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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
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Heirloom Seeds now available

Tuesday, September 16th, 2014 by Jackie Clay | 9 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

Getting back to “normal” after my trip

Thursday, October 23rd, 2014 by Jackie Clay | 1 Comment »

My head’s kind of spinning after our road trip to Montana. But I have to laugh. Most people pick up souvenirs like mugs or plates from their trips. I brought home a flat rock for Will and two 50-pound sacks of wheat from Wheat Montana, my favorite company that grows and sells wheat. Their deli/store is at the Three Forks, Montana exit off of the freeway and what a huge, awesome place it is! Not only do they sell wheat and other grains, flours, and cereal, but they also have a wonderful deli where they sell sandwiches, sweet rolls (the size of Texas!), and cookies as well as a huge variety of on-site-baked breads featuring their grain. Wow, I’m impressed!


Meanwhile, it’s back to seed saving. I checked out the Hopi Pale Grey squash seeds I harvested the day before I left. They’re drying very nicely but those huge, fat seeds need quite a long drying time, indeed.


Will’s still working hard on getting the concrete/rock work done on the new barn. We know cold weather’s fast approaching and soon it will be too cold to do this work. Today it’s cloudy, windy, and pretty darned nippy out. Brrrr… Welcome home? — Jackie

Q and A: canned applesauce turned brown and canning greens

Wednesday, October 22nd, 2014 by Jackie Clay | No Comments »

Canned applesauce turned brown

I am stumped! Canned Applesauce, like I have done for years, on Sunday, October 12, 124 quarts! Had to be out of state till October 19, one week. Today I am taking off the rings and washing the jars to put in the cellar. About half of the jars have darkened about a quarter of the way down from the top. The jars are sealed! The taste is the same. We used the same kind of apples from the same orchard. What could be causing this darkness to grow down the sauce? I pressured all jars the same as always, 5 lbs for 10 minutes. What could be wrong?

Debbie Kinzer
Salem, South Carolina

Often darkening is caused from air bubbles being trapped in the applesauce. This would be my best guess. Often when we get in a hurry, we skip the “remove air bubbles” step, figuring we don’t see any so what the heck. I wouldn’t worry about this but next time, remove air bubbles with a chopstick or wooden spoon handle. It happens more often in quarts than pints. — Jackie

Canning greens

This is a two part question. You have touched on the first part on answers to others but I am going to re-phrase it again as it might be part of the second question. We grew a great crop of greens this year (no aphids) so I thought I would can about a dozen quarts. It had been quite a few years since I had canned greens so I was very careful with my process (as usual). I waited till the steam cleared (about 5+ min) before placing the weight on the pot (10lb.) I waited till the weight started jiggling, then slowly turned down the heat till it was jiggling every 5 sec or so. Then removed the top after the pressure had neutralized. The greens were wet but there was very little water in the jars. I processed the jars for 1 hour and 30 minutes. I don’t remember that much water being blown out of the jars. Second question. We use an old Mirro canner. 30 years I guess. So old the bottom is no longer flat. It has never let us down. Don’t love the idea of spending the money but I will buy the All American you suggest if you think the old Mirro has just worn out. It has a new gasket.

Duncan Murrow
Valdese, North Carolina

Two common reasons you lose liquid out of jars are: the pressure varied during the processing and there were air bubbles in the liquid, trapped before putting the lids on the jars. Do be sure that steam vents strongly (a steady stream of steam) for 5-10 minutes before putting the weight on. It will vent faster when very hot food has been packed rather than say raw corn with boiling water poured in the jars, which results in a lukewarm batch of jars to heat up.

If the bottom of your canner is pitted, it is usually fine. But if it’s gotten warped (usually from insufficient water having boiled dry during canning), it’s time to replace it. — Jackie

We’re back from our whirlwind trip to Montana

Tuesday, October 21st, 2014 by Jackie Clay | 8 Comments »

My oldest son, Bill, and his family drove with me out to Montana to pick up my adopted son, Javid. We took their motor home and it was sure convenient to be able to sleep and eat in our motel on wheels! My grandkids, Mason and Ava, rode in their car seats, seatbelted on seats facing the table so they could snack and watch movies on a dvd player while bored. They were VERY good on the trip!

We drove all night to get to Montana and the trip took 24 hours. Whew. Luckily the seats were comfortable — no petrified butts! We stopped at the nursing home and arranged things and signed a bunch of papers then went out to eat. We camped at Canyon Ferry Lake Campground overnight which was a whole lot nicer than camping in the Walmart parking lot. Because I have a senior passport to National and State forest campgrounds, it only cost $5 and was well worth it. We had a great sleep then explored the beach in the morning and skipped rocks.


The next morning, we picked up our reserved U-Haul trailer in Helena then went to the building where Javid’s things were stored. Luckily we had lots of help loading and were done in less than half an hour. Again, we visited with Javid and loaded a few of his boxes from the nursing home. Then, to make the trip more fun for the kids and Kelly, we drove over Rattlesnake Pass to the frontage road along Prickly Pear Creek towards where we used to live, north of Wolf Creek. We stopped at a fishing access where I used to fish and Mason loved the old train trestle over the creek. Then we stopped at Wolf Creek for a little gas and on to another fishing access on the Missouri River where we watched fishing boats go down the river. (The upper Missouri is one of the premier trout destinations in the whole country and fisherfolk from all over come there to fish.) We ended up going up the very steep and long McDonald Pass out of Helena to a campground Bill had located. (I’d told him it was NOT my favorite pass and he agreed later after climbing it at 30 mph toward the top!) Beautiful campground though and we were the only ones up there.


The next morning, we got Javid carried into the camper on a blanket and made comfortable on the back bed and took off for Minnesota. By then Bill and I were really tired but we changed off driving and, with a two-hour nap at a truck stop, we made it back in 22 hours. No touristing on that end of the trip!


Javid is now temporarily installed in the Fitzgerald Nursing Home and Rehab, in Eveleth and we are moving forward. I have a ton of paperwork to fill out to start his medical assistance. But once approved, he will be able to move to an assisted living apartment and be another step closer to living on his own again. It’s been a long haul but we’re glad we’re making progress! And I’m SO glad to be back home again even though I sure do miss Montana! — Jackie

Fall baby goats are arriving

Friday, October 17th, 2014 by Jackie Clay | 13 Comments »

We bred some of our does to freshen in the fall instead of the spring and the babies are just arriving. Recently, our doe, Clown, delivered twins, a doe and a buckling. The doeling was so big I had to help pull her into the world. The buck is the smaller guy. Go figure. Both are doing well and starting to explore the goat shed.


We’ve been hearing a lot of coyotes lately. For the first few years, they were very scarce, but lately, there have been a lot more. Our dogs, Spencer and Hondo, are very watchful and let the critters know in no uncertain terms that they are to stay in the woods! Hondo, especially, watches everything. He even watches airplanes and birds fly by. In fact, he is so watchful that he hopped up on top of our old Festiva’s roof to sit and survey the surrounding area! (I’m glad he chose the old car, not our Subaru!)


The other day I was watering our big steers and heard a noise above me. It was Hondo, up ON THE ROOF OF OUR STOCK TRAILER, watching the pasture below! Will says he had even climbed up on the hay bales and hopped into the loft of the new barn so he could watch the pasture. Now THAT’S a watchdog! — Jackie

The sun’s out and we’re making use of the nice day

Wednesday, October 15th, 2014 by Jackie Clay | 5 Comments »

After a day’s worth of cold, nasty weather, we were real happy to see the sun this morning. It was gorgeous, seeing the fog lifting from the creek, ponds, and the plowed field. Will’s been working alternately on the barn’s stonework and getting ready to do more under our house where our future walkout will be. He’s been digging and digging, as we have great plans for that (usually) boring walkout.

We’re putting in stepped flower beds with mixed slipform rockwork and landscaping blocks under the house which will hold back the side hills. On the outside it’ll be the same with nice flower beds. When done, the effect will be a combination Northwoods and Italian vineyard as I’m planting grapes next to the house that will climb trellises and cross over the entrance to the walkout and go up to climb on the railing of our upper deck.

Of course, the under-the-house flower beds will be quite shady, even if facing south. But I’m going to try hostas and see how that works. With a drip irrigation system runnning off our big irrigation system, it should be pretty and quite labor-free. It will be a nice, shady place to sit in the afternoons and we can look out onto the beaver pond. And we will be able to walk in and out of the basement easily. No more carrying buckets of potatoes, carrots, and onions down the basement stairs! (Of course, we won’t get the door cut in till maybe next year…)

We carried in more squash, pumpkins, and Painted Mountain corn, depositing it on the inside floor of our greenhouse/sunroom. It’s SO pretty I hate to use any of it!

I’m leaving for Montana so pray we have a good trip! And that Will has no problems here on the homestead without his wonderful donkey-catcher wife home to help. — Jackie

Q and A: dehydrated oatmeal, canning sweet chili sauce, canning spaghetti sauce, and Sweet Dumpling squash

Tuesday, October 14th, 2014 by Jackie Clay | 5 Comments »

Dehydrated oatmeal

I recently saw an ad for dehydrated oatmeal. Is oatmeal that I purchase from the grocery requiring a dehydration process to long-term store them? I had vacuum sealed some but left others in the store package. Any advice?


OMG, another marketing ploy! Plain old oatmeal is fine for long term storage. Oatmeal is dry or “dehydrated” already, needing no more treatment to store. And it stores for years and years! — Jackie

Canning sweet chili sauce

Here I am asking for help once again. I found this Chili recipe for sweet Thai chili sauce and it is so easy to make and good I would like to can it.

2 fresno chilis
2 Thai chilis
2 cloves garlic
3/4 cup water
1/4 rice wine vinegar or white vinegar
1/2 Tbsp. salt
1/2 cup sugar (I used splenda)

After cooking this to thickening use 1 Tbsp. cornstarch 2 tbsp water mix then add to sauce. I got this from

Sherry Englehart
Lancaster, California

Boy, that sounds good! But search as I might, I can’t find anything similar in the “recommended” for canning archives. It’s so different. I would think that it would water bath for 15 minutes okay, but I sure can’t recommend doing so (and in this case I would use sugar, not Splenda for its preserving qualities) since you add 3/4 cup of water to the vinegar and you do have cornstarch, although not enough to make such a thick sauce as would be unsafe for canning. Sorry. — Jackie

Canning spaghetti sauce

Your spaghetti sauce with meat recipe calls for 30 lbs of tomatoes. I know it is sacrilege to ask, but since we do not have the space to grow enough tomatoes and store bought are running $1 a pound, can a quality precanned sauce be substituted? I can get #10 cans for approx $2.50 each and would substitute at one quart sauce for every 5 lbs of tomatoes. Would it also be possible to substitute Italian sausage for the ground beef? We are trying as many different recipes to cut cost in preparation for retirement.

Ken W.
Killeen, Texas

You’d be better using sauce in #10 cans rather than store tomatoes as store tomatoes taste awful and it doesn’t improve in sauce. Not to mention the COST! Use the sauce as if it were freshly made when canning, using the correct time and pressure. Yes, you can substitute Italian sausage for the ground beef but you might use a little less due to the seasoning. You are very wise to prepare so well for retirement. And you’ll eat pretty darned good too! — Jackie

Sweet Dumpling squash

Do you think I could store not-quite-ripe Sweet Dumpling squash? I cooked a couple the other night and they aren’t quite ready but I’m nervous about leaving them too much longer in the garden.

Virginia Gardner
Earlysville, Virginia
Yes, you can store them, but Sweet Dumplings really aren’t a long-term storage squash. They will store best at room temperature, not in a root cellar or basement where it’s cooler. Leave them out until temps fall into the 30 degree range at night as they’ll continue to ripen even when the leaves have been frosted. — Jackie

Fall rains have begun

Monday, October 13th, 2014 by Jackie Clay | 4 Comments »

After several nice, sunny days with temps in the high fifties and even sixty yesterday, we woke up to rain. Yuck. But we had a nice week, last week. We even got to visit two different friends. The first visit was to Mike and Dara’s homestead. They are as dedicated homesteaders as we are, also having several large gardens. We took “the tour” and saw all they had been doing this fall, then sipped coffee and cocoa and talked seeds and crops. Dara gave me some of her Painted Mountain corn which she’d hung in ropes to dry as a room divider. It’s gorgeous! We both love Painted Mountain as it not only is beautiful and makes tasty cornmeal, but actually dries down in northern Minnesota. Their carrots didn’t do so well this year but their rutabagas sure did. So we traded two buckets of our carrots for some rutabagas, which I didn’t plant this year. Dara also gave us a Marina Di Chioggia squash and a beautiful squash that was a cross between Marina Di Chioggia and Hopi Pale Grey. It’s unusual because it’s orange, smooth skinned with ribs lined in green, and the Marina “turban” on the blossom end. If it tastes good, we’re going to save seed and see if we can breed a stabilized version of it that will reproduce true. How fun!


Saturday, we were invited to another friend’s family farm near Cook, Minnesota (Jan) to help her and her sister (Bette) start to develop a plan to rehabilitate the farm which had been mainly empty for several years. We discovered a row of asparagus in the overgrown garden, found rhubarb and wild plums in several spots, and figured out how we could help the historical place. Jan and Bette fed us a wonderful meal, which we didn’t expect, and we got to look at old family farm photos and tour the solid buildings finding history in each one. Jan had found some of her grandfather’s ears of corn in a box which she thought were sweet corn he’d grown at the farm. She gave us a dozen kernels which we brought home to see if I could germinate. It’d be great if the corn was still viable and we could develop a population of that old corn!

Yesterday morning, one of our doe goats had triplets. Unfortunately, she totally ignores them and won’t let them nurse. Eeek! I’m leaving on Wednesday to go with my oldest son, Bill, and his family, in their motorhome, to pick up my adopted son, Javid, in Montana. I sure hate to leave Will with three bottle babies, but that’s the way it looks. I bought a fifty-pound sack of doe milk replacer this morning. (I WON’T tell you what I paid!) But kid goats don’t do well on calf milk replacer and Homestead Mills didn’t have any lamb milk replacer.


Our front porch looks like, well, what it is: a seed saving area. It’s full of squash, pumpkins, baskets of tomatoes, etc. On nice days I work out there as it’s a messy job and I’d rather squirt tomato “guts” on the porch floor instead of our kitchen floor! The rain washes it away. Will was working there yesterday while I cut up Hopi Pale Grey squash for their seeds. He was husking our Painted Mountain corn so we could bring it inside to finish drying. We were happy with the harvest from our new cornfield/pumpkin patch. With all its problems (infertile soil, 17 inches of rain at one time, white clay, etc.), it still produced and the deer didn’t eat it.


Now Will’s hauling tons of composted cow and horse manure out to that two-acre patch, which he plowed. So far he figures he’s put around 200 tons on it. Wow, now that’s “Mo’ poo poo!” But we know it’ll really produce next year. Over winter we’ll be buying a roll of 6′ 2″x4″ welded wire, which comes in 50′ rolls, so when spring comes, we can fence it (at least mostly), to keep the deer out. This year they ate all our pumpkins and squash. Oh well, we did get to keep our corn! — Jackie

Winter’s just around the corner

Thursday, October 9th, 2014 by Jackie Clay | 6 Comments »

We had ice on the animals’ watering tanks this morning. Brrrrr.


Will’s been trimming dead trees that hang over the driveway and will cause trouble this winter when we plow snow. Luckily, a lot of it is birch which makes great firewood. Yesterday he cut up a trailer load and this morning while it was still very crisp out, he began stacking it in our wood shed. The dogs must have been cold too because they started picking up wood and following him in the shed! Unasked. But after awhile, Spencer started picking up wood and heading for the house. I opened the door and he dropped it in the woodbox and headed back outside. He repeated this four times, until Will had stopped carrying wood (or Spencer got tired). Who says animals are dumb? They know wood makes fire and fire makes doggies toasty warm when they lie in front of it!



I’m jumping through hoops, trying to get things arranged to get my adopted son, Javid, back to Minnesota from Montana. Because he’s physically handicapped, he is on SSI and MA in Montana. And to come here, they can’t simply transfer his MA. He has to reapply here in Minnesota. After he’s been in the state 24 hrs. Then it takes up to a month (or so) to be approved. Then he has to apply for a CADI waiver so the state will help with his housing/care expenses. That takes another (long) period to wait. And he can’t go into an assisted living apartment until he is approved for both. The only out is to transfer him from the nursing home he’s currently in, recovering from surgery on a pressure sore, to another nursing home in Minnesota. But I had one heck of a time even arranging that! Seems that some nursing homes require $5,000 up front for the first month’s rent in case the person is not approved for state help. $5,000 a month!

However, I think I’ve found a small facility fairly close (25 miles) that hopefully will take him, temporarily, until the paperwork is done. And they have an opening. (Seems like most nursing homes in our area are full!) Whew! All this makes me tired!

We’re trying to get this done so we can get Javid moved here before we have to travel across North Dakota in a blizzard.

Meanwhile, while I’m waiting for phone calls, I’m continuing seeding tomatoes, pumpkins, and squash. (If you’ve ordered seeds recently, which include Hopi Pale Grey squash, I know your order is late but I want to be sure your seeds are dry as they are very “fresh”! I don’t want them to mold.) — Jackie



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