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Ask Jackie headline

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Jackie Clay answers questions for BHM Subscribers & Customers
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Archive for July, 2010

Jackie Clay

We still have 9 baby turkeys and we’re starting to roof the storage building

Thursday, July 29th, 2010

Despite heavy, and frequent, rains, which often spell doom to baby turkeys, our mama turkey still has nine babies in our orchard. They’re feathering out now and getting adventurous, which drives their mother nuts. They can fit through the 2″x4″ fence wire and hunt bugs outside the orchard, while she putts distractedly back and forth along the fence. We also have a mother fox with four half-grown babies which range from our horse pasture over the hill to the steer pasture. We’re just hoping they’re content with field mice and ground squirrels and don’t expand to turkey! So far, in six years, we haven’t lost any poultry or animals to wildlife, and we’re hoping our luck lasts.

Meanwhile, we got a load of sheet metal for the first, and highest, two sections of our roof on the storage building. It wintered well, covered with free lumber tarps. But the wind is working on them, and they are leaking into our hay loft. Before we stack hay in there, we’ve got to get the roof water-tight. So today, Will’s busy tearing off the tarps. I’ll clean up the debris when I get done blogging, and help him handle the 14′ sheets. HOPEFULLY, the wind will stay quiet! Oh how they pull on you when it’s windy!

Readers’ Questions:

Canning with flour

I am new to pressure canning and I have a question. On one of your responses to readers you said that it was not a good idea to use flour in the recipe for gumbo. Yet, in another response, you said it was ok to can chicken and dumplings. Dumplings at my house are made with Bisquick which is mostly flour. So, now you have confused someone who is already confused! Why is it not ok to use flour?

Neil Garvis
Spring, Texas

You don’t use much flour in canning recipes, such as gravies, because a too-thick food (like condensed cream of mushroom soup, for instance), may not heat thoroughly enough in the canning process to kill certain harmful bacteria, their spores, and toxins. When you can, say, chicken and dumplings, with just a moderate amount of dumplings or noodles, the boiling broth circulates around the dumplings or noodles, thoroughly heating them internally. Just don’t make your dumplings or noodles very thick, and don’t use so many in a jar that they make the broth thicken. — Jackie

Sweet pea vine

I think I’ve heard you say that you eat the peas from the sweet pea vine. My mom just told me that she’s eaten them, also. But, I looked online and a number of sites say that they’re poisonous! I have 2 perennial vines and don’t want to waste the peas if they’re edible. What do you think?

Gen Rogers
Winthrop Harbor, Illinois

NO! I’ve never eaten peas from the sweet pea (flower) vine. They ARE poisonous! Unfortunately, many people call garden, or English peas “sweet peas.” In the stores, you’ll also see cans of “sweet peas,” but they are NOT the flower, sweet pea. They are pretty, but don’t eat ’em. — Jackie

Garlic powder, mustard beans, and search function

The garlic has done REALLY well this year. Do you make garlic powder with yours?

The Kentucky Wonder beans got away from me and are big. Will they work for the Mustard Bean Pickles (wow, those pickles are good!)

Could someone in the BHM office catalog your archive so we could type in a key word and find your invaluable information? (I know, I don’t have time, either.) Just a thought.

Sandra Agostini
Nixa, Missouri

Yes, I do make garlic powder. I just cut the peeled cloves in half, lay them out in my dehydrator until they are dry-dry, then give them a few whizzes in a blender, then put the powder on a cookie sheet. I put this in my oven, with only the pilot light on to further dry, stirring it up a few times with a spoon. When it’s dry (don’t let it get brown!), I put it in a glass jar to store. You’ll never believe how many times I reach for that jar, either!

Once beans set lumpy seeds, they really aren’t that great for Mustard Bean pickles. I use them like shell beans to use them up. Some folks just toss them on the compost pile, where others LOVE them cooked in the pod. The point is to get them off the vine or the vine will “think” it’s done its job, setting seed, and quit producing flowers and beans.

There is a search function on my blog; it is in the upper right corner. Type in a key word and it will show the blog posts that include that word. — Jackie

Canning shorted jars

A canning question please — sometimes at the end of a pot of whatever, I “run out” and can fill the last jar only 1/2 or 3/4 full. I’ve always avoided canning these “shorted” jars and used them right away. Is it ok to process them half full? Is the answer the same for water bath and pressure canning, as I do both?

Michele Zipf
Amelia, Ohio

Better than processing half full jars, why not use pints or half-pints? Long ago, I never used half-pints, but have since found that they often come in very handy for some mixed recipes where, say, a pint of corn or carrots is just too much and I don’t want leftovers. I have processed 3/4 full jars with success but really prefer to use smaller jars. When I’m setting up to can, I always have my chosen sized jars on hand, along with a few “odd” sized jars, such as half-pints. Just in case. — Jackie

Blossom end rot

My tomatoes are really suffering from blossom end rot. I have several that have small fruits that are not yet affected. If I put a fertilizer with calcium on them now, do you think the unaffected fruits will be spared, or is it too late for them?

Julie Borneman
Leesburg, Virginia

It’s never too late to treat blossom end rot. It’s usually seen on your first fruits, kind of as a warning to do something. You can spray them with a calcium solution, but many times increasing the watering will bring about a quick remedy, as blossom end rot is caused by both a lack of calcium and irregular, and often insufficient, watering. You might try soaker hoses along the bottoms of the plants so the roots get plenty of moisture. Too often, we top-water with sprinklers, but the abundant leaves keep the water from the plants’ roots and we end up with blossom end rot. Pick off any affected tomatoes to spare the plant from putting energy into them and you should see a quick end to your problem. — Jackie

Growing onions

Jackie, I have never had any luck raising onions from seed. I’m not sure what I’m doing wrong. Could you please give some tips, such as how “early” you start them, any special soil?, etc. I would love to try some Copal this next spring.

Kathleen in Illinois

Onions are real easy to raise from seed, with a few “ifs.” First of all, you really need to start them earlier than many seeds; although they sprout quickly, they grow slowly. I start my seeds early, in early March, in indoor flats. Although it does take time, I plant them carefully, in rows, in larger flats. If you just scatter them on the soil and cover them, they will be too thick when they germinate, and will be very hard to thin without damaging the remaining plant roots. Luckily, the seeds are large and easy to handle! Onions like cool temperatures, but when they’re tiny, they do appreciate a warmer location and plenty of light. Give them a south-facing window or a shop light, suspended only a couple of inches above the tops of the plants. While you can certainly start your plants in a mixture of well-rotted compost and good garden soil (baked in your oven to sterilize it), you can also use a good quality seed starting mix, such as Pro-Mix.

Set your plants out just after the last (you hope!) spring frost and water well. Onions aren’t bothered too much by frosts, but little onion plants grow better if they aren’t frosted or frozen badly.

Keep them well watered, but not soggy and keep the weeds pulled and you should have excellent onions. — Jackie

Canning cucumbers without vinegar

I do not care for pickles, but would like to can cucumbers and preserve the fresh flavor. Can this be done without vinegar and just using lime juice, salt or lemon juice as the acid?

Mark Joseph
Decator, Alabama

Sorry, but no. — Jackie

Canning grape leaves

Have you ever canned grape leaves? My vine is doing great, and it dawned on me to save the leaves for dolmas. What would be the best brine and how long should they be processed.

Andrea Del Gardo
Myrtle Beach, South Carolina

No, I haven’t. Do any readers have any help for Andrea? — Jackie

Canning bacon

How do you can bacon?

Carol Kalina
Monroe, Washington

First of all, please forgive me for answering your question so late. It kind of got missed when Mom passed away, along with a couple of other e-mail questions. I’m so sorry!

first of all, to can bacon, choose slab bacon, for ease of canning. You’ll want home-style “real” bacon, not bacon injected with solution, making it sloppy. Unsliced bacon cans easier, but you can use sliced bacon, held back together in jar-sized pieces. I’ve found that heating the bacon in a roasting pan, in the oven, long enough to drive off much of the fat and “shrink” it works best. Then cut the bacon chunks into jar-sized pieces and pack them in hot, wide mouth jars, leaving 1″ of headspace. Do not add liquid, as there is more moisture in the bacon. Process the jars at 10 pounds pressure for 75 minutes (pints) or 90 minutes (quarts). If you live at an altitude above 1,000 feet, consult your canning book for directions on adjusting your pressure to match your altitude, if necessary. — Jackie

Jackie Clay

The pin cherries are ripe

Tuesday, July 27th, 2010

We’ve been watching the pin cherries on our ridge for several weeks, and finally they are ripe. The birds have been getting into them, so we decided we’d better get out and pick before the Cedar Waxwings ate them all, which they will do in one day’s time. Those little masked bandits! So I spent two days picking, then Will helped me on the third day, as the birds were working faster than I could.

We ended up with several ice cream buckets full of nice fat cherries and I set about making jelly while Will went down to the garden to pull more weeds. Ugh, those weeds! We’ve had SO much rain this summer — scarcely two days in a row without rain. It’s making haying extremely hard for our friend Jerry and my son, David. The hay’s great, but the fields are so wet. It takes hay three days to dry, and they don’t get three dry days in a row. They put up 57 big round bales yesterday, and this morning it rained an inch. Yuck!

I simmered my cherries, then “squished” them by hand when they cooled some. Then I boiled them a bit and hung them in a jelly bag to drain. I use the same recipe for pin cherry jelly as the sour cherry recipe in the Sure-Jell box; 3 1/2 C juice and 1 box of Sure-Jell, boiled 1 minute, then add 5 1/2 C sugar, bring to a rolling boil for 1 minute. I then process the jars for 10 minutes in a boiling water bath canner. (I also make some, adding 1 tsp almond extract just before ladling out the jelly into the jars. This is different and very good, too.)

Canning is starting! I’m also finishing up doing blueberries. They haven’t been too good this year, but we’re increasing our stash in the pantry, anyway. We love our wild fruits!

Readers’ Questions:

Pickled garlic

I have an abundance of garlic this year and would like to pickle some. Do you have a recipe that does not use pickling spice? I would like to have your favorite.

Margaret Curry
Lawrence, Kansas

Sure, here’s a good and easy recipe:

6 cups peeled garlic cloves
3 cups vinegar
1 tsp. salt
1 cup granulated sugar

Mix vinegar, salt, and sugar in large kettle and bring to a boil. Add peeled garlic cloves and bring to a boil for 1 minute. Pack cloves into hot, sterilized half-pint or pint canning jars, leaving 3/4″ of headspace. Ladle boiling solution over garlic, leaving 3/4″ of headspace. Wipe rims of jars clean, place hot, previously simmered lids on jars and screw down rings firmly tight. Process in a boiling water bath canner for 10 minutes. If you live at an altitude above 1,000 feet, consult your canning book for directions on increasing your processing time to suit your altitude. — Jackie

Drying herbs

I’ve read that it is best to pick herbs for drying in the morning after the dew has evaporated. My basil and sage get dirt splashed up on the underside of the leaves when it rains. Is it best to rinse the dirt off after cutting or rinse the leaves before picking and wait until that water evaporates before picking? I’ve been rinsing the leaves after picking and then hanging them wet but this creates more work and just doesn’t seem the right way to go about it.

Patty Groetsch
Bay City, Wisconsin

If I have dirty herbs, I cut them, then rinse the whole stems well, then lay them out on a screen, propped up on logs or sawhorses. They dry faster than if you hang them, plus there’s much less work. To keep them from getting dirty in the first place, mulch the plants with some nice clean straw. Then you’ll have no dirt to contend with at all! It sure saves me work. — Jackie

Canning peppers

I’ve grown lots of peppers for making Chili Rellenos. How do I can this up so we can enjoy them all year? I don’t think using the vinegar method would taste right. Will pressure canning them make them too soggy to fry up well. Please help!

Donna Braun
San Bernardino, California

I use pickled peppers for chili rellenos. Rinse the pickled peppers well under cold water, then proceed as usual. The vinegar doesn’t really bother the taste much. You’ll just have to try it and see how it is to your own taste. I like mine fine that way. You’re right, the canned peppers are softer, although if you can up thick walled peppers, they are still usable for rellenos, although you DO have to handle them very carefully so they don’t break. — Jackie

Cookware for a wood cookstove

We plan to cook with a wood cookstove when we build our house (I hope to get the Kitchen Queen), and I was wondering what type of cookware would work best with it? I have a lot of cast iron and some stoneware, but I also like to cook with Stainless steel pots and pans and bake with glass cookware. Will the stainless and glass ware still be able to be used safely with a wood cookstove?

Rose Wolfe
Fairbanks, Alaska

You can use any cookware that you use on a non-wood stove, on your new wood stove. The pluses with a wood stove are steady and even heat, as there are no hot spots, as there are with an electric kitchen range. I know you’ll like your wood cooking! — Jackie

Guineas for ticks

We have a horrible tick problem on our 10 acre property. We already have chickens (fenced) and are planning on raising guineas and letting them into our garden and woods on the property for bug/tick control. We do have all the predators including neighbor dogs. I can’t seem to find any cons to getting these birds. They seem to fight off predators, mind their own business and take care of garden pests without harming vegetables. Is this true? Can they really be that wonderful? Any advice before we take the plunge would be great!

Deanna Deiters
Marion, Illinois

Guineas ARE great for getting rid of ticks and other bugs. However, they aren’t THE perfect solution, as they are sometimes prey to predators, they will scratch and eat some fruits and vegetables, such as strawberries and ripe tomatoes, and they are NOISY when disturbed. The noise is why we won’t be getting guineas. I can’t handle that. But it doesn’t bother many guinea lovers. I’d suggest getting a few birds and see how you do. — Jackie

Amish relish

I love your canning book. I will sit and read it for hours. I have used it over and over. I would like to make the Amish relish but it doesn’t say how much vinegar to use. I’m really sorry to hear your mom passed away.

Robin Putman
Coolville, Ohio

Sorry about that! Several observant readers have picked out that boo boo. It should have 3 pints of vinegar. This error will be corrected in the next printing of the book. — Jackie

Growing and Canning your Own Food, Page 95 Amish relish does not give the amount of vinegar, so I used the amount of vinegar called for on page 96 for the Chow-chow relish, and processed. When I tried a little taste before processing I thought it was a little salty but I didn’t rinse veg. and after the simmering the batch still tasted salty. What did I mess up on? Love your recipes and all your valuable information. I am amazed with your knowledge and writing style. Grew up canning every thing. We never had anything that poured to fry with, but we worked so hard there was no weight problems, now all the cooking liquid pours freely as does the scales every time I step on.

Janita Walker
Monterey, Tennessee

Sorry about the missing vinegar! Other readers have caught that one, too. It will be corrected in the next printing, as well as a couple of other boo boos.

Did you mix your vegetables well the next morning? Usually, the vegetables have enough moisture pulled out of them to greatly reduce the salty taste, when you mix them, then drain them well. If not, rinse the raw vegetables well in cold water to get rid of excess salt. The salt is to draw out moisture, not to help in the canning process.

If your canned relish still tastes too salty, pour off half of the canning “juice” and replace it with vinegar when you open each jar. Then refrigerate it for a day or two, and you’ll have much better tasting relish. — Jackie

Transplanting blueberries

I transplanted one blueberry bush, and bought two others (same kind) and planted them all together. The one I transplanted died. The other two are dying, still some green leaves. I know we’re experiencing extremely high temps this year, and I’ve been consistent in watering. What happened, and how can I save the two remaining bushes? Neither bush have fruited.

Julie Raley
Louisville, Kentucky

Blueberry (and most other fruits) prefer to be transplanted in the early spring or late fall when they are dormant. Planting or transplanting leaved out bushes/trees is a real gamble, especially when it’s hot and dry. I’d keep watering your bushes and hope they’ll send up growth from the roots. Next spring, prune off all dead branches and hope for the best. — Jackie

Weeds, potato bugs, and bush cherries

I have a 20′ x 30′ area of weeds left to tackle that are the worst. This rain has really made them grow as you well know. Underneath are the carrots and beets! Boo hoo. Do you think the carrots will perk up as the weeds disappear? If I don’t have enough carrots left, do I still have enough time to replant? I’ll try for enough to can for this year. Then start all over in the spring again! We live in zone 4.

I read before that you planted your potatoes last which maybe was the beginning of June? How did you do with potato bugs and their larvae by planting so late? We planted potatoes the end of April since all the growers do around here. BUT we had potato beetles like crazy. It was a fight to the finish. We won! But we put in a LOT of hours of picking larvae. I hope the potatoes underneath are big and tasty! Just so you know the grower miles down the road is spraying the potato field to death. I feel sorry for the people who live around the edge of the field!

Can I bother you for one more problem? I have 3 Nanking bush cherries. They all flowered and set some cherries this year. This is their third year here. Two of the plants, after setting cherries, started turning brown on the leaves. Now they have no leaves. But the wood of the branches is still alive. Would you have a guess as to what happened and if they will be here next year?

Thanks so much! Your tomato plants look beautiful.

Cindy Hills

I have half a triple row of carrots that are that weedy, too, and I’m pulling weeds to try and save what I can. The trouble is that the weeds are so big that when I pull them, I also sometimes pull carrots. But I know if I don’t I won’t get anything, as the carrots are so spindly now, they’ll never make a crop. I feel it IS worth the effort, however, if only to keep the weeds from going to seed and magnifying our weed problem next year. Slowly, we’re getting ahead of the weeds, but it HAS been a real battle.

I would go ahead and plant some early maturing carrots and see what happens. Be sure to thin them as early as you can so they put all energy into making food for you. As carrots don’t mind frosts, they just may surprise you with a huge crop.

We’re lucky, here, as we’re so far from anywhere that grows potatoes that we haven’t had potato bugs. Lucky US. On past homesteads, we weren’t so lucky and also had to pick, pick, pick, and sometimes dust with rotenone.

I’m not sure what to tell you about your Nanking cherries. I’d just mulch them with rotted manure and be sure they’re getting enough water till fall, then pray they sprout in the spring. That kind of stuff is sure frustrating, isn’t it? — Jackie

Jackie Clay

Of birds, large and small

Monday, July 19th, 2010

Yesterday, we had our front door open to enjoy the nice breeze. I was sitting on the couch, taking a break, and happened to look up. There, circling the high ceiling in our living room was a hummingbird! She had flown in the front door after feeding on my petunia hanging baskets. I tried “shooing” her with a broom, but she only flew higher, figuring that up there, somewhere, she could get out. I ended up standing on a step ladder with a small aquarium fish net taped to an aluminum pole, scooping gently at my fugitive. She wasn’t afraid of the net; in fact, she perched on its edge when she got tired! Finally, I managed to net her and gently pick her out of the net with my hand. I took a quick picture, then ZIP, off she flew, probably saying bad words over her shoulder.

And yesterday, our hen turkey hatched 9 little poults. When Ilene and Sam Duffy were visiting, we discovered her sitting in a nest box (plastic dog crate), that we’d put in the bushes, in the orchard, to see if our new turkeys would lay eggs. We’d seen no results and kind of ignored the box after awhile. One hen turkey hadn’t! Will saw her in the weeds, out of the box, with a few little “peeps” running about. When he went to check, she hissed, growled, and attacked him. (Imagine, a Marine running like a little girl from a very p’d off turkey!) And later on the same day, she nearly got him again, while he was pulling weeds from around one of our apple trees. Maybe she thought that bent over pair of pants was a tempting target!

She hatched 9 and still has 9, even though it rained this morning. I’d like to bring Mom and babies into the little chicken coop, but figure I’d be taking my life into my hands, so am letting Mama go nature’s way. 7 are “chipmunk” colored like baby Narragansetts and two are yellowish, indicating that maybe our Bourbon Red turkey hen was also laying in the same box.

This is why we bought heritage breeds of turkeys. I had absolutely NO luck trying to raise artificial, man-made breeds like Broad-Breasted Bronzes and Whites. They got too big, couldn’t breed (the tom tore up the back of the hens trying to breed), the hens didn’t lay well, and certainly didn’t hatch any eggs. We like turkeys (and turkey), so decided to try the old-fashioned way. And it’s working. The turkeys breed easily — no torn up backs. They lay lots of eggs, sit on them AND hatch them! That’s so exciting.

Readers’ Questions:

Creosote coating in railroad ties

I am moving to my property in Montana this year and have a chance to purchase railroad ties that I thought I would use for making raised beds for my garden. Is there anything special I need to do about the creosote coating on the ties? Is it safe for these to be used for the garden?

Bob Whitney
Melstone, Montana

Although there is an ongoing debate regarding the safety of using treated used railroad ties, I’ve used them for years and known hundreds of other gardeners who have used them, with no known ill effects. If it really concerns you, you can use such materials as cement block, landscape block, large rocks or even logs for building your raised beds.
All the best of luck on your move! — Jackie

Canning eggs

We pickle our quail eggs and I knew I could find questions about safe egg canning answered here…but while I intend to try your recipe, I wondered if I could safely can eggs (unrefrigerated) using my own recipe. It uses 3-1/2 cups of vinegar and 1-1/2 cups of water, plus sugar, jalapenos, mustard seed, garlic and bay leaves. Would the addition of the extra ingredients diminish the safety of the canned eggs? I read that botulism doesn’t grow under a certain pH, but I’m not sure how to test my recipe for that (I don’t have any pH test paper).

Dennis Deering
Anchorage, Alaska

By adding the water, you’re reducing the acidity of the recipe, so I can’t recommend canning it. You can safely add different spices, but don’t water down a high acid recipe, for safety’s sake in canning. — Jackie

Fertilizer for fruit trees

I have a number of different fruit trees, peaches, cherry, apple, apricot and a huge pear orchard. What would you recommend for fertilizing fruit trees? And when do you apply it? I have used those fertilizer spikes in the past, is there something easier or better.

Erica Kardelis
Helper, Utah

What we do with our fruit trees is to spread a good thick mulch of half-composted manure or composted manure around each tree, about three feet out from the trunk in each direction, and about six inches deep each spring. Then in the fall, pull the mulch back from the trunk a few inches to prevent rodents from tunneling in. (With smaller trees, also wrap each trunk with hardware cloth or aluminum window screen up at least three feet for additional rodent protection.)
By next spring, the compost will break down, so you can rake it away and apply new. It seems to work for us. — Jackie

Pressure canning tomatoes

Both your book and the Ball Blue Book say to can tomatoes and tomato sauce in hot water bath canner. I’ve always used a pressure canner (5 lbs for 15 min) because it is quicker and doesn’t heat the house as much. Is there a reason I shouldn’t used the pressure canner for tomatoes?

Sam Allen
Bessemer City, North Carolina

No. The reason I use the water bath canner is that I don’t have to “babysit” the foods processing as much as I do when using the pressure canner, and can do other things in kind of the same area. I usually try to do a couple things at once, when I can, to save time. If you would rather use the pressure canner, go ahead. — Jackie

Dill pickle slices

Can I use any of your dill pickle recipes to make hamburger dill slices?

Linda Mitchell
Vassar, Michigan

Yes. I’ve made a lot of dill slices using the “regular” dill pickle recipes. This includes sweet and hot dills, too! — Jackie

Shelf life of dried and canned foods

We’re interested in making a survival “stash” of some staples such as dried beans, rice, sugar, and flour, as well as canned vegetables such as green beans, peas, tomatoes, squash, and corn. Our concept is to vacuum pack serving size packages and store in 5 gallon buckets in a cool, dry location (for the beans and rice). We would store the sugar and flour in their existing bags, in 5 gallon buckets, and add some bay leaves in the buckets. Can you give us an estimate of how long all these items might last in storage, including the canned items?

We really enjoy your column and the magazine and will be renewing soon. We will also be ordering your canning book tomorrow.

David Rowland
Summerdale, Alabama

The foods you listed have nearly unlimited storage potential. They should stay good for many years. You don’t need the bay leaves in sugar; nothing bothers it and there are no weevil eggs in it to hatch. Either store canned foods or home canned foods will be good nearly indefinitely, although it IS always a good idea to rotate your foods so that you don’t have any getting TOO old. This goes for your dry foods, too. Just to be certain that none ever goes to waste.
Glad to hear you’re renewing and buying the gardening/canning book. It’s nearly harvest time here and we’re starting to can tomorrow with our first wild blueberries! — Jackie

Tomato Cages

Just reading your blog, & noted the very cool tomato cages Will made. Would it be possible to get construction details on them? I have some of that wire, but it is a bear to work with! Did Will form them around something? How did he fasten the ends, bending wire/welding?

Deb Horan
Mason, New Hampshire

You just unroll the re-enforcing wire about 5′-6′ (depending on how large your plants will mature — for instance, Polish Linguisa and Gold Medal tomato plants get HUGE, where Silvery Fir Tree tomato plants are much smaller). Cut the wire so there are long ends. We bend these over around the other end of the cage. No, we don’t use a form, just the natural curve of the roll of wire. Besides the cage, we also drive a wooden stake in next to the plant and start tying it up before they are ready to cage. This starts the plant growing upright and the stake helps keep the cage from blowing over in a heavy wind.

We really like them. Plain tomato cages are small at the bottom and blow over in the wind or just fall over with the weight of our un-pruned tomato vines. — Jackie

Jackie Clay

We’ve moved our steers onto the new seeding

Wednesday, July 14th, 2010

Four 800-pound steers eat a lot of grass! A month ago, we moved them into the newly fenced pasture, but they ate the grass down all too quickly. But luckily, the new seeding next to the pasture that we cleared and planted this spring had grown very fast and vigorously. It has oats as a nurse crop and they are headed out nicely. So we ran a two-strand electric fence (powered by our solar charger) around it on steel T-posts. We used the more expensive, and stronger, T-posts because we are going to put permanent barbed wire on the fence later on, and can use the T-posts again, then.

Because cattle can bloat on lush pasture, we only let the “boys” on the new seeding for an hour the first day, then two the next. By day three, they were on it all afternoon. We don’t trust an electric fence; deer can crash it down and it can easily be shorted out by a falling tree branch or whatever, rendering it useless, so we put them in the permanent pasture at night or when we’re going to be away from home. Now the grass is growing back in their old pasture, and the new seeding still looks lush.

Meanwhile, we’ve been playing catch up with our weeds! Every day, we’ve been in the garden, hand weeding row upon row. It IS getting better, slowly. Today, I pulled grass away from the grapes in the berry patch. We’d mulched with partially composted strawy manure. Lots of grass seeds there — with huge, white roots everywhere! EEEK! But the grapes do look good…after the grass has been thrown over the fence, OUT of the garden. We’ll get the vines up on wire trellis soon.

I’ve also been weeding my neglected flower beds in the yard. They were also weedy, but the flowers are awesome. But I keep seeing this one or that one, and thinking I’ll have to tell Mom about it. That’ll take a lot of getting used to, not having her to share my flower and gardening discoveries.

Readers’ Questions:

Converting an electric pump to a hand pump

We have a well with an electric pump and want to convert it to a hand pump. Can’t seem to find any info about this online. We have called our local well man but he is so busy he has never returned our calls. Help! Money is limited so we would like to do this ourselves.

Harold & Clarice Prescott
Hamburg, Arkansas

Why don’t you call Lehman’s Hardware (888-438-5346); those folks are really helpful in this respect. I don’t know how deep your well is, if you’re wanting a supplemental pump, like a Bison pump to use in emergencies, along with your electric well pump. If you have a shallower well, say under 25′, installing a hand pump is very easy. A deep well requires more work and more cash. — Jackie

Hard jelly

Please tell me why my jalapeno jelly turned out hard and sticky. They sealed. Can I reprocess them?

Tina Mitchell
Weatherford, Texas

This usually happens if the measurements were not correct, or, most commonly, the jelly was processed too long. Soft jelly is easy to re-process, but I think I’d just use the firm jelly, sliced with a damp knife, and cut up on crackers or other uses. I used some firm jelly, heated up to liquid and brushed over a pork roast. WOW! A new recipe. It was a huge hit! Be creative and better luck next time. This happens to all of us at one time or another. — Jackie

Older canning lids and peeling fresh figs

I have two questions:
1) Is there a time limit on using canning jar lids? I like to have plenty stored but a cooperative extension person said to buy only what you need in a year. Is using older lids unsafe?

2) Most recipes for fresh figs don’t indicate whether they should be peeled or not. I assume you should peel but many recipes say “chopped figs.” How do you chop them if they’re peeled?

Sam Allen
Bessemer City, North Carolina

Using older lids is perfectly okay, as long as the sealing compound is not hard and cracking or the lids are not showing signs of rust. A lot of “experts” today push new, new, new. I routinely can with my oldest lids in order to rotate them; I always have at least two cases on hand at all times.

Most folks peel their fresh figs with a paring knife. They are tender and peel easily. Then you can cut them into slices, then chop the slices. In recipes using finely chopped figs, you can use an onion chopper. Where you want coarser pieces, dicing them with a knife is sufficient. — Jackie

Canning hot peppers

I am a beginner in canning and what I want to know is how to can hot peppers.

Jessica Lovell
Ethridge, Tennessee

Jessica, if you’ll check out the previous blog, you’ll see information on canning peppers. You don’t have to roast hot peppers to can them, but they do taste great if you do! Also, you can just cut slits in whole peppers, leaving the seeds in, and pickle them whole, using the same recipes. I prefer to pickle my peppers because they are much firmer than ones pressure canned with water and salt. I use mine (like sliced hot Hungarian and jalapenos) on nachos, pizza, in salads, and other recipes. You might check out my new canning book, which has recipes for both canning peppers and pickling them…as well as a whole lot more, of course. — Jackie

Measuring tomatoes

Just received your latest canning book,I must say I love it, In your tomato recipes you call for a gallon of tomatoes. How go you measure a gallon compared to a bushel or 1/2 bushel?

Janet Ousley
Leesburg, Indiana

Just find a big container, such as a mixing bowl, then pour in four quarts of water or a gallon jar of it. See how much it is, then you have your question answered! Remember that it is only a “guestimate,” as different sized tomatoes measure differently. You want “about” a gallon of tomatoes. — Jackie

Canning peaches

I’ve just gotta say that your picture with the gigantic rhubarb leaf reminds me of one of those fan-dancer ladies we’d see in old black-and-white movies back in the day.

Have you ever canned peaches by putting x-amount of sugar in a jar, filling it with peaches, covering them with boiling water, putting on the lid and processing in a boiling water bath? This has worked well for me and no messy syrup to mix up. Do you know of any reason why this is a bad idea?

Julie Hamilton
Lititz, Pennsylvania

No, I don’t know why it wouldn’t work, but remember that it is not an “approved” canning method, although you are using boiling water over the peaches. I think I’ll stick with the syrup method…just to be sure. — Jackie

Blight in garden soil

How do you get rid of blight after it has gotten into your garden soil?

Ed Vanek
Rice Lake, Wisconsin

You don’t. For awhile, at least. It’s best to totally remove and burn any affected plants, including their roots. If this is done before all your plants are affected, you may be able to use this area for blight resistant varieties of tomatoes. You might try hosing down the area, then laying a layer of black plastic over it for the remainder of the summer to see if you can “cook” the spores in the soil. Some folks have had luck with this where others only had so-so results. (I do wonder if they had the plastic down for several months or only a couple of weeks, though…) If you have the room, plant your tomatoes and potatoes in a different garden spot. Both can be affected by the same blight. — Jackie

Making mozzarella cheese

I am trying to learn to make cheese. Now that I have made a few batches of mozzarella, I have a question. When you stretch the cheese during the last step, how stringy should it be when it is warm enough to stretch? And, how much time should be spent stretching it? The cheese I have made has great taste. The texture is firm and the cheese will “tear” into strings.

Carla Garrett
Leflore, Oklahoma

It sounds like you’re doing it fine, already. There is no set time for how long you need to stretch it as there are variables, as well as your own personal preference as to how “stringy” you like your cheese. (David likes it really stringy, where I like it more solid to grate. He likes “string cheese,” but that is harder for me to grate.) Isn’t making cheese fun? I’m getting ready to do a batch real soon and can’t wait! — Jackie

Powdery mildew

I have noticed that there is a type of grey mold forming on my zucchini leaves and some of the leaves are dying. The fruit is just now setting on. Someone suggested that I make a mixture of baking soda and water and spray the leaves but I don’t know how much. Could you help a feller out on this?

Tonya Bowles
Paoli, Indiana

I think your squash has powdery mildew, which is a fungal infection. In strong plants, it often goes away by itself. But sometimes it does need treatment. Two organic remedies are mixing 1 Tbsp baking soda with a gallon of water and a little dish soap to make it stick better and spraying the leaves every few days. Or you can mix 1 part reconstituted dry nonfat powdered milk with 9 parts water and spray that on. Both are quite effective. Try to spray on sunny days and re-spray following a rain, as that will rinse it off. Good luck and enjoy plenty of zucchini! — Jackie

Jackie Clay

Rain, rain, and more rain, but oh how the garden is growing!

Friday, July 9th, 2010

We’ve had a month of warm, rainy weather. And because Mom was doing so poorly, I spent a lot of time at the nursing home…and neglected my poor garden. Now we’re playing catch up. Yesterday Will and I pulled the last of the Wall’o Waters off the tomatoes. It was truly a two person job, because the tomatoes had grown so huge. Then we pounded stakes next to the floppy plants, tied them up, and put cages over them. Luckily, Will had made many cages out of old concrete re-enforcing mesh wire last year, and my friends, Warren and Betty, gave us more wire this year, so he made more. As he made them, I slid them down over the tomatoes and tucked the stems into strategic places through the mesh. I had to be really careful because there are already some tomatoes set…and even ripening!!…on the vines. Tonight it looks much better in the tomato patch. (As we staked the tomatoes, we also pulled the huge weeds around and between the rows. The weeds are terrible this year! They also liked the warm, wet weather when we didn’t hoe and till!)

How about the picture of my giant rhubarb? Wow! I’ve NEVER seen rhubarb that big. Have you? Of course, the stems are now woody because I didn’t get to can any so far. But if I get a chance, I’m going to pull a bunch, then let it come in again so it’s tender. I have some new rhubarb recipes I want to try! (If I’m not canning tomatoes, tomato sauce, barbecue sauce, salsa…) Whew, summer’s flying by, here in the backwoods.

Readers’ Questions:

Canning lamb

Butchering lambs this year, want to know if you’ve ever canned lamb, in particular gyros? Does the flavor get stronger?

Teri Perkins
Republic, Washington

Yes, I’ve canned lamb. If your lamb is truly a “lamb,” under a year old, preferably 6-8 months of age, the flavor doesn’t get strong. Now with mutton… — Jackie

Efficient wood stove

I would like to get a wood stove to help heat our house to cut down on electric and gas bills and be prepared should we not have electricity. The new stoves at the stores are so expensive. The good ones run $2500 to $4500 which we can’t afford. I was wondering if you know of a efficient wood stove that can be either purchased or built that would be much cheaper like well under $500. I don’t want a pellet stove but a wood stove and I would also need to build a chimney cheaply.

Ruth Ann Martin
Kalamazoo, Michigan

Northern Tool has several stoves that are cheaper than the best on the market. We bought one for under $500 and are satisfied with it. I’ve had better ones, but we, too, needed a UL listed stove (for insurance) that fit our skinny budget. You can also advertise around for a good used stove. Sometimes you can find a great deal on one of those “top of the line” wood stoves that someone is selling for a very good price.

The cheapest, safe chimney is a sectional Metalbestos — or like brand — of stainless steel, insulated stovepipe. The pieces just snap together, then can be banded together for more safety. You can buy a few pieces a pay period, until you have the whole thing, ready to install. You can make installation a do-it-yourself weekend project or hire a carpenter; it doesn’t take long to do a good job; instructions come with the pieces. — Jackie

Gardening questions

1 – My broccoli never made a nice big head. As soon as it was about quarter size it started to flower. What causes this?

2 – Is there a special trick to growing spinach? I planted some along with lettuce and chard, not much came of the spinach. I read that spinach likes strawberries as a neighbor so I planted a row there, nothing. Any suggestions?

3 – I have great luck with leaf lettuces but can’t seem to make iceberg head. This is my second year trying and while it makes nice leaf lettuce it never heads. What am I doing wrong?

Dawn Norcross
Orion, Illinois

Sorry about your bad luck. But I think hot weather is your culprit in all cases! Your broccoli, making button heads, is usually from a combination of hot weather and buying plants that are over-age and rootbound. Buy younger plants and get them in the ground very early in the season. Broccoli, spinach, and head lettuce all love cool weather and can (and should) be planted quite early in the year, right after the last spring frosts. In fact, spinach can be planted before the last spring date, so it can come up right after that time. You can also plant these crops in the late summer, to get a good fall crop. You might give that a try and see if you have better luck.
Keep at it and you’ll get the hang of it! — Jackie

Transplanting strawberries

While I have been an organic gardener off and on for over thirty years, this is the first year I have attempted to grow strawberries.

Early this spring I planted them in a plot but am thinking about moving them to a different plot this next spring.

So, my question is: can I transplant an established plant?

John Burns
Albemarle, North Carolina

Yes, you can transplant established strawberries as easily as runners. Aren’t those fresh strawberries wonderful? We’re eating ours right now! — Jackie

Canning peppers

I enjoy the canned roasted red peppers from the store and wondered if you had instructions for making your own at home? I have some Marconi peppers growing well in the garden and thought they may make a good canned roasted pepper candidate.

Marlana Ward
Mountain City, Tennessee

You’re right! They do make a great roasted peppers to can. First of all, roast your red ripe sweet peppers. To do this, either grill them until the skin is charring (turn to do both sides) or put them in a hot oven until the skins char. You can either can the peppers with or without the skins. If you are canning without the skins (some people like a more “tender” pepper, without the skin), place the roasted peppers immediately into a paper sack and roll the top closed tightly. Let the peppers sit for an hour or so, then peel the skins off. Remove the seeds and pack into jars.

With the whole roasted peppers, you leave the skins on and just slit the peppers in several spots for even heat and pickling solution distribution (if you choose to pickle your roasted peppers). For plain roasted peppers, flatten the peppers and pack into hot jars, leaving 1″ of headspace. Add 1/2 tsp salt and 1/2 tsp vinegar or lemon juice to improve the flavor to each pint jar. Pour boiling water over peppers, leaving 1″ of headspace. Process for 35 minutes at 10 pounds pressure. (If you live at an altitude over 1,000 feet, consult your canning book for instructions on increasing your pressure to suit your altitude, if necessary.)

To pickle your roasted peppers, try this recipe from my new book:
20 large pimento peppers (you can sure use your Marconi peppers!)
3 cups white vinegar
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/2 tsp. salt

Wash, stem, and seed peppers. Cut into strips. Cover with boiling water and let stand 3 minutes. Drain well. Meanwhile, combine vinegar, sugar, and salt in large saucepan and boil 5 minutes. Pack hot peppers into hot, sterilized jars, leaving 1/2 inch of headspace. Ladle boiling syrup over peppers, leaving 1/2 inch headspace. Remove air bubbles. Wipe rim of jar clean; place hot previously simmered lid on jar and screw down ring firmly tight. Process pints for 10 minutes in a boiling water bath canner.

Enjoy your peppers; I know we sure do! — Jackie

Canning peaches

Do peaches have to be peeled before canning? Can they be canned with the peels on?
Have you used the steam bath method to process canning jars? If so, what are your recommendations to use this method?

Tim Welty
Kerrville, Texas

Yes, peaches need to be peeled before canning. No, you can’t leave the peels on because they are tough and discolor the jars of fruit. However they are easy to peel. Just boil a big pot of water then dip a few peaches in at a time. Leave them in the boiling water for a minute or two, until the skins slip easily from the peach. Dip out and put into a sink full of cold water. If the peach skins will not slip this way, the peaches are not ripe enough and need to ripen at room temperature a day or two (until the skins DO slip easily)

I can my peaches in a boiling water bath canner. By “steam bath,” I’m assuming you mean the steam canners sold by some companies. These are not recommended for canning by experts for fear the food in the center of the jars does not heat thoroughly enough by steam like it does when boiling water circulates between the jars. — Jackie

Food mixes

Will you please send me a recipe for making up a large amount of pre-mixed biscuit mix, hot cocoa, and a soup base. I had one and some how I lost it, I think it was in #117. all those were in the same issue.

Sue Price
Jacksonville, Texas

Sue, the article you are looking for was written by Linda Gabris, not me. But as I have an issue, here are the recipes you are looking for. (Luckily, Will is much more organized than ME and quickly found the magazine!)

Basic biscuit mix with shortening
10 C flour
2 C instant milk powder
2 tsp salt
2 C vegetable shortening at room temperature (or shortening powder to equal)
Measure dry ingredients in a bowl, cut in shortening until a fine crumble. Store. Use 1 cup–more or less water or milk–per two cups mix.

Hot chocolate mix
12 C instant nonfat milk powder
3 C non-dairy coffee creamer
4 C fine sugar (or omit the sugar, if you wish, and sweeten to taste with desired sweetener upon making.)
2 1/2 C unsweetened cocoa powder
1 tsp ground nutmeg (optional)
mini marshmallows (You can add a bag of mini marshmallows to the mix or just sprinkle a few on top of each mug as you make it.)
Measure ingredients into a bowl, mix well and store. To use, put 3 Tbsps (more or less to suit taste) per cup cold water into a saucepan, bring to a boil, stirring constantly until smooth. For richer hot chocolate, use milk instead of water.

Chicken noodle soup mix:
3 C instant chicken bouillon powder
3 Tbsp. dried parsley
2 Tbsp dried basil
1 tsp black pepper
Measure ingredients into a bowl, mix well and store. Use 1 C mix per 2-3 cups water. Simmer. (When scooping out the mix, be sure to get a fair share of the chicken bouillon powder that may settle to the bottom after a given storage time on the shelf.) For variety, add dried vegetables to the mix, noodles, or instant rice. — Jackie

Cleaning an old canner

Jackie, I recently purchased an older All-American canner (the only kind I use, love them) at a yard sale for $3.00 (can you believe it?). It looks to have a new gauge, but I plan to have it checked out before using it. My question is it needs a good cleaning. Is there anything special I should use? The heads of the screws are a little rusty.

Robin Putman
Coolville, Ohio

I would just use hot water and a steel wool pad, along with some good old Dutch or Comet cleanser, then wash well with fresh water and dish detergent. Your great buy should come out in perfect shape. It IS a good idea, as you suggested, to have the gauge checked. I’ve very seldom seen one go “bad,” but we can’t afford to take chances. — Jackie

Canning chili

My Husband likes to take my home canned meals with him to work. It’s a lot cheaper than store canned soups. I make chili using tvp along with the usual chili fixings. Can I put this up in pints just like regular chili?

Barbara Willis
Redondo Beach, California

Yes, you sure can. Just process your chili as if it were chili with only beans, for 75 minutes, and it’ll be fine. And I’ll bet your chili tastes better than store bought, too! — Jackie

Jackie Clay

Sorry for not blogging

Wednesday, July 7th, 2010

After a lengthy downhill slide, Mom passed away Friday morning, at the nursing home, in her sleep. We had known it was coming as she had been failing quickly, so my sisters and I had been spending days with her there. She only slept, but I’m hoping she knew we were there anyway. She was buried next to Dad, on a beautiful sunny day with the white pines whispering in the breeze. I know she’s up in heaven, tending gorgeous flowers that never fade, in a garden with no weeds, walking hand in hand with Dad and her pets playing about her feet.

I’m exhausted from this last week, but promise to get back to you tomorrow for sure. I miss all my Backwoods Home family, too!


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