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Ask Jackie headline

Want to Comment on a blog post? Look for and click on the blue No Comments or # Comments at the end of each post. Please note that Jackie does not respond to questions posted as Comments. Click Below to ask Jackie a question.

Click here to ask Jackie a question!
Jackie Clay answers questions for BHM Subscribers & Customers
on any aspect of low-tech, self-reliant living.

Read the old Ask Jackie Online columns
Read Ask Jackie print columns

Jackie’s Fall Homesteading Seminar

Thursday, July 3rd, 2014 by Oliver | 1 Comment »
We’re planning our fall homesteading seminar and are ready to take deposits.This seminar should be a great one, covering such topics as bringing in the harvest, using a pressure canner, canning meats and vegetables, seed saving, long-term food storage, and much more.The seminar will be September 12-14th, 2014 here at our homestead. We’d love to have you come!

Click here to see our brochure. (PDF) –Jackie

Hey guys, guess what? I have a new book out!

Wednesday, April 9th, 2014 by Jackie Clay | 12 Comments »

Well, it’s official, my new book is ready for pre-order at a great 25% reduced price. It’s titled Homesteading Simplified: Living the good life without losing your mind and it details all the different ways a person can make homesteading easier and more enjoyable whether they live in town or on a large acreage … or anywhere in between. I’ve written about livestock, watering systems, gardening, tools, and much more. Because I’ve fielded a lot of questions about how to avoid homesteader burnout, I wrote this book to help homesteaders, new and experienced, make their life easier while enjoying it more.

I hope you like it. — Jackie

Homesteading-book  Our watchdogs, Hondo and Spencer, on watch for the new book.

So far we’ve had a great fruit harvest

Thursday, August 28th, 2014 by Jackie Clay | No Comments »

Besides harvesting many wild pin cherries and chokecherries, the wild plums are coming on like mad. Not to mention our own tame fruit. We’ve been especially thrilled with our Hansen’s Bush Cherries. The fruit is large, almost the size of wild plums, meaty and tasty. And it makes the BEST jam and jelly ever! Yum. We’re planting several cherry pits in a tire full of dirt so they’ll chill and overwinter outside, to come up next spring. We’ve done that in the past and nearly every pit sprouted. We’d like a whole lot more of these bushes around our homestead. (We’ve been planting them in clearings here and there around the place, making “wild” bushes out of them.)


Burgess sells them very inexpensively but they call them Western Sand Cherries. Other catalogs call them different things. But look for Prunus besseyi, the scientific name, if unsure.

Our grapes really took off this summer. We have ten different varieties and some are bearing this year. Our Valiant is leading the pack with ripe, tasty bunches of beautiful grapes. I wanted to make a grape arbor for them out of stock panels this spring but that never got done. Oh well, maybe next spring?


The orchard really took a hit with last winter’s record-breaking cold spell; 90 days of subzero weather for a high, in a row! We had a lot of branches that winter-killed and even a tree or two. But amazingly, our Frostbite survived untouched (hey, it’s the name!) and has a good crop of tasty apples. Also, our Prairie Magic and Trailman crab (which tastes wonderful) are heavily loaded. Other trees vary from one or two apples to none. But if they live it’s a miracle. We’ve heavily pruned the dead wood and the extra young branches off the trees in order to put more strength into the roots and help re-shape the trees. Hopefully, they’ll recover and go on to grow nicely next spring. — Jackie

Hey everyone, there was a mistake in the photo in the recent nut article

Wednesday, August 27th, 2014 by Jackie Clay | 3 Comments »

We made a mistake in the current issue, Issue No. 149, September/October 2014. In the article titled “Nut trees on your homestead,” we inadvertently put in the wrong photo over the caption that reads “Chestnuts grow inside groups of prickly burrs which split open, revealing shiny, flattish nuts when they become ripe.” We put a photo of a horse chestnut, which is poisonous. Horse chestnuts are so bitter that it would be hard to accidentally eat them, but they are poisonous. We should have put a photo of an edible American chestnut. We apologize for the error. Please share this with any BHM subscribers that you know.


Because we were concerned, we contacted some folks who know about poisons and such.

According to an Oregon Health Services University toxicologist, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea are the most common symptoms of eating the seed. But, it is so bitter that it is intolerable to eat so it is very rare for someone to ingest a large amount.

Also, the person we spoke to at Oregon Poison Control said the seed is very bitter; it is highly unlikely that someone would swallow it. Minimal cases are reported, as it is a well-known plant. On the off-chance that someone did eat it, the seed will not kill them. One or two seeds may only cause gastroenteritis, and larger amounts cause mouth irritation. Ingestion of large quantities (or repeated ingestion of small quantities) can cause bigger systemic problems, particularly in children.


But the Bill Bean tomato in this photo is no mistake! We have several that will weigh in at three pounds or more. WOW! One plant has more than 20 tomatoes on it that weigh at least a pound or more each. Now that’s productive. And for such a huge tomato, it is very meaty and makes Brandywine cringe in shame.

Yesterday we hosted a gathering of the combined Chisholm and Hibbing garden clubs. We toured our gardens, orchard, and berry patch and spent more than 3 hours showing people what we grow and varieties that do well for us here, and explaining how our homestead works. It was fun and very well attended. The interest in heirloom, open pollinated crops was exciting.

Today while Will is hauling round bales of hay home from the fields I’m starting to harvest seeds from some of our earliest maturing tomatoes. Bill Bean, which we had previously figured was a 100 day tomato, came in at just over 75 days this year! We always save seeds from the earliest maturing fruits to “encourage” the varieties to become earlier producing. So I have several bowls lined up on the counter ready to receive tons of tomato seeds from many different varieties of tomatoes. Some are old favorites such as Punta Banda, Early Firefall, and Cherokee Purple but a lot are new to us. We’re especially excited about Alpine, a smaller “regular” tomato that is hugely productive and early; Indigo Beauty, a mid-sized gorgeous tomato with a purple top and orange lower half; Glacier, another very productive smaller tomato; and Mule Team, which is a red, round quite early flavorful addition to our garden. What fun!

Just a note: We still have many slots left for our Sept 12-14th Homestead Seminar. I’m not sure what’s happened, but there hasn’t been a lot of response to this potentially great harvest seminar. If you’re interested in coming, let us know. (We may have to quit offering seminars due to lack of response.) — Jackie

Q and A: flu tonic and storing dehydrated foods

Monday, August 25th, 2014 by Jackie Clay | 3 Comments »

Flu tonic

I have a recipe that I call my “flu/cold tonic.” I am wondering if it can be canned for longer storage.
Juice of 6 fresh lemons
1 bulb garlic
2 tsp. ginger powder
2 Tbsp. honey
3 cups pineapple juice
¼ tsp cayenne powder
Blend all ingredients thoroughly and store in a glass jar. Take 1 cup 4 times a day until the symptoms are resolved.

Shellie Gades
Evansville, Minnesota

Sorry, but as it’s a mixed recipe (citrus and garlic), I really can’t say for sure. What you might do is to can up all of the juices together then add the spices, garlic, and honey at a later date. Sounds like a good cold remedy to me! — Jackie

Storing freeze dried and dehydrated foods

I recently ordered the Meals in a Jar book by Stephanie Petersen and the stated shelf life for some of the recipes are as little as 5 years… I was hoping they would last longer. How long do you think meals in a jar made up with freeze dried ingredients prepared properly with a oxygen absorber should last? Thank you so much for any thoughts!

Crystal Misiak
Millboro, Virginia

Most freeze dried and dehydrated foods will last for decades if stored properly — out of direct light, sealed well in airtight containers, and kept relatively cool (the cooler, the longer they’ll last). Mixed recipes should last equally long unless they contain ingredients such as nuts or whole grain flours that go rancid fairly rapidly. I would expect the mixes to last much longer than five years but not having seen the recipes I can’t say with absolute certainty. — Jackie

Q and A: tomato sprouting and homesteader savings

Sunday, August 24th, 2014 by Jackie Clay | 7 Comments »

Tomato sprouting

I was wondering if you ever saw a tomato that had a plant of some kind growing out of the fruit itself. I’ve had two of them from the garden now and am wondering if you’ve ever seen this and how it happens? Looks like an alien coming out of the tomato! There are several “stems” pushing out of it with many more just under the skin. I’ve searched the internet and can’t find anything on this.

Gail Panzitta
Cream Ridge, New Jersey

Actually, I have seen this. It’s tomato seeds from inside the “mother” tomato that are germinating prematurely. Usually, the gel that surrounds the seeds prevents this. But sometimes something goes “wrong” and the seeds start germinating early. I’ve seen apples that have been in long-term storage do this too although the sprouting seeds haven’t penetrated the apple flesh or skin yet. — Jackie

Homesteader savings

I am new to homesteading. I follow most all your advice on keeping a homestead. We live in NJ on a small lot where I grow all our vegetables. Our neighbors have chickens and we all share our veggies and eggs together. We are not completely independent financially so my husband works outside the home while I tend to all the living in the home. We have a question regarding savings. How and where do homesteaders store their spare cash? I feel funny about keeping a jar of cash in the house. But I don’t have enough to put it in a savings account without fees. What do you recommend?
Suzanne Paquette Richards

Savings? Yeah sure — we’re homesteaders! Seriously, we put most of our “savings” into our homestead as we figure that’s where it’ll do us the most good without such things as bank failures or the stock market crashing. When we saved up for a down payment on our new forty acres, we did open a savings account just for that purpose. The bank fees were tiny, as were our first deposits. You might check with other banks. Sometimes credit unions are a better bet. Other than that, we do keep a small amount of ready cash (just in case) where it’s safe from theft. Much of our own “savings” is in cattle and other livestock that we have a ready market for, both immediate at the auction barn and planned sales of meat which nets us a much greater income. The rest is in improvements in our homestead that let us easily accomplish more later on. Another of our “savings” is trying to stay out of debt, paying off any loans (tractor, car, etc.) before they are due by making extra payments, etc. No credit cards to suck down our minimal income. — Jackie

Q and A: cover cropping and making soap

Saturday, August 23rd, 2014 by Jackie Clay | No Comments »

Cover cropping

Most of my vegetables are growing in 4×10 foot raised beds. I have been reading about the benefits of cover cropping after harvest and over winter and would like to know if this can be done in raised beds. If so, please explain how to do it and the best plants for my area which is the southwest.
Christi Newhall
Santa Fe, New Mexico

Cover cropping not only reduces the weed population in your garden or raised beds but it also adds green manure which can be tilled under or dug in to enrich the soil. It also holds snow in the area. A whole lot of old-time farmers call snow “white manure” as the minerals it contains enrich the soil. A real easy cover crop is oats. You can plant them now in Santa Fe and they’ll still be several inches tall when the snows/freeze hits. Oats will take a few frosts but will kill out over winter. In the spring, simply dig them into your beds and they will have choked out a lot of tiny germinating weeds from the fall but will add tilth and green manure to your beds.

Making soap

Thank you for giving us your basic goat milk and honey soap recipe in the current issue. There is one concern I’ve had that has kept me from making my own goat milk soap. I know you have a conure in your house too and I am worried about toxic fumes around my pet bird (sun conure.) If I mix the lye and water outdoors and wait for it to come to the proper temperature will there be any problem with toxic fumes upon bringing it back indoors to add to the other ingredients? Or would I have to complete the entire process outdoors? Thank you for your wonderful advice.

Mary Hartsock
Lancaster, Kentucky

While I wouldn’t make soap in the same room with our birds, there isn’t much of a problem if the birds are in another room, far from the soap-making. Put the bird in a bedroom and close the door or locate its cage in a room far from the kitchen where most of us make soap. I’ve never had a problem using these simple precautions. I’d go ahead and make your soap inside. It’s a lot easier! — Jackie

Q and A: canning corn and canning meat

Friday, August 22nd, 2014 by Jackie Clay | 6 Comments »

Canning corn

I need to know how to can corn without a pressure cooker. I pickle corn all the time but I want to do both.

Betty Fields
Busy, Kentucky

Sorry, Betty, but because corn is a low-acid food you must use a pressure canner to safely can it. You can make corn relish or corn salsa using a boiling water bath canner because you use vinegar which increases the acidity. Maybe this is the year you bite the bullet and pick up a pressure canner and a copy of my book Growing and Canning Your Own Food and learn how very easy and fun it is to use that pressure canner. I promise it’s totally safe! — Jackie

Canning meat

In a Amish cookbook it says to can meatballs I can boil for 3 hours after putting in jars and filling with water. I was wondering if you have or would try this Jackie? I am wanting to can a bunch of deer meat.

Myla Dawes
Oakley, Kansas

Ouch! I have several Amish cookbooks too and always wince when the recipes give instructions for canning meats and vegetables in a boiling water bath for lengthy periods of time. It’s the “old-fashioned” way of canning but it does NOT kill botulism toxins. Only canning in a pressure canner raises the temperature of the food hot enough for this. Period. No length of boiling will do it. You MUST use a pressure canner to can that venison. Maybe this would be a good time to learn to pressure can. It is VERY easy and totally safe if you follow basic, simple instructions. — Jackie

Q and A: canning with flour, apple trees with fire blight, and dehydrated zucchini

Thursday, August 21st, 2014 by Jackie Clay | 7 Comments »

Canning with flour and apple trees with fire blight

I made your mustard beans the other day, but am wondering about the flour in it. I am assuming it’s safe to can, but am wondering what makes it safe? Is it the amount of sugar/vinegar?
Also, our 23 year old apple trees have fire blight. It is impossible to get all of it pruned from them as they are so large. Is this a lost cause? We trimmed as much as we could, but I still see some in the upper branches. Should we just cull them?
Liz Wheeler
Miles City, Montana

The thing with recipes with added flour is that most of them make a recipe that is too thick to safely can. The mustard bean pickles have plenty of vinegar and sugar but the small amount of flour doesn’t make the “sauce” too thick, more like honey mustard dipping sauce, not like very thick gravy.

I’d try to give those trees a chance by taking off the top of the tree. You can use a chainsaw and whack off the entire top branches that show fireblight infection. In commercial orchards, many use a tree topping machine mounted on a hydraulic arm of a tractor; sort of like a brush hog to give all of the trees a periodic flat-top, making the trees spread out and be easier to pick. So don’t be afraid to be a bit drastic in your pruning. It just may save those trees. Be sure to burn the affected branches so you don’t spread the disease by leaving them lying around. — Jackie

Dehydrated zucchini

While answering another reader’s question, you mentioned that you use sliced, dehydrated zucchini in many recipes. I’d love to know how you use it. You may have mentioned this in your cookbook, but I’ve loaned it to a friend and can’t check right now.

Lisa Smith
Sunbury, Pennsylvania

I toss a handful or two into my potatoes au gratin and scalloped potatoes. I also use it as an ingredient in mixed casseroles, stews, and soups to name a few. You can also rehydrate it and drain, then toss into a batch of fried potatoes and onions about halfway through cooking. The dehydrated zucchini is VERY versatile! — Jackie

Q and A: splitting tomatoes and sourdough bread

Wednesday, August 20th, 2014 by Jackie Clay | No Comments »

Splitting tomatoes

Should you pull green tomatoes after a heavy rain to keep them from splitting?

Kelly Craven
Kernersville, North Carolina

I don’t do this but if you’re having trouble with your almost ripe green tomatoes splitting, you could sure do this to avoid it. Don’t pull all your green tomatoes, however. Just the ones that are large and starting to show blushing color. — Jackie

Sourdough bread

I want to start making sourdough bread for my husband that loves it. I have your Pantry cookbook, and have read the whole section. I have a few questions though. The Grandma Eddy’s sourdough starter that is on page 127 does not have any liquid listed. It says 1 pkg. dry yeast, 1/2 tsp. sugar, 2 cups flour. Is there suppose to be a liquid for a binding agent? I have read so many posts in the forums and online about how to make good sourdough that it is overwhelming! It is better to try and get an established starter from someone else to use? Once I have a starter, are all recipes interchangeable when they call for so much of the starter? Is there a good guide anywhere that gives step by step instructions on maintaining the starter and making the bread? It is so hard now a days for younger folks as we no longer have grandparents or great grandparents around to teach us how to do these things or guide us. Thanks for any help on this you can give.

That recipe was an OOPs. There should have been 2 cups lukewarm water added to that recipe. (In the next printing that will be corrected.) Yes, once you have a starter, it is pretty much interchangeable with any recipe. A cup of starter is a cup of starter, no matter what starter or what recipe. Above the recipes, there is a bit about keeping the starter going. It’s really easy and is not rocket science. But you’ll have to monkey around until you get the hang of it. It is a skill, just like baking bread or making pies. But it is easy so don’t be afraid to try. There are recipes in the Pantry Cookbook for sourdough bread, pancakes, biscuits, and English muffins (pgs 128-129) to get you started. — Jackie



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