As spring progresses here in the Northwoods, Will made his last voyage over the snow-packed ice bridge, over the creek to the ash flats on the other side of the beaver pond. He brought back another huge load of that wonderful hard dead ash firewood with the dozer and our $75 firewood dray. But after he crossed the creek that morning, the weather warmed up and when he brought the wood home, the ice bridge over the creek had sunk down considerably in the center! Oh oh! So he throttled it to full and said a few prayers. Luckily, the sled pulled across the creek without trouble. But he decided not to tempt fate by hauling more. We already have more than enough for next winter, and that wood will still be there.

Meanwhile, I’ve been writing and transplanting the first of my pepper plants into styrofoam cups. They are the nicest peppers we’ve ever grown. And the tomatoes aren’t far behind. They like our warm, sunny greenhouse windows and the lights we have over them. I can’t wait to get them out into the garden. I can actually SEE some spots of garden out there. Dirt! Yeah! Dirt. It’s so great. Sigh. I’m dirt-deprived! Happy spring!

Readers’ Questions:

Ants and bees

…I live in deep east Texas, and ants are prolific here. Every year, my stepfather has ants in his okra, and this year, I already have ants in my own garden. I don’t want to put any chemicals in the garden, as I’d prefer to keep the soil as natural and chemical-free as humanly possible. Is there any way to eradicate them from my garden, safely and preferably, naturally?

Also, can you offer any advice on beekeeping? I’m not sure where or how to find a reliable source for bees, and have no idea how to get started.

Toni McDonald
Jasper, Texas

Are you talking about fire ants or other species? Fire ants are often well controlled by pouring boiling water into their mounds. Other ant controls include diatomaceous earth sprinkled as a boundary to the garden area, dry grits as a bait (must remain dry), and spinosad bait, sold as Green Light and others. Ants can be frustrating; good luck!

Bees are fun to raise. I’ve had them and enjoyed taking care of them, and, of course, all that honey! Will is terribly allergic to bee stings, so we aren’t keeping bees now, but hope his allergy is getting better, as it seems to be. (He had to carry an epi-pen and head for the ER, it was so bad!) Why don’t you talk to local hobbyist beekeepers; they’re usually more than happy to share their interest and help you get started. Also, there is a very good beekeeping article by Charles Sanders in the BHM 15th year anthology that might help you get started. It’s not rocket science, and you should do well. — Jackie

Canning tea concentrate

I recently got a fantastic deal on boxes of herbal tea. (they were free!) I would like to can them up as a concentrate as I’m not a big one cup at a time tea drinker but I plow thru iced tea in the summer. Some of the boxes were open as the person tried a couple to sample each box, so I’d like to get it in jars to preserve as much of the flavor as I can before it fades. (they came from a trusted friend so I’m ok with them being opened.) My problem is I cant find anything on canning tea concentrate. Any ideas?

Tunkhannock, Pennsylvania

Personally, I’d just pack your tea bags in glass gallon jugs with a sealed lid. They will stay fine for years. Then when you want iced tea, just make up a gallon at a time, by using several bags in a gallon of water. You’ll have plenty of tea without having to make the cup of tea at a time thing. Lucky you! Great score. — Jackie

What kind of generator?

Your place is gorgeous. Sure enjoyed the photos and congrats on finding love. It is a precious thing!

We are on the grid here on our parcel of land, but would like to have a generator for back up. I have no idea how to go about choosing one. Can you recommend what to look for? Propane or gas? Brands/features? I was thinking to buy a portable one, since the price is so much less and we won’t be using it as the primary power source.

Manor, Texas

We love our house, too and feel so blessed to not only have the great house we’ve worked so hard on, but a wonderful relationship.

For a backup generator that won’t break the budget, I’d get a large enough gas generator to run your well and necessary appliances: freezer, furnace blower, etc. Usually you can easily get by with a 5,000 watt model. I would strongly recommend one with a Honda engine, as I’ve had others (Briggs, Tecumseh) that didn’t hold up nearly as well and were only a little cheaper to buy. Be sure to have a switch to be able to switch off the main power line so you don’t kill workers trying to fix your power outage! — Jackie

Food-grade storage buckets

I have been searching online and various places about storage buckets and am confused with all the back and forth information I am finding. I have seen buckets at the Home Depot. (the orange ones) On the bottom of the buckets it has the number 2 with arrows going around it. I is my understanding this is food grade but when I search it online to see if it is I find information that says you can use them and then other sights that say steer clear. Do you know if they can be used for long term storage? They are more in my budget then most I have found. Also what about the tops that can be purchased with them?

Elizabeth Welcher
Indianapolis, Indiana

I talked to a man in the plastics industry and he said that the number 2 with the arrows is a recycling mark and indicates that the plastic in the bucket is HDPE, which is the same plastic they use in milk jugs. He also said there aren’t any larger (3 and 5-gallon buckets) that are not food grade plastic. Same with the tops. I buy my buckets at Wal-mart and Super One bakery departments for $1 each, with gasketed lids. It’s cheaper still than Home Depot buckets! And we KNOW they’re food grade, too. — Jackie

Canning leftover soup

Many years ago my Grandmother taught me to save all leftovers and freeze them in freezer bags to make soup out of at a later date. These bags of “leftovers” make the best soup ever.

Do you think I could can the “leftover bags” even tho’ the meat and veg’s have been cooked once and then frozen. I think the meat will turn out fine but will the veg’s turn to mush during the canning process?

Joyce Shelby
Rosiclare, Illinois

Your soup leftovers should can up pretty good. Potatoes are the worst as far as getting mushy from being twice cooked. The rest hold up pretty well. You’ll just have to make up a batch, heat it and can up a few jars to see just how your particular soup does and then do future batches taking that into consideration. — Jackie

Pressure canner

We want to buy a pressure canner. Would you please give a recommendation. We have looked at several and think the All American is convenient because it does not have a gasket to go bad. Also the proper size would be appreciated.

C.R. & Jami Kirkpatrick
Three Rivers, Texas

I like the All American; my new one is an All American. I’d advise you buying the largest one you can afford and handle. This lets you get more canning done quicker. I still have my huge old canner, which is also gasketless, but sometimes I just have several pints or a few quarts to can up and the smaller one gets the job done much faster, as it gets exhausted faster and up to pressure faster than the huge one. It is MUCH lighter, too! But when I have a lot of canning to get done, I pull out the old one and get her done fast. — Jackie


  1. That’s a nice big pile of wood. It’s all dry and ready for next winter. Except for the splitting and stacking. It’s also nice to see someone else still using a splitting maul. I bust my wood every year by hand and if I get a tough one I pull out the wedge and if that doesn’t work I fire up my 290 Stihl Farm Boss and it will finish even the toughest jobs. I’m happy for you guys having all your wood cut for next winter.

  2. One other thing with “food grade” buckets… It is my understanding that the color makes it non-food grade. That said, the biggest issue with a bucket being food-grade or not is the potential for bacterial contamination. Mostly, that is an issue with liquids or wet foods. The reason those bakery buckets are sold so cheaply is because plastic buckets are only food grade for the first use. As soon as the food is added and removed, there is no way to ensure a scratch-free surface. Scratches cannot be cleaned safely enough for a manufacturer to reuse the bucket, hence you get a great deal for storing dry ingredients which is perfectly safe.

  3. Nothing says spring like bright green shoots poking themselves up out of soil…..Those are some happy looking pepper plants !

    Looks like Will will be chopping wood for quite a while…..

  4. RE: Canners

    When shopping for a pressure canner, make sure you know how much clearance you have over the top of your range. We borrowed a large older version from a neighbor to put up a bunch of stuff, and discovered that the microwave built onto the top of our range would interfere with the pressure gauge and handle on the canner lid, and also prevented easily removing the canner lid and handling the jars in/out of the canner.

    Plan ahead, eh? Watch those range hoods.

  5. Regarding Home Depot buckets: I called the manufacturer of the Home Depot buckets a couple years ago, and they told me they cannot recommend them for food use due to the possibility of contamination from the release agents (used so the plastic doesn’t stick to the mold when it’s formed). The situation may have changed, but I would call again before using them to put in direct contact with your food (I looked them up on the internet using the name/address on the bottom of the bucket). Now, using a sealed mylar liner eliminates any contact with the bucket, so you could go that route. Then, when you are ready to use that stored food, you could open a storage bucket, remove the sealed liner, and transfer the contents to a food-safe container.

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