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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: planting early trees and saving tomato seeds

Thursday, April 10th, 2014 by Jackie Clay | 3 Comments »

Planting early trees

I was excited to get the e-mail that my new Apple Trees will be shipping this week until I realized that there is no way all of our snow will be gone before they arrive. I ordered bare root trees from Fed-Co. Can you give me some advice on how to keep them healthy until I can get them in the ground?

Justin Dinger
Barnum, Minnesota

I got the same e-mail about ours! This has happened before and the first time I about had a panic attack. But I opened the package and checked the root packing; it was moist. So I re-wrapped the plastic and put the trees back in the box and set them in our unheated basement in the dark. Two weeks later, the snow was gone and I was able to plant my trees. If you have any dirt in your garden showing up and unfrozen, you can dig a shallow trench and set the trees’ roots in it, piling the dirt back over the roots. This is called “heeling” them in and will also keep them in good shape until you can plant them. I know our snow and frost is going fast so yours must be on the way, too. Hang in there! — Jackie

Saving tomato seeds

Does your Victorio strainer work to separate out tomato seeds when you’re saving those seeds to grow? The pictures in the ads always show a hopper full of raw tomatoes, does it really work with raw or do they have to be cooked? (I had decided to start my own seed company about a week before you announced yours. Talk about timing! But last fall it took so much time to chop tomatoes by hand to extract the seeds. Since I’m expanding the garden this year, I’m hoping there’s an easier way.)
Also, there’s a tomato variety that I’ve been growing from cuttings taken off an indoor plant. It’s a great variety, amazingly drought-resistant, but because it was a volunteer I have no idea if it’s a hybrid, or even what the name of it might have been. How many generations of seed should I grow out before I can tell if it’s a hybrid or not. (Or, if it was a hybrid, when is it sufficiently “de-hybridized” to be safe selling the seed?)

Melanie Rehbein
Fitchburg, Wisconsin

The Victorio strainer does separate seeds and peels from raw tomatoes but I’m not sure if they are damaged so they might not germinate. I’m going to try some this year so ask again in the fall. I’ve heard that some seed savers use a blender to whiz whole tomatoes and then ferment the juice/slop/seeds (which are not supposed to be damaged. That sounds radical but maybe that would work, as well. I will also try that and let you know. For now, I cut my tomatoes in quarters and use my thumb to “milk” out the seeds and gel into a bowl. It really goes pretty fast that way.

Usually after 4-5 generations, even if you started out with a hybrid, selecting true-to-type plants/tomatoes each time you save seed, you will end up with a pretty much stabilized variety you can then name. I would mention that there could be off types and to advise folks to rogue out them if they intend to save seed. Hey, it happens… Good luck with your seed business! — Jackie

Hey guys, guess what? I have a new book out!

Wednesday, April 9th, 2014 by Jackie Clay | 7 Comments »

Well, it’s official, my new book is ready for pre-order at a great 25% reduced price. It’s titled Homesteading Simplified: Living the good life without losing your mind and it details all the different ways a person can make homesteading easier and more enjoyable whether they live in town or on a large acreage … or anywhere in between. I’ve written about livestock, watering systems, gardening, tools, and much more. Because I’ve fielded a lot of questions about how to avoid homesteader burnout, I wrote this book to help homesteaders, new and experienced, make their life easier while enjoying it more.

I hope you like it. — Jackie

Homesteading-book  Our watchdogs, Hondo and Spencer, on watch for the new book.

Q and A: fruit tree with thorns and canned rhubarb

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

Fruit tree with thorns

I was not good about labeling or keeping track of the fruit trees that I planted in my orchard. I have one that has thorns — do you have any idea what it might be? It also might be one that the birds planted.

I would love to come to one of your seminars. I am retiring in 2 months so if there is one in the fall or next year maybe I’ll attend.

Joline Fleming
Rossiter, Pennsylvania

Chances are that your mystery fruit tree is either a plum or pear that has died above the graft and regenerated from below the graft, giving you a “wild” tree from the rootstock. You won’t know for sure until it fruits but no domestic common fruit has thorns. All is not lost because you can always graft more wanted domestic scion wood onto the wildling.

We’d love to have you come to a seminar. We’re planning one in June (see box at top of blog) and another in early September. I’m sure we’ll have at least one seminar next year, as well. (God willing and the creek don’t rise…) — Jackie

Canned rhubarb

Last year I canned some nice red rhubarb. However, the canned rhubarb is brown. What can I use to keep the nice red color? Would Fruit Fresh work? I really like the convenience of canned rhubarb!

Jean Ann Wenger
Fairbury, Illinois

Unfortunately, many older varieties of rhubarb, such as Victoria, do end up losing their color when canned. The newer varieties such as Canada Red and Valentine hold their color much better. To keep your rhubarb red about the only thing I can suggest is adding a few drops of red food coloring to each jar. I don’t do that because I don’t like to use food coloring because of possible health concerns. We’ve learned that it’s the taste that matters, not the color. — Jackie

With warmer weather here, Will’s back at work on our barn

Tuesday, April 8th, 2014 by Jackie Clay | 6 Comments »


Because there’s still too much snow to get to the sawmill and/or logs, Will’s been busy using some of the lumber he cut last summer to frame up both upper ends of our new barn. Once the snow melts quite a bit more, we’ll fire up the sawmill and start sawing barn siding to nail over it. We’re going to use board and batten siding and stain it before putting it up. And to keep the wind out, Will’s going to put sheets of our free 1/4-inch plywood under it to prevent drafts in case some of the battens warp a bit. At our age, we want this to be our last, best barn.

We wanted to attract more birds to our homestead and had talked about building some more bird houses for wrens and bluebirds (hard to get up here). Even if we don’t end up with bluebirds, we do get swallows. All kinds eat a ton of insects, especially cabbage moths, so we love the birdies!

Luckily, Will had cut some big cedar logs into lumber last summer. They were out of a few cords we’d bought for fence posts and were just too large to use even for corner posts. So he cut them into one-inch lumber figuring we could always use some nice cedar lumber. Yesterday, he went down to the barn and came back up with several lengths of cedar.


I’d researched and drawn pictures with measurements on them, including hole sizes for the birds we want to attract. Will cut the lumber to size and brought the piles into the house for me to assemble. I screwed them together and drilled holes. Now we have six new bird houses ready to hang. And Will is going to cut more lumber so we can build some wood duck houses to hang next to our small beaver pond. I especially want those where we can watch with binoculars because it’s so amazing to see those little baby wood ducks just jump out of their nest holes, way up high, falling to the ground with a bounce that would kill you or me, then get up, wag their tail, and head for Mama and the pond. What brave little guys!


Today I’m clearing the deck to start transplanting tomato and pepper seedlings. They’re growing so well we can hardly believe it! And I can actually see grass in our south-facing back yard! They’re calling for 60 on Wednesday so we’re really excited. The snow is going fast. Hooray! — Jackie

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



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