Ask Jackie by Jackie Clay Issue 69

Ask Jackie
By Jackie Clay

Issue 69
Jackie Clay

To Ask Jackie a question, please Click Here to visit her blog.

How do I know when hazelnuts are ready for picking and eating? Last year just before the cold weather I picked them but they were still green and never did change.

Lynda Jones

Hazelnuts are usually ready just after the cold weather hits. The leaves will be brown and the husks too. Watch the squirrels carefully. They know and will denude a shrub in a day’s time. I lost a few hazelnut harvests to the little buggers.

Inside the husks, the nut will be brown and shiny. They may taste green if they are not roasted before eating, or at least sun-dried by laying them on a canvas on a sunny porch rooftop (take them in at night) for a few days, out of the husks, but still in the shell. Watch for birds and squirrels, though.

" Jackie

My husband and I just finished reading your article on your remote backwoods home. It was encouraging to find that it is still possible to find affordable places out there. We have been looking for three years and have been greatly discouraged by the price. We continue to look, but do get discouraged as the prices out west seem outrageous to us. We love cold and lots of snow. Any suggestions of places like yours that we could get leads on? Alaska is still in the running for us, but I would prefer to be in the lower 48 at this time.

Tim and Jan Leightner

There are places out there, but as you found, it takes a lot of looking. Right now, we are again looking. You see, after not being allowed into Canada to our new homestead in British Columbia last year, we settled for our 20-acre homestead here near Wolf Creek, Montana, because we love Montana and we needed something right then. But even though our place is real backwoods, requiring 4×4 in the winter, and being way up in the mountains, it isn’t enough wilderness for us. Some folks would be tickled pink with our location: no neighbors in sight, deer on the deck, birds that light on your shoulder, mountain views out every huge window in every room in the house, only 15 minutes above the best stretch of Missouri River trout in Montana, etc. But we long for true wilderness, and that’s not something you can just put away and forget. Wilderness calls to us every moment, waking or sleeping with an ache that is unbelievable.

So where is there any wilderness left? It’s disappearing fast, even in Alaska. We about gave up on Alaska, as we couldn’t find another wild place for sale that was also a potential self-reliant homestead.

There are patches of wilderness left in extreme northeastern Minnesota, northern Wisconsin, and the upper peninsula of Michigan, as well as scattered parts of Maine and Vermont. There are a few private patches of wilderness left in Montana, Wyoming, and Washington state, but as you found out, most are in subdivisions or are not candidates for a self-reliant homestead, usually being very mountainous and having no pasture for livestock or water available. There is no legal type of government land available for homesteading in the U.S., no matter what some ad scams indicate.

We will be going back to northern Minnesota, where we can buy a large chunk of very remote (as in no vehicle winter access, no phone, no power, no neighbors anywhere) land where we can both be immersed in the wilderness lifestyle we need to survive, emotionally, and build a self-reliant homestead.

To answer your question, we would need to know your definition of wilderness. A lot of folks call our present homestead wilderness, as we are off grid, live on a rough back road, have no nearby neighbors. And those who are around are definite backwoods home types. But we feel it is far from that and truly miss the total isolation that a true wilderness provides us. We love people, but need to feel the land breathe about us, have the wildlife move about us in trust and being one with us.

If you’re willing to be snowed in for six months out of the year, have no phone, no power, no visitors all winter, be willing to put up with temperatures of -50 degrees or worse, having snow measured in feet instead of inches, and having a growing season of 90 days, you might consider northern Minnesota. If you don’t want wilderness that wild, our place in Montana is for sale. Check out the ad in the real estate section of this issue. Good luck in your search.

" Jackie

I read with interest your response to Kathryn where you briefly mentioned market gardening as a way to make extra money. My husband and I recently bought a house on 40 acres, on a river, with a huge existing garden. The garden space is at least 4 times as big as anything we’ve gardened before, and much larger than we need to feed just the two of us. We’ve been talking for years about some day being able to cut down on the number of hours each of us works outside the home and make money through our own enterprise. I’ve thought often about starting a greenhouse, but my husband brought up the idea of a market garden.

I’m wondering if you have any tips for how to get started on this. I know there’s a local farmer’s market in town twice a week. I thought I’d check there this summer to see what sells well and for how much. We’re thinking of putting in more fruit; there are already raspberries, and we’re going to put in strawberries. In your experience, what sells well? Also, do you know how to get certified to sell “organic” produce? We garden organically, but I think there’s some type of certification process you have to go through in order to claim that your produce is organic.

The only problem we have with the new garden space is that there seems to be no easy way to get water to it. It is several hundred yards and across a dirt road from our house. There is a river within about 50 yards, but it’s down a hill and some rough going. I’d like a labor-easy way to water the garden when rain isn’t enough. I believe the previous owners used some kind of pump to pump water from the river into a stock tank, but then they watered by hand from the tank. My back hurts just thinking about that. There’s got to be an easier way, but we are stumped.

Thanks for any help you can give us to start us on our endeavor. This summer we plan to concentrate on the vegetable garden. Next year on to some other crops and eventually we want to fence in part of the property for various animals. The possibilities are boundless.

Carmen Griggs

Beginning a homestead is a lot of work, but it’s so much fun, too. You’re started off on the right track, doing one thing at a time and checking out the possibilities. A lot of folks get discouraged by trying to do everything at once when they buy a country place. Experience makes things run relatively smoothly, but there are always things you can’t control. However, jumping in over your head is a death wish I hate to see folks make.

We started out with a 16 by 8-foot plastic lean-to greenhouse attached to the house, raising our starter plants for about half an acre of market garden. This quickly got us into “the greenhouse business,” as I grew more than I could plant and sold the extras to a local general store and neighbors. (When you grow your own, you can be very picky about the varieties you grow, not just rely on supermarket sales that are often same-old, boring, and often inappropriate for your growing season.)

I ended up with a 42 by 16-foot log-and-glass wood-heated greenhouse and about three acres of market garden, plus our own large house garden. It was great and provided a decent income, lots of new friends, but was a lot of work. (What isn’t and is still worthwhile?) This greenhouse not only allowed me to sell at local stores, but truck some to town on Saturday mornings to sell off the tailgate to townsfolk. I also advertised and sold from home.

You don’t have to start with a big hoop house, costing thousands. You can start with a smaller plastic & scrap wood greenhouse and get your feet wet for less than $50.

I did much better with raspberries than strawberries as a market crop because strawberries are very labor intensive and sensitive to conditions. If it is too damp you’ll have trouble with mold and fungus. If it is nice, you’ll fight grass and weeds, despite mulch. (I’m talking about big strawberry beds, not home patches.)

Raspberries always sell out very quickly, for premium prices, and my bad back likes picking upright canes much better than creeping through strawberry beds at 4 a.m.

Blackberries and black raspberries (same deal) sell very well. Likewise, blueberries sell well and are relatively labor-easy.

We had over 1,000 asparagus plants and they produced and sold well.

As for “traditional” varieties, good sweet corn, nice tomatoes, peppers, carrots, onions, broccoli, cabbage, and “gourmet” veggies such as herbs, baby carrots, tiny beets, and salad greens were our best constant sellers. I also sold many, many cut flowers, decorative crops, and pumpkins and squash in season.

Different regions have different certification requirements for organic produce. Truthfully, I never bothered. I just added a note to our price list: “We garden organically; come see us!” Also mention this to neighbors and buyers. I sold my produce at comparable prices to other sellers. I just let it be known that we believe wholeheartedly in organic gardening and was glad to teach others. Our produce always sold very well without official certification.

As for your water problem, there are several alternatives so you’ll have to pick the one that suits you best. You could pump water out of the river with a gasoline water pump, then run a hose to the garden where you would use power sprinklers or a drip system to disperse it.

You might also check out a hydraulic ram pump, which is powered by the water itself. It will pump water from the river up into a holding tank on a platform (a stock tank, for instance). From there you might be able to run a drip system, using gravity flow.

If this doesn’t do the trick, you could either use a 12-volt in-line pump for a little extra boost in pressure, run from a deep-cycle battery which you would periodically charge at home, as needed. A small solar panel would also charge the battery in the field.

If all else fails, you could mount a tank in a pickup and haul water from home to the field and use a gasoline pump to pressure sprinkling systems. It depends on the size of the garden. This system is a pain in the whatcha-m’callit if your garden is over ½ an acre and it gets dry.

Minnesota is pretty generous with irrigation of small plots from rivers, but it would pay to check it out discreetly before hanging all your hopes and plans on the river irrigation.

As a last thought, could you develop a new garden plot closer to the house and outbuildings so that water would be easier? Just a thought…

" Jackie

I noticed the beautiful basket you’re holding in the photo and wondered if you made it or purchased it. I would love to learn how to make useful baskets.

Carmen Black

I can not tell a lie, Carmen; I bought that basket. But I’ve made them, too. If baskets call to you, please give them a try. They are like most everything else; they can be as easy or difficult as you wish. I can whip out a willow basket in an hour that will work. But it is a lot “rustic.” (I’ve been out in the woods and stumbled upon a great mushroom patch and it was either take off my shirt and fill that up or make a basket. I just thought any other woodspeople might rather see me carrying a basket.)

You can make a basket out of so many materials. Any flexible, thin branches (straight is good), vines, slats, natural fibers, such as yucca, cattail leaves, long pine needles, bear grass or even old hemp rope woven on willow shoots.

Go to the library and check out a book on basket making (you may have to get an interlibrary loan) and have at it.

" Jackie

How do you make your home storage beans taste good? I went to a cannery that the Mormon Church has. I put up a lot of home storage food. Yesterday I opened a can of beans and put them in the crock pot for 24 hours. They taste hardly done, and bland. I added salt, pepper, garlic and onions. Any help would be wonderful.

Dave Carlson

I am assuming your beans were dry beans, sealed in cans. I don’t know what type of beans you are cooking. They all taste different. I also don’t know what your likes and dislikes are, but I’ll give it a try.

First off, most home storage beans are navies or a type of small white bean. When using those, first soak them overnight in fresh water. This softens them some. Then pour off this water and pick out any bad beans or bits of vine. We like them baked in a barbecue sauce. I can several different kinds. You might like them this way.

Baked barbecue beans:

2 cups dried beans
1 tsp. baking soda
¼ lb. chopped ham or other smoked meat
1 cup barbecue sauce
½ tsp. salt
dash black pepper
l Tbsp. molasses
1 medium onion, chopped

Soak the beans overnight, adding a little baking soda to the water. In the morning, cook them gently until the skins begin to break. (I pick up a few on a spoon and blow on them gently. If the skins break, they are ready.) Drain off the water, saving one cup. Empty the beans into a baking dish, bury the meat and onions in them and pour the cup of water saved over them. Sprinkle with salt and pepper, and drizzle molasses and half the barbecue sauce over the beans. Cover and bake in a slow oven (about 300 degrees) for four or five hours (or until tender) adding a little water, as needed, to keep them from drying out. When beans are done, add the rest of the barbecue sauce to the top of the beans and return to oven until your mouth waters.

You can experiment a lot with beans. The one thing that remains constant is to soak them overnight and cook them gently until tender. Beans cannot be hurried much. You can start in the morning and bring the beans to a boil and let stand in the hot water for two hours, then drain and cook as above, but some beans cooked this way will still take lots of slow cooking to soften them.

I home can a lot of beans for the simple reason that so much of my cooking is done in a hurry and you can dump out a quart of canned beans (which are tender) and other ingredients, and be eating in half an hour. Most canning books have recipes for canning dry beans.

" Jackie

Could you tell me a little more about your water supply system. What kind of tank, how was it piped and pumped to the house, and any other information would be helpful.

Melody Borton

I love unique water systems and I’ve seen a lot of them. Ours is basically a 400-gallon poly tank, which is buried in the ground on a hill above our house. This prevents it from freezing in the winter. It also provides gravity flow to the house, requiring no pump to give us gentle water pressure for a flush toilet, bath tub, sinks, hot water tank, etc. There is a 1½-inch plastic water pipe from the tank, running seven feet underground to the house plumbing.

In normal years, there is a line running from a spring uphill from the house, into the tank, giving us plenty of energy-free water. But last year was the driest in 100 years in Montana, and the spring (and hundreds of others) went dry. So we haul water from town, in the back of our pickup truck, in a 200-gallon poly tank. This is easily dumped into our buried tank. By conserving, we use less than 400 gallons a week without being miserly about it. This means two trips a week (at worst) to town for water.

Because we almost always carry the empty, lightweight tank in the truck, and we usually end up going to town several times a week, anyway to get supplies or conduct other business, we simply fill the tank on those trips and bring the water home.

As our water table during the drought is only about 120 feet down, a well will be quite inexpensive to put in. And, of course, with the snow we’re getting this winter, we expect the spring to be running well come warm weather.

" Jackie

You talked about pumpkin uses. You gave a recipe for pumpkin preserves. It reads fine until you talk about the final procedure. You say to let it stand overnight and in the morning to boil slowly, stirring well. But you don’t say anything about how long to boil.

Kathy Vilseck

It will depend on the moisture in the pumpkin you are using. Most just need to be brought up to a simmering boil, then processed. But some are a bit watery, often due to the variety or the amount of rain/irrigation they received. This type needs to be simmered while being stirred until it reaches a nice texture. Then it is processed. Sorry for not explaining myself well enough.

" Jackie

I was wondering if you could give me any tips on selling produce from our garden; maybe some eggs too. Can you sell jams and bakery goods, like maybe cookies? How would you price? Also, how do you get hold of say Farmers Market in Portland and in Vancouver? I have no idea how to go about renting a stall, or how much it costs. I’m thinking jams and maybe handmade things would help to make sure you at least cover the rent. The pricing is a puzzle for me. I know people have set up on the side of the road but I don’t think that’s really legal anymore.

I remember on the country roads near Gold Beach, I saw a few little set-ups with jams and such in front of residences. I really don’t know if one could do this now.

We live on a private road, way up a hill so I cannot set up in front of my home. It would have to be at the roadside of a Farmers Market. Hoping to hear from you with great anticipation; I guess it’s feeling excited with new possibilities this spring could bring.

Sunny Veitenhans

Selling produce from a market garden is not only a decent source of income, but it is a lot of fun, too. You meet many new friends this way. I believe I would start out a little smaller than a big city Farmers Market. As you guessed, the stall rent can be a little high for beginners and you will be competing with the “big boys.” I really prefer to do it smaller, more intimately. Some of the places I’ve sold with luck are: off my tailgate in vacant fields on the edge of medium sized towns (not cities), in private campgrounds (with owner permission, of course), at flea markets, at auctions (again with permission), at senior apartments. (I went once a week, on the same day. I posted a notice and, with permission, I parked in a convenient, out-of-the-way spot in the parking lot.)

The possibilities are endless if you have the produce. Word of mouth is a great advertisement. Folks will call you to buy more often than you’ll expect.

As for price, you will have to investigate a bit at local stores. Your fresh, organically grown produce will always sell for a bit more than, say, supermarket produce. But be sure it is better. I got up at 4 a.m. to pick my vegetables and small fruits. I either used any “seconds” or imperfect produce (bug holes in cabbages, small ears of corn, forked carrots, etc.) myself or fed them to my animals and chickens.

You can find the Farmers Market at any location by calling the Chamber of Commerce. They can provide the location and times the market is being run.

Check out the stands and prices. See what appeals to you, what looks shabby. Little special touches work miracles. For instance, I tripled my sweet corn sales by dumping ice cubes over the pile of corn periodically during the sales day. Likewise, nice color combinations and a colorful canvas market umbrella draw buyers’ eyes.

I know of no locale where roadside produce stands are not legal, but I’m sure it will come one day.

Yes you can sell jams, jellies, baked goods, and crafts items. As you will not get your jar back, be sure to charge enough to more than cover all of your expenses, as well as your labor and the cost of ingredients. I felt that I made more profit on vegetables and certain baked goods, such as cookies, than I did selling jams and jellies; you’ll have to experiment a bit here. I would sell “specialty” jams and jellies. It’s hard to compete when selling just grape or apple jelly. Instead, try spiced crab apple jelly, wild blueberry jam, wild blackberry jelly, or chokecherry jelly…something that can’t be found in the supermarkets.

" Jackie

How can I find out approximately how many pounds of packaged beef I would have after having a 1,000-lb. steer killed and processed?

Janet Lucas

Well, Janet, that’s kind of like asking, “How long is a string?” There are many variables: breed, age, type of feed provided, type of cuts (i.e. boneless vs bone-in), who does the processing, etc. For instance, if you butcher a l,000-pound Jersey steer, you will receive back much less meat than if you butcher a l,000-pound prime Angus steer. Dairy breeds yield more bone in the bone-to-meat ratio than do beef breeds. This certainly is not to say that dairy breed beef is worthless. It is very good. You will just get fewer pounds of actual meat per carcass.

But, as a rough estimate, a prime Angus steer will lose about 30% of live weight in bone, guts, head, legs, etc. As most butchers hang the carcass for a week or more to aid tenderness, you can figure on losing another 3%-4% as the meat also dehydrates slightly.

So, realistically speaking, your prime Angus l,000-pound steer might yield about 650 pounds of packaged meat. A nice, but not prime beef steer would probably yield 575 pounds. Remember, there is a lot of give and take here. Find a butcher you can trust and let him process your steer. Home-raised beef is really great, not like most tough, tasteless supermarket cuts.

" Jackie

Do you have a good method of putting up sauerkraut? I did it years ago, but I don’t seem to remember just how I did it. Thanks.

Andy Chumbley

One sauerkraut recipe I have that is very good is as follows:

50 lbs. cabbage
1 lb. canning salt

Clean the cabbage heads, removing any wilted, yellow, or dry leaves. Wash and drain the water off. Cut the cabbage into halves or quarters for ease of handling. Use a shredder or sharp knife on a cutting board and cut the cabbage into thin shreds.

In a large bowl or bucket, mix 3 Tbsp. salt and 5 lbs. of cabbage until it wilts. Remove and pack the salted shreds evenly into a large crock. Tamp it down well with your hands. Repeat until all cabbage is used. When done, juice will come to surface. If it doesn’t, add a boiled, cool brine made of 2 Tbsp. salt to 1 quart of water.

The cabbage should fill the crock no more than 4 inches from the top. Cover the cabbage with a clean piece of an old white sheet, tucking the ends down along the sides of the crock. Place a china plate over cloth and cabbage, weighing it down to keep the cabbage under the brine constantly.

Set crock in an out-of-the-way place at room temperature.

Gas bubbles tell you the cabbage is fermenting. Skim off any scum each day. Be sure to reposition cloth and weighted plate.

The fermentation will be finished in 5 to 6 weeks. Treat your sauerkraut like livestock, tending carefully each day and it will turn out perfectly.

You can home can the kraut by heating about 10 lbs. at a time to a simmer, not rolling boil. Then pack hot into hot quart jars leaving ½-inch of head space. Cover with hot liquid, again leaving ½-inch of head space. Wipe the rim, then place a boiled lid and ring on top, and screw the ring down firmly. Process the quarts for 20 minutes in a boiling water bath. Repeat until all kraut has been canned. The 50 pounds of cabbage will give you about 18 quarts of canned sauerkraut.

" Jackie

Is it possible to over-winter tomato plants if they are protected from the cold? We live in the Puget Sound area of Washington State, get about 1-2 weeks of freezing weather per year. In your opinion, is there any advantage to doing this (early start in the spring, better established the second season)? Is it worth the effort, and if the above are yes answers, how should I prepare the plants for the winter?

Bob Taylor

You can over-winter tomato plants. I even did this in northern Minnesota. Of course I had a greenhouse…it got down to -55º at times.

But I really don’t think it would be worth the effort, although the plants can and do survive. Why don’t you try it with a couple of plants and decide. Generally, tomatoes are annuals, but can live longer without frost. One reason they are raised as annuals is that the plants generally expend themselves in one season; they produce heavily, then poop out. Yes, I know that some varieties, under some situations, can remain productive much longer, but I’m just talking about plain old gardening here.

When your season begins to cool, you can prune the plants quite severely and either dig them, potting them in 5-gallon buckets for a few weeks, or place Wall O Waters around them, along with a heavy mulch. I’ve brought my favorite plants into the house this way and kept ‘em going in a sun porch window ‘til spring. They will continue to bear fruit all winter under these conditions, after they recover from the pruning.

I believe I would just start new plants each year, as you can also get into trouble with fungus and viruses with older plants. Likewise, I believe you’ll harvest more tomatoes per plant by far by using new plants each year.

Peppers, by the way, are perennial plants, given the chance. I’ve had a “pet” chiltipine (wild hot chili pepper) for five years in a bucket. It looks like a little tree. (Not so little, actually.) Peppers get woody stems and branches and do produce well, year after year, with little extra care. Of course you will have to either protect the pepper row with a set of Wall O Waters (give protection down to about 18º) or dig the plants and bring them into a heated area until the temperatures are back up into the 50s.

" Jackie

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