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Archive for February, 2012

Jackie Clay

We’re plowing out after a foot of new snow

Monday, February 27th, 2012

We listen to the weather radio every morning to check upcoming weather. We’d bought a used haybine at a farm 65 miles southwest of us, so now we can cut our own hay. We heard there was a major winter storm heading for us, so on Saturday, Will, David, and I drove down and picked it up before the snow hit. Saturday’s weather was a bit snowy, but mild, and the trip went uneventfully. We were a little nervous because the haybine takes up a whole lane, plus about four feet, so David, our driver, had to closely monitor mailboxes, signs, and oncoming traffic at all times. We all breathed a sigh of relief when we left the road and started down our driveway. Even our driveway presented a challenge, though, as the very wide haybine plowed about 18 inches of snowbank all the way to the house! I was worried that David would get “sucked” into the left-hand snowbank or a ditch. But he’s a good driver and is used to our driveway and we made it in. Now we have a baler, rake, and haybine, so we can do much more for ourselves. The farmer David works for in the summer is in his late eighties and sooner or later will have to slow down a bit and we want to ensure that our animals always have hay.

Sunday morning, the storm struck with heavy snow and 25 mile an hour winds. It was a good day to stay indoors. So I assembled the little (cheap) plastic greenhouse I’d bought to keep our monster kitten, Mittens, from playing in our newly-sprouted pepper plants. Seems to be working and the peppers look very nice. It’s odd to see tiny green sprouts when there’s a blizzard roaring outside!

Today, the storm’s over and Will’s out plowing our mile and a half long driveway, then the trail to the horse pasture, calves, and pigs, as well as the yard. It’s so nice to see the bright sunlight again. The weather’s sort of like life: you get some pretty scary, cloudy days, then if you wait the sun comes out and makes everything alright. — Jackie

Jackie Clay

Q and A: Cooking turkey in a pressure cooker and planting fruit trees

Sunday, February 26th, 2012

Cooking turkey in a pressure cooker

I recently got a lot of frozen turkeys for Christmas and in our family we only care for the white meat. Rather than waste the dark I wanted to can it with carrots and celery as a soup starter. I wanted to cook the whole thawed turkey in a pressure cooker but I am not sure if it would work. Would it make the bones soft and crumbly, or would it work fine? I figured if it was pressure cooked it would take less time then the oven and the breast meat wouldn’t be dry. Any help would be appreciated in this turkey troubles.

Lisa Kukla
Kingsley, Michigan

To tell the truth, I’ve never cooked in a pressure cooker. What I do is to only partially roast the turkey. Then cool it and remove the meat. Boil the carcass to get your broth and pack the meat in jars and pour the boiling broth over the turkey. If you wish to add seasonings or vegetables, do it before pouring in the boiling broth. Your meat won’t end up dry and you’ll love your canned turkey. We, too, prefer the white meat, but I sure do use a whole lot of the dark meat in soups, turkey and dumplings, and casseroles! Good canning! — Jackie

Planting fruit trees

We are planning a move to my parents’ land. They have 5 acres with a large pond. The ground has a lot of clay. We want to plant fruit trees (peach, apple, orange, etc.). Only issue, where should we plant them? Near the pond or far from it? How far apart should the trees be planted from each other? What do you think about the ground? Should better soil be brought in?

Leigh Ann Mitchell
Cypress, Texas

Whether or not you plant your trees, or some of them near the pond depends on how wet the soil is in that area. Some ponds are located in low areas that are prone to wet ground. Fruit trees do not like “wet feet.” Smaller fruit trees, such as plum, peach, apricot, semi-dwarf apples, and pie cherry can be planted 15 feet apart in all directions. Larger maturing trees, such as standard apples need more room; 25 to 30 feet is about right. Be sure that apples do well in your new area. Most have chilling requirements in order to produce fruit, and if you can grow oranges, that would be something I’d check on. Ask the neighbors and the County Extension Agent.

As for the ground being heavy with clay, you can dig a much larger hole for each tree then amend the soil with well-rotted compost and black dirt to make the ground beneath your new trees more tree-friendly.

Backwoods Home Magazine will be running one of my articles you may want to watch for on growing a backyard orchard. I’m sure that will answer many of your questions. Congratulations on your new homestead! — Jackie

Jackie Clay

Q and A: Canning beans and canning peanut butter

Saturday, February 25th, 2012

Canning beans

Can I can beans not using any salt?

Ann Hazelett
Litchfield Park, Arizona

Definitely. The salt is only a flavor enhancer; it does nothing to preserve the vegetables or canned meats. — Jackie

Making peanut butter

Have you ever planted peanuts and made your own peanut butter?

Don Warner
Sarasota, Florida

No, I haven’t planted peanuts, our growing season simply won’t let us. But as a child, Mom and I grew some, back in zone 6 and we did make peanut butter. It was kind of crude, as we didn’t have blenders back then, but I remember it was very tasty and I sure cleaned up my part in short order! These days, with blenders, it’s so much easier. If you’re not growing them now, why not try a patch? You’ll love them. — Jackie

Jackie Clay

Q and A: Canning corned beef and canning eggs

Friday, February 24th, 2012

Canning corned beef

March is almost here and Corned Beef will soon be on sale every where. Do you can that up too? How does it come out? Do you like it? I usually fix one up for St. Paddies Day and put a couple in the freezer. If you think they are good in jars I will try putting one up to see how we like it.

Shirley Wikstrom
Stevenson, Washington

Corned beef is very good when canned! It is tender and flavorful. And you can eat it, year around! Give it a try. I’m pretty sure you’ll love it. I do use wide mouth jars and can it in slices or chunks. — Jackie

Canning eggs

I have been looking for information on canning eggs, I don’t even care if I have to pickle them. Do you know how to do this right? Which way would extend the preservation time of the eggs more, canning them (I know that this has to be doable since you can find them canned in some stores but for an arm and a leg!) or covering them with oil and putting them in a cool dry place?

Martha Mooneyham
Champlin, Minnesota

You can home can pickled eggs, but not regular hardboiled eggs. To can them as pickled eggs (recipe found on page 124 of my book, Growing and Canning Your Own Food), here’s what you’ll do:

18 whole, hardboiled, peeled eggs
1½ quarts white vinegar
2 tsp. salt
1 Tbsp whole allspice
1 Tbsp mixed pickling spices

Mix vinegar and spices in a large pot and bring to a boil. Pack whole, peeled, hardboiled eggs into hot, sterilized wide mouthed jars, leaving ½ inch of headspace. Ladle boiling pickling solution over eggs, leaving ½ inch of headspace. Remove air bubbles. Process for 25 minutes in a boiling water bath canner. 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, if necessary. Never leave unsealed pickled eggs out at room temperature. You risk danger from botulism and other bacterial diseases. Always refrigerate opened jars of pickled eggs.

Other ways of storing eggs for long term storage include wiping them with mineral or olive oil, using a waterglass solution, and just storing fresh eggs in a cool, dark location where they’ll keep for several months. Always break long-term storage eggs into a cup first as you use them to make sure they are still fit to eat. — Jackie

Jackie Clay

Q and A: Canning sardines and raising turkeys

Thursday, February 23rd, 2012

Canning sardines

In my quest to be more self-sufficient, I’ve started raw feeding my 5 cats and 2 dogs. We raise our own chickens and rabbits, but I have to source the fish. I’ve been able to find frozen sardines, and I’d like to raw pack them in water. Since the fish would be whole, would I follow the time you give for tuna?

Traci Stewart
Oakdale, California

All fish is processed for one hour and forty minutes at 10 pounds pressure. If you live at an altitude above 1,000 feet, consult your canning book for directions on increasing your pressure to suit your altitude if necessary. Do be sure to completely thaw your sardines before beginning the packing so they aren’t still frozen inside. It would affect safe canning. Also, don’t add salt to your cats’ canned food. They don’t need it and it’s not necessary for the canning process. — Jackie

Raising turkeys

I have a pair of Bourbon Reds I want to let hatch the eggs and raise the poults themselves. Last spring the hen started laying about march 6. She laid a clutch of 11 eggs then decided to set. The weather can get pretty chilly at night here at that time. It did get just a few degrees below freezing a few times. The nest box is inside their house, so she wasn’t laying outside. Only one egg hatched. Out of curiosity I did crack open the other eggs and they had not even started to develop. I am wondering if they were just not fertile or if the cold got them? I have done internet searches and article searches but cannot find any info on how cold weather affects egg development. I prefer to let the hen do it if I can. Should I maybe take the eggs until the weather starts to stay warmer, or do you think she will stop laying after she lays so many? Not sure how to proceed this spring and the time is near!

I also saved a commercial white hen from my batch last year. What are the chances she will lay eggs and raise her own poults? The tom is interested in her, but I have not witnessed any actual breeding going on with her yet.

Gayle Rush
Eugene, Missouri

It may be possible that the tom had not bred her so that some of the eggs weren’t fertile. Sometimes breeding happens after the hens start laying. It is also possible that the cold got some of the eggs. I don’t let my hens set on eggs while its still freezing. I gather them and we put them in the incubator. This way I can candle the eggs to make sure I’m incubating fertile eggs. After the weather warms up a little, she’ll still be laying and you can let her sit on the eggs that, by this time, will be fertile after several breedings. Your white hen will lay and probably will sit on her eggs and raise her poults. It’s just the heavy commercial toms that seldom can breed like-breed hens without doing severe damage to them like tearing up their backs with their toenails.

Is your tom young? Sometimes yearling toms take awhile to get breeding in the spring. — Jackie

Jackie Clay

Growing herbs

Wednesday, February 22nd, 2012

Here’s a summer photo of one of our mixed herb beds with broccoli and wild petunias for neighbors.  We grow several types of basil, two of oregano, lemon mint, sage, tarragon, rosemary, chives, garlic chives, chervil , comfrey, and a few others.  We also have many wild herbs such as pineapple weed, bergamont, mint, Balm of Gilead poplar (locally called “bammy”), nettles, dandelion, wild ginger, and many more.

This photo was prompted by this question from Peg in Georgia:

My husband and I have about 1/3 acre, but we manage to grow all our own vegetables and I can, freeze, or dry them. My question is, do you grow your own herbs? (I know you probably do) If so, do you make your own teas, poultices, etc? If you do, could you please write about some of it in your blog.

Thank you,
Peg, in Georgia

Yes, we do grow nearly all of our own herbs. I tuck herbs into a whole lot of spots around the yard, usually with flowers or other vegetables as “room mates.” I dehydrate my herbs, besides using them fresh. Of course we use them in just about every recipe I cook, and yes, I have made teas, ointments, etc. from them as well as from other wild-foraged plants. One of my favorite ointments is one my grandfather used. I melt half a cup of rendered lard and add half a cup of Balm of Gilead poplar buds when they swell and are sticky in the spring. I heat this mixture for about 30 minutes on low heat, being careful not to heat the lard too much because of scorching and fire danger. Don’t leave it alone! Then strain off the buds and debris through cheesecloth while the lard is still hot. Pour into small jars with wide mouths and seal. This ointment is very good for cuts, chapping, etc. both on people and animals. It works very well for cut and chapped teats on milk cows and goats. — Jackie

Jackie Clay

After seven years, I’m getting kitchen cabinets

Tuesday, February 21st, 2012

There have always been higher priorities here than new kitchen cabinets, and Will wanted to hand-make ours. But time seems to fly by and finally I couldn’t stand my messy kitchen any longer. With no doors to shut to close out boxes and jars, it seems like stuff is piled everywhere!

New cabinets are very expensive and not particularly well built. I would have liked custom cabinets that were well built, but Will just has way too many other BIG projects he’s working on to do it. So we bit the bullet and found some pretty big-box cabinets at our local Lowe’s. They are expensive, so we can only afford a cabinet every so often, and that’s how we’re doing it. So far I have three. It’s a start and it’s very encouraging to me, just having them sitting there. Only fifteen more to go — plus sink and counter top. But it’ll get done, sooner or later, just like everything else on our homestead, and we won’t end up with a big loan when we’re done, either.

Meanwhile, Will is continuing his work clearing the new pasture on our new forty acres. He’s got most of the dozing done and is now loading all those hundreds of small poplar trees onto the truck to stack for “small wood” firewood that we use in our cook stove and in the wood fired stock tank heater. We’re supposed to get several inches of snow tonight, so he wants to get as much hauled as he can before that happens.

None of my peppers or petunias are up yet, but I keep peeking at them, waiting impatiently for those first tiny curled sprouts. — Jackie

Jackie Clay

Will is starting to clear pasture on our new forty acres

Sunday, February 19th, 2012

Old Yeller’s working again. Because we have so little snow on the ground, Will has begun to clear the more open section of the new forty acres. Right now, it’s covered mostly with grass, willow brush, and some small poplar trees. As the ground is frozen, the brush shears right off. The poplar trees can be pushed over and the roots come right out of the ground.

When he’s not working, David is helping Will cut those small trees off from the stump, then limbing them, and stacking them for firewood. We use a lot of this small wood for the kitchen range and for our wood-fired stock tank heaters. Instead of just piling them and burning them, I like using this so-called waste wood.

It’s funny that even when Will’s down there with Old Yeller snorting and shoving piles of brush, the deer come right in to graze on the green grass under the snow and nibble on the tender brush that they couldn’t reach before. They pay no attention to him at all.

We picked up another bottle calf a couple days ago. Because the weather was cold and blustery, we took the old Taurus wagon to get him instead of the stock trailer. I didn’t want him to get chilled. We put the back down and threw a tarp down “just in case.” The calf rode very well and didn’t even need the tarp! (No accidents.) What a good boy. Now we’ve got quite a few head of cattle, from our wedding cow, Lace, and her bull calf, Mac, to weaned calves, medium sized calves, and one big steer. Quite a little herd now! And at the price of beef, we’re glad we have them. — Jackie


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