I planted 16 different varieties of peppers two weeks and three days ago. Today, 90% of them are up and growing, as well as my petunias. I want both of these to be quite large when I set them out. The petunias will be blooming in the hanging baskets in the front of the house and the peppers will be going into our new hoop house, as well as in our house garden and flower beds. Since we’re growing several different varieties, I plan on isolating a couple of the open-pollinated varieties and saving seed. Seed is getting very expensive and that’ll only get worse as the economy does.

And tomorrow, I start planting tomatoes! We’ve sorted out and decided on about 16 different varieties this year, so to hold our crop down, I’ll only be planting 2 to 12 seeds of each variety. Sigh…

Today we went and talked to a neighboring logger. Will has been fine-tuning our barn plans and decided to use logs for hayloft floor joists, as he did in our storage building. We don’t have enough larger diameter trees, so after talking to a friend, we made connections with a logger who is cutting about 20 miles from us. It was exciting today, going out into the woods, seeing the trees he was cutting — perfect for our barn! And the price was VERY reasonable, too. So Will’s readying our new-used equipment trailer so he can begin hauling the logs home as the logger cuts. It just goes to show you that if you need something and tell a lot of people, sooner or later you will find it…and reasonably priced, too.

Our barn is slowly taking shape as we are gathering materials. Already, the used power poles are stacked in a pile, under the snow, and the site is nearly leveled. We are so very excited about this barn, as we will be able to raise and store more of our own food: hay above, grain in a large bin, a milk cow, and tons of room for calves, goats, and other critters. We can hardly wait till spring!

Readers’ Questions:

Feeding chickens

My question is concerning feeding chickens. I just read what you feed your chickens and will plant extra squash to feed them next winter. But, as for the leafy trefoil or alfalfa hay, this is not an option for us. We have a hopper in our coop that we fill with bought chicken pellets; this gives the chickens free range of all the food they want. Very expensive, I might add. They have a large yard to glean from and we feed them table scraps too. Should we be allowing them to have free range of chicken pellets and what else can we do to cut the cost? We will be purchasing more chicks soon. I hope to end up with about 15 to 20 chickens.

Lanette Renda
Sheridan, Oregon

Why can’t you give your chickens a slab of leafy hay? Even when you have to buy your hay, it is cheaper than chicken feed…and it does help provide them with lots of exercise and nutrition, in addition to chicken feed. If it’s just the hopper thing, just put a slab of hay on the ground, inside or out, and they’ll dig through it and there will be very little left over.

I also switched my poultry from all chicken feed to 1/2 and 1/2 chicken feed (not egg mash) and 1/2 chop (ground corn and oats, mixed). They are still laying very well and it cut my monthly feed bill by about $25. With the price of feed climbing, we all need to do what we can to make our livestock and poultry work yet be affordable and healthy for them. Chicks DO need higher protein when young and growing, so chick starter is still the best option for them. — Jackie

Purchasing heirloom vegetable plants

I garden and can each year but have used hybrid seeds and plants. My friends have convinced me to start using heirloom seeds and plants so I can dry and reuse my own each year. Is there a website where I can order plants or purchase them in Georgia. I know of websites for seeds but not plants.

Vicki Cox
Rex, Georgia

I haven’t been able to locate a company in Georgia that sells heirloom vegetables, but as this is becoming very popular, I would think that you should be able to find many more popular heirloom vegetable plants right in your local nursery. Of course, you can also plant vegetables right in the garden, from seed, so you probably will only need tomatoes, peppers, and maybe eggplant. These are usually pretty easy to find locally, AND much cheaper than mail-order plants. Good seed saving. It’s such fun! — Jackie

Canning beef

I have just canned several jars of fully cooked ground beef and I did not add any additional liquid to them. They all sealed properly, but now I am concerned because I cannot determine if my not adding additional water or broth will result in a spoiled food. Do you know whether or not the beef should be okay? If it is okay, then what difference does it make between dry and wet?

Name withheld

That used to be the approved way of canning ground beef. I’ve done it just that way for years and it always turns out perfectly. Today, the experts have decided to keep us safer from ourselves and any possible “mistakes” in processing by having us add liquid to our cooked ground beef. It turns out fine that way, too. — Jackie

Trapping a beaver

I remember you saying that you have a beaver on your property and yesterday we discovered that a beaver has moved onto our pond, built a large home and has been cutting down many of the trees surrounding the woodland pond. I counted 24 trees that have been felled. We do not wish to have the trees cut down and I was wondering how one goes about catching a beaver and moving him or killing him?

Deborah Motylinski
Brecksville, Ohio

You can usually find a trapper who will live trap or kill beaver. In some areas, the DNR (Dept. of Natural Resources) will trap and remove beaver that are causing damage to surrounding areas. I like beaver and was very happy when ours raised a family and are keeping their dam intact. We also have 80 acres, so we can easily co-exist with the beavers, luckily. — Jackie

Planting potatoes

I bought some organic yellow potatoes and did not use all of them before they sprouted (little white nubs all over). Can these be planted and how would I prepare them for planting? I have never tried growing potatoes before but I have good luck with other vegetables. Artichokes were great last year. I live in zone 9a. I enjoy your column and articles, the book Starting Over was great.

Harriet DeMoia
Breaux Bridge, Louisiana

Since your potatoes are sprouting, I would simply cut the big ones into pieces with at least 2 eyes each and plant the smaller ones whole. As it is kind of late in Zone 9, I’d get the potatoes in the ground as soon as possible so they can get their growing done before hot weather hits. Potatoes like warm weather, but hot weather shortens their growing season. You’ll get more potatoes per vine and help them survive the hot weather by hilling them at least twice (pulling dirt up over the growing vines, leaving only a few inches of “green” growing above the dirt each time)

I’m glad you liked Starting Over! — Jackie

Leggy tomato plants

I have been planting tomato seeds for several years, but this year, the Early Goliath SHOT up overnight to about 3-4″. They were planted in the bottom of an 8 oz. styro cup in seed starter (per usual) but I have never seen them get so leggy, so quickly! I put more starter in the cup to cover as much of the stem as I could, but they look so spindly, still sticking out 2″ above the top of the cup, I’m afraid they won’t make it. Can I re-plant to a bigger styro cup or should I put them in something else? If something else, what would you suggest? I can’t plant outside in this area till April, so now what can I do to save them?

J in Missouri

If you only planted a few seeds, I’d discard the leggy ones and plant again. Usually they spring up so tall because they are looking for light. I had some once that I planted in cups that I hadn’t filled completely, so even in the window, they didn’t find enough light right away and got really tall, looking for it. Be sure to fill your cups nearly to the brim. If you really want to save those plants, replant them in a taller container, burying all but the top 3/4″ or so and leaves. They will eventually root all down the stem and do fine. — Jackie

Canning maple syrup and butter

We enjoy a syrup recipe which is real maple syrup mixed with real butter in equal measure. Can I can this and what method do I need to use?

Alisyn Friederich
Duluth, Minnesota

This is a recipe that experts wouldn’t want you to can, because of the butter in it. However, I would not hesitate to try a small batch, just to see how it goes, as I’ve canned butter for years, alone, in half pint jars. Once you melt your butter with the boiling syrup, I’d ladle it into hot pint jars and process it in a boiling water bath canner for 60 minutes. The butter may settle out of the syrup on cooling, so you’d have to heat the syrup before use. Again, this is not “recommended” canning and would be only used as such. — Jackie

Canning pasta

My family likes canned ravioli, but I would like to can my own, so that I don’t have to keep buying cans of it, and having the disposal of the tin cans. Is it possible to make my own fresh pasta with a thin sauce and can it? I know that you are not supposed to can a lot of pasta, but I think fresh pasta is closer to the real size and you can judge how much to put in the jars better than dry pasta. I would like to make large amounts of homemade ravioli and can it up, to have ready to eat meals that can just be heated up. What times would you suggest for pressure canning this?

Would it be possible to do this with other types of fresh pasta and thin sauces? I like to make my own pasta and don’t have time to always do it when I want it.

Rose Wolfe
Fairbanks, Alaska

None of the experts recommend canning pasta products. Personally, I would use a little more thinner sauce than you would in regular ravioli and put more sauce in than usual, in each jar. Leave 1″ of headspace and be sure to put in hot sauce over your ravioli. I would process the jars for 75 minutes for pints or 90 minutes for quarts, and would opt for pints so the ravioli didn’t overcook. (This is assuming your filling would contain meat.)

I have tried spaghetti, but didn’t like the way it turned out; too “mushy” for us. Noodles and macaroni did better, by far and I think shells would, as well.

But, again, experts don’t recommend canning pasta products (although store pasta products are very common…) — Jackie

Deer and elk in the garden

Where would I purchase dehydrated shortening?

Also I’m having trouble with deer and elk in my trees and garden,I’m thinking of using cougar urine that they use to train dogs as a deterrent has any one done this before? If so does it work? There are reasons beyond my control as to why we can’t hunt the buggers, and dogs are not a deterrent.

Kathy Suhr
Sedro Woolley, Washington

I buy my powdered shortening from Emergency Essentials (BePrepared.com) or 653 North 1500 West, Orem, UT 84057.

Forget the cougar urine; doesn’t work a bit. I have a wolf hybrid (husky/wolf) and the deer used to chase him in our garden! So much for the “afraid of predator thing!” A fence is the only way I’ve been able to keep deer, elk, and moose out of our various gardens. A real fence, 6 feet high, with a possibility of adding more wire above if they ever jumped in. They never have…so far. — Jackie

Turkeys and hoop house

How exciting for your first turkey egg! I have never raised turkeys and have always wanted to try. I do not have a mother hen as you did last year. How do you start turkeys from chicks? The same as chickens or is there a difference? Who would you recommend for a reputable hatchery? Do homegrown turkeys taste a lot better than store bought? I have never tasted one. How long does it take to raise a turkey from chick to full grown?

Concerning your hoop house. Is this a permanent structure like a greenhouse or is it something you can build over your peppers in August?

Cindy Hills
Wild Rose, Wisconsin

Basically, you raise baby turkeys (poults) the same as you raise baby chicks, using a heat lamp above a sturdy container, such as a small stock tank or even large cardboard box. Just be sure they are eating and drinking right off the bat as sometimes poults aren’t very smart, compared to baby chicks. I’ve had very good luck with Murray McMurray Hatchery and Whelp Hatchery. There are also feed mills, probably close by, that in the spring, sell poults. If you only plan on raising turkeys to butcher, any of the common breeds, such as Broad Breasted Whites will work. If you would like to keep raising your own turkeys, choose a heritage breed, which can reproduce and raise their young on their own. Such breeds as Bourbon Red, Spanish Black, Slate, and Narragansetts all can do this, which is why we are raising them.

Home raised turkeys do taste better, as does everything home raised or home made! If you buy turkey poults early in the spring, you can butcher them in the late fall, just in time for the holiday dinners!

Our hoop house will be semi-permanent. It will be 7 feet high in the center and 12×16 feet. We will leave it up all growing season, then dismantle it in the fall to reuse the next year. We will eventually build a more permanent one to leave up, using sturdier (and more expensive) material. — Jackie

Moving a pantry

We are having to move our pantry goods to another state. Do you have any tips to ensure the safe transit of this type of material? (My husband is in the kitchen now, canning up beans.)

PJ Benet-Davis
Alturas, California

What I’ve done to ensure my home canning didn’t become damaged in transit is to go to liquor stores and grocery stores and ask them to save me sturdy boxes with dividers in them. Then I packed my jars in these, sometimes cutting the boxes down so the jars fit securely and allowed us to stack boxes without them crushing out of shape. With a wad of newspaper on top of each jar and these dividers, I’ve only lost a jar or two among each of six long distance moves. If you’re traveling over mountains, altitude changes don’t affect the jars. I hope your move is a happy one! — Jackie


  1. Wow, that looks super creamy and delicious! I’m not a huge red pepper fan, but I have used them in sauces and enjoyed them. And with gnocchi, well you can’t go wrong

  2. laurie,

    I would hill the potatoes with soil, then ad a couple of inches of the chipped bark over that. Bark chips make great mulch, but do sometimes hinder the nitrogen intake of the plants. Used like that, I think they’ll do fine, protected from greening by the mulch and being able to draw nutrients from the soil, as well.


  3. I wanted to say a late congratulations on getting engaged. That’s a lot of tomato varieties. I get overwelmed with four or five. I really enjoy watching young plants sprout and watch how fast they grow. It’s amazing the speed they grow.

  4. About leggy tomatoes: I occasionally cheat with the really leggy ones by bending them over and using a forked stick to “pin” the stem to a second starter pot. Often it will root, giving you 2 tomato plants for the price of one leggy one. Or, I sometimes clip the top and plant it as a cutting, just poke a pencil in the dirt and slip the stem into the hole.

    (I have some tomatoes growing indoors that I grew from cuttings shortly before the garden got frozen out. They’re unbelievably leggy, but come springtime they’ll supply the cuttings for my next garden. I’ve nicknamed them my “forever tomatoes”. I noticed last year that while something kept attacking my tomato seedlings almost as soon as I put them out, the cuttings were left alone.)

  5. a question about hilling potatoes.
    my husband has a pile of chinese elm bark that has been chipped a year ago with a super tomahawk flayle chipper. it’s almost dust, would this make good material for mounding potatoes?
    thank you,
    laurie hammer
    blaine, mn

  6. Lisa,

    I know;our snow’s at least that deep, but planting makes spring seem closer.

    I think the barn is Will’s present to me and mine to him. It’s something we’ve both wanted for a long time! Better not be a wedding gift or who knows when we’d get married is we had to have it done by then!


  7. nancy,

    Don’t give up! Peppers are sometimes real slow starters. I’ve had some take 4 weeks!

    Will wanted to try some seeds of ours that I got 18 years ago. I planted them and guess what? all germinated and look great !


  8. I started my peppers about two weeks ago. My seeds were older, not one has come up. Guess I will have to start over. I have a different kind of peat pellet also that I don’t think I like. Will get the more familuar ones next time I go to town.

  9. In response to the reader who wanted a source of heirloom plants and seeds, Selected Plants in Alabama will ship plants. Darrel Jones has a very large collection of tomatoes, plus peppers, tomatillos, eggplant, etc. He’s a home gardener whose gardening enthusiasm took over!


  10. Good morning Jackie.
    Glad to hear your peppers are sprouting. I am looking to start doing the peppers also, but it is hard to get motivated when there is still +2Ft of snow on the ground! But spring will coming and I better get moving. I think your blogs are great, but this is something I wanted to share with your readers. This weekend I made yogurt in a crockpot for the first time and it is delicious! I have huge cans of evaporated milk (3QT size), so I have been having a hard time trying to use up the whole can and I don’t know how it would turn out for re-canning. Anyhoo, used that in the yogurt and it is great. In fact, it is more like the ‘greek’ yogurt that is all the rage…double the protein since the milk ‘concentrated’. Also the yogurt doesn’t seem to have as much sour taste as the store bought stuff. Well, thanks for you great advice in the past, and also for letting me sound off. Have a great day. Ps. Is the new barn going to be your wedding gift from Will? :-)


Comments are closed.