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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 April, 2012

Jackie Clay

Q and A: Pressure canner or dehydrator

Friday, April 27th, 2012

Pressure canner or dehydrator

We have started our storage plan but would like to know which you think should be purchased first, a dehydrator or a pressure canner? We live in Oklahoma and spring has come early. We have already planted our garden and strawberries are already in the stores and really taste great. By Memorial Day they should be a good price and I would like to dehydrate them and vacuum seal them. I have done a lot of canning in the past but realize that jars are heavy and will break. We live out of town on two acres and are able to hunt deer which my husband plans anyway and will be making jerky. I would also like to know the difference between a Presto and All American presser canner. The difference in price is great. Presto is $65 and the All American is $180! I know one has a 5 year warranty and the other a 10 year. Outside of that, I don’t know why one is better than the other. My husband wants me to ask you to recommend a good book on drying meat and fish.

Claudine (Sukimom)
Wagoner, Oklahoma

I would buy a pressure canner first; you can dehydrate many foods in your oven or in an enclosed sunny area, where you can’t can vegetables and meats in a water bath canner (any deep, large pot). You can buy an effective, cheap dehydrator at many big-box stores or farm/ranch stores in your area. I’ve got two! They were under $40 each. As for the canners, both work well and I know many canners who use each of them successfully. I have an All American because it’s a little heavier built and has no gasket in the lid. Eventually, the gasket will get hard and need to be replaced. It is not expensive, nor is it hard to find, but I preferred the gasketless canner.

You can also use your pressure canner as a water bath canner by simply NOT locking the lid on with the weight/petcock left open/off. Do be sure to use the rack under the jars so the bottoms don’t break.

A very good book that includes dehydrating meat and fish is The Dehydrator Bible, available through the magazine.

I’m so glad you folks are starting to stock up. It’s always been a sensible, good idea that’s saved our bacon on several occasions. None of them were economic collapses, terrorist, or nuclear attacks, but that old pantry sure came in handy! — Jackie

Jackie Clay

Q and A: Canning bacon grease and saving seeds

Thursday, April 26th, 2012

Canning Bacon Grease

I use bacon grease in frying eggs and sometimes potatoes and making cornbread. I have several jars of it in the refrigerator because my mother fries a lot of bacon and saves the grease and brings it to me. Can the bacon grease be canned up and stored for later use and if so, how long would it last home canned? Thank you for all of your inspiration in trying canning new things that I had always been told that I could not can. I love your canning book and use it quite often.

Polly Henning
Joelton, Tennessee

You can put up bacon grease, just like you do lard. I just heat it up and pour it into half pint or pint jars which have been sterilized. Fill to 1/2 inch of the top and put on a hot, previously simmered lid and screw down the ring firmly tight. The jars will seal without further processing. This will last for years without getting rancid, in my experience. I’m glad you like the canning book! — Jackie

Saving seeds

We are new to self-reliance. Can you tell us the best and most fail proof way to harvest and store vegetable seeds from our garden to use next season? We have a cabin in Ozark mountains of Arkansas and are trying to learn how to live off grid but so many things are more expensive than we can afford. My husband is making his own wind generator and has hooked us to a battery system.

Sharon King
Denham Springs, Louisiana

It is very easy and definitely inexpensive to harvest/store your own seeds. Check out my article Saving seeds, which was in issue 129 of the magazine or is also available online at I know what you mean about needing to live off grid inexpensively. We, too, are challenged with this. I’ve lived off grid VERY cheaply before, by simply using very little electricity, which was provided by a smaller, cheap generator, used a couple times a week. You do learn to conserve and use electricity very frugally! But it’s amazing what you can do for yourself and how happy you are while doing it! Enjoy the path. — Jackie

Jackie Clay

We’re going through our neglected berry patch

Wednesday, April 25th, 2012

With the help of our trusty Lab, Spencer, and cat, Mittens, we’re working through our badly neglected berry patch. Yesterday, Will began pulling the photo-degraded plastic tarps off the spaces between the rows, then we used the weed burner to get rid of all those small, unsightly pieces left over, as well as some baby thistles and debris along the fence line. Then Will set out to start pruning the brambles. What a job. Removing all of the dead canes, pulling out wild raspberry bushes and wild roses, pruning the rows, and cutting out the excess canes all ended up in plenty of stickers in his fingers. Today he used gloves! I hate using them, too. But you just can’t get raspberry pickers out of your fingers! I’ve got to haul off all those dead canes to burn, then I’ll start in on cleaning up the fence rows along the berry patch from where all those wild berries come from, sneaking in through underground runners. Our strawberries are hopeless; we let them get too full of grass the year we fell off the barn roof. So we’ll let ’em fruit this year, then we’ll dig the plants, carefully pull their roots free of grass and weeds, and totally re-do that patch.

You know Mittens, the cat that thinks he’s a dog? Well, we got him after the woman said he was a boy. So we always called him “he.” But then he came into heat! Boy, did we feel stupid when we checked. Yep, our boy is a girl! Spencer doesn’t care — they’re still best friends, following us everywhere on the homestead. Mittens has developed into quite a hunter after we gradually let her go outside a little at a time, under supervision. First it was a vole, then the day before yesterday, she brought three garter snakes up onto the porch. I was able to rescue two of them, but she’d killed the third and we felt bad about that. I wish she’d confine her hunting to rodents!

We have an appointment next week to have Mittens spayed. Even though we have no stray cats here, you just never know. And we don’t want to add to the overpopulation of cats, even by accident.

Jackie Clay

Q and A: Acorns and silver tarps as mulch

Wednesday, April 25th, 2012


I enjoyed your blog on acorns. Just a tip: that brown yucky water aka tannin can be used to tan leather, to dye whites beige, as an astringent, can be frozen into ice cubes to be applied to poison oak for relief and speeds up the healing process. It can be jarred and even if it eventually gets moldy it can be re-boiled and it’s all new again! We love our black oak that we have in so cal but now living in Oregon we are going to find an Oregon oak and try the sweeter variety. I made acorn tortillas for my daughters class as a presentation on foods all around us and those kids begged for more whenever I saw them. I can’t wait to gather some more. Actually last time I had to put up with squirrels chatting away and angrily flipping their tails at me! Of course I left them enough. I also didn’t make the meal to boil them, I boiled them in a pot after I split the nut then dried them in the oven on very low heat then ground them down into meal. The whole process was just fantastic. I’ll be looking for more articles on your blog!


I’m glad your acorn tortillas turned out a success! Thanks for the tips on using the tannin water for something useful. Waste not/want not is our motto around here! — Jackie

Silver tarps as mulch

I came across a really great deal on silver tarps. I was wondering if these would be ok to put down to kill weeds when I plant my watermelons and butternut squash. I live about five minutes from Fl. and we have some really hot summers and was wondering would the silver burn up my plants.

Cottonwood, Alabama

I’d say you could use the silver tarps as mulch. They use them in New Mexico and they have pretty darned hot summers down there, as well. I’d probably trial them in your garden first before using them on every row…just to make sure. They do repel aphids and sometimes Colorado potato bugs, so that’s a bonus. — Jackie

Jackie Clay

Q and A: Canning fish and pine nuts

Tuesday, April 24th, 2012

Canning fish

I would like to try canning white-fleshed freshwater fish (bass, catfish, panfish), as a storage alternative to freezing. I can only find info on canning oily fish, such as tuna and salmon. Any advice?

Richard Cole
Grapeland, Texas

Fish is great canned up. You’ll find instructions on canning all types of fish in my book, Growing and Canning Your Own Food, available through BHM. Briefly, here’s what you’ll do: Clean fish, remove head, tail, fins, and scales. Wash and remove all blood. Split fish lengthwise, if desired (or fillet). Cut into 3½ inch lengths. Make a brine from 1 cup salt and 1 gallon ice water. Soak fish in it for one hour. Drain for 10 minutes. Only process in pints and half-pints. Pack fish into jars, skin side next to glass if not filleted. Leave 1 inch of headspace. Add ½ tsp. salt if desired. Do not add liquids. Process half pints and pints for 100 minutes at 10 pounds pressure in a pressure canner. 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. — Jackie

Pine nuts

We just acquired property with a bunch of mature pine trees and I would love to collect the nuts. What is the best way to go about this? Went thru 3 years of past magazines and did not find anything on this subject.

Robert / Kathy Hutchinson
Cincinnati, Ohio

If your land is in Ohio, I’ve got bad news; there are no native pines there that produce edible pine nuts.  Most pine nuts found in the US are from pinyon pines, found mostly in the southwest.  Most eastern pines have a very small “nut,” only about the size of the head of a pin, making shelling them nearly impossible. — Jackie

Jackie Clay

Earth Fest was a success despite heavy snow

Monday, April 23rd, 2012

Will and I manned the BHM booth at the Iron Mountain, Minnesota, EarthFest on Saturday. We met a lot of BHM subscribers and made a lot of new friends. But boy oh boy did it snow outside! We had eight inches of wet, new snow and people had to walk between buildings without cover. Nasty day! But it was fun and we’ll probably do it again next year.

Now I’m looking forward to the Preparedness Expo in Colorado Springs in May, as well as our own homesteading seminar, here at our place. It’s going to be a busy year! (Don’t forget the MREA Fair in Custer, Wisconsin, in June, either!) Our snow has melted, and I’m hoping to get in the garden soon. I want to get some early peas and onions in the ground but the soil’s just too wet now. The garlic is up and so is our rhubarb, so things are looking like spring … until the next snow! But that’s how it is on our northcountry backwoods home.

Jackie Clay

Q and A: Meals in a jar, growing sweet potatoes, and canning baked beans

Monday, April 23rd, 2012

Meals in a jar and growing sweet potatoes

First, I recently bought your “Growing and Canning” book at a self-reliance Expo in Mesquite, Texas and am excited to try canning this season. When food is processed in a pressure canner as instructed (particularly with the “meals in a jar”), is it cooked at all in the process or how would you know how long to cook it when you use the contents?

Second, can you hill sweet potatoes with straw like you would regular potatoes?

Shreveport, Louisiana

Glad to hear you bought my book! I’m sure you’ll soon be canning up a storm. It’s so fun and such a useful skill! Yes, the food is totally cooked. But as with all low-acid foods such as vegetables and meat, you must heat the food up to boiling temperature before eating. This can be in a saucepan, casserole, roasting, or baking. You just want to ensure that any possible harmful bacteria or toxins are killed before you eat the food. There is such a remote chance of them being present, but you do want to be safe rather than sorry. Enjoy your canning adventure; it’s addicting in a good way!

No, sweet potatoes really don’t like being topped with straw like Irish potatoes do. Irish potatoes grow potatoes from stolons from the stem of the plant where sweet potatoes grow from the downward aiming roots. — Jackie

Canning baked beans

I have recently pressure canned baked beans. They looked like baked beans when they were put into the jars. After the canning process the baked beans came out a dark color. Is this normal?

Deloris Brown
Ponce de Leon, Florida

It depends on the recipe and if you used dark molasses or not. If the jars are sealed and they were canned correctly, the beans will be fine on opening. — Jackie

Jackie Clay

Q and A: Baby goat and using Surround

Sunday, April 22nd, 2012

Baby goat

What does it mean when my baby goat that is going to be 2 weeks on Monday is having white slimey stuff coming out of his behind?

Tina Corona
Merced, California

If the kid is nursing on the mother, he may just be getting a bit more milk than his body can adjust to; you may have to milk the doe out a bit so he gets less milk. This is most often seen in single kids or twins from a high producing dam. If you are bottle feeding him, he may be coming down with scours, which is a severe diarrhea, often of a bacterial nature. Stop feeding him milk from the bottle and replace those feedings with an electrolyte solution, available at your vet’s or a local farm store in the calf department. Mix the same proportions of electrolyte to water as if he were a calf but only as much as his bottle holds, usually 8 oz. If he seems ill, oral sulfa drugs are often necessary; see your vet right away as scours can be quickly deadly if left untreated. — Jackie

Using Surround

Could you explain how you use Surround? When do you apply it? What kind of spraying system is best? (Thanks for the help with my spindly plants–they seem to be a bit stronger since I put them very close to the shop light.)

Sandy Agostini
Nixa, Missouri

Surround is a kaolin/clay based product that you first apply at apple-blossom drop time, then weekly thereafter for 4 applications (unless there is a rain and you must then re-coat your trees). You can apply it with a cheap pump-up garden sprayer or a backpack sprayer. Be sure to shake up the sprayer from time to time to keep the Surround mixed well with the water.

I’m glad you’re having better luck with your spindly plants. You might also give them a shot of fertilizer, as well, to perk them up even more. — Jackie


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