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Archive for the ‘Gardening’ Category

Jackie Clay

Q and A: canning potatoes with their skins on and how to tell when vine fruits are ripe

Saturday, October 10th, 2015

Canning potatoes with their skins on

This year we had quite a drought and I have many tiny potatoes to deal with. Is it ok to can them with their skins on? I really don’t want to peel them as there is not much to them. I would like to can them whole or just halved. Any suggestions?

Jennifer Grahovac
Wooster, Ohio

Yes, it’s fine to can those little potatoes with the skins on. I do it all the time. When you go to use them, if the skin seems too “tough,” just squeeze it off like you’d skin a grape. The potato pops right out. I use these as fried, creamed, or potatoes au gratin. They’re great in stews and soups too, added when the rest of the recipe is nearly finished cooking. — Jackie

How to tell when vine fruits are ripe

How do you know when they are ripe? Same with squash and watermelon ?


Tomatoes are ripe when they begin to feel a bit soft when you squeeze them gently. To make sure, just eat one! With winter squash and pumpkins, they are ripe when the skin reaches the correct color for the variety and your thumbnail can’t easily pierce the skin. For them to taste best, wait a month or more before eating them as the starch in the flesh converts to more sugar so they taste better after curing. Watermelons are usually ripe when the spot where the skin touches the ground turns yellow and the closest tendril on the vine turns brown and dry. — Jackie

Jackie Clay

Putting up the harvest

Thursday, October 8th, 2015

Now that we’ve got most of it in, we’re going full bore, putting up the harvest. I’ve begun digging potatoes and WOW are they nice this year! I started on the row in the new north garden and 10 feet gave me a six-gallon bucket nearly full; all nice, big, solid Dakota Pearls. Today, I hit the main garden as our temps are dropping down to the low twenties at night.
Yesterday I put up pizza sauce and spaghetti sauce from tomatoes Will cranked out of the Victorio tomato strainer and the day before I made my last batch of Cowboy Candy, using red jalapeños. And I made a double batch of syrup for them and used the extra to make Cowgirl Candy… I used the jalapeño-flavored spicy syrup and red sweet peppers. I tried a couple of half-pints last time I made Cowboy Candy and we really liked the less-spicy variety too. Experimenting like that is so fun. I ended up with 19 half-pints of Cowboy Candy and 15 of Cowgirl Candy.
This afternoon I’ll be canning salsa and a bushel of pears our friend Tom brought up from his visit in Wisconsin. Thanks Tom! — Jackie

Jackie Clay

We’ve finally got nearly everything harvested and inside

Tuesday, October 6th, 2015

Whew! It’s been freezing nearly every night so all the squash and pumpkins had to come inside. This year, we’ve put them all in the house. (Last year the cows got out and ate a lot of the ones we stored in the barn. Now we stumble over pumpkins and squash everywhere. They crowd the entryway, the spare bedroom, the kitchen, and dining room. More than 120 Hopi Pale Grey, two dozen Apache Giant, 20 San Felipe pumpkins, 40 Howdens, a handful of Atlantic Giant pumpkins, Gila Cliff Dweller squash, and some assorted ones from here and there.
On top of that are buckets full of potatoes and rutabagas. I still have to pull the carrots and parsnips.
Oh, I didn’t mention the crates of tomatoes sitting everywhere, even on top of the piles of squash, did I? There’s FOOD everywhere!

I’m sure not complaining, but folks’ eyes sure bug out when they come in the house, nowadays! –Jackie

Jackie Clay

The “F” word strikes our garden — we had a freeze

Tuesday, September 29th, 2015

We’d been dodging the bullet for a month now and as we listened to our weather radio two days ago, we cringed when we heard the “F” word mentioned for Monday night and tonight. Freeze! Frost warning! So Will and I picked tomatoes for a day and a half straight. Then David and his girlfriend, Hannah, came after work yesterday evening and helped pick more. We knew that what didn’t get picked would get frosted or frozen and be no good.

We have been picking, seeding, and canning tomatoes for a month now but suddenly we were in a rush. Covering would do no good; too many tomatoes and it was probably going to get too cold to matter (which it did). So we picked until after dark. Exhausted we called it good with both our enclosed porch and the front porch loaded with tomatoes.
We not only had to pick them but separate the varieties and tag them so we could also extract seed as well as canning them up. That slowed things down until evening when we finished with separate varieties and just picked buckets full of mixed tomatoes, both green and ripe. We found new favorites as we picked, too. We especially loved the bright yellow, meaty Golden King of Siberia, which ran from a heart-shaped pound of fruit to even larger, meaty, and tasty tomatoes that just shone in the dark.
As it’s supposed to get even cooler tonight, we’re headed out to the garden and pumpkin patches with the tractor and front end bucket to harvest squash and pumpkins before they freeze. (Once they get frozen too badly, they quickly get soft spots and rot.) And boy, do we have lots of pumpkins and squash to pull. Last fall, the cows got out and got into the unfinished barn and ate many of the squash and pumpkins stored there. This year we’re not going to take chances so if you come visit, you’ll have to step around them all over the house! — Jackie

Jackie Clay

Q and A: canning green beans and replacing native grasses

Monday, September 28th, 2015

Canning green beans

I am at a loss! I have been canning since I was in my mid-twenties…not thirty years plus. I can and have canned everything from jams, pickles, vegetables, stew and meats…no problem…except for green beans. As an older woman I cannot can them and they stay sealed. They usually take one to two weeks to spoil and pop open. I could can them in my twenties…but not now. I have gone through the ‘list’. The jars are clean, they are hot, they lids have been simmered, the beans blanched and not tightly packed and under the curve of the jar. I process as the canning jar booklet says and it is the SAME canner that I can meat in and they stay sealed…two years now. What am I doing to the beans? It is at least twenty minutes of snipping to fill one quart and that doesn’t count picking them.

Susanne Andrischok
South Chesterfield, Virginia

Wow, that’s a new one. Green beans are usually THE easiest food for beginners to start canning with as they are so easy. But for you, this seems to be not so. Are you processing them for 20 minutes for pints and 25 minutes for quarts at 10 pounds pressure? Do you possibly live at an altitude above 1,000 feet? If so, you should adjust your pressure to suit your altitude. I’m at 1,400 feet and can at 12 pounds pressure.

Let’s run through the LIST, just to make sure you’re not missing something, okay?

I’m assuming you’re hot packing as you said you blanched your beans so we’ll do it that way.

Have your warm jars ready and be sure no rims have nicks in them. Simmer your lids and have rings ready and lids sitting in hot water.

Ladle your beans into the warm jars, leaving 1 inch of headspace. Pour boiling liquid on to fill jars, leaving 1 inch of headspace. Add 1/2 tsp. salt to each pint jar and 1 tsp. to quarts. Wipe rim of jar clean with damp, warm cloth. Place previously simmered lid on jar and screw down ring firmly tight (not just finger tight; pretty snug but NOT really, tremendously tight). Place jars into warm pressure canner filled with about 2 inches of hot water. Place lid on canner and turn up heat. Let canner exhaust steam for at least 10 minutes forcefully (not just little spurts).

Shut petcock or place weight on stem. With canner on burner turned on high, let pressure build until it reaches the desired pressure. (If a dial gauge, simply adjust heat to keep the pressure where it needs to be. With a weight, adjust heat so that steam rocks the weight several times a minute but not constantly.)

When the required time is up, turn off the heat. Let the pressure return to zero or with a weight, let it cool just until there is no more steam to spurt out the weight if it is bumped very slightly. (If it still does, let it cool longer. But don’t let it go really cold; you want it still hot when you remove the jars. When there’s no more pressure or the dial has remained at zero for a few minutes, remove the lid carefully away from you and remove the jars.

Place them on the counter, on folded dry towels to cool. DO not touch the jars until they are cool. Wiping the film off lids or poking the lids down will cause the seals to fail. When the jars have totally cooled, remove ring and wash jar with warm, soapy water. Dry and store in a cool, dark place.

I hope you can find something here that you’re doing wrong or not doing. If everything you do is right on, I’d suggest having your dial on your canner checked for accuracy at your local extension office (if it is a dial type). But if it were the dial, other foods would also have trouble staying sealed.

If you’re still having trouble, please let me know. We WILL fix this for you! — Jackie

Replacing native grasses

Last year we bought a small 15 acre place in southwestern South Dakota. The previous owners had many horses. The problem is the native grasses have been eaten or trampled away, leaving to a huge crop of Goatheads, Sand Burrs, and Tumbleweeds.

We have a very low water table, and really do not want to use chemicals. Is there something we can plant that will help snuff out the weeds? I have heard that Rye (not grass) will help, but as of yet we do not have irrigation, so we would need something that would work without additional water.

Laura and Scottie
Oral, South Dakota

Congratulations on your new homestead! I totally understand about your burr situation and especially the Goat Heads. We had ’em in New Mexico. Nasty things! The best things to plant are native grasses. You can buy native grass seed, such as Gamma, Buffalo and Big Bluestem grasses, often through local elevators or seed dealers. You can also check with your county agent for local sources for seed as shipping from online orders can get expensive. We got rid of our weeds and I’m sure you can do the same. But it does take work. Hang in there! — Jackie

Jackie Clay

The cows got into our pumpkin/corn patch

Friday, September 25th, 2015

Yesterday Will was bulldozing the horse manure in the horse pasture where we feed round bales all winter up into a compost pile. He noticed that the cows seemed to be too far north on the new pasture. He dismounted from Old Yeller and walked out to see. They’d gotten the gate open into the pumpkin/corn patch on the new pasture and were eating/walking through corn and pumpkins. To make it worse, we were going to have our buyers from The Watering Can nursery out today to BUY pumpkins!
He called the cows and they came right out and he fixed the gate. Today I went early to buy that last 20 feet of fence we’d “Mickey Moused” with six-foot-tall chicken wire.

Luckily, although they had bitten and eaten some pumpkins and squash, there were still a lot that they hadn’t gotten into yet. So Gina and Dianne were still able to fill up their van. Oh well, you can bet that won’t happen again next year!
One thing we’ve learned is that you win some. And you lose some. It’s all part of homesteading. Luckily, Will harvested two feed sacks full of Painted Mountain corn BEFORE the cows got in. And it’s just gorgeous. Meanwhile, I continued picking and seeding tomatoes. I did a big batch of Topaz tomatoes. Boy, do I love them — about ping pong ball-sized perfect light yellow with white stripes. Gorgeous and great in salads too. They’re a new favorite, for sure!
While Will and I sure do our share every day, Hondo is bound to get Will outside faster each morning. Not only does he drag him out of bed by the pajamas, but he pulls his pant legs and jacket if he comes in to sit for even a short break. What a boss! — Jackie

Jackie Clay

We’re madly harvesting tomato seeds

Tuesday, September 22nd, 2015

We’ve had really nice fall weather, sunny and warm. So to take advantage of it, I’ve been harvesting tomato seeds every day. Saturday, Will’s step-mom and her friend Janann stopped by on their trip from Washington to Michigan and I got some fine extra help. We had a great, although way too short, visit. When they were getting ready to leave Sunday, my oldest son, Bill, and his family drove in. Bill and Kelly were coming to get extra tomatoes so Kelly and her mom could can up a big bunch. So we had another great day of visiting! The grandkids, Mason and Ava, were really happy to help harvest and they each got to pick out a pumpkin from our pumpkin patch to take home and carve.

To top that off, on Monday, a couple of gals from the Cities drove up for a visit. They’d been to two of our seminars and were on a vacation up north. So we had another great day! Wow. What fun!
But today it’s back to business. Will’s hauling our last round bales home and I’m seeding tomatoes on the front porch. Again. But even that’s fun as we’ve grown so many different tomatoes this year. Two we really like are Casady’s Folly and Berkeley Pink Tie Dye. Casady’s Folly is a brilliant red and gold striped elongated paste tomato that knocks your eyes out on the vine. Luckily, it also is very meaty and tastes good too. Berkeley Pink Tie Dye is a reddish purple, shot with copper and green stripes. A larger tomato, it’s also meaty and tasty.
We’re supposed to get some rain, so we’re trying to get as much done today as we can so we don’t have to work in cold drizzle. Winter is coming. (But our wood shed is full to the top.) — Jackie

Jackie Clay

A bigger and better harvest

Friday, September 18th, 2015

We are totally amazed at how productive our garden is this year. We’ve been harvesting tomatoes for over a month now, and the BIG Bill Beans are just now getting ripe. Some weigh more than 3 pounds and are not cracked or scarred. And the pumpkins and squash! Wow. Our new-to-us San Filipe pumpkins (an old south-of-the border pumpkin) is outdoing itself. Not only are they very productive, setting lots and lots of nice orange pumpkins, but they’re big, too! One cool thing about them is that they start out yellow (not green like most pumpkins) and slowly ripen to a nice orange.
Our onions were big; carrots huge, and the flour corn varieties amazing. Maybe it was the hot weather this summer, coupled with good watering from our spring basin. Of course “Mo’ poo poo” helps everything!

Will is out spreading lime on our fields today. He got a semi-load from a cement plant in Superior, Wisconsin, where it’s a by-product. And it was cheap; we only have to pay hauling (fuel) cost. As our soil is fairly acidic, that lime will help raise the pH so our pasture, hay, and garden crops will do much better. As it’s supposed to rain tonight, he wants to get it spread so it’ll wash down into the soil instead of clinging to the clover and grass.

I’ve been seeing migrations of wooly bear caterpillars so I figure we’ve got about four more weeks of Fall, then it’ll get cold. I’m SO not ready for winter. Well, we are ready, but I am not looking forward to snow. — Jackie



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