Canning Beans in Winter

Every year, the garden seems to have a different vegetable star.

Last summer was deemed the  summer of tomatoes and pinto beans.  I had so many tomatoes, I ended up picking them straight from the garden, bagging them in Ziploc bags and tossing them in the freezer.  I did the same with the beans.  By the end of summer, I had about 15 one gallon bags of tomatoes and a couple of gallon bags of pinto beans in the freezer.

I’ve finally got the tomatoes canned (post on this later) and this weekend seemed like a good time to take care of the beans.

snow feb, 28, 2015

If you’ve never used a pressure cooker/canner before, be sure to look through the book that came with the cooker before starting.  Another book I refer to all the time is the Ball Blue Book Guide for Canning.

canningIn the recipes, you will see directions such as, process pints for 40 minutes at 10 pounds pressure.  To know what pressure you need, my cooker (which is really, really old) has this on top of the lid.

canningThis knob comes apart so you can adjust the pressure as needed.


You will have a guide in your canning book that will break this down for you.

canningPinto beans call for 10 psi, so the top of my cooker looks like this

canning video

I took the beans out of the freezer a couple of days ago, (I’m not sure if they actually needed to thaw or not.  I mainly did it as a reminder so I wouldn’t  forget to soak them overnight.)

I ‘ve figured out over the years that 9 cups of dried beans will yield about 14-15 pints of beans or 3 cookers full.  So, I measured out the beans, placed them in a large stockpot and covered them with cold water.  Cover the pot and let them sit on top of the stove for 12-18 hours.

canning beans

After they’ve soaked overnight, drain the water from the beans, rinse, and place back in the stockpot.  Cover with cold water and bring to a boil.  Boil for 30 minutes.

canning beans

During this time, get your jars, lids, and caps ready.  I like to put my jars in the dishwasher to clean, sterilize them, and keep them hot.  By the time the jars are going through the dry cycle, the beans are usually done cooking.


You can also place the jars in large pan of water and heat.

wild plum jelly canning

I’ve also warmed them in the microwave, too.  The point is they need to be very warm so the jars don’t bust when hot beans go in.

Put the lids and caps in a pan of water and heat.

wild plum jelly canning

When everything is ready to go, get a hot jar and place 1/2 tsp. canning salt in the bottom of the jar.

canning beans canning beans

Place a funnel (optional, but helpful) on top of the jar and pour in beans.

canning beans

No broth at this point, just beans.

canning beans

When the jar is full of beans, pour in the liquid leaving about 1 inch of space (this is called headspace).

canning beans

Next, remove any air bubbles in the jar using a butter knife or something similar.

canning beans

This is done by inserting the knife on all four “sides” of the jar and then right in the middle.

Wipe the rim of the jar with a damp cloth or paper towel.

canning beans

Remove a lid from the hot water using this magnetic tool


and place on the rim of the jar.

canning beans

Remove a cap from the hot water (with the same tool) and screw tightly on the jar.

canning beans

Place the jar in the pressure canner that has about 2 inches of water in the bottom.

canning beansMy cooker is small and will hold 5 regular-mouth jars or 4 wide-mouth jars.

Make sure the jars are not touching each other or the sides of the cooker

canningand that the water in the cooker goes up the jar about 3 inches.

Put the lid on the cooker and secure.

Turn on the heat.  When the psi indicator starts to “hiss” at a steady rate (this takes about 15 minutes to happen), begin to time.  It will sound like this:

For pinto beans, the instructions say to process for 1 hour 15 minutes at 10 psi.  Set the timer.  That’s a long time (for me) and I tend to get started on other things and lose track of time.  I usually set the timer on the oven and my phone.

When the time is up, turn off the heat and let the cooker cool down.  Don’t move the cooker at this point.  You will not be able to open the lid until the pressure is down and this will take about 30 minutes.

After 30 minutes, gently try to open the lid.  If it doesn’t give, leave it for a few more minutes and try again.  When the pressure is down, it will open easily.

Take out the beans with your jar gripper


 and place them on a towel.  Let your jars sit undisturbed for 24 hours.  During this time you will hear popping or pinging.  This means your jars have sealed!

canning beans

The next day, check the tops by running your finger across the top.  If you can push the lid down and it pops back, the jar didn’t seal and you need to put it in the refrigerator and eat within a couple of days.  If the lid does not pop back, your jars have sealed and you can put them in the cupboard or pantry.

Allen is always giving me a hard time about canning.  He reminds me I could  buy a can of beans for $.50 and wouldn’t have to spend the whole day canning.

That’s true, but I don’t mind spending a snowy day in the kitchen.

bird snow feb 2015

And, I figure if I go to all the trouble to have fresh food in the summer, the least I can do is enjoy it in the winter.  I love being able to come home, open a jar, heat it up, make a pan of cornbread and have a meal in 30 minutes or less.  It doesn’t get any easier than that.

The pinto beans I use are the Lina Sisco Bird Egg bean that I’ve talked about here.  Super easy to grow, easy to harvest, and easy to preserve either at the time you pick them or in the dead of winter.

birds snow feb 28 2015

Who’s looking forward to spring?









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Plants to Consider for Your Garden

I hate to even complain about the snow and ice we’ve gotten this week.  It is nothing compared to my friend and fellow blogger, Michele at The Salem Garden, who has had to deal with 87 inches of snow fall since Jan. 23!

It’s been extremely cold, too, making chores not so fun. My grandson stayed with me for a couple of days this week and has helped me gather eggs (which is one of his favorite things to do) and has kept me entertained with his sweetness.

luke 2years old feb 2015 snow

We’ve also made sure to feed the birds and spent many minutes (which is hours in toddler time) at the window watching them go back and forth from tree to feeder.

Snowman Bird Feeder

Like I’ve said before, winter is a great time to research different types of shrubs, flowers, and vegetables you might want to plant in the garden.

ice and snow FEb. 2015

I have been transitioning to native plants over the last few years. I’ve noticed over the years that pollinators, (butterflies and bees), seem to congregate on the natives more than the non-natives.  I’ve also noticed that natives tend to be less fussy, more disease resistant, deer resistant, and take all kinds of weather that Arkansas has to offer. I hate to say carefree, but they are pretty close.

Let’s start with the old-fashioned hydrangea.

Hydrangea arborescens 'Annabelle' is a great additon to the shade garden

This species is Hydrangea arborescens ‘Annabelle’.  This particular hydrangea will always bloom white.  (Hydrangea macrophylla  are the ones that turn either blue or pink depending on your soil type.)  I chose white because of the contrast with my dark red brick.

This is a deciduous shrub (meaning it loses its leaves in winter).


It likes mostly shade but could stand more sun if you wanted to keep it watered.  Mine gets about 4 hours of morning sun.

This particular hydrangea blooms on new wood which means you can prune it back in late winter


and still get massive blooms a few months later.


Knowing whether your hydrangea blooms on new wood or old wood is very important.  If it blooms on old wood, pruning at the wrong time may cause your shrub to be all leaf and no bloom (which is something like all work and no play.)

It’s also good to know how tall your shrub is going to get.  ‘Annabelle’ gets about 3 ft. tall and 3 ft. wide for me but information I’ve read says it can get up to 5 ft. tall.  A good, detailed website to peruse if considering hydrangeas is

Another overlooked shrub is Amsonia hubrichtii or Arkansas Blue Star.

 Amsonia hubrectii or Arkansas Blue Star is a great native plant for the sunny garden shrub will give you  blue flowers in the spring, followed by feathery leaves in summer, and yellow foliage in the fall.

Amsonia hubrichtii ro Arkansas Blue Star foliage in early fall.  This is a great native plant for the garden. largest one is about 4 ft. in diameter and 3 ft. tall.  It gets full sun but would tolerate some shade.  It’s not easy to relocate, so I would make sure you have it where you want it.  It does send up shoots close to the plant but it’s not invasive.  If I’m feeling energetic, I will pot those shoots up and let them grow all summer and then plant them in the fall.  I love free plants!  It does die back in the winter which means you don’t have to worry about pruning.  Amsonia impressed me most when we had an extreme drought and a plague of grasshoppers one summer.  This was the only shrub that came through totally unscathed causing me to fall deeply in love with it and pledge to always sing its praises.

Another favorite native is Asclepias tuberosa or Milkweed.

Asclepias tuberosa or Milkweed is a drought tolerant native plant.  This is the only plant the monarch butterfly will lay her eggs on.  Bright orange flowers bring in many pollinators.

Asclepias tuberosa

If you want to attract monarch butterflies to your yard, this is the plant you need.  Not only do they (along with bees and other pollinators) love the flowers, milkweed is the only plant monarchs will lay their eggs on.  When a monarch egg hatches, the caterpillar will eat the leaves and grow to become a monarch.  I have raised hundreds of monarchs on my milkweed to the delight of my granddaughter.  Nature and kids just go together.

hallie, butterfly

Milkweed is a perennial (meaning it comes back every year) in zones 3-9.  It dies back in the winter and starts to emerge a little later than most perennials.  Mine usually starts sending up shoots by the end of April/first of May.  Until you remember where you planted your milkweed plants, it would be a good idea to mark them (I circle them with golf tees) so you won’t plant over them like I have been known to do (more than once I hate to admit)

parsley golf tee

parsley marked with golf tees

A. tuberosa  will grow about 2-2 1/2 ft. tall and  1-1/2 ft. wide.  It sends out a long taproot making it hard to transplant once it gets growing.  I have moved mine before when the shoots were about 6 inches tall and it did ok but the ones that have done the best are the ones I’ve not touched since I planted them.

Asclepias tuberosa or Milkweed is not only a food source for the monarch butterfly, bees enjoy it as well. you can’t beat the color. Bright orange really pops in the garden.  In the fall, the seed pods are interesting as well.  Collecting the seeds are easy and a great way to get more plants or share with friends.

Asclepias tuberosa seed pod.

Asclepias seed pod and seeds

Asclepias seed

Asclepias seed

Now, moving on to the vegetable garden.

An easy, tasty, dried bean to grow in the garden is the Lina Sisco Bird Egg Bean.

Lina Sisco's bird egg bean is a great dried bean for the veggie garden. is an heirloom bush bean that can be traced back to the 1880’s.

I’ve grown this bean for years.  I hate to jinx myself and say I’ve never had a problem with bugs or diseases on this veggie, so I’m going to shut up right now.  Trust me, it’s a good bean to have on your side.

Once planted, let the beans grow until the pods go from green to completely brown (about 85 days from planting)  Brown pods mean the beans have completely dried and are ready to pick and shell.  Call me weird,  but shelling beans has always been very relaxing to me.  I have fond memories of sitting under the big shade tree in my grandmother’s yard shelling beans and talking.  It’s funny how doing small things like this can bring back such good memories.  I miss her to this day.

After the beans are shelled, you can either bag or can them.  Since I am usually busy with other veggies when they are ready, I put them in a Ziploc bag and stick them in the freezer until I have time to can them.

dried bean Lina Sisco bird egg

Don’t use all of them, though.  These beans are not a hybrid and can be saved for next years garden or to share with friends and neighbors if you have a bumper crop.  Can you tell I like free plants?

Free Plants+Happy Friends=Happy Gardeners.

Now that’s math I can understand.


Here are some of my favorite local sources for native plants

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Happy Valentine’s Day!

cow and heart



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The Bees Were Out and About

With the unusually warm weather we’ve had, the bees are probably thinking it’s spring time.

Bees come out of the hive when it warms up to check on nectar supplies

Enjoying the beautiful weather

But it’s not.  Colder weather is on the way and this is a critical time for beehives.  I am told that most hives are lost in February and March due to low food supplies in the hive.

As I was working in the barn today, I heard a familiar buzz nearby.  Upon closer examination, I saw several bees dining on deadnettle.

Bees love the early blooming dead nettle bee and dead nettle bee and deadnettle bee and deadnettle

Deadnettle is considered a weed (it’s in the mint family) and it LOVES to overwinter in my flowerbeds.

deadnettle bee

One man’s weed is another’s bee food.

deadnettle bee

I didn’t notice any blooming in the flower beds.  Just this little patch by the barn.  Don’t get me wrong-it’s there, just not blooming yet.

Feeding the bees this time of year is very important to get them over the last hump of winter.  I made a sugar-water mixture of one part pure cane sugar and one part warm water (to help dissolve the sugar) and put this mixture in my Boardman entrance feeders and slid them into the hive.  The jar lid has several very small holes in it and allows the bees to get access to the syrup without leaving the hive.  I’ll get a better picture tomorrow so you know what I’m talking about.  I was a little nervous doing this today because I didn’t have one stitch of my bee suit on.  Just regular clothes.  Not even gloves!  Aren’t I getting braver?

Boardman bee feeders are used to feed sugar-water in the winter

Boardman bee feeders are used to feed sugar-water in the winter

They actually went through both feeders in one day.

If you remember, about a week ago, I set out this feeder


with sugar-water in it.  This worked well except when the water went down, about a couple of hundred bees found their way inside and began to cluster.  They were too far away from the hive and it was cold that night and they ended up freezing to death.  I felt really bad.  There are thousands of bees in the hive, and a couple of hundred probably won’t be missed, but I still don’t want to lose any.  So,  I put that feeder up and brought out the entrance feeders.

I will be feeding from now until more deadnettle, dandelions, and trees start blooming.  When you think about it, we still have a lot of cold weather ahead and I see pounds and pounds of sugar-water in my future.

Your friend in the garden,






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Planning Your Garden Site

If you’ve decided you have a little extra time to tend a garden, whether it be vegetables or flowers, picking a garden site is your next step.

Most veggies need about 6-8 hours of sun.  The summertime vegetables we are familiar with (corn, tomatoes, okra, squash) are heat loving plants and the more sun the better.

Heat loving Okra is a staple when I plan my southern garden


Greens, such as lettuce, arugula, and spinach are a few examples that do well with fewer hours of sun and cooler days.

When planting the garden, lettuce is a cooler weather crop


This all depends on the heat and humidity in your area.  I’ve never been able to grow greens past May in our area, (they bolt and become bitter) but folks that use row covers or have trees leaf out to provide extra shade can block some of the harsh heat and prolong their harvest a little longer.

If growing flowers is your goal, you need to know how much sun reaches the bed.  If there are no trees, tall fences, or buildings around the site, you most likely have full sun. If you do have trees or other obstacles, it’s good to know when the sun hits the spot you are wanting to plant.  It’s best to observe these areas for several months as the location of the sun is different in the spring, summer and fall.  It’s easy to look out and think an area gets full sun only to realize when leaves appear, you might have partial to full shade (been there.)  And, of course, there are gadgets you can buy that will tell you this as well.

sunlight calculator

Here are some terms you will see in garden catalogs, seed packets, or plant tags. These terms will help you decide what to plant and where to plant.

Full Sun: At least 6 hours of full sun per day.
Partial Sun/Partial Shade: Both are defined as 4-6 hours of sun per day. The key is knowing when the sun hits the plant and how long it stays on the plant. In my zone 7 area, the mid-afternoon sun can be scorching hot. Therefore, partial shade (for me) means the plant needs some afternoon shade. This can be very confusing if you are new to gardening.  If you have questions about this for your area, check with your local county extension office. They have a wealth of information about gardening for your specific area.
Full Shade: Less than 2-3 hours of sun.

When all of this has been figured out, the next step is to outline the bed.  My veggie garden was easy.  It’s a rectangle.  Easy to get in and out of, easy to fence off, and easy to mow around.  The sun hits it around 7 am and continues until around 6 pm.

Planning your garden site.

I did have to bring in about 3-4 loads of topsoil since our land sits on hundreds of feet (seems like) of solid rock.  The back of the garden was built up with old railroad ties.  The barbed wire fence was already there but cows were able to reach through so I used remnants of chicken wire, hog wire, and whatever else I could find to reinforce the fence.

My butterfly garden is also in full sun.

My full sun butterfly garden.

Butterfly Wrangler in training

It sits in the corner of the yard as a triangle.  It is also built up with old railroad ties and several loads of topsoil. It’s large enough that I put a circular path through it so I could walk, water, and weed without trampling plants and caterpillars.

The area behind my garage gets morning sun from about 9 am to noon.   Annabelle hydrangeas and Spicebush do well in this spot.  I usually fill in the spaces in front with shade loving impatiens.

Annabelle hydrangeas line a shady spot behind my garage.

Annabelle hydrangea


Late winter/early spring is a great time to plan and configure your garden site.  Building the beds and obtaining and distributing topsoil, if needed,  is a great reason to come out of winter hibernation and get moving again.

~Spring will be here before we know it~

Your friend in the garden,





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My Best Garden Ever

My best garden ever is planned in January.

Sitting by the wood stove, cat in my lap, dog at my feet, thumbing through seed catalogs  planning and dreaming of juicy tomatoes, fresh herbs, and tall stalks of corn.  In this garden in my head, I have no bugs, no disease, no shortage of sun and rain, and plenty of time to take care of it all.  Hey, dreamers gotta dream.


I’m sure he’s dreaming of catnip

But, for those of us that have gardened for a long time, you know all these factors never happen at the same time.  New gardener’s go into gardening with high expectations of growing enough food to feed not only their family but the whole neighborhood as well.  And, although I applaud these efforts and ambitions, it’s just not realistic and just might defeat your gardening spirit altogether.  I don’t want that.

So, if  you are new to gardening, or have decided to try gardening again, take time now to really think about what you want from the garden.  How much space do you have?  If not much, can you can grow tomatoes, peppers, herbs, or flowers in pots on your patio?  Are you wanting to devote part of your yard for a garden or flower bed?  Do you want just veggies or just flowers?  How will you break the ground?  Is the soil good or will you need to bring in some topsoil?  How much sun reaches your garden area?  All veggies need about 6 hours of sun a day.  Do you have a water source nearby?  Drought conditions can halt garden production very quickly.  And most important–how much time do you have to devote to gardening?

Although this is a lot to think about at once, tackling one issue at a time should make life a little easier.  Let’s start with time.

When I started gardening years ago, my boys were still young.  Time spent in a garden was not there.  I think I had one small flower bed that had a couple of tomato plants thrown in.  That was it and that was enough.  As they got older and began to drive, they stopped asking me to take them places and left me at home.   Kicked me out of the loop.  They were too cool to hang out with mom.  They didn’t need me anymore.  You see where this is going.  So, to keep myself from crying because they abandoned me, and worrying about their well-being constantly, my pity party turned into a garden.

Wanting to attract butterflies to your garden?  Now is the time to plan

Swallowtail on Butterfly Bush


I now had a little more time to spend in the garden and  I have to admit it was very therapeutic.

The flower bed grew a little bigger.  I needed to do raised beds because we have about one inch of topsoil before hitting rock.  I wanted to use native stone for a border so that meant time looking for the “right” rocks.

Before you plant, some careful planning is suggested.

Backyard garden


I prepared the site, planted the site, mulched the site, and weeded the site.  Time, time, time, and time. Fortunately, all of this work does not have to be done at the same time.

Purple coneflower or Echinacea purpura loves the sunshine.

Purple Coneflower or Echinacea purpura

While it’s easy to plan an elaborate garden in the middle of winter, try to fast forward to spring and summer and think of all the activities your family participates in.   My plan is not to discourage you from gardening, just to realize that it can be time consuming depending on what you want to achieve. It can be done, it has been done.  It just takes some planning.   I want you to succeed!

Just a little something to think about if you have some time on your hands.

Your friend in the garden,







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Winter and Bees

In the winter, bees cluster together in the hive, at their food source, to keep warm.  The cluster is very tight and their food supply is hopefully enough left by the beekeeper to last them through the winter.   Therefore, only essential bees get to stay for winter.

Summertime bees

When times are good, everyone gets to stay

Drone bees (males) are only needed for mating with a virgin queen in the spring.  They do no work in the hive or outside the hive and have to be fed and groomed constantly.  They are tolerated in the hive until nectar supplies run out in late fall.

Worker bees know who is essential inside the hive and who is not.  Unfortunately, for the drones, they are labeled nonessential and kicked out of the hive.

Guard bees must be vigilent at all times.

Guard bees stay at the entrance to make sure they don’t get back in the hive.  Without someone to feed them, these drones eventually die.  The bees that are left, snuggle up and prepare for cold weather.

Winter is a time to conserve energy for the bee.

Closed until Spring

Where I live, we usually have a few warm days thrown in with the cold ones.  On warm days, the bees loosen the cluster and fly out of the hive for some fresh air.  Bees are so picky about their home, they will not go to the bathroom in the hive.  These warm days allow the bees to take a much-needed potty break.

Warmer days also allow the bees to do some housekeeping.  Older bees die throughout the winter so on these warm days, the housekeeper bees remove the dead and tidy up the place.

In winter, housekeeper bees have the task of removing dead bees in the hive during a warm spell.

Housekeeper bees remove dead bees from the hive.


In winter, dead bees are removed from the hive during a warm spell.

these dead bees are right below the entrance

Warmer days also allow them to re-cluster around a new supply of food.  Even though the hive may be full of honey, if the cluster runs out of food and the weather is still very cold, they will not break the cluster to move to a honey source maybe an inch from them.  Many hives are lost due to starvation this time of year.

I worry about how much honey they do have left.  I really didn’t know how much they had going into winter.  The hives still feel heavy, but I will probably leave out some sugar-water for them today as we have several days of sunny, 50 degree temps forecasted.  That way, if they need it, it’s there.


rocks in the sugar-water keep the bees from drowning

The little, brown glob to the left of the feeder is my dads contribution of bee food.  It’s some peanut brittle he tried to make but it never set up so he stuck it in the freezer and then broke it into pieces.  He NEVER wastes anything and he thinks the bees will love it.  They won’t touch the peanuts, of course, but the chickens will take care of that.  So far, I’ve not seen any activity on either one.

A favorite, important, and often overlooked flower for the bee is the dandelion.  A weed to most people, this flower provides critical late winter food for bees.  I saw some in the yard today, but they were too far away from the bee hive.

The lowly dandelion is one of the first flowers to bloom for the bee.

The lowly dandelion


Bee don’t venture out very far when it’s cold.


If you are an anti-dandelion person, please think about the severe decline of the bee population before killing every “weed” in your yard.  I understand you probably paid a lot of money for sod, but pesticides and herbicides are the biggest killer of bees and other pollinators like butterflies.  So much of our food supply depends on the little bee for pollination, the least we can do is leave them a dandelion or two not drenched in chemicals.


Have a great weekend,


This blog post is linked with the Chicken-Chicks Blog Hop



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