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Archive for March, 2015

Jackie Clay

Tomato time!

Tuesday, March 31st, 2015

With all of our peppers up, it’s time for tomatoes. This year I planted more than 288 tomatoes. Of that number, there are 50 new varieties and 20 of our old standbys that we are selling seeds from this year at our business — Seed Treasures. Some of the 50 new ones won’t make the cut, of course. If they don’t produce very well, don’t taste great, or don’t seem quite hardy, out they go! (We do give some a second chance if they make two of our goals, just to see if we did something wrong or the weather affected them.)

Meanwhile, I’ve been canning up a storm. I just did 14 quarts of chili, 7 pints of leftover kidney beans, 3 quarts and 3 pints of boneless pork loin, and a little plain crumbled hamburger. Now I’ve got to get out more meat to thaw. Time to get another big batch done ahead of Easter dinner cooking and baking. I’m SO glad to be feeling better!

Will is lots better too. He cut up a big load of small wood, loading it into the pickup. I just looked out and he was unloading it with his radio earphones on and he was dancing to old-time rock’n roll!
Go Will! — Jackie

Jackie Clay

Q and A: storing sweet potatoes and stacking jars in the canner

Monday, March 30th, 2015

Storing sweet potatoes

Great article in the most recent issue about vegetables and storage. My wife and I are going to adjust the content of the garden based on this. I do have a question about the longevity of sweet potatoes. In New Hampshire we are limited to growing the Beauregard variety. Last year, I stored the harvest in a room maintaining the temperature at 80 with moderate humidity. Then according to sources I read online, wrapped each potato in a newspaper and stored them in wooden baskets in our concrete cold cellar. The cellar never went below 32 degrees during the fall and winter. The humidity is fairly high and the cellar is well vented. The potatoes rotted within weeks. Did I do something wrong or should I just stick with growing and storing white potatoes in our cold New Hampshire environment?

Wilton, New Hampshire

Your sweet potatoes just got too cold, and chilling causes them to rot in storage. You shouldn’t even keep them in the refrigerator as that’s usually 40 degrees F and even that’s too cold. Sweet potatoes, once cured at 80 degrees and high humidity for a week or so, should be stored where it’s dark, airy, and between 55 and 60 degrees F. In most homes, that’s in a back closet, unheated bedroom, attic, or minimally-heated basement. Even Irish potatoes don’t like 32 degrees. I’ve had many of them develop black spots inside the skin after having been exposed to the low thirties for extended periods of time. To raise the temp in your cellar, you might consider adding some insulation board around your potato bin and also adding a heater on a thermostat so that when the temps in the cellar dip in the low thirties, it will come on to add just a little more heat. Your potatoes will store much better that way. But for the sweet potatoes, keep ’em warmer and they’ll store most of the winter. — Jackie

Stacking jars in the canner

I recently discovered that jars can be double-stacked in a canner, using a rack between layers. (Who knew?) But I’m wondering — doesn’t the weight of the jars in the top layer have the potential to affect the quality of the seal on the jars in the bottom layer?

Lynda King
Bolton, Massachusetts

Nope. I’ve double-decked for decades now and have not had any issues with the lower level having sealing failures. As you’ve said, it IS important to put a rack between layers. My first rack was a wire grill that had been on an old dart board! Then I graduated to a circular barbecue grill rack from the Dollar Store. Now that I’m using a new All American pressure canner, it came with two factory racks so I use these. Double-decking is a great way to get more bang for the buck when canning a batch: same time, same pressure, many more jars of food put up! — Jackie

Jackie Clay

Busy, busy, busy

Thursday, March 26th, 2015

Now that we’re feeling better, I’ve been zooming around playing catch-up. I’ve got 132 tomato seeds started (I only have another 132 to go! After all, we’re trialing more than 50 new varieties this year. That’s in addition to the 18 varieties we like and are growing again. All are open pollinated so we’ll be offering seeds again next year ( see box above). And since our “business” is growing greatly, we’ll need a whole lot more seeds next year for folks to choose from. So far we haven’t run out of a single variety, but are getting a bit low on a couple of the favorites.

The days are getting warmer and I’m busy canning meat as we’ll be emptying our freezer on the back porch. When it’s warm, that “energy star” rated freezer sucks our battery bank dry very quickly, so we need to empty it before too long. Right now it’s pretty full of beef, pork, and chicken.

Yesterday I canned up a big batch of taco meat and some pepperoni. Today I’ve got hamburger thawing and also a big boneless pork loin. I’m going to make chili with some of the burger as we’re getting low on that. I’ll use some of my quarts of home-canned tomato sauce and tomatoes in the chili. I can up tons of tomato products when we’re in a tomato flood in the fall. Then I mix it up with things like chili, baked beans, soups, etc. when I have the time. Yum. — Jackie

Jackie Clay

I saw our first robin today!

Tuesday, March 24th, 2015

First of all, I’m sure you’re wondering how I came out with my stress test. I passed. It seems like I got a case of walking pneumonia out of my last nasty cough-cold and that was what was causing my chest pains and shortness of breath. (The doctor looked at the first X-ray but didn’t see the light consolidation that was already fading, but the radiologist spotted it.) Anyway, I’m feeling better and so is Will. Come on, spring!

Every time Will has a hamburger, Spencer, Hondo, and Mittens crowd around for bits of the bun (and maybe a little meat). So I just had to post a picture of them. I think it’s so cute!

Today has been busy. I’m starting our first tomatoes, canning hamburger, and had to run to town this morning. But while I was in town, I saw a robin, our very first. I even backed up to make sure! Luckily, there was no traffic in town. Yesterday I saw three geese at home and Will also saw a pair of swans.

Will also split up a truckload of firewood from some logs that didn’t make the cut for lumber. Now all we have to do is to stack it inside the storage building. — Jackie

Jackie Clay

Poppin’ peppers!

Thursday, March 19th, 2015

Our peppers are really popping up! Today Will moved two tables into the living room windows so they can get plenty of sun until we get the other mini-greenhouse set up in a window. They are just leaping out of their peat pellets, despite waking up to snow falling this morning.



We’ve had a busy week. Tuesday Will and I had to drive to Minneapolis for a doctor’s appointment for his back at the VA hospital. He was not looking forward to that as it’s a five-hour, one-way drive. And sitting for even an hour is the thing that gets his back the worst. But he came through it fine and came home bearing a Tens unit, the battery operated machine that sends electrical impulses to electrodes pasted to his back. It does seem to help a lot.

Then we had to get up at 5 a.m. yesterday to get to the Hibbing hospital for my stress test at 7 a.m. Boy were we NOT ready to get up that early … again. But other than a nurse not being able to hit a vein in my arm (ouch, ouch, ouch!) it all went well. Tomorrow I visit my doctor and find out the results of all the tests; echo, X-ray, and stress test. I’m so hoping that my shortness of breath and chest pains are nothing to worry about.

This weekend we’re planting tomatoes, come rain or shine, as they’ve got to get in! Spring is coming, you know. All you lucky guys further south know all about that by now. I’ve also got to get at painting the cover for the next book in the Jess Hazzard series, Autumn of the Loons. I’ve been sketching and have a great idea — just have to get it down on canvas. — Jackie

Jackie Clay

Q and A: wood heating, dehydrated foods, and jars leaking in pressure canner

Wednesday, March 18th, 2015

Wood heating

We need to find a more efficient way of heating our home. We have a fire place and use it, but when the electricity goes off, as it does frequently, we need more heat. What is the most efficient wood heater for heating and maybe cooking on top if needed?


There are many good wood stoves out there today. Before buying I would check with your insurance company. We did and found that we had to buy one that was UL listed and the installation had to be approved by the insurance company. We love the old Fisher Grandpa Bear stoves; I had one at our homestead in Sturgeon Lake for years. But, unfortunately, they went out of business when the EPA began regulating wood stoves and they are not UL listed. We bought a Vogelzang Mountaineer several years back for about $500, which is what they are now, from Northern Tool. Our house is now about 3,500 square feet and it heats it well (not hot, mind you, but certainly adequate and our winter temps are a lot lower than yours are). Of course, the more expensive wood stoves will probably last longer but we’re happy with our Vogelzang.

We installed it with a stainless steel Metalbestos stovepipe and our insurance agent came out to inspect the installation. Done deal. But we’ve heard tales of insurance companies getting tougher on wood burning families. However, as you already have a fireplace, I’m hoping that’s not the case for you. — Jackie

Dehydrated foods

I have tried my hand at dehydrating squash, pumpkin, and sweet potato this year. I did all the blanching, cooking, and cut them up as directed. Put them in my Nesco dehydrator and checked on them and rearranged the pieces and the trays a few times. Afterward I went to powder them up in the blender (Hamilton Beach) and they were so hard they wouldn’t grind up. I tried my food processor and they stopped the blade. I’ve rehydrated some pieces and they taste okay. What do I need to change so I can make a powder out of my veggies? Is my dehydrator or blender too cheap? Or is method to blame? I’ve also read some articles about top/bottom motor dehydrators not circulating the air well. Also want to know if there is any hope for the jars of veggies I have that are hard chunks?

Pomeroy, Iowa

All I ever do when dehydrating pumpkin and squash is to slice and peel the pieces, then cut slices about ¼” thick and put them on the dehydrator trays. I have an old Oster blender (from the dump) and it powders them fine. But most of the time, I rehydrate the pieces and use them in stews, casseroles, or other dishes. They rehydrate fine and absorb flavors so if you want, rehydrate them in chicken or beef broth instead of water. As I’m a Northern homesteader, I haven’t dehydrated sweet potatoes so I can’t speak about them. Your dehydrator is fine; I have one just like it. One thing you might try is grinding the pieces with an old-fashioned hand cranked meat grinder before putting them in the blender. Or else just put a couple pieces in at a time while the blender is already turned on. This has worked for me with several things that seemed to stop the blender if I just filled it up and turned it on. My son, Bill, and his wife gave us a Ninja blender for Christmas this year and looking down into its container at all the knives, I can’t imagine anything stopping it! — Jackie

Jars leaking in pressure canner

I pressure canned some tomato sauce with meat today, it appears 2 of the jars leaked in processing, the water was a bit red, and there were dried dribbles on the rims and down the jars, but they sealed, the top is concave and when turned upside down they do not leak. My question is since it is a meat sauce are they still safe?

Crystal Misiak
Millboro, Virginia

Yep, they’re safe. This is quite common and usually happens when you either fill the jars too full or there is a fluctuation in the pressure during the processing period. As long as they sealed, you’re fine. Just take the rings off and wash the jars (and the inside of your canner!) with hot, soapy water then rinse and dry. Good to go. Happens to me from time to time so don’t worry. — Jackie

Jackie Clay

Our first seeds are coming up

Tuesday, March 17th, 2015

We’re feeling springy up here in northern Minnesota! Our first pepper and petunia seeds are popping up. Boy, do they like the rock wall behind the little greenhouse. The woodstove is on one side and the warm rock wall behind, and a window beside them. You can see the little grins on the seedlings’ faces when they come up.

In a week I’ll be starting tomatoes. Yesterday I put all of the new types of tomato seeds we’ve ordered this year together and then counted them. Wow, more than 25 NEW varieties. Then there are the OLD ones we love and will keep. Will, get out Old Yeller, our bulldozer — we need more garden!

We got a phone call yesterday morning from Chiwon Lee, a professor at North Dakota State University in Fargo. We had met at the Northern Plains Sustainable Agriculture Conference this spring and talked for a long time about hardy fruits and tomatoes, both specialties of his. He wondered if he could come visit us. Of course, we said YES! He brought a nice couple with him and we had a great time talking fruit and tomatoes. As NDSU has bred many early tomato varieties, he brought some of their seeds for us to try and I gave him many of our favorites along with some scion wood from our apple trees and a wild elderberry.

He brought us a whole carload of GREEN things! Seedling rootstock from Russian pears, apricots, Nanking bush cherries, and even grafted apples. Then there were four Easter lilies, a beautiful flowering house plant, and a HUGE hibiscus! We were floored! He also brought some tomato seedlings and grafting supplies and taught us how to graft tomatoes. And he showed us how to graft a tomato scion onto a potato rootstock, making a topotato (or whatever). I’m sure our grandkids will love those!

You never know when you’ll meet wonderful people with like interests, do you? — Jackie

Jackie Clay

Spring is so nice!

Thursday, March 12th, 2015

But yesterday, while I was cleaning on the back porch, I turned and saw bloody paw prints in the doorway…and across the dining room…and right up to Spencer! Real bloody! I picked up his hind paw and saw a big gash in between his toes. I took him immediately outside to stand in the snow as cold reduces bleeding. Then after calling Will over to watch him, I hurried inside to gather up first aid supplies. Drying his paw with an old washcloth, I packed his foot with soft sterile gauze pads, added another square and taped his paw and leg. All afternoon, we “made” Spencer lie down on his rug and not lick his bandaged foot.

The bleeding stopped and he was VERY good about the whole thing. This morning, I removed the nasty, bloody pack and took the tape off. It looked much better. I let him lick it a little, then re-bandaged it so when he goes outside to potty he doesn’t snag the wound on ice or something to re-open it. I’ll change the bandage again tomorrow and see if the cut is healed enough to keep the bandage off. Poor Spencer! We never did find out how he cut it.

This morning, I peeked at my petunias and guess what? They’re coming up nicely! Wow, after only five days, too. I set them on the table by my chair, in the window so they would get plenty of sun but wouldn’t cook. Some were still not up and as petunia seedlings are SO little and planted on the soil’s surface, I didn’t want them to dry out, either so they are still in their bags. The peppers will be next.

As our temps have been very mild, a whole lot of our snow has gone. I walked in the garden and orchards today and was real happy to report that there had been NO vole damage on anything I could see, even unprotected trees and shrubs like our wild pin cherries and some “wild” Nanking cherries. That was very exciting as I hate voles.

Will and I are both feeling better. He’s been working on our new tractor. It came with only one rear hydraulic outlet and he needs two to run our big round baler…which is why he bought the tractor in the first place. Instead of spending more than $300 on new parts, he remanufactured it himself (with quite a bit of trouble, I might add) and today it is working. He did have to raise the seat a bit as the seat had a rod that was resting on one of the new fittings. But that’s homesteading — you always have to think outside the box to get by! — Jackie


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