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Ask Jackie headline

Click here to ask Jackie a question!
Jackie Clay answers questions for BHM Subscribers & Customers
on any aspect of low-tech, self-reliant living.

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Archive for May, 2011

Jackie Clay

Q and A: Log home and Sick hen

Tuesday, May 31st, 2011

Log home

I truly enjoy reading your blog and all your articles. From my perspective growing up in a rural area on a one mule farm, I can see you are “the genuine article” and it is not all publicity. My question to you is are you happy with your log home? What are some pros and cons. Would you advise someone planning to build a home to build with logs? I do have a small farm in mountains in eastern Ky where I plan to build. I value your opinion in this matter. I know you live in a log home but I also know it is not for everyone.

Sarah Patrick
Salyersville, Kentucky

I totally LOVE my log home. Yes, they aren’t for everyone. They do require staining and regular care regarding re-staining as necessary, caulking checks in the logs, and chinking any air leaks due to log separation from shrinking. But the type of home you choose to build is a personal thing as well as a “best type” option. Some folks dream of an adobe, long, low Spanish-type home. Others, a straw bale home, or cordwood, or traditional brick. All can be made cozy and comfortable. Build what suits YOUR dreams!

Pros and cons? Log homes, built right, are warm in the winter, cool in the summer. They make use of renewable material. There are no toxins involved, such as formaldehyde glues. All log homes settle and this must be taken into account when building, allowing for this settling. Something as small as a single nail can cause the logs to hang up and separate. Building a log home yourself is hard work and is tedious, but you can do a log at a time and eventually get her done. It is NOT a fast process, but we feel very worthwhile. — Jackie

Sick hen

One of my old Rhode Island Red laying hens is not acting normal. She stands hunched up with her feathers puffed out (especially around her backside).

I noticed this a day ago. She is eating and when I caught her to check her out she flapped and squawked, but most of the time she just stands in one place. Her vent appears clear (not plugged with poop) but I can’t tell what might be wrong with her. Any suggestions?

Spokane, Washington

She may be egg bound. This is sort of like constipation only with an egg. To correct this, warm up 15 ccs of mineral oil and using an ear syringe or something similar, gently inject it into her vent. This usually remedies this problem.

Or she may have a bacterial infection, often a “cold.” You might try housing her separately for a week and adding tetracycline to her drinking water. Unfortunately, chickens are not “worth” much, so taking her to the vet is usually not an option unless she is a special pet. — Jackie

Jackie Clay

Q and A: Rotenone and Feeding turkeys

Monday, May 30th, 2011


I had been searching for the Rotenone that you said you use for your pest control on veggies. Ended my search today after talking with Master Gardener for the University of Maryland. He did a print out for me of current research linking Rotenone to Parkinsons Disease and several Indocrine diseases. Please go do some online research before you continue to use it, especially with your history of cancer. Certainly am not criticizing, just concerned for your health and the health of those who decide to go use it.

Wanda Towles
Laurel, Maryland

We all must choose to eliminate the very real, well documented risks from our lives that we, personally, feel are the most threatening to our health. I do not and do not recommend using rotenone heavily or often. Usually one or two applications does the trick. If there is more, documented, scholarly research in the future that supports your Master Gardener’s research site, I will definitely listen. I do not and do not recommend using rotenone heavily or often. Usually one or two applications does the trick. In the meantime, we choose to grow most of our own food, buy no foreign grown foods, use no GMO products, have no carpet or formaldehyde products in our home, exercise every day, do not smoke, eat right (usually!), and enjoy each and every day. We live one day at a time and try to enjoy it and each other to the fullest. Thank you for your concern. — Jackie

Feeding turkeys

We have 3 4-H turkeys that are about 1/3 grown. They are eating the boughten feed like crazy. What do you feed yours to keep the cost down?

Gail Erman
Palisade, Colorado

We feed our turkeys an 18% poultry scratch feed mixed with corn screenings that are basically cracked corn with finer bits. Our turkeys also have free range in our orchard and I feed them squash “guts” and kitchen scraps along with our chickens. They are doing well on this and the hens are also laying plenty of eggs. — Jackie

Jackie Clay

Q and A: Long-term food storage and canning butter

Sunday, May 29th, 2011

Long-term food storage

In Vickie Tate’s article on “7 mistakes of food storage” she says not to use trash bag liners in buckets. Since I have already done that. Would you recommend that I rebag the food ? I look at the bag box and it says not recommended for food storage but nothing about pesticides.

Don Cogger
Twin Falls, Idaho

I would not use trash bags to line buckets. Personally, I don’t use any liners in my buckets. Some foods, I just place in the buckets in their own bags: like chocolate chips, sugar, and pasta. Other bulk foods like wheat, popcorn, rice, etc. I just pour into the bucket and seal it. I’ve never had any issue with storage problems that way. — Jackie

Canning butter

My canned butter is too salty! Can I substitute 50% unsalted butter to the salted and be ok? I only use quality butter, Champion or Land O’ Lakes. I live in Central East Texas so I keep butter indoors, dark and cool.

Susan Blouch
Oakwood, Texas

Yes, you can even can up unsalted butter if you want. — Jackie

Jackie Clay

Fencing the new 40 acres

Saturday, May 28th, 2011

Our neighbor, Jerry Yourczek, had an old Shaver post pounder that hooks to a 3 point and is run by hydraulics laying out in his yard. I ask him if it worked and if we could borrow it. (I knew he hadn’t moved it in seven years.) He said it did and we were welcome to use it. Will and David brought it home. The hoses were shot, but we were able to borrow hoses from our wood splitter. Will hooked it up and started pounding posts, starting at the corner of our horse pasture, angling up close to our driveway. We didn’t want stock running on our best blueberry patch or the young pines on that ridge! After 5 posts, the seal on the hydraulic cylinder blew. Will spent the day pulling it apart and digging out the old seal. It was brittle and hard. Luckily, he was able to go online and find a dealer. On pulling the cylinder apart, he also found a gear-shaped spacer that was worn out. One phone call later, he had the parts coming.

Three days later, the parts arrived and Will put it all back together. So now, he’s busy pounding posts, having gone all the way from our horse pasture, putting in a gate up near the big pines where our driveway makes a 90 degree turn, and is heading along the drive. He’ll be glad to get off the ridge as there are LOTS of big rocks up there, left by the glacier. The posts don’t always go in straight, but they’re definitely solid!

Yesterday we took a ride around the 40 with our four wheeler. Wow, is there ever grass on that piece of ground! We are so happy to have bought that land. Not only is it great pasture for our animals, but it’s pretty, too! Soon there’ll be no more buying hay in the summer for us. — Jackie

Jackie Clay

Q and A: Plucking chickens and Canning potatoes

Friday, May 27th, 2011

Plucking chickens

I haven’t raised chickens for over 20 years but my grown kids convinced me to do it again so they could learn. We just finished butchering our first batch of 16 meat chickens. Is there an easy way to get out all those pin feathers? We don’t have a electric plucker & have to do it by hand. The birds are only 7 weeks old & still half naked but covered in pin feathers. We still have 33 more to do so we would appreciate any advice you could send our way.

Adell Struble
Aledo, Illinois

Be sure you scald your chickens long enough, and that the water remains hot enough. You want to scald long enough to loosen the feathers but not cause the skin to peel, too. The feathers should pull out very easily, leaving very few pin feathers. I don’t have a plucker, either, but I can pluck a chicken in about 10 minutes, pin feathers and all. I get the few pin feathers by pinching them between my knife blade and fingernail, then just pulling them on out. Then I pass the carcass over the flame on my gas stove or a small wood fire to singe off the hairs. — Jackie

Canning potatoes

Congratulations on your wedding! Is it OK to can white potatoes unpeeled? I typically can diced potatoes — not whole potatoes. There are nutrients lost when peels are discarded.

Lois Harper
Huntsville, Alabama

Thank you for your congratulations. Yes, you can home can white, unpeeled potatoes but the peels on larger potatoes are tougher, canned. I can up small russets, whole, then squeeze the potato out of the tough skins, like a grape. Of course, you can also eat them, too. — Jackie

Jackie Clay

Q and A: Keeping stored foods cool, Canning sweet corn, Drying yellow squash, and Growing asparagus

Friday, May 27th, 2011

Keeping stored foods cool, Canning sweet corn, Drying yellow squash

We’re finally fixing to build a large pantry in our closed-in garage and we will be insulating with styrofoam. Hubby thought that maybe venting it from our crawlspace would help to keep it cool, but would a fine screen over the vent pipe work to keep the bugs out as it gets pretty hot here in Georgia.

Our sweet corn will be ready to can in a few weeks. Your canning book for cream style said for every pint (2 cups) use 1¼ cups water, even with a large amount of corn in your pot, is that correct?

One more question: I would like to try drying the yellow summer squash, we like it cooked down with onions and crumbled bacon. Is the taste of the dried squash good or is it better canned in chunks in jars in pressure canner? We just don’t like it frozen even steamed or blanched first.

Betty D.
Covington, Georgia

A screened-in vent is a good idea, as is adding a fan in case your pantry/root cellar gets too humid. Be sure to use plenty of insulation to keep out the warmth. Some folks in the south have even added a window air conditioner to bring down the temperature during the very hottest parts of the summer.

Yes, that is correct. Or you can also just heat your creamed corn mixture (milk and corn kernels) and fill the jar to within 1 inch of the top, then pour on boiling water to ensure that there is adequate liquid in your creamed corn, to within 1 inch of the top. Some corns are more “juicy” than others and they don’t really require a lot more liquid. Others are pretty dry, even when the cobs are scraped. Do be aware that home canned creamed corn isn’t like store corn. Store corn has added sugar and corn starch to make it sweet and gooey.

I like dehydrated summer squash for using as a side dish. But I also use a lot of it, diced, in mixed vegetable dishes and that works out well, too. — Jackie

Growing asparagus

When growing asparagus, do they need to be propped up like a tomato plant? The wind has my 5-foot stalks laying over at different degrees.

Centerview, Missouri

No. Once the ferns have grown large, you can let them lean at will; they are only making “food” for the roots and it doesn’t matter how they lean. — Jackie

Jackie Clay

Q and A: Making corn tortillas and Dealing with mosquitos

Thursday, May 26th, 2011

Making corn tortillas

I would like to grind my own corn for making tortillas. I am familiar with the process, however am having trouble finding a local source for whole, dried corn. I thought I would just be able to purchase it in my local hispanic market. No such luck. I have heard of people using organic feed corn. Is this safe? I know seed corn is not a good idea. I have found a few options on the internet to have it shipped to me, but it is very expensive. Any advice would be appreciated.

Brian Schultz
Georgetown, Colorado

Although you can make tortillas from cornmeal, I prefer the traditional recipe, using masa harina (ground hominy or corn flour). This makes a much smoother tortilla that isn’t so gritty and crumbly as those made with cornmeal. Yes, you can grind clean organic whole dry feed corn. Or buy bulk popcorn and grind that. Sam’s Club and other big outlets sell large bags of popcorn very inexpensively. Or if you have the space, why not grow some corn yourself at home and grind that? Even sweet corn, left to mature on the stalk, will make great cornmeal. — Jackie

Dealing with mosquitoes

Living in Minnesota, we have an abundance of mosquitoes! It seems very bad this year and my chickens are being attacked in the evening inside their house. Do you have any suggestions to better control this problem? I have some fly tapes hanging from the ceiling and they are capturing some mosquitoes and I also have a fly trap hanging in there to get the flies. Feel so sorry for the chickens getting ate up.

Debra Brown
Littlefork, Minnesota

I’ve never had this problem (yet!), but my friend Lisa, editorial coordinator for the magazine, has used lemon balm effectively for both her chickens and the house. Here are her tips: We have mosquitoes in the summertime where we live and I use crushed lemon balm (stems and leaves), which grows abundantly here. I throw it in the coop, hang it on the porch, in the kitchen window (which doesn’t have a screen), and we put it on the deck railing whenever we want to sit out there. I put out fresh about once a week.

I have grown lemon balm myself to use in cooking and here in Minnesota it grows quickly and very well as an annual. In other climates, it can be a perennial. You might try your local greenhouse and pick up some started plants for a quick fix for your chickens. — Jackie

Jackie Clay

Q and A: Index for book and Canning chicken and green beans

Wednesday, May 25th, 2011

Index for Growing and Canning Your Own Food

I just received your book “Growing and Canning Your Own Food,” and I LOVE it! I am eager to try canning things that I never thought of canning before.

However, I was wondering if you have an index for the book. Today, for example, I wanted to know about growing asparagus, but I had to thumb through a lot of the book before I found it.


Melissa Eefsting
Allendale, Michigan

Not yet. But when the second printing comes out, we’ll include an index. — Jackie

Canning chicken and green beans

1st question: I just canned up several quarts of chickens, some of the lids were bent after processing. I had this happen to me in water bath process also; is this caused from screwing the lids on too tight? They are sealed but bent, does that make sense? Will they still store ok?

2nd question: I want to can some green beans this year with beef broth and slices of bacon-should the processing time be 90 minutes?

Jacqueline Wieser
Sidney, Nebraska

No. I’m not sure what this is from. I’ve had it happen in the past and it was always the Kerr lids, not the other brands I used. Yes, they will remain sealed; I never had one fail. But I was sure concerned at first!

Yes. If you use significant meat products, you should process for the time necessary for the meat (either 75 minutes for pints or 90 minutes for quarts). Try a small batch first to make sure your beans don’t get soft with a lengthy processing time. Sometimes they do; sometimes they don’t, depending on the variety. — Jackie


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