Top Navigation  
U.S. Flag waving
Office Hours Momday - Friday  8 am - 5 pm Pacific 1-800-835-2418
Facebook   YouTube   Twitter
Backwoods Home Magazine, self-reliance, homesteading, off-grid

 Home Page
 Current Issue
 Article Index
 Author Index
 Previous Issues
 Print Display Ads
 Print Classifieds
 Free Stuff
 Home Energy

General Store
 Ordering Info
 Kindle Subscriptions
 Back Issues
 Help Yourself
 All Specials
 Classified Ad

 Web Site Ads
 Magazine Ads

BHM Blogs
 Ask Jackie Clay
 Massad Ayoob
 Claire Wolfe
 James Kash
 Where We Live
 Behind The Scenes
 Dave on Twitter
Retired Blogs
 Oliver Del Signore
 David Lee
 Energy Questions

Quick Links
 Home Energy Info
 Jackie Clay
 Ask Jackie Online
 Dave Duffy
 Massad Ayoob
 John Silveira
 Claire Wolfe

Forum / Chat
 Forum/Chat Info
 Enter Forum
 Lost Password

More Features
 Contact Us/
 Change of Address
 Write For BHM
 Meet The Staff
 Meet The Authors
 Disclaimer and
 Privacy Policy

Retired Features
 Country Moments
 Radio Show

Link to BHM

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 | 11 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

Q and A: sweet potatoes and chicken feed

Friday, November 21st, 2014 by Jackie Clay | 3 Comments »

Sweet potatoes

I left some sweet potatoes in the garden, thinking since they were under ground, I could just harvest them as I needed them, regardless of freezing. Wrong! I didn’t put any straw on them, so the top 2 inches or so froze, but anything lower than that is fine. What should I do with them now? The part that froze gets mushy when I bring them in and wash them. Are they ok to eat?

Chrissy Mullender
Luray, Kansas

It depends. Did they freeze and stay frozen? If so, just wash them and cook them. But if they froze, thawed, froze, etc. I’d add them to your compost pile and chalk it up to a lesson learned. Sweet potatoes can’t take any freezing so next time, dig them earlier and be safe. — Jackie

Chicken feed

In your recent article “Saving money on the homestead” you mentioned not buying packaged chicken feed. You buy grain in bulk. What homemade chicken feed recipe do you use? I’ve looked at many, but they have SOOO much hard to find and expensive things in them. You seem like a down to earth kinda girl, so I’m guessing your recipe is simple and to the point. I have noticed a lot of recipes have fish emulsion in them. Its very expensive, but the amount used is so small, I don’t think it would add up to being expensive in the long run. Anyways, I would like to know your recipe for happy healthy chickens! This year we hatched 100 chicks, and are going broke feeding them to butcher size. I need a cheaper route for next year!

Roxann Bagley
Williston, North Dakota

You’re right; I don’t buy packaged chicken feed — the kind that comes in nice paper sacks, made by name brand feed companies either in 50 pounds or 25 pounds. Our local grain elevator, Homestead Mills, carries their own mix which is sold under the generic name of 18% poultry and 14% feed. What I usually do is use the 18% poultry for our egg layers and as a general growing mix for young birds. Then I switch our meat birds to the cheaper 14% ground feed at about five weeks. If we keep them longer than eight weeks, they get plain corn screenings. The 18% poultry grain is half the cost as those cute paper bags; I can buy 100 pounds for the same money as the 50 pound sacks bought elsewhere. You often buy the name brand and pretty picture instead of the feed.
Mixing your own poultry feed is pretty easy but it is extra work. Here’s a sample for a grower feed:

50 pounds cracked corn, barley, or wheat (or a mix of any of these)
18 pounds rough mill feed or screenings
16.5 pounds soybean, meat, or fish meal
5 pounds alfalfa meal — when the birds are not on pasture
vitamin supplement added as per package directions
1/2 pound trace mineral salt
Mix well and store in a tight container

We substitute our own homegrown pumpkins and squash in the winter, fed daily, for the alfalfa meal. The chickens love it and we cut down on feed costs. I hope this helps. — Jackie

Q and A: rendering bear fat and canning pepper sauce

Thursday, November 20th, 2014 by Jackie Clay | No Comments »

Rendering bear fat

I have been looking for bear fat for three years and have finally acquired 20# this last week. Early 1900’s recipes indicate that it makes the lightest and fluffiest pastries. I intend to render it like hog lard, cooking low and slow for about 4-5 hours using 1/8 cup water to initially keep it from sticking to the stainless cooker, after cooking and pouring thru a double layer of #9 cheesecloth. I want to water bath or pressure can 1/2 pint jars to eliminate keeping it in the freezer. Can you offer any suggestions of which process should be utilized and for how long?

Joe Tubb
Wartburg, Tennessee
I’ve never rendered bear fat but I’ve put a lot of beef and pork lard in our pantry and can’t say that bear fat would be handled differently. What I do successfully is once it’s rendered and strained off, I immediately put it into hot, sterilized wide mouth pints or quarts (you could use half-pints but I use enough to like pints better). Wipe the rim of the jar off very well with a hot, damp cloth and immediately put a hot lid on the jar and screw down the ring firmly tight. I do not processing of these jars and they will keep, sealed for a long time in a cool, dark location. Some folks do process their lard in a pressure canner. You would use 75 minutes at 10 pounds pressure to do this. (If you live at an altitude above 1,000 feet, consult your canning book for directions on increasing your pressure to suit your elevation.) — Jackie

Canning pepper sauce

I’ve looked through numerous pepper recipes and they all call for pickling, roasting, leaving whole or in pieces and then canned with water or vinegar. We have an abundance of peppers and one of our favorite (and quick and easy) ways to use them is to cut up and cook slightly in a small amount of water. Then put in blender with a bit of salt. Good on meats, eggs, and as a dip. For really hot peppers, I cut in half and remove seeds first. Red peppers are the best — sweet with a bit of heat. I was wondering if I could pressure can this. It’s about the consistency of ketchup (it will coat a spoon). I was thinking 35 min. for pints would work but I would hate to find a few months down the road all the bounty and work was for naught.

LaNell Storbeck
Victoria, Texas

You could pressure can pureed peppers at 10 pounds pressure for 35 minutes if you don’t make a too-thick sauce, which would make it unsafe for canning. Remember to adjust your pressure to suit your altitude if you live above 1,000 feet. — Jackie

Q and A: Austrian Winter Peas and canning corn chowder

Wednesday, November 19th, 2014 by Jackie Clay | No Comments »

Austrian Winter Peas

I just read an article in Mother Earth about Austrian Winter Peas. They sound like a great thing. The article says the shoots make a great salad, make great fodder, and are beneficial to the soil. I don’t know that you could grow them in your climate, though they are hardy. But I thought others might like to try them. I know I’m going to.

Barb Mundorff
Youngstown, Ohio

Nope. Austrian Winter Peas won’t over-winter here. Instead, we grow Field Peas, which are just plain old peas that we plant to improve the soil, use as fodder, and even pick to use as “people peas” to can, dehydrate, or dry for soup. We plant them early in the spring, harvest some pods for us, cut some fodder for the critters, then mow and turn under the rest as green manure. It’s one of the top legumes for many homesteaders, especially those of us in the north. — Jackie

Canning corn chowder

I have made several batches of corn chowder and canned the excess for use this winter. I processed in my pressure canner for 100 minutes at 13 psi (I am at 4,255 feet) and most of the jars were pints, 6 were quarts. Now here is where I messed up. I use bacon, milk, and flour in my chowder. Things I never once thought I shouldn’t can. Is it safe to eat? I have 7 pints in the canner now!

James Mc Ginnis
La Pine, Oregon

Your chowder is safe to eat, assuming your chowder isn’t REAL thick — which most isn’t. However, at 100 minutes at 13 psi, you’ve over-processed your batches. The bacon (the meat ingredient) is processed for 75 minutes (pints) or 90 minutes (quarts) and milk for only 10 minutes for quarts. Corn is processed for 55 minutes (pints) and 85 minutes for quarts. I’m not sure how badly that will affect your chowder. The milk may separate or become dark because the sugars in the milk turn brown. I guess you’ll just have to open a jar and see. Sometimes if you just heat a separated product and stir it well, it’ll still be okay to eat. You can use a little flour to thicken some canned foods but never so much that the food becomes quite thick as then it may be too thick to can up safely. I can up chowders without milk, using a broth instead. Then when I want to eat it I’ll make a white sauce and slowly stir in the jar of canned chowder. Done deal. — Jackie

Keeping busy even when it’s cold

Tuesday, November 18th, 2014 by Jackie Clay | 6 Comments »

We haven’t had a break from the Arctic cold and wind we’ve been having lately, with the lows in single digits and the highs in the low teens. Brrr. But we’ve still got lots to do. I’ve been saving seeds from lots of pumpkins (Howden and Winter Luxury) and squash (Hopi Pale Grey, Canada Crookneck, etc.) and shelling Painted Mountain and Glass Gem popcorn. While we save seeds, we’re planning what to plant next spring. And just where we’ll put it to keep our seed pure. Will jokes that he’d better fire up Old Yeller and get out and clear some more land!


Meanwhile, Will’s been out in the woods hauling in dead logs he stockpiled this fall. Yesterday, he brought in about a cord of some big ash and some mixed logs. The weather this weekend is supposed to be mild, so I hope we can get it cut up and split.


Because it’s been so cold, I’ve started using the kitchen range. It’s sure nice to have it fired up again and it really helps keep the house toasty. Since it’s below the upstairs bedrooms, the floor gets nice and warm.

We were having trouble getting our cows AI’d; they kept returning in heat. So Will talked to our neighbor who happened to have a young bull he needed to move out of a pen. We ended up moving him to our pasture for the winter. He was only here a few hours before he bred our Jersey cross heifer. — Jackie

Q and A: livestock feeder and canning baked beans

Friday, November 14th, 2014 by Jackie Clay | 1 Comment »

Livestock feeder

We recently purchased two 4 month old heifer calves. One is a Holstein and one a Jersey/Milking shorthorn cross. We are new to this cow thing and are learning as we go. Our plans are to have these cows be our family milking cows when they are older and we are currently working on halter training and getting to know each other. My question for you and the readers out there is regarding building some sort of hay feeder for these animals. I don’t want to feed them on the ground due to the amount that it wastes. We don’t need a huge hay feeder just for two animals either. We will be feeding standard bales of hay, not the round bales. And for that number of animals we would not even be feeding full bales at a time. Is there any recommendations for building a hay feeder for a small number of cows? It could either be free standing or attach to the side of the barn wall. Being new to this we just don’t know what the best thing to do would be. We were hoping to find an easy and affordable plan for constructing a feeder.

Brandie Penningroth
Auburn, Washington

You can easily build a wooden hay feeder, either free standing or fastened to the side of your barn. I have built several myself. I use 2x6s as a frame and 2x4s as the bars. You can either build a feeder that lets only the cows’ muzzles reach the hay or one where their whole head goes into an open stanchion. Obviously, a horned cow/heifer will need the bars farther apart than a dehorned or polled animal if you decide to let the whole head enter the feeder. The feeder should have a solid bottom. I place my 2″ boards about half an inch apart to make sure no water remains trapped in the bottom of the feeder. I also include a roof over the feeder, high enough above it so the cattle’s heads don’t trash it. The roof protects the hay from rain and snow. If you make a free-standing feeder, you’ll want to build four legs out of pressure treated 2×6 lumber so the legs don’t rot in the wet. For the free-standing feeder, think a tall, sturdy “baby crib” with a roof where the cattle reach through to eat the hay you drop in from above. It should be tall enough that they can’t easily reach over the top to grab hay and toss it out onto the ground but short enough you can throw a bale of hay (or part of a bale) into it. After you throw a bale into the feeder, cut the strings or wire and remove it. Hopefully this will give you some ideas. — Jackie

Canning baked beans

I wanted to can some baked beans but wanted to use a tasty recipe. I have the “Ball Blue Book Guide to Preserving,” which has one recipe for Boston Baked beans. I was wondering if you have any good recipes for baked beans that can be canned and what canning process you use. Also, what do I need to be concerned with when trying to determine if a baked bean recipe can be canned?

Robert Parris
Olympia, Washington

Basically about any baked bean recipe can be canned, using the times and pressures recommended for baked beans, but to be safest, make sure your recipe is not REAL thick. It is not recommended to can thick foods such as pureed pumpkin or refried beans as it is possible that the food in the centers of the jars might not get hot enough, long enough, for safe canning. Therefore, if your recipe turns out very thick, thin it a little with water. You would pressure can baked beans at 10 pounds pressure for 80 minutes for pints or 95 minutes for quarts. 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

Snow, snow, snow

Thursday, November 13th, 2014 by Jackie Clay | No Comments »

Luckily, Will and I have about gotten everything wrapped up for winter. He did finally get the stone and concrete slip-form wall poured under the house, next to our walk-out-to-be basement and also the stepped footings for the wall he intends to build next spring, under the south side of our pole-type addition. Even though he has a nasty cold, he worked hard to get that done because after listening to our trusty weather radio, he figured it was his last chance at good, warmer weather.

So he poured. And luckily he did because a couple of days later, our weather turned cold. And is getting colder. By later this week, the lows are going down to the single numbers. Ish!

Yesterday, we woke up to snow. Not as much snow as the folks south of us have been getting, but our first significant snowfall of the year. Brrrr. — Jackie

We just missed the big snow!

Tuesday, November 11th, 2014 by Jackie Clay | 9 Comments »

We listened to the weather radio yesterday morning, cringing when they talked about significant snowfall for our area and south of us. Eek! Luckily, we only got a dusting but Duluth and parts south and east got hammered with 12 to 18 inches of snow.

We knew it was coming and Will and I have been working like mad to get things done ahead of winter. I pulled the last ears of our Glass Gem popcorn and was really happy with the ears (and colors!) we got. We didn’t get a full crop as it was quite late-maturing. Next year I’m planting it farther apart so the stalks get more sunlight. I discovered that the rows on the outside matured faster than those on the inner rows because it’s such a thick-growing corn. But the colors — Wow! Colors I’ve never seen in corn: light blue, pink, mauve, and pastels. We’ll definitely plant it again!


I wrapped up the last of the fruit trees and bushes yesterday. Will salvaged some heavy aluminum screening from an old TV dish so we could wrap the honeyberries and a couple of bush cherries that were too bushy for a regular screen to fit around. It worked great. We had quite a bit of vole damage to our trees last winter so we wanted to make sure the same wouldn’t happen this year. We have a friend whose big apple tree was killed because the voles had totally girdled the trunk. That’s depressing. Some of our orchard trees have grown so much that the white spiral plastic tree guards won’t fit. I used old aluminum window screen instead. We aren’t taking any chances!


I got a whole pork loin on sale at our local store for $1.99 a pound. I roasted it up for dinner, cut into two chunks to fit my roaster. Then the next day I warmed it up and canned what was left from dinner, using the pan drippings with water added for a broth. We got two meals plus three quarts and a pint to add to our pantry. And I also got busy and readied another batch of carrots to go in the canner after the pork came out. I’ve only got one more batch to go plus some rutabagas.

We aren’t hunting deer this fall because winter killed off about half of our local deer herd. Besides, we are butchering a steer and we already have half a pig left in my son’s, freezer. And canned venison down in our basement from last fall. And the meat chickens… We sure don’t need more meat and we feel sorry for the neighboring deer herd and decided to let them rest with plenty of feed (Will’s oats/clover patch!). There’s always next year if we need one. — Jackie

Q and A: canning butter and freezing beef fat for later use

Monday, November 10th, 2014 by Jackie Clay | 3 Comments »

Canning butter

I was wondering if there is a difference between canning regular butter and light butter? I’d like to can some light butter.

Angela Baker
Fraser, Michigan

Wow, I MUST live in the toolies as I’ve never heard of light butter — light margarine but not butter. I believe I’d stick to canning regular butter as I’ve never had any experience canning light butter. Any readers have any other opinions? Remember that canning butter is classified as “experimental” canning, (not USDA approved) as they haven’t done any testing for home canners. However, canned butter IS available commercially.– Jackie

Freezing beef fat for later use

I have a source to get some beef fat from a recently butchered beef. I would like to make some laundry soap. Can I freeze the fat and make the soap at a later date or would it affect the finished product?

Marcia Clupper
South Whitley, Indiana
Yes, you can certainly freeze your beef fat to use later on for soap. I’ve got about 30 pounds of pork fat in my son’s freezer to make lard with when I have more time. Freezing doesn’t affect fat. — Jackie



Copyright © 1998 - Present by Backwoods Home Magazine. All Rights Reserved.