MOTHER EARTH NEWS readers share their farming advice, fun tips and country folklore, including dandelion jelly and wine recipes, keeping hens and roosters from ruining flower beds and eliminating excess gardening work by growing tomatoes in trash bags.
Here's a tip for practical weed control. Use your dandelions to make jelly and wine with these dandelion jelly and wine recipes. The jelly has won blue ribbons at our local fair.
Dandelion Jelly Recipe
1 quart dandelion flowers, well packed (remove all stem and calyx)
1 quart water
1 3/4 -ounce package pectin (MCP)
2 tablespoons lemon juice
4 1/2 cups sugar
3-4 drops yellow food coloring (optional)
Boil flowers in water for 3 minutes; strain through muslin
for 3 cups juice. Add pectin and lemon juice, and stir all
until pectin is completely dissolved (a few minutes). Bring
to a rolling boil; add sugar and food coloring. Bring back to
fast, furious, climb-up-the-side-of-the-pot boil, and
maintain for 2 minutes. Remove from heat, quickly skim, and
pour into waiting jars. Seal according to standard canning
procedures. Makes about 4 half-pint jars.
Dandelion Wine Recipe
1 gallon dandelion flowers (minus stems and calyx)
1 gallon boiling water
3 pounds white sugar
3 oranges, cut in small pieces
3 lemons, cut in small pieces
1 ounce cake yeast stone crock or huge glass container, scalded
Put flowers in
crock, pour boiling water over them, and let stand for three
days, stirring a couple of times a day. Strain juice through
muslin. Re-scald crock. Pour juice and rest of ingredients
back into crock. Let stand for three weeks, covered, to
ferment; stir once a day. Strain through muslin again, then
bottle. Either cork bottles, dipping corked tops in melted
wax to seal, or use a bottle capper. Makes about 12 12-ounce
bottles per batch, and the recipe can be doubled and doubled
again, depending on the strength of your back for dandelion
I'm also a big canner, and I have some helpful hints for
your readers who also enjoy canning:
1. When making apple butter, cook the pulp down in a heavy
pan in a 325 degrees Fahrenheit to 350 degrees Fahrenheit oven, stirring occasionally.
(This means no constant stirring for hours on a stove
burner, no scorching, no heavy-duty pot scrubbing
2. Avoid mayonnaise jars and the like they're too flimsy.
If one cracks (and they do, all too often), you've lost
time, labor, and product. Look for real canning jars at
garage sales and thrift stores-check rims for nicks and
surfaces for hairline cracks before purchasing.
3. Ever have the liquid boil out of a jar of food during
the water-bath process? The newest recommendation from my
nearby County Extension Office is to first put jars on
racks and lower into warm water in the water-bath. Then
bring the temperature to 190 degrees Fahrenheit, and water-bath for the
Our County Extension Office offers classes by certified
master food preservers for people who want to put up their
own produce (canning, freezing, curing, etc.). The classes
are inexpensive, take a couple of hours, and teach you to
"put up" preserved foods safely! No matter how much you've
canned, a quick brush-up class is in valuable. Check the
County Extension Office in your area.
I am enclosing some photographs of my tomato effort last
year. I thought you might be interested.
I live in Texas near my retired parents, and usually bust
up the garden and plant our tomatoes in the ground like
always, then stake them as they grow. This year I decided
to try something different. Tired of fighting the nut grass
and other weeds, I came up with the idea of using trash
bags as containers. The idea behind it all was to virtually
eliminate the work involved.
I filled each bag with leaves (whole) and found a nice
sunny spot up against the house. Before putting the bags on
the ground, I loosened the ground at the spots where the
bags would be placed. Then, I split the undersides of the
bags in an X pattern and set them in their spots.
I used duct tape to make a square on the top of each bag. I
cut a slit in the center of the square to allow hand-entry
into the leaves. Next, I used permeable nursery sacks (used
to cover early plants for protection), filling each one
with a 3-to1 concoction of sheep manure and organic humus.
Then I placed the sacks inside the bags of leaves, and
planted a tomato sprout in each one.
Nearby, in a trash can, I filled a large plastic trash bag
with water, about one-third of a sack of sheep manure, and
a little humus. I stirred it up and put a lid on it. This
causes a cooking process during the day in the sun, and it
ferments. I used this "soup" on the tomatoes daily. I did
very well with this idea (you can see the results for
yourself), and I intend to expand on it this year. I picked
tomatoes into November, and best of all-there's no work!
Virtue Is Its Own Reward
Ever since California was in a drought condition a few
years ago, it has been my wife's habit to keep a plastic
bucket of water near our sink. It's purpose was to accept
all rinse water after the dishes were done, to use for the
flower boxes that decorate the west side of our house.
Much to our surprise, when the early spring came, volunteer
tomatoes sprang up in those flower boxes, and are as
delicious and plentiful as their forebears from our regular
garden. The hot western sun is just what these tomatoes
ordered. Who says that you can't grow a full plant in just
4 inches of soil? Right now we're waiting for the
watermelons to sprout.
Long Beach, CA
Out here in our semi-rural area, an annual late fall task
is to line the driveway with reflectors, those shiny
plastic circles atop long metal stakes. Since the snowplow
routinely destroys a few every winter, every fall requires
an outlay of cash for replacements. To squeeze every bit of
use out of these reflectors, they don't just gather dust in
the garage once spring comes they go right into the garden!
Driveway reflectors can be used anywhere you'd use stakes,
such as for row markers. Reflectors are also great supports
for vertically grown vining plants, like pole beans. Use
them singly or lashed together into a tepee.
And the year our garden was overrun by sprawling cantaloupe
plants, reflectors increased the efficiency of
hand-watering. How? By planting a reflector at the same
time you plant the seed of a soon-to-be sprawling plant,
you'll easily locate the plant's base for watering once
it's covered in a sea of green leaves and fruit.
And for very young gardeners, reflectors are an easy visual
aid for defining whatever boundaries the parent wants the
child to see. Last summer, our 3-year-olds mini plot within
the family garden had reflectors at its corners. The
reflectors are so tall (compared to a preschooler) that our
son found his garden by himself every time. It made
gardening easier and more independent for him, and meant
fewer interruptions for the rest of us. So this year, don't
put those driveway reflectors away just because the snow's
North Oaks, MN
Help! My hens and rooster are destroying my raised flower
beds. They scratch and dig for bugs, then have the nerve to
lay on the dirt to sun themselves. Is there anything I can
put in my gardens to stop my foraging fowl without damaging
my plants? Any reader suggestions would be very
—Wendy L. Moore
To bleach old, yellowed newspaper clippings, dissolve one
tablet or 2 tablespoons of liquid milk of magnesia in I
quart of club soda; mix well. (If using the tablet, be sure
it dissolves completely.) Chill the solution for eight
hours in the refrigerator. Next, pour the solution in a
shallow pan. Place the newspaper clipping in the pan, and
let it soak for an hour. Remove clipping; place between
paper towels or other absorbent material, being careful not
to tear it. Pat the clipping as dry as possible. Place on a
flat surface to dry completely. You can soak several
clippings at a time, but be sure they don't overlap in the
shallow pan. If tightly capped, the solution can be saved
and stored for one week. Repeat in 5O years!
—Karen Ann Bland
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