Once again, I’ve been racing the cedar waxwings to the beautiful crop of wild pin cherries on the edges of our driveway. It’s hard to be mad at those gorgeous masked birds, even when flocks of them descend on the very tree I’m planning to pick…or AM picking in. But I still try to beat them to the best trees and it’s always a race. Of course, the best cherries are in the tops of the trees and they usually get those, anyway. But this year I just had to have some of them. I solved the problem by gently bending the tops of the small trees down and holding them at picking height with rubber bungie cords fastened to our trusty old four wheeler.

However, as I picked, in flew the cedar waxwing flock!! I ended up picking with the birds hopping and fluttering about my head, scolding me for all they were worth while gobbling down as many cherries as their crops could possibly hold. It’s a wonder they could even fly!

But I also got my stash and am juicing them down right now. I use the sour cherry jelly recipe from the pectin boxes and it makes great jelly. (You can tell pin cherries from chokecherries because chokecherries grow on a long stem in a bunch, like grapes, while pin cherries grow on individual long stems like pie cherries. Also, when ripe, chokecherries are dark purple, almost black. Pin cherries are VERY bright red, looking like mini pie cherries. And that red color makes the jelly bright, jewel red. Wow!!

I love my backwoods orchard.

Readers’ Questions:

Growing grain

I had to chuckle at your $7.99/lb potatoes!! Speaking of food, have you been to the feed store lately? Can you believe the cost of feed for chickens and other farm animals? Unbelievable! I am looking at ways to grow some feed for chickens for next year. Instead of mowing lawn I would rather put my time and energy into something more worthwhile like growing and harvesting chicken feed! Any suggestions? I like your orchard idea in past postings. Do the chickens eat the oats and wheat?

This year I doubled our garden size. Anyone need any green beans? I have them coming out of my ears! But I am very thankful. Now is the time of year that I start pulling out tired plants that aren’t going to produce anymore. What do you suggest I plant in the soil now? I want to keep out weeds and enhance the soil. I am trying to make things easier for myself as each year passes since I’m not getting any younger!!

Cindy Hills
Wild Rose, Wisconsin

You bet I’ve checked out the feed prices; every month. And every month, they’ve climbed over a dollar. Wow! YES chickens eat oats and wheat, and corn and millet. Check out my article in the latest issue of BHM (Sept/Oct Issue #113) on growing grain for plenty of how-to information. Planting rye in the spent garden is a great way to keep down weeds and add organic material later on. You can till it in later on in the spring and you’ll enjoy better soil and a more weed free garden. I feed the oats to the goats and chickens and we will harvest the wheat for us this time. But we’re planning on expanding on our grain growing idea. I’ll keep you posted! — Jackie

Tomatoes splitting

Here in Texas, we’ve been having 100+ degree days for several weeks now. My tomato plants are doing fairly well, as long as I can keep enough water on them (challenging) and they keep setting fruit. My problem is, the fruits are ripening fairly small, and very often, as they’re turning orange/red, they’re splitting open and ruining before I can pick them.

Should I be picking them green and letting them ripen in the kitchen, or should I call about done with these plants, and plant more when it cools off some this fall?

Aaron Neal
Fort Worth, Texas

If you can get some shade on your tomato plants, it’ll help them survive the stress of the heat. There is shade cloth available from greenhouse supply houses or you can even make your own rustic shade house by draping old curtains over a line stretched between two fence posts pounded into the ground. You don’t want total shade, only a part-day shade. Some folks even make brush arbors out of poles in the ground, cross poles up above the vines, with brush laid on them to shade the plants; sort of like a Native American brush arbor. As you guessed, as soon as your heat moderates, the tomatoes should revive and produce better. Keep at the watering. If you can use a soaker hose or drip irrigation, it’ll help immensely….especially if you can also mulch the roots of the plants to hold in what precious moisture you can give them. Yes, you can pick your tomatoes green and bring them in if they continue to split on ripening. Don’t put them in a sunny window; they often rot that way. Just put them on a shelf, out of the sun and watch them ripen. — Jackie

Broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and carrots

Are Broccoli, Brussels sprout, or carrot leaves eatable? I want to use everything I can from my garden. The broccoli has HUGE leaves and almost no heads. Is that too much water by any chance?

Gail Erman
Palisade, Colorado

Broccoli and Brussels sprout leaves are edible, but tend to be tough. Chop yours up and remove the heavy ribs. A relatively long steaming usually makes them quite good. Carrot leaves don’t do much for me; they are pretty strong flavored. Your big leaves and small heads are usually caused by too much compost or rotten manure. I was worried about our new beds. My boyfriend, Will, built us new raised beds and added lots of rotten manure. I thought maybe we’d have that problem. But, luckily that wasn’t the case. We have huge plants and huge heads of both broccoli and cauliflower. — Jackie

Removing rocks from soil

Is there a manual-, ATV-, or tractor-drawn implement that will help “de-rock” a fairly large area? We have some VERY rocky (sandstone?) soil in SW MO that I wonder if it can ever be turned into a productive garden, short of using raised beds.

For the most part, hay grows well in the pasture areas, but after digging a basement and grading the end result, the soil all around the house is a garden of rocks. Not only are they in the way of a garden, but also for mowing the area which will become the front/rear yard. We’ve bush-hogged everything for now, but would eventually like to be able to use a smaller riding mower after the larger rocks are removed.

San Di Mas, California

There is a “rock rake” or “landscape rake” available that we plan on buying when we can afford it. It can be towed behind a small tractor, riding lawnmower or ATV. We, too have tons of rocks. I mean TONS of rocks! But by keeping at them, we’re able to garden. At the house, we opted for having manure and black dirt hauled in to bury the rocks. Besides the rocks, our yard is sand and gravel with hardly any organic material at all. By covering the rocks with manure and black dirt, we solved both problems and our new yard is now growing nice grass and we can safely mow it. Now our backyard is another story, yet. It’s rocks, rocks, and more rocks. I planted wildflower seed this spring and at least they grow. As we can afford it, we’ll improve one section at a time by removing what rocks we can, hauling manure on the sections, then having a load of black dirt hauled in. It will take time and work…not to mention money, but by spreading it out over a couple of years, we will be able to do it and have great yards.

Our garden, likewise, was done one section at a time; rock picking, tilling, rock picking, hauling manure, and planting rock-tolerant plants such as beans and corn on the worst spots. Root crops, we planted on the better spots with less rocks. Slowly, our garden is getting bigger and more productive. Yours will too! — Jackie


  1. It has been years since I’ve made pin cherry jelly. My pin cherries are now a dark purple but there are still some red ones left on the tree. Can I use the dark ones to make the jelly or only the red ones? Are the pin cherries too ripe to make good jelly??? Thanks for helping me out.

  2. Jackie and Judy –

    Thanks for the advice! Okra can shade my pepper plants; they’re only about knee-high, but won’t do for my tomatos – they’re taller than I am (and I’m 6 feet tall!).

    The advice makes much sense though; I haven’t had time to stay ahead of weeds like I should, but the tomatoes that grow down in the weeds do much better than the ones that grow up in the sun.

    I’ll be putting shades up this week, and see if I can’t get these plants to keep on keepin’ on for a while longer :)

    And yes, the water has mostly been me putting the hose on the ground at the base of the plants, so I’m watering the roots, not the leaves – don’t want to invite fungus problems!

  3. Judy,

    No, carrot tops are not poisonous. Some people can be allergic to them, just as they are peanuts, however. Hey, I’ve eaten them and am still kickin’! Now Kentucky Fried Chicken……


  4. Jackie, I hope you will post a picture of the pin cherry jars after you get done. I bet it is beautiful!


  5. Jackie,

    Here is another way for Aaron to shade his tomato and pepper plants that we use here in Kansas. We discovered planting okra on the west side of the pepper-tomato patch gives them the shade they need. Guess it won’t do him much good this summer! An added thought, we also put our eggplant there.

    I always thought carrot tops were poisonous. Must be an old wives tale!


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