Janet Cassidy is a food and agriculture marketing strategist from Delaware Ohio. She loves canning and is a certified master food preserver. Janet enjoys baking, teaching cooking classes as an instructor, and hosting spectacular dinner parties. Her garden is a source of joy in her life, and she believes “you have to grow it to know it”!
In This Episode You Will Discover:
- the heavy rains this year left Janet with a very soggy acre of what used to be garden
- PATIENCE – why a garden isn’t built in a single season
- how to use the USDA zone determination and university extension sites
- CANNING TIPS – 21st century canners do NOT explode in the kitchen!
- the sport of “pumpkin chunkin”
- Discover How To Earn Your First $500 (or your next) As A Garden Blogger! Simple 5 Step System Reveals How To Create Your Own Second Income Doing What You Love Part-Time. Download instantly for free the Garden Blogger Blueprint Mindmap & Cheat Sheet at http://backtomygarden.com/SECRET
- Don’t Panic, it’s Organic! Are you a serious student of organic gardening? CLICK HERE for one of my favorite resources loaded with tips for building your own organic garden
- How healthy are you really? Take the test at http://NutritionWeCanTrust.com
This is the book Janet mentioned on the show!
Our Guest’s Links
Follow Janet Cassidy on Twitter: http://twitter.com/janetcassidy
Visit Janet’s tremendous canning and gardening blog: Jans Jars
Watch the Podcast Interview Here:
Dave: I’m Dave Ledoux and welcome to another edition of Back To My Garden. I’m excited to talk to you today we have a special guest. Janet is a food and agriculture marketing strategist, a certified master food preserver, a baker, a cooking class instructor and host of spectacular dinner parties, joining us from Delaware Ohio please welcome to the show Janet Cassidy. Hi Janet!
Janet: Hi Dave how are you?
Dave: I’m excited because I love to talk about gardening, but I love the eating side of the equation even more!
Janet: Me too!
Dave: I’ve given a brief overview like an introduction but I want to hear your story and I’m sure our listeners want to get to know you as well. Janet can you take a minute or two and share with our listeners a little bit about your background and how you got into gardening?
Janet: Sure, I have an agricultural background. My grandparents had a farm, a grain farm that I spent a lot of time on. And then my parents had an apple orchard so I grew up in the apple orchard, so really I was immersed in food production my whole life. And because we had those large plots of land, it was never a problem to say, “hey, can I have this plot over here to dig up?”. And so I had access to tools and land to till up and real support, and no surprise from the family, that would interest me. So I’ve really been raised in this culture of food production so gardening just seemed like a natural progression.
Dave: Fantastic. Now Janet you and I are going to get to visit and chat but we have listeners driving in their cars and we want them to be safe so don’t worry about taking notes I’ll put all the links and resources in the Show Notes at Back To My Garden. Make sure you check out Janet’s website it’s www.JansJars.blogspot.com and you can follow her on social media on Twitter @janetcassidy Share her content. Let her know that she can reach out and ask questions. I have a feeling we’re going to be talking a lot about that today. Where to start Janet? Can you talk to me a little bit about your first garden as a grown up?
Janet: Sure. That was probably thirty years ago so I’ll try to remember back that far. I think my first garden was really pumpkins. Pumpkins are beautiful to look at and exciting to carve and so I’ve always been an enthusiastic fan of Halloween, and so I think early on I started with just pumpkins. It doesn’t need a whole lot of talent to grow a pumpkin, respectfully to all the pumpkin growers out there, but it was an easy thing to start with. And I think my biggest challenge that year was groundhogs.
Dave: Whoa! I know two simple ways to take care of groundhogs, but did you have a strategy?
Janet: You know they’re wiley those things! They don’t look smart but they are. I was especially taken by the Big Max pumpkins, the really big pumpkins which could endure some gnawing on and recover. And so really that first year I endured it. I put up with their bites here and there knowing those pumpkins would recover and just have scar marks and still be good carving pumpkins. But then the next year we got a little savvier with some live traps and maybe some not some live traps as well.
Dave: My wife sent me a Youtube of a pumpkin grower who grows the big ones and he took a photograph every 2 hours using a stop-motion camera from the day he planted it to the day they had the crane take away on a skid. It’s great I’m going to post it on the blog.
Janet: I’ll have to look for that, wow!
Dave: My neighbor is a pumpkin farmer and they have a big problem with deer in the fall because the deer just, I guess it’s like candy to them, so they just walk out in the fields and smash them with a hoof and eat the insides. Have you ever grown one of those ridiculous ones, like to put in a fair, 500 or 1000 pounds?
J: Well, I’ve tried, how about that? Which is not to say we got big enough to participate in the fair. I think the challenge for me was the moving piece of that. You know you can’t just shove that in your trunk! And so the challenge is really the front end loader, moving it to a truck that’s big enough to facilitate that, which I never grew one that wouldn’t fit in a truck. I did grow ones that just about needed a front end loader and so for us if I could get it up to the front yard to carve that was success. Trying to wrangle straps and belts to get it to the fair was never that much of an interest to me. I was pretty proud of myself that I could get a carved pumpkin out of a handful of seeds.
Dave: Nice! For those of you listening if you have any access award-winning pumpkins and/or “pumpkin chunking” and if don’t know what pumpkin chunking is, it’s when, I’m pretty sure it’s an American phenomenon, but they build giant cannons and shoot pumpkins a quarter mile and then they put it on TV show. There’s fairs and contests for pumpkin chunking. If you know about that, drop me a line on the blog I want to interview a pumpkin chunker. So Janet you started on pumpkins, we got off topic already we got to get back to the food element … I know you’re really busy on the work side of agriculture and gardening now, but did you get to garden this year and what was your garden like?
Janet: We had an usually wet early summer that left part of our garden under water for maybe 2 weeks. And so some things rebounded and other things didn’t so well. So we got maybe an acre plot of garden plus we got a smaller handful of fruit trees and fruit bushes. That larger plot sort of sits in some clay soils and we’re thinking about how to address that in the future. We had a not-so-awesome tomato yield, and usually that’s the one thing we can count on really, bushels of tomatoes that we didn’t get this year so in terms of the preservation piece of it, we’re definitely low on things like salsa. But that’s sort of how the garden goes. And we didn’t get red tomatoes, we got a ton of tomatillos, they’re much more vigorous, or resilient I guess is a better word, to not so favorable growing conditions. So those did really well this year. Our pumpkins did pretty well, instead of growing large pumpkins, I’m always on a trek to find a good new pie pumpkin. And our pie pumpkins did pretty well this year, we grew two varieties and got quite a few. So we will be in pies this year, no problem with that. Other than that it was, I would say, a pretty mediocre year. That wet early summer really increased the weeds, of course the bugs took off after that so we’ve had some challenges managing that. But overall we still got food and that’s always a plus, and as a gardener you know that everything is sort of you learn what you learn this year and you apply it to next year and future years. So we did learn a lot. It’s never a total loss, you know our growing season is never a total loss, we’ll always get something, it just wasn’t as robust as in previous years.
Dave: You know Janet, that’s a bit of an inspiration for the listeners because we have a lot of novice gardeners, I still consider myself a novice gardener, you get so emotionally invested in the spring. Even with your experience, your tomatoes were still just the pits. And that’s the way it is.
Janet: Yeah, and that’s the way it is. And I too believe that I’m still learning. I think we’re really big into cover crops now to solve some of those issues in that back plot, and I’m at the very front end of learning about cover crops and how to manage them and how they impact your soil health. But you know I didn’t bump into them, I knew about them in the agricultural world, but I didn’t know many folks using them in the gardening world. And so this year we really started to dig into that. I look forward to implementing some of those techniques and methods. But it took me 30 years, I’ve been gardening for 30 years and it took me that long to even think about how to impact my soil health, which impacts all kinds of other things as you know. We impact virility and yield and all kinds of stuff and so I am always trying to learn. From a beginner’s standpoint that something to remember is a garden isn’t built in one season. And so it’s really a lifetime of learning and applying that to next season. There’s a reason why gardeners always talk about next season, right? So we’re tinkering a lot with how to get better production out of that plot, it’s something I didn’t know 5 years ago.
Dave: Your soggy acre gave you tomatillos but no tomatoes.
Janet: A handful of tomatoes. I mean we had enough for BLT’s, we did a couple rounds of canned tomatoes, usually we’re giving away tomatoes. We didn’t give any away this year.
Dave: Let’s shift gears because this is what I was so excited that I got to talk to you about was the canning, because you’re brilliant at it and you share everything on your blog.
Janet: I try to.
Dave: JansJars.blogspot.com, I bookmarked it and I’m going to put it up on the site because my wife’s been canning for a long time, but this is the first season I got into canning, I got to participate. I wonder if you could share with the listeners who are afraid or nervous about canning, how do you recommend a student get started in canning?
Janet: I think that’s a good question. I would encourage folks to buy a Ball Blue Book actually, and I’m not a representative of Ball in any way. It’s maybe 10 bucks. It’s a small investment. But that has step-by-step instructions as well as vetted recipes, and those two things are really important to beginners. I think a mistake folks make early on is they go online and browse the internet and find canning recipes. Many, many of those are not vetted so it’s really important, it doesn’t have to be the Ball Blue book, you can go to the USDA site, your county extension site, anything that’s associated with a university would be great, but just find those recipes that go back to the acid levels in the food, and they’re vetted in the lab to make sure those are safe. And so there’s really no way to tell by looking at food if it’s safe. Even a sealed jar can be unsafe what you want to do is make sure you use the right recipe. So get a Ball book or go online to USDA and browse the steps to get started and familiar. And then extensions typically have somebody on staff who can help you with that. I’m available via Twitter or my blog. But find someone knowledgable to help you through those steps if you are uncomfortable just jumping in. It’s not hard, it’s really not hard, but there’s some steps you just have to pay attention to. So sometimes, just like with gardening, if you can find someone who’s been through it, it makes it a lot easier.
Dave: Yes, the science element, there is science involved folks! And a little bit of investment, but that investment will pay back year after year, won’t it Janet?
Janet: It will. There’s definitely for a beginner, you don’t have to invest a whole lot. The water bath canner costs about $25-30 bucks, your jars are reusable, so the investment is early on. But then you reuse those jars every year. So we do it not just to extend the food budget but also to really extend the harvest. I love having fresh food, you know going out to the garden and picking fresh food. But I really love eating it in winter. There’s something really awesome about a fresh peach, a fresh local peach on Christmas morning. So those are experiences that are important to me to have all year round to be able to enjoy that food.
Dave: You said peach! We had a devastating winter, an ice storm and I think you got some of that polar vortex too. Our peaches were dismal this year and now I want peaches.
Janet: And for the first time ever our peach crop, I could not find any in Central Ohio anyway, any growers that still had peaches this year. And so for the first time ever I preserved out of state peaches, which my whole family is recoiling.
Janet: There’s a lot of peaches, seriously they are so tasty, but it just goes to show you that you can’t always rely on getting tomatoes or getting peaches depending on the growing season.
We canned over 100 jars, my wife and I this year.
Janet: That’s awesome!
Dave: And I didn’t know until we actually did a count, like salsa, and then because we started off with 22 kinds of tomatoes this year, and we have raised beds so I think even though we had a really wet July we did okay for drainage. But then we canned hot peach salsa, and then the pickled peppers and the pickled carrots and you just get carried away, it’s a slippery slope.
Janet: It is! It’s addicting.
Dave: Have you done any work with the pressure canners?
Janet: I have. I encourage folks to start off with water bath canning, and then move onto a pressure canner, but yea, if you are going to do low-acid foods, that is anything that is not pickled, or any vegetables that aren’t pickled, or brined or in a sugar-syrup, then you need to actually pressure can those. And those 2 are not interchangeable. So once you find your recipes you’ll find that they will recommend either a water bath or pressure canner, and that’s really not interchangeable you have to follow those instructions. Now it’s a little more investment, a pressure canner is a little more expensive, but again, if you’ve got limited freezer space, you might have limited shelf space, and so you need to decide how you’re going to manage the harvest. We in addition to what we grow, also buy a half a beef and a half of pork, and so sometimes when our freezer is up to the top and I still need to shove in Christmas cookies here in a couple of months, we will preserve some of that meat through canning. And so it’s actually a quick dinner because the meat is so tender. And there’s lots of ways to use that meat. So folks really need to decide where they’re going to store their extra food. How much space they have and how much they want to invest.
Dave: Fantastic. I’ve been lugging jugss of vinegar and the big jugs of distilled water all summer and I said, “when are we going to make stews and soups?” and she said “oh no that’s a whole new level you’re not ready for that!”
Janet: Well it is a different level! And again there’s a science involved and you just have to follow the directions. It can be done and I know folks often have a story about their grandmothers’ canner exploding. New pressure canners do not explode so there’s really no reason to fear it, there’s no reason to fear pressure canning. Directions are readily available. It’s a safe thing to do in your kitchen, even with your kids in the kitchen.
Dave: For those of you driving along make sure you follow Janet on Twitter @janetcassidy and check out JansJars.blogspot.com. I’ve been taking notes as we’ve been talking Janet and I wrote down “new pressure canners do not explode!” so I’ll put that in the show notes, that’s good news.
Janet: One thing I want to say if folks still have canners that have wing nuts on the side, I’m sure everyone knows what I’m talking about, there’s actual wing nuts that you screw down on the sides, get rid of that canner and get a new one without wing nuts.
Dave: There’s there’s this thing called Craigslist, trade it for a canoe or lawn furniture, just trade it. What do you can? Do you have a passion? What do you love to can yourself?
Janet: I mentioned canned peaches before, it’s really important, I don’t know if it’s sort of what we grew up on or what, but it’s very important to us to have peaches as a family. I don’t know where that links back to in the past that was what we did was canned peaches so it feels like every year we got to can peaches. But I am interested in foods that make meal time prep easier. So I’m very interested in creating, in preserving food that I can use as sides, for instance salsa, applesauce that I can open quick and have a ready made side. Or even canned tomatoes that will help me get chili going really fast, or a spaghetti sauce going really fast. And so I’m very interested in convenience foods via canning. If it’s hard to put in the jar, and hard to use outside the jar, I probably won’t do it. It’s got to be helpful to me and my lifestyle. Even if everyone’s busy, and our 5 o’clocks are crunch time, that’s true of everybody, I want to be able to come home even if I forgot to pull something out of the freezer that morning, a piece of meat, I can even pull out burgers or sausage patties, throw those on the grill, do quick roasted vegetables, we have lots of vegetables that we hold, for instance our squash, we can hold for several months, I can put a squash in the oven and roast that real quick and serve pickled beets with it or applesauce might be a better choice. And so I’ve got a great meal, homemade in a half an hour which is really what I strive for, in a half an hour. Doesn’t always happen but that’s what I shoot for.
Dave: Now listeners if you turned up your nose at pickled beets, you don’t know what you’re missing! Just try it once. All these vegetables we hated as kids now as grownups we say “these are good”!
Janet: You’re right! I guess I didn’t realize how many beet haters there were out there until I started talking about pickled beets. There’s a real divide amongst beet lovers and beet haters that I recently became aware of. And so yes, I think that’s right. I think that’s good advice for everyone. If you tried something when you were young and it came out of a commercial can and you didn’t like it, try it again. I think that’s true of peas, and brussel sprouts, and asparagus, and beets. If you only ate those things commercially canned you might like it more than you think you do.
Dave: For those of you who can, who are listening to this, remember that canned goodies are a currency. I trade my pickled beans to my friend Rick who owns his own nano brewery and makes beer.
Dave: He’s addicted to pickled beans, and I enjoy his homemade beer so it’s a win-win.
Janet: That’s an awesome trade.
Dave: I’m actually a little bit nervous. We made pickled peppers and I grew a Naga Viper, which is the third hottest pepper, and it’s one million scovilles, like a ghost pepper.
Janet: Oh my!
Dave: We had the goggles and the Hazmat suits on when we were cutting it up, and doors were open and the cat wouldn’t come upstairs because the cat said “you guys are crazy!” so there’s liquid fire in that, it’s going to be good.
Janet: Sounds hot!
Dave: I’ve been looking at the time rapidly going by Janet, and now is the time in the show where we play a game called “Five Quick Questions”. It’s your chance to share your wisdom and experience with novice gardeners. Are you ready to play?
Janet: I am.
Dave: Question number one … what do you think stops most people from getting into gardening? And we can add “canning and food preserving” as well.
Janet: I think the answer is the same for both which is I think folks think they have to know everything there is to know about that particular thing before they start it. In the case of gardening seeds are cheap, and really that’s how I got started. Seeds are cheap. And so to buy a packet of seeds and scratch out some earth and plant the seeds, really gives you a sort of confidence of growing something. And I think that really gets you started. In the case of canning, people still believe that if its done wrong they’ll kill their family which is not untrue, it never happens. It seriously never happens and you could not kill your family with a jar of water bath food which is a high acid product, you can not kill your family with a high acid product. And so there is folks that will help you, you don’t have to be perfect out of the start. But that doesn’t mean you need to know everything there is to know to get started. You don’t have to see the top of the staircase to put your foot on the first step.
Dave: Whoa! That’s wisdom!
Janet: And so it’s really ok not to be able to see the top when you’re just on the bottom it’s really ok, just get started.
Dave: Nice! In 30 years of gardening Janet, did you ever plant something that didn’t grow?
Janet: Oh yeah, for sure! We love tinkering around with things that aren’t really appropriate for this part of the world. So when we travel to southern Ohio we’re very taken by tobacco, believe it or not, how it grows and how it looks. So one year we tried, just to see if it would grow here, we tried tobacco and it grew here. It’s just so interesting and so cool and nothing like we would typically grow. We’ve also tried peanuts so here we are in central Ohio and we tried peanuts. Couldn’t get those to grow. We have a hard time with edamame. I think that’s part of the fun of it. Seeing if you can grow something that isn’t exactly perfect or isn’t in your skill set or your knowledge base. And there’s things that surprised us. Definitely. I don’t consider those failures I just consider that a fun gardening exercise.
Dave: I’m so glad you’re on this episode, you’re fantastic! I have half a page of notes here. When you said edamame my head snapped up like “what?” that’s great!
Janet: I love edamame, and I realized so did the rabbits! Having said that, we’ve recently got a little pack of coyotes living off in the farm field behind us. We don’t have any pets so I’m not worried about them getting carried away, but those coyotes have taken care of that bunny problem so we might try it again next year because I love edamame.
Dave: When you said coyote, we’re buying some coyote and mountain lion spray for my wife’s parents garden. The squirrels have devastated it and they don’t have a dog or a gun. I saw a black squirrel come down out of a tree, take a hot pepper off the vine, take two bites, throw it aside and went back up the tree.
Janet: Well you learned a lesson.
Dave: My mother in law is an elderly Greek woman, and she comes out and starts yelling at the squirrels in Greek, it’s just priceless.
Janet: That’s awesome.
Dave: So maybe the coyote spray will keep the squirrels away next season. Question 2 … what’s the best gardening advice that you’ve ever received?
Janet: That would be you have to grow it to know it. There is definitely … you can read up on all kinds of … gosh there’s so much information available, especially online, on gardening and plants in particular. But you really don’t know how a plant is going to act until it’s growing in your garden. And you know there’s a reason why there’s recommendations. I typically plant things way too close. I’m a space hoarder. I shove probably way too much in, then I think, then I feel bad because I’m ripping out seedlings. You don’t know a plant until you grow it. But then you might know a whole host of plants because you grew this one plant. I think growing the plant will help you know. And that’s been really great advice to me. There’s not much to lose when you’re putting a plant in the ground so put it in and see how it goes. And then you’ll know.
Dave: Dynamite! Number 3 is a recommendation. We’ve been telling people to check out your blog at JansJars.blogspot.com. Can you recommend a couple of websites for novice gardeners? Maybe some other blogs or resources online that you like?
Janet: For the newbies especially I recommend the USDA site first off, to figure out what zone you’re in so as you’re thinking about a garden, not that you can’t grow plants that are outside of your zone, you just have to think about them not living through the winter. And so that’s helpful in terms of planning your garden but also I really think your extension agent and the extension websites are awesome and sometimes overlooked. Just the volume of white papers on those site is amazing and it’s really the first place that I go to for bug identification or better understanding cycles of bugs. There’s so much you can do if you know the cycle of the bug, and this is something that I really learned the last five years and how to break those cycles of insects. There’s so much research-based information at extension sites that that’s some place I generally go, and the good news is if I can’t find it I can pick up the phone and call the extension office.
Dave: Just curious Janet, what zone are you in in mid-Ohio?
Janet: I’m in 6A.
Dave: 6A, ok. So you’re not growing bananas.
Janet: I’m not! I wish I could grow lemon trees, I think that’s my one big desire is to have citrus. We lost our fig tree this past year to that polar vortex and some peach trees but that was an experiment that fig tree and I thought it was going to work. I’m hoping that was just an anomaly because it got down so cold and we might try again because I love figs. So there is definitely tropical foods that I want. I typically just have to go to the grocery store for those.
Dave: We got a fig tree this year. And I didn’t know, my wife bought it. It’s become a roommate.
Janet: Oh no!
Dave: Yup, its gonna live in the house in the winter.
Janet: You know we have seriously talked about planting trees in pots and rolling them in and out of the house. I just don’t know if I’m there yet. I do love citrus, I would love a lime now and again, but jeez I’m not sure I can manage a tree in the house.
Dave: I understand. I had to move my golf clubs and now Mr. Fig lives where my golf clubs were.
Janet: Priorities I guess, right?
Dave: Well that’s right. There is a payoff in the summer with the fruit.
Dave: Question four … Can you recommend one of your favorite gardening books?
Janet: I can. I actually have two that are my favorites. One is a little known book, or maybe not, called Back to Basics. I don’t know if you’ve ever heard of it. It’s a whole book, with everything from how to build a barn, to how to build a brick patio, to I think there’s even hog butchery in that book. I don’t consider myself a homesteader, but I sure do love folks that have those skills. So there is a section on canning and drying, but even windmills, electricity, it’s really a how to manage your property book. And I think it’s pretty wide-ranging in the topics and what falls under them. So it’s very old school. It’s actually put out by Reader’s Digest, so that probably means people may want to read it. But I find myself sometimes leafing through that book, or when I have a problem. Even soap making I think is in that book .. I try to just sort of look through that book to first get an idea of that project is bigger than I can manage, and then I sometimes go to other resources if I want to continue the project.
And my second book is the Ball Blue book which I mentioned. So that’s just a great Primer to get you started on canning and dehydrating and freezing. It really covers all three of those in terms of how to preserve your garden. So it’s a good first step to go to if you’re thinking of preserving.
Dave: Outstanding. And finally, question number five Janet is a fun one. What’s the number one thing you would recommend every gardener should try to grow next season? Or, what’s something that you’ve just been waiting to experiment with, and you’re going to try it next year?
Janet: Well I think every gardener should grow herbs. I’m all about the food, and herbs are pretty hardy, and they can be grown in the ground or in containers or raised beds, really anywhere. And they add a lot of complexity and depth to your meals, they smell nice, they look nice, and they’re easy to grow. So I always encourage new gardeners to start with herbs. In terms of what we’re doing next year, we might actually get a hoop house. We’ve been thinking about this for several years now, and I think we’re ready to take the plunge. So we’ll see how well it goes. But if I could get even 3 more months out of the growing season, I’d think about all the things we could have for those 3 more months. I also think that a step towards a hoop house is a step towards a green house, which is really what I’m gunning for, and then I can get my lime tree. So, we’ll see how that goes, but we’re looking into that right now, what it would take.
Dave: How exciting! Very good. That would be nice. Tell him that Dave says you need it. It’s a write-off.
Janet: I know! I will, I will. (laughs)
Dave: Our time has flown by. I want to encourage all the listeners. I hope you got a lot out of this show. I took a lot of notes. Follow Janet on Twitter @janetcassidy and for sure bookmark her site and share it with the world at www.jansjars.blogspot.com Janet, you’ve been an incredible guest.
Janet: Well, thank you!
Dave: I want to give you the last word to our listeners. Can you leave them with either a pearl of wisdom or a note of encouragement?
Janet: Sure. I actually go out and do judging of canned goods at county fairs, and I think the encouragement is really practice, practice, practice. So, find your passion, and then even if you can commit to doing it once a week, the way you get better at something is practice. I’m still practicing. So, no one should expect perfection after one season or one try at something. So really, identify what “it” is, then just practice. And have fun.
Dave: Wonderful. You’ve been a brilliant guest. Thanks for being on the show Janet.
Janet: Thanks for having me.