My little new lettuce, spinach, radish, and onions are coming up. It’s so exciting, as it’s our first annual crop. We do have some walking onions up in the garden, which are great in salads and for cooking. I’ve been hugely busy planting garden, in between helping fence two separate pastures. As the garden is over 1/2 an acre now, it takes a lot of tilling, rock picking, and planting. So far, I’ve set out more than 100 tomato plants. (I’ve run out of Wall’o Water plant protectors, so am praying like crazy that we don’t have a big frost!) I’ve got melons, pumpkins, and squash peeping up inside, plus celery, cabbage, cauliflower, and broccoli plants to set in pretty soon. My tomatoes were so huge this year that I’m having to plant them in trenches. I pinch off the lower leaves, then dig a furrow, laying the long plant down, with the top curved upward. It’ll soon straighten up nicely, and set roots all along the stem underground. Our greenhouse was so warm this year, because of all the insulation in the new addition…and the wood stove, that the plants germinated and grew so FAST. I won’t plant them so soon next year!

Oh, I thought I’d show you a little project I just finished. I had an on-sale plastic fish pond liner in one of the flower beds. I liked it, so when a neighbor said she had a big one she’d sell me for $20, I said yes right off. It was BIG, big! So this week, I set the two ponds into the ground, right next to each other, making sure with a level that they WERE level so the water would fill nicely. Then we hauled gravel, sand, and finally black dirt around the area, leveling off the slope. Will had cut a bent black ash when he was cutting firewood out of the dead ash, killed by rising water on the edge of the beaver pond. I had my eye on that and finally a flash of inspiration came. I needed a trellis to put some vines on behind the fish ponds. The bent ash trunk was perfect for a frame. I added some alder branches from our swamp and WOW. It turned out so cool. Free, too! And the wisteria, clematis, morning glories, and sweet peas will think it’s great, too.

I had a weedy flower bed, grown over with raspberries, so I dug up daylilies, coneflowers, and other perennials, carefully picking out all invasive roots, then planted them around the fish ponds. And as luck would have it, Lowes had a terrific sale on potted perennials, so I picked up a few of those, too. Now all I have to do is catch my goldfish and koi in my aquariums and see how they like their new summer home.

Readers’ Questions:

Hand pump for a well

I have searched and searched for information on converting our water well to a hand pump. The well is 115′ deep with the water level at about 60′. It has a 2″ pvc casing. Right now it is outfitted with a submersible pump. We are on community water system and if for any reason the power should go down I would like to know I have access to water. Our money is very limited so we would like to do this ourselves if possible.

Clarice & Harold Prescott
Hamburg, Arkansas

You might check out Bison Pumps. They have hand pumps that go in right along with your existing pump. They are a little pricey, and I’m not sure if they’ll fit in such a small casing as 2″, but you could ask. For short-term water emergencies, consider storing a few plastic barrels full of water in your basement or back porch. For a long-term BIG emergency, you could pick up a deep-well hand pump and pipe enough to get down, well into your water. Then if you had to, you could pull your submersible pump and wiring, and slide the hand pump down into your casing. — Jackie


I have seen you refer to BT and although my husband and I do garden we are not aware of what this is. I am trying to keep everything as natural as we can, so what is this stuff and does it hold from year to year? I first saw it as something you inject for borers.

Dianna Burgher
Stockbridge, Michigan

You can find bT (often sold as Thuricide) in many gardening catalogs. It is a dried bacteria, which is mixed with water and sprayed on vegetable crops. (It can also be injected into the silk end of growing corn to kill corn ear worm.) It is deadly to plant-eating worms, but totally harmless to helpful insects, butterflies, pets, birds, and people. I’ve never kept it from year to year; I always buy just about what I’ll need each year. I think you’ll like using it. I use it on my broccoli, cauliflower, and Brussels sprouts. I don’t like finding little green worms floating in the pot I’m cooking veggies in! — Jackie

Raising beef

I have been following your column for a long time now. I understood that you were living off grid and canned everything. but you are raising a lot of beef now. being a meatcutter I know what it takes to cut up a lot of beef. Was just curious on what you plan to do with all those calves. Are you planning to get a freezer when it comes time to butcher them? I am figuring that you are planning to sell some and keep one for yourself. I wanted to tell you on how much I admire you guys and what you have accomplished there.

Lake Tapps, Washington

We got four calves so that we could sell two, which will just about pay for the expenses of raising the four. We’ll butcher the biggest this fall, saving the largest for next fall. My son, Bill, and his wife, will be getting half and paying for the butchering and wrapping. Their meat will cost them about 80 cents a pound (I’m not charging for raising the steer.) That gives us half a beef for nearly “free.” Yes, we are buying a freezer. My friends, Jim and Jeri, have power and let me keep a tiny freezer over there for holding poultry until I can get it all canned. I pay the overage on their power bill. And they will let me do that with a larger freezer. Because it’ll be in the late fall, and cold, the freezer in their outbuilding won’t take much power. I’ll begin bringing meat home and canning it up right away, saving the steaks and best roasts for cooking up fresh. Now you’ve got my mouth watering!

We now have two baby calves and will be buying at least one more, to keep the cycle going. Hopefully, in the future, we’ll have a barn and can have a milk cow, so we can raise our own beef and not buy calves…or so many. Right now, we’re doing it the best way we can, to have very cheap, very tasty, tender and wholesome meat. — Jackie

Aggressive chickens

When I picked up four laying hens from a friend’s uncle two of them were pretty beaten up by the other two. Many feathers from their backs and tails were missing. I put them in with my two girls and they ripped one of mine open and she had to be put down. They are the meanest blood thirst chickens I’ve ever seen. I had my other girl and the skiddish one separated from the others for a few days and they get along fine now. The other one that was beaten up I had to move in with them because they kept pecking on her until she was bloody. Now she keeps going after the tamer ones that she is in with, pecking and drawing blood. Is there any way to get these meanies to stop being so beastly? I was hoping by separating them they would settle down, but it just doesn’t seem to be working. The two mean ones reach their heads through the fencing and peck the others as they are eating or just walking by. Any help/ideas you can give would be much appreciated.

Patrice Lindsey
Lockport, IL

I’m sorry, but when chickens are that mean, they don’t usually change…sort of like people. I see chicken and noodles in the future… — Jackie

Old time bacon and vegetables

Bacon the kind that does not need to be refrigerated. History buff /reinactor and also would like to know what kind and variety of vegetables did our 1750s forefathers grow.

Tim Kilmartin
Wayland, Michigan

Old time bacon was salted and smoked for lengthy time. It was very dry and firm, unlike store bacon. It was not sliced until you wanted to fry up some. At this time, it was cut from the slab, which was then carefully re-wrapped in its parchment wrapper.

As far as vegetables go, it depends on who your forefathers WERE. Vegetables were a cultural thing; if your forefathers were Native American, they grew corn, beans, and squash, primarily. Immigrants from France, Scotland, Wales, Ireland, and England grew vegetables from their homeland: turnips, carrots, beans, onions, and potatoes. German, Swedish, Finnish, and Norwegian immigrants also grew these and usually rutabagas, as well. Wheat was planted by all European immigrants, along with rye. Tomatoes were thought to be poisonous at that time, known as “love apples,” and were grown as decoration in the flower beds. If you wish to learn more about 1700’s crops, check out some of the heirloom vegetable catalogs, such as Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds or Seed Savers Exchange. There is a ton of information, along with colored photographs for you to drool over. — Jackie

Storing dehydrated foods

We finally bought a dehydrator, but in reading the directions, it states that after drying, to place in air tight container and place in cool place in the freezer or fridge…is this where you keep your items?

Meredith Wendt
Rockford, Illinois

Definitely NOT. I have a very small fridge with a shoe-box sized freezer. Hardly enough room for what I need to keep cold, let alone putting in bags of dehydrated food! If fruits and vegetables are properly dehydrated, they’ll keep for years in a jar or other airtight container. The one food that should be refrigerated or frozen after dehydrating is jerky. The reason for this is that most folks today prefer jerky that is a bit soft and easy to chew, like store jerky. If you only dry jerky that dry, it still has a lot of moisture and will mold if not kept refrigerated. Old time jerky was dried stick-hard and usually smoked, too. It kept indefinitely, but took a long time to get soft enough to chew…and a lot of saliva! –Jackie

Alternative to beans and lentils

I have a problem with what you say to include in long term food storage. You include a lot of beans and lentils. What if some one has a problem with these? What else could be used? I just have a problem with the texture and taste of all beans, can not stand them. Nothing medical. Been this way since I was a kid and have not gotten over it.

Rodney Wasem
Thornton, Colorado

To tell you the truth, I’m not real fond of beans either! BUT I have learned to cook with them so that they aren’t “beany” as much. I do a lot of refried beans, made with my own home canned dry pintos with lots of chopped ham and a few mild chiles and onions canned up with them. These I open, pour off the liquid, then mash in a frying pan with a little grease and cook ’em up. I serve them with grated cheese and salsa; they taste and feel more like meat than beans. Likewise, I can up my own baked beans, dressed up with lots of bacon dices (or ham), onions, etc. They sure taste and feel better than store-bought beans. I do a lot of recipes with rice and lentils. When they are combined with vegetables and broth, you don’t even “find” the lentils. The thing is that dry beans DO stay good in storage for a long, long time, giving you a source of lots of nutrition, coupled with the utter bulk; a cup of dry beans makes a big meal! Yeah, I don’t “like” dry beans, but I’ve learned to eat them, and most folks can, too, with “practice.”

If that is definitely not an option for you, you can bulk up your dry storage with such things as rice, dehydrated vegetables, wheat, flours, cornmeal, etc. that you DO eat. The important thing is to get some foods in your storage pantry, regardless of what they are. — Jackie


  1. Thank you Ellendra. I will plant some low bush in with my blue berries when I get a pasture empted of critters and put a larger garden in there.

  2. Nancy: Highbush cranberries are actually a type of viburnum. They tolerate a wider range of soils than lowbush, or “bog” cranberries, but they do have a stronger flavor. Try some before you grow. They can be tamed down by mixing with other fruits, like apples. Might make a better mixed-fruit leather than they would craisins.

    Lowbush cranberries require acidic soil, much like blueberries. This is most likely the kind you had.

  3. Jackie, I am always inspired by reading your blogs. I like the new trellis and ponds! Isn’t it fun to see something that could be trashed and find a way to use it creatively? Hang in there, lady!

  4. Thanks for taking the time to answer my question. I was thinking that it was very unlikely that the chickens would settle down. I can keep them seperated all summer but when the fall comes they’ll have to move to the freezer.

  5. If you ever have any algae problems with the pond just use some barley straw. They sell Barley Balls and Barley Pads also. It works great,is natural, and safe for fish and plants. Just be careful not to use too much as the decomposing straw can use up all the oxygen.

  6. Jackie, the fish pond and trellis are just beautiful! I am always amazed at what you all come up with and how inventive you are with ‘junk’ finds…always an inspiration that keeps my mind reeling with new ways to use old stuff we no longer want for it’s original purpose. Thanks, I’m looking forward to pics of the pond after your plants have grown too! You need to make some little toad houses with some broken pots to tuck in.

  7. I do not like raisans,(I think) so when I received some dried cranberries from Backwoods home office after I sent them some almonds, I was not inclined to try them. But I did and ate the whole package. They are wonderful!! I want to plant some cranberry bushes but don’t know which is the best for west central Illinois. High or low bush. Any ideas? And what is the difference? Will not garden this year as we are only home about 3 weeks in the summer with the almonds. I want to stay home but the almonds will finish the house insulation and do the other things I want to do here. New fencing and barn repair and every thing so I will keep at it for a couple more years. I am going to quit when I am 65 which is only three more years. THEN I will stay home and garden. The farm will be paid off and we will have our outside wood heat and self made bio-gas for cooking and dryer in the winter. The wood furnance we want will burn rotten wood, rotten square bales hay, corn, square bales of corn stalks. About any thing. I am very excited about it.

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