Cécile Stelzer Johnson

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since Mar 09, 2015
I no longer have to work, so I'm developing a lot of different interests, beekeeping being the most expensive. Bees/ pollinators are in trouble and I decided to help. Getting chemicals out of our lives seems like a good idea. I'd like to be self sufficient so that I can have fun doing gardening, raising chickens and selling honey. Red oaks are all dying of the wilt and I may have a CAFO just west of me in a very near future. They will start by cutting all the trees, so I'll be the first one to smell their cows. (A confined Animal Feeding Operation is not my dream neighbor). All our red oaks are dying of the wilt and I'm trying to find suitable trees to replace them. Burying all that brush may be the best option to enrich the soil, which is *very* sandy and *very* poor.
zone 4b, sandy, Continental D
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Recent posts by Cécile Stelzer Johnson

Blaine Clark wrote:We go the already prepared way with Mrs. Wage's packaged mixes. We have a couple different recipes left over from last year and I picked up a couple more a few months ago. Around here they've been hit hard and nearly cleaned out as are most other canning supplies.
Cooking them for several hours as in a slow cooker, cooking with an acidic ingredient such as vinegar or citric acid, deep freezing for at least a day, or fermenting them as sauerkraut or Kimchi are the four main ways to convert the Inulin into Fructose and get rid of the gas issue.

Thanks, Blaine. Here [WI ]too: There are no lids and no jars left on the shelves. It is incredible It is crazy!! I'm planning to do at least a few pickled,, just to get a different taste, but I'll have to find more jars.
1 week ago

Blaine Clark wrote:We can most of the ones we harvest in the fall as pickles and relishes. Vinegar in the canning process + during shelf storage converts the Inulin into Fructose. I prefer them to cukes! ...!!

I didn't think about pickling them but this sounds like a great idea: With the vinegar and sugar, the pickling might make them fart-less? I just saw a "bread and butter pickled sunchoke" recipe that I might try: https://www.tastingtable.com/cook/recipes/pickled-sunchoke-recipe-jerusalem-artichoke-homemade-pickles-the-dabney-dc
I also found this one after you got me curious:
Could you give us your favorite recipe, Blaine?
1 week ago
I will be answering your post point by point, Kadence:
Growing in a variety of conditions: Mine is sandy soil, zone 4. PH 6.5. little mulch, very little 'fertilizer'[chicken litter] They are a root crop, so loose soil will work better than compacted soil, but if you have clayey soil, it might break it up: You would be sacrificing the crop. In my very sandy soil, they tend to travel to Timbuktu, like 6 ft out of bounds! So this year, I’m trying them in a raised bed. We’ll see. Any piece of root left in the ground over the winter, even smaller than a strawberry, even in zone 4, without protection will sprout a vigorous whole new plant. And they go deeeep! One foot or more in my sandbox! In the garden, they are invasive, although some selected strains may grow less contorted tubers and stay closer to the mother plant. Planted outside of the garden, they face heavy grazing from deer: In the spring, deer will eat the new shoots like asparagus and kill the plant!
If you leave tubers out of the soil where the deer can get at it, you should be accused of shooting over bait during the hunting season. Not sporting at all!
Storing: They are actually sweeter after a frost and in the ground, they will withstand Wisconsin winters where -40F is not unheard of. Up to you to see if you should devote precious storage room to this prolific tuber. You could pull them all out the ground if you have a small crop or leave them in, but if you do leave them in, spring conditions will get them growing like wildfire, so be ready! [I leave them in the ground and chase them in the Spring, but I always miss a few in spite of my best efforts].
Eating/ recipes: The pink skinned ones give me serious gas cramps, and they definitely are worse raw. The growing tip of these tubers is what goes mushy, but I don’t mind mushy: I can eat those creamed or mashed. On the same tuber though, the older part may remain firm while the newer tip will be mushy. I eat the white/beige unpeeled tubers raw, like radishes in moderation without gastric problems. After boiling them, you can also eat them cold. You can use them just like potatoes, although I have not tried deep frying.
These tubers were used in times of famine as a survival crop, their only drawback, as far as wider acceptance is concerned is that the root can be very contorted, so hard to peel, and in sandy soil, if you miss removing some soil in the tight little cracks, it will be gritty. Some new cultivars are being developed all the time with a view to change their worse features. I will tell you more once I harvest this year’s crop as I’m trying some. They are more prolific than a potato, so well worth that little effort. In the spring, you can cut each knob off the main root and plant it, so you don’t need a lot of tubers to be set for the following year!
1 week ago

Kate Muller wrote:

Kate Muller wrote:I grow Upstate Oxheart tomatoes for my sauce.  They are a large meaty tomato with very few seeds and a skin that I do not mind in my sauce. The skin isn't as bitter as most paste tomatoes and is thinner and softer so they don't store well.  I will freeze them till I have enough to cook a large batch.  The tomatoes average between 1 and 3 pounds and are a pretty rose color. They are amazing for fresh eating too.
Using this type of tomato I make sauce by chunking them up and toss them all in a pot to simmer. When they start to cook down I use an immersion blender to puree them.  I simmer them till I like the thickness and the can it. Super easy and very little waste.


I love large tomatoes, but in central WI, they are always a challenge as they start producing late and get interrupted by frost. Are they different from  beefsteak tomatoes [with which I've had very little success]?
2 weeks ago

Emily Elizabeth wrote:I've heard that if you put seeds in plastic bags you should put a little powdered milk in the bag to keep moisture at bay---I did this with my acorn squash seeds and was going to do it with the tomato seeds, but I'm wondering if it is not a good idea to let it get on the seeds.

I had not heard about powdered milk on seeds, but squash seeds are good keepers and probably would not need that treatment. We need to remember that seeds are live tissue: In plastic bags, they suffocate, in high humidity environment they mold, in the sunshine, they dry out and wither. Additionally, some need stratification before they will sprout while others don't. I keep those that need stratification in the refrigerator and mark the storage date.
Most seeds seem to keep best in paper envelopes or cardboard boxes, in a dry and dark place, after being cleaned up. [Make sure you don't have tiny critters on the surface of the seed]. Then, we must keep them away from nibblers of every kind. I keep mine in the house, in favor boxes around which I put a rubber band. Doing something special such as adding some sort of desiccant like milk powder may actually harm them. Plus, then, you need to have an environment in which milk powder will not deteriorate. Any moisture and you may also lose the seeds.
3 weeks ago
If you cut them lengthwise, you can run your thumbs through the opening and remove most seeds from the tomato. [especially good with Romas, which are taller and whose cavities are well defined [2 or 3 cavities at most]. I put them in a strainer, like a paint filter strainer and rub them together until I feel I have most of the liquid run through. I spread them on a blue Scott's towel and allow to dry. I can them store them.
3 weeks ago
Whether I make juice for drinking or thick sauce for salsa,  tomato sauce, or fake orange marmalade, I start by tossing the cleaned tomatoes peel and all in the Ninja: I get right away a nice,  relatively thick purée, and since the Ninja is graduated, It gets measured as well for that special recipe. At that point, the juice/purée is cold and uncooked.
I could *also* run it through the Victoria strainer if I really wanted to get rid of the skins, but frankly the bits of skins are cut so fine that they would pass through the Victoria. Perhaps a few seeds would stay behind?
Even my hubby who hates tomato skins [!] likes all the products I make from my tomatoes because he does not know the skins are there. It is only if I make stewed tomatoes or dehydrated tomatoes that I bother peeling them. [I don't make them very often!]. I use Roma tomatoes, which are much meatier. I harvest them a day or two before fully ripe [or the critters get them!]and let them ripen on the counter. This way, you will always get tomatoes that are pretty much "picture perfect".
There is really a big difference between the Ninja and most blenders, and that is my best tip. About the same difference as between a regular lawn mower and a lawn mulcher: the blades are set differently and allow for a much finer product.
3 weeks ago

L Greenslade wrote:I wonder if the squirrel behaviour is inate to all squirrels, as in would a UK squirrel put nuts into pots. Or is it maybe a learned habit?

Mine just bury them all over the garden and I end up with saplings everywhere. Or half nibble nuts on the ground.

So this is my solution:

So in essence, ripping off the saplings so there won't be so many squirrels and harvesting the nuts when half ripe? IMHO, squirrels are tree rats. Cute tree rats, but rats all the same: They are in the category of rodents and will bring the same diseases. This article points out the dangers of having squirrels as pets in the home, which is not your case, but a list of the diseases they can harbor is nevertheless important as touching a dead infected squirrel or your dog getting rabies from an infected specimen is still good to know. https://www.critterguard.org/blog/dangerous-diseases-from-squirrels-in-the-home
Here too, it is their habit to gnaw electrical wires in your car, lawnmower, snowblower, skid-steer... or pack nuts in the tailpipes of motorcycles as well as burying them in the lawn. When you have an infestation, they are not too particular as to where they hide the nuts and you cannot harvest a single healthy nut: They can harvest a whole area overnight. And the more there are of them, the earlier they go for the nuts, so harvesting them half ripe, you are still competing with that critter: Red, gray, black or albino does not seem to make a lot of difference [we have all kinds here]. The red may be the most destructive, though as they will gnaw through everything: Cushions of your lawnmower, stripping wires... it is an infestation, so your idea of limiting the number of saplings is quite good: You will force a new balance between your homestead, the squirrels and the nuts.
We can eat the gray squirrels. The red ones are too small and my husband shoots them and gives them as food to our chickens. We still can't harvest any of the wild nuts either though. The fact that they are often wormy [the nuts, not the squirrels ] limits our ability to get nuts even more.  
By totally isolating large trees [making it impossible for them to jump onto the tree from neighboring trees and nailing a smooth surface higher than they can jump up could work, [I have not tried as I do not yet have large nut trees, just strong saplings] but then, we would still have to deal with the worms infesting the nuts. Aarrgh!
3 weeks ago
"Also interesting is the fact that walnut trees contain almost no juglone". (emphasis mine). We do not have many [English] walnut trees here- too cold-, just some black walnuts and butternuts, and underneath, there is little vegetation. Juglone is often pointed out to be the culprit, but there may be other reasons, like lack of sunlight or not enough nutrients to help other plants, or a combination.
This article tells us that hydrojuglone is what the walnut plant exudes/ produces, and it combines with air to produce juglone. It goes on to detail that the fruit and the leaf contain the most. There is also a variation over the course of a season. So I would not worry too much about the amount of juglone in the chips.
The soil around the walnut tree can hold on to the juglone, more so than what gets exposed to air, as air seems to nullify the effect. Also, clay soil hold on to the juglone whereas sandy soils, don't [containing more air? drain/leaches faster?] Also, a soil that is rich in microbes that feed on the juglone helps to dispatch it, so a good mulch full of life will remove the juglone.

4 weeks ago
I can get lost in seed catalogs as well, and in spite of my best efforts, sometimes, I will go to one of my favorite plant stores and see something that appeals to me for no particular reason and ... buy it... and get burned. We get our seed catalogs during the winter months, the idle season, so it is particularly tempting to thumb through endlessly, and maybe end up with choices that I regret later. So I try to get organized.
First, look at what did not work, and around this time of the year, look at what failed and why. Annual crops in the garden, bushes, trees... [I still would like pear trees but I've tried 6 times and they always die! So forget it this year! Unless...:-/ ]
Second I promise myself I will not get tempted ... again. I try [but often fail], to make an inventory of the seeds I still have left before I go shopping in a catalog or to my favorite stores.
Third, the first thing I do when getting a catalog is go through it with a sharpie: I look *only* at things that have a chance to grow HERE, and cross out everything else mercilessly. All zone 5 and up are out. That should not take more than a day, two at most.
4th. Which veggies do we usually eat and which ones are left, canned or frozen? They end up being given away to the local pantry or to my chickens. That was a waste of resources, time and effort! Which trees, bushes and vines would I like to have and for what purpose? Snow catcher? deer barrier? edible? ornamental? That one takes me all winter and I'm not always done in April, but I love to salivate over all the pretty pictures and read everything about them, research in Permies or in the Wiki what other folks have said about each and eventually arrive at a decision.
There is where I often get back to bad habits and get seduced by a pretty picture, a glorified promise of a bountiful harvest for hardly any work. You know what I mean. I think we have all been there.
Make a list! and yeah!, just try to stick to it![I double dare you;-) ]
Since I don't have a hot house, there are some plants that I will buy from the local store or pick up somewhere. I prepare my own sweet potato slips which are hard to get and more expensive but for the more common things, for which there is a wide choice, I buy the plant. Tomatoes, basil, etc. fall in that category, so I don't look into catalogs for that: I know I will buy local, so I skip those sections of catalogs. Trees/ bushes are a little different as we can plant in the Spring and in the Fall. In the fall, I replace those trees that died. In the Spring, I expand to plant in new areas.
That is how I try to stay sane during the winter months when I'm cooped up and develop a serious cabin fever! But really, this is a job that gets concentrated in the winter but for practical reasons, the evaluation is really ongoing all year long.