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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.

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

Thursday, August 21st, 2014 by Jackie Clay | No 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

Finally, the rains came

Tuesday, August 19th, 2014 by Jackie Clay | 6 Comments »

After a period of prolonged drought, we are finally getting some rain. It’s tough for some of our neighbors who still are haying but boy was the ground getting dry. Our poor corn/pumpkin patch way out in the new forty was getting pretty stressed but it perked up and is setting ears and pumpkins. It’s strange to compare the growth out there, where our tallest corn is about five feet tall (Painted Mountain) and the Glass Gem popcorn in the berry patch which is now topping eight feet and growing taller every day. Of course the Glass Gem was planted in VERY fertile ground and did receive watering. I’m sure that helped.


Our “forty” corn patch was an experiment, mostly to see if the deer would eat it all down when it was a few inches tall. They didn’t. (But they did mow down the potatoes out there, regardless of the hot wire, peanut butter on aluminum foil.) We already have a huge compost pile of rotted manure ready to dump on the corn/pumpkin ground as soon as we harvest what we can this fall. As the ground is white clay with some manure worked in, I’m sure tons more manure will make a drastic improvement for next year. We homesteaders are always planning on “next year!” I’m real interested to find out if A, we get some Apache Giant squash and B, if the seed from our middle plant which shows pretty variegated leaves will breed true and its babies will have variegated yellow and green leaves as well. That would be cool!


God was busy planting sunflowers here and there all over our gardens and in my flower beds this spring. (I’m sure He had help from some little birds carrying seed from our bird feeders.) Those bright, happy sunflowers sure cheer up the place. We have them in our squash patches, flower beds, and even in our big garden. Some have big heads and some have multiple smaller heads. But all are sure pretty! — Jackie

You never know when someone’s watching you

Monday, August 18th, 2014 by Jackie Clay | 6 Comments »


Back here in the big woods, you’re never alone. If you stop and hold still, you’ll most always find one of the “neighbors” watching you. In this case, it was a barred owl. He was perched in a poplar tree on the edge of the woods. And he was checking me out to see what I was up to. He decided I was pretty boring and finally flew off to another tree deeper in the woods. He was waiting for dark, hoping to swoop down on some small rodent out in the open. He saw me instead and was pretty disgusted.

We’ve been haying like mad and are almost caught up now. I just spent six hours on the tractor, raking hay while Will baled another field. He finished before I did and started baling “my” field way behind me. He cut the field three days ago but we had a rain shower and had to let it dry out an extra day before raking it. It was nice and dry today. One more small field and we’re done with our first cutting. We should get a second cutting off of two small fields to finish up before fall. Whew!


Yesterday we moved the cattle from the big pasture to the east pasture that has been ungrazed since last fall. The grass and clover is better than belly high and the cattle were pretty thrilled to be “driven” through the gate to eat it. This morning they were all lying down chewing their cuds, just about hidden in the grass. Cow heaven! — Jackie

Q and A: making ketchup, peach trees, and bread and butter pickles

Sunday, August 17th, 2014 by Jackie Clay | 1 Comment »

Making ketchup

In your book, “Growing and Canning Your Own Food,” the Ketchup recipe on page 114 calls for 1 gallon chopped, peeled and cored tomatoes. I can not find out anywhere how many tomatoes I need, approximately. I want to make a 1/4 size batch to make sure my family likes it before canning up a bunch, so in reducing that it calls for 1/4 of a gallon or one quart. Do I need to just get tomatoes, and start chopping them until I get a quart of tomatoes plus the liquid from them? Can I use previously home canned whole tomatoes in their own juice? If so, how do I measure them for the ketchup recipe?


I’d just guesstimate. Now I just toss tomatoes into my Victorio strainer and measure the purée that comes out. No seeds/no skins/no extra work! Yes, you can use home canned tomatoes, canned in their own juice. But I’d run them through a meat grinder to chop them; you’ll have to press them through a sieve to remove the seeds though. Some folks use a blender and blend seeds and all but I’ve tried that and find that it does change the taste a bit. Using home canned tomatoes, you already have a measured quart. The amount of seeds is so tiny that it doesn’t matter. — Jackie

Peach trees

Why do my peach trees have lacy leaves and the fruit has brown spots and what looks like sap oozing?

Patricia Nelson
Sesser, Illinois

I think you have a two-fold problem. Several insects and caterpillars eat fruit tree leaves, leaving them skeletonized, such as bean beetles, army worms, and tarnished plant bugs. Although this leaves the tree stressed, it usually does no lasting harm. But I’m pretty sure your fruit is being damaged from within by plum curculio larvae. The adult plum curculio is a small snout-nosed beetle about 1/4 inch long. The female cuts a crescent-shaped wound in developing fruit and lays eggs inside the flap. This wound turns black and is quite small. The larvae hatch and begin eating the fruit. You will notice tiny blobs of “sap” oozing from the fruit in several places. The “worms” ruin the fruit and often it will drop off, immature. You can achieve at least partial control by practicing good sanitation methods. These include picking up and destroying fruit that drops early, as well as removing or cleaning up overwintering sites. Keeping the area around the trees well mowed also helps.

Chemical controls should be applied immediately after the flower petals fall to control the first generation. Three sprays (the first in mid-June and the second at the end of June and the third in early July) will control the second generation adults. You can use chemical controls such as Carbaryl, (Sevin) or malathion. Insecticides may be used individually, or can often be found in premixed home orchard spray products, such as Bonide Fruit Tree Spray. When using Carbaryl or malathion, wait 3 or 7 days, respectively, between spray application and harvest. Permethrin (Bonide Eight Vegetable Fruit & Flower Concentrate, Bonide Eight Insect Control Yard & Garden Ready-to-Spray and Bonide Borer-Miner Killer Concentrate) or esfenvalerate (Ortho Bug-B-Gon MAX Garden & Landscape Insect Killer Ready-to-Use) may also be used to control plum curculio, but do not apply these products within 14 days of harvest. Repeated use of carbaryl, permethrin or esfenvalerate may increase problems later in the season with scale or mite outbreaks.

A less toxic mixture of neem oil and pyrethrins, such as in Green Light Fruit Tree Spray, is labeled for plum curculio control. It also works quite well for leaf eating insects that are damaging your tree’s leaves.

As with all pesticides, read and follow all label directions and precautions. — Jackie

Bread and butter pickles

I made bread and butter pickles today, using the recipe from the Ball Blue Book. The recipe only used 3 cups of vinegar, and I did not have enough liquid to cover 7 pints, the yield of this recipe. I made another full batch of the liquid and heated it, and finished the rest of my jars. Will these last few jars have too much spice? What is the proper procedure for making extra liquid for pickles? I don’t know why the Ball Blue Book recipe would be so short of liquid.

Catherine Reiber
Missoula, Montana

Usually, the added sugar increases the amount of vinegar and when the pickles are packed in the jars, the juice along with the pickling syrup will be adequate. BUT, as you found out, this doesn’t always happen. I usually make a double batch of pickling brine, just in case. If it’s not needed for that batch, I simply refrigerate and reheat it for the next batch. Don’t re-use brine that you’ve added cucumbers and other vegetables to, however, as the water or “juice” in them may dilute the pickling brine/syrup. I doubt that your second batch will have too much spice. — Jackie

Q and A: Southern blight and Elderberry pie

Saturday, August 16th, 2014 by Jackie Clay | 6 Comments »

Southern blight

I just wanted to give you an update on the tomato plants that I grew from your seeds. All of them germinated and grew nicely until our wet summer has given my garden a bad case of the Southern blight. It killed all of my beans and tomatoes but the Mexican tommy toes (Punta Banda) were the last to succumb to the disease. I was able to get one picking off of all of the varieties but many pickings off of the tommy toes. So I believe we can say that the Punta Bandas are resistant to Southern blight. Thankfully my grandparents tomatoes are doing well so I am going to have enough in the pantry for the winter, though just barely. Now for the question, if you could only plant two or three paste tomatoes varieties which ones would you plant. I have only had my farm for one year so my garden area is small but expanding, so I can only plant 30 tomato plants. I have tried many different varieties but was wondering what your favorites were.

Staci Hill
Murfreesboro, Arkansas

Is your soil well drained? Often folks mistake plants dying from wet roots for Southern blight. With Southern blight, you will have plants that suddenly wilt and die. On examination, you’ll find white mats of fungus at soil level and lesions on the plant stems right at soil level. It does affect both tomatoes and beans. (To help prevent it, pull and burn any affected plants then lay a sheet of clear plastic over the area and weight it down with boards or rocks. Leave in place for about 6 weeks. This will “cook” the disease spores and usually does the trick for next year’s crop.) Punta Banda is pretty free of early blight too. And it’s a very productive tomato. In fact, it is one of our very favorite paste tomatoes although it doesn’t look like a paste tomato, being round, not oblong. It is very meaty and its small size makes it perfect to pick and toss into our Victorio tomato strainer, which removes the seeds and skins. The purée requires much less cooking down than many other paste tomato purée. Another of our favorites is San Marzano and also the hybrid Super Marzano, developed from it. — Jackie

Elderberry pie

I’ve made elderberry jam for two days now. Need your recipe for elderberry pie, please. Looked through your books and anthologies, can’t find it. Do you use your canned elderberries for the pie?

Draza Knezevich
Miramonte, California

Here’s one recipe for elderberry pie that’s very easy. Use fresh elderberries.

pastry for a 2-crust pie
1 quart ripe elderberries
1 cup sugar
a little flour

Wash and drain the berries. Stir sugar well into fruit and turn into a pie pan lined with crust. Sprinkle a little flour over the filling to absorb juice, and cover with an upper crust. Bake for 40 minutes (400° F for 15 minutes; 375° F until done). Serve cold with a little sugar sifted over top or with whipped cream..

To make an elderberry pie with canned elderberries, drain and reserve 1 cup juice. Make a paste in a saucepan using 3 Tbsp. cornstarch, 1 Tbsp. lemon juice, and reserved juice, a little added at a time until all has been used. Add 1 cup sugar (a little less if you canned the elderberries in a heavy syrup). Stir well and slowly bring to a boil and cook until thick. Remove from heat and add elderberries. Pour into a pie crust and top with the top crust. Bake at 375° F until done.

When baking an elderberry pie, it’s a good idea to put the pie tin on a cookie sheet as it will sometimes bubble over, making a mess of your oven, — Jackie

Q and A: irrigating an orchard and wheat for chicken feed

Friday, August 15th, 2014 by Jackie Clay | 2 Comments »

Irrigating an orchard

I’m trying to figure out an easier way to irrigate my little fruit orchard when enough rain doesn’t come along to do it. Until now, I’ve been either running hoses, using buckets, or a combination of both, but with 20 trees in 2 rows, this can get a bit time consuming. They’re a mixture of (eventually) full size and dwarf/semi-dwarf varieties. Unfortunately, I don’t have a pond or spring nearby to tap, just the water faucets from the house (100+ feet away) that are fed from the well. Water pressure is OK for household use, but not all that great.

Keeping in mind I need to not only mow grass inside the fence, and also compost and mulch each tree (creating small berms), what sort of system would you recommend? Trenched? Drip? Pop-ups? I don’t want to keep moving hoses or pipe to mow during the summer if I can avoid it.
Someone suggested putting a few of those big oscillating sprinklers on the corner posts of the fence, but at some point I would think the trees will grow too tall for that method to work, not to mention watering more than just the trees. Perhaps once everything gets well established it won’t be quite as necessary, but between now and then, there will be a LOT of water buckets in my future if I can’t figure something better out!

The easiest way is to install drip irrigation for your trees. We did that with Mom and Dad’s fruit and shelterbelt trees in New Mexico and it worked great. They actually used less water that way than when we used sprinklers and watered the trees much better. It’s best to bury the supply lines as you can mow over them. But we didn’t do that and it still worked great. It’s cheap and only took two days to hook up. And I’m no rocket scientist. It’s sort of like Tinker Toys. Do install a filter just past your faucet to catch any sediment as it will plug up the emitters that water each tree. I put two emitters on each mulched tree that only put out a fast drizzle each. That kept me and the trees real happy, only watering when the soil around the trees was dry down a few inches. You will have to check them every time you water to make sure they are still working. Dripworks has components although we got ours at a local big-box hardware. Hope this helps keep you and your trees happy. — Jackie

Wheat for chicken feed

I have never grown wheat before and wanted to try a small plot. I want to use it as chicken feed. I can’t figure out what to buy….I was going to buy on line but most of what comes up is red wheat which says it’s wheat grass? What type wheat seeds would you recommend?

Johanna Hill
Arcanum, Ohio

Any wheat will make chicken feed. They call it “wheat grass” but that’s just immature wheat plants. It’s too late this year to plant spring wheat though. So either plant a winter wheat or wait until spring to plant your feed patch. Any hard white or red wheat will do fine as chicken feed. You also might consider planting millet as you get a little higher yield per square foot with millet, such as White Proso millet, than you do wheat and chickens love it. — Jackie

Q and A: growing cucumbers and thickening tomato sauce

Thursday, August 14th, 2014 by Jackie Clay | 2 Comments »

Growing cucumbers

Why do the edges of the leaves on my cucumber plants turn yellow?

Loretta Howard
Plymouth, Indiana

Usually when that happens, either the plants aren’t getting enough water during hot spells or you are watering with an overhead sprinkler which some cukes don’t like. Soaking the ground around the plants with a soaker hose, drip irrigation, or even a hand-held nozzle often helps. Mulching around the young plants with about 8 inches of good weed-free straw or immature hay will help next year. — Jackie

Thickening tomato sauce

I’m looking for a way to stretch my tomato sauce. I cook it down and it gets good and thick, but there are only a few jars. I would like to make some sauce that makes a big recipe and is also thick. I have a friend who says she thickens her tomato sauce with cornstarch. Then I found a recipe for homemade Ragu sauce that is thickened with Clear Jel, there is no instructions on how to can it. I’m not sure if it can be canned. Is it ok to thicken sauces with Clear Jel? How much would you use? Here is the recipe that I found in a local paper.
Homemade Ragu Sauce
8 onions
4 bell peppers
Cook in a little water. Drain and blend well.
10 quarts tomato juice
2 tablespoons garlic powder
3 cups sugar
1/2 cup salt
5 Tbsp. oregano
3 Tbsp. basil
48 ounces tomato paste
1 pint vegetable oil
In a large kettle, bring everything to a boil.
10 Tbsp. of Clear Jel or Therm-Flo
cold water to dissolve Clear Jel

Add thickening to boiling kettle. Bring back to a boil.

The recipe says it can be canned, but make sure to research and use up to date canning methods and times. Do you think this will achieve my goal of a thick sauce and a large volume? And if so how long should I can it? Would I use a water-bath method?

Nicole Bramm
Narvon, Pennsylvania

I’m sure this could probably be canned but I have no researched information. Clear Jel is used successfully in canning pie fillings and I have Amish friends who can a recipe similar to yours in a boiling water bath for 45 minutes. But I cannot, advise you to can it as there are really no guidelines for safety. Better skip this one. — Jackie



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