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Ask Jackie headline

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Jackie Clay answers questions for BHM Subscribers & Customers
on any aspect of low-tech, self-reliant living.

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Archive for July, 2015

Jackie Clay

Q and A: fresh eggs floating, saving bean and pea seeds, and beaver forecast

Wednesday, July 29th, 2015

Fresh eggs floating

I’d like to know your opinion on this or any insight you might have. A person who buys eggs from us complained that some of them floated when she immersed them in water. I apologized and looked this up on the internet and found various sites that suggested such eggs are no longer viable for eating because they’re spoiled and should be thrown away. Since that time, I’ve been floating our eggs in deep water, and even some of the freshest eggs (less than a week old and kept in the fridge) ‘float’–they don’t lie totally horizontally on the sink bottom but rather pivot on their tip in the water. Some of the eggs less than three weeks old float above the bottom a little, others a bit more. I’m puzzled by this situation. In the summer I gather the eggs two or three times a day, and they immediately go into the fridge. They couldn’t get any fresher.

In summary, even some of the freshest eggs float a little bit, or quite a bit in some cases. I thought farm-fresh eggs were supposed to be viable for many weeks if kept in the fridge.

We wash our eggs about once a week and put them back in the fridge for keeping. I wonder if washing the protective coating off the eggs allows more air to enter through the shell, causing them to float. This shouldn’t render them spoiled, should it? We’ve always eaten even the floating ones, as I know they’re good, having only been in the fridge for less than a month or six weeks at the very longest. We’ve never been sickened by those eggs, and neither have any of our friends. I just can’t imagine that fresh eggs kept in the fridge no more than six weeks maximum, but which float, are not fit to eat.

Do you have any insight into this? How can home-produced eggs float after a week or two or three, when store bought ones apparently don’t?

Dallen Timothy
Gilbert, Arizona

The “floating egg” method of telling good from bad eggs is kind of misleading. Eggs that pop right up to the top are usually bad. But even eggs right out of the chicken will float to an upright position often as there is a space of air in the eggs which allows room for the embryo of the developing chick to grow and fit into the shell. Obviously, that air space will cause the egg to float a bit. Some float a bit more as all air spaces are not exactly the same and all eggs are not the same size, either.
We don’t wash any eggs at all except the dirty ones. Washing once is fine but I wouldn’t re-wash them as washing does remove the protective coating from the eggs. Store eggs are often sold as “fresh” and are a month or more old. I, personally, have used our own eggs that were over three months old and only kept in a cool (45 degree) pantry due to lack of refrigerator room and being isolated on a mountain over winter.

Few people check to see if store bought “fresh” eggs float; they just assume store bought anything is just great. Not me. — Jackie

Saving bean and pea seeds

I have been trying to save seeds from peas and green beans. By the time the pods are dry, they pop open and the seeds spill out. Can I pull the beans and/or peas off the plant and let dry or even dehydrate them? Along with that, I planted Blue Lake Bush, Phaseolus vulgaris. The seeds that I planted were white. The seeds in the dry pods are red. Will they grow true to what I planted?

Ankeny, Iowa

To harvest bean and pea seeds, wait just until the pods are tan and feel pretty dry then either pick the pods or pull the entire vines gently. You can lay the pods/vines on a tarp or child’s wading pool to finish drying in a protected location such as a garage or porch floor. When the pods are very dry, you can then pop the contents out into a bowl or pail. If you have a lot, just walk on the vines on the tarp with very clean shoes to thresh out the seeds. Then gently shake and lift the vines off, once the seeds have all come free. Winnow the seeds, pouring from one bowl to another, on a breezy day. The wind will blow off the chaff leaving clean seeds.

Blue Lake bush beans do have white seeds; it’s possible yours got crossed somewhere in the process. No, they won’t come true to what you’ve planted. But who knows? Maybe you’ve just created your own yummy hybrid! If you want true Blue Lakes, you’ll have to buy new seeds. Beans generally are self-pollinating and you can keep pure seeds by separating the varieties by about 50 feet or so. Garden beans are all pretty much Phaseolus vulgaris and will happily cross if planted together, including wax and pole beans. — Jackie

Beaver forecast

I know it’s very early but I was wondering if the beavers are giving you an indication of this year’s winter snow pack? It’s been dreadfully hot and dry here in Montana, and I can’t help but think ahead to the coolness of fall and winter’s months. Is it too early to give a slight prediction of what the winter of 2015-16 might hold for us?

Elizabeth Seymour
Whitefish, Montana

It’s too early yet. Ask again in early September and I’ll keep you posted. Right now they’re just happily doing summer beaver things: raising families, swimming about, and patching their dams. — Jackie

Jackie Clay

Canning has started

Tuesday, July 28th, 2015

Sure, all year I can up food. But in the summer, we really get down to business! Our first crop of hot peppers is in, along with a few sweet peppers, too. Yesterday I picked just the largest of Will’s favorites, Hungarian Hot Bananas and boy are there ever a LOT of them out there in the hoop house! I put up 10 pints, about half in half-pints, the rest in pints. And in a week, I can do three times that much.
We tried a new pepper this year, Oda. And boy do I like it. It’s a beautiful lavender purple that just glows. It’s a sweet pepper but I mixed in the few that were ripe with the hot peppers to add pretty colors to the pepper rings. They’ll absorb some heat from the hot peppers but they’re mostly just for color. We’ll definitely grow more next year as they’re VERY productive!
Our wonderful apprentice, Krystal, really hurt her finger badly when haying with Will last Wednesday. They were adjusting the bale chute on the square baler when the end of the tipped-up chute fell down. We all don’t know exactly what happened, but she got the end of her finger in the opening of the hinge and tore it up pretty badly — bone broken and hanging. We were pretty shaken up, I’ll tell you! We sped to the local hospital, then down to Duluth to St. Luke’s and the orthopedic surgeon. Good news is that with some repair and a pin, she’ll be as good as new when she heals. Thank you God!

She’s a real trooper and today she is out raking hay while Will bales. I told her that if she gets tired or hurts, to let me know and I’ll finish raking the field.

We’ve got lots of tomatoes set on the vines now and are just waiting to taste the first ripe ones. The corn is getting silks now and looks so good … as does the whole garden, actually. We’re really happy with it. Can’t wait to start canning in earnest! — Jackie

Jackie Clay

Q and A: fencing and broccoli not heading

Tuesday, July 28th, 2015


We’re preparing to fence in our new 7 acres next spring and are debating how to anchor our wood fence posts. I know you’ve done a lot of fencing over the years! Do you prefer a concrete anchor, gravel, packed soil…? I’ve read many of the pros and cons of each method and would appreciate insight from a homesteader I trust.

Gloria Meyer
Wauseon, Ohio

The very best way is to use concrete but we’ve always just used very well tamped soil, tamping it down hard with a shovel handle or some such tool with every few inches of new soil added to the hole. Make your holes at least three feet deep; four is better and large enough around so you can adequately tamp the fill soil. Don’t forget your brace posts (H braces) on each side of each corner and beside each gate opening. Check out my fencing article in Issue #77 (13th year anthology) for more detail. — Jackie

Broccoli not heading

My broccoli plants started beautifully this year however, they never went to a head — they produced “branches” that quickly flowered out. Is my soil in need of something or would it be the plant (I got them from a nursery)?

Michele Gerdes
Rhinelander, Wisconsin

This sometimes happens when the plants are root bound in packs. When buying plants, try to choose the smallest, yet healthiest plants, over the great big ones. Also, sometimes intense heat will cause broccoli to not form heads; all cabbage family plants like cool weather best. Another thought: What variety was the broccoli? There are non-heading old-time varieties that don’t ever produce heads. It isn’t your soil. — Jackie

Jackie Clay

The pumpkin/corn patch is now fenced

Monday, July 27th, 2015

Will, Krystal, and I finished hanging the last two sections of the 6-foot-high fencing on the new pumpkin/corn patch. We had decided to wait for a more doable cash flow but the deer were starting to eat, not nibble, on plants in there, including many of our pumpkin vine leaves. If we were going to get a decent crop, we had to do something. So we bit the bullet and bought the rest of the fence. It’s all up now and that was a job well done! The plants can grow without harm.
Our garden is doing great! We’ve been eating snow peas, broccoli, and asparagus right along and the first of Will’s Hungarian Wax (Hot Banana) peppers are ready to use. I’ll be putting up a whole lot of his favorite hot pepper rings soon. And the rest of the peppers are following to suit. Boy, there are a lot of baby peppers in that big hoop house!
It was supposed to be rain-free until Friday, so Will cut two hayfields. Last night we got a little rain and today it’s sprinkling on and off. Yikes! I hope it doesn’t pour! And I hope we get some sunshine to get that hay dry!

We were excited Friday as we got a big box of my latest Jess Hazzard Western, Autumn of the Loons. I’ve been having people who want autographed copies, so now they’re here! (By the way, you lovely folks who have read either book, Summer of the Eagles or Autumn of the Loons, would you please take time to do a review on Amazon? It would be much appreciated by me. Thanks! — Jackie

Jackie Clay

Q and A: picking green beans and feeding bad food to chickens

Tuesday, July 21st, 2015

Picking green beans

When picking beans, do you pick them with the stem attached or with the stem removed? I know when cleaning them I take them off. I just don’t want to hurt my plants.

Brandy Gunderson

I hold my bean plants with one hand and pull the beans with the other. The stem usually breaks off, being attached to the bean. Then when I cut the beans, I trim off both the stem and blossom end for eating or canning. By holding the tender bean plants, you reduce the damage you’ll do to the plants otherwise. In this way you can harvest many times from those same plants. — Jackie

Feeding bad food to chickens

Recently I was given a box of dented cans. Some are quite good but some are bulged which I know are not good people food. But, is it safe to feed to the chickens?

Gail Erman
Palisade, Colorado

If they are bulging that indicates spoilage. As you don’t know what bacteria are involved, I wouldn’t feed the contents to anything; bury it so nothing gets into it, just to be safe. — Jackie

Jackie Clay

My garden is growing very well this year

Friday, July 17th, 2015

My good old rhubarb, a Victoria old-fashioned rhubarb is now over my head. Check out the photo of it next to the hoop house. The stalks are as big around as my wrist. We’re saving seeds from it this year.

I measured one head of broccoli and it’s 16 inches across. Wow, it lived up to its name “Goliath!”

The tomatoes are starting to set and the vines are shooting upward in their cages. Will finished the cages for the rest of the tomatoes. We now have more than 107 caged tomatoes in the garden, and a bunch uncaged, out in the pumpkin/corn patch. Crystal and Will have been working at fencing that big field and have six foot high fence up on two sides with another pile of fencing waiting to go up on the posts they’ve already driven. Another big job nearly done!

Tomorrow Will and I have to go to the VA Hospital in Minneapolis to have the spots on his lungs checked out. It’s been a year since they were discovered when he had a CAT scan for his kidney stones. They wanted to wait a year so they could compare the size, etc. I’m pretty nervous about it but have been praying constantly, hoping all will work out well. On the way back, we’ll stop at my oldest son, Bill’s, and pick up Javid’s van. Bill, a mechanic, among other skills, has gone through the van and made sure any issues were taken care of. Now we’ll be able to easily transport Javid to both doctor’s appointments and home for visits in his power wheelchair. It’ll be much easier on Will’s back as he previously had to lift him in and out of the car. Javid’s really happy to be having wheels again and a laptop computer to “play” on while he is forced to lay down during the day.

Well, I’ve got to go — I’m going to plant some summer squash, Swiss chard, kale, and rutabagas out on the pumpkin patch where some old corn seed failed to germinate. — Jackie

Jackie Clay

Q and A: storing cheese and growing apricots

Wednesday, July 15th, 2015

Storing cheese

Does coating cheese with red wax allow for it to be stored in a pantry? I purchased some red waxed cheese from the grocery store — would this be shelf safe?

Judith Almand
Lithia, Florida

Probably not. If you have a very cool pantry (45-50 degrees), it would probably store pretty well. If not I’d refrigerate or freeze it unless you want to can it for longer storage. — Jackie

Growing apricots

It’s too late for this season but I need some advice about my apricots. I had a good crop but the fruit is ugly with black blotches on each one. They are also small compared to what is in the grocery stores. I didn’t get any spraying done this year and we’ve had lots of rain. Any ideas how I might be able to prevent these blotches and improve the size of my fruit?

Adell Struble
Aledo, Illinois

My best guess is that your apricots got attacked by the insect pest, plum curculio.The plum curculio is a small beetle with a mottled camo-colored back and a long, curving snout. The adult feeds on blossoms and developing fruit. It bites a half-circle shaped wound in the developing fruit of not only plums but also apricots, apples, and peaches, then lays eggs in the wound. The egg hatches out into a tiny grub which goes on to burrow into the center of the fruit to eat and grow. All this creates blackish blotches in the fruit which stunts its growth and usually causes the young fruit to drop off of the tree. Here the cycle begins again. This is why it’s important that all dropped fruit is raked up and burned — it will significantly reduce the number of beetles next year. Organic gardeners have had good luck treating their trees with a natural kaolin clay product called Surround.

Surround provides substantial control of plum curculio on apples. Surround forms a thin clay barrier around the fruit that repels adults and prevents them from depositing eggs in the fruit. Begin spraying Surround on the trees at petal fall and continue applications until one week before harvest. The heavy, consistent coating of Surround provides the highest level of control.

Good luck with your apricots. You can get rid of these pests! — Jackie

Jackie Clay

We got our hay in just before the rain

Tuesday, July 14th, 2015

We knew a storm was coming and we had 85 bales of hay on the field. So even though it was 85 degrees with high humidity, we went at it and picked up the bales with our small flatbed trailer, brought them up to the storage barn, and ran them up into the barn. Quite a job when it was so hot! But it got done and now it’s stacked neatly in the mow, all ready for winter. Not a whole lot of bales but it’s a good start and the hay is perfect.

The garden is coming on gangbusters. We have heads of Goliath broccoli that measure more than a foot in diameter. The carrots and onions look fantastic. The pumpkins and squash are running like crazy and I have to go out twice a day to turn back vines that are headed for the tomato rows. They don’t like to take “no” for an answer, I guess. The peppers in the big hoop house are taking off like crazy. The Hungarian Wax (Hot Banana) peppers are setting handfuls on each plant, and are nearly ready to pick for pepper rings.

While I was down at the Mayo Clinic with our friend, Will and Krystal went to Dara and Mikes for a barbecue and picked up our new buck goat, Odin. He took a few days to adjust, but now he’s one of the herd. Our doelings are growing very nicely and we’ll be keeping all three as they are from excellent breeding and their moms have wonderful udders.

Our melons in the small hoop house are starting to bloom and set tiny melons. Some volunteer tomatoes popped up from seed in there but we didn’t have the heart to kill them. So we have various tomatoes keeping the melons company.

Today Will and Krystal are out starting to fence the pumpkin/corn patch. The darned deer are starting to “nibble.” They munched off the tops of my Titan sunflowers and some potato tops. Luckily, I’d hilled them and there wasn’t much sticking up for them to browse.

I was sure tickled to read Massad Ayoob and Claire Wolfe’s blogs to find wonderful reviews on my new book, Autumn of the Loons, the second in the Jess Hazzard series of Westerns. If you haven’t seen the reviews already, why not click on over to their blogs to see what they have to say? Thank you very much, Mas and Claire!

My publisher is wondering when I’ll have the next Jess Hazzard series book, Winter of the Wolves finished, so I’ve been working on that in my “spare” time. It is fun, though, kind of a break from gardening and my “regular” writing.

Enjoy your summer; winter will come all too soon! — Jackie


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