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Thursday, April 10th, 2014
Planting early trees
I was excited to get the e-mail that my new Apple Trees will be shipping this week until I realized that there is no way all of our snow will be gone before they arrive. I ordered bare root trees from Fed-Co. Can you give me some advice on how to keep them healthy until I can get them in the ground?
I got the same e-mail about ours! This has happened before and the first time I about had a panic attack. But I opened the package and checked the root packing; it was moist. So I re-wrapped the plastic and put the trees back in the box and set them in our unheated basement in the dark. Two weeks later, the snow was gone and I was able to plant my trees. If you have any dirt in your garden showing up and unfrozen, you can dig a shallow trench and set the trees’ roots in it, piling the dirt back over the roots. This is called “heeling” them in and will also keep them in good shape until you can plant them. I know our snow and frost is going fast so yours must be on the way, too. Hang in there! — Jackie
Saving tomato seeds
Does your Victorio strainer work to separate out tomato seeds when you’re saving those seeds to grow? The pictures in the ads always show a hopper full of raw tomatoes, does it really work with raw or do they have to be cooked? (I had decided to start my own seed company about a week before you announced yours. Talk about timing! But last fall it took so much time to chop tomatoes by hand to extract the seeds. Since I’m expanding the garden this year, I’m hoping there’s an easier way.)
Also, there’s a tomato variety that I’ve been growing from cuttings taken off an indoor plant. It’s a great variety, amazingly drought-resistant, but because it was a volunteer I have no idea if it’s a hybrid, or even what the name of it might have been. How many generations of seed should I grow out before I can tell if it’s a hybrid or not. (Or, if it was a hybrid, when is it sufficiently “de-hybridized” to be safe selling the seed?)
The Victorio strainer does separate seeds and peels from raw tomatoes but I’m not sure if they are damaged so they might not germinate. I’m going to try some this year so ask again in the fall. I’ve heard that some seed savers use a blender to whiz whole tomatoes and then ferment the juice/slop/seeds (which are not supposed to be damaged. That sounds radical but maybe that would work, as well. I will also try that and let you know. For now, I cut my tomatoes in quarters and use my thumb to “milk” out the seeds and gel into a bowl. It really goes pretty fast that way.
Usually after 4-5 generations, even if you started out with a hybrid, selecting true-to-type plants/tomatoes each time you save seed, you will end up with a pretty much stabilized variety you can then name. I would mention that there could be off types and to advise folks to rogue out them if they intend to save seed. Hey, it happens… Good luck with your seed business! — Jackie
Friday, February 21st, 2014
Yep, ANOTHER snowstorm! The weather radio, which we live by, is calling for a major winter storm with up to 14 inches of blowing, heavy, wet snow falling today, tonight, and tomorrow. Sigh. Just when we’ve been enjoying temperatures of 40 degrees above, sunny, and melting. It felt like spring.
So we went into the “getting ready for the blast” mode: give extra hay and bedding for the critters, fill the chicken feeder, get to town and get extra gas for the plow truck and bulldozer, not to mention the snow blower. And the snow is starting to fall heavily. Maybe I’ll bake bread. I always feel like cooking when it’s storming. Blizzards make me hungry!
But to perk us up, we found that our very first peppers of the year have germinated! The Early Jalapeños were, indeed, early! They popped up in seven days. So cool.
In two weeks I’ll be starting our tomatoes. As our fledgling seed business is doing so well, we’ve decided to grow and save seed for more than 25 heirloom, open-pollinated tomatoes this year in addition to several other crops such as beans, squash, and cucumbers. (here’s still plenty of seed left so if you’re thinking about ordering from us, please feel free to click on the button above to see what we have. And we have quite a bit of all of the seed offered (even the Bill Bean tomatoes, which I thought I was out of but then discovered I’d saved another envelope of them). Spring WILL come this year; I promise. — Jackie
Tuesday, February 18th, 2014
We spent all day yesterday shoveling out. Will plowed the drive with the plow truck and I used the snowblower to clear paths to the barns and pens. But there was just too much snow! Instead of the 2-4 inches forecast, we got clobbered with about 16-18 inches with wind. Wow. So today, Will’s out with Old Yeller, our bulldozer, shoving back the huge snowbanks on both sides of our mile-plus long driveway. There’s just no more room to plow more snow!
I’ve been busy planting peppers in Jiffy pellets which I put in small containers to help keep track of the 18 different varieties (or so!) of peppers we’re planting this year. I plant and water the seeds, then I put each container inside a plastic shopping bag to keep the humidity inside. It makes all the difference in germination. Another thing that makes a difference is warmth. Since we’re off grid (using heat mats under the trays isn’t possible) and because our greenhouse is only about 65 degrees at night, I place my planted flats on shelves around the wood stove in the living room.
As Will’s working on the rock work, getting ready to clean it up to seal, I had no shelves to put them on! But I’d picked up a small metal shelf unit on wheels on a Do-Bid auction very cheaply and brought that in to use. It works great and I’m waiting for my peppers to germinate. If they’re kept warm and moist, they usually germinate in about 5-7 days, much under the “usual” germination time. Just putting the flats in a sunny window is fine IF the sun doesn’t cook the seeds in the daytime or chill them at night. It’s the chilling that happens here as some nights are still below zero. However TODAY the sun’s out and the temperature is over 40 degrees ABOVE zero! Hooray! — Jackie
Thursday, February 13th, 2014
It’s mid-February (does THAT seem possible?) and pretty soon I’ll be starting my peppers and petunias. They take a long time to get big. After the peppers are about 4 inches tall, I put them in our enclosed porch, next to the greenhouse, where it’s much cooler. Instead of 72 degrees, it’s more like 55-60 degrees. I’ve found that they grow slower and develop stronger roots and stockier stems, and don’t get leggy and bloom too soon. We’ll be putting them into the hoop house in May with night-time heat if frost threatens. I can hardly wait! DIRT! I do use the super-sized Jiffy pellets with biodegradable netting then transplant the pellet and all into large Styrofoam cups when the roots just begin to come through the sides of the pellet. That works great for me and the pepper harvest is terrific. Even here in the North.
Last night I made deep-fried, fresh, homemade tortillas from some of the Maseca (masa harina) that friends from our fall seminar gifted me with. Thanks so much, Teresa and Jose! I’ve got a tortilla press and all you have to do is mix the masa with a bit of salt and water, divide into balls, and press with the tortilla press. I use a piece of waxed paper to prevent the dough from sticking to the press. After pressing, I roll the tortilla thinner with a rolling pin. Then I fry them in about two inches of hot lard. By tilting the pan back and forth, the hot grease rolls over the top of the tortilla making it bubble. This makes a nice crispy tortilla. Served with melted Velveeta cheese mixed with half a pint of my own salsa, these make a meal in themselves!
I just had to share this cute picture with you. As Hondo is really getting too big to sit on my lap (which he still does from time to time), he decided that Spencer would make a good substitute. He’s always sat on him, but lately, more so. He just walks up when Spencer is lying down and backs up and sits down on him. Plop. Spencer doesn’t mind and we think it’s so funny.
One of these days, I’d like to get an English Mastiff puppy. And as Mastiffs grow to weigh 200 pounds or so, I sure hope he doesn’t take Hondo’s lead and plop down on Spencer! — Jackie
Thursday, November 7th, 2013
Jackie you mentioned Sun Chokes. Do you have any recipes to share? I have not been able to find many on the internet.
Rhona & Brad Barrie
I usually use sun chokes raw, sliced, or grated in salads or tossed in a stir fry near the end so they stay crisp, as they are like water chestnuts. You can also drizzle olive oil over them and sprinkle seasonings over them and roast them with other vegetables. Or use about any way you would potatoes. They are very versatile! — Jackie
The other day I canned up some crook neck pumpkin. The canner wasn’t full, so I decided to put some jars of winter squash (sweet dumpling) as well. Unfortunately, I forgot to put water in with the squash. (I did put it in with the pumpkin.) Is my squash ruined because it has been dry canned? I’d love to know what you think!
As squash is quite moist, it probably is okay. But don’t carve that in stone. (After all, you can raw pack meat and chicken with no water added…) As usual, I’d follow normal procedures on opening those jars; observe, smell then hold at boiling temperature for 10-15 minutes. — Jackie
Canning with lemon juice
Since we use so much lemon juice in canning and lemons are getting so expensive way out west here, is there anyway to can fresh lemon juice? If not can you suggest something suitably acidic like a diluted form of vinegar that will work just as well without pickling what we are canning? Would powdered ascorbic acid or dissolved vitamin C tablets work as well?
I buy my lemon juice in bottles at the Dollar Store for $1 each and they’re 16 oz bottles. They go a long way! Yes, you can home can fresh lemon juice. All you have to do is strain the fresh-squeezed juice then bring to 165 degrees. Fill hot jars with hot juice, leaving 1/4 inch of headspace. Then process in a boiling water bath canner for 15 minutes.
You can use plain vinegar when lemon juice is called for in recipes such as tomato sauce, etc. I wouldn’t use vitamin C as it would be more expensive. — Jackie
Saturday, October 5th, 2013
Using fermenting crock for meat
My husband would like to cure some meat in my German fermenting crock. Will my crock be safe to use again for cabbage? It is glazed on the inside.
Jean Ann Wenger
Yes, your crock will be safe to use for cabbage and other vegetables after doing the meat. Just wash it out with hot soapy water, rinse it well, and you’re good to go. — Jackie
Peeling Hopi Pale Gray squash
Is there a secret to peeling Hopi squash? Chisel, handsaw, chainsaw, etc without whacking a finger? Yep, I’m sporting a couple of band aids. Finally got out my large sawtooth knife and got the job done. Canner is full. Had little left and had it for lunch. It’s delicious. Also how to preserve the seed?
Sorry you are injured! These squash DO have a tough rind, which is one reason they keep so well. What I do is to put the squash on a cutting board then take a heavy-duty butcher knife and poke it in at the “waist.” By doing this gently, it doesn’t shoot out. Then I rock it back and forth, cutting it in half. Once in half, I remove the seeds and “guts.” I then stand the squash half up on the cut, flat side and repeat the process, cutting each half in half from stem to blossom end. Now lay a quarter down on the flat side and cut a one-inch slice off. Repeat until all of one quarter is done. Then lay each slice down on the cutting board and trim off the peel by cutting down to the board. From then on, it’s an easy matter to cut one-inch cubes off each slice.
To preserve the seed, just squeeze the strings off with your fingers and lay the seeds on a cookie sheet in a single layer. Put the sheet in a warm, dry location and they’ll dry nicely. Stir around once in a while so they dry evenly. Once very dry, pour into an airtight container such as a glass jar or plastic bag. Watch for any condensation droplets for a week or so. If you notice any, pour seeds back onto a cookie sheet and dry more (if you don’t they’ll mold). I’m so happy your squash did well for you. Ours did too — we harvested s90 squash! — Jackie
Thursday, April 25th, 2013
But we still have tons of snow on the ground — several feet! And mud and water running everywhere. Will’s been working on the rock wall behind the living room stove every day, knowing nice weather’s just around the corner. So far, he’s used 14 bags of mortar mix, and lots of rocks. I think it looks great. Imagine how much warmth those rocks and the concrete will hold next winter.
Meanwhile, I’ve been transplanting tomatoes and peppers like mad. I do them in Styrofoam cups. So far I’ve gotten three or four years’ worth of use out of the same cups.
But it’s been challenging because my left knee’s been giving me a lot of pain these last few weeks. I finally wimped out and got an X-ray and saw the orthopedic specialists in the nearby town of Virginia. Good news is that my knee won’t ever have to be replaced; it’s in great shape. Bad news is that I may have a torn ligament. Had an MRI this morning so we’ll see. Hopefully, it’s just inflamed and will go ahead and heal. I’ve got LOTS to do this spring and hate gimping around on it. It sure tires one out! If it is a torn ligament, the doctor said it’s a quick, easy fix and will heal fast. Considering the active lifestyle I’ve lived all my life, I guess I can expect a glitch here and there. I’m sure not complaining. — Jackie
Friday, December 21st, 2012
Like most homesteaders we know, we struggle with cash this time of the year. Grain prices have been horrible. Hay, which we buy from a neighbor in big round bales, is expensive and we use a lot of it with so many steers (which we hope to be able to sell as sides and quarters of beef). Even mailing homemade Christmas gifts is expensive today. But we make do and try to keep the focus of Christmas on its true meaning, not on money. It helps a lot at this time of the (frantic) year to count our many blessings when the world seems so crazy.
We have our health. We have each other. We have a wonderful family and lots of great friends. I work with a great bunch at Backwoods Home Magazine. We have made tremendous strides on our homestead. We actually live in a Christmas card! (Our pretty log cabin sitting in the piney woods on a hill overlooking a beaver pond.) Our livestock is fat and happy. We have a gorgeous, decorated tree in our living room. Our pantry is bulging with lots of home-raised food. We have cords and cords of firewood and logs for lumber to saw later on so not only will we be warm but we will be able to build more animal shelter from home-sawn lumber. Our garden and orchard are doing well. I could go on for hours. You see what I mean.
It’s too easy to get down, being broke, hearing the news of the Newtown school shooting and other horrible happenings worldwide. So when I start to droop, I start counting our blessings and it always gets better right away. I hope it’s the same for you as you prepare for the holiday season. — Jackie