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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 November, 2015

Jackie Clay

Q and A: Using milk jugs to warm seedlings and canning ham in half-pint jars

Wednesday, November 25th, 2015

Using milk jugs to warm seedlings

Here in the Phoenix area, we plant and transplant our spring/summer veggies right around March 10-15, although some years late February is suitable while keeping a close eye on the weather reports. I know you use Wall-O-Waters to extend your growing season. What are your thoughts about plastic milk jugs? Do you think cut-off jugs as mini greenhouses would be adequate to raise the soil temperatures underneath them to germinate squash, cucumbers, etc, a month or so before the last frost date? I know there are many variables involved in this process, but just some opinion or insight would be appreciated. I think the jugs would probably protect seedlings from any last-minute LIGHT frost…I’m wondering about raising the soil temperature enough to germinate seeds. In mid-February the nights are still cold, sometimes with frost, but many of the days are already in the mid-70s. Would the daytime temps, with the help of the milk jugs, be adequate to start those seeds popping? I think I’ll experiment around with it this coming spring and see what happens.

Dallen Timothy
Gilbert, Arizona

While the cut-off plastic milk jugs certainly do protect seedling plants from light frosts and help warm the soil during the day, I’ve found that they really don’t do a lot to raise the soil temperature enough to counteract the cool nighttime soil temps. If you don’t want to buy Wall o’ Waters, you might try using black plastic as a mulch in your rows, planting through slits in the plastic, then setting your milk jugs over the plants. The plastic mulch really does help warm up the soil for those early plantings and makes a huge difference in the harvest, come fall.

For us, using inexpensive, homemade plastic hoop houses makes a huge difference in getting things off to a good start early. You can even make row covers over hoops of wire, above your black plastic mulch for even greater protection. And the plastic row covers tend to stay in place better than individual plastic milk jugs in a stiff wind. — Jackie

Canning ham in half-pints

I want to can ham and beans in half-pint jars for my father. Do the half-pint jars require the 90 minute processing time or can they be processed for a shorter time? I love your cook books and articles. Thank you for such wonderful guidance.

Lancaster, Missouri

They are processed for 75 minutes, as are pints. I’m glad you like my books and articles! It’s fun to connect with my BHM family. — Jackie

Jackie Clay

Another gray, gloomy, snowy day

Tuesday, November 24th, 2015

We’re wondering what happened to the sun. Honestly, Minnesota is usually bright and sunny, even in the winter. Lately, not so much. Today is warmer, in the low thirties, but it’s very dark and cloudy, spitting snow. Again.

Son, Bill, came up to hunt Saturday afternoon and although he didn’t bag a buck, he did help Will set up our new fridge. Boy, was I excited as they got it moved into its final position and hooked up the LP and 12 volt wires, running downstairs to our old battery bank that still works but is just not enough to power the whole house’s needs. By the time Bill left Sunday evening, the freezer had gotten frost on the back.


While the guys were working on the fridge, I canned up 10 pints of small rutabagas. They do store well, but I always like to can up some anyway just so we are sure we have some later on. Once canned, they never get wrinkled and soft!


Unfortunately, this morning I opened the doors to find the refrigerator warm. No flame to the burner and the LED lights were flashing “no-co.” (We still don’t know what that means!) I texted Bill, who is an RV technician licensed in LP appliances, and he texted Will back how to re-start it. So he did and so far — cross your fingers and say a few prayers — it’s still working. I was disappointed but do know that some “free” things require a little work to get them up and running permanently.

In that vein, Will finally got the clutch apart for the Mule RTV so he could adjust it. He’s been working on that for months now, even taking it to our neighbor’s shop to use a press. But finally, as he was tinkering with it in his easy chair, it opened! So it looks like we just may have the Mule operational before too much longer.

In case the Wednesday blog doesn’t get up in time, I’m wishing you all a very happy Thanksgiving and do take a moment to give thanks for all the wonderful things in your life. — Jackie

Jackie Clay

It’s still raining

Thursday, November 19th, 2015

Boy is it hard to get things done outside when it’s raining all day, every day. Grump, grump, grump! I pulled our last carrots and found that the deer had gotten in the open gate and munched off all the tops and pulled about a third of the row. So I quickly pulled the rest … including some the deer had eaten a little of the top. I DO cut off the deer munched parts!


Meanwhile, Will has been working inside. He re-manufactured one of our new top kitchen cabinets to fit under the new refrigerator. We wanted it moved up some as the fridge part was just too low. In the RV, it sat up on a little step so now it sits on a 12-inch cabinet that I can use to store some miscellaneous stuff. More storage is always good. He has all of the gas fittings so now he has to get it hooked up and we’ll (hopefully) be in business. He is also continuing to install insulation in the enclosed back porch so it (and the house) will be warmer. Eventually, we’ll be heating that porch, which will give us additional greenhouse space, come spring. As the firewood is used, that will free up growing bench space. Pretty cool.


I’m still harvesting pumpkin, squash, and bean seeds for our little seed business. I really love those crops. The seeds are so cheerful, too; nice and plump, ready to grow. And as the first germination tests have indicated, they ARE ready to grow!

All this rain has Spencer and Mittens depressed. They don’t go out much at all. In fact, Mittens goes out more than Spencer. That dog hates rain! Go figure; he loves to swim but hates the rain. Mittens goes outside and gets wet and doesn’t seem to mind. But even Mittens is spending more time stretched out on the back of Will’s new overstuffed chair. I know the feeling.


Oh, by the way, it’s been suggested that I ask all of you for your favorite family traditional recipes for the holiday meals. I thought that was a terrific idea so are any of you willing to share? — Jackie

Jackie Clay

Q and A: Storing carrots and canning soup

Thursday, November 19th, 2015

Storing carrots

I see you talk of keeping carrots in a cooler in basement. Just how do you do this? Do you cure them, wash them, wrap them, put them in sand, or just naked? Please enlighten me.

Deb Clark
Pine River, Wisconsin

I just wash the carrots in cold water and drain well in the sink. The tops have already been twisted off in the garden so they’re topless. After they are drained, I take them down to the basement where we have large, cleaned coolers. I lay them in the coolers and shut the top. This holds in enough humidity in our unheated basement that stays about 40 degrees all winter so the carrots keep quite well. A friend has an extra fridge and holds hers in plastic bags with holes punched in them, overwinter. That’s pretty much the same thing as we use; they like higher humidity and cold temperatures. — Jackie

Canning soup

I’m wanting to can a beef, vegetable, and barley soup. The vegetables I want to use are already dried. Is this a good idea to use dried vegetables in a canning recipe? If so, how would I go about doing it? It seems like I would need more liquid than normal or should I rehydrate the veggies first? Also, I have seen mixed information regarding including barley in canning recipes. Some say that you should not can barley. Any input? Could you tell me how long and at what pressure I should can this soup?

Rebecca Whisonant
Chester, South Carolina

What I do is make up a big batch of beef broth in a stockpot. Then toss in the dehydrated veggies and simmer until they are plumped. Once this is accomplished, add your barley and go ahead and can up the soup. You’ll probably be adding some smaller chunks of beef so you would process 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.) While you should not can barley alone, adding a little to soups is no problem. — Jackie

Jackie Clay

Q and A: canning precooked ham, testing acidity of canned food, and canning pickles with garlic

Wednesday, November 18th, 2015

Canning precooked ham

I would like to know how to can a ham. One you buy pre cooked.

Joanne Kuhlers
Sioux City, Iowa

Canning ham is really easy. Slice ham into fat-free, boneless 1 inch slices or chunks. Cut for fitting into jar or convenient sizes. Very lightly brown in minimal oil then pack hot meat into jars, leaving 1 inch of headspace. Make a broth from the pan drippings. Ladle hot broth over ham, leaving 1 inch of headspace. Remove air bubbles. Process pints and half pints for 75 minutes and quarts for 90 minutes at 10 pounds pressure in a pressure canner. Hint: I can up lots of smaller ham dices in half pints to use in lots of recipes from omelets, scalloped potatoes, soups and many other recipes. Very handy! — Jackie

Testing acidity of canned food

Have you ever seen anything on using test strips to verify the acidity of food you are water bath canning? If this works, what kind of numbers might one look for in a PH test?

Jean Baltes
San Jose, California

Usually folks only use pH test strips when they are selling water bathed foods such as pickles at Farmers Markets as buyers have no way of knowing if the foods were canned properly. If a home canner puts up only family food, I don’t feel these are necessary if the person doing the canning follows the directions of a good modern canning manual, not skipping steps such as adding vinegar or lemon juice when it is listed. Personally, I like to keep things simple yet do it right. — Jackie

Canning pickles with garlic

I have a recipe that I really like for pickled beans (dilly beans) and a recipe for pickled cucumbers. Both of them call for adding one whole peeled clove of garlic to each pint jar then process 5 minutes only. I know garlic is not recommended for pressure canning, but is it okay pickled? We have made and eaten both of these types of pickles before, but after reading that garlic should not be canned, I am now worried. And can you please explain if and why it is necessary to boil properly pressure canned food before eating it? It seems that anything should be killed by the pressure canning process. I would like to just dump my green beans into a skillet with some onions. Also just wanted to let you know that I love your books and re-read them whenever I am feeling discouraged.

Jennifer Owens
Middlefield, Ohio

Don’t worry about adding cloves of garlic to your pickle recipes. The acid in the vinegar makes them safe. The “don’t can garlic” is for canning garlic as a sole ingredient of the jar. I’ve been adding cloves of garlic to my recipes for decades and I’m still kickin’. Seriously, all modern canning books contain recipes for pickles with garlic cloves added so be at ease.

The “boil before eating” is just a second safeguard against any possible botulism. But you don’t have to boil the beans, etc. Just heating them to boiling temperature via roasting, baking or frying works just fine. — Jackie

Jackie Clay

Where the heck’s the sun?

Tuesday, November 17th, 2015


We got hammered a few days ago with a sloppy, wet snow. True, it wasn’t cold but we didn’t want to see white. Luckily, after a day’s time, it slowly warmed up and the snow went away. But as we listen to the weather radio every morning, we heard that we were going to have a nice sunny, warm two days, then it would start raining again and then turn to more snow. When the snow went away, Will went into “get the trucks fixed” mode. First off was our plow truck. The brake rotor had exploded when he came up our driveway a few weeks ago, falling out onto the dirt in pieces. After a few false starts getting the wrong parts, he got that fixed in a day’s time.


Then it was on to “Old Blue,” our Chevy pickup; its clutch quit working when Will got home from trailering our neighbor’s bull here to romance our cows. As I’m the official go-fer, I spent a lot of those nice days running for parts. But both jobs got done with no major hitches.

In the meantime, I got busy and put vole protection around our fruit trees and honeyberry bushes. We had no voles last winter but Mittens caught a nice fat one yesterday so they’re around and can do SO much damage under the snow. I wrapped tree trunks with hardware cloth and window screen then cut the bottoms out of some two-gallon nursery pots to use as protection around our smaller honeyberry bushes we just planted this year. I’ve still got one more tree to do because our Bali cherry tree grew so much that the protective wrap we used for a couple of years no longer covers the entire trunk. It’d be just my luck to have the little buggers eat all of the bark up that crack. If it stops raining I’ll get screen around that tree too.

Today Will’s busy insulating the enclosed, unheated back porch to help keep it warmer, which will also help keep the house warmer. We’re all for that. We started off bringing in firewood and then he decided that before we filled it up we’d better get that insulation in. First things first. At least working on that job is NOT out in the rain and mud.

Our rain’s going to turn to snow as the temps drop to normal and if the amount of rain we’ve been getting is any indication, we’ll have plenty of snow this winter. But that’s what the beavers said. — Jackie

Jackie Clay

We have a new four-wheeler

Thursday, November 12th, 2015

Our old four wheeler died and we sure missed it a lot. No, it wasn’t a “toy.” We used it on the homestead for everything from hauling in firewood to seeding our pastures. We hauled in our harvest, brought home deer from successful hunts, strung fence, carried lumber, used it for transportation when we were in the camping stage on our new land (our more-than-a-mile that used to be pretty bad), ran back and forth from various places on our homestead for tools and other supplies, and much more. So when the old Big Bear died, we sorely missed it.

Luckily for us, my oldest son, Bill, told us he was going to sell his ATV because with four in his family, he seldom used it any more. I asked him how much he would want for it and the deal was made. He even let us take it home before we could pay. (I guess he trusts us.) Even though my bad knee has been feeling much better lately, I was SO happy to have “wheels” again. And it’s an automatic so I don’t have to shift with that bad leg! I’m in heaven!


Today Will’s over at our friend’s place running a big excavator Darryl borrowed from work. They’re tearing out a lot of brush which had grown onto the hayfield from years of renters of the hay ground only taking the “best” hay, not clipping off the young shoots of brush at each cutting. Now there’s acres of brush crowding the hayfield. Will has already removed a whole lot of it and the excavator will be a big help. It may seem that because we live way back in the woods we’re hermits. Not so. We’re a part of the community and try to do our share to help out friends where help is needed. It makes the world a better place. And the old saying “what comes around goes around” is sure true!


Meanwhile, I’m still harvesting squash, pumpkin, and watermelon seeds. I finished up the very last tomatoes yesterday and I can’t say that I’m sorry. Whew! Oh, by the way, I’ve been updating our Seed Treasures website (see box at top of blog), adding a whole lot of new varieties we’ve grown, and are offering for the next growing season. So if you’re already thinking about what you’d like to grow next year, browse through the seed listing. We are putting together a better seed listing in catalog format but that’s not done yet. — Jackie

Jackie Clay

We’re into the “gettin’ ready for winter” mode

Tuesday, November 10th, 2015

Although we have the woodshed stuffed full, which is about two years’ worth, we are now filling our enclosed back porch with small wood. (This is the popple sapling poles that Will saves when he clears or thins a patch of woods.) This small wood is often just piled and burned by those less frugal. But we find it such good kindling and kitchen stove wood we just can’t do that. We usually pile about a cord and half on the enclosed porch plus a little bigger split wood for nasty days or when we are sick and don’t feel like bringing in wood from the wood shed.


Of course, Hondo and Spencer help by carrying in wood. They love it and the small wood is a light burden for them. Mittens is there too, supervising from a spot above the noisy, panting dogs, just to make sure it’s stacked just right and that no mice get in while the door’s open.


My oldest son, Bill, works for Oak Lake Campground and RV, a quite large RV dealership. A while back, a man with a big motor home bought a new high-end double door propane/DC refrigerator as his older one had issues when he wintered in the South. In the North it worked just fine. As we live in the North, Bill thought of us and when David went down to visit, he brought the fridge up. Wow! After living years and years with a small propane fridge, a BIG, two-door refrigerator with a double-door freezer looks like heaven to me!


Will is putting it together and working on how to best fit it into our kitchen. We’ll keep the small one too but I’m thrilled to soon be able to have plenty of refrigeration without having to stack things precariously. Thank you Bill! — Jackie


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