Our new black lab pup, Spencer, is the smartest dog I’ve ever raised.  He learned to sit at six weeks of age, and was potty trained shortly thereafter.  In the winter!  Of course all puppies like to chew on wood, so when I split firewood, Spencer was right there to grab a chunk and chew on it.  So AH HA, I thought.  Why not teach him to bring in firewood????

So first I’d just encourage him to bring in his little piece of wood.  Then I’d pick up a small, handy sized piece and give it to him and praise him when he’d carry it awhile toward the house.  Then I’d encourage him to carry it while I carried in an armload of wood, always giving him a dog biscuit when he made it all the way into the house.  Now he picks up his own wood!

When I do horse chores, he roams the pasture and picks up a chunk to bring home.  Or when I split wood, he grabs a nice piece and trots right up to the door and waits for me to open it.  Now if I can just teach him to put it into the stove!!!  Oh well, I’m happy with his progress so far.  I’ll bet before long I can open the door, point to the wood pile and tell him to get firewood.  Won’t be much longer, I think.  It’s so much fun to teach him and he enjoys the learning.  He always has a big smile on his face.

Readers’ questions:

Seed company stories

Love your column and blog.  Thought I’d share a similar experience I had with nursery plants from a seed company. Last year, Shumway sent our strawberry plants waaaaay too early for No. Mn. and most rotted before it was time to plant. They were true to their word and gave me a credit for all the plants that failed. This year when I called in my order for seeds and the replacement plants, they told me the planned ship date for the strawberries. I explained that the date would be much to early and that that was why I was using a credit. The nice lady asked, ” okay, when *would* you like us to ship?” Funny. All these years we struggled with keeping nursery stock alive until it was time to plant and all I had to do was ask!   Maybe Gurney’s will be just as helpful for you next time. Keep up the great work!

Mary Ann  Wycoff
Embarrass, Minnesota

I’m glad you had good luck with Shumways; I have, too.  But Gurneys?  No. Since they got bought out their quality, prices AND service are way down. Check the web site, Dave’s Garden; Watchdog and you’ll see what I mean.  And I always give companies the benefit of the doubt.  On my order, I asked for a late April shipment because we live in northern Minnesota.  I don’t think the first week in April quite qualifies.  Sorry.  No more Gurneys for me.  But Fedco, on the other hand, I can’t praise high enough. — Jackie

Pressure canner for beginner

What brand and size pressure canner do you recommend to a beginner? I want to can meat and chicken and turkey very soon. Are european jars more economical  over time or are Ball or Kerr  jars most economical. You are awesome.  Thank you for sharing your wisdom. Enjoyed your  article in #111 – especially the statement “smart, huh?”.  you are so real and down to earth.

Dolly (Nellie)  Jenkins
Balch Springs, Texas

I would get the biggest canner, within reason, that you can afford. They are more economical to can with because you can put up more food at a time with the same energy expended.  Personally, I like the canner that Lehmans carries; no gasket to eventually replace.  But any of the new pressure canners work just fine.  Don’t waste your money on a pressure “cooker/canner”; they are too small and don’t can worth a darned. I use American canning jars; Ball,Kerr and Golden Harvest…as well as any other reused jars that a lid and ring will screw down firmly on.  There are a few that appear to be the same but the ring with a lid in it will just spin and spin, never tightening down.  The European jars are pretty, but too expensive.  I’m using jars that are 50 years old and still perfect.  Pretty
good track record, considering how many cannings they’ve seen.  Congratulations on starting canning.  I promise you’ll LOVE it! — Jackie

Fleas out of control

It is barely spring and aleady the fleas are out of control. I have been using DE and it helped until they invaded the chicken coop. There are now thousands and  there seems to be no end to their increase. I’ve read everything on the internet but still have so many especially after I go to gather eggs. Your best suggestions will be appreciated. Thank you, Nita Holstine

Randal  Holstine
Hawley, Texas

Here’s what I’d do;  I would completely clean out the chicken coop, removing ALL old litter, nest box filler, manure…everything.  Then hose down the coop with bleach water; pressure wash it if you have a pressure washer…or can borrow or rent one.  Let the coop dry well, then dust the nests, as well as the floor, with rotenone powder. Also dust the chickens as they roost that night, holding them upside down by the feet so you get their “arm pits” and into their feathers.  Repeat the dusting in one week and you’ll see a dramatic decrease in your little buggers. — Jackie

Soil testing kit

I want to add limestone (pulverized) to my raised beds to help prevent blossom end rot. I have 2 beds each is 4 ft x 10 feet.  the bag I bought only gives amounts for huge gardens.  How much should I add?  Can too much be bad?

Cathy Ostrowski
Amherst, New York

Buy yourself a cheap soil testing kit.  Then sprinkle your limestone on the surface of your beds.  Work it in and then check your pH; you want it between 6.8 and 7.  Work more in, if needed, working it into at least  the top 6 inches of your beds.  I’ve had luck by tossing a handful of crushed egg shells into each planting hole, covered with an inch of dirt, then planting the tomato plant.  The roots absorb the calcium and the egg shells\ also help give the plant good drainage. — Jackie

Upside-down tomato planters

Really enjoyed all your articles in the recent “Economic Squeeze” edition.

Have you ever tried the upside-down tomato planters? Example link below. Do they really work that well?  I thought plants produced better fruit if you kept them going upward. Will an upside-down
tomato plant produce big tomato’s?


Joanna  Wilcox
Boone, North Carolina

Yes, these planters really do work, whether it’s the commercial planters or just a 5 gallon bucket with a few holes cut in it. The key is to use good soil, fertilize regularly, either with manure tea or a chemical fertilizer, such as Miracle Gro.  And WATER, WATER, WATER…they tend to dry out when the weather’s hot.  And, Yes, they do grow big tomatoes! — Jackie

Shelf life of canned poultry

How long is the shelf life for canned poultry, beef and other meat? Thanks

Cindy Hills
Wild Rose, Wisconsin

These foods have a very long shelf life;practically forever!  As long as they are stored in decent conditions so the jar lids don’t get moisture on them and rust, and the seal remains good, those jars will remain full of good tasting, nutritious food, for years and years.  This is why I LOVE to can!  Talk about your food security! — Jackie

Ready to make the move

Well, the time has come.  After years of planning, saving and investigation – we are ready to move out West to a family agreed upon place.  Actually, we are one job interview away from going this

Having grown up on a farm and having moved around a bit, one would think that I would not have a bit of trepidation.  However, I am concerned about the much higher cost of living (compared to here we live now), the high elevation and being only zone 4 (even though I am an experienced gardener and avid reader/researcher), relocation costs (even though we’ve been saving for them – they lways end up being excessive), and moving the teenagers.  I have read all of your advice for years and have followed much of the advance preparation parts.  I would like to see if you have any last minute tips for our family?  We are not taking any livestock as we are moving from a town lifestyle.

Patricia Graig-Tiso
Oneonta, New York

Of course you have concerns!  Anyone with half a brain will, when changing homes so drastically.  But we did it, and so can you.  Keep your family communications open and ask that everyone help in the tightening up, when needed, and pitching in to make your new home a great one.  (So your kids want to have a game room that looks like a jail!  Do it.  Or they want a round garden of their own.)  Treat them like adults and they’ll surprise you.

As for the elevation; no problems for most people.  We moved from 1,200 feet to 7,400 feet and the only differences I could see were that I huffed and puffed while climing steep hills more and my potatoes took longer to get soft when I boiled them.  No biggie.  Of course I had to can my foods at a higher pressure than when we lived on the  “flat”.

Zone 4?  Don’t I wish!!!  We live in zone 3 and still grow a terrific garden with plenty of flowers.  There are, of course, less options in zone 4, as opposed to zone 6, but we still have lots of choices.  You just have to use a few season extenders; it’s totally do-able!  Enjoy your adventure! — Jackie

Canning bean soup

I am making navy bean soup using a ham bone.  How can I can the rest?  I do not have freezer space.

Leona Martel
Stratford, South Dakota

Piece of cake, Leona.  Just pick as much of the meat off the ham bone that you can, stir it into the soup, heat it again, then ladle it into hot jars, to within an inch of the top.  You’ll be processing it at 10 pounds pressure (unless you live at an altitude above 1,000 feet and must consult your canning manual for directions in increasing your pressure to suit your altitude) for 75 minutes for pints and 90 minutes for quarts. Enjoy your “instant meals”! — Jackie

Problem with deer

We live in northern Wisconsin near a large national forest.  We also garden and grow most of our own veggies to can.  However, not only do we have snow in April, but we also have a problem with the neighborhood deer.  Our gardens are carved out of an area between large pines and maples – this makes the sunny areas not contiguous and difficult to fence conventionally.  We’ve used net fencing and deer spray, put up strands of fishing line for the deer to run into, tried having the dogs do their thing on the perimeter of our land, but nothing has helped.  This year we’re going to put conventional fencing around at least 3 sides of our two largest gardens, but that still leaves an opening.  This year the lilacs are showing buds and the deer have already sampled them. Last year they at least waited until they leafed out.  I’ve found some new stuff that has cloves, garlic, dried blood and meat meal to spread around the perimeter, but that’s really expensive.  (The dogs think it tastes just fine!) Any ideas?

Michele Green
Eagle River, Wisconsin

About the best “spray” product against deer is Liquid Fence, but it’s not 100% effective.  I’m sorry, but the only safe anti deer protection is to totally fence in your garden area.  For us that means fencing in not only our garden, but our orchard and our entire house yard.  I’ve been buying fence all year, and finally have enough to do it.  It’s NOT cheap, but it does keep them out.  You’ll need 6′ high welded 2″x4″ 14 gauge wire fencing and 8′ T posts.  Luckily, my last 3 rolls I got on a half-price sale at our local L&M Supply.  No more “Where did the flowers go?  Oh no.  Not the green beans!!!”.
Horray!!!! — Jackie

Preserving eggs

I am getting plenty of eggs this year and want to know is there any other way to can them besides pickeling?

Rebecca Douglas
Okeechobee, Florida

Sorry, none that I know of.  Any readers have a great idea? — Jackie


  1. Spencer is great, Jackie, and what a wonderful photo! SO cute, and smart, too! You’re lucky to have him, and he’s lucky to have you all!

  2. Hello, I.m new at country living, and as I near retirement, i’m looking forward to the hard work, but very rewarding life style.

    Last year all the trees that i planted were stripped down to the bark, now I built a small fence around the tree and it seems to keep the contents out of reach. But the most amazing thing is, the ones that were left uncovered, for identification purpose, i had placed a small stake close to the plant, and placed one of those plastic red flags that the stores give away and to my surprise those plants have not been touched, I guess that the flapping of the wind is keeping them away.

    Best luck to all.

    Roberto Lazo

  3. The book “Storey’s Basic Country Skills” has a list of ways to preserve eggs with or without refrigeration. None are exactly canning, but if long-term storage is the goal, it’s worth a look.

    BTW Jackie, you’re one of my heroes.

  4. I read all the backwoods home blogs and even when there is a new one, does not happen any where near often enough, I still check several times a day to see if it has been added to yet. Even when there is a new one I keep checking. I need to get a life.

  5. Love your blog, Jackie. I recommended it to my sister. She just started canning, and now is going crazy! Canning everything in sight, nothing is safe! She lives in Texas and is already harvesting–I’m so jealous.

    Note to fellow commenter Patricia–Bon Voyage and Good Luck! What an adventure!

    Mary Lou in Sherburne, NY

Comments are closed.