It seems like yesterday that Will and I were strolling hand in hand through Home Depot, talking romance and kitchen cabinets, the pros and cons of circular saws and worm drive saws, concrete counter tops and building not only a homestead, but a new life together.  But, gee, it’s a whole week later and I’m back to day to day life, taking care of Mom, doing homestead chores and only talking to him on the phone.  It was hard leaving, but we’re hoping that he will be able to come out to Minnesota before spring.  He really is a great guy.

I planted my very first crop in the greenhouse today; a big pot with three hills of bush cucumbers.  Yeah!  Spring is here for sure.  I haven’t had much luck in the new greenhouse yet, as along with the pepper plants I brought in last fall, I also brought in APHIDS!  And I’ve been going Mano a Mano with them for months!  I finally seem to be winning, using a mixture of water, ground hot pepper and dish detergent; sprays didn’t faze them.
For the last two months, I’ve been ordering a bunch of new fruits for the orchard and around the kitchen garden we’re planning for spring, next to the house.  I’m planting a fenced patch, surrounded by semi-dwarf fruit trees and shrub fruits, such as Nanking cherries, currants and blueberries, which on one half we’ll plant into strawberries and the other will be square foot gardens, filled with veggies for the kitchen.  This is going to be a fun project!  And it’ll be oh so handy to just walk outside with a basket and knife and pick lunch.  Next to the house, with the house acting as a wind buffer, I’m even trying sweet cherries and an apricot, both zone 4-5.  We’ll have to wait to see how that’ll work, as we’re actually in zone 3.  I’ll keep you posted.
The main orchard gets new zone 3 pears from Fedco (I didn’t know there were any!), plums, pie cherries and Manchurian apricots.  Plus we’re planting three Valiant grapes by the back yard and two seedless grapes next to the house.  Both are zones 4-5, but I’m hoping that next to the house, we’ll be able to keep them going, regardless.  You can usually count on moving up a zone when you plant on the leeward side of the house, especially right next to it, as some heat does escape the building, from basement foundation to walls.
I’m hoping to get the orchard fenced too, so I can free range the chickens and turkeys in there and keep them out of my proposed wildflower beds along the driveway and also my flower beds in the front yard.  Boy those chickens and turkeys can sure dig a big hole in a flower bed when they dust themselves!  The orchard is about 100′ x 75′ and that’ll give them a good area to run in.  It will also keep down the weeds, grass and bugs!  That’s a win-win situation for sure.
I had four flying squirrels on the tray bird feeder outside the greenhouse window last night.  I actually got to see them come gliding in to the feeder, then away.  That was really neat.  But I had other "wildlife" out there this morning.  A weasel!  That wasn’t so cool, as I’ve had dozens of chickes slaughtered overnight by one small, white weasel.  I got the .22 and now have another ermine tail tied on my horse bridle.  I always feel bad when I have to shoot one but they sure play hell in the poultry house.

Readers’ questions:

Prickly pear jelly

Thank you for your inspiration and help. My son went to Southern California and brought me back some prickly pears. I made jelly out of them, but it was too sweet. Do you have a recipe for prickly pear jelly that we could us in the future, or other uses for them?

Linda Fisher
Klamath, California

I really, really love prickly pears!  In New Mexico we used to eat them as a fruit (after removing the spines, of course!), spitting out the seeds to make more plants, as a jam and jelly, and we also made a sweet drink from the plump fruit.  We ate the despined pads, too, which are called nopalitos and when sliced, resemble green beans.
To make jelly, simply remove the spines via a propane torch or over your stovetop.  Native Americans use a low fire.  Then rinse the fruit and quarter it.  Put all your fruit into a large kettle and add just enough water to cover then boil, covered until tender.  I then mash mine and simmer a couple of minutes longer.  Strain through a jelly bag for several hours or over night.
To each 2 1/2 C juice, stir in 1 package of powdered pectin and bring to a boil.  Boil one minute and add 3 Tbsp lemon juice and 3 1/2 C sugar.  Bring to a boil, stiring all the time to prevent scorching.  Boil hard for 5 minutes at a rolling boil and ladle the jelly out into hot, sterilized jars.  Process 5 minutes in a boiling water bath canner.
The lemon juice not only helps the jelly to set but lessens the "too sweet" taste.  If you make jam out of the prickly pear fruit, you just mash the cooked fruit through a strainer and add to your juice; measure the same regarding sugar and pectin, adding the lemon juice, as well.
Without the sugar, lemon juice and pectin, the mashed fruit makes terrific fruit leather when dried on a lightly oiled cookie sheet in a very low temperature oven or a gas oven with only the pilot light on for heat.  You have to turn the leather so it dries on both sides after it has set.  I simply get hold of one corner and gently peel it back, then flip it over.  Pretty good! — Jackie

No vinegar in chickens’ water

Last summer a friend gave me a hen and a rooster. I found I like having chickens around, so I ordered 25 buff orpingtons 2 black jersey giants, which will be arriving in February.

We have hard water and one of my cats is prone to urinary tract infections. To help prevent them I put cider vinegar in the cats water. It seems to work I haven’t had to take my cat to vet in over a year. I know chickens pee and poop at the same time but, do I need to put vinegar in the chickens water also. Any problem I can prevent is a very big plus.

Tamara O’Connor
Brown City, Michigan

No, you don’t have to put vinegar in your chickens’ drinking water.  I’ve never heard of a chicken having any problems like cats do.  Their elimination system is vastly different.  But you can certainly put vinegar in their water; some folks swear by it.  Personally, I tried it for several months awhile back and couldn’t see any difference after that time so I quit because of the Ncost involved.
Enjoy your chickens; they are a whole lot of fun and you’ll LOVE the homegrown eggs, too! — Jackie

Removing seeds for grape juice

I love what you write and I’ve been canning since dirt. It is so refressing to get some new ideas. I just found out about BWH a few months ago and have really loved reading youre starting over
articles. My husband and I live on a 5 acre farm and raise much of what we eat. We raise wild Scotish Soay sheep, chickens, and a big garden and orchard. We arn’t off the grid yet but when we retire would like to be as self sufficient as possible. My husband is starting a rough cut limber business so hope to do that early. My question is this, can I leave grape seeds in grape jucie? I got a recipe last year from "The Have More Plan" by the Robinson’s. Great old book for the ages!

Any Fruit
1/2 Cup of hot simmerin mashed fruit
1/4 to 3/4 Cup sugar (I’m sure you can use any sweetener, or none)
Add boiling water to fill the quart jar leaving 1/2 headspace.

I dearly love blueberry juice.and the grape juice is great too. But I was thinking I’d read something about removing seeds.

Dinah Brosius
Battle Ground Washington

Sounds like you have great plans!  It really isn’t necessary to remove the seeds in your grape juice, but it is more convenient and sometimes the seeds can give a bitter taste to the juice as it is stored for lengthy times.  Just pour the juice through a sieve to remove the seeds and any other "debris" in your juice, if you choose.
Thanks for the good wishes; we’re chomping at the bit to get started with spring growing.  The peppers go in the flats in just two weeks.  I’m so excited! — Jackie


  1. Hello, I read your response ordering manchurian bush apricots from somewhere other than Gurney’s and them doing much better. Where did you order them from.
    I live in Indiana and hear that stone fruit is not so easy to grow here organically. So I thought I might give these a try as they are advertized as carefree.
    Also, what about native plum trees that Gurney’s sells. Have you ahd any experience with them? And where is the best place to order them from.
    Finally, will these help pollinate eachother, or do I still want two of each to increase production.

  2. Good plan, Jackie (re: peaches and lemon)! Your great-grandma must have grown a Meyer lemon, with those huge fruits. I’m trying to grow a lime and a pink lemon (which has beautiful white-variegated leaves) in my greenhouse, and am happy to say they’re still alive after a year. Usually scale is murder on any citrus I grow, but I put these out on the deck for the growing season and maybe somebody helped me out and ate any potential pests. I hope so, anyway! The lime even had a few fruits. Can’t wait to see/taste the pink lemons!–Elly

  3. Thanks for the encouragement guys! Yep, I think David & Will are going to hit it off great; they have so many of the same interests, along with the wonderfully quirky sense of humor that is oh so necessary living our lifestyle. Karin; yes I’ve had good luck with Manchurian bush apricots although only one out of three from Gurneys lived last spring; I’ve bought them elsewhere and had much better luck. The apricots are small, but the shrub is pretty, especially in the spring when it flowers and when you live in zone 3 you are glad to have ANY good fruit!!!

    Elly, I do have a Reliance peach on order, which we’ll plant east of our porch/entryway this spring. Hopefully the house will block that killer west wind and we’ll get to enjoy real peaches. As an extra backup, I’ve also ordered a dwarf tub peach for in the greenhouse, as well as a lemon. My great grandmother grew a lemon inside and it had huge lemons on it all year around. That’d be cool!

  4. Have you had much luck with the Manchurian bush apricots? We are planning on planting a couple in memory of a family member this spring, but the reviews at Gurneys were lousy. Any thoughts? And lots of luck with Will, looks like a good guy to have around! Keep up all the wonderful writing and sharing of information, you’re the greatest!

  5. Hope Will makes it to your place soon. Maybe he can lend a helping hand in some ways with your new place! Such a handsome, nice looking man. Bet he really likes David and Spencer! Plus, your mom! Good luck. Spring is in the air in Texas. The weather service is promoting the “storm” (meaning tornado) seminars being held all over the state. Good luck with everything in your life! Iris in Dallas

  6. Wow, Jackie, you put me to shame! Here I am in Zone 6 and I haven’t even ordered my fruit trees yet (this year I’m planning to try dwarf sweet cherries and hardy pecans–again, sigh–and maybe a Greengage plum). I commend Elwyn Meader’s Reliance peach to you if you don’t grow it–it’s marvelous, and I think he was in New Hampshire, so it should be hardy for you. Glad you’re getting those dratted aphids under control! I have a water garden in my greenhouse, and the aphids absolutely love water-garden plants, but of course I can’t even use pepper spray on them because it would kill the goldfish. Instead, I get ladybugs, which are pricey but do the trick. (But then there are whiteflies… ugh!) I also bring my earthworm composter into the greenhouse for the winter. It’s great–the worms keep on eating kitchen scraps (whatever I can spare from the chickens, anyway) all winter and I have wonderful earthworm compost for the greenhouse beds come spring.

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