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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 June, 2013

Jackie Clay

Q and A: apple barbeque sauce, harvesting rhubarb, and potato blight

Saturday, June 29th, 2013

Apple Barbeque Sauce

I am getting ready to make Apple Barbeque sauce that is in the Backwoods Home Cooking cookbook. The recipe is by Richard Blunt. Do you know if this recipe can be processed, and which method should be used? I would assume that it should be pressure cooked since there is beef stock in it. If you could so kindly tell at what poundage and time or how many minutes for hot water bath, I would be indebted to you.


I’m sure you can process this barbecue sauce. But you’re right; because it has beef stock in it, it should be processed at 10 pounds pressure for 20 minutes (pints). 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

Harvesting rhubarb

I have found a lot of conflicting information in researching the harvesting of rhubarb. Could you tell me how you harvest? When do you start in the spring? How late into the year do you harvest? How much do you take from a plant at any one time? And how much time do you allow between pickings on a plant? I love my rhubarb and want to take full advantage of its abundance but do not want to risk stressing the plants by over harvesting.

Teresa Liechti
Milbank, South Dakota

Rhubarb is easy to harvest. You just grab a stalk and pull straight out away from the plant. The stalk will slip right out of its base and not damage the plant. I start harvesting when the stalks are getting some length on them but you can sneak off a few early stalks if you just can’t wait. It won’t hurt a thing. And you can harvest as long as the leaves are nice looking. When they start drooping and turning color, the stalks begin to get stringy and tough. Don’t remove more than 2/3 of the stalks from one plant at a time or it may weaken the plant. In a few weeks it will regrow new stalks and you can harvest again. I usually harvest about 4 times for canning and occasionally thereafter for pies and baking. To grow the very best rhubarb, add about a foot of good, rotted manure all around and even over the plant after the leaves have gone dormant each fall. You’ll be surprised how huge it will get! — Jackie

Potato blight

You recently answered a question as to how to identify potato blight. Some of us are wanting to become really self sufficient. How can we prevent potato blight with using NON purchased seed potatoes? Or potatoes left over from some that we have purchased that are actively sprouting? I realize that potato blight caused many to leave Ireland for the U.S. (the book Pat and the Iron Horse is one novel regarding that.)


Of course we want to be more self reliant. But if we have a problem with blight in our garden now, saving potatoes will only make it worse if we use them for seed next year. So we try to reduce and eliminate the blight in our gardens. The trouble with this is that the blight is carried by the wind so if you live in a populated area or an area where folks grow potatoes, sometimes it’s real hard to get rid of. Some things folks have used to help get rid of blight are: dusting the seed potatoes with sulfur before planting and spraying with copper-based fungicides according to the direction on the container. Be sure to remove any affected plants and burn them. After the growing season, remove all tomato and potato plants and burn them to reduce infection. Water using soaker hoses to avoid overhead watering which can spread the blight. Once your garden is truly clean of blight you can risk saving seed potato. When necessary, we do what we can, even if you don’t get the most perfect results. — Jackie

Jackie Clay

Q and A: canning two different things at once and wire bale jars

Friday, June 28th, 2013

Canning two different things at once

Can I pressure can two different things at the same time? For instance if I have only 4 qts. of beans could I also place several jars of stew meat or ground beef in with them to fill the canner? I would use pressure and time requirements for the meat.

Bradon, Florida

Yes, you could but the food requiring much less processing time would become overcooked and possibly mushy. If you do this, plan on choosing two foods with like processing times instead. For instance, can up ground beef with chicken breasts or roast beef with stewing meat or chili con carne. — Jackie

Wire bale jars

Is it possible to pressure can using the old fashioned wire bail canning jars? If so, would you clamp down the wire bail completely before canning?

Bradley & Rhona Barrie
Strong, Maine

Sorry, but you can not pressure can in wire bale jars. These are for fruits, jams, and pickles only. You won’t be able to tell if the jars are truly sealed as you can when the centers of two piece lids indent firmly in the center. This lack of sealing, coupled with the possibility of the vacuum forming in glass-topped jars breaking the tops/jars, makes pressure canning in them very unsafe. — Jackie

Jackie Clay

Q and A: auction barn calves and canning cheese

Thursday, June 27th, 2013

Auction barn calves

I enjoyed your article titled “Bottle-raise a calf.” We just purchased a bull calf Holstein at auction. Your advice lends some confidence, but I am still worried. Calf has been with us a week – he still has soft, squishy bowels off and on — nothing frothy or foamy or very liquid, but I can’t decided what to do, administer medicated sav-a-caf MR, try penicillin, call a vet, or stick to the basics, electrolytes and kaolin. He stand ok and walks and frolics, he eats well and wags his tail. When he runs or moves around a lot, he has an occasional cough, but not when he is at rest. Thoughts? And if doing Penicillin, how many days is a course?

Also, he has a bit of yellow dried booger on the sides of his nostrils — should I be worried about this? It’s not how you described it “thick, white, snotty.”

Carrie Timlin
Scott Township, Pennsylvania

Usually auction barn calves don’t get sick until they’ve been home about two weeks, which is usually the time required for scours bacteria to incubate. If the stools get white or watery, begin treatment immediately. I really like using Sustain III. This is a solid bolus (pill) that usually stops the scours and sickness within 3 days. At the same time, we switch from giving milk to electrolytes so the calf doesn’t get dehydrated. Milk is irritating to the gut and can keep the scours going even when the bacteria has been killed off. If you use injectable penicillin, give it according to the directions on the bottle for a week even if the calf seems much better sooner. I wouldn’t worry too much about the dried yellow crust around the edges of his nostrils as long as his nose is dotted with watery, shiny calf “sweat” when he nurses and his cough doesn’t get worse. Calves that are under six weeks of age seldom get pneumonia. At that age, it is usually scours. — Jackie

Canning cheese

Since you now have a cow, I hope you’re experimenting with cheeses. I just made a Queso Blanco cheese by Ricki Carroll’s method (simply heat and add apple cider vinegar). She says that it doesn’t melt. That leads me to wonder if it wouldn’t be a great cheese to CAN! It is a very bland cheese, taking on the flavors of the food you use it in. I just wondered if you had tried canning cheese anymore. I know you didn’t recommend it last time I checked.

Sarah Axsom

While I don’t “recommend” canning cheese because it’s an untested food for canning, I certainly DO can cheese and you’ll even find instructions in my book Growing and Canning Your Own Food. Yes, I do make cheeses of all sorts. Having said that, I have to tell you I haven’t tried canning any of the soft cheeses such as queso blanco or cream cheese yet. I’ll tell you what; next time I make a batch of soft cheese, I’ll can up a few jars and let you know how it works. — Jackie

Jackie Clay

In early summer, things really rush around here

Wednesday, June 26th, 2013

Just before going to Wisconsin to attend the MREA Fair and man the booth for the magazine, Will and I quickly planted our corn, beans, cucumbers, squash, pumpkins, and two rows of glads. While we were gone, we had ideal growing conditions, rain and heat. So it’s small wonder that the day after we got home, the corn had not only germinated but grown four inches high and had two sets of leaves.


All the rest of the garden was equally astounding. Wow! I’ve never seen bigger squash and cucumber leaves! Yep, we were late planting this year and we had no “spring;” it went from winter to summer overnight it seemed. But because we planted late, the soil was warm and the seeds germinated with a bang. (Not like when you plant too early into cool soil and have seeds that take weeks to come up erratically. And some not at all, rotting in the ground.)


Our potatoes are shooting out of the ground, as are our glads. And the tomatoes are already several inches out of the Wall O’ Waters. I guess I know what we’ll be doing when I get back from the Self-Reliance Festival in Des Moines!

Then, this morning, one of our yearling does began kidding. Just minutes ago, she had a beautiful, nice big doeling. Will she have twins? I don’t think so as she’s not “fat,” but they’ll fool you sometimes. Shadow has a beautiful udder and we have high hopes for her as a milker. We bred her late since she was a small doe and we wanted her to get more size before breeding her.


Just a reminder: Anyone who wants to spend an informational day learning more about self-reliance should come to Des Moines, Iowa, Friday-Sunday. I’ll be speaking at the Midwest Self Reliance Festival, as will some other BHM favorites such as Jack Spirko and Dr. Bones and Nurse Amy. And I’m sure there’ll be plenty of vendors selling helpful equipment and supplies. Be sure to stop by the Backwoods Home booth and say hi to me! The show is going to be held at the Val Air Ballroom. — Jackie

Jackie Clay

Tuesday, June 25th, 2013

Even torrential storms didn’t stop the MREA Fair

We always look forward to going to Custer, Wisconsin, for the annual MREA Fair. We help sell magazine subscriptions and books and get to meet a whole lot of interesting people. Some are newcomers and some are old family members. (We consider every reader of the magazine

Will, our friend Tom, and I set up the booth on Thursday amid weather warnings for the next day. And when I woke up in the motel room at 6 a.m., it was to a crash of thunder and lightning. I peeked out the window and saw torrential rain cascading off the roof right by our window. Not so good!


But we went to the fair and got ready for the opening. And five minutes after they announced that the 2013 Midwest Renewable Energy Fair was officially open, a lightning bolt struck the ground right outside our metal building! CRACK! BOOM! Let me tell you, it scared the heck out of ME! Luckily, no one was hurt.


But the rain definitely hurt the fair’s attendance. Luckily, you can’t stop BHM family. All through the three days, fans stopped by the booth to say hi and have pictures taken with me. How fun! We got to visit with a whole lot of really nice people.



And this week I get to do it all over again. Thursday, I’m flying down to Des Moines, Iowa, to speak and man the BHM booth at the very first Midwest Self Reliance Festival. I’ll be giving a keynote presentation on Friday and another presentation on Saturday. So if you get a chance to come, you’ll help support a new venture as well as be able to listen to several noted speakers and check out many useful products to help your quest for self reliance. Stop by the booth and say hi! The festival runs from Friday the 28th through Sunday. (But I won’t be there on Sunday due to flight arrangements.) — Jackie

Jackie Clay

Q and A: sugar in canning and spraying the orchard

Friday, June 21st, 2013

Sugar in canning

Is there a reason why so much sugar is in most canning or baking recipes? As an old guy with diabetes I’ve learned that most fruit has natural sugar that it doesn’t seem necessary to add more sugar. And I sure do like those rhubarb/strawberry and rhubarb/blue berry pies but not all the sugar. Is all that sugar really needed?

Wes Thayer
Junction City, Oregon

When canning fruit, you don’t need sugar; It’s just a taste thing. But with baking, as in your rhubarb pies, you do need some sort of sweetener, either stevia, Splenda, or sugar or you’ll pucker for sure. — Jackie

Spraying the orchard

Do you spray anything in your orchard to combat disease and insect damage – specifically curculio and borer damage? I know your chickens patrol beneath the trees, but do you use any other means? We are using neem oil and Surround but are still having trouble with the soft fruits and apples.

Sheila Dersham
Jamestown, Tennessee

We don’ t spray our orchard. Luckily, living so far north, and in such a remote location, we haven’t run across any fruit pests. Yet. There are other natural ways to protect your fruit such as using apple maggot traps with Tanglefoot or painting the lower trunk of your trees with indoor latex paint (helps repel borers and lets you see as soon as you get them so you can kill them). When you use Surround, you usually have to do repeat sprayings just after blossom drop all the way till picking time after heavy rains for it to be effective. — Jackie

Jackie Clay

Q and A: growing corn for cornmeal and layering jars in canner

Thursday, June 20th, 2013

Growing corn for cornmeal

I am growing dent corn to make corn meal. I am not sure when to harvest and how to prepare the corn for grinding.

Daniel Jones
Cullowhee, North Carolina

Leave the ears on the stalks until the husks are golden and rustle like paper. The corn itself will be hard and dented. At this point, pick the ears and move them in to an area protected against birds and rodents. Be sure to give them air to further dry, if necessary. Then shell the ears by either using a hand-cranked sheller or by hand. I use my thumb to work the kernels off the cob or you can rub two cobs together over a bucket. If you have trouble with maize moths or pantry moths, freeze your shelled corn for a week. Then you can grind your corn for cornmeal. Whole cornmeal contains the germ so will go rancid faster than store bought cornmeal does so either freeze the cornmeal or else grind a few pounds at a time so you’ll use it before it goes rancid. — Jackie

Layering jars in canner

Can you water bath two layers of jars with a rack in between as you do in pressure canning? I was thinking jam in half-pint jars.

Donna Herlihy
Wentworth, New Hampshire

Yes, you can but you don’t often have that many jars of jam at a single time. You shouldn’t double or triple your batches of jam because often it will not set. — Jackie

Jackie Clay

Q and A: canning whey and holes in apple tree

Wednesday, June 19th, 2013

Canning whey

My husband makes cheese from goats milk and the whey is great in the garden. My question I like cooking with the whey, can I can a batch of it up to have in my pantry when the goat dries up? The whey makes the biscuits so fluffy.

Coos Bay, Oregon

To tell the truth, I’ve never tried to can whey. I can milk, cheese, and butter so I don’t know why you couldn’t can whey, using the same process as you do with milk. If you give it a try, let us know how it turns out. — Jackie

Holes in apple tree

I have an older Jonathon apple tree that has drill holes all around the trunk and some on the limb. Is there something I can paint on the tree to stop this. I think its a bird that is doing this the other two trees are fine so far. Glad to hear your knee is doing better.

Dena Britton
SouthWest City, Missouri

Thank you,. Every day my knee feels better. It sounds like you have a sap sucker working over your apple tree. They drill rows of holes in the bark to encourage the flow of sap. They then lick up the sap with their tongues. This practice can weaken trees so it’s best to discourage your bird(s). Usually wrapping the trunk with aluminum window screen or even burlap will effect a move to another tree, hopefully out of your yard. Treating the tapped area with a sticky substance such as Tanglefoot that is used on apple maggot traps also discourages tapping. You also might try hanging the balloon-like “bird eye” bird repellents from the tree. — Jackie


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