Well, spring is officially here on our homestead, even though it was 6° F this morning. Because peppers and petunias take quite a while to grow to decent size, I start both of them in February. That way I can set out sturdy peppers in Wallo’ Waters or this year in the hoop house Will is going to build. By doing that, I can start my peppers in the garden in April when the last spring frosts aren’t until June, usually.

I planted 17 different peppers this year, but with restraint; I only planted from 3-12 seeds of each one. We definitely had too many tomatoes and peppers last year. The tomatoes were great…the peppers not so much. They were just starting to “make” peppers heavily when freezing weather came. Thus, the new hoop house. It’s going to be 12×16 feet and high enough to walk into. Actually, there are rumors that we may get two hoop houses — one for peppers and one for melons, but I’ll keep you posted on that, later!

It’s so exciting, starting those little seeds, with such great hopes wrapped up in each one of them! I plant my peppers and tomatoes now in Jiffy extra-sized peat pellets, then transplant the whole thing into Styrofoam cups or four-inch pots for more root growth. That way, I’m setting out strong plants that are not root bound. I plant two seeds into each hydrated pellet, then pack six of them into my old ugly blue surgical kit boxes. The I slide the whole thing into a plastic bag. With the bag shut, I put them up on a bookshelf near the wood stove where the temperature ranges from 70 to 80° F — perfect germination temperatures. With this method, I’ve got to keep a close watch on the trays every morning, because I’ve had peppers germinate after only three days! The “normal” germination time for peppers is about 12-14 days.

This method gets them up and growing very quickly. Once they are popping through the pellets, I move them into the greenhouse, where they are not only warm, but also have plenty of natural and supplemental light during the evening.

I’ll keep you all posted on the progress.

Readers’ Questions:

Using oxygen absorbers in grain storage

I would like to store wheat for future use. I have plastic buckets, Mylar liner bags and oxygen absorbers. Do I put the oxygen absorbers inside the grain or just inside the bucket? Do I need to freeze the grain to kill insect eggs before storing? I would like to store corn. Do I use the same method?

Judy Shadwick
Soddy Daisy, Tennessee

You put the wheat into the bags, in the buckets, then put the oxygen absorbers on top of the grain. I would suggest freezing the wheat before storage…just in case you have insects or eggs in the grain. This storage method also works for corn or any other grains. I have not used Mylar bags or oxygen absorbers in my grains and so far, have had absolutely no problems storing my grain for lengthy times. The flours from it bake just like freshly-stored grain flour. Keeping it dry and rodent/insect free are the essential keys. — Jackie

Making potato soup and storing popcorn

I am looking for a recipe to make my dehydrated potatoes into potato soup. I was also wondering if you heat canning jars up in the oven pour unpopped popcorn in them and let them cool if they would seal air tight? I was recently given a big bag (50#) and have nowhere to put it to keep away from mice, but I do have plenty of canning jars. Do you think the canning jars would survive in an outbuilding?

Becky Boitnott
New Castle, Virginia

Heat a quart of milk to just scalding (skin and bubbles just begin to form on surface). Add 2 Tbsp. butter or margarine, then add enough dehydrated potatoes to make a medium thin soup. Lower the heat and stir until the potatoes have absorbed milk. Keep stirring. If you wish, add any of the following: dehydrated onion, chives, parsley flakes, bacon bits, or dehydrated (or fresh) grated carrot. Stir well, adding more potato for a thicker soup, more milk if it’s too thick for your taste. You can also add drained canned corn or grated cheddar cheese, if you wish.

As for the popcorn, you don’t have to seal the jars; you can just put the popcorn in the jars and turn down the lid; you can even use good, used lids that are not dented from opening. The popcorn would be okay in an outbuilding if it doesn’t get too hot in there; the heat will reduce the storage time. I keep my popcorn in a new garbage can in the basement. The mice can’t get in that! I also buy my popcorn in 50# bags. The popcorn I popped last night was 2 years old and it popped just fine. It also makes great homemade cornmeal. — Jackie

Canning orange juice

How can I can fresh or frozen orange juice? I don’t have a freezer.

Barbara Jacobson
Salt Lake City, Utah

Heat your orange juice to simmering, then pour into hot, sterilized jars, leaving 1/2 inch of headspace. Wipe the rim of the jar clean, place a hot, previously simmered lid on the jar and screw down the ring firmly tight. Process pints and quarts for 10 minutes in a boiling water bath canner. Remember to count your time from the time the water returns to a full rolling boil. — Jackie

Iron content in water supply

I now have well water with a high iron content. Sometimes the water in the jars will have a red color. Will this hurt anything?

Michael Mcintosh
Rudy, Arkansas

Not usually. Our water, too, has some iron. This causes a little discoloration in pickles and fruits, but is definitely not a problem. No taste difference and no really ugly color. If your water causes either, you can either borrow water from someone with a low iron well or use bottled water for recipes you can where the color is severely affected or the taste is poor using your own water. — Jackie

Too old to homestead?

I’m 60-years-old and too old to try homesteading, but what ways can I live the dream in my little ranch house on two acres. I don’t think I have the energy for goats!

Deborah Sutorius
Elyria, Ohio

Sixty is definitely NOT too old to homestead! After all, I am 64 (oops! I told!). Homesteading is as much in the mind as in the body. Everyone can practice homesteading skills and love their life. It doesn’t take living in the mountains, living off grid, or growing a two-acre garden. With two acres, you can do a whole lot! You can grow a small garden to start with. After eating as much fresh food as you wish, you can start home canning a bit. You don’t need to overwhelm yourself; just do some pickles, jam, or tomatoes. As you become more excited about it, you can expand to other foods such as tomato sauce, salsa, and fruits. All of these only need a water bath canner and are very easy to prepare.

You’d get a whole lot of enjoyment out of having a few chickens. Not only can you have fresh eggs, but you’ll get a tremendous amount of entertainment watching and caring for these fun “livestock.”
Goats? They are also a whole lot of fun and really don’t take much energy. It takes me 10 minutes, morning and afternoon, to feed two pens of seven goats each, including watering. If I’m milking a doe for milk for the house, that takes another fifteen minutes, from getting her on the milk stand to straining the milk to refrigerate. With a well-behaved doe, it doesn’t take much energy at all. And with the milk, you can also make great tasting ice cream, yogurt, and easy cheeses.

Of course all of this and more depends on just how much you really are up to doing, both mentally and physically. Start small and grow as you feel confidence growing. It’s fun and fulfilling to homestead…but you don’t have to live like a pioneer. — Jackie

Canning applesauce

The apples I was able to save last year I made into applesauce. I used Fruit Fresh in my water after peeling and slicing. However, my jars of waterbathed sauce have about an inch of darkened product on top. I’m sure it is okay to eat but is not appealing to look at. I usually scoop off the top and discard it. What should I do differently next year?

Adell Struble
Aledo, Illinois

Did you add cinnamon to your applesauce? If you did, that’s probably what darkened the top of your sauce; I had that happen a couple of times. But I still add the cinnamon, but just stir up the sauce before serving it. Otherwise, it could possibly be that you didn’t expel air bubbles by running a knife down through your sauce or that too much headspace was allowed. Processing food for too short a time can also cause darkening of the top of a processed food. I’m sure your next batch will turn out fine. — Jackie

Growing potatoes

Do you grow potatoes? Everything I read says to only use certified seed potatoes, but they are so much more expensive! Is it worth the extra cost?

Rena Erickson
Easley, South Carolina

You bet we grow potatoes — at least three varieties every year. They are the king of our garden! Yes, using certified seed potatoes is best. I start out with them, then carefully save my own seed from clean, disease-free potatoes each year. I only buy new certified seed potatoes if mine were possibly suffering from disease that year. We do rotate our potato area of the garden each year to keep down the possibility of disease. — Jackie

Using whole ground wheat

How can I separate the germ from my wheat berries in small batches? Can I get “all-purpose” flour results with the whole ground wheat? My mill was a Christmas present, and I’ve been a little hesitant to get it cranking, because my whole wheat breads from store-bought flour always seem to come out dense and tough. I’ve had great success with white and sourdough breads, thanks to some of your recipes!

Heidi Collier
Bent Mountain, Virginia

You really can’t separate out wheat germ with home methods. To get lighter results with whole wheat flour, try mixing a portion of white flour with it. You can also lighten up whole wheat breads by adding dough enhancer to it (gluten). This natural product helps lighten whole grain breads. Also, the more times you knead bread, the lighter it will become. So if you want lighter whole wheat bread, knead it at least twice; three times will make even lighter, more airy bread. The TASTE of home-ground whole wheat flour is so good, I don’t mind my bread a little more dense. Good baking! — Jackie


  1. My comment is also for Deborah:

    I’m 58, and there was a long lull between the last homestead and the current one….I wondered if I was too “old” or too tired to have a go at it again, until I did it :)……I have found that the more active you are, the more energy you get in return; the more active you are, the easier it is to be active….all those rusty parts get a workout and leaves you feeling great, once you get adjusted to it….As we age, sometimes our confidence ages too, and accomplishing some of the challenges of a homestead is a great mental boost, as well….

    Whatever you try, if it’s too much or doesn’t appeal to you, you can always eliminate that….if you get goats and they are a bother, you can switch to chickens or something else; if gardening doesn’t thrill you, growing fruit trees may….the potential is endless and yet not “forever” if you don’t want it to be……

    As a single woman I worried that the projects would be to much to handle myself, there are limits that even the young’n’s can’t do by themselves ~ depending on the specific situation, a local 4 H kids program can help you while they work on their own projects in return; a local handyman or small construction company might be able to assist you as well, for a reasonable amount (just to have the work opportunity)…..you could also check into the local high school classes, and see if they might want to tackle one of your items as a class project……or just asking around the nearest neighbors can open up some bartering opportunities…..

    Above all, don’t be afraid to try anything new – you may just find out how much you love it and are thankful you found it…..same applies to what you find out you can’t (or don’t want) to do……And yes, sometimes it may take you longer to do compared to those a few decades younger, but that’s ok too, it does get done…..

  2. YEA!!!! I got 10 very large frozen turkeys today. I am going to put then all in jars, two at a time. I love canned turkey and will enjoy many meals out of these birds. When I get these done, I may get some more. They wil taste good a long time down the road.

  3. Deborah, you surely are not too old at 60 to homestead, but you may have to practice adaptive or enabled gardening. Use raised beds to garden in, at least 2 feet tall so you can sit down on the edges or on a chair when you need to rest, and as wide as your two arms length so you can reach the middle from each side. Two feet also gets you out of the vertical range of many garden pests. It’s usually best to orient the beds north-south but consider winds when you set them up. If your beds are one sided, one arm’s length. Depending on your soil type, you may be able to just mound up your soil but long term I think you’d find it best to contain your soil in something – logs, cinderblocks, rocks, hay bales, whatever you have. Call on neighbors, friends, church members, scout troops, civic organizations, garden clubs, your county Master Gardeners or family to help you set them up. Many organizations do service projects. Then adapt what you grow to what you can do. Plants will adjust. If you can’t tie your tomatoes up on stakes or cages, just let them lay down and crawl along the ground – with some kind of mulch under them. Or grow determinate tomatoes. Potatoes, both white and sweet, can be grown in containers and white potatoes in piles of hay – no trenching, digging, hilling necessary. Peppers, eggplant, green beans, melons, squash all come in dwarf or container varieties now. Onions and garlic are low maintenance crops. Lettuces and greens Use a thick layer of mulch to cut down on the work of watering and weeding. Tape long handles to short handled tools you have so you can reach across the beds. Plant lots of berries and fruits, which will produce food for you for years – they can all be grown in raised beds. Chickens or ducks are fun to watch as Jackie said, but take some attention and tending when young and of course need a shelter and protection from predators. They may need bug control and their house has to be cleaned.

  4. I wanted to encourage Deborah that 60 is not too late to start ! I began this wonderful journey to self-sufficiency at age 58, and while there are a lot more aches and pains two years later, the results have been so positive and fulfilling that I wish I had started 20 years ago!

    I am not married, and have a seriously limited income, so I have had only sporadic help from some kind folks. If you have a good support system, with willing hearts and hands, that will go a long way! But, if not, you will certainly discover that you can do a whole lot more than you ever thought possible!

    If it is allowed, please refer Deborah to my recent blog post, written in support of urban homesteading (I live on a busy street corner!). She may find it encouraging.


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