All of a sudden, we’ve got some warm sunny weather again, and I’m busy planting garden outside. Yesterday, I planted peas and snap peas, and today, I planted six rows of carrots and a 50-foot row of onions. Some of the onions were sets, but 150 of them were little plants that I grew from seed, inside. While the sets do make nice onions, there is very little variety available at the stores. And I do like to store Copra onions, as they stay HARD for nearly a year, where the common “yellow” and “white” sets make onions that barely keep over winter. I’ve got three more rows of onions yet to plant. When I get done, we’ll have six varieties of onions, some up in our house garden’s raised beds, for salads this summer and some to use as larger onions in the fall and winter. Yes, we DO like onions! I also dehydrate a lot to use in cooking, too. But besides the outside planting, I’m also planting inside, too! It’s time to plant melon, squash, pumpkin, and some flowers and also to transplant others that I have planted earlier. I just transplanted my celery and tuberous begonias into six packs, and have lots more to do. I’ve started more plants this year than ever before. Not only do I have more window space, due to the new addition, but I have more help, too. Will’s been busy, as well, and I sure appreciate a happy helper.

Readers’ Questions:

A few questions

I recently pressure canned a batch of spaghetti sauce w/meat. I had already run 2 canner loads and completely lost the time in my head on the last batch. Yes, I need to set a timer. So, I refrigerated the batch and re-canned it later. When I opened ONE of the jars, I had a small black spot inside on the white part of the top of the lid. I used new lids to re-can and later, after I had the batch re- canned, I scraped on the black spot w/ my finger nail. Only one jar did this. The black came off. Was this mold? Are the jars of re-canned stuff no good? What to do?

Also, have you ever canned raisins? If so, how? How about pepperoni that comes in the plastic containers in the store? One more question: You have mentioned the 10 minute rule to cook already canned foods upon opening, before serving. Seems to me they are already cooked a lot (pressure cooker) when canned. And if you will pardon the cynicism here, but after all that canning, are we cooking all the nutrients out…into the liquid…and should probably be saving/eating the liquid they are canned in? And, one more question….I have a lid that I left too long in water that I did not use in canning one day, and it developed a rust spot on the white part of the lid. Can I use it to can some thing or should I use it w/a jar ring as a lid for dry stuff in a jar? Thank you for taking the time to answer all our questions….it is a HUGE help out here.

J from Missouri

If you refrigerated, then heated and re-canned the batch you forgot the time with, using the correct processing procedure, I’m sure the black spot wasn’t mold. Acid foods do sometimes react to the metal lids, causing discolored spots. It’s not too common, but it does happen. As long as you re-canned the batch a short time after refrigeration, I wouldn’t worry at all.

You don’t need to can raisins; they stay fine in a dry jar nearly forever!

Yes, I’ve canned the pepperoni from the little bags from the store; I got a whole bunch for 25 cents a bag that was close-dated, and canned up the whole works. I’m still using them. I simply stacked the slices tightly in half pint jars, leaving 1/2″ of headspace, then processed them for 75 minutes at 10 pounds pressure. The grease does melt out of the slices, but it makes good pizza anyway!

I’m sure that canned vegetables have less nutrients than fresh ones do, but I’ll bet that home canned ones have a lot more than store bought vegetables, as we pick and can ours at peak ripeness and they are FRESH when we can them, not days old, held in storage before processing for who knows how long. Yes, it is a good idea to use that liquid; it makes a great soup base or ingredient, as well as being useful in casseroles, noodle dishes, etc. — Jackie

Raising beef without a pasture

If you do not have pasture area and want to raise some beef, is it realistic to raise beef entirely in a pen? Do you have any formulas on how to calculate the feed quantity required to get the beef to weight for processing? I realize feed cost will vary by individual situation but how much hay grain etc. would a person plan for to raise a beef cow to processing weight?

Kevin Sakuta
Jesup, Georgia

This is like asking how long a string is. Sorry, but I don’t have a formula for you. There are just too many variables here, such as type of hay, type of animal, sex, grain given, etc. We started our bottle calves at 3 days old. At two months of age, they were eating grass, which we cut and gave to them in their pen. By fall, they were eating less than one square bale per day, between all four. By this spring, they weigh about 650-700 pounds, and are eating a 1,400 pound round bale of clover/grasses about every month. They also get about 3 pounds of mixed grain, per head, per day. They do get some pasture, but it is our goat pasture, and they keep it pretty short. You won’t save too much money buying a calf and raising it to butchering weight, all on dry lot. But it comes a little at a time, and you DO know what your steer ate and it WILL be much better meat than you can buy in the store. I promise that! — Jackie

Planting cauliflower and potatoes

I have a recommendation for the cauliflower-planter in your most recent blog, as well as a question for you. I wanted to tell the cauliflower person that I grow broccoli every year, as it’s a favorite in our family….broccoli and cabbage are botanically almost identical. Wanted to let her know that the Bt spray works great for me. You have to reapply it after rain; really keep at it, as there are many wild plants that attract the cabbage moths, too, so they are always around. I also interplant the broccoli with marigolds and garlic. Seems to help a lot. If you don’t stay right on top of anything in that family, all the plants will be very moth-y and unhealthy because of the constant challenge the moths present.

My question for you is that I thought I’d try planting my very small potatoes this year. These are the ones about the size of a nickel, that don’t get used in the winter because they sift down to the bottom of the crates. I’ve never purposely planted those before, only the bigger ones that are sprouting by the time planting time is here. A friend thought it would be a good use for these little guys but now I’m wondering what kind of harvest I’ll get. We really depend on a good potato harvest each year.

Jeanne Allie
Storrs, Connecticut

Thank you for your tips. I, personally, haven’t had a great harvest using those little guy potatoes. Some companies sell these, as seed potato, but not the “real” seed potato companies. They are cute, and I hate to waste them, but I’ve used them and haven’t been thrilled with the result. Maybe others have had different results; please let us know! Instead, I think the plant gets off to a better start with a good chunk of “mother” potato to feed it until it gets roots and gets going. — Jackie

Tomato soup recipe

Do you have a good recipe for tomato soup? I am enjoying your Growing and Canning Your Own Food book. It was well done, easy and interesting to use.

Linda Mitchell
Vassar, Michigan

I’m assuming you mean cream of tomato soup, as it’s the most frequently requested recipe, and one I use a lot.

1 pint of canned tomatoes (no juice) or tomato sauce
1 diced onion
2 Tbsp. brown sugar
2 cups milk
1/2 cup flour
2 Tbsp. butter/margarine

Simmer the tomatoes/tomato sauce and onions. In a separate pan, melt butter/margarine, mix in flour until blended, then add milk. Continue to heat, stirring until thick. Pour the thick tomato mixture into the hot white sauce. (You may add a teaspoon of baking soda to prevent a curdled appearance, if you have this problem.) Stir until well mixed. — Jackie

Food storage ideas needed

A few issues back you discussed building a root cellar and when I grew up in Colorado we had one where we kept potatoes, apples, onions, etc. throughout the winter. Now I live in South Florida where the water table is too high to dig a root cellar, and where the temperature is much warmer. I would like to know food storage alternatives that are viable for my area.

Charlie Grett
Royal Palm Beach, Florida

Some homesteaders in Florida make an above ground root “cellar” by locating a rise of ground, above the water table, then building it out of cement block, with a cement roof, insulated, then covered with several feet of soil and vegetation. This must also be vented to prevent condensation from being a problem. Others use an unused room in their home, which is air-conditioned, with the windows draped to keep out sunlight. I’m sure you’ll be able to come up with a viable storage plan, with a little juggling around. — Jackie

Potatoes growing in compost pile

I have a compost pile that has not been turned in a couple of years. We have 4 goats, a llama and about 2 dozen chickens that make contributions to the pile along with some kitchen scraps. My plans were to have it tilled when I get the garden tilled this year and turn it into a strawberry bed. My son saw lots of potato plants coming up in the pile and thought I should wait until fall to till the pile (he loves potatoes). I am wondering if the spuds would be safe to eat considering that the pile has not been tended to. What would you do?

Shirley Wikstrom
Stevenson, Washington

I would probably go ahead and till ‘er up. The reason for this is that potatoes that grow in highly fertile ground (or a compost pile!) receive too much nitrogen. They grow magnificent plants…but often very few potatoes. And, I would probably worry a bit about harmful bacteria, being that the pile has not been worked up, too. If a pile has heated like it should, the bacteria are “cooked” and rendered safe. If some has heated, but more fresh manure has been added, you do run some risk here, although you don’t eat raw potatoes, and thorough cooking will kill any bacteria present. — Jackie

Bad Beans?

Last year I canned about 60 quarts of green beans. Around 45 quarts just plain and about 15 or so as dilly beans. The first quart I opened the beans were mushy and tasted bad so I thought I might have done something wrong in that batch. I opened a quart from the next batch, same thing. And so on with each batch I canned all season. I opened a quart of dilly beans and they too tasted bad. I have followed the same processes for years now for both pressure canning beans and making dilly beans and have never had a problem before. Is it possible the beans, even the seeds were bad? What would cause an entire crop of beans to go bad? The beans that all seem to be bad were grown right next to tomatoes and peppers that were all fine. I don’t know if that rules out the possibility of bad soil. The soil here is sandy so I periodically work in grass clippings and lots of horse manure that I get from a neighbor.

Brian Schneider
Crivitz, Wisconsin

I’m SO sorry your beans turned out bad! Something like this is so depressing! No, I don’t think your soil, the seed, or growing method was wrong/bad. When vegetables are soft/mushy/bad tasting, it’s nearly always something we have done wrong in the canning process. I’ve done it myself. Sometimes we are in a hurry and glance at our canning book for the processing time and get the wrong time. For instance, we see the time required for pints and are canning quarts. Oops! Or our canning jars have frozen during winter storage (a frequent oops). As you canned both plain green beans (pressure canner, I hope) and dilly beans, which are a bean pickle, using a water bath canner, I’d wonder if your jars might have frozen during storage. Even a single night will result in this problem as you describe. I truly hope you again can beans this year and have great success, as they are USUALLY among the easiest things to put up. — Jackie


  1. It looks like you will have a lot of garden planting not to far in the future. I was looking at your older posts and I really liked your pond. It looks great and the view you have from the house looks like it would be beautiful

  2. Boy! Will looks different without his hat! Everything looks so great! I’ve yet to be successful starting plants indoors. This was my fourth year trying but there is always next year to change things and try again!

  3. Not eat raw potatoes!!!?? I love raw potatoes! When I was a kid, my dad dug them and us kids followed and picked them up and just ate small ones until we could eat no more. And the next day did it again. They are so good.

Comments are closed.