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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

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

Wednesday, April 9th, 2014 by Jackie Clay | 7 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.

Jackie’s June Homesteading Seminar

Tuesday, February 18th, 2014 by Jackie Clay | 3 Comments »
We’re planning our spring homesteading seminar and are ready to take deposits.

This seminar should be a great one, covering such topics as homestead building (including helping do some slip form concrete and rock work on our new barn), getting more harvest from more difficult garden crops, veterinary care for your animals, and much more.

The seminar will be June 6-8th, 2014 here at our homestead. We’d love to have you come!

Click here to see our brochure. (PDF)

– Jackie

Another cold snap lets me work inside this week

Thursday, April 17th, 2014 by Jackie Clay | 2 Comments »

Our temperature dived way down to a low of 7 degrees! Not fun to work outside so I did a lot of transplanting; seven flats worth of tomatoes and four flats of peppers. Boy, does that get my back but in just a few days the tomatoes have shot up and gotten nice and stocky.

I received my order from Sand Hill Preservation Center and planted more tomatoes, which are just coming up. They’ll be a little later but they’ll still be ready to set out in late May (in Wall o’ Waters). And I’ll have more than 27 seed varieties to offer next year.

Singing-tomatoes Sand-Hill-seeds

Will put new chains on the big round baler. He kept breaking chains last summer during haying and that was a huge pain. They’re heavy and hard to thread. (They’re the big chains that drive the bars that make the bales in the bale chamber.) He later found out that someone had replaced the heavier links of the 851 baler chain with those of an 850, which are much lighter weight. Once that was done, he took the weed burner and burned our asparagus patches to get rid of the long dead grass and weeds. It looks so much better already!

Today I went out and refastened the chicken wire to the cattle panels next to the old cow corral. My chickens were escaping and running free. Soon they’ll be in my flower beds scratching dust wallows, then they’ll get in the garden and start pecking at peas, etc. I’ll catch them off their roosts in the goat barn tonight and clip the feathers on their wings, just in case I have some flyers in the bunch.

Will disassembled our three hoop houses. He’s going to build two 12′ x 32′ houses instead of the three 12′ x 16′ ones we have now, putting 6 mil greenhouse plastic on, which is guaranteed for four years. We had ripping during bad winds last year. That’ll be fun having more hoop house space!

I wish each of you a very blessed and joyous Easter! And don’t forget to can up that leftover ham and make bean soup from the bone. — Jackie

After two months with a frozen water line, we have water!

Tuesday, April 15th, 2014 by Jackie Clay | 8 Comments »

But our water line is still frozen. How can that be? My inventive husband saw that our spring catchment basin was nearly unfrozen and the water was pristine. Hmmmm. So he had me haul hoses and he connected up our irrigation pump to the intake pipe in the basin. The far end of the hose went into our basement storage tanks. A few pulls on the starter rope and we were in business. We did add bleach to our storage tanks … just to be safe. (I’m still hauling drinking/cooking water from the Idington spring.)

However, we were nearly out of propane after ordering and prepaying for it over a week ago. We dearly wanted a long, hot shower after minimal battery-operated showers and “bird-baths.” I wondered out loud if we couldn’t hook one of our 20# LP tanks to the water heater. Will took it from there and did just that! We each had a wonderful long, hot shower! Ahhhh. Less trips to the spring and being able to flush the toilet more normally. Hooray!

And now we have 600 gallons of spring water in our storage tanks with the ability to refill them on above freezing days. Wow! Waiting for the water line to thaw isn’t so important now.


We’ve hit another cold spell with highs in the high twenties and low low thirties so we’re still burning wood in the living room and kitchen. (With scarcely any propane, I’m cooking on the wood stove.) Hauling wood in is still a pretty much daily chore. Spencer helps by carrying in wood and lately, Will has gotten Hondo to bring in wood too. Both dogs are so proud to carry “their” own wood in, bouncing and dancing around us for praise. Spencer even drops his in the wood box. — Jackie

Q and A: making cheese, introducing new chickens to the flock, and canning sausage

Saturday, April 12th, 2014 by Jackie Clay | No Comments »

Making cheese

Upon moving to the country and starting up our farmstead, I went ahead and purchased some cheese making equipment and a book. Problem is, the book is a big manual, and it gets very technical. I finally have goat milk, but I am too intimidated by the manual, and many of the recipes call for many gallons of milk. Can you recommend a good book for me that has simple recipes to follow for making cheeses with goats’ milk (small quantities – 1-2 gallons at most, easy to follow, not too many fancy utensils)?

Carrie Timlin
Scott Township, Pennsylvania

Cheese making is very easy and fun to learn. Two very beginner-friendly books I’ve used for years are Ricki Carroll’s book, Home Cheesemaking, which is available through Backwoods Home Magazine and Goats Produce Too by Mary Jane Toth which is also available through Backwoods Home Magazine). I have both and use them often. — Jackie

Introducing new chicken to the flock

I sprayed my fruit trees with Surround today and hope it helps. Thank you for your advice. I intend to spray again after flowering.

I have another question regarding my chickens. I have 4 one-year-old hens and 26 two-week-old chicks. How and when do I introduce the 26 chicks to the hens? Right now the four hens are in the 10 x 14 coop and the chicks are in the basement. There is a 16 x16 fenced-in area adjacent to the coop that the four hens use during the day.

Deborah Motylinski
Cadiz, Ohio

I’d shut the hens in their run during the day and pen the chicks in a smaller portable run next to them all day so they get used to each other. Then in the evening, bring the hens in and then introduce the chicks in the coop with them. There should be a little squawking and pecking but nothing serious. Monitor them for awhile, just to be sure. Usually, come morning, everything is fine. — Jackie

Canning sausage

Would I be able to can the small pre-cooked breakfast sausages from the store? They are my husband’s favorites.

Judith Almand
Brandon, Florida

Yes, you can. But I’d advise doing a small batch then trying them to see if you and your husband like the result. That’s a good idea with any new recipe you try to can. Some folks love them; others not so much. — Jackie

Q and A: canning apple cider syrup and starlings and blackbirds

Friday, April 11th, 2014 by Jackie Clay | 6 Comments »

Canning apple cider syrup

You provided information about canning apple molasses today. Does the apple cider need to be fresh, or can I use apple juice from the store? I have never heard of apple cider syrup — sounds awfully good!

Judith Almand
Brandon, Florida

You should really use fresh apple cider (never brought to a boil which would make it juice, not cider). Apple cider syrup is not new but it is a newly-discovered treat for many folks. You don’t harvest a lot of syrup from a gallon of cider, less than 1/7th of a gallon, which is why many modern folks don’t do it. But when you have lots of fresh apple cider, boy, is it good! — Jackie

Starlings and blackbirds

Job losses now totaling two, involving wife and me (52nd year anniversary on June 15th) and one of our sons. Anticipating hard, hard time just ahead, and in spite of limited gardening again this year being done in restricted space (front yard here in town) and as health problems intermittently allow … and the resulting ability to provide food, we are seeking any suggestions as to palatable recipes for wild bird. We have an abundance at the moment of Starlings and Black Birds and pellet rifles to harvest them when that becomes nearly our only meat source. Your advice will therefore be very much appreciated. (Wife is a stroke victim with brain/memory damage — but I have always cooked.) When “push comes to shove,” we have a small wood stove/heater and firewood, having anticipated the loss of being able to afford the luxury of natural gas and electricity.

James & Frances Wyatt,
Cleveland, Tennessee

Barring the legality of shooting “song” birds (starlings and blackbirds are not usually protected but I’d check first), I do know that blackbirds are very tasty. I’m not so sure about starlings as I’ve never eaten them. A long time ago, on my first homestead, an elderly Russian couple had a weekend cabin across the road from me. They had a beautiful garden. In the fall, I’d hunt pheasants nearly every day after work as I wasn’t making big wages as a vet tech back then. The woman stopped me at my mailbox one afternoon and asked me to please come shoot those birds as they were eating her garden up. I grabbed a handful of shells and my shotgun and walked across the road. There were hundreds of blackbirds in the trees all around her garden. I used up my shells with blackbirds raining out of the trees. The rest left. She hurried around, gathering up blackbirds in her apron front. “You come for dinner, ya?” she asked. And I did. Proudly, she brought out a roasting pan full of little, golden brown birds, looking like mini-chickens. Yep, the blackbirds! Well, I was too polite to refuse and ate two of them and went back for seconds. They were really pretty good!
So I’d say that any way you’d cook chicken would sure work for their little cousins.

Don’t forget about harvesting wild greens too. Lamb’s quarter, red-rooted pig weed and young nettles are all very good substitutes for spinach and young, tender cattail stalks, pulled from the plant (eat the white bottom), tastes just like cucumbers.

And go fishing real often! I used to every evening and it sure helped feed me.

All the best of luck. If you have anything I can help you out with, please ask (questions, garden seeds). — Jackie

Our warming trend continues

Thursday, April 10th, 2014 by Jackie Clay | 2 Comments »

And gee, are we losing snow fast! With the sun out and temps in the high forties and even fifties, our three feet of snow is down to six inches in the orchard and the backyard is nearly snow-free! Hooray!

Yesterday I put out two oriole feeders and a hummingbird feeder. Yes, it is early but those birds send out scouts (usually males) to find good spots and if they don’t find food, they buzz right on to our neighbors who DID put out feeders. One oriole feeder has pegs for orange halves, dishes for grape jelly, and a reservoir for orange nectar. Hey, I’d eat there, myself! Will saw two robins so far and heard a sandhill crane. I saw a pair of eagles and several migratory hawks. And we both saw several geese. So nice!

Meanwhile, Will and I have been picking up “junk” as it becomes uncovered: wood slats that were stickers between layers of lumber, odd chunks of firewood here and there, bags that blew around during the winter, hay strings, etc.

He’s been busy taking out the old chain that makes round bales in our baler as it was very worn. We bought new chains for it and it’s quite a process changing chains without dumping the whole (heavy!) thing in a pile.

I’ve been transplanting tomato seedlings into styrofoam cups in our greenhouse. I love doing it but it is tedious work and gets my back after awhile. I’ve done five flats so far and have another two to go then it’s on to peppers and petunias. Guess what? I found some new flats that were actually made in the U.S.! They were at L & M Supply. While my one oriole feeder was made in China, the other was also made in the U.S. We really pay attention to where things are from these days and will pay more, if necessary, to keep jobs in America. Luckily, the flats were on sale so we got them cheap. Win-win.



Just a note to let you know that we are still selling seeds. There wasn’t room for the new book, our seminar, and the seeds at the top of the blog so one had to go. I know some of you intended to order seeds but just didn’t get around to it yet. If you do, you can e-mail me
( and I’ll send you a seed listing.

Enjoy spring! — Jackie

Q and A: planting early trees and saving tomato seeds

Thursday, April 10th, 2014 by Jackie Clay | 3 Comments »

Planting early trees

I was excited to get the e-mail that my new Apple Trees will be shipping this week until I realized that there is no way all of our snow will be gone before they arrive. I ordered bare root trees from Fed-Co. Can you give me some advice on how to keep them healthy until I can get them in the ground?

Justin Dinger
Barnum, Minnesota

I got the same e-mail about ours! This has happened before and the first time I about had a panic attack. But I opened the package and checked the root packing; it was moist. So I re-wrapped the plastic and put the trees back in the box and set them in our unheated basement in the dark. Two weeks later, the snow was gone and I was able to plant my trees. If you have any dirt in your garden showing up and unfrozen, you can dig a shallow trench and set the trees’ roots in it, piling the dirt back over the roots. This is called “heeling” them in and will also keep them in good shape until you can plant them. I know our snow and frost is going fast so yours must be on the way, too. Hang in there! — Jackie

Saving tomato seeds

Does your Victorio strainer work to separate out tomato seeds when you’re saving those seeds to grow? The pictures in the ads always show a hopper full of raw tomatoes, does it really work with raw or do they have to be cooked? (I had decided to start my own seed company about a week before you announced yours. Talk about timing! But last fall it took so much time to chop tomatoes by hand to extract the seeds. Since I’m expanding the garden this year, I’m hoping there’s an easier way.)
Also, there’s a tomato variety that I’ve been growing from cuttings taken off an indoor plant. It’s a great variety, amazingly drought-resistant, but because it was a volunteer I have no idea if it’s a hybrid, or even what the name of it might have been. How many generations of seed should I grow out before I can tell if it’s a hybrid or not. (Or, if it was a hybrid, when is it sufficiently “de-hybridized” to be safe selling the seed?)

Melanie Rehbein
Fitchburg, Wisconsin

The Victorio strainer does separate seeds and peels from raw tomatoes but I’m not sure if they are damaged so they might not germinate. I’m going to try some this year so ask again in the fall. I’ve heard that some seed savers use a blender to whiz whole tomatoes and then ferment the juice/slop/seeds (which are not supposed to be damaged. That sounds radical but maybe that would work, as well. I will also try that and let you know. For now, I cut my tomatoes in quarters and use my thumb to “milk” out the seeds and gel into a bowl. It really goes pretty fast that way.

Usually after 4-5 generations, even if you started out with a hybrid, selecting true-to-type plants/tomatoes each time you save seed, you will end up with a pretty much stabilized variety you can then name. I would mention that there could be off types and to advise folks to rogue out them if they intend to save seed. Hey, it happens… Good luck with your seed business! — Jackie

Q and A: fruit tree with thorns and canned rhubarb

Wednesday, April 9th, 2014 by Jackie Clay | 3 Comments »

Fruit tree with thorns

I was not good about labeling or keeping track of the fruit trees that I planted in my orchard. I have one that has thorns — do you have any idea what it might be? It also might be one that the birds planted.

I would love to come to one of your seminars. I am retiring in 2 months so if there is one in the fall or next year maybe I’ll attend.

Joline Fleming
Rossiter, Pennsylvania

Chances are that your mystery fruit tree is either a plum or pear that has died above the graft and regenerated from below the graft, giving you a “wild” tree from the rootstock. You won’t know for sure until it fruits but no domestic common fruit has thorns. All is not lost because you can always graft more wanted domestic scion wood onto the wildling.

We’d love to have you come to a seminar. We’re planning one in June (see box at top of blog) and another in early September. I’m sure we’ll have at least one seminar next year, as well. (God willing and the creek don’t rise…) — Jackie

Canned rhubarb

Last year I canned some nice red rhubarb. However, the canned rhubarb is brown. What can I use to keep the nice red color? Would Fruit Fresh work? I really like the convenience of canned rhubarb!

Jean Ann Wenger
Fairbury, Illinois

Unfortunately, many older varieties of rhubarb, such as Victoria, do end up losing their color when canned. The newer varieties such as Canada Red and Valentine hold their color much better. To keep your rhubarb red about the only thing I can suggest is adding a few drops of red food coloring to each jar. I don’t do that because I don’t like to use food coloring because of possible health concerns. We’ve learned that it’s the taste that matters, not the color. — Jackie



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