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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 February, 2013

Jackie Clay

Q and A: homesteading skills and heating canned bacon

Thursday, February 28th, 2013

Homesteading skills

I was wondering if you and Will could pass on which “trade” skill you would think is the one most important to have when homesteading — mechanical (engine repair), welding, construction, electrical…? Or maybe to rephrase the question — having which of these skills would you say saved you the most money by not having to get a tradesman to come in?

M. Blaney

It’s sort of like asking how long is a string… All homesteads are different; some have existing buildings, some are started from bare ground. Some are small and require little in the way of skills, such as welding or electrical. Some are large, and DO require a lot of engine/equipment maintenance. So it depends. With me starting out on a bare-land homestead, I’d say carpentry skills as we had to build a house and additions, a goat barn, sheds, and a storage barn, not to mention our current building project, the BIG barn.

But if you had buildings in place that didn’t require a whole lot of remodeling, perhaps welding (if a larger homestead) or small engine repair would be a money saver so you didn’t have to take the chainsaw, lawnmower, tiller, snowblower, and generator in to have fixed.

Electrical is a lesser required skill as in many places there are building codes that won’t let a homeowner do the work and it is done usually only once or twice where carpentry, small engine repair, and welding skills are used regularly. — Jackie

Heating canned bacon

There have been many inquiries about canned meat and the need to heat it after opening. Does this apply to bacon as well? It seems that semi-cooked and then canned bacon would be hard to heat for too long before it became “burned.” Does canned bacon grease need to be heated the same way?

Judith Almand
Brandon, Florida

You can heat canned bacon by simply opening the jar, washing off the lid, placing the jar on top of the lid, in a pan of water deep enough to come up over where the bacon is in the jar then bringing the water to a boil for 10-15 minutes. You can also lay your bacon in a pan and place in the oven, covered by a lid or foil, and bake for 10 minutes at 250 degrees, checking to make sure it isn’t burning. As it is usually smoked before canning, bacon is usually pretty safe, but pre-heating is a good idea — just to be sure. No, bacon grease, without meat, does not need to be heated before using; we usually use it in frying or baking where it is then heated before eating. — Jackie

Jackie Clay

Q and A: canning sauerkraut with meat and dehydrating milk

Wednesday, February 27th, 2013

Canning sauerkraut with meat

My mother has passed down a recipe with sauerkraut, bacon, onion, brown sugar, and kielbasa. You take this mixture, wrap it with dough, and bake. My kids love it. I want to make batches to can up to give them. I know you from reading your blog that you water bath can sauerkraut, but what about the bacon and kielbasa?

Mike Lawie
Muskegon, Michigan

Yes, you can water bath sauerkraut as it is a high-acid food, BUT when you add meat (bacon and kielbasa), it is now a mixed recipe and the meat MUST be pressure canned. You might want to try a small batch to make sure the pressure canning time required for meat does not make the sauerkraut mushy. You need to can pints for 75 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 instructions on increasing your pressure to suit your altitude. — Jackie

Dehydrating milk

I have seen on several blogs “how to dehydrate milk.” They buy store milk, put it on dehydrator sheets and dry for hours. I was wondering if you have ever done this and if it is a good idea?

New Freedom, Pennsylvania

No, I have not. It seems like a very labor intensive and possibly questionable method of producing dry milk. — Jackie

Jackie Clay

Q and A: canning ground meat and planting apple seeds

Tuesday, February 26th, 2013

Canning ground meat

I pressure dry-canned 4 quarts of ground meat. I cooked the meat, drained what little fat there was, placed in hot sterilized jars, removed bubbles, placed lids, then processed for 90 minutes in my pressure canner. However, I apparently didn’t pack them tight enough. There is a 2- to 3-inch headspace. Is this safe since there is no liquid covering the top portion? I’m new to pressure canning so it makes me a little nervous.

Judy Alexander
Spendora, Texas

Yes, this is safe — very common, as a matter of fact. Ground meat almost always settles as it is processed. Nothing to worry about here. It’s best NOT to pack meats tightly so the steam generated during processing will penetrate all of the food completely. — Jackie

Planting apple seeds

I live in zone 7 in Arkansas and want to plant Granny Smith apple trees. Can I plant seeds from an apple and get the GS? If I plant a tree do I also need to plant another variety?

Barbara Barnes
Rose Bud, Arkansas

Planting seeds from most tree fruit is possible but the problem is that because most trees grown today are grown from grafted stock, the seeds may or may not produce the kind of fruit you want. And it gets further complicated as it usually takes about 5 years to see fruit from a seedling tree. Then to get an acceptable fruiting tree, you should grow a couple dozen trees, which takes up a lot of room. Unless you are set on growing trees from seed, it is best to buy your grafted tree from a nursery. Since you live in the South, you might want to purchase the tree as locally grown if possible so it is acclimatized to your area. It is always a good idea to plant at least two apple trees to ensure pollination. While they may fruit as a lone planting, pollinated by a neighboring apple or crabapple tree, they will nearly always fruit better with a nearby partner. Choose a tree that blooms about the same time as your Granny Smith. Read your nursery catalog thoroughly or ask at a local nursery. — Jackie

Jackie Clay

Our homestead meat sales are taking off (and producing a few bonuses)

Monday, February 25th, 2013

To offset some of our homestead feed expenses, we began raising extra steers and pigs each year, selling quarters and halves of meat (nicely cut, wrapped, and frozen) to buyers from not only around here, but many miles away as well. Thanks to my daughter-in-law Kelly’s oral advertisement for our meat at her work, we have landed orders for a whole processed pig and two steers. We delivered our first pork yesterday and everyone was happy. The buyers didn’t want the ground fat to render for lard, so they gave it to us. Now we have another bag of fat to render. I do it in the oven so it is very quick and easy, making totally wonderful sealed jars of pure white lard to line our pantry shelves. The processor has a local company smoke the bacon and hams and they do a scrumptious job of it, too. We are enjoying some of our own pig’s bacon and it’s sure hard to stop eating it.



Since livestock feed is so expensive, we’ve found that raising animals to sell as processed meat is a better way to recoup our costs than simply selling live animals at the auction barn. It more than doubles our profit. And as feed is twice as high, it lets us at least break even and have our own meat nearly for free. But I sure wouldn’t want to raise more than this as the ongoing feed costs nearly eat us alive. A few is great though.



The temperatures are moderating and we’ve actually had thawing here for the last two days. That’s sure a blessing as it’s been one cold winter and the snow’s stacking up pretty high. I’m glad spring is just around the corner. I saw a big flock of evening grossbeaks in the trees yesterday — the first we’ve had for months. Wow, was that nice! I’ve got to get the sunflower seeds out for them.

Oh, just a reminder to those of you who are tossing around the idea of coming to our August seminar, folks are getting signed up and so far there are still spaces left. If you are wanting to come, it’d be best to get your deposit in so we can save your space. There’s only space for 15 people so we can give everyone personal attention. — Jackie

Jackie Clay

Q and A: vacuum sealing brown rice, dehydrating squash, and bergamot seeds

Sunday, February 24th, 2013

Vacuum sealing brown rice

When using a vacuum sealer with jar attachment, must brown rice be preheated? When using a vacuum sealer with jar attachment, what are the directions for storing fresh pecans?

Dawn Guido
Marshfield, Missouri

When you use a vacuum sealer for your brown rice or pecans, you don’t need to heat the food. But the rice/pecans won’t last as long as they will if canned traditionally, i.e. heating the food then canning in a pressure canner at 5 pounds for 10 minutes. The vacuum sealer will help the foods stay fresh-tasting longer than if just left in the bag or put into an unsealed jar. But it will not prevent them from eventually becoming rancid. — Jackie

Dehydrating squash

I read the post about your Hopi Pale Grey Squash. How exactly do you dry it and how do you grind it up? I have a couple of dozen pumpkins in my basement that were intended to feed the chickens over winter. Lost the entire flock last month to a fox and need to find a use for these pumpkins. Already have a freezer full of puree.

Erica Kardelis
Helper, Utah

Both squash and pumpkins dehydrate well. Dehydrated pumpkin (unless it’s pie pumpkin) doesn’t taste as good in breads as do my favorite Hopi Pale Grey squash though, but they can be used in soups, casseroles, stews, etc. I cut the squash open, remove the seeds and strings. Then I slice rind and all into 1-inch slices and cut off the rind with a sturdy sharp knife. I cut pieces off the slices about 1/2 inch thick and lay them out on my dehydrator trays in a single layer so they don’t touch. Dehydrate until crisp. To grind, simply use your blender and toss a handful in at a time and whiz until as fine as you wish. — Jackie

Bergamot seeds

Can you tell me to where I can obtain Bergamot seeds, so that I can make my own Earl Grey Tea?

LaCrosse, Washington

Both Johnny’s Seeds and Prairie Moon Nursery carry wild bergamot seeds. — Jackie

Jackie Clay

Q and A: planting honeyberries, and beginning homesteader

Friday, February 22nd, 2013

Planting honeyberries

I live in northeastern North Dakota, and am interested in starting several honey berries this coming season, as blue berries are not a option in our more alkaline soil. How do they compare? (To blueberries.) Also, do you have any advice on the fungal black knot that is plaguing choke cherries and Canadian cherry trees in my area?

Jody Gerszewski
Grafton, North Dakota

Honeyberries compare quite well with blueberries and produce well in more alkaline soil where blueberries prefer acidic ground. The appearance and taste is similar. We’ve started two here and they’re growing well despite our acidic soil, so they are quite flexible. They do grow quicker and you’ll get a crop faster than with blueberries, which take up to four years to produce a decent crop.

Black Knot fungus is a nasty-looking fungus causing black knots to form all over affected trees. To stop it, you need to prune off all affected branches of not only your own trees but any wild neighboring trees that carry the fungus as it is spread by the wind during the spring. Prune while it is still cold so spores do not shoot off into the wind and prune well below the knots. Collect the prunings and burn them away from the orchard. If you just leave them on the ground, they will probably still shoot off spores, come spring. Scout your trees and any nearby trees every year in the late winter to prune any new black knots. Sometimes spraying several times with a fungicide such as Bonide is advisable, after the trees have been pruned. Follow the directions on the container.

Black Knot affects cherries, chokecherries, and both wild and domestic plum trees. — Jackie

Beginning homesteader

This is probably a stupid question. How do you start? I read your articles and I see you in your garden and I feel so over whelmed.

Christy Tumberger
Clinton, Missouri

There are no stupid questions! You start gardening like you started walking — taking small steps until you are up and running. Anyone would feel overwhelmed to think they’d have to have a garden like ours right at first! Heck, it’s taken us nearly ten years to get where we are now. (Read my book, Starting Over, to see just how it went.) Start with a small garden or some container plants then work your way up to a larger garden each year, if you want to. I think once you find your pace and discover how much fun gardening is and how tasty your own home grown food is, you’ll be off and running! Never lose the fun of it all. — Jackie

Jackie Clay

Q and A: heating canned meat and canning meatloaf

Thursday, February 21st, 2013

Heating canned meat

I have two questions. First, I request that you expand on your answer to Margaret Baker of Valleyford, Washington about using home canned meat. I am still confused. If I understand you correctly, you are saying that you remove the ring and lid from the jar and then put the jar (with the meat still in it) into a pan of water and simmer it 10 to 15 minutes. Is this correct? Also, do you put something on the bottom of the pan so the jar doesn’t sit directly on the pan while simmering?

Another question. Can you mix meat directly from the jar into a casserole and bake it in the oven. Would that count for your 10-15 minutes of heating? Or could you cook it like a hamburger helper type dish on the stove using canned hamburger?

Pati Sandstrom
Olympia, Washington

Oops, I was unclear about that. Sometimes when you’ve done something so much, you forget to mention details. Yes, I do put an old jar lid (usually it’s the rinsed-off lid from the jar) under the jar full of meat to prevent the jar from contacting the very hot bottom of the heating pan, then simmer for 10-15 minutes.

Yes, you can mix the meat into a casserole or any recipe as long as it is brought to 212 degrees for the correct length of time. If you use a Hamburger Helper type recipe, just make sure the meat is heated long enough, even if you must just turn it into a small pan and simmer it before adding to the recipe then draining it and dumping it into the other ingredients.

I hope I cleared up things for you. Sorry for the misunderstanding. — Jackie

Canning meatloaf

I have a question about canning meatloaf in pint jars. Isn’t it too dense to be safe? If so, could it be packed in then a hole worked in the center like a donut. I just lost 7 pints of roasted red bell peppers/garlic because it was too thick and made a mess. I tried to salvage it the next day by mixing with chicken broth for a soup, but it was bitter.

Nancie Droughton
Marysville, California

I used to can meatloaf, but when new info came out, I switched to canning meatball mix in the form of meatballs and lightly browned patties stacked in the jar, instead. I think either would work for you better than trying to make a hole in the center. I’m sorry you lost your roasted peppers/garlic. The density thing is a real concern. — Jacki

Jackie Clay

Spring is surely around the corner

Wednesday, February 20th, 2013

Believe it or not, there’s a patch of pussy willows blooming in a pasture not far from our homestead. That one patch always blooms a month before the “regular” season for pussy willows arrives. But it always cheers us up! Even if it was -16 degrees last night with a high of 3 degrees yesterday.

Other signs of approaching spring were the two goat kids that our friends Mike and Paulette brought over for us to disbud yesterday. Okay, their buck jumped the fence and the kids are early. But it still felt like spring taking care of this necessary but distasteful chore. We disbud with an electric disbudding iron. After making sure it is red-hot, Will holds the kids firmly while I push the iron down over each horn bud, rotating/rocking it so it makes a complete indentation around each horn-to-be. This kills the horn cells and the goat is free of dangerous horns for its lifetime.



I’ve seen many goats strangled in fences after getting their horned heads wedged through a wire square and not being able, because of the horns, to get back out. They can also accidentally bang their owners in the face while swatting flies during milking or even break the legs of their own kids after catching the fragile legs in the V where the horns come together on the head. I hate disbudding but hate the injuries and deaths that horns can cause.

As a thank you for performing the disbudding, Paulette presented us with a pair of her hand-knit wool socks. We had two pair before and Will wore his every day all winter! So warm.


This last pair is pretty colorful, but Will snagged them this morning and is now out plowing snow. Who needs spring flowers for bright colors to perk us up after winter’s white? Now we have Will’s new socks! — Jackie


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