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Archive for the ‘Building’ Category

Jackie Clay

Even though it was small, our seminar was a great success

Tuesday, September 16th, 2014


This fall we only had one person attend our canning/homesteading seminar. But I’m sure Erin had fun and learned a lot. And being the only person, she got our undivided personal attention. We canned chicken stew, harvested tomatoes, extracted seeds from tomatoes to save, rinsed fermented tomato seeds and set them to dry, ground tomatoes through the Victorio tomato squeezer, talked extensively about heirloom vegetables and how to save their seeds, toured the orchard and the rest of the homestead, butchered chickens (included the maiden voyage of Will’s tornado clucker plucker, which worked VERY well!), and we answered a ton of questions. It was fun for us too, even though I was only a week past gallbladder surgery.


As usual, we parted on Sunday afternoon feeling a bit lost like we do when a member of our family goes home.


Now it’s back to homesteading, harvesting tomatoes that weren’t frozen by our cold snap, canning, canning, and canning.

Will’s busy installing insulated plywood panels underneath the walls of our addition. In the spring he’ll be starting to build the rock walls on top of the concrete footings using the plywood with wire attached as a backing for the rockwork. We know it’ll look great and keep the wind from whistling under our floor. — Jackie

Jackie Clay

Things are finally getting back to normal

Thursday, July 3rd, 2014

The rains have seemed to quit and we’re getting more caught up (or is it less behind?). Yesterday and today Will poured cement and laid up rock in the lower barn wall’s slipforms. Today, he’s out cutting our first hayfield. It’s only a small patch (4 acres or so). It’s the cleared spot down below the goat pasture that used to be log trash, willow brush, and potholes. Now it’s orchard grass, clover, and birdsfoot trefoil, some six feet tall. We’re not supposed to get rain for a few days so we’ll see…

Meanwhile, I planted our late cabbages, broccoli, and cauliflower and weeded the berry patch. The whole garden looks great! For the first time, we will have sweet corn that’s “knee high by the Fourth of July” here in northern Minnesota. Wow, usually, we’re lucky if it’s six inches high.

We’re anxiously waiting for Mamba (our very-much-a-pet Angus-Holstein heifer that we bred to an All Jersey last summer) to have her calf. She’s a few days late but that’s kind of normal for heifers. Since Lace, our hard-to-breed Shorthorn didn’t get bred last summer, we’ll (hopefully) use Mamba for our milk cow. We’ve been taking extra care to handle her udder and teats and she isn’t too kicky, so we have hopes…


My flowers in the front beds are gorgeous. I have a dozen different peonies all blooming and the delphiniums are just starting. Luckily, they’re so vigorous that they don’t let weeds come in or ignore them when they do pop up.

I promised photos of the rockwork in the barn, so here’s a glimpse from today to see how it’s coming. When it’s finished, we’ll have to go around and mortar up any holes or open places. For now, I think it looks gorgeous and will last forever. Thanks to all who participated in the first laying of stone!


Have a great Independence day and think about the blessings you’ve received along the trail to your own self-reliance. — Jackie

Jackie Clay

Q and A: shelf life of yeast, chicken coop door, and canning pears

Saturday, June 28th, 2014

Shelf life of yeast

I have been searching to find out the shelf life of yeast. I have one jar that is for bread machines. Is it possible to use it to make a regular loaf of bread? I also have active dry yeast but I’m not sure how long is it good for after the expiration date. I grew up on farms. Had my own until circumstances made me go into apartments. I do try to “keep things simple” but do not have a garden. I have learned self-sufficiency for apartment living quite nicely. I had fear of losing my job the last 5 years to perfect this new life style. Now that I have made it to retirement I am going thru my collection of foods. I enjoy all the Jackie Clay emails, Q&A’s and books. Keep up the extremely important work you do. It’s been joy & tears as I’ve watched all your life changes.

D. Whirry
Waukesha, Wisconsin

I’m happy that you’re still homesteading, even though you’re in an apartment. Will was living in an apartment when we met via mail but he still was growing container gardens in his windows, including oak trees and pole beans!

Yes, you can make regular bread from bread machine yeast. It’s the same “animal.” Yeast is usually good when stored at room temperature, for about a year. When frozen, it remains good much longer. I usually have a pound of yeast on the pantry shelf to use daily and another in the freezer. I’m glad you made it to retirement without losing your job. That happens too often today, where one works for years at a “good” job, then is let go when nearing retirement age. Not fair! — Jackie

Chicken coop door

We need a new door on our chicken coop. One with a handle on both sides since we accidentally locked ourselves in it this winter! Thank goodness for neighbors that need a good laugh when they come and let you out! We live in central Wisconsin and had the winter of all winters with lots of cold air this year. (I am sure you know what we are talking about) Our door right now is a piece of plywood. So what kind of door do you have on your chicken coop? I cannot find a picture of it on this blog. Can you suggest how to make one? Do you think plywood with 2x4s will be sturdy enough? Even with a plain plywood door all of these years the ladies have kept themselves warm.

The Bill Bean tomato plants are doing just wonderful from the seed that we bought from you. Can’t wait to try one. Thank you for posting the beaver report. So far I think we have a lot more rain than the beavers planned on. But we do need to make it through July!!
Cindy Hills
Wild Rose, Wisconsin

Our current chicken coop door is made of one-inch rough sawn lumber and 2x4s. I have a hook inside and out so I can’t lock myself in. Although in our chick raising coop, the door kind of drags on the bottom and once it stuck shut with me inside and I had to yell for Will to come let me out, so I know how foolish you felt! When we build our new cordwood, insulated chicken coop we’ll have an insulated door made of 1″ lumber and 2x4s with insulation board sandwiched between layers of 1″ boards for added insulation. And we’ll have a hook inside and out!

I’m glad your Bill Bean tomatoes are doing good. Ours are too. My biggest one is over 3½ feet tall already!

Yeah, those beavers. But, like you say, we still have a lot of summer left over so we’ll see. Right now, we’re having way too much rain. — Jackie

Canning pears

I am confused about canning pears. My neighbor’s tree is loaded (unknown type) and he says I can have all I want. Are they supposed to be fully ripe to can? Did I read that canning pears are picked firm and if so then how do you know when to pick them?

Sheryl Napier
Newport News, Virginia

I can ripe pears. But I do like to eat them when they’re a bit crunchy. You can can them either way. Just eat one to see if it is ripe enough. A ripe pear tastes sweet and juicy. A green one tastes BLECYUCKY. Lucky you, Sheryl! Just think of what you can do with all those pears. — Jackie

Jackie Clay

We’ve got all the tomatoes out of the Wall-O-Waters and caged (staked)

Tuesday, June 17th, 2014

We got our corn (all 49 rows of 250 feet), squash, and pumpkins, 4½ rows (250-foot) of Dakota Pearl potatoes in before the heavy rains a few days ago. We ended up with another 2 inches each day for two days.

I bought more seed potatoes and went out to see if I could plant them but came right home. There were 4 inches of water in the potato trench and I couldn’t walk on the field because it was too muddy. I sure hope the seeds don’t rot in the ground before it dries up. The rain could be a good thing, getting the seeds off to a good start. Or the ground could be too wet and they’ll rot. We’ll see how things work out.

Meanwhile, between rain storms that have continued, Will and I got steel posts pounded in next to the tomatoes, the Wall-O-Waters pulled off of them and wire cages up on nearly all of them. Until we ran out of cages. Oh well, some will just have to be tied up to the stakes. We grew and planted out so many different varieties for our new little seed business that we ran out of cages at 75 plants.


Will has been trying to get our new bigger hoop house up and running between other big projects. We’re late this year because spring was a month late in coming. He’s got the framework all up, trying a few new ideas…chiefly bracing the sides and ridgepole as we may leave the plastic on over winter. Now if it ever quits raining and blowing, he’ll get the plastic on and we can get our crops planted inside.


David and I will be leaving for a week’s trip to Montana to visit my adopted son, Javid, who is recovering from a pressure sore in a nursing home in Helena. He’s in a wheelchair and receives services through the state. If you think you have fewer and fewer freedoms, try being handicapped! They decided that he’d be “better off” in a nursing home permanently instead of his own apartment with a job. You bet he’s not going for that one! He wants to move back to Minnesota to be closer to family and, hopefully, a more disability-friendly state.

So I won’t be able to blog on Wed. Don’t worry, David and I will just be on the road and I’ll be back on Monday. Will is taking care of the homestead while we’re gone and I’m sure he’ll have plenty of new things to show us when we get back. See you soon! — Jackie

Jackie Clay

Q and A: using an incubator, metal roof, using canned rubarb, and growing asparagus

Saturday, June 14th, 2014

Using an incubator

I searched your site for an in-depth article on using an incubator. The article in the previous issue about improving by adding a fan really helped but it did not have any troubleshooting information. I added a small laptop fan and my hatch of 30 eggs increased a lot, I got 20 out of 30, but I did have some problems. The turkey eggs started hatching a few days early (temp?) and then on the actual hatch day a lot more hatched. Most are fine, but a few have a leg issue. I don’t think it’s splay leg, they are on their sides with both legs out to the same side. A few of them overcame this within a day or two but I still have 4 that I am working with. The last few eggs pipped, but are slow to hatch, and now I believe they have died. I know I need a better thermometer with humidity reading on it, but an in-depth article for this would be great. The internet has such varied information I get confused on what is best.

Gayle Rush
Eugene, Missouri

Check out Gail Damerow’s book, Storey’s Guide to Raising Chickens. It has very good information on hatching chicks in an incubator. We have two thermometers in our little incubator. One thing we found out that helped our hatch is to locate your incubator in an area in your house with constant heat. You don’t want it sitting where the temperature fluctuates up and down as the incubator doesn’t always “catch up” and the warmth inside also fluctuates which damages the hatchlings. Don’t give up on those poults with leg problems; David was given a chick with a rigid leg when he was a boy in Montana. He did range of motion exercises every day on that chick and it gained full use of the leg. You can see him with that chick on his head in the BHM handbook on chickens. It was a great pet!

I’ll see what I can come up with for an article on hatching eggs. Keep an eye out. — Jackie

Metal roof

Given you are having good performance from your roofing, who is the manufacturer and what are the specifications for the metal roof ? I am very much enjoying your writings that are such a straight forward relief from the masses available.
John Alderman
Walton County, Georgia

Thank you, John. Our metal roofing on our barn and storage building is Pro-Panel from Lowes. It comes cut to your specific needs and length, right to the inch which was handy for our new barn with several lengths needed, even the short “Dutch eaves” that not only look cute but make the snow fall off of the roof further from the barn walls. Pro-Panel comes in three-foot widths and is quite lightweight and easy to work with. I’ve had some on our goat barn now for eight years and it is wearing very well. — Jackie

Using canned rhubarb and growing asparagus

I canned up all of our extra rhubarb using the directions in your Growing and Canning book. How do I use the rhubarb in recipes since it’s in its own syrup now? Do I treat it like it’s just from the garden in recipes or do I need to account for the sweet syrup factor?
Question 2 is regarding our asparagus patch in its second year. I know you mentioned previously that you can cut the tall stalks below ground to encourage more shoots, but once I’ve harvested all I’ll get this spring, should I cut the tall fronds or just leave them alone through the summer?

Wendy Hause
Gregory, Michigan

I generally drain about half of the juice off of the rhubarb and that seems to work out about right for most recipes. (You can make a tasty drink from the rest by adding sparkling or regular water.)

Leave the asparagus ferns in place once you have harvested all you will. The fronds feed the roots during the summer and make stronger and more productive roots. They also trap snow in the winter, ensuring that the asparagus roots receive plenty of moisture, making more shoots, come spring. In the spring, mow the dead stalks down and wait for new shoots to emerge. In the fall, I apply about three inches of rotted manure all over the asparagus bed to provide both mulch and fertilizer for the plants. Don’t do that in the spring though — when the shoots push up through fresh compost you could possibly get E. coli on your shoots. — Jackie

Jackie Clay

Although our attendance was low, we had a wonderful seminar

Monday, June 9th, 2014

With only seven people attending our spring seminar here at our homestead this past weekend, we had a great time. We had folks from as far away as Alaska (Jessi) and Illinois (John and Geri) and all were lovely, fun people. As there were few, we crammed in as much other-than-planned-for workshops as we could and even canned up meatballs in spaghetti sauce.


The weather was great. The forecast was rain, rain, and rain. Luckily, the sun was out and it was gorgeous all three days. Thank you God!

Most folks said they’d definitely be back for another seminar. We parted sadly on Sunday afternoon and evening, having made many new friends in homesteading. I’m sure we’ll all be in contact.


Now Will and I are playing catch-up, switching gears from “getting ready for the seminar” to getting caught up on projects. It sucked that spring was a month late again this year! We’re kind of behind on a lot of things but keep remembering that it got hot fast and it isn’t all that late. I still have carrots and parsnips to plant along with cabbages, broccoli, and cauliflower.


Will thought he had a corn planter all set for us but when he went down to pick it up it turned out to be unusable because of rust so no corn planter. We’re not sure what we’re going to do with that big corn patch now but I’m sure we’ll think of something. One thing we’re good at is switching gears mid-stream! — Jackie

Jackie Clay

With the heat and the rain, boy, do we have bugs!

Thursday, June 5th, 2014

We’ve never had many mosquitoes here but this year I think everyone in Minnesota is complaining about them, us included. So we’re fighting back! We put up eight new birdhouses and have several families of birds already moved in. We have barn and cliff swallows, phoebees, chickadees, and nuthatches, all of which eat bugs. Swallows, especially, eat hundreds of mosquitoes and other not-so-nice bugs every single day. And when they’re feeding a family, that quadruples. So we’re hoping it’ll put a dent in our flying pests pretty soon.


Folks will start arriving for our seminar tomorrow afternoon and evening so we’re getting set. Instead of renting a port-A-potty at $120 a pop for the weekend, Will is putting together an outhouse to use instead. It will smell a whole lot better! And it is a thing of beauty, made from birch plywood (we got it free), home sawn 2x4s and one-inch lumber.


Our onions are popping up and the tomatoes look fantastic. I’m pulling the Wall-O-Waters because many are way out of the top. It’s amazing what heat and rain will do. We’re really ahead of time this year as we usually get cold weather and frosts right up till June 15th.

Well, gotta go. Plenty to do yet and only hours of daylight left. — Jackie

Jackie Clay

Still cold and rainy

Thursday, May 15th, 2014

I wonder if that’s why I haven’t seen any orioles? My friend, Jeri, has had them for three days now and she lives 2½ miles north of us. I freshened up my oranges, mixed new “juice,” but no orange birds. Boo hoo. Maybe tomorrow? We do have rose-breasted grosbeaks and goldfinches though and that’s a plus. I even saw a hummingbird zip by today.


I’m sure when our weather breaks it will be suddenly summer with hot temperatures to contend with. It’s the way it usually goes.

Will’s been working on the barn and digging a ditch for a drainage pipe from our washer and rinse tub to go underground so the graywater won’t flow against our rock wall and under the house. Yesterday I got the wrong fittings and had to go back this morning for 45 degree elbows … not 90s. Oops! We dug the ditch with the handy furrow plow that Will made last year. I man the four wheeler, pulling the plow, and Will holds it in place. Our four wheeler is old and has no brakes and runs roughly. So it’s a picnic trying to go fast enough downhill to dig yet slow enough that I don’t run away with him. And we had to make many trips down the strip, making the furrow deeper and deeper. It’s a wonder we’re still talking!


Just a reminder: We still are running our little seed business and still have everything listed. If you need a list, just e-mail me and I’ll send it to you. — Jackie



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