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 November, 2011
Tuesday, November 29th, 2011
Our new Hud-Son portable bandsaw mill (that we got this past spring) is a wonderful addition to our homestead. It’s already sawed tons of beams, floor joists, and dimension lumber quickly and easily. Plus all the slab wood that was left over has been cut up and is now inside, ready to provide nice, dry kindling and kitchen range fuel. BUT winter’s coming. We already have two inches of snow on the ground that will probably still be here, come spring. And our bandsaw mill sits on planks on the ground…soon to be buried in snow. So Will wanted to make a trailer to haul our sawmill around and keep it up off of the ground.
Sure, we could have bought a trailer package for our saw — for plenty of extra cash, which we didn’t have. But he wanted to build our own trailer — at a deep discount.
A neighbor, three miles away, had a ratted-out old mobile home in his yard and Will eyed it when we went by. He called him about the possibility of getting it (free of course, for the dismantling and hauling). The owner was more than happy to get rid of it. The aluminum siding had been stripped years ago and the roof had blown off. It was truly an ugly beast, sitting there.
Will hired a friend (we hope he’s still a friend!) and they went over with the tractor to empty out the trailer and pile the walls into a burning pile, which the neighbor had started years ago. Turned out that the trailer, which had no roof, had been filled several FEET deep with assorted junk. They worked hard for three days shoveling trash, along with dismantling the “palace.” David helped out the third day, then they tried to pull the empty mobile home frame out of the spot where it had been sitting for decades. David’s 3/4-ton Chevy with a Duramax diesel, our 3/4-ton Ford 4×4, and the tractor barely budged it! The tractor tire went flat and the afternoon was past. Will figured he’d have to bring our dozer over to pull it out.
The fourth day it was snowing and Will didn’t have the heart to ask our friend to help. He went over to put a repaired front tire on our tractor (nail from the junk). I stayed home to do some canning and laundry. Several hours later, I heard stomping on the front porch.
Will was home, AND he’d hauled the mobile home frame home — well nearly home — with the tractor! In fact, over at the neighbor’s, all alone, he hooked the tractor on to the frame and tried to pull it. Just for the heck of it. And it came away easily! So he just kept going. All the way home. Kind of. There’s this hill 1/4 mile away and he knew he’d never get up it without tire chains. So he parked it and just came home.
The next day, he took Old Yeller down there and hooked on. Without incident, it pulled home easily. Now it’s cut into thirds. The center third twisted and bent badly during the move and haul. But Will only needs the straight parts for the sawmill trailer. Junk to useful homestead equipment is such a good thing! I laugh and tell him we’re the ultimate recyclers!
We still have a few spots available at our May homesteading seminar, here on our homestead in Northern Minnesota. If you’d like to have more information, check out the past blog and e-mail for a flyer. We’d be so glad to meet you! — Jackie
Monday, November 28th, 2011
Canning sweet potatoes
I have a question about canning sweet potatoes. Most recipes I have found call for boiling or steaming small to medium potatoes until the skins will rub off, then processing whole. Could I cut them up like carrots or squash? Do they need to be pre-cooked before putting in the jars, or can they be done raw like carrots? I intend to keep most in dry storage, but wondered about canning for quick-fix meals.
Harbor Springs, Michigan
Yes, you can just peel the sweet potatoes like Irish potatoes, slice or chunk them, then pack in the jar, filling to within 1 inch of the top, adding 1/2 tsp. salt to pints, 1 tsp. to quarts, then filling the jar full, leaving 1 inch of headspace, with boiling water. Process pints for 55 minutes and quarts for 90 minutes 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. You can also can those sweet potatoes using a light syrup instead of boiling water, for additional flavor. Use the same time and pressure. — Jackie
I treated myself to a Victorio steam juicer at the Black Friday sale at my local farm store.
The instructions that came with it were less than helpful. It took a long time, more than an hour to go from cold on the stove to steam coming out the top. Then I was to time 40 minutes and then take the first quart of juice. I didn’t get even a cup of juice by that time. It is still cooking away well past 40 minutes and we don’t yet have a quart full.
I tried making pear juice yesterday. I was surprised by how long it took to get the juice. In the end, I had just over 3 quarts of juice but they filled over a really long period of time.
Am I doing something wrong or do pears just not make a lot of juice? My pears were getting pretty old and soft.
Steam juicers DO take quite awhile to make juice, but the good thing is that you don’t have to stand over them. You also get a lot more juice than you would straining it after boiling in the old way. What my friend, Jeri, does is to just set a large, clean bucket under the hose and just let the juice run until it’s about done. With the stove on low under the hot juicer, it works quite well.
Using a steam juicer is a lengthy process, but the results are pretty nice. — Jackie
Wednesday, November 23rd, 2011
Chickens in the garden
I planted a fall crop of spinach and lettuce. We have free range chickens who roam about the garden, etc. Should I wash/soak the spinach and lettuce in vinegar before eating. I didn’t think about fencing it in. I hate for it to go to waste, but want to be sure it will be safe to eat. I don’t see any visible signs that the chickens have been in those patches, but they do have access and love to forage in the garden.
St. Paris, Ohio
Personally, I would just rinse these crops extra well before eating. Unless you see signs of chicken poop on and around these leafy greens, you should be just fine. — Jackie
Water blowing out of jars during canning process
I just emptied my batch of carrots. 16 pints, I stacked them with a tray in between. I noticed that the water in the canner is orange. Did I do something wrong to make the jars leak? Are they okay?
Probably you either did not all quite enough headspace in your jars or the pressure fluctuated (over the pounds pressure needed for canning, then you noticed it climbing and turned down the heat?) during processing. This causes some of the water in the jars to blow out during processing, resulting in your orange water. As long as the jars sealed and were processed correctly, they’ll be fine. — Jackie
Tuesday, November 22nd, 2011
Your book says to use 13 pounds on the gauge for my altitude. I have been canning at 15 pounds on the gauge. I also have a weight and it makes the same amount of noise at 13 as at 15 pounds. Which is correct to use, 13 or 15 on the gauge? I did have my gauge tested before using it.
If the instructions for your altitude say 13 pounds, this is correct. But if you can at two pounds more pressure, that’s just fine, too. — Jackie
So far we have our house, garden, berry bushes, and small orchard. I was excited about getting chickens this Spring. I started researching. I am overwhelmed. Everyone thinks their way is the best. Special bedding, separate shoes to wear to prevent disease, the list goes on. Please help me with the following:
1) Our winters are as cold as yours, just not for as long. Last summer we had 3 weeks of over 100 degrees (real temp). Which breed could handle these fluctuations the best? The lists of cold weather chickens are just names to me, sorry, I have no idea what to get.
2) One never sees the insides of coops. There has to be form or function to the insides.
3) How far away from the house should the coop be?
4) What do you use for bedding? And how do you replenish it?
5) What is the best flooring material? Wood or cement?
6) How do you clean out the coop? We do not have any machinery yet. Do you just scoop with a shovel? Is there an easier way? (I’m getting older.)
7) I have seen the idea of a movable coop. What would the downside be of making one of those?
8) How important is it to spend time with the chickens to tame them?
J from Missouri
The very good news is that it is very easy to successfully raise chickens! For a whole lot of help on the cheap, pick up the BHM’s handbook, Chickens: A Beginners handbook. It answers a lot of your questions, plus a whole lot more that I can’t cover on the blog. But to answer some of your concerns: the inside of the coop is basically a room with roosts on one end (usually away from the door, as they do take up quite a bit of roof). Roosts are simply rounded poles nailed up, ladder fashion, about 18 inches apart, with the “ladder” being tilted toward the wall. This lets all the birds roost, yet not poop on each other. On one side of the coop, there should be nest boxes. I made mine from scrap lumber. They are 12×12 inches. The front is open so the hens can go in to lay. Mine is a bank of nests, five in all. You should have one box for about every 5-7 hens so everyone has a box when they want to lay. Too few boxes and the hens try to crowd in with another hen and then some eggs often break, leading to egg eating. There should be a pole or board along the front so the hens can fly up and walk along it to choose a box. The nests should be just below eye level, so you can easily bend to look in the boxes and remove eggs. A coop should have at least one window for sunlight.
It doesn’t matter where the coop is. They don’t smell and chickens aren’t noisy unless you choose to have a rooster. I use wood shavings for bedding and just add more all summer. I clean the coop each spring and fall and add all fresh bedding, letting it build up in the meantime.
Either wood or cement will work; mine has a dirt floor, which also works. (See, I told you chickens were easy.) I clean the coop with a scoop shovel. The shavings and dry chicken manure is very light and easy to handle.
Movable coops, or chicken tractors, are really meant to be a temporary — usually summer — arrangement. Usually the coops are not warm enough for winter and are often not large enough.
You can spend as much time with the chickens as you want. We’ve had pet chickens we could pick up and enjoyed petting. But most of ours now are not that tame and that’s okay, too. They still are easy to work around, even though we can’t pick them up easily.
Oh, J, your winters are far from as cold as ours! Here in northern Minnesota, we have weather far below zero for weeks on end, usually reaching -35 or -40, and we also get some hot weather in the summer. The good news for you is that you can raise any breed(s) of chickens that appeal to you! Do take into consideration just what you want chickens for (meat, eggs, pets, or a combination). Pick up a couple chicken hatchery catalogs and take a look. Of course, all sound perfect, but it’ll give you something to look at and lots of information.
Chickens are like most other homestead animals and livestock/poultry; give them a warm, ventilated building with good food, water, and reasonable care and they’ll do just fine. No need for special shoes or disinfecting! And remember that I’m here to answer any of your questions as you go along! — Jackie
Monday, November 21st, 2011
A lot of you have been asking if we would consider doing a homesteading seminar here at our place. Before this, we just didn’t have enough time because of all of our ongoing projects. But this year, we are having three different 3-day seminars. The first is May 25th to May 27th and will cover a diverse selection of homesteading skills and, of course, meeting and talking with my husband, Will, and me. Prepare for an intense but very friendly time, including a tour of the place, an evening bonfire, and plenty of time for us to answer all your questions.
For more information and to sign up for this first seminar, you may e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org for a flyer and complete information. We can only accept 20 people at our seminar, in order for us do a good job and have plenty of time for each participant. The price will be $400 per person, or $350 each for a group of 2 or more.
Oh, I just thought I’d let you know our piggies really love their new pen and home. They’ve already got it rooted up well, but show no indications of trying to lift or dig under the pallets, which they didn’t do in their older, crummier, smaller pallet pen. Did you notice our first two pigs are Red Wattles? This is a heritage breed of pig that originally came from Texas. But they do well in other climates, as well, producing very tasty, quick growing pork. Our other gilt is a cross-bred Yorkshire that we bought at the sale barn. All are growing nicely, weighing between 140 and 160 pounds. We think they’re pretty pigs! — Jackie
Sunday, November 20th, 2011
Is pH stable after canning?
I just heard that the Extension folks have found that pH does not stay stable after canning (guess this came out in 2008 or so). Have you heard about this, and what implications would that have on our home canning? At first it sounded dire, but the more I think about it, the more I think we should still be fine as long as we processed at the correct pressure and for the correct time in the first place. I sure don’t want to have to restrict myself to “official” recipes only.
Cave Junction, Oregon
As long as you process at the correct pressure and time, your home canning will be fine. There are always new scientific “findings” that seem to be meant to alarm the public. — Jackie
Dehydrating frozen vegetables
Have you ever dried frozen veggies?
Gig Harbor, Washington
Yes. It works quite well, especially with corn, peas, and broccoli. Not so hot with carrots and green beans that tend to get a little tough. They are good enough for stews and soups, however. Just thaw them and proceed as if they were fresh. — Jackie
With Thanksgiving coming soon, and turkey prices will be very low in my area, could you give hints for canning? I’d like to can larger chunks, but with some flavoring added. Are there some seasoning not favorable to canning? Such as bitterness, and increased strength? How different is already roasted, vs. cold raw pack? I’m by myself so pints sounds better for my use.
That’s a great idea and one I use nearly every year; buying several turkeys on a very good sale before holidays. What I usually do is to bake the turkey until it is partially done; so that you can handle the meat easily. Then cool the turkey and cut the meat off the bone into chunks/slices/dices to suit you. In bowls, separate the types of meat. When done, place the turkey carcass in a large stockpot. If you need to, cut it up to fit in one or more pots. Cover with water. Add salt, pepper, a bit of sage, onion powder, and any other spices you wish. Sage can get bitter from canning, so don’t overdo that. Simmer the bones/meat for about an hour, then strain off the broth and taste. If it needs more salt or seasonings, add them. While you bring it back to a boil in another pot, pack the turkey meat in jars, leaving 1 inch of headspace. Cover with boiling broth, leaving 1 inch of headspace. Process pints for 75 minutes and quarts for 90 minutes at 10 pounds pressure. If you live at an altitude above 12,00 feet, consult your canning book for directions on increasing your pressure to suit your altitude, if necessary.
I nearly always process my poultry like that, sometimes substituting simmering the meat to roasting it, depending on the size of the bird (turkey vs. chicken). I have also raw packed, to save time, but the meat tends to “blob” at the bottom of the jars and the broth is not as attractive. The taste is good, however. — Jackie
Saturday, November 19th, 2011
Canning peanut butter soup
I have a favorite peanut butter soup recipe. Ingredients: peanut butter, tomatoes, rice, broth, onion, garlic, green pepper, olive oil, and bay leaf. (I prefer to cook the soup down until it’s fairly thick.) Do you think I can safely can this recipe?
This is one I think I’d probably pass on. There are no tested recipes for canning peanut butter. Probably with the other ingredients it would be okay, but I’d just make it fresh or freeze it, if I were you. — Jackie
Your compost looks wonderful, you are lucky to have so much. I noticed in your back yard you appear to have an outdoor wood burning furnace. Do you use that for heating your home or out buildings, etc.
It is a wood boiler. But it was a leaker that Will welded and welded on. At first we thought it held water and were tossing about the idea of using it to supplement our wood heat in the house so we didn’t have to get up and add wood to the stoves at night. But they DO use about twice as much wood as our wood stove does, and that is a concern of ours. Right now, we just use the boiler to heat water for our hot tub. Will had made a heater from two old hot water heaters that were junked. But they took several hours to heat the water. After finding out that the wood boiler leaked, we aren’t considering it for the house heat. Maybe in the future, we’ll buy a new one. Maybe. Until then, we just throw another log on the fire. — Jackie
Friday, November 18th, 2011
I just picked up some land this past summer in St. Louis County, Minnesota, which I think is your area. I can’t make it up there very often, but my goal is to try to make it up there once a month. I want to have some food plots growing and I’m looking for things that can grow on their own without a lot of help. I’m thinking potatoes, carrots, and onions. Can you recommend foods that I could plant that wouldn’t need much help?
We are in St. Louis County, but it’s one of the largest counties in the state, running from Duluth all the way to Canada! Big place — from city to total wilderness. Northern St. Louis County is like a whole other county. The first thing to consider when you are wanting to establish some garden areas is fencing. I guarantee that without it, the deer will clear it out for you. We fence with a 6-foot fence and that keeps them out. Yes, potatoes, carrots, and onions can grow with little help, ONCE they’re weed-free — especially slow-growing carrots and onions that quickly can get overwhelmed by weeds. I’d say that the best way to go is to try to put in some potatoes in one area, then keep the rest tilled all summer to keep any possible weeds killed off before they get started. The next year, you should be able to get the rest of the garden planted, with little competition from weeds. Watering will be a challenge, however. All garden crops need weekly watering if the summer is dry. So going up once a month could be a problem if you have a dry summer. Squash is a crop that is quite forgiving both of lack of watering and weed competition, so you might plant some and see how that does, along with your first crop of potatoes. All gardening does take a little, frequent, care. It’s not hard work, but watering and weeding do need to be done fairly regularly. Let us know how you are progressing with your new land! — Jackie
Grinding flour and using oat groats
In the past year we have grown our own vegetables, made jams and even started to grind out our flour. This brings me to my question. I now use a Kitchen Aid attachment for grinding flour and want to upgrade. I am looking at either a Wondermill or a Nutrimill. I’ve done some research but there are as many opinions as people giving them. Are there any pros & cons that I should look for? Could you tell me which one you would prefer? I want to be sure before spend that amount of money.
Also I can’t seem to find any recipes using oat groats. Can they be used just like wheat berries?
Hampton, New Hampshire
Personally, I like the Nutrimill best. It has low temperature grinding and a covered hopper, plus a lifetime warranty, where the WonderMill has an open hopper and a limited lifetime warranty. I would like one, too, to use as long as we have power (generator gas, solar or wind!) but always want a hand-operated one on hand to use if there is no power available.
Most folks use oat groats either ground coarsely to add to breads or use as cereal or to roll, making rolled oats. — Jackie