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Ask Jackie headline

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Jackie Clay answers questions for BHM Subscribers & Customers
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Archive for March, 2014

Jackie Clay

Q and A: raising poultry, when to harvest horseradish, and recanning sliced olives

Monday, March 31st, 2014

Raising poultry

I have my meat rabbits moving along now and have started on birds. I have about 20 mixed hens and a rooster — getting a consistent dozen eggs + per day. I just bought 4 Pekin ducklings, 10 cornish X, and 4 turkeys. I plan on the birds being a mainstay of my prepping for both meat and eggs. I live in a warm climate in SE Ga. My questions are:
1. Our turkeys so far have been broad breasted but I want to get turkeys that will reproduce on their own. I am thinking midget whites. Any thoughts or suggestions here?
2. I plan to buy an incubator. Any suggestions? Or is letting the birds do their thing naturally the right approach?
3. I am planning to build a small brooder building for the small birds until I can let them out etc. Is this overkill? Any ideas to offer when planning this building?
4. Any suggestions on geese or game birds?
5. I tried guinea hens which were fun but almost immediately took off never to be seen again when I finally let them out. Any tricks to train them to hang around?
6. Does it make sense to separate my chickens with a group of hens and no rooster just for eggs and separate section with rooster and hens to have meat chickens? If I have separate meat chicken area and want them to hatch and raise their chicks naturally is there anything I need to consider when setting it up?
I am fencing about 3/4 acre area for the birds to roam and put them in at night. Having some predator problems. I think I should break fenced area into sections so I can rotate them around so there can be new growth for them to eat etc.? When I get this project done some fellow prepper friends will be giving me goats to get started with next.

Kevin Sakuta

Broad-breasted turkeys very seldom can reproduce without artificial insemination due to their great size. So if you are going to raise turkeys for preparedness or self-reliance, I’d suggest any of the heritage breeds which can do their breeding by themselves. Midget Whites are great. We also like Bourbon Reds and Narragansetts. It’s pretty much a personal preference although the Midgets will eat less feed.

We have a small rigid foam incubator with an egg turner. The combination costs less than $100 and we’ve had about a 75% hatch. With the incubator you’ll hatch more birds per year but it will require both power to run (we run it off our battery bank in the basement; it doesn’t draw too much juice) and some sort of fuel to incubate the babies. We used propane but that does get expensive; it’s cheaper if you have electricity available. Of course in a survival situation, you’ll have neither so you’ll have to let nature take its course. Even this way, you can increase your hatch by buying a few good setting hens. Banties, full-sized Cochins, and Orpingtons are all good setters. And you can often set eggs under a broody hen that has few or no eggs under her, increasing your yearly hatch. No, I don’t think a small brooding shed is a bad idea at all. I would make absolutely sure your shed has a floor and is built very tight so predators such as weasels and snakes cannot get in or they’ll put you out of business pretty quickly! Include good ventilation via screened upper windows with a fan to use if it gets too hot.

To get guineas to stay home, it’s best to raise them with your chicks. By sort of bonding with them, they’ll have less inclination to fly away. With older birds, usually if you pen them up for a few weeks, going inside to feed and water them, they’ll soon feel more at home and get into the habit of being fed at certain times.

We don’t do geese because they are extremely messy birds and we don’t have facilities on our homestead for them. If you let them free range, they’ll be on your doorstep and deck, complete with lots of poop. Game birds are great if you have facilities to raise them. Back in the seventies, I raised several bunches of wild turkeys and turned them loose. So did several of our neighbors. Now, in that area there are large flocks and everyone is happy. We didn’t have many turks back then and didn’t know if they’d survive. Happily, they did. I like the idea of establishing a wild population so they can pretty much forage for themselves (you don’t have to buy feed!). Then, in season, you can hunt and harvest your meat.

We don’t separate our chickens except to separate growing chicks we’ve hatched in the house. Hens will lay just fine with the rooster around. Don’t plan on keeping Cornish Rock crosses to breed for future meat. We’ve tried several times and they’ve just died. Instead use a good old all-arounder like White Rocks for meat. They don’t make as much meat, as fast, but they will breed, lay lots of eggs, set and hatch them, AND they’ll live!

What has worked well for us is to use chicken tractors (small coops with mobile runs) for our breeding chickens, usually a couple of hens and a rooster. Have a nest for each hen and after she is setting on eggs, screen off the opening so the other hen can not lay eggs in that nest. When her nest is full of eggs and she is setting, remove the rooster. If you use 1-inch chicken wire for the run, when the chicks hatch, the hens can run with them and teach them the ropes. (If you have weasels or snakes around, use 1/4-inch hardware cloth instead!) We have our poultry fenced into our acre orchard with no divisions. They have so much feed that they never run it down. I have to mow it every so often to keep it under control! I think your birds will do fine without the division. But if they seem to keep it pecked down, go ahead and install one — good thinking!

When you are getting your goats, get your fences in good shape first; goats are very hard to successfully fence in. We use welded wire cattle panels for smaller pens and woven wire stock fencing with two stand-off electric wires inside the pasture to keep them off of the fence. Fences last much longer if you pick out goats without horns. Not only are the horns kind of dangerous to the goats themselves and you but they’re awfully bad about shoving their head through the fence and not being able to get out. And if you pick goats that have good milking backgrounds you’ll be able to not only drink plenty of tasty milk but also make cheese, yogurt, ice cream, and other foods right at home. Good luck with your homestead! — Jackie

When to harvest horseradish

Thank you for the horseradish recipe. My mom always made it and simply put vinegar to cover and stored it in the refrigerator. I remember wearing a swim mask and snorkel once to process it. Definitely an outdoor job. When is a good time to harvest horseradish? We made some last year in the middle of summer and I think that was the wrong time of year as it pretty much just tasted like vinegar.

Becky McKim
Ankeny, Iowa

We harvest our horseradish roots in the late fall, before the ground freezes. I think it tastes best after a hard freeze or two. Yeah, horseradish is pretty potent. I have an old blender that I use just for that and hot peppers as I’ve never been able to get the taste out of it! I’ve soaked it in baking soda water, boiled it, and set it in the sun for days. Now it’s a designated blender. — Jackie

Recanning sliced olives

I read where you re-canned sliced olives, and want to do the same. Clarification: The University of California web site seems to discourage canning sliced olives, but I am pretty sure they are talking about curing and canning fresh olives. Bottom line question: Is it safe to re-can “sliced” black olives?

Phil Jones
Middleton, Idaho

I’ve done the re-canning of #10 cans of sliced black olives for years. Be sure to process them for the recommended time, 60 minutes for pints or half-pints (I use half-pints for convenience.) at 10 pounds pressure (weighted gauge) or 11 pounds (dial gauge). Be sure to consult your canning book for directions on increasing your pressure if you live at an altitude over 1,000 feet. — Jackie

Jackie Clay

Q and A: turkey hen laying early, moving to the country, and using canned strawberries

Sunday, March 30th, 2014

Turkey hen laying early

I have been trying to raise some Jersey Buff turkeys for a few years now. We got a tom and a hen a few years ago and this past summer was our first successful batch. She hatched 5 poults and I incubated eggs and got 2 more. We have the issue of the hen starting to lay too early, like now, and it is still too cold. The eggs don’t hatch when it gets below freezing at night. I tried one year to take them away hoping she would continue to lay and then I could let her set once the weather warmed a bit more. She stopped laying after she laid about 12 eggs. Then she started laying them in the weeds and a critter got them. Finally last summer she actually hatched some eggs. They are about 7 months old now. My questions are how long until the young ones start to lay? How cold is too cold to have viable eggs? She is laying in their “house”, but it is not insulated. I guess if I take the eggs now she will start laying again a little later, hopefully in her house. And how do you go about catching them, any easy tips? I would like to butcher a few and sell a few but I don’t know how to catch them without someone getting hurt.

Eugene, Missouri

What we do is take the turkey eggs away when it is too cold and substitute chicken eggs (less valuable). They freeze during cold nights but that doesn’t matter. Keep taking the freshly laid turkey eggs away and replacing with either chicken eggs or wood/ceramic nest eggs. You can then hatch these early eggs in the house. When it is warm enough, let her accumulate a clutch by daily removing one chicken egg and letting her continue (hopefully!) laying. “Usually” once it has stopped freezing, the eggs will be viable in the nest. Most turkeys will begin laying at 9-12 months; some earlier.

We either catch our turkeys off the roost (we clip both sides of their wing feathers so they can’t fly up high) or use a stout fishing net with heavy webbing. Just slip the net down over them and then quietly go over and push down on their wings and hold the bird, net and all firmly. To butcher them, a killing cone works very well to prevent injuries. (David is VERY good at catching turkeys. He just “sneaks” up on them and gently puts his hands down over their wings, holding those flappers tight against the body.) They CAN hurt you. One nearly gave Will a black eye when he tried to “save” it after it got into the cow yard. He got flapped. — Jackie

Moving to the country

I have really enjoyed reading about your journey to buy land and build your own home. You are an inspiration to us all and we are so fortunate to have access to your experiences and wisdom! We are preparing to take the first step in a journey we have been dreaming of and working towards for many years. With the cash from the sale of our home, we are planning to buy a few acres in either MN or MI and place an old mobile home on it while we build a home. We are looking forward to living in the country again and growing more of our own food. Having made this journey yourself, in looking back what would you have done differently or what would be your best advice for us?

Bridget Cole
Thomas, Oklahoma

In truth, I wouldn’t have done a thing differently. It worked great for us although there were a few scary moments like when we arrived at the end of our mile-long driveway in February with three to four feet of snow, wondering how we would be able to GET to our land! Choose the land you are going to buy wisely; does it have good high ground? Is it land that you can grow a good garden on (with work to get the soil perfect)? What about neighbors? (We have always tried to buy land with no neighbors because you cannot choose who they are or their values/morals.) What about the availability of drinking water? Check to find out how deep wells are commonly drilled in the area where you are thinking of buying land. Check out building regulations in the area you are considering to make sure your plans will work with their regulations.

Actually, I’ve just finished a book on homesteading (Homesteading Simplified: Living the Good Life Without Losing Your Mind) It should go to the printers fairly soon. Keep an eye out for the announcement in the magazine and on the blog. It’d be a good one for you to begin your journey. All the very best of luck on your new homestead! — Jackie

Using canned strawberries

We canned a bunch of strawberries in pint jars and we have mixed reviews on whether we like them. Some of us like them on shortcake while others don’t. Since they have been canned with sugar added, do you have any ideas on recipes I can use them in instead of just eating them out of the jar. They are great for making milkshakes but we will have to live to 200 years old to use them only in milkshakes.

Kevin Sakuta

I use a lot of my canned strawberries in my homemade yogurt and baked goods such as coffee cakes, muffins, and for fillings of strudels, layer cakes, etc. Once you start using them in many other ways, they’ll disappear a lot quicker than you’d like! (One hint: When using them in muffins and other recipes, I often dice them or kind of slice them so they’re smaller bites.) — Jackie

Jackie Clay

Q and A: protecting fruit trees from frost, cloudy jelly, and canning collard greens

Saturday, March 29th, 2014

Protecting fruit trees from frost

I’m thinking about putting in a couple of apple trees and was wondering how you protect your fruit trees from the spring frosts. Here in eastern Washington, the orchardists use huge turbine fans to keep the air moving. Before that, they all used smudge pots.

Julie Fluaitte
Sunnyside, Washington

We don’t protect our trees from frost. However, we do plant fruit trees that are mid-to-late bloomers, when possible. Otherwise, we’ve just learned to accept nature. And yes, we DO sometimes get those killing late spring frosts and have little fruit. One more reason to can, can, can! — Jackie

Cloudy jelly

I have a Mehu-Liisa 11 liter stainless steel steam juicer. We have several crabapple trees on our property and last fall had bushels of nice, big, worm free crabapples. I made one batch of juice/jelly using the old cheesecloth drain method and the juice was clear as was the jelly. When I used the juicer the juice was cloudy. Of course I stirred the crabapples while they were steaming to get as much juice as possible so I assume that is why the juice is cloudy. I didn’t have time to make the jelly so I canned the juice so I can make the jelly now. I know it will be cloudy but will taste great. Do I let the juicer do its thing and not stir the crabapples? I prefer clear juice/jelly.

Phyllis Buys
Sioux City, Iowa

What I do is let the juicer alone until I have drawn off much of the juice. THEN I mash the fruit around and let it steam more. That juice is a little cloudy. Most of my jelly is clear as a bell but some ends up cloudy. What the heck, it sure tastes great. I just use the cloudy jelly at home for everyday use and use the clear stuff for company or gifts until the cloudy jelly is gone. Then we eat the clear jelly. — Jackie

Canning collard greens

I pressure canned my collard greens and they successfully sealed. There is a white substance around the top and on top of some of the greens. Is this mineral deposits? Are they safe to eat? Did I not add enough liquid?

Ruth Huling
Olympia, Washington

This is probably either a mineral reaction or oxalic acid crystals. Neither will harm you although foods containing oxalic acid should be avoided if you have kidney stones. It won’t cause them, however. Many healthy greens, including collards and spinach, contain oxalic acid so don’t worry about it. — Jackie

Jackie Clay

Q and A: ground cherries, leaving feed out for chickens, and saving tomato seeds

Friday, March 28th, 2014

Ground cherries

Since Spring does appear to be on the way (I am ignoring the snow and wind we got last night), I was wondering what summer might look like. I know your beavers inform you of the winter, just didn’t know if they chatted much about the upcoming summer. Rainy or dry? Also, do you have ground cherries? if so, what type and how are they for pies or jams?
Saint Paul, Minnesota

I’ll let you know once the beavers are out from under the ice. As the wolves started breeding, I’m kind of expecting an earlier spring but they’re not as dependable as the beavers!

I do plant ground cherries. Aunt Mary’s or Pineapple are both good. They are great for pies and jams and are grown like tomatoes, starting them inside then transplanting out. — Jackie

Leaving feed out for chickens

We just got our first chicks, mostly for laying hens but also 4 Cornish Rocks for butchering. I have been leaving the feed in the coop 24/7, but was reading on one of your old posts not to for the Cornish Rocks. We are housing all the chicks together, will it hurt anything if I put the feed up at night for everyone or can I leave it out? We plan on butchering the 4 Cornish at about 6-7 weeks old, they are right at 2 weeks old now.
Anita Bathe
Whitewater, Colorado

I’d take the feed away at night. In nature, the mom hen sits on her babies all night and they do not eat. Just be sure that in the morning, they get their feed fairly early in the day so they don’t get overly hungry. — Jackie

Saving tomato seeds

When you plant all those different heirloom tomato plants, how do you keep them from cross-pollinating? I thought the plants had to be planted quite a distance apart from each other.

Alice Clapper
New Castle, Pennsylvania

Luckily, tomatoes are pretty much self-pollinating and very rarely cross if they aren’t planted so close that the vines touch and intermingle. We plant our tomatoes that we are going to save seeds from several feet apart all ways. This works very well. — Jackie

Jackie Clay

The new front porch is now on

Thursday, March 27th, 2014

After slowly bringing in stacks of two inch home-sawn boards from a snow-covered pile in the front yard and warming them up, Will cut them to length and stained them. So for a week or more, there was not only a scaffold in our living room but a stack of boards in the entryway, too. The inconvenience and mess was well worth it because today Will nailed down the last boards!


Just as soon as we have warm weather, we can get the ice and water shield nailed down on the boards and as soon as our carpenter friend, Tom, who is also a very experienced roofer (and did the roofing on the rest of the house) has time, we’ll get shingles down on the porch, too. Imagine! The entire house will be roofed and shingled!


The porch looks very beautiful and we only have to add railings and the wide front steps Will wants to put down into the front yard and it’ll be finished. Now that’s a great word for a homesteader, isn’t it? Finished. (It only happens every once in a while…) I’m so blessed to have such a creative, hard working husband and believe me, I know and appreciate it. — Jackie

Jackie Clay

The medallion goes up

Wednesday, March 26th, 2014

This weekend, David and his friend, Ian, helped Will place the beautiful medallion Will had crafted up into place. Will tried to do it himself but that didn’t go so well. And after a couple of tries, he decided to wait for the troops. After all, that ash medallion is HEAVY!


After screwing the medallion into place with 6-inch log screws in every point, they went to work getting the ceiling fan, which had previously fallen to the floor with a crash, back into working order. Besides having a broken glass globe and light bulbs, Will discovered that the inside plate had bent on impact so he had to take the fan apart, rebend the plate, and fix a couple of other things. Then he and the boys put it together and up it went. Wow, does it look nice! Will also took down all of the pole rafters and posts and gave them several coats of poly. And before they go up, I’m painting the entire room and entryway again to freshen it up. During the course of all our construction, there have been a few dings and scratches in the paint.


My newly-planted tomatoes are springing up. Some came up in as little as four days! Boy, do they look nice and happy. And some of the peppers have three sets of leaves already. I’ve moved those down to the bottom shelf of my mini-greenhouse so they will cool down. This will slow their growth so they don’t end up leggy. I picked up another plastic mini-greenhouse at Menards for $19 and it’s the same kind that I got last year and they’re charging $39 for it at WalMart this year. I’ve got another batch of heirloom tomatoes and peppers coming from Sand Hill Preservation Center and will need room in a greenhouse next to the wood stove to start them as well as the one in the living room window where the tomatoes and peppers are growing. Spring seems closer even though it’s 11 degrees out and we still have three feet of snow on the ground. — Jackie

Jackie Clay

Q and A: canning beans, transplanting fruit trees, and canning with kids

Wednesday, March 26th, 2014

Canning beans

I decided to can up several kinds of beans to save heat in the kitchen during the summer. They all look good but they are not juicy like store bought ones. Did I do something wrong or is this normal?
Newport News, Virginia

No. The store beans just have a lot more sauce added. (Sauce is cheaper than beans especially when it’s mostly water and high fructose corn syrup!) If you want more juice, either add it when you open them or just use less beans and more sauce or water when you can your next batch. — Jackie

Transplanting fruit trees

I have 4 young apple trees that just started bearing fruit last year. I need to remove them from my orchard this spring to make room for a building; basically replanting part of my orchard. Do you think these could be successfully transplanted or should I just start over? I would be digging them out & replanting by hand.

Joyce Sherman
Hornell, New York

Yes, you can carefully dig and transplant them. But try to do it while they’re still dormant as they stand the shock way better than when they are leafed out. Then be sure to keep them well-watered this spring and summer. Adding a nice ring of rotted manure or compost around the tree, out to the drip line will also help. Keep this mulch pulled away from the trunk a couple inches though to keep rodents from taking up housekeeping where they can eat the tender bark of the trees. — Jackie

Canning with kids

Any suggestion for canning with lots of small children around. I’ve tried scheduling grown up help on big marathon canning sessions, but that doesn’t work out very often. I am possibly going to try one batch en evening, when some of my older kids and husband are home. Any advice?

Kelly Hibbard
New Mexico

I raised 8 children and have lots of experience canning with little ones around! The marathon canning really sucks. It tires you out way too much. Instead, I always pretty much canned daily or as needed. For very little ones, I used a playpen, right in the kitchen, in sight but out of danger from hot foods and water. After awhile, I could schedule nap time in the playpen when I would be packing hot foods in jars, etc. Otherwise, with older kids, I involved them real soon. I have pictures of David at 5 years old “helping” pack green beans in jars and testing the seal on the jars after the cooled. When they’re involved when young, they soon learn when it’s safe to be in the kitchen and when Mom needs room to handle hot things and they go in the living room to play (where I can keep an ear out for them but they’re out of danger). As the older children get more responsible, they can help watch the younger ones while you do the more dangerous parts of canning such as filling jars with boiling food or water. Evening canning is also an option although often we moms are pretty tired by evening!

Most of the time, canning is pretty safe even with little ones under foot. I just tried to juggle time so they were involved with toys or a craft when I was doing the “hot” stuff. — Jackie

Jackie Clay

Q and A: almond trees, cornstarch or Clear Jel, and adding to the chicken flock

Tuesday, March 25th, 2014

Almond trees

I just received a shipping confirmation email from a company that I placed an order with for almond trees. The problem is that my ground is still frozen past the first 2 inches. What is the best way to care for my trees while I wait for the thaw?

Katie Gilbert
Milo, Iowa

When your trees come, unwrap them. If they are wrapped in plastic with moist sawdust or shredded paper around the roots, gently re-wrap the trees and place in a cool spot such as a garage that stays above freezing or dark closed in a cool bedroom. They’ll stay okay for weeks that way. If you can dig in your ground, you can heel the trees in by digging a trench deep enough to place the roots in, then lay the trees down with the roots in the trench, then shovel dirt over the roots, covering them entirely while leaving the tree uncovered. When the ground thaws, plant as usual. I’m SO jealous! Almonds? I dream of almonds and peaches! That’s all it is — a dream here in Minnesota’s Zone 3. — Jackie

Cornstarch or Clear Jel

Can corn starch be a substitute for Clear Jel? I have a recipe for canning Apple Pie Filling that says to use either one.

Judith Almand
Brandon, Florida

Corn starch is unsafe because it can create a too-dense product and the heat from the processing may not reach the center of the jar for a long enough time to be safe. So now we have Clear Jel, which is a more-processed form of corn starch that IS safe to use. — Jackie

Adding to the chicken flock

I have a small hen house and ended up with some range pullets in addition to the layer breeds that started laying before we got them butchered. I plan on eating these this spring and would like to raise half a dozen Rhode Island Reds for replacement along with my meat birds. At the cost of raising chickens up here I want to get another year or so out of the original layers. Any advice on introducing these replacements to the flock when the time comes?

Howard Brewi
Valdez, Alaska

Put the new birds in a small pen, next to the old flock, in the morning. Then by the evening, the two flocks have sort of gotten used to each other and you can put them together in the main coop for the night. In the morning, the mixed bunch seems to have forgotten they’re not one big flock. Always watch out for an aggressive bird or two during the first day. There always is some pecking and chasing, but don’t let it get carried away. — Jackie


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