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Archive for the ‘Gardening’ Category

Jackie Clay

It “warmed” up so Will got the old tractor started

Wednesday, February 25th, 2015

On Saturday we were hauling hay to the horses and cattle. On the very last big round bale, the Oliver ran out of fuel ten feet short of the gate into the training ring. Luckily, the cattle did have some hay left, they were just getting more. We had to wait until we went to town to get diesel fuel.

After getting fuel, Will filled up the tractor and primed the injectors. Then he gave it a shot of starting fluid and cranked it over. But because it was still below zero, no dice.

He waited instead of grinding the battery down since it was supposed to warm up. Once it warmed up a little he put the propane heater under the tractor for an hour or so, then repeated the sequence. It fired up and before I could get down the hill, Will had delivered the bale of hay and parked the tractor in its spot by the storage barn. Now when I say “warmed up,” that means that it was above zero today — ten degrees to be exact. But with a 30 mph wind, it was still COLD. Only the dogs like the weather.

We’ve got another weasel hanging around. Yesterday I saw his tracks coming from the orchard to the side of the chicken coop, around to the door where he stood with his feet up on the door sill. We’re hoping he’s thinking about MICE, as there is no better mouser in the world, not even Mittens. But after having my purebred rabbits and pheasants wiped out entirely by a weasel in one night years ago, it gives me the shivers. I’m glad we shut the birds in every night!

I’m waiting for my petunia seeds to come in the mail so I can get them started. They stay small so long and this year I want to get my hanging baskets planted with petunias early enough that when I set them out they’re flowering nicely.

Peppers go in tomorrow! Springtime when it’s 20 below! It’s a start, anyway. It’s sure nice that the days are getting so much longer. Darkness can get depressing. Even a couple more hours of daylight is SO welcome. — Jackie

Jackie Clay

Colorful summer pictures are our answer to cabin fever!

Saturday, February 21st, 2015

I know we are all getting pretty darned sick of winter. We’ve decided that the weather forecasters are always predicting warmer weather at the end of the week, yet it never comes! So we decided that summer photos are simply a cabin fever solution to give folks some hope to cling to as the snow blows and the temperature falls. Again.

I decided to look back at September 6th photos of our place and share the COLOR with you. We are SO color-deprived in the winter! When you look at bright summer photos, your eyes can’t absorb what they’re seeing!

I’m starting petunias and peppers next week and have already dug out my potting soil and containers. That should help. Hang in there, guys, spring IS coming! — Jackie

Jackie Clay

Q and A: footings for retaining wall and eating collard flowerettes

Tuesday, February 17th, 2015

Footings for retaining wall

Will’s work on the barn and retaining wall has turned out to be so beautiful. We are wanting to build a retaining wall also about 18-24 inches high. How deep did you all put in the footers before starting the rock work?

Nana from Texas

Our footings are 8 inches deep with plenty of rebar and wire, and are twice as wide as the wall is thick — 12 inches wide as our walls are 6 inches wide. In the barn, our walls are 8 inches wide so the footings are 8 inches deep and 16 inches wide. When building a retaining wall, you should lean the wall into the bank ⅛ inch per foot, bare minimum. If your soil is not sand and gravel, you should install drain holes along the bottom so that any moisture doesn’t get trapped behind the wall, eventually cracking it. Our soil is 100% rock, sand, and gravel so this isn’t a concern, especially beneath the house. — Jackie

Eating collard flowerettes

I read with interest your reply to the reader asking if broccoli leaves can be used like kale or collards and you affirmed that indeed they can be. I also want to tell you the opposite can be true. Down here in the lower South I let my collard plants overwinter and they normally do quite nicely, but the time comes, especially when sitting in the garden for almost a year that they go to seed. What I noticed was that the flower stalks look remarkably like broccoli or broccoli rabe so I cooked some up as broccoli spears and were they ever good! In fact, they had a delightful taste and texture almost like asparagus and broccoli together. I continued to pick the spears as they appeared and got a harvest of about 3-4 weeks from them, for multiple pounds long before the spring-planted broccoli was ready. The spears grow faster and longer than broccoli spears and because of that fast growth were exceptionally tender. My next project is overwintered kale flower stalks!

Dave Franklyn
Tallassee, Alabama

Thanks for the information, Dave! What a creative bunch homesteaders are. I know I find myself continually experimenting with this and that to see just what would happen if… I know a whole lot of folks will be eating collard flowerettes in the future! — Jackie

Jackie Clay

Our cold weather is back

Thursday, February 12th, 2015

But we’re not complaining. We know you folks back East are suffering record-breaking snowfalls with nowhere to put it all. Been there. We know where you’re coming from. Luckily, our winter has been great, although light on the snow. We only have about a foot on the ground. Honest. And it’s not been too cold, either. So when we hit a week of sub-zero weather, it feels cold now. But we know spring is coming fast. In fact, in two weeks I’ll be starting my petunias and peppers. Yeah, green things!

We keep opening pumpkins and squash as we use them, saving all the good seeds to sell in our Seed Treasures seed business, which is doing well. I’m glad to report that we’ve sent seeds to every state in the union now, from Florida to Alaska. (By the way, any of you who bought seeds, I’d LOVE to see pictures of your garden this summer/fall!)

Just a note to let you know Spencer is 100% back to normal again and sure loves getting his pills 3 times a day. Why? Because I bought small cans of turkey cat food. I put a pill in the center of a tablespoon of food and he gobbles everything right up. Yum! We will be back at the vet’s to get him started on other antibiotics to treat his Lyme disease as well as getting Hondo tested and vaccinated if he comes up clear.

Our critters are all doing fine. The goats are doing well back up the hill in the old goat barn for the winter, having free choice hay outside the stock panels and grain being fed in a heavy duty plastic sled I bought on sale a week ago. The sleds work great to feed grain as they are SO easy to clean out before new feed is dumped in. In the summer, I can even scrub them out, if needed.

I’m happy to report that my Western novel, Summer of the Eagles, is selling well and has several 5 star reviews on Amazon. Would any of you who purchased the book, either on Kindle or as a paperback, give a review, also? I’m told that it really helps not only sell the book but place it higher in Amazon’s promotion list, which is important. Thanks! — Jackie

Jackie Clay

Q and A: garden mulching, watering, and using hoop houses

Monday, February 9th, 2015

I see in the summer pics of your garden, you use mulch. Looks like hay, and doesn’t look really thick like the deep mulch system. Question: It looks like hay — I worry about hay leaving weed seeds. Some say if you do the deep mulch (like 6-8 inches) it will kill out the weed seeds. Yours don’t look that thick. Do you get weed seeds growing from the hay? Also, another reason I hesitate the method, is mice. I can see them having a hay day in that thick stuff. They ate my carrots one year, and that was with no mulch. Do you have a problem with the hay mulch? How thick is yours?

Also… I see in your book you are using hoop houses. Can you give more detail — like do you use them to just start things, then remove them later? Can you explain your reasoning? I really like info from you because you live in the real cold, just like we do. I always run out of time. Beginning of September this year it frosted. When you run out of season, do you do anything? I see your rows and garden is so big, so I’m assuming you don’t put a hoop house over it.

Is your only watering method the sprinkler? Do you have a problem with diseases because you use a sprinkler (keeps leaves wet)? I’m thinking about a sprinkler, its so much cheaper than soaker hoses all over.

Roxann Bagley
Williston, North Dakota

You’re so right about some hays “planting” seeds in a garden. When I was a young homesteader, I did just that and had a horrible grass/weed problem for three years following my mistake. Our hay is hay we cut ourselves. It’s reed canary grass that we cut when it is less than mature and has no seed heads. And as it grows so thick, no weeds are present in the stand of grass we cut early. We mulch pretty heavily (about 12 inches thick) which quickly packs down to about six inches. No, we have no weeds. Let me tell you what we do. We till our entire garden with either our Troy-bilt Horse tiller or a 3-point tractor mount tiller. Then we plant. Early crops are tilled again when they’re about six inches tall and hand weeded. The later crops are planted and when they are about six inches high, the whole garden is tilled and hand weeded between the plants. Then we mulch the whole works. NO more weeding all summer except a possible weak weed here and there. We have a good cat and two dogs and have never had trouble with mice or voles in our garden.

We have two hoop houses at present. We plant our transplanted peppers (that we start indoors) in the houses when the bad cold has passed but light frosts may still possible. The other one is for direct seeded muskmelons and watermelons, which are planted once the soil has warmed up quite a bit; usually in early June here. We leave them in all summer and fall until it freezes. If crops are really good and need a little longer, we’ll heat them with propane heaters overnight if freezing threatens. The rest of the garden is just covered with plastic tarps if frost looks possible. We listen to our weather radio every day! When a hard freeze is likely, we pick all the ripe (and some unripe, like tomatoes) and bring them inside. Green tomatoes will go ahead and ripen nicely if they haven’t been touched by frost.

We do use sprinklers as well as soaker hoses along our tomato rows and in our hoop houses. No, we have not had trouble with diseases because of the sprinklers. Our ground is sand and rock which is now nice black soil due to all of the rotted manure and compost we’ve tilled in over the years so drainage is perfect. When ground is more clay, it will hold the moisture, releasing it to the undersides of the plants and leaves, and we’ve found you get more disease that way. — Jackie

Jackie Clay

Q and A: leaving rings on jars in storage, canning pinto beans, and growing tomatoes in low light

Thursday, February 5th, 2015

Leaving rings on jars in storage

Our family butchered a 500+ pound hog this past weekend, and we were able to render 30+ quarts of lard. We poured the hot lard directly from the press into the jars, and they all sealed. Now I am wondering if I need to leave the rings on in storage. I normally don’t keep my rings on my jars in storage, but I don’t want to do anything to ruin this wonderful lard.

Lisa Smith
Sunbury, Pennsylvania

I take my rings off then wash the sealed, cool jars in hot, soapy water to remove any grease. Then I dry my rings and air dry the jars. When dry, I do put the rings back on but don’t tighten them much at all. This is just to keep lids in place, should one get bumped as they really aren’t “canned” even though they are sealed. Isn’t that lard great? I NEVER use shortening anymore after learning more about it. — Jackie

Canning pinto beans

I saw this information posted on another blog and wondered what your thoughts might be on it. The discussion was about canning dried beans.

“I LOVE home canned pinto beans! … I sort & wash them. 1/2 c. beans per pint or 1 c. beans per quart. Put them in hot jars, top off with boiling water to 1″ head space. I add 1/4 t. salt per pint, 1/2 t. per quart. Get the air bubbles out, wipe the rim of the jar, lid & ring on and in the pressure canner. 11# pressure for 75 minutes for pints, and 90 mins for quarts. I don’t soak them, I don’t cook them. Don’t need to, the pressure canner does that. You should save yourself some electricity and give it a try.”

It WOULD save time and effort, and maybe prevent mushiness. Thanks for any input.

Donna Herlihy
Wentworth, New Hampshire

I have friends who use this method but it isn’t a “recommended” canning method, although I don’t know why it wouldn’t work. The method I use is to pour rinsed, picked through beans into a big kettle. Cover with plenty of water and bring to a boil. Boil 2 minutes. Cover and let sit covered for 2 hours. Heat back up to boiling. Then ladle beans out into hot jars, just more than half full. Cover with hot cooking liquid and leave 1″ of headspace. If you don’t have enough cooking liquid, use boiling water. Process for 65 minutes for pints and 75 minutes for quarts. I find this works well and doesn’t take much effort at all. — Jackie.

Growing tomatoes in low light

My garden-loving parents have moved into a senior-living apartment complex and have a north-facing balcony on the 11th floor. Dad desperately wants to grow tomatoes. Do you know of any varieties that might do well under low-light conditions? Will he need to hand-pollinate them?

Carol Elkins
Pueblo, Colorado

Tell your dad not to despair. I’ve grown several tomatoes on north-facing sides of the buildings and had them do okay. They do tend to lean out, looking for the sun. But they will grow and give him tomatoes. Usually, the shorter season tomatoes will do best on the north side, where it tends to be cooler. No, he won’t have to hand-pollinate them. Tomatoes are chiefly self-pollinating, having both male and female parts in each flower, so they don’t need help to set fruit. — Jackie

Jackie Clay

No, it isn’t spring in Minnesota

Wednesday, February 4th, 2015

I just thought you might like to see some shots of our garden in the SUMMER! I know we’re getting kind of tired of drab, naked trees and snow. I ran across these photos and thought I’d share them with you! See, summer IS coming!

For those of you who have been waiting to get my new book, Summer of the Eagles, good news! It’s been released sooner than we thought.

My publisher gave me some links for you. They are: Kindle version: Print version: (my Amazon store) OR (Amazon’s order page).

You can read the beginning of the book on the publisher’s website here:

And signed copies will be available through me for $18.90 ($12.95 for the book + $5.95 Priority Mailing). You can e-mail me for a form at or download the form after you read the excerpt at the link above.

Are any of the rest of you getting crazy, trying to plot out your gardens for this year? Even with an extra acre and a half of “garden,” I’m kind of running out of space for it all. Maybe it’s the full moon? — Jackie

Jackie Clay

What do you get when you cross a Hopi Pale Grey and a Marina Di Chioggia squash?

Thursday, January 22nd, 2015

Nothing like you’d imagine! Hopi Pale Grey is football shaped with a “belly button” on the blossom end. Marina Di Chioggia is pumpkin shaped, dark green and warted. My friend grew the two C. maximas, which crossed and resulted in a plant that produced nine unusual orange w/green squash with a big “belly button.” We both kept a squash, then this week, we tried baking them. They were quite good. So we saved our seeds and will play around with them this spring and see if we can stabilize the characteristics such as taste and color, creating a “new” squash of our own. What fun!

Monday, a UPS truck came rolling into the yard and the driver handed me a flat box. I had not ordered anything so was puzzled. On opening it, I was surprised to see two copies of my Western, Summer of the Eagles. They were proof copies for Will and me to check over for mistakes before the real deal hits the presses. We were pretty excited to see what the (nearly) finished package would look like. So we’ve been busy editing for mistakes (typos, etc.) and finding just a few. Soon it’ll be ready for the presses to run! How cool is that?

I’m getting ready to fly to Aberdeen, South Dakota, early Thursday morning. Whew! Canning when I get back will seem like a vacation! Hope to see some of you there. Come up and say hi! — Jackie



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