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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

New Listing of Heirloom Seeds on Jackie & Will’s new website

Monday, December 15th, 2014 by Jackie | 2 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]

The Northern Plains Sustainable Agriculture Conference was a big success

Monday, January 26th, 2015 by Jackie Clay | No Comments »


I flew down to Aberdeen, South Dakota, on Wednesday afternoon as my first workshop was on Thursday. It was an all-afternoon session on gardening and canning. I’m always amazed at how many folks have similar interests! There were hundreds of people attending the conference, many more than in years past. And my workshops were very lively and pretty full. People asked dozens of good questions and we had intense sessions.

My second workshop was on canning mixed foods and the third was on canning meat, poultry, and fish. The final workshop was on Saturday morning — growing fruit for cold climates. That one was filled to overflowing and folks were standing in the hallway, listening.

Now I’m playing catch-up! Will and I went to town Sunday and bought the last four kitchen cabinets for our house. Wow! Now all that’s left is the center island where all the food preparation takes place and we’ll be done. That’s D-O-N-E!

We spent until 11 p.m. last night filling the seed orders that arrived on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, while I was gone and I took a big bag to the post office this morning.

I’m feeling relatively caught up now. So it’s back to “normal” (if I know what that is …) Whew. I’m so glad to be home. — Jackie

What do you get when you cross a Hopi Pale Grey and a Marina Di Chioggia squash?

Thursday, January 22nd, 2015 by Jackie Clay | 9 Comments »

Nothing like you’d imagine! Hopi Pale Grey is football shaped with a “belly button” on the blossom end. Marina Di Chioggia is pumpkin shaped, dark green and warted. My friend grew the two C. maximas, which crossed and resulted in a plant that produced nine unusual orange w/green squash with a big “belly button.” We both kept a squash, then this week, we tried baking them. They were quite good. So we saved our seeds and will play around with them this spring and see if we can stabilize the characteristics such as taste and color, creating a “new” squash of our own. What fun!

Monday, a UPS truck came rolling into the yard and the driver handed me a flat box. I had not ordered anything so was puzzled. On opening it, I was surprised to see two copies of my Western, Summer of the Eagles. They were proof copies for Will and me to check over for mistakes before the real deal hits the presses. We were pretty excited to see what the (nearly) finished package would look like. So we’ve been busy editing for mistakes (typos, etc.) and finding just a few. Soon it’ll be ready for the presses to run! How cool is that?

I’m getting ready to fly to Aberdeen, South Dakota, early Thursday morning. Whew! Canning when I get back will seem like a vacation! Hope to see some of you there. Come up and say hi! — Jackie

Q and A: using dried apricots for jam, canning bacon, and canning ground beef

Wednesday, January 21st, 2015 by Jackie Clay | 1 Comment »

Using dried apricots for jam

I have a number of bags of dried apricots that I’d like to turn into jam. Should I rehydrate them, then chop and measure for my recipe? Tried just chopping them in the food processor but that didn’t work very well. Thought I’d ask for your advice (oh wise one!)

Wendy Hause
Gregory, Michigan

Yep, rehydrating works a lot better than trying to make jam from dehydrated apricots. Rehydrate, then drain well, chop, and measure. You’ll be good to go. Wise one? I’d better let you talk to Will…

Canning bacon

I have wanted to can bacon but so far haven’t tried it. I saw instructions that said to cut the bacon into 1-2-inch pieces, fry until almost done and place in canning jars. Pour some of the bacon grease into each jar, filling until about ¼ full. Process for 90 min. at 11 lb pressure. Would you consider this “simple” method safe?

Judith Almand
Brandon, Florida

What I’ve always done is to can pieces of sides of bacon instead of strips. But I’ve done strips too. Thick strips can up better than the thinner ones. Yes, you can certainly do it the way you indicated. If you’re doing pints or half pints, which I’d recommend unless you are cooking for a big family, you’ll only need to process for 75 minutes. I also can up cracklin’s this way. They’re great in cornbread! — Jackie

Dry canning ground beef

I did the dry canning for ground beef. I “lightly” browned it in pint and ½-pint jars and canned for 90 minutes. When I opened one, the meat in the bottom was kind of pinkish like it wasn’t done. I was afraid to eat it so the dogs got it but I hate to throw out the whole batch. Is it OK? The jars sealed and the time was for quarts. Should I have thoroughly cooked the ground beef before canning? The USDA wouldn’t respond because they don’t “recommend” dry canning so I really look forward to your response

Carbondale, Kansas

Lucky dogs! Your meat was perfectly fine. When you’ll be using it, you’ll probably be frying it 10 minutes to melt the grease and heat the meat anyway. The pink meat was not raw! Canning it totally cooks a food. You will only be reheating it to boiling temp for 10-15 minutes, usually by frying or adding to soups, chili, or casserole-type dishes. — Jackie

We just installed our next batch of kitchen cabinets

Monday, January 19th, 2015 by Jackie Clay | 14 Comments »


After many months of cabinets being on the back burner, we saved up and bought three more kitchen cabinets. (They’re cheaper because they’re not as deep as the base cabinets, so that helped.) This weekend, Will and I put them up. They proved a bit difficult as they didn’t want to fit square in the corner or go up tight to the log wall. And the corner cabinet was HEAVY. But with some props made out of 2x4s and a few one-inch wood blocks, Will finally got them to hang well. We’ve got one more to the right of the right hand upper cabinet, one 18-inch cabinet in the corner by the sink, and two narrow ones above the propane stove. Then, other than the island, the cabinet work will be done! Wow. I think they’re turning out beautiful and will sure de-clutter my kitchen a whole lot.

I have to laugh at Mittens. She goes with us everywhere. She even goes with Will out to the woods to cut firewood. But she was pretty miffed when Will went into the bathroom to shave and shower. AND shut the bathroom door! She sat right by the door all the while until he came back out. Then she wanted to go to bed and announced it by saying “NOW!” I swear it’s true.

I’m packing for my trip to Aberdeen, South Dakota, as I have to leave home at 5:00 Wednesday (that’s a.m.!) to catch a flight to Minneapolis where I have a 5-hour layover. Now why couldn’t I have that 5 hours at home? (I’m doing several workshops at the Northern Plains Sustainable Agriculture Conference on canning and growing fruit in cold zones.) If any of you can come, I’d love to visit with you there! — Jackie

Q and A: adding eggshells to your compost and canning chili peppers

Saturday, January 17th, 2015 by Jackie Clay | 3 Comments »

Adding eggshells to your compost

Do I need to pre-treat eggshells before adding them to my garden as compost? I feel like I’m wasting something when I just burn them or throw them out. We have our own chickens, which are pasture raised — and the eggs are wonderful.

Ellie Schubert
Alton, Missouri

No, you don’t need to do a thing. You can just set them out in an old carton until they are nice and dry then crush them and put them in a bucket until you can sprinkle them on your garden or dig them into your compost pile. Crushed egg shells add calcium to the soil and help prevent such problems as blossom end rot in tomatoes and squash. Good for you for thinking of it! Waste not; want not is our motto. — Jackie

Canning chili peppers

I want to know if I can water bath Anaheim chili peppers and be safe? I would use half-pint jars.

Troy Stafford
Gold Hill, Oregon

No, all vegetables and meats MUST be pressure canned. You can pickle peppers such as Anaheims or dry them safely too. When pickling peppers, you will be using a water bath canner. They are awesome, canned, so if you don’t already have a pressure canner, maybe this would be the time to invest. You’ll be so glad you did! — Jackie

We’re babysitting Buddy

Thursday, January 15th, 2015 by Jackie Clay | 5 Comments »

My oldest son, Bill, and his family were going to take a mini-vacation at a Wisconsin Dells Waterpark so they needed someone to dog-sit. As Buddy, an 8 month old chocolate Lab, had been up to visit us ever since he was a puppy, we volunteered. He and Hondo are buddies and play with each other to exhaustion.

We brought Buddy home with us after attending our granddaughter, Ava’s, third birthday party. Hondo thought it was GREAT! It took them 36 hours before they would just sit down quietly! Now they’ve settled into a routine: go outside to play and chew bones, then come in to rest. At night, Buddy goes into Hondo’s “house” (dog crate) and sleeps all night like a champ. Spencer just rolls his eyes at him.

Our big Bourbon Red tom turkey does NOT like Hondo. Hondo tries to play with him and he runs right after him, all around the yard. Buddy had never seen a turkey and when he went over to sniff him, Big Red pecked him hard on the nose. Buddy does NOT sniff turkeys anymore! I had to laugh; I came home from town and two dogs and the turkey came running up to the car. Will says the turkey wasn’t greeting me but chasing Hondo. He’s real serious about running Hondo around!



We’ve been busy packing seeds. Will is doing the stamping of the envelopes (we’re not a BIG enough company to be able to afford “real” printing), while I fill the orders and package them to mail. Our “office” is two tables. Mine is, by far, the messiest! But we’re having a ball. A lot of folks write a short letter and even send photos. That’s wonderful! — Jackie

Q and A: training a heifer to milk, powdery mildew, and ordering seeds

Wednesday, January 14th, 2015 by Jackie Clay | 6 Comments »

Training a heifer to milk

We have a Jersey heifer that calved about three weeks ago. I am having a terrible time milking her. She was so gentle that I free milk her, with only grain put in the manger and a little hay. Suddenly she is kicking every time I try to milk her, which usually ends up with a dirty foot in the milk pail. I have looked at her teats, they are not cracked. I keep my nails short and try to make sure my hands aren’t to rough. I pen the calf away from her at night and after milking her let him back out. I receive about ½ gallon of milk from her, but once he is let out she lets down a lot more milk, so I try to milk a teat while he is eating from the others. I have tried to tie her back leg to the stall, and she went crazy. She kicked and kicked until it came loose then she went up the wall and got stuck between the boards with her hooves. My husband had to loosen boards so we could get her out. I worked with her the whole time she was expecting, by pretend milking, brushing and consistent hands on training. I am a first time milker, as she is a first time being milked but I don’t think I am milking her wrong, as at first she was fine. She never kicks when I clean her udder before milking, but when she runs out of grain, that tail begins switching and she starts to kick. I am at wits end. My questions are: Do you know of anything I can do to prevent the kicking? Am I getting the normal amount of milk, or should I be getting more? What could be going wrong with her?

Mary Ann Nelson
Franklin, West Virginia

I hate to tell you but your heifer is training you. She wants all her milk to go to her calf and has figured out that if she kicks and creates a fuss, you’ll let her calf eat. It isn’t rough hands or nails or your milking technique. To stop this behavior, you’re going to have to take charge. To do this, take the calf away and bottle feed it from the mom’s milk after you’ve milked her. First of all, put her in a stanchion to milk her to contain her movements. This can be a regular dairy stanchion or one you build out of 2×4 lumber. To get her to stand still, here are a few things you can do: You can first try giving her more grain, even if it’s just oats, so she is eating while you milk. If that doesn’t do it, you can try hobbling her. I’ve stopped a lot of cows from kicking by making a lariat out of a length of soft nylon or poly ½-inch rope then slipping it in a figure 8 around her legs, just above her hocks. Either tie the end of the rope to a post behind her with a slip knot or, better yet, have your husband wrap it around the post and hold the end tightly. She may kick and swing around a little, getting used to the hobble but when she gets used to it, you will be able to milk without having her kick in the bucket. Then you can switch to just tying a shorter rope in a figure 8 around her hocks while you milk.

Another variation is to use the “Kick-Stop,” ( ) which is a lightweight pipe frame that slips down over her back, along her sides, right in front of the hind legs. It puts pressure on the nerves in the upper back, making kicking nearly impossible. It does not hurt the cow a bit.

Once she learns that you are going to milk her, no matter what she does, she’ll learn to stand like a pro. I had a goat named Fawn who was a first freshener and the absolute worst milking goat in history. She kicked like a mule. She threw herself off the stanchion and tried to hang herself. She laid down when I tried to milk her. It took both Will and me to even catch her and lift her onto the milk stand. But I kept on milking. When she laid down, I milked her into a pop bottle, lying down. When she kicked, I deflected her kicks with my arm and kept milking. When she threw herself off the stand, I lifted her back up and returned to milking. She was like this for nearly a month. Then she suddenly quit. No more bad behavior. She turned out to be the best milker I ever owned! Who’d have thought? We called her our Rodeo Queen. The key is not to stop milking, no matter what. Hang in there and you’ll get her trained yet. — Jackie

Powdery mildew

My pumpkins, squash and cucumbers all took a hit from powdery mildew this summer. Any tips on how to combat this for my 2015 garden?

Katie Gilbert
Milo, Iowa

Powdery mildew is impossible to totally prevent but there’s a lot you can do to avoid taking a hit because of it. First off, if you remove all infected plants and vines from your garden and burn them, you’ll do a lot to head it off the next year. The spores are wintered over in dead plants and vines, spreading the infection in the next growing season. Do not compost the vines — if your compost pile is not hot enough, the spores will spread. Plant your vines where they get full sun and lots of air circulation, even if it means planting them farther apart. Water from drip lines or soaker hoses so the roots get moisture but not the leaves as dampness helps increase the fungus. You can try spraying your vines with a mixture of one part milk to 8 parts water. Many folks swear by this. Or spray with a mixture of 4 tsp. baking soda to a gallon of water, which raises the pH which weakens the spores. These sprays must be repeated after each rain. If you see the typical dusty white leaves of powdery mildew, cut them off right away and burn them. This won’t cure the disease but it will help retard the development and strength of the infection. Good luck this year. — Jackie

Ordering seeds

Can you send me the website to order your seeds. I thought I saved it, but, no … Also, I plant organic, so are there seed companies that you recommend, other than your seeds?

Melody from New York

Our website is Some of our favorite seed companies are: Sand Hill Preservation Center, Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, Seed Savers Exchange, and Fedco Seeds.

What does a homesteader do for fun?

Tuesday, January 13th, 2015 by Jackie Clay | 24 Comments »

For many years, I’ve been working on a series of Western novels, which have mostly been sitting in a box in the closet as Westerns aren’t “in.” But recently, I found an interested publisher and the series of four is off and running! We’re really excited. I even did the cover painting for the first book, Summer of the Eagles.

Take a look at the publisher’s web page for it: where you can read a synopsis and the first two chapters. You can even pre-order the Kindle version for $4.99 at: A softcover edition is also in the works. I’ll let you know more about that, soon. If you’re on Facebook, you can keep up with developments by Liking the book’s Facebook page: and the publisher’s page:

For us, it’s a whole lot of fun, seeing my characters spring to life. I’m editing the second book in the Jess Hazzard series now and Will has been great, keeping the wood stove ch0cked full so I don’t freeze upstairs on the computer and even doing the dishes for me! What a guy!



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