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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 May, 2008

Jackie Clay

Evening’s a time to relax and enjoy the day that has been

Thursday, May 29th, 2008

I’ve been pretty darned busy lately, running every morning to see Mom in the hospital, then hurrying home to get in the garden because I’m getting late again this year.  I didn’t even have time to get my squash and melon seeds started inside.  Oh well, maybe we’ll have a good long growing season?

The onions are up three inches high and the asparagus I planted two years ago is growing so fast you can just about see it grow!  And nice fat stalks, too!  Mmmmm.  I’m glad I planted so much.  Now I have 90 plants and in another year I’ll be canning asparagus for the winter so we can enjoy our favorite vegetable year around.

Tomorrow I drive to Duluth to pick up my boyfriend, Will, from the airport, so today I’ve been getting ready for “company”.  Of course I haven’t cleaned house since Mom went to the hospital, so guess what I did today?  Sigh.  Well, it certainly needed it!

Tonight, I took a break and enjoyed my new deck.  The hummingbirds are back in force, and are so tame they fly right in front of my face.  I have three feeders up for the seed eating birds and we have goldfinches, purple finches, grosbeaks, song sparrows and others.  I’m hoping for an oriole, but none, so far.  My friend Jeri has several at her hummingbird feeders, but we live a few miles apart.  I’ve seen them here, but am still watching and waiting.  They are so pretty and have a beautiful song.

All those birds also help me by eating weed seeds and not so nice insects.  By flying buddies!

Readers’ questions:

Wall O Waters

Question about using Wall O Waters: Do you have to harden the plants off before you plant them out, since you’d be planting them out earlier than normal? Do the WOWs just protect them from needing to be hardened off? And do you notice that they get set back later in the season when it’s time to remove the WOWs? My tomatoes always seem so floppy when I finally take the WOWs off and they almost seem to get transplant shock then and need some time to recover.

Carmen Griggs
Bovey, Minnesota

No, I don’t feel that you need to harden the plants off when you use WOWs, as they are protected from wind, direct sun and cold rains.  I’ve never had them show the slightest bit of shock when I’ve just planted them straight from the greenhouse.

Yes, my plants also are a little floppy when I take the WOWs off.  I just stake them up and wait a week.  Although they are floppy, they have grown terrific roots and they quickly stock up.  I’m sure yours do, too.  Great product! — Jackie

“Best” canner

I want to start canning foods, but am not sure which is the best canner to buy.  My stove is electric (came with the house) and the cooktop is a flat surface, with the heating elements covered by the glass top.  What do you recommend?

Lois Lichtenberg
Grahamsville, New York

There is no “best” canner.  Get a fairly large capacity canner or you will always wish you had later on.  All modern pressure canners are safe and easy to use, needing little or no maintenance or repair throughout years of hard use.

Glass top kitchen ranges aren’t a good bet to can on.  In fact, most stoves advise against it; the glass can break with the weight of a canner on it.  You could pick up an inexpensive propane or even electric range to replace your glass top.  The switch shouldn’t be expensive and will allow you to can. — Jackie

Storing homemade salsa

I make my own salsa and the recipe is as follows:

2 28 oz cans diced tomatoes
2 or 3 jalapenos or about a handful of jalapenos
3 or 4 gloves garlic
1/2 onion
and a small bunch of cilantro
Dash of salt
JUuice of 1 lime

I heat it for about 10 minutes on the stove and then put it in jars.  I have been freezing or keeping in refrigerator but I would love to know if this is safe to do a 20 minutes water bath and store it on the shelf like most canned products?  I find so much conflicting info on this.  I don’t want to get sick or injur anyone with poisoning.

Dyanne  Lerew
North Richland Hills, Texas

I would add 2 Tbsp of lemon juice or vinegar to your recipe and heat the salsa just to boiling, ladle into hot sterilized jars and process it for 30 minutes (pints) in a boiling water bath canner.  Good eating! Now if you grow your own tomatoes, peppers and other ingredients….. — Jackie

How do I get Issue No. 87?

Please help.  My goat is milk and I’ve lost my issue #87 — with all those great goat milk recipe’s.  I checked for it in the “Previous Issues” section but it’s not available.  Any suggestions on how/where else I can get the information?  I’m especially in need of the yogurt in a jar, put it in a pan of water, and let it set in the pilot-lit oven till done, and the cheese recipes.  I’ve been using this issue and it’s recipes for years — but these days, my grey matter just isn’t what is used to be.  I need words on paper.

Laura Cutter
Cocolalla, Idaho

I checked with Dave and the crew at BHM to see if they have an issue, but they are out of No. 87. Issue No. 87 is also not yet in any of the anthologies. It’s scheduled for the 15th Year Anthology which is a year away from being printed. I know you can call the BHM office at 1-800-835-2418 and have the articles xeroxed by the staff for a fee. — Jackie

Jackie Clay

Mom is doing better and I’m getting the garden under control

Saturday, May 24th, 2008

After taking a downturn, Mom’s doing much better today, and because my sisters were there to visit her, I took the day off to work in the garden.  I’m kind of behind, and my boyfriend, Will, is coming for a two week visit on Thursday.  (Yes.  I’m EXCITED!)  But I’m tired out, too, and things are going slowly.  To top it off, I got a migraine this morning.  Gee.  Just what I needed!

But I planted 150 pots of blooming pink and blue hyacinths and tulips that I picked up for ten cents each on a closeout at Lowes, then started planting tomatoes in the big garden.  I got 12 done, and boy do those tomatoes love the Wall’O Waters I put around them.  It does take me about 10 minutes to fill each one with water, but it seems like the tomatoes have already grown stockier since they went in this morning!

We are expecting night time temperatures of 29 degrees in a few days, but I know the tomatoes will not only survive, but thrive in their little cozy tipis.

The new red raspberries have sprouted leaves, but the new asparagus hasn’t popped up yet.  Nor have the potatoes.  That’s okay, because they might get nipped by frost.  The “old” asparagus is coming up big guns!  There is about a dozen nice spears.  Guess what I’m having for dinner tomorrow?  MMmmmmm.

David and I are going to visit Mom tomorrow morning, then it’s back to planting tomatoes.  I’d like to thank all of you for your prayers and encouragement.  It means a lot to us all!

Readers’ questions:

Ideas on cornmeal

I am praying for your mom’s health.  Meanwhile, I want to buy bulk corn to grind for cornmeal etc.  Can I use corn from the feed store and rinse it before use.  The salesman said it was only good for animal feed and not cleaned well enough for humans–so what if I just clean it myself.

Gail Erman
Palisade, Colorado

You could probably clean that corn and dry it well; field corn IS dusty and sometimes is stored in bins that have rodent problems.  Another idea is to buy 50 pounds of popcorn at a Sam’s Club or other bulk store and use that to grind for cornmeal.  Popcorn is flint corn and makes excellent cornmeal.  Do remember that homeground cornmeal is a whole grain and will go rancid faster than store cornmeal, just like whole wheat flour will.  It’s best to grind just before you plan on using it for the freshest taste. — Jackie

Manure tea

I have been using the same garden tea, made from manure for about 7 years.  I just keep adding to it, but now I am wondering if this is safe ,bacteria wise?  Should a new batch be made every year?

Janice Groulx
Montrose, Michigan

I think you’re safe with your manure tea.  Just don’t pour/spray ANY manure tea on plants you will be eating, such as greens, tomatoes, etc.  Your manure tea would probably be stronger if you dumped the old batch and used fresher manure, though. — Jackie

Snow pea pods

Everthing I see on “putting up” “Snow Pea Pods” is that you have to scald them and then cool them and then freeze them. Is there any way to can them in jars using my pressure canner and if so, how would you reccomend they be done. And, anything special for them.

John Goodwin
Haines City, Florida

Snow pea pods really aren’t the best canned.  You can certainly DO it, but snow pea pods are best fresh, just steamed a bit or stir fried.  If you are going to can them, pack them in your jars, then pour on boing water and add salt as you wish, then process for the same time you’d use for fresh garden peas (shelled). — Jackie

Canning matters

I haven’t read BHM since 2005 and just now re-upped, (due to financial circumstances.) I want to express my sincere sympathies about Bob as that is the latest issue I have. I know you and David are strong people. And it appears you have your log home built now?  Congratulations!  Also, our prayers and thoughts will always be with you — and a speedy recovery to your Mom! I understand about aging parents.

Question:  I have an opportunity to buy very inexpensively, and old 2-decker (holds 14 quarts!) pressure canner.  How safe are these if I can find parts if needed?  The man mentioned canning at 15 lbs. Also, I have @ 200 baby food jars w/lids.  Any uses besides crafts? And can I use mayo jars at all?  Curiosity, about how many jars to you keep for canning?

LOVE your articles!  You are my homesteading hero!

Tammy  Amland
Howard Lake, Minnesota

P.S. My sister is just south of you in Virginia, MN.

Glad to have you back, Tammy!  Thanks for your kind words.  Bob’s death was hard on us, but we got through it with time.  Yes.  We got our log home built, although we are still working on it as we are paying as we go.

Does your new canner have a dial or weighted vent?  In Minnesota, no one needs to can at 15 pounds as there isn’t an altitude here that requires that.  You would over proces food and also risk blowing some of the liquid out of the jars.

Parts are usually pretty easy to get, so that isn’t usually an issue. I would have the gauge checked (if it has one), to make sure it is still accurate.  Your local Extension Office should be able to do this for you for free or very cheaply.

You can use baby food jars for jams, jellies and preserves.  I wouldn’t can other foods in them, as the lids ARE being reused.  But for these foods, the jars will certainly work.

I use ANY jars that a canning lid and ring will fit on properly and haven’t had any problem with them at all.

I’ve never counted my jars.  Eeek!  I probably wouldn’t want to know how many I have.  But I pick up many new-to-me ones every year so I can increase my pantry.  I have full jars in the pantry, then use some and wash them out, storing them in a cupboard until I use them again, so they are constantly moving about. — Jackie

Love your canning tips

Jackie,  I thank the Lord that I found you.  I have been trying to learn to can on my own.  Was starting to think no one did it anymore.  I love your tips!  I will add you and your mother to my prayer list.  You get some rest and remember God Loves you!

Jennifer Joyner
St. Mary’s , Georgia

Thank you so much for your prayers.  Mom seems to be on the mend, so we’re heaving a huge sigh of relief!  I took today off and enjoyed the garden and flowers.  You’re right; I did need the rest!  And I know I’m lucky because God does love me! — Jackie

Double stacking jars?

Am making storage shelves in our pantry so my wife can store all the food we can.  So can determine shelf spacing, I need to know: is it safe to double stack pint jars of home canned food (NOT boxed)when storing them?  Don’t want to do anything that would compromise the seals.  Have searched all over the web and can’t find an answer to our question.  My wife seems to recall hearing somewhere that its not safe to double stack the jars.

Jack  McDonald
Rexford, Montana

It is not recommended that you double stack your jars.  I’ve been a bad girl and have done it at times and haven’t had a problem with seals failing.  It would be better if you had a piece of OSB or plywood that you could put on top of the bottom layer of jars, then put the top layer on that.  In that way the weight of the top layer would rest on the RIMS of the jars, not the centers. — Jackie

Praying for you

I didn’t know any other way to contact you – sorry if this is the wrong place. Just wanted to tell you I’m praying for your mom’s and YOUR health. I’ve taken care of the elderly family members, too, my mom lived with me for several years. ‘It’s hard’ is an understatement, but Oh, so worth it all!!! God bless you all.

Dianne Williams
Birch River, West Virginia

Thanks, Dianne.  Everyone’s prayers have certainly helped; Mom is doing much better now.  It’s great to have such a large “extended family”! — Jackie

Dehyrdating fiddleheads

I would like to know if you can dehydrate fiddleheads.  They are in season here now and I don’t have a lot of freezer room and I don’t like them canned.  Also, is there some place I could get morrel mushroom spores I would like to grow some have never tasted them but love all other kinds of mushrooms.

Susan Carmichael
Houlton, Maine

Yes you can dehyrdate fiddleheads.  Clean them of their papery “husk”, then boil them for one minute.  Drain well, then lay out on your dehydrator tray in a single layer.  Dry till very leathery, like green beans.

You can buy morrel mushroom (and many other kinds!) spawn from Fungi Perfecti. Morrel’s are wonderful mushrooms, one of my very favorites! — Jackie

Jackie Clay

I’m playing catch-up today

Wednesday, May 21st, 2008

With Mom in the hospital, doing fairly well, and my two sisters visiting her today, I stayed home to get caught up. I had a table full of dirty dishes, tomatoes that needed planting in their Wall’o Waters, two roses and a tub peach, plus some perennials that sadly needed planting. So to keep busy and keep my mind off Mom’s problem, I started in this morning doing “normal” things. It eases my worries like nothing else does.

By noon, I’d planted six tomatoes, the roses, perennials and even some glad bulbs. Then I tilled another strip of garden and planted another ten tomatoes. I’m so happy with my Wall’o Waters, as they let me plant my tomatoes and peppers a whole month early. (I could have even planted them earlier, but I kind of got behind.) Last year my son, Bill, planted their tomatoes in the Walls, where his in-laws planted their tomatoes the same day without them. In a month, his plants were literally twice the size and they were the same variety of tomatoes!

This afternoon, I wandered through my flower gardens for a break and marveled at how beautiful the daffodils and other spring flowers looked. EVERYTHING is popping up rank and gorgeous. There are peonies, lilies, columbine, penstemons, daylilies, violas, tulips and a whole lot more. Even my on-sale clematis from last year are shooting up like they mean business. This is despite the late spring snows and hail we’ve had lately, too!

I topped my day off by playing with Ladyhawk, my new Friesian filly. She’s so friendly and responsive, not to mention drop dead gorgeous. I can hardly wait to start her training.

Tomorrow, it’s off to the hospital again, but I’m grateful for my respite of a day to regroup.

Readers’ questions:

Old glass-top canning jars

I was recently fortunate enough to come into over 200 of the old style glass top canning jars (free!). Once cleaned and sterilized (and with new rubbers) are these safe to can with? I’ve been told not to trust ’em but I figure they worked for everyone else for umpteen years and hey, the price was right. Also, since I’m new to canning I don’t currently have a pressure canner. Do you have any suggestions on brand or size? One more question – when are you going to write a book?! My wife and I look forward to your column every issue and would absolutely love to have our very own “Jackie” reference book for recipes, gardening tips and great anecdotes.

Allen Foster
Northfield, New Hampshire

Wow! You really got a find, there. But, unfortunately, they really aren’t safe to can many foods. They probably would be okay for pickles, jams, jellies and preserves; the worst that could happen is that they might (but probably won’t) get moldy if they don’t seal.

They definitely aren’t good for pressure canning; there’s no flex to the lid like there is with a modern two piece lid/ring. And you would have no way of knowing if the jar was sealed or not like you do with the two-piece lids. These jars are quite pricey at antique and flea markets. If I had that many, I’d save a few dozen for storing dry foods, then sell the rest and buy my new pressure canner and several cases of good, modern, used jars. You’ll probably still have enough left for a celebration dinner!

And, yes, I have thought seriously about doing a book. Right now, with taking care of Mom, I have less time than I need already. But someday…. — Jackie

Dried egg shells

Since the compost piles need plenty of moisture anyway, why is it important to let eggshells dry out before putting them in the compost piles? I have a tiny kitchen and love to add kitchen stuff to the compost piles but once I fill up a bowl, I want to go ahead and get it out of the kitchen.

A friend of mine has her used eggshells in the stove/oven bottom drawer drying out but my stove/oven is small.

Joanna Wilcox
Boone, North Carolina

I think the reason that some folks dry egg shells before composting them is to dehydrate any clinging egg from the shells so they don’t smell up the pile like rotten eggs. Personally, I don’t compost my egg shells; I dry them on the counter in a bowl, crush them and save them up to plant under my tomatoes in the spring (helps prevent blossom end rot because of the calcium) or feed them back to the chickens.

If you want to dry your egg shells before composting them, just put them in a bowl on the counter; they’ll dry fine without additional heat. — Jackie

Canning cornish rock chickens

First of all I would like to thank you for sharing with us all the knowledge that you do! I also think that its great that your son David is such a help. Just think of the things he knows to help him as he enters adulthood! If all our teens were prepared the way he is our world would certainly be a much different place!

Anyway, I am going to be raising our annual batch of 50 cornish cross chickens. Instead of being dependent on our freezer I would like to can many of them preferably off the bone. What is the most effecient way to can those? I usually butcher 10/day since I butcher alone mostly. Could I safely cook them down in a nesco roaster or boil them in a huge kettle to get the meat off the bone? I would also like to can the broth since it’s so hard to get broth at the store that is low in sodium.

Thank you for taking the time to share with us all. I am making many improvements to our garden this year and expanding with the way the economy is. We have a very limited income so we epend on this food. Plus my husband has serious heart disease and can’t eat many of our grocery store foods that are filled with high fructose corn syrup, msg and saturated fats. So your column is always thought provoking and inspiring !! Plus it gives us all hope that there are alternatives we can do with a little hard work! Thanks!!

Cindy Hills
Wild Rose, Wisconsin

Yes, I’m very appreciative for having David’s help. Perhaps we “let” him do too much at a young age, but he loves it and yes, it is preparing him for a variety of jobs/useful lifeskills in adulthood.

I prefer to butcher only 3 chickens a day, as it takes me a day to process the birds…only 3 cut up fit in my largest stock pot to boil down. You can also roast them; the main thing it to cook them to get the meat off the bone. I’ve found that the stock pot leaves the meat more tender and less dry, but a covered roaster does fine, too; just don’t over-cook the meat.

I cool the stock pot down enough to handle the meat, then dip a bone-in piece at a time out and debone it. Some of the meat, I leave whole, such as the large breast pieces and heavy thighs. But much of it, I dice up because it’s so useful that way in so many different recipes. The smaller pieces, I cut up small to use in half pints or in quarts with stock with rice/onions/carrots as a soup base.

After the meat is deboned, the broth is cooled and I skim off most of the fat that forms on the top. Then I reheat the broth and meat and pack the jars.

By doing 3 chickens a day, allowing overnight to cool the carcasses, I can process a whole lot of meat in a week’s time. Of course something always comes up, and I don’t always get 3 done EVERY day, so butchering time kind of gets spotty. But the important thing is that it gets done.

I’m raising 25 Cornish Rock chickens again this year; they’re very efficient meat producers even though they don’t seem to be “real” chickens (leg problems because of huge weight). — Jackie

Recycling trash

Jackie, I am reading ANIMAL, VEGETABLE, MIRACLE by BARBRA KINGSOLVER and I thought of you when I read the words – “I have seen women looking over jewlery ads with a misty eye and one hand resting on the heart, I only know what they are feeling because that’s how I read the seed catalogs in January.”

My question – Do you do much recycling with everyday trash? If so, what is your routine?

Joanna Wilcox
Boone, North Carolina

Well, kind of. I try not to buy stuff in plastic, wrapped or whatever. Then I try not to buy things in glass that can not be reused for canning or food storage. I can most of my vegetables and meat, so there isn’t much for tin cans, either. The ones that I do have get put into a separate shopping bag. There’s another one for aluminum cans hanging on the same nail. All edible “garbage” except for meat/grease goes to the chickens. The meat/grease goes to the dogs. Bones are burned in the kitchen range, along with newsprint and other decent burnable paper. Junk mail, old catalogs and magazines are either recycled or with the magazines, given to places that can use them.

I’ve found that the less you buy, the less you have that needs to be recycled. Only in our affluent society do you see a need for recycling! We’ve become a throw-away society and I hate it. Why can’t we bring our clean glass bottles to be filled with milk, juice or whatever? Why can’t we do the same with peanut butter, cheese and other products? Why can’t meat be wrapped in paper like it used to be? Plastic, plastic, plastic. Gee, I wonder why the cost of petroleum products is going up. Maybe it’s NOT the gas for our cars, but the plastic we are wrapped in! — Jackie

Baking soda and beans

My foster mother, a semi nutritionist, told me never to use soda in cooking baked beans because it will destroy the vitamins in the beans. Today, I checked and sure enough: Read this:

She was right. Since I read about you canning beans, I have found the beans are much nicer, and handy to use. They do not require soda to soften them.

Bruce Clark
Interlaken, New York

I didn’t know that about baking soda. But it isn’t used to soften the beans, but to reduce the “bad” effects beans have on some folks. If baking soda reduces the nutrition of the beans, people might substitute using epazote (the herb) in their beans. It has the same benefit and I don’t think it would damage the nutrition. — Jackie

Canning frozen vegetables

I want to can frozen veg. What is the procedure?

Jimmy Crawford
Monticello, Georgia

To can frozen vegetables, heat them just until they are thawed and hot; don’t boil. Then just proceed as if they were hot packed fresh veggies. I’ve canned a lot of them in the past when our power failed and I was in danger of losing my food. Now I just can and dry it all! — Jackie

Jackie Clay

Mom’s in the hospital, so please forgive the short blog post

Sunday, May 18th, 2008

Just a week after Mother’s Day, I had to rush Mom to the Cook Hospital.  She was suddenly vomiting and her stomach hurt.  As she’d already had two bowel blockages, I was afraid I knew why she was sick.  And, unfortunately, I was right.  She has another bowel blockage…probably from the three surgeries she’s had in three years.

She was ambulanced to Hibbing, where she is now, waiting to see if it might clear up by itself within 24 hours.  If not, she has to have surgery, which at 92, she’s not a real good candidate.  So I’m running back and forth to the hospital, a 30 mile one way trip and trying to get things under control here.  I’m real tired with all the emotional stress and driving.  Sometimes taking care of an elderly parent is tough, but worth the bad days.  I’ll keep you posted.

Jackie Clay

What a nice Mother’s Day!

Tuesday, May 13th, 2008

Sunday, being Mothers Day, was extra nice.  My sister, Sue, came up from Hermantown, near Duluth, and brought lunch.  She also brought Mom flowers, which she loved.  So we visited awhile.  It had been cloudy, following the TWO INCHES of SNOW that we had the night before.  But when Sue left for home, the sun came out and the snow quickly left too.

David had asked what I wanted for Mothers Day and I told him “help fixing up the new spot on the big garden”.  He smiled and fired up the dozer and down the hill he went.  The week before, he’d roughed in the opening in the brush, on the north side of the big garden, removing stumps, rotted logs and popple tree roots.  (He had cut down the small trees and tossed them over the 6′ fence, into the garden to chip.  We did them and mulched the old asparagus row with them.  No waste here!)

In short order, the 20’x50′ new plot was clear and graded nicely.  What nice soil, too!  I got the 8′ fence posts laid out and David drove the dozer next to the fence line, so he could stand on the track to pound the posts.  It IS hard to pound 8′ posts.  I have to use a ladder, wobbling back and forth.  The dozer track is much nicer.  Real stable.

Today I pulled the old garden fence down and wired it onto the new fence line.  Great!  Just when I was getting worried about where I was going to plant all my stuff.  Wow am I excited.  What a great Mother’s Day present!  And I don’t have to dust it, either.

After the garden area was cleared, David found a frost boil where an old log had laid.  A frost boil is a very wet spot, often only the size of a wash tub, surrounded by normal dry soil.  They occur often where there’s been heavy frost or ice build up in the ground.  And this melts slowly at first then all at once.  It’s strange; kind of like quicksand sometimes.  David bounced up and down on it and the ground around for about five feet quaked and shook like Jello.  The more he bounced, the deeper he sank, until his feet were good and stuck.  How fun!

He leaned over.  And over.  Still, his feet were stuck.  Then finally, plop!  Out one came with a sucking pop.  He fell right on his side with a laugh.  Who needs video games when you have a frost boil????

Readers’ questions:

Canning juice

I just bought a juicer and am looking forward to our crop of apples and pears this fall. Is there a way to safely can apple or pear juice?

Erica Kardelis
Helper, Utah

Oh yes!  All fruit juice is super easy to home can and it tastes great! To can it, simply pour the hot juice into hot, sterilized jars, seal and process for 30 minutes in a boiling water bath canner.  That’s it.  Enjoy. — Jackie

Jackie Clay

Potatoes and raspberries

Saturday, May 10th, 2008

Well, gardening is really getting under way at our place. I tilled up the strip that was woods last spring at this time, having worked in much rotted manure last fall. First I planted 40 Jersy Knight asparagus roots along the fence. Obviously, we all love asparagus….I also have another 30 three year old roots on the opposite side of the garden, next to THAT fence.

Then I set in 460 onion sets of three varieties. Oh my back! Wow is that 100′ garden ever long! I put them in a wide bed, four abreast, the whole length.

And on the other side of the onions, I put in 25 Latham red raspberries. These I got from Pinetree Garden Seeds, one of my very favorite companies. And BOY were they huge! And cheap, too. The plants were stocky, budding out and the huge roots with little baby plants starting from them. No wonder you have to be careful not to let the raspberries take over the garden.

Those in, I put in two full rows of carrots; my pantry really is low on them now, so I have to have lots and lots to can up this fall.

Today I followed that up with 95 hills of potatoes, Red Nordland, Yukon Gold, Norkota Russets and assorted fingerling potatoes. When the economy looks bad, I plant LOTS of the basics! And bad it looks right now.

(Boy, my huge garden is getting kind of slim.) Luckily, David opened up another 15’x50′ on the north end of the garden the other day with the dozer! Mmmm. The possibilities…..

Readers’ questions:

Grinding flour fine enough

I have just purchased a 50# bag of hard red wheat and a 50# bag of soft white wheatand the grinder I have does not seem to grind it fine enough. Its like fine sand. Is this the correct texture? I have never ground berries before. What should the flour look like, I have read that it is courser than store bought. I have found a grinder at Walton Feed that looks like one in your pictures online that your son is using. Back to basics grain mill #XO24. Its in my budget. What are your suggestions?

Kevin Gray
Ellendale, Minnessota

Run the coarse flour through the mill two or more times. It gets finer with more passes through. Yes. Home ground whole wheat flour IS coarser than storebought white flour, but it sure makes great bread and rolls! I think you’ll find your flour, ground twice, is plenty fine for baking. Enjoy! — Jackie

Homestead income

What suggestions or advice might you have for folks that would like to break into homesteading or become full time homesteaders? My husband and I live on 1.3 acres with dogs and chickens. We’d like to move to a larger piece of property where we can be much more self sufficient, though, we make the most of the land we have. Also, my husband is an engineer and I work for a local library system. What is the primary source of income for most homesteaders? Does their income come primarily from their land?

Leah Fox
Longbranch, WA

Most homesteaders do NOT make their income primarily…or even mostly from their land. It takes a good deal of creativity and a whole lot of work to make money from a homestead….money you can see, at any rate. You CAN grow most of your own food and your livestock’s food if you have land enough, or small livestock.

Homesteaders’ jobs vary as much as anyone else’s, but we all have one thing in common; the drive to “grow our own” and live a freer lifestyle. With the economy going nuts lately, this is getting more and more important.

My best advice? Try to get out of debt as much as possible, start slowly and enjoy every bit of it. All the best of luck!!! — Jackie

Food to throw away

We just received a whole lot of quart canning jars. They are full of very old canned contents, from rabbit to collards. Most are still sealed. My husband wants to feed the contents to the pigs. I am afraid to, as in addition to being very old, I know the lady did not use a pressure canner. I worry about botulism. What are your thoughts?

Glen Heck
Natchitoches, Louisiana

I agree with you. Because she did not use a pressure canner, these foods are not safe….even for your hogs. I’d dig a deep hole in a remote location and bury them. Then wash the jars out well with hot soapy water and follow up by boiling them for 15 minutes in a hot water bath canner. You’ll have great jars to fill up with your own goodies… canned right! — Jackie

Canning with honey

I am wanting to can with Honey or raw sugar in place of white refined sugar Is it possible?

Julie Marsh
Kinsville, Missouri

Yes, difinitely. There are many jam and jelly recipes using honey instead of refined sugar in Rodale’s STOCKING UP. Otherwise, just substitute in your fruit syrup to taste. Making jams and jellies with honey instead of sugar is a bit fussier, but can certainly be done. — Jackie

Canner problem

Following up on pressure canner procedures: In your blog post of May 6, 2008, you answered a question from Jack & Deb Horan of New Hampshire with the statement “Don’t can at too high a pressure.” The rest of your answer implied that 15 psi would be considered too high at their altitude of 750 ft MSL, causing the jars to lose food and fail to seal.

I have a new Presto dial gauge pressure canner and I’ve run three or four batches through it in the past month. My altitude here is very close to 900 ft MSL. I have noticed that I cannot keep the pressure consistently at 11 psi — steam leaks out the vent lock until about 15 psi. Once it reaches 15 or so, everything seals up tight but I have to turn the heat down to almost nothing in order to prevent further pressurization. I can’t get it to drop below 15 without turning the heat off altogether.

I opened one jar of the canned beef last night and found it to be almost too overcooked — not much texture left. None of the jars has blown out or leaked in processing, so I don’t think it’s been unsafe, but I do wonder how to better regulate that pressure and not overprocess the meat.

Any further tips?

Carol Logan Newbill
Birmingham, Alabama

I would definitely call the company; this is not normal. You should be able to hold your pressure wherever you need to and the exhaust valve should not leak steam, once closed. — Jackie

Hopi Pale Grey seeds

My husband and I have only been receiving BHM for less than a year but we read each issue cover to cover and have learned so much. We bought a small farm almost two years ago and plant a good sized garden which produces abundantly. We have never been big squash eaters but last year we found that we really liked the yellow squash so we ate it both fresh and frozen. We would like to try your favorite Hopi Pale Grey if you still have a few seeds to share; if not, could you tell me where to find them? We look forward to the next issue with all the articles and questions. This year I am canning meats due to your great answers to others’ questions. Thanks to everyone for a great magazine.

Mikki Frazier
Peel, Arkansas

I’m about out of seeds, but SEED DREAMS, P.O. Box 106 Port Townsend, WA 98368 has seeds. They also have a great seed listing, but please send a couple of bucks to cover costs as they are a very small family business. No color catalog or outrageous postage costs, but HOPI PALE GREY SQUASH SEEDS!!!! — Jackie

Preserving ramps

I have some fresh harvested ramps. I would like to refrigerate them in some solution to preserve them, any suggestions on a mixture?

Jack Arnold
Annandale, Virginia

Your best bet would be to chop or slice your ramps and freeze them or else dehydrate them. Either way, you’ll have ramps to your heart’s delight when you want a mess. — Jackie

Canned bacon

You were asking in the last issue if anyone knew of any canned bacon available. MREdepot is scheduled to get some in soon.

Cheryl Driggs
Spring, Texas

Thanks Cheryl. Another reader also pointed us to this site. Hopefully this will come about and be a good source for those who want commercially canned bacon to add to their pantry. — Jackie

A root cellar

I was wondering. I see a lot of people asking questions and it might be just me. Most of the posts are from the Northern States. I live in Mississippi is it still feasible to do a root cellar even though we are very humid and hot? I have only been here a few years and this is my 1st attempt at doing anything self reliant, I am starting with a garden. Everything spoils so quickly, even in the house when the air is on. Who would I contact to find out about root cellaring in my area? The county extension? Thanks for your response. Oh, BTW I have bought the book Rootcellar off your website.

Julie Jaco
Senatobia, Mississippi

A root cellar is of benefit in the deep south, provided that you have the walls and ceiling, especially, very well insulated against the heat. The cellar, dug into a steep hillside or bank, with plenty of soil overhead will act as a coolant and will keep vegetables nicely in the winter, provided that the door is also insulated well and there is a ventilating shaft so that fresh air can lightly circulate in the cellar. Your book should help, and YES, your county agent should be able to help you, too. — Jackie

Open pollinated varieties

Do you have a list of vegetables that you grow. I was reading on the web site one of your articles about seeds (Grow open pollinated seeds for self-reliant gardening) You said that you grow mostly plants that are from Native American tribes of the U.S. and Mexico. I just received my first two magazines yesterday along with two books and am interested in buying seeds that are open pollinated. Hopefully you will be able to help

Paul Edem
Kirkville, New York

I do grow a lot of Native American varieties, but not really “mostly”. There was a pretty extensive list of what I’m growing this year in the last STARTING OVER article in BHM, early this spring. Just a few of my OP varieties I grow are: Oregon Spring, Polish Linguisa, Goliath, Silvery Fir Tree and Amish Paste tomatoes, Giant Marconi, Gypsy, Quatro de Milpas and Early Jalepeno peppers, Goliath broccoli, Cherokee Trail of Tears, King of the Early, Provider and Dragon Tongue beans, Blacktail Mountain, Hopi Yellow and Moon and Stars watermelons, Pueblo Mix, Alaska, Canoe Creek Colossal and Noir des Carmes muskmelon, True Gold and Cherokee White flour corn and Japanese Climbing cucumbers. Of course I grow lots and lots of others, varying from year to year. Growing these open pollinated varieties is not only fun but economical because you always have plenty of your own seed to use and share. — Jackie

Jackie Clay

A new garden joins our homestead

Tuesday, May 6th, 2008

On the east side of our house, beyond where we will be building the new entryway/laundry room/green room, there was a humpy bumpy, rocky area. Ugly! There were stumps, logs and other nasty stuff. Not the best of views. So Sunday we dedicated the day to cleaning it up and leveling it off for the new house garden. This will be half strawberry bed, half raised beds with a small selection of house crops such as tomatoes, onions, lettuce, spinach, cukes, peppers and herbs.

On the north side, I’m planting a hedge of bush cherries, with semi-dwarf cherries and even a peach tree (Reliance), hopefully protected by the house, close by. We’ll see. On the east and south side, I’m planting more small fruit trees and hedges of blueberries and currants, which are low enough to not shade the garden. Of course around the edges, as well as “here and there” in the garden, will be flowers, along with a flower bed beside the wall of the new addition….when it gets done.

David ran the bulldozer for an hour over the site, removing stumps and logs, then grading the soil level. We had about four yards of black dirt left over from our raised beds in the front yard. So he finished up by shoving that over the strawberry area, covering it by about six inches. The strawberry area will receive a good application of rotted manure, be tilled well, then several times this summer. It will remain fallow all year to let me completely KILL all weeds, grass and brush that might sprout. They are the biggest enemy of strawberries and I do not want to fight them. The raised beds, I’ll plant this spring. Wow! It’s SO beautiful out there, already! Just wait.

Of course I’ve got to allow for the deer. We’re fencing from the main garden, below the house, up in front of the new house garden, to the house, then swinging the existing garden fence across the bottom of the backyard and up to meet the new fence on the west side of our front yard. I got 2″x4″ 6′ high welded wire fencing on sale last week, so I bought enough to do the job. Bambi beware! No more midnight garden raids for you.

Readers’ questions:

Basic bread recipe

I’m looking for a basic bread recipe. Something to use for sandwiches.

Connie Blakey
Russell Springs, Kentucky

Here’s a basic white bread recipe; there’s hundreds of different breads, types of bread and recipes for them so it’s hard to know just what you need. Richard Blunt is writing a two-part series on making wholesome bread beginng with BHM’s next issue. He’ll discuss making bread from scratch, grinding your own grain, etc.


  • 1 c milk, scalded
  • 6 Tbsp margarine
  • 3 c warm water
  • 2 pkg.yeast or 2 Tablespoons
  • 6 Tbsp sugar
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 5plus c white flour

Barely scald milk; do not boil. Add margarine, sugar and salt. Set aside to cool and let the margarine melt. Put 3 C warm water in a large bowl and add yeast and mix well. Add to milk mix. Stir well. Begin stiring in flour. Add more flour to make an elastic, soft, yet non-sticky dough. Knead well. Grease top and place in a greased, warm bowl to raise. Cover with a warm, damp kitchen towel. When nearly doubled, punch down. Grease your bread pans and divide dough. Cover and let rise again till doubled. Bake at 400 degrees for 10 minutes then reduce heat to 350 degrees for about another 20 minutes or until it sounds hollow when you tap the top with your finger. Wipe top with butter for a nice soft crust. Cool slightly and remove from pan to finish cooling on a baking rack. — Jackie

Pricing blackberry jam

I am trying to find out how to price a pint of blackberry jam. A co-worker would like to buy some and last year, I undersold them A LOT. I have 9 cups of blackberries crushed and 6 cups of sugar.

Melissa Aguilar
Carthage, Texas

Did you buy your blackberries or pick them? I feel that you should get at least a 100% markup on materials to make any kind of profit. Remember that you also have the cost of the jar, lid and heat to make that jam. With the price of sugar going up, like all groceries, you’d better consider the cost of replacing the sugar you use, too!

To figure your cost, add how much your blackberries cost (or a fair price if you grow them or wild pick), plus your jar and the sugar. That’ll give you a good idea of what your cost is. Go from there. — Jackie

Heavy canners, composting toilets

I can’t believe what a strong woman you are, in every way!!!!!! Couple of questions, you can a lot and I was wondering, do you drain and put away your canner at the end of each day during the busy season? I wonder because I have health problems, plus a dbl.masectomy and not much strength in my arms. Is there perhaps an easier way of doing this? I want to buy a pressure canner but know they are very heavy. Also we have a small cabin on the Snake River in Mn. no indoor plumbing ,we have running water,it just comes in a hose hooked up to our neighbors outside spigot,and hanging on a big old nail on the back steps,darn handy in summer. we have an outhouse(one holer, never did figure out who you’d want to sit next to out there) but as the years creep up on us the trip out there is not always convenient. I was wondering about composting toilets,can’t seem to ever find anyone who has one or had one. are they smelly,inconveient,really work?? Any info would be appreciated. I so wish you and I were neighbors, I feel as though I know you and we think so much alike. bet you have great humor too.

Marlene Kevelin
Lino Lakes, Minnesota

No, Marlene, I don’t always dump and put away my canners when I’m done for the day. It kind of depends on my schedule and what I’ve been canning. But if the water in them is not clean (goop blew out between the lid and rim of the jar), I usually DO. Bits of food or even juice and quickly sour the water. And in a pressure canner, bits of food can clog the exhaust vent; not a good thing! My pressure canner is HUGE, and when I was canning while taking chemo and radiation, I often tipped the canner instead of lifting it. With the water bath canner, you can also bail it out with an ice cream pail or sauce pan into a mop bucket.

If you get a moderate sized canner, they really aren’t that heavy, as they are made of aluminum.

As for the composting toilet; YES they do work and NO they aren’t smelly, IF you install and maintain them right. My best friend, Gloria, in Montana had one and when you entered their small house, there was never, never the slightest bit of odor from it. Theirs was a non-electric model, as they had no electricity, save from a generator and windcharger.

We would have installed one here, but in St.Louis county, when you run water into your house, you must install a septic system! So we did. Boo for St. Louis County! — Jackie

Any danger from tires in garden?

Hi…Love your blog and articles! In this month’s issue, you talk about raising potatoes in stacked tires. Is there any danger from chemicals leaking into the potatoes? I know it’s not safe to plant vegies in boards that are treated with chemicals, so just wondered if there was a similar problem with tires?

Ruth Dixon
Gold Beach, Oregon

I’ve never heard about any problems regarding using tires as garden containers. I’ve had several friends who used them for years with great results. I DO worry about folks using the old arsenic treated pressure treated landscape timbers and lumber for raised beds. THAT has been proven to leach into the soil. — Jackie

Size of canner

I am looking at a 21 qt. pressure canner. The website also carries 25qt and larger. It appears they all can 7 quarts or 19 pints. I know you advise buying the largest you can afford but would there be any benefit to the huge sizes? I am only planning to use it for canning. I am really learning a lot from your blog about canning.

Wayne Crow
Gardnerville, Nevada

The reason I have a huge canner is that I can stack quarts on the bottom and pints on top, or two layers of pints, doing all at the same time. The 30 quart canner that I have IS heavy! But it is all business on canning day. Most people do just fine with the 21 quart canner. In fact, I bought one as a “spare” because my old canner IS so darned heavy. — Jackie

Is canning pork safe?

Is canning wild pork safe?

Billy Curry
St. Cloud, Florida

Definitely. Provided that you use recommended canning methods and times for pork. Pressure canning (the only safe method of canning meat and vegetables) heats the meat to kill any possible parasites or bacteria. Go for it! — Jackie

Is water level in canning important?

The wife & I are going to try our hands at canning this year. We have an old (1947) “National #7” pressure canner which I have brought back to life. We do not have a manual for this unit, so have been using our hard copy BHM magazine library, the website, & the WWW as references. I’ve tried searching the BHM website & have had no luck in finding answers.

First question. Is the water level of any real importance in this process? It seems to me that a few inches of water to provide steam & the requisite temperature is what we’re looking for; is that correct?

Second, our canner has a pressure gauge, & I recognize the need to get to ~11psi for the process (we are at 750′ asl), but would a higher pressure have an ill effect? My head tells me that as the killing of the wee beasties that cause spoilage is complete at 240^F, the increased temperature that would accompany an increase in pressure would just be overkill. In other words, if the canner was run in the 15-20 psi range, would that present a problem of which I am not aware?

Jack & Deb Horan
Mason, New Hampshire

Yes, the water is to provide steam for the pressure; generally, only an inch or so is necessary. You just don’t want the water to boil dry during the canning time.

Don’t can at too high a pressure. This can blow liquid and sometimes force food out of the jars between the lid and rim. Then the jars will not seal. — Jackie

Hand-operated washing machine

Don’t know if this question belongs to you or an other staffer, but I will start with you. I am looking for information on hand operated washing machines. Got any resources you can send me to?

Bob Taylor
Poulsbo, Washington

Lehmans Hardware has a sturdy hand operated washing machine for sale; it isn’t cheap but it does the job if you’ve got the time and muscle. — Jackie

Growing tomatoes in Egypt

I have 1 1/2 acre, limestone soil, West Alexandria. Hot weather. How can I grow bushy tomatoes at end of this month. Previous crop alfalfa.

Abdelghaffar Jouda
Alexandria, Egypt

I wish I was more familiar with your climate. Here in northern Minnesota, we had snow yesterday! I would suggest working in some organic material, such as rotted manure or straw, then setting out some started plants that have been hardened off (exposed for short periods to the weather in a protected location at first). A drip irrigation system or ditch irrigation will be valuable to be sure your plants receive plenty of water, as needed.

A partial shade may be necessary in the day to protect the plants from sun scald. You might check out some local U.S. varieties for hot weather, as they will produce more for you. Good luck with your tomatoes! — Jackie

Ready to live off-grid

Ready to live off the grid, I have 80 A. in Tennessee. Love it, can you tell me where I can get info on building a solar cabin, and any other info.

Sam Perry
Mandeville, Louisiana

You might check out and for a start. Then I’d go to the library and see what they or inter-library loan have available on solar living/building. There’s tons of information available out there, including BHM’s own Jeff Yago and his past articles on the subject. — Jackie

Jackie Clay

I’m planting in the garden — finally!

Friday, May 2nd, 2008

Okay, so it’s just the first week in May, but I’m anxious.  Last year we didn’t get planted until the last weekend in May because I was waiting for my son, Bill, to bring his crawler up to enlarge our garden.  He did, making it twice as big, but by the time I got it fenced against the deer, I was late getting things going.

This year I’m pushing for a really productive garden, including tons of fruit trees, bramble bushes and perennial plants.  The prices at the grocery store really scares me!  No way am I paying $1.99 a pound for plums grown who knows where!

So far, I’ve planted 3 Hanson’s bush cherries, 5 Manchurian apricots, 4 more rhubarb plants, 50 more asparagus roots, a Toka and Golden Gage plum, northern Fuji apple, a Garfield Plantation pie cherry, two Patriot blueberries, 6 Fort Kent King blackberries, 2 Chinese chestnuts and 2 butternut trees.  And I’ve got more stuff coming!  Lots of holes!

I also put in six bags of onion sets, combining winter yellow and white with sweet onions.  Next comes the peas and potatoes.  I’ve saved a bunch of Yukon Gold seed potatoes but have to buy some Norkota Russets and Red Norlands as I want to have these, too.  And, of course, David simply MUST have his ALL BLUE potatoes!  They really are fun to grow and serve.  (Eyes pop at purple mashed potatoes.)

It won’t be long before the broccoli plants, cabbages, cauliflower and celery go in, along with the turnips, rutabagas, beets and carrots.  I’m planting a lot of carrots and rutabagas this year.  We eat a lot of carrots and those rutabagas last year were HUGE, as well as awfully tasty.  The deer who got in and ate a lot of them can tell you that!

Two days ago I got my Meyer lemon tree from Parks Seed.  It was three feet tall!  A beautiful plant.  I let it acclimate a little in the greenhouse and I planted it today in a five gallon pot.  Boy it looks nice.  I also got a Ponderosa lemon from Logee’s Greenhouse.  It isn’t as tall, but it is a very nice, bushy plant.  These dwarf lemons produce nicely in a greenhouse or even in a sunny window.  And the blossoms make the whole house smell great!  I can’t wait.

Tonight I was pretty tired.  It had rained all day, making chores dreary.  But I was also glad.  The trees are budding out with the valley turning a beautiful light green…sort of like a haze of springtime.  And that rain is helping get all those new plants and sets growing like crazy.  At sunset, when everything was done and Mom was in bed, I sighed and walked out onto our new deck, in the drizzling rain.  The sun was red and there was a flock of beautiful white pelicans floating on the small beaver pond in front of the house.  How nice to live way out here in the backwoods!

Readers’ questions

Best and worst companies

Could you give advise on the BEST and WORST mail order companies in your opinion for seeds and plants (that are >not just a root!)

Julie Jaco
Senatobia, Mississippi

A huge help to me is the website, Dave’s Garden; the Garden Watchdog. It gives lots of customer input on nearly every mail order company out there.  When you get 289 negative responses and 2 positive, you know there’s a problem!

Some of my very favorite companies are Pinetree Garden Seeds, FEDCO, Starks, Miller Nurseries and Parks.  Good stuff, decent prices, good customer relations and good shipping practices. — Jackie

Canning Bulgur Wheat

Can Bulgur Wheat recipes be canned?

Vanessa Juryla
Bonners Ferry, Idaho

I honestly have had no experience with canning bulgur wheat. Have any other readers out there done it? — Jackie

Canning classes

I heard you recomend the Ball Canning Book, which I will order, but are there classes that I can take in my general area?  I live In Evergreen, Co. but are more than willing to go to Denver proper if need be. I am a visual learner and would really appreciate knowing where to go.

Miriam Vogelfanger-Coca
Evergreen, Colorado

I don’t know of any canning classes, but you might check your Community Education at some local schools (Adult Education).  They sometimes have canning classes.  Another place to check might be your county extension agent.  Canning is so easy to learn.  You really don’t need classes; it IS that easy.  If you can tell time and boil water, you already have the skills needed to can!  Good luck! — Jackie

Canning scrambled eggs?

For the lady asking about preserving eggs, do you suppose they can be scrambled and canned?  They can be scrambled and frozen if you have lots of freezer space but canning sounds like it should work. Maybe…

Nancy Foster
Dallas City, Illinois

Maybe they can.  Only I wouldn’t know what processing time to use for them. You might use the same for meat, but that might make them overcooked.  Sorry, I don’t have a clue.  As far as I know there never has been a canned scrambled egg product available. — Jackie

Messy ducks

I have two khaki campell ducks. They are good layers but not very hygienic.My question is how to corretly clean the eggs?I’ve been cleaning with antibacterial soap and hot water. The eggs are more porous then chicken.So is this method placing soap in my eggs?

Martin Contino
Milford, Pennsylvania

If you just wash the eggs off fairly quickly, you won’t have soap in your eggs; it takes lengthy immersion for this to possibly happen. You don’t need antibacterial soap; simple dishwashing soap will do. It kills bacteria very well.

A hint: Ducks are messy so if you make a simple frame of 1″x4″ lumber and fill it with sawdust so the ducks have to walk through it to lay their eggs in the nest box, they’ll self-clean to a great extent.  Just make their nest box very enticing or they’ll lay in the sawdust. — Jackie


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