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Archive for the ‘Gardening’ Category

Jackie Clay

Q and A: canning beans, meat and soup, planting sprouted potatoes, and Nanking cherries

Friday, April 17th, 2015

Canning beans, meat, and soup

I have a question about canning beans. How do you know when the beans are ready for canning and wouldn’t swell in the jar anymore? I canned kidney beans and pork and beans for the 1st time. The beans swelled. Should I soak them overnight? Then when I put them in the jar maybe stop at the shoulder of the jar with the beans then add fluid?

I also like to can meat. What does it mean to lightly brown? Do you not have any pink showing or is there a little pink showing and it will finish cooking while in the canner?

Also when you can soup such as beef vegetable, will it turn to mush while canning for 75 minutes? This is soup we ate a few meals of then want to save the rest. But you time the canner for the food item that has the longest canning time right? Even if it is cooked already?

Cindy Hills
Wild Rose, Wisconsin

Either rinse and hold beans overnight in a large pot of plenty of water or else add beans and water to large pot, bring to a boil, boil for 2 minutes, then let sit, covered, for two hours. This lets the beans swell to nearly full size. I never pack the beans up to 1 inch headspace but add about 2-3 inches of liquid over them to allow for more swelling during canning.

Lightly browning meat means to brown the outside lightly. There is still pink showing in the center and, yes, the meat fully cooks during the processing.

No, your vegetables don’t turn to mush. Campbell’s soup has veggies and beef, right? And it’s also processed. But if you fully cook the soup before canning, the vegetables do tend to get soft. So what I do is mix up the recipe, heat it to boiling, and then pack the jars without fully cooking the soup/stew. You can certainly can up leftover soup or stew but you could end up with softer veggies. They sure taste great though. And, yes, you do process the food for the length of time required for the food needing the longest processing time — usually meat.

Chili is one of our favorite meals in a jar. Like the soup, though, I soak my beans then add the sauce, meat, and spices, tasting as it heats and adding more spices, as needed. (The beans are still pretty firm so don’t eat them!).

Good luck stocking your pantry shelves with easy-to-fix meals! — Jackie

Planting sprouted potatoes

I have potatoes from my last year’s garden that I want to plant. Over the winter these potatoes have grown long sprouts, up to 12-18 inches long. Should I remove these sprouts before cutting the potato and planting?

Kathy Kinn
Findlay, Ohio

While it’s better to have shorter sprouts on your potatoes, you certainly can plant those with long sprouts. Plant the sprouts down as deep as you do the “mother” potato, running lengthwise in the row so you can hill the plants later on. Leave space between the end of one sprout and the start of the next one so your potatoes will be further apart than the “recommended” 12 inches or so. If you remove the long sprouts it takes time and energy for the potato to make new ones which often results in a smaller crop, come fall, unless you have a long growing season. — Jackie

Nanking cherries

At your recommendation, 3 years ago I planted several Nanking Cherry bushes on our new TN farmstead. This year looks like I am going to have a bumper crop! I want to process them but they look like they could be a little tedious. Could I use my Victorio strainer and if so, what size sieve should I use? I was thinking maybe the one designed for grapes. Also any tips for hand pitting them?

Cindy Baugh
Dandridge, Tennessee

I’ve never used my Victorio for this, so if you do, please let us know how that works. I make jam with them by heating the cherries until soft then cooling and hand-pressing them through a sieve, grating off the meat from the cherries. They do not pit well, either by hand or with a pitter as the cherries are fairly small and the pits fairly large. They are advertised as a pie cherry, but I wouldn’t want to be the pitter! I’m glad your Nankings are doing so well. You’ll love them! — Jackie

Jackie Clay

We’ve had a few busy days

Wednesday, April 15th, 2015

On Monday, we traveled five hours to pick up a big load of used foam board insulation that our friend Mike found for us in a roofer’s “trash.” We had a great road trip with Old Blue, our ’85 Chev pickup and stock trailer. Old Blue hadn’t been driven on the road for a few years so we were hoping all would go well. It did and we were even home before dark, tired but happy.

Then yesterday we drove to Superior, Wisconsin,  to pick up a Kawasaki Mule (a UTV) that Will had found on Craiglist. We got it cheap ($200) but it has no motor so we’re looking. Anyone know of one around anywhere? I’m confident somewhere, sometime, we’ll get the Mule up and running and it’ll be a big help to me traveling from one place to another, hauling garden stuff, mulch, rocks, dirt, etc. — and letting my bad knee rest up. On our way back, Will also picked up a very-used grain gravity box (wagon) so we can eventually haul and store bulk grain. We got it from our friend, Wally, down near Cloquet. (We did have a flat tire with Old Blue but luckily, had a spare, good floor jack, etc. and got it changed in a few minutes.)

I’m real happy with the reviews on my new book, Summer of the Eagles, on Amazon. Take a look at a few:

• “The author keeps you voraciously tearing through the pages and at the end, you find yourself calculating the months and impatiently waiting for the release of “Autumn of the Loons.”  
• “I don’t usually read Westerns. I started the book as I was heading to sleep on a Saturday night around 9:30pm. Next thing I knew it was 2am and I was wishing the second book was already available. It is well-written, fast-moving, and very engaging. I loved the characters, the setting, and the imagery. I was totally drawn back in time to the wilderness of Wyoming.”
• “I must give credit to Jackie Clay for writing Summer of Eagles. This is a story I can share with my mom and feel comfortable discussing the story line with her due to the fact that it does not have, nor does it need the graphic sex found in most modern day writings. I love the way Jackie builds up each person in the book. When I read a story I can usually figure out where the plot is going well in advance of the ending but Jackie tossed in a twist that caught me off guard. I am looking forward to the next book to see if she can do it again. Bring it on Jackie.”

Needless to say, I’m happy to hear those reviews!

I’ve got the cover for the next book finished and it’ll be mailed to the publisher soon so we can get Autumn of the Loons released.


In the meantime, I’ve been busy transplanting tomatoes and peppers. Boy, did we plant a lot of tomatoes this year! — Jackie

Jackie Clay

Q and A: enamel-lined Dutch oven with a chip and planting asparagus

Friday, April 10th, 2015

Enamel-lined Dutch oven with a chip

Is it safe to cook in a cast iron enameled-lined Dutch oven that has a chip in the bottom? Where the chip is located you can see the cast iron it is about the size of a nickel.

Cindy Dobbs
Prairie Grove, Arkansas

Yes, you can. Of course you can also cook in a full cast iron Dutch oven like I have. I’d just watch carefully to make sure that the remaining enamel is solid; you wouldn’t want it to flake off in your food. Usually, though, it is solid and you can use your Dutch oven for years that way. — Jackie

Planting asparagus

Gearing up for planting and would like to try my hand with establishing an asparagus plot. I have tried unsuccessfully in the past — I think 2x so far — so I am hoping 3rd time is the charm! Do you recommend any particular plants or vendors for buying the crowns? I am down in the Twin Cities, so somewhat similar conditions — a lot of clay (which last time I added a bunch of sand) and some severe temps. Also, do you prefer canning, freezing, or dehydrating the spears or just eating as you go?

Lisa Basso
St. Paul, Minnesota

We bought asparagus plants from Nourse Farms and have never seen nicer plants so we really do recommend them. Their website is We really had good luck planting them in a furrow with black plastic on either side to control weeds and bring more heat to the soil. HUGE, plentiful first-year spears! We can and dehydrate all of ours that we don’t eat fresh, but it does freeze very well. — Jackie

Jackie Clay

We have a spell of warmer weather

Friday, April 3rd, 2015

I just made a big batch of soft French Chevre cheese from some outdated milk I was given by a local store (instead of them pouring it down the drain). It was simple to make and I finished it up in minutes, adding a bit of powdered sugar to some of it to make an awesome lightly-sweetened veggie and cracker dip. Wow, is that good! All it took was three drops of liquid rennet diluted in 1/3 cup of cool water, then 2 Tbsp. of that, 1/2 cup of buttermilk, and 2 gallons of milk brought up to 80 degrees and held at a warm temp overnight. I poured the curds into a cloth-lined colander to drain. How easy is that?

Meanwhile back on the farm, our friends’ teenage son James came over to clean out our goat barn for us. Will and I drove the tractor to the door, then James forked the manure out into the bucket. I carried a few loads to a squash isolation patch, then another load to another patch. Will carried loads out to our orchard, dropping one by each fruit tree to later scatter around them for fertilizer and mulch. (The chickens think it’s just wonderful and they’re already fighting over choice piles.)


You should see Hondo in the mornings. Will starts to get dressed for outside chores and he goes nuts. He gets in Will’s face and barks at him to hurry. If he doesn’t (or moves too slow) Hondo grabs his arms, his pants, or shirt sleeve and pulls on him like Lassie trying to get Timmy to follow her. Hondo REALLY likes being a homestead dog!

Happy Easter to you all! — Jackie

Jackie Clay

Q and A: seal on a woodstove, planting peppers, and canning cheese

Wednesday, April 1st, 2015

Seal on woodstove

We have a woodstove in our small cabin which is 700 sq. ft. Each year the seal on the inside of the door of the wood burner comes off and causes my husband lots of consternation. It was not a cheap woodstove and we were wondering if this is normal or if we are doing something wrong. How do you re-apply the seal to your stove and are there any hints you can provide so that we do not have do this again next year?

Deborah Motylinski
Brecksville, Ohio

This is kind of common. However, there are some things you can do to keep it on for much longer than a year. The most important thing to do is to take a wire brush and hot, soapy water and scrub the tar out of the groove the gasket fits into. Of course, you’ll have to wait until the fire has been out a while so the door will cool enough to handle. Rinse and dry the groove. Cut the sealing gasket to fit. Then with a good stove gasket cement (a liquid), apply a decent amount to the groove.  Firmly press the seal into place. Keep the door open while the cement sets so you don’t end up cementing the door closed. (Been there/done that!) Let it cure for at least 24 hours. Then it’s ready for a fire. When it comes off during the coldest part of the winter, you do have to rush the process but when you do that the gasket does seem more prone to coming loose much faster. — Jackie

Planting peppers

Do you plant your peppers together or separate? I start two also to be sure to get one. Linda ordered the old German, Sweet Aperitif, and Bill Bean tomato. All coming up double. Will separate and plant. Should have enough for our canning.

Ron Stilabower
New Douglas, Illinois

I often plant two seeds together in case one doesn’t germinate or one plant doesn’t look strong. But I’ll confess I try to save the plant I “weed out” if it looks good; I hate to waste! But when I transplant them I only put one plant per container and only one plant in one spot in the garden. I’m tickled that your tomatoes are coming up well! We always love to hear that. — Jackie

Canning cheese

I am interested in preserving store bought cheese. I want to start putting up some can goods and other things too.

Thelma Thompson
Elberta, Mchigan

To can cheese, fill a saucepan about half full of hot water or about ¾ way up the side of a half-pint jar. Turn on the heat to low. Put an old jar lid on the bottom of the pan then set a clean, sterilized jar on it with a few cubes of cheese in it. As the cheese melts, stir it with a chopstick or some such tool and keep adding cubes of cheese. When the jar is full to about ½ inch from the top, remove the jar from the pan and go on to the next until you are finished with all the cheese. Then carefully wipe all the rims of the jars clean and place a hot, previously simmered lid on the jar and turn the ring down firmly tight. Water bath the cheese for 60 minutes. Some people only process for 40 minutes, but as there is no “safe, tested recommendation” by the USDA and other experts, this is just the way I do it and have canned cheese for more than 7 years now. Cheeses that are good canned include mozzarella, Cheddar, Colby, Monterey Jack, and cream cheese. Bear in mind that some cheeses tend to get sharper with long storage so you might not want to can up a lot of extra sharp cheddar if you don’t care for pungent cheese. If you want to start canning in earnest, you might pick up my book Growing and Canning Your own Food right here, through the magazine. You’ll find it a great help and inspiration. — Jackie

Jackie Clay

Tomato time!

Tuesday, March 31st, 2015

With all of our peppers up, it’s time for tomatoes. This year I planted more than 288 tomatoes. Of that number, there are 50 new varieties and 20 of our old standbys that we are selling seeds from this year at our business — Seed Treasures. Some of the 50 new ones won’t make the cut, of course. If they don’t produce very well, don’t taste great, or don’t seem quite hardy, out they go! (We do give some a second chance if they make two of our goals, just to see if we did something wrong or the weather affected them.)

Meanwhile, I’ve been canning up a storm. I just did 14 quarts of chili, 7 pints of leftover kidney beans, 3 quarts and 3 pints of boneless pork loin, and a little plain crumbled hamburger. Now I’ve got to get out more meat to thaw. Time to get another big batch done ahead of Easter dinner cooking and baking. I’m SO glad to be feeling better!

Will is lots better too. He cut up a big load of small wood, loading it into the pickup. I just looked out and he was unloading it with his radio earphones on and he was dancing to old-time rock’n roll!
Go Will! — Jackie

Jackie Clay

Busy, busy, busy

Thursday, March 26th, 2015

Now that we’re feeling better, I’ve been zooming around playing catch-up. I’ve got 132 tomato seeds started (I only have another 132 to go! After all, we’re trialing more than 50 new varieties this year. That’s in addition to the 18 varieties we like and are growing again. All are open pollinated so we’ll be offering seeds again next year ( see box above). And since our “business” is growing greatly, we’ll need a whole lot more seeds next year for folks to choose from. So far we haven’t run out of a single variety, but are getting a bit low on a couple of the favorites.

The days are getting warmer and I’m busy canning meat as we’ll be emptying our freezer on the back porch. When it’s warm, that “energy star” rated freezer sucks our battery bank dry very quickly, so we need to empty it before too long. Right now it’s pretty full of beef, pork, and chicken.

Yesterday I canned up a big batch of taco meat and some pepperoni. Today I’ve got hamburger thawing and also a big boneless pork loin. I’m going to make chili with some of the burger as we’re getting low on that. I’ll use some of my quarts of home-canned tomato sauce and tomatoes in the chili. I can up tons of tomato products when we’re in a tomato flood in the fall. Then I mix it up with things like chili, baked beans, soups, etc. when I have the time. Yum. — Jackie

Jackie Clay

I saw our first robin today!

Tuesday, March 24th, 2015

First of all, I’m sure you’re wondering how I came out with my stress test. I passed. It seems like I got a case of walking pneumonia out of my last nasty cough-cold and that was what was causing my chest pains and shortness of breath. (The doctor looked at the first X-ray but didn’t see the light consolidation that was already fading, but the radiologist spotted it.) Anyway, I’m feeling better and so is Will. Come on, spring!

Every time Will has a hamburger, Spencer, Hondo, and Mittens crowd around for bits of the bun (and maybe a little meat). So I just had to post a picture of them. I think it’s so cute!

Today has been busy. I’m starting our first tomatoes, canning hamburger, and had to run to town this morning. But while I was in town, I saw a robin, our very first. I even backed up to make sure! Luckily, there was no traffic in town. Yesterday I saw three geese at home and Will also saw a pair of swans.

Will also split up a truckload of firewood from some logs that didn’t make the cut for lumber. Now all we have to do is to stack it inside the storage building. — Jackie



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