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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 July, 2012

Jackie Clay

The big Texas Expo was great!

Tuesday, July 31st, 2012

I got to meet tons of fans of the magazine, visited with so many people that knew me and I finally got to meet and made many new friends after speaking two days on self-reliant living and, of course, canning! I don’t think I’ve ever hugged so many people in one weekend in my lifetime!

In-between times, I helped out at the BHM booth, sold a lot of my books, and signed plenty of autographs, too. It was a fast-paced, fun weekend. I did have a couple hairy moments, barely making my flight connection in Minneapolis with FIVE minutes to spare. And that was by running on the moving sidewalk for about 1/4 mile. Really! I’ll bet I was a funny sight! But I got my butt down in a plane seat for home.

Now I’m back to business. Our green beans knew I was gone and went wild. So today I have to can beans like mad. But how pretty they all are! Sigh. I’m back home with my wonderful husband and homestead!

Jackie Clay

Q and A: when to harvest cabbage and conserving water

Friday, July 27th, 2012

When to harvest cabbage

I’m growing cabbage this year for the first time. It’s growing great, but I didn’t think it was ready to be picked yet. The green heads are pretty big; the red ones are smaller. When I was working in our community garden the other day, people were harvesting the cabbage there, and I was surprised. How do I know when my cabbage is ready to harvest?

Jeanne Allie
Storrs, Connecticut

Your cabbage can be harvested any time after it makes decent-sized heads. Some folks harvest smaller heads; others wait until they are as large as they will get. I tend toward the latter. But if you wait too long, some varieties will split open. — Jackie

Conserving water

Living on the Great Plains during this nasty drought we’re experiencing, I constantly find myself worrying about water, and the availability and conservation of water. I remember reading on your blog that you didn’t have running water in your house for a while, and I wonder, how did you conserve water during canning season?

Shelly Huelsman
Bucklin, Kansas

I used two batches of water to wash vegetables, one for washing off the most dirt, the other clean water to rinse and finish with. The finish water became the first wash after it began to get a little dirty. When I dumped the yucky first wash water, I dumped it on my vegetables. When I water bathed my tomato products, I re-used the same batch of water over and over, adding more, as necessary until it got a little yucky. Then I cooled it and used it to water in the garden, pouring in fresh water to start over again. I used my Victorio tomato strainer so I didn’t have to scald and peel tomatoes, just wash them off. One thing I’ve learned is that when water is scarce, you can sure get by with a lot less than you do when it’s plentiful! — Jackie

Jackie Clay

Hope to see you at the Arlington Expo Friday and Saturday

Thursday, July 26th, 2012

I will be at the Self Reliance Expo in Arlington, Texas, at the Arlington Convention Center. I have been very busy getting ready to go. When you’re a homesteader, it’s really hard to go away from home for a few days.

There’s lots going on right now and we’re also trying to get ready for our homesteading seminar here at the home place in August. (You ARE coming, aren’t you?) This one is about canning and I’ll be sharing plenty of secrets with folks.

See you in Texas! Please stop by the BHM booth and say hi! I’ll have my books if you want to pick up one or two and will happily sign any you already have.

Jackie Clay

Q and A: Bt for bugs and self-sufficient lifestyle

Thursday, July 26th, 2012

Bt for bugs

There are so many things I want to ask you that I could possibly write a book of questions. However I will start with this I see you use something called Bt for bugs in the garden, what is this, how is it used and where can you find it? I have never heard of this.

Judy Hiatt
Marysville, Kansas

Maybe you will find answers to your questions in the forthcoming Ask Jackie handbooks, soon to be coming out through the magazine. Bt is a natural product that is made up from a bacteria that is deadly to chewing bugs and worms that does no harm to butterflies, good bugs, earthworms, your pets, children, or YOU. It is quite common in even bigger stores, often sold as Thuricide. You mix it with water and spray it on your plants. And it is very effective! — Jackie


I guess my question is about a perceived inconsistency in your lifestyle. You largely live off the land and are self-sufficient, yet you make your living in a high tech environment, the internet. I love the juxtaposition!

Do you have full “off-grid” solar with a battery bank that the solar panels keep topped off. Please tell us about your power setup.

Scott Solar (no really! it’s my name)
Chino, California

Hey, my boss, Dave Duffy, dragged me kicking and screaming into the techno-age! I still don’t “Tweet,” hardly ever Facebook (my kids nag me!), and don’t even go on the computer often.

We have a relatively small battery bank; six 6-volt golf car batteries, powered by four very small solar panels. We want to upgrade, but are doing so many other projects (costly!) that it has to wait. We’re building a big barn, have just finished fencing the new forty acres we bought, and just bought a haybine and big round baler so we can make more of our own hay. We want to install a wind generator, along with several larger solar panels, so buy my books! Big smile. — Jackie

Jackie Clay

Q and A: pickling grapes, apricot tree, and squash bugs

Wednesday, July 25th, 2012

Pickling grapes

I just read the question about what to do with grapes. One of my favorite things is pickled grapes. They are delicious! I have seen recipes for canning them, but have only made refrigerator pickles (I am afraid that canning them would take the crunch out). The recipe I like (I don’t remember where I got it):

2 cups seedless grapes (very pretty when you use a combination of red, green, and black)
2 cups white vinegar
2 tablespoons sugar
4 cloves garlic, crushed
1 sprig fresh rosemary
hot pepper flakes to taste
1/2 tsp. fresh ground black pepper
1 cup water

Take the grapes off the stems and pack into three or four pint-size jars, or a couple of quarts. Combine the remaining ingredients in a saucepan and bring to a simmer. Pour over the grapes, making sure to cover them. Cover tightly and refrigerate. They will be ready to eat when cold, but I like to wait (or try to) for a couple of days. They keep very well for a few weeks.

Barb Mundorff
North Royalton, Ohio

I have seen recipes using the kind of spices used for watermelon rind pickles, and think that would be great too. Thanks for sharing! That recipe sounds great. I’m sure plenty of readers will enjoy it. — Jackie

Apricot tree

We moved to this homestead property two years ago in June and were happy to find a maturing apricot tree but, alas, no fruit. The following spring, zero blossoms, bummer. Then, this spring — Bonanza! — wall to wall blossoms! But, alas all over again, at fruit set, all the little fruits withered and fell to the ground plus many of the new branch shoots withered and turned brown — branch and leaf alike. We’ll probably get a harvest just employing patience, but, Doctor, what do think that withering and fruit-dropping is all about?

Always happy to hear you on the Self-Reliance Expozed radio show,

The Fosters
Cheney, Washington

My best guess is that your tree suffered frost damage while just forming fruit. This also causes new shoots and leaves to die off. Prune off all dead branches and keep the grass and weeds mowed beneath the tree. Hopefully next year you’ll get apricots. It’s so hard to wait, isn’t it? — Jackie

Squash bugs

The squash bugs are busy at work in my garden. I hand pick all the bugs and eggs I can find. My question: is there anything I can brush over the eggs so they won’t hatch? I only ask because when hand picking the eggs I usually end up tearing the leaf.

Dawn Norcross
Orion, Illinois

I don’t know of anything that will kill the eggs, but I might try brushing neem oil on them to see if that would smother the eggs. I usually just hold the leaf upside down and scrape the eggs off with a table knife. This works well and doesn’t usually harm the leaf. Be sure to burn all squash and pumpkin plant debris this fall. The bugs over winter in the dead vines and you don’t want so many “friends” next year! — Jackie

Jackie Clay

We survived a bad storm

Tuesday, July 24th, 2012

Late yesterday afternoon, the clouds darkened and started looking fierce. We turned on the weather radio and sure enough, there were severe thunderstorm and tornado warnings. You know the warning: possibility of large hail, strong winds exceeding 60 mph, and heavy rain along with lightning. There wasn’t much we could to prepare except watch the sky and keep an eye on things. You can’t cover an acre of garden! And we prayed.

The front rolled in and the thunder was a continual roll. Then the wind came with driving rain. And the hail. A gardener’s worst nightmare. We envisioned our tender plants being shredded. It hailed fingertip-sized hail for about ten minutes while huge wind gusts whipped my hanging baskets off the porch along with empty pots. Would the hoop houses still stand? Were the garden plants shredded?

In fifteen minutes, the storm had passed. No tornadoes. Cautiously we checked the garden after pulling a hanging basket out of the hot tub. There were lots of holes in the squash and cucumber vines with broken leaves. The corn rows had a distinct lean to the east. But all in all, the garden survived well. The plastic was still on the hoop houses, although there were a few worn spots on the ridge where the plastic had whipped against the top joints.

But it’s like life; sometimes you’re real scared things will fall apart, then the sun comes out and you discover that you made it after all and life is good.

Jackie Clay

Q and A: pint and a half jars, chickens not laying, and canning ham hocks

Tuesday, July 24th, 2012

Pint and a half jars

Yesterday while shopping at Tractor Supply, I came across Ball jars in a size I had not seen before. They were a pint and a half, straight sided and wide mouth. I really liked them and the size but didn’t buy any. I am wondering what the processing time in a water bath or pressure canner would be?

Cindy Baugh
Dandridge, Tennessee

I would process them for the time recommended for quarts, just to be sure. — Jackie

Chickens not laying

My chickens have almost stopped laying and it is only the middle of July. My questions are: Does the whole flock molt at the same time? Isn’t July a little early for molting? Also, how long do turkeys lay? Mine is still laying an egg a day (sometimes she breaks and eats it). She sat on a nestful in the spring but I guess they were not fertile as none hatched.

Gail Erman
Palisade, Colorado

Ten to one it’s the heat that has your hens stressed and not laying eggs. I know mine sure stopped for a few weeks and are just now getting back into the swing of things. Probably your girls will get with the program when it cools down a little.

Turkeys usually don’t lay that long. I sure wish ours did! If she is being bred, she may try to nest a little later in the summer when it cools down some. — Jackie

Canning ham hocks

Can ham hocks be canned and if so can they be canned with beans? I was thinking this way all I had to do was open them up and heat and eat. Would this eliminate a crock pot and the long cooking time?

Sheridan, Indiana

Yes. I do it all the time. Just cook the ham hocks, pick off the meat, and dice it. What I do is this:

Rinse dry beans, cover well with boiling water. Boil 2 minutes then remove from heat and let soak, covered, for 2 hours. Heat to boiling, then drain. Mix up your beans/tomato sauce recipe and add the ham pieces. Heat to boiling then pack into jars, leaving 1″ of headspace. Process at 10 pounds pressure for 75 minutes or 90 minutes for quarts. 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.

With beans canned this way, you simply open a jar, dump it into a saucepan, and heat well for 10 minutes. Pretty handy! — Jackie

Jackie Clay

Q and A: putting a pump on a well, tomato hornworms, and bent toes on a chicken

Sunday, July 22nd, 2012

Putting a pump on a well

I recently bought a house in Elkhart, Indiana. It had a well. Is there a way I can get it open it and put a hand pump in it? I have a generator and will have an electrician friend get the wiring done to use it for my tiny house. I want a structure on my patio to keep in ready to use, not in the garage behind a bunch of stuff that has to be moved to get it out.

Becky Chinn
Elkhart, Indiana

Yes, you can easily remove the cap over your well casing to insert a hand pump. The most common well caps over a steel casing have set screws with bolt heads around the top lip of the cap. Simply remove or loosen them and the camp should come off fairly easily. Be sure to seal your well after putting in a hand pump so that dirt and debris doesn’t fall into your well and contaminate it. Any welder can easily modify a well cap to accomodate your pipe on the hand pump for very little expense. — Jackie

Tomato hornworms and bent toes on a chicken

My tomatoes this year have hornworms terrible. Way to many to pick off-we applied BT dust all over plants-is that ok? Next, I have a rooster that has 2 toes that are completely bent to the side. I have no clue what happened-if its been like that or just happened. Got him with my hens as baby chicks in April. Should I worry about this? He seems fine. Last, can I use my chickens shavings as compost-the coop always has their seed mixed in and its organic. If I use as compost will the seeds sprout in the garden beds?

Jacqueline Wieser
Sidney, Nebraska

Yes. Bt is fine to use for all chewing caterpillars and is safe for butterflies, pets, good bugs, and you!

Bent toes is a genetic defect in chickens. It is usually a disqualification to show birds but doesn’t harm homestead chickens. I would probably consider using a different rooster if you plan on hatching any eggs from his mating. The defect is hereditary.

If you compost your chicken litter well, the leftover chicken seed (probably millet) will not sprout in your garden. The heat generated during composting will cook the seeds. — Jackie


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