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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 March, 2013

Jackie Clay

Q and A: canning stuffed grape leaves and poultry diet

Sunday, March 31st, 2013

Canning stuffed grape leaves

I would like to can stuffed grape leaves, (Greek Dolmades). These have lamb, beef, or turkey mixed with rice, onions, pine nuts, and spices rolled into a grape leaf. I normally cook these in the oven with a bath of water, olive oil, and lemon juice and slices. If I pressure can these, what size jar would you recommend and at what temperature and time?

Las Vegas, Nevada

You can put these up but I would recommend not adding too much olive oil to your “broth” as it tends to blow out during processing and possibly cause seal failures when it sticks between the lid rubber and the jar rim. You should process them at 10 pounds pressure for 75 minutes and you should probably put these up in pints, not 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.) — Jackie

Poultry diet

Can you tell us what your chickens’ (poultry) diet consists of?

V. Ginger Borgeson
Johnstown, Colorado

We feed our chickens 18% poultry feed which is basically scratch feed with a little added protein. In the summer we often switch them to scratch feed as they pick up plenty of added protein because they free range in our acre orchard, eating lots of insects as well as greens. Besides this, we supply them with grit in the winter when they can’t scratch for natural grit and year-around oyster shell to supplement their calcium for strong egg shells. Of course, we also give them plenty of kitchen scraps and crushed egg shells, all year. — Jackie

Jackie Clay

Our seeds are growing like mad

Saturday, March 30th, 2013

Once again, after starting our seeds in smaller, deep containers, covered with plastic bread wrappers, I put them in our little portable indoor greenhouse to grow in a sunny, south-facing window in the living room. I love the little greenhouse as it not only keeps the seedlings nice and warm during the day but the humidity also stays up.


Notice in the photo how the clear plastic looks kind of white. That’s the droplets of humidity gathered on the plastic. This humidity keeps the surface of the soil in the containers moist so the few seeds that have not germinated go right ahead and pop up. Dryness is one of the prime reasons that seeds fail to germinate. Often folks think their seeds are “bad” because they don’t germinate. Usually it’s one of three causes instead: poor potting soil, dry seed starting soil, or soil that is too wet.

Our onions are up to five inches tall and will soon need a “hair cut.” I trim them back with scissors and that helps them get sturdy and fat instead of weak and too leggy. I may trim them twice in a growing season before they’re planted in the garden. By the way, I’ve got it on good report that the U.S. onion growers have contracted their entire onion crop to China this fall, so everyone might want to grow extra onions. The few commercial growers who aren’t members of the association will be charging more for their onions due to a small supply going to stores this fall. I know we’ll be sure to grow plenty again this year.

It’s funny, I went to the store yesterday and noticed pretty fresh asparagus (from Peru), onions and peppers (from Mexico), and garlic (from Chile), not to mention mushrooms (from India) and nuts (from Vietnam). I didn’t buy any of the above.

Thanks to the dozens of folks who have sent gifts of heirloom seed, honey, shelled pecans, cash to help with postage on sending the Hopi Pale Grey squash seeds (by the way, I’m getting really low on these; some orders will have to wait till fall), and other beautiful things. What wonderful people are in the BHM family! I appreciate each and every one of you. — Jackie

Jackie Clay

Q and A: Wall O’ Waters, worming chickens, and canning potatoes and beans

Friday, March 29th, 2013

Wall O’ Waters

I’ve decided to give the wall o’ water a try this year based on your glowing reviews. I’m happy enough with my tomatoes, but my peppers could use a boost so that they have time to actually ripen. I don’t want to leave them on all season, but how do you get them off without damaging the plant?

Wayland, New York

First I give each wall a good squeeze, mid “waistline,” which dumps about half of the water. Then I grasp two opposing edges of the top and pick it straight up. Once off the plant, I gently tip it over and let the water drain away.

I’ve had tremendous good luck with starting tomatoes with the Wall O’ Waters, but really can’t say they did much for our peppers.

However, try a simple hoop house, made with a 2×4 bottom frame, 3/4-inch PVC or EMT (plastic) pipes and EMT clamps to hold the hoops in place, fastened to the bottom frame. Another 2×4 resting on a door frame in the back and front forms the ridge pole, which is fastened underneath the tops of the hoops to sturdy up the whole thing. We’ve found that 6 ml. plastic works best to cover the whole thing. This more than quadrupled our pepper crop and let us pick peppers well after frost had hit in the fall. The plants looked like shrubs! — Jackie

Worming chickens

Do you worm your chickens or do anything for mites or lice? If so, what do you use?

Teresa Roh
New Freedom, Pennsylvania

No, we don’t usually worm our chickens. They free range in our orchard, which is all clover and grass between the trees. Their feeders are in the building, away from manure. We check fecal samples on any birds that look “off” or unthrifty and if worms are present, we then worm the flock. This happens very infrequently.

We check our birds periodically for lice and mites. So far, they have had neither. If they did turn up with these parasites, we would catch and dust each bird in the coop with powdered rotenone or pyrethrins, after cleaning the coop well. After two weeks, we would dust every bird again. This usually brings a quick end to external parasites. — Jackie

Canning potatoes and beans

I would like to try this canning combination, but do you put the potatoes and beans in raw, blanched, cooked? “You can simply mix your potatoes, green beans, and ham together, then pack it into jars, leaving 1 inch of headspace. Fill jars to within 1 inch of the top with boiling water or ham broth. Process pts for 75 min. or qts for 90 min. at 10 pounds pressure. I’d suggest canning this mixture in pints as a longer processing time may result in mushy potatoes.”

Judith Almand
Brandon, Florida

I would just put the vegetables in raw, mixed with the ham, then add boiling ham broth. I like to can my potatoes and mixed vegetable recipes in pints to keep the potatoes solid. — Jackie

Jackie Clay

Q and A: Adding Jell-O to jam and chicken skin

Thursday, March 28th, 2013

Adding Jell-O to jam

I too canned strawberry jam that did not thicken. I was very glad to see your advice about adding strawberry Jell-O to each jar as I open it. Does this work with other fruit jams (peach, etc)? Can you just add the Jell-O at the start of the process instead of pectin?

Judith Almand
Brandon, Florida

Yes, adding Jell-O works for other fruit jams/jellies. No, you can’t add the Jell-O instead of pectin. However, there are jam recipes that use Jell-O if you care to Google them. If you have several jars of failed jam, you can re-do them. To do this, measure no more than 8 cups of jam. For each cup, measure 1½ tsp. powdered pectin, I Tbsp. water, and 2 Tbsp. sugar; set sugar aside. Combine pectin and water in a large pot and bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring constantly to prevent scorching. Add the un-jelled jam and sugar, stirring to mix well. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly to prevent scorching. Boil hard for 30 seconds. Remove from heat. Ladle hot jam into hot jars, leaving ¼ inch of headspace. Place new, hot, previously simmered lid on jar and tighten ring firmly tight. Process in a boiling water bath canner for the full time required for the original recipe. — Jackie

Chicken skin

I stripped the skin off chicken that I cooked tonight. Now I have a bowl of skin (raw). Seems a shame to throw it away but what can be done with it? No one wants to eat it but can I give it to pigs or chickens?

Palisade, Colorado

You can give it to your pigs or chickens. For safety’s sake, you probably should boil it until “done” to prevent possible bacterial infection. Both chickens and pigs naturally dig up and catch insects and small mammals and eat them (raw). — Jackie

Jackie Clay

Q and A: wheat bran flakes and cold-hardy grape vines

Wednesday, March 27th, 2013

Wheat bran flakes

I think my wheat bran flakes are off … rancid maybe, but I wouldn’t know for sure. It smells different, not pleasant, so I assume that is what rancid smells like. Does the same thing hold true for wheat bran as it does for brown rice when you suggest heating in the oven trying to lose the off smell? Is it then safe to eat, or safe for animals? Do chickens or cows eat bran? If so, how much and does it need to be wet down first?

C. Hickman
Brush Creek, Tennessee

Yes, sometimes, warming rancid foods in the oven will drive off the smell/taste. It’s an old remedy. A reader shared recently that rancid oils are carcinogenic. I checked this out and found conflicting reports. I, personally, don’t believe that eating a small, occasional bit of food that has been oven-treated against rancidity would be a health hazard. I would NOT use rancid cooking oil or the like. First, that’s what the tests were done on. Second, the taste and smell of rancid oil does not go away.

Chickens and cows eat bran. You can simply mix it with their regular feed, crushed up, if you are meaning your rancid bran flakes. No, it does not have to be wet down first. — Jackie

Cold-hardy grape vines

I live not to far from you. Reading your articles in Backwoods you mentioned planting grape vines. I have tried three kinds. They survive but freeze back to the ground. So no grapes. Do you know of grape vine that will survive our cold winters?

Aurora, Minnesota

Grapes are a definite crop even for northern Minnesota. The key is to choose the RIGHT varieties. Most of the varieties sold by local nurseries, stores, etc. and even seed catalogs are not vine hardy here. We’ve had good luck with two companies for truly useful grapes for northern Minnesota and also other climate-challenged areas of the country. They are St. Lawrence Nurseries and Fedco. Both sell several truly hardy grape varieties. We have planted several different varieties and so far, the most vigorous one has been Valiant. Others that have done well for us have been King of the North, Louise Swenson, and Beta. These survive with no extra care. These companies also sell Zone 3 hardy fruit trees including apples, pears, cherries, blueberries, and nut trees. Fedco’s spring order deadline has passed, but you can order a catalog and order early next spring. St. Lawrence’s deadline is approaching soon. — Jackie

Jackie Clay

What do you do when you need something and don’t have the money?

Tuesday, March 26th, 2013

You improvise. Or do without. Will needed wheel weights for the back wheels of the big Oliver tractor. But iron wheel weights cost about $400 each and you need two. Not an option. So he scratched on his pad a bit then came up with these nifty weights. The base is an old, cast-off 16-inch tire with a piece of plywood tacked on the bottom to hold in the cement. He put a piece of 4-inch pvc pipe through the plywood so there was a hole for the tractor axle and threaded 4 bolts through holes in the plywood. These bolts will bolt through the holes in the wheels of the tractor tires, just like commercial wheel weights are fastened. Blocks of wood held the tires solidly in place once the bolts were inserted. Pieces of concrete re-bar wedge the tire wide open so it will hold plenty of heavy cement. More re-bar was bent and wired in place to strengthen the pour.


Each wheel weight took three 80-pound sacks of QuiKrete and nearly a wheelbarrow full of fist-sized rocks. Because it’s still freezing at night, Will worked in the entryway. (Yep, it DID make a big mess, but it’s on plastic … mostly.) He stuffed the cement and rocks in by hand, making very sure there were no air pockets. Once each tire was full, he inserted a heavy eyebolt. Both the bolts and eyebolts were left over from some of the power poles we used on the barn. The eyebolts are so when the weights are cured he can use the tractor bucket to help lift and put the weights into place. They weigh more than 400 pounds each so you can’t just lift them up!



With these new wheel weights, the tractor will have much more traction and be much less prone to getting stuck.

I talked to my son, Bill, last night and he said his father-in-law’s tractor had come with homemade weights just like this … 30 years ago, and they’re still fine. So we are happy with our “homesteader” wheel weights at a cost of about $20 for the pair. — Jackie

Jackie Clay

The seed starting is gearing up, even in below zero temps

Friday, March 22nd, 2013

I’ve got all our pepper seeds started and am nearly done with the tomatoes. We had some old squash and pumpkin seeds, some of which were donated by a reader to whom I sent Hopi Pale Grey squash seeds. Since we are planning on a massive pumpkin/squash patch on the edge of the cleared section of our new 40 acres, I wanted to make sure those seeds, from 2003-2009, were still viable. (No sense in planting dead seeds!) So I picked out some seeds of each kind and put them into bowls with old washcloths, which I kept moist, and set them on the table next to the wood stove where our seed starting trays are. It’s constantly warm and after a week, we started seeing little rootlets popping out of seeds. All in all, we had excellent germination; over 75%, so we’re all set to go come spring.


We plan on fencing the pumpkin patch minimally, hopefully enough to keep deer (which don’t really eat pumpkin/squash vines or the fruit when it gets larger) and our horses and cattle out. We can water the plants, if needed, using our 350-gallon poly water tank, mounted in the bed of our pickup, by driving along next to the long narrow patch and watering. We’ll see how that works.

We needed to sell our 2-year-old Red Wattle boar, Richard, because we kept two of his daughters, which will be bred in a couple of months to our other, unrelated boar. Since he is such a nice boar with a pet-personality, I was hoping someone would buy him who would give him a good home. I advertised him on Craigslist and in less than half an hour, we got a call. And it was our friends, John and Gerry, who had decided they wanted to go back into raising pigs after several years! Richard got the best home possible. Treats and scratching guaranteed! What a relief. Yes, we eat some of our livestock. But all of them get plenty of petting, good care, and love while we have them.

When we delivered Richard, Gerry gave me one of their emu eggs, which I’ll blow out and give to our two youngest grandchildren, Mason and Ava, for Easter. Wow, is it HUGE! And such a pretty watermelon dark green, too.


Just a note to those of you who are coming to our August seminar, Will was over to our friend Sam’s yesterday and asked him if he’d consider bringing his Belgian workhorse team and wagon over to our place and giving a hayride during the seminar. He agreed. So the Saturday (unless it rains!) of our weenie roast, we will all get a an old-fashioned ride behind Sam’s beautiful team. Isn’t that great? By the way, we still have a few slots open for anyone who has been thinking of coming. Check out the link above on our seminar. — Jackie

Jackie Clay

Q and A: salt curing meat and canning meat loaf

Thursday, March 21st, 2013

Salt curing meat

I am interested in salt cured meats. Can you tell me more about that?

Paso Robles, California

Salt curing is an ancient process, right down to Bible days and before. Today we most often use it in ham, bacon, beef, and fish. And today, a salt brine or dry rub is usually done prior to smoking. The process is simple but must be done step-by-step, so it is too long to relate here. I’d advise picking up the book Cold-Smoking and Salt Curing Meats, Fish, and Game by A.D. Livingston or one of the many other books on this subject. I buy a lot of my books through Amazon or you could probably order them for loan through your local library. — Jackie

Canning meatloaf

I recently purchased a canner and canned 14 quart jars of meatloaf which look wonderful. My question is that during processing some grease leaked out of the jars and into the canner. Do you think that the jars will remain sealed or will the potential grease buildup under the lid cause a failure? I watched them all “ping” afterwards and so they look ok. How will I know if they failed (other than smell)?

Janice Taylor
Little Elm, Texas

Usually, when grease leaks out of the jars, the seals do stay sealed, even though you’d think they might well fail. Just wash the jars well with hot soapy water to remove any clinging grease, remove the rings to prevent rust from forming (it won’t make the seals fail), and store as usual, in a cool, dark place. If they should fail, when you look at a lid, the center will NOT be pulled tightly into an indentation but will pop up and down when you press your finger on it. Then when you take off the lid, it will come off quite easily.

You might want to pick up a copy of my book, Growing and Canning Your Own Food, for tons of gardening and canning tips and how-to information.

Just a note: where we used to can meatloaf all the time, and some sources still recommend canning it, many experts tell us now that it is too dense a product to can safely. I wouldn’t be too afraid of your canned meatloaf, but I’d probably start canning meatloaf as meatballs or patties instead, with liquid for totally safe processing — just to be certain. — Jackie


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