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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

Monday, December 15th, 2014 by Jackie | No Comments »
Our homestead seed business is up and going for 2014-2015. We are raising most of our own historical, open-pollinated, definitely non-GMO seeds right here at home in Northern Minnesota. We have many more varieties to offer this year.

Our seeds are from beautiful, often rare, wonderful varieties that we love for their production, shining colors, and taste. Some, such as one of our favorites, Hopi Pale Grey squash, is so rare it was teetering on the brink of extinction.

Our prices are right, as is our shipping, so please come take a look at (If you can’t access our website, just e-mail us for the listing!) seedtreasures[at]

We count our blessings as Christmas nears

Saturday, December 20th, 2014 by Jackie Clay | 8 Comments »

We’re really grateful for so many different things. We are grateful for each other and for this wonderful homestead that just keeps getting better every day.

When I think of moving here in 2003, in February, when there was nothing but small trees, old logs and stumps with big woods all around and all we’ve accomplished it doesn’t seem possible: the log house, huge storage building, big gardens, berry patch, orchard, tons of fencing, fenced pig pastures or extra garden (whichever is needed), a training ring and adjacent barn, clearing two pastures, then the third huge one on the new forty acres we bought three years ago, plowing and planting many acres, buying haying equipment, and building the new barn.

Stocking up the pantry after nearly depleting it after our move here is beyond belief. We’re eating our own home-raised pork, chicken, eggs, milk, and beef along with some canned venison from last year as well as plenty of fruits and vegetables from our homestead.

The bread we bake is from flour we grind and after that bout with diverticulitis, I’m SO happy to be able to eat whole wheat bread again! It’s like a celebration, pulling a loaf out of the oven. We never take things for granted but appreciate every single day. — Jackie

We’ll have a white Christmas

Wednesday, December 17th, 2014 by Jackie Clay | 4 Comments »


After a day without snow and rain, which is unheard of here in northern Minnesota this time of the year, we got a two-inch snowfall. Luckily, today the sun’s out and it’s pretty and not too cold. Our critters are happy and fat and seem to enjoy the fresh snow. The horses are running around bucking and playing and even the cows are joining them. (It’s pretty funny to see a big cow with her bag swinging back and forth, bucking and jumping with her tail kinked up in the air!)

We knew the snow was coming so we carried in extra wood and while I ran to town for feed, Will brought in the Christmas tree and got it set up. It seems like every year we have a prettier tree! This year, it’s a locally grown pine. Our own Christmas tree selection is dim; some nice trees are too big and others, too small. Maybe next year we can go out and cut our own again. But we’re happy to have a neighbor to the North that has a small Christmas tree farm. We get a nice fresh tree and keep the bucks local!

I’m excited; we’ll be picking up our beef from the processing plant on Friday! We’ve sold seven quarters of our natural beef, saving a quarter for ourselves. So I’ll be delivering beef Friday and Saturday as well as bringing ours home. Yum, I can’t wait! (We’ve also started selling quarters and halves from the next two butcher steers. Many are repeat customers, so that makes us feel good.)

Keep watching the box at the top of the blog as our new seed business, which we’ve named SEED TREASURES (we believe seeds are more valuable than gold), is up and running with many more selections this year! Click on the link. But if you can’t open it, just e-mail us at and I’ll see you get a listing. — Jackie

We had an unexpected visitor

Monday, December 15th, 2014 by Jackie Clay | 7 Comments »

Will went out our driveway to take some work to our local machine shop. When he returned, he told me there were the tracks of a big bull moose on our driveway! Wow! I went out with the camera, hoping to see the big guy, but no dice. He did leave huge tracks for a mile down our driveway to where he turned off to the north through the woods. That’s only the second time I’ve seen moose tracks here. David saw a cow and twin calves twice a year ago and my late husband, Bob, saw two moose nearby, at night several years ago. They’re around, but not common here.

Our snow is nearly all gone. Our low last night was 37 degrees, above! But we’ve sure made good use of our warm spell as it’s not “normal.” Will cut barn siding all day yesterday and now has enough lumber to frame the upper wall on the whole barn plus enough siding to do at least the whole west side and more. I’m getting real excited! The siding is wide; both 8″ and 12,” with beautiful grain.


I got another chicken canned up and had plans to do another but our carpenter friend, Tom, stopped by for a visit. We hadn’t seen him for awhile as he has been busy totally remodeling an old farm house for our veterinarian friends, Robin and John. We had a great visit and got caught up on what all we’ve both been doing. Tom had also built a huge storage barn on his homestead this summer, so we know he’s been as busy as we have been. Progress is such a nice thing.

My diverticulitis is just about gone and I’m just starting to eat “normal” food again. I’ll admit I was getting sick of broth, cottage cheese, yogurt, etc. Roasted chicken tasted real good! — Jackie

Q and A: dirt piles in chicken coop and blastomycosis

Friday, December 12th, 2014 by Jackie Clay | 5 Comments »

Dirt piles in chicken coop

I live in Oregon and have a question about finding 8-inch-high and 12-inch-wide piles of dirt inside my chicken house. They have showed up within the last 3 days and are dry loose dirt. My coop is wood floored and 2 feet off the ground on stones, the hens are locked in each night at dark. Windows are secure. I have lost no birds and no eggs seemed to be eaten. One pile was inside a nest box and one outside the nest area. This is a considerable amount of dirt for any animal to move during that time and I see no other evidence of nesting.

Linna Straub
Springfield, Oregon

You’ve kind of got me stumped. Obviously some mammal is getting into your coop. Somewhere. Some critters who pile up dirt are pocket gophers, Norway rats and ground squirrels. But any of them would have to get into the coop. Is there a hole under the dirt piles? Pack rats will carry in sticks, moss, shredded cloth…but not usually dirt. I’d examine the entire coop for small holes or cracks then block them up with hardware cloth or tin to exclude your new tenants. — Jackie


We have finally narrowed down the area of Minnesota we plan to search for a place to homestead once our home sells. We really love the Itasca county area. However, I keep running across something called Blastomycosis that is said to be a very common occurrence in dogs, and people to a lesser degree, in both Itasca and St. Louis counties. As the owners of 3 dogs, with big plans to dig in the dirt, we are more than a little concerned. From what I have read it is a soil-borne fungus, and very deadly and painful to canines and humans if left untreated.

Bridget Cole
Thomas, Oklahoma

I am well aware of Blastomycosis in our area. Our friends are both veterinarians in the Cook area and have treated local dogs for this fungal disease. It seems to be most prone to the Lake Vermilion area and other “wet” spots. Of course, Lake Vermilion is a huge lake surrounded on most sides by high-end lake homes. (i.e. many people and many water loving dogs). We are concerned about it but do not worry about it. No matter where you live there are some sort of dangerous diseases possible. In New Mexico, it was the plague, carried by local prairie dogs. In Montana, Hantavirus, carried by deer mice and pack rats.

We dig in the garden (obviously) and our dogs do dig out ground squirrels. But they don’t spend a lot of time in the creek or swamp, digging in the ground. Neither do we. So we keep aware but don’t worry. If this is a huge concern of yours, you might consider nearby Koochiching County, just to the north. Less people and less occurrence of reported Blastomycosis. — Jackie

Nothing like home-raised chicken

Wednesday, December 10th, 2014 by Jackie Clay | 8 Comments »

I roasted two chickens yesterday. We ate part of one for supper last night with rice and carrots. Wow, was that good! Today I’ll be picking chicken off the bone and canning both of them up in the wonderful broth made from the pan drippings. I have four more in the freezer but as it’s supposed to hit the forties I think we’ll butcher a couple more and then can them up right after they’ve cooled down.

I also got whole boneless pork loins on sale from our local store for $1.99 a pound and I’ll be canning them up too.

We’ll be getting our beef back in about a week and we can hardly wait as we’ve been out of beef for quite awhile, except for canned beef. Canned beef is great but sometimes you just want some fresh meat too. Right now we’re starting to take orders for our last two butcher steers and hopefully we’ll get the meat sold before our butchering date in January. Craigslist has been good that way. It seems that lots of folks are concerned about where their meat comes from these days and that’s a good thing.

Will and I have been talking more about the varieties we plan to grow next spring and about fencing the 1½ acres that was our new corn/pumpkin patch. Unfenced, the deer left us the corn but ate all the pumpkins and squash. We can’t have that happen again so we’re trying to save up enough to buy fencing for it. We do have the fence posts already so I’m crossing my fingers! A local greenhouse has contacted us about supplying them with Halloween pumpkins and fall decorative squash next year so we’ll try to do that too out of our “test plots” on the new ground where we won’t be saving seed. (It’ll cross as we’re going to grow several different varieties.)

I’m feeling better but will sure be glad when I’m done with drugs! My stomach does NOT like them!

Well, back to canning. By the way, a big “thank you” to all of you who are continuing to order seeds from the click box at the top of the blog. We DO still have seeds but watch as we’ll soon be posting our 2014-2015 seed listing that will have many more varieties available. — Jackie

So far we’ve had an on-and-off-again winter

Tuesday, December 9th, 2014 by Jackie Clay | 6 Comments »

Our temps started out real cold; down to -25 and windy. Brrr. But lately we’ve been having much more moderate temps and we’re maybe going to hit 40 above this weekend. Translated, that means we’re getting more done around here because we can stand to work outside.

Will’s been cutting more lumber on the sawmill. He has almost enough to frame the top walls on the whole barn. (He has two sections finished now.) We’ve been using some of the slab wood every day for firewood as the temperatures have been so warm we don’t need the wood to last a long time in the stove. Waste not, want not! As Will cuts it so carefully, we don’t have building-quality slabs but they’re thick on the butt end and run out to thin on the top. But it does make nice (free) firewood.


Meanwhile, because I sure don’t feel up to helping him yet (I’m still kind of weak from the diverticulitis, which seems to have left), I boned our Thanksgiving turkey, cut it up, and boiled the carcass. Then I canned it up. It ended up to be nine pints and a quart of broth. One jar didn’t seal so I made turkey and potato chowder from it — a pint of turkey with broth, diced potatoes, carrots, and onions. Boy, was that good!

Well, we’ve got to go set out round bales so I’ll see you soon! — Jackie

Q and A: lids blowing off jars in the canner and GMO corn and alfalfa

Friday, December 5th, 2014 by Jackie Clay | No Comments »

Lids blowing off jars in the canner

I have been canning for over 30 years and had an incident last week that I have never encountered. I made a big batch of turkey soup and was canning quart jars in my pressure canner and heard a funny sound about mid-way through the process. When we opened the canner, one of the lids had blown off, ring and all, coating everything inside with soup. I used the new lids and prepared them the way the box instructs, not boiling but simmering. The jar seems undamaged; it was one that I have canned in multiple times before. I am mystified. Have you ever heard of this happening, and what do you think caused it? The other 6 jars were fine.

Virginia Beach, Virginia

This has happened a couple of times to me too. One of two things has happened. Either you didn’t tighten the ring firmly tight enough (the ring vibrated during processing, loosening it so it came off) or you have a bad ring. I always toss a ring if this happens, just because. I have tons of rings! This is just another of these things that can happen during canning. I’ve found it’s usually been a highly liquid food such as broth or soup that blew the lid. It’s annoying but nothing to worry about. — Jackie

GMO corn and alfalfa

Do you feed Non-GMO corn and alfalfa? Around here (Modesto, CA), the farmers are growing GMO corn and GMO alfalfa.

Brenda Scobey-Mizar
Modesto, California

Well, no and yes. Unfortunately, little non-GMO field corn is out there. And even some that isn’t GMO on purpose is contaminated by GMO pollen blowing in the wind for up to two miles, from neighboring GMO fields. That’s depressing. We do grow some of our own corn for our livestock, but not nearly enough as we don’t have enough open fields to do so. We’re definitely NOT happy about the GMO corn! No, we don’t feed GMO alfalfa. Our hay is mostly clover, birdsfoot trefoil, and grass mixed — which is non-GMO. — Jackie



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