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Ask Jackie headline

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Jackie Clay answers questions for BHM Subscribers & Customers
on any aspect of low-tech, self-reliant living.

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Archive for May, 2012

Jackie Clay

Q and A: strange eggshells and converting pasture to garden

Thursday, May 31st, 2012

Strange eggshells

I have one hen that lays really large eggs but the shells feel very thin. The eggs feel light especially for their size. The shell is rough and it often has granules on it. Sometime the pile of granules are merged with the shell. Other times, they can be shoved off with my fingernail, just a bunch of very tiny shell material balls. Should I be worried about the hen that is laying these eggs? It has been going on for months.

Helper, Utah

No, this is nothing to worry about. Some hens just lay “different” eggs. Just make sure she has a good diet with access to oyster shells or another calcium source to help her build stronger egg shells. — Jackie

Converting pasture to garden

We have finally made the purchase and moved to a more rural setting. Previously a horse farm, we want to convert about 1 of the 5 acres from neglected pasture grass/weeds to vegetable garden. What would you suggest to do to get rid of the grass and weeds? Bush-hog, and then plow everything under multiple times to compost? BTW, Nitrogen is overly plentiful.

Michele Zipf
Batavia, Ohio

Congratulations! Yep, what we do is to cut the “junk” as short as possible, then plow and disc the spot. Remove as many roots as possible easily, then work it with a tiller several times during the growing season, BEFORE you attempt to plant a garden. If you want to plant a garden, make it a small one so that you can control the weeds and any perennial grass. A large garden is hard to keep weeds and grass in check and they can quickly over-run the whole thing. The very best of luck on your new homestead! — Jackie

Jackie Clay

Our very first homestead seminar was a huge success!

Tuesday, May 29th, 2012

Although we had been having inches of rain, God smiled on us and we had two days of nice weather for our homesteading seminar. We all met great, like-minded people; learned a lot (including cheesemaking, building a hoop house, setting Wallo’ Waters, and planting tomatoes, seed saving, homestead dairy animals, tools, and much more), and ate great food…much of it right from our homestead, including a home-raised ham.

It was an intense three days with tons of questions to answer and a lot of information flying back and forth.

Will we do it again?


We’ve already set a date for our next seminar: August 17, 18, and 19, 2012. I’m putting together a flyer now. We are going to limit our slots to 15. Twenty would be too many for personal interaction. Already two of our first seminar folks have said they’re definitely coming to our next one. For more information, just e-mail me at

Jackie Clay

Homestead Drying Racks (the best drying rack I’ve ever used!)

Thursday, May 24th, 2012

The last clothes drying rack I bought was a lightweight affair. True, I did need a place to dry clothes during the winter when my fingers got just a little cold from hanging clothes out on the line when it was sub-zero temperatures and blizzarding. Hanging clothes all over my house wasn’t a thing of joy — clothes draped over the shower rod, over chair backs, on improvised clotheslines slung from here to there. So I bought my lightweight (and not-so-cheap) wooden drying rack. But it was relatively small and clothing that was wet and heavy, such as jeans, flannel shirts, and towels, soon took their toll on the flimsy rack. That was years ago, and I’ve never replaced it, until now!

Wow, Homestead production’s drying rack is a horse of a different color! The horizontal dowels are much thicker and the whole affair is larger. Will took one look and quickly got down to business, putting it together so I could use it. (True, he’s one of those “who needs directions” kind of guys, but even with a few “what the hecks,” he got it put together within two hours’ time, with minimal tools and no cussing.)

Once assembled, my mind took off with possibilities! Not only would that rack hold a good amount of clothes at a time, but I could also lay screens full of food to dehydrate across the dowels. Many of them! And I could dry herbs…and fleeces…and… The possibilities are endless! (Oh, it does dry clothes very well, too! Even blankets and quilts.) And, although it’s large, it accordion-folds down so that it stores in a relatively small spot — a bonus when you don’t have a large home!

The rack retails for $149, plus shipping, and is worth every penny. (I’ve had several friends over to visit, and they all exclaimed over how great the rack is and that they will be ordering one soon.)

Homestead Productions is a small, family-run homestead business in Wisconsin. You can contact them at N3536 Greenwood Road, Hortonville, WI 54944, or check out their website,

Jackie Clay

I survived the Self Reliance Expo (and had fun too!)

Wednesday, May 23rd, 2012

But now we’re cracking to get ready for our own homesteading seminar this weekend. So please forgive me for not getting more on the blog. It’s terrifically busy around here. I promise to get back at it soon!

I had a lot of fun at the Expo, visiting with BHM family as well as speaking two days and being on the panel of “women preppers.” It was also great to see Dave, Annie, Sammy, Jeff, Don, and all the other BHM crew and folks of Red Shed Media.

Jackie Clay

Q and A: Mastitis and Canning potatoes

Thursday, May 17th, 2012


I have a Nubian doe that I am at the end of my rope with. We got her in early March, paid a bunch for her, and she was supposed to be gallon a day milker. The first couple of days she produced about 3/4 gallon (milking twice a day) and we attributed that to stress of the move. However it never got better. A few days later she showed signs of mastitis (slightly stringy milk) that tested positive on CMT. She was off her feed so we gave her propylene glycol. We gave her an oxytetracycline injection and TODAY. She cleared up the next day, began eating well only to go on to numerous “other” problems. One day she had a sore foot, we treated it with diesel a couple days and it was well. She’s had numerous episodes of mastitis (treated with penicillin and TODAY). We’ve wormed her twice with ivermectin (injection given orally). She’ll be fine for a couple of days then she’ll stand facing the wall (instead of being eager for the milk stand), won’t eat grain, has clumpy stools, coughs occasionally, yawns repeatedly, and sorta shivers. Her milk is never clumpy, but during her “sick days” it is thicker and sticky and has little globules of oil floating on the top (like you didn’t get a greasy glass quite clean). We don’t use her milk for ourselves, but give it to animals, as she never goes three days without being sick.

End of my rope
Natchitoches, Louisiana

I’d guess that your doe still has mastitis and that it’s become chronic. I’d treat her with injectable penicillin for a 7-10 days. Some brands are given daily — others every couple of days. Follow directions with bottle. Don’t use the Tomorrow. I’m not a fan of intermammary mastitis treatment. It often introduces more bacteria and irritates the udder especially if inserted too far into the teat. It should be just pushed in past the muscle that holds the milk in — not way up the teat. Milk her several times a day to drain bacteria out of the udder frequently. — Jackie

Canning potatoes

I have just dug out my potatoes from late last fall, that I canned, and there is a lot of starch at the bottom of the jars. Yes, I know they are starchy foods, but is it normal? How can I get less starch? I did peel and cut the potatoes.

Bev Giroux
Oxford, Maine

Some varieties of potato seem to have this problem more than others. Did you can in quarts? The longer processing time can cause potatoes to soften and break down the starch. — Jackie

Jackie Clay

We’re getting ready for our homesteading seminar and progressing on our homestead as usual

Tuesday, May 15th, 2012

I’m madly trying to wrap things up on my end as I prepare to fly out Thursday to Colorado Springs for the Preparedness Expo where I’ll be speaking and hanging out at the BHM booth with all the rest of the crew who will be there. Unfortunately, this trip is only a few days before our seminar. It’s amazing all the things we have to think of ahead of time. Today we ordered porta-potties and two of my friends, Jeri and Linda, are coming over to discuss meals. They’ll be helping out readying food while Will and I are busy teaching our guests. Whew!

Meanwhile, spring is here and we have to keep moving forward with our homestead so we don’t get behind. I tilled a good strip in the garden and picked rocks (again!), planted onion sets and Copra onion plants I’d raised from seed. Then Will set out to till another big strip and ended up tilling the rest of the garden! Now all I have to do is to pick rocks and keep on planting.

We had another baby goat born — a buckling this time from our best milker. She’s getting old so we had hoped for a doe to carry on her bloodlines. It never works out that way, does it? We do have a yearling doe from her though and maybe Trieste will produce kids yet another year.

Will has been working on our new porch as well as the barn. Today he’s out in the woods cutting blow-down trees which will be used as porch posts and rafters. We don’t waste much around here!

Mother’s Day was nice. Bill, my oldest son, and his kids, Mason and Ava, came up, dropping off Kelly at work on the way. I can’t believe how big little Ava is getting. And what big eyes! David didn’t have to work so he was there for dinner. Later on my son, Javid, from Montana called and we talked a long time. How nice!

Well, I’ve got to go now. If any of you are attending the Preparedness Expo, be sure to stop by the BHM booth and visit.

Jackie Clay

Q and A: Jumping lids and potatoes starting to sprout

Tuesday, May 15th, 2012

Jumping lids

I have been canning for 30 plus years. Recently a strange thing happened while canning chicken. I had sufficient water, timing and waited for the pressure to go down to zero so I could open the lid safely on the canner. When I removed the top, the lids of all six or seven pint jars began flexing up and down rapidly about 6 or 8 times each. I backed up as I thought they were going to explode. After a few minutes it stopped. I let them sit on a towel for 24 hours, washed and dried, then put back in their box. I checked them about 2 weeks later and found about half of all the jars had become unsealed. I tossed all of them not wanting to take a chance (not the jars just the chicken).

What did I do wrong? Was the canner at too high a temp? It was a new one and I noticed the metal was thinner than my old one. I have not used it since then. Help!

Glenda Holcomb
Indiantown, Florida

This startling thing happens on occasion when we immediately remove the lid of the canner when the pressure reaches zero. It’s usually when we have a full canner, often full of a food with lots of broth in it, like chicken. Let your canner sit a few minutes at zero. Not half an hour, but ten minutes or so. Then remove the lid and take your jars out. Jumping the gun on removing the lid will also sometimes cause liquid to blow out of the jars between the lid and jar rim. Sorry to hear you lost all that chicken. That really hurts. — Jackie

Potatoes starting to sprout

We had a bumper crop of potatoes last year. Gave away a bunch. We still have 75-100 pounds left and they have sprouted about foot long shoots and the most potatoes have gone soft, no green spots on them. I know, not the ideal storage area! We stored them in the basement cool dark corner and covered.  Question is what can we do/salvage those potatoes if possible? We tried a meal with some soft ones and no ill affects so far, but have read and hear conflicting info. We were thinking making mashed and freezing and possible canning as options.

Norbert Freitel
Marshall, Michigan

I often can up some of my spring-sprouted potatoes so as not to lose them. But it’s really best to do that before they start to get soft for the best canned potatoes, possible. If you have to, don’t feel horrible composting a lot of those potatoes. Then, if you have a good potato crop this year, why not dehydrate and can up some of them so you won’t lose many come next spring? As you’ve said, you can freeze mashed potatoes, but if you do a whole lot, your freezer space will be cramped. — Jackie

Jackie Clay

Q and A: Collecting rainwater and canning cantaloupe

Monday, May 14th, 2012

Collecting rainwater

We have been collecting rain water trying to be conservative. The rainwater falls off the roof into big black vats. Question is, how to keep mosquitoes from laying eggs in it? Don’t use additives to the water but keep covered like old cisterns once were?

Danetta Cates
Dexter, Missouri

If you keep your vats covered, you’ll find few mosquitoes find their way into the water. The old-time way of keeping mosquito populations down in the water was to put a couple of goldfish in the cistern to eat any wigglers or bugs that did happen to end up in the water. (Yep, I know…fish poop…. Oh well, I guess folks just didn’t think about that much when using the water.)

You can buy mosquito “dunks” which are floating discs that slowly release bT into the water, eliminating mosquitoe larva in the water. It is a natural bacteria, lethal to only mosquitoes; it won’t harm fish, birds, plants, or you. — Jackie

Canning cantaloupe

I have been told my whole life that you cannot can cantaloupe. However, my aunt used to can it every year and it was WONDERFUL! Do you know of any way to do this? Unfortunately, my aunt passed before I could think to discuss this with her and now I have nowhere else to turn. Thanks for any input you have.

Sandi C.

Your aunt probably canned “pickled” cantaloupe balls. They really aren’t sour as you’d think and turn out quite nicely. Here’s the recipe:


14 cantaloupe balls (1 inch)
3 cups white vinegar
2 cups water
4½ cups sugar

Spice bag:
2 sticks cinnamon
1 Tbsp. whole cloves
1 Tbsp. whole allspice
¼ tsp. mustard seed

Combine vinegar and water in a large pot. Add spice bag and bring to a boil. Simmer 5 minutes. Remove from heat. Add cantaloupe balls and let stand for 1½ hours. Add sugar and bring to a boil, stirring to dissolve sugar. Reduce heat and simmer until melon balls start becoming transparent. Pack hot melon balls in hot jars, leaving ¼ inch of headspace. Ladle hot syrup over melon balls, leaving ¼ inch of headspace. Remove air bubbles. Wipe rim of jar clean; place hot, previously simmered lid on jar and screw down ring firmly tight. Process for 10 minutes in a boiling water bath canner.

I hope you like them. This recipe and a whole lot more “different” as well as regular recipes are found in my book Growing and Canning Your Own Food, available right here through BHM! — Jackie


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