Country Lore: Fight Freezing Temps

Idaho gardener offers an easy solution to save plants from cold weather.

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by Mary Martin
Warmed-by-the-sun water jugs help keep plants toasty during autumn’s cold nights.

Fight Freezing Temps

My garden is in USDA Hardiness Zones 3 and 4. The past two years, I’ve tried growing hardy cantaloupe and watermelon. They don’t ripen off the vine, so picking them just before a freeze wouldn’t work. Last fall, my fruits were so close to ripe, and yet a week of subfreezing temperatures was predicted. So, I used two 5-gallon buckets, one at either end, to hold up a 6-foot ladder. I painted several milk jugs red and filled them three-quarters full of water; after leaving them out in the sun during the day to absorb heat, they radiated it out when temperatures dropped at night. I then covered the ladder and jug setup with clear plastic, and used a few jugs to hold the plastic down around the edges. This setup maintained 40 degrees Fahrenheit inside on 26-degree nights. It’s easily portable, too, so I can move it wherever I plant my melons next year.

Mary Martin
Rexburg, Idaho

Deer Deterrent

I live in a suburban community within a mile or so of a nature reserve. Deer have been a minor problem that we controlled with minimal measures. Until last year. Last summer, they destroyed my bean, beets, tomatoes, and peppers within a week.

This spring, my son and I constructed a 7-foot PVC pipe and deer netting fence around my beds. That worked until my veggies got some growth. Then, the deer jumped my fence and stuck their heads under the netting to munch on emerging salad. They decimated everything except my cucumbers.

It dawned on me that if they couldn’t see the garden, they wouldn’t jump unknowingly over the barrier.

I bought tarps to hang from the PVC pipe frames, joining the sections with zip ties (below, right). It has worked. Although I lost my beans, beets, peppers, and the tips of my tomatoes, the tomatoes are coming back. At least enough for salads and sandwiches, even though not enough to can. So now I’m looking forward to next spring, and I hope my idea will let my next garden survive!

Joyce Ancrile
Vienna, West Virginia

Canning Tricks of the Trade

An old-timer who lives nearby showed me a trick for canning tomato sauce. After harvesting, cleaning, and blending tomatoes, put them in a clean pillowcase and hang it from a wooden dowel over a bucket for a few hours until liquid has stopped draining. Now, when you go to make sauce or ketchup or whatnot, you won’t have to use a lot of energy to boil off the liquid.

It gets better: Can or freeze the liquid that drains into the bucket, and add it to soups or use it to flavor cooked grains.

Cory Chase
Dryfork, West Virginia

Freeze Broth in Muffin Tins

I’d like to add another tip to Mike Pokrinchak’s tip about freezing vegetable scraps (Country Lore, June/July 2020).

After cooling the cooked broth, I pour it into muffin tins, and then carefully place the tins in the freezer. Once the broth is frozen, I remove the tins and let them sit for a few minutes to make removal of the contents easier. I run a butter knife around the edge of each compartment and pop out the broth, which I then place in plastic bags and return to the freezer for storage.

Small muffin tins have a 1⁄2-cup capacity, while larger ones are usually 1 cup. This makes the broth easy to use in recipes, without defrosting more broth than needed.

I use the same technique to make dinner-ready portions of cooked rice. To reheat, just add a teaspoon or two of water, and heat in the microwave. You can thaw the “rice muffins” ahead of time, or just cook them as is for an extra minute or so.

Sue DiMaggio
Durham, North Carolina

Catch Rodents, Not Birds

A garden and woodpiles in the yard attract their share of rodents. Mousetraps will, at times, catch birds; something I don’t want to happen. The solution is a wire-framed trap with 1-inch square holes that are large enough for rodents, yet too small for birds. Create a box with the wire.

If you want, fasten a jar lid to a board to hold poison bait. Fasten two mousetraps to individual boards for stability; the jar lid, if used, can be attached to the same board as one of the traps. Place that board flat inside the wire frame, and the other leaning vertically (however it fits best) against a side inside the box. Wedge a sunflower seed into the traps’ trip finger holes, and then cover it with peanut butter for bait. Be creative when making a roof to keep the trap dry. Scrap wood, sheet metal, or a piece of cardboard topped with a brick will work fine.

Another tip: With each fill-up, adding a squirt of aerosol carburetor cleaner to the gas tank of my lawn mower, chainsaws, and string trimmer keeps the fuel passages in the carburetors clean and the engines running smoothly. If you feel the machine has a blocked carburetor passage, try this before rebuilding it. Remove the fuel mixture screws and give a squirt of carburetor cleaner into the holes. Reassemble and try running it again. Nothing ventured, nothing gained.

Tony Ryba
Johnstown, Pennsylvania

Shocking Green Beans

A chef on TV said she never had enough ice to shock green beans after cooking so she just laid them out on a towel where they looked kind of dull.

Here’s what I do: I take the labels off a few water bottles, wash them, refill them, and keep them in the freezer. When there’s a bushel to blanch for freezing, I fill one side of the sink and drop in a couple of water bottles. As the beans are blanched in a colander in boiling water, I drain them and drop them into the ice-cold water. While the next batch is blanching, I scoop the beans out into a colander to drip-dry before packing them to freeze.

When the frozen bottles seem to be melting, I put them back into the freezer and pull out another few frozen bottles to add to the cold water. To shock just enough beans for a meal, cook the beans to the desired doneness, drain them, and add cold water and a frozen bottle to the pot. As soon as the beans are cold, drain them again, and then proceed with the recipe. Quick, clean, and efficient.

Wendy Akin
Terrell, Texas

Mix Plants and Sleds and Children

Roller-coaster temperatures are a challenge when preparing tender plants before winter. These sleds allow me to easily pull heavy pots in and out of my garage when frost threatens. I previously used wheelbarrows; as you can imagine, this ground-level, space-saving, waterproof method is superior.

I have also used plastic sleds to move square bales around after ice and snow arrive. Depending on the conditions, they work better than tarps and wheelbarrows, and, again, keep me from lifting. The solid sled affects the frozen ground less than wheels, preventing the muddy rutting so common with winter.

And if you’re lucky enough to have a grandchild following you, the sled’s true purpose shines through.

Melanie Goforth Hosch
Wirtz, Virginia

Firewood Stand

An old metal aquarium stand was taking up space in our garage, and, just before it was taken to the dump, I had an idea. It makes a great stand to hold firewood. Instead of using T-posts or pallet wood,

I use this stand to keep the wood about 4 inches off the ground, and it’s stable and secure. I’m also able to keep lumber on top of it. Metal aquarium stands are often free on Craigslist. Right now, I’m holding a lot of black cherry wood on it, and because it has lots of airflow, the wood is drying great, even in a damp garage.

Curt McArthy
Columbia, Tennessee

Beware Predator-Proof Coops

A funny chicken story about our predator-proof coop comes to mind to share with your readers: One windy day, I went in to collect eggs, and the door blew shut while I was inside.

The small chicken door was obviously too small, so I was stuck in there until my husband returned. As we live in the country, I could’ve hollered for help all day long, and no one would’ve heard me.

So, fellow chicken owners, if you have a predator-proof coop, just know it is also human-proof.

My advice is to use a “chicken stick” to reach in to snag eggs and bring them within an arm’s reach of the door so you don’t have to climb into the coop.

It’s lucky for me that my spouse came home after a short time so I wasn’t stuck in there all day!

Mary Hazard
East Haven, Vermont

Irrigation Project

My drip irrigation modular 3D pod horticulture project works well for our salt-poisoned acreage in the Californian Central Valley region. The setup is compatible with free-range deer, chickens, and goats.

Maureen Maggiora
via email

Keep the Lights On

For chicken keepers who aren’t electricians, or for those of us who live off the grid and must make the most of our electricity, I have a solution for the problem of short days, which translates into fewer eggs from our hens: Night lights for your chickens!

The longer the light is on, the longer they think the day is. So, I went to the home improvement section of the local discount store and purchased two round push-button lights. They cost about $4 apiece and are 15 lumen, which, while it isn’t much, it does get the job done. I also bought rechargeable batteries.

I used those lights for nearly five years before they finally gave out. Hint: Don’t drop them like I did!

Next, I found a foot-long light strip that’s 100 lumen. More light for about $12.

Every evening when I gather eggs, I take the light with fully charged batteries to the chicken coop. I hang it on a nail and shut the door. Around 8 or 9 p.m., I turn it off and bring it back inside. The next morning, I charge the batteries so it’s ready for the next night.

Danielle Justus
Yellville, Arkansas

PVC Frame Stops Birds

My husband, John, built frames using PVC conduit to help cover my strawberry beds with bird netting. He built frames using the conduit, PVC elbows, and 12-inch pieces of metal rod. He pounded the rods into the ground, and slipped the PVC frame over the top. We attached the netting with twist-ties so it’s easy to roll back the netting when we’re ready to pick strawberries.

Misty Eckhardt
Minden, Nebraska

The Great Fat Debate

After reading “Rendering and Cooking with Animal Fats” in the October/November 2019 issue, I decided to take the animal fat plunge.

While I’ve been on the fence in the past about which fats to use, I’ve done a lot of research recently regarding animal fat vs. commercial “created fats” (such as margarine and shortening). My conclusion? I’ve decided to put my foot down to the fake stuff and go all out for the glorious animal fats! Goodbye, Crisco, I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter, and Country Crock! Hello, beautiful lard! (My fat of choice.)

Measuring fats can be messy (not to mention damaging to dishwashers and plumbing). A tip I learned long ago is to place a small square of plastic wrap inside your measuring cup first, letting the edges hang over the sides. Use a knife or spoon to pack in the fat.

Simply lift out the plastic wrap and add the measured fat to your recipe. Toss the plastic wrap and, voilà, no clean up.

Julie Swinger
Stoystown, Pennsylvania

Somewhere Over the Rainbow

On my old family farm, I use your magazine for ideas all the time. In fall 1999, we were told we might lose our electric power on January 1, 2000, so I built this 2-by-4-foot frame to hold barrels under our rain gutters. The top barrel is 30 gallons so the structure wouldn’t be so top-heavy it would tip over. The bottom barrel is 50 gallons, and is filled by the hose after the top barrel is full. The top barrel is connected loosely by a car radiator hose because of some movement with the gutter. I painted the top barrel black to absorb some sun and warm up the water. That way, I can take a shower under the hose in warmer weather.

We have our own well, and this barrel system saves the pump a lot of work. We’ve been using it regularly for 20 years to water the vegetable and flower gardens, and to wash garden tools, the car, dirty hands, and more. The legs sit on large stones so the setup won’t sink into the soil.

David L. Conklin
Horseheads, New York

Shake Seeds Dry

A sure way to keep fresh pumpkin and squash seeds dry and protect them from mice and mildew is to store them loosely in an old salt shaker where they’re exposed to air. I use an antique glass shaker with a screw-on metal top that has fairly large holes. It’s easy to give the jar a shake now and then to stir up the seeds.

Jane Kelley
Richmond, Massachusetts

Feeding Red Wigglers

To feed the large containers of red wiggler worms I keep, I’ve found that our local organic market and coffee shop allow patrons to haul off vegetable scraps and coffee grounds, respectively. At the market, I ask the veggie manager or prep staff if they have any compost. If so, they let me wheel the bin out to my truck to load up. At the coffee shop, I try to stop in after the early morning rush or midafternoon crowd and ask for their used grounds. If I need extra pickle buckets for worm containers, I call up a local brewery and ask for some worm bin buckets. The staff has already drilled drainage holes in the buckets, and these work great as two- or three-story worm homes.

Damian Fagan
Bend, Oregon

Walking on Linens

No underlay seemed to work for our pathways into the house and in the garden. Taking weed-entangled blocks to the dump was wasteful in so many ways. While redoing our walkways, a friend who works at a local thrift store said they had many stained and ripped all-cotton linens. I offered a small donation and took the linens. We placed them under the chips we use to cover our paths. The rain soaked through them easily and, so far, they’ve lasted as long as any other weed block. We figure when the weeds return and the time comes to replace the pathways, the decomposed chips and linens will all go directly into our compost. And last winter, I used many of the linens to protect my plants from the cold.

Frances Sweeney
Greenbank, Washington

Easy Pickin’

Picking berries with both hands free and a bucket taped to your wrist is easier on the berry bushes and you, and you get all the berries. Use a 4- or 5-quart ice cream bucket, put your hand over the bucket in a good picking position, and then duct tape your wrist to the inside and outside of the bucket. Reinforce the tape with sideways piece of tape on the inside of the bucket. You’ll have both hands free to pick. I recommend filling the bucket only to the two-thirds mark, and then dumping the berries into an extra bucket.

Paul Miller
Gardiner, Montana