Ball Jars Are Not Just for Canning Anymore

Back in the day, when I saw Ball canning jars in the store, I just passed on by because I didn’t grow enough to can anything. My Aunt Marilyn used to can tomato juice that was to die for and I always wanted to try it but never grew enough tomatoes. This year, I have nine plants of various varieties and am definitely going to get into canning this year. Auntie has promised to give me her recipe.

I recently read an article in a health magazine about BPA (Bisphenol A, a toxic chemical) in plastics. Even though I always buy plastics that say they are BPA free, plastic is a pain to keep clean and the dishwasher makes them all cloudy. This article talked about using Ball canning jars for food storage and freezing. So, I tried it and it worked really well. Easy clean up too, just pop in the dishwasher for sparkling clean jars.

I’ve discovered other uses for canning jars too. Ball jars work great for storage in the bathroom, kitchen, craft room, laundry room and garage.

The original Mason jars were invented by John L. Mason in 1858. He subsequently sold his ideas to others. Charles William Ball and his brothers began making glass jars in 1886 and acquired smaller companies and mass-produced Ball jars and distributed them across the country. They sold the Ball jar part of their business to Alltrista Corporation (now Jarden Corp) and Jarden now makes most of the home canning jars made today including the Ball Jars and several other brands.

Ball jars come in many different sizes (from 4 oz to 1 gallon; regular and wide mouth), colors (clear and about 15 different colors), and textures (smooth, some with embedded symbols or textures in the glass, and some still have Mason embedded in the glass along with the Ball name).

Ball jars are great for canning and storage. And, they make special jars for freezing. I am throwing out all my plastic storage containers and stocking up on ball jars. Not only are they convenient to stack and store, they are a breeze to clean, and I can freeze things in them.

This year, if my tomato plants are prolific, I’m going to make and store catsup, marinara sauce, barbeque sauce, diced and whole tomatoes for soups and anything else I can think of.

Go get your supply now, you’ll love using them for canning, and storage all over the house.

Planting and Growing Strawberries

If you haven’t planted strawberries yet, you may still have time, especially if you plant Everbearing Strawberries which bear fruit all summer.

The key to success with any plant is the soil. Prepare your strawberry bed by mixing in a good amount of compost and turn it into the existing soil with a shovel to create a light, airy soil and raise the bed up just slightly from the surrounding soil.

If soil is too alkaline, add a little aluminum sulfate to bring the pH down. These plants will spread and put down roots wherever the vines touch the soil, so give them plenty of room to roam.

June bearing strawberries should be planted about 3 weeks before last frost, which means they should start bearing fruit in early June. However, if you can only find June bearing strawberry plants now, and you are willing to risk waiting for fruit, you can plant them now and see what happens.

Or you can plan ahead and plant June bearing strawberries in the fall for a 2018 crop.

Place plants at least 12 inches apart and 24 inches between rows. Mulch around plants with compost, straw, or chopped leaves.

In the fall, trim plants back to about 2-3 inches above ground and mulch 3-4 inches deep to protect them from winter snows and cold temperatures.

You may need to protect your crop from birds and small critters. One way is to use row covers, lightweight fabric that lets light and air through, or build a chicken wire or small gauge fence around and on top of the bed.  You can also buy bird netting that works well.

Choosing Grass Seed

If you plan to spread grass seed, there are a few considerations to explore in selecting which seed to use.

Kentucky Bluegrass – is recommended for Montana because of the hot summers and cold winters. It is a fine textured grass but is slow to germinate. It tolerates light shade and some drought. It is a good grass to use if the lawn gets a lot of use. It may go dormant and turn brown during times of drought and in winter.

Fine Fescue – this species includes creeping red, and hard fescue. They develop a deep root system and require less fertilizer. Often mixed with Kentucky Bluegrass. These are shorter grasses with medium germination time but good shade tolerance. Performs well where summers are too hot and winters too cold for other grasses. It likes to spread out and claim more territory rather than bunching together.

Buffalo Grass – this is a native grass that supported the Buffalos on the plains and provided sod for early settlers to build their houses. It tolerates extreme temperatures very well. It spreads by surface runners and forms a fine textured, somewhat thin turf with a soft blue-green color. It doesn’t work well for shade or heavy traffic areas. It is very drought tolerant and doesn’t mind heavy clay.

 

Need a New Grill? Which One Fits Your Needs?

Today there are exciting new developments in barbeque grills. Let’s explore some of the choices if you’re thinking of buying a new grill.

Charcoal Grill – maybe you just like to go into the backyard and fire up some charcoal briquets occasionally. If you don’t have charcoal or something to ignite it, you may have to run to the store before dinner. These grills are often small, bowl shaped pans with a lid and a small grill, limiting how much food you can cook at one time. They do, however, offer better flavor than a gas grill. Drawbacks include needing to keep them away from anything flammable and it takes time to get the fire up to temperature. But they work very well for the sometime griller.

Electric Grills – If it’s grill flavor you crave, the electric grill may not be for you as it provides the least flavor of the four grills here. It does have redeeming features though. It heats up quickly and doesn’t need any additional fuel, just plug it in. It also fits in small places like balconies or back stoops.

Gas Grills – This baby is what most people buy today, because it’s convenient, versatile, provides good flavor and heats very quickly. The gas grill comes with all kinds of additional conveniences like rotisserie kits, multiple burners and many other features.  There are some drawbacks here too, like needing to place them away from any structures and they can be clumsy to move around. Plus you have to use natural or bottled gas.  But, if you have plenty of space this grill may be for you.

Pellet Grills – If it’s a true hardwood flavor you love, then this grill is worth checking out. It burns hardwood pellets that come in lots of flavors. Pellet grills come in different designs from a capsule look to a smoker type with a chimney and there’s even a pig shaped grill. One advantage is that you can also use this grill as a smoker. The grill area is generous and the price is comparable to gas grills. This grill provides consistently even heat too. Depending on the model you select, just set the temperature and walk away.

Planting a Salsa Garden

If you like chips and salsa, hot or mild, or Mexican food, it’s great fun to have a garden plot right outside your kitchen door that contains all the ingredients for the best salsa. Fresh is always delicious and with these ingredients and a nifty food processor you can have salsa all the time and never spend much time making it.

Getting Started – Whether you build a raised bed or select a place in your garden, be sure to build in layers that will decompose and provide nutrients for your vegetables such as leaves if you have them, grass clippings, a sprinkle of coffee grounds, pulverized egg shells, top soil, and compost.

What to Plant – This is up to what you want in your salsa. Typically, tomatoes, jalapeno, red onions, white onions, cilantro and red bell pepper. There are so many salsa versions that you might want to consult your recipe before deciding what to plant.

Tomatoes – More common tomato varieties such as Roma, San Marzano, or Amish Paste are excellent for salsa because they have fewer seeds, a meaty texture, and not much juice. If making thick salsa use one of the paste tomatoes above. If making a juicier salsa try Big Mamma or Little Mama. Also try tomatillos for a Mexican flair. If you use tomatillos, plant at least two for cross pollination.

Hot Peppers – Jalapeno peppers are popular for salsas, but there are other varieties that give a little more heat such as Serrano (a little hotter than jalapeno), Tabasco, and Habanero (really hot). You can mitigate the heat by removing some or all of the seeds inside the peppers.

Red & White Onions – Provide color to salsas but not as tender as yellow onions and have a mild flavor.

Red Bell Peppers – Although your peppers will be green to begin with, just leave them on the vine and they will turn red. Peppers add color and flavor to the salsa.

Cilantro – This herb is very versatile and gives a distinct Mexican flavor, but it is used widely in many soups, stews, and other recipes. The leaves are most flavorful on the young plant, so clip them often. Cilantro doesn’t like hot weather, so plant in pots and bring indoors when weather heats up.

How Many to Plant – In a 4×4 ft bed, you can plant 4 tomatoes or 2 tomatoes and 2 tomatillos, 1 hot pepper, 1 red bell pepper, 4 cilantro plants, 22 red onions and 10 white onions.

 

Flowering Plants for Shade

Just because you have mostly shade in your yard, it doesn’t mean you can’t have colorful plants that bloom in this environment. Most of the shade plants have very interesting foliage that ranges in color from lime to deep blue green and by mixing these plants, you create a very pleasing landscape even when they are not in bloom.

Hostas

Hostas are the first plant you think of when planting in shade and there are hundreds of varieties to choose from. Hostas are easy to grow and they spread as they age, so after 3-4 years, you will need to divide them and plant the divisions to increase your hosta plantings. They bloom around mid-June with bell-like flowers on tall spikes and most bloom in white, lavender or pink. Sizes range from mini to mammoth. Hostas leaves disappear in winter and poke up out of the soil again in spring. Plant with evergreens to hide the bare spots while they are dormant.

Ligularia

Another great, large plant for shade is Ligularia. These plants need plenty of water and will wilt in the middle of a very hot day, but they will recover if they have enough moisture. Water deeply  and keep the soil moist. Sizes range from 2-6 feet high and 2-4 feet wide. Flowers petals are spikey and yellow-orange on most varieties. Leaves range from light green to burgundy.

Astilbe

Astilbe grows very quickly and produces a flower that looks like a feather duster with their tall fluffy plumes. Plume colors range from white to dark purple and create a mass of color at bloom time when planted together. Different varieties bloom at different times, so if you vary them, you can have bloom most of the season. They produce the best blooms when allowed a couple hours of sun in the morning. The dried plumes create winter interest if left on the plant.

Lamium

For a great ground cover in shade, try Lamium. It spreads quickly and doesn’t need much water after it gets established. The mostly white leaves are bordered in green and it stays green all winter. This plant flowers periodically over the season with soft salmon-pink flowers. Stems will root where they touch the ground and a new plant will form which can be dug up and planted elsewhere. Trim it back in late winter and divide in spring for new plants. Grows in full or part shade.

Choosing a Paint Roller Cover

Spring is a great time to spruce up around the house and the easiest way to give your home a facelift is to paint. A good cutting-in brush, and a roller make painting a quick and easy project. But, who knew that there were so many different roller covers? What you are painting will determine the nap (thickness of the roller cover) you need to do the job. Roller covers come in different colors and materials and rollers create a smoother finish and better coverage than brushes.

Rough Textured Surface

If the surface is rough like a textured wall or ceiling, stucco, bricks, decks or masonry, you will pick up and distribute the paint best with a ¾ inch roller cover. The extra depth will pick up more paint and reach into the crevices for full coverage. It also holds more paint so you don’t have to go back to the pan as often.

Smooth Surface

The 3/8 inch nap is most often used for smooth surfaces like walls and ceilings. It is also used for painting some wood surfaces like shelves or boards before they are turned into projects. Small ¼ inch covers produce the smoothest finish and are best for furniture, metal, and anywhere where you want a very smooth finish.

Sizes

Rollers are generally 9 inches long, 6 inches long, 4 inches long, or 2 inches long. These sizes correspond to the projects you are painting. If you are painting a large surface, the 9 inch roller will cover the quickest. You may use the other sizes to fit the width of your project or reach into areas where the longer cover won’t fit. In some cases, such as painting a dresser or piece of furniture, you might use several sizes.

Materials

Synthetic covers like nylon, polyester, and microfiber work very well for water-based latex paints. If using oil paint, a natural material like mohair or sheepskin works best because it picks up more paint.  Blended materials such as a wool/polyester blend covers can be used with latex or oil paints. They have the absorbing ability of wool, and the longer life of the polyester material. There are also foam roller covers that work quite well for a seriously smooth finish.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Five Herbs for Your Kitchen Garden

Basil.

Basil grown near tomatoes creates a strong scent that deters many pests. Basil loves heat and needs to be planted after nighttime temperatures stay at 55 degrees or above. The many varieties of basil will create a patchwork in your garden. Plant in full sun and fertile soil and you don’t need to add fertilizer. With shallow roots, basil needs damp soil, but only occasional deep watering. Snip out the growing tips to make it bush out and produce more leaves. Try these basil varieties: Purple Ruffles, Genovese Compact, and Italian Large Leaf. Makes awesome pesto.

Oregano

Oregano is great for flavoring Mediterranean dishes. The Greek and Italian Oregano varieties are the most flavorful. Avoid fertilizing and don’t overwater. Harvest before the plant flowers. You can cut a leaf, or a stem, or cut the entire plant down to about two inches from the ground just before flowering and again about a month before first frost. Use leaves fresh or dried and stored in a jar.

Cilantro

Leaves of this plant are called cilantro but the seeds are known as coriander. They like rich soil, so before planting, amend the soil with some good compost. They don’t like being moved, so if you buy plants, plant them once and leave them there. You can plant from seed and repeat seeding every two to three weeks. This plant doesn’t like fertilizer but requires evenly moist soil. Use immediately after cutting as it loses flavor if stored.

Rosemary

Rosemary is a very fragrant herb resembling a small evergreen. The leaves are used to flavor stuffing and roasted meats. It is a very drought tolerant plant and loves hot dry climates and hates wet feet, so plant in well-draining soil and don’t overwater. Used for many centuries as a medicinal plant, it is reported to support memory.

Dill

This flowery, feathery, herb is essential if you are making pickles, seasoning seafood, and making chip dips. Dill attracts many beneficial insects to your garden with its aromatic scent. This plant grows best if left alone. Harvest the seeds by gathering the seed heads, putting them upside down in a paper bag and shake the seeds into the bag. Try Dukat, Hercules, and Fernleaf varieties.

 

Pollinators in the Garden

You may think that the bees, wasps, flies, and beetles in your garden are a nuisance, but you would do well to allow them access to your plants if you want flowers and food. These insects pollinate your plants and transfer pollen from one bloom to another. Without them, there would be no flowers and no fruit or vegetables would grow from their blooms.

 Crops Need to be Pollinated

Some vertebrates such as birds and bats, and small mammals also pollinate plants and wind and water play their parts, too. The presence of pollinators in any area where crops are grown, including grains, vegetables, and fruit, is critical to the successful development of those crops. Approximately 75 percent of crop plants grown worldwide for food, fiber, beverages, condiments, spices and medicines need pollinators to produce their harvest.

 Beneficial to the Ecosystem

In addition to pollinating food crops and flowering plants, pollinators assist plants in providing food and habitat for wildlife, help prevent erosion and help keep waterways clean. The seeds pollinated plants provide are a major source of food for birds and mammals.

 Decline in Pollinator Populations

Many pollinators face decline or extinction because of widespread destruction of their native habitats and food sources. One example is the Monarch butterfly which only lays its eggs on specific and scarce plants such as milkweed. As milkweed is mowed down and eradicated from the landscape, the Monarch has no place to lay its eggs and is in danger of extinction today. Incorrect use of pesticides pose another danger to native pollinators.

 We Can Help

How can we help preserve the pollinators? Grow flowers in masses rather than a few here and there. Control invasive plant species so habitats aren’t taken over by them. Use pesticides, when necessary, on calm days and spray carefully. Plant vegetation that provides habitat. Plant flowers that pollinators are attracted to and provide a source of water.

Easy to Grow Veggies for New Gardeners

Peas – Sweet or English peas can be planted now as they can handle a light frost. Try Green Arrow, Maestro, or Patriot. These are dwarf varieties that can be grown without a trellis. For tall varieties, try Alderman or Lincoln. The tall peas need a fence or trellis to climb. Shell when pods are full.  You can plant for a second crop in late August.

Sugar snap peas and snow peas are grown like sweet peas and will need a trellis. These peas can be eaten in the pods and are delicious raw or cooked. Snow peas should be picked and eaten before the pods fill completely.

Carrots – Carrots need very loose soil, good drainage, and space to fill out. Plant seeds 2-3 inches apart and cut off any seedlings that are too close together.

Squash – Zucchini, yellow squash, spaghetti squash, butternut and other varieties can be planted from seed. Create a little hill of soil and put three seeds on each hill. Space the hills about three feet apart. Watch the squash as it grows and pick before they get too big.

Radishes – Radish seeds are very small, so just place them in rows and when they come up, cut out the extras, leaving about 2-3 inches between plants. These grow to maturity in about 3 weeks. After harvesting each batch, replant to have fresh radishes all summer.

Lettuce – Lettuce and many types of greens like spinach, kale, arugula, and Swiss Chard also like cooler weather. Greens mature quickly and can be replanted again. Most greens do not like intense heat, so you may need to plant in an area that gets some shade in the middle of summer.

Peppers – Sweet and hot peppers like sun and heat, so plant them outside when the night time temperature stays above 50 degrees. They do best with some kind of support, whether a cage or stake. Peppers come in all kinds of sizes and colors.