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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 December, 2015

Jackie Clay

Q and A: dehydrating fruits and veggies, canning pepper rings, canning ground beef

Thursday, December 31st, 2015

Dehydrating fruits and veggies

I will be retiring soon from the Navy and my family and I have just started our homesteading journey with five acres, a cabin, and lots of work ahead of us. We are very excited and every job is an accomplishment that one cannot receive with a “normal” job. Anyway, thank you for all your wisdom. We bought all the anthologies, as well as a subscription to Backwoods Home, and read them all the time. REAL and usable advice! My question: We live off grid, as you do, and wonder how you dehydrate your fruits and veggies? I have plans for wood stove dehydrating, but what do you do during the warmer weather?

Judy Silva
Boulder Creek, California

I dehydrate in several ways. First off, I have a table under the six foot long window in our south-facing greenhouse/sunroom. I put cookie sheets of sliced food on it, in single layers, covered with old, clean window screens to keep off bugs and flies. The food usually dries in a day or two in warm weather. I also use my oven, with only the pilot light on, with food on cookie sheets and the door cracked open to allow moisture to leave. When we’re planning on using the generator for awhile, I’ll slice up veggies and use my electric dehydrator to start the food drying. Then, as our house is dry and our climate not humid, the food will usually finish by itself or with another spell of using the generator. This way, as you can see, requires a bit of planning. But it does work for me.

Congratulations on your new homesteading journey! What fun you’ll have! — Jackie

Canning pepper rings

I got a great deal on a gallon of mild banana pepper rings. Can I re-can these?

Robin Putman
Coolville, Ohio

Yes you can. To re-can your pepper rings, drain off the pickling liquid and bring it to a boil. While heating it, pack the pepper rings into clean, hot jars, leaving 1/2 inch of headspace. Ladle boiling liquid over peppers, leaving 1/4 inch of headspace. Remove any bubbles. Process for 10 minutes in a boiling water bath canner. — Jackie

Canning ground beef

I bought a large amount of ground beef and instead of freezing it, I decided to can it. Didn’t go as well as I would have liked. I did 3 batches, first vented in the extreme. Put less in the second batch and had a bit less venting. Finally got the amount to put in right for the last batch, no venting. On the first batch, I waited for the pressure to go to zero and for no more venting from the rocker. But when I opened it, the venting was going on and on two of the jars the plastic Tattler lid was domed up. Is that doming normal? I waited even longer for the second batch to cool and still had venting and doming. I let the last batch cool completely and had no venting. Was it the filling or the opening too soon causing the venting?

In all the jars that didn’t vent, I was shocked at the amount of fat inside. I had drained the meat and used beef broth with little or no fat in it. Is the amount of fat part of my venting problem? I also failed to add any salt to any bottle. I assume that salt or no salt would not influence this.

Erica Kardelis
Helper, Utah

You’re right; adding salt has nothing to do with anything but flavor in canning meats and vegetables.
When you can ground meat with broth, blowing out steam from the jars after canning can be normal, provided the lids then go on to seal. Same with jars which seem to boil forever after taking them out of the canner. If you do like I do and brown the ground meat lightly, then pack it loosely without adding broth, it will not do this and the jars will seal just fine, also giving you a better looking/tasting end product. It isn’t the “recommended” method by experts but sure does the job for me just fine. Unless you grind your own meat, you probably will end up with quite a bit of fat from boughten hamburger; that’s no worry other than sometimes fat will get under the lid of the jar and keep it from sealing normally. It usually doesn’t but it can happen. — Jackie

Jackie Clay

For Christmas I got … the cold from Hell

Wednesday, December 30th, 2015

I suppose I should have been expecting it; Will caught it first, but as Christmas approached, I could feel it coming. I took Vitamin C and zinc, ate plenty of hot peppers, but it still caught me. I didn’t even bake Christmas cookies until Christmas Eve! It was depressing since I usually bake for several days before Christmas. But I got ‘er done. Luckily, David decided to host our family Christmas dinner at his house. I helped out by bringing green bean casserole, providing the pickles, and a cheesecake. And I came early to show him how to do the ham. Then I went to pick up Javid at Orr. We had a real good time visiting, opening presents, and EATING.


Will was in the middle of his cold and fell asleep on the couch after dinner. It was cute with granddaughter, Ava, asleep on the other couch!


Javid will be moving to Cook next week, as there’s an opening for him at the assisted living there. That’ll be much better for all of us as it’ll be easier to visit, pick him up to come home and for him to buzz about town where there’s much more to do than in Orr. Now if I can just shake this nasty cold! I had my flu shot and pneumonia shot but it was a cold that got me down.


Our new fridge is running great and now it’s up against the wall so I’m starting to fill it up. What a great addition that is! Our old Consul is cooling but not normally. The inside fridge temp. is about 50 degrees and the freezer about 20 degrees. Will’s still trying to figure that one out. But he’s not recovered from his cold yet so it may be a while. I don’t care. The new fridge is more than twice as big as the Consul so I sure am not whining.

I’ve still got turkey to can (frozen now) but my giddi-up has gone away for now. Soon though… — Jackie

Jackie Clay

We finally got our Christmas tree up

Monday, December 21st, 2015

We finally got our tree up. David came Sunday and gave us a hand and now it’s feeling Christmas-y. Outside, there’s plenty of snow and its been cold enough.


I’ve got a turkey thawing out and plan on roasting it this afternoon so I can get it canned up. We got our fresh pork back and took the hams, bacons, and a boneless pork loin to Al, our butcher-friend, to smoke. We can’t wait for that to come back.

The new fridge is still working like a champ so I’m real happy about that!

Our wild turkey neighbor seems to be moving in up here on the ridge. She’s here every day now and is even flying into the orchard to mingle with our turkeys. She likes the corn Will and I are putting out for her too.

I’m feeling better after the latest spell of diverticulitis but, boy, does it ever tire me out! You can bet no more popcorn for me. Ever. I sure want to avoid surgery.

Although “canning season” is generally thought to be in the fall, I find myself canning quite a bit during the winter, too. We have canned chicken, turkey, and ham and will be doing more pork soon as well as making bean and split pea soup. I find that if I do a little, often, it’s easy and quick. Painless. And it sure fills up the pantry quickly. — Jackie

Jackie Clay

Q and A: canning with Splenda, slurry on the garden, and priorities for new homesteaders

Friday, December 18th, 2015

Canning with Splenda

I’ve been a canner for my whole life and now must think about sugar intake. Have you had any experience with canning with Splenda? I found a nice BBQ sauce recipe with Splenda.

Paula Sprague
Mead, Washington

I, personally, haven’t canned with Splenda. I do have friends that have, though, and they were happy with the results. As with any new recipes, why don’t you do a small batch, then open a jar and see how you like the results. — Jackie

Slurry on the garden

My neighbor was emptying his slurry tank (dairy farmer) and he knifed some in my garden spots. Is this going to be too hot next spring to plant? Yikes!

Carol Applen
Eyota, Minnesota

Unless it was a lot (many inches or even feet), it should be decomposed enough by spring. If it’s not through the whole plot, I would concentrate planting heavy nitrogen feeders such as corn, beans and squash in those spots; too much nitrogen could cause lots of vines on tomatoes/peppers/potatoes and not so much fruit and/or hairy, multiple roots on carrots and parsnips. Over the long haul, you should come out fine. — Jackie

Priorities for new homesteaders

If you had your time over again and given resources of today, how would you list priorities for a couple of Homesteader Newbies, particularly those of us in our mid-50’s with little to no experience, but with an eye on future security (not necessarily full and complete self-sufficiency), and with somewhat limited physical resources?

Lee S.
Quiet Place in Georgia

I’m not sure of your resources, come starting time. For instance, if your new homestead has buildings, a well, and septic, you’ve got a huge start on what we had when we started here. Basically, our three needs are food, clothing and shelter. The clothing is already in place when we begin homesteading. Included in “food” is water, obviously.

What we’ve always done first is provide shelter. On a new homestead with no existing buildings, this can first be a travel trailer or an inexpensive (we used a free) mobile home, used in “camping mode,” (no water or septic hookups) using an outhouse and hauled water. This frees you up to build. If you can’t afford a complete house, you might consider building a garage, to camp in for a year or more (if your local building codes allow this) while beginning to build your home. Unless you have the finances, this may be owner-built a little at a time or partially contractor-built, such as rough framing then finished by yourselves. This is what I did as I couldn’t afford a turnkey home and was undergoing chemo at the time as well as taking care of my elderly parents — no energy, little money. You also need to think about your own strengths and skills. Some folks in their 50s are rarin’ to go and have had building experience. Dad, in his 50s would have loved building a house and could have done it, slower than he would have at 40, but still accomplished it. He had building experience, strength, and energy at that age. Some folks don’t.

When on a new place, it’s a good idea to ready a garden plot. You may not plant it all in veggies, but get it tilled and keep it that way, no matter what else is going on. My first garden here was only 10×6 feet, now it’s about 3 acres, all totaled. Don’t figure on raising all your own food the first year while building. That just doesn’t work. A little at a time is much better.

Water is the next consideration. If you have a well in place, great! If not, you’ll probably need a well drilled. You can certainly haul water, as we’ve done multiple times, but you really do need your “own” water as it saves plenty of time and fuel money driving to get water. And you’ll need plenty in most climates for gardening.

Once you’re on the path, don’t be overwhelmed. It’s easier to keep marching forward. It took us 10 years to get where we are and it’s been glorious (for the most part). I would seriously consider picking up my book, Homesteading Simplified; Living the Good Life Without Losing Your Mind, through Backwoods Home Magazine. It’s a real good look at things that will save you time, money and energy as you progress forward, from start to finish.

I wish you all the best and please feel free to ask questions along the way. That’s what I’m here for! — Jackie

Jackie Clay

We have a regular visitor

Wednesday, December 16th, 2015

Over the summer and some of the fall, we’ve had occasional visits by a wild turkey hen. She walked in last summer, interested in a couple of our domestic toms that wander around the yard. Then she got spooked and took off. Will saw her in the oat field this fall. We were real excited as wild turkeys are plentiful further south but not up here. They’re very rare. So when this lady showed up recently, we were tremendously excited. Will quickly went and turned a couple of our turkey hens out and spread some corn around in the edge of the driveway. She keeps coming back for more. I think she’s lonely as well as hungry with the snow getting deeper. We’ll keep feed out all winter for her. She’s getting less spooky around us and the dogs. Hopefully, she’ll hatch out some eggs, come spring, and populate our area with more wild turkeys.


I’ve been under the weather again with a bout of diverticulitis. My fault — I ate popcorn. I sure won’t do that again as it’s been quite a while since my last attack. The doctor’s talking surgery and I sure want to avoid that if possible.

Will and I went to get our pork yesterday and take frozen pork down to Bill in Sturgeon Lake. We met him at his lunch break. Luckily, he only lives a very few miles from home so he goes home for lunch. So we had a nice visit and headed home.

Great news! The new refrigerator is working perfectly. Merry Christmas to me — I’m SO excited! What a lot of room. That’s real nice, especially with the holidays coming up. I just love it.

Although I don’t usually browse the internet, a friend, Pam, sent me a real nice Awwww moment link. It sure made my day and I still think of it often and go back to see it again. — Jackie

Jackie Clay

Will finished up our new seed rack

Thursday, December 10th, 2015

I had to run to town for feed and when I got back, Will had the whole seed rack assembled in the sunroom/greenhouse. But when I took hold of one end, I wondered if just the two of us could possibly turn it upright! It was heavy and both of us have bad backs. But Will is a work-smart kind of guy and suggested he lift it a bit from the center, while I stuffed paint cans first under the top corners, one at a time, then repeated it, moving the cans closer to center. That went okay and when it was time to set it upright. I stood on the bottom while he lifted from the top center. As he lifted, I shoved the wheeled bottom toward him and … up it came, easy as pie. Wow, was I ever glad! (I had visions of crashing or a trip to the hospital for Will…) So yesterday, I moved the entire contents of the small, old seed rack, plus seeds from here and there all over the house (it seemed) onto the rack, not only in alphabetical order but also by species groups such as pumpkins/squash, peas, beans, etc. It’s so handy for us to fill orders — now if I can get our seed catalog finished and in to the printers.


(I’ve also been working on a Backwoods Home project too! Can’t tell, but it’s coming along fine.) Will is working on our new fridge, trying to determine just what is wrong. Hopefully we can escape paying $1,000 for a new cooling unit.

Don’t forget to browse through my books when you’re thinking about buying Christmas gifts for your loved ones. (Hint, hint!) Book sales sure help out our homestead efforts every day.

I recently had good news. I’ve been accepted into membership of the Western Writers of America. This is an honor for me, to be sure! — Jackie

Jackie Clay

Q and A: book idea and neutralizing urine odor

Tuesday, December 8th, 2015

Book idea

Just a suggestion for “Will’s Book.” I am re-reading all of your old Ask Jackie columns and enjoying them just as much as the first time I read them. And as I read over them I come across many areas of where Will is either working on equipment or building something, the latest was putting Old Yellers track back on. This is the type of thing that would be wonderful for Will to put into a book. Just explaining how to go about doing something like this. Most of the guys and gal’s out there would not even have any idea how to start a project like that, let alone how to do it.

Lois Lara
Boring, Oregon

Thanks for the idea, Lois. I know what you mean. The first time Old Yeller threw a track, David and I didn’t have a clue as to how to get it back on. And in the process, we lost the steel ball bearing that controls the tensioner! As Dad used to say, “too soon old, too late smart!” Having some info sure does help at times. — Jackie

Neutralizing urine odor

The weather here finally warmed. Last week our county, Modoc, was colder than Barrow Alaska so my goats have been spending a lot of time in doors. Is there anything I can put on the ground (barn has earth floor) that will neutralize the urine smell.

Betsy Ingraham
Davis Creek, California

Many feed stores carry bicarbonate of soda in large bags pretty cheap. It helps a lot to sprinkle that down after cleaning out any old bedding. Another thing you can use is plain old barn lime, also available at feed stores. Both of these products sweeten up the smell a lot. I throw down a bale of pine shavings early in the winter, on top of barn lime. Then I bed with oat straw all winter, adding more as time goes on, keeping a good layer of straw down. This makes a manure pack that, in our climate, does not smell until spring when I clean out the pen. Then, PEE Yeew! If you clean daily or weekly, just sprinkle down lime or baking soda after each cleaning to keep the pen smelling sweet. — Jackie

Jackie Clay

Will’s at it again

Monday, December 7th, 2015

First off, he got our Kawasaki Mule running and running well! Yea Will! He even took me for a speedy ride and then let me drive it. Then he went down the big hill to the barn and tossed two bales of hay in the back and sped right back up the icy, snow-covered hill. He still has a few small things to hook up (choke, starter, etc.) but that’ll be nothing.

And, because we’re offering dozens more varieties of seeds for sale on our little Seed Treasures business, we needed some sort of rack to hold all those plastic shoe boxes containing seeds. Last year we had a smaller one, but no way will that hold all the boxes we need this year. So yesterday, Will started measuring, sawing, and hauling lumber. We still have a big pile of the free ¼-inch and ⅛-inch Russian plywood in the barn, so as the shelves will only be holding very light boxes of seed, he’s making the shelves from that, nailed down to 2×2-inch lumber we cut yesterday on the table saw in the storage barn. We worked on it all day and today, Will’s busy putting it all together. When I get done blogging, I’ll be able to start stocking shelves. It’ll make filling seed orders much faster and more convenient.


I’m starting to receive seed catalogs, as I’m sure most of you are. And already, we’re planning on some new things to add to our garden next year. How exciting. I go downstairs and look at our bulging pantry and feel so blessed. I’ve been hungry in my life and this is SO much better! — Jackie


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