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Archive for April, 2013

Jackie Clay

Finally! The snow’s about gone!

Tuesday, April 30th, 2013

With temperatures in the high sixties and not freezing at night, our three feet of snow has been melting fast. And yesterday for the first time this spring, I walked in our orchard. How nice that was! All of our trees look great with no winter kill that I can see. But there were vole tunnels made of dead grass that used to be underneath the snow. We never saw a vole all winter, but they were down there anyway. Luckily, we had wrapped screen around all of our fruit trees so they didn’t eat the bark on one of them. Whew!


Now that the sun is out, we are nuts to get started with all we have to do. Early this morning, Will set in another layer of rock on the wall behind the wood stove. It’s nearly up as high as it’ll go and we’re getting excited. I think it looks great. Once it’s done all the way up, he just has to go back and fill in the spaces between the rocks with mortar and finish it off.


Then this afternoon, our friend Erik came over and he and Will started laying up more sheets of metal on the barn roof. We had seven long sheets, left over from fall when the snow had halted their work. So up they went! They did have to trim two inches off the sheets so Will now knows the exact measurement for the next order. When we get the cash…


But the barn’s looking good! And because the snow’s melting and the ground’s drying, pretty soon we’ll be able to start cutting boards with our little Hud-Son portable bandsaw mill. We still have some to cut for the hay loft floor, then more for the side walls. We’ll have enough boards for the front porch roof too. The only cost now will be more decking for the floor, and then the shingles and water shield for the roof. And we do have two bundles of shingles left over from the addition. I’m getting pretty excited to have it getting that far toward DONE.

Ahhh, isn’t spring great? (Oh, I do have to have surgery on my knee, but it is supposed to be minor and heal quickly to a pain-free normal knee. I can’t wait to get that over with and get on with gardening.) — Jackie

Jackie Clay

Q and A: canning fish and making cheese

Friday, April 26th, 2013

Canning fish

If I can my fish in a pressure cooker as directed will the bones become digestible like canned salmon so I can make fish cakes from them? We grow tilapia in a stock tank in our back yard so we have so many fish that we need some new ways to prepare them. Thank you for all the help you have been in teaching me to can our food. It is just too bad that it took me until I was 70 years old to learn all these neat things that you write about. It has been fun and my husband and I enjoy your Growing and Canning Your Own Food book and your Pantry cookbook. I just wish we had known you sooner. If you are ever around Phoenix Arizona give us a call. We have a 2 bedroom guest house if you would like to spend some time in the area.

Ida Newsom
Gilbert, Arizona

Usually fish bones will become soft when pressure canned with the meat, just like store-bought salmon. Some larger fish such as tuna have larger bones that don’t get as soft and must be removed before canning. I’m so glad you’re canning. And like Dad used to say, “Better late than never!” He was still learning new skills at 90. Thank you very much for the invitation. Maybe one day we’ll meet and I’ll take you up on it! I’d love to come down for the Festival of the West some year soon. — Jackie

Making cheese

I raise registered Nubian goats and have made cheese (soft and hard) (also had a separator before the fire and made a lot of butter) in the past. Can’t manage to get any of it to melt like store bought cheese melts, however. I have used mainly the book “Goats Produce Too” in the past. Any suggestions? I’ve tried to can some and yuck…it still won’t melt. Is melting of Mozzarella, cheddars, and so forth just something that we have become used to thanks to the big producers? I have enough canned milk. I am over run with kefir (even strained kefir to soft cheese point, frozen to then make hard cheese…sigh…). I need to consider making cheese again before it gets hot (we have no A/C and are in Texas — triple digits are coming too soon).

Also…For folks wanting to raise two types of the same family of squash: They should consider getting the book “Seed to Seed“. This book explains methods of raising pure seed including hand pollinating; which can be a decent idea if neighbors also have gardens.

Also…You have recommended Seed Savers. Seed Savers also has a WONDERFUL membership that includes a WONDERFUL book each year of folks that exchange seeds. This one source alone can be a wonderful educational tool as to what squash is of what family/species. This is my Sears catalog each year!


For a quick mozzarella that melts wonderfully, use the cottage cheese recipe on page 48 of Goats Produce Too except that once finally drained and salted, put it in a saucepan over low heat, and melt, stirring as you go. It gets stretchy. Work out the whey by stretching, then just put it into your hands and make a ball. Done! We really love this and it’s so much faster than regular mozzarella. I’ve never had any trouble with the cheddar and Colby melting. How about your soft cheeses like French Chevre? I use it just like cream cheese and we use it a lot. I’d just give it another go. Try different recipes; it’s like cooking, what works best for someone doesn’t do the job for others. Cheesemaking is a developed art, a skill, and sometimes it just takes time to get “right.” Hang in there!

Thanks for the tips for readers. (I didn’t mention hand pollinating because it can get confusing, but it does work and I’ve used it to raise several varieties of squash in the same garden without cross pollinating.) — Jackie

Jackie Clay

Finally the weather is warming up!

Thursday, April 25th, 2013

But we still have tons of snow on the ground — several feet! And mud and water running everywhere. Will’s been working on the rock wall behind the living room stove every day, knowing nice weather’s just around the corner. So far, he’s used 14 bags of mortar mix, and lots of rocks. I think it looks great. Imagine how much warmth those rocks and the concrete will hold next winter.



Meanwhile, I’ve been transplanting tomatoes and peppers like mad. I do them in Styrofoam cups. So far I’ve gotten three or four years’ worth of use out of the same cups.


But it’s been challenging because my left knee’s been giving me a lot of pain these last few weeks. I finally wimped out and got an X-ray and saw the orthopedic specialists in the nearby town of Virginia. Good news is that my knee won’t ever have to be replaced; it’s in great shape. Bad news is that I may have a torn ligament. Had an MRI this morning so we’ll see. Hopefully, it’s just inflamed and will go ahead and heal. I’ve got LOTS to do this spring and hate gimping around on it. It sure tires one out! If it is a torn ligament, the doctor said it’s a quick, easy fix and will heal fast. Considering the active lifestyle I’ve lived all my life, I guess I can expect a glitch here and there. I’m sure not complaining. — Jackie

Jackie Clay

Q and A: potting soil and drying up a cow

Tuesday, April 23rd, 2013

Potting soil

I was wondering what type of potting soil that you used, and where do you get it. I just tried Home Depot for Pro-Mix and they do not carry it. Is that the kind that you use? And I was going to put my tomatoes into containers. What would I use for that?

Helena, Montana

Check a local greenhouse/nursery for Pro-Mix. I used to get mine in Helena at the greenhouse out past the turn to the VA hospital (Ft. Harrison). Can’t remember the name; it’s on the right side; big place. I use it for transplanting seedlings, too. — Jackie

Drying up a cow

Our Jersey cow is pregnant and ready to calve the end of May. We have been trying to dry her up for a month and she just isn’t. Some days we are milking some of the milk out of her, like 2 qts a day just to relieve her some as she gets so full. Is there something I am missing on doing this? What else should I do? She normally gives us about 3 gallons a day, sometimes more but we thought we should dry her up so the baby could develop better since she is due fairly soon. This is only her second calf.

Jackie S.

To dry a cow off, just stop milking her. It’s the back-pressure of the milk that causes her to stop producing it. If you keep milking her, even a little, she’ll keep producing. She needs a rest and time to produce colostrum for her next calf. She sounds like a nice cow! — Jackie

Jackie Clay

Is Spring ever going to come?

Monday, April 22nd, 2013


We got 18 inches of blowing and drifting snow just recently, and winds up to 40 mph! And that was on top of the foot or so of snow that hadn’t melted. On the first day of the storm, Will brought in two little piggies that weren’t getting enough milk and/or were getting chilled. (We can’t run a heat lamp down in the farrowing shed because we’re off grid and the batteries won’t stand it.) The wood box was cleaned out due to Will working on the rock wall behind the living room stove, so I added a couple of old towels and put the piggies in it. Now I’m giving them a bowl full of calf milk replacer every 2 hours all day then getting up at night a couple times to feed them. At first, they seemed chilled so I filled up a gallon apple juice plastic jug with hot water and gave them a hot water bottle to cuddle up against. Now they’re warmed up and doing fine.


The little black and white boar was real scared and aggressive when I first picked him up to feed him. He’d bark at me and scramble to get away. But he quickly figured out that being picked up meant getting fed. Now he jumps up, right into my hands when it’s time to eat. We called him Jumper, for good reason.


Now we’re set to get another 3-6 inches of snow. Bummer. I got out my copy of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s book, The Long Winter, to read. At least we don’t have it that tough! They were twisting hay to keep warm and ran out of food. We still have firewood and plenty to eat. But winter does get long…

The newscasters are calling this “The Relentless Winter” and it’s the most snowfall in Minnesota’s recorded history for April. — Jackie

Jackie Clay

Q and A: velvet beans and tomato cages

Sunday, April 21st, 2013

Velvet beans

Will velvet beans cross with Louisiana Purple Pod and Rattlesnake pole (green) beans?

Name withheld

Velvet beans are Mucuna pruriens where Louisiana Purple Pods are Phaseolus vulgaris, or common bean like the Rattlesnake bean. So the velvet beans will not cross but your Louisiana Purple Pods and Rattlesnakes might. — Jackie

Tomato cages

We will soon be ready to plant this year’s tomato plants. One of the problems that we have each year is that the store-bought inverted-cone tomato towers will not support the healthiest plants. They topple. We are hoping that you may have seen a better design.

Todd SeCoy
Beatty, Oregon


Oh yeah! If you check out the current issue of the magazine, there’s a big article on tomatoes and in that article I detail the tomato cages my husband, Will, made for our garden from concrete re-enforcing wire (photo above). Basically they’re cylinders about 18 inches in diameter and the full height of the wire. I stake the tomatoes first with either steel T posts or good sharpened wooden stakes then slip a cage over each tomato plant. As they grow, I tuck the branches out through the squares in the wire. This fully supports the tomato plants. I grow varieties that are 6-7 feet high every year so those wimpy store cones wouldn’t do a thing. — Jackie

Jackie Clay

Q and A: planting squash to save seeds and what to feed chicks

Saturday, April 20th, 2013

Planting squash to save seeds

Help! I received the Hopi Pale Grey Squash seeds and will be planting them. Problem is, I don’t know the fancy names for what can be planted near them. Will they cross with: zucchini,yellow crookneck, banana, buttercup or pumpkins? I’m guessing that hubbard or other hard squash will cross.

Weeds are a big problem in my garden, especially bindweed. This year I’m trying Ruth Stout’s way of heavy mulching. A good way to get rid of the 30+ bales of ugly hay in the barn. Wish me luck. I’ll let you know how it turns out. I’ve always mulched but not that heavily.

Franci Osborne
Ignacio, Colorado

I know species names are sometimes confusing. Hopi Pale Greys are C. maxima so you can plant summer squash which are C. pepo and any pumpkins that are C. pepo such as Connecticut Field and New England Big Cheese. Banana and buttercups, however, are C. maximas and would cross with your Hopis. Instead, how about planting butternut, which are C. moschata, this year. Yes, hubbard and many winter squash will cross as they are C. maximas. Once you get the hang of this, you’ll see that although you grow pure Hopi Pale Greys you can still grow a wide variety of other squash with no fear of crossing.

Oh yeah, bindweed! I remember it well from our gardens in New Mexico. Yes, heavy mulching will kill it, whether it is with hay or plastic. But even then, you have to be on guard and pull every one you see before it goes to seed. You CAN get rid of it but it sure isn’t easy. I’d be cautious about mulching with hay unless it is old alfalfa as old grass hay often has plenty of viable seeds and you can end up planting a hay field in your garden. Been there; done that. Wow! It took me three or four years of intense weeding to get rid of the grass! Ruth used marsh hay which doesn’t have seeds that will grow in the garden. It needs wet ground to germinate, thankfully. — Jackie

What to feed chicks

We are soon to get our baby chicks and have been reading the BHM book Chickens A Beginner’s Handbook. My question is about their feed. When they are just little chicks, will the Chick Starter feed be sufficient? When do we start supplying grit and oyster shell? Our local Tractor Supply carries only the bags of “complete” chick and chicken/layer food and no grit/shells. I will look elsewhere for these but thought I’d ask to clear up my confusion.

Wendy Hause
Gregory, Michigan

Hi Wendy! Glad to hear you’re getting chicks. Chickens are a whole lot of fun. Yes, Chick Starter is all they need. I put a pan of grit in with the babies to pick at too (fine grit). Oyster shell can wait until they feather out. Then you can put a container in for them. They won’t be laying eggs for a few months but it will help them build strong bones. For grit for your chicks, you can just go out to a sand pile and scoop up a dish of coarse sand. — Jackie

Jackie Clay

Q and A: tainted milk and sick doeling

Friday, April 19th, 2013

Tainted milk

Help! My milk cow has been eating onion grass or wild garlic and the milk is tainted and flavored with the garlic taste. Short of feeding it to the pigs, is there anything I can do to remove the taste? It happened suddenly, and up til now has been delicious. She gets sweet feed while milking, hay free choice, and now the pasture has come on quickly with spring. Help!

Denyelle Stroup
Fulks Run, Virginia

There really isn’t anything you can do to remove the taste from the milk. I’d probably keep her in a corral or pen and feed hay until the pasture has matured a little. Then she will (hopefully) eat more grass and legumes and less wild garlic. It’s usually that lush first-spring greens that tempt the cows to overeat on them and thus off-flavor the milk. — Jackie

Sick doeling

I recently became the owner of a rescue Mini-Nubian doeling. I found out recently that her birth date is January 25. I’ve had her since March 19 and thought at the time that she was much older because I was told that she had been weaned for quite a while. Then I was told her mother had triplets and became sick and died. Consequently I don’t know if she ever had colostrum or was fed properly. She was sick with some sort of respiratory issue when we got her and the weather was nasty cold. She had a cloggy cough, snotty nose (clear), was listless and weak. We did the antibiotic thing with probiotics, a sweater and lots of attention. She seems to have gotten well; happy, jumps around a lot but still has a cloggy sounding cough kind of like she’s strangling. Also, her left side about where I think her rib cage ends, protrudes. At first I thought she had a weird cowlick but now I see that it’s as if her ribs are expanded on that side. What does this sound like to you? We’ve also got her on goat food, minerals, baking soda (sprinkled on her food so I know she gets it)hay and pasture. The cough worries me as does the protruding side. I have had her fecal tested and was told she was clean but to recheck in a month or so.

I’m a goat newbie and don’t know if there is a real issue or if I am worrying for nothing. I’d hate to lose her, we love her a lot already.

dian Iron Feather-Carton
Birch Tree, Missouri

I’d advise taking her to your vet so he can listen to her lungs. She may have chronic pneumonia and may need a course of antibiotics. He can check out the rib issue at the same time. That may be because she’s having respiratory distress and just not getting enough oxygen. I would probably see if she would take goat milk replacer with a bottle and nipple (lamb or goat). With her rough start, she may need a little boost and I’ve found that putting the babies back on milk gives them a little extra boost in times of need. — Jackie


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