Most people have a spring project or two going right now. We have a dozen! Eeeek! Let’s see, our garden is being planted. I have just planted 50 tomato plants, in their Wall’o Waters, of course. I set in about half a dozen, then go back and set their cozy little tipis around them. Without these gardener friendly helpers, I couldn’t safely plant tomatoes and peppers outdoors until June 15th, or thereabouts. This way I gain three weeks of growing season in a very short-season climate.


Of course, we’re still working on our new horse pasture. I seeded in another two acres yesterday and need to take the truck down there and pick up pieces of tree roots, branches, and other wood debris left over from Will cleaning it with the dozer.

Ah the dozer… Sigh. Well it’s broken down again. This time, it’s the clutch, which is driven by eight fiber discs. To fix it, we need to remove the track, the drive wheel (can you say huge, very stubborn bolts?), then the final drive casing, then the clutch. The problem is that the final drive casing has been cracked for years, so if we’re going to do this, we need to replace that. And because the clutch housing has three bolts that hold the rail that are broken/tapped and not so hot, Will wants to replace that too as it’s such a huge job. $$$$$ and oh so much work. AND our 1010 John Deere crawler is a sixties model and parts aren’t too available. So I cried a little when Old Yeller was parked for awhile. That yeller bulldozer sort of grows on you.

Anyway, we stretched the goat pasture woven wire, using two 2x4s, screwed together over the end, with a chain from one end to the other, pulling from the center with a comealong hooked to our stationary truck or convenient tree. The fence stretched nice and tight and I spent an afternoon clipping it onto the posts with fence clips. Then I spent an afternoon putting stand-off electric fence insulators on so we can run an electric wire inside the fence to keep our nosy goats from climbing on or reaching through the fence. This SERIOUSLY shortens the life of a woven wire fence.


While I was doing that, Will was working on the first section of our storage and equipment building. He got the rafters all up, then has started putting the OSB on both the roof and today the walls. Hopefully soon we’ll be able to screw down steel roofing over that for a weather-tight, fire resistant roof. Then on to the second of four sections! (And we’ll be able to haul in pallets to stack our firewood on tomorrow.) We can stack two years’ worth of firewood in this first section, which will be our woodshed. How nice!


Oh yes, we also have to hang the fence on the berry patch, build a goat summer barn in the new pasture, plant the rest of the garden, etc. etc. But right now, I’m going to BED!!! Night folks!

Readers’ Questions:

Dehydrated potatoes

I was trying to dehydrate some potatoes for a stew, but they turned almost black. Are they still usable? Is there something I should have put on them before drying?

Bruce Robb
Lowell, Arkansas

Sorry, your potatoes are toast. You should have blanched the slices for 5 minutes, then rinsed them well in cold water to remove the excess starch. This prevents the blackening when they are exposed to air as they are when you dehydrate them. It’s just one of those life lessons we all have to learn. — Jackie

Honeysuckle jelly

Do you have a receipt for honeysuckle jelly? I can’t seem to find one anywhere. Have you ever made this? Is it any good? I am trying to make use of anything I can get for free and I sure have plenty of honeysuckle.

Kathy M.
Cedar Bluff, Alabama

I answered a question on honeysuckle jelly in my blog awhile back. I have made it, but really can’t say it was all that great. Personally, I’d save my sugar and pectin for something else. — Jackie

Garden seed row planter

I was wondering if you or anyone you know have ever used a “garden seed row planter.” I have thought about buying one this year but to spend $129.00 is a lot. We have been building a house out of pocket on one paycheck and my wife is not sure that one of these thing will be worth the money. I said I will ask someone who will know. Any help would be great.

Ron K.
Blaine, Minnesota

Yes, I have owned one, and if you have a large garden with smooth soil (not rocky or lumpy), they do cut down on the seeding of many long rows. I now have a very large garden, but have rocky soil; they don’t work well if the soil is uneven, so I won’t buy one again. If your garden isn’t large, they probably aren’t worth the cost if money is dear. — Jackie

Onion jam

Help Jackie, I can’t seem to find your recipe for onion jam; I was sure I saw it in one of your old articles. The only recipes I can find online calls for a lot of sugar and wine. From what I have read over the years I don’t think yours would have alcohol in the recipe,Yes I know it cooks out but I don’t need it in the house or in my food. I told my son I would put up a few jars for him to take home next time he visits. I try a lot of your canning recipes on him, he always goes home with bags of goodies. We can’t let the kids down.

Sherry Englehart (Layne)
Lancaster, California

Here is an onion jam recipe:

3 tablespoons butter
4 large onions, sliced
2/3 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1/2 cup brown malt vinegar

Heat butter in large pan, add onions, cook gently for 20 to 30 minutes until onions are very soft and lightly browned. Add sugar, stir to melt sugar, simmer uncovered, stirring occasionally until mixture is thick and caramelized. Add vinegar and simmer uncovered for about 5 minutes until thickened slightly. Ladle hot into sterile pint jars.

This recipe is untested for canning and should be refrigerated, but it is very good! — Jackie

Epsom salts for tomato plants

My Dad said I should add a handful of epsom salts to my tomato plants when planting them… have you heard of this? If so, what is the benefit?

Sharry Gillesse
Nenana, Alaska

Many people add epsom salts to their plantings of tomatoes and peppers. Epsom salt is magnesium sulfate and many soils are low or average in magnesium and calcium and the epsom salts give the plants a boost at planting and blossom time. Of course it’s always best to test your soil before applying this or any other soil amendment, as too much of a good thing can harm plants. — Jackie

Homemade gravy mix

I bought a package of “country gravy” mix. You just add it to boiling water and it makes a nice thick gravy that is great with turkey over homemade biscuits. The problem is that I would like to make my own mix but I cannot find a recipe anywhere. The package has lot of unwanted additives and preservatives. Any suggestions?

Beth Stoneking
Diamond, Ohio

Most of the cheaper gravy mix bases also have lots of additives and preservatives, so it’s hard to make your own dry gravy mix. I can plenty of turkey, chicken, and beef broth and simply mix a little in with flour to make a paste, then stir it into my broth, giving an “instant” preservative and additive free gravy. — Jackie

Stored peaches and chickens eating eggs

My question is about some peaches I canned two years ago. I had them packed in a box and they seemed to have gotten mold on the outside of the jar. The peaches look good but the outside looks like maybe we shouldn’t eat them. The seals are also still good.

Also, our barred Rock chickens have picked up the habit of eating their eggs. I keep gathering them about four times a day but we still seem to have problems. I’m incubating some more peeps to try to remedy this problem.

Nicole Bramm
Narvon, Pennsylvania

Mold on the outside of canning jars is generally only a cosmetic problem. Wash the jars well in warm, soapy water and dry them well before storing them again. (Of course mold inside the jars indicates a failed seal or improper canning.)

Some remedies for egg eating include providing a pan of oystershell so they can eat free choice. This builds up their calcium, making thicker egg shells, and sometimes stops egg eating. Leaving ceramic or plastic nest eggs in the nests will also sometimes help; they can’t break them and finally quit trying. Giving the hens free range or plenty of greens to pick through helps keep them busy and keeps their minds on other things. Egg eating can be frustrating and sometimes the only sure remedy is found on the chopping block. Sorry. — Jackie

Jam not setting up

I made some strawberry jam, using Sure Jell, but I didn’t follow the directions correctly, and added the sugar before I added the Sure Jell. So, I just brought the crushed strawberries and sugar to a boil and then added the Sure Jell. I brought it to a rolling boil (stirring constantly)for one minute. It didn’t jell. It made syrup consistency, but we don’t eat waffles, etc. If I dump it all back in the pot and bring to another boil until it begins to thicken, will it make jam?

Bettye Hill
Idabel, Oklahoma

To remake “oops” jams and jellies, follow these directions:

Measure the jam that needs to be remade. Measure for each cup of unset jam, 1 1/2 tsp powdered pectin, 1 Tbsp water and 2 Tbsp sugar. Now mix pectin and water in a large pot. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly to prevent scorching. Add unset jam and sugar, stirring to mix well. Bring to a full rolling boil over high heat, stirring constantly. Boil 1/2 minute, then remove from heat. Ladle into hot jars, leaving 1/4″ of headspace. Wipe rim of jar clean, place hot, previously simmered NEW lid on jar and screw down ring firmly tight. Process for 10 minutes in a boiling water bath canner. — Jackie

Making Jerky

I am trying to build up food storage. I want to try making jerky. The jerky that my brother ate when we were kids and I see in stores you eat straight from a bag, as is. All the recipes that I can find involve using uncooked meat. Is this safe? If so, do I need to hydrate and then cook the meat prior to use? I’ve got some recipes when I can throw it into soup and chili, but can it just be eaten straight as a snack?

Barbie Cahill
Richmond, Virginia

Yes, jerky is made from raw meat. The drying/low heat over a long period of time “cooks” the meat as well. This is safe and has been used for centuries. Yes. You can cut jerky up and use it in recipes where it rehydrates and becomes seasoned meat chunks. Just match the flavor (or lack of flavor) with your intended recipe. “Plain” jerky works well with everything, but spicy hot jerky, for instance, may not make the best beef stew. — Jackie


  1. I love the storage building you’re putting up. Hope you’re adding gutters and capturing all of that free rain water! For every 100 square feet of roof, you get 60 gallons of water from 1 inch of rain.

  2. Whew! I am tired just reading what you did extra (aside from housekeeping, cooking meals, taking care of Mom, laundry, feeding, etc.) in one day.

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