedly waiting for babies to come out. Yes, foxes eat chickens, but ours get shut in the coop every night and Spencer watches the yard all day, so we hope Foxy will keep hunting voles, as she’s done with her family for three years now. We try hard to live happily with our wild neighbors. After all, we moved in on their land!

Readers’ Questions:

Killing algae

I would like to put in a semi buried, preformed, fish pond which has filtered water (no fish) for my dog, goat, and chickens drinking water. Will apple cider vinegar kill any algae etc., or do I need to put in bleach?

Suzanne Laird
Franklinton, North Carolina

While this may work, it may not be satisfactory. I’ve had chickens drown in such a pond, trying to drink, falling in, and not being able to get out. Our wonder dog, Spencer, loves to wade in our goat watering tank, and they don’t love that! Goats are very fussy about their food and water, and don’t like drinking doggy water. So I end up dumping out the tank and re-filling it again. Your dog may not be such a water dog, so it may work for you. But watch the chickens.

Vinegar won’t keep away algae. Bleach won’t either. But if you locate your pond in a shaded area, the algae will probably not grow. — Jackie

Saving tomato seeds

I am container gardening this year and was wonder about the tomato plants I bought. I purchased some heirloom Pick Brandywine and Rutger because I wanted to try and save the seeds. Didn’t realize I also bought some Better Boy Hybrid. Will it hurt for these to be all on the porch together, or should I separate them? Have you ever had either of these heirlooms?

Huntsville, Alabama

P.S. Love your Cookbook! Well, all your books!

I’ve grown both Brandywine and Rutgers. Rutgers is a high producing, dependable tomato, where Brandywine is one of THE best tasting of all tomato-world! I’m sure you’ll love both of them. If you can separate the varieties, at least by some distance, it’ll be best to keep them pure. Tomatoes are pretty much self-pollinating, but insects and wind do play a part, too. I’m sure you’ll be able to save your seeds quite well. Enjoy your tomatoes!

P.S. There’s a NEW, new book in the works, full of scrumptious homestead recipes for pantry and garden foods. All will be easy, quick, and family favorites. — Jackie

Superthrive fertilizer

I was wondering if Superthrive with Vitamins-Hormones can be used on an organic vegetable garden? Have you had any experience using this product? Will this product alter the bio-diversity of my soil?

Ginny Woliver
Santa Barbara, California

I’m sorry, but I’m not familiar with Superthrive. Any readers out there who can help Ginny? — Jackie

Making sauerkraut

I have a question about sauerkraut. I have two 5-gallon buckets (food grade) with kraut in them. One gets moldy and tastes like dirt. the other has no mold and is getting pretty sour. Why the difference? I did both at the same time and same thing. This is the 4th week for them.

New Freedom Pennsylvania

The “usual” reason for bad sauerkraut is that the kraut doesn’t get totally covered with brine. Even a tiny bit will cause molding and “bad” bacteria to begin growing, giving a bad taste. I’d dump the nasty kraut and stick with the good batch. Be sure to always keep a plate with a clean rock or plastic bag filled with water on top of the kraut to keep it weighted down under the brine and skim off any scum daily. — Jackie

Difficult goat

The reason I am writing is I have a Nubian female goat I bought when she was about 4 or 5 months old. She is a big problem I have had her since spring time last year. I have tried everything from treats, tricking her, to even chasing her. She will not let you catch her to pet, groom, milk, or cut hooves and has always been very leery of people. I figured it was just because it is a new place. This seems not to be the case as she has never gotten over it. If I can trap her in her house she is very easy to deal with but catching her is becoming even more of a major pain. She is so jumpy she won’t even nurse her kid…she just jumps, and then walks off from the kid unless she has been confined to her house. However this could be because she is a new mother also. She did nurse for about a week, then it was only if she had grain in her feeder and was locked in her house, but now the last few days unless you fill up the 4ft. feeder with grain, hide around the corner of the goat house for anywhere from 10-20 minutes, and hurry and close the door (after she has ran in and out about ten times because she knows your going to lock her up). Then finally locking her in the house when she gets distracted by the grain. Once you go through all that she nurses fine, stands perfect to be milked, even to groom her hooves. Do you have any suggestions to help change this behavior? It is really aggravating she is the only goat I have like that. Everyday now I go thru this episode with her to lock her up in the evening so I can love on her, and be sure she is nursing her young. The kid tries to nurse her several times a day and she just walks off. Since she had the baby two weeks ago I leave her locked up all night once I trick her; and in the morning I go down, let myself in without her escaping and love on her some more, and feed her treats so I can be sure she is nursing her kid before I go to work. She nurses like she should without interference from me!…but I don’t understand why she won’t nurse while she is loose in the large pen. I never have to coax her to nurse, just sit in there on my rock and feed her treats periodically. But more than anything I just need to be able to fool around with her without all this aggravation. I thought maybe it would help her get over her fear, be more catchable and less scared of people. But it is not. The kid is now two weeks old tomorrow and it does not seem to be working. Because she started with the running in and out two days ago. I love to drink goats milk, but it is not worth continuing to do this with her. If I can not get this behavior to stop or calm down a bit I am going to have to just let her dry up.

Chris Scarborough
Dry Ridge, Kentucky

If you have a pen, not a pasture, you might try tying a lightweight 10′ rope onto her collar, letting it drag behind her. That way, you can just step on the rope to catch her, then lead her to the milking stand. Even if you are not milking her, I’d put her in the stand twice a day, then let the kid nurse while she’s in the stanchion. Feed her while she’s in there, petting and talking to her, too. With the drag rope, she finds out that she can’t escape you, and they will usually stop that behavior. You’ll also be sure the kid is nursing twice a day, too!

Our doe, Fawn, was as wild as a deer when we got her, hence the name. It took two of us to run her down in her pen, trapping her inside. Then she’d dash out over me, even when I had hold of her collar, knocking me upside down at times! We kept putting her on the milk stand, where she promptly would lay down so I couldn’t milk. I was really frustrated at times, to say the least. But for weeks I kept at it and finally she could be caught fairly easily, and stopped jumping over me. Then, after weeks, she stopped lying down! She gave lots and lots of milk, and this year she’s an “automatic” goat; she runs out of the pen, jumps on the stand, and stands to milk! AND she comes to us for treats and petting, just like all the other does. So don’t give up. Those wild ones can be tamed. — Jackie

Canning olives

Our COSTCO store sells delicious green brined olives with pimento inside, but the jars are huge, it takes us forever to use them all.

I’d like to put them up in half-pint jars in the salty brine they come in. Would this be possible? How do you think the texture of the olives would be after pressure canning? The only information I can find online refer to canning fresh olives.

Susan Smith
Westminster, Colorado

I have re-canned black olives in the brine they were in, in #10 cans successfully. There was no change in the taste or texture. I packed the olives to within 1/2″ of the top of the jar, then heated the brine to boiling. Ladle the boiling brine over the olives, leaving 1/2″ of headspace. Process at 10 pounds pressure (pressure ONLY) for 60 minutes (pints). If you live at an altitude over 1,000 consult your canning book for directions in adjusting your pressure, if necessary.

The University of California has good information on pickling, canning, and drying olives. — Jackie

Acquiring railroad ties

I see in your newsletter that you were able to get railroad ties from the railroad around here. We live in Littlefork and it drives me nuts to see all the ties just laying there when we have a bunch of projects we could use some for. We live just 3 miles from the tracks.

Deb Brown
Littlefork, Minnesota

What David did was to catch the foreman of the work crew while they were tearing out the ties, and ask about the ties. Other than that, I’m not sure what one would do, unless you know someone who works for the railroad who could give you a contact name. — Jackie

Uses of comfrey

We have comfrey on our property and I believe I was reading that it works great for adding extra potash into your soil, but I am not sure how to do this exactly. Do you cut the leaves and put them on a compost pile? What do you do with it? And what are squills?

Debra Brown
Littlefork, Minnesota

I haven’t read about the added potash, but comfrey does do wonders in a quick compost pile, as the large leaves rot quickly. We will be using some in our own compost, but also feeding it to our chickens, goats, and calves as treats. It’s great to keep a sharp knife down by the comfrey rows and whack off a quick armful to distribute among hungry mouths on the way back to the house.

Squills are a blue, early spring bulb, also known as scilla. They are star-shaped blooms on a strap leaved, short plant that bloom even before grape hyacinths. And they last for quite a long time, too. Mine are ice blue and very pretty. I know I’ll be planting more, along with many, many more spring bulbs, come fall. It really perks you up, seeing all those colorful spring flowers! — Jackie

Jackie Clay

Springtime is fencing time!

Wednesday, April 7th, 2010

Because of our extremely early spring, the frost has gone out early, and we’re able to get at fencing VERY early. This time, it’s finishing the fencing in the old horse pasture and building a new training ring for the horses, donkeys, and mule. So we’re hard at work driving steel posts on the property line of the horse pasture and stretching wire on it. Last fall, we set in the corners, which are sawed off, very large, treated used power poles. So they’re really set in now, and will hold the wire very tight.

Today, we took a break from that to work on the training ring. It’s 100’x 50′ and is on a rock-free sandy spot next to the horse pasture. Last year, David got permission from the railroad crew to take two truck loads of used ties they had removed and replaced. He had to carry them up from a deep ditch to the truck. They weigh about 125 pounds apiece, so David got a big workout! And we really appreciate his find. These ties are now the fence posts of the training ring. We augered holes 3′ deep with the tractor today, then hand dug them larger, and set the ties in place. Will and I did 22 alone before David and his friend, Ian, showed up after school to help with the last few. Wow, does it look good! Now we have to level and plumb the posts, then tamp them firmly in place. What a great addition to the homestead! It’s so much easier to train horses with a separate place, away from their buddies!

And beyond the ring, there’s a spot for my comfrey, horseradish, and other “invasive” goodies!

Readers’ Questions:

Need homesteading advice

I have been a fan for years, born and raised in Kentucky and now have just bought 38 acres in north western Wyoming. I know you homesteaded in Montana. Any advice would be helpful and where can I get your canning book?

Benny Williamson
Gillette, Wyoming

You can get my new canning book right from Backwoods Home Magazine. Check on this website and you’ll find it, as well as in the magazine.

I’m happy for you and your land purchase. And I’ll be glad to answer any questions you have along the way; I’m right here for you. My best advice is to read, read, read and go a bit slow in acquiring livestock, until you have fencing and housing for them. Build what you need and can afford, as you can afford it, whether it is your cabin or an animal shelter. I’ve done that, building our homestead here, as well as other places. Sometimes we can only afford a few boards or sheets of insulation, but as I earn more money, we buy more supplies. That’s how we built the house. Remember that the first winter, we had no insulation in the roof, or shingles, either, going through winter with two tarps on the roof to keep off the dampness and later, rain. But we owed nothing and I want to keep it that way. It’s a good way to go. (We were living in a camping trailer, then a free old mobile home, while building, you’ll remember, too. Not the ritz, but we toughed it out.)

All the best of luck, and please ask away when you have questions. — Jackie

Lawn weeds

Jackie, we’ve had chickens for 5 years, and haven’t done any weed-n-feed on our 1.2 acre yard since that time. I figured it wouldn’t be good for the chickens as they are allowed to free range a few times a week. We don’t want to have a “keep up with the Jones” type yard, but I also don’t want to have my yard completely taken over by weeds. Any suggestions? Is my thinking correct in regards to the weed-n-feed?

Gen Rogers
Winthrop Harbor, Illinois

I wouldn’t want to pasture my chickens on grass that had been treated with Weed and Feed. If your grass is healthy and well fertilized, the grass will compete very well with weeds and choke them out pretty well…except for dandelions, of course. Personally, I like dandelions, but a chemical-free treatment of most weeds is to use a forked weeder and cut those pesky plants out of your lawn, digging the root and all. If your lawn isn’t thick enough, consider spreading a thin layer of well-rotted manure on it and raking it in. It’ll be ugly for a few days, but the grass will soon grow lush and happy, quickly hiding the mess. Mow it a few times and it should be much better…and with less weeds, too. — Jackie

Jackie Clay

Will took Old Yeller apart and we found new parts!

Tuesday, April 6th, 2010

Yesterday we went down to the Duluth area to visit Greg Larson. He has quite a few vintage bulldozer parts, especially parts for a 1010 John Deere, like ours. After a nice visit, in which we learned a lot, we paid up and loaded a complete used final drive into our van and headed home.

Previously, Will and David had taken the old final apart, finding torn up bearings, races, and a yucky mixture of gear grease, water, and rust. Not good! Luckily, the clutch discs had been fairly recently replaced and the old clutch pack and break bands look good.

Already, Will is cleaning up parts and getting ready to put Old Yeller back together again so we can get back to our new pond, clearing fence lines, and other good old spring homestead work. I can’t wait.

We’ve had some great unseasonable spring weather, up in the 60s, so we are itching to get at gardening and other growing projects. The rhubarb is starting to nose out of the ground, and my first squills are blooming! Isn’t spring great?

Readers’ Questions:

Greenhouse tomatoes

Loved the picture of your ripening tomato in the greenhouse — had me drooling. So, when did you start these two tomatoes and what type, ie. bush, are they? Next year I too want to have tomatoes ripening in March and I suspect a lot of your readers feel the same way.

Good luck with your garden this year.

Sue Detloff
Longbranch, Washington

These tomatoes were started last spring! They are an indeterminate type called Polefast. We chose indeterminates because they will keep growing and producing, where determinate or bush tomatoes only grow so big, then make a crop and quit. This fall, I also will be starting a few new plants to see how the production compares to the older plants. We’ve noticed that production increases with longer daylight hours, so next winter we’ll be putting lights over the tomatoes and peppers. — Jackie

Canning cottage cheese and yogurt

I’m fairly new to Backwoods Home, and I’ve searched for answers to this question and haven’t found them (yet!)

So I apologize in advance if you’ve already answered this somewhere.

I’m wondering if it’s possible to can homemade cottage cheese & yogurt…

Mary Beth Maidment
Denver, Colorado

No. These fresh, cultured products don’t react well to the heat of processing, making food with an unattractive appearance. These are best to make and eat fresh. — Jackie

Keeping small dogs out of the garden

How best can I use chicken wire to keep two very determined dachshund puppies from digging tunnels thru my little urban vegetable garden? Or what would you recommend for fencing?

Julia Morgan
Pasadena, California

I think I’d get some three or four foot high 2″x4″ welded wire yard fence and fasten it to steel fence posts that you can drive into the ground about every 6′ or 8′. Dig a little trench along the bottom, about a foot deep, and bury the bottom of the fence so your little buddies can’t easily dig under. Hopefully, they’ll decide something else is more fun. I’ve had great luck with our big dogs by cutting heavy 16′ welded livestock panels in half, then sticking the pointy wire down into the ground to anchor the fence. But your little guys would walk right through the five-inch squares! I don’t think chicken wire would keep them out because it isn’t very heavy. — Jackie


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