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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 February, 2016

Jackie Clay

Q and A: dishwashing soap, sewing machine cabinet, seminar, and carrot seeds

Wednesday, February 24th, 2016

Dishwashing soap, Good turkey breed, and housing ducks

Do you have a recipe for homemade hand dishwashing soap? I use my soap scrapes to make laundry soap, but haven’t had any luck for dishes. In your opinion what would be a good heritage turkey breed for the homestead?

Also, maybe an “ask the reader topic,” it would be really interesting to see how people house their ducks and deal with water for them, my golly are they messy!

The tomato seeds we ordered from you are coming up great in the greenhouse!

Tami Hoenig
Port Orchard, Washington

Sorry, but I haven’t yet tried a recipe for homemade dishwashing soap that I like. I’m still looking so any readers who have a favorite recipe, how about sharing it with Tami and me. I like several heritage turkeys, including Slate, Narragansett, and Bourbon Reds. If you want a smaller turkey (15 pounds or so), the black and white Royal Palm is nice.

As for the ducks, yep, they ARE messy, which is why it’s best not to house them with chickens and/or turkeys. We’ve had luck using an automatic, dish-type watering bowl. The ducks can’t really get into it or even really wet their heads, trying to take a bath in the water. But they still do waste quite a bit, causing a muddy spot under the waterer.

Glad to hear your tomato seeds are coming up well. I’m always so excited when ours start to pop up! — Jackie

Sewing machine cabinet

I purchased my wife a Janome 712T sewing machine and she got an old cabinet. But we discovered that the top section that holds the machine is falling apart. I once came across a company that was making new tops for old cabinets, but I can’t find them now. Any ideas who they might be?

Alan Wuertenberg
Salisbury, Maryland

Golly, Alan, I don’t know. How about it readers? Can someone help Alan find the company he needs? Any other ideas? — Jackie


I just bought land here in the Tuolumne county area. My mind is going in circles, but I think by looking at some answers you have given other people, I can figure out what I should do first. My question though is whether you are going to have a demonstration time on your property this year? And if so, when?

Bette Axiak
Jamestown, California

We aren’t planning a seminar this year. Two suggestions: If you’d like to come out and visit our place, we’d sure be happy to show you around and give you some tips and let you see how we do things here. And/or you could pick up my book Homesteading Simplified; How to live the good life without losing your mind from BHM. It’s full of just the kind of advice/ideas you need. And this is one reason I wrote the book. Even with seasoned homesteaders, sometimes folks become overwhelmed and spin in circles. I’ve tried to lift that burden. — Jackie

Carrot seeds

We are trying to find the Napoli carrot seeds that can be planted late summer or early fall and then pulled out to eat in the winter. We had called a place in Maine and they sent us some nonhybrid seeds, but they are not what we want. We prefer non hybrid seeds. Do you know where we can get these seeds or something similar that would overwinter?

Katrina Penka
Hoisington, Kansas

Napoli carrots are a F1 hybrid. You’ll find seeds for them in High Mowing and Fedco catalogs or online websites. Many carrots can be overwintered in milder climates and even more severe ones, if well mulched. We’ve had several folks overwinter Kuroda carrots by planting in the late summer. They’re a sweet, larger carrot that is very hardy. — Jackie

Jackie Clay

Take a look at Becky’s tomato!

Tuesday, February 23rd, 2016


Becky B. sent us this photo of her Bill Bean tomato she raised last year from our seeds. Isn’t it pretty? And BIG too! — Good job, Becky!

I baked up half a ham and got 16 jars full of ham dices and pieces. Today I’m boiling the bone and will be canning up pints of bean and ham soup. As spring is coming, I need to empty our freezer, which we can’t keep running during the summer. That means eating/canning everything that is in it. I’ve made a good start on it and next will be mixing up some Italian sausage from our ground pork to can as crumbles. I use this on pizzas and in spaghetti sauce, among other things.


I had to laugh at Hondo last night. I had been looking at several seed catalogs and he fell asleep upside down on the couch, right by the Fedco catalog. I think he was reading it then drifted off!


We’ve got four more inches of new snow today so Will and Hondo are out plowing the driveway. We’ve got a butcher steer scheduled to butcher tomorrow so we’ll need to get him loaded this afternoon. We helped a neighbor yesterday do that same thing. But all did not go well. The animal jumped out over the fence, knocking my friend Jeri down. Luckily she wasn’t hurt bad but we ended up taking four hours to get the bugger in the trailer! Will was about pooped out, trying to head the cow off on foot through deep snow in the pasture. Our friend Sam was trying to help, too and we were worried about him because he has already had a couple of heart attacks, a knee replacement, and another bad knee to boot. We were sure glad when we were done and the cow was in the trailer … and no one was hurt. — Jackie

Jackie Clay

Q and A: good seeds and city sewers

Saturday, February 20th, 2016

Good seeds

I do not have a question, just wanted to tell everyone how wonderful your seeds are! I bought many kinds from you last year. The “Dragon’s Tongue” bush beans were fantastic — so tender, beautiful on the bush and boy do they ever out the beans! Your “Provider” beans were the same — I canned over 63 jars of just the Providers, ate many fresh, gave some away and still had many left over for seed.

Carol Seldomridge
Rigby, Idaho

Thank you so much Carol! It’s always great to hear from folks who have liked our seeds. We try to only offer ones we grow and love ourselves. — Jackie

City sewers

I live in Mesa, Arizona, about 65 miles east of Palo Verde Nuclear Power Plant. We don’t have earthquakes or other natural disasters, other than 115 degree (or more) summers. I figure the power plant would be the most likely emergency if attacked by terrorists. Without that plant, the drain on the electric grid would cause blackouts.

I’ve been stocking up on all the usual emergency supplies but there are some things I can’t figure out how to prepare for. If the electricity is out throughout the area for weeks (or more) are the city sewers going to back up? That was mentioned in something I read. I know they won’t work, but am I going to have to deal with backed up toilets? Also, how do I keep cool without electricity or running water? People here die from the heat. Even at night, it can be in the high 90s. My immediate area once lost electricity for over 8 hours in August. I wore my swim suit and hosed down periodically. But that wouldn’t be possible with total loss of electricity in a much larger area for weeks or longer, as the water won’t be running. A wading pool would be too warm within a couple of hours. A generator isn’t the answer, as the houses are close and everyone would be on my doorstep. I can’t provide for thousands of people. I’m 73, retired, and on a fixed income.


Most sewage systems rely chiefly on gravity which will allow them to function during a relatively short power outage. However if it is long-lasting, many have grinders and lift stations where the sewer pipes must go uphill for a short distance. These are run by power. Most plants have emergency backup generators which will help for awhile … until there isn’t any more gasoline or diesel available. It won’t cause your toilet to back up but it won’t flush down the stuff you put in it. THAT would cause it to back up, provided you have enough water to flush it in the first place. You can use a five-gallon bucket with a toilet seat and lid. Place a plastic bag in the bucket and add three inches of wood shavings. Use that bucket for “solids” and another one for urine only. (You can simply pour out the urine around your trees during the evening — discretely, of course.) After each use put a couple of handfuls of shavings on top. When the bag is full, tie it shut and stack it out of sight. This gives you a non-water, cheap solution to the potty problem. I’ve used it and it works great. Tip: Use a paper bag inside a wastebasket for toilet paper. It slows down the fill on the bucket and you can place the full bags inside a plastic bag, tying it shut.

Think about how you’ll store sufficient water to get you by for quite awhile. If you have a garage, you could install one or two 300-gallon vertical poly water storage tanks and keep them full. (Nobody knows when an emergency will happen!) A simple wash basin in the house and a washcloth will do wonders to help keep you cool in the summer and yet not use much water. The same with a few gallons in the bathtub (not warmed by the sun). Don’t change the water every time you cool off; you’ll use too much water.

If possible, install more insulation in your home. When we lived in New Mexico, our old house had zero insulation and was hotter than blazes in the summer (we had no air conditioning either). We also froze in the winter. But just adding plenty of insulation in the attic made a huge difference. But, of course, summer was still hot. We spent afternoons taking it easy — siesta time. Work was done early in the morning and later in the afternoon/evening. Don’t discount the wading pool but have a deeper one. I used to sit in our retired stock tank in the afternoons that were real hot. It sure helped me feel cooler. (That tank was two feet deep and about 10 feet in diameter, on the north side of the barn where it got some shade in the afternoon.) Just use common sense and don’t over-do when it’s hot. — Jackie

Jackie Clay

It actually thawed today!

Friday, February 19th, 2016

Okay, so that was after freezing rain. But, hey, rain is better than the white stuff after all winter, (There are rumors of 40 degrees later on this week!)

I got a kick out of watching a nuthatch this morning. He hogged the feeder, driving the chickadees and sparrows away. Then he’d grab a seed and peck it open on the fence next to the feeder. If someone else showed up, he’d fly at the “intruder” then go back to his seed. (I wonder how much a tiny nuthatch can eat?) We’re really getting spring fever! We fed big round bales today and the sun came out. It felt SO good! The big cows were bucking and running around like calves, so it’s not just me. Then Will popped a front tire on a tree branch. Luckily, he had previously bought a couple of front tractor tires from our friend Wally and by the time I went to town to mail seed orders and buy feed, he had it fixed and we resumed our feeding. Not so bad, after all.


Last night I was browsing Dancy Daylily’s online catalog and ended up with two pages I wrote down of ones I “just have to have.” I will just pick a few as I’m not independently wealthy.


I got out my pepper seeds and am trying to decide which ones we’ll grow this year. We’ll grow fewer varieties but save more seed. As peppers can be insect-pollinated, we will have to put netting over the pepper plants to keep out insects. Luckily, peppers are chiefly self-pollinated so under the netting they will be able to do their thing and make peppers. We’ve got some really nice peppers already and will add some to that. The mini greenhouse comes up tomorrow and I’ll start seeding! — Jackie

Jackie Clay

Q and A: blower for wood stove and old honey

Thursday, February 18th, 2016

Blower for wood stove

I have a question about our woodburning stove. We have had it for three years now and it has a blower on it. Unfortunately the blower rarely turns on even though the fire is roaring. When it does click on, it doesn’t stay on for more than a few minutes.

Is there a way to make the blower stay on continuously? Our cabin is not benefiting from the many logs we have burned as the heat does not radiate out to the rest of the house unless the blower is on. Does your woodburner heat your entire house?

Deborah Motylinski
Cadiz, Ohio

Unfortunately, the blowers they put on most wood stoves are inadequate. Ours quit after only a year’s worth of burning. (I think they manufacture them for folks who only use them occasionally.) We ended up just using a box fan on a bucket behind our stove and turning up the speed as needed, manually. You can either go our route or replace the fan. Another option that friends have is the no-electricity fan that sits on top of the wood stove, run by heat alone. They are a bit pricey, which is why we don’t have one yet, costing about $200. Yep, we heat the entire house with our stove. When it is really cold, we also fire up our woodburning kitchen range. The basement is unheated but does stay above freezing which is perfect for storing seeds and our pantry foods as well as bins of root crops, etc. — Jackie

Old honey

I have stored one gallon jars of honey for 10+ years wrapped in brown paper grocery bags. I just took one out to use and I expected it to be crystallized. It was not! Instead it is black and runny almost like molasses. The smell is kinda pungent like molasses but it is honey. What would you think is its condition as far as using it to eat and cook with?

Grey Linker

Although honey can ferment, it usually won’t unless it is not in an airtight container and moisture gets in or the honey had a high moisture content to start with. Some honeys are naturally dark and get black after storage. These are often honeys from buckwheat, knotweed, and some wild trees/flowers. I’d taste the honey and see just how strong it is and if it tastes fermented. Honey seldom “goes bad” and even if it is fermenting, you can still usually use it for cooking/baking. I’ve got 15-year-old honey in quart jars that is crystallized but after warming it looks and tastes just fine. (It’s an experiment of ours!) — Jackie

Jackie Clay

Another snow — but it warmed up

Tuesday, February 16th, 2016


After a week of real sub-zero weather, we were glad to wake up this morning to six inches of new snow and 20 degrees ABOVE zero! After every significant snow, we have a lot of cleaning up to do. Will took Hondo out on the plow truck to clear our driveway while I moved the vehicles around so he could clear their parking spots.

While he plowed, I got out the scoop shovel and cleared the plow berm away from our walkway, the path to the chicken coop, and goat barn. Luckily it was light snow.


Then Will swept the snow off of the Subaru while I fed the chickens and goats. Walking past the pen where our “motley crew” of Angus calves were that Will had bought at the sale barn I was happy to see how much weight they had put on.


We’ve been feeding the birds and still haven’t had any but woodpeckers, chickadees, and nuthatches. I’m always hoping for a cardinal or even some grosbeaks but so far, nothing “fancy.”

I took a half ham out of the freezer last night and hope to be canning a big batch of ham as well as bean soup and maybe some split pea. It’s amazing at how far a big half ham will go!

I’m thinking maybe I’d better seed another Hopi Pale Grey squash again. We’ve got lots of seeds for our little seed business but last time I made two “pumpkin” pies and they were gone in two days (with just the two of us). Life is good. — Jackie

Jackie Clay

Q and A: saving pumpkin seeds, burning garden debris, and runny egg whites

Thursday, February 11th, 2016

Saving pumpkin seeds

I would like to save seeds from Amish Pie Pumpkins we plan to grow this summer. I bought a packet this year (at a big box hardware store) and it has only 2 seeds in it! (so $1 and 10½ cents per seed, ouch!) Anyway, what can I do to keep them from crossing with all the other cucurbits we grow? (zucchini/yellow squash/pickle cukes/Jack o Lantern and Cinderella pumpkins/Jack Be Littles plus mixed gourds) Is it hopeless to get save-able seeds that just might grow true? I know people use baggies and whatnot on corn, but being insect pollinated, what can I do about pumpkins?

Cathy Ostrowski
East Bethany, New York

Pumpkins and squash will not cross with cucumbers. However the three commonly grown species of squash and pumpkins will cross. The three commonly grown species of squash/pumpkins are: C. pepo (often summer squash, some pumpkins, and some squash), C. maxima (often winter squash and larger pumpkins/Jack O’ Lanterns) and C. moschata (some winter squash such as butternut.) If you plant two or more of the same species, they will cross unless you prevent it by either growing only one of each species or hand-pollinating some of the blossoms and marking those blossoms so you can save seed from only the hand-pollinated ones. Amish Pie Pumpkins are C. maximas so they won’t cross with summer squash, gourds, or other Cucurbitas of other species. Hand-pollinating squash/pumpkins is not hard. Early in the morning, take a male flower that is just opening, tear off the petals, then rub the pollen onto the stigma, the raised orange portion of the female blossom. It is important to be able to tell the male from female blossoms. The male blossoms have a long stem and only a flower. The female flowers have a tiny squash or pumpkin just beneath the blossom. Pollinate only freshly-opened female flowers to ensure no insects have been there before you. Then tie the blossom closed to keep insects out; they could possibly carry pollen into the flower. Hand-pollinate several blossoms and loosely tie a marker to each stem so you’ll know which pumpkins/squash are purebred and not crossed. The crossed squash/pumpkins will still look like the seed you bought but will not produce true next year, where the hand-pollinated fruits are pure and will be good candidates for seed saving. — Jackie

Burning garden debris

Is it too late to burn the garden debris on the garden? We have had such wet weather and HIGH winds that we have not been able to burn. Should we just haul it off this year?

Sandra Agostini
Nixa, Missouri

Yes, I’d just haul it off this year but if you have an insect or disease problem I’d make sure it gets buried or burned off of the garden to reduce possible problems this year. — Jackie

Runny egg whites

We have 6 red sexlink chickens for eggs and they are great layers. The problem is: When we boil the eggs the whites are not nice and firm, but mushy and the texture is not suitable for deviled eggs which we like to make for company. We are feeding them oyster shells, layer pellets and chicken scratch. What might we be doing wrong?

Earl & Diane Weber
Frohna, Missouri

Sometimes this is caused by a winter lack of protein in the diet. Why don’t you try just feeding the layer pellets or adding a cheap dry cat food to their feed to substitute for the bugs they would be eating if it were summer instead of winter. Do the egg whites set up if you fry them? If so, why not try adding a tablespoon of salt to the water before boiling the eggs? I’ve heard that people correct the mushy whites that way as the salt raises the boiling water temperature and causes the whites to set up better. Any readers with other ideas? — Jackie

Jackie Clay

Q and A: canning posole and petunia seeds

Wednesday, February 10th, 2016

Canning posole

Have you ever canned posole (or pozole)? I like it, especially when its cold outside, but you just can’t make a small amount. My recipe includes pork loin, red chili, oregano, bay, soaked dry hominy, onions and garlic. I can’t find instructions so I’m hoping you know. What I’ve figured out so far is to make it as usual, chill to remove excess fat, bring it to a boil and fill jars to within 1 inch of the top with plenty of broth so its not too thick and processing it 90 min for quarts at 14lbs pressure. (I’m at 7000′ so need the extra pressure) Any advice will be appreciated.

Franci Osborne
Ignacio, Colorado

Yes, I have canned posole. And you’re right, it’s really good! Just make up a big batch, but don’t cook it as long as you would if you were making it for dinner. Chill and remove excess fat, then reheat to boiling and fill your jars, leaving 1 inch of headspace. Process pints for 75 minutes and quarts for 90 minutes at 14 pounds pressure, as you would any meat recipe, because of your altitude. You can even use previously canned hominy as it doesn’t get mushy when re-canned by itself or in other recipes. — Jackie

Petunia seeds

Reading over the years about your petunias, I am encouraged to try growing my own from seed. I have the same little greenhouse you do, although it sits by an East window and doesn’t get as much sun. Can you suggest best places to purchase petunia seeds (preferably pelleted)?

Carol Elkins
Pueblo, Colorado

I’ve gotten nice pelleted petunia seeds from Veseys Seeds, 800-363-7333. Jung Seed (800-297-3123) also has a wide variety of petunia seeds. Petunia seeds are like dust so you’re wise to get pelleted seed if you want to grow the more expensive Wave Series petunias. As you can imagine, the baby petunia plants are tiny, too and they do require plenty of light so they don’t get leggy. You may get by with the east window greenhouse or you may end up having to put some light directly over them. Good luck. They are quite easily home-raised but you’ll want to get them started pretty soon as they take longer than you’d think to bloom. — Jackie


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