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
 Where We Live
 Dave on Twitter
Retired Blogs
 Behind The Scenes
 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
 Meet The Staff
 Contact Us/
 Change of Address
 Write For BHM
 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

Hey guys, guess what? I have a new book out!

Wednesday, April 9th, 2014 by Jackie Clay | 7 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.

Jackie’s June Homesteading Seminar

Tuesday, February 18th, 2014 by Jackie Clay | 6 Comments »
We’re planning our spring homesteading seminar and are ready to take deposits.

This seminar should be a great one, covering such topics as homestead building (including helping do some slip form concrete and rock work on our new barn), getting more harvest from more difficult garden crops, veterinary care for your animals, and much more.

The seminar will be June 6-8th, 2014 here at our homestead. We’d love to have you come!

Click here to see our brochure. (PDF)

– Jackie

Spring is finally here

Thursday, April 24th, 2014 by Jackie Clay | 1 Comment »


Although we’re scheduled for more snow, the ground is pretty much thawed and it feels like spring. And FINALLY our water line from the well is thawed out. Hooray! We’re definitely doing some work to prevent that from happening again even though it was the coldest winter in all Minnesota history.

I’ve been continuing transplanting, now working on my Pink Wave petunias while my late tomatoes continue growing. And in the garden, our cherry trees have swelling buds and the rhubarb is popping up out of the ground with cone-shaped red noses and small crinkled green leaves. It feels SO good! Yesterday I cleaned out one of my front flower beds, digging a few clumps of nettles and grass so at least we’ll start with a clean bed. I also planted several packs of sweet peas. It seems like I always wait until too late and they don’t do so well, becoming overwhelmed by peonies and delphiniums as the weather warms. (Sweet peas should be planted as soon as you can work the soil.) A few years back I had magnificent sweet peas all over the yard, on the pallet fence, across the front of the house, and here and there, climbing on wire and strings. WOW! I want that again.


I’m simmering up ham to can (again) and the pantry will be fatter soon.

Will’s busy repairing our big field disc so when the ground is ready he can disc up our new hay-field-to-be in preparation for seeding it in. We’re also planting a few acres in sweet corn, pumpkins, and squash so he’ll be discing that up too. Then there’s the hay fields we rent that need parts plowed (weather and rain permitting), fertilized, and re-planted. Always so much to do, come real spring.

Yesterday I spoke at the Northern Minnesota Hospital Auxiliary meeting in the city of Virginia, Minnesota. My subject was gardening and that was very well received by a packed auditorium. Of course, there were dozens and dozens of questions following my presentation. I’m tickled that so many folks are once again turning to gardening, some after years of abstinence. It seems like people all over are sick of food from Mexico, China, Brazil, and other foreign countries that still use very toxic agricultural chemicals. These chemicals are perfectly legal there but are banned in the U.S., where they are still made and then sold out of the country.

We ordered a few fruit trees from Fedco and St. Lawrence Nurseries so will soon be planting. I’ll try a shovel in the orchard this afternoon and see how that goes. Sigh. I wish I were twins! — Jackie

Q and A: buying greenhouse products, pickled peppers, and confusing goat birth

Wednesday, April 23rd, 2014 by Jackie Clay | No Comments »

Buying greenhouse products

I read your blog a few nights ago, about buying flats, and wanted to pass on some info on where I buy flats and also the sheets of packs. I at one time had a greenhouse and garden center business, and I bought wholesale from BWI, Inc. Since I sold out and retired almost 10 years ago, and moved to the Ozark Mountains, I had to find a supplier for growing my own plants. I had local greenhouses that ordered for me, but I was paying thru the nose! I found a place recently to order from. It’s Greenhouse Mega Store, and since I was running out of the packs and flats I had saved from my business, I ordered a case of 1020 Daisy Flats–50 flats per bundle or case. I also ordered a case of 100 sheets of 606 deep cell packs, which means 6 packs per sheet and each pack has 6 cells and they are deeper than regular packs. I paid $37.00 for the 50 flats which were 74 cents each, and I paid $65.00 for the 100 sheets of 606 deep cell packs. The Mega Store is located in Danville, IL. When I got my order a week after ordering, I was so pleased with my order! The packs and Flats were made in Clearwater, MN and were so much better than the ones I had bought wholesale for years! The packs were much thicker, and the flats were not at all flimsy! I put my packs in the new flats, filled them with potting medium, and the 1020 daisy flats would fit inside the solid flats to soak up the water. I have several of the solid flats that I use strictly for wetting the planting medium or seed sowing medium.
Now, the manufacturer of the packs and flats is T.O. Plastics, 830 County Rd. 75, Clearwater, MN 55320. I don’t know if this is close to where you live, but you may contact them and see if you can buy directly from them. I had to pay shipping on 46.6 pounds, and the box was shipped UPS. The cost from Danville, IL to me was $16.45, so it did add to the cost, but I was so pleased with the quality, I’ll order again! I just wanted to let you know about this Greenhouse Mega Store, and the quality of their packs and flats. You can order the flats in a bundle of 10, but I know you are using lots of flats, so it’s a better deal to get the 50, and stacked, they take up very little room.
Carolyn Barr

Thanks so much for the info Carolyn. I’m sure other readers will be tickled with this source just like I am. I know I’ll be ordering for sure! — Jackie

Pickled peppers

I love the crunchy pickled peppers that you can get at a sub shop. I have tried for the last 5 years to can banana peppers and they have turned out mushy each year. This past year I did them by heating up the vinegar and garlic and I did them the old way, no canner. Any ideas, different peppers, different vinegar formula? I look forward to hearing your ideas!

Robin Novotny
Ironton, Minnesota

The “old way” is the only way you can get crisp pickled peppers. I’ve done it myself. However, the experts say we’re not safe doing it that way but I must say I don’t know of any organisms that can live in vinegar that would harm a person. — Jackie

Confusing goat birth

One of my does had twins this AM–nothing unusual about that, BUT, she had a single birth 7 weeks ago.
Is this at all possible, or have I seriously lost track of my goats and what they are doing. I write each birth on the calender with the momma’s name, and double checked after finding the new kids with her this morning.
Bangs, Texas

While nothing is impossible, I’d say that you got the wrong mom with the first kid. Hey, it happens! I’ve had goats for fifty years and have been a vet tech for 20 years and I’ve never heard of a doe giving birth to a non-premie baby then delivering normal twins seven weeks later. Did you have another doe that kidded 7 weeks ago, maybe with twins? If they were in the same pen, maybe the one twin bonded with the wrong mom or if they were in different pens, could it have gotten out of the one pen and into the other? Was there normal after-birthing discharge on the “mom’s” vulva and tail after the first “delivery?” Sometimes we just don’t notice. Hopefully, all’s well and this may remain a mystery. If the kids are doing well, I wouldn’t worry about it too much. — Jackie

Q and A: storing peanuts, canning ham, and jars still bubbling after canning

Tuesday, April 22nd, 2014 by Jackie Clay | 2 Comments »

Storing peanuts

I would like to store peanuts for long term use. Should I open the jars and oven can them? If so, using what procedure?
I also had vacuum sealed raisins and prunes that I got on “buy 1, get 1″ sale last year. Would it be better to leave them in the store containers? Someone mentioned that these do NOT store for very long.

Judith Almand
Brandon, Florida

If the peanuts are already in vacuum-packed jars just store them as they are. Otherwise can the peanuts just as you do all nuts. Shell them and lay out on a cookie sheet in a single layer. Toast in the oven until hot, stirring so they don’t scorch a couple of times on your lowest oven setting. Pack into hot, dry jars, place hot, previously simmered lids on jars. I wipe mine off with a clean dish towel to eliminate any moisture, then turn the rings firmly tight. Process at 5 pounds pressure for 10 minutes. I gave up water bathing my nuts because they float and you have to weight down the jars which is a big pain in the you-know-what.

I have stored both raisins and prunes for several years leaving them in the store bags and packing them in an airtight container in my pantry. — Jackie

Canning ham

I got a couple of Easter hams on sale and canned them. In the past when I canned ham it turned out looking just like pinkish ham. This time they look a dark brown with a brownish liquid. I canned them the same way as in the past. Could you tell me why they are looking so dark and not like ham at all?

Shirley Toney
Liberty, Mississippi

I think it’s the brine the hams were soaked in before smoking. Some have more brown sugar/maple or smoked flavoring, both of which kind of dye the meat. I’ve had this happen too and the meat’s just fine. — Jackie

Jars still bubbling after canning

I just finished washing the jars after canning ham. All 12 pints initially sealed and they were fairly cool to touch. After removing the lids and washing them, I noticed that 4 jars looked like they were boiling/ had air bubbles coming up to the top of the jar. Are they coming unsealed? I had at least 1 inch or more headspace in all the jars and the hams were very lean.

I now have the bones broken in half in quart jars, plus 3 more smaller jars for beans started in the canner. Not too bad after feeding 4 people plus leftovers for the week for both households on $24. I am fairly certain my husband will be making a pot of beans either this week or next too.

Julia C.
Gardnerville, Nevada

I don’t wash my jars until they are cool to the touch. But the boiling is very normal for broth and meat canned in broth. It doesn’t mean the jars are coming unsealed, just that the liquid is still plenty hot.

I’m canning ham, too. I got two hams for .88 a pound and another that we had for Easter dinner. So I’m canning ham dices and chunks then tomorrow I’ll be canning bean soup and baked beans with ham flavoring. Even though we raise pigs to butcher, I’m a sucker for those on-sale hams and we sure get a lot of meals out of one ham, just like you do. — Jackie

It was sixty degrees and sunny for Easter

Monday, April 21st, 2014 by Jackie Clay | 5 Comments »

All we could think was … FINALLY! My sons, Bill (and his family) and David, were here for Easter dinner and we all ate too much. Then we sat out on our new front porch and enjoyed the warm day. After hiking around the place showing all of the new improvements to Bill and Kelly, we again hit the porch visiting and watching David and grandchildren, Ava and Mason, roll balls back and forth on the ramp and blowing bubbles that carried away in the breeze. With all of the gadget toys, it seems like today’s kids still love balls and bubbles.

Will’s busy digging under our addition, preparing to enclose the base with cement and rock, using slip form construction. This will be like the front porch with the rock work just adding a decorative and moderately supportive touch under the walls of our pole-built addition, keeping the brutal winter winds out. Today he’s digging out for footings, carefully saving all large rocks he runs across to add in the walls. He also installed extra insulation board under the floor and is getting ready to lay down a vapor barrier on the soil, raking the area smooth. This will keep any vapor from the ground from transferring to the floor joists of the addition, eventually rotting and weakening them.


Saturday, he dug out next to the foundation on the walk-out, south side of our house and installed two-inch insulation board all the way up to the sill plate with pressure-treated plywood over that. We just have a few more feet of basement wall left to go and the basement will be warmer in the winter. That means less firewood needed to keep the house warmer! Even this last winter, which was the coldest overall on record (90 days straight below zero!), our unheated basement never got below 40 degrees. And our potatoes are solid and juicy as can be with no sprouting, as are our onions. Perfect!

I’m still waiting for hummingbirds and Baltimore Orioles. I added new orange halves to the Oriole feeder — just in case. I don’t want to miss those beautiful birds! I’ve got to rake the now-snow-free front yard. We have plenty of doggie “mines” out there. Yuck! But after I get that done, I’m off to can ham. I got two hams on sale for .88 a pound plus the one we had for Easter. That translates into half pints of ham dices, pints of ham chunks, and lots of bean soup and baked beans with ham to be canned up shortly. Mmmmmmm.


Just a note: We still have several spaces left for our June homesteading seminar so if you’d like to come, we do have room. Click on the box above for complete information. We’d love to have you join us! — Jackie

Another cold snap lets me work inside this week

Thursday, April 17th, 2014 by Jackie Clay | 12 Comments »

Our temperature dived way down to a low of 7 degrees! Not fun to work outside so I did a lot of transplanting; seven flats worth of tomatoes and four flats of peppers. Boy, does that get my back but in just a few days the tomatoes have shot up and gotten nice and stocky.

I received my order from Sand Hill Preservation Center and planted more tomatoes, which are just coming up. They’ll be a little later but they’ll still be ready to set out in late May (in Wall o’ Waters). And I’ll have more than 27 seed varieties to offer next year.

Singing-tomatoes Sand-Hill-seeds

Will put new chains on the big round baler. He kept breaking chains last summer during haying and that was a huge pain. They’re heavy and hard to thread. (They’re the big chains that drive the bars that make the bales in the bale chamber.) He later found out that someone had replaced the heavier links of the 851 baler chain with those of an 850, which are much lighter weight. Once that was done, he took the weed burner and burned our asparagus patches to get rid of the long dead grass and weeds. It looks so much better already!

Today I went out and refastened the chicken wire to the cattle panels next to the old cow corral. My chickens were escaping and running free. Soon they’ll be in my flower beds scratching dust wallows, then they’ll get in the garden and start pecking at peas, etc. I’ll catch them off their roosts in the goat barn tonight and clip the feathers on their wings, just in case I have some flyers in the bunch.

Will disassembled our three hoop houses. He’s going to build two 12′ x 32′ houses instead of the three 12′ x 16′ ones we have now, putting 6 mil greenhouse plastic on, which is guaranteed for four years. We had ripping during bad winds last year. That’ll be fun having more hoop house space!

I wish each of you a very blessed and joyous Easter! And don’t forget to can up that leftover ham and make bean soup from the bone. — Jackie

After two months with a frozen water line, we have water!

Tuesday, April 15th, 2014 by Jackie Clay | 8 Comments »

But our water line is still frozen. How can that be? My inventive husband saw that our spring catchment basin was nearly unfrozen and the water was pristine. Hmmmm. So he had me haul hoses and he connected up our irrigation pump to the intake pipe in the basin. The far end of the hose went into our basement storage tanks. A few pulls on the starter rope and we were in business. We did add bleach to our storage tanks … just to be safe. (I’m still hauling drinking/cooking water from the Idington spring.)

However, we were nearly out of propane after ordering and prepaying for it over a week ago. We dearly wanted a long, hot shower after minimal battery-operated showers and “bird-baths.” I wondered out loud if we couldn’t hook one of our 20# LP tanks to the water heater. Will took it from there and did just that! We each had a wonderful long, hot shower! Ahhhh. Less trips to the spring and being able to flush the toilet more normally. Hooray!

And now we have 600 gallons of spring water in our storage tanks with the ability to refill them on above freezing days. Wow! Waiting for the water line to thaw isn’t so important now.


We’ve hit another cold spell with highs in the high twenties and low low thirties so we’re still burning wood in the living room and kitchen. (With scarcely any propane, I’m cooking on the wood stove.) Hauling wood in is still a pretty much daily chore. Spencer helps by carrying in wood and lately, Will has gotten Hondo to bring in wood too. Both dogs are so proud to carry “their” own wood in, bouncing and dancing around us for praise. Spencer even drops his in the wood box. — Jackie

Q and A: making cheese, introducing new chickens to the flock, and canning sausage

Saturday, April 12th, 2014 by Jackie Clay | No Comments »

Making cheese

Upon moving to the country and starting up our farmstead, I went ahead and purchased some cheese making equipment and a book. Problem is, the book is a big manual, and it gets very technical. I finally have goat milk, but I am too intimidated by the manual, and many of the recipes call for many gallons of milk. Can you recommend a good book for me that has simple recipes to follow for making cheeses with goats’ milk (small quantities – 1-2 gallons at most, easy to follow, not too many fancy utensils)?

Carrie Timlin
Scott Township, Pennsylvania

Cheese making is very easy and fun to learn. Two very beginner-friendly books I’ve used for years are Ricki Carroll’s book, Home Cheesemaking, which is available through Backwoods Home Magazine and Goats Produce Too by Mary Jane Toth which is also available through Backwoods Home Magazine). I have both and use them often. — Jackie

Introducing new chicken to the flock

I sprayed my fruit trees with Surround today and hope it helps. Thank you for your advice. I intend to spray again after flowering.

I have another question regarding my chickens. I have 4 one-year-old hens and 26 two-week-old chicks. How and when do I introduce the 26 chicks to the hens? Right now the four hens are in the 10 x 14 coop and the chicks are in the basement. There is a 16 x16 fenced-in area adjacent to the coop that the four hens use during the day.

Deborah Motylinski
Cadiz, Ohio

I’d shut the hens in their run during the day and pen the chicks in a smaller portable run next to them all day so they get used to each other. Then in the evening, bring the hens in and then introduce the chicks in the coop with them. There should be a little squawking and pecking but nothing serious. Monitor them for awhile, just to be sure. Usually, come morning, everything is fine. — Jackie

Canning sausage

Would I be able to can the small pre-cooked breakfast sausages from the store? They are my husband’s favorites.

Judith Almand
Brandon, Florida

Yes, you can. But I’d advise doing a small batch then trying them to see if you and your husband like the result. That’s a good idea with any new recipe you try to can. Some folks love them; others not so much. — Jackie

Q and A: canning apple cider syrup and starlings and blackbirds

Friday, April 11th, 2014 by Jackie Clay | 6 Comments »

Canning apple cider syrup

You provided information about canning apple molasses today. Does the apple cider need to be fresh, or can I use apple juice from the store? I have never heard of apple cider syrup — sounds awfully good!

Judith Almand
Brandon, Florida

You should really use fresh apple cider (never brought to a boil which would make it juice, not cider). Apple cider syrup is not new but it is a newly-discovered treat for many folks. You don’t harvest a lot of syrup from a gallon of cider, less than 1/7th of a gallon, which is why many modern folks don’t do it. But when you have lots of fresh apple cider, boy, is it good! — Jackie

Starlings and blackbirds

Job losses now totaling two, involving wife and me (52nd year anniversary on June 15th) and one of our sons. Anticipating hard, hard time just ahead, and in spite of limited gardening again this year being done in restricted space (front yard here in town) and as health problems intermittently allow … and the resulting ability to provide food, we are seeking any suggestions as to palatable recipes for wild bird. We have an abundance at the moment of Starlings and Black Birds and pellet rifles to harvest them when that becomes nearly our only meat source. Your advice will therefore be very much appreciated. (Wife is a stroke victim with brain/memory damage — but I have always cooked.) When “push comes to shove,” we have a small wood stove/heater and firewood, having anticipated the loss of being able to afford the luxury of natural gas and electricity.

James & Frances Wyatt,
Cleveland, Tennessee

Barring the legality of shooting “song” birds (starlings and blackbirds are not usually protected but I’d check first), I do know that blackbirds are very tasty. I’m not so sure about starlings as I’ve never eaten them. A long time ago, on my first homestead, an elderly Russian couple had a weekend cabin across the road from me. They had a beautiful garden. In the fall, I’d hunt pheasants nearly every day after work as I wasn’t making big wages as a vet tech back then. The woman stopped me at my mailbox one afternoon and asked me to please come shoot those birds as they were eating her garden up. I grabbed a handful of shells and my shotgun and walked across the road. There were hundreds of blackbirds in the trees all around her garden. I used up my shells with blackbirds raining out of the trees. The rest left. She hurried around, gathering up blackbirds in her apron front. “You come for dinner, ya?” she asked. And I did. Proudly, she brought out a roasting pan full of little, golden brown birds, looking like mini-chickens. Yep, the blackbirds! Well, I was too polite to refuse and ate two of them and went back for seconds. They were really pretty good!
So I’d say that any way you’d cook chicken would sure work for their little cousins.

Don’t forget about harvesting wild greens too. Lamb’s quarter, red-rooted pig weed and young nettles are all very good substitutes for spinach and young, tender cattail stalks, pulled from the plant (eat the white bottom), tastes just like cucumbers.

And go fishing real often! I used to every evening and it sure helped feed me.

All the best of luck. If you have anything I can help you out with, please ask (questions, garden seeds). — Jackie



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