This has been a busy week! The garden is doing itself proud. Stuff out there is looking awesome. Now if we just don’t get a sneaky frost! Will’s pea patch (aka new strawberry bed) is nearly waist high and I picked a market basket full on Sunday. I spent the afternoon, pleasantly on the porch, shucking peas while Mom pointed out this and that flower in her vast houseplant collection. She has fancy begonias, miniature African violets, hibiscus, succulents and cactus, to name only a few.

Then on Monday, I picked green beans, onions, huge carrots and a bucket full of potatoes (from only 2 hills!) and set to cutting them up to add to the peas to make mixed vegetables. I even cut up a few yellow summer squash to add to the mixture. It turned out great. I got 10 quarts and 18 pints, all totaled. And that’s just a start. Wow are they pretty jars!

Today I put up meatballs in mushroom sauce. Our local market has hamburger in bulk on sale for $1.69, so I’m buying several 10 pound rolls to can up different flavors of meatballs; the mushroom soup ones, tomato sauce with green pepper slices and Italian. I did a few last year and they were a huge hit with everyone. I just loved them! So after I do the hamburger ones, I plan on grinding venison at hunting season and doing more meatballs! Mmmm. And quick meals, too!

All the time this has been going on, I’m helping our carpenter friend, Tom, work on our new addition which will house our wood stove. It’s a pay-as-you-go situation; I earn some cash, pay Tom, get more done, wait, work, pay. But I won’t owe a soul when it’s finished…even though it does take longer that way. It’s so satisfying that way. At night I go out there and sit, enjoying the night breezes, the crickets and gorgeous stars. Ah….my beautiful backwoods…..

Readers’ Questions:
Canning tomatoes

We just canned about 8 quarts and 4 pints of tomatoes and it wasn’t until the last batch (4 pints) that I remembered to get the air bubbles out. They were in a boiling water bath for 40 minutes and popped right when I took them out of the bath. There are still some visible air bubbles in the jar, which is filled with stewed tiny whole romas and a tomato juice/sauce pack. There is at least 1/2-1 inch headroom at the top, will this be enough to prevent the air bubbles from popping the top? Should I just refrigerate them to be safe or start over? Thank you so much your help is greatly appreciated!

Alexander Bellos
Mt. Sinai , New York

Your tomatoes are fine, despite tiny air bubbles; they’ll go away as they find their way to the top of the jar. As long as the jars sealed you are just fine. Enjoy your tomatoes! My first ones are just now ripe and I’m so excited! — Jackie

Wheat bread

You may have already covered this but I am starting my food stock and would like to practice making whole grain “wheat” breads. I see the recipes call for bread flour or white flour. Can breads be made from wheat flour alone? I want to stock just the basics.

Scott Haman
Lambertville, Michigan

Bread flour is simply high gluten white flour. Yes, you can certainly make bread out of plain or whole wheat flour. Whole wheat flour alone makes a very dense bread, but actually I prefer it to white bread. If you like a lighter bread, use some (or all) white unbleached flour or add gluten to your recipe to boost its rising ability. I don’t stock gluten in my pantry; I’m satisfied with my bread. I either use all or part whole wheat flour, but I do sometimes make white bread too. It depends on the occasion and my whims! — Jackie

Garlic seeds

I Went out to pull the garlic and most of the stems had a little bunch of very small cloves at the top. Are these seeds for next year? They are too little to peel and use. Then discovered that the onion tops had done the same thing. Are these tiny onions able to be planted and grow the real thing?

Gail Erman
Palisade, Colorado

You CAN plant those tiny bulblets this fall and get garlic and onions next year. The catch is that they won’t produce as large a bulb as do those resulting from planting a clove of garlic or an onion set or plant in the spring. My onions that I thought the deer had eaten last year came up this spring so I let them grow. And they are doing the same thing yours are; tiny sprouting bulblets on the flower stalk. In nature, the stalk bends down and the tiny sets contact the ground and root….much like walking onions do. Then they begin to grow and overwinter to go on to produce seed next year. Of course you can use the bulb or onion, even if it is a bit small. And you can chop up the green leaves to use like you would chives. At any rate, they are lots of fun! — Jackie

Tomatoes taste odd

I planted several varieties of tomatoes, mostly beefsteak, early boys and girls, however I got a couple of odd ball varieties from a yard sale which had no tags. After an odd start to the growing season the tomatoes are coming on. I picked some and when I tried them on sandwiches the skins had a perfumy taste which wasn’t good. I thought maybe I had lotion on my hands but then next day I picked some more and they had that same taste. Now, not all the tomatoes have that taste. I did add some potash around the bases about a month ago at the recommendation of my neighbor who lives across the street. He had his soil tested at the University of Minnesota and potash was lacking around here. Could this be why some of the tomatoes have an off taste or maybe it was my mystery tomatoes? My husband and I have been looking forward to our own tomatoes and now I’m a tad put off by them. Any ideas?

By the way, you really do need to put a book together about gardening and canning, I’m always pulling out my back issues or going on line to look you up. Good luck on the addition.

Laurie Hammer
Blaine, Minnesota

Boy Laurie, I’ve grown tomatoes for (gee!) fifty years, and I’ve yet to have perfumy tomato skins. I doubt that your potash had anything to do with it. I really can’t figure it out, either. Maybe you can slip the skins off the offending tomatoes and either use them that way in sandwiches or can them up. Maybe it’s just the skin? (You didn’t spray your tomatoes with a soap based organic insecticide, did you? Just an idea…. — Jackie

Growing fruits and vegetables in Montana

We just bought some raw land at 6400 feet in the Garnet Mtns. of Montana. We plan to spend a few summers out there building our homestead before we move out there full time. I’d like to begin planting fruit trees and berries so they will be producing well by the time we make the big move. Any suggestions about what and how to plant. We are fortunate; we have a west facing slope and a few nice springs that were still bubbling in August of this year.

What are your thoughts on free range cattle, deer, and bear in the area munching on the new plants? We can fence the “garden” area in the same way we have put barbed wire up in the areas where the springs are bubbling. Do you think it’d be much of a deterrent?

Also, I read that you have a regular propane and a wood stove. We are concerned about using our wood stove in Montana in the summer because of the risk if a spark causing a fire. How do you handle your cooking? The mountain folks we’ve met don’t start a fire at all until the snow flies. Sounds reasonable, but the small fire on the cook stove making coffee in the morning would warm a chilly cabin. Is there an option they have missed? Thanks again for sharing your knowledge!

Lyn Ankelman
Thorsby, Alabama

You definitely need to fence your garden/orchard area. When we first bought our place way up in the Elkhorns, in Montana, I planted a bunch of tomatoes and peppers to get a head start. Unfortunately, the elk thought that was nice of me. When we made our next trip up, they’d pulled each and every one up out of my Wall’o Waters! So I made a scarecrow (scare-elk) out of some of my husband’s sweaty used clothes. I even had it hold a gun-shaped branch. In the morning, I went out to the garden, feeling very smug. No plants and hundreds of milling elk tracks. And my scare-elk was lying face down in the middle of it, with muddy elk-nose prints all over the white T shirt! Yep. Then we fenced! For our main garden, I used lodgepole rails, six feet tall and never had a critter jump in, although we had abundant elk and moose. Our larger garden, we just had surrounded with chicken run 6′ high on one side, 5′ high jack-leg fence with a barbed wire on top on two sides, and a regular barbed wire fence 5′ high on the other. That worked, or they were tired of laughing at me. In much of the West, cattle have free range and if you don’t want them around, you have to fence them out. If you don’t, you’ll have constant battles with them trampling your flowers, yard and garden. Fortunately, cattle are easier to fence out than their wild cousins.

I used a fire in my wood range in most years, during the summer, in the cool of the morning or evening. BUT when there was a dry spell, I did not. You’re right, a spark from your stovepipe could ignite the whole woods.. I took the precaution of tying a screen over the top of the stovepipe, just in the summer, just in case. You need to use your judgment. I used the propane stove when there was fire danger or if it was just plain too hot to cook with wood. Have an exciting adventure — Jackie

Canning jars

My husband and I will soon be moving to the country where we plan on doing a lot of gardening and canning. We want to invest in some canning jars and are trying to decide/research wide mouth versus regular mouth, quart versus pint, etc., and were wondering if you would mind sharing about what percent of your canning is done with regular mouth jars and what percent with widemouth? Do you have a preference? Also, about what percent quart/pint jars do you use? Lastly, out of curiosity, we were wondering about how many jars total each gardening season an experienced gardener/canner like yourself cans?

Peggy Gallagher
Garland, Texas

Good questions Peggy. I use both wide mouth and regular jars, pints, quarts, and half pints. Each has their uses for me. I try not to use many wide mouth jars because the lids are SO expensive! But for some things, such as large pieces of meat and some things that don’t readily slide out of jars, the wide mouth jars work much better. For instance, today I made up a batch of meat balls in mushroom soup to can. I used wide mouth jars so that the meat balls won’t break up when I dump them into a pot to heat. I can most things both in pints and quarts, as sometimes there are just two of us eating, but then at other times, I am feeding three or four people and pints are not enough. I find that half pints have plenty of uses. For instance, I’m canning a lot of meat in them to use as flavorings in, say, scalloped potatoes and ham or a casserole. It makes the meat go a long way, making the best use of it. I also can up some vegetables in half pints so I can dump this or that into a mixed dish without having leftovers. I’d say that right now I can about one third quarts, a little more than one third pints, with the remainder, half pints. While I never deplete my pantry, I probably can up at least 500 jars a year. I don’t can tons and tons at a time, but I just keep doing medium and small batches, pretty much year around, as the seasons and store sales allow.

Don’t let that figure scare you. Remember that there are 52 weeks in a year, so that’s not a huge amount, eaten each week. Don’t think that you must buy new jars, either. Pick up all the good used ones, CHEAP, where you can; yard sales, notices on bulletin boards, ads in the paper, word of mouth. You’ll be amazed at all the jars out there just waiting for you! Good canning! — Jackie

Installing a hand pump

We are signing the papers today on our place in the country. It is only 2 acres but I have finally have the opportunity to do more than micro gardening. I hope you can help because no one I have asked seems to understand what the question really is. The house is in the Ozark Mountains (central to eastern). The well on the place is 100 ft deep and cased down that far as the previous well had collapsed and he didn’t want to re-drill again. I have been trying to find out if that means the well is 100ft deep and there is water in it, water surface is not 100 ft down, OR if it means the surface is 100 ft down. The reason is I would like a hand pump for future power failures and most have 100ft in the description. It could mean the difference between one that is affordable now vs one that must be saved for. Can you help?

Corning, Arkansas

Congratulations on your new homestead! Generally, when it is said that a well is 100 feet deep, that means to the bottom of the hole. There is usually water up in the hole, much further, say, 30 feet or so. I can’t be sure, of course, that this applies in your case. The best thing would be to talk to the owner or real estate agent and ask them point blank, how far down is the water level, and how deep the well actually IS. Then you’ll have your question answered definitely. Having a hand pump for a well is a great idea for power outages. Be sure your casing is large enough to allow both your electric pump pipes and the hand pump to fit. — Jackie

Drying flint corn and tomatoes with split skins

I have two questions:
1. I planted flint corn for the first time last year, but most of it got a bad case of smut before it was able to dry out. This year, the corn looks great and it looks like it’s ready to be dried. Based on what I’ve read, I should let it dry on the stalk, but I’m wondering if I can harvest it and dry it in a more controlled manner instead to avoid things like smut or insect infestations. We live in an ideal climate for outdoor drying on racks or screens, so would it make any difference to do it that way?

2. All my canning manuals say I can’t use tomatoes that have split skins. But because of the extreme heat here, most of my tomatoes split (especially the heirlooms), and then heal over. They aren’t rotten, there’s no visible mold present, and we just cut that part out when we eat them. Can I just cut that part out when I’m canning them too?

Robin Dodge
Val Verde, California

As long as your corn is dry, you can snap off the ears and dry them wherever you wish, as long as there is plenty of good airflow. The corn is dry when you can’t shove your thumbnail into a kernel. It will continue to dry after this, whether on the stalk or on racks/screens or hanging in your barn. Yep, I know what the canning manuals say. I use cracked tomatoes, and just cut out the cracked part, watching for any signs of mold or spoiled tomatoes. You don’t want to can these! Canning manuals err on the side of caution, in effect keeping us safe from possible mistakes and misjudgments. Some people would probably can up rotten, moldy tomatoes without the warning, I guess. Use common sense and you’ll be fine. — Jackie


  1. Your canned veggies looked so delicious! And your addition is going to be just amazing! You inspired me this week to try something new – I canned meatballs and stew meat. They seem to have sealed well and the one that didn’t made a delicious dinner! Thanks for sharing! I love to see & hear about all the things you are doing- it is truely motivating!

  2. Jackie, I am so jealous…I so long for the country, and I know it is so much work…How do you keep your head above water and keep on plugging away every day? I guess I just answered my question, you just keep plugging away every day, just as much as you can get done…I love your home and the pictures, I think of you often and try to do what you are doing you are my inspiration.. Yesterday I picked peaches from the peach tree I planted from a seed…I am plugging away too, its just not my property….Keep up the good work!!

  3. Jackie, your canned vegetables look wonderful! I admire all you do and that you take the time to share and inspire all of us!

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