Click here to ask Jackie a question!
Jackie Clay answers questions for BHM Subscribers & Customers
on any aspect of low-tech, self-reliant living.
Archive for January, 2011
Tuesday, January 25th, 2011
Yes, we’ve had -35 this week, along with four inches of new snow. But with the cold, we also got this fabulous cloud bow. A sun bow is formed when ice crystals are in the air and the sun shines through them. There is one on either side of the sun. Magnificent! And at night, we have the grand Northern Lights! It IS harder to take pictures of them, though, but I am trying.
We also get to see wolves, like the big gray fellow we saw at close range while driving out to get the mail today. How impressive! Indians say that people are afraid of wolves because wolves can look you in the eye and not drop their gaze, where a dog will look down. He looked into MY eyes and I could feel the hairs on the back of my neck raise, even though I really love wolves.
We were on our way to Great Scott Meats to pick up our 500 pounds (plus) of cut, wrapped and frozen meat. I’m so excited and grateful to have all that wonderful homegrown meat! I start canning tomorrow with the soup bones. I’m canning up quarts of great broth first off, then I’ll start in on the hamburger. (I also have steaks thawing out. I can’t remember when I’ve had a good steak. It’s been that long!) And with luck, we should never have to buy meat again. Wow! We have another big steer, then three medium-sized 8-month-old and 6-month-old ones then we’ll be getting a few, come spring, so the meat circle continues.
Moldy odor in basement
My question is about home canned foods stored in a basement. Our basement has a musky moldy odor. (We see no mold). But when we open jars of the foods that we have put up, we can taste that odor in it. The jars are sealed and the food seems fine other than that flavor. Is there anything we can do to stop this? And is the food harmful to us?
As long as the jars were sealed, they are probably getting the smell from the outside of the jars, when you open them. Try washing each jar with hot, soapy water not only before storing, but also before using them. To get rid of the odor in your basement, get it as dry as possible. Use a dehumidifier if you need to. Otherwise, open windows when above freezing and use a fan to move the air. I scrubbed my basement walls in the spring with bleach water one time when I had that problem, then did the floor, making sure to move my jars and wash them, too. Was it a lot of work? Yes. Did it help. Yes. Also, installing a small wood burning stove down there helped keep things dry in the winter. I only burned it when it was cold and condensation started to form on the stone walls. That really helped a lot, too.
Your food is perfectly fine; the odor can not get through glass jars. — Jackie
Using brown sugar
I recently found brown sugar on after-Christmas clearance for 20 cents a pound. Can you use brown sugar as a replacement for white sugar in canning? Are there any good recipes you know of? I thought it could make apple butter taste like caramel apple butter.
Good score, Dane! I hope you bought lots! Yes, you can use brown sugar as a replacement for white sugar in most any recipe, depending on your tastes. Try a small batch first, before making a larger one. Some jams and jellies taste “strange” if you’re not used to them. Our forefathers (mothers?) used brown sugar exclusively, as white sugar was far too expensive. I use it in my tomato sauces, barbecue sauce, ham glazes, apple pie, pumpkin pie, sweet rolls, and much more. — Jackie
My apple crop last year was a disaster (mostly my fault, I didn’t spray) and my grapes are too young to produce much. My husband is a big juice drinker and I was wondering if store-bought juice purchased in large quantities like gallons, can be re-canned in smaller jars like quarts? If so, does it hurt to dilute it slightly as it seems pretty strong?
Yes, you can re-process store-bought juice. But, NO, don’t dilute it until you want to drink it, as you will also reduce the acid content in it that makes it safe to process in a water bath canner. Just can the juice as if it were fresh. (And make sure it is 100% juice; some is NOT; beware of the words cocktail, beverage. Read the label carefully.) And watch it, as a lot of juices are a product of somewhere you really don’t want to drink juices from! — Jackie
Too cold for goats?
My daughter and I have two Nigerian Dwarf Goats and are concerned that it’s too cold here in our neck of the woods. We’ve only had them a few months and aren’t experts by any means. Tonight, the temperature is going to be -20 degrees fahrenheit (MINUS..ack!) We had a 6′ x 8′ shed built for them and we keep plenty of hay in there. I was tempted to bring them in the garage (why does a vehicle need a house?).
Munnsville, New York
I’ve never had a trouble with my goats in the cold, providing that there are at least two, so they can cuddle together, and the shelter was well bedded and draft free. You can even make a temporary hay house out of several bales of hay, in the shelter, if you still think it’s too cold. It is if they shiver constantly (not just after they drink water). Of course, they’ll also want to climb on the hay house, so make it sturdy! — Jackie
Making bread in a chilly house
We keep our house at about 65 degrees in winter. I am about to try your basic bread recipe (the one in Issue#78). Can I put the yeast on a heating pad to keep it warm? Can I also put the bowl of dough on it so it has a “chance”? Or do you have a better suggestion?
You won’t have to put your yeast on a heating pad, but it will help your bread dough to rise. I’d put the dough bowl in a larger bowl, filled with warm water so the heating pad is warming the water, which warms the dough; you don’t want the bottom of the dough bowl to become too warm. If you have a propane range with a pilot light, you can also sit the covered bowl in the oven, with the door open, for a warmer spot. You just want a nice steady warm spot. Bread will rise in a cooler room, but it will take considerably longer. — Jackie
I want to save some heirloom garden seeds. If I “vacuum seal” garden seeds in freezer jars, and then put them in the freezer, will this preserve them, and do you have any idea for how long? I’m looking for a way to preserve them for the longest amount of time and still have them be viable.
This is an excellent way to keep smaller amounts of garden seeds. (I have two large plastic tubs full of containers of seeds!) Different kinds of seeds have different lengths of time they are viable. For instance, I’ve planted bean seeds that were 1,500 years old, sealed in a pot. They grew. But onion and parsnip seeds that are only a couple years old quickly lose their viability. In general, most seeds remain good for several years, if frozen in an airtight container, such as you plan. — Jackie
I bought a pressure canner nearly a year ago and finally got up the nerve to use it this morning. I did pints of dried pintos following the directions in your canning book. When I removed the jars from the canner they looked great, but after cooling it looks like the beans have soaked up most of the liquid and expanded above the top of the liquid. They all sealed, but my concern is that if they didn’t have enough liquid the product may be too dense to have heated through. What do you think? I really want to get good at this, and appreciate your articles and advice!
This sometimes happens, but is no cause for concern. The density problem is during processing, not after it. Beans often swell quite a bit, which is the reason you can them with plenty of liquid and also leave 1 inch of headspace. Your beans will be fine. Now you have your toes wet, so to speak, enjoy canning everything in sight! You’ll love it! — Jackie
Going without a microwave
We have recently gotten rid of our microwave for various reasons and could use some tips on reheating food such as rice, pasta, eggs, mashed potatoes, and other kinds of leftovers.
Jon and Ola Montgomery
Delmar, New York
We don’t have a microwave either. I reheat rice and pasta by putting them in a covered saucepan with just enough water to prevent scorching, then cover and put on low heat. When steaming well, I remove the cover and fluff the contents with a fork, then replace the cover and turn off the heat. Just like fresh! Mashed potatoes don’t reheat very well. I usually put them on top of a meat based casserole, like a shepherd’s pie to bake, with a few drizzles of melted butter over the top or else make potato cakes from them. To do this, just mix a couple cups of leftover mashed potatoes with a beaten egg, salt and pepper (onion powder if you wish), then form into patties, dip into flour and fry on both sides in hot oil in a frying pan. I don’t miss a microwave at all! — Jackie
Canning chicken soup
I am in the process of canning chicken soup, I have a full canner right now and there is still some more to can. I don’t think that I will have 7 more quarts to fill the canner. Does the canner have to be full with 7 jars? In my mind I’m thinking that there does have to be because of the pressure in the pot. But I want to be for sure.
No. You can fill your canner or only can one pint jar. It does not matter as long as you follow your directions on processing just the same as if you were canning a full canner. Enjoy your chicken soup! — Jackie
Fruit trees not setting blossoms
Over the past several years we have been planting fruit trees. We now have 6 apples, 3 peach, and 3 cherry (2 sweet, one pie). I believe one cherry is a standard, one apple is a dwarf, and the rest are all semi-dwarf. The Standard Cherry is 4 years old, a couple of the apples and one peach and one cherry is three years old, 4 apples, and a peach are 2 years old, and one cherry and two peaches were just planted last spring.
Anyways, last year NONE of my trees set any blossoms at all except for the standard cherry which produced less than one dozen blossoms. We had no late frosts last year. Its not that the blossoms produced no fruit, but that there simply were NO blossoms, not a single apple or peach blossom.
Any idea what’s going on here?
Often when young fruit trees fail to bloom and bear it’s because they were stressed during planting or early growing. While catalogs say that dwarf and semi-dwarf trees bear in 2-3 years, in most cases I’ve personally been involved with, it takes a couple more years than that. Sometimes we don’t plant our baby trees in the most perfect way; a very large hole, added rotted compost worked into top soil, a wide berm encircling the tree to hold water when we water, etc. All too often, and I’ve been guilty of it too, our trees are set into a hole just big enough for the roots to fit into, and the same soil is put back, without much of a dish or berm to hold water. These trees will usually live, but it does take longer for them to bear.
Other things that can hold young trees back from blooming are cold winters damaging buds, weed stress, or planting in a windy area (also a stress to young fruit trees).
Have hope and patience. Your trees will bloom and bear fruit and boy will you treasure it then! I about jumped up and down when our first new tree this year produced five ripe apples! We’re looking forward to spring so much. — Jackie
Thursday, January 20th, 2011
We’re pretty happy with our new batch of pullets. This spring we bought a mixed flock of Cuckoo Marans, White Cochins, Black Sex Links, White Rocks, and Red Laced Cornish. The Cuckoo Marans were because I just thought the chocolate colored eggs were cool. The Cochins are going to be setting hens to hatch eggs from our turkeys and meat chickens. We plan on crossing White Rocks and Cornish to try our own version of Cornish Rock meat chickens. We butchered the few extra roosters we ended up with, so our little flock is now wintering in the chicken coop, housed with our turkeys. (No we have never had blackhead disease because they live together. I suppose it’s a possibility, but nothing in more than 20 years…)
The pullets started laying about two months ago, and the egg size is steadily increasing. They just get an 18% poultry feed (mixed grains), corn screenings, household scraps (potato peels, squash “guts,” etc.), and my old standby, second crop leafy hay. Every day I give the chickens and turkeys a piece of very leafy trefoil/clover hay to pick on and by evening chores, very little is left over! They love it and the eggs prove it’s good for them, too. And at the price of chicken feed, I’m glad to see them eating another homegrown food! I do have a compact fluorescent light in their coop, so they get a few extra hours of light a day, when the generator is running in the evening or when we pump water or use a power tool. I’m happy and they’re happy. And we both can’t wait till spring!
Can you salt cure meat or can food with the solar salt coarse style that is used for water softener?
No. Water softener salt often contains chemicals that you wouldn’t want in your food. — Jackie
Dehydrating green chilies
I purchased a 40lb box of Anaheim Green Chilies last year and spent most of an evening roasting them and bagging them for the freezer. I’m not using them as fast as I’d hoped, so I’d like to preserve them for longer storage. I found your instructions to can them, but I am intrigued with dehydrating them. Would it be advisable after they’ve been frozen? Do I slice or dice them beforehand, or can I just dry them like they come, after taking out the tops and seeds? I’d love to be able to make a dried salsa mix out of them.
New River, Arizona
You can either can them as a chile paste or dehydrate them. To dehydrate them, just remove the stem and seeds, then lay the whole chiles out gently (it helps if they’re still a bit frozen — thawed enough to remove the seeds but frozen enough that they’re not too mushy). Either way, they will turn out fine. — Jackie
Growing black raspberries
I would like to know if it’s possible to grow black raspberries in 5-gallon buckets.
New Albany, Indiana
You can grow black raspberries in a 5-gallon bucket, but I’m not sure how they would produce over the long term. Black raspberries are lusty, big plants. Nurseries sometimes grow them in 5 gallon, or smaller, containers to sell and I’ve seen them blooming and with berries on them. My question would be how well will they produce over the years? If you want to give it a try, be sure to add a good organic kelp/fish emulsion fertilizer right after blooming each year and pinch back your growing leaders in the early summer, when they reach about three feet. This encourages the formation of fruiting laterals so you will get more berries per bush. — Jackie
Storing food in tins
I noticed in one of your magazines you use the Christmas popcorn tins to store food in. I have been doing the same thing-so I felt good about it when I saw yours. My question is – I just read an article that states that harmful chemicals can be released to your food if you store food like this. If that is the case I will have to redo everything I have done and put the rice, powdered milk, sugar, coffee, etc., in another container. What do you think? Are we ok to leave everything in the tins?
To my knowledge, no harmful chemicals can be released to your foods, stored in popcorn tins, as there are no chemicals in the tins. I think the information you are referring to was meaning plastic food storage containers. Some of these are NOT food grade plastic and DO contain chemicals that are harmful to people. Remember that POPCORN was stored in these tins and that they were manufactured to hold food. — Jackie
I have been a canner for a few years now, and I’ve had some chickens in the freezer for close to nine months to a year now, and was wondering if a person could can some of the possibly freezer burnt meat, some has the freezer burn on the skin (I freeze them all with the skin on and whole to add protection against freezer burn) and some have it on the meat also, was also wondering about freezer burnt venison, pork, and beef also.
Thaw your meat or poultry. If it is seriously freezer burned, it will smell bad. If it’s just the skin or the outside, you can sure can the meat. But canning or cooking will NOT do away with the taste of freezer burn. My friend, Jeri, has done away with the freezer burn problem by putting her meat/poultry in plastic bags with as much of the air as possible squeezed out. Then she wraps that package in white freezer paper. Since she started doing that, no more freezer burn! What an improvement, huh? Just make sure that the plastic bag can be sealed tightly because some vacuum sealers fail in the freezer; Jeri uses twist ties on bags, then tapes the bag shut with freezer tape. — Jackie
Salt and vinegar chips
Do you have any tricks for dehydrating vinegar to make salt and vinegar seasoning for chips? Love reading about your homestead. I used to live in the mountains, now I live in the city to work in the ER. I live vicariously thru you!!! Miss the Mennonite life that I was brought up with.
I’ve never tried dehydrating vinegar and don’t think that would work. Better yet might be trying to mix vinegar and salt, then drying that on a cookie sheet, then whizzing it in the blender so it would return to a powder. Give it a try and then a taste test. I’ll bet it would work! — Jackie
Eastern Redbud seeds
I know that we can eat RedBud tree flowers and the green seeds in the pods, but my question is can we eat the seeds after they are dry? And if we can, how would I prepare them? They look sort of like lentils. Could I prepare them the same way? Would they have the same food value?
Marble Falls, Arkansas
Yes, you can eat dry, mature Eastern Redbud seeds. They are most often roasted, then added to stews, as you would lentils, to soften and cook. Redbuds are a member of the pea family, so I’d imagine that the seeds would have a similar food value as soup peas; not sure, just a guess. — Jackie
Can you can boiled eggs besides pickling them?
No, not that I’m aware of. Hardboiled eggs that are overcooked (such as pressure canned, which would be necessary) have green, unappetizing looking yolks. — Jackie
Caulking a log cabin
What “stretchy caulk” do you use inside your log home? Even though my 20 year old log home had a “tongue and groove” structure sealed with a bead of urethane at construction, I find there are small air leaks and places insects get in. The cracks between logs are small, 1/16 to 3/16 inch, so there isn’t much room to stuff insulation before caulking.
We use Big Stretch, made by Sashco, who also makes Log Jam for log homes. As our home has settled about as much as it’s going to, after being built for more than 5 years, we opted for more readily (in our area) available Big Stretch, although it is not warrantied for use in log homes. It was put over fiberglass insulation, packed in any cracks wide enough to get it into (our cracks were also pretty small, considering), then top-coated with a good layer of caulking. It’s not the best answer. Log Jam would be better, but we had Big Stretch in a color that matched our log stain well. It did make a HUGE difference in air leaks! — Jackie
Monday, January 17th, 2011
We’ve had a cold snap, with more snow and bitter cold on the way. But the sun has been shining, and Will and David went out across the creek with Old Yeller, our trusty John Deere 1010 crawler, to cut some of the dead ash trees that the beavers, by building their dam higher, flooded and killed about 15 years ago. About all you can see is the smaller, standing dead trees, but Will discovered that UNDER the two feet of snow, were lying large, rock hard dead ash trees that the beaver had actually cut way back when.
So he developed a system of plowing a section with the bulldozer blade to root up and pull up the downed trees. Then he hauled tree lengths out to our new $75 steel firewood sled. He and David cut the trees into 8-foot lengths to fit on the sled, then loaded them. In about 1½ hours, they harvested a cord of the most beautiful ash firewood ever.
The day before, David was in school and Will started by himself and got pretty tired (4 hours), but brought home a cord and a quarter. We cut up some of the smaller standing dead trees, and we’re amazed at how the pieces caught fire instantly in the stove and burned like coal. This is after standing outside for months in the rain, then in the snow!
We’d like to know just how many cords of good wood are lying out there; years’ worth, for sure! At this rate, and after that -27° weather they’re predicting, we will soon have next winter’s firewood all up in the yard; and that’s not counting the wood stacked down in the horse pasture from our big woods. We feel truly blessed!
Storing layer feed
With corn prices rising so dramatically, I would like to purchase extra layer feed to have on hand for our 15 chickens. However, I am concerned about it keeping well. We could freeze it for now, but that is not dependable in case of a power outage (or worse, a natural disaster). Would it be possible to can the layer feed pellets in quart-sized jars so that it would last a year or more?
If you keep your layer feed in a moisture-proof container, it will remain good for longer than a year. I’d suggest a 55-gallon drum with a cover or rodent-proof garbage cans. You don’t need to process (can or freeze) your feed so you’ll save plenty of work. Your hens will love you for your thought to their well being! — Jackie
Burning paper and store-bought lard
Hello, I have a couple of brief questions. I started burning my (mostly) paper trash last year. After one year I have ½ of a metal burn barrel of grey powdery ash. Would it be advisable to add this into the mix when filling my newly made raised beds? I will be growing an assortment of vegetables there. Or will it be better to just spread it elsewhere?
On another note, store-bought lard is different than home rendered lard, I know. Does store-bought lard need refrigeration? It doesn’t say to refrigerate after opening on the can.
If you didn’t burn colored paper or “shiny” advertisements, both of which contain heavy metals, you can use a moderate amount in your raised beds, turned in well. Of course, ash is alkaline and a good soil test would be recommended before adding it. If your soil is already alkaline, do not add the ash or your plants will not do well.
Store-bought lard does not need refrigeration, but if it is left out at room temperature too long, it will get rancid, as will vegetable oil and shortening. Refrigeration will make it remain good longer; just cover it to avoid picking up unwanted refrigerator smells. — Jackie
Homemade blood meal
I’ve started to save the blood from when I butcher a lamb. Last time I cut the coagulated blood into squares and froze them for dog treats. Next time I’d like to dehydrate the blood to make blood meal to add as a soil amendment. Do you know if this is possible and, if so, how I would use my Excaliber dehydrator to do the job?
I would think that you can just lay your squares of coagulated blood on fruit leather trays in your dehydrator and treat it as if you were drying jerky, only drying it crisp instead of leathery. Then whiz chunks in your blender to create a powder. Do be careful and wash your equipment well with soap and water as blood is a good media for bacteria to grow in, whether in a dehydrator or blender or cut. — Jackie
Here is something you might tell others. I have been canning carrots from my garden for a while and the peeling of them took so long and wasted so much so I got to thinking and went out to my garage and got my wood rasp and started peeling the carrots. WOW!! did it work good. I had to put water in my sink and keep rinsing the wood rasp because it filled up quickly but a quick dip in the water and it cleans right off. Also very very little waste. It leaves the carrot a little fuzzy when canned they look fine.
Good tip, Jay. I quit peeling my carrots, too. Now I just scrape them with a sharp paring knife. I also found out that the sweetest part of the carrot is right under the peeling, which we cut off when we peel carrots. So I cut down on my work and waste, also, and have sweeter carrots. Thanks for the tip. — Jackie
Wednesday, January 12th, 2011
Will found a used transfer case for our Ford plow truck, which had blown one at a salvage yard in Duluth. As it is 80 miles to Duluth from our homestead, he had them ship it to us, figuring we couldn’t drive down there for the shipping. Wrong; they quoted $40 for shipping and it was $75! Then when it arrived promptly, it was the WRONG ONE!
Now we have a mile plus driveway, and it’s the middle of the winter, when a blizzard could roar down on us at any time, so we were a little anxious to get the plow truck back in operation. So we took off Monday morning for Duluth, with both transfer cases in the car. Luckily, after much searching, they located the right transfer case and exchanged it. We were still out the shipping, plus the extra gas money, but at least we were back in the right ball park.
With snow on the ground, Will spent three hours under the truck installing the new transfer case. You don’t know how grateful I am to have a man who can work on vehicles! Wow, it’s like a miracle! And it saved us about $500 over what the local garage would have charged us.
After hooking it all up, he took it for a test run out our drive and back, plus plowing a little in the yard. Everything worked fine and we are very relieved. Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow!
While he was doing all that, I was packaging the book I just finished revising for Skyhorse Press, Complete Care of Orphaned and Abandoned Baby Animals. This had been previously published by Rodale Press, then when they quit publishing livestock and self-reliant living books, it went out of print. I’m excited that it will once again be in print and available to help many people raise their baby goats, lambs, pigs, pups, kittens, and just about any other kind of baby animal there is. It went out in the mail today, so I’d better get busy writing some articles for Backwoods Home!
(If you are interested in ordering this book, BHM will carry it soon. Please give us time to get it ordered and watch for it on our website and in future issues of the magazine. We’ll also announce on this blog when it’s ready to order. We will not be taking any pre-orders. — Editors)
I am looking for a seed company that is affordable with good seed. The economy is making me look at different choices this year; have you any experience in this so far?
Two companies I buy from, that have reasonable seed prices, are Pinetree Garden Seeds and Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds. The seed packet prices are reasonable, the quality is good; and the shipping won’t eat you up, either. Consider saving some of your own seeds this year: maybe squash, melons, and tomatoes…they are all easy to save and next year you won’t have to buy ANY of these seeds. Once you start, you find it’s so much fun you won’t stop there and will soon be saving a lot of your own seeds. This makes raising a garden cheaper and gives you a sense of self-reliance, too. — Jackie
When to start seeds
Wow…how blessed you are with home raised beef…Store bought meat leaves a lot to be desired; hard to get the grease out when canning. Your area has really gotten hammered with snow this year…makes things harder to do. Please let us know when you start your seeds inside. I’m so ready for Spring!
J from Missouri
Yes, we HAVE had a lot of snow, but that’s okay; our berry bushes and trees should come through the winter much better with snow cover. (There’s always something good that comes out of something not so good!) We’re waiting with excitement for our boxes of meat; we figure we’ll have roughly 250 pounds of great beef to bring home; my oldest son, Bill and his wife will be getting the other 250 pounds. And we are so tickled to have a great big steer ready to go when all that meat is canned and eaten up!
I’ll be starting my pepper seeds (the first to go) in early February. As we have such a cool-night summer here, it takes peppers longer to get going than it does elsewhere. Our tomatoes will be started in the end of March. I got a little too excited last year and my plants were pretty big when I set them out…but we were still buried in tomatoes! Squash and melons are started three weeks before we set them out. If they get root bound, they never seem to produce well. So, as our last frost date is usually about June 15th, I start them the last week in May or a bit sooner, depending on the weather we’re seeming to have. I can always cover plants that have been set out with plastic row covers, if it threatens to get too cold or frost late in the season. I can’t wait! — Jackie
We have a “processing plant” up the road from us. You were saying, “packaging plant.” Are they different? Cole’s Meat Processing, 178 Cole Drive, Vilas, NC 28692-9586. The deer hunters I work with tell me that they have to have the deer “dressed out” prior to taking deer to the Cole’s.
We raise Nigerian Dwarf Dairy Goats and we would like to try the meat from a buckling every now and then, but we don’t know how and don’t want to have to do the dressing part anyway. What do you suggest? Have you eaten dairy buck/buckling meat?
In the magazine, wish you would write about different types of meat to raise and and eat on the farm, suggestions for the processing part, and recipes.
Boone, North Carolina
A “processing plant” is the same as a “packing plant” or “slaughterhouse.” It’s a regional thing. And it is convenient to take a large animal there to have slaughtered and cut up into meat; you take the live animal there and bring home white-paper-wrapped frozen meat. Why don’t you stop by the processing plant and talk to the folks there? They are usually very helpful. If they don’t take live animals to slaughter, I’ll bet they can tell you of another nearby place that will do just that.
With small animals, such as your Nigerian bucks, it may not be economically feasible to have them custom-slaughtered; the cost would be more than the meat would be “worth.” However, it is a good starting point for new homesteaders and would help get you started and eating your own, wholesome meat.
Yes we’ve eaten plenty of bucks and bucklings, although we usually castrate every buckling that is not good enough to be kept a breeding buck, which is most of them at our place (I’m pretty fussy!). The taste is great and you’ll love it.
I’ll talk to Dave and Annie about a meat article in the future; it IS a good idea for an article. — Jackie
Hatch chile powder
What chile seeds could I grow that would taste like the Hatch chile powder from New Mexico, and where can I buy them. At 8.99 for 8oz of chile powder, plus shipping its time to grow my own. That’s with your help.
An Anaheim or New Mexico chile will yield a chile powder like Hatch. The best Hatch chile powder is made from dehydrated, roasted red chiles, so if you grow some peppers, you have to try that! It’s so robust and flavorful with a wonderful smell, too! — Jackie
Canning soups with noodles or potatoes
When I can potatoes or chicken noodle soup, I end up with soft noodles and potatoes. This occasionally happens with beans. Am I cooking them to long before putting them in the canner? Should I not add the noodles to the soup after it is canned? Your old post about crunchy pickles makes me wonder if I should just put the potatoes in and cover them with boiling water.
At most, potatoes should be simmered 10 minutes before packing them into the jars (whole potatoes) or 2 minutes (diced potatoes). In the past, we DID pour boiling water over raw packed potatoes; however, experts now say we should only hot pack potatoes for safe canning. Obviously, the longer you boil potatoes and noodles, the softer they will become. When I add noodles to my chicken noodle soup, I add them just before sealing the jars, uncooked. I also only use dry, thick, homemade or home-style noodles as the thinner noodles will become very soft. Yes, you can certainly add noodles while you simmer your canned soup, after storage and before use. — Jackie
I just canned some walnuts and forgot to toast them in the oven. Are they going to be any good?
Dallas City, Illinois
I’d open the jars, then toast them. The reason you toast them in the oven it to drive out any remaining moisture that could cause them to become rancid. The canning time is very brief, under low pressure, so it doesn’t “cook” the nutmeats and they could become rancid, even though sealed in a jar. Use new lids, too. — Jackie
Homeschooling while homesteading
Love all the articles and just bought your recent book. Full of information and I just love it. I had a question for you and your readers. We have a 33 acre place where we are trying to get it up to be our homestead hopefully one day. My question is we still have two children that are in elementary school. What do homesteaders do for school? Homeschool? I don’t think I can homeschool. I have a hard time with their school work now! There are no schools that are close. About 45 minutes away. We are not there full time but would like to be in the future its just the school situation is really holding us back.
Redwood City, California
While many homesteaders homeschool (I homeschooled my youngest son, David for three years.), many choose not to for one reason or another. Many rural children ride a school bus for many miles. When my oldest children were in school, some of them had a bus ride of an hour and forty minutes and seemed to survive just fine. We were not that remote, the school just had fewer buses and had a lot of country miles to cover each morning and afternoon.
I surely would not let the lack of a nearby school hamper your homesteading plans. I feel that homestead life is the very best life for children and that it makes them into strong, self-reliant adults. I’d talk to a few folks in the area with school-age children and also talk to the school itself and see what they do to get a better handle on what your own children would be doing. All the very best luck in starting up your own new homestead! — Jackie
Storing full canning jars
Can you store full canning jars on their sides, or must they always be upright?
Wainwright, AB Canada
It is not recommended that you store full canning jars on their sides. The liquid in the jars, in constant contact with the sealing compound on the lids, may cause the seal to fail. — Jackie
My neighbor has brought me literally dozens of Meyer lemons, with a promise to “shake the tree again next week” and bring them to me…nobody else uses them!
I have been trying to find a home process for extracting the pure oil from the lemons as opposed to infusing a carrier oil with lemon zest. How can this be accomplished at home? I’ve read the commercial processing involves “cold pressing.” Can that be done on a small scale?
I know of no way to extract appreciable oil from lemons at home. Maybe another of our BHM family has some information for us? I would sure can up some juice (even in half-pint jars!), as well as grate the peel to dehydrate. I do that when I can get real cheap or discarded lemons, and can find a lot of uses for both products. — Jackie
Monday, January 10th, 2011
Our “little” calves that we raised a year and a half ago now weigh a thousand pounds, plus! And they’re not so “cute.” One of them, a black Jersey-Holstein or Angus cross was pretty sick as a calf from the scours. The calves were all bought at an auction barn, and all suffered from scours, but the little black calf was the worst and weakest. Will wanted to wait to castrate him until he recovered strength and started growing well. And you all know how THAT goes…we never got around to it and he got pretty big. Then he got bigger.
So we had this dairy cross bull on our hands. Both Will and I have worked around cattle all our lives, so we never played with him, petted him or let him get away with aggressive behavior. But lately, he started doing the bull testosterone thing — pushing his head against the gate so Will couldn’t get in to dump the feed, not backing away when slapped, putting his head down at us. Bulls like Blackie get to the dominance age and can be very dangerous. This is why we wholeheartedly advise homesteaders NOT to have a bull on the place. Too many people can, and do, get injured by nice, friendly, pet bulls…especially if they’ve never handled cattle before.
We followed our own advice for once. Even though one of our other Holstein steers was bigger, we decided it was time for Blackie to become meat. So two days ago, Will took a bucket of feed and led the two big guys from the pasture below the garden, up over the hill and down to the training ring where our stock trailer was parked. (First he had to use Old Yeller to bulldoze the two feet of snow in the ring out of our way so we could get to the trailer!)
The bull and steer were playful and Will had to run to keep ahead of them and keep them heading in the right direction! I puffed and panted behind, and finally closed the gate behind them. In half an hour, Will coaxed Blackie into the trailer and we were headed to the packing plant. Both of us felt a little bad taking him there, but it was definitely time. And we’re very happy thinking of all of that meat we’ll be bringing home in two weeks! My friend, Jeri and her husband, Jim, are letting us keep our meat in one of their freezers and I’ll begin canning up stew meat, ground beef and roasts right away. But we’ll sure enjoy eating those nice steaks right after they’re thawed! (My son, Bill, and his wife, Kelly Jo, are getting half the meat, so we won’t have SO much meat to deal with.)
And we have another 1,200 pound Holstein steer waiting in the wings when we get that meat gone, too. Besides that one, we also have three younger steers (NO bulls this time…or ever again!) at various sizes. It sure feels good to be another step toward self-reliance. No more store bought beef! We’ll be buying a pig in the spring to feed out…we also raise our own meat chickens and turkeys. Isn’t that great?
Dog manure in strawberry bed
Jackie, I planted strawberries last year in a 4 x 12 foot above ground container. We have recently found that this is where our dog is doing his business. We are thinking probably the last couple of months. Has he contaminated the soil and made the strawberries harmful to my family? Thanks for any help on this.
I’m afraid I’d recommend taking some of the runners off of the plants, digging up the dirt in the container (a foot or so), replace the top foot of soil with fresh, discarding the contaminated soil in an out-of-the way location…not on the compost pile, and re-planting your strawberries. Then fence off the bed so your dog won’t do it again. Dog and cat feces can carry intestinal parasites that can be harmful to humans, as well as a couple of nasty transmissible diseases, so to be safe it’s best to re-do the bed. — Jackie
So, after paying for my organic layer pellets, I looked at my flock and saw that about 1/3 of it was roosters. I have started to butcher the boys, one at a time. They are from 6 months to about 20 months old. I can do one at a time quickly and if I pluck them right away, I don’t need to dunk them in hot water. My question is why does rigor mortis set in so quickly? The chicken I buy at the store is quite pliable so that I can move the wings and legs around. I can hardly fit my roos in the pot to stew because they are so stiff. Am I doing something wrong in the butchering process? Why is commercial chicken so pliable?
Because they have been chilled and held refrigerated, for some time before you buy them. If you will immediately chill your plucked, eviscerated bird in ice water, then in the refrigerator for 48 hours, before trying to cook it, you’ll find that the carcass is not stiff anymore. If you do need (or want) to cook a freshly killed, barely chilled bird, disjoint the carcass and it will neatly fit into your stew pot. I do this when I’m canning several birds that are freshly butchered and it works just fine. At least you know they’re fresh! — Jackie
As a family we would love to learn more about self-reliance. I have looked and searched everywhere for classes on dutch oven cooking, etc. Is there any summer camps or week-long camps that women and girls can take to learn these and other skills first hand?
Port Angeles, Washington
Yes there are several places, nationwide, where homesteading skills are taught during week long periods or weekend seminars. I think this is a very good way to hone your skills. In fact, Will and I have been talking about doing just that at our homestead in some point in the future…after we get the BIG jobs wrapped up so we have the time and energy. If you will get a copy of Countryside Magazine, usually you’ll find several advertisements for homesteading schools and seminars on learning various homesteading skills. If they simply are too far away, why don’t you pick up good books on the skills you want to learn and give it a try at home. I can’t tell you how many homesteading skills I’ve learned at home by reading books and magazine articles. Any skill takes practice to get good at, but if you keep at it, you will soon be a seasoned expert! Enjoy. — Jackie
Tuesday, January 4th, 2011
The first thing we do every morning is turn on our little weather radio to see what the coming weather is going to be (or do to us!). And by that, we plan our days. Luckily, we had a bit of a stretch of fairly mild, quite nice weather right after Christmas. So Will and David made use of it. They went out into our big woods to cut and drag out more of the standing and blown down dead trees. Will cut and limbed the trees and David hooked onto them with Old Yeller, our bulldozer, dragging them out onto the horse pasture where we can get to them in the spring to cut up.
I was working on the computer in the morning then walked down in the afternoon to watch the process. They were having more fun than I was! Not only were they getting together a nice big pile of wood, but they were also clearing out large spots in the woods that had previously been only a snarl of tree branches. Very nice. I could see pasture in the making!
Unfortunately, our good weather only lasted those two days and we knew they probably would be the last for awhile as our weather radio predicted a major snow storm for Friday and Saturday. They were right! Darn! We got dumped on. Again. This time, it was between 16 and 18 inches of blowing snow. The storm stopped, finally, and we set about plowing and cleaning out not only our 1.3 mile long driveway, but also the yard, the trail to the goat barn, chicken coop, and various equipment.
Plowing the driveway went fine for a while…until Will got sucked off the road by deep snow and got stuck! While I waited in the truck, he and Spencer went back to get Old Yeller. Will pulled me out just fine and I finished plowing the drive while he cleared some tough hills with the dozer. Then I was pooped and we traded spots; I got on Old Yeller to clear deep banks so we had some place to plow the snow and he went to plowing, widening out the driveway as it was getting kind of narrow.
I pushed snow and pushed snow, always waiting for Will to return in the truck. No Will. No truck. Hmmmm, not good. I kept pushing snow, working toward home. Finally, after about an hour and a half, here comes Will. Walking. Definitely not good. Seems the transfer case on the truck went out. Big sigh. So I took the dozer back and pulled Will and the truck (Spencer rode in the truck; he likes the heater!) home. But while I pulled, Will was still able to plow. Boy did that look funny; bulldozer pulling truck while it plowed!
We’d been plowing from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. with no break! Then we had to take Old Yeller down and haul two round bales of hay out to our horses so they had plenty to eat; they eat more hay when the weather’s bad. We were so pooped by night that we could hardly move. But the next day went better and we used the snow blower to clean up the yard more and even clear a path all the way to the big steers (nearly 1/8 mile!) and to the deer, who were more than ready to be fed. Will had been trudging down to the steers with grain twice a day and it nearly killed him, so he figured that snowblowing would be a lot easier.
Now we’re all clean and waiting for a warmer day so Will can pull the transfer case to take in to have rebuilt. I’ve figured it out; machinery always tries to keep you broke and crazy, not necessarily in that order!
New to pressure canning
I just received a pressure canner for Christmas so I made a big batch of chili (no beans). I guess I filled them too full because they boiled over. After leaving them overnight to cool, 9 of them didn’t seal. So I cleaned up the jars, put new flat lids on and now am in the process of re-canning. I got them out of the canner yesterday about 4 and back into the canner about 9 this morning. So do you think the produce will be ok…no bacteria. I didn’t change jars, just put them in the sink with hot water to wait for the canner to be ready.
What’s best when you have jars that don’t seal is to dump them out into a pot, rinse the jars out with hot water, heat the food just to simmering, then refill the hot jars. With meats and vegetables, always leave 1 inch of head room to allow for expansion during processing. Put a hot, previously simmered lid on the jar, then tighten the ring firmly tight and put in a warm canner. Process as before. No, you shouldn’t have gotten any bacteria in your food and if the jars seal, they should be perfectly fine. The only problem with re-canning chili (pressure canned, of course), is that occasionally the tomato sauce in it tastes a little scorched from double heating. This doesn’t happen often, only once in awhile.
Be sure your canner remains at the pressure during the entire processing period. Fluctuating pressure — too high, too quick a drop, etc. — often causes food to blow out of the jar, as does “hurrying” the pressure down to zero or letting off remaining steam at the end of processing before the pressure returns to zero. You’ll get the hang of it very soon and become an old pro! — Jackie
Making chicken broth
What is the best way to clean chicken feet for use in making broth? We raise and butcher our own chickens, and those feet look really dirty and well not too appealing to use.
St. Paris, Ohio
I, personally, don’t use chicken feet for broth; too labor intensive for me. I prefer to boil up carcasses after baking for broth or use older chickens, boiled up whole (after cleaning, of course!) for broth. But if you want to use the feet, boil them for a few minutes. Then cool and scrub with a brush; nearly all of the yucky stuff, including a layer of skin, will peel off, leaving those feet a lot nicer than they were! — Jackie
I want to start saving seeds from the veggies I grow. What is the best way to save, prepare, and store them for future use? Is there may a book or publication on how to do this?
Sturgeon Lake, Minnesota
The best book on the subject that I have is SEED TO SEED by Suzane Ashworth. I also did an article on seed saving which is found in the 10th year anthology and another on plant propagation (including seed saving) which should appear soon in Backwoods Home. Most vegetables are VERY easy to save seeds from — just harvest ripe produce, remove the seeds, dry them well, and store in an airtight container in a cool, dry place. To save pure seeds, just don’t plant varieties from the same species, as different varieties of the same species will cross. For instance, most winter squash are Cucurbita maxima. If you plant two different squash of this species, they will cross and the resulting seeds may not produce a squash like either of the parents…or be a mixture of both. To keep a pure line of squash, simply plant only one squash of this species. As there are several squash species, you can plant several different squash, each of a different species, and thus have a variety of squash and still save pure seeds. This may seem a little daunting, but seed saving is quite easy and straightforward. And besides being well worthwhile financially, it gives you great satisfaction and a whole lot of fun! — Jackie
Morel mushroom kit
I received a packet of ad postcards. One of the offers was for a Morel Mushroom Kit. Saw this offer last year but let it pass. Do you know anything about it? It’s VERY pricey. But if it would work, one might get a patch started. Your thoughts, please.
J from Missouri
I know it’s pricey; that’s why I haven’t gotten it yet! I love morels and we don’t have many in our neck of the woods. I plan on getting a kit and trying it when I can afford it. I’d also like to plug some various mushroom spawn into logs so we have a “wild garden” in the woods. I DO love mushrooms! — Jackie
I am looking for brine recipes to make bacon and ham, also venison.
Hillsdale, New York
A good all-around brine for brining meat before smoking is as follows:
3 gallons of fresh, cold water
3 cups non-iodized table salt
1 cup brown sugar
2 Tbsp spices to taste (cloves, garlic, onion, etc.)
Mix very well in STERILE plastic food grade bucket or crock. Cover meat well and inject this brine into the bone area of large hams for complete penetration. Cover container and soak meat for as long as you prefer; most folks brine for four or five days at a temperature of between 38-40 degrees.
Good smoking! — Jackie
Storage onions, tomatoes, and laundry soap
I have a problem this year of my storage onions rotting from the neck down into the center of the onion. The onion inside turns watery. What is that and why does this happen? Will Copra onions do the same? When do you start onions from seed?
Do you think the Punta Banda tomatoes that you like are worth the shipping prices? There are so few places that carry them. Otherwise what is a good paste tomato to grow that is comparable to this?
I make my own laundry soap. What can I use to brighten up the whites? Do you make bar soap? Is there a good place to find supplies for this?
Wild Rose, Wisconsin
It sounds like your onions were infected with a fungal disease, onion neck rot. We had it in our onions two years ago and it was frustrating as they did not store well and many were starting to rot when harvested and had to be thrown away. Do NOT compost these onions or toss them into the garden, as it may tend to spread the fungus. I’d plant this year’s onions in a different spot as it could infect your crop this year. We did this and our onions were GREAT — no rot at all. The growing season has a lot to do with this disease; some years it seems to be bad, others not at all. That was our first incidence of it in six years and it’s not shown up again, all without treatment of any kind. Our white onions seemed to be much more troubled by it than were our yellows. Neck rot often begins as the neck of the growing stalk does not dry down (often it is thicker) quickly. As Copra onions are very thin necked, they are seldom bothered by neck rot. Start your onion seeds 10-12 weeks before planning on setting out the seedling onion plants. If they get too tall before planting out, simply trim off the top of the plants; it won’t hurt them a bit and will stimulate the roots to grow stronger.
I get my Punta Banda seeds from Native Seeds/SEARCH in Arizona. Yes, the shipping is expensive, (be sure to check out the SEED PACKAGES ONLY pricing above the “shipping costs;” it’s much cheaper!), but the seeds are pretty reasonable in today’s seed market. And you don’t have to use ALL the seeds; using a third of them will provide you with plenty of plants, so you’ll be getting three years’ worth of seeds for one price.
Yes, I do make bar soap and laundry soap from it, when I have the time. You can buy lye from several soap-making companies, online, including Bramble Berry and Snowdrift Farm. If you check out soap-making supplies online, you’ll come up with these and several other companies. Adding Borax to your laundry will help whiten it. Some people add it to their soap, but I prefer to add it to my wash; it’s just personal preference. — Jackie
Canning veggie burger
My family and I are vegetarian and this will be the first year we will get to can our own foods. I was wondering though, if you knew if you could can veggie burger? I make some homemade spaghetti sauce with cooked Boca or Morning Star Farms burger and thought about making large batches and canning them, but did not know if that was possible.
Also, are there certain pumpkins that you like better to make pies and can or freeze? I love the sweeter pumpkin to make pies and other goodies with.
Yes, you can home can vegetarian burger. It is essentially a bean product, so just be sure to process your sauce for 75 minutes for quarts or 65 minutes for pints at 10 pounds pressure. If you live at an altitude above 1,000 feet, consult your canning book for directions on increasing your pressure to suit your altitude, if necessary. I’d advise canning up a smaller batch, then see how your family likes the end spaghetti sauce before you do a big batch.
Any of the pie pumpkins are great for use in pies and other baking. But I simply LOVE using Hopi Pale Grey SQUASH for “pumpkin” pies, bars, bread, etc. It’s got a sweet and fruity taste that most pumpkins just don’t have. I just bake up a big squash, then scoop out the leftover meat and refrigerate it with pumpkin pie or bars in mind. You can also freeze it or even can it up raw in chunks.
The larger pumpkins aren’t really as good for pies as the smaller pie pumpkins are. One exception is Amish Pie pumpkin. I’ve grown that one and besides being a large pumpkin, it’s also very good for baking. Otherwise, varieties such as Small Sugar (New England Pie), Long Island Cheese, Fairytale, and Rumbo are all good pie pumpkins. Be sure to save the seeds! — Jackie
My husband and I are tearing down an old attached garage this spring and are building a new one and we want to build a summer kitchen between that and the house. I have an old fashioned iron sink and a wood cook stove. I have all the stuff to put in it but we would like to have some building ideas. I would like to have it as close to the original old English ones as possible. Do you have any ideas?
I’m jealous! Wow will you ever like that. A summer kitchen is so wonderful and such a nice place to work and even picnic during the summer and fall. I would advise also putting in a propane range, even a well-used one, as well as your wood burner. It’s amazing at how hot a summer kitchen can get on one of those 100 degree late summer days when you just have to get those green beans canned up! You’ll be able to use your wood burner if you have to/want to, but will have another alternative, just in case.
I like an island with a butcher block top for additional work space, just off center of your summer kitchen. You’ll have more space to prep foods, set jars and fill jars. A counter on either side of it also helps a lot. Cupboards are great for holding your food preparation equipment such as a tomato squeezer, canning kettles, jar lids, rings, stock pots, powdered pectin, sugar, vinegar, spices, salt, etc. Out of sight is nice and keeps things organized…and cleaner.
A medium-sized garbage can is great for holding your discards from vegetable preparation: carrot tops, corn husks, bean clippings, peelings, etc. Then once a day, you can take it out to the chickens, goats, pig, or compost pile, rinse it out after dumping it out and let it dry before bringing it back in for the next day’s harvest.
Put plenty of windows in your summer kitchen, with screens to enjoy the breezes. You want as much natural (cheaper!) light as you can get. Having a door with a window in the top is great for the same reason; no sense to a solid door when you can have another window in the same spot. In the same vein, put plenty of overhead electric lighting in over your work spaces. It really helps to be able to see what you’re doing and cheers you up on those tiring days. Use compact fluorescents and your light bill won’t go up a bit.
Above all, enjoy your new summer kitchen! You’ll love it, I promise you! — Jackie
Storing brown rice
I know that brown rice doesn’t store well for long periods of time, however, I have an allergy to white rice (along with human hair, white potatoes, mold, etc, etc, etc). The allergy symptoms (sinus pressure, mucous, headaches) are getting worse as I age. Is there another type of rice other than white that stores well for longer periods of time? I am also allergic to corn products and would like to find a substitute for corn meal.
Gold Beach, Oregon
If you can eat brown rice with no problems, I’d buy and use that. To store it, why not freeze it in the bag it comes in? That way, it’ll stay fine for a year or longer, and then you can rotate it by using it up. No, there isn’t another rice that I can think of that isn’t processed. I would investigate using wild rice. Wild rice isn’t a rice; it’s a type of grass, although the use of the seeds is more like common rice. You might luck out there. Wild rice stores quite well for long periods of time in an airtight container, as it has been parched before sale.
I’d suggest trying some other flours, such as teff, quinoa, and amaranth. They are quite flavorful and are useful, ancient grains. While they don’t taste like cornmeal, they may provide a substitute for it in your baking. — Jackie
Storing self-rising flour
I seem to have better luck making biscuits with self-rising flour. Why I don’t know. My question is how long a shelf life does the self-rising have. Just wondering about the leavening agents.
B.A. in Arkansas
Self-rising flour is flour that has baking powder and salt already added to it. It is also sifted several times, making it lighter. You’ll have better luck with “plain” flour if YOU sift it at least twice before using it. It’s cheaper, too! Baking powder and salt are pretty cheap. Self-rising flour has a shelf life of at least a year, and probably longer than that, before the baking powder loses a little of its leavening ability. — Jackie