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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

Mittens not only kills mice and rabbits, but weasels too

Wednesday, January 7th, 2015 by Jackie Clay | 6 Comments »

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

Boy, do we go through the firewood when there’s a -50 windchill

Monday, January 5th, 2015 by Jackie Clay | 11 Comments »

The last two days, we’ve stuffed firewood in both the kitchen range and living room stoves all day and several times during the night.

Our HIGH yesterday was -13 and this morning there was a wind with -21, giving us a -50 windchill. Brrrrr. We haul our dry firewood into the house with a wheelbarrow. It takes two wheelbarrows full to last 24 hours when it’s so cold. But Mittens LOVES to ride outside in the empty wheelbarrow. As soon as Will heads for the door, she hops in and rides all the way out to the wood shed. We sure have strange animals!

We made sure all the animals and poultry were warm. The goats and chickens weren’t let outside at all, being fed and watered inside the building. I added a doubled up old quilt on the goats’ door to the outside so there wouldn’t be any drafts and gave them an extra bale of bedding. Will brought all the cattle into the training ring where we had been keeping our beef steers so they could get extra grain prior to butchering. But the other cattle only had a small walk-out shelter and the steers have a barn to go in. So he let all of them come to the training ring and barn for wind protection.

We found plenty to do inside. I packed and filled seed orders all afternoon. It was fun to see our seeds go to so many different states. (Don’t forget we have a new seed listing; check the box at the top of the blog.)

On Friday, we bought a new tractor. We had been making payments on our Oliver and were able to pay it off early by saving some of our meat sales money. Unfortunately, the Oliver was just a little too small to run our big round baler without overworking it. Will was afraid he’d “kill” the tractor by baling. So he started looking for a larger tractor. Luckily, we found a Farmall just several miles from our homestead — at a reasonable price. The guy even offered to deliver it to the end of our driveway! Done deal! The day we went to look at it, it was cold and the tractor started right up. Great! And it has a loader and bale spear so that’ll sure help. We feel like farmers with three tractors! But we haven’t had to buy any hay yet and still have quite a few big round bales rowed up. That’s a great feeling.

I’ve heard that this cold is going all over the country, so stay warm and make your animals cozy. — Jackie

Q and A: canning green beans with bacon and pig eating dirt, etc.

Friday, January 2nd, 2015 by Jackie Clay | No Comments »

Canning green beans with bacon

I have 2 questions concerning canning green beans. I just finished putting up 2 qts. and 4 pint and half jars. I processed them per Blue Book instructions for qts. of green beans. BUT I also had added 1/2 slice of pre-cooked, crumbled bacon for flavor to each. Should I have timed this according to the bit of meat — which would have been 90 min.?

Secondly, if I add beef, chicken broth to veggies for flavor do I then have to process at the “meat” timetable? My goodness, the devil is in the little details.
Judith Almand
Brandon, Florida

It’s really not a good idea to put bacon bits in jars of canned green beans. I know it’s been done for generations but there’s a possibility that botulism could be introduced and not killed by sufficient processing. I wouldn’t worry about it at this point but I would be sure to boil those beans for 10-15 minutes before serving them — just to be safe. In the future, I’d suggest leaving out the bacon and substituting a few bacon-flavored TVPs instead. They’ll give the flavor but not the possible danger.

If you add beef or chicken broth (broth only!) to veggies, you will need to process for the broth time, which is 20 minutes for pints of either beef or chicken broth so you won’t have to process for the “meat” time of 75 minutes for pints or 90 minutes for quarts.

You’re right! It’s all in the details! And you’re not afraid to ask questions. Good for you! — Jackie

Pig eating dirt, etc.

Does it mean anything that my pig is eating dirt, sticks, pine cones, and eating bark off the trees. He is two and a half months old. If so, does he need a salt or mineral block?

Zac Mitchell
Grand Island, Florida

Pigs eat just about everything, including dirt, sticks, tree bark, worms, roots, grass, snakes, and much more. Pigs do need salt, but if you’re feeding a mixed pig feed, it contains salt. My guess is that he is just being a normal pig, experimenting by tasting everything around him. If he is growing well and fat, I wouldn’t worry a bit. — Jackie

Q and A: canning cream and wood flooring

Wednesday, December 31st, 2014 by Jackie Clay | 5 Comments »

Canning cream

Jackie – can I can fresh cream from my cow? I know that the stuff from the store is super heated and the purchased cow’s milk doesn’t can right – but my own milk does. Can I can cream and have it turn out somewhat ok? I see that people can cream cheese — can I can my own homemade cream cheese?

Verona, Kentucky

I really don’t think that cream would can up well. I have not canned homemade cream cheese yet, so I can’t advise about that. Any readers out there that can help Marilyn? — Jackie

Wood flooring

I love your hardwood floor, but am wondering how it is holding up to the “snow pacs”? (I can see feet in your picture for the current post!) I spent a winter near Isabella Minnesota 32 years ago and my current locale, while usually a little “warmer” (temp wise), has winds that cut through you. Since you heat with wood I am guessing that pacs are your norm in footwear at this time of the year — indoor and out. I am wondering how the floor is taking it? (I am considering the ceramic “wood” tiles for flooring as the boots that come through my house are similar only with less snow we get a lot of rocks, mud/grit clumps, and hay.) Our temp at the moment is -9, but wind chill is -30F. Brrrr!

Mandan, North Dakota

We love our “fake” wood floor. It’s laminate from Menards and has stood up extremely well to farm conditions and two big, active dogs. We wheelbarrow wood into the house, the dogs play on it, and nobody takes off their boots. The only faint scratches have been when someone dragged a chair without protected legs on it across the floor. Definitely minimal.

We’ve got -12 with a windchill of -26 right now. You’re right; brrrrrrr. But definitely not as bad as last winter so far. — Jackie

We had two great Christmas celebrations

Monday, December 29th, 2014 by Jackie Clay | 11 Comments »

Since our youngest son, David, had to work on Saturday when oldest son Bill and his family could come, we had Christmas dinner on Christmas for David and his girlfriend Hannah, and another Christmas dinner on Saturday when my sister Sue, Bill and his family, and Javid could all come. It was a bit hectic but we sure had a great extended Christmas.

Of course we had lots of good food. I made a boneless pork loin glazed with pincherry jelly. Wow was that good! And we had Will’s cheesecake, pumpkin pies, garlic mashed potatoes (that have 8 oz. of cream cheese, a cup of sour cream and a 1/4 pound of butter whipped with them, plus 1/2 tsp. of garlic salt, then baked) plus a green bean casserole (our Provider green beans of course!), candied carrots (big Nantes chunks from the pantry) and tons of snack goodies. Whew!

Now I can get started at canning up lots of meats from the leftover pork loin, chicken, and beef. Cool.

And we’re plenty busy too with our little seed business, Seed Treasures (see new box above blog), packing and shipping seeds. It’s really fun to be sharing seeds with so many different people!

We’re looking back on all we’ve accomplished during the past year and we’re so excited about the New Year coming soon and all our plans for spring. May you, too, look with enthusiasm, toward the coming year. HAPPY NEW YEAR! — Jackie

Merry Christmas to you and yours

Wednesday, December 24th, 2014 by Jackie Clay | 10 Comments »

I finally got our Christmas tree decorated last night. Just in time! We think it looks pretty and sure perks us up. We’ve been hugely busy lately. I didn’t even get one Christmas card sent out. That’s a record for me! Oh well. S*^& happens. For me it was the diverticulitis from which I’m still playing catch up.

Will’s been working on the new barn, trying to get it enclosed before our first blizzard. He got the west wall enclosed with some of our free plywood so at least the snow won’t blow in. The plywood is to prevent any drafts from getting in through tiny cracks in the board and batten siding that’ll go on next. He also picked up some rigid insulation board on our local online auction for about half of the lumberyard price. That great buy was lessened when 6 sheets slid out of the truck on the way home. By the time he went back to get it, someone else had picked it up. Oh well, maybe they needed it more than we did to keep their family warm…

The insulation board will go on the upper wall of the barn between the outside plywood and inside boards to help keep the barn warmer in winds. Some will be added beneath the floor of our greenhouse/sunporch as we don’t have enough there now to keep stuff on the floor from freezing in prolonged periods of extreme cold like last winter.

I’m getting ready to bake goodies for our Christmas dinner as well as washing clothes while Will is watering the livestock. We used to have a lot of trouble with our water lines freezing. But Will made a short hose with a hose thread on one end and a fitting for an air chuck on the other. So when we’re done watering, we drain the hose as well as we can then he plugs in the compressor and builds up 100 psi. Then he attaches the fitting and blows out water. This is repeated 3 times and seems to work well. What a relief. Watering is so much easier now.

Again, you all have a wonderful Holiday Season! And a warm hug from me. — Jackie

We’re taking applications for a summer apprentice

Tuesday, December 23rd, 2014 by Jackie Clay | 4 Comments »

Since our seed business has grown by leaps and bounds … as has our homestead, we’ve decided we could use some help this spring, summer, and fall and am offering an apprenticeship to a person (or couple).

You would be working hard, planting, tilling, helping fence, take care of animals, haying, and general homestead chores. In exchange, you’ll get a whole summer’s worth of homesteading seminar. Free. We’ll teach you all we know or you want to learn. We’ll also provide a private bedroom in our home, meals and some time off each week to enjoy the Minnesota Northwoods.

Do remember that we are off grid, don’t watch a lot of TV, or play video games, etc. We would like to find a person who does enjoy working and will do so happily. We are not slave drivers, but do have plenty to do most days. If you are interested, contact us at jackieclay2007[at] and we’ll talk.


We’re really happy that now we have a freezer plumb full of wonderful, naturally-raised pork, chicken and beef. Right after the holidays, I’ll be canning up a storm, for sure. What a blessing that is! Besides the “regular” beef, I have a whole box full of meaty soup bones. Some are from our quarter, some from other folks’ meat that didn’t want their soup bones. So I get to make quarts and quarts of wonderful beef broth. Wow! And I also brought home about 30 pounds of ground pork fat from my son Bill’s freezer so he had room for his 1/2 a beef. So I’ll also be rendering lots more lard. I never buy shortening. A bit of sunflower and olive oil, but no shortening for us made from GMO soybeans and corn. It feels so good. — Jackie

We count our blessings as Christmas nears

Saturday, December 20th, 2014 by Jackie Clay | 15 Comments »

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



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