Top Navigation  
U.S. Flag waving
Office Hours Momday - Friday  8 am - 5 pm Pacific 1-800-835-2418
Facebook   YouTube   Twitter
Backwoods Home Magazine, self-reliance, homesteading, off-grid

 Home Page
 Current Issue
 Article Index
 Author Index
 Previous Issues
 Print Display Ads
 Print Classifieds
 Free Stuff
 Home Energy

General Store
 Ordering Info
 Kindle Subscriptions
 Kindle Publications
 Back Issues
 Help Yourself
 All Specials
 Classified Ad

 Web Site Ads
 Magazine Ads

BHM Blogs
 Ask Jackie Clay
 Massad Ayoob
 Claire Wolfe
 James Kash
 Where We Live
 Behind The Scenes
 Dave on Twitter
Retired Blogs
 Oliver Del Signore
 David Lee
 Energy Questions

Quick Links
 Home Energy Info
 Jackie Clay
 Ask Jackie Online
 Dave Duffy
 Massad Ayoob
 John Silveira
 Claire Wolfe

Forum / Chat
 Forum/Chat Info
 Enter Forum
 Lost Password

More Features
 Contact Us/
 Change of Address
 Write For BHM
 Meet The Staff
 Meet The Authors
 Disclaimer and
 Privacy Policy

Retired Features
 Country Moments
 Radio Show

Link to BHM

Ask Jackie headline

Want to Comment on a blog post? Look for and click on the blue No Comments or # Comments at the end of each post. Please note that Jackie does not respond to questions posted as Comments. Click Below to ask Jackie a question.

Click here to ask Jackie a question!
Jackie Clay answers questions for BHM Subscribers & Customers
on any aspect of low-tech, self-reliant living.

Read the old Ask Jackie Online columns
Read Ask Jackie print columns

Archive for the ‘Gardening’ Category

Jackie Clay

What do you get when you cross a Hopi Pale Grey and a Marina Di Chioggia squash?

Thursday, January 22nd, 2015

Nothing like you’d imagine! Hopi Pale Grey is football shaped with a “belly button” on the blossom end. Marina Di Chioggia is pumpkin shaped, dark green and warted. My friend grew the two C. maximas, which crossed and resulted in a plant that produced nine unusual orange w/green squash with a big “belly button.” We both kept a squash, then this week, we tried baking them. They were quite good. So we saved our seeds and will play around with them this spring and see if we can stabilize the characteristics such as taste and color, creating a “new” squash of our own. What fun!

Monday, a UPS truck came rolling into the yard and the driver handed me a flat box. I had not ordered anything so was puzzled. On opening it, I was surprised to see two copies of my Western, Summer of the Eagles. They were proof copies for Will and me to check over for mistakes before the real deal hits the presses. We were pretty excited to see what the (nearly) finished package would look like. So we’ve been busy editing for mistakes (typos, etc.) and finding just a few. Soon it’ll be ready for the presses to run! How cool is that?

I’m getting ready to fly to Aberdeen, South Dakota, early Thursday morning. Whew! Canning when I get back will seem like a vacation! Hope to see some of you there. Come up and say hi! — Jackie

Jackie Clay

Q and A: adding eggshells to your compost and canning chili peppers

Saturday, January 17th, 2015

Adding eggshells to your compost

Do I need to pre-treat eggshells before adding them to my garden as compost? I feel like I’m wasting something when I just burn them or throw them out. We have our own chickens, which are pasture raised — and the eggs are wonderful.

Ellie Schubert
Alton, Missouri

No, you don’t need to do a thing. You can just set them out in an old carton until they are nice and dry then crush them and put them in a bucket until you can sprinkle them on your garden or dig them into your compost pile. Crushed egg shells add calcium to the soil and help prevent such problems as blossom end rot in tomatoes and squash. Good for you for thinking of it! Waste not; want not is our motto. — Jackie

Canning chili peppers

I want to know if I can water bath Anaheim chili peppers and be safe? I would use half-pint jars.

Troy Stafford
Gold Hill, Oregon

No, all vegetables and meats MUST be pressure canned. You can pickle peppers such as Anaheims or dry them safely too. When pickling peppers, you will be using a water bath canner. They are awesome, canned, so if you don’t already have a pressure canner, maybe this would be the time to invest. You’ll be so glad you did! — Jackie

Jackie Clay

Q and A: training a heifer to milk, powdery mildew, and ordering seeds

Wednesday, January 14th, 2015

Training a heifer to milk

We have a Jersey heifer that calved about three weeks ago. I am having a terrible time milking her. She was so gentle that I free milk her, with only grain put in the manger and a little hay. Suddenly she is kicking every time I try to milk her, which usually ends up with a dirty foot in the milk pail. I have looked at her teats, they are not cracked. I keep my nails short and try to make sure my hands aren’t to rough. I pen the calf away from her at night and after milking her let him back out. I receive about ½ gallon of milk from her, but once he is let out she lets down a lot more milk, so I try to milk a teat while he is eating from the others. I have tried to tie her back leg to the stall, and she went crazy. She kicked and kicked until it came loose then she went up the wall and got stuck between the boards with her hooves. My husband had to loosen boards so we could get her out. I worked with her the whole time she was expecting, by pretend milking, brushing and consistent hands on training. I am a first time milker, as she is a first time being milked but I don’t think I am milking her wrong, as at first she was fine. She never kicks when I clean her udder before milking, but when she runs out of grain, that tail begins switching and she starts to kick. I am at wits end. My questions are: Do you know of anything I can do to prevent the kicking? Am I getting the normal amount of milk, or should I be getting more? What could be going wrong with her?

Mary Ann Nelson
Franklin, West Virginia

I hate to tell you but your heifer is training you. She wants all her milk to go to her calf and has figured out that if she kicks and creates a fuss, you’ll let her calf eat. It isn’t rough hands or nails or your milking technique. To stop this behavior, you’re going to have to take charge. To do this, take the calf away and bottle feed it from the mom’s milk after you’ve milked her. First of all, put her in a stanchion to milk her to contain her movements. This can be a regular dairy stanchion or one you build out of 2×4 lumber. To get her to stand still, here are a few things you can do: You can first try giving her more grain, even if it’s just oats, so she is eating while you milk. If that doesn’t do it, you can try hobbling her. I’ve stopped a lot of cows from kicking by making a lariat out of a length of soft nylon or poly ½-inch rope then slipping it in a figure 8 around her legs, just above her hocks. Either tie the end of the rope to a post behind her with a slip knot or, better yet, have your husband wrap it around the post and hold the end tightly. She may kick and swing around a little, getting used to the hobble but when she gets used to it, you will be able to milk without having her kick in the bucket. Then you can switch to just tying a shorter rope in a figure 8 around her hocks while you milk.

Another variation is to use the “Kick-Stop,” ( ) which is a lightweight pipe frame that slips down over her back, along her sides, right in front of the hind legs. It puts pressure on the nerves in the upper back, making kicking nearly impossible. It does not hurt the cow a bit.

Once she learns that you are going to milk her, no matter what she does, she’ll learn to stand like a pro. I had a goat named Fawn who was a first freshener and the absolute worst milking goat in history. She kicked like a mule. She threw herself off the stanchion and tried to hang herself. She laid down when I tried to milk her. It took both Will and me to even catch her and lift her onto the milk stand. But I kept on milking. When she laid down, I milked her into a pop bottle, lying down. When she kicked, I deflected her kicks with my arm and kept milking. When she threw herself off the stand, I lifted her back up and returned to milking. She was like this for nearly a month. Then she suddenly quit. No more bad behavior. She turned out to be the best milker I ever owned! Who’d have thought? We called her our Rodeo Queen. The key is not to stop milking, no matter what. Hang in there and you’ll get her trained yet. — Jackie

Powdery mildew

My pumpkins, squash and cucumbers all took a hit from powdery mildew this summer. Any tips on how to combat this for my 2015 garden?

Katie Gilbert
Milo, Iowa

Powdery mildew is impossible to totally prevent but there’s a lot you can do to avoid taking a hit because of it. First off, if you remove all infected plants and vines from your garden and burn them, you’ll do a lot to head it off the next year. The spores are wintered over in dead plants and vines, spreading the infection in the next growing season. Do not compost the vines — if your compost pile is not hot enough, the spores will spread. Plant your vines where they get full sun and lots of air circulation, even if it means planting them farther apart. Water from drip lines or soaker hoses so the roots get moisture but not the leaves as dampness helps increase the fungus. You can try spraying your vines with a mixture of one part milk to 8 parts water. Many folks swear by this. Or spray with a mixture of 4 tsp. baking soda to a gallon of water, which raises the pH which weakens the spores. These sprays must be repeated after each rain. If you see the typical dusty white leaves of powdery mildew, cut them off right away and burn them. This won’t cure the disease but it will help retard the development and strength of the infection. Good luck this year. — Jackie

Ordering seeds

Can you send me the website to order your seeds. I thought I saved it, but, no … Also, I plant organic, so are there seed companies that you recommend, other than your seeds?

Melody from New York

Our website is Some of our favorite seed companies are: Sand Hill Preservation Center, Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, Seed Savers Exchange, and Fedco Seeds.

Jackie Clay

Q and A: canning in half-gallon jars, over-mature green beans, and storing dehydrated foods

Thursday, January 8th, 2015

Canning in half-gallon jars

Do you can anything at all in jars larger than quart size? I would like to use ½ gallon jars for soups and some veggies.

Judi Almand
Brandon, Florida

I used to can soups, fruit, juices, and pickles in half gallon jars. But then I used to have 8 kids at home with big farm appetites. Although it is not recommended to can in half gallon jars now, I wouldn’t be afraid to do so IF it was a very liquid food like soup or fruit juice. And I would extend the processing time as the jars are double the size of a quart. But I can’t “recommend” that you do this for obvious reasons. — Jackie

Over-mature green beans

I ended up with over-mature green beans that dried on the vine this year. Can they be shelled and used as a dry bean? If so, any recipe ideas?

Kevin Johnson
Waxhaw, North Carolina

Oh yes! Most green beans work very well as dry beans. In fact, I always grow a few extra rows of Provider green beans so that I can leave them mature and dry on the vine to use as dry beans during the winter. You can use these beans in any recipe you’d use navy, pinto, or Great northern type beans, from chili to baked beans, soups, and bean soups. Enjoy! — Jackie

Storing dehydrated foods

If putting dehydrated fruit, vegetables or meat into jars do they have to be vacuum sealed? Oven sealed? Canned? Pressure or water bath?

Deborah Harvey
Youngstown, Ohio

No, you don’t have to do anything special to store your dehydrated foods. Just keep them safe from moisture, insects, and rodents and they’ll last for years and years. I store ours in glass jars and popcorn tins. Keeping the foods in a dark location prevents discoloration. — Jackie

Jackie Clay

Mittens not only kills mice and rabbits, but weasels too

Wednesday, January 7th, 2015

Our little half-pint kitty, Mittens, has turned out to be a very efficient homestead varmint catcher. She’s caught hundreds of mice, voles and shrews, several full-sized rabbits and lately, she’s caught three weasels! Now weasels are pretty tough customers, being able to kill full-sized rabbits even though they only weigh a few ounces. We really do like weasels as they are not only pretty but very good mousers in their own right. Unfortunately, they also eat eggs and kill chickens. (Long ago one weasel wiped out my fancy pheasants and six purebred rabbits in one night.)

So when Mittens brings in weasels as well as voles, mice, and shrews, we’re pleased and pretty surprised too.

It’s been cold these past few days with wind chill temperatures down to -50, so we do chores, tuck in our critters and find plenty to do inside! We’re already starting to order a few fruit trees. St. Lawrence Nurseries carries an Ely pear, which is grafted from a pear in nearby Ely that has been standing there for more than 100 years. We really want one for ourselves! But the owners of St. Lawrence Nurseries are retiring and we don’t know if we’ll ever get a chance to get it again, so we’re ordering early.

Although it may seem strange, we’re starting to “think spring.” I’ve got a speaking engagement down in Aberdeen, SD, at the Northern Plains Sustainable Agriculture Conference from Jan 22rd to 24th. So if you’re in the area, I’d love for you to stop by and say hi! I have an all afternoon, pre-conference workshop on the 22nd and others the following two days so I’ll be busy. But there’ll be plenty of time to visit between and after workshops.

Then in February, it’s time to start some peppers and petunias. — Jackie

Jackie Clay

We count our blessings as Christmas nears

Saturday, December 20th, 2014

We’re really grateful for so many different things. We are grateful for each other and for this wonderful homestead that just keeps getting better every day.

When I think of moving here in 2003, in February, when there was nothing but small trees, old logs and stumps with big woods all around and all we’ve accomplished it doesn’t seem possible: the log house, huge storage building, big gardens, berry patch, orchard, tons of fencing, fenced pig pastures or extra garden (whichever is needed), a training ring and adjacent barn, clearing two pastures, then the third huge one on the new forty acres we bought three years ago, plowing and planting many acres, buying haying equipment, and building the new barn.

Stocking up the pantry after nearly depleting it after our move here is beyond belief. We’re eating our own home-raised pork, chicken, eggs, milk, and beef along with some canned venison from last year as well as plenty of fruits and vegetables from our homestead.

The bread we bake is from flour we grind and after that bout with diverticulitis, I’m SO happy to be able to eat whole wheat bread again! It’s like a celebration, pulling a loaf out of the oven. We never take things for granted but appreciate every single day. — Jackie

Jackie Clay

We’ll have a white Christmas

Wednesday, December 17th, 2014


After a day without snow and rain, which is unheard of here in northern Minnesota this time of the year, we got a two-inch snowfall. Luckily, today the sun’s out and it’s pretty and not too cold. Our critters are happy and fat and seem to enjoy the fresh snow. The horses are running around bucking and playing and even the cows are joining them. (It’s pretty funny to see a big cow with her bag swinging back and forth, bucking and jumping with her tail kinked up in the air!)

We knew the snow was coming so we carried in extra wood and while I ran to town for feed, Will brought in the Christmas tree and got it set up. It seems like every year we have a prettier tree! This year, it’s a locally grown pine. Our own Christmas tree selection is dim; some nice trees are too big and others, too small. Maybe next year we can go out and cut our own again. But we’re happy to have a neighbor to the North that has a small Christmas tree farm. We get a nice fresh tree and keep the bucks local!

I’m excited; we’ll be picking up our beef from the processing plant on Friday! We’ve sold seven quarters of our natural beef, saving a quarter for ourselves. So I’ll be delivering beef Friday and Saturday as well as bringing ours home. Yum, I can’t wait! (We’ve also started selling quarters and halves from the next two butcher steers. Many are repeat customers, so that makes us feel good.)

Keep watching the box at the top of the blog as our new seed business, which we’ve named SEED TREASURES (we believe seeds are more valuable than gold), is up and running with many more selections this year! Click on the link. But if you can’t open it, just e-mail us at and I’ll see you get a listing. — Jackie

Jackie Clay

New Listing of Heirloom Seeds on Jackie & Will’s new website

Monday, December 15th, 2014
Our homestead seed business is up and going for 2014-2015. We are raising most of our own historical, open-pollinated, definitely non-GMO seeds right here at home in Northern Minnesota. We have many more varieties to offer this year.Our seeds are from beautiful, often rare, wonderful varieties that we love for their production, shining colors, and taste. Some, such as one of our favorites, Hopi Pale Grey squash, is so rare it was teetering on the brink of extinction.
Our prices are right, as is our shipping, so please come take a look at (If you can’t access our website, just e-mail us for the listing!) seedtreasures[at]


Copyright © 1998 - Present by Backwoods Home Magazine. All Rights Reserved.