Using Canning Jars for Storage

Some time ago, I decided to get rid of all my plastic storage containers and buy glass.  That’s when I discovered how great Ball canning jars are for storing everything and they go in the dishwasher!

In the Kitchen – I use the glass jars for lots of things that I put in the refrigerator.  Since I only use nut flours, I keep them in jars in the fridge because the oils in them can turn rancid if left out on the counter.  Jars of nuts, salad dressings and fresh squeezed lemon and lime juice go into the fridge also.  Leftovers also go into the jars.  I have various sizes of jars from small to gigantic in my pantry and baking center. Jars hold spices, baking powder, baking soda, arrowroot and tapioca flours, and other baking supplies.

In the Bathroom – Pick a jar that will hold those items you like to keep on the counter.  Paint your  jars colors to match your bathroom decor and fill them with cotton balls, cotton swabs, toothbrushes, toothpaste, makeup brushes and a dozen other things you can’t keep organized.

In the Craft Room – Ball jars are fantastic for sorting and organizing all kinds of craft and sewing supplies.  I have some vintage buttons in one, ribbons in another.  Paint brushes, scrapbooking supplies, rubber stamps, pins and so much more work in jars, take up little room on a shelf, and are easy to find when you need them.

In the Garage – There are jars for every need in the garage.  There’s nothing worse than needing a nail or screw and having to hunt through a bunch of cans to find what you want.  Jar lids can be secured under a shelf. Fill the jar and one quick twist and your items are easily available when you need them.  What you are looking for is clearly visible under the shelf.

Decorating – Jars can be filled with candles, hung up to display flowers, filled with colorful glass or marbles, made into a lamp, used to hold gifts, and a hundred other things.

Try it.  You’ll be amazed.




Wonderful World of Bulbs

Spring is a wonderful time of year when the snows are leaving, but if you haven’t planted any spring blooming flowers, it can be a bleak landscape until the first annuals appear in the garden center or the first perennials burst into bloom.  Bulbs of spring blooming flowers need to be planted sometime between now and when the ground freezes.


Bulbs of crocus, daffodil, hyacinth, tulip, and other fall planted bulbs need to be purchased and planted now if you want to see them next spring. Planting a few bulbs here and there won’t make much of an impact, so think about planting in drifts (50+ of one variety or color all together in a clump or rows) for maximum color display.  The leaves aren’t cut back until they turn brown as they produce energy for the bulbs to grow again next year.


Most of these varieties of spring flowers naturalize (spread by adding baby bulbs to the main one and multiplying, so give them plenty of room to grow. The leaves should not be cut back until they turn brown as they produce energy for the bulbs to grow again next year.

Planting and Care

Plant bulbs with the flat end down and the pointed end up.  Follow package recommendations for depth and spacing and factor in how many inches of mulch are on top of the soil.  Most bulbs will need protection form ground rodents and squirrels who think bulbs are their dessert.  Plant your bulbs in a wire cage, or put a barrier on top of soil and under mulch.  A barrier of hardware cloth with ½ inch openings staked down works fine, or you can also use staked chicken wire for larger bulbs.  Squirrels can pull small bulbs out of holes in chicken wire.

Dig planting holes with a bulb planter, a drill bit made for digging holes, or dig a large area, place all the bulbs in it, then cover it up.  A trench also works for planting drifts.  Plant bulbs behind or between perennials so their foliage will be covered up after bloom is done.


If you have heavy clay soil that just won’t grow anything, raised garden beds are the way to go.

Raised beds can go anywhere and be made from many material such as lumber, blocks, straw bales, water troughs, bricks, etc.  If you have trouble bending down, raised beds allow you to garden at waist height, so no bending.


Raised beds let you create the ideal soil mix.  They also lend themselves to lasagna gardening where you build the soil with layers of alternating green and brown material.  If you build your beds now or before snowfall and fill them with soil mix, they will have all winter to compost and your spring garden will have marvelous soil.  Just be sure to cover the soil with shredded leaves or other mulch to keep weed seeds from taking hold.


Raised beds drain well.  Because you never walk on your soil and compact it, the plants have this beautiful rich, loose soil to grow in.  The soil also warms up quicker in spring allowing you to plant earlier and grow later.  Because of the frame, you’re able to add covers that will allow growing plants that like the cold all winter.

No Tilling

Raised bed gardens don’t need to be tilled and weed populations decrease over time if you keep them weeded in the beginning.  Using hay, straw, or shredded leaves to cover the soil when planting and during the winter will mean very little weeding.  Tilling in ground gardens every year brings all the dormant weed seeds to the surface where they can grow prolifically.



Ways to Preserve Extra Tomatoes

After a while, you’ve eaten all the fresh tomatoes you can stand, so what do you do with all the rest?  Well, preserving them is one way.


Tomatoes contain acid, so you can remove the skin, cut them up into chunks, pack them in a Ball jar, and process the jars in a water bath.  This method takes up pantry space for all those jars, and it will take you the better part of a day to fill about 8-10 jars.


Freezing may be a better option to save time if you have extra freezer space.  You can freeze whole tomatoes if you want, or you can make marinara, spaghetti sauce, catsup, and soup bases and freeze it all.

Whole Tomatoes With Skin –.  Wash the tomatoes and place them in a plastic freezer bag and freeze till you need whole tomatoes.

Whole Tomatoes Without Skin – The traditional method to remove skin is to boil the tomatoes for a few minutes, lift out, dunk them in a cold-water bath, and peel off the skin.  But you can also freeze them with the skin on by cutting off the stem end, turn the tomato upside down on a baking sheet and place in the freezer till they are frozen (1-3 hours), then run them under cold water and the skin will fall off.

Pureed Tomatoes – maybe you would like to make tomato paste or puree to have available when you need them to make your favorite dishes.  Remove stems and any bad areas from the tomato and place large chunks in a food processor or blender.  Pulse a few times to desired consistency and place in a slow cooker.  Cook on high for 10-12 hours or until reduced and thickened to desired consistency.  Freeze in quantities you would ordinarily use.

Freezer Bags – Bags with locking closures work well for freezing tomato sauces and purees, soups, and chunks.  Fill the bags, seal them, then lay them flat on a baking sheet in the freezer.  The frozen flat packages will stack better in the freezer and you will have room for more bags.

Check out this great reference from Old World Garden Farms



What Riding Lawn Mower is Best for You?

If you’ve been trying to keep a large lawn mowed with a walk-behind mower, fall is a great time to think about upgrading to a riding mower.  There are some very good buys on riding mowers now, but determining what works best for you can be confusing.

Lawn Tractors – Tractor type mowers do more than just mow if you’re just doing light yard work.  The engine is up front like a tractor but has lower torque transmissions, less horsepower and smaller rear tires than other types of mowers. It will tow light carts and spreaders and, with snow plow attachment, can move light snow.  The cutting width ranges from 38-54 inches.

Garden Tractors – These tractors are the big brother to lawn tractors.  They have higher horsepower engines, can tow heavier attachments and loads and have larger back tires for extra ground clearance.  The larger wheels provide better stability on up to 15% slopes and inclines.  The cutting width ranges from 50-50 inches.

Rear Engine Riding Mowers – Basically used only for mowing, the rear-engine rider has a smaller cutting deck ideal for narrow spaces.  These are generally lower-priced than the other models and take up less storage space but may be slower.  With more than a ¾ acre lot, you may want to move up to a larger model. The cutting width ranges from 26-33 inches.

Zero-Turn Mowers – If you have a large yard to mow and want to do it quickly, consider a zero-turn mower.  While the more expensive of your options, time saved and maneuverability may be worth the extra cost.  You can make 360 degree turns with ease and get closer to trees, flower beds, and fences.  Designed for comfort and with powerful engines and speed, you’ll be done mowing in no time. Cutting width ranges from 30-72 inches.

Other Considerations – The mowing deck width can determine how much grass you can cut on one pass so you may want to look for a width that will allow you to make the fewest passes, depending on the size of your yard.  With zero-turn mowers you have a learning curve getting used to handles in each hand rather than a steering wheel.

What’s Affecting My Tomato Plants?

This is the time of year when your tomato plants may start showing signs of disease.  Here’s a summary of what might be affecting your plants.

Septoria Leaf Spot:  In the picture above, the tomato leaves are yellowing and have brown spots on them.  The leaves eventually become totally brown and shrivel up.  There is no cure once it appears.  Tomatoes planted in the same garden spot each year are especially susceptible to leaf spot.  Wet conditions, high humidity, and crowding of plants that limits air flow contribute to the infection.

Blossom End Rot:  Tomatoes ripen, but an ugly black patch appears on the bottom and it is soft and mushy.  This is a sign of a lack of calcium or the pH is too low for the plant to absorb any available calcium.

Late Blight:  Caused by a fungus which develop greasy-looking irregular shaped gray spots on tops and undersides of leaves.  A pale ring develops around the spots which eventually turn dry and papery.  Copper sprays offer some control but it isn’t a cure.  Remove all infected foliage, put it in a plastic bag and dispose of it in the trash or burn.


The best ways to prevent diseases from taking hold is to pay attention to soil, spacing, watering and drainage.  Plant tomatoes in a new spot each year.  Planting in raised beds that have not shown signs of disease helps and allows for excellent drainage.  Do a soil test to determine pH.  Tomatoes like a pH of around 6.5.  Give plants plenty of room, up to 24 inches all around.  Remove the bottom 6-8 inches of leaves to prevent spores from being splashed or blown onto leaves from the soil.  Prune out excess foliage from interior of plant to allow for air flow. Mulch heavily with straw or hay. Never put diseased plants in the compost pile.




Storing Your Garden Tools

If your garden tools are stuffed in a garbage can or spread all over the garage like mine, you may want to build a rack to keep them more organized.


Lay your tools down on the floor with the widest ends spaced so they don’t touch each other.  Make a note of the distance between handles.  Buy a 1×8 pine board for the shelf and a 2×4 for the support.  You’ll also need an additional 1×8 or some scrap lumber to make the brackets.  Lay out the widest board and mark lines where the handles will fall.  Then make a mark on the line 4 inches in from the edge if the board on each line.  Now mark lines 2 inches to either side of those lines.


Using a 2 inch hole saw, place the center of the hole saw on your mark.  Cut a hole at each line.  With a hand saw or table saw, cut on each of the outer lines so the cut ends up on the side of the circle.

Putting it Together

Glue the 2 inch edge of the 2×4 to the uncut underside of the board you just cut and screw it into place. The 2×4 serves as a brace under the shelf. From another scrap of lumber, cut enough triangular bracket supports so you can place one every 2 feet.  The supports should be 2-3 inches on one side and 4 inches on one side so the smaller side will fit on the 2X4 under the shelf.  Glue the supports to the 2×4 and the 1×8 avoiding placing them where the tool handles will hang.  Drill holes in the back of the 2×4 and screw the brackets to the 2×4.

Hang It

Screw the 2×4 to the wall using screws through the pre-drilled holes.  Now you can hang your tools and get them organized.  Here’s a video of the process so you can see how this is done.

Before you store your tools in the fall, take a few minutes to clean them first.  Spray off any dirt.  Use a wire brush and vinegar to remove any rust and let the tools dry thoroughly before hanging.  You can also protect them with a little motor oil rubbed on with a rag.

Storing Food From the Garden

Whether you grow your own garden produce, buy it at the local farmer’s market, or are gifted with produce from gardening friends, keeping that fresh, often organic food for later use is a smart idea.


Two safe ways to can food are the water bath method and the pressure canner method.

The water bath method is safe for tomatoes, fruits, jams, jellies, pickles and other preserves because of their acid content.  You sterilize canning jars, prepare your produce, fill the jars, and boil them in water until they are sealed.  If you are new at this, ask an experienced friend to show you how to do water bath canning.

Vegetables, meats, and other foods that are low in acid must be canned in a pressure canner at high temperatures to prevent spoilage.


 Freezing is an excellent choice for storing vegetables, soups, sauces, fruit, and meats.  The secret to successful freezer storage is freezing in air tight containers.  This is where the food saver machine comes in handy.  It literally vacuums out the air so that contents stay fresh for log periods of time and don’t get freezer burn or ice crystals.


Dehydrated foods can be stored very easily in glass jars or safe plastic containers so you have a supply of produce available all winter.  You only need to rehydrate them for soups, stews, and casseroles. Some fruits are even tasty in their dried state, like cranberries, apricots, pineapple, and grapes.

Storing Whole Produce

If you have a dry, dark basement, heated garage, or any area where you can control the temperature and light, you can store potatoes, onions, garlic, and squash for most of the winter. You can store other vegetables as well.  See this article for more information on how to store each vegetable successfully.