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It’s sunny and warm!

Wednesday, April 13th, 2016 by Jackie Clay | 5 Comments »

Finally, our cold snap has broken. I’m running around outside in a T-shirt. Hooray! I have to laugh at our wild turkey hen. At first she was terribly shy, running off when I got within 200 yards of her. Now she sees me coming and flies to the top of the chicken coop, then lands in the orchard, waiting for fresh feed. I just looked and she was scratching about in the grass (yes, we now have GRASS) with the tame turkeys. I wonder if she’ll lay eggs out in the woods or in the orchard?


Of course, our tom turkeys are strutting full blast now, each trying to look bigger and more gorgeous than the others. They huff up so big they seem like they’ll pop.


Will just got in from pruning our orchard and reported scarcely any winter kill on new twigs. The trees do look good and we are hoping to get a good crop of apples and other fruit this year. Last year, a late spring frost got all our fruit blossoms, including wild blueberries, raspberries, wild plums, and pin cherries. That sure was a bummer!

Little red rhubarb noses are poking up out of the soil — our first real sign of spring. I can’t wait! This afternoon I’m transplanting peppers. I was going to do it days ago but the Pro Mix was frozen solid as I kept it on the front porch outside. Now it’s finally thawed and warmed up — I didn’t want to use icy cold potting mix!

I walked into the big hoop house and it felt like summer. I really, really, really wanted to dig in the dirt. — Jackie

It’s coming…

Monday, April 11th, 2016 by Jackie Clay | 8 Comments »

The weather radio said our temps were headed for a warm-up. All I can say is it’s about time! We’re tired of snow, wind, and cold. But at least our little seedlings are doing well inside. I even planted a few more, just because.


Will mounted one of the tires he’d repaired on our old Oliver. Aired up, it’s doing well. Only time will tell if it’ll work. But if it does, that’ll be a huge savings. If not, we’re not out much. And yes, we will always be careful airing up that tire as it could blow at any time.


Saturday, our new HUGE tractor was delivered. The mile-long driveway was so rough with ice, mud holes and bumps that Will had the man unload it at the end of the driveway so he wouldn’t have to navigate the drive with the tractor on his trailer. We were lucky — the day after Will bought the tractor, we listed the “old” IH 706 on Craigslist, got a call about an hour later and had it sold the next day. I HATE debt and having a loan on two tractors made me crazy! Will wanted the big 100 hp tractor as he was afraid he’d blow up our IH 706 plowing clay with our three bottom plow; it really had to work. Now we can safely plow and plant many acres of “borrowed” hay ground and harvest great alfalfa and clover hay, and some grain as well. I can live with that!


Our turkeys are starting to lay and we have a banty hen who has decided to become a mom. So tonight, I’ll put her and a couple chicken eggs in a cat carrier lined with hay, shut her in and see how things look in the morning. If she’s setting tight, I’ll replace the chicken eggs with the turkey eggs and let her sit on them. Hopefully, she’ll go ahead and hatch little turkeys. (If you just let a hen sit on eggs in the nest boxes, other chickens lay more eggs in that box and they get all mixed up and usually broken. We don’t try that anymore!

Hopefully by Wednesday the sun will smile on us again and we can get to work! — Jackie

Spring is dragging its feet this year

Wednesday, April 6th, 2016 by Jackie Clay | 2 Comments »


It seems that this year, spring is dragging its feet. Or maybe we just got spoiled when it was 60 degrees a week or so ago? Each day brings another “fit and start.” One day four inches of snow and cold wind; another sun and melting; then more snow and 5 degrees! Through it all, our indoor seedlings are taking off. I’ve got a flat of peppers ready to transplant and the tomatoes are popping up.



Outside, there are some signs of oncoming spring though. Our squills in the front flower bed are popping up, with tiny blue buds. The patch of chives in the flower bed is already up (as are the first tiny lamb’s quarters!). And I’m seeing more and more migratory birds. Every day I’m seeing small flocks of robins and I’ve seen several kestrels (sparrow hawks) on the power lines.

I’ve ordered some daylilies and a few fruit trees, even a dwarf peach from Starks, which I’ll plant in a big tub to be brought in our unheated yet enclosed back porch for winter. As it’s a Reliance (Zone 4) it should do okay. Sometimes I’m dying for a fresh REAL peach!

I just discovered a wonderful website that my sister, Sue, found. They have a grandaughter of our old Morgan stallion, Bragg, who was the inspiration for the Hawk in my western novels. Take a look if you love horses! — Jackie

Q and A: frozen melon and canning hominy

Monday, April 4th, 2016 by Jackie Clay | 3 Comments »

Frozen melon

Our cantaloupe produced wonderfully last summer. My wife was able to freeze a bunch of it. My wife uses the frozen melon in smoothies and ice cream and such. But we still have a lot in the freezer. Do you have any ideas for additional ways to use our frozen melon? Or any ideas for additional ways to put it up?

Ben Blair

Here’s one for you:

Muskmelon cheesecake

1 graham cracker pie crust
2 8 oz packages cream cheese
1 cup sour cream
1 Tbsp. vanilla
1 Tbsp. lemon juice
1 cup powdered sugar
1½ cup blended frozen muskmelon

Combine cream cheese, sour cream, vanilla, and lemon juice in large bowl. Beat until fluffy. Slowly add powdered sugar. Beat until smooth. Transfer into graham cracker pie crust. Whiz frozen muskmelon in blender until smooth. Turn out on top of cheesecake. Put in freezer until barely frozen; about an hour. Take out and top with whipped cream if you wish. Serve at once.

Anyone have any other ideas? — Jackie

Canning hominy

I bought a #10 can of hominy and want to re-can into smaller jars. In a 2014 entry you said to process pints for 60 min., qts. for 70 minutes (10 lb. pressure). Earlier (2012) you had instructed using 10 lb. pressure; pints for 55 min., qts. for 85 min. Are the newer times a revision for re-canning this? I want to be sure I am doing the right thing.

Judith Almand
Lithia, Florida

There are sometimes slight variations on processing times, set forth by experts. I process my hominy at 10 pounds pressure, for 55 minutes (pints) and 85 minutes (quarts). It’s always been extremely good at those times. — Jackie

Will’s at it again!

Thursday, March 31st, 2016 by Jackie Clay | 11 Comments »

Previously, I’d taken in two front tractor tires to the Tire Shop in Cook to see if they could boot the splits in the sidewalls. No dice, the splits were too big and the guys said the boots might not work over time. So when I brought them home, Will started working on an idea for repairing them. New tires are several hundred dollars each. He figured, what the heck…


So, he began drilling holes on each side of the splits and threading wire through and through, effectively “sewing” the gaping split together. Once tight, he then coated both inside and out with a liberal coating of black Shoe Goo (silicone sealer) to reduce roughness and protect the outside from catching on field debris. Now he’s going to put two boots, one smaller and the next, (larger over the first, inside). Then it’ll be ready for a tube and back on the tractor. You can hardly see the spot where the ugly split used to be — no big lump, no roughness at all.



Of course, it remains to be seen if it’ll work, long term, but he has very little invested except for time and energy. And he thinks it will work, just like his homemade cement tractor wheel weights he made a couple of years ago. Cool, I love coloring outside the lines!

Meanwhile, I planted several more varieties of tomatoes and the first I planted are already coming up. That’s three days! The first peppers are almost big enough to transplant so that’ll be a next weekend job.

Yesterday I heard a killdeer and red-winged blackbirds singing! AND I saw a robin. This morning red-winged blackbirds were in the tree by the chicken yard. Spring’s here for sure! — Jackie

An upgrade on the homestead

Tuesday, March 29th, 2016 by Jackie Clay | 8 Comments »

We’ve been limping by on about 100 watts of solar panels and a small windcharger for the past few years. Yep, it worked, kind of. But we did have to use the generator more than we’d like. So since our seed business is busy right now with orders we’re real thankful for, we decided it was time to buy some larger solar panels and charge controller.

Will called a local manufacturer of solar panels and luckily they had two discontinued panels we could afford. Wow! I hopped in the car and in a little over an hour I was back with the two panels that would take us from 100 watts to 480 watts! Wow, are we happy! And guess what? The sun is shining brightly today and it’s 56 degrees out.


On Saturday I got our tomatoes planted. All 380 plants. Guess we’ll be busy this spring, planting and mulching, huh? Of course every seed won’t germinate and I’ll be giving some plants to kids and friends. (Think I over-did it again this year?) But we found some way-cool varieties of tomatoes and some customers donated some of their heirloom seed to us, so off we went.

Will heard a red-winged blackbird this morning but I still haven’t heard one, even though I went down by the beaver pond and listened and listened. No dice. But soon! I did see a pair of trumpeter swans flying south on Friday. Boy, was I excited. Spring IS coming — my favorite time of the year. — Jackie

Q and A: planting seedlings and non-electric range

Saturday, March 26th, 2016 by Jackie Clay | 13 Comments »

Planting seedlings

I read your post this morning and in answer to using peat pots you included some information new to me. If your seedling is leggy you plant it deeper when moving to a larger pot or garden. I had beans that sat too long in starter cups (having had the flu for days!) When I set them out into the garden it was very windy the next day and several were broken. Does this hold true for all veggies, and how deep can I place them? Hope that you are feeling better.

Judith Almand
Lithia, Florida

I, personally, haven’t done it with beans … yet. But I really can see no reason it wouldn’t work. In New Mexico, I’d put a tin can with both ends cut out over young veggie starts that were tender so the wind wouldn’t break them off and damage the leaves. I chose cans that were just a tiny bit taller than the plants — that worked well. Yes, I’m definitely feeling better and raring to go! — Jackie

Non-electric kitchen range

We live in a conventional, grid-tied house and have really been enjoying our small homestead for over four years now. I try to do a lot of canning, and we have a large family of 10 children. We have a kitchen that is in need of remodeling, and that is where I am hoping you can help me. I am trying to think of things that would be really helpful in canning or other types of food processing. I will have a large kitchen, which is helpful when you have a big family. I intend to get a new range as my current range is powered by electricity. As we don’t have natural gas where I live, I am planning to use propane. I am even considering making sure I have more than just a standard 4-burner range (maybe 2 ranges) as there have been many times that I find myself trying to can something using both large burners and would also like to have a pot of soup going for dinner. I never seem to have enough stove room when I am canning. Anyway, do you have any thoughts as to a good range for use with propane or what I should be looking for. Unfortunately, I am not at a time in my life where I feel like I could use a wood stove for cooking. I would like to be able to rely on my stovetop at least during a power outage, but if I could use the oven too, that would be a big bonus. Any other thoughts you have in regards to designing a kitchen that is great for canning would be appreciated!

Rebecca Whisonant
Chester, South Carolina

There are several high-end ranges that are out of my price range with commercial ovens and extra burners. For me, I want heavy burner grates next time. The ones on my stove are lightweight and wiggle around too much, making sliding heavy pots difficult. I also like a range with standing pilots, which are hard to find now. Ones with electronic pilots are fine if they have back-up battery operation but most do not. In a power outage, you can still light the burners but the oven usually won’t work. You might consider one range and a built-in counter cooktop. A lot of folks use them in island installations and I really like that because they are usually lower, making canning much nicer for shorter or older folks. Lots of counter space is always a plus as is a single deep sink instead of the usual double sink. Large pots and cookie sheets fit flat in my sink and I LOVE that! Lots of drawers are also a plus as you can keep all your canning supplies, lids, jar lifters, lid lifters, funnels, etc. in one drawer and rings in another. The best of luck with your remodel! — Jackie

Q and A: feeding chickens, canner rack, and canning milk

Friday, March 25th, 2016 by Jackie Clay | No Comments »

Feeding chickens

Now that winter’s about over and I’ve muddled through it with chickens I have several questions. These chickens are free range but much less is available in the winter. (They also said there was no way they were coming out of the coop with that funny white stuff on the ground!) We give them our food scraps but we don’t leave many. What would be a basic grain mix to feed in the winter? What can I substitute for the lack of bugs? What about chopped organ meats usually discarded at slaughter time? Are there things I can grow for them besides corn? I believe you keep your flock in the orchard. Do you bush hog it to keep the growth down? Whew, enough questions. The hens are laying like mad now that the weather is warmer. I hope you have a great spring and all your seeds germinate.

Carol Bandy
Hightown, Virginia

Thanks Carol. Our seeds are popping up like mad and the chickens are cranking out plenty of eggs. I’m even selling some in town, which pays for their feed.

A basic mix is cracked corn, wheat, and soybean meal. We feed a locally mixed 18% poultry ration fed free choice. But to keep the girls happy and cut costs I also feed a whole lot of home-grown feeds in the winter such as pumpkins and squash, and veggie scraps such as potato peels, carrot scraps, etc. Yes, you can feed raw, chopped organ or other meat to the chickens. Just make sure it stays fresh. We keep our chickens in our orchard where they scratch and eat bugs and any fallen fruit. There is clover and grass between the trees and they never keep it down. So I run our riding lawnmower over the orchard any time it gets out of control. The cut grass and clover helps feed the plants and fruit trees as well as the tractor bucket load of rotted manure we spread around each tree in the spring. By fall it’s gone! It just sinks into the ground and is scattered about by the chickens. You can grow extra garden crops such as pumpkins, squash, or sunflowers or grow a chicken garden with millet, which they love. Many homesteaders have two chicken runs and till and plant one in the spring, putting in millet, turnips, and greens. At about 8 weeks, the planted run is a jungle and they turn their birds in that and plant the old run. By early fall, the second planting is ready and the birds love cleaning it up before snowfall. Lots of options with chickens! — Jackie

Canner rack

This is not a question, but a suggestion. Jackie had a question about a new rack for a water bath canner. I find them at yard sales and antique shops for $5.00 all the time. If I needed more than two I would buy them, but I see no need for 5,6, etc. so I haven’t purchased any more. Saw one in Rome, Ga Sunday for $5.00 . I love Jackie, she is my mentor and hero.

Ruth Ledford
Lafayette, Georgia

Very good idea Ruth! I don’t do many yard sales so this slipped my mind. Thank you for sharing! — Jackie

Canning milk

Last fall, I canned 1%, 2%, and whole milk, following the directions exactly. All of the milk has separated, looking like curds & whey. My question: Is it usable? Are the curds like a cheese? I hate to throw it out but it looks disgusting.

Alice Clapper
New Castle, Pennsylvania

Yes, that’s kind of normal. As I’ve always said, canned milk is not for drinking! But if it smells okay (if it smells spoiled then something went wrong), just whip it up and use in baking or cooking as normal. — Jackie



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