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Archive for the ‘Gardening’ Category

Jackie Clay

Q and A: saving pumpkin seeds, burning garden debris, and runny egg whites

Thursday, February 11th, 2016

Saving pumpkin seeds

I would like to save seeds from Amish Pie Pumpkins we plan to grow this summer. I bought a packet this year (at a big box hardware store) and it has only 2 seeds in it! (so $1 and 10½ cents per seed, ouch!) Anyway, what can I do to keep them from crossing with all the other cucurbits we grow? (zucchini/yellow squash/pickle cukes/Jack o Lantern and Cinderella pumpkins/Jack Be Littles plus mixed gourds) Is it hopeless to get save-able seeds that just might grow true? I know people use baggies and whatnot on corn, but being insect pollinated, what can I do about pumpkins?

Cathy Ostrowski
East Bethany, New York

Pumpkins and squash will not cross with cucumbers. However the three commonly grown species of squash and pumpkins will cross. The three commonly grown species of squash/pumpkins are: C. pepo (often summer squash, some pumpkins, and some squash), C. maxima (often winter squash and larger pumpkins/Jack O’ Lanterns) and C. moschata (some winter squash such as butternut.) If you plant two or more of the same species, they will cross unless you prevent it by either growing only one of each species or hand-pollinating some of the blossoms and marking those blossoms so you can save seed from only the hand-pollinated ones. Amish Pie Pumpkins are C. maximas so they won’t cross with summer squash, gourds, or other Cucurbitas of other species. Hand-pollinating squash/pumpkins is not hard. Early in the morning, take a male flower that is just opening, tear off the petals, then rub the pollen onto the stigma, the raised orange portion of the female blossom. It is important to be able to tell the male from female blossoms. The male blossoms have a long stem and only a flower. The female flowers have a tiny squash or pumpkin just beneath the blossom. Pollinate only freshly-opened female flowers to ensure no insects have been there before you. Then tie the blossom closed to keep insects out; they could possibly carry pollen into the flower. Hand-pollinate several blossoms and loosely tie a marker to each stem so you’ll know which pumpkins/squash are purebred and not crossed. The crossed squash/pumpkins will still look like the seed you bought but will not produce true next year, where the hand-pollinated fruits are pure and will be good candidates for seed saving. — Jackie

Burning garden debris

Is it too late to burn the garden debris on the garden? We have had such wet weather and HIGH winds that we have not been able to burn. Should we just haul it off this year?

Sandra Agostini
Nixa, Missouri

Yes, I’d just haul it off this year but if you have an insect or disease problem I’d make sure it gets buried or burned off of the garden to reduce possible problems this year. — Jackie

Runny egg whites

We have 6 red sexlink chickens for eggs and they are great layers. The problem is: When we boil the eggs the whites are not nice and firm, but mushy and the texture is not suitable for deviled eggs which we like to make for company. We are feeding them oyster shells, layer pellets and chicken scratch. What might we be doing wrong?

Earl & Diane Weber
Frohna, Missouri

Sometimes this is caused by a winter lack of protein in the diet. Why don’t you try just feeding the layer pellets or adding a cheap dry cat food to their feed to substitute for the bugs they would be eating if it were summer instead of winter. Do the egg whites set up if you fry them? If so, why not try adding a tablespoon of salt to the water before boiling the eggs? I’ve heard that people correct the mushy whites that way as the salt raises the boiling water temperature and causes the whites to set up better. Any readers with other ideas? — Jackie

Jackie Clay

Q and A: canning posole and petunia seeds

Wednesday, February 10th, 2016

Canning posole

Have you ever canned posole (or pozole)? I like it, especially when its cold outside, but you just can’t make a small amount. My recipe includes pork loin, red chili, oregano, bay, soaked dry hominy, onions and garlic. I can’t find instructions so I’m hoping you know. What I’ve figured out so far is to make it as usual, chill to remove excess fat, bring it to a boil and fill jars to within 1 inch of the top with plenty of broth so its not too thick and processing it 90 min for quarts at 14lbs pressure. (I’m at 7000′ so need the extra pressure) Any advice will be appreciated.

Franci Osborne
Ignacio, Colorado

Yes, I have canned posole. And you’re right, it’s really good! Just make up a big batch, but don’t cook it as long as you would if you were making it for dinner. Chill and remove excess fat, then reheat to boiling and fill your jars, leaving 1 inch of headspace. Process pints for 75 minutes and quarts for 90 minutes at 14 pounds pressure, as you would any meat recipe, because of your altitude. You can even use previously canned hominy as it doesn’t get mushy when re-canned by itself or in other recipes. — Jackie

Petunia seeds

Reading over the years about your petunias, I am encouraged to try growing my own from seed. I have the same little greenhouse you do, although it sits by an East window and doesn’t get as much sun. Can you suggest best places to purchase petunia seeds (preferably pelleted)?

Carol Elkins
Pueblo, Colorado

I’ve gotten nice pelleted petunia seeds from Veseys Seeds, 800-363-7333. Jung Seed (800-297-3123) also has a wide variety of petunia seeds. Petunia seeds are like dust so you’re wise to get pelleted seed if you want to grow the more expensive Wave Series petunias. As you can imagine, the baby petunia plants are tiny, too and they do require plenty of light so they don’t get leggy. You may get by with the east window greenhouse or you may end up having to put some light directly over them. Good luck. They are quite easily home-raised but you’ll want to get them started pretty soon as they take longer than you’d think to bloom. — Jackie

Jackie Clay

Everyone’s enjoying the sun

Tuesday, February 9th, 2016

I noticed our “wild” roosters (the ones who refuse to live in the chicken coop) sitting out in the sun in front of the storage barn on hay piled there. They were taking full advantage of the warm sun on a single digit day. So pretty! Especially the one crossbred rooster my son, Bill, brought up.


I don’t know if you know it, but I’m a daylily lover. And I’ve been poring through my latest Gilbert H. Wild & Son catalog, marking a few I want to buy this year. I was real disappointed with the results I got from Roots & Rhizomes last year; I ordered a dozen different ones and only got a few of the more common ones. Gilbert H. Wild & Sons has never done that. Guess who gets more of my money this year?

We recently got the Gurney’s “half off” catalog, threatening us with it being the “last” catalog if we didn’t order. In the “olden” days, this was a great company. As a three-year-old, I can still remember Mom and Grandma ordering from the catalog and putting in my own penny for my own mixed pack of seeds. Then the company got bought out. The catalog choices are limited, the merchandise is overpriced, and, in my opinion, the quality isn’t up to par. The shipping costs are high and eat up some of your “savings.” There are better companies to order from. — Jackie

Jackie Clay

Hey, it’s not all work and no play

Monday, February 1st, 2016

Yesterday, we drove down to Bill and Kelly’s for our granddaughter Ava’s fourth birthday party. We had been a little nervous as they were calling for a quarter of an inch of ice from freezing rain. Not good for a 110-mile drive! But the storm flew through faster and we didn’t get it. And Saturday the temperature was 36 degrees ABOVE zero! Sunday it got to 40. The roads were dry and we sailed down with no trouble at all.


The highlight of Ava’s party was playing a game called Pie Face where you have a spring-loaded hand filled with whipped cream, put your face into an oval, and spin a spinner to see how many times you have to turn the crank. The pie-throwing arm could go off at any time. It’s sort of like Russian Roulette, only tastier. Of course everyone had to get a turn at getting “creamed,” even Will. But darn, he escaped unscathed!



Today we’re making our final decision about what varieties of vegetables we’re going to plant in the big gardens. When you save so many seeds, it’s a bit complicated. To make things easier, Will has hauled one of the our old two-point corn planters up to the storage building. He’s going to make a three-point corn planter from a pull type so we can more easily get to the fences and turn in the gardens. This will also plant our beans so, hopefully, we won’t have to do it all by hand this spring.

Poor Hondo! He misses Buddy, who went home to his family yesterday. They wrestled and chewed on each other for the entire three weeks Buddy was here. Bill couldn’t come get him as his father-in-law, Donny, was in the hospital and he had to help out there, plus working too. Spencer isn’t so much fun as he’s older and doesn’t like to wrestle. (But he still plays with his “babies”, the box full of stuffed animals we have for the dogs.) — Jackie

Jackie Clay

More snow!

Thursday, January 28th, 2016


The dogs love it. They get to ride in the snowplow truck with Will. They can’t wait. Spencer got disgusted because Bill’s dog, Buddy, who we are dogsitting, got to ride, taking up all of his seat. So he turned around and came back into the house and got up in Will’s chair. Humph! You could just see him grouch. (I’m sure we’ll have more snow so he WILL get his turn in the truck.) Luckily, we haven’t had bad snow storms (yet) like you guys on the East Coast. I hope you’re all warm, prepared and safe.


I’m starting to sort out my seed-starting trays and peat pellets as well as bags of Pro-Mix seed-starting medium. It won’t be long before I start petunias. (Sure, I’m getting the itch!) We’ve received several varieties of folks’ heirloom seeds in the mail and sure do get excited about trying all of them. (We’re especially interested in Native American heirlooms so if any of you have one or two, we’d really like to try them. Just click on the Seed Treasures website and you’ll find our address. Thanks in advance!)

We’ve been enjoying feeding the birds this winter as always, although we’ve only seen woodpeckers, chickadees, and nuthatches so far. We do all we can to encourage birds and insect pollinators by planting for them. We can’t raise bees because Will is allergic to bee stings so we try to get all the wild pollinators we can by planting clovers in the nearby pastures, nectar-producing flowers in the flower beds, and even some flowers that bees love in the garden. For the birds, we feed year-around, keep water available in the yard in a birdbath and our little fish pond, provide birdhouses and nesting material, and plant seed-producing flowers they love such as purple coneflowers, sunflowers, poppies, etc. We also keep oriole and hummingbird feeders going all season.

Besides helping to pollinate flowers, even the orioles and hummingbirds eat some insects; we’ve seen them.

We don’t have many nesting bluebirds yet but we do have some swallows and it’s sure cool to watch them swoop down through the garden and snatch cabbage moths right out of the air!

Our bird-and-insect friendly homestead is another demonstration of the full circle way we try to live. We feed and plant for the birds and pollinators (and beneficial insects such as ladybugs), provide good habitat for them year around. They make our lives more cheerful while eating weed seeds, “bad” bugs, and pollinating our crops. We grow stronger and more crops with their help, then we feed them in the winter. This makes a complete circle which we strive for in all things. — Jackie

Jackie Clay

Finally, I got a box of books

Tuesday, January 26th, 2016

Hey, I’ll admit the wait was my fault. After the holidays we had a cash flow crunch. But we were excited when I could finally order and receive the first box of books, the third in the Jess Hazzard series, Winter of the Wolves, which readers have been long awaiting. (Just a reminder to those of you who have already ordered on Amazon and read the book, please take time to add a review; it helps our advertising and (hopefully) sales. Thank you very much!)


We’ve been refining our planting list and when you plant as much as we do, believe me, this takes lots of time and study. It looks like we’ll be adding about 20 new tomato varieties to the garden. Of course, all will be open pollinated and most heirlooms as well. (If any of you have an old family favorite, especially rare ones, we’d love to have a few seeds!)

This spring we’re going to save seeds from about six varieties of peppers. This means that each variety will have to have its own screened-in cage in the hoop house. Peppers are chiefly self-pollinating but often insects will carry pollen from one type to another. So if you’re going to raise several varieties to save seeds from, they need to be caged so insects can not get to the blossoms.

Likewise, squash and pumpkins are insect-pollinated (chiefly) and must be separated by long distances, up to a mile in some instances where there are no natural barriers such as thick woods, steep hills, etc. Luckily, we have several friends who will be helping us out by raising different varieties which we don’t have enough isolation space/distance to raise. (There are three common species of squash/pumpkins and two or more of the same species will cross.)

I’m going to cut up a couple of Hopi Pale Grey squash to dehydrate. It’s so easy. I just cut 1-inch rings, rind and all, then cut those in half and peel off the rind. Then I cut ¼-inch slices across each piece, giving nice small, thin pieces which dehydrate very quickly. These are so handy to toss into soups and stews! I also grab a handful and throw it in the blender to reduce to a powder. I add it to many of my breads (including cornbread), soups for thickening, and even quick breads such as banana bread. What a versatile food! And tasty too. — Jackie

Jackie Clay

Hondo is a sitter!

Tuesday, January 19th, 2016

I suppose I started it all by letting Hondo sit on my lap when he was a puppy. I did that with Spencer too. The trouble is that when I “explained” to Spencer that I still loved him but he was too big to sit on my lap, he understood. Not Hondo! He sits on everyone; Spencer, me, our visiting Lab, Buddy, and Will. Last night it was -12 when Will came in from chores. He sat down to warm up before he took off his chore clothes. Hondo was feeling needy and probably his feet were cold. So he popped right up and sat on Will’s shoulder. I couldn’t resist a picture!


Like all of you, I’ve been paging through all my seed catalogs like mad. Sure, I’ve decided on some new open pollinated and heirloom varieties to try this year. But I’ve also noticed that a whole lot of plants and seeds are now Plant Variety Protection and trademarked! Not just a few as in the past but a whole lot — pages of them! What this means is that you can buy the seeds or plants, but without “permission” (and paying a fee), you can’t propagate, distribute, or sell the seeds/plants you have grown. For decades, I’ve grown and given away billions of seeds. Now we have our little seed business so we can afford to help keep dozens of open pollinated and heirloom varieties alive and well. But now companies and commercial plant breeders are now “protecting” varieties, creating a monopoly on them. We’re tickled to have folks grow our varieties. And if they want to share them or even sell the seeds, great! (But then, we aren’t trying to get rich on our “own” special varieties!)

I’ve been pulling seeds out of our squash and pumpkins daily now. Most of the pumpkins are done; they don’t last much past the first of the year. Luckily, our squash are better storage candidates. We’ve eaten a lot of two year old Hopi Pale Grey squash that were still awesome. They’re still our very favorite squash. When I open one, we eat part for a meal, then I either can up the rest or make pumpkin pies. We quit growing acorn squash because it is basically bland and doesn’t store well at all. This year we grew both Canada Crookneck and Waltham Butternut as well as a new-to-us squash, Geraumon Martinique. This spotted dark green squash is wonderful! We’ve had raves from friends who we shared with and we’ve sure eaten our share. Very sweet and a wonderful aroma!


Our goats are also squash addicts. When they see me coming with an armful, they start yelling so much I’m afraid the neighbors two miles away will call the Humane Society on us! They eat everything: the guts, seeds (immature ones), meat, and skin. With their orange mouths, they bleat for more. And it’s good for them too.

Our weather’s turned real cold. Last night it was -22 with a high yesterday of -6. I’ll sure be glad when the next few days have passed and it warms up to the 20s. Above zero! — Jackie

Jackie Clay

Waste not, want not

Friday, January 15th, 2016

This was one of Dad’s favorite sayings, one we use often today. I made a tasty baked chicken with wild rice stuffing along with a big stir fry. We ate and ate, but there was still some meat left over, of course. So I took out all the leftover stuffing and tossed the chicken in a stock pot with water and set it on the old wood stove to simmer. Yesterday afternoon, I strained off the broth, let the carcass cool down on a cookie sheet, then picked off and cut up the meat. (I found a lot!) I then dumped the meat back in the stock pot with the broth, added herbs, diced onions, shallots, and spices along with a pint of drained carrots and a half-pint of mixed corn and peas. I let that simmer for about half an hour then tossed in a couple of handfuls of thick noodles. When they were very tender, we started in eating. Sigh. Wonderful. And I have enough left over for lunch today.


Will and I are busy writing down all the new varieties we will plant and trial this year. A few folks have sent us some of their old family heirloom seeds and we are especially anxious to try these. How exciting! We’ve found some very rare, wonderful new-to-us vegetables and flowers. (By the way, if any of you do have family heirloom seeds we’d just love to give them a try and see if we can pass them on to others if they do well for us. We simply hate to have so many great varieties go extinct every day.) — Jackie



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