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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

Q and A: feeding birds jelly and canning peaches

Wednesday, July 9th, 2014 by Jackie Clay | 3 Comments »

Feeding birds jelly

Not exactly a question but wanted to tell you about an oops that turned out ok. A couple of years ago I had way too many yellow tomatoes. I refuse to waste anything I can use so I made tomato marmalade with them. As you say, it was “blecyucky”. I started to throw it away but stingy me, there is a lot of sugar in it. This spring a whole flock of Hooded Orioles and Black Headed Grosbeaks showed up. They love sweets so I tried giving them some of the marmalade. They love it. So funny to watch them get their feet sticky and fuss getting them cleaned. I had chopped the tomatoes so there are chunks that they seem to like. One odd thing I’ve noticed, their colors are brighter every week. I used to have canaries and sometimes gave them special food to make their colors brighter. It seems that the tomatoes are brightening the colors on the birds too. One of the Orioles looks like he has a battery in his pocket, a brilliant burnt orange. So now I know what to do with the jelly/jam I find I don’t care for. Thought you would find this interesting.

Franci Osborne
Ignacio, Colorado

How cool! I’m still feeding Baltimore Orioles my grape jam and yesterday I found out why my jam was disappearing so fast; a red squirrel was lapping it up. Who’d have thought? Now that you’ve shared your experience I’m going to try some other jams as I really don’t have a lot of grape left. It’s interesting about the color in their feathers too. — Jackie

Canning peaches

It’s almost peach season again and I have a question for you. How do I keep my canned peaches from being soft/mushy? I have tried canning several different varieties, canning them while hard, while still very firm, and just make jam from the ripe ones. I raw pack, water bath pints 25 minutes and get soft peaches. I generally cut each peach into 6 slices. I also use a very light syrup, as my hubby is diabetic. Can I add something to help keep the peaches firmer? I also have the same problem with pears and can them while they are still hard.

Lee Galloway
Grants Pass, Oregon

Try hot packing your peaches as they tend to stay firmer. You wouldn’t think that but when you hot pack your peaches, you only heat them in syrup until they are thoroughly hot — you don’t boil them. Then working quickly, get them into hot jars and in the water bath canner while they are still hot. Doing it this way the peaches don’t have to stay in the hot water so long waiting to come to a boil — they don’t “cook” as much. You only process pints for 20 minutes when hot packing them too. Less cooking means firmer fruit. — Jackie

Q and A: storing lemon juice and growing potatoes

Tuesday, July 8th, 2014 by Jackie Clay | No Comments »

Storing lemon juice

How would you go about canning store-bought lemon juice? I assume due to the acidity that Tattler lids would come in handy here. Or is it fine to just store it in the plastic bottles it comes in?

Lowman, New York

You can easily re-can store-bought lemon juice but you can also just store it in the bottles it comes in. If you find that the larger bottles are more than you usually use in a month or so, you can certainly re-can it into smaller containers. To re-can it, simply heat the juice to 165° F. Don’t boil it. Ladle into hot half-pint or pint jars, leaving ½ inch of headspace. Process for 15 minutes in a boiling water bath canner. If you live at an altitude above 1,000 feet, consult your canning book for directions on increasing your processing time. — Jackie

Growing potatoes

I don’t know if you have answered this before but I have a couple questions about potato’s. First: if you pinch off the flowers will you get more or bigger potatoes? I am currently raising mine in tires.
Second: how do you make Potato Flour?

Kennewick, Washington

No, you won’t get more or larger potatoes by pinching off the flowers. To get more or bigger potatoes, be sure to hill your potatoes at least twice during the growing season, once when the plants are about eight inches tall and again when they grow another eight inches. Potatoes are formed along the lower stems of the plant — the more stems that are covered by soil, the more potatoes you’ll harvest. Because hilling also eliminates competing weeds, the potatoes get larger than if the plants are left unhilled. Hilling also keeps those potatoes well covered by soil so they don’t heave up and get exposed to the sun which turns them green. The green part should be cut off of potatoes before eating them as it is mildly toxic.

There are two ways to make potato flour. The first is most common. Peel your raw potatoes, then boil them and make “mashed potatoes” without adding butter or other ingredients. Then spoon them out onto fruit leather dehydrator trays about 1/4 inch thick. Dehydrate at about 125° F until crisp. Break into chunks and put into your blender and blend until powder-like. Pour through a sieve to remove any larger pieces. Re-blend the larger pieces. Store in an airtight container.

To make raw potato flour, grate peeled, raw potatoes and put in a bowl of ice water for several hours or overnight. Drain well and pat dry between two layers of kitchen towel. Lay out on regular dehydrator trays and dehydrate until crisp. Follow the rest of above directions.

Potato flour is useful in soups, as a thickener for gravies or stews, in many bread recipes, and in some gluten-free recipes. (Like many powdered dehydrated foods, it takes a LOT of potatoes to get a few cups of potato flour. A whole bushel of my onions dehydrated down to a full quart of onion powder!) — Jackie

We have babies!

Monday, July 7th, 2014 by Jackie Clay | 6 Comments »

And boy, do we! Billions of tadpoles have morphed into tiny baby toads and are coming up to high ground from the ponds, creek, and our spring basin. You have to be so careful not to step on them as they are everywhere. I’ve even quit driving the four wheeler as you can’t avoid running them over. Hopefully these tiny bug-eaters will soon find nice secure homes for themselves so we aren’t paranoid about walking and driving on them.


We also became the proud “grandparents” of a new calf Saturday afternoon. Mamba, Will’s pet angus/holstein, bred AI to a Jersey bull gave birth to a beautiful seal-brown bull calf with no difficulty. As we knew I’d be milking her, both Will and I have been taking great pains to handle her daily for months, including her udder. When she had her calf, Will rubbed the wet calf and let Mamba lick him too. Then he milked each of her teats with her loose in the barn. No problem. She thinks we’re her calves too.


Although she has short teats in the rear and it takes a long time to strip the milk out with two fingers (that’s all I can get on them at once), she calmly eats her grain and lets me sit on a bucket and milk away. Seal, the baby, watches and noses me while I milk. Because he was handled from birth, he’s imprinted on us and is very friendly.

Mamba is only giving about 3 quarts at a milking, plus feeding Seal. But that’s plenty for us right now, especially with those short rear teats. I have a feeling that she’ll up her milk production as she has a beautiful udder. And I’m sure her rear teats will get a bit longer too. I hope… — Jackie

Q and A: bean seeds not sprouting and re-canning black olives

Friday, July 4th, 2014 by Jackie Clay | 7 Comments »

Bean seeds not sprouting

I am having my green beans to sprout. I have planted them 2 times and still not popping. The are new seeds from a name brand company this year. I planted them in new top soil. I had the same problem last year, that’s why I put in new top soil.

Brandy Gunderson
Wyoming, Michigan

Usually when beans fail to come up they have either been too cold, too wet or too dry. Or, a critter might be helping itself to your seeds. To check, dig in your row with your fingers to find your seeds. If they have rotted, you won’t find nice beans but mushy ones. If you find nothing, look for little dips in the dirt, indicating that they’ve been dug up and eaten/carried away. In warm soil that is kept nicely moist but not soggy wet, your beans should pop up within 10 days. — Jackie

Re-canning black olives

I have checked your blog/articles for directions for re-canning black olives. In one article it gives a time of 60 min., in the other 90 min. for pints and half pints. Which is correct? I love your books, use them all the time, never dared to can meat until I read your articles and books.

Thanks for all your wonderful information. I finally was able to subscribe to BHM — just love it. Even though I’m a city dweller, I have a large garden and try to “homestead” in any way I can.

Rae Pelletier
Salem, Missouri

Sixty minutes is the recommended time for processing olives in pints and half pints. Sorry for the mistake.

I’m glad you like my books and are now canning meat. It’s so easy and SO handy! — Jackie

Things are finally getting back to normal

Thursday, July 3rd, 2014 by Jackie Clay | 2 Comments »

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’s Fall Homesteading Seminar

Thursday, July 3rd, 2014 by Oliver | No Comments »
We’re planning our fall homesteading seminar and are ready to take deposits.This seminar should be a great one, covering such topics as bringing in the harvest, using a pressure canner, canning meats and vegetables, seed saving, long-term food storage, and much more.The seminar will be September 12-14th, 2014 here at our homestead. We’d love to have you come!

Click here to see our brochure. (PDF) –Jackie

Q and A: using horseradish and wormy ham

Thursday, July 3rd, 2014 by Jackie Clay | No Comments »


I started growing horseradish a few years ago, but had a hard time getting it to take off. Similar to the problem with my asparagus, but that’s another issue. I have found that turning this southern Ohio clay soil around has been a longer than expected process. The chicken manure and bedding each fall and kitchen compost have helped. My soil is starting to have some ‘color’ to it!
This year, wow, the horseradish is crazy-big and has spread. My question is: Other than grating it to use table side, or canning small jars (even for gifts), what way can I make this root an asset to our table? Suggestions or recipes?
Thanks for your dedicated blogging and wonderful articles in the magazine. I started as a magazine subscriber, and now a kindle subscriber and feel like I know you from your articles. For me as a part time homesteader/hobby farmer you are the inspiration I need to keep working for the lifestyle balance of work, home, and family that I need to be happy and healthy! It is worth it.

Jennifer Brown
Logan, Ohio

Thank you Jennifer. I really do enjoy helping people be more successful at homesteading.

Horseradish is useful in so many different ways. I use it as an ingredient in many dishes, adding it to sauce over baked fish and chicken, using it in sandwich spreads, making a cheese, mayo, sour cream, bacon, and horseradish chip and veggie dip, casseroles, and of course cocktail sauce (ketchup and horseradish mixed). You can also mix it with sour cream and top baked potatoes. There are dozens of recipes available online, too. — Jackie

Wormy ham

My daughter opened a jar of ham she canned this past winter, she dumped it along with the broth in the jar into her skillet and boiled it for 30 minutes, cooked off the broth and let it fry a little. Her family ate half of it, promptly put the remainder in the refrigerator and two days later when her husband went to warm it up, he noticed tiny little worms on it. He opened the ham strips and they were inside it too. When initially canned, the ham was pressure canned for 90 minutes. On top of that it was a precooked ham to begin with! How is it possible for anything to survive being browned, processed for 90 minutes, sealed, boiled for 30 minutes and fried again? Have you ever heard of this? I sure haven’t and I have been canning for 35 years. She didn’t add anything other ingredients to her ham when she cooked it for supper, so just the ham and broth. It was delicious though, but, ech, stomach turning upon the gruesome discovery.

Jo Riddle
Vienna, West Virginia

Nothing will live through pressure canning then boiling/frying. The worms were probably fruit fly or housefly maggots. Evidently flies laid eggs on some of the meat and the refrigerator wasn’t cold enough to prevent the eggs from hatching. The tiny worms would be just-hatched larvae. Tell your daughter that they didn’t eat wormy canned food. At least that’s something. This is very rare but I’ll bet they really check their food in the future! Ech! — Jackie

Q and A: pruning zucchini plants and planting fruit trees

Wednesday, July 2nd, 2014 by Jackie Clay | No Comments »

Pruning zucchini plants

Both my zucchini plants are growing like crazy out there. I left 5 feet all around each, and they have filled it! Is it possible to prune a few of the leaves back to the stalk, so I can get to the zucchini?

Sandra Agostini
Nixa, Missouri

Yes, you can prune a “trail” to the center of the plant where the most zucchini are located without damaging the plant. Your plants sound VERY strong and a little pruning won’t hurt a bit. — Jackie

Fruit trees

A close friend and myself bought several fruit trees. Apples, plums, peach, and cherry. My fruit tree were planted promptly. Her’s are still in their container. Should she plant them now or wait till Fall or next spring?
Patricia Harmon
Spencer, New York

I think I would go ahead and get ‘em in the ground. But do it very gently and be absolutely sure to water those trees religiously all summer and fall, right up until it freezes. Don’t use fertilizer on them to “help” them. It will only hurt their chances of survival. Mulch around each tree to keep moisture available to the roots. And be sure that they are screened against voles early this fall so the little buggers don’t eat off the lower bark after it snows. — Jackie



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