Click here to ask Jackie a question!
Jackie Clay answers questions for BHM Subscribers & Customers
on any aspect of low-tech, self-reliant living.
Read the old Ask Jackie Online columns
Read Ask Jackie print columns
Archive for the ‘Weather’ Category
Monday, October 13th, 2014
After several nice, sunny days with temps in the high fifties and even sixty yesterday, we woke up to rain. Yuck. But we had a nice week, last week. We even got to visit two different friends. The first visit was to Mike and Dara’s homestead. They are as dedicated homesteaders as we are, also having several large gardens. We took “the tour” and saw all they had been doing this fall, then sipped coffee and cocoa and talked seeds and crops. Dara gave me some of her Painted Mountain corn which she’d hung in ropes to dry as a room divider. It’s gorgeous! We both love Painted Mountain as it not only is beautiful and makes tasty cornmeal, but actually dries down in northern Minnesota. Their carrots didn’t do so well this year but their rutabagas sure did. So we traded two buckets of our carrots for some rutabagas, which I didn’t plant this year. Dara also gave us a Marina Di Chioggia squash and a beautiful squash that was a cross between Marina Di Chioggia and Hopi Pale Grey. It’s unusual because it’s orange, smooth skinned with ribs lined in green, and the Marina “turban” on the blossom end. If it tastes good, we’re going to save seed and see if we can breed a stabilized version of it that will reproduce true. How fun!
Saturday, we were invited to another friend’s family farm near Cook, Minnesota (Jan) to help her and her sister (Bette) start to develop a plan to rehabilitate the farm which had been mainly empty for several years. We discovered a row of asparagus in the overgrown garden, found rhubarb and wild plums in several spots, and figured out how we could help the historical place. Jan and Bette fed us a wonderful meal, which we didn’t expect, and we got to look at old family farm photos and tour the solid buildings finding history in each one. Jan had found some of her grandfather’s ears of corn in a box which she thought were sweet corn he’d grown at the farm. She gave us a dozen kernels which we brought home to see if I could germinate. It’d be great if the corn was still viable and we could develop a population of that old corn!
Yesterday morning, one of our doe goats had triplets. Unfortunately, she totally ignores them and won’t let them nurse. Eeek! I’m leaving on Wednesday to go with my oldest son, Bill, and his family, in their motorhome, to pick up my adopted son, Javid, in Montana. I sure hate to leave Will with three bottle babies, but that’s the way it looks. I bought a fifty-pound sack of doe milk replacer this morning. (I WON’T tell you what I paid!) But kid goats don’t do well on calf milk replacer and Homestead Mills didn’t have any lamb milk replacer.
Our front porch looks like, well, what it is: a seed saving area. It’s full of squash, pumpkins, baskets of tomatoes, etc. On nice days I work out there as it’s a messy job and I’d rather squirt tomato “guts” on the porch floor instead of our kitchen floor! The rain washes it away. Will was working there yesterday while I cut up Hopi Pale Grey squash for their seeds. He was husking our Painted Mountain corn so we could bring it inside to finish drying. We were happy with the harvest from our new cornfield/pumpkin patch. With all its problems (infertile soil, 17 inches of rain at one time, white clay, etc.), it still produced and the deer didn’t eat it.
Now Will’s hauling tons of composted cow and horse manure out to that two-acre patch, which he plowed. So far he figures he’s put around 200 tons on it. Wow, now that’s “Mo’ poo poo!” But we know it’ll really produce next year. Over winter we’ll be buying a roll of 6′ 2″x4″ welded wire, which comes in 50′ rolls, so when spring comes, we can fence it (at least mostly), to keep the deer out. This year they ate all our pumpkins and squash. Oh well, we did get to keep our corn! — Jackie
Monday, October 6th, 2014
After a gorgeous Indian summer, we’re into north country fall rains and the four letter word: SNOW. Yuck! I vote to cancel winter this year — anybody with me? We’re still harvesting; this time it’s cabbages and carrots. Yesterday we got a surprise visit from my oldest son, Bill, and the grandkids. How fun! The kids got to pick out pumpkins from our huge pile in the new barn and then got to pull carrots to take home from our three long rows of HUGE carrots. I never saw such excited kids! I am sure they’d have pulled every one if they had time. We had fun, tossing the tops and split carrots over the fence to the goats, who enjoy harvest time a lot, too.
We had a couple of days of not-so-fun homesteading. Will had been hauling logs out of the woods and had left the woods gate open as the horses and donkeys were shut out of that field. Unfortunately, they got the wire down and got into the field and OUT of the open gate!
The horses came back home during the night but the donkeys got turned around and went the other way, ending up in the neighbor’s woods two miles away as the crow flies. We hunted and tracked while it rained and snowed. We ended up soaked and freezing after hours of donkey-hunting. Then the next morning, we found them and Will ended up leading one while the other one (that we couldn’t catch) followed with me on the four wheeler kind of driving them … three miles through the woods and swamp, then down the road to our driveway home. Boy, were we tired! Homesteading isn’t always all fun, but then there’s always tomorrow.
Today Will’s back at work on the barn’s stonework as it’s starting to get real cold and he wants to get the concrete work finished before it gets too cold to work on it. — Jackie
Monday, September 22nd, 2014
It just dawned on me this morning — our entire homestead is about food right now! Will is hauling in the last of our round bales of hay for the animals. We are madly harvesting the last of our corn before it becomes too starchy to eat and can (right now I’m canning some of Will’s wonderful Seneca Sunrise open pollinated sweet corn). Every day I’m canning something or somethings. Yesterday it was Mexican corn, which is a mixture of sweet corn, onions, and red and green sweet peppers and more enchilada sauce. I’m bringing in baskets of different varieties of tomatoes to harvest the seeds from each day.
The dried seeds are accumulating slowly, drying on ice cream bucket lids marked with each variety. On the front porch, I have set up a bench and chairs so I can work outside on nice days. It’s a lot easier to wash away the tomato juice and dropped seeds from the porch deck than from my living room floor!
I have two dehydrators set up in the dining room and they are full of broccoli. Yesterday I harvested the first Winter Luxury pumpkin for seed saving. Boy, is it wonderful. It has glowing yellow flesh two inches thick. Today I’m baking it whole, after taking a bounty of seeds. Then I’ll make it into a pumpkin pie. They have the reputation for being the very best pie pumpkin in the world. We’ll see; Will and I really like our pumpkin pie made from Hopi Pale Grey squash.
When I get off the computer, I’m pulling all of our onions so they can dry before being brought in to store. And there’s three big rows of nice fat carrots plus potatoes to harvest. Mmmmm. Food. Food. Food!
NOTICE: ALL OF THE WILD PLUM PITS HAVE BEEN SOLD. We had no idea that so many folks would want them! Next crop we’ll harvest many more. I’m so sorry for those who got disappointed and I’ll substitute with another pack of one of our favorite crops.
Our fall colors are simply gorgeous right now. I never realized how many maples have come up on our land until this fall as they’re turning color! In a few years our driveway will be flaming reds and oranges, come fall. But we cringe as we know full well that it’s only a few weeks until the pretty leaves have fallen and that white stuff starts. Stack that wood, Will! — Jackie
Monday, September 15th, 2014
Well, it finally happened — Thursday night it froze. David came over in the afternoon after his college course was finished and helped Will cover what we could, hoping to save at least a portion of our tomatoes and peppers. At six p.m. it was 42 degrees. By nine, it had dropped to 38 and the clouds had moved out, leaving it as clear as a bell. Not good!
We woke early to 28 degrees and heavy frost. Too cold to even run the sprinklers to offset frost. Bummer. And even covering the crops did not completely save them, as many plants were limp and dark.
The squash and pumpkin vines were limp and dead and even the sweet corn stalks were toast.
I feel especially bad because I’m recovering from my gallbladder surgery a week ago, and couldn’t even get out to pick what I could to ripen later in the house, as I always do. (One more reason to have at least two years’ worth of food canned in your pantry.)
Friday I pecked away at it a bit at a time (can’t lift much and sure get tired quickly).
Will pitted our last 19 pounds of wild plums as several people have asked if they could buy pits. Then he put the flesh in the Mehu Liisa and juiced it. We ended up with a gallon and half of plum juice which I’ll can up to make jelly later on, when I get time. While he was doing that, I made a big batch of enchilada sauce with the tomato puree Will cranked out with our Victorio tomato strainer. We were almost out of enchilada sauce so now we’re stocked up much better with 15 pints.
Even though a lot of our tomatoes were killed, the heavy leaves on many of the plants did protect some tomatoes so we’ll be able to harvest quite a few to finish saucing and saving seeds. — Jackie
Thursday, September 4th, 2014
And I have a beaver report. The beavers in our pond say we’ll have a pretty “normal” winter with plenty of cold and snow, although not as bad as last winter. We’ll see how the “little guys” forecast turns out this year.
As the leaves are turning and the night time temps are getting to feel sharp and cool, it’s putting pressure on us to harvest like crazy. I’m still making jelly from the wild plums, with another batch in the Mehu Liisa tonight.
Tomorrow at 6:45 we have to be at the hospital and by the time you read this blog I will be gallbladder-less. Finally! I hope…
Will and I went down to his corn and pumpkin patch in the old pig pasture. We have ripe Seneca Sunrise sweet corn (the corn Will has bred back from hybrid to open pollinated). It looks great and I can’t wait to give it a taste. We also checked out the Howden pumpkins we planted down there and found dozens of BIG, round green pumpkins! Wow, how productive they are! We raised them for seed for our little seed business but we’ll have lots for the animals and chickens, too.
Our Hopi Pale Grey squash are also very productive (like that’s a surprise!) and getting big. Next to them, we planted Winter Luxury pumpkins, a medium-sized beautifully-netted pie pumpkin (C. pepo), and Canadian Crookneck which looks like a long-necked butternut that’s early, large, and very tasty (C. moschata).
The Glass Gem popcorn is still growing. It’s like Jackie and the beanstalk! Most stalks have at least four ears, many five and six. And the tillers that have stooled out from the mother plant also often have ears. The funny thing is that on the mother plant, newer ears are popping out between the stalk and the older ear! No, it’s not GMO corn!
Our Early Firefall tomatoes that are of our own breeding are now producing like mad. They are a medium-sized plum tomato that I use for tomato sauce — very meaty and flavorful. They also have a point on the blossom end and are pretty, hanging in groups. — Jackie
Wednesday, September 3rd, 2014
Keeping a refrigerator working in a cold environment
I heard that they don’t make a refrigerator/freezer that can be used in a cabin that is allowed to get cooler than 55 degrees. We have been turning our thermostat down to 50 degrees when we leave so it might get that cool for a week or more. Sometimes the freezer section gets above freezing when we do that — the fridge part stays at 35 degrees okay, but it doesn’t run long enough to get the freezer cold (I guess this is a common problem). All kinds of people keep fridges in garages and on back porches — I don’t think most people know how to operate a fridge/freezer properly or safely. Most of the information I have found on the Internet on this subject has been very lame. What to do?
You might try an older refrigerator. I know several people who have older fridges in their unheated garages/lightly heated cabins that work, both fridge and freezer. I’ve been told that modern refrigerators’ manufacturers figure that NO modern people would use a fridge in a lightly heated home; they are built for “normal” living conditions. — Jackie
Early Fall weather
I wanted to share with you how well the Bill Bean tomatoes have done this year. We actually got a 3 pound tomato too! We couldn’t believe it! It is a very meaty tomato, and has a great flavor. Have you ever heard of or grown an Italian heirloom (I believe) called Purple Plum? They are a smallish pear shaped tomato with a smoky flavor. If you are interested in trying them, I’ll be happy to send you some seeds. I am also wondering if you have noticed anything unusual with the weather this year. I live in So Indiana, and I feel we are having an early fall this year. And I mean REALLY early. A few of us noticed about 3 weeks ago, lots of leaves on the trees just turning yellow, or completely brown, and then falling off. Other trees are starting to change color. And even though I got a late start in my garden this spring, everything is coming to the end of its life cycle and begging to be harvested. It’s so weird. I’ve never seen such an early fall. All the leaves on my winter squash plants have completely withered away, and the same is happening with the Hopi squash. Should I harvest them now? We are still having 90 degree days here. I will say that it has been a mild summer for us, with a cooler spell mid summer for a couple weeks. But weatherwise, we didn’t seem to experience any stressors. It’s just got me perplexed. I thought you might have some insight.
No, I haven’t grown Purple Plum tomatoes and would LOVE some seeds to give a try next year. I’m tickled that your Bill Beans are doing so well! I’m harvesting some right now. MMMMmmmmm! Yeah, this year is “different” alright! I know first we got 17 inches of rain, then heat and drought. The rivers are as low as I can remember right now and our leaves are falling, too. Are your Hopi Pale Grey squash bluish gray yet? If not, I think I’d leave them a bit and see if they get enough nutrients through the remaining vines to go ahead and mature. If not, harvest before it frosts hard. They’ll keep over a year even if immature and they still taste good although not as good as if they had matured. I think our weather is just in one of those weird cycles. — Jackie
Is there any way to save/freeze/dry eggplant until the tomatoes are ripe to use in marinara? The tomatoes are just starting to ripen. Not sure how many will actually get to ripen before frost since I am seeing scattered gold on the locust and cottonwoods. A few willows look like they are changing too.
Thank you for all the info on canning & drying squash. I canned 30 quarts on Sunday and Tuesday last week in addition to giving away a lot. I am now resorting to drying. I did try drying broccoli for the first time and green beans. Really a huge space saver. Drying jalapenos, bell pepper and Fresno chilis now as well as 2 racks of squash. Obviously, I have been on “vacation!” I have several quarts of potatoes canned. Can they be sliced and dried or would it be better to wait on fresh potatoes although I am not even seeing blossoms yet. I have gotten finished canning my 1/4 beef and will be getting another 1/4.
Yes, you can freeze your eggplant. Just pick and quickly bring inside, peel and slice about 1/2 inch thick. Blanch for about 4 minutes, then plunge into ice water to quickly cool. Drain very well, pack into freezer containers to exclude as much air as possible, then freeze.
We’re getting leaf color changes too and the birch are losing their leaves. It SO feels like FALL! It sounds like you’re plenty busy now. So are we! Wow, so much food — how great that is.
I’d wait and dehydrate fresh potatoes as your canned potatoes are already “put up.” Sometimes potatoes don’t bloom at all. We’ve had that happen in the past and still harvested great potatoes. You can peek under a hill with your fingers to see what’s going on. Will did that and pulled out a big fat potato.
Oh yes, beef! We’re thinking of that too, having four steers ready to go this fall. We’ll keep a half and sell the other three and a half sides/quarters. The steers look so nice and fat on good pasture. I can hardly wait! — Jackie
Tuesday, August 5th, 2014
It seems like our beavers’ forecast is coming true. We haven’t had a speck of rain for 10 days. But we’re not complaining. We’ve been getting a lot of hay up after such a slow, rainy start. And the warm sunny weather has made our garden boom. Our sweet corn has lots of ears set, the squash are loaded with baby squash (the Hopi Pale Grey squash vines are HUGE), the beans are begging to be picked, and, boy-oh-boy, are there ever tomatoes! Our favorite Bill Bean tomatoes are so loaded with one-pound-plus tomatoes that they look like green pumpkins under and on the vines. You’ll remember that last year we harvested one that weighed 3 pounds on a scale.
Will baled 130 more square bales yesterday. Our poor round baler blew a bearing (we thought). Will started taking things apart and found that not one bearing is shot but five! Parts ordered and should be here tomorrow. So we’ve got more square bales to put up in the storage barn.
Our favorite milk cow, Lace, was in heat Sunday so our friends, the Zups, came over Sunday night to A.I. her. Lace is SO hard to catch in heat but this time, it was a full-blown one where she was even trying to jump up on ME. I hope she took. We’ll know September 1st, when she has a blood test taken.
We had a mother turkey sneak off into the woods to lay eggs and she came off the nest with 8 babies! Then she tried to run away with them. As we have lots of foxes, coyotes, lynx, bobcats, fishers, and wolves, we herded her into the chicken run/orchard where they’d stay safer. Did you ever try to herd a mother turkey and babies? It’s like herding minnows! — Jackie
Thursday, July 24th, 2014
It’s been very hot and muggy and I told Will we were primed for a bad storm. So when the weather radio called for thunderstorms Monday night we weren’t surprised. In fact, we were pretty happy to see lightning on the Western horizon that night as it was 85 degrees with extreme humidity (and being off grid we sure don’t have an air conditioner). Well, it finally rained around 11:30 p.m. and it did cool off.
But it wasn’t until yesterday that we heard how severe the storm front was to the North and South of us, with straight line winds more than 75 mph and inches of rain. Campers in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness had been pinned under big fallen pines, others injured. And many folks on the Iron Range, just south of us had trees blown down on their houses and garages or roofs torn off, etc. We feel very grateful we escaped this part of the storm and are praying for those affected. More than 15,000 people were without power as well but, of course, we never noticed.
The garden continues to astound us. I’ll be canning green beans in a couple days and have hundreds of inch-long Homemade Pickle cucumbers set on rampant vines. And this year, our dill is amazing. (I’ve even had to buy wilted, old store-bought dill on some other years — for $3.49 a bunch.)
But the star of our gardens this year is the Glass Gem popcorn. We planted it for its beauty but the plants are stupendous. They are near shoulder-high to Will and me and each plant has stooled out, having more than five lusty stalks per plant. We can’t wait to see how it turns out and how many ears we get per plant. Usually popcorn has shorter plants but Glass Gem hasn’t even thought of tasseling out at shoulder-height! Our Espresso sweet corn is tasseling out down in our main garden but not our Glass Gem. Wow!
We are still working at mulching our main garden; it takes a lot of work and hay to mulch an acre! But we work on it every day and it is looking good. My cold seems to have left me but I am still waiting awhile before I call my surgeon’s office to reschedule my gallbladder surgery. I do not want to have to postpone it again! — Jackie