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Archive for May, 2010

Jackie Clay

The first crops are coming up

Monday, May 24th, 2010

My little new lettuce, spinach, radish, and onions are coming up. It’s so exciting, as it’s our first annual crop. We do have some walking onions up in the garden, which are great in salads and for cooking. I’ve been hugely busy planting garden, in between helping fence two separate pastures. As the garden is over 1/2 an acre now, it takes a lot of tilling, rock picking, and planting. So far, I’ve set out more than 100 tomato plants. (I’ve run out of Wall’o Water plant protectors, so am praying like crazy that we don’t have a big frost!) I’ve got melons, pumpkins, and squash peeping up inside, plus celery, cabbage, cauliflower, and broccoli plants to set in pretty soon. My tomatoes were so huge this year that I’m having to plant them in trenches. I pinch off the lower leaves, then dig a furrow, laying the long plant down, with the top curved upward. It’ll soon straighten up nicely, and set roots all along the stem underground. Our greenhouse was so warm this year, because of all the insulation in the new addition…and the wood stove, that the plants germinated and grew so FAST. I won’t plant them so soon next year!

Oh, I thought I’d show you a little project I just finished. I had an on-sale plastic fish pond liner in one of the flower beds. I liked it, so when a neighbor said she had a big one she’d sell me for $20, I said yes right off. It was BIG, big! So this week, I set the two ponds into the ground, right next to each other, making sure with a level that they WERE level so the water would fill nicely. Then we hauled gravel, sand, and finally black dirt around the area, leveling off the slope. Will had cut a bent black ash when he was cutting firewood out of the dead ash, killed by rising water on the edge of the beaver pond. I had my eye on that and finally a flash of inspiration came. I needed a trellis to put some vines on behind the fish ponds. The bent ash trunk was perfect for a frame. I added some alder branches from our swamp and WOW. It turned out so cool. Free, too! And the wisteria, clematis, morning glories, and sweet peas will think it’s great, too.

I had a weedy flower bed, grown over with raspberries, so I dug up daylilies, coneflowers, and other perennials, carefully picking out all invasive roots, then planted them around the fish ponds. And as luck would have it, Lowes had a terrific sale on potted perennials, so I picked up a few of those, too. Now all I have to do is catch my goldfish and koi in my aquariums and see how they like their new summer home.

Readers’ Questions:

Hand pump for a well

I have searched and searched for information on converting our water well to a hand pump. The well is 115′ deep with the water level at about 60′. It has a 2″ pvc casing. Right now it is outfitted with a submersible pump. We are on community water system and if for any reason the power should go down I would like to know I have access to water. Our money is very limited so we would like to do this ourselves if possible.

Clarice & Harold Prescott
Hamburg, Arkansas

You might check out Bison Pumps. They have hand pumps that go in right along with your existing pump. They are a little pricey, and I’m not sure if they’ll fit in such a small casing as 2″, but you could ask. For short-term water emergencies, consider storing a few plastic barrels full of water in your basement or back porch. For a long-term BIG emergency, you could pick up a deep-well hand pump and pipe enough to get down, well into your water. Then if you had to, you could pull your submersible pump and wiring, and slide the hand pump down into your casing. — Jackie


I have seen you refer to BT and although my husband and I do garden we are not aware of what this is. I am trying to keep everything as natural as we can, so what is this stuff and does it hold from year to year? I first saw it as something you inject for borers.

Dianna Burgher
Stockbridge, Michigan

You can find bT (often sold as Thuricide) in many gardening catalogs. It is a dried bacteria, which is mixed with water and sprayed on vegetable crops. (It can also be injected into the silk end of growing corn to kill corn ear worm.) It is deadly to plant-eating worms, but totally harmless to helpful insects, butterflies, pets, birds, and people. I’ve never kept it from year to year; I always buy just about what I’ll need each year. I think you’ll like using it. I use it on my broccoli, cauliflower, and Brussels sprouts. I don’t like finding little green worms floating in the pot I’m cooking veggies in! — Jackie

Raising beef

I have been following your column for a long time now. I understood that you were living off grid and canned everything. but you are raising a lot of beef now. being a meatcutter I know what it takes to cut up a lot of beef. Was just curious on what you plan to do with all those calves. Are you planning to get a freezer when it comes time to butcher them? I am figuring that you are planning to sell some and keep one for yourself. I wanted to tell you on how much I admire you guys and what you have accomplished there.

Lake Tapps, Washington

We got four calves so that we could sell two, which will just about pay for the expenses of raising the four. We’ll butcher the biggest this fall, saving the largest for next fall. My son, Bill, and his wife, will be getting half and paying for the butchering and wrapping. Their meat will cost them about 80 cents a pound (I’m not charging for raising the steer.) That gives us half a beef for nearly “free.” Yes, we are buying a freezer. My friends, Jim and Jeri, have power and let me keep a tiny freezer over there for holding poultry until I can get it all canned. I pay the overage on their power bill. And they will let me do that with a larger freezer. Because it’ll be in the late fall, and cold, the freezer in their outbuilding won’t take much power. I’ll begin bringing meat home and canning it up right away, saving the steaks and best roasts for cooking up fresh. Now you’ve got my mouth watering!

We now have two baby calves and will be buying at least one more, to keep the cycle going. Hopefully, in the future, we’ll have a barn and can have a milk cow, so we can raise our own beef and not buy calves…or so many. Right now, we’re doing it the best way we can, to have very cheap, very tasty, tender and wholesome meat. — Jackie

Aggressive chickens

When I picked up four laying hens from a friend’s uncle two of them were pretty beaten up by the other two. Many feathers from their backs and tails were missing. I put them in with my two girls and they ripped one of mine open and she had to be put down. They are the meanest blood thirst chickens I’ve ever seen. I had my other girl and the skiddish one separated from the others for a few days and they get along fine now. The other one that was beaten up I had to move in with them because they kept pecking on her until she was bloody. Now she keeps going after the tamer ones that she is in with, pecking and drawing blood. Is there any way to get these meanies to stop being so beastly? I was hoping by separating them they would settle down, but it just doesn’t seem to be working. The two mean ones reach their heads through the fencing and peck the others as they are eating or just walking by. Any help/ideas you can give would be much appreciated.

Patrice Lindsey
Lockport, IL

I’m sorry, but when chickens are that mean, they don’t usually change…sort of like people. I see chicken and noodles in the future… — Jackie

Old time bacon and vegetables

Bacon the kind that does not need to be refrigerated. History buff /reinactor and also would like to know what kind and variety of vegetables did our 1750s forefathers grow.

Tim Kilmartin
Wayland, Michigan

Old time bacon was salted and smoked for lengthy time. It was very dry and firm, unlike store bacon. It was not sliced until you wanted to fry up some. At this time, it was cut from the slab, which was then carefully re-wrapped in its parchment wrapper.

As far as vegetables go, it depends on who your forefathers WERE. Vegetables were a cultural thing; if your forefathers were Native American, they grew corn, beans, and squash, primarily. Immigrants from France, Scotland, Wales, Ireland, and England grew vegetables from their homeland: turnips, carrots, beans, onions, and potatoes. German, Swedish, Finnish, and Norwegian immigrants also grew these and usually rutabagas, as well. Wheat was planted by all European immigrants, along with rye. Tomatoes were thought to be poisonous at that time, known as “love apples,” and were grown as decoration in the flower beds. If you wish to learn more about 1700’s crops, check out some of the heirloom vegetable catalogs, such as Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds or Seed Savers Exchange. There is a ton of information, along with colored photographs for you to drool over. — Jackie

Storing dehydrated foods

We finally bought a dehydrator, but in reading the directions, it states that after drying, to place in air tight container and place in cool place in the freezer or fridge…is this where you keep your items?

Meredith Wendt
Rockford, Illinois

Definitely NOT. I have a very small fridge with a shoe-box sized freezer. Hardly enough room for what I need to keep cold, let alone putting in bags of dehydrated food! If fruits and vegetables are properly dehydrated, they’ll keep for years in a jar or other airtight container. The one food that should be refrigerated or frozen after dehydrating is jerky. The reason for this is that most folks today prefer jerky that is a bit soft and easy to chew, like store jerky. If you only dry jerky that dry, it still has a lot of moisture and will mold if not kept refrigerated. Old time jerky was dried stick-hard and usually smoked, too. It kept indefinitely, but took a long time to get soft enough to chew…and a lot of saliva! –Jackie

Alternative to beans and lentils

I have a problem with what you say to include in long term food storage. You include a lot of beans and lentils. What if some one has a problem with these? What else could be used? I just have a problem with the texture and taste of all beans, can not stand them. Nothing medical. Been this way since I was a kid and have not gotten over it.

Rodney Wasem
Thornton, Colorado

To tell you the truth, I’m not real fond of beans either! BUT I have learned to cook with them so that they aren’t “beany” as much. I do a lot of refried beans, made with my own home canned dry pintos with lots of chopped ham and a few mild chiles and onions canned up with them. These I open, pour off the liquid, then mash in a frying pan with a little grease and cook ’em up. I serve them with grated cheese and salsa; they taste and feel more like meat than beans. Likewise, I can up my own baked beans, dressed up with lots of bacon dices (or ham), onions, etc. They sure taste and feel better than store-bought beans. I do a lot of recipes with rice and lentils. When they are combined with vegetables and broth, you don’t even “find” the lentils. The thing is that dry beans DO stay good in storage for a long, long time, giving you a source of lots of nutrition, coupled with the utter bulk; a cup of dry beans makes a big meal! Yeah, I don’t “like” dry beans, but I’ve learned to eat them, and most folks can, too, with “practice.”

If that is definitely not an option for you, you can bulk up your dry storage with such things as rice, dehydrated vegetables, wheat, flours, cornmeal, etc. that you DO eat. The important thing is to get some foods in your storage pantry, regardless of what they are. — Jackie

Jackie Clay

We’re planting, outside and in!

Monday, May 17th, 2010

All of a sudden, we’ve got some warm sunny weather again, and I’m busy planting garden outside. Yesterday, I planted peas and snap peas, and today, I planted six rows of carrots and a 50-foot row of onions. Some of the onions were sets, but 150 of them were little plants that I grew from seed, inside. While the sets do make nice onions, there is very little variety available at the stores. And I do like to store Copra onions, as they stay HARD for nearly a year, where the common “yellow” and “white” sets make onions that barely keep over winter. I’ve got three more rows of onions yet to plant. When I get done, we’ll have six varieties of onions, some up in our house garden’s raised beds, for salads this summer and some to use as larger onions in the fall and winter. Yes, we DO like onions! I also dehydrate a lot to use in cooking, too. But besides the outside planting, I’m also planting inside, too! It’s time to plant melon, squash, pumpkin, and some flowers and also to transplant others that I have planted earlier. I just transplanted my celery and tuberous begonias into six packs, and have lots more to do. I’ve started more plants this year than ever before. Not only do I have more window space, due to the new addition, but I have more help, too. Will’s been busy, as well, and I sure appreciate a happy helper.

Readers’ Questions:

A few questions

I recently pressure canned a batch of spaghetti sauce w/meat. I had already run 2 canner loads and completely lost the time in my head on the last batch. Yes, I need to set a timer. So, I refrigerated the batch and re-canned it later. When I opened ONE of the jars, I had a small black spot inside on the white part of the top of the lid. I used new lids to re-can and later, after I had the batch re- canned, I scraped on the black spot w/ my finger nail. Only one jar did this. The black came off. Was this mold? Are the jars of re-canned stuff no good? What to do?

Also, have you ever canned raisins? If so, how? How about pepperoni that comes in the plastic containers in the store? One more question: You have mentioned the 10 minute rule to cook already canned foods upon opening, before serving. Seems to me they are already cooked a lot (pressure cooker) when canned. And if you will pardon the cynicism here, but after all that canning, are we cooking all the nutrients out…into the liquid…and should probably be saving/eating the liquid they are canned in? And, one more question….I have a lid that I left too long in water that I did not use in canning one day, and it developed a rust spot on the white part of the lid. Can I use it to can some thing or should I use it w/a jar ring as a lid for dry stuff in a jar? Thank you for taking the time to answer all our questions….it is a HUGE help out here.

J from Missouri

If you refrigerated, then heated and re-canned the batch you forgot the time with, using the correct processing procedure, I’m sure the black spot wasn’t mold. Acid foods do sometimes react to the metal lids, causing discolored spots. It’s not too common, but it does happen. As long as you re-canned the batch a short time after refrigeration, I wouldn’t worry at all.

You don’t need to can raisins; they stay fine in a dry jar nearly forever!

Yes, I’ve canned the pepperoni from the little bags from the store; I got a whole bunch for 25 cents a bag that was close-dated, and canned up the whole works. I’m still using them. I simply stacked the slices tightly in half pint jars, leaving 1/2″ of headspace, then processed them for 75 minutes at 10 pounds pressure. The grease does melt out of the slices, but it makes good pizza anyway!

I’m sure that canned vegetables have less nutrients than fresh ones do, but I’ll bet that home canned ones have a lot more than store bought vegetables, as we pick and can ours at peak ripeness and they are FRESH when we can them, not days old, held in storage before processing for who knows how long. Yes, it is a good idea to use that liquid; it makes a great soup base or ingredient, as well as being useful in casseroles, noodle dishes, etc. — Jackie

Raising beef without a pasture

If you do not have pasture area and want to raise some beef, is it realistic to raise beef entirely in a pen? Do you have any formulas on how to calculate the feed quantity required to get the beef to weight for processing? I realize feed cost will vary by individual situation but how much hay grain etc. would a person plan for to raise a beef cow to processing weight?

Kevin Sakuta
Jesup, Georgia

This is like asking how long a string is. Sorry, but I don’t have a formula for you. There are just too many variables here, such as type of hay, type of animal, sex, grain given, etc. We started our bottle calves at 3 days old. At two months of age, they were eating grass, which we cut and gave to them in their pen. By fall, they were eating less than one square bale per day, between all four. By this spring, they weigh about 650-700 pounds, and are eating a 1,400 pound round bale of clover/grasses about every month. They also get about 3 pounds of mixed grain, per head, per day. They do get some pasture, but it is our goat pasture, and they keep it pretty short. You won’t save too much money buying a calf and raising it to butchering weight, all on dry lot. But it comes a little at a time, and you DO know what your steer ate and it WILL be much better meat than you can buy in the store. I promise that! — Jackie

Planting cauliflower and potatoes

I have a recommendation for the cauliflower-planter in your most recent blog, as well as a question for you. I wanted to tell the cauliflower person that I grow broccoli every year, as it’s a favorite in our family….broccoli and cabbage are botanically almost identical. Wanted to let her know that the Bt spray works great for me. You have to reapply it after rain; really keep at it, as there are many wild plants that attract the cabbage moths, too, so they are always around. I also interplant the broccoli with marigolds and garlic. Seems to help a lot. If you don’t stay right on top of anything in that family, all the plants will be very moth-y and unhealthy because of the constant challenge the moths present.

My question for you is that I thought I’d try planting my very small potatoes this year. These are the ones about the size of a nickel, that don’t get used in the winter because they sift down to the bottom of the crates. I’ve never purposely planted those before, only the bigger ones that are sprouting by the time planting time is here. A friend thought it would be a good use for these little guys but now I’m wondering what kind of harvest I’ll get. We really depend on a good potato harvest each year.

Jeanne Allie
Storrs, Connecticut

Thank you for your tips. I, personally, haven’t had a great harvest using those little guy potatoes. Some companies sell these, as seed potato, but not the “real” seed potato companies. They are cute, and I hate to waste them, but I’ve used them and haven’t been thrilled with the result. Maybe others have had different results; please let us know! Instead, I think the plant gets off to a better start with a good chunk of “mother” potato to feed it until it gets roots and gets going. — Jackie

Tomato soup recipe

Do you have a good recipe for tomato soup? I am enjoying your Growing and Canning Your Own Food book. It was well done, easy and interesting to use.

Linda Mitchell
Vassar, Michigan

I’m assuming you mean cream of tomato soup, as it’s the most frequently requested recipe, and one I use a lot.

1 pint of canned tomatoes (no juice) or tomato sauce
1 diced onion
2 Tbsp. brown sugar
2 cups milk
1/2 cup flour
2 Tbsp. butter/margarine

Simmer the tomatoes/tomato sauce and onions. In a separate pan, melt butter/margarine, mix in flour until blended, then add milk. Continue to heat, stirring until thick. Pour the thick tomato mixture into the hot white sauce. (You may add a teaspoon of baking soda to prevent a curdled appearance, if you have this problem.) Stir until well mixed. — Jackie

Food storage ideas needed

A few issues back you discussed building a root cellar and when I grew up in Colorado we had one where we kept potatoes, apples, onions, etc. throughout the winter. Now I live in South Florida where the water table is too high to dig a root cellar, and where the temperature is much warmer. I would like to know food storage alternatives that are viable for my area.

Charlie Grett
Royal Palm Beach, Florida

Some homesteaders in Florida make an above ground root “cellar” by locating a rise of ground, above the water table, then building it out of cement block, with a cement roof, insulated, then covered with several feet of soil and vegetation. This must also be vented to prevent condensation from being a problem. Others use an unused room in their home, which is air-conditioned, with the windows draped to keep out sunlight. I’m sure you’ll be able to come up with a viable storage plan, with a little juggling around. — Jackie

Potatoes growing in compost pile

I have a compost pile that has not been turned in a couple of years. We have 4 goats, a llama and about 2 dozen chickens that make contributions to the pile along with some kitchen scraps. My plans were to have it tilled when I get the garden tilled this year and turn it into a strawberry bed. My son saw lots of potato plants coming up in the pile and thought I should wait until fall to till the pile (he loves potatoes). I am wondering if the spuds would be safe to eat considering that the pile has not been tended to. What would you do?

Shirley Wikstrom
Stevenson, Washington

I would probably go ahead and till ‘er up. The reason for this is that potatoes that grow in highly fertile ground (or a compost pile!) receive too much nitrogen. They grow magnificent plants…but often very few potatoes. And, I would probably worry a bit about harmful bacteria, being that the pile has not been worked up, too. If a pile has heated like it should, the bacteria are “cooked” and rendered safe. If some has heated, but more fresh manure has been added, you do run some risk here, although you don’t eat raw potatoes, and thorough cooking will kill any bacteria present. — Jackie

Bad Beans?

Last year I canned about 60 quarts of green beans. Around 45 quarts just plain and about 15 or so as dilly beans. The first quart I opened the beans were mushy and tasted bad so I thought I might have done something wrong in that batch. I opened a quart from the next batch, same thing. And so on with each batch I canned all season. I opened a quart of dilly beans and they too tasted bad. I have followed the same processes for years now for both pressure canning beans and making dilly beans and have never had a problem before. Is it possible the beans, even the seeds were bad? What would cause an entire crop of beans to go bad? The beans that all seem to be bad were grown right next to tomatoes and peppers that were all fine. I don’t know if that rules out the possibility of bad soil. The soil here is sandy so I periodically work in grass clippings and lots of horse manure that I get from a neighbor.

Brian Schneider
Crivitz, Wisconsin

I’m SO sorry your beans turned out bad! Something like this is so depressing! No, I don’t think your soil, the seed, or growing method was wrong/bad. When vegetables are soft/mushy/bad tasting, it’s nearly always something we have done wrong in the canning process. I’ve done it myself. Sometimes we are in a hurry and glance at our canning book for the processing time and get the wrong time. For instance, we see the time required for pints and are canning quarts. Oops! Or our canning jars have frozen during winter storage (a frequent oops). As you canned both plain green beans (pressure canner, I hope) and dilly beans, which are a bean pickle, using a water bath canner, I’d wonder if your jars might have frozen during storage. Even a single night will result in this problem as you describe. I truly hope you again can beans this year and have great success, as they are USUALLY among the easiest things to put up. — Jackie

Jackie Clay

We’re working on our bridge and we also made a “haul”

Wednesday, May 12th, 2010

While our friend Dale Rinne was here digging our pond, he also dug holes for the pilings for our new bridge over the creek. And last week, Will hauled some 8′ pieces of heavy, used power poles down and carefully sunk them into the holes. Teetering on 2″x6″s, he pounded stakes to hold them in place, then nailed on braces to keep them plumb while the holes were filled in with gravel. When solid, we’ll add a railroad tie across the top to support the doubled mobile home frame that will be the bridge frame. Wow, won’t it be great to be able to drive our four wheeler across the creek and into the woods!

David has been working for another neighbor this winter, along with working for Jerry Yourczek, who he hays for. This neighbor has a barn that was formerly a dairy barn. They want to use it for horses and goats, so they had David tear out all the stanchions, stall partitions, and watering cups. We were hoping to get a stanchion for our future milk cow (when the barn is done!), and here we have a whole truck load, including pipe stall fronts and dividers. We may not be able to use the watering cups, due to our lack of power/water pressure in the winter. But if our barn turns out warm enough, we MAY be able to use a raised watering tank and gravity feed the cups. At least for most of the year… What a haul!

Readers’ Questions:

Raising beef without pasture

I have a question about raising beef. We live in the forest with about 2 acres around our house that is for gardens etc. How would we raise a beef without pasture? Would it be economical to even try this without our own grass? There is that tough grass in the forest areas that are sparse on trees but that is about it.

Cindy Hills
Wild Rose, Wisconsin

If you can find an economical source of hay, you could raise a beef steer in a corral, feeding him hay and grain (as needed), instead of pasture. Of course it would be cheaper to pasture your steer, but feeding hay is definitely an option. We’ve raised our four calves on hay, with only a little pasture, for 9 months, and the biggest weighs more than 700 pounds. We’re madly fencing our new pasture now, as the grass is greening up, but could sure finish them off in the goat pasture, on hay, if needed. The meat would be so much better, and cheaper, than store bought meat! — Jackie

Tasteless dill pickles

I have two canning questions for you. Last year I froze a bunch of blueberries and we didn’t eat them all yet. Is it possible to make them into blueberry pie filling and can it?

Last year I also made some dill pickles and I guess I didn’t use enough dill, because they are quite tasteless. Can I re-can them into relish or sweet pickles of something along those lines? We just don’t like them the way they are and they are not getting eaten.

Julie Hamilton
Lititz, Pennsylvania

Yes, but to keep them from getting softer with re-heating and canning, you could just open a pint, add more dill, then put it in your fridge for a couple of weeks. The dill will strengthen the dill taste in the pickles during refrigeration. And, you can grind the pickles to make relish, adding more dill, but the relish may be a little “soft.” Treat it as if you were making fresh relish, regarding processing time, etc. — Jackie

Canning on a ceramic stove top

I have a ceramic top stove and have read in some places you shouldn’t use it for canning. I do both waterbath and pressure. Is this true and if so would you know why? Would I be able to make any modifications to be able to utilize the stove top? I would hate not to be able to put up garden produce this year.

Leona (Lee) Johnson
Wrightstown, New Jersey

Stove manufacturers don’t recommend canning on a ceramic or glass top stove because the weight of a canner could crack the stove top. Several readers have written in that they successfully can on theirs, where other folks have bought an inexpensive propane two burner “camp” stove, available through Harbor Freight and Northern Tool, for canning. From personal experience, I do know these stoves work well and are sturdier than Coleman camp stoves. — Jackie

Baby goat problems

I was given a baby goat (billy) he is a week old. He is having very runny stools that look almost like blood. He was on Mom but was taken off; she did not want anything to do with him and I put him on a bottle which he has not taken to very well. He has a twin sister who is doing great. I am using goat milk from one of my other does. Any suggestions?

Mary Ingold
Kalispell, Montana

Ideally, you could take a stool sample in to your vet and have them check for coccidiosis, a parasite that is quite common in baby goats. It causes runny, often bloody diarrhea. Treatment consists of oral liquid, usually a sulfa drug (also available at most ranch stores). You’ll also need to control the diarrhea by discontinuing milk feeding, replacing it with an electrolyte solution. This is also available through your vet and the ranch store (usually sold as “calf” electrolytes.) The water-electrolyte mix is the same, but feed by bottle the amount you are feeding milk. Hopefully, after a short treatment period, the diarrhea will stop and you can again resume feeding milk again. — Jackie

Dehydrating mushrooms

I have bought several #10 cans of mushrooms and I want to dehydrate them with my Excalibur 3900 system, Do you by chance know what temperature to do them on and for how long? I did it at 125 degrees for 12 hours and boy oh boy that was way too long. I am new to this and just learning.

Denyse Rhodes
Sandston, Virginia

If your mushrooms are sliced about 1/4″ thick, dry them at 125 degrees until light and very dry. Depending on conditions, this can take as little as 5 hours or as long as 10 hours. Halved mushrooms take even longer. Be sure to drain your mushrooms well, then lay them out on your trays in a single layer. After a few hours drying, check them and see how things are coming. If necessary, move the trays around so they are drying evenly. Your mushrooms should be very dry, but not browning when they are done. Once dehydrated, they’ll be good for years, stored in an airtight jar. — Jackie

Growing cauliflower

My first year planting cauliflower, is there anything to look out for and is there any secrets for good results? Also is there a way to can cabbage (sauerkraut) without using a crock method?

Richard Burns Jr.
Keyser, West Virginia

One of the most important things about cauliflower is NOT to plant older, root-bound plants, such as often found in big-box stores. You want young, smaller plants that are NOT showing any signs of getting heads. Once a cauliflower plant starts to head, the plant does not grow large, the head stays small, and that’s that. It’s known as “button heading.” Cauliflower likes cool weather to grow in, so does well in the spring and fall, taking some frosts quite well.

Be sure your plants get lots of water, but don’t let them stand in mushy ground, either. Watch for white “butterflies,” or cabbage moths. These lay eggs on the plants which hatch into little green worms called cabbage loopers. These eat your plant and make eating the cauliflower unappetizing. You can cover your plants with floating row cover to prevent the adults from laying eggs on the plants or spray the plants with bT, which is a bacteria that is harmless to helpful insects, birds, and humans, but kills the worms.

As the plants get large and start to form heads, gather the long leaves and tie them up over the heads with yarn, string, or rubber bands. This keeps the white heads very white and pretty. Harvest the entire head before it starts to separate into individual floweretts. Unlike broccoli, it won’t form new side shoots or another head. Feed the plant to your goats or chickens after harvesting. — Jackie


I’m pretty new to gardening of any type but I’ve planted some flowers and they’re doing quite well. In light of that my sister asked me to plant some dahlias for her. Well, the only dahlias available near here are…I don’t know what to call them, they’re not seeds and they’re not tubers. They look like a glob of dirt with sticks poking out of it. Anyway, I was wondering how you would plant those (and what they would be called). The package doesn’t seem to have any instructions on it.

Michele Samons
Jackson, Michigan

I’m really not sure what you’re dealing with. Are they seedlings in four or six packs? These have dirt on the bottom, roots instead of tubers, but hopefully plants (not sticks) coming out of them. Dahlia roots SHOULD have finger-like tubers, with a hollow “stick” poking up where the plant last summer was cut off in the fall. I’d be a little skeptical about what you’ve got there. — Jackie

Planting potatoes

I’m getting ready to plant the garden and wondered what to do with the potatoes that had already sprouted. Talking 6″ inches. Should I break those off, shorten them up, or leave them and bury them all the way? (For the record, these were potatoes I bought thinking they were already cut.) Thanks,

Zortman, Montana

Don’t break them off or shorten them. Instead, plant the entire potato with sprouts under the soil. You’ll get potatoes all along the sprouts. It’s better to have fat, shorter sprouts, rather than long white ones, but you’ll find that you will get decent potatoes from those less-than-perfect seed potatoes. — Jackie

Growing grains

I was wondering if you know of a good book or resource about growing grains on a homestead? I’m looking for information on planting times, what grains do well in what zones, the process of plowing, planting and harvesting (on the small scale). I read your article in a previous BHM on growing grains, and it inspired me. I just bought 17 acres and the homestead is getting started this year. I’m anxious to start growing more of my own food.

Dave Rose
Buena Vista, Colorado

The book SMALL SCALE GRAIN RAISING by Gene Logsdon is quite good. You can find it online and at many used bookstores. BHM sells HOMEGROWN WHOLE GRAINS by Sara Pitzer which is also geared toward the small-scale grain grower. You can also get information through your county extension service. Although much of their information on small grains is geared to farmers, some is also useful to small producers, as well. Grain is basically planted like lawn seed; it’s really easy to do. A lot of fun, too! — Jackie

Jackie Clay

Leave it to the baby goats to find the first green grass

Tuesday, May 4th, 2010

Our baby goats are getting fat and feisty. Although they are nearly too big to fit through the stock panel squares, they wiggle and push until they can get out and explore. They are like a street gang — always together, getting into mischief. They run and jump up on the wood hauling trailer, fly off that, run onto two logs near the chicken yard, then bounce off to find some new green grass or clover that is just starting to come up. We have sold two of our bucklings to good homes already, with one more to go. Then we will have no more goats to sell until next spring.

Today I planted 40 more asparagus roots, giving us a total of 90, planted this spring. I couldn’t get over how much improved our garden soil is from all that compost that was worked into it! It was sandy and rocky, and today it was fluffy and black. What a difference two years can make! Wow.

Readers’ Questions:

Fruit and vegetable juicing

Is it possible to can fresh juices made from a juicer/extractor such as the Breville? The extracted pulp includes the inedible parts of the whole fruit/vegetable which is discarded. I would like to preserve the nutritional benefits of the pulp. If I first peeled/prepared the fresh fruits/vegetables, extracting only the edible parts, would I be able to can the pulp with the juice. If so, How would you advise processing?

Lori Schwartz
Flora, Indiana

You could certainly do this, but I question the thickness of the end product. If you use too much pulp, you’ll end up with a product that is more like pureed baby food. You’ll have to strike a balance here, so you end up with a thickened juice. You would process the juice for the length of time given for that fruit/vegetable. Be advised that no one I know has had luck canning carrot juice. Blends, such as V-8 juice, do can up very well, however. And, of course, all fruit juices do as well. — Jackie

Hybrid plants and seeds

Are there any health disadvantages in using hybrid plants or seeds? I don’t recall reading anything about hybrids.

Tonya Bowles
Paoli, Indiana

No. My only concerns are with GMOs (genetically modified crop seeds). The advantages of planting open pollinated varieties are: often the taste is better, you can save your own seed, be sure your next year’s plants will be the same as this year’s, often open pollinated varieties are hardier than hybrids, and the crops store better, too. You are also preserving a vital genetic link to our past. Hundreds of very good heritage varieties are lost each and every week. Forever. — Jackie

Vacuum seal bags

Hi Jackie, you had recommended using 3mil or higher vacseal bags. I’m have some difficulty finding a supplier of 3 mil vacbags. Would you care to share your source?

Rockingham, North Carolina

Sorry, Lon, but I don’t remember recommending or even talking about 3 mil vacuum seal bags, so I can’t share a source. — Jackie

Worming a goat

I have a Nubian goat in milk who always has droppings that more resemble dog droppings than goat berries. None of my other goats do this. I had the vet test a fecal sample and she had stronglyes. I wormed her (a lot) with herbal wormer, since it had no withdrawal time on the milk, but it did not make a difference on the poops. Could it be that is just the norm for a goat? We’ve had her about 3 months and she has done this the whole time. She seems healthy and happy. I was wondering if I should worm her with Ivermectin or if maybe big droppings are possibly just the norm for this goat?

Erica Leake
Manor, Texas

I doubt that the big droppings are normal. She probably still has worms. The only way to know is to take a stool sample in to your vet. Some people have had luck with herbal wormers, but I just haven’t. I would take a sample to your vet and if she still has worms, use a wormer he/she recommends. You may have to repeat it in two weeks to be sure the worm population is wiped out. Sometimes just worming once is not enough, as eggs aren’t killed and hatch, re-populating your goat’s digestive tract. — Jackie

Jackie Clay

Our calves did so well last year that we’ve bought two more

Monday, May 3rd, 2010

We raised four steer calves last summer/fall, and they are now very BIG guys! Will just measured them with a weight tape (it’s a tape measure that has cattle weights, along with inches marked on it). The biggest steer weighs 720 pounds and the second largest, 709 pounds. And these calves are only 9 months old!

We bought them at the sale barn, which we don’t like to do, because you often end up with sick calves, usually scouring calves, which we did. We brought them all through it by feeding them electrolytes instead of milk, antibiotics, and sulfa pills, but it wasn’t fun, for sure. The reason we did buy them there is that there was no one who had calves to sell anywhere near us. And even the sale barn is three hours away! Yes, we DO live in the boonies.

Luckily, our neighbor, who David works for, told us about a friend of his, an hour south of us, who has Holstein milk cows and sometimes sells bull calves. We contacted them, and were put on a waiting list for this spring. Friday we got the call; our two calves were ready to come home with us. So Sunday, we hooked up the trailer and drove down to pick up the new babies, after cleaning a pen and hunting up our calf equipment (bottles, etc.).

The calves are doing great and already holler when they hear us coming. It doesn’t seem possible that our other four “calves” were EVER that small!

Readers’ Questions:

Growing rhubarb in the south

Does rhubarb grow well in the south (north central Alabama)? I honestly don’t know of anybody around here that grows it. Daughter-in-law has a greenhouse this year on the farm and it’s growing well and we’ve read so much great stuff you do with rhubarb we’d like to try it?

Since we don’t know anybody that has any to be divided to get a start, what do we do, order seed or what?

Suzy Lowry Geno
Oneonta, Alabama

Rhubarb is tough to grow in the south, as it needs two months, at least, of below 40 degree weather, preferably freezing weather, to “rest” for next spring’s production. You can give it a try, though, and see how you do. I NEVER say “never”! I’d suggest getting a root from one of the mail order seed catalogs, such as Jungs, as the roots will give you rhubarb much faster than seeds. Good luck and let us know! — Jackie


I have been searching for information on GMO’s and have come up with little more than peoples opinions. What do you know about them and are they really a “threat” to human consumption? How does a person know if they are getting seeds to plant that are not GMO? I have also heard the argument that all the hype is nothing more than a tactic to get people thinking about things that don’t matter or are not truly a real issue so that they don’t focus on the “real” issues. Kinda like the “global warming” thing.

Any information you can give would be much appreciated, as I am starting my first garden this year and have concerns.

Liz Welcher
Indianapolis, Indiana

I am VERY concerned about GMOs, like many farmers, growers, and consumers. I do not believe they have been tested well enough to be “safe” for consumption. (Remember that DDT was once considered “safe” by scientists and the government, and even recommended by them!) And I DO NOT believe in introducing genes from such things as fireflies and frogs into grains and vegetables!

Unfortunately, crops grown by growers can be “contaminated” by pollen from GMO crops, even a mile away. For instance, corn is one of the most common GMO crop. The pollen from one neighbor’s GMO corn can be blown a mile away to contaminate a concerned organic grower’s corn which was not GMO. When he saves the seed, it is contaminated and shows genes from the GMO corn. This is why some seed companies, such as Baker Creek, have their seed tested to make sure it has not been contaminated.

I, personally, believe this is a very real concern about something that could impact the world both in our foods but also financially, as all too soon, companies such as Monsanto, will force farmers to grow their GMO seed by prosecuting farmers who save their own non-GMO seed, saying they have broken patent laws, “stealing” pollen from their neighbors’ GMO crops! Sound like a monopoly to you? It’s real scary to me. — Jackie

Long term storage

Thank you for all the advice you give out. Many of the responses have helped me sort out and plan for my future move, but there is a subject that I need to know about. I just bought a large amount of pickling lime, pickling salt, rennet tablets, sure jell, salsa mix, and etc. for a very decent price. My question is how long will these items last under good storage conditions?

Bo Suddueth
jacksonville, florida

You’re good to go, Bo. These products will remain good for a very long time, if stored in a dry location. Rennet tablets? Are these Junket brand rennet tablets for cheesemaking, perhaps? Junket rennet tablets really don’t make great cheese. You need “real” rennet tablets or liquid, either calf or vegetable in origin. The liquid is stronger but must be kept refrigerated and does not remain good for a long time. I’m glad I’ve been of help in your future plans. Keep in touch. — Jackie

Dried meat

I’m becoming interested in making my own dried foods, particularly Jerky and fruits. My question – the dried meat is originally raw and “cooked” slowly over several hours/days depending on how its dried. How long is the dried food good for? Can it be used as a long term food storage plan or does it have to be refrigerated? I’ve looked on a few websites that state you should refrigerate the jerky after preparing it? What gives?

Clark McDonough
Grovetown, Georgia

Old time jerky was a lot different than modern day jerky. Traditional jerky was dried until it was stick-like, not the soft, chewy product that we like today. The old jerky had ALL the moisture dried out of it, and was usually smoked, to boot. It would keep for long periods of time. But the jerky recipes you follow today result in modern jerky, the chewy variety, not the gnaw-on-for-hours kind. Modern jerky will get moldy unless refrigerated or frozen, unless it contains all the preservatives in store-bought jerky.

You CAN dehydrate jerky and other meats for long-term storage, but remember that they MUST be dehydrated until VERY, very dry. — Jackie

Storing cornmeal

We just picked up our cornmeal from the local grist mill and was wondering what the best way to store it would be. We ended up with almost 80 lbs. so we have quite a bit to store. (The mill added the baking powder and such to make it self-rising if that makes a difference.)

We do have a large deep freezer that we could put it in but I wondered if we should invest in the mylar bags and 02 absorbers to get the best chance of long term storage.

Marlana Ward
Mountain City, Tennessee

I would definitely freeze your great cornmeal. Fresh, whole cornmeal is like whole wheat flour; it can get rancid after a relatively short storage time. But kept in the freezer, it will remain good for a long time. Do keep it in an airtight container, though, so that it doesn’t absorb freezer odors. — Jackie

Making bread

I made your light wheat sourdough bread from the May/June issue of BHM and it turned out great tasting. Unfortunately, I had a couple of issues, which I’ve experienced before with other bread recipes: 1) the bread turned out very dense and heavy; 2) the dough was quite dry and crumbly when I put it in the pan to bake. I brushed the top with a little vegetable oil before baking but it did not turn out beautiful and glossy like yours looked in the picture. What am I doing wrong? Is that just how it is with homemade bread? Is there a “trick” to bread making?

Lisa Pedrotti
Coppell, Texas

The article you referred to was not written by me, but by Linda Gabris, but I’ll see if I can help you anyway. If your bread turned out very heavy and the dough was crumbly, I’d say you need to add a bit more water to your recipe. Some flours require more liquid in breadmaking than others and even some locations need more liquid; maybe it’s a humidity issue. You want your dough just firm enough that it doesn’t stick to your hands, but no more or it will not rise properly.

I always brush the tops with my breads with butter just after I take them out of the oven. This not only gives them that pretty glow, but makes the crust less tough, too. And it “glues” seeds, such as poppy seed onto the tops. Keep at it and you WILL get great bread. Breadmaking is an art and does require some practice. — Jackie

Storage of black walnuts

I have close to a bushel of black walnuts from last fall and I wonder if you know how long they are good for. They are dehulled, but I haven’t harvested the nutmeat out yet. If they are still good, should I freeze them, or just keep them in the cabinet? Also, can they be canned?

Lisa J Graves
New Albany, Indiana

They are probably still good. Crack open a few and try them! They should still taste good and appear full and shiny in the shell. If they do, you can sure crack them and either freeze them or can them. They are easy to can. You will just lay the shelled nutmeat pieces out on a cookie sheet in your oven and toast at 250 degrees for about 20 minutes, stirring them around a few times so they do not scorch. Then pack into half pint or smaller jars (black walnuts are tough to crack and pick, so you’ll want small jars!), leaving 1/2″ of headspace. Process at 5 (five!) pounds pressure for 10 minutes in a pressure canner. — Jackie

Mushroom compost

Do you know anything about mushroom compost? They say that you don’t need to use any other kind of fertilizer if you use mushroom compost. What are your thoughts? Also using leaves or straw for your mulch (in your rows) doesn’t it get caught up in your rototiller blades? How thick do you put it down so as not to get weeds? Grass clippings, won’t they burn your plants if you mulch with that?

Fresno, Ohio

Mushroom compost is very good as a soil builder. With good soil and this, you shouldn’t need more fertilizer. No, I’ve never had a problem with mulch getting tangled up in tiller tines. I haven’t used leaves as a mulch, but have used tons of them to help add organic material to heavy, pure red clay. And they sure helped! Every fall, I had trailer loads dumped on my garden. Folks in town had to pay to have garbage bags full of leaves hauled to the dump. They were thrilled when I went door to door, setting up a collection time, BEFORE garbage day! I put a couple of feet of leaves over old manure, on my garden each fall, and by spring, everything had composted well. (This is known as “sheet composting.”) I then tilled everything in and noticed an immediate improvement in my soil.

I use straw as mulch, as it’s what I have available. I put down about six inches around young plants, then add another six inches later on. But by then, the first six inches has packed down to about two inches, and by the time you till in the fall, some has already started to rot, so you will only be tilling in a couple inches of straw. When you use a deep mulch, such as Ruth Stout used, you do not till.

If you use grass clippings, be sure they are dry before you put them on the garden, or the heating will cause them to mat and stink. Same goes for using them in your compost pile. Dry ’em first, then they are great. (Of course, don’t use any that you have used chemicals, such as weed killers, on.) — Jackie


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