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
 Back Issues
 Help Yourself
 All Specials
 Classified Ad

 Web Site Ads
 Magazine Ads

BHM Blogs
 Ask Jackie Clay
 Massad Ayoob
 Claire Wolfe
 Where We Live
 Dave on Twitter
Retired Blogs
 Behind The Scenes
 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
 Meet The Staff
 Contact Us/
 Change of Address
 Write For BHM
 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

Another cold snap lets me work inside this week

Thursday, April 17th, 2014

Our temperature dived way down to a low of 7 degrees! Not fun to work outside so I did a lot of transplanting; seven flats worth of tomatoes and four flats of peppers. Boy, does that get my back but in just a few days the tomatoes have shot up and gotten nice and stocky.

I received my order from Sand Hill Preservation Center and planted more tomatoes, which are just coming up. They’ll be a little later but they’ll still be ready to set out in late May (in Wall o’ Waters). And I’ll have more than 27 seed varieties to offer next year.

Singing-tomatoes Sand-Hill-seeds

Will put new chains on the big round baler. He kept breaking chains last summer during haying and that was a huge pain. They’re heavy and hard to thread. (They’re the big chains that drive the bars that make the bales in the bale chamber.) He later found out that someone had replaced the heavier links of the 851 baler chain with those of an 850, which are much lighter weight. Once that was done, he took the weed burner and burned our asparagus patches to get rid of the long dead grass and weeds. It looks so much better already!

Today I went out and refastened the chicken wire to the cattle panels next to the old cow corral. My chickens were escaping and running free. Soon they’ll be in my flower beds scratching dust wallows, then they’ll get in the garden and start pecking at peas, etc. I’ll catch them off their roosts in the goat barn tonight and clip the feathers on their wings, just in case I have some flyers in the bunch.

Will disassembled our three hoop houses. He’s going to build two 12′ x 32′ houses instead of the three 12′ x 16′ ones we have now, putting 6 mil greenhouse plastic on, which is guaranteed for four years. We had ripping during bad winds last year. That’ll be fun having more hoop house space!

I wish each of you a very blessed and joyous Easter! And don’t forget to can up that leftover ham and make bean soup from the bone. — Jackie

Jackie Clay

Our warming trend continues

Thursday, April 10th, 2014

And gee, are we losing snow fast! With the sun out and temps in the high forties and even fifties, our three feet of snow is down to six inches in the orchard and the backyard is nearly snow-free! Hooray!

Yesterday I put out two oriole feeders and a hummingbird feeder. Yes, it is early but those birds send out scouts (usually males) to find good spots and if they don’t find food, they buzz right on to our neighbors who DID put out feeders. One oriole feeder has pegs for orange halves, dishes for grape jelly, and a reservoir for orange nectar. Hey, I’d eat there, myself! Will saw two robins so far and heard a sandhill crane. I saw a pair of eagles and several migratory hawks. And we both saw several geese. So nice!

Meanwhile, Will and I have been picking up “junk” as it becomes uncovered: wood slats that were stickers between layers of lumber, odd chunks of firewood here and there, bags that blew around during the winter, hay strings, etc.

He’s been busy taking out the old chain that makes round bales in our baler as it was very worn. We bought new chains for it and it’s quite a process changing chains without dumping the whole (heavy!) thing in a pile.

I’ve been transplanting tomato seedlings into styrofoam cups in our greenhouse. I love doing it but it is tedious work and gets my back after awhile. I’ve done five flats so far and have another two to go then it’s on to peppers and petunias. Guess what? I found some new flats that were actually made in the U.S.! They were at L & M Supply. While my one oriole feeder was made in China, the other was also made in the U.S. We really pay attention to where things are from these days and will pay more, if necessary, to keep jobs in America. Luckily, the flats were on sale so we got them cheap. Win-win.



Just a note to let you know that we are still selling seeds. There wasn’t room for the new book, our seminar, and the seeds at the top of the blog so one had to go. I know some of you intended to order seeds but just didn’t get around to it yet. If you do, you can e-mail me
( and I’ll send you a seed listing.

Enjoy spring! — Jackie

Jackie Clay

Q and A: fruit tree with thorns and canned rhubarb

Wednesday, April 9th, 2014

Fruit tree with thorns

I was not good about labeling or keeping track of the fruit trees that I planted in my orchard. I have one that has thorns — do you have any idea what it might be? It also might be one that the birds planted.

I would love to come to one of your seminars. I am retiring in 2 months so if there is one in the fall or next year maybe I’ll attend.

Joline Fleming
Rossiter, Pennsylvania

Chances are that your mystery fruit tree is either a plum or pear that has died above the graft and regenerated from below the graft, giving you a “wild” tree from the rootstock. You won’t know for sure until it fruits but no domestic common fruit has thorns. All is not lost because you can always graft more wanted domestic scion wood onto the wildling.

We’d love to have you come to a seminar. We’re planning one in June (see box at top of blog) and another in early September. I’m sure we’ll have at least one seminar next year, as well. (God willing and the creek don’t rise…) — Jackie

Canned rhubarb

Last year I canned some nice red rhubarb. However, the canned rhubarb is brown. What can I use to keep the nice red color? Would Fruit Fresh work? I really like the convenience of canned rhubarb!

Jean Ann Wenger
Fairbury, Illinois

Unfortunately, many older varieties of rhubarb, such as Victoria, do end up losing their color when canned. The newer varieties such as Canada Red and Valentine hold their color much better. To keep your rhubarb red about the only thing I can suggest is adding a few drops of red food coloring to each jar. I don’t do that because I don’t like to use food coloring because of possible health concerns. We’ve learned that it’s the taste that matters, not the color. — Jackie

Jackie Clay

With warmer weather here, Will’s back at work on our barn

Tuesday, April 8th, 2014


Because there’s still too much snow to get to the sawmill and/or logs, Will’s been busy using some of the lumber he cut last summer to frame up both upper ends of our new barn. Once the snow melts quite a bit more, we’ll fire up the sawmill and start sawing barn siding to nail over it. We’re going to use board and batten siding and stain it before putting it up. And to keep the wind out, Will’s going to put sheets of our free 1/4-inch plywood under it to prevent drafts in case some of the battens warp a bit. At our age, we want this to be our last, best barn.

We wanted to attract more birds to our homestead and had talked about building some more bird houses for wrens and bluebirds (hard to get up here). Even if we don’t end up with bluebirds, we do get swallows. All kinds eat a ton of insects, especially cabbage moths, so we love the birdies!

Luckily, Will had cut some big cedar logs into lumber last summer. They were out of a few cords we’d bought for fence posts and were just too large to use even for corner posts. So he cut them into one-inch lumber figuring we could always use some nice cedar lumber. Yesterday, he went down to the barn and came back up with several lengths of cedar.


I’d researched and drawn pictures with measurements on them, including hole sizes for the birds we want to attract. Will cut the lumber to size and brought the piles into the house for me to assemble. I screwed them together and drilled holes. Now we have six new bird houses ready to hang. And Will is going to cut more lumber so we can build some wood duck houses to hang next to our small beaver pond. I especially want those where we can watch with binoculars because it’s so amazing to see those little baby wood ducks just jump out of their nest holes, way up high, falling to the ground with a bounce that would kill you or me, then get up, wag their tail, and head for Mama and the pond. What brave little guys!


Today I’m clearing the deck to start transplanting tomato and pepper seedlings. They’re growing so well we can hardly believe it! And I can actually see grass in our south-facing back yard! They’re calling for 60 on Wednesday so we’re really excited. The snow is going fast. Hooray! — Jackie

Jackie Clay

Q and A: spray schedule for fruit trees and ground cherries

Monday, April 7th, 2014

Spray schedule for fruit trees

Please help me figure out a spray schedule for my apple and peach trees. I remember you saying you never have to spray, lucky you. I try hard not to use chemicals but I am inundated with bugs and apple problems each year. My trees are showing buds but not yet open. Last year I placed those red spheres that you coat with a sticky substance in the trees and they sure had a lot of bugs stuck to them but I still had apples and peaches that you could not bite into. Instead I had to heavily peel and then cut out the bad spots just to make pies and applesauce. Can you suggest what there is still time to do so my harvest will be better this year. Last year I used kaolin clay and I have heard Neem oil is good. I have read several books on the subject but I am still a bit confused and could use your common sense approach.

Deb Motylinski
Cadiz, Ohio

I sympathize with your problem. Bugs should NOT be eating our food! We’re really lucky in that we don’t (yet?) have insect problems, probably because we live so very far from any fruit producers. Here are a few suggestions instead of resorting to chemicals: Try Surround sprayed on your trees just after most of the petals have fallen from your trees. Surround is a kaolin clay that you mix with water and spray on your trees. It doesn’t kill insects but does severely disrupt their breeding and egg laying. But you must hit each tree just as the petals fall; even a day or two late will make it less effective. Then spray the trees after any heavy rains and weekly until at least July. (If residue is still on fruit on harvest, simply wash it off; it is not toxic, just a gray film.) If you are having apple maggot trouble (worms and dark tracks through the fruit), begin spraying Surround in mid-July. Using red spheres coated with Tanglefoot traps a lot of adult flies but they only help with an infestation of apple maggots. You can hang several on each tree (one doesn’t help) and closely monitor the flies stuck on them. When there are suddenly more, begin your spraying immediately or by mid-July, whichever is first. Then continue until August. Picking up all dropped fruit will help keep future fruit clean of insects and larvae. (That’s one reason we have our poultry in our orchard; they take care of that chore for us happily!) If you must resort to chemicals, I’d contact your County Extension Office and follow their recommendations for your particular area. The best of luck! Here’s to clean, tasty fruit this summer! — Jackie

Ground cherries

I noticed the question you recently answered about planting ground cherries. They are not common here in Idaho — I grew up eating them in Minnesota. I’ve found only one individual who sold starts in the spring one year, and silly me didn’t keep seeds. Do you know where I can order seeds? Blueberry & Ground Cherry Crisp is SO good and looks pretty, too!

Susan Bittick
Meridian, Idaho

Luckily, many companies carry ground cherry seeds (also called husk cherries). Some of them are: Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, Seed Savers Exchange, Jung Seed, Territorial Seed, and Southern Exposure. Good luck growing some this year! — Jackie

Jackie Clay

Q and A: weather damage to raised beds and canning apple cider syrup

Saturday, April 5th, 2014

Weather damage to raised beds

A few days ago I noticed the boards of many of my raised beds have lifted off the ground. The boards lifted in some cases six inches off the ground. Guess the weather (snow, freeze, heavy snow, melt, snow again, refreeze, melt, refreeze yet again) caused this but this is the first year it happened. What advice would you give to make sure I don’t break/damage anything when (finally) the warm weather comes.

Jon Gallo

Often the boards will settle back (at least mostly), when the frost finally goes away. If not, you can usually use a board between the bed edges and a sledge hammer and pound the bed edges back into place, a little at a time. This is not common but does happen, as you’ve found out. To keep it from happening next winter, stop watering your beds after freezing and hope it doesn’t rain a lot after that. It’s usually the water that draws frost below the bed to heave it up. — Jackie

Canning apple cider syrup

Can apple cider syrup (apple molasses) be preserved by canning? And if so by which method?

Kenneth Winningham
Killeen, Texas

Yes, you can can your own apple cider syrup (apple molasses), which is made by boiling down cider until it reaches a pancake syrup consistency. While still simmering hot, ladle into hot, sterilized jars (pints will work best). Leave 1/4 inch headspace. Wipe rim of jar clean and place hot, previously simmered lid on jar and tighten ring down firmly tight. Process in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes. Remember to start your timing when the canner comes back to a full rolling boil. And if you live at an altitude above 1,000 feet, consult your canning book for directions on increasing your processing time to suit your altitude. — Jackie

Jackie Clay

Gee, more blowing snow

Friday, April 4th, 2014


Spring MUST be coming soon, isn’t it? Anyway, today it’s sunny and mid-thirties after six more inches of snow. A warming trend is headed for us but so is another winter storm. (Maybe it’ll miss us?) My tomatoes and peppers are doing very well in their mini-greenhouse in the living room. In the greenhouse behind them amaryllis bulbs I got on a closeout sale are beginning to bloom. I bought them after Christmas and now they’re blooming their heads off. And with all the snow outside, it’s a welcome sight, for sure.


David’s motor on his car blew up so we’re madly trying to deal with that and still get him to college every day (a 60-mile round trip). He’s driving his old Geo with crossed fingers and plenty of prayer, hoping it will hold out until we can get his car back on the road. The good news is that the used motor is on the way and maybe can be put in by the weekend. Or the next week… CARS!

It’s so nice that Will is out with Old Yeller on the beaver flat, cutting some of the standing dead ash for firewood, for next year. There’s still lots of snow and I know it’s a lot of work trudging through it to load the wood. So I’m fixing a good pork chop and roasted vegetable supper for him tonight. — Jackie

Jackie Clay

Q and A: canning sweet potatoes, dehydrating hamburger meat, and saving tomato seeds

Thursday, April 3rd, 2014

Canning sweet potatoes

I have question concerning sweet potatoes. Last year I canned about 2 bushels part in water and part in a light syrup, for the first time I added a tsp of of citric acid to each quart just to help with darkening of the potatoes. They look good in the jars and don’t have any “off” odors but have an unpleasant green almost bitter taste, was it the citric acid? The potatoes were fresh and I let them cure 2 weeks or so before canning. I hate to pitch the whole batch any ideas?

Laura Wilson
Chandler, Texas

My guess is that it is the citric acid. To can sweet potatoes, boil a minute or so to slip off the skins. Then cut into pieces and cover with water in a large pot. Boil 10 minutes. Drain and pack hot sweet potatoes into hot jars, leaving 1 inch of headspace. You may either ladle hot cooking water or a medium syrup, brought to boiling over the sweet potatoes, leaving 1 inch of headspace. Process pints for 65 minutes and quarts for 90 minutes at 10 pounds pressure.

You might drain your canning liquid from the jars then add fresh water to a pan and dump in a jar of sweet potatoes to heat. Or else make up a heavy syrup and heat your sweet potatoes in that, perhaps making them taste much better. Other than that, about all you could try is to use them as a casserole, topped with seasoned sausage or other seasoned ingredients to cover up the unpleasant bitterness. Hopefully, just simmering them in fresh water will help. You also might try adding 1 tsp baking soda to the fresh water and see if that does it. — Jackie

Dehydrating hamburger meat

What are your thoughts on dehydrating cooked, low-fat hamburger meat for long-term storage in jars? If one can do this, do you have any pointers on the safest way to do this?

Rhonda Jordan
Kingston, Tennessee

Not a real good idea for long-term storage. Often home-dehydrated hamburger is not low fat enough and the dehydrated burger gets rancid or moldy. It’s a much better idea to can it up. That way it’ll be good for decades with no flavor change. Even jerky that has been dehydrated way harder than most modern folks like it (or will even eat it) sometimes will go moldy after time in an airtight jar; it just isn’t dry enough to store in an airtight container. — Jackie

Saving tomato seeds

In growing so many varieties of tomatoes, how do you keep seed pure to save?

Betty Anderson
Berryville, Arkansas

Luckily, tomatoes are self-pollinating for the most part. We keep the plants separate so the vines don’t mingle and they do well. Other garden plants such as beans require a much greater separation. Corn requires a mile or more and peppers need 1/2 mile. They need to either grow alone, be greatly separated or hand-pollinated in insect-proof cages. — Jackie



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