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Ask Jackie headline

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Jackie Clay answers questions for BHM Subscribers & Customers
on any aspect of low-tech, self-reliant living.

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Archive for February, 2008

Jackie Clay

It’s obvious; no photo = no computer fix … yet

Tuesday, February 26th, 2008

Sonny, our local computer genius, was here for over 2 hours and we still don’t have a fix on my e-mails not being able to attach photos….or at least not on a regular basis.  Some still attach….then the next one takes 15 minutes or simply won’t attach.  It’s so frustrating!  I’m learning a lot, but I still don’t do technology.  Ugh! 

I’d rather be in the greenhouse planting and transplanting my future gardens!  Oh yes!  I’ve got over 27 different varieties of tomatoes this year.  Of course, my old favorites, Oregon Spring, Polish Linguisa, Early Goliath and Bush Beefsteak are there in force, but I’m trying a lot of new ones, then repeating many that did well last year.  The STAR last year was Tomcat, a very rampant indeterminate with medium/small tomatoes in huge abundance.  But I’m also giving Polefast and Ultimate Opener another shot at my permanent list because they did fairly well last year under not so good conditions (planted late, lots of rain, no rain, and heat, heat, heat).
Because I now have real flower beds, I’m starting a bunch of flowers too, including foxgloves, delphinium, pansies of three varieties, petunias, cup and saucers, datura, snail flower and more, later in the spring.  Some only need to be in the greenhouse 8 weeks before setting out; others take longer to get up and going.
At any rate, yesterday was 45 degrees ABOVE with a strong sun.  And it really, really got my gardening fever going!  I can hardly wait to get growing.  Of course it helps because my gardening sweetheart may be able to come out this spring to "play" with us in the garden, too.  Big smile.
Readers’ questions:

Old spices

My wife inherited a large amount of expensive spices from my great aunt. We don’t know how old they are, or when they were purchased, but some have been unopened. How long do spices stay good? It would take several hundred dollars to replace them, so we are loathe to throw them out.

Mike Jamison
Dickson, Tennessee

Even though many "experts" say to throw out all spices over a year old, I don’t.  I have many that are over a decade old and are just fine.  If they seem to have lost some punch, I simply use a little more.  If I had those spices, I’d hang onto them like gold.  You lucky dog! — Jackie

Water loss in canning

Today I canned some potatoes (Irish) and when I looked at them some of the jar had lost about one inch of water while the rest of them were ok. I screw the bands down the same. I have noticed this also on some other things I have canned before. Do you have any idea on why this is happening and should the product be ok to eat if it is not covered up by the juices (water)?

Chris Walters
Ellisville, Mississippi

This usually happens because we slightly overfill some jars or the pressure in the canner has varied a little, up and down, causing some liquid to boil out.  It doesn’t affect the food other than sometimes it looks a little dry.  Taste and safety is fine. — Jackie

Microwave problem

I live year round at almost 10,000 ft altitude in the mountains of southern Wyoming. I cannot use my microwave oven and others have said the same thing. What’s going on?? I first thought it was my
oven, but visiting with summer cabin owners, they said they also had problems. It will not heat a cup of water for tea…it gets warm, but takes a long time.

Martha Nestorick
Laramie, Wyoming

Sorry, I’ve never been a microwave person.  I do mostly low tech stuff.  Maybe another reader will have an answer for you.  I just keep a kettle of water on my stove in the winter and use the gas stove during the summer. — Jackie

Jackie Clay

Did you see the total lunar eclipse Wednesday?

Sunday, February 24th, 2008


Okay, so my photo leaves something to be desired.  I was excited and obviously I wasn’t too steady for the long exposure.  But WOW!  There was a bell-clear sky and a huge, nearly full moon.  It took over an hour from the very beginning, when you could just see a "smudge" on the moon’s bottom, to when it was again clear.  But checking on it from time to time, I was able to see it go full cycle.  It’s the first time I’ve seen it for years and years.  In the past, it was either too cloudy, the moon was in the wrong place for us to see the eclipse or something was happening that made me forget to look outside.

David was at youth group, at church, and called me.  All the group was outside watching it, although it was below zero.  He wanted to make sure I hadn’t forgotten the eclipse.  We were so excited as it progressed.

It made such an awesome presentation, with all the stars in the sky standing out watching, too.  I’m so glad we live where the sky IS clear and you can keep watching those gorgeous heavenly bodies.  I feel sorry for people in the city that never really get to see the stars or watch the moon.


Readers’ questions:

Replenishing land

We purchased land that was strip mined before reclamation was made law. Russian olive and dogwood have taken root but the land seems to have almost no topsoil so it is a struggle to get anything to grow during the heat of summer. Do you have any ideas to help us improve the soil? Is there a green manure that will grow on this type of soil the locals call "spoil"? Our land is located in Appalachia near WHeeling, W.V. Thank you. Deborah

Deborah Motylinski
Brecksville, Ohio

I believe the best bet for you would be to first add as much organic material as humanly possible to your garden area.  You won’t be able to do the whole place at once in this manner, so start with your food area first.  If you have animals and chickens, you have a ready-made source of fertilizer and bedding.  I would work as much manure, straw, leaves and even sawdust into your garden area as you can.  I’m talking about a foot or more here!

If you don’t have this much, offer to clean a neighbor’s barn or chicken coop or haul away that huge manure pile outside their barn in exchange for the manure.  They may even have a tractor to load your truck or trailer.

Once you have the garden soil beginning to improve, move your effort onto another section.  Fence it if necessary to keep livestock off it while you’re working it up.  Like your garden, haul as much organic material onto it as possible.  Work it in, even if it just means discing it or dragging a pallet over it to level it off fairly well.

 Then try seeding it in to clover (talk to the folks at the local feed store to see what they recommend for your area).  Sweet yellow clover isn’t the best, but it will sure grow where not much else will….and it fixes quite a bit of nitrogen in the soil, too.  You can also cut it several times during the growing season and later work that into the soil to help improve the tilth.

This isn’t a quick fix for a serious situation.  But you can get ahead of it if you keep at it. — Jackie

Feed for a pig

I would like to grow a pig or two for some home grown pork. I want to do this without having to buy all or most of the feed needed to raise them. Are there any crops that can be grown in a garden that would fill this need?

Jonathan Jude
Dorena, Oregon

A pig is a great idea.  I’ve always tried to pick up a weaned piglet or two about the time I put in the garden.  That way, you’ll have to buy some feed when the piggy is little, but as it grows, you can add weeds, thinings, extra vegetables, such as zuchinni and summer squash, pea pods, more weeds, fresh corn cobs, then later on, root crops, as well.  I just grow a little more of the "pig friendly" food in the garden, such as sweet corn, turnips and rutabagas.  I also whack grass and clover from the side of our driveway and dump any extra goat milk and eggs into the pig trough.  It’s truly amazing how much home grown pig food you have on hand if you just take the time to harvest it!

You can also sometimes find extra "damaged" produce at the local super markets.  Smaller ones are best because they’re more apt to let you have it, where some bigger ones are so afraid of lawsuits they’d rather throw it into the dumpster than have someone use it.

I’ve also gleaned corn fields in the fall, pulled split cabbages in market fields and hauled week old bread for my pigs.  But most of all, we feed our pigs what we raise….along with some ground grain.  Right now is a good time to pick up a pig, as grain prices are leaping up and pig raisers are dumping their hogs because they just can’t afford to feed them. — Jackie

Meals in a jar

I was reading your section in my latest Backwoods Home (#110) and I was wondering if for the Salami recipe could you use turkey? And if so would you need to change anything? Also I would like to make a request. Also in this issue you had an article about canning meals in a jar. I loved it. However there is a lack of recipes to be found to do this with. I looked at the backwoods home web site and I ordered the cook book. And I looked with Google at many sites on the web but most were for fruits and veggies. I would love to see a cook book with only recipies like in the article" Meals in jars". You can get a Ball Blue Book to cover all fruits and veggies. But not so much on the crack open a jar and reheat meals.

Olivia Benthin
Jones, Michigan

I don’t know why you couldn’t use turkey in the salami recipe.  I’d try a small batch and see how you like the end product. Yeah, I know there aren’t many book recipes for meals in a jar.  You just have to make your own recipe and then process it for the longest time/method necessary for the ingredient in the recipe that requires it.  This is usually meat, potatoes or corn.  If you take your time, you can figure it out.  But I agree with you; a book would be nice. — Jackie

A healthy snack

Do you have a recipe, or can you come up with one, to make a healty snack using dark hocolate/cocoa, oatmeal, almonds and honey? My husband has a major sweet tooth and as healthy as he eats he stills craves a little something after dinner. We know the health benefits of regular oats (not quick) dark chocolate and almonds. We have bees and like to consume a little honey daily for the nutritional/immunity benefits.We like the no bake oatmeal cookies but, that’s alot of butter/margarine and peanut butter. I’m thinking a cookie bar but, I’m not sure how to bind it together without a lot of fat. What are your ideas? I’m excited to see what you come up with. We have subscribed to Backwood’s Home for years and really enjoy it. We don’t grow as much as we’d like. We have anapple/peach/plum orchard and sell at a couple of farmer’s markets. We buy local vegetables9or sometimes trade). I love to can and put up as much as possible every year. Your columns have been a very helpful resource.

Linda Stewart
Virgie, Kentucky

Okay, how about this: Substitute applesauce for the "fat" in your bar recipe, so it would go something like this:

1 c rolled oats
1 c flour
1/2 c applesauce
1/3 c honey
1/2 c chopped almonds
1/2 tsp vanilla

 Mix well (add a little more flour if sticky), then roll into balls.  Roll in powdered sugar, then drizzle melted dark chocolate over the top in a zig zag pattern.  Refrigerate until set.  Enjoy!  I used to make something like this and my kids never left any scraps.

Let me know how you like it. — Jackie

Vaccinations, worming

I just bought my first 2 nubian dairy goats but I have questions. 1 doe is 1.5 years old and due to kid in May. The other is a 9 month old kid. My question is about vaccinations. When and what is necessary? I’m getting mixed mesages from people and books. Intertoxemia should be given at 2 weeks. And tetnas before de-horning?

Also what do you suggest for worming? With my sheep I worm twice, alternating between an ivermecton product and a horse paste called panacure. Dairy goats are an all new critter to me.

Dinah Jo Brosius
Battle Ground, Washington

Enterotoxemia vaccine is usually recommended at birth, then a repeat dose at 2 weeks.  If the doe has been vaccinated, she will usually pass some immunity to the newborn kids through the colostrum, but to be safest, vaccinate the newborns anyway.

With the tetanus vaccination, the doe is generally vaccinated a few weeks prior to her delivery date.  This not only gives her protection (for the whole year), but also protects the kids as immunity is passed to them.  This usually protects them if they are disbudded at 3-4 days old.  Then they should receive a tetanus toxoid vaccination at around 2 weeks, to ensure that their immunity remains strong.  There is a combination tetanus toxoid/entrotoxemia vaccine available for those 2 week old kids that is convenient.

You should check with your veterinarian and take in a stool sample from your goats so you can have a starting point for your worming program.  In that way you’ll know IF your goats have any parasites and WHAT, exactly, they are.  Then you can formulate an effective worming program for them at that point.  Without having a fecal exam, you are groping in the dark, hoping to keep your animals worm free.  The exam is quick, easy and cheap, too.

A good source of goat health (and other) information can be found at Hoegger’s Goat Supply (free catalog).  Check out  There’s lots of cheesemaking supplies, goat equipment and health products & they know their goats, too. — Jackie


Thank you for the seed catalog list – I’m planning to peruse the websites as soon as I finish this. I just wanted to share with you a favorite of mine. Dixon Dale Farms is THE place to go for onions plants. I have been using them for a decade or so and have almost a 100% success rate with their plants. They have a nice selection for all varieties and the more you order, the cheaper they are. It’s the only place I use for onions.

Now – can you recommend a company for potato sets?

Lisa Lightfoot
Descanso, California

Yes!  I used to use Dixondale onion plants when we grew a market garden.  I ordered hundreds of them every spring and I, too, had great success with them.

I’ve had good luck with Ronniger’s Potato Farm (  They have a whole lot of great varieties to try, some unavailable elsewhere.  For my "common" varieties, I buy locally for less than .50 a pound and no shipping.  Good growing! — Jackie

Jackie Clay

%$^%#^()&) COMPUTERS!!!!!

Tuesday, February 19th, 2008

Needless to say, I’ve been having computer issues.  You see my Vista won’t let me attach photos to articles or e-mails, including my blog.  We’ve tried everything humanly possible, but finally Dave said to call in the computer repair guys to see if they can fix it.  Sometimes I really hate technology!
I do better with low technology.  The photo below was taken two days ago when David and I were splitting up a big pile of firewood.  He, his friend Zack and our carpenter friend, Tom had gone to a piece of woods and hauled several loads of firewood, so we are already gathering wood for NEXT winter.  There is something peaceful in preparing well in advance.  I’ve cut and split wood in a blizzard, at night, because I had to.  But doing it ahead of time, when the weather’s nice is SO much better!
Now if I can just get this computer to work.
P.S.  Yeah!  Tonight it let me attach a photo in ten minutes.  Well, it’s SOMETHING!

Readers’ questions:
Tire wood holder

Suggestion for splitting wood- you may already know about this- not as much fun as with two people, but if you gotta do it yourself– use an old tire to hold the wood upright while you split it- keeps
the wood from falling over, and together for you to pick it up and toss into the wheel barrow.

Bob Taylor
Poulsbo, Washington

Yep, I know about the tire wood holder.  But, of course, it’s faster and more fun with two people working, as you said.  One guy wields the axe; the other sets the blocks and picks up the split pieces.  But you’re right; the tire does hold the wood upright nicely.

Storing potatoes for seed

I have seeds stored for future use, but how do you save potatoes to plant two years later.

Dan Wicker
Howell, Michigan

Sorry Dan; you can’t store potatoes for two years.  Potatoes are a renewable seed source.  That is you need to plant at least some every year if you are going to save your own seed potatoes.  By the spring following the fall you’ve picked your potatoes, they are starting to sprout.  When the weather warms up, it’s time to get them planted so you’ll have more for next spring.

Montana homestead

I haven’t been reading Backwoods Home very long and ordered a subscription for my husband’s birthday this month, along with the 11th and 12th year anthologies. I just read from the 11th year
(2000) that you homestead about 20 miles out of Cascade!!! I lived in Cascade (for about 2 months,) in the spring 1998 and now live in Fairfield (since October 1998).

I very much like reading your articles and tips and day to day homesteading. You really are an inspiration to me. I have been especially touched by your writing of losing your husband as I lost my son almost a year ago. I just tonight copied one of your articles to give to my friend, who lost her husband to an aneurysm over before last Thanksgiving. I know she will be encouraged by what you wrote.

I hope we can one day meet, and swap seeds or cuttings. Thank you for your insight and knowledgeable guidance. I am so excited that you live so close!!!

Resa Wagner-Pittman
Fairfield, Montana

Sorry to disappoint you.  We moved from our Montana homestead four years ago and now live on a much larger wooded piece of ground, complete with a creek and two beaver ponds.  This is where we were living when Bob died and later we went on to build our log home.  Of course it’s not finished yet; we’re paying as we go.  But we really love it.  I’m sure Bob would be proud of our progress.  Losing him was more than hard, but we’re keeping going forward.
I am extremely lucky, in that a sweet single homesteader guy started writing to me about a year ago.  And since then we’ve written hundreds of letters, burned up lots of phone satellites and had a great visit where he lives in Washington a month ago.  Hopefully, he’ll be coming out here, come spring, to join our little endeavor. — Jackie

Canning cakes, soaked in liquor?

Do you have any recipes for canning cakes, soaked in liquor?

Pam Pliska
Portland, Oregon

Sorry, Pam, but I just don’t do liquor in any form; don’t like the taste. — Jackie

Jackie Clay

Spring inside, but it’s still winter outside

Saturday, February 16th, 2008

Last night it was -26 degrees, clear and cold, cold.  But the greenhouse stayed 55 degrees all night and this morning when I went out there for kindling for the wood stove, I noticed a tiny green pair of leaves poking up in the big square pot where two weeks ago I planted several bush cucumber seeds.  After they hadn’t germinated in a week, I planted four in a styrofoam cup, just for added insurance.  Those germinated right away so I figured the greenhouse wasn’t warm enough for the seeds in the pot to germinate and that they’d probably rotted by now.  Not so!  Wow!  Those little round leaves look so nice.  Just like spring in the garden.

But because it was still -15, I figured I’d better spend the afternoon making firewood.  The sun was out and it warmed up quickly to 10 degrees.  But with no wind, the sun made it feel even warmer.  So sawing firewood wasn’t such a chore.  Our huge pile is getting steadily smaller as we drag lengths out to cut and split.  When David got home from school, he said his cold was a lot better and he would split for me.  It’s easier to split wood when one person sets the wood up on the chopping block and then throws the pieces into the wheelbarrow.  It goes quicker and is less back strain on the one doing the chopping.  David chopped and I carried and set up. It took no time at all to bring three brimming wheelbarrows full into the house.  One filled the wood box and the other two added to the stack on the porch.
I tried a new bread recipe I saw in a farm magazine yesterday.  I’ll have to say it’s one of the worst I’ve ever made!  The poor loaves were so dense.  I figured the recipe should have had more liquid, but followed it anyway.  Big mistake!  Oh well, it tastes okay and I’ll eat it, but it sure wouldn’t win any compliments from anyone at my table.  You win some; you lose some.
I just got back from tossing wood into the kitchen range and I took a peek at the cucumber seedling.  The leaves are all the way open now, and another green bump is starting to show in the pot!  Yep, definitely spring!

Jackie Clay

Yesterday we went from storing 300 gallons of water to 600!!

Monday, February 11th, 2008

Our friend Tom stopped by yesterday with a bag full of plumbing fittings and proceeded to hook our new water storage tank up, in series, to our old tank.  But first, I dumped a little bleach (non scented) into the five inches of water in the new tank, and we then tipped it over to drain the bleach water out of the valve on the lower side of the tank.  The tank and the water were "clean" but I just felt better doing it!
Tom also bored out two holes on opposite sides of the top of the tank and installed threaded fittings to receive the ends of two garden hoses.  The short hose runs to our sump pit and the long hose is connected to the faucet where our water line comes up through the basement floor in the pantry.  (This will eventually be replaced with hard plumbing instead of a garden hose.)
In the past, I had trouble with the hose popping out of the tank when an air bubble made the hose buck and jump.  Right onto the floor where it merrily poured water out for up to fifteen minutes!  Not a pretty sight.  Or the tank would over-fill and pour water out on the floor when I got distracted and forgot I had water running into the tank.  Now if it runs "over" it runs out the hose, into the sump.  And the fill hose is firmly screwed into the fitting on the tank.  WOW!  That’s such an improvement!!!  Huge!  Plus, of course, we have doubled our water storage capabilities.
Now if our water line doesn’t freeze…..  You see, right now it’s -30.  With a windchill reading of -55.  Yep, that’s 55 degrees BELOW zero all you guys with green grass and 60s!!!  So tonight I’ll be starting the vehicles every 3 hours so they’ll start in the morning.  We still don’t know if David will have school or not; won’t know till morning.  And I like having a vehicle that will start in case of an emergency… when I had to go in to the emergency room at 1:30 AM two weeks ago!  We used to run a propane heater in the generator shed to keep the generator warm, then plug in a vehicle for an hour or two in the morning.  But actually it’s easier to just get up and start the vehicles, let them run 15 minutes while I build up the fire, then go back to bed.  Our new generator is really a whole lot easier to start when it’s cold than the old ones with the Briggs and Robin engines.
When I did chores tonight, I quickly closed up the barn and chicken coop, giving the critters lots of extra hay for bedding.  It’s going to be a cold, cold night.  But my first cucumbers for the greenhouse are popping up, so I still feel spring in that crystal cold air!!!

Readers’ questions:

Tips about eggs and celery

Jackie, you are such an amazing woman! You have always impressed me SO much with your knowledge and experience.I kinda hesitate to send these tips as you probably already know them, but here I go anyway. 1- Did you know even the freshest eggs will "pop" right out of their shells if you easily drop them (I use a spoon) into BOILING water—I know! Against everything Mama or Grandma ever taught you!–boil 10 min., drain, cover with cold water 5-15 min.Crack all over & there you go! Try it- I didn’t believe it either! It works! 2-celery will keep for a couple months beautifully if you wrap the whole bunch in aluminum foil as soon as you bring it in from garden or store and keep in the fridge!

Dianne Williams
Birch River, West Virginia

Thank you for your tips.  My very next eggs I’m going to try your method.  The best way I’ve found is to boil the eggs, drain them, then toss them up and down in the dry pan until the shells crack; kind of like popcorn.  Then I rinse them with cold water until the water stays cold and let them sit in that water for about two hours.  USUALLY the fresh eggs will peel well.  But I’m definitely trying your way.
But I did know about the celery.  It also works if you put it into a large plastic bag and twist it up tight.  Trouble is that my propane fridge is always bulging and I can’t spare the room to hold anything that long!  When I want fresh celery, I dig up a couple plants and replant them into a large plastic tub in the greenhouse for a couple of weeks, then down in the cellar they go.  They get pale, but stay fresh a long time as long as I keep the soil….which is mostly gravel….moist. — Jackie

Jackie Clay

Tomorrow it will be -20 but today it’s spring!

Friday, February 8th, 2008

Okay I’ll admit I got a little giddy because my liver function tests were hugely improved and I won’t have to have surgery!  But really, it’s just time to start the garden.  Kind of.  Today I got out my cardboard box full of different pepper seeds and sorted out the ones that I just HAVE to plant or try this year.  As I use Wall’o Waters to protect my plants, I can set them out in the garden around the last of April even though we won’t be frost free till the middle of June.  Because peppers don’t grow as fast as tomatoes, I always plant them earlier so they’ll be good and stout when they go outside.
And today was the day!  I picked up two large bags of Jiffy Mix seed starter, which is the only good one available arond here without fertilizer (sometimes harms starting plants and I don’t want to add chemicals to my organic garden!) on sale and had them sitting in the greenhouse.

Years ago, a good friend in New Mexico had given me dozens of surgical trays her daughter had brought up for her.  They are plastic, about 4"x6"x4" deep, clean and very reusable.  They used to contain the sterile surgical dressings, etc. in a hospital operating room.  No.  They were never bloody or icky.  And they make the absolute best seed starting trays I’ve ever used because they are so deep the roots get a great start even before transplanting.
I filled each tray (6 in all!) with Jiffy Mix, then chose my pepper varieties, placing the seeds in neat rows of four.  Some kinds, I only planted four seeds; others I planted a dozen, depending on if it was an old standby or a new trial.  There were about 28 seeds planted in each tray.  I was sure to label each variety with a permanent marker, right on the side of the seed tray.
Then I sifted about 1/8" of mix over them and gently watered them with the spray attachment on my sink until I figured the mix was about damp all the way to the bottom.  Each tray will go into a plastic bag tomorrow, to hold in the moisture, making little individual greenhouses.  I’ve got them in my kitchen window, which gets light, but not much heat.  So the plants won’t cook as they receive light.  They will germinate in about a week, then I’ll move them into the new greenhouse.  See?  Spring IS here!!!!  P.S.  I even planted 6 trays of flower seeds too; pansies, dianthus, foxgloves, delphiniums and snapdragons.
Readers’ questions

Keeping hairs off the meat

Jackie, I really enjoy reading your blog and articles. I look forward to seeing what’s new and learning how to – you are a wealth of knowledge and I appreciate you sharing in your wealth!

Not sure how to delicately ask this question so I’ll just be blunt. My husband has been squirrel hunting lately and we are enjoying the meat immensely! Yes, it DOES taste like chicken (dark meat)! My dificulty is getting all the hair off the meat. We are careful as we skin the squirrel, but invariable there are stray hairs left on the meat – even after a thorough rinsing. I have even tried to pick each hair off but that can make you crazy. Is there a trick to getting hair free meat?

Lyn Ankelman
Thorsby, Alabama

The best way is to rinse off what you can and pick any off, then hold the carcass over an open flame, such as on your gas stove.  Or you can use an unscented candle to singe the hairs off.  This works great.  Then rinse the carcass again to take away the singed hair smell/taste.  Pat the meat dry and you’re in business.
 The best way to get hair-free meat is to cut around the legs, then up each leg.  Cut around the tail and butt end and up to where the hind legs join.  Then grab the tail and skin as it comes loose and pull the whole thing off like you are taking off a sweater, rolling it right up over the belly and front legs.  Then cut off the head.  Most of the hair stays on the skin that way.  I don’t cut up the belly, just pull the skin off like a sweater.  The less you handle the carcass during skinning, the less loose hairs that will fly around and land on the meat. — Jackie

Solar panels

Hope you are feeling better!! My question is about solar panels. What kind or type do you recommend? We live in Northeast WI on a dairy farm and the electric bill is killing us. First we would like to start with the house and then approach the barn. We do live on a hill so we do recieve quite alot sunshine. Any feedback would be great!!

Jamie Mastey
Bonduel, Wisconsin

Sorry, but I’m definitely in the learning stage with solar power.  Why don’t you ask Jeff Yago, also available through the Backwoods Home site.  He knows just about everything about alternative power and can answer your questions.  He’s on the BHM Home page, just below my blog.

I’m just doing baby steps, so far.  We were given a small panel, then my son, Bill, gave me another.  In the spring, we’ll add to those and start saving more money than we are now by having the panels help charge our battery bank, along with the generator.  I’m sure you can benefit from adding solar to your farm! — Jackie

Making jerky from frozen meat

I just wanted to write and tell you how impressed I am with what you do. I am nowhere near doing any homesteading myself (working/studying/in the city) YET, but do have plans for the future,
and you are a great inspiration. I am very keen on doing some canning of meat, but so far have been totally unsuccessful in finding a pressure canner here (South Africa), so am scheming to convince friends abroad to send me one (pricey!). If successful, I intend to do something similar to the French foods, like confit of duck and pork. Do you have any recipes in that line? I would like to make it so that it is ready to heat and eat, without any further preparation.

I got a small dehydrator for Christmas, so have been having lots of fun with it, especially now (mid-summer) that my tomatoes, herbs and chillies from my small garden are ripening. I’d like to try to make some biltong (our version of jerky, but slightly different, mostly in thickness, I believe) in it, but am not too sure how to go about it, as I would like to try to make chicken biltong (partner cannot eat beef), and am a bit concerned about it going off before drying sufficiently, as it is very hot here at the
moment. Have you ever made chicken jerky? (we get it here sometimes) Ostrich might also be an option (he can eat that in small amounts, as well as any venison, but not the right season now). Also, can I make jerky from frozen meat? (venison).

Once again, you re a great inspiration, thank you for your very interesting articles. I look forward to reading the next installment (read your entire blog today). Also, good luck with the romance!

Karen van Niekerk
African Heritage Research Institute
Cape Town, South Africa

Thanks for the kind words.  No, I don’t have the French recipes you asked about; maybe a reader out there does?  Basically you can home can just about any recipe you make, provided that you use the processing method and time required for the ingredient in it that has the highest requirements, in most cases, meat.
You can make jerky out of any kind of meat, but it is safest to either refrigerate, freeze or can it after it has been made to keep it from molding.  Today’s jerky isn’t as hard, i.e. dry as the "old days" stuff.  And with it being moister, it also can mold without further care.  Old style jerky was as hard as a stick and took quite a bit of chewing to eat.
You can definitely make jerky out of frozen meat of any kind, as well.  This does not affect the safety or taste of the end product.  One hint:  partly frozen meat slices so much nicer than does thawed or raw meat because of the ice crystals still in the meat.  That’s a definite plus when cutting the meat for jerky.
If you are worried about your jerky spoiling because it’s only partially finished dehydrating, just take it out and place it in a covered, airtight dish in the fridge, then take it out when you want to resume drying and lay it out in your dehydrator.  This works fine.  Good luck! — Jackie

Jackie Clay

A wake-up call for me

Monday, February 4th, 2008

I’ve gotten a little behind in my blogging lately.  No it isn’t because I’m in love.  It’s because a few nights ago I woke up out of a sound sleep with intense, and I mean INTENSE!!!!! pain in my lower chest.  Wow.  I went down stairs and sat down, figuring it was probably gas, but I was shaking so bad that my body made noise.  The pressure made a heart attack a possibility.

 So I woke up David at 2 a.m. and we went in to the emergency room at the Cook Hospital.  Now the last time that I, myself, was in the hospital, David was born.  (Of course I’ve been in for different things, as an out patient.)

 On the ride in, I kept hoping that it would pass and I wouldn’t have to go into the emergency room.  Yish!  But it didn’t and I did.  After two gazillion tests and fifty people trying to get an I.V. into my veins, they decided that I wasn’t having a heart attack (which was good), but maybe it was my gall bladder (not so hot).  I stayed over night….then another night.  The ultrasound they ran showed gall stones.  Cool.  Not!  My liver enzymes were not so hot either.

But because the pain had pretty much gone away, they let me go home.  I get to go back in tomorrow to get another battery of tests.  Hopefully my liver is better and I won’t have to have a CT scan (painful because they can’t get a needle into my veins) or surgery.  I’ve got all my body parts I came with and really would like to keep it that way!

 I’ve been eating very low fat meals, babying my gall bladder as much as I can, hoping to stay away from surgeons….even though they are real nice people.  Wish me luck tomorrow!


Jackie Clay

Today we doubled our water storage

Sunday, February 3rd, 2008

Two weeks ago, just before I flew out to Washington to visit Will, we had our generator in the shop.  When we went to pick it up, our carpenter friend, Tom, went with us.  He said that when he and David had taken it there, he noticed a 300 gallon poly water storage tank sitting out in a guy’s front yard, with a "For Sale" sign written on it.  We picked up the generator, then went to look at the tank.  It had not been used other than for garden watering, and the man did not need it any more.  The price he set was half what a new tank (like the one we have in our basement!) cost, so I gave him $50 to hold it and told him we’d be back just after the 1st of February.

So today, I sent David (Tom went with him) to pick up the tank.  Now this tank is NOT small.  It stands about 6 1/2 feet high and you can’t reach around it, no matter how long your arms are.  When they came home, it wouldn’t fit through our 36" front door!  So we took it off the hinges and luckily, it just squeeked in.  And wasn’t it a wrassle getting it down the basement stairs without it getting wild and running us over.  Wow it looked huge in the stairwell!

But now it’s down and no one got squashed in the bargain.  It will fit next to our existing tank once we move the 12 volt pump and the battery bank.  We’ll hook the twin tanks together and the pump will draw from both at once, keeping them at the same level.  And they’ll fill when the pump is on, giving us 600 gallons of water storage.  Yes, our water line can still freeze, but now we can have twice as much water on hand at a time.  That will be oh so nice!

Readers’ questions:

Living off-grid

Thank you for all of your help and advice over the years. This will be our first year at our new Homestead and we are using a 1500 watt battery bank and a generator to charge it at least until we get our windmill going. What do you use for electricity? Are you off Grid? You mentioned getting a Brushless generator csn you reccomend a particular model?

Mark Beyerchen
Silverwood, Michigan

Hi Mark.  The first year at your new homestead; how exciting!!!!  YES we are definitely off grid.  It would cost us about $40,000 to run power in here.  IF we wanted to, which we don’t.  We are still in the building-the-homestead stage and are currently running on a 2,000 watt inverter, with four six volt golf cart batteries for storage.  All our lights are CFLs and we watch leaving even those on, as well as various phone/cordless drill/flashlight chargers, which draw current when off.  Of course, David unplugs his TV and other electronics, via a surge controller with a switch.  We run all day until about 8 pm on the batteries, then start the generator to draw water for the animals and us, then leave it on for about 2 hours or so at night to recharge the batteries and use power for the computer, washing machine, dryer (gas), etc.
We did use a generator longer hours at night, especially in the winter, which wore out several sets of brushes.  Recently, after such a crash, we bit the bullet and bought a Yamaha brushless generator, both to avoid such a problem again and because of the unit’s reputation.  Hopefully, it’ll be a good one for us, especially when we’re using it less.  We also plan on buying four more batteries soon (they’re ordered), to tie in with the ones we’re using now, which have only been used for about 3 months.  You don’t want to mix old batteries with new ones as it reduces the life of the new batteries.
We have two solar panels, and will be buying four more when I can afford it; this is a pay as you go homestead, for the most part.  I’d also like to see a wind generator on the hill, but first we’re walking before running. — Jackie

Browning bison and living in Minnesota

Hi Jackie! Two questions for you. First, we recently harvested a bison and we’re interested in canning some of the ground meat. Should we brown it first? Also, do we need to add broth? If so, how much?

Second, we’re interested in what factors/criteria you considered in choosing Minnesota for your current homestead. Know you used to reside in Montana. We currently reside in northwestern Montana and would like more land for our homestead . . . but the prices here are now very STEEP. Maybe we should be considering Minnesota??

Holly & Jack McDonald
Rexford, Montana
Glad to hear you have a lot of meat!  Yes.  Definitely brown the meat, both ground and pieces, before you can it.  I used to can a lot raw, just to get it DONE.  But since I’ve been browning all my meat, it’s turned out to look and taste much nicer.  Hardly any tough meat at all, even the cuts like round steak.  I brown it, add water to make a broth, then pack the hot meat in the jars and fill them to within an inch of the top with the broth it was simmered in.  VERY GOOD!
We absolutely love Montana.  But we couldn’t afford enough sustainable land for us to really make a self reliant lifestyle there.  Mountainous land, which we love, was selling for $1,500 plus an acre, and only about two acres out of 20 was actually useable.  Rocks and cliffs are gorgeous, but you do need to make a living from that land, too!
So we came to Minnesota, where I had lived for 20 years before, dreaming of Montana.  Yes, the land IS cheaper and more useable, as there are fewer cliffs and rocks.  (But we live on a gravel ridge and have a whole lot of basketball on down rocks.  That’s building material, though!)
Every state has its good points and bad.  Up north where we live is relatively low populated.  We like that.  There are tons of lakes and rivers.  Plenty of woods.  But it DOES get cold here and you do have bugs to contend with in the summer.  Our growing season is about 100 days.  Usually.  Some surprises there, though; we had a killing freeze in July one summer!  You’d just have to research Minnesota and come out to make a decision as to whether you’d want to live here or not.  At any rate, the best of luck! — Jackie


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