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Ask Jackie headline

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Jackie Clay answers questions for BHM Subscribers & Customers
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Archive for February, 2010

Jackie Clay

And they say animals can’t think!

Tuesday, February 23rd, 2010

Our lab’s favorite dish is one of my hanging basket pots. It’s usually full of dry dog food. But when it got empty, Will taught Spencer to pick it up and carry it outside for a refill. Then he taught him to carry it back inside, full. Well, yesterday we were sitting in the living room and Spencer looked at us, then trotted in the greenhouse, picked up his dish and came out and sat in front of Will. It was empty! And Spencer wanted a refill. We laughed until tears ran down our faces. Then Will went out to refill the poor puppy’s dish. Now if only our government could figure out things as easily! Maybe Spencer should run for President?

Readers’ Questions:

Recipe for pecan butter and purchasing saltpeter

I need a recipe for canned pecan butter and where can I purchase saltpeter?

Charlene McGallagher
Irvington, Alabama

I have never had enough pecans, or peanuts even, to make butter, and also don’t have a recipe for it. Do any readers have any help here?

You can usually find saltpeter at larger stores that carry hunting and sporting goods, where the jerky spices are located. If not, try sausage-making supply houses, such as Harvest Essentials, or even your local butcher. I’m assuming you’re going to make some cured meat; you might look for Prague powder, which contains saltpeter. — Jackie

Milking goats

How many milking goats do you have? I know you talk about spreading out your breeding season so I know you have more than one.

Palmer, Alaska

We presently have two does, Buffy and Fawn, who have freshened before, and this year we will have two of our triplet doelings freshening, Jewel and Onyx. We also have two doelings that we didn’t breed this winter, to get more size on them, Dusty (Buffy’s daughter) and Strawberry, the Boer daughter of our new buck. We try to keep our herd small and manageable, yet always improving. We DO love our goats! — Jackie

Vacuum jar sealer

I am looking for a nonelectric hand pumped vacuum jar sealer. Can you help?

Ruby Baker
Leesville, South Carolina

I’ve read about folks using hand vacuum pumps from auto parts stores. (You can buy one that’s used for testing vacuum lines for about $40.) I think this would work fine for you. — Jackie

Canned pickled eggs

Do you can pickled eggs and is it safe to do so? I have been looking for a recipe for canned pickled eggs and everywhere I look it says that they are dangerous and it is not advisable to do. If it can, do you know of a good recipe?

Joe Spearman
Cameron, Oklahoma

I’m bringing you a recipe from my new canning book that’s worked for a hundred years or more:

18 whole, hard-boiled, peeled eggs
1 1/2 quarts white vinegar
2 tsp. salt
1 Tbsp. whole allspice
1 Tbsp mixed pickling spices

Mix vinegar and spices in a large pot and bring to a boil. Pack whole, peeled, hard-boiled eggs into hot, sterilized wide mouthed jar, leaving 1/2 inch of headspace. Ladle boiling pickling solution over eggs, leaving 1/2 inch of headspace. Remove air bubbles. Wipe rim of jar clean; place hot, previously simmered lid on jar, and screw down ring firmly tight. Process for 25 minutes in a boiling water bath canner. NEVER leave unsealed pickled eggs out at room temperature. You risk danger from botulism and other bacterial diseases. — Jackie

Canning soup with cabbage

My granny used to can vegetable soup with cabbage in it, do you happen to have a recipe for that? She would also put pinto beans in it.

Tonya Bowles
Paoli, Indiana

Recipes are personal, and I’m sure your Granny developed her own to suit her taste and used foods she had available. You’ll have to experiment a little until you get a soup that tastes “just like Granny’s.” Most soup bases start with a base, such as beef or ham broth, with vegetables added. In this case, probably corn, potatoes, tomatoes, cabbage, and pintos. Add seasonings as you like and give it a taste test. When you get it “right,” just make up a big batch but don’t cook it thoroughly; just bring it to a good boil. When you can it, fill your jars, leaving 1″ of headspace, then process it in a pressure canner at 10 pounds, for the length of time required for any one ingredient in your soup. (If you live at an altitude over 1,000 feet, consult your canning book for instructions on raising your pressure, if necessary.) Good eating! — Jackie

A few questions

Thank you for answering ALL our questions. A few more…

1. How long will it take pasta products to go rancid? How should we be storing them?
2. Have read that tomato plants with blooms/small tomatoes on them will not do as well when planted in the garden. True/False?
3. Why should you “blanch” veggies before drying? Can we get away with not doing it?
4. Can you make your own self-rising flour? If so, how?
5. Can you make your own dehydrated shortening? How?

Jan Eylar
Savannah, Missouri

It takes pasta products years before they get rancid. Whole wheat pasta will go rancid long before white flour pastas, though. I’ve stored pasta noodles for more than six years without any special treatment and had them taste like just-bought.

Tomato plants in nursery packs (6, 4, 12 packs) that are blooming are too small to be producing fruit, so when they are stressed by not only being root-bound, but also replanted in the garden, they are set back so much that they usually never “get up to speed” like plants that were just “babies” without having blooms or fruit. It’s much better to plant non-blooming and non-fruiting tomato seedlings. One exception, though, is raising or buying larger, potted (in large pots) tomatoes with blooms/fruit on them. I’ve planted some of my indoor winter tomatoes in the garden and they never seemed to know they were moved. They kept on producing tomatoes with no hesitation.

You should blanch vegetables before freezing to stop enzyme action that ripens them further. Sometimes you can “get away” without blanching them, but most of the time the veggies will not taste as good as if you spent a few more minutes blanching them before freezing or drying.

Self rising flour is simply flour with baking powder and salt added to it. Yes, you can easily make your own. Here’s a basic recipe. You can double or otherwise increase your batch, as you wish.

For 1 cup self-rising flour use:
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
a pinch of salt.

No, you can’t make your own shortening powder at home. — Jackie

Drying peas on the vine

Last year I allowed my purple hull peas to dry on the vine and the bugs sure did a lot of damage to them. So I was wondering if I could pull them off the vine when ripe and let them dry in the sun under a screen?

Challis Moffitt
Ramseur, North Carolina

Yes, you can, provided that the seeds are mature and relatively dry to start with. If not, the pods will likely mold and the seeds wither inside. If they’re mature and quite dry to start with, you’ll have dry seeds and no bug diner! — Jackie

Jackie Clay

Our trailer/bridge gets dismantled and I’m doing germination tests on seeds

Wednesday, February 17th, 2010

On the nicer days of this late winter season, Will and I have been out dismantling our new, old mobile home. Boy what a mess! We’re salvaging a lot; some interior paneling for the goat barn and chicken coop, electrical wiring, boxes, switches and outlets, hinges, a good propane kitchen range, a nearly new turkey roasting pan, with lid, sauce pans, cake tins (not good enough to eat out of but make terrific seedling trays!), sheet aluminum from the roof and sides, to be re-used or recycled, AND the best of all, more than 40 14-foot 2x6s in great shape!

Of course, we won’t talk about the load upon load of particle board and cardboard that went onto the burning pile, along with assorted other crud. Yeah, I don’t like burning it either; all those not so nice fumes…but we did it in the snow, where most of the smoke was held to a low minimum.

We’re down to the frame now, which is what Will wanted to make a bridge over our creek with, and that will start to happen tomorrow when he and our friend, Jim, start cutting it down and welding it back together.

While they do that, his wife, Jeri, and I will be starting to plant my first tomato seeds. A great break from that UGLY trailer!

As a long-time seed saver, I have a lot of old seeds in my huge tubs of seed containers. So this year, I’m doing germination tests on some of them, to see how they’re storing. I did some 10-year-old corn seed and 11-year-old cabbage seed. The corn germinated 100%, but no cabbage yet. I dampen a paper towel, lay out the seed, each kind in its own towel, fold up the towels and put them in a jar, screwing down the top. I put the jar in a nice warm place and wait. It works very well to find out how good a batch of seed is; if lots germinate, great. If only a few or none, it’s time to switch to a different batch of seed and toss the old/non-viable seed.

But seeing those little corn roots gave me a burst of spring fever! So what if we have two feet of snow on the ground! Spring is coming to the backwoods.

Readers’ Questions:

Egg eating chicken follow up

This is more of a follow up than a question. I had asked about my egg eating chickens a while ago, well I have solved the problem by about 98%.

First we tried “Operation Spicy Chicken.” We planted three eggs that were filled with Frank’s Hot Sauce. Well the chickens took the bait, but unfortunately, I think they liked the hot sauce!

This led to plan B, “Operation Fowl Mouth.” We filled a couple of eggs with dish soap (you know, getting your mouth washed with soap!). This seemed to have slowed them down for a day or two, but didn’t do much good.

So then came plan C, “Operation Keep Away.” I took your advice and built a roll out nesting box. It’s more like a cabinet with 6 boxes, three on the top and three on the bottom. The chickens lay the eggs and as soon as they get up, the eggs roll safely out of reach. They have managed to peck a couple of eggs before they roll to the “safety zone” where there, the contents spilled out. However, they have not been able to actually eat any eggs for a while, and I think they forgot the taste. It’s been about a month since “operation keep away” and we’re back to having close to a dozen eggs a day!

David Rose
Buena Vista, Colorado

I’m really glad to hear back from you and that you’ve had such success. Egg eating is a learned behavior, so hopefully, it will be un-learned! Enjoy those eggs, the hens certainly did! — Jackie

Bugs in potting soil

Last year I planted some seeds in a commercial potting soil mix. About 6 weeks later I had thousands of real small flying black bugs show up on the small plants. Since the room was sealed. The buys had to enter from the potting mix. How can I stop these bugs from hatching out? Or is there a special potting soil that is commercially available that is sterile? How does one sterilize a large volume (50 cubit feet) of potting or garden soil.

Larry Danler
Pinedale, Arizona

Your flying black bugs were probably “fungus gnats,” kind of like fruit flies of potting soil. Yep, you probably got them from the potting soil. It happens with all but the “professional” grade of potting mix. You can sterilize any potting soil by putting it in large turkey roasting pans and cooking it in the oven at 250 degrees for 20 minutes. It does the trick and kills not only bugs and their eggs but also bacteria and fungus. — Jackie

Boiling home-canned foods

In the past few months I have seen several sources suggest that home canned foods should be boiled for 10-15 minutes before serving. This is supposed to be done to insure that no harmful bacteria that may have survived the canning cycle make it to the dinner table. I’ve been pondering this advice for awhile and I can’t make sense of it.

Low acid foods must be pressure canned at 240 degrees in order to kill any harmful bacteria. No amount of processing in a water bath canner at 212 degrees is sufficient to kill these microbes. If the preceding statements are true it would seem then, that if for some reason the trip through the pressure canner failed to kill the microbes, boiling the food after the fact would be pointless and ineffective. Am I missing something in my analysis or is the conventional wisdom of boiling home canned foods prior to serving perhaps just an old wives tale?

FH Aydelotte
Stevensville, Pennsylvania

No, it’s common sense. If everything goes perfectly during a typical session of pressure canning, the food, if sealed would also be perfect. Unfortunately, human nature gets in the way. The kids are sick and screaming and you don’t let your canner exhaust long enough. The dog is having puppies and your pressure goes down then spikes up as you “adjust it back.” The UPS man is at the door and you leave the almost simmering food warm on the stove, then pack it into jars and “hurry it up,” removing it from the canner 5 minutes early. You get the picture. To err is human! And the 10-15 minute boiling time is just to safeguard ourselves. This boiling time can also be roasting time, frying time, or broiling time, as well. — Jackie

Canning pickled cabbage

You recommended that someone can “pickled cabbage.” Can you give me the recipe for this and the processing times (pressure or hot water bath)? Also if you use Tofu in soup, is this canned like a meat or how long do you can it? I really enjoy your canning book. I’ve tried canning some of the things that you have answered to your readers (like hot dogs, meatballs, etc.) and I must say – my husband and I have really enjoyed them. Ball Park dogs taste better than the others. Much better than store canned vienna wieners.

Teresa Parker
Evansville, Wyoming

Pickled cabbage is a sweeter product than is sauerkraut and it is not fermented. It’s easy to do, too:


2 medium heads of cabbage
1 qt. cider vinegar
2 green peppers
2 cups sugar
1 bay leaf
1 stick cinnamon
1 tsp. whole cloves

Wash cabbage, shred, drain, and sprinkle salt over it, then cover barely with ice water. Let stand overnight. Drain and press water from cabbage. Cut peppers finely and add to cabbage.

Combine sugar, vinegar, add spices, and bring to a boil; boil for 10 minutes. Pack cabbage mixture into hot, sterilized jars; pour boiling hot pickling liquid over it, leaving 1/2″ of headspace. Process for 10 minutes in a boiling water bath.

I honestly have never cooked much with tofu, but it is a bean product, not a meat, so you wouldn’t process it as a meat. Any canners out there who HAVE canned with tofu? — Jackie

Jars not sealing in the pressure canner

I have a canning question. My water bath canned items almost always seal. I never have had a batch go wrong. BUT when I pressure can, I always have some jars that don’t seal. Today I tried canning some chicken stock and only 1 out of 7 of my jars sealed. I am very discouraged and not sure what I am doing wrong. I had 1 inch headspace, tightened the lids just as I do for the water bath, wiped rims well, etc. Can something be wrong with my pressure canner or am I doing something wrong? Do all your pressure canned items seal every time?

Erica Leake
Manor, Texas

Yes, my pressure canned jars nearly always seal every time. Of course, there are oddball jars that don’t. A bit of fat or food gets lodged under the lid during processing, or the canning fairies are on strike. But, yes, nearly all the jars DO seal. Okay, it’s possible that something is wrong with your canner, but probably not. Let’s go over the steps and see if you’re missing something:

1. Put a couple of inches of water in the bottom of the canner and put the rack in. The rack keeps the jars off the bottom, reducing breakage.

2. Put the filled jars on the rack and tighten the lid down evenly.

3. With the exhaust petcock(s) open, turn on the heat and exhaust steam for 10 minutes or more depending on your canner’s instructions. Be sure there’s a STEADY stream of steam coming out, not just intermittent spurts.

4. Close petcock or put on weight.

5. When desired pressure (10 pounds unless you live at an altitude over 1,000 feet; consult your canning book for directions on increasing your pressure to match your altitude, if necessary) is reached, begin timing your processing, adjusting your heat to keep the pressure even.

6. When the desired time has passed, turn off the heat and allow the pressure to return to zero. DO NOT touch the petcocks to release any steam!

7. When the dial has reached zero, release any steam carefully and remove the lid.

8. Carefully remove jars and place on a folded, dry towel in a draft free area to completely cool. DO NOT touch the jars. NO wiping off residue, tightening rings, NOTHING. DO NOT PRESS on lid to “help” it seal.

9. When the jars are completely cool, you may check the seals and remove ring. You may also wash the jars, if needed, dry them and put them in your pantry for storage.

I sincerely hope this helps you find your problem! Canning is so much fun, but frustrating if something continually goes haywire! If this doesn’t work, have a friend bring their pressure canner over and can up a small batch of something together. If she does everything you did and has success, I’d suspect your canner. But quite probably, you’ll go “Oh my! I didn’t do that!” and your problem is solved. The best of luck! — Jackie

Dehydrating eggs

I have been looking for a way to dehydrate eggs. I have my own chickens and fresh eggs daily, And I have heard every thing from dipping them in bees wax to regular wax and also heard you can scramble them up and then dehydrate them until hard, then put them in a nut chopper until they become powder… And then take and wisk them with a fork and then strain them and place them on a solid bottom tray and put them in the dehydrator until totally dry and then place in chopper until powder.

Holly Cannon
Milton, Florida

To tell the truth, I’ve been leery of trying to dehydrate my own eggs because they are a very prime incubator for several not-so-nice bacteria. I prefer to buy my dehydrated egg powder, unfortunately, as I feel that processing companies have better control of humidity, temperature, etc. in the dehydration process. — Jackie

Breeding older goats

My friend has 3 Saanen goats, and she was wanting to breed her 8-year-old. This goat’s in heat, so she tried to find a stud. The woman who owned the stud told her that 8 years old is too old, is dangerous for the goat at that age, to be pregnant. Do you think it’s safe for her to have this 8-year-old bred?

Jeanne Allie
Storrs, Connecticut

Yes. If the woman who owns the buck feels strongly against breeding, find another buck. At 8 years old, the doe is just “middle aged”. I’ve had many does older than that in my milk string, which, of course had to be bred to produce milk. My one 12 year old doe produced not only triplets but 1 1/2 gallons of milk every day! — Jackie

Canning soup with cabbage

I have a wonderful veggie soup recipe. The recipe calls for cabbage, which I used. I was wondering if the cabbage would sour (like sauerkraut) if I canned the soup with the cabbage in it. I am afraid it would, what do you think?

Jane Dunn
Carrollton, Illinois

No, the cabbage will stay just sweet and mild. But add it last to your soup that is simmering and only simmer it long enough to wilt it down or it could get too soft during processing. Do be sure to can your soup in a pressure canner, using the length of time required for the ingredient needing the longest processing (i.e. meat, corn, etc.). — Jackie

Jackie Clay

We needed a bridge…and found an old mobile home

Thursday, February 11th, 2010

Our land is a rectangular 80 acres of woods. Unfortunately, about 35 acres of that is across a creek, dotted with beaver ponds. The only way you can access it is by bulldozer or on foot during the winter…or by canoe in the summer. We needed a bridge, but it needed to be strong to carry our dozer or a pickup so we can haul firewood and logs from our “big woods” over there. Finally, Will figured that if we could find an old mobile home, he could use the steel I beams, doubled up, as the framework for a bridge. All fall, he hauled gravel from our hill, down to the creek, where the bridge needed to go, to raise the swamp level up to where it would remain dry, year round. And we kept an eye open for an old FREE mobile home nearby.

We struck paydirt a month ago when I saw a neighbor’s ad for a fish pond on Craigslist. We bought the pre-formed pond (good buy!), and Will noticed an old mobile home her husband had started to tear apart. He asked her what Gene was going to do with the frame. She said, “Do you want it? You can HAVE it!”

Luckily, it still had tires and axles on it. So last Saturday, Will, David, and friends went over with our neighbor, Jerry Yourczek’s huge four wheel drive tractor to move it home. I cringed at how UGLY it was! But I kept saying “bridge, bridge, bridge.” They worked hours, only succeeding on popping three right hand tires off the bead because the tires were frozen in the ground. But the next day, another friend brought three other tires and they hauled it away with no problems.

Now it sits, being dismantled, in our yard, up by our mobile home. Did I mention that it’s UGLY? But we’re harvesting much good material from it, from switches, gas lines, a good gas stove, furnace, siding, and windows. Plus the sturdy frame for our bridge. I’ll be SO glad when it’s disassembled and better looking! Will figures he’ll have it down to the floor by Saturday. Whew!

In the meantime, Mom was back in the hospital again. I didn’t get any sleep for three nights, so I was pooped when we started the whole moving-the-trailer thing. But antibiotics got her infection cleared up pronto, and she only was in the hospital for three days and is home now. And today, Mom ordered flowers for spring planting: daylilies, peonies, and lilies! Not bad for 94 years old in April, huh?

Readers’ Questions:

Re canning fruit cocktail

I have looked on internet for information on re canning fruit cocktail. I got 18 big cans for .50 a can. It is outdated. Such a deal. I need to put it into smaller jars. Can’t find directions to do so. Can you in your infinite wisdom tell me?

Nancy Foster
Dallas City, Illinois

You’ll be draining the cans and heating the liquid to simmering, then add the fruit. Pack hot into hot jars, leaving 1/2″ of headspace. Process pints for 20 minutes and quarts for 25 minutes in a boiling water bath canner. I’ve re-canned store bought fruit cocktail this way and had it turn out fine. — Jackie

Canning nuts

Hi! Quick question: Is it possible to can jars of different kinds of nuts in the same canner (pressure) for the same amount of time? IE: Jars of almonds, walnuts, pecans, etc.

Jan Eylar
Savannah, Missouri

Quick answer: YES! Enjoy! — Jackie

Hopi Pale Grey, recovering soil from herbicides and pesticides, and canning meats

I’ve read in the past about your Hopi grey squash. I looked for seed sources and only found reference to Hopi pale gray cushaw and Hopi black squash. Is the cushaw and your Hopi gray the same thing?

Also, We recently purchased 35 acres that we will build on in about 3 years (if I can stand to wait that long). In the meantime there are two fields on the property that are cash rented and planted in corn and beans. I’m letting the farmer go after this year and going to convert both fields into hay except for a large garden area. My question is, does it take a long time for the soil to “recover” from all the herbicides/pesticides that have been used on it over the years? I’m not interested in organic certification but intend on growing my food as naturally as possible.

Last question, I read all your articles about canning and just ordered your new book. I have wondered about the nutritional value of meat and other foods that require such a long canning time. If you cook your meat or soup beans, etc, then can them, is a lot of the nutrition lost? I have only canned tomatoes, green beans, stock, etc.

Sue McBride
Bethany, Illinois

No, Hopi Pale Grey (Cucurbita maxima) is more of a hubbard-type. The only commercial seed sources that I know of now are Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds (website only) and Seed Dreams,

Congratulations on your new homestead! While it’s better if chemicals have never been used on land, it’s amazing at what some good stewardship can do in a short time. There are huge arguments over just how long land takes to “get over” having chemicals applied to it, but I’m sure that with some great care and natural gardening, your little piece of paradise will rejoice and reward you hugely.

While canning does slightly reduce the nutritional value of some foods, when you combine these foods with other home-raised, chemical-free foods, I believe it more than makes up for this slight reduction. — Jackie

Canning chocolate sauce

I’m a big fan and have been telling my friends how much I enjoy putting things up and how much I’ve learned from you. One of those friends asked if it would be possible to pressure can her mother-in-laws ‘Chocolate Gravy’. I had NO idea but figured you might. Can you help?

Here are the ingredients:

1 c. sugar
2 T flour
3 heaping T cocoa powder
2 c milk
1 T butter
1 t vanilla

San Antonio, Texas

Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to find any information on canning anything chocolate: sauce, mix, etc. It would sure be nice, though! — Jackie

Planting squash

Thank you for your great canning book! I used it a lot this fall and winter. It’s time to plan my garden. I know you’ve addressed this issue before, but can’t find it. There are four varieties of summer and winter squash I’d like to plant. How far apart do they have to be planted? My garden space is fairly limited. Could I erect one or two foot walls between rows to separate the varieties?

Jean in northern lower Michigan

There are five common varieties of squash (Cucurbita), C. pepo, C. maxima, C. argyrosperma, C. mixta and C. moschata. These varieties each have many varieties in them and these varieties will cross if not separated by planting far apart. It is recommended that they be planted 1/2 mile or more apart, although I’ve had great luck by planting them several hundred feet apart, separated by hills and woodlands. You can still grow a variety of squash and save seed from only one or two different varieties of the species. For instance, you can grow several summer squash (C. pepo) and a pumpkin, (also a C. pepo) and not save seed, but grow Hopi Pale Grey or Hubbard squash (C. maxima) and save THAT seed, as well as a butternut (C. moschata) and a cushaw (C. mixta), also saving seed. It IS kind of hard to understand, at first. But with a little bit of study, I’m sure you can figure it out!

No, planting a two foot divider between varieties will not work. Squash is chiefly insect pollinated and where bees and other insects can go, the pollen they carry will go. Plant breeders build isolation cages over their squash beds to prevent insects from carrying pollen, so they can plant different varieties much closer. However, when you do this, you often have to hand-pollinate the blossoms, which is labor-intensive. It’s easier to only grow a few different varieties each year and save pure seed from them. Then on other years, try a new one or two, also saving seed. Not only is it economical, but tons of fun, too. If you are not interested in saving seed, it doesn’t matter how many squash varieties you plant. The cross breeding will only affect NEXT year’s crop, through the seeds. — Jackie

Keeping pasta sauce

If I purchase pasta sauce in jars that are sealed how long will they last and how long will the jar last past the expiration date?

Renee Rains
Marthaville, Louisiana

Nearly forever. Like home-canned foods, store bought foods will stay fine as long as they are sealed. Things that can cause a seal to break are a rusting lid, over-heating during storage, and rough handling. — Jackie

Storing root vegetables

How do I go about storing beets, carrots, celeriac, rutabagas, turnips, and parsnips? Trim tops and leaves or not? If so, how far down? Bury in sand? Upright or in a jumble? I have a hallway which will stay around 40-45 degrees during the winter, but the problem seems to be generating humidity. How can I turn my chilly hallway into a root cellar?

Kristina Dickinson
Montague, Massachusetts

Most root crops store well with the tops trimmed down to only an inch; more and the tops rot and cause the loss of the food. It’s always best to store crops separately. I’m using large plastic coolers and tubs with tops and that’s working well without adding sand or other material. It’s February now and my root crops are just as firm and nice as they were when harvested. I think you’ll have luck using the plastic coolers/tubs, as they hold in humidity, without getting TOO wet. Do check them from time to time to make sure there isn’t excess condensation in the containers. If that seems to be happening, just prop the tops open for a day or so.

I don’t think it matters how you lay your root crops. I just pack mine flat to save space. — Jackie

Deep bed gardening

While I have been hibernating, I have been reading a lot about deep bed gardening. But for some reason I just can’t figure out how to do this without tilling. I have a 24’x 24′ garden space and last year I put in 4′ strips across, leaving about 1 foot for walking space. I tilled the whole thing except where I have my herbs growing across the front. And I had such a time with weeds! I figured I must have tilled too deep? So this year I would like to try the deep bed method. Is there any advise you can share with me or direct me in accomplishing this? If I put in the 4′ strips again, Do I build these up so they are higher than ground level? and then mulch? At the end of the growing season I planted an oats/barley mix so I will have some green manure residue on the garden for spring.

Pamela Lawstuen
Alma, Wisconsin

Regarding your weed problem: weed seeds sometimes lie dormant in the soil for a long time and when you work the soil, new seeds come to the surface and germinate. It can be a problem, but if you are steadfast, you’ll overcome it in time. Double digging does improve your soil and harvest. To do this remove the soil from the first row, all across your garden, piling it in a wheelbarrow or on a tarp. Then dig down again, in the same spot, while standing in the trench, turning over the soil. Move to the next row, turning the top layer over into your first trench, filling it all across the area. Repeat this process, until your entire plot has been dug.

If your soil is not fertile, adding an inch or two of rotted compost on top of the area before double digging will help out. Your green manure, chopped and added to your garden, will add fertility and tilth to the soil, as well.

For a detailed look at double digging and intensive gardening, read the book, HOW TO GROW MORE VEGETABLES by John Jeavons. — Jackie

Moving berries and fruit trees

I will be relocating in a few weeks. I want to take my asparagus, blackberries, strawberries, grapes and fruit trees with me when I move. The asparagus and blackberries are about three years old and the grapes, strawberries, and fruit trees were planted last spring. What is the best way to do this?

Nana Texas
Celina , Texas

First of all, be sure you can legally take your perennial plants & trees. Sometimes, if you sold your place, the owner legally owns them; be sure.

If you’re not moving a great distance, dig your plants with as much soil around the roots as possible and pack them in plastic lined heavy boxes/tubs, for the trip. Even if you are moving a long way, sometimes you can still do this, if you have the room. Otherwise, if the plants are dormant, you’ll have to gently remove the soil from the roots, then pack the roots in damp shredded newspaper or peat moss, then wrap the roots in plastic. This conserves room/shipping weight. Try to plant as soon as you get to your new home. Meanwhile, keep the plants as cool and damp as necessary to keep the roots from drying out. But don’t soak them, as they may mold or rot. All the best luck with your move! — Jackie

New to self-reliant living

I’m new to the concept of living “off grid” and being self-sufficient. How do I find all the information I need to make the best decision possible. I’m a widow with no kids at home, so I would be doing this solo. Any ideas?

Diane Waite
Middletown, Pennsylvania

I’d pick up several of the BHM anthologies, as this is a concentrated spot for tons of practical information. Go to the library and READ, READ, read everything pertaining to the type of lifestyle you are aiming for. Doing it solo may seem hard, but it also has a few benefits; you only have yourself to provide for. Your needs are really quite small. You only have to be responsible for yourself, so there are fewer distractions along the way (arguments, other peoples’ wants and needs, etc.). I’m not saying it is better to do it alone, only that it certainly can be done if you have the patience to do it a bit slower than if you have a helper. Keep in touch through the blog and ask any specific questions you have, along the way. I’ll try to help as often as you ask! All the very best with your quest. You are starting on a terrific adventure! — Jackie

Cotton seed

Do you know of a source for open-pollinated, non-hybrid cotton seed? I know your expertise leans more towards food products, but I figured if anybody out there could answer this, you could.

Mark Davis
California, Missouri

Well, I kind of do….Native Seeds/SEARCH has open pollinated cotton seed, but only sells to AZ, NM, and TX. Do any readers have help here? I’ll keep looking. — Jackie

Lame chicken

I have backyard chickens, and one of them has suddenly become lame. She balances on one leg, occasionally putting her “bad” foot down, but generally holds it up with the toes splayed and occasionally shaking. I check “the girls” over each weekend, and her sensitive leg does correspond to when I had her out of the coop. I’m hoping she’s just sprained something in her rush to get out of my hands – sometimes they get excited and fight being handled or scratch and flap to get put down. I’ve been checking her over, and against the other two members of the flock, she is bright-eyed, with good colour, no sign of mites or scale, and is gamely hopping up into the nesting box to lay each day (we have light from a heat lamp). I have given her extra protein – with tuna and small portions of cat food, and checked for everything else I can think of. Do you have any experience with lameness, or any other suggestions? Due to her poor balance, her grooming is lacking, and I’m worried about secondary problems due to her dirtiness. I hesitate to wet her, as the temperatures are low outside, and I don’t want her to catch a chill.

Surrey, British Columbia

Like us, chickens, being two-leggeds, sometimes sprain or strain muscles or tendons and have to hop about for awhile. Hopefully, that’s all that’s happened with your gimpy hen. I don’t think her dirtiness will cause problems. Sometimes if you bed the coop with shavings, it will help absorb manure, which, in turn may help with that until she recovers.

Do check the bottom of her foot. Sometimes chickens bruise the bottom of their foot and get “bumble foot,” which is an abscess in the soft tissue in the center of the foot. This can be drained and treated with betadine. — Jackie

Composting chicken manure

I have been practicing organic gardening for many years. In the past few years I have added chickens and have plans to add a couple of dwarf goats. To get the maximum advantage of the nitrogen in the manure without burning plant roots, how long do you compost the manure products?

Debbie Boutelier
Prattville, Alabama

It kind of depends on how “good” a composter you are. Some people have time and the inclination to water and turn their piles, which makes them decompose much faster than mine does. We pile all of our manure and miscellaneous plant waste in a huge pile that gets watered by the rain, but not turned or pampered by us. That is put up in the spring from barn and yard cleanings. By fall, it is composted well enough to haul to the garden and spread. It is either tilled in (hopefully!) or let lay on the garden until it gets worked in when the soil can be tilled in the early spring. By then, either way, it is decomposed well and provides our plants with plenty of nitrogen, but not too much.

Someone with more inclination could compost their spring waste and have it garden ready in about six weeks. We’re not in that much of a hurry. — Jackie

Jackie Clay

Getting ready for spring planting; I’m saving squash seeds

Tuesday, February 2nd, 2010

Our pumpkins and squash are storing very well. We have them tucked here and there around the entryway and closet. They don’t go to the basement, as both pumpkins and squash like a warmer storage place than our 40 degree basement, which is GREAT for onions and potatoes. By the way, our potatoes are as hard as crunchy apples, and just as juicy.

We are eating both our roasted squash and pumpkins, and feeding a few to the goats and chickens. But before feeding them, I cut them open and carefully harvest the fat, mature seeds from each one. I dry them on pie plates, after squishing them out of the strings. Some I save for seed (from the best tasting and nicest fruits), some I toast with salt for a crunchy snack, while I toast a few others for Mom’s two small parrots, who love the seeds. The strings and meat we don’t eat go to the chickens and goats for a mid-winter snack that they thoroughly enjoy. It also helps cut our feed bill and makes the chicken egg yolks bright orange.

And I love seeing those fat orange pumpkins and multi-colored piles of squash in the house! Tasty decor! Only in the backwoods…

Readers’ Questions:

Turmeric pickles

I have just started to can and LOVE IT! You have been a great inspiration. I can’t wait to get your new canning book. My questions, can you decrease the amount of sugar in recipes such as sweet relish, apple butter or tomato butter, without ruining the integrity of the product. Also, I have an old family recipe for Turmeric pickles. It calls for 2 quarts of sugar, 1 quart of vinegar, 1/2 quart of water. 2TB turmeric and 1 TB pickling spice. But it doesn’t give an exact amount of cucumbers and onions. It just states to add them. Is there a ratio of product to liquid that should be used for safe canning?

Bea Ward
St. Paris, Ohio

While the sugar in many canning recipes is simply for a sweeter taste, like in sweet relish, canning them without it or with less will affect the taste. Many butters can be made without as much sugar, but some people don’t find them to be as tasty. You’ll have to try them without sugar and see how they taste to you. Personally, I use the sugar recommended, then simply eat less of the end product to reduce my sugar intake. A dab of sweetened apple butter tastes better to me than a couple of tablespoons full of unsweetened apple butter. A lot also depends on the variety of apples that you use — some are very sweet naturally…where others are quite tart.

As for your pickles, you want as many cukes and onions as the brine will cover in the jars. Better a bit too much brine, rather than pickles that stick up out of the brine; they’ll get dark and soft during storage. — Jackie

Canning chicken and rice soup

Love your new book! So far we have canned the beef stew and the chicken soup with rice.

Question on the chicken soup: Upon filling the quart jar half full of hot soup, we added a handful of rice. Upon completion, the rice is in a big clump. Has that been your experience, and do you think the rice got heated to the proper temperature?

Ron & Amy Rogers
Centerview, Missouri

While the chicken soup is processing, the rice is boiling around like mad in the broth. When the pressure drops to zero, the rice slowly settles to the bottom of the jars. While it has processed, it did get heated properly. When you reheat it to use, simply fork the rice apart and heat as you would any other soup. — Jackie

Bread machine recipe

I don’t know how you manage to do all you do. You must never sleep. I have a recipe for the lady who wanted to use whole wheat flour and also eggs in her homemade bread. My bread machine has a recipe we like. Here it is; 2 3/4 cups bread flour, 1/2 cup whole wheat flour, 2 tsp salt, 2 TBSP dry milk, 2 TBSP butter, 2 TBSP sugar, 7/8 cups water with one egg in the cup before the water, and 1/2 cup yogurt, 1 1/2 tsp dry yeast. This is right out of our old Panasonic bread machine book. Hope this helps her.

Petersburg, Michigan

Thanks Jim! I’m sure many readers will enjoy this recipe. (Yes, I do sleep; but often not as long as I’d like!) — Jackie

I don’t have a question, just a recommendation to Holly A. about her bread machine’s bread top falling down. My suggestion is to reduce the amount of yeast she is using. I had the same problem and cut the yeast amount in half and it seemed to solve that problem.

Dave Leland
Whitmore Lake, Michigan

Thanks so much, Dave! I’m sure Holly will appreciate your help. — Jackie

Being self-reliant

I have been looking at so much info about how to start being self-reliant, but I am so overwhelmed. Can you please give me a simple starting point and maybe a few steps further? Whew! I didn’t realize being self-reliant was so complicated. Ok it’s more simple than I am making it out to be, but what’s necessary and what’s not? I am starting from scratch here in my city (town of 1200) home in the Ozarks. Thanks for all your time and advice.

Michael Hendricks
Bull Shoals, Arkansas

Hi Michael,

The first step is NOT to get overwhelmed! Really. That stalls your quest. Being self-reliant is a whole journey down a very interesting road. And no two people can exactly agree on what it IS! Start with little baby steps at first. Try to reduce your spending here and there. No budgets, lists, or “have-to’s.” You know what you must spend on and where you waste money. Yes, you waste money. So do I. I don’t really “need” more lily bulbs, more new peppers, that new horse halter.

By spending less, you are instantly earning more. Who doesn’t love a raise in pay? In this way, you’re on your way to becoming self reliant, by providing more for yourself! Trying to get out of debt is a great way to get a larger raise. Everyone likes a bigger home, a nicer home, a newer car, a bigger truck. Sometimes downsizing not only cuts down on your payments but empowers you down a saner way of life. My first homestead had a fixer upper house that stretched the “fixer” part of that! But it was rent free and let me begin to garden, can, raise chickens, have goats, and learn a whole lot.

My truck is a 1985 Chevy with patchy blue paint, but it runs and is paid for. The insurance is cheap and it gets more than 20 miles per gallon. My son, David, just “had” to have a “nice” truck and bought a 2001 Chevy extended cab truck with electronic everything and plenty of chrome. It’s lucky to get 15 miles per gallon, and he owed $155 a month for FIVE years, plus his insurance (mandatory because of the loan) is four times mine. Everyone has their own priorities.

If you have access to, or can find a bit of land, great. Maybe you can start a garden or raise a few chickens and thus begin learning how to provide some of your own food. Then you can begin learning to put it up for later use, canning and dehydrating some of it. Go slow and don’t get overwhelmed. I first did tomatoes and jam…then pickles, green beans, and mushrooms. So much of this is NOT hard to learn. Get a few good books and read a bit in your spare time instead of watching TV. If you don’t have a bit of land, how about growing a few tomatoes in containers on your porch or patio? I know people who line their driveway with potted tomatoes and peppers, grown in 5-gallon buckets. They have enough to eat, can, and sell, too!

Learn building skills. Again, a good book helps, but so does grabbing a few boards, a hammer, saw, and nails and building something — a gate, a sawhorse, a doghouse — something small to start with. If you’ve got a friend, relative, or neighbor who is handy with tools, volunteer to help so they can teach you at the same time. It’s great fun and it can come in oh so handy later on down your self-reliant journey; the more you can build and fix yourself, the more you’ll “earn” by saving. The same carpentry skills you use building a chicken house are used to build your own house!

Try to develop patience and focus on a goal. I pasted a picture of a log cabin in the woods, complete with chickens and a garden, above my bed, where I could see it every night. Now I’m sleeping in that cabin, with the chickens in their snug coop, and the garden waiting for me outside. It does happen, although sometimes not in the way we expect it to.

The more you can provide for yourself and do for yourself, the closer you are to being self-reliant. Start small and rejoice in your progress! — Jackie

Canning water

Comment on home canned water. I have been canning our well water in canning jars, for more than 10 years. I don’t always have a canner full of jars of veggies. I usually have plenty of hot water and hot jars for the beans or carrots, and the pressure is easier to control if the canner is full of jars. I also seal jars of water in the water bath canner. Our well water is tested regularly, so we know what we have (and don’t have). Our high calcium content makes white deposits in the jars. That settles and we don’t use it for drinking, but for washing dishes or the toilet. Thanks for all the information you share.

Mrs. Jim (Sally) Kohler
Boise City, Oklahoma

Thanks for your comments! We have such “doing” readers! I love it. — Jackie

Castrating buck kids

Great to see you well and “Out Catting Around”!

My question is what age is the best time to castrate buck kids with the plier type crimpers? Last year we must have waited too long. I have a not quite wether now. Is the only fix for poor old Bouncer a vet surgery now? He is 9 or 10 months old now.

Dinah Jo
Battle Ground, Washington

I love that bulldozer!

I assume you’re talking about a Burdizzo type emasculatome, where you crush each cord and blood vessel to each testicle. I do my buck kids as soon as each testicle can be plainly felt and the pinchers will fit. That can be anywhere from two to four months of age. But any age buckling…or buck…can be done successfully with them. Just be sure to get the cord above each testicle, between the body and testicle. DO NOT enclose the center dividing membrane in the “pinch”. Leave it pinched tight for about five seconds, then release. I’ve never had a “slip.” Also, do not get real close to the top of the testicle, as one kick and you’ll pinch the top of the testicle, which is not good. You could get an incomplete castration or major swelling. — Jackie

Products from Mexico and wrapping meat

I am wondering why you don’t use products from Mexico and some South American countries. Is it because of their use of pesticides or just on the principle of using USA products?

Also I had to take care of elk meat in a big hurry today so I cut it into roasts and froze it. I wrapped it in plastic, then in freezer paper but I am wondering if both are necessary or is just freezer paper or just plastic bags enough?

Gail Erman
Palisade, Colorado

I don’t use products from Mexico and other “less developed” countries for the simple reason that toxic chemicals banned in the U.S. are used there. I don’t buy food from Vietnam because of all the Agent Orange that was dumped on the soil during the Vietnam War. I’m sorry, but I don’t think it just disappeared. I also believe that good old Americans should be able to produce food that we eat…or I’ll grow it myself.

The tighter you wrap meat for the freezer, the less chance you’ll have of freezer burn. I’ve hung elk in a tree to freeze after gutting and skinning, wrapped in an old, clean sheet to keep the birds off. With a saw, I quartered the frozen meat and brought one quarter in at a time to thaw and can up. That worked fine for me. But of course I had no electricity and no freezer, save what Mother Nature provided. — Jackie


We will be moving to 20 acres in NE Washington state with plans to develop and manage the land in the most self-sustainable method possible (we are hardiness Zone 6 and have frost dates of June 6 and Sept. 7). We are intrigued by what we have read about “permaculture” and its techniques of farming land in a natural manner that maximizes land use and sustainability. What is your opinion of permaculture?

Marilyn and Crew at The Happy Horse Ranch
Oceanside, California

The term “permaculture” is ambiguous sometimes. What one person means is argued by another with equally good intentions. We practice permaculture, to a great extent, here on our homestead. We use only organic materials in our orchards and gardens. Our chickens have free run of the orchard all spring, summer, and fall, happily eating clover, bugs, and fallen fruit. Our prunings are fed to our goats. Our goats are pastured and produce milk and other dairy products for us. Their manure enriches the pasture, as well as the gardens and orchards, as does the chicken manure and horse manure.

We burn wood from our own woods, which is either standing dead or blow down trees. The ashes are spread on our gardens and compost piles, and thus fertilizes our garden and pastures.

We have cleared pastures of many trees, but have left a lot as well, to provide shelter for animals and a windbreak for the gardens, pasture, and our home.

We’ve planted and transplanted many edible trees, shrubs, and perennial vegetables and fruits along the woods borders and here and there, tucked into the landscape. Among these are: pin cherries, chokecherries, bush cherries, high bush blueberries, asparagus, rhubarb, currants, blackberries, edible acorn (burr oak and white oak), hazelnuts, horseradish, and comfrey. They are not fenced or tilled, but are mulched with leaves and straw when planted. We’ll also be introducing mushroom beds in our woods from boughten spores.

But we also grow our garden in traditional rows and wide beds as we grow what we eat and rows and beds are easier to work with. We do use heavy mulch where possible, along with drip irrigation to conserve water.

So do we advise permaculture? That’s a personal decision; one you’ll need to make for yourself on your own land. Enjoy the journey! — Jackie

Canning pasta sauce

I love onions and have a pasta sauce that I make up fresh and really like. I want to can it this summer when I’ve got plenty of tomatoes. Can I add as many onions and mushrooms that I want to the sauce without any detrimental effects? The spaghetti sauce recipe that my canning book has uses 30# of tomatoes and only 1 cup of onion. I’d like to add a lot more onion than that. It is to be pressure canned for 20 minutes for pints. Would that be adequate time to process it regardless of how many onions or mushrooms I put in my sauce?

Mrs. Sarah Paintiff
Bunker Hill, Illinois

No. Sorry, but when you add too many low acid vegetables, such as mushrooms and onions, you can compromise the safety of shorter processing time. I, also, love onions and mushrooms. What I do is to make spaghetti sauce with meat. Because you’ll be processing your sauce for 70 minutes, you can also add more mushrooms and onions safely. — Jackie

Good rear tine tiller

Could you please suggest a good rear tine tiller? Large garden area, heavy soil.

Orion, Illinois

In my opinion, the Troybilt 8 horse tiller is absolutely the best. I’m on my second now, after 32 years of heavy, heavy use on red clay, rocks, and prairie hardpan. Of course, after composting and adding plenty of organic material, the soils rapidly got much better, and easier to till. I wouldn’t like to think of a large garden without one. — Jackie


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