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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 December, 2014

Jackie Clay

Q and A: canning cream and wood flooring

Wednesday, December 31st, 2014

Canning cream

Jackie – can I can fresh cream from my cow? I know that the stuff from the store is super heated and the purchased cow’s milk doesn’t can right – but my own milk does. Can I can cream and have it turn out somewhat ok? I see that people can cream cheese — can I can my own homemade cream cheese?

Verona, Kentucky

I really don’t think that cream would can up well. I have not canned homemade cream cheese yet, so I can’t advise about that. Any readers out there that can help Marilyn? — Jackie

Wood flooring

I love your hardwood floor, but am wondering how it is holding up to the “snow pacs”? (I can see feet in your picture for the current post!) I spent a winter near Isabella Minnesota 32 years ago and my current locale, while usually a little “warmer” (temp wise), has winds that cut through you. Since you heat with wood I am guessing that pacs are your norm in footwear at this time of the year — indoor and out. I am wondering how the floor is taking it? (I am considering the ceramic “wood” tiles for flooring as the boots that come through my house are similar only with less snow we get a lot of rocks, mud/grit clumps, and hay.) Our temp at the moment is -9, but wind chill is -30F. Brrrr!

Mandan, North Dakota

We love our “fake” wood floor. It’s laminate from Menards and has stood up extremely well to farm conditions and two big, active dogs. We wheelbarrow wood into the house, the dogs play on it, and nobody takes off their boots. The only faint scratches have been when someone dragged a chair without protected legs on it across the floor. Definitely minimal.

We’ve got -12 with a windchill of -26 right now. You’re right; brrrrrrr. But definitely not as bad as last winter so far. — Jackie

Jackie Clay

We had two great Christmas celebrations

Monday, December 29th, 2014

Since our youngest son, David, had to work on Saturday when oldest son Bill and his family could come, we had Christmas dinner on Christmas for David and his girlfriend Hannah, and another Christmas dinner on Saturday when my sister Sue, Bill and his family, and Javid could all come. It was a bit hectic but we sure had a great extended Christmas.

Of course we had lots of good food. I made a boneless pork loin glazed with pincherry jelly. Wow was that good! And we had Will’s cheesecake, pumpkin pies, garlic mashed potatoes (that have 8 oz. of cream cheese, a cup of sour cream and a 1/4 pound of butter whipped with them, plus 1/2 tsp. of garlic salt, then baked) plus a green bean casserole (our Provider green beans of course!), candied carrots (big Nantes chunks from the pantry) and tons of snack goodies. Whew!

Now I can get started at canning up lots of meats from the leftover pork loin, chicken, and beef. Cool.

And we’re plenty busy too with our little seed business, Seed Treasures (see new box above blog), packing and shipping seeds. It’s really fun to be sharing seeds with so many different people!

We’re looking back on all we’ve accomplished during the past year and we’re so excited about the New Year coming soon and all our plans for spring. May you, too, look with enthusiasm, toward the coming year. HAPPY NEW YEAR! — Jackie

Jackie Clay

Merry Christmas to you and yours

Wednesday, December 24th, 2014

I finally got our Christmas tree decorated last night. Just in time! We think it looks pretty and sure perks us up. We’ve been hugely busy lately. I didn’t even get one Christmas card sent out. That’s a record for me! Oh well. S*^& happens. For me it was the diverticulitis from which I’m still playing catch up.

Will’s been working on the new barn, trying to get it enclosed before our first blizzard. He got the west wall enclosed with some of our free plywood so at least the snow won’t blow in. The plywood is to prevent any drafts from getting in through tiny cracks in the board and batten siding that’ll go on next. He also picked up some rigid insulation board on our local online auction for about half of the lumberyard price. That great buy was lessened when 6 sheets slid out of the truck on the way home. By the time he went back to get it, someone else had picked it up. Oh well, maybe they needed it more than we did to keep their family warm…

The insulation board will go on the upper wall of the barn between the outside plywood and inside boards to help keep the barn warmer in winds. Some will be added beneath the floor of our greenhouse/sunporch as we don’t have enough there now to keep stuff on the floor from freezing in prolonged periods of extreme cold like last winter.

I’m getting ready to bake goodies for our Christmas dinner as well as washing clothes while Will is watering the livestock. We used to have a lot of trouble with our water lines freezing. But Will made a short hose with a hose thread on one end and a fitting for an air chuck on the other. So when we’re done watering, we drain the hose as well as we can then he plugs in the compressor and builds up 100 psi. Then he attaches the fitting and blows out water. This is repeated 3 times and seems to work well. What a relief. Watering is so much easier now.

Again, you all have a wonderful Holiday Season! And a warm hug from me. — Jackie

Jackie Clay

We’re taking applications for a summer apprentice

Tuesday, December 23rd, 2014

Since our seed business has grown by leaps and bounds … as has our homestead, we’ve decided we could use some help this spring, summer, and fall and am offering an apprenticeship to a person (or couple).

You would be working hard, planting, tilling, helping fence, take care of animals, haying, and general homestead chores. In exchange, you’ll get a whole summer’s worth of homesteading seminar. Free. We’ll teach you all we know or you want to learn. We’ll also provide a private bedroom in our home, meals and some time off each week to enjoy the Minnesota Northwoods.

Do remember that we are off grid, don’t watch a lot of TV, or play video games, etc. We would like to find a person who does enjoy working and will do so happily. We are not slave drivers, but do have plenty to do most days. If you are interested, contact us at jackieclay2007[at] and we’ll talk.


We’re really happy that now we have a freezer plumb full of wonderful, naturally-raised pork, chicken and beef. Right after the holidays, I’ll be canning up a storm, for sure. What a blessing that is! Besides the “regular” beef, I have a whole box full of meaty soup bones. Some are from our quarter, some from other folks’ meat that didn’t want their soup bones. So I get to make quarts and quarts of wonderful beef broth. Wow! And I also brought home about 30 pounds of ground pork fat from my son Bill’s freezer so he had room for his 1/2 a beef. So I’ll also be rendering lots more lard. I never buy shortening. A bit of sunflower and olive oil, but no shortening for us made from GMO soybeans and corn. It feels so good. — Jackie

Jackie Clay

We count our blessings as Christmas nears

Saturday, December 20th, 2014

We’re really grateful for so many different things. We are grateful for each other and for this wonderful homestead that just keeps getting better every day.

When I think of moving here in 2003, in February, when there was nothing but small trees, old logs and stumps with big woods all around and all we’ve accomplished it doesn’t seem possible: the log house, huge storage building, big gardens, berry patch, orchard, tons of fencing, fenced pig pastures or extra garden (whichever is needed), a training ring and adjacent barn, clearing two pastures, then the third huge one on the new forty acres we bought three years ago, plowing and planting many acres, buying haying equipment, and building the new barn.

Stocking up the pantry after nearly depleting it after our move here is beyond belief. We’re eating our own home-raised pork, chicken, eggs, milk, and beef along with some canned venison from last year as well as plenty of fruits and vegetables from our homestead.

The bread we bake is from flour we grind and after that bout with diverticulitis, I’m SO happy to be able to eat whole wheat bread again! It’s like a celebration, pulling a loaf out of the oven. We never take things for granted but appreciate every single day. — Jackie

Jackie Clay

We’ll have a white Christmas

Wednesday, December 17th, 2014


After a day without snow and rain, which is unheard of here in northern Minnesota this time of the year, we got a two-inch snowfall. Luckily, today the sun’s out and it’s pretty and not too cold. Our critters are happy and fat and seem to enjoy the fresh snow. The horses are running around bucking and playing and even the cows are joining them. (It’s pretty funny to see a big cow with her bag swinging back and forth, bucking and jumping with her tail kinked up in the air!)

We knew the snow was coming so we carried in extra wood and while I ran to town for feed, Will brought in the Christmas tree and got it set up. It seems like every year we have a prettier tree! This year, it’s a locally grown pine. Our own Christmas tree selection is dim; some nice trees are too big and others, too small. Maybe next year we can go out and cut our own again. But we’re happy to have a neighbor to the North that has a small Christmas tree farm. We get a nice fresh tree and keep the bucks local!

I’m excited; we’ll be picking up our beef from the processing plant on Friday! We’ve sold seven quarters of our natural beef, saving a quarter for ourselves. So I’ll be delivering beef Friday and Saturday as well as bringing ours home. Yum, I can’t wait! (We’ve also started selling quarters and halves from the next two butcher steers. Many are repeat customers, so that makes us feel good.)

Keep watching the box at the top of the blog as our new seed business, which we’ve named SEED TREASURES (we believe seeds are more valuable than gold), is up and running with many more selections this year! Click on the link. But if you can’t open it, just e-mail us at and I’ll see you get a listing. — Jackie

Jackie Clay

We had an unexpected visitor

Monday, December 15th, 2014

Will went out our driveway to take some work to our local machine shop. When he returned, he told me there were the tracks of a big bull moose on our driveway! Wow! I went out with the camera, hoping to see the big guy, but no dice. He did leave huge tracks for a mile down our driveway to where he turned off to the north through the woods. That’s only the second time I’ve seen moose tracks here. David saw a cow and twin calves twice a year ago and my late husband, Bob, saw two moose nearby, at night several years ago. They’re around, but not common here.

Our snow is nearly all gone. Our low last night was 37 degrees, above! But we’ve sure made good use of our warm spell as it’s not “normal.” Will cut barn siding all day yesterday and now has enough lumber to frame the upper wall on the whole barn plus enough siding to do at least the whole west side and more. I’m getting real excited! The siding is wide; both 8″ and 12,” with beautiful grain.


I got another chicken canned up and had plans to do another but our carpenter friend, Tom, stopped by for a visit. We hadn’t seen him for awhile as he has been busy totally remodeling an old farm house for our veterinarian friends, Robin and John. We had a great visit and got caught up on what all we’ve both been doing. Tom had also built a huge storage barn on his homestead this summer, so we know he’s been as busy as we have been. Progress is such a nice thing.

My diverticulitis is just about gone and I’m just starting to eat “normal” food again. I’ll admit I was getting sick of broth, cottage cheese, yogurt, etc. Roasted chicken tasted real good! — Jackie

Jackie Clay

Q and A: dirt piles in chicken coop and blastomycosis

Friday, December 12th, 2014

Dirt piles in chicken coop

I live in Oregon and have a question about finding 8-inch-high and 12-inch-wide piles of dirt inside my chicken house. They have showed up within the last 3 days and are dry loose dirt. My coop is wood floored and 2 feet off the ground on stones, the hens are locked in each night at dark. Windows are secure. I have lost no birds and no eggs seemed to be eaten. One pile was inside a nest box and one outside the nest area. This is a considerable amount of dirt for any animal to move during that time and I see no other evidence of nesting.

Linna Straub
Springfield, Oregon

You’ve kind of got me stumped. Obviously some mammal is getting into your coop. Somewhere. Some critters who pile up dirt are pocket gophers, Norway rats and ground squirrels. But any of them would have to get into the coop. Is there a hole under the dirt piles? Pack rats will carry in sticks, moss, shredded cloth…but not usually dirt. I’d examine the entire coop for small holes or cracks then block them up with hardware cloth or tin to exclude your new tenants. — Jackie


We have finally narrowed down the area of Minnesota we plan to search for a place to homestead once our home sells. We really love the Itasca county area. However, I keep running across something called Blastomycosis that is said to be a very common occurrence in dogs, and people to a lesser degree, in both Itasca and St. Louis counties. As the owners of 3 dogs, with big plans to dig in the dirt, we are more than a little concerned. From what I have read it is a soil-borne fungus, and very deadly and painful to canines and humans if left untreated.

Bridget Cole
Thomas, Oklahoma

I am well aware of Blastomycosis in our area. Our friends are both veterinarians in the Cook area and have treated local dogs for this fungal disease. It seems to be most prone to the Lake Vermilion area and other “wet” spots. Of course, Lake Vermilion is a huge lake surrounded on most sides by high-end lake homes. (i.e. many people and many water loving dogs). We are concerned about it but do not worry about it. No matter where you live there are some sort of dangerous diseases possible. In New Mexico, it was the plague, carried by local prairie dogs. In Montana, Hantavirus, carried by deer mice and pack rats.

We dig in the garden (obviously) and our dogs do dig out ground squirrels. But they don’t spend a lot of time in the creek or swamp, digging in the ground. Neither do we. So we keep aware but don’t worry. If this is a huge concern of yours, you might consider nearby Koochiching County, just to the north. Less people and less occurrence of reported Blastomycosis. — Jackie


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