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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

Heirloom Seeds now available

Tuesday, September 16th, 2014 by Jackie Clay | 9 Comments »
The list of seeds we have for sale this year is ready.We only listed seeds that we grow and love. Some of them are very rare and thus in short supply. When we’re out, we’re out; we can either refund your money or put you on the list for your seeds to come late this fall after harvest to plant next year. All are naturally grown with NO GMOs! They are also all heirloom, open pollinated seeds so you can save your own seeds.

Click Here to download the list of available seeds and ordering instructions. (PDF) ~Jackie

Fall baby goats are arriving

Friday, October 17th, 2014 by Jackie Clay | 9 Comments »

We bred some of our does to freshen in the fall instead of the spring and the babies are just arriving. Recently, our doe, Clown, delivered twins, a doe and a buckling. The doeling was so big I had to help pull her into the world. The buck is the smaller guy. Go figure. Both are doing well and starting to explore the goat shed.


We’ve been hearing a lot of coyotes lately. For the first few years, they were very scarce, but lately, there have been a lot more. Our dogs, Spencer and Hondo, are very watchful and let the critters know in no uncertain terms that they are to stay in the woods! Hondo, especially, watches everything. He even watches airplanes and birds fly by. In fact, he is so watchful that he hopped up on top of our old Festiva’s roof to sit and survey the surrounding area! (I’m glad he chose the old car, not our Subaru!)


The other day I was watering our big steers and heard a noise above me. It was Hondo, up ON THE ROOF OF OUR STOCK TRAILER, watching the pasture below! Will says he had even climbed up on the hay bales and hopped into the loft of the new barn so he could watch the pasture. Now THAT’S a watchdog! — Jackie

The sun’s out and we’re making use of the nice day

Wednesday, October 15th, 2014 by Jackie Clay | 3 Comments »

After a day’s worth of cold, nasty weather, we were real happy to see the sun this morning. It was gorgeous, seeing the fog lifting from the creek, ponds, and the plowed field. Will’s been working alternately on the barn’s stonework and getting ready to do more under our house where our future walkout will be. He’s been digging and digging, as we have great plans for that (usually) boring walkout.

We’re putting in stepped flower beds with mixed slipform rockwork and landscaping blocks under the house which will hold back the side hills. On the outside it’ll be the same with nice flower beds. When done, the effect will be a combination Northwoods and Italian vineyard as I’m planting grapes next to the house that will climb trellises and cross over the entrance to the walkout and go up to climb on the railing of our upper deck.

Of course, the under-the-house flower beds will be quite shady, even if facing south. But I’m going to try hostas and see how that works. With a drip irrigation system runnning off our big irrigation system, it should be pretty and quite labor-free. It will be a nice, shady place to sit in the afternoons and we can look out onto the beaver pond. And we will be able to walk in and out of the basement easily. No more carrying buckets of potatoes, carrots, and onions down the basement stairs! (Of course, we won’t get the door cut in till maybe next year…)

We carried in more squash, pumpkins, and Painted Mountain corn, depositing it on the inside floor of our greenhouse/sunroom. It’s SO pretty I hate to use any of it!

I’m leaving for Montana so pray we have a good trip! And that Will has no problems here on the homestead without his wonderful donkey-catcher wife home to help. — Jackie

Q and A: dehydrated oatmeal, canning sweet chili sauce, canning spaghetti sauce, and Sweet Dumpling squash

Tuesday, October 14th, 2014 by Jackie Clay | 3 Comments »

Dehydrated oatmeal

I recently saw an ad for dehydrated oatmeal. Is oatmeal that I purchase from the grocery requiring a dehydration process to long-term store them? I had vacuum sealed some but left others in the store package. Any advice?


OMG, another marketing ploy! Plain old oatmeal is fine for long term storage. Oatmeal is dry or “dehydrated” already, needing no more treatment to store. And it stores for years and years! — Jackie

Canning sweet chili sauce

Here I am asking for help once again. I found this Chili recipe for sweet Thai chili sauce and it is so easy to make and good I would like to can it.

2 fresno chilis
2 Thai chilis
2 cloves garlic
3/4 cup water
1/4 rice wine vinegar or white vinegar
1/2 Tbsp. salt
1/2 cup sugar (I used splenda)

After cooking this to thickening use 1 Tbsp. cornstarch 2 tbsp water mix then add to sauce. I got this from

Sherry Englehart
Lancaster, California

Boy, that sounds good! But search as I might, I can’t find anything similar in the “recommended” for canning archives. It’s so different. I would think that it would water bath for 15 minutes okay, but I sure can’t recommend doing so (and in this case I would use sugar, not Splenda for its preserving qualities) since you add 3/4 cup of water to the vinegar and you do have cornstarch, although not enough to make such a thick sauce as would be unsafe for canning. Sorry. — Jackie

Canning spaghetti sauce

Your spaghetti sauce with meat recipe calls for 30 lbs of tomatoes. I know it is sacrilege to ask, but since we do not have the space to grow enough tomatoes and store bought are running $1 a pound, can a quality precanned sauce be substituted? I can get #10 cans for approx $2.50 each and would substitute at one quart sauce for every 5 lbs of tomatoes. Would it also be possible to substitute Italian sausage for the ground beef? We are trying as many different recipes to cut cost in preparation for retirement.

Ken W.
Killeen, Texas

You’d be better using sauce in #10 cans rather than store tomatoes as store tomatoes taste awful and it doesn’t improve in sauce. Not to mention the COST! Use the sauce as if it were freshly made when canning, using the correct time and pressure. Yes, you can substitute Italian sausage for the ground beef but you might use a little less due to the seasoning. You are very wise to prepare so well for retirement. And you’ll eat pretty darned good too! — Jackie

Sweet Dumpling squash

Do you think I could store not-quite-ripe Sweet Dumpling squash? I cooked a couple the other night and they aren’t quite ready but I’m nervous about leaving them too much longer in the garden.

Virginia Gardner
Earlysville, Virginia
Yes, you can store them, but Sweet Dumplings really aren’t a long-term storage squash. They will store best at room temperature, not in a root cellar or basement where it’s cooler. Leave them out until temps fall into the 30 degree range at night as they’ll continue to ripen even when the leaves have been frosted. — Jackie

Fall rains have begun

Monday, October 13th, 2014 by Jackie Clay | 4 Comments »

After several nice, sunny days with temps in the high fifties and even sixty yesterday, we woke up to rain. Yuck. But we had a nice week, last week. We even got to visit two different friends. The first visit was to Mike and Dara’s homestead. They are as dedicated homesteaders as we are, also having several large gardens. We took “the tour” and saw all they had been doing this fall, then sipped coffee and cocoa and talked seeds and crops. Dara gave me some of her Painted Mountain corn which she’d hung in ropes to dry as a room divider. It’s gorgeous! We both love Painted Mountain as it not only is beautiful and makes tasty cornmeal, but actually dries down in northern Minnesota. Their carrots didn’t do so well this year but their rutabagas sure did. So we traded two buckets of our carrots for some rutabagas, which I didn’t plant this year. Dara also gave us a Marina Di Chioggia squash and a beautiful squash that was a cross between Marina Di Chioggia and Hopi Pale Grey. It’s unusual because it’s orange, smooth skinned with ribs lined in green, and the Marina “turban” on the blossom end. If it tastes good, we’re going to save seed and see if we can breed a stabilized version of it that will reproduce true. How fun!


Saturday, we were invited to another friend’s family farm near Cook, Minnesota (Jan) to help her and her sister (Bette) start to develop a plan to rehabilitate the farm which had been mainly empty for several years. We discovered a row of asparagus in the overgrown garden, found rhubarb and wild plums in several spots, and figured out how we could help the historical place. Jan and Bette fed us a wonderful meal, which we didn’t expect, and we got to look at old family farm photos and tour the solid buildings finding history in each one. Jan had found some of her grandfather’s ears of corn in a box which she thought were sweet corn he’d grown at the farm. She gave us a dozen kernels which we brought home to see if I could germinate. It’d be great if the corn was still viable and we could develop a population of that old corn!

Yesterday morning, one of our doe goats had triplets. Unfortunately, she totally ignores them and won’t let them nurse. Eeek! I’m leaving on Wednesday to go with my oldest son, Bill, and his family, in their motorhome, to pick up my adopted son, Javid, in Montana. I sure hate to leave Will with three bottle babies, but that’s the way it looks. I bought a fifty-pound sack of doe milk replacer this morning. (I WON’T tell you what I paid!) But kid goats don’t do well on calf milk replacer and Homestead Mills didn’t have any lamb milk replacer.


Our front porch looks like, well, what it is: a seed saving area. It’s full of squash, pumpkins, baskets of tomatoes, etc. On nice days I work out there as it’s a messy job and I’d rather squirt tomato “guts” on the porch floor instead of our kitchen floor! The rain washes it away. Will was working there yesterday while I cut up Hopi Pale Grey squash for their seeds. He was husking our Painted Mountain corn so we could bring it inside to finish drying. We were happy with the harvest from our new cornfield/pumpkin patch. With all its problems (infertile soil, 17 inches of rain at one time, white clay, etc.), it still produced and the deer didn’t eat it.


Now Will’s hauling tons of composted cow and horse manure out to that two-acre patch, which he plowed. So far he figures he’s put around 200 tons on it. Wow, now that’s “Mo’ poo poo!” But we know it’ll really produce next year. Over winter we’ll be buying a roll of 6′ 2″x4″ welded wire, which comes in 50′ rolls, so when spring comes, we can fence it (at least mostly), to keep the deer out. This year they ate all our pumpkins and squash. Oh well, we did get to keep our corn! — Jackie

Winter’s just around the corner

Thursday, October 9th, 2014 by Jackie Clay | 6 Comments »

We had ice on the animals’ watering tanks this morning. Brrrrr.


Will’s been trimming dead trees that hang over the driveway and will cause trouble this winter when we plow snow. Luckily, a lot of it is birch which makes great firewood. Yesterday he cut up a trailer load and this morning while it was still very crisp out, he began stacking it in our wood shed. The dogs must have been cold too because they started picking up wood and following him in the shed! Unasked. But after awhile, Spencer started picking up wood and heading for the house. I opened the door and he dropped it in the woodbox and headed back outside. He repeated this four times, until Will had stopped carrying wood (or Spencer got tired). Who says animals are dumb? They know wood makes fire and fire makes doggies toasty warm when they lie in front of it!



I’m jumping through hoops, trying to get things arranged to get my adopted son, Javid, back to Minnesota from Montana. Because he’s physically handicapped, he is on SSI and MA in Montana. And to come here, they can’t simply transfer his MA. He has to reapply here in Minnesota. After he’s been in the state 24 hrs. Then it takes up to a month (or so) to be approved. Then he has to apply for a CADI waiver so the state will help with his housing/care expenses. That takes another (long) period to wait. And he can’t go into an assisted living apartment until he is approved for both. The only out is to transfer him from the nursing home he’s currently in, recovering from surgery on a pressure sore, to another nursing home in Minnesota. But I had one heck of a time even arranging that! Seems that some nursing homes require $5,000 up front for the first month’s rent in case the person is not approved for state help. $5,000 a month!

However, I think I’ve found a small facility fairly close (25 miles) that hopefully will take him, temporarily, until the paperwork is done. And they have an opening. (Seems like most nursing homes in our area are full!) Whew! All this makes me tired!

We’re trying to get this done so we can get Javid moved here before we have to travel across North Dakota in a blizzard.

Meanwhile, while I’m waiting for phone calls, I’m continuing seeding tomatoes, pumpkins, and squash. (If you’ve ordered seeds recently, which include Hopi Pale Grey squash, I know your order is late but I want to be sure your seeds are dry as they are very “fresh”! I don’t want them to mold.) — Jackie

Q and A: uses for citrus peels, meals in a jar, and immature Hopi Pale Grey squash

Thursday, October 9th, 2014 by Jackie Clay | No Comments »

Uses for citrus peels

Is there any use for citrus peels such as oranges, grapefruit, or lemons? That is other than zest. I have a large family so often have large amounts at a given time. Any animals like them or plants?

Gail Erman
Palisade, Colorado

Sure. I don’t like to waste either. I often cut ½-inch strips of cleaned peel and dehydrate it. Then I whiz it in the blender, reducing the dried peel to a powder. This is great in many recipes. I add a pinch of it to stir frys, to my pies and cakes as a flavor booster, or sprinkle over meat as it cooks. Or you can make you own candied fruit peel for holiday baking. Here’s how:

• Cut off the ends of the fruit with a paring knife. Remove the peel from the fruit, avoiding as much of the flesh as possible.
• Slice the peel into ½-inch-wide strips and place them in a saucepan. Cover the peel with several inches of cold water. Heat the water to a boil and let it cook for 15 minutes.
• Drain the water and rinse the peel in the colander. Return the peel to the saucepan and cover it with water. Boil again for 15 minutes. Repeat the process of rinsing and cooking one more time.
• Drain the water and let the peel cool. Remove any remaining citrus flesh with a spoon.
• Combine 1 cup of water with 2 cups sugar in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Add the peel slices to the boiling mixture. Reduce the heat to low.
• Stir the peel occasionally. Cook until the liquid absorbs into the peel, approximately 45 minutes to 1 hour.
• Place waxed paper under the wire racks and place them on a countertop. Cool the candied fruit peel on the wire racks. Store the peel in an airtight container in a cool location.

This will last for years! — Jackie

Meals in a jar

Since all the kids are grown I find I have a lot of leftovers since I had four sons, I have trouble cooking for two. I often can leftovers such as beans, soups, stews etc. I was wondering if you have canned other complete meals such as maybe chicken spaghetti, etc. If so can you tell me how to safely do so. I just hate waste! I have canned for years such things as vegetables, fruits, jams, butter, meat, just about everything but complete meals, other than soups, stews etc. And I hate to depend on the freezer.

Shelia Magness
Star City, Arkansas

Sure, I can up lots of “whole” meals. I call them my meals-in-a-jar. You can get a lot of ideas in my book, Growing and Canning Your Own Food. Some things that don’t can up well are pasta and rice dishes as they are generally too thick for safe canning. I often can up cabbage rolls, tamales, stuffed green peppers, and a whole lot more, just to have the convenience of having a whole lot of different meals-in-jars ready for when I need a quick, tasty, nutritious meal ready on little notice. — Jackie

Immature Hopi Pale Grey squash

Your Hopi Pale Grey Squash seeds grew well and I am harvesting now. I picked the two large mature ones before our first frost, but (surprisingly) ended up with 6 more that are smallish and still tinged w/green. Will they continue to ripen off the vine? Are the seeds of these greenish ones viable? We don’t have any animals to feed them to. Is there anything else the small green ones are good for? I’m thinking I’ll just let the grand kids carve them like pumpkins. Thanks for all your sage advise,

J. in Nevada

I’m glad your Hopi Pale Greys did so well. The smaller ones are a bit immature but will still store and eat well. The seeds may or may not be viable. If they are fat, they probably are fine. Usually the immature ones will be flat and softer. We’ve stored the immature ones for over a year and they still tasted great. Even the real little ones can be used as you’d use any summer squash. You can even slice them and make fake apple pie from them using any apple pie recipe! — Jackie

Q and A: new lids and making jelly

Wednesday, October 8th, 2014 by Jackie Clay | 3 Comments »

New lids

I would like your opinion on the new lids. On the back of the new lids both Ball and Kerr on the box of lids and the new cases of jars with lids state that the lids are now only good for one year. I know as a canner of many years the old lids lasted years. The new type lids are thinner and have less gasket and I have had them buckle when using. I am not a new canner but have been canning over thirty years and have never had that happen before I water bath and pressure can. I will now be only using Tattler lids as I feel that they are the only lids I can trust for long term. I know that there are a lot of new canners just starting out and they are not aware of the change.

Sherry Obermann
Waukesha, Wisconsin

Yep, I’ve noticed that too. Bad move for the company, in my opinion. I’m sure it was to save money on their part. Have you noticed that on the boxes of new jars that it says food is “best” used within a year? I’m not going to toss my year-old food to be “safe!” I do feel that the new lids will hold a seal MUCH longer than a year but if the company can get you to toss your year-old food and buy new lids when you can another year’s worth of food, they’re selling more lids and that’s where they make a bigger profit. Sort of like the freshness dates on canned store foods; it’s simply a marketing ploy. One caution, though: On the company’s website, it advised again against boiling the new lids as this thins down the sealing compound and may cause seal failures. So if you do heat your lids like I still do, DON’T boil them. — Jackie

Making jelly

I have questions about making jelly. I’ve always made jam, except a batch of crabapple jelly 30 years ago or so. I looked at all the pulp it took out, and the little bit of juice, and being really cheap, I just stuck with jam after that. Does your juicer give you a lot more jelly? What do you do with the pulp? I know it would be a great treat for the animals. But I have recently heard of remainder jam, where the pulp is used to make a small batch of jam. Have you ever made it? I have grandkids who have fallen in love with my blueberry jam, and I made quite a bit this year. Next year I was thinking of jelly and jam, jelly just because it’s so pretty, lol. Gotta admit, those blueberries are awfully good – they make a slice of toast into dessert!

Barb Mundorff
Youngstown, Ohio

YES! My Mehu Liisa gives me about five times more juice from the same amount of fruit that I used to get using the cooking down/jelly bag method. That’s HUGE as I’m cheap too. With crab apple and apples, I often extract two quarts of juice from each batch, then run the remainder of the pulp through my Victorio tomato strainer and harvest great, thick applesauce from the apples. You can do the same with plums or other fruit, but of course with plums you have to remove the pits first or use a sieve to smush the meat through. With blueberries, I only make jam as it’s such a waste to extract the juice and toss the remainder! Same with most other small fruits like strawberries, raspberries, and blackberries. — Jackie

Q and A: fruitcake, Ezekiel bread, and dehydrating tomatoes

Tuesday, October 7th, 2014 by Jackie Clay | 4 Comments »

Fruitcake and Ezekiel bread

We are seeking “the best” MOST NUTRITIOUS FRUIT CAKE RECIPES for fruit cake that can be stored along with other “prepper” food supplies that have the greatest food value. We are non-drinkers but have no concerns about using rum or wine or other beverages in the cakes or in other baking goods. Finally, we seek your thoughts regarding Ezekiel Bread, especially in regard to food preppering.

James & Frances Wyatt
Cleveland, Tennessee

Although I don’t regard fruitcake as a “most nutritious” prepper food, here’s my favorite recipe that will store long term without soaking in rum periodically.


4 cups walnuts
2 bags mixed candied fruit
1 lb. pitted, chopped dates
1 cup raisins
2 cups flour
2 cups sugar
1 tsp salt
3/4 tsp baking powder
6 eggs
½ cup orange juice
1½ Tbsp vanilla

Combine nuts and fruits. Sift dry ingredients. Add to fruit mixture and mix well. Beat eggs, orange juice and vanilla. Add to mixture. Turn into waxed paper and greased 9″x13″ pan. Bake on low center rack of oven at 275 degrees for 2 hours or until done. Cool 30 minutes. Remove from pan onto cake rack. Cool. Cut into equal sized bars, about 3 inches wide by the width of the pan. Wrap with plastic wrap then aluminum foil. Store in a cool, dark place. This stores for months for us (it doesn’t last longer as we really love it!) and I’m sure it’d store for years.

As for the Ezekiel bread, it is very nutritious and would be easily baked from ingredients in your long-term storage pantry. It does not store well, unfrozen, though. Have you tried it? We like it but have talked to a lot of folks who find it way too dense for their liking. So if you haven’t baked any, why not try a few loaves to see if it appeals to your taste. — Jackie

Dehydrating tomatoes

We are getting tons of tomatoes and I am dehydrating them … but something is going wrong. I sliced them about 1/2 thick per the directions, loaded up the trays (6) and have been running the dehydrator but some have white fuzz on them. Of course I am tossing them, but do you have any ideas on what could be going wrong before I do another set? I have a round bottom-fan dehydrator. Maybe I should ask for an Excalibur for Christmas.


I think you’re slicing the tomatoes too thick. I slice mine about 1/4 inch thick and have much better luck. That white fuzz is mold. And maybe if you only load four trays, you will dry them faster as some dehydrators don’t like to be loaded so heavily with such wet produce as tomatoes. Good luck with getting the Excalibur … I haven’t gotten mine yet! — Jackie



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