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Ask Jackie headline

Click here to ask Jackie a question!
Jackie Clay answers questions for BHM Subscribers & Customers
on any aspect of low-tech, self-reliant living.

David came out to help harvest

Friday, September 9th, 2016 by Jackie Clay | 4 Comments »

And while he was here, Hondo decided he needed to be held on David’s lap like he used to be when he was a pup. Unfortunately, Hondo’s a lot bigger now, but he still likes being there!



Will harvested most of our Bear Island Chippewa flour corn as the Blue Jays were getting into it. They were also getting in our Yukon Supreme sweet corn, so I’ve pulled all of that too. I sat on the front porch and tied all the shucked corn up into strings so it could continue drying out without molding — it will if left in the shuck.


I’ve got lots more to do but will get on that after my trip to Florida. See you when I get back. I’ll take plenty of pictures. And if any of you can come to the booth at the expo, please stop by and say “hi!” — Jackie

The big Bill Bean is ripe

Wednesday, September 7th, 2016 by Jackie Clay | 8 Comments »


You’ve been wondering when you’d get a chance to see our biggest big Bill Bean tomato? We harvested it before the chickens could get a beak on it, and it’s a whopper — the biggest tomato I’ve ever seen. It measured 22 inches around. Now that’s a tomato!


And the other tomatoes are coming in gangbusters, too. We picked a nice big pair of Solar Flares yesterday and not only are they big, but gorgeous too! We can hardly eat one they’re so pretty (we did, anyway).


Haying is finally finished. And boy, what a finish. We ended up with three out of four tractors broken down and both big round balers with bearings gone out. Just ahead of a big rainstorm, too. Whew, are we glad that’s done!

Now I’m getting packed for the big Lakeland, Florida Self Reliance Expo where I’ll be speaking on Friday and Saturday. Will I ever be canning when I get back! — Jackie

I hope to see some of you at the Lakeland, Florida Self Reliance Expo

Thursday, September 1st, 2016 by Jackie Clay | 3 Comments »

I’ll be away from home from September 8th to the 13th, giving a couple of talks at the Lakeland, Florida Self Reliance Expo. Any of you who can attend, please stop by and visit the Backwoods Home Magazine booth, where I’ll be helping Ilene Duffy. I truly look forward to meeting my great BHM family on these road trips. Since it’s a first-time trip to Florida for me, and just a few miles north of Sanibel Island, which is on my bucket list, Ilene and I will be taking a short vacation and hopefully pick up some beautiful seashells and see wildlife we’ve never experienced before.

Will is going to man the homestead and (hopefully) keep the garden’s produce from freezing. So as soon as I get back, I’ll once again hit the harvesting and canning in earnest.

Today Will is cutting our last hayfield away from home. Yesterday he cut two other fields. All we have left is one small field of second crop clover here at home and we’ll be done. Hooray! We’re supposed to be having 4½ days without rain. We’ll see. We’ve heard that before…


I harvested a basket of Bill Bean tomatoes. The biggest one weighed 4 pounds 3 ounces. And that’s not the biggest one out there! I can’t wait to see how much the big guy weighs. It’s bigger than an ice cream bucket! These are such flavorful tomatoes and so meaty they don’t make your bread soggy when you use them on a sandwich. Mmm, I’ve got half a loaf of whole wheat bread, mayo and…


— Jackie

Did you ever have one of those days?

Wednesday, August 31st, 2016 by Jackie Clay | 9 Comments »

Yesterday was mine. Early in the morning, Will sent me to Hibbing, 30 miles away, to rent the 2-inch trash pump again. First off, he needed it to draw down the muddy ground water around the base of our well so he could access the outside of the pitless adapter to hook up the water line to the new well for the barn. I asked him to call first to make sure they had it. He did, so I started off. Then he got a call that the replacement belt for the grain swather had come in at Hongistos Implement, in Cloquet (80 miles in another direction!). I figured I’d get the pump, deliver it to Will, then head to Cloquet. The rental company didn’t have a 2-inch pump; it was either a huge 3-inch pump (overkill) or an 1½ inch pump. (Was it big enough?)

I chose the 1½-inch pump. Drove home, dumped off the pump and headed for Hongistos. Will called. The pump worked fine, however the inside of the pitless adapter had somehow gotten knocked off and was now in the bottom of the well casing and, being brass, there is no way to retrieve it.

Okay, maybe we’d buy another $60 pitless adapter and just use the inside part. As there is an L & M farm store in Cloquet, I got the belt for the swather then headed for L & M. They didn’t even know what a pitless adapter was. But finally a more knowledgeable man said the only one they carried now was a “complete” kit with a well cap, adapter, etc. $159. No way!

I called Will and he made several phone calls and finally located one at Menards in Virginia (on the way home!). Only it was not a 1″ outlet but 1½”. Maybe it would work? And it was only $62; I got it. Meanwhile, he’d called L&M in Hibbing (30 miles west of Virginia) and the guy said they had the right one. So with the “wrong” one in tow, I also stopped at the L & M in Virginia, just in case. No dice. They said they’d discontinued the one Will had bought there a year back and now only sold the same “complete” kit I’d seen in Cloquet.

Off to Hibbing! Got to Hibbing and guess what? The only one they had was the “complete” kit for $159. But at least Will had been able to finish insulating and hooking up the water line and running the electric line. He also graded the ditch in so the well’s ready to go. As soon as the new pitless adapter comes in the mail…

This morning Will tried the wrong sized one from Menards. It was too big to slide into the half of the pitless we already had in place. So it was first off to Hibbing to return the pump. Then off to Virginia to return the wrong pitless adapter. Whew! All done. Will ordered the right one online.


Meanwile, the blessed man picked our wild plums. They were falling off and the deer were eating them! Luckily they spit out the pits. Now I have nearly a five-gallon bucket waiting to make plum jam and harvest pits which we’ll offer on our Seed Treasures website. This is a wonderful wild plum; so sweet inside but with tart skins. They make great jam, if I ever get to it!


We just had a beautiful heifer calf from our half-Jersey, Surprise! I think Will wants to call her Lady and she looks like a Jersey although her sire was a Gelbvieh beef bull. (Gelbvieh is pronounced Gel-fee and is a dual-purpose German breed, bred for meat and milk as well as draft.) Lady is a beautiful little girl!


I also picked some gorgeous Morovsky Div tomatoes. These are definitely one of our favorites; smaller mid-sized, thin-skin tomatoes with wonderful productivity and flavor. They just glow!


— Jackie

Harvest time is here — big time

Thursday, August 25th, 2016 by Jackie Clay | 4 Comments »

Boy, are things ever getting ripe. I’m hurrying to get the early tomatoes seeded to save their seeds. So far the early winners this year are: Earlibell, Italian Paste, Morovsky Div, Silvery Fir Tree, and Cougar Red — with Bill Bean crowding in too! Yeah, Don, they are that big; Dad wasn’t stretching the truth. I can’t get a tape measure into the cage where the biggest one is, but it’s about two inches larger than the one I did measure and it’s still green!


Our wild plums are ready to pick and look so pretty hanging in the trees like Christmas decorations. They just glow! I’m making a big batch of plum jam from them this year and saving the pits as so many folks wrote us for them so they could plant some too. (They have to be planted this fall so they can go through winter and come up next spring.)



The corn is simply fantastic! Everything from the rare Burro Mountain popcorn to Will’s Seneca Sunrise sweet corn is out-producing anything we’ve ever had. It must have been all that rain. Now it’s starting to dry up some and we’re really thankful for that. Will’s got hay down and we’re praying the clouds overhead don’t drop you-know-what on it.

The apples are also going nuts! I’m canning like mad and making lots of pies. Our Frostbite is simply over-burdened with fruit and that’s our favorite apple. No complaints there! And the Prairie Magic is loaded with big apples. We love our apples (but we are hoping the bears don’t break down the six-foot fence to get to them). Watch ’em, Hondo!

If you’re looking for a hardy, Zone 3 black raspberry, like we have been for years, try Mac Black from Indiana Berry & Plant Co. 2811 Michigan Road, Plymouth, IN 46563. We bought a dozen last year and they not only survived winter but thrived and are starting to produce great berries. — Jackie

The Orr Center Homesteading and Sustainable Living Expo was a great success

Tuesday, August 23rd, 2016 by Jackie Clay | 6 Comments »


Will and I attended the Expo on Saturday and Sunday, taking our Seed Treasures booth, seeds, and vegetables and promoting Backwoods Home and Self-Reliance magazines, of course. I gave the keynote address each day, one on canning, the other on gardening and seed saving. Both were well attended by excited and very interested people.

After the workshops, we had a chance to visit with many of these people at our booth and answer even more questions. Needless to say, both Will and I were pretty tired last night.


The gardens are doing extremely well. Friday evening I picked two ears of Will’s Seneca Sunrise sweet corn for us to try. Oh my! It was SO good I almost went back for a dozen ears more! The ears were nearly eight inches long, had 14 rows of delectable, nicely sweet, tender corn. And Will checked out the Bill Bean tomatoes and found one was ¼-inch short of being the same size as a 5-quart ice cream pail. And it’s still green, not ripe! We think it’s going to be over 4 pounds easily.


And BEANS! We’re simply blown away by the production on the various bean vines. Some of our new ones are stupendous. And I can’t pick a favorite. There’s a dozen or more we simply love. Like pretty Gold Marie Vining and Purple Dove. And Magpie, Iroquois, and Folsom Indian Ruin and… It’s so great to be doing what you love every day! — Jackie

Will and I will be attending the Homesteading and Sustainable Lifestyles Expo in Orr this weekend

Wednesday, August 17th, 2016 by Jackie Clay | 8 Comments »

Will and I will be manning our Seed Treasures booth, showing some of the various crops we grow and answering questions as we pass out catalogs on august 20th and 21st. I’ll also have some of my books available for those who wish to purchase autographed copies. I’ll be speaking on gardening at 2 PM on Saturday and speaking about canning at 4 PM on Sunday. We’re expecting a great show as there are many workshops as well as vendors. The Orr Center is housed in the old school in Orr Minnesota, about 40 miles straight north, up Hwy 53, from Virginia, Minnesota. Check out the Orr Center’s website for more information at I hope to visit with you there!



Yesterday I picked a bucket of Norland apples to can up. They were starting to fall off the tree they were so ripe. Norland is a very productive fall apple. It’s tasty, early to produce and very hardy, but it doesn’t keep. So after giving my friend a pail full, I picked one for us and canned ’em up. I did keep out enough for a pie, of course. I wasn’t so sure how it’d work as it is a soft apple and might not make a nice pie. I was wrong! Although it was soft, it more than made up for it by being very tasty.


You should see our Hopi Pale Grey squash vines. They have entirely taken up the narrow bed they were planted in and are now climbing trees, the fence and the bank next to them. What vigorous vines! And I know they’re loaded with squash, too, as usual. — Jackie

Well … We had ¾ inch of rain yesterday

Monday, August 15th, 2016 by Jackie Clay | 3 Comments »

And because the weather radio had our rain chances at 20% yesterday and it was sunny, Will cut hay. He quit when it started raining two hours later. And by the time he’d gotten home and in the house it rained again. No, make that POURED! Luckily, today (so far) has been sunny and breezy so he’s going out to rake the hay so it can dry the rest of this afternoon and tomorrow until he attempts to bale it. What a year it’s been.

Fortunately, the garden and pastures have loved all this rain! I’ve never in my life seen such crops. I have some beans a foot long and Will’s pride and joy, Seneca Sunrise sweet corn (which the cows ate last summer), has nine-inch cobs that are very fat. And LOTS of them. Our new sweet corn, Yukon Supreme, has shorter cobs, about five to six inches, but is very fat and tasty. We ate some last night to try it. It isn’t super sweet but does have nice old-fashioned corn flavor. It appears the variety needs a bit of stabilizing as we got both bi-colored ears and yellow. But when a sweet corn produces five ears per seed (it stools out with about four tillers, each having nice cobs!) and matures at 50 days, we sure aren’t complaining!


In our big hoop house, the peppers are going nuts. One variety that is super nice is Mt. Etna, an Italian sweet pepper. One plant has twelve big peppers with more coming. And the beans? I can’t walk through the hoop house because of the beans EVERYWHERE on the south end — up poles, clinging to the hoops. Very nice.


Will has been whacking tall grass so he can turn on the electric fence on the east pasture for the cows. He wanted them out of the north pasture so there was NO chance of them breaking into our north garden like they did last year. He’d even put electric fencing around the 6-foot-tall welded wire fence but didn’t trust them. Besides, the pasture was getting a little eaten down. So first we drove them to the small north east pasture, which is fenced with barbed wire. But it’s only about five acres and they ate the three-foot-tall grass down in a week’s time.


Today he got the fence working and I turned the cows out onto the east pasture. I didn’t have to call them twice! Mamba, one of our milk cows, saw me open the gate and started trotting right toward me. She knows the routine and LOVES it when we rotate pastures. She’s always the first out the gate. Smart cow. It used to be Lace, our “wedding cow”, but early this spring, we lost her. She wasn’t a young cow when we bought her five years ago and she had a real bad case of mastitis in all four quarters when she calved last fall. With the help of friends, we treated her for weeks and finally stopped the mastitis. But I’m sure it stressed her body. We were sure sad when she died and I think of her every time I go check cows. She was the best cow I’ve ever had. — Jackie

Pictures of our homemade backhoe for Reg

This is the backhoe we bought for $300 from our friend, Tom. The front is an Allis Chalmers tractor with a trailer hitch in place of the front tires. The seat is on backwards for the hoe operator. The hydraulics run off of the “tractor.” Instead of two big rear tractor tires, there are four heavy-duty truck tires to lower the backhoe and support the weight while digging. The hoe has outriggers run by the hydraulics to help steady the rig while digging.




It ain’t fancy, but hey, it works! I’m sure if you have any questions, Will would be happy to help. — Jackie


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