While I was canning up a bunch of hamburger, Will was clearing another patch of logged-over ground for a new pasture. This one is below the goat pasture, and when fenced, will give us about another 20 acres of horse/cattle pasture, in addition to the other 15 acres we’d done last year.

The new pasture has a flat piece of lower ground that was logged off and had grown back to scattered young poplar trees and willow brush. As our bulldozer “Old Yeller” is again working, Will first shoved all the old logs, stumps, and trees off the patch. Then, today, he worked over the same ground with the Ford tractor bucket and back-blade, scraping the smaller stuff into windrows, which were shoved along the woods. Here we’ll keep at it, flattening it out to help it rot away and make new soil.

Tonight, we walked over the ground and were amazed at how wonderfully flat it looks — no stumps, no rotten logs, no brush piles, just beautiful frozen soil, just waiting to be planted into orchard grass, clovers, and trefoil this spring. We can’t wait.

Oh, just an update on the old hay wagon we’re rebuilding. It now has not only new (take-off) tires that are round, 3″x12″ stringers, but also flattened, bolted-on cross pieces. It’s now ready for a deck. But that’s got to wait until we get a little more cash. How nice it looks, already! As with our whole place, it’s built as cash and time allow. We’re content to wait; there’s always something else to do to improve our lives.

Readers’ Questions:

Buying and storing non-hybrid seeds

I am researching non-hybrid seeds. I know nothing about gardening. This is a new venture and we feel a necessary one due to the current crisis in the U.S., which is likely to worsen. After reading about all the different survival seed companies I feel lost. It seems that the type of seeds and how they are packed are both important. Plus, I am finding it hard to determine which are reputable companies. Can you please give us a name, or a couple of names of companies you have used that have good non-hybrid seeds that are packaged for proper storage life? We love your articles in Backwoods Home, thanks for sharing your wealth of knowledge.

John and Suzanne Fenlason
Clyde, North Carolina

I really prefer to choose and store my own varieties, not someone else’s, from a different climate. Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, Seed Savers Exchange, and Fedco Seeds all have dependable open pollinated seeds and plenty of tips for growing. Choose your own seeds, then keep them in an airtight jar, or better yet, in your freezer, in an airtight container. Most seeds will remain great for years. Onions and leeks are one exception — only a year, or a little more, if you’re lucky. Like my storage pantry, I rotate my seeds, planting the oldest ones, and replacing them with new. Watch the magazine; I’m working on a seed saving article right now that should help clear up a lot of the mystery of seed selection and seed saving/storage. — Jackie

Starting plants by a window

As you’re the master gardener, and I admire the greenhouse you’ve attached to your home, I have a question regarding gardening. I’ve tried for several years to start tomatoes, peppers, and other hot-weather plants in the house in a window. Of course they always bolt for the light and become stringy and weak. Even after I tried to harden them by taking them outside for an hour or two each day to get used to sun and wind, they always ended up dying. To try something else, I bought a portable greenhouse a few years ago and started some plants in it in December (our last frost date is March 15 here in Phoenix). One night the outside temperature got to 19 degrees and killed all of my seedlings, even though they had a light on them. Anyway, I basically gave up. This year, I am trying it again in the greenhouse with a portable heater for the coldest nights. Everything is coming up well, but I’m afraid that when I put the veggies out in the garden in March, they’ll die because they’ve been in a protected greenhouse, away from the wind and other elements. Can you explain how you move your tomatoes, etc, from your greenhouse to the outdoors (even in wall-o-waters) without them dying? What am I doing wrong?

Dallen Timothy
Gilbert, Arizona

When you use the Wall’o Waters, you don’t need to harden the plants. But when you’re going to set plants out, you DO need to harden them off or you will lose them. To do this, they need to be gently exposed to the wind and sun. The key here is gently. I set my flats of plants out mid-morning, in a protected area, out of the wind and direct sun. This is usually on the west side of the house, on our deck. If the wind is blowing from the west, I’ll switch and use the north side of the house, but put the plants close enough to the house for protection. Only leave them out for an hour at first, temperature permitting. Then, after a week, gradually lengthen this to two, three, four, and half a day. DO NOT let the flats or pots dry out during this hardening off period. They will need more water, so check them frequently. The more soil around the roots, the slower they’ll dry out. For instance, if they’re in a four-inch pot, they’ll dry out slower than if they are in a flat that is 1 1/2″ deep. With your portable greenhouse, simple roll/carry it out and gradually leave the front and sides more open to the elements. As before, keep careful watch of the dryness of the soil.

Also, be sure that they are not in the direct sun outdoors, in your covered greenhouse, when the temp gets warmer or they’ll cook!

You definitely CAN grow your own plants, but like everything else, it takes practice. Keep me posted and I’ll help all I can. — Jackie

Three sisters growing method

This past growing season I tried to grow the 3 sisters to give my tomato patch a break from tomatoes. The corn did well. The beans were slow and stunted from being shaded by the corn and the squash was very slow and even later because of being shaded by the corn. I planted to thick. The squash variety I planted was Hopi Pale Grey. I got my seeds from one of the seed handlers that you have mentioned in your articles located in my area. There were 4 plants that developed to set on squash but only two squash made to what I would call maturity. One is shaped like a squat pumpkin with a coffee cup sized belly button on the bottom. The other is football shaped only shorter than a football and bigger around the girth. Having never raised Hopi Pale Grey I have no idea what they are really supposed to look like. Which squash should I save the seed from and which one should I roast the seeds and eat them?

John Peine
Springfield, Missouri

It’s too bad your three sisters garden wasn’t more productive. You really don’t want to plant it too thickly, for the reason you gave. I plant my beans when the corn is up about four inches, and the squash about the same time. Did you plant pole beans? They climb the corn stalks as they grow and find sunlight, where bush beans stay on the ground and get puny. Some varieties of beans do better on corn than others. I’ve had good luck with Kentucky Wonder and Cherokee Cornfield beans.

Hopi Pale Grey squash come in a variety of shapes and sizes, but all have the “belly button” bulge on the blossom end and are some shade of blue gray. When choosing squash to save seed from, I usually choose either the largest or the best tasting one. You can eat one, save the seed, then later on try the other one, saving that seed. Hopi Pale Greys don’t make real good eating seeds because the shell on the seed is pretty hard. You CAN toast the seeds, then shell them, like sunflower seeds, then put them back in the oven, salt them and roast them a little more, with a very light coat of oil. — Jackie

Gardening in the woods

I wanted to ask you about gardening in the woods. Three years ago we moved our family out of California’s Bay Area and into the woods. We are at 3,500 feet in a somewhat densely wooded area. Whereas before I could grow anything I stuck in the ground, now my plants are lush and healthy, but bear almost no fruit. I know you are at a much higher elevation, so do you think the suspect is lack of sun? I have experimented with 2 different areas with no improvement. I also grow everything in containers, so I’m wondering if that could be part of the problem.

Sonora, California

Actually, here in Minnesota, we are only at 1,500 feet, whereas in Montana, we lived at 7,500 feet. Usually when you have a lack of sun, your plants will get leggy and pale. I’d suspect that maybe you worked in lots of nice rotted manure into your containers; it sounds like the plants got too much nitrogen. That makes lush plants, but no fruit. It’s especially evident on tomatoes and peppers. Usually, if you use the same soil again, the nitrogen level has gone down. You can test your soil with a cheap garden soil test and see if that is, in fact, the case. You do want your plants to receive at least 6 hours of sunlight a day for best growth and production. — Jackie

Canning tuna

I have a friend who goes to Newport, Oregon every year to pick up some tuna to can. I was going through my canning books and was wondering why I cannot find directions for canning tuna, in fact my book says “fish, except tuna.” What do you know about canning tuna?

Shirley Wikstrom
Stevenson, Washington

You don’t have MY canning book! On page 183-184, there are directions on canning tuna. It definitely is possible. Here is one easy way:

Hot pack: Place cleaned tuna pieces that will fit into a large roasting pan in an oven and bake at 350 degrees for one hour. If a meat thermometer is used, the internal temperature of the meat should be 165-170 degrees. Cool and refrigerate meat overnight. Remove skin and lightly scrape flesh to remove blood vessels and dark meat. Cut fish into quarters and remove all bones. Discard all dark meat. Pack tuna into half-pint and pint jars only, leaving 1 inch of headspace. Add 1/2 tsp salt and 1 Tbsp water or vegetable oil to each half pint jar and 1 tsp salt and 2 Tbsp water or vegetable oil to each pint jar. Remove air bubbles. Process pints and half pints for 100 minutes at 10 pounds pressure. If you live at an altitude above 1,000 feet, consult your canning book for directions on increasing your pressure, if necessary. Enjoy your tuna! — Jackie

Getting started with chickens

Can you please tell me what are the steps I need to follow to start my first chickens? I live in eastern Washington state. So it gets very cold in winter and very hot in summer. And what is a good bird for eggs and cooking?

Kennewick, Washington

For an easy primer on chickens, why not pick up the handbook “CHICKENS, A Beginner’s Handbook” available from Backwoods Home Magazine? It’s cheap and will answer all your questions along your path to chicken raising. There are many different dual purpose breeds, which will not only give you plenty of eggs, but are heavy enough to provide lots of meat, too. White Rocks are a real nice breed, and easy to pull the feathers off of too. Check out the handbook, and enter the wonderful world of chicken ownership! — Jackie

Homemade noodles

My husband and I are planning on selling items at a farmers market. He loves to make homemade noodles. We are thinking of drying them by using the dehydrator. Is there any chance of the noodles would not be a good idea to sell. How do we keep them fresh before selling them? Can we put them in ziplock bags or do we need to keep them in the freezer? Can noodles produce bacteria that would cause problems selling them to the public?

Diana Scandridge
Sully, Iowa

I really think I’d skip selling the noodles at your farmers’ market. The reason for this is the eggs in the noodle dough could possibly introduce salmonella into your noodles; hardly likely, but possible. I’ve never heard of a person getting sick from salmonella from eating homemade noodles, but with today’s sue-happy public, it’s best to be cautious. — Jackie

Buggy apples

Just had to tell you how much I appreciate your recipes. I tried the boiled vegetables with the canned pork and Italian dressing and it was a big hit. I used a little more salad dressing than you did but it was really good. I just started this year to can meats and they have turned out really good, but I wasn’t sure on how to fix them. I also canned your beans in mustard sauce and when I was finished with the beans I put the remaining mustard sauce on chicken and baked it and oh was it good. My husband only liked meat and potatoes with salt and pepper so I never was able to try different things and now at 75 I’m learning a new way to cook with different spices and all. Even hot peppers which my son is happy about. So thanks for the inspiration you give everyone. Now I need help with my apple trees. I have fourteen and I can’t get any apples to eat because of the bugs. I tried the red spheres one year and got a lot but still no edible apples. I don’t want to spray with regular spray because then I won’t want to eat them. I thought my neighbor said once he used Fels Naptha soap in a spray. He has since passed and I wondered if you thought this might work. Sure would like to taste some of my apples. Do you have the same problem as far north as you are?

Joan Toothman
New Carlisle, Indiana

Luckily, it’s so cold here that we don’t have a bad apple bug problem. (One of the perks!) Here are a few tips: Keep all area around the trees clear of “apple debris,” fallen branches, fallen apples, etc. Do use the sticky apple spheres, but you’ll need about 3-4 for every larger tree and put them out pretty early; don’t wait until you have apples hanging on the trees…that’s too late. Hang them from the time your tree is budding out, prior to blossom drop. It also helps to hang large sticky yellow traps, which catch immature female apple maggot flies. You CAN eat apples from your trees; in some areas, organic growers just need to fight harder! — Jackie


  1. Hi Nancy!

    The boiled vegetables and roasted pork loin with Italian dressing was mentioned in the BHM print issue 121, not the new gardening/canning book. I’ve since tweaked the recipe to drain the vegetables, pour the dressing over the pork loin AND vegetables, then heat in a 350 degree oven till the tops are just browning and carmelized. Wow! Prettty great.
    (I also use the dressing over chicken and fresh pork, too.)


  2. I live in SE AZ, about 150 miles from Phoenix. I succesfully started tomatoes from seed in side the hours last year. Our last frost can be as late as the end of April here (at 4500 feet the weather is widely variable). Remembering your advice, I started hardening the plants from 4″ pots about two weeks before planting. I kept them out of direct sunlight the first week. After planting, they grew spendidly, lots of cherry tomatoes well into November. The last batch of green tomatoes were pickled.

  3. Jackie,

    I too have alot of problems with seed starting. I was thinking of getting a flat with a clear lid and putting a heat pad under it to stimulate the warmth. Here in Maryland we have the problem of heat sometimes in the spring. My plants will grow but they fail outside. We were just given some wall of waters from a friend who is no longer gardening and we were going to try that with one variety of tomato and get the rest as transplants. But I am leary of that too as I brought 16 tomato plants last year and they all died a horriable death due to the disease that was spread through the greenhouses. I had only enough pink brandywine tomatos for salads but no amish paste or san marinos for paste nothing for whole tomato canning! I made the descion this year to buy at least half of my seeds from seed saver exchange so I can start learning how to save my seeds! The prices are going up and I am not sure I want to pay all that for seeds and transplants every year. I will eagerly look forward to that article and if you have any more tips for seed starting let me know! Or a publication from BHM that will work let me know. I am planning on buying your new canning book next month. As I am getting a pressure canner. No dehydrator this year but next year. I have taken your ideas and if I can not pay cash then I do not get it.

  4. Also I am going to try the Cranberry conserve with out the raisins. I don’t like raisins though I love grapes.

  5. I looked for the boiled vegetables and canned pork with italian dressing in your growing and canning you own food, by the way I love the binding on it, it is great!, and could not find it. I would really like to try it. Can you direct me to the proper page?

    thank you

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