Do you have things around the homestead that are super versatile? Very useful? And pretty cheap? One of my favorites is the boring-looking welded stock panel. It’s about 52″ high (a horse or goat won’t jump over it), 16′ long and very sturdy. There are medium sized squares in the fence panel that a dehorned goat can reach through….but not fit through.

goat-eating.jpgBecause they’re so sturdy, they need little support. Therefore, you can use them with only steel T posts, for a pen or corral. It’s fast (no corner braces). Pound in the T posts every 8′ and hang the panels. You can even use one for the gate. But I like to re-enforce it with a wood frame that is cross braced. After all, the gate does take a beating.

I bought two weanling donkeys that were pretty wild, having run with their mothers in a pasture, and were not handled at all. To tame them down, I needed a quick, strong pen close to the house where I could work with them several times a day. So I added a corral off the side of the goat barn, made a door into a large pen inside, and added a gate. I was in business!

Goats are terrible hay wasters. They pull hay apart, then walk on it with their poopy feet. Then when they get hungry, they turn their little noses up at the “dirty” hay they just ruined! So to stop that, I feed my goats their hay and grain OUTSIDE the stock panel pen. That way they have to reach through the fence to eat.They don’t ruin any hay. It saves money, prevents parasites, is much neater and they can’t fight over the feed. (This does NOT work with horned goats; they can sometimes get their heads through the fence, but nearly always get stuck in the fence and can choke to death. Another reason to disbud those kids young!)

I’m using stock panels as the bottom tier on my dog yard. They’re big sled dogs and even they have never chewed on or bent the fence…..unlike the chain link that makes up the dividing fence between the two parts of the yard. On top, I added 3 feet of welded wire 2″x4″ fence to prevent any attempts at climbing the fence….which they would do without it.

Then in the garden, I use it for bean and cucumber trellises. Next year I plan on using two rows of stock panels, one on each side of tomato row. It’s easy to pick through and strong enough to keep the lush tomato vines upright, even in the strongest wind. Much faster than staking, caging, and tying, too!

I’ve used stock panels, bent in a U shape, for a garden trellis for climbing flowers and even as a lean-to greenhouse support, tacking one end to a south-facing shed wall and the other to the top of a horizontal piece of panel making up the side wall. You do have to be careful you don’t have sharp ends sticking out that will poke through your greenhouse plastic though. I used duct tape to protect the ends.

Around here, stock panels are available at local farm stores for about $14 on sale (of course!). They last nearly forever. I bought a cheap set of bolt cutters to cut the panels to fit any application. For instance, my labrador retriever thought my tulip bed was neat for digging in. So I cut a stock panel in two, leaving straight spikes on both pieces. These I shoved into the ground and wow! instant flower bed fencing that the big dog wouldn’t just step over.

Getting those 16′ long panels home can be a challenge, though, unless you’re in the know. Obviously, you can haul them in a trailer. We’ve hauled them in our 16′ stock trailer. But you can haul them safely in a pickup, too. To haul five or fewer, lay them in the truck bed (with the spare tire out), shoved all the way forward. Then with helpers, push hard, bowing the panels up like a covered wagon top and shut the tailgate securely. Don’t stand behind it in case it springs open. Been there. Done that. Ouch!!! Then use two ratchet straps and ratchet the load down securely.

If you haven’t already discovered these versatile pieces of handy homestead material, check ’em out! We just love ours and have used them for years.

I’ve posted readers’ questions with my answers below:

Using moldy manure

I picked up a load of manure last weekend and didn’t get around to uncovering it until today. After sitting for a week with not much if any air it is covered by a white cotton candy like fungus or mold. I
was going to mix this manure with dirt to build a new garden bed and let it decompose all winter. I’m not sure what this growth is — should I still use the manure, mold and all?

Jeanne & Kevin Walker
Homer, Alaska

I wouldn’t worry about this mold; it’s quite common and I’ve never had a problem when using “moldy” manure. Work it in well and water your beds until a freeze. This will help it to get started decomposing so it doesn’t sit “hot” in your bed all winter. You do want it to decompose nicely. — Jackie

Don’t pressure can pickled beets!

Our beets really need your help …..>when canning pickled beets, is it best to open kettle instead of
pressure cooking? the reason I ask is this: we pressure cooked two batches of pickled beets so far and both batches the beets have turned gray in color, although the liquid is still bright red. they just look “sick”. my father-in-law has canned pickled beets (without the pressure cooker) for many years
and he has never had a batch that turned out gray. so I’m taking a wild guess that it is due to the “pressure cooker” both my husband and I work outside the home full time so we are trying to save time by using the pressure cooker and still get the same great results that dad did. what is your opinion? how can we keep the beets from losing their vibrant red coloring?

Allen & Kimberly Minerich
Parachute, Colorado

You don’t pressure can pickled beets, or any other pickles. These are all water bath processed. I’m not sure if the pressure canning caused your beets to bleed out; sometimes they do that when you just can plain beets, which ARE pressure canned. The bleeding out can be caused by not leaving 3″ of tops and all the root on when you cook them, or it can be the variety you have grown. Generally, the darker red your beets are that you grow, the better they will can up. Old fashioned varieties, such as Bull’s Blood or Detroit Dark Red have always worked well for me. — Jackie

Solar dryer, and processing foods simultaneously

Thank you for the valuable information you provide! I read your post about drying broccoli in your oven. I’m wondering if you have used a solar dehydrator, and if you found that it was an efficient
way to dry vegetables. I found plans for a simple solar dehydrator that I am thinking about assembling this winter for next year’s crops. Also, is it possible to pressure or waterbath can different fruits and/or vegetables at the same time? For instance, four quarts of peaches and three quarts of tomatoes at the same time. Or, quarts of carrots and green peppers in the same pressure canner.Thanks in advance for your reply!

northern lower Michigan

Yes no, regarding the solar dehydrator. I’ve used the sun to dry foods, but have never had a solar dehydrator. I’ve laid foods out on a shed roof, on clean screens, out of the wind and in the back of our trusty old Suburban. I guess that’s like calling a clothes line a “solar clothes dryer”.

Yes you can process different fruits and vegetables at the same time, but you either have to process all foods that require the same length of processing or overprocess one type of food, requiring a slightly longer time than the others.

I do this when I process quarts and pints in the same batch. Quarts require a longer processing time than do pints, so I over process the pints. But I only do this with foods that won’t be damaged by the overprocessing. One food I don’t do this is potatoes; they will go mushy if you overprocess them. — Jackie

Canning potatoes

I have at the age of 60 started to can, Made it thru the green beans and tomatoes,also the pickles. The last but not least are the potatoes. They are of the red variety and not sure the right way to can them. Having trouble finding recipes for their use after canning. Please give me some insight

Cathy Fischer
Hastings, Nebraska

Congratulations on your canning!!! Potatoes are real easy to can and useful once canned. The whole little potatoes can just be scrubbed well and canned whole. The larger ones, you can either cut into convenient chunks or dices and leave the skin on or peel them first. Cover them with water in a large kettle and boil for 10 minutes. Then pack hot into hot jars, leaving an inch of headroom. Add 1/2 tsp salt to pints and 1 tsp to quarts. Fill jars to within an inch of the top with the boiling water you did the potatoes in. Process pints for 35 minutes and quarts for 40 minutes at 10 pounds pressure.

To use these potatoes, just think “boiled potatoes”. You can just reheat them in their liquid or you can slice or use dices in casseroles, scalloped potaotes, mashed potatoes, with pot roasts, potatoes au gratin, potato soup, stews; you name it. I told you they were worth the effort! — Jackie

Ye olde home meat slicer

Don’t know if this is the right place to be or not, but here goes. Don’t think I have ever seen this suggested before, but when I am preparing quash, cukes, carrots anything long and/or slender that needs to be of a uniform thickness, I break out ye olde home meat slicer and set for thickness desired, presto, uniforminity.

John Creamer

Good thinking John! Thinking outside the box is the mark of genius. Way to go. I don’t have a meat slicer; am not a kitchen gaget person and usually enjoy slicing vegetables while sitting out on the porch enjoying nature. But I’m sure if I did have a meat slicer and a whole bunch of veggies to slice, it would be put into use pronto! — Jackie

Dehydrating cucumber slices

I sure do like the new blog addition to BHM and check itoften for new entries. I’ve heard of dehydrating cucumbers into cucumber chips, to use for snacks, like potato chips. Unfortunately, can’t seem to find a site, or anyone who knows exactly how to process them. Also, wondered, if the cukes were dehydrated, could they be crushed with say a mortar and pestle, and be sprinkled onto fresh
salads. Can’t tell you how you have motivated me, by reading your articles rich with information would never have thought of, let alone tried. In the past, have encountered folks with great recipes or canning info., who were vague and/or hesitant to share the “family recipe”. Sincerely, I thank you for your generosity.

Gretchen Belken
Mokane, Missouri

What good is knowledge if you don’t share it??? Yes, you can dehydrate cucumber slices. I did it by accident when I was making pickles; a few pieces stuck to my kettle while I was heating the slices in sweet brine. The next morning I was going to wash the kettle and found them; thin, perfect and very dry. Hmmmm!!! I ate one dry and it tasted good; different but good. The others I soaked in cold water and they plumped up. They were a little limp, but normal otherwise. So I’m sure going to dehydrate some. Just wash them well, cut off the stem and blossom end, and slice them relatively thin; about 1/8 inch thick. Dehydrate until very dry. Nifty. — Jackie

Strawberry plant question

I ordered 24 nice Tristar everbearing strawberry plants from Jung Nursery and planted in early spring. Instructions said to keep picking bloom until July 1 then let them set fruit. They’re producing a nice little handful every time i go to the garden. Now they’re sending off numerous shoots that are taking root. What i keep doing is to break these new plants off and set them in rows to try to get additional plants started. I hope it isn’t all a waste of time. From your experience, will this work to propogate strawberries instead of ordering new plants every year? I already see they’re growing, i guess i’m worried the plants will be weak or maybe not as good or pure as nursery stock.

Penny Hermsdorfer
Sandyville, West Virginia

Sure you can grow your own strawberry plants this way! You can move your bed across the garden and back by simply planting new runners next to the rows of older plants. When the old plants don’t produce well, just till them in and pick from your newer plants. Fun and easy. Cheap too! Good luck. The deer got my strawberries this year. Darn. But just wait till next year! — Jackie