We raised four steer calves last summer/fall, and they are now very BIG guys! Will just measured them with a weight tape (it’s a tape measure that has cattle weights, along with inches marked on it). The biggest steer weighs 720 pounds and the second largest, 709 pounds. And these calves are only 9 months old!

We bought them at the sale barn, which we don’t like to do, because you often end up with sick calves, usually scouring calves, which we did. We brought them all through it by feeding them electrolytes instead of milk, antibiotics, and sulfa pills, but it wasn’t fun, for sure. The reason we did buy them there is that there was no one who had calves to sell anywhere near us. And even the sale barn is three hours away! Yes, we DO live in the boonies.

Luckily, our neighbor, who David works for, told us about a friend of his, an hour south of us, who has Holstein milk cows and sometimes sells bull calves. We contacted them, and were put on a waiting list for this spring. Friday we got the call; our two calves were ready to come home with us. So Sunday, we hooked up the trailer and drove down to pick up the new babies, after cleaning a pen and hunting up our calf equipment (bottles, etc.).

The calves are doing great and already holler when they hear us coming. It doesn’t seem possible that our other four “calves” were EVER that small!

Readers’ Questions:

Growing rhubarb in the south

Does rhubarb grow well in the south (north central Alabama)? I honestly don’t know of anybody around here that grows it. Daughter-in-law has a greenhouse this year on the farm and it’s growing well and we’ve read so much great stuff you do with rhubarb we’d like to try it?

Since we don’t know anybody that has any to be divided to get a start, what do we do, order seed or what?

Suzy Lowry Geno
Oneonta, Alabama

Rhubarb is tough to grow in the south, as it needs two months, at least, of below 40 degree weather, preferably freezing weather, to “rest” for next spring’s production. You can give it a try, though, and see how you do. I NEVER say “never”! I’d suggest getting a root from one of the mail order seed catalogs, such as Jungs, as the roots will give you rhubarb much faster than seeds. Good luck and let us know! — Jackie


I have been searching for information on GMO’s and have come up with little more than peoples opinions. What do you know about them and are they really a “threat” to human consumption? How does a person know if they are getting seeds to plant that are not GMO? I have also heard the argument that all the hype is nothing more than a tactic to get people thinking about things that don’t matter or are not truly a real issue so that they don’t focus on the “real” issues. Kinda like the “global warming” thing.

Any information you can give would be much appreciated, as I am starting my first garden this year and have concerns.

Liz Welcher
Indianapolis, Indiana

I am VERY concerned about GMOs, like many farmers, growers, and consumers. I do not believe they have been tested well enough to be “safe” for consumption. (Remember that DDT was once considered “safe” by scientists and the government, and even recommended by them!) And I DO NOT believe in introducing genes from such things as fireflies and frogs into grains and vegetables!

Unfortunately, crops grown by growers can be “contaminated” by pollen from GMO crops, even a mile away. For instance, corn is one of the most common GMO crop. The pollen from one neighbor’s GMO corn can be blown a mile away to contaminate a concerned organic grower’s corn which was not GMO. When he saves the seed, it is contaminated and shows genes from the GMO corn. This is why some seed companies, such as Baker Creek, have their seed tested to make sure it has not been contaminated.

I, personally, believe this is a very real concern about something that could impact the world both in our foods but also financially, as all too soon, companies such as Monsanto, will force farmers to grow their GMO seed by prosecuting farmers who save their own non-GMO seed, saying they have broken patent laws, “stealing” pollen from their neighbors’ GMO crops! Sound like a monopoly to you? It’s real scary to me. — Jackie

Long term storage

Thank you for all the advice you give out. Many of the responses have helped me sort out and plan for my future move, but there is a subject that I need to know about. I just bought a large amount of pickling lime, pickling salt, rennet tablets, sure jell, salsa mix, and etc. for a very decent price. My question is how long will these items last under good storage conditions?

Bo Suddueth
jacksonville, florida

You’re good to go, Bo. These products will remain good for a very long time, if stored in a dry location. Rennet tablets? Are these Junket brand rennet tablets for cheesemaking, perhaps? Junket rennet tablets really don’t make great cheese. You need “real” rennet tablets or liquid, either calf or vegetable in origin. The liquid is stronger but must be kept refrigerated and does not remain good for a long time. I’m glad I’ve been of help in your future plans. Keep in touch. — Jackie

Dried meat

I’m becoming interested in making my own dried foods, particularly Jerky and fruits. My question – the dried meat is originally raw and “cooked” slowly over several hours/days depending on how its dried. How long is the dried food good for? Can it be used as a long term food storage plan or does it have to be refrigerated? I’ve looked on a few websites that state you should refrigerate the jerky after preparing it? What gives?

Clark McDonough
Grovetown, Georgia

Old time jerky was a lot different than modern day jerky. Traditional jerky was dried until it was stick-like, not the soft, chewy product that we like today. The old jerky had ALL the moisture dried out of it, and was usually smoked, to boot. It would keep for long periods of time. But the jerky recipes you follow today result in modern jerky, the chewy variety, not the gnaw-on-for-hours kind. Modern jerky will get moldy unless refrigerated or frozen, unless it contains all the preservatives in store-bought jerky.

You CAN dehydrate jerky and other meats for long-term storage, but remember that they MUST be dehydrated until VERY, very dry. — Jackie

Storing cornmeal

We just picked up our cornmeal from the local grist mill and was wondering what the best way to store it would be. We ended up with almost 80 lbs. so we have quite a bit to store. (The mill added the baking powder and such to make it self-rising if that makes a difference.)

We do have a large deep freezer that we could put it in but I wondered if we should invest in the mylar bags and 02 absorbers to get the best chance of long term storage.

Marlana Ward
Mountain City, Tennessee

I would definitely freeze your great cornmeal. Fresh, whole cornmeal is like whole wheat flour; it can get rancid after a relatively short storage time. But kept in the freezer, it will remain good for a long time. Do keep it in an airtight container, though, so that it doesn’t absorb freezer odors. — Jackie

Making bread

I made your light wheat sourdough bread from the May/June issue of BHM and it turned out great tasting. Unfortunately, I had a couple of issues, which I’ve experienced before with other bread recipes: 1) the bread turned out very dense and heavy; 2) the dough was quite dry and crumbly when I put it in the pan to bake. I brushed the top with a little vegetable oil before baking but it did not turn out beautiful and glossy like yours looked in the picture. What am I doing wrong? Is that just how it is with homemade bread? Is there a “trick” to bread making?

Lisa Pedrotti
Coppell, Texas

The article you referred to was not written by me, but by Linda Gabris, but I’ll see if I can help you anyway. If your bread turned out very heavy and the dough was crumbly, I’d say you need to add a bit more water to your recipe. Some flours require more liquid in breadmaking than others and even some locations need more liquid; maybe it’s a humidity issue. You want your dough just firm enough that it doesn’t stick to your hands, but no more or it will not rise properly.

I always brush the tops with my breads with butter just after I take them out of the oven. This not only gives them that pretty glow, but makes the crust less tough, too. And it “glues” seeds, such as poppy seed onto the tops. Keep at it and you WILL get great bread. Breadmaking is an art and does require some practice. — Jackie

Storage of black walnuts

I have close to a bushel of black walnuts from last fall and I wonder if you know how long they are good for. They are dehulled, but I haven’t harvested the nutmeat out yet. If they are still good, should I freeze them, or just keep them in the cabinet? Also, can they be canned?

Lisa J Graves
New Albany, Indiana

They are probably still good. Crack open a few and try them! They should still taste good and appear full and shiny in the shell. If they do, you can sure crack them and either freeze them or can them. They are easy to can. You will just lay the shelled nutmeat pieces out on a cookie sheet in your oven and toast at 250 degrees for about 20 minutes, stirring them around a few times so they do not scorch. Then pack into half pint or smaller jars (black walnuts are tough to crack and pick, so you’ll want small jars!), leaving 1/2″ of headspace. Process at 5 (five!) pounds pressure for 10 minutes in a pressure canner. — Jackie

Mushroom compost

Do you know anything about mushroom compost? They say that you don’t need to use any other kind of fertilizer if you use mushroom compost. What are your thoughts? Also using leaves or straw for your mulch (in your rows) doesn’t it get caught up in your rototiller blades? How thick do you put it down so as not to get weeds? Grass clippings, won’t they burn your plants if you mulch with that?

Fresno, Ohio

Mushroom compost is very good as a soil builder. With good soil and this, you shouldn’t need more fertilizer. No, I’ve never had a problem with mulch getting tangled up in tiller tines. I haven’t used leaves as a mulch, but have used tons of them to help add organic material to heavy, pure red clay. And they sure helped! Every fall, I had trailer loads dumped on my garden. Folks in town had to pay to have garbage bags full of leaves hauled to the dump. They were thrilled when I went door to door, setting up a collection time, BEFORE garbage day! I put a couple of feet of leaves over old manure, on my garden each fall, and by spring, everything had composted well. (This is known as “sheet composting.”) I then tilled everything in and noticed an immediate improvement in my soil.

I use straw as mulch, as it’s what I have available. I put down about six inches around young plants, then add another six inches later on. But by then, the first six inches has packed down to about two inches, and by the time you till in the fall, some has already started to rot, so you will only be tilling in a couple inches of straw. When you use a deep mulch, such as Ruth Stout used, you do not till.

If you use grass clippings, be sure they are dry before you put them on the garden, or the heating will cause them to mat and stink. Same goes for using them in your compost pile. Dry ’em first, then they are great. (Of course, don’t use any that you have used chemicals, such as weed killers, on.) — Jackie


  1. Lisa from Texas: Hi there! I have much experience baking bread, and I can help you.

    1. Crumbly dough when it’s going into the pan means you need MUCH more water, not just a little. Can you send me your recipe so I can see where you’re starting from?

    2. Brushing with vegetable oil won’t do anything except make the dough stiff. The milk solids in the butter brown, and that’s what gives your bread a sheen. Glaze with melted butter. You can also glaze bread with a mixture of half egg white and half water (VERY shiny glaze).

    3. Dense and heavy bread is caused by a few things, but I’m guessing that you didn’t knead it long enough. Knead your dough, whether by hand or by machine, until it is smooth (no crumbs, no lumps), elastic (it will start to fight you and be quite stiff, depending on your moisture content), and most importantly, SHINY.

    Email me! I could talk about bread all day. kldickinson1 (at) gmail (dot) com.

Comments are closed.