Our last snow’s just about gone and the temperatures are up into the high fifties.  Yes, we’re going nuts with joy!  I started the big TroyBilt yesterday and tilled a few passes in the garden to get ready for the 25 red raspberry bushes that are due any day now and to plant the 6 Nanking cherries that came three weeks ago when we had two feet of snow on the ground.  Yeah.  Gurneys.  Boooo.  The soil was so nice, after tilling in all that rotted compost from last fall.  Wow.  No more roots, sticks, stumps and junk, just nice black fluffy soil!

Then our carpenter friend, Tom, came to saw a big hole in the west wall of my kitchen.  Well, actually, I asked him to.  You see my kitchen was awfully dark, especially after we put that porch on the south side, shading the one kitchen window.  After the greenhouse was built, I had a $500 window where I didn’t need a window anymore, between the greenhouse and living room.  So I decided to move the window into the kitchen.  Good move!  Boy does it ever let in the light!!!!  I’m really happy I made that change.

And today, David and I, with a lot of tips from Tom, built a support wall for the floor joists, for the next addition onto the house.  This will be an entryway, small laundry room and living room.  Our house is pretty small, and the kitchen table takes up a lot of the kitchen, making it pretty tight.  So on the east end of the greenhouse, we’re building a sunroom/living room, with a wood stove (more wood heat!) and moving the kitchen table into the old small living room.  It will then be a dining room.  Cool.  Then someone won’t have to get up so I can open the refrigerator door for milk!

I hadn’t had much experience laying block, and that was years ago.  David had done it a little while we were building the house.  So Tom came and got us started and we went ahead and finished the 20′ long block wall.  And if I do say so, it turned out pretty darned nice!

Readers’ questions:

Floating carrots

Congrats on your new love. I have a question about pressure canning, I have had a canner for about a year but was very nervous to try it out, well yesterday I bit the bullet and canned up some plit pea soup, I followed all the directions to the letter. My question is when the pressure came down and I took the cans out all the carrots had floated to the top of the jars, and the soup itself was still
boiling. Is that normal?

Cybele Connor
Hammonton, New Jersey

Yes.  Many foods that are pressure canned continue boiling happily quite a while after you take them out of the canner.  As for the floating carrots, don’t worry about that, either.  When you heat the soup up  to eat it, just stir the carrots back into the soup evenly.  Congratulations on your first attempt.  You’ve just opened the door to a whole lot of good eating and fun, too! — Jackie

Sprouting spinach seed

After I enjoy my spinach crop every year, it bolts and goes to seed.  I can’t stand to let it go to waste so I harvest the seed and give it to friends and neighbors.  Last year I had a bumper crop and still have a gallon of seed left!  I was curious if this can be sprouted for salad and sandwiches?  Is it good tasting and what is the safest way to sprout?

Sandy Coates
Indian Valley, Idaho

I’ve never sprouted spinach seed, but I don’t know why you couldn’t. Just put it in a plastic refrigerator container and wet it thoroughly. Then drain the water off and cover it.  Rinse it each day with fresh water and drain it until it sprouts.  You’ll just have to experiement. Micro greens, including spinach, are the latest fad.  You “plant” the seeds in a container thickly and harvest the leaves when they are still very small.  These are used in salads or on sandwiches, much as you’d use sprouts.  I have tasted these baby “baby” spinach leaves and they are sweet and good. — Jackie

Hail storm killed my garden

Hope you get out of the cold weather soon!

I’ve had a different weather problem, and I hope you have some advice, or even just some encouraging words. I just finished getting the warm-weather parts of my garden in yesterday (tomatoes, peppers, green beans, etc); the cold-weather parts were in a month ago and growing nicely.  Last night we had TREMENDOUS storm come through – 1.5 inches of rain in 20 minutes, hail piling up like snowdrifts, and wind blowing it all horizontal.  It scrubbed by garden clean down to the dirt – I’d have done less damage if I just mowed it.

Should I write it off, and plan for my Fall garden (Zone 8 here), plan on replacing the warm-weather plants I just planted, or do you think the roots in the ground will come back and produce ok?

Aaron Neal
Fort Worth, Texas

I had the same thing happen when we lived in New Mexico; we had three feet of hail in little over half an hour!  Yep, my garden was gone.  I kind of waited to see if things might sprout again; no go.  A few that did were way weak and not worth the effort.  I’d plant again, if it was me. You can’t control the weather; we just have to do the best we can with what  we get.  Good luck. — Jackie

Cooking beans in soaking water

When you soak beans overnight do you drain off that water and add new water to cook or do you keep the soaking water to cook the beans in?

Gail Erman
Palisade, Colorado

Unless the beans were really dirty or you soak them on the counter in warm weather, You can just cook them in the soaking water.  Otherwise, rinse them and use new water to cook them in.  I like to keep any nutrients I can, whenever I can. — Jackie

Transplanting blackberries

I found some wild blackberries on my property and wanted to move them closer to my home, however my neighbors say that if I do that the plants will die. They say woodland types don’t transplant well. Are they right ?

Edward Jones Jr.
Jasper, Georgia

I listen to my neighbors….to a point.  Heck, I’d sure transplant the blackberries!  What’s to lose?  I’ve never had a problem with blackberries; they’re about a weed.  Just put them somewhere that you
can control them.  I just planted two rows, but I didn’t put them in my garden.  I had David bulldoze a new strip between the garden and the house for them.  This way they won’t spread into my garden and become a pest.  The driveway will contain them the other way.  I can hardly wait till they produce. — Jackie

Keeping cats out of the garden

What is the best way to keep cats our of the garden?  I have one cat that thinks the raised beds are his litter boxes. Is there a way to keep him out with out going through a whole lot of expense?  hanks and we LOVE your magazine and books.

Julie Jaco
Senatobia, Mississippi

While there are repellant sprays, etc. for pets, the best way I’ve foundis to fence your garden.  You can just use chicken wire, which is very inexpensive…or even that plastic garden fence that local stores carry, stapled onto wood stakes; it doesn’t take much to keep cats away from your garden area. You can “lure” the cats away from your raised beds by making one for them.  Use sand and let them dig to their hearts content; just keep kids out of the kitty box as some parasites and diseases can spread from cats to kids through fecal contamination. — Jackie