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Archive for the ‘Building’ Category

Jackie Clay

Getting back to “normal” after my trip

Thursday, October 23rd, 2014

My head’s kind of spinning after our road trip to Montana. But I have to laugh. Most people pick up souvenirs like mugs or plates from their trips. I brought home a flat rock for Will and two 50-pound sacks of wheat from Wheat Montana, my favorite company that grows and sells wheat. Their deli/store is at the Three Forks, Montana exit off of the freeway and what a huge, awesome place it is! Not only do they sell wheat and other grains, flours, and cereal, but they also have a wonderful deli where they sell sandwiches, sweet rolls (the size of Texas!), and cookies as well as a huge variety of on-site-baked breads featuring their grain. Wow, I’m impressed!


Meanwhile, it’s back to seed saving. I checked out the Hopi Pale Grey squash seeds I harvested the day before I left. They’re drying very nicely but those huge, fat seeds need quite a long drying time, indeed.


Will’s still working hard on getting the concrete/rock work done on the new barn. We know cold weather’s fast approaching and soon it will be too cold to do this work. Today it’s cloudy, windy, and pretty darned nippy out. Brrrr… Welcome home? — Jackie

Jackie Clay

The sun’s out and we’re making use of the nice day

Wednesday, October 15th, 2014

After a day’s worth of cold, nasty weather, we were real happy to see the sun this morning. It was gorgeous, seeing the fog lifting from the creek, ponds, and the plowed field. Will’s been working alternately on the barn’s stonework and getting ready to do more under our house where our future walkout will be. He’s been digging and digging, as we have great plans for that (usually) boring walkout.

We’re putting in stepped flower beds with mixed slipform rockwork and landscaping blocks under the house which will hold back the side hills. On the outside it’ll be the same with nice flower beds. When done, the effect will be a combination Northwoods and Italian vineyard as I’m planting grapes next to the house that will climb trellises and cross over the entrance to the walkout and go up to climb on the railing of our upper deck.

Of course, the under-the-house flower beds will be quite shady, even if facing south. But I’m going to try hostas and see how that works. With a drip irrigation system runnning off our big irrigation system, it should be pretty and quite labor-free. It will be a nice, shady place to sit in the afternoons and we can look out onto the beaver pond. And we will be able to walk in and out of the basement easily. No more carrying buckets of potatoes, carrots, and onions down the basement stairs! (Of course, we won’t get the door cut in till maybe next year…)

We carried in more squash, pumpkins, and Painted Mountain corn, depositing it on the inside floor of our greenhouse/sunroom. It’s SO pretty I hate to use any of it!

I’m leaving for Montana so pray we have a good trip! And that Will has no problems here on the homestead without his wonderful donkey-catcher wife home to help. — Jackie

Jackie Clay

So much for our nice weather

Monday, October 6th, 2014

After a gorgeous Indian summer, we’re into north country fall rains and the four letter word: SNOW. Yuck! I vote to cancel winter this year — anybody with me? We’re still harvesting; this time it’s cabbages and carrots. Yesterday we got a surprise visit from my oldest son, Bill, and the grandkids. How fun! The kids got to pick out pumpkins from our huge pile in the new barn and then got to pull carrots to take home from our three long rows of HUGE carrots. I never saw such excited kids! I am sure they’d have pulled every one if they had time. We had fun, tossing the tops and split carrots over the fence to the goats, who enjoy harvest time a lot, too.



We had a couple of days of not-so-fun homesteading. Will had been hauling logs out of the woods and had left the woods gate open as the horses and donkeys were shut out of that field. Unfortunately, they got the wire down and got into the field and OUT of the open gate!
The horses came back home during the night but the donkeys got turned around and went the other way, ending up in the neighbor’s woods two miles away as the crow flies. We hunted and tracked while it rained and snowed. We ended up soaked and freezing after hours of donkey-hunting. Then the next morning, we found them and Will ended up leading one while the other one (that we couldn’t catch) followed with me on the four wheeler kind of driving them … three miles through the woods and swamp, then down the road to our driveway home. Boy, were we tired! Homesteading isn’t always all fun, but then there’s always tomorrow.


Today Will’s back at work on the barn’s stonework as it’s starting to get real cold and he wants to get the concrete work finished before it gets too cold to work on it. — Jackie

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



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