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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: canning cheese and canning label tip

Tuesday, April 8th, 2014 by Jackie Clay | 3 Comments »

Canning cheese

I was reading Julia Crow’s question about canning cheese and your answer made me think of something I recently learned about but have not tried yet. I’ve always wanted to make melted cheese for mac and cheese or nachos from ‘fancier’ and oily cheeses, but they never melt right. They always separate and never get melty.
Then I found information about sodium citrate. It sounds like I’ll be able to use most if not all cheeses for my fancy mac ‘n’ cheese. It makes me wonder if it would aid in canning oilier and fancier cheeses. You can find it on Amazon and many other places. Here’s a link to an article about it: <a href=””>Modernist Cusine</a>
Here’s a video about it too: <a href=””>Youtube</a> .
Just an idea I thought might be looking into. I don’t have the space to put up cheese right now, but would certainly send you some sodium citrate in the name of science if you wanted to give it a try.

Russell Hall
Austin, Texas

It’s sure worth a try. Anyone who uses it, will you let us know how it worked for you? — Jackie

Canning labels

Not a question today but a little canning idea I use. When I receive junk mail I cut off the response envelope’s glued flap. I can then cut this into 4 or 5 “lick & stick” canning labels for my jars. They come off in water and are free! I see them for sale in the stores — they aren’t as pretty, but sure serve the purpose as well as save money. Just wanted to pass this along.

Judith Almand
Brandon, Florida

Great idea, Judi! Aren’t we homesteaders a creative, penny-pinching bunch? I love it. — Jackie

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

Monday, April 7th, 2014 by Jackie Clay | 1 Comment »

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

Q and A: raising meat rabbits and canning chicken

Sunday, April 6th, 2014 by Jackie Clay | No Comments »

Raising meat rabbits

Do you have recommendation(s) for meat rabbit raising books/resources?

Shellie Gades
Evansville, Minnesota

My favorite rabbit book is Storey’s Guide to Raising Rabbits, available through Backwoods Home Magazine. And Bass Equipment has lots of good rabbitry supplies/equipment. Their website is: — Jackie

Canning chicken

I canned chicken according to your instructions last week (2 and 4 days ago) but just realized today that I used instructions for bone-in chicken (65 minutes) instead of boneless (75 minutes). I usually go a minute or 2 longer than specified. Do you think my chicken is ok? Is it too late to re-can? I hate to throw out 16 pints of chicken.

Sam Allen
Bessemer City, North Carolina

I would open each jar, and if it looks and smells fine then I’d dump the jars into a large pot and bring to a boil. Then pack back into washed jars and re-can the chicken for the correct time. Your chicken will then be fine. I, too, would sure hate to throw away 16 pints of chicken but I’d rather re-can it instead of just hoping it’ll be okay. — Jackie

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

Saturday, April 5th, 2014 by Jackie Clay | 2 Comments »

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

Gee, more blowing snow

Friday, April 4th, 2014 by Jackie Clay | 10 Comments »


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

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

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

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

Our snow is finally starting to go

Tuesday, April 1st, 2014 by Jackie Clay | 7 Comments »


Will trimmed off the log rafters from the new front porch roof yesterday and was going to pick up the sawn off ends of the two-inch boards he’d roofed the porch with. I knew they were headed for firewood, which we don’t need. All of a sudden, I pictured rustic planters! So I ask him to saw them to size (whatever worked) for me while I went to get the cordless drill. With a square bit installed I screwed together five nice heavy planters of various sizes, using three-inch deck screws. Once finished, I drilled a few holes in the bottoms for good drainage. I know they’ll rot after a few years but until then, they’ll look great on the new front porch, brimming with bright flowers. We don’t waste much around here.


Just a reminder to all of you who said you’d like to come to our June homesteading seminar — time’s getting short and if you are planning on coming, let us know. There’s a lot of planning involved and we want to make every seminar truly great.

Our chickens are now starting to lay like crazy and yesterday I even got our first turkey egg. Wow! And with all those eggs, I made a quiche with mushrooms, onions, broccoli, ham dices, and cheese. For dessert I whipped up a lemon meringue pie, using an extra three egg whites for the meringue. Boy, did that taste good. We homesteaders really look forward to spring’s bounty, starting with eggs!

We still have plenty of seeds left so any of you who would like to order from our little seed business, feel free. There are plenty of Bill Bean tomato and Hopi Pale Grey squash seeds left! — Jackie

Q and A: coating cheese with wax, open-pollinated plants, canning cheese, and prepper shows

Tuesday, April 1st, 2014 by Jackie Clay | 8 Comments »

Coating cheese with wax

When you make cheese, do you coat it with wax for aging? I’ve done it both ways and am usually not real successful with the wax. No matter how many layers I put on it still cracks and gets even worse mold than if I just keep an eye on it without wax.

Margie Buchwalter
Jamestown, Ohio

I don’t use wax for aging but do use it if I’m going to store it in a cool place for extended periods. It seldom cracks if you use good cheese wax. Cheese wax is much more flexible than paraffin and you can also re-use it if you carefully peel it off. — Jackie

Open-pollinated plants

We have decided to plant only Open Pollinated/ Heirlooms from now on. Do you know if any legislation is being put in place to stop the seed conglomerates from manufacturing products that would attack and destroy any Heirloom/Open Pollinated varieties?

Sandie Knight
South Berwick, Maine

No, but unless many of us save our own open pollinated varieties, we’ll lose thousands each year because nobody plants them and big companies quit carrying them. That’s a scary thought. Good for you. Once you start, you’ll absolutely love it and wonder why you didn’t start sooner. — Jackie

Canning cheese

I have been canning cheese in 8 oz. jars which works great. Very few failures. This week I tried to can a very rich cheese in 4 oz. jars. Multiple failures. Attempted to recan 5 jars, plus a few more since I did not wash enough jars the first time and still had cheese left over. Water ended up in 3 jars prior to canning so did not can. They are in the refrigerator. I removed all of the jars, rewashed the canner and refilled. Let it simmer 75 min. to ensure even heating. The first batch got 60 min. in a roaster over 2 burners. Both had adequate water. The second batch had a LOT of grease on the water and multiple did not seal again. What are we doing wrong? Is it the size of the jar? Also, I noticed the last batch of monterey jack is more rubbery than the first batch I canned. I believe I used Tillamook the first time, Kirkland the second (a couple of years apart).

Julia Crow
Gardnerville, Nevada

I think it’s the grease in the “very rich” cheese. Grease is the enemy of canners and the more you have in a recipe, the more failures you’ll have. I’d skip that cheese variety and move on to others you’ve had good luck with. — Jackie

Prepper shows

It would be so totally awesome if you could do canning shows on the Food Network or Cooking Channel. I am surprised there hasn’t been something like that on there already with all the Doomsday Prepper shows. Keep up the good work and I am telling everyone to refer you to those channels..Hope it’s ok…

Jackie Schillinger
Concord, New Hampshire

Sure. We’ve been offered a spot on the Doomsday Prepper shows but declined as they often make preppers seem like weirdos and we’d have no control over the editing of the tapes. I would happily do a canning segment for a network, if asked. — Jackie



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