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Archive for the ‘Gardening’ Category

Jackie Clay

Great weekend — got a lot done

Monday, May 11th, 2015

We had a little rain on Saturday, but not much. So this weekend we got a lot done. Will and Krystal moved the big hoop house off of the garden so he could till the spot well with the tractor mounted-tiller. That was a huge job because it was really heavy and 32 feet long. They slipped 2x4s and 2x6s under it to skid it on and pried it with a long bar. They’d tried to lift and slide it but the center came apart — too much torque.

Once off the garden, Will tilled again, this time getting the entire garden. He removed the short section of the fence from the goat gate to the garden gate, moved a whole bunch of fence posts and other stuff, then Saturday tilled the end, including that spot that hadn’t gotten manured or tilled for a couple of years. Now it looks great and is fluffy, deep soil. The tiller did turn up a ton of rocks, long buried, so Krystal got plenty of experience picking rocks. Poor Krystal!

Mother’s Day, we met Bill and his family and David and his girlfriend at Byrns Greenhouse in Zim for our traditional Mother’s Day flower blow-out. We were so thrilled to be in the warm greenhouse with all those plants! They smelled great! Granddaughter, Ava, especially loved smelling the roses and feeling their fallen petals. Of course, I walked too much on my bad knee (couldn’t help it!) and it’s swollen like a bugger. I guess I struck it on my way off the front porch last week.

Yes, I’m feeling much better, except the knee. (One thing I’ve learned is that if you don’t DO anything, you don’t get hurt! Stuff happens.)

We came home with a carload of flowers and so did Bill and Kelly. After we ate a big meal of roasted chicken breast, potato salad, chips, and pumpkin pie (Yum!) we took a walk around the homestead so everyone could see what we’ve been up to. Even I was so impressed with the soil Will had tilled up in the pumpkin/corn patch on the new 40. It looks like a golf course in progress. (No, Dave, you CAN’T come play on it; no grass!) The pig pasture also had been tilled and looks great too. I can’t wait to get to planting.

While everyone was here yesterday, we all got hold of the bottom frame and end braces across the doors and manually picked the big hoop house up and walked it (took one break halfway!) back to its location in the garden, over nicely-tilled soil.

But it’s raining hard today, so no planting. Well … maybe a few perennials I bought yesterday. — Jackie

Jackie Clay

Our new apprentice, Krystal, arrived

Thursday, May 7th, 2015

We’ve got a summer apprentice homesteader, Krystal, who arrived yesterday from Georgia. She’s anxious to learn what we can teach her for her own future homestead. I’m sure we’ll have a lot of fun this summer together. Welcome to the family, Krys!

Yesterday, Will hooked our new tractor-mounted rototiller up and tilled a little out on the big pumpkin/corn patch on the new 40 to try it out. Then he brought it into the garden where there’s less room to turn around etc. It did a wonderful job of working in the rotted manure that we placed on the garden over winter, leaving a fluffy, deep seed bed. We were really impressed. Today he and Krys are moving some fence posts and PVC pipes off our old small hoop house so he can get in to till that western corner of the garden, which hasn’t been tilled for a couple years.

We are getting some rain today and we need it. The beavers say we’re in a drought and it’ll be a dry summer so we’re getting ready for it with plenty of mulch available. We harvested some asparagus spears yesterday and Will brought a tractor bucket full of nice old, rotted compost down to the garden so they can spread it out on the asparagus bed. It hasn’t had compost for a couple of years and we figured it needed it.

The fruit trees are starting to bloom and the Adirondack Gold apricot is absolutely covered with white blooms! And, boy, are they fragrant.

Tom got the shingles on the new porch roof and it looks great! I had a small accident as Will and I struggled to get a 500-pound porch rafter log stuffed into place (he thought the wide spacing would be okay but the roof was just too springy). I was hurrying to step off of the stepladder on the porch, missed a step and fell, bouncing off the porch onto the ground. Nothing broken but I feel like a truck ran over me, yet. Don’t hurry when doing a job! — Jackie

Jackie Clay

Q and A: jar sizes in canner and harvesting asparagus

Wednesday, May 6th, 2015

Jar sizes in canner

I have a question concerning jars. Today I was putting up potatoes in qt. wide mouth jars. Ran short by one jar and used a regular size mouth jar in with the rest. Was this ok? Also had a pint & half size wide mouth one in there too. I processed as though all were wide mouth quarts. Was this ok?

Judith Almand
Brandon, Florida

You can certainly mix wide-mouth and regular-mouth quarts. And you can also add pints, pint and a half, or even-half pints in with your batch, if you want. I often stack quarts on the bottom and add pints or half-pints above the second rack. You must still process for the time required for the quarts which slightly overcooks the smaller jars. But I’ve never found that a problem and it sure lets me get a whole lot more done faster! — Jackie

Harvesting asparagus

I have an asparagus bed that is 4 years old. Last year was the first year that I harvested from it and I did that very sparingly. My question is now that it is growing well, should I be harvesting all of the spears that come up and how long should I do this? There are a few that are very spindly while most of them are pretty thick.

Amy Blattner
Fulton, Missouri

It’s normal for all asparagus to put out some thin spears. You can harvest spears this year without worrying. Harvest all of those over a pencil size. Leave the thin ones. As time goes on, you’ll see that you get fewer and fewer big spears — usually after about a month’s time. This signals the time to stop harvesting and let the ferns go on and grow all summer. At this point the plant is building up roots for next year. In the fall, you can add rotted manure along your rows, right up to the plants. This will protect the plants over winter and give them a good start next spring. Enjoy one of Spring’s best treats! I can hardly wait for ours to pop up. Only a day or two longer! — Jackie

Jackie Clay

Spring has sprung!

Tuesday, May 5th, 2015

Wow, Spring hits here with a bang. On Saturday, our carpenter friend, Tom, stopped by to ask if we were ready for our porch roof on Monday. Last year we asked him if he would put the shingles on the new porch. He had roofed the rest of the house and we didn’t want to mess up anything so it wouldn’t look “all together.” Then, suddenly, we were in OMG mode. The building center where we got our shingles doesn’t carry that brand anymore. Tom thought Lowes did, so I called. Sure enough, they did. So Will and I set out at 7 p.m. to go get shingles. Unfortunately, when I called I didn’t ask what color they had. Well, it was brown, brown, and more brown — our shingles are green. We’d already traveled 35 miles, and it was getting late, so I called Home Depot in Grand Rapids, another 35 miles away. Yep, they did have the brand and the color. (Very helpful, friendly folks there.) We drove like crazy and got there 20 minutes before closing. We found that not only had the Home Depot employee, Eric, personally gone to check on the availability of the shingles but he had also loaded them on a flat cart and set out the ice and water shield by the contractor checkout desk. And he helped load them into our car. Thank you, Eric. There still are friendly, nice folks out there.

Oh, and if you didn’t know it, both Lowes and Home Depot give a 10% discount to veterans. You just have to have a photo identification card. That really helps us out on large purchases. A big thumbs up to both companies!

Our wild plum trees are blooming this morning and the Manchurian apricots are right with them. It’s sure pretty with all those blooms after a drab winter. I love spring! — Jackie

Jackie Clay

Q and A: canning Chicken a la King and making your own potting soil

Thursday, April 30th, 2015

Canning Chicken a la King

I made your Chicken a la King recipe yesterday and canned about 12 pints. I have a question though. The broth was about the consistency of milk prior to canning and after canning all the flour seemed to sink to the bottom. The flavor was good before canning. I used hard white wheat for the flour as who knows how many years my white flour has been around just in my pantry. Also, a couple of jars bubbled inside after they were cooled and washed. Do I need to watch those more closely? I may not have gotten it hot enough after adding the peppers prior to canning. I am starting tomatoes from seeds for the first time. Is it normal for the paste varieties to germinate more slowly than others?

Julia Crow
Gardnerville, Nevada

Don’t worry about your canned Chicken a la King. When you heat it to use it, just stir it and the flour will again mix with the broth. Also don’t worry about the jars having bubbles. You just had a few air bubbles you missed releasing before canning them. As always, check the seals on the lids before using all jars to make sure they’ve stayed sealed during storage.

It’s not “normal” for paste tomatoes to germinate slower than others but it is normal for some varieties to germinate slower than others, regardless as to whether they’re paste tomatoes or not. Hang in there; they’ll probably pop up soon. — Jackie

Potting soil

Should “store bought” potting products become unavailable or just too darned expensive, could I mix compost, moo poo, and just plain dirt (sandy in Fl.) to fill starter pots? Should this mixture be heat sterilized before use? I can find “recipes” for mixing bags of this and that, but not for using on-hand “dirt.”

Judith Almand
Brandon, Florida

Long before “potting soil” and “seed starting soil” became commercially available, Mom and Grandma made their own and they had very green thumbs. Skip the moo poo. You don’t want too much nitrogen either in seed starter or potting soil. You can always fertilize later on if that’s necessary with manure tea. Mix half and half compost and plain garden soil. Then put in large pans like turkey roasters and bake in the oven at 250 degrees or so for half an hour. Warning: this stinks! I used to call it baking worms. Yuck. But it sterilizes the soil so you won’t end up with such problems as damping off, mold, or fungal diseases. Right now, I opt for not “baking worms” but I buy PRO-MIX bagged soils. But if it becomes unavailable or too expensive, you bet I’ll be back to the old way. — Jackie

Jackie Clay

I’ve got the spring cold — Yuck!

Wednesday, April 29th, 2015

I guess it’s going around; everyone I talk to either has it or just got over it — the spring cold. Nose runs like a firehose and cough, cough, cough. I finally went to the clinic yesterday and got a chest x-ray, just to make sure my pneumonia wasn’t coming back. They put me on antibiotics, just in case. But I am feeling better this morning, so I hope that’s that. I’ve got more to do right now that’s a lot more fun than sitting around with a Kleenex in my hand.

Will has the Kawasaki Mule running so that both of us can sit on it while it goes. He still has some clutch adjustments to make and has to hook up the throttle and choke. (Right now he has to turn around and hold the throttle cable to make it go.) But it’s definitely on the upswing. I can hardly wait to finish getting my raised beds and flower beds ready for planting and growing. And I have a ton of mulch to haul around here and there. I want less weeds this year!

You should see Hondo. He carried firewood in all winter and now he’s always dragging up some branch or small tree, as happy as a lark. I guess he figures that’s “firewood” too.

I’ve finished the painting for the cover of my next Western novel, Autumn of the Loons, and I’ll be mailing it to the publisher tomorrow as Will has made another handy-dandy safe box in which to mail it. Only an elephant can damage the painting in that wooden box! A pretty angry elephant, too. We’re getting excited about the coming release as the first book, Summer of the Eagles, has gotten great reviews. (Thank each and every one of you!) — Jackie

Jackie Clay

Snow, snow, and more snow

Wednesday, April 22nd, 2015

We nearly always get an April blizzard so when we passed through much of April with warm temperatures, we figured it missed us this year. Well… kind of. We didn’t get a blizzard but for the last several days we’ve been having wet, nasty snow.

I’ve been getting a lot done inside because of it. All of our tomatoes are now transplanted and I’m working on our peppers. I should finish them today and start the petunias which will hang off our front porch in hanging baskets, tomorrow.

Will’s off to a farm auction today with truck and trailer so I’m wondering what new equipment will come wandering home. Well, not new equipment — rusty old equipment actually. But usable… sometimes with a little work (or a lot). But that’s how we manage to equip our homestead and still be able to afford it. Ah, homesteading! — Jackie

Jackie Clay

We knew a cold spell was heading for us

Tuesday, April 21st, 2015

So we got busy! Last fall Will plowed a six-acre spot between our new small hayfield and the pumpkin/corn patch. It was a soggy spot, covered with alder, willow brush, and a few small popple trees — a very unusable spot. Even grass didn’t want to grow on it. We were surprised that it even plowed!

We’ve been having a warm, dry spring. And with temperatures in the low seventies we knew it wouldn’t last. After all, this is northern Minnesota and it’s April. So when the weather radio forecasted a week of rain mixed with snow, Will quickly decided he’d try to plant some oats on that new spot. So off he went, with a spin-seeder on the back of the tractor and a harrow behind it. Hondo went with him but finally got tired of following the tractor around and around. I went out with the ATV and watched for a while. And when I went home, so did Hondo.

I’ve been transplanting tomatoes like mad and still have half of another flat to go. Then there are the peppers and the petunias … I’m running out of south-facing windows! But the plants look so happy after being transplanted into their Styrofoam cups!

Will’s been working on “my” new Mule RTV. He’d found a motor for it for $300 but true to his Scotch blood, he also found a Briggs motor on an old generator of ours (with an electric start) that would fit. He’s spent the better part of two afternoons on it and he thinks it’ll be ready to run this afternoon. Wow, that’ll be so nice. With the dump box, I can pick rocks out of the garden and pumpkin patch, and haul mulch and compost around (instead of a trailer or wheelbarrow) so easily. I can hardly wait! — Jackie



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