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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 October, 2012

Jackie Clay

Q and A: storing pumpkins and feeding a milking Jersey, oven canning dry goods, and canning tomato soup

Wednesday, October 31st, 2012

Storing pumpkins and feeding a milking Jersey

Just wondering where you are storing all those pumpkins. Mine are in the barn right now but they will freeze soon and I don’t want them to go mushy. Didn’t know if the cows and chickens will eat them frozen either. What do you do?

Also, how much do you feed a milking Jersey a day? I am feeding ours about 8 lbs of grain and still some pasture or hay if the pasture is slim.


We store our pumpkins on unfrozen ground, surrounded by bales of hay with two feet of loose hay piled on top. They’ll stay unfrozen for quite awhile. In a warmer climate than northern Minnesota, they’d stay unfrozen all winter, especially if stored in a barn with hay insulation. Yes, cows and chickens will eat them frozen if you chop them open with an ax so they can get at them. Of course, they prefer them unfrozen.

You feed any milking cow enough good quality hay and pasture, plus grain, to keep them in good weight and producing well. If your pasture is excellent or your hay is fine quality mixed legume hay, you’ll be feeding less grain than if the pasture is about gone and the hay is over-mature grass, primarily. You may get by fine with 8 pounds of grain daily, but my guess is that you’ll need to feed her more to keep her weight on in the winter if you live in a colder climate. Jerseys are seldom fat when milking, but you don’t want her a rack of bones, either. — Jackie

Oven canning dry goods

I was wondering about oven canning powdered milk. Would that extend the shelf life and what are your thoughts on oven canning dried goods ONLY such as flour, barley, oatmeal? I would never recommend oven canning anything else, but I don’t see the harm in dried goods. What are your thoughts?

Erica Lutz
Gladstone, Oregon

I don’t see anything wrong with oven canning dry foods. Like you, I’d NEVER oven can garden produce or meat! Not safe. I don’t oven can because I’ve never had trouble storing dry foods without it and my canning jars are precious (I never have enough!) so I don’t want to use them to store dry foods. Besides, I store a lot of dry foods; more than would ever fit in canning jars! Powdered milk lasts nearly forever without oven canning it if you keep it in a cool, dry location. — Jackie

Canning tomato soup

My husband makes this wonderful tomato soup that is known as the original 4B’s Tomato Soup in Montana. He was the one who made it from scratch for 10 years. Every winter I beg and plead him to make it for me. The problem is, he can not reduce the recipe. Every time he does it tastes different. My question is, how do I can tomato soup that has half and half in it? I want to do this so when he does make it, I have it on hand later.

Missoula, Montana

I’ve never had good luck trying to can any soup with milk products in it. I can up seasoned tomato puree and when I want to make soup, I heat the milk/cream and mix with the heated tomato puree as I wish. It only takes a few minutes and turns out great. Good luck to you and your husband in recapturing his lost recipe! I have confidence that he’ll get it right soon. Then write it down. (Big smile — I see myself there!) — Jackie

Jackie Clay

Q and A: drying sweet corn and storing food for a year

Tuesday, October 30th, 2012

Drying sweet corn

Thanks for the idea about saving extra sweet corn and letting it mature in the garden. How dry does the corn get? Hard like field corn? We’re putting our garden to bed, and wondered when to harvest the ears. What steps do we take up to storage?

Carol Bandy
Hightown, Virginia

Mature sweet corn gets as hard as field corn. Remember what the sweet corn seeds were like when you planted them? That hard. We leave the corn on the stalk until the leaves and shucks are tan and dry and the corn is as dry as it will get in the field. Then we shuck the ears and lay them out in a rodent-proof place or hang them up to dry them fully. Once dry and hard, the kernels can be shelled and stored in an airtight, rodent-proof container. — Jackie

Storing food for a year

I have a quick question. Have you ever totaled how much produce, meat, goat milk products in quantity and/or pounds you have canned/stored for one entire year when your son was a teenager (16-17)? I am wanting to know how much is enough for 2 adults and a teenager for one year.

I just started to learn how to make my own cheese –“squeaky” cheese for now, but hope to graduate to pressed cheese soon. Also make my own bacon and sausages and am now starting to learn to dry cured meats.
Monica Blaney
Ottawa, Ontario

No, I really haven’t. I have always canned/stored as much as I could, in any event. I’m just not a list kind of person, I guess. And it makes a huge difference of how much you actually will use. For instance, when you can “get out” to buy such things as bread, you’d be surprised at how much more flour you use when you cannot get out to buy it. And noodles, and pies and cookies… My advice would be to can up and store what you can without creating hardship then see how that year’s pantry does for feeding you. You can adjust it next year. No two gardens ever produce the same, from year to year, and when I have a bounty, I can up every bit I can and give friends the rest. I just finished canning my last tomatoes today as barbecue sauce… and we have four inches of snow on the ground!

Good for you for starting to make cheese. There are several very easy cheeses to start with and they’re pretty much foolproof. It’s neat that you’re also making bacon, sausages, and dry cured meats! What great lifeskills to learn. — Jackie

Jackie Clay

Winter came…in October

Monday, October 29th, 2012

Thinking back to Laura Ingalls Wilder’s book, The Long Winter, we looked outside to five inches of new snow and nighttime temperatures in the low teens. And it’s not Halloween yet. Yuck! We still have a lot we want to get done before the real winter. Hopefully, the snow may melt and we will have a few nice days to get ‘er done yet. I hope, I hope.

The barn’s ready for its sheet metal roofing and we’ve ordered it and crossed our fingers for nice weather. But we don’t always get what we want, so if it doesn’t get nicer, that sheet metal will lay in the barn and wait till spring. That’s the way it goes. Sort of like our “wedding” cow, Lace. We’ve still not been able to get her bred back. We had the vet out and she passed her health bill clean. And we’ve had the inseminator out a dozen times. Tried hormone shots several times and finally ran her with the bull all summer. I don’t think she’s bred. But we had her blood tested last night and in a few days we’ll know if we can keep her (she’s pregnant) or not (no dice). We love our milk cow; she’s the best cow we’ve ever had. But we can’t afford to keep a “pet” cow, so we may have to ship her. Neither of us could eat Lace, no matter how hardcore homestead we are. Are we disappointed? Sad? You’ve got that right. But we’re still praying for Lace…and us. I’ll let you know when we find out.

Right now grain prices are so high because of the drought that corn belt hog farmers are gassing baby pigs by the thousand because they can’t afford to raise them. It seems that pig farmers aren’t getting enough at market to be able to afford to feed them. How sad. We ended up keeping three gilts from our two litters because the prices were so low. We hate to butcher gilts, but I’d rather do that than take a beating at the sales barn. Farming, even on a homestead scale, is tough sometimes. But we keep plugging along because we love the life. Like the old-timers say “the meal ain’t all gravy!”

Jackie Clay

Q and A: feeding pumpkins to cattle, making bread, and trimming pigs’ feet

Saturday, October 27th, 2012

Feeding pumpkins to cattle

How do you feed pumpkins to cattle? Do you chop it, cook it, or just throw it into feed troughs whole? I grew some mangels so how do you feed those.
Palisade, Colorado

With adult cattle, just toss the pumpkins in. I usually throw them down hard to crack the shells to make it easier for the cattle to get at them. I only chop the pumpkins with a machete for younger calves who might possibly choke on a chunk. With mangels, you DO chop them when feeding to stock. The old timers had beet cutters that chopped the beets (mangels) for livestock. I just rinse them and then lay them on a piece of board and chop away with my trusty machete (from the dump!). Watch your feet and shins though. A machete is an awesome…and dangerous tool. — Jackie

Making bread

I have made your rye bread and Grandma’s oatmeal bread, my husband and brother loved them. Now for the bad news, I don’t know what happen to your pumpernickel rye bread. The dough would not stiffen up after 1½ more cups of flour…

Next do I pull all the stalks off my rhubarb for the winter? This is the first year growing rhubarb and I don’t want to kill them.

Lancaster, California

There’s a great deal of difference in flours. With any bread, if the dough seems too sticky (EXCEPT half-time spoon rolls, whose dough is very sticky!), simply add more flour until the dough is stiff enough. With the pumpernickel rye, you want quite a stiff dough, so keep adding ½ cup at a time until it gets there.

Don’t pull any of your rhubarb stalks off for winter. The leaves and stalks add valuable compost to the plant and help it overwinter. You can also help by adding about 8 inches of rotted manure right over the whole thing. I do this often and my rhubarb has stalks two inches in width or more and the leaves are huge! — Jackie

Trimming pigs’ feet

I need to trim the hooves on some of our pigs. They are not very cooperative and need some kind of sedation. The anesthetic shot has to be given by a vet which is pricey. Do you have an idea? The pigs are half Berkshire/half Potbelly.

BTW we did all of this year’s canning with your Canning Book, great recipes. We opened a jar of sweet gherkins, delicious.

Flemino Tary
Madison, Minnesota

I’ve never had to trim any of our pigs’ feet, but our pigs run outside, dig, and root. You can trim pigs’ feet and other minor procedures by having a stout pig crate on your farm. This requires a chute to get them into it, but once inside, you should be able to trim all four feet by using a soft rope to gently pull each foot up, like you would a horse. In the future, I’d suggest building a cement walkway with a rough surface so the pigs have to walk on it to reach their feed and water. This way, they’ll self-trim their own feet. Making it a slanting surface will force them to climb a bit (don’t overdo it, though!). Climbing a little and walking back downhill wears off the excess part of the feet.

I’m glad you got plenty of use out of my book. Isn’t canning fun? And tasty! — Jackie

Jackie Clay

Q and A: fruit in honey and canning soup base

Friday, October 26th, 2012

Fruit in honey

Enjoy your blogs and so forth… Very informative and innovative. However, I see a bit of a problem in one area…

People write in asking about making creamed honey. I am a beekeeper (just for the record). Folks really need to be super careful about adding juice to their creamed honey. Honey has a shelf life that is forever, given it has the correct moisture content. This content is extremely low (about 18%?). I read all the time in the American Bee Journal (put out by Dadant) that adding juice or other liquid to creamed honey can increase the moisture content. Beekeepers are careful not to extract honey before the bees are done with it (capped). The bees cap it when the moisture content is correct (wonderful insects that bees are). If honey is extracted too soon with too high of a moisture content it will FERMENT! Same with creamed honey if the moisture content is too high. If adding juice or fresh fruit to creamed honey, the resulting product MUST be refrigerated or risk fermentation. The honey houses (Dadant, A.I. Root, Mann Lake, and many others) sell flavoring for creamed honey which is a lot safer alternative if someone is looking for a shelf stable product.

Also…Honey should NEVER be heat treated. Doing so takes away all of the benefits of raw honey. All honey needs, after extracting and being either allowed to sit to allow debris to rise or being run through a mesh filter, is to be put into clean, perfectly-dry jars and capped. It will stay good for years and years to come.

Bridgeport, Texas

Thanks for your comments and information. The more we know, the fewer mistakes we all make along the way! — Jackie

Canning soup base

I don’t seem to find a recipe for pressure canning a soup base consisting of onions, celery, carrots, and garlic. Please help!

Anna-Marie Flemming
Calgary, Alberta

This is one you’ll have to tweak yourself. If it was me, I’d start out with about 7 quarts of water and add your diced onions (about 3 medium), sliced celery (about 7 stalks), diced carrots (about 1 pound), and minced garlic (about 3 cloves). Season to suit your tastes — salt, pepper, herbs. Pressure can at 10 pounds pressure for 30 minutes. 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

Jackie Clay

Q and A: canning crushed tomatoes and feeding a nursing sow

Thursday, October 25th, 2012

Canning crushed tomatoes

I just canned some crushed tomatoes and realize that I didn’t read the directions carefully. I added the lemon juice after I put in the tomatoes, instead of putting it in the jar first. Will they be ok? I didn’t see any evidence of juice boiling out of the jars.

Nancy Hoppe
Cinebar, Washington

This is one instance where following the directions very carefully doesn’t really matter. It’s like adding salt to canned foods; it doesn’t matter if you put it in the jar first or last. Your tomatoes will be just fine! — Jackie

Feeding a nursing sow

What and how much do you feed your nursing sows? We just had a litter of nine born and the mama is acting like she’s starving no matter how much we feed her!

Mia Sodaro
Frazier Park, California

We feed our nursing sows 15% chop (corn, oats, soy, etc.) and we give them about 6 pounds twice a day, more or less depending on their hunger and condition. If they are nursing heavily and seem hungry, we give them a little more; if they’re getting thinner, we give them more. If they seem content and hold their weight pretty well, we might give them less. We also give them garden excesses, table scraps, and whatever else we have. Was your sow a big eater before she farrowed? Some pigs are…well…just pigs. — Jackie

Jackie Clay

Acres and acres of pumpkins

Wednesday, October 24th, 2012

We sure had fun yesterday even though it was kind of trying to rain off and on. We drove 60 miles to a big market garden west of us to pick up a heaping truckload of pumpkins. They were sitting in the field. Some had frozen and were mushy. Some the deer had eaten on them badly. But there were a lot that were either still solid or semi-solid. All were good food for our animals. So Will and I drove the truck through the field, loading pumpkin after pumpkin until we couldn’t get any more on our old Ford truck. We had a nice visit with the owner about different varieties of sweet corn and pumpkins. Both Will and I ended up with very wet feet and pantlegs.

There was a farm auction that Will wanted to go to and it just happened to be on the way home. So we stopped there, too. We were already wet and so when it started raining, it really didn’t matter much. It was fun there, too, and Will bought two round bale spears and older manure spreader that needs a lot of TLC. All was equipment we need badly. And Will’s a handy guy, saving us a ton of cash!

We barely got home when Will called our friend, Eric, and we quickly unloaded pumpkins. Will and Eric hitched up our big flatbed equipment trailer and headed back to the auction. As there was no one living on the place, Will was afraid our newly purchased equipment might possibly “walk away.” He didn’t even take time to change into dry boots and socks!

I did chores and a few hours later, the guys were home and so was the equipment. This morning, he unloaded it and now all we have to do is to get it into working condition. The bale spears don’t need much but the spreader needs a new floor and two tires — which Will already has. I love farm auctions! And getting pumpkins in the rain!

Jackie Clay

Q and A: inexpensive corn for storage, growing peas, and canning bananas

Wednesday, October 24th, 2012

Inexpensive corn for storage

I want to buy corn to put up for long-term storage. I was told I could buy 50-pound bags of corn from the local feed store and that if it was aflatoxin tested that it was good for human consumption. Is that correct, or do you know where to buy bulk corn?

Marie Knight
Grapeland, Texas

Yes, you can buy corn from feed stores to store for long-term storage. But the problem is that some feed mills have less than clean storage facilities and there can be rodents running over and pooping/peeing in the corn. What I’ve done, besides growing our own corn, is to buy a 50-pound bag of popcorn from Sam’s Club. It is clean and quite inexpensive — as far as corn is today. It grinds well for cornmeal. You can also buy freshly combined corn from a local farmer who grows it, where possible. We save extra sweet corn ears and let them mature on the stalk. It makes nice cornmeal and we know what’s in it! — Jackie

Growing peas and canning bananas

I’ve been reading your columns for some time now and I’ve never seen a mention of peas (field/purple hull/cream,etc.). Do you grow them? If not, why? There’s really nothing better than fresh peas and hot cornbread with a little green tomato relish.

My question is, can you can bananas? Except for baking I don’t use dehydrated. I’d like to have some on hand for pies/pudding. But they usually spoil before I get to use them up which is not acceptable at the current 56 cents a pound. Any ideas?

Laura Wilson
Chandler, Texas

We grow English peas but haven’t had any luck with black eyed or other similar peas because of our cool climate. We get lots of vines but very few peas. If we gardened further south, we sure would grow them.

I’ve never found a recipe for canning bananas. I dehydrate my bananas. Then when I want to use them for baking, I just rehydrate them and mash them like fresh. It doesn’t take much time or work to dehydrate and rehydrate them at all. — Jackie


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