From a modest compost pile a few feet high and about 10 feet in diameter, we now have a compost pile thirty feet long and about five feet high…thanks to our wonderful mule, Domino, several goats, and a few calves…plus miscellaneous green stuff from lawn and garden. It got shoved and turned, and now is getting spread out on the garden with our wonderful helper, the Ford 660. Will has been carrying buckets full of rotted compost down onto the fall garden, tucking it to bed under the black gold. We’re being careful where the poop goes, as we don’t want to put too much where the peppers and tomatoes will be next year (we rotate our crops), or they’ll get too much nitrogen and go all to huge plants and no fruits. And potatoes get scab with too much rotted manure. But beans, corn, squash, melons, chard, cabbage, etc. LOVE all that compost. So we pile it on deep for those sections next year. When it’s all hauled, we’ll drag it all nicely level and disc it in.

We’re driving the tractor around the plastic tarps, valiantly trying to save our melons. They are ripening and are SO good we can’t bear to lose them now! Nothing beats icy cold melons, eaten right in the garden with juice pouring down your chin! This is what we garden for!

Readers’ Questions:

Canning vegetable soup

I am preparing to make vegetable soup. A friend told me that I could cook the soup first and then put it hot into the jars and then pressure can it in a very short time. Is this true? I will be using corn in it, too. No meat. Is this safe?

Penny Hughes
Jane Lew, West Virginia

Absolutely NOT. When you can vegetable soup, you must process it for the time required for the longest-processing vegetable — usually corn. Canning cooked soup for a shorter time is gambling with food poisoning. — Jackie

Pickled eggs

Could pickling eggs using city water cause discoloration of the eggs? I kept the eggs in the pickling solution after opening and they turned black.

Joe Spearman
Cameron, Oklahoma

The pickling solution should have been:
1 1/2 quarts white vinegar
2 tsp salt
1 Tbsp whole allspice
1 Tbsp mixed pickling spices
If you used water in your mix, that may have been your problem. Chemicals in water do cause a lot of different pickling problems, but just cooking the hard-boiled eggs in it shouldn’t matter. — Jackie

Moving asparagus

I’m thinking about moving my asparagus patch and I’m wondering when the best time to move it would be?

Nicole Bramm
Narvon, Pennsylvania

Best to wait until spring to relocate your asparagus. Be sure to mark your plants with small stakes, in case the dried ferns break off and blow away. You want to transplant it before it begins to break dormancy in the spring. That’s before you begin to see shoots coming up out of the soil. Asparagus transplants very easily and takes right off. Remember that it has very long, spready roots. — Jackie

Squirrels eating corn

How do we stop squirrels from eating our corn?

Sue Simpson
Brush Prairie, Washington

Live traps work wonders…eventually. We had trouble with squirrels in our garden, and I set a live trap out. I was catching up to four squirrels a day! Unfortunately, it took 8 trips up and down our mile + long, bumpy driveway, and another 2 miles on a county road to get rid of each catch. But after a week or so, we were squirrel free…relatively. No more damage. I don’t trap squirrels in late spring, when the females might have babies at “home.” But I DO trap any and all males. They eat too! I bait my trap with sunflower seeds, which work well. (You must take your captives at least 2 miles away from home or they’ll come back. And PLEASE don’t release them near human habitation where they could become a problem for neighboring gardeners!) — Jackie

Harvesting onions

The weather over the last two weeks has been warm and wet. My onions weren’t really ready for harvest, but because I knew that the wet weather was coming, I harvested them and hung them in a barn open on one side. Today I decided to cut the tops off and move them to the greenhouse in hopes of more drying time this week. I found gray mold between the layers of the dried skin of the onion. Do you have any suggestions on how to process the onions and keep the mold from appearing again.

Louis Roumagoux
Carlton, Oregon

Usually if you will air dry the onions well, the skins will paper up and the mold will die from lack of moisture. Be sure to hand-rub the loose paper skins off all onions before storage to get rid of any mold still present, so that it won’t rear its ugly head in your cellar. — Jackie

Thin egg shells

I have a small urban flock of five chickens. Four are three years old, one is two. For the last few weeks, our Grand Dame (a Delaware), has been producing fewer eggs, but they are HUGE. A few of the shells have been quite thin, and she’s laid a few in the main run, instead of in the nest boxes. We always keep layer feed and scratch out (free access), and supplement with oyster shells, grit, veggies, fruits, weeds and garden scraps. What should I do? Is it just because she is getting older? Are there specific foods I can supplement with to help her get more calcium?

Dina Kovarik
Seattle, Washington

It’s just an individual “chicken” thing; sometimes metabolism shifts cause a hen to start laying very large, although fewer eggs. To get a thicker shell, you might try adding crushed, dry egg shells to their scratch feed. The chickens like them more than oyster shell, and thus get more calcium; i.e. thicker shells. Another options is to add milk to their mash. I do this in the spring and summer when I have all that extra goat milk or whey. It does seem to keep thicker shells. Your hen is NOT old, as far as homestead production goes. I have several that are 7 years old and still laying well. — Jackie

Canning shredded carrots

Is it possible to pressure can shredded carrots? I use shredded carrots a lot, but of course have always kept them in the freezer. I’ve just harvested our carrots so I’m wondering about this.

Judy Sloan
Spokane, Washington

Yes, you can home can shredded carrots, using the regular directions for pressure canning carrots. The only thing you may not like is that shredded carrots that are canned get very tender and don’t hold their shape as nicely as do the frozen or fresh ones. Otherwise, the taste and color is great. — Jackie

Canning banana peppers

This is my first time at canning. I canned up some hot banana peppers and all went well, but the liquid looks cloudy after cooling. All jars sealed fine. Is this normal?

Elizabeth Carpenter
Nineveh, Indiana

Are these pickled banana peppers? I’m guessing they are. If you followed canning directions correctly, and the jars are sealed, they should be fine. But as with any canning, keep an eye on the jars; they shouldn’t get MORE cloudy. On use, make sure the jars are sealed, then open them and give the food a sniff. If it looks okay and smells okay, with the jars sealed, the food should be fine. — Jackie


  1. I love these shelves!!! They craete a lovely display, but are chocked full of items that you will ultimately eat. Perfect blend of “easy on the eyes, yummy in the tummy”! I so wish we could get a garden growing! My dad always had a wonderful vegetable garden when we were growing up…and my grandmother was the “Queen of Canning”. So, seeing all these canned goods and old Mason jars brings back a lot of memories for me. Thanks for sharing and for hosting Sentimental Sunday!

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