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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

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Tomorrow I get to do my civic duty

Monday, February 16th, 2015 by Jackie Clay | 14 Comments »

I got a jury summons a while ago and was kind of hoping that the trial would be cancelled. (I live 90 miles north of Duluth, where the Federal trial will be held and have to report at 7:15 a.m.) It’s going to be -18 tonight and the parking lot is three blocks uphill from the Courthouse. Bad knee and that cold wind whipping up from Lake Superior right down the hill means I’m not looking forward to it at all.

Actually, without a fully informed jury, it kind of scares me, basically deciding without all the information on a person’s future. Justice is not always just. I know from experiences of loved ones.

AND our Subaru is out of commission. Old ‘Ru is starting to have a really bad vibration in the rear end and New ‘Ru is at the mechanic’s getting a heater core leak fixed. It was fogging up the windshield and driver’s window and antifreeze fumes like that can kill you. So there was no putting that off. Luckily, I can borrow David’s truck for the drive.

Hopefully I’ll be home tomorrow evening and get back to my life. It’s been a stressful week, knowing that jury selection is coming up. I’ll be in the shower at 4 a.m. and on the road by 4:45. — Jackie

Our cold weather is back

Thursday, February 12th, 2015 by Jackie Clay | 8 Comments »

But we’re not complaining. We know you folks back East are suffering record-breaking snowfalls with nowhere to put it all. Been there. We know where you’re coming from. Luckily, our winter has been great, although light on the snow. We only have about a foot on the ground. Honest. And it’s not been too cold, either. So when we hit a week of sub-zero weather, it feels cold now. But we know spring is coming fast. In fact, in two weeks I’ll be starting my petunias and peppers. Yeah, green things!

We keep opening pumpkins and squash as we use them, saving all the good seeds to sell in our Seed Treasures seed business, which is doing well. I’m glad to report that we’ve sent seeds to every state in the union now, from Florida to Alaska. (By the way, any of you who bought seeds, I’d LOVE to see pictures of your garden this summer/fall!)

Just a note to let you know Spencer is 100% back to normal again and sure loves getting his pills 3 times a day. Why? Because I bought small cans of turkey cat food. I put a pill in the center of a tablespoon of food and he gobbles everything right up. Yum! We will be back at the vet’s to get him started on other antibiotics to treat his Lyme disease as well as getting Hondo tested and vaccinated if he comes up clear.

Our critters are all doing fine. The goats are doing well back up the hill in the old goat barn for the winter, having free choice hay outside the stock panels and grain being fed in a heavy duty plastic sled I bought on sale a week ago. The sleds work great to feed grain as they are SO easy to clean out before new feed is dumped in. In the summer, I can even scrub them out, if needed.

I’m happy to report that my Western novel, Summer of the Eagles, is selling well and has several 5 star reviews on Amazon. Would any of you who purchased the book, either on Kindle or as a paperback, give a review, also? I’m told that it really helps not only sell the book but place it higher in Amazon’s promotion list, which is important. Thanks! — Jackie

Q and A: canning Mostarda di frutta, canning pickled eggs and canning beans, and new All American canner

Wednesday, February 11th, 2015 by Jackie Clay | No Comments »

Canning Mostarda di frutta

I have recently discovered mostardas, and I think the pear variety I have been experimenting with is great. I used a pint of home canned pears in water (no added syrup/sugar when I canned them), and added 1 tsp ground yellow mustard, 1 tsp brown mustard seed, 2 T apple cider vinegar, ¼ tsp salt and ¼ tsp pepper. Heated to boil, let simmer 20 minutes.

Most people add sugar, but I love it like this. Would it be safe to can it with the added spices and apple cider vinegar in a water bath canner?

Chrissy Mullender
Luray, Kansas

Yes, this would fine to can in a water bath canner. The pears are high acid and you are also adding apple cider vinegar. Enjoy your pears! — Jackie

Canning pickled eggs and canning beans

I would like to start off by saying how much I enjoy your books along with Backwoods Home Magazine. After the Bible they are the next most must read in our home. I have even purchased your canning and pantry cookbook for 2 of my 3 daughters and a friend. Our third daughter, who just got married will be getting them this year for Christmas.

I have 2 questions for you. In the Sept/Oct 2014 issue of Backwoods Home there was a article on things not to can and I noticed that pickled eggs were mentioned. Last year I canned pickled eggs using your recipe, so I am wondering if this is still okay? I didn’t have a problem with them and was thinking that maybe the shelf life isn’t as long. My second question is when canning beans is it okay to use Jacob’s Cattle in the recipe for the beans? I figure that it probably is and am embarrassed that I am even asking. I hope you don’t think I am a dipsy doodle, but I want to just make sure what I am doing is okay. There is a lot of work in canning and I just want to make sure it’s a good outcome. You are my canning guru, so thanks for taking the time I know you are very busy. I love canning and have been teaching my daughters. There is a gentleman at Church that told me if he stood still I would probably can him. Only if it’s in Jackie Clay’s Growing and Canning Your Own Food.

Robin Cousens
Sterling, Connecticut

Yes, I read that too. What Patrice meant is that there is no “tested” recipe for canning pickled eggs. Unfortunately the experts don’t bother testing a lot of tried and true recipes we’ve used for years. But folks have been pickling eggs for generations and I don’t know of a single illness resulting from them. Mine last for years just fine.

Yes, you can use any beans in bean recipes. No, of course I don’t think you’re a “dipsy doodle!” Sensible questions are always good questions that lots of other people probably wonder about too.

Hey, it’s said here that I’ll can anything that holds still long enough. And if it doesn’t, I’ll shoot it first, then can it up! That guy better watch out! — Jackie

New All American canner

I am so excited because I just got an All American canner. The first time I used it, it made a vacuum inside the canner. Getting the lid off was terrible. Could you, possibly, do a video or post good quality photos showing where the Vaseline goes? The instruction book that comes with the canner only uses words to describe where to put it — and they aren’t completely helpful!

Deborah McEnulty
Priest River, Idaho

All you do is take your index finger and lightly rub Vaseline all around the inside top of the canner body, where the top lid fits against the beveled part. Done deal. If you’re still not sure, I will gladly post a photo for you. I’m so happy you got an All American canner! You’ll love it! — Jackie

We had one of “those” days

Tuesday, February 10th, 2015 by Jackie Clay | 10 Comments »

First off, our 5-year-old six-battery battery bank was quickly dying. It got so we didn’t even have enough power to run a CFL to see to get up to go to the bathroom and put firewood in the stove at night. My oldest son, Bill, works for an RV dealership and can get Interstate batteries at cost so, of course, we had to save up to buy six new ones (more than $700). Then we planned to drive down to Bill’s Monday morning. Well, plans changed.

Sunday, our Lab, Spencer, started acting like he didn’t feel well. He was panting and shaking and as the day progressed, he wouldn’t eat or drink. He was running a fever. We were very concerned and I called our vet, Dr. Fisher, in Cook. He said he might just have a GI upset and to see if he got over it by morning. He didn’t.

I drove to Bill’s, 100 miles south, (mostly because I was SO chicken I couldn’t bear to go to the vet with Spencer) while Will, who is coming down with my COLD FROM HELL, offered to take Spencer to the vet.

We found out that Spencer had a raging bladder infection. Easily treated with antibiotics. But the bloodwork also showed that he had Lyme disease. Luckily, he isn’t showing any symptoms so as soon as he gets done with the antibiotics for his bladder infection, he’ll go on another medicine for the Lymes. Wow, I think it’s a good thing that he got that bladder infection. If not, we wouldn’t have known about the Lyme disease until he got too sick to treat!

Of course, we’ll take Hondo in too and get him tested and vaccinated. The vaccine isn’t 100% effective, but we’ll do it anyway. Spencer got two shots and pills to bring home. By evening, he was back to feeling good again, wagging and dancing when I got home. He’s also eating and drinking just fine.

I brought the batteries home and Will carried them downstairs and up on our rack. They’re HEAVY and poor Will is sick. But last night we had lights! — Jackie

P.S. My cold is gone now. Thank goodness!

Q and A: garden mulching, watering, and using hoop houses

Monday, February 9th, 2015 by Jackie Clay | 2 Comments »

I see in the summer pics of your garden, you use mulch. Looks like hay, and doesn’t look really thick like the deep mulch system. Question: It looks like hay — I worry about hay leaving weed seeds. Some say if you do the deep mulch (like 6-8 inches) it will kill out the weed seeds. Yours don’t look that thick. Do you get weed seeds growing from the hay? Also, another reason I hesitate the method, is mice. I can see them having a hay day in that thick stuff. They ate my carrots one year, and that was with no mulch. Do you have a problem with the hay mulch? How thick is yours?

Also… I see in your book you are using hoop houses. Can you give more detail — like do you use them to just start things, then remove them later? Can you explain your reasoning? I really like info from you because you live in the real cold, just like we do. I always run out of time. Beginning of September this year it frosted. When you run out of season, do you do anything? I see your rows and garden is so big, so I’m assuming you don’t put a hoop house over it.

Is your only watering method the sprinkler? Do you have a problem with diseases because you use a sprinkler (keeps leaves wet)? I’m thinking about a sprinkler, its so much cheaper than soaker hoses all over.

Roxann Bagley
Williston, North Dakota

You’re so right about some hays “planting” seeds in a garden. When I was a young homesteader, I did just that and had a horrible grass/weed problem for three years following my mistake. Our hay is hay we cut ourselves. It’s reed canary grass that we cut when it is less than mature and has no seed heads. And as it grows so thick, no weeds are present in the stand of grass we cut early. We mulch pretty heavily (about 12 inches thick) which quickly packs down to about six inches. No, we have no weeds. Let me tell you what we do. We till our entire garden with either our Troy-bilt Horse tiller or a 3-point tractor mount tiller. Then we plant. Early crops are tilled again when they’re about six inches tall and hand weeded. The later crops are planted and when they are about six inches high, the whole garden is tilled and hand weeded between the plants. Then we mulch the whole works. NO more weeding all summer except a possible weak weed here and there. We have a good cat and two dogs and have never had trouble with mice or voles in our garden.

We have two hoop houses at present. We plant our transplanted peppers (that we start indoors) in the houses when the bad cold has passed but light frosts may still possible. The other one is for direct seeded muskmelons and watermelons, which are planted once the soil has warmed up quite a bit; usually in early June here. We leave them in all summer and fall until it freezes. If crops are really good and need a little longer, we’ll heat them with propane heaters overnight if freezing threatens. The rest of the garden is just covered with plastic tarps if frost looks possible. We listen to our weather radio every day! When a hard freeze is likely, we pick all the ripe (and some unripe, like tomatoes) and bring them inside. Green tomatoes will go ahead and ripen nicely if they haven’t been touched by frost.

We do use sprinklers as well as soaker hoses along our tomato rows and in our hoop houses. No, we have not had trouble with diseases because of the sprinklers. Our ground is sand and rock which is now nice black soil due to all of the rotted manure and compost we’ve tilled in over the years so drainage is perfect. When ground is more clay, it will hold the moisture, releasing it to the undersides of the plants and leaves, and we’ve found you get more disease that way. — Jackie

Q and A: leaving rings on jars in storage, canning pinto beans, and growing tomatoes in low light

Thursday, February 5th, 2015 by Jackie Clay | 4 Comments »

Leaving rings on jars in storage

Our family butchered a 500+ pound hog this past weekend, and we were able to render 30+ quarts of lard. We poured the hot lard directly from the press into the jars, and they all sealed. Now I am wondering if I need to leave the rings on in storage. I normally don’t keep my rings on my jars in storage, but I don’t want to do anything to ruin this wonderful lard.

Lisa Smith
Sunbury, Pennsylvania

I take my rings off then wash the sealed, cool jars in hot, soapy water to remove any grease. Then I dry my rings and air dry the jars. When dry, I do put the rings back on but don’t tighten them much at all. This is just to keep lids in place, should one get bumped as they really aren’t “canned” even though they are sealed. Isn’t that lard great? I NEVER use shortening anymore after learning more about it. — Jackie

Canning pinto beans

I saw this information posted on another blog and wondered what your thoughts might be on it. The discussion was about canning dried beans.

“I LOVE home canned pinto beans! … I sort & wash them. 1/2 c. beans per pint or 1 c. beans per quart. Put them in hot jars, top off with boiling water to 1″ head space. I add 1/4 t. salt per pint, 1/2 t. per quart. Get the air bubbles out, wipe the rim of the jar, lid & ring on and in the pressure canner. 11# pressure for 75 minutes for pints, and 90 mins for quarts. I don’t soak them, I don’t cook them. Don’t need to, the pressure canner does that. You should save yourself some electricity and give it a try.”

It WOULD save time and effort, and maybe prevent mushiness. Thanks for any input.

Donna Herlihy
Wentworth, New Hampshire

I have friends who use this method but it isn’t a “recommended” canning method, although I don’t know why it wouldn’t work. The method I use is to pour rinsed, picked through beans into a big kettle. Cover with plenty of water and bring to a boil. Boil 2 minutes. Cover and let sit covered for 2 hours. Heat back up to boiling. Then ladle beans out into hot jars, just more than half full. Cover with hot cooking liquid and leave 1″ of headspace. If you don’t have enough cooking liquid, use boiling water. Process for 65 minutes for pints and 75 minutes for quarts. I find this works well and doesn’t take much effort at all. — Jackie.

Growing tomatoes in low light

My garden-loving parents have moved into a senior-living apartment complex and have a north-facing balcony on the 11th floor. Dad desperately wants to grow tomatoes. Do you know of any varieties that might do well under low-light conditions? Will he need to hand-pollinate them?

Carol Elkins
Pueblo, Colorado

Tell your dad not to despair. I’ve grown several tomatoes on north-facing sides of the buildings and had them do okay. They do tend to lean out, looking for the sun. But they will grow and give him tomatoes. Usually, the shorter season tomatoes will do best on the north side, where it tends to be cooler. No, he won’t have to hand-pollinate them. Tomatoes are chiefly self-pollinating, having both male and female parts in each flower, so they don’t need help to set fruit. — Jackie

No, it isn’t spring in Minnesota

Wednesday, February 4th, 2015 by Jackie Clay | 11 Comments »

I just thought you might like to see some shots of our garden in the SUMMER! I know we’re getting kind of tired of drab, naked trees and snow. I ran across these photos and thought I’d share them with you! See, summer IS coming!

For those of you who have been waiting to get my new book, Summer of the Eagles, good news! It’s been released sooner than we thought.

My publisher gave me some links for you. They are: Kindle version: Print version: (my Amazon store) OR (Amazon’s order page).

You can read the beginning of the book on the publisher’s website here:

And signed copies will be available through me for $18.90 ($12.95 for the book + $5.95 Priority Mailing). You can e-mail me for a form at or download the form after you read the excerpt at the link above.

Are any of the rest of you getting crazy, trying to plot out your gardens for this year? Even with an extra acre and a half of “garden,” I’m kind of running out of space for it all. Maybe it’s the full moon? — Jackie

Mittens “helps” Will stamp our seed envelopes

Monday, February 2nd, 2015 by Jackie Clay | 5 Comments »

Our cat, Mittens LOVES to knock small things off tables and shelves. She even tears open plastic bags and carries screws around in her mouth. (Never had a cat do that before!) We bought a hand stamp with tiny letters to stamp our seed envelopes. So when Will was changing these tiny letters, Mittens thought it would be wonderful to toss them off the table and onto the rug where we can’t find them. She even picked up the tweezers he was setting them with and shoved that off. It was so funny we couldn’t help laughing. She was crazy about it, going from one thing to the other while we played catch it before it hit the floor. Sure, we could pay to have the envelopes printed, but then we’d have to charge more for seeds, which we don’t want to do. So, Mittens, it looks like you’ll have fun for years!

By the way, those of you who have homestead businesses, check out the Uline Company. They have tons of different boxes, bottles, envelopes, packing material, etc. at a very reasonable price. So if you’re shipping wine, cupcakes, paintings or prints, seeds, beads or whatever, get a catalog. Great source.

Will put up another kitchen cabinet. We only have the three to hang and we’re done! Now if we could only get enough time to do it!

Yesterday my adopted son, Javid, moved from Eveleth to Orr, about 30 miles north of us where he can have a private apartment with handicapped accessibility. Great. But first thing this morning, the nurse called, getting me out of bed, to say that Javid’s medical air mattress was leaking air. Panic! She said I had to do something NOW. So we grabbed a regular mattress off a twin bed and tore to Orr. I took the bedding off the now-flat bed and Will took a look, hoping he could fix it. The air plug in the mattress had come unplugged, letting out the air. So hard to discover since it had a bright yellow rubber handle on it for emergency CPR, that would deflate the bed instantly when pulled. Will plugged in the plug, the pump pumped it back up and ta-da: FIXED.

I talked to the publisher of my Western novels about an early release date and how to figure a way to do autographed copies. And that’s before chores! You ever get one of “those” days? I’m sure I’m not alone. — Jackie



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