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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 | No Comments »
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.

Harvest time has begun

Tuesday, July 29th, 2014 by Jackie Clay | 1 Comment »


We’re so happy. Not only is our haying under full swing but I’m starting to can like mad! I’ve already put up two nice batches of pin cherry jelly with a lot more on the trees (if I can foil the sneaky robins and cedar waxwings). And three days ago I harvested 3/4 of a basket of very nice Provider bush beans that yielded 9 pints of canned beans. How nice it is to sit in the shade on our front porch and cut beans! Talk about your old-time comforts — can’t be beat! I watch the birds and look out on the flowers in our front flower beds. The hummingbirds even come right up on the porch to sip out of the petunias.


We’ve got hay down in two fields but it showered this morning so we won’t be baling today. The hay will be fine waiting to dry, as it hasn’t been raked yet. Boy, are we having trouble finding anyone to “buck bales.” We pay $10 an hour and can’t find a soul who wants to work! What the heck is wrong with people today? Way back when, when I farmed down by Sturgeon Lake, teens would drive around looking for farmers haying and ask if they needed any help on the wagon or in the hayloft. And the going rate then was $2.50 an hour! Now you can’t drag them off the video games. We really miss having David. He’s working overtime for our farming neighbor, Jerry, also haying. Yesterday, he hit the field at 7 a.m. and got done just before dark.

He did have time to “sneak away” for an hour as his brother, Bill, and his family came to visit us. We sure had a great time. The grandkids, Mason and Ava, were introduced to raspberries and had a wonderful experience picking raspberries out of our berry patch and wild blueberries out in the woods. It was exciting showing them the “good” wild berries and the “bad” ones. They caught on VERY quickly!

We also picked berries so their mom, Kelly, could take a bucket full to turn into jam. It was frustrating for me as my knee still won’t take kneeling down to pick and sitting on a bucket was way too slow. I can pick the pin cherries and the swamp blueberries just fine standing, as they are taller. But ours are only about eight inches high. Oh well, everyone else picked like mad and I was able to bend to pick for about an hour before my back quit.

We don’t take the dogs berry picking because they pick and eat more than we do! — Jackie

Q and A: canning spaghetti sauce, canning potatoes, and cucumber beetles

Friday, July 25th, 2014 by Jackie Clay | 1 Comment »

Canning spaghetti sauce

Why is it okay to water bath can salsa but not spaghetti sauce?

Katie Gilbert
Milo, Iowa

You can certainly can spaghetti sauce without meat in a boiling water bath canner but many experts are now advising us to use a pressure canner for both that and even tomatoes. I think because of the possibility of recipes not containing lemon juice or vinegar and having low-acid tomatoes added to the recipe. — Jackie

Canning potatoes

I have been canning for years and have had very little trouble with loss. But this year I have had 7 jars of potatoes come open not good (have you ever smelled that? Omgosh!) My question is with following the same method for years. I wash new potatoes peel and blanch then place in hot jars, pour boiling water over, place new lids and pressure for 40 minutes. Help please, I am about to give up.

Jo Collins
Morehead, Kentucky

NEVER GIVE UP! It’s my motto. Yep, I have smelled bad potatoes and sweet corn. Yuck! But, hey, it can happen. You may have just gotten a bad batch of lids or perhaps you did like I did on that bad batch of my sweet corn. I was in a huge hurry and left the last batch in the canner to cool as I’d been up for three days and two nights with no sleep. Well, in the morning, I opened the canner and they seemed to have sealed. I washed them and put them in the basement. A couple of weeks later … Peeewww! Something smelled pretty rotten. Yep, it was the corn and I ended up throwing away nine quarts and fourteen pints. That’s a record for me. I doubt that I’ve thrown out that many jars in more than fifty years of canning! (And that includes ones the cat pushed off the shelf to break on the floor.) You did everything right so I’d just gird your loins and get busy and put up more potatoes this year. — Jackie

Cucumber and potato beetles

For the first time ever my squash, cucumber, and pumpkin blossoms are overrun with cucumber and/or potato beetles. I am looking for a non-chemical answer to getting rid of them. I went out with a bucket of soapy water and picked by hand as many as I could but of course several flew away in the process. I read to paint cardboard squares yellow, apply Vaseline, and mount next to plants to draw them to the cardboard where they get stuck. I’m going to give that a shot. Is there anything I can spray directly on the blossoms to make them unattractive to the beetles but not the pollinators? I have these beetles by the dozens this year would appreciate any guidance in handling this infestation.

Teresa Liechti
Milbank, South Dakota

Hand picking works wonders if you keep at it. Will and I worked over our potatoes last year twice a day, hand picking both blister beetles and potato bugs. This year we don’t have any — hooray! You can spray your vines and blossoms with Bt, which is a natural spray that only kills bugs that eat your crops, not those that pollinate it. But even if you spray I would still keep picking as it usually takes a couple of days before the beetles quit eating and begin to sicken. One common, easily found brand is DiPel, often sold at big box stores. — Jackie

We just dodged a terrific storm

Thursday, July 24th, 2014 by Jackie Clay | 10 Comments »

It’s been very hot and muggy and I told Will we were primed for a bad storm. So when the weather radio called for thunderstorms Monday night we weren’t surprised. In fact, we were pretty happy to see lightning on the Western horizon that night as it was 85 degrees with extreme humidity (and being off grid we sure don’t have an air conditioner). Well, it finally rained around 11:30 p.m. and it did cool off.

But it wasn’t until yesterday that we heard how severe the storm front was to the North and South of us, with straight line winds more than 75 mph and inches of rain. Campers in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness had been pinned under big fallen pines, others injured. And many folks on the Iron Range, just south of us had trees blown down on their houses and garages or roofs torn off, etc. We feel very grateful we escaped this part of the storm and are praying for those affected. More than 15,000 people were without power as well but, of course, we never noticed.

The garden continues to astound us. I’ll be canning green beans in a couple days and have hundreds of inch-long Homemade Pickle cucumbers set on rampant vines. And this year, our dill is amazing. (I’ve even had to buy wilted, old store-bought dill on some other years — for $3.49 a bunch.)


But the star of our gardens this year is the Glass Gem popcorn. We planted it for its beauty but the plants are stupendous. They are near shoulder-high to Will and me and each plant has stooled out, having more than five lusty stalks per plant. We can’t wait to see how it turns out and how many ears we get per plant. Usually popcorn has shorter plants but Glass Gem hasn’t even thought of tasseling out at shoulder-height! Our Espresso sweet corn is tasseling out down in our main garden but not our Glass Gem. Wow!


We are still working at mulching our main garden; it takes a lot of work and hay to mulch an acre! But we work on it every day and it is looking good. My cold seems to have left me but I am still waiting awhile before I call my surgeon’s office to reschedule my gallbladder surgery. I do not want to have to postpone it again! — Jackie

Q and A: fruit trees and watermelon dying and red cabbage for Amish coleslaw

Wednesday, July 23rd, 2014 by Jackie Clay | 1 Comment »

Fruit trees and watermelon dying

We planted fruit trees this spring. We have had a very dry summer, nevertheless we have watered the trees three times a week. Now the leaves of all the fruit trees are curling up, turning brown and falling off. I am not so sure that some are not already dead. The trunks of the trees look different. Some spots are green and look healthy, while other spots are a very dark brown. Do you have any idea what this could be? I realize it is difficult to say exactly without seeing, thought you might have some idea.

This is the first year after five tries that I was able to grow watermelon. Now the vine is wilted and the stem is brown. Could this be a fungus? There are two small fruits set and lots of bloom, still open. Can I save this? Thanks for all your time and information that you provide to all of us.

Mary Ann Nelson
Franklin, West Virginia

Newly-planted fruit trees should receive at least a five-gallon bucket of water at a watering twice a week, provided that they are mulched. Often folks don’t realize this and use sprinklers in the orchard which don’t wet the soil deep enough to keep the baby tree roots from drying out and dying. I’d keep watering them and severely prune the trees, removing most of the branches and cutting the ones you leave off at half-length. Maybe they’ll either start leafing out again or send new shoots from lower down and above the grafts.

While it could be a fungus on your watermelon, it is also possible that it just didn’t get enough water. Your garden should receive at least 1 inch of water every week, more during very hot weather. You can make sure they are getting this by sitting a few cups out in the garden while you water. After you finish, measure the amount of water in the cups. There should be at least 1 inch in each one. Sometimes our sprinklers just don’t reach certain spots very well, leaving them pretty dry. Mulch is also very important in the garden to keep the plants’ roots evenly moist. — Jackie

Red cabbage for Amish coleslaw

I’m really sorry you had to postpone the surgery; what a letdown. Your garden looks great — too bad you can’t send some of that rain our way. We are dry. The Provider beans are just getting into full swing and the single Hopi plant I grew has at least 17 squash on it! Wow, those are powerful seeds you grew! Would it help the plant if I took some of them off? Also, I grew red cabbage and green, this year, and the red are heading way before the others. Have you found that the red cabbages work as well for Amish Slaw and other cabbage recipes? I hope you’ll have good hay making season. I’ll bet the animals are counting every bale.

Carol Bandy
Hightown, Virginia

I think I’m finally getting over that darned cold. I think… Wow, 17 squash on one plant! If you want really big squash, you can pick off some of the littlest ones and use as you would summer squash. Otherwise, Hopi Pale Grey is a very strong-growing squash and can handle that big a load as long as it gets plenty of water.

Yes, you can sure use your red cabbages in Amish coleslaw. The color would really pop.

The haying is going well so far and we pray it continues the same. We stock up the haymow with the same feelings we do our pantry. What a great feeling when it’s full to bulging! — Jackie

I think my cold’s on the run — finally

Tuesday, July 22nd, 2014 by Jackie Clay | No Comments »

Yesterday was my last day on antibiotics (again) and today, I feel a lot better. I hope this tenacious thing is finally on the run. It’s in the nineties today with 100% humidity so we’re really panting! Will’s over at one of our hayfields with the tractor and disc, getting ready to plant oats and clover on a small, previously rough spot. It’s late because of all of the rain earlier this spring and summer, but it’s supposed to rain this evening and it would be good to get the seed in ahead of it. He planted our little new hayfield yesterday on our new forty, so for a change we’re waiting anxiously for rain. Hopefully not 12 inches though!

The garden is great, with the corn starting to tassel out and tons of tomatoes already set. We are having to water as it’s pretty darned dry. But that’s okay as the hayfields are still kind of wet in spots and they need to dry out so we can continue haying.

Mamba, our new milk cow, is doing great! The calf runs with her and she still gives us two and a half gallons of milk a day with no kicking or swatting of her tail. I do spray her for flies before I milk as I don’t hold still myself when they are biting me. I just put her feed in a bucket, wash her udder, and milk away. She isn’t tied or even in a stanchion. Pretty good for a half Angus when that breed is known as kickers!


Our orchard sure took a hit from the past record cold winter. Many of our trees have dying branches, but the wild pin cherries on the edge of the orchard are producing fantastically. The branches are weighted down with larger than usual cherries. This morning Will went out and picked a bucket full and when I get done blogging I’ll pick as many as I can. Then the Mehu Liisa will get busy, extracting juice from them. They sure make great jelly! Our favorite is pin cherry/jalapeño jelly (with just a little almond extract added at the last minute).


I checked our Provider beans and many are about two inches long already so I’ll be canning beans pretty soon, too. The plants look astounding and are full of blooms. Those beans are our favorite bush beans and have never disappointed us yet. — Jackie

Q and A: canning unripe pears and canning zucchini pickles

Sunday, July 20th, 2014 by Jackie Clay | 3 Comments »

Canning unripe pears

We had 2 pear trees that were so loaded down with pears that all but 2 branches on each tree broke before the pears were ripe. We’ve learned our lesson and will not allow that many pears develop next time. Is there anything that we can do with the unripe pears? I’m not sure they will ripen because they are only about the size of a baseball now.

Judith Avery
New Bern, North Carolina

If it were me, I’d can up some and see how they taste, canned in a medium syrup. Or you might try canning pear preserves or even pickled pears which are really sweet syrupy, cinnamon pears. I’d make a small batch of each as a trial and see what you can do. I sure hate wasting food! — Jackie

Canning zucchini pickles

Here is a recipe I have some questions on: Slice the squash (zucchini or yellow) 1/4 inch thick, Boil 4 cups of water, 1/4 cup of vinegar, 1/4 cup of sugar, fill the jars with squash, fill with prepared liquid add lids and seals, HOT WATER BATH for 10 minutes. To eat: rinse the squash several times in colander, drain. Bread and fry em up, there just as good 2 years later as ever.
Okay, it sounds like pickles, which should make it safe to water bath. But it’s not pickles. So is this a safe method? And would it matter if it were thin slices or 1/2 inch chunks? What’s your opinion?

Becky McKim
Ankeny, Iowa

I’d skip this one. Too much water for how much sugar and vinegar, in my humble opinion. The thickness of the slices is not the problem but the fact that you’re water bathing a low acid vegetable in very limited amounts of acid (vinegar) and sugar really worries me. — Jackie

Q and A: storing honey and canning lids

Saturday, July 19th, 2014 by Jackie Clay | 2 Comments »

Storing honey

I have quite a few plastic bottles of honey. They are starting to become hard. I heated them up in a pan of water and put the honey in pint jars. It worked but how do I store it ? Do I water bath it or can I just put a lid on it and store. Or should I pressure can it?

Sherry Obermann
Waukesha, Wisconsin

Hard or crystallized honey is perfectly natural and is nothing to worry about. As you said, warming it up turns it right back into its liquid form. You don’t have to process honey in canning jars, just put a lid on it and store in a cool, dark place. Honey will stay good for decades without further treatment. If it crystallizes, just warm it up and it’ll be a liquid you can more easily use. Personally, I love crystallized honey as it’s much easier to use, not dripping and running over your fingers when you have it on toast or a biscuit! — Jackie

Canning lids

I was canning some beans today, and opened a new box of Kerr lids. I noticed that the instructions are different, and no longer require heating in a pan of water and keeping warm. Now, they simply require washing. So, after searching everywhere I could, I found that on the website, there is a little tiny area that says keeping the lids warm is no longer necessary. I guess I would like to know if you are doing this? It’s one of those things that sort of goes against the grain, so I thought I would ask you since you really keep better track than most of us do about this stuff.

Judy Sloan
Spokane, Washington

It goes against my grain, also. The new Ball lids still have the old instructions on heating in a pan of water but I know the new Kerr lid boxes have eliminated this step. Maybe they’ve changed their seal formula or maybe not and just figured heating them in a pan of water was old-fashioned. I don’t know but I still heat mine. (Have you seen the sentence on the boxes of new jars that says “Use your canned food within a year.”) WOW, I sure don’t buy that one! — Jackie

Q and A: canning okra and treating for flies

Friday, July 18th, 2014 by Jackie Clay | 2 Comments »

Canning okra

I have smothered okra with onion and tomatoes before putting in the freezer. I would like to smother the okra and then can it instead of freezing it. How would I be able to do this? Water bath or pressure cooker? My husband bought your book for me and my life has never been the same. I am grateful for you and your books.

Penny Thibodeaux
Arnaudvlle, Louisiana

I’m so glad you like my book! To can up some okra in tomatoes and onions, remove the stem and blossom ends and slice it. Peel and chop your onions and tomatoes and put into a large pot and bring to a boil. Add okra and any spices you wish. Bring to a boil and boil 2 minutes. Ladle hot into hot jars, leaving 1 inch of headspace. Add 1/2 tsp. salt to pints and 1 tsp. to quarts. Remove air bubbles. Process pints for 25 minutes and quarts for 40 minutes at 10 pounds pressure in a pressure canner. (If you live at an altitude above 1,000 feet, consult your canning book for directions on increasing your pressure to suit your altitude.) — Jackie

Treating for flies

We recently found our dream farm and bought it, a certified organic farm around lacrosse that had up till now only been used for dairy. What is your best organic method for treating flies? There are tons around here, and while we will keep organic, we do want to keep our food prep areas as clean as possible.

Mike Seidel
Downers Grove, Illinois

Congratulations on your dream farm! What an adventure you have in store for you! I’m sure you’ll find that when the cows have left, your fly problem will disappear next year. Just moving our milk cow, from our goat barn near the house down to the training ring, about 500 feet down hill from our house totally eliminated our fly problem. Fly predators, which are tiny wasps that lay eggs in fly larvae will do much to help you out quite quickly. Parasitic wasps can be purchased from several suppliers. These parasites, applied periodically in the old manure piles (composting the old manure piles) and adding several jar-type fly traps around the buildings will do a whole lot to help, too. Good luck with your new homestead. — Jackie



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