Yesterday, we had our front door open to enjoy the nice breeze. I was sitting on the couch, taking a break, and happened to look up. There, circling the high ceiling in our living room was a hummingbird! She had flown in the front door after feeding on my petunia hanging baskets. I tried “shooing” her with a broom, but she only flew higher, figuring that up there, somewhere, she could get out. I ended up standing on a step ladder with a small aquarium fish net taped to an aluminum pole, scooping gently at my fugitive. She wasn’t afraid of the net; in fact, she perched on its edge when she got tired! Finally, I managed to net her and gently pick her out of the net with my hand. I took a quick picture, then ZIP, off she flew, probably saying bad words over her shoulder.

And yesterday, our hen turkey hatched 9 little poults. When Ilene and Sam Duffy were visiting, we discovered her sitting in a nest box (plastic dog crate), that we’d put in the bushes, in the orchard, to see if our new turkeys would lay eggs. We’d seen no results and kind of ignored the box after awhile. One hen turkey hadn’t! Will saw her in the weeds, out of the box, with a few little “peeps” running about. When he went to check, she hissed, growled, and attacked him. (Imagine, a Marine running like a little girl from a very p’d off turkey!) And later on the same day, she nearly got him again, while he was pulling weeds from around one of our apple trees. Maybe she thought that bent over pair of pants was a tempting target!

She hatched 9 and still has 9, even though it rained this morning. I’d like to bring Mom and babies into the little chicken coop, but figure I’d be taking my life into my hands, so am letting Mama go nature’s way. 7 are “chipmunk” colored like baby Narragansetts and two are yellowish, indicating that maybe our Bourbon Red turkey hen was also laying in the same box.

This is why we bought heritage breeds of turkeys. I had absolutely NO luck trying to raise artificial, man-made breeds like Broad-Breasted Bronzes and Whites. They got too big, couldn’t breed (the tom tore up the back of the hens trying to breed), the hens didn’t lay well, and certainly didn’t hatch any eggs. We like turkeys (and turkey), so decided to try the old-fashioned way. And it’s working. The turkeys breed easily — no torn up backs. They lay lots of eggs, sit on them AND hatch them! That’s so exciting.

Readers’ Questions:

Creosote coating in railroad ties

I am moving to my property in Montana this year and have a chance to purchase railroad ties that I thought I would use for making raised beds for my garden. Is there anything special I need to do about the creosote coating on the ties? Is it safe for these to be used for the garden?

Bob Whitney
Melstone, Montana

Although there is an ongoing debate regarding the safety of using treated used railroad ties, I’ve used them for years and known hundreds of other gardeners who have used them, with no known ill effects. If it really concerns you, you can use such materials as cement block, landscape block, large rocks or even logs for building your raised beds.
All the best of luck on your move! — Jackie

Canning eggs

We pickle our quail eggs and I knew I could find questions about safe egg canning answered here…but while I intend to try your recipe, I wondered if I could safely can eggs (unrefrigerated) using my own recipe. It uses 3-1/2 cups of vinegar and 1-1/2 cups of water, plus sugar, jalapenos, mustard seed, garlic and bay leaves. Would the addition of the extra ingredients diminish the safety of the canned eggs? I read that botulism doesn’t grow under a certain pH, but I’m not sure how to test my recipe for that (I don’t have any pH test paper).

Dennis Deering
Anchorage, Alaska

By adding the water, you’re reducing the acidity of the recipe, so I can’t recommend canning it. You can safely add different spices, but don’t water down a high acid recipe, for safety’s sake in canning. — Jackie

Fertilizer for fruit trees

I have a number of different fruit trees, peaches, cherry, apple, apricot and a huge pear orchard. What would you recommend for fertilizing fruit trees? And when do you apply it? I have used those fertilizer spikes in the past, is there something easier or better.

Erica Kardelis
Helper, Utah

What we do with our fruit trees is to spread a good thick mulch of half-composted manure or composted manure around each tree, about three feet out from the trunk in each direction, and about six inches deep each spring. Then in the fall, pull the mulch back from the trunk a few inches to prevent rodents from tunneling in. (With smaller trees, also wrap each trunk with hardware cloth or aluminum window screen up at least three feet for additional rodent protection.)
By next spring, the compost will break down, so you can rake it away and apply new. It seems to work for us. — Jackie

Pressure canning tomatoes

Both your book and the Ball Blue Book say to can tomatoes and tomato sauce in hot water bath canner. I’ve always used a pressure canner (5 lbs for 15 min) because it is quicker and doesn’t heat the house as much. Is there a reason I shouldn’t used the pressure canner for tomatoes?

Sam Allen
Bessemer City, North Carolina

No. The reason I use the water bath canner is that I don’t have to “babysit” the foods processing as much as I do when using the pressure canner, and can do other things in kind of the same area. I usually try to do a couple things at once, when I can, to save time. If you would rather use the pressure canner, go ahead. — Jackie

Dill pickle slices

Can I use any of your dill pickle recipes to make hamburger dill slices?

Linda Mitchell
Vassar, Michigan

Yes. I’ve made a lot of dill slices using the “regular” dill pickle recipes. This includes sweet and hot dills, too! — Jackie

Shelf life of dried and canned foods

We’re interested in making a survival “stash” of some staples such as dried beans, rice, sugar, and flour, as well as canned vegetables such as green beans, peas, tomatoes, squash, and corn. Our concept is to vacuum pack serving size packages and store in 5 gallon buckets in a cool, dry location (for the beans and rice). We would store the sugar and flour in their existing bags, in 5 gallon buckets, and add some bay leaves in the buckets. Can you give us an estimate of how long all these items might last in storage, including the canned items?

We really enjoy your column and the magazine and will be renewing soon. We will also be ordering your canning book tomorrow.

David Rowland
Summerdale, Alabama

The foods you listed have nearly unlimited storage potential. They should stay good for many years. You don’t need the bay leaves in sugar; nothing bothers it and there are no weevil eggs in it to hatch. Either store canned foods or home canned foods will be good nearly indefinitely, although it IS always a good idea to rotate your foods so that you don’t have any getting TOO old. This goes for your dry foods, too. Just to be certain that none ever goes to waste.
Glad to hear you’re renewing and buying the gardening/canning book. It’s nearly harvest time here and we’re starting to can tomorrow with our first wild blueberries! — Jackie

Tomato Cages

Just reading your blog, & noted the very cool tomato cages Will made. Would it be possible to get construction details on them? I have some of that wire, but it is a bear to work with! Did Will form them around something? How did he fasten the ends, bending wire/welding?

Deb Horan
Mason, New Hampshire

You just unroll the re-enforcing wire about 5′-6′ (depending on how large your plants will mature — for instance, Polish Linguisa and Gold Medal tomato plants get HUGE, where Silvery Fir Tree tomato plants are much smaller). Cut the wire so there are long ends. We bend these over around the other end of the cage. No, we don’t use a form, just the natural curve of the roll of wire. Besides the cage, we also drive a wooden stake in next to the plant and start tying it up before they are ready to cage. This starts the plant growing upright and the stake helps keep the cage from blowing over in a heavy wind.

We really like them. Plain tomato cages are small at the bottom and blow over in the wind or just fall over with the weight of our un-pruned tomato vines. — Jackie


  1. I’ve been enjoying hummingbirds too. We have a honeysuckle vine that wreaths our kitchen window. The little birds are really attracted to it. What a joy it is to wash dishes and observe the hummingbirds!

  2. We made tomato cages from concrete reinforcing wire as well – and found that it’s easiest with two people working together, with work gloves on -and some patience :) We each had a set of pliers to form loops out of wire. Google ‘concrete reinforcing wire tomato cages, and you’ll find several tutorials online. We use them in our hoop house (opaque car cover) and found that they’re much more efficient than trying to keep the plants tied up.

  3. Sure wish you’d have been able to get a photo of Will running from the turkey mama…. From your description I did get a great mental photo that made me laugh out loud…..

  4. I too cage my tomatoes. We live along I- 75 in KY and a few years ago they went thru and replaced all the fence on both sides. I was fortunate to be gardening at the neighbors place where the Highway Commission had permission to deposit the old fence in the holler. They also cast off the ends of rolls of fence that was brand new but too short for starting another section. Needless to say, I drug these partial rolls out of the ditch and made tomato cages out of them. I wanted a 2 foot diameter so I cut the rolls in 6 ft lenghts and fastened them into a circle with hog rings and plyers, Has been working for me for the past 10 years.
    I made 84 cages that year wiith perfectly nice galvanized fence wire. I space the tomato plants 2 feet apart in the row and put a T post between every third plant. Then the cages get tied together top and bottom and to the post with bailing twine. I’ve never had one blow over.
    I plant the rows 6 feet apart so with the cages I have a 4 foot aisle. It looks too far apart when they are first put in but by mid summer when the vines are out the top of the cages I have to stoop over to walk down the row under the vines that have grown into a canopy overhead.
    Last year I had 3 rows of eleven plants and those 33 plants produced over 2000 pounds of tomatoes. I extended the season in the fall by putting a tarp over the plants in the cages when frost threatened and got several more weeks of production. We do love our tomatoes!
    Walton KY

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