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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.

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Spring has sprung!

Tuesday, May 5th, 2015 by Jackie Clay | 6 Comments »

Wow, Spring hits here with a bang. On Saturday, our carpenter friend, Tom, stopped by to ask if we were ready for our porch roof on Monday. Last year we asked him if he would put the shingles on the new porch. He had roofed the rest of the house and we didn’t want to mess up anything so it wouldn’t look “all together.” Then, suddenly, we were in OMG mode. The building center where we got our shingles doesn’t carry that brand anymore. Tom thought Lowes did, so I called. Sure enough, they did. So Will and I set out at 7 p.m. to go get shingles. Unfortunately, when I called I didn’t ask what color they had. Well, it was brown, brown, and more brown — our shingles are green. We’d already traveled 35 miles, and it was getting late, so I called Home Depot in Grand Rapids, another 35 miles away. Yep, they did have the brand and the color. (Very helpful, friendly folks there.) We drove like crazy and got there 20 minutes before closing. We found that not only had the Home Depot employee, Eric, personally gone to check on the availability of the shingles but he had also loaded them on a flat cart and set out the ice and water shield by the contractor checkout desk. And he helped load them into our car. Thank you, Eric. There still are friendly, nice folks out there.

Oh, and if you didn’t know it, both Lowes and Home Depot give a 10% discount to veterans. You just have to have a photo identification card. That really helps us out on large purchases. A big thumbs up to both companies!

Our wild plum trees are blooming this morning and the Manchurian apricots are right with them. It’s sure pretty with all those blooms after a drab winter. I love spring! — Jackie

Q and A: canning Chicken a la King and making your own potting soil

Thursday, April 30th, 2015 by Jackie Clay | No Comments »

Canning Chicken a la King

I made your Chicken a la King recipe yesterday and canned about 12 pints. I have a question though. The broth was about the consistency of milk prior to canning and after canning all the flour seemed to sink to the bottom. The flavor was good before canning. I used hard white wheat for the flour as who knows how many years my white flour has been around just in my pantry. Also, a couple of jars bubbled inside after they were cooled and washed. Do I need to watch those more closely? I may not have gotten it hot enough after adding the peppers prior to canning. I am starting tomatoes from seeds for the first time. Is it normal for the paste varieties to germinate more slowly than others?

Julia Crow
Gardnerville, Nevada

Don’t worry about your canned Chicken a la King. When you heat it to use it, just stir it and the flour will again mix with the broth. Also don’t worry about the jars having bubbles. You just had a few air bubbles you missed releasing before canning them. As always, check the seals on the lids before using all jars to make sure they’ve stayed sealed during storage.

It’s not “normal” for paste tomatoes to germinate slower than others but it is normal for some varieties to germinate slower than others, regardless as to whether they’re paste tomatoes or not. Hang in there; they’ll probably pop up soon. — Jackie

Potting soil

Should “store bought” potting products become unavailable or just too darned expensive, could I mix compost, moo poo, and just plain dirt (sandy in Fl.) to fill starter pots? Should this mixture be heat sterilized before use? I can find “recipes” for mixing bags of this and that, but not for using on-hand “dirt.”

Judith Almand
Brandon, Florida

Long before “potting soil” and “seed starting soil” became commercially available, Mom and Grandma made their own and they had very green thumbs. Skip the moo poo. You don’t want too much nitrogen either in seed starter or potting soil. You can always fertilize later on if that’s necessary with manure tea. Mix half and half compost and plain garden soil. Then put in large pans like turkey roasters and bake in the oven at 250 degrees or so for half an hour. Warning: this stinks! I used to call it baking worms. Yuck. But it sterilizes the soil so you won’t end up with such problems as damping off, mold, or fungal diseases. Right now, I opt for not “baking worms” but I buy PRO-MIX bagged soils. But if it becomes unavailable or too expensive, you bet I’ll be back to the old way. — Jackie

I’ve got the spring cold — Yuck!

Wednesday, April 29th, 2015 by Jackie Clay | 5 Comments »

I guess it’s going around; everyone I talk to either has it or just got over it — the spring cold. Nose runs like a firehose and cough, cough, cough. I finally went to the clinic yesterday and got a chest x-ray, just to make sure my pneumonia wasn’t coming back. They put me on antibiotics, just in case. But I am feeling better this morning, so I hope that’s that. I’ve got more to do right now that’s a lot more fun than sitting around with a Kleenex in my hand.

Will has the Kawasaki Mule running so that both of us can sit on it while it goes. He still has some clutch adjustments to make and has to hook up the throttle and choke. (Right now he has to turn around and hold the throttle cable to make it go.) But it’s definitely on the upswing. I can hardly wait to finish getting my raised beds and flower beds ready for planting and growing. And I have a ton of mulch to haul around here and there. I want less weeds this year!

You should see Hondo. He carried firewood in all winter and now he’s always dragging up some branch or small tree, as happy as a lark. I guess he figures that’s “firewood” too.

I’ve finished the painting for the cover of my next Western novel, Autumn of the Loons, and I’ll be mailing it to the publisher tomorrow as Will has made another handy-dandy safe box in which to mail it. Only an elephant can damage the painting in that wooden box! A pretty angry elephant, too. We’re getting excited about the coming release as the first book, Summer of the Eagles, has gotten great reviews. (Thank each and every one of you!) — Jackie

Jackie and Will’s Fall Seminar

Monday, April 27th, 2015 by Jackie Clay | 1 Comment »


Attend Will and Jackie’s 2015 Fall Homestead seminar. Workshops will include canning, growing open-pollinated crops, seed saving, emergency preparedness, self-reliant living, and more. Limited to 20 people.

For more information, click here (PDF brochure), or check out Jackie and Will’s website ( and click on the “seminars” button on the top or e-mail Jackie at jackie [at]

Snow, snow, and more snow

Wednesday, April 22nd, 2015 by Jackie Clay | 11 Comments »

We nearly always get an April blizzard so when we passed through much of April with warm temperatures, we figured it missed us this year. Well… kind of. We didn’t get a blizzard but for the last several days we’ve been having wet, nasty snow.

I’ve been getting a lot done inside because of it. All of our tomatoes are now transplanted and I’m working on our peppers. I should finish them today and start the petunias which will hang off our front porch in hanging baskets, tomorrow.

Will’s off to a farm auction today with truck and trailer so I’m wondering what new equipment will come wandering home. Well, not new equipment — rusty old equipment actually. But usable… sometimes with a little work (or a lot). But that’s how we manage to equip our homestead and still be able to afford it. Ah, homesteading! — Jackie

Q and A: preserving eggs and canning cherry pie filling

Wednesday, April 22nd, 2015 by Jackie Clay | No Comments »

Preserving eggs

What do you think about scrambling eggs with sausage, mushrooms and green and red peppers and canning them. Trying to get away from freezer and when I get my chickens and quit selling almonds then I will have lots of eggs and don’t like them pickled.

Nancy Foster
Dallas City, Illinois

Sorry, Nancy, but there’s just NO research that’s been done on canning eggs, other than pickling them and that’s minimal! Keep those hens producing. You can add a light during the fall and winter to keep ’em laying even, during darker days. Having a warmer coop also helps — no drafts and plenty of shavings for bedding. — Jackie

Canning cherry pie filling

I purchased several jars of tart cherries a couple years ago. I didn’t want them to spoil and the jars were still sealed and looked like when I purchased them. So I made cherry pie filling and recanned them in a boiling water bath for 30 minutes. After doing it, I wondered if that was the right thing to do?

Lorraine Sturgis
Standish, Maine

Personally, I would have left them in the original jars. But if you used an approved recipe for your pie filling, you should be just fine. I say “an approved” recipe as some folks try to thicken their pie filling to can with flour or cornstarch, which aren’t approved anymore. — Jackie

We knew a cold spell was heading for us

Tuesday, April 21st, 2015 by Jackie Clay | 5 Comments »

So we got busy! Last fall Will plowed a six-acre spot between our new small hayfield and the pumpkin/corn patch. It was a soggy spot, covered with alder, willow brush, and a few small popple trees — a very unusable spot. Even grass didn’t want to grow on it. We were surprised that it even plowed!

We’ve been having a warm, dry spring. And with temperatures in the low seventies we knew it wouldn’t last. After all, this is northern Minnesota and it’s April. So when the weather radio forecasted a week of rain mixed with snow, Will quickly decided he’d try to plant some oats on that new spot. So off he went, with a spin-seeder on the back of the tractor and a harrow behind it. Hondo went with him but finally got tired of following the tractor around and around. I went out with the ATV and watched for a while. And when I went home, so did Hondo.

I’ve been transplanting tomatoes like mad and still have half of another flat to go. Then there are the peppers and the petunias … I’m running out of south-facing windows! But the plants look so happy after being transplanted into their Styrofoam cups!

Will’s been working on “my” new Mule RTV. He’d found a motor for it for $300 but true to his Scotch blood, he also found a Briggs motor on an old generator of ours (with an electric start) that would fit. He’s spent the better part of two afternoons on it and he thinks it’ll be ready to run this afternoon. Wow, that’ll be so nice. With the dump box, I can pick rocks out of the garden and pumpkin patch, and haul mulch and compost around (instead of a trailer or wheelbarrow) so easily. I can hardly wait! — Jackie

Q and A: canning beans, meat and soup, planting sprouted potatoes, and Nanking cherries

Friday, April 17th, 2015 by Jackie Clay | 1 Comment »

Canning beans, meat, and soup

I have a question about canning beans. How do you know when the beans are ready for canning and wouldn’t swell in the jar anymore? I canned kidney beans and pork and beans for the 1st time. The beans swelled. Should I soak them overnight? Then when I put them in the jar maybe stop at the shoulder of the jar with the beans then add fluid?

I also like to can meat. What does it mean to lightly brown? Do you not have any pink showing or is there a little pink showing and it will finish cooking while in the canner?

Also when you can soup such as beef vegetable, will it turn to mush while canning for 75 minutes? This is soup we ate a few meals of then want to save the rest. But you time the canner for the food item that has the longest canning time right? Even if it is cooked already?

Cindy Hills
Wild Rose, Wisconsin

Either rinse and hold beans overnight in a large pot of plenty of water or else add beans and water to large pot, bring to a boil, boil for 2 minutes, then let sit, covered, for two hours. This lets the beans swell to nearly full size. I never pack the beans up to 1 inch headspace but add about 2-3 inches of liquid over them to allow for more swelling during canning.

Lightly browning meat means to brown the outside lightly. There is still pink showing in the center and, yes, the meat fully cooks during the processing.

No, your vegetables don’t turn to mush. Campbell’s soup has veggies and beef, right? And it’s also processed. But if you fully cook the soup before canning, the vegetables do tend to get soft. So what I do is mix up the recipe, heat it to boiling, and then pack the jars without fully cooking the soup/stew. You can certainly can up leftover soup or stew but you could end up with softer veggies. They sure taste great though. And, yes, you do process the food for the length of time required for the food needing the longest processing time — usually meat.

Chili is one of our favorite meals in a jar. Like the soup, though, I soak my beans then add the sauce, meat, and spices, tasting as it heats and adding more spices, as needed. (The beans are still pretty firm so don’t eat them!).

Good luck stocking your pantry shelves with easy-to-fix meals! — Jackie

Planting sprouted potatoes

I have potatoes from my last year’s garden that I want to plant. Over the winter these potatoes have grown long sprouts, up to 12-18 inches long. Should I remove these sprouts before cutting the potato and planting?

Kathy Kinn
Findlay, Ohio

While it’s better to have shorter sprouts on your potatoes, you certainly can plant those with long sprouts. Plant the sprouts down as deep as you do the “mother” potato, running lengthwise in the row so you can hill the plants later on. Leave space between the end of one sprout and the start of the next one so your potatoes will be further apart than the “recommended” 12 inches or so. If you remove the long sprouts it takes time and energy for the potato to make new ones which often results in a smaller crop, come fall, unless you have a long growing season. — Jackie

Nanking cherries

At your recommendation, 3 years ago I planted several Nanking Cherry bushes on our new TN farmstead. This year looks like I am going to have a bumper crop! I want to process them but they look like they could be a little tedious. Could I use my Victorio strainer and if so, what size sieve should I use? I was thinking maybe the one designed for grapes. Also any tips for hand pitting them?

Cindy Baugh
Dandridge, Tennessee

I’ve never used my Victorio for this, so if you do, please let us know how that works. I make jam with them by heating the cherries until soft then cooling and hand-pressing them through a sieve, grating off the meat from the cherries. They do not pit well, either by hand or with a pitter as the cherries are fairly small and the pits fairly large. They are advertised as a pie cherry, but I wouldn’t want to be the pitter! I’m glad your Nankings are doing so well. You’ll love them! — Jackie



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