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Archive for the ‘Gardening’ Category

Jackie Clay

Q and A: Using milk jugs to warm seedlings and canning ham in half-pint jars

Wednesday, November 25th, 2015

Using milk jugs to warm seedlings

Here in the Phoenix area, we plant and transplant our spring/summer veggies right around March 10-15, although some years late February is suitable while keeping a close eye on the weather reports. I know you use Wall-O-Waters to extend your growing season. What are your thoughts about plastic milk jugs? Do you think cut-off jugs as mini greenhouses would be adequate to raise the soil temperatures underneath them to germinate squash, cucumbers, etc, a month or so before the last frost date? I know there are many variables involved in this process, but just some opinion or insight would be appreciated. I think the jugs would probably protect seedlings from any last-minute LIGHT frost…I’m wondering about raising the soil temperature enough to germinate seeds. In mid-February the nights are still cold, sometimes with frost, but many of the days are already in the mid-70s. Would the daytime temps, with the help of the milk jugs, be adequate to start those seeds popping? I think I’ll experiment around with it this coming spring and see what happens.

Dallen Timothy
Gilbert, Arizona

While the cut-off plastic milk jugs certainly do protect seedling plants from light frosts and help warm the soil during the day, I’ve found that they really don’t do a lot to raise the soil temperature enough to counteract the cool nighttime soil temps. If you don’t want to buy Wall o’ Waters, you might try using black plastic as a mulch in your rows, planting through slits in the plastic, then setting your milk jugs over the plants. The plastic mulch really does help warm up the soil for those early plantings and makes a huge difference in the harvest, come fall.

For us, using inexpensive, homemade plastic hoop houses makes a huge difference in getting things off to a good start early. You can even make row covers over hoops of wire, above your black plastic mulch for even greater protection. And the plastic row covers tend to stay in place better than individual plastic milk jugs in a stiff wind. — Jackie

Canning ham in half-pints

I want to can ham and beans in half-pint jars for my father. Do the half-pint jars require the 90 minute processing time or can they be processed for a shorter time? I love your cook books and articles. Thank you for such wonderful guidance.

Lancaster, Missouri

They are processed for 75 minutes, as are pints. I’m glad you like my books and articles! It’s fun to connect with my BHM family. — Jackie

Jackie Clay

It’s still raining

Thursday, November 19th, 2015

Boy is it hard to get things done outside when it’s raining all day, every day. Grump, grump, grump! I pulled our last carrots and found that the deer had gotten in the open gate and munched off all the tops and pulled about a third of the row. So I quickly pulled the rest … including some the deer had eaten a little of the top. I DO cut off the deer munched parts!


Meanwhile, Will has been working inside. He re-manufactured one of our new top kitchen cabinets to fit under the new refrigerator. We wanted it moved up some as the fridge part was just too low. In the RV, it sat up on a little step so now it sits on a 12-inch cabinet that I can use to store some miscellaneous stuff. More storage is always good. He has all of the gas fittings so now he has to get it hooked up and we’ll (hopefully) be in business. He is also continuing to install insulation in the enclosed back porch so it (and the house) will be warmer. Eventually, we’ll be heating that porch, which will give us additional greenhouse space, come spring. As the firewood is used, that will free up growing bench space. Pretty cool.


I’m still harvesting pumpkin, squash, and bean seeds for our little seed business. I really love those crops. The seeds are so cheerful, too; nice and plump, ready to grow. And as the first germination tests have indicated, they ARE ready to grow!

All this rain has Spencer and Mittens depressed. They don’t go out much at all. In fact, Mittens goes out more than Spencer. That dog hates rain! Go figure; he loves to swim but hates the rain. Mittens goes outside and gets wet and doesn’t seem to mind. But even Mittens is spending more time stretched out on the back of Will’s new overstuffed chair. I know the feeling.


Oh, by the way, it’s been suggested that I ask all of you for your favorite family traditional recipes for the holiday meals. I thought that was a terrific idea so are any of you willing to share? — Jackie

Jackie Clay

Where the heck’s the sun?

Tuesday, November 17th, 2015


We got hammered a few days ago with a sloppy, wet snow. True, it wasn’t cold but we didn’t want to see white. Luckily, after a day’s time, it slowly warmed up and the snow went away. But as we listen to the weather radio every morning, we heard that we were going to have a nice sunny, warm two days, then it would start raining again and then turn to more snow. When the snow went away, Will went into “get the trucks fixed” mode. First off was our plow truck. The brake rotor had exploded when he came up our driveway a few weeks ago, falling out onto the dirt in pieces. After a few false starts getting the wrong parts, he got that fixed in a day’s time.


Then it was on to “Old Blue,” our Chevy pickup; its clutch quit working when Will got home from trailering our neighbor’s bull here to romance our cows. As I’m the official go-fer, I spent a lot of those nice days running for parts. But both jobs got done with no major hitches.

In the meantime, I got busy and put vole protection around our fruit trees and honeyberry bushes. We had no voles last winter but Mittens caught a nice fat one yesterday so they’re around and can do SO much damage under the snow. I wrapped tree trunks with hardware cloth and window screen then cut the bottoms out of some two-gallon nursery pots to use as protection around our smaller honeyberry bushes we just planted this year. I’ve still got one more tree to do because our Bali cherry tree grew so much that the protective wrap we used for a couple of years no longer covers the entire trunk. It’d be just my luck to have the little buggers eat all of the bark up that crack. If it stops raining I’ll get screen around that tree too.

Today Will’s busy insulating the enclosed, unheated back porch to help keep it warmer, which will also help keep the house warmer. We’re all for that. We started off bringing in firewood and then he decided that before we filled it up we’d better get that insulation in. First things first. At least working on that job is NOT out in the rain and mud.

Our rain’s going to turn to snow as the temps drop to normal and if the amount of rain we’ve been getting is any indication, we’ll have plenty of snow this winter. But that’s what the beavers said. — Jackie

Jackie Clay

We have a new four-wheeler

Thursday, November 12th, 2015

Our old four wheeler died and we sure missed it a lot. No, it wasn’t a “toy.” We used it on the homestead for everything from hauling in firewood to seeding our pastures. We hauled in our harvest, brought home deer from successful hunts, strung fence, carried lumber, used it for transportation when we were in the camping stage on our new land (our more-than-a-mile that used to be pretty bad), ran back and forth from various places on our homestead for tools and other supplies, and much more. So when the old Big Bear died, we sorely missed it.

Luckily for us, my oldest son, Bill, told us he was going to sell his ATV because with four in his family, he seldom used it any more. I asked him how much he would want for it and the deal was made. He even let us take it home before we could pay. (I guess he trusts us.) Even though my bad knee has been feeling much better lately, I was SO happy to have “wheels” again. And it’s an automatic so I don’t have to shift with that bad leg! I’m in heaven!


Today Will’s over at our friend’s place running a big excavator Darryl borrowed from work. They’re tearing out a lot of brush which had grown onto the hayfield from years of renters of the hay ground only taking the “best” hay, not clipping off the young shoots of brush at each cutting. Now there’s acres of brush crowding the hayfield. Will has already removed a whole lot of it and the excavator will be a big help. It may seem that because we live way back in the woods we’re hermits. Not so. We’re a part of the community and try to do our share to help out friends where help is needed. It makes the world a better place. And the old saying “what comes around goes around” is sure true!


Meanwhile, I’m still harvesting squash, pumpkin, and watermelon seeds. I finished up the very last tomatoes yesterday and I can’t say that I’m sorry. Whew! Oh, by the way, I’ve been updating our Seed Treasures website (see box at top of blog), adding a whole lot of new varieties we’ve grown, and are offering for the next growing season. So if you’re already thinking about what you’d like to grow next year, browse through the seed listing. We are putting together a better seed listing in catalog format but that’s not done yet. — Jackie

Jackie Clay

Q and A: making applesauce and tomato sauce, storing fresh carrots, using crabapples

Monday, November 9th, 2015

Making applesauce and tomato sauce

Have you ever washed, cut, and cooked apples, put through juicer strainer with a large tea strainer on pan to drain juice from pulp? It makes thick applesauce, and apple butter. Season and can. Then I can juice. Not as much cooking time this way. I do the same thing with tomatoes.

Peggy Wilburn
Macon, Georgia

No, I haven’t done that. What I do is use my Mehu Liisa steam juicer to extract about a quart of juice from my washed, cut apples, then use that for jelly or apple juice. Then I just run the remaining pulp through my old Victorio tomato strainer which gives me nice thick pulp in one bowl and peels in the other. The pulp is then either canned as applesauce or mixed with sugar and spices to make my apple butter. With the tomatoes, I use the Mehu Liisa to steam the tomatoes. Like the apples, I extract about a quart of tomato broth (it doesn’t look like tomato juice; it’s yellowish and watery but makes great soup base), then dump the tomatoes into my Victorio and crank out thickened tomato sauce. Both are quick and easy. — Jackie

Storing fresh carrots

I was wondering why you can your carrots instead of just storing them in your basement like the potatoes and onions?

Elizabeth Seymour
Whitefish, Montana

We do store some carrots for using fresh during the winter. But we grow so many that I always can up a lot. First, it is very convenient to have jars of pre-cooked carrots to use as a quick side dish or to dump into a roast. Secondly, they keep, when canned, nearly forever — unlike the fresh stored carrots. Finally, you just never know what next year is going to bring; a bad gardening year, sickness, injury (like when Will and I fell off the barn roof) or whatever “emergency” situation should happen. So I can’t always depend on just growing more next year to store fresh. This is why I also can up some potatoes and dehydrate my extra onions — convenience and preparedness. — Jackie

Using crabapples

In our house, if we can’t find the answers to questions in books or past magazines, someone always says, “Let’s ask Jackie!” So here’s our question: We’ve made all sorts of things from our crabapples: jelly, candied, dried, etc. Does it make good drinking juice? Could we add sugar to taste and can it up that way? It is bitter from the juice steamer. Hate to waste it if it doesn’t taste good when we’re done.

Wendy Hause
Gregory, Michigan

Ask away Wendy! It all depends on the variety of your crabapples. Some are great, juiced, for drinking. And some just aren’t. What I’d do is try a batch and see if by adding sugar and/or a little water, if necessary, you can balance the taste to your likes. If not, you can always can up the juice so you have a safe, secure stock for making apple jelly at a future date. Once you know your tree better, you can choose to juice or not, based on your experience. We have three crabapples in our orchard. Two are wonderful for eating fresh or for making applesauce and butter. One is not so hot so we leave it for the birds with plans for grafting on to it soon. — Jackie

Jackie Clay

Rain, rain, go away; little Jackie wants to play

Thursday, November 5th, 2015

Yep, it’s raining again. (At least our orchard, grapes, and berry patch will go into the winter well-watered!) Luckily, we have our front porch. I’ve started shelling our corn varieties, having gotten the Painted Mountain well started with about five pounds done and today it’ll be the Bear Island Chippewa. The Bear Island Chippewa is a lot like Painted Mountain but has thicker cobs and fatter kernels. As it’s a Northern Minnesota Native corn, it’s also very early for a larger corn. We really love it. It’s basically a flour corn but can be eaten as “green corn” when just in the milk stage. (Not as sweet as sweet corn but has a good, old-timey corn taste.) Then I’ll move on to the Seneca Round Nose. I really like this new-to-us old Native corn! Big, long cobs with nice fat kernels. And the strongest roots of any corn I’ve seen growing.


I just seeded a big Atlantic Giant pumpkin. (Big for us, this year.) No, it didn’t weigh over a ton as the current recordholder did. But, hey, we didn’t baby it or feed it a scientific diet. It did weigh 100 pounds, though and had VERY thick meat! David took it home for a Halloween Jack o’ lantern and I kept the seeds. I really like those giant pumpkins. — they’re so much fun to grow. Maybe some day I’ll get a HUGE one.



I’ve got more carrots to get in. My friend Jeri only took one five-gallon bucket full and there’s still about two more buckets still growing in the garden. Plus the ones we’ll store in the basement in a cooler. Oh well, we’re so grateful for such a good growing year! Did all of you have one too? I’d love to hear what you all got harvested and put up. — Jackie

Jackie Clay

Harvest is about finished

Wednesday, November 4th, 2015

Harvest is about finished

When the sun came out this morning after a full week of drizzly, nasty weather, we did a happy dance. I pulled our parsnips (in the rain) and canned them up yesterday. We had a good crop but something strange happened this year. They were not long and skinny; but turnip-shaped and had many roots, looking like aliens from Mars! We figure it was a combination of planting them where the ground was pretty heavily manured and where the run-off from our big hoop house frequently soaked the row. Luckily, despite the weird shapes, they were still tender and tasty. Now we have dozens of pints of parsnips ready to go into the pantry. Yum!


This year, we tried a San Felipe pumpkin that we really liked. Being a C. pepo, we could grow it in our garden along with Hopi Pale Grey, a C. maxima, without having them cross. We loved the shape and color along with the deeper ribbing. Just like the old pumpkins our ancestors grew in the cornfields. When I opened them to extract the seeds, I was happy to notice the fragrant smell and deep orange color. The seeds were nice too and would make wonderful roasted pumpkin seeds. A definite keeper for next year!


Good news!

“Winter of the Wolves,” the third book in the Jess Hazzard series, has been scheduled for release on December 1st. You can order an advance copy for immediate delivery here: . (If you haven’t yet read these fast-moving adventure stories, you don’t know what you’re missing.

If you’re a Kindle reader, you can pre-order it for Dec. 1st delivery here:

And if you can wait until mid-November, you can order the print edition direct from the publisher and save 10% – 20% (with complimentary bookmarks) here: .


Happy reading. I hope you enjoy it! — Jackie

Jackie Clay

We’ve had a real wet spell

Thursday, October 29th, 2015

After so many nice sunny fall days, suddenly the rains are upon us. I finally got the last of the carrots canned up and, boy, do they look great in the jars. Yesterday I gathered up all of the onions that have been curing on the enclosed back porch and bucketed them down to the bins in the basement, next to the potato bins. The potatoes are in covered plastic bins as they need humidity to store well. But the onions are in slotted crates so they get lots of air circulation, which prevents rot. Both the onions and potatoes did very well this year.
It was supposed to snow last night so we were real happy that it rained instead but there’s mud everywhere!
We finished the final edits on my third Western novel, Winter of the Wolves, and it should be out about December 1st, a little later than we first anticipated. (For those of you who don’t typically read Westerns, you might want to give the first book in the series, Summer of the Eagles, a try. There are a whole lot of Amazon reviews that say things like “I couldn’t put it down!” and “I don’t read Westerns but this one hooked me from the first page.” No extreme violence, sex, or rotten language. Your pastor or grandkids could read it with no gasps. But it does move right along. The books are available through Amazon and are also available as Kindle reads.
I had a jar crack during processing my carrots. This is the first broken jar for years and years. (I use old mayonnaise jars and antique odd shaped jars…anything a canning lid and ring fit on, as opposed to what “experts” recommend. Hey it seems like they say I’ll go to hell for using mayo jars! But it wasn’t one of those “alternative” jars that broke; it was a relatively new Kerr. The side cracked enough to let the water drain out but didn’t totally break. — Jackie



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