Ask Jackie by Jackie Clay Issue 71

Ask Jackie
By Jackie Clay

Issue 71
Jackie Clay

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

I’ve spent most of my life in city living, but long ago purchased land in the woods to retire in. Am in the process of readying land to place a double wide trailer on for year-round permanent living. The land is located on a town-maintained dirt road, about two miles into the woods. They’ve finally brought power and telephone into our road and property, but for all the amenities, we still have abundant wildlife traveling through our property. Now, I’m not too concerned with the deer and the moose, but have no knowledge of what I need to know to live among the bears. Being from the city, I’ve only seen them caged in zoos. I will be a woman living with two small children for a year, until hubby can retire and join us in his native state.

Meanwhile, although he’s comfortable about living there, he won’t be there for awhile, except on visits. Being alone with the kids, I need to learn quickly all that I must know so that I can protect my children. What can you tell me about living in an area where visits from bears could be a reality. Just an additional note: my bedroom is to be a full sunroom, and will that be a problem where bears are concerned? I appreciate any advice and suggestions you can give me.

PT from the city

I think I can lay your fears of bears to rest, at least somewhat. They really aren’t the evil, bloodthirsty creatures movies and TV portrays. I’ve lived in bear country for much of my life, raising a large family, and have never had a bad encounter with a bear, either grizzly or black.

Bears are basically very shy critters, and would rather avoid people than attack them. The only exceptions are when bears learn that people often leave food lying around"easy pickings in a harsh, natural world, or when a sow bear defends her cubs from human “attack,” either real or imagined.

You really don’t want to feed bears, even unintentionally. The saying “A fed bear is a dead bear,” means that when bears learn to forage through people’s yards for food they become used to human scent and presence, soon disregarding people or becoming aggressive. A problem bear is created, then usually shot.

So keep a clean yard. No garbage cans or bags, no dog or cat food left outside at night. Even chicken feed and garden refuse will attract bears at times. Where bears are “thick,” with tracks or scat sighted regularly, don’t even leave hummingbird feeders out at night or you might end up attracting a very large “hummingbird.” I’ve seen bears in yards, sitting down with a hummingbird feeder clasped firmly in both paws, calmly tipping it up, downing the sugar water.

In 30 years of living in the wilds, I’ve only had one bear come in the yard. He caused no trouble other than upsetting our dogs.

Bears very seldom break into a house or trailer. I’ve only heard of three when the home was occupied. And two of those happened when the place was vacant for over a week. In the other instance, no one was molested (and the trailer was pretty old and flimsy to start with"screen door only, with dog food and garbage just inside the door). I think you will be safe in your sunroom bedroom. Sounds good to me.

To make yourself more comfortable, talk to the Fish and Wildlife officer in your area. You might also buy and learn to fire a shotgun or rifle if it would make you feel safer. We’ve never killed a bear, only firing over its rump to advertise the fact that we were armed and did not appreciate a bear in our yard. I am not a “gun nut,” but do keep a .30.30 and a 12-gauge shotgun handy. I know I am accurate with either, and either gun would take care of any predator, be it cougar, bear, or two-legged.

The deer will not be a problem to you, other than possibly snacking on your garden. The moose can be dangerous at times, however funny they look. During the fall rut, the bulls get quite aggressive, and will occasionally try to chase a human. In the spring and early summer, cow moose will be travelling with calves and do tend to guard them. Cows will attack humans to protect their calves.

Teach your children about bear and moose behavior and you will probably never have the slightest problem. We haven’t, so far, and don’t expect any in the future. We truly love living with bear, moose, and wolves. When our youngest son, David, was barely walking, he’d go outside early in the morning and “visit” with elk and moose who came into our meadow every day. They viewed him calmly from a few yards away and seemed to carry on a conversation with him, tails wagging. We try to live with our animal neighbors, rather than live in fear of them. You’ll grow to love your wild land. " Jackie

We live off the grid and very soon will no longer have the availability of freezer space. We do a lot of canning, but what we are wondering about is broccoli and cabbage. Can these be canned? All my books say it is not a good idea. I know that cabbage can be canned as kraut, but we like plain old cabbage best. We’ve tried to root cellar it, but our conditions so far haven’t produced a good keep. What can we do to preserve our favorite-broccoli?

Greg and Carol Kumher

My goodness, how the canning books have changed. I’ve seen so much good information replaced with “gourmet” recipes and the like. Yes you can home can cabbage. But it does tend to be a little strong tasting, i.e., pretty cabbagey. It isn’t bad, and I usually dump the water it is canned in and heat the cabbage in fresh water. This removes much of the strong taste. In soups, stews, and other mixed dishes, you don’t notice it a bit. Our favorite way to use canned cabbage is to drain it, then fry it in 2 tablespoons of butter. Then I add just enough milk to simmer it in and simmer gently for just long enough to nearly dry it up. Pretty darned good!

To can cabbage, I shred it, then boil it just until it wilts. Pack it in quart jars, and fill the jar to within a half inch of the rim with the liquid it was boiled in. Add a teaspoon of salt if you want. Wipe the rim, put on a pre-boiled warm lid, and screw a ring down firmly tight. Then place in your canner and process the quarts for 60 minutes at 10 pounds. (Adjust pounds of pressure, if needed, according to altitude).

Broccoli sucks when canned. It gets strong, mushy, and limp. But broccoli is one of our favorites, too. So instead of canning it, I dry it. Broccoli is very easy to dry and reconstitutes well, too. Simply cut your flowerets, then blanch for 1 minute. Then chop them up, fairly small (1 in., max) and lay out in a single layer on either a cookie sheet to be placed in a shaded hot place (attic, hay loft, stove oven, with only pilot on, etc.) or in a dehydrator. Even though we live off grid, I still use my dehydrator, timing my work with dehydrating foods, I can get a batch pretty well started in the dehydrator, then simply let it finish by itself on the counter, still on the dehydrator trays.

Broccoli is “done” when it feels like wood: crunchy. I store it in miscellaneous glass jars. It keeps forever. Then when I want to add broccoli to a soup, casserole, or other dish, I simply pull out a handful and give it a scrunch and toss it in. It doesn’t work too well as a side dish on its own. You must reconstitute it in boiling water for this. I do this the night before and, when the pan with the soaking broccoli is cool, I cover it and put it in the fridge over night, until needed, then I reheat it. " Jackie

As a new subscriber to BHM, I read with interest your description of your homestead in Wolf Creek, MT. I realize you are looking for something even more off the grid, but it was especially timely for me as I am moving to Wolf Creek in a few years.

We have purchased 53 acres there and will be visiting the area in August to confirm the deal. We have yet not seen the acreage, but from your description, the area sounds beautiful.

I would very much like to get in contact with the closest Chamber of Commerce to get much-needed information on the area. I am also interested in contacting the County Extension Office, so I can familiarize myself with the growing season and what grows best. Do you know the closest C of C and Extension Office to Wolf Creek?

Donna Vega

Sure I do. That would be Helena. The Helena Chamber Visitor Center is 2003 Cedar, Helena, MT 59601. Phone (406) 447-1540 and the Extension Office is Lewis and Clark County Extension Service, 316 N Park Ave., Helena, MT 59601. Phone (406) 447-8346.

The Wolf Creek area is rugged and mountainous, with a narrow, flat valley running along the Missouri river from just north of Wolf Creek. The Missouri turns north at this point and a tributary, Little Prickly Pear Creek, runs through Wolf Creek, forming a narrow, rocky canyon for about 7 miles.

I worry that you have not seen the land you are buying. This area is very rugged, and much of the private land is pretty darned up and down, with a lot of rock. We lucked out in this department, as our place sits on its own private valley, like the palm of your cupped hand. Others are not so fortunate. I’m hoping your land is like ours, mostly useable for homestead purposes.

Gardens do great here; everything from peas to pumpkins do very well. Right now I have tomatoes 4 feet high, just loaded with fruit. You do have to watch out for both late spring frosts and early fall frosts, but generally we have, at 4,000 feet, from the first of June to around the middle of October for a growing season. The area is semi-arid, and you will need a good water source. Good luck with your move. " Jackie

My husband and I want to move to Florida. From what I understand there is still a lot of undeveloped property there but I’m sort of doubtful. Do you know anything about Florida land and small scale farming? Are there more desirable places there to find a small piece of land (2-5 acres) or is Florida sort of gone to the tourists? Thank you for anything you can tell us.

Karen Carter

I just can’t recommend Florida. I’m sure there are a lot of homesteading folks there who might disagree with me, but there are just so many negatives about Florida that I can’t in good conscience recommend it.

Yes, there’s the tourist thing on one hand, then there’s the retirees. They have made the state quite crowded. But much worse is the drug problem in the cities, which is encroaching on rural areas. My great-aunt and cousins live(d) there and the remaining family is trying to get out of their old neighborhood, as it is plain dangerous to live there. We’re not talking about big cities here, either.

Water is becoming a great problem in Florida, as well. There are just too many people living there, using the water. Wells are becoming undependable (some because of salinity and others because they’re going dry). And the humidity bothers a lot of folks. (My mother lived there as a youngster.)

I’ll probably get angry letters from Florida residents, but you asked my opinion, and I always tell it like it is to me. You might be exceedingly happy in Florida. Check out Rural Property Bulletin for small acreages if I haven’t changed your mind. There are usually listings. " Jackie

Love your column! I can always count on learning something new. My question is: How do I keep the ground from cracking apart? I live in the city and have a small garden and am able to do my own compost that I keep working in. Most of my compost is grass and leaves from my yard. Do I need more compost? I only use a rototiller at the start of the season to turn everything in.

Eric McIntosh

Having trouble with cracking earth, huh? You’re right about needing more compost. But you probably need to water more, too. To conserve moisture, you can add a mulch of leaves and dry grass, starting out with four inches, then adding more as the vegetables grow. Don’t use “hot” green grass for mulch, as it might cook tender plants.

Water in the evening and morning. Evaporation at those times will not rob your garden of needed moisture. I water each section of my garden that is not on a drip hose for at least two hours every other day when it is hot. We are in a semi-arid climate. In a moister climate, you won’t have to water as often. But that cracking soil is a good sign that you need more moisture for happy plants. " Jackie

I was given the gift of a Dazey #8 butter churn. It sat in a barn, preserved by the dust. The jar is made of glass and the top gear cover and crank are made of maybe a tin-type metal. My husband estimates that the jar holds 2 gallons of milk. The butter paddle is made of wood that neither of us recognize. The lid is rusted slightly in places, the gears seem to turn fine. Is there anything I can do to make it “useable” again? We just purchased a Jersey who supposedly is pregnant and hopefully I’ll get to use my churn soon.

Brenda Culbreth

Someone gave you a great gift, Brenda. Sounds like you’ll be in the butter business pretty soon, and you’ll really love fresh churned butter.

The paddle is probably maple, as that is what many of the churn dashers were made from. Maple is tough, dense, and strong, easy to clean, and not prone to cracking. To get it ready to use, simply steel-wool off any “crusty” rust, wash it well with hot soapy water, and air dry.

Most of the old churns, mine included, are a bit rusty. We all are after a few decades. But I’ll wager your new churn is in pretty darned good shape. (Don’t break the jar; a new jar will cost upwards on to $60.)
" Jackie

I am designing my independent home for a flat site but want water delivered under pressure provided by gravity. I am trying to determine a water pressure (PSI) needed to be un-frustrating and use energy efficient fixtures, washing machine, and water purifying filters; then I can determine the height of the water tower. I know the rule of 2.31 ft of head equals 1 psi, and I know what standard fixtures and appliances require. What I hope you can tell me is what PSI is acceptable to a soft-living household, for an adequate flow through items like: sink faucet, water-saving shower head, low flush toilet, undersink water purifier, acid neutralizer, and energy & water-saving clothes washer. I suspect the filters in a water purifier require a lot of pressure, and maybe the clothes washer. We don’t care how long the washing machine takes to fill, and perhaps there is a low-tech way to purify water by settling through a sand filter using only gravity.

Do you alert accepted inquirers that an answer will be answered?

Philip Anderson
Monrovia, MD

Whew! I’m not sure I’m smart enough to answer your question, but I’ll give it a whack. In New Mexico, where we spent six years recently, helping out my folks, many families still use a windmill to draw their water, and rely on raised water tanks to provide gravity flow to their homes.

Most tanks’ bottoms were about 10 feet above ground, the tanks holding about 600 gallons of water when full. The tanks are housed in an insulated building, which can also be heated, if necessary, in the winter. These tanks provide “city water” pressure to the homes"shower, automatic washing machines, filters, etc.

But a raised water tank is rather expensive to build. Have you considered using a 12-volt in-line pump from an on-grade inside storage tank? This pump can be harnessed to a solar system and battery bank. Several folks up in this neck of the woods are using such a setup.

You don’t say where your water will be coming from"well, creek, or spring"so that might help make your decision for you.

We are very soft-living, especially after the infamous Montana drought last year, when we had to haul water. We have much experience in water conservation and low-pressure useage. I have an old wringer washer, which I fill with 10 gallons of water, and a galvanized tub that holds 10 gallons of rinse water. So with 20 gallons of water, I can wash 5 loads of clothes, starting with the cleanest whites and progressing to jeans. Then I toss in a rug or two in the last water. And my clothes come out clean.

We have a low flush toilet, but it is not such a good idea; you have to hold the handle down until the entire “load” is entirely gone. Maybe others have had better luck?

We have a spring, and use no water purifier or acid neutralizer, but realize others must use them. We have used dump-in water purifiers for drinking water only, which worked very well with no pressure.

BHM tries to publish all questions directed to the Ask Jackie column, but we cannot let you know if and when we will be answering your questions.
" Jackie

I am interested in finding out all I can about generating power for the home I one day plan to build (self-sufficient home…i.e. food, water, power, etc.). The problem is that with all my online searching, I have been unable to find practical, and useful info on generating power. For example using a mill wheel powered by water to run a generator or some thing similar to power a home.

I am also always looking for knowledge of items or processes that are lost arts, so to speak"tanning, making candles, getting back to basics and being as unfettered by modern living as possible. Kind of a modern pioneer.

Leslie Smith

Read Michael Hackleman’s articles in previous issues of BHM to learn much about generating power with water.

I guess we’re those modern pioneers you talk about. We simply don’t have need for power. Now we don’t live a “rustic” life of all hard work, living in a dark hovel. But we live our life, designing comforts for ourselves that do not require electricity, a simple fact few people can grasp. I have no microwave, no electric kitchen appliances. I cook on wood except during the hottest months, when I use the propane kitchen range. We have many large windows, and have also had skylights in previous homes to let the sun in. We watch no television. We do have a basic radio/tape player, rechargeable battery-powered, solar charger. We read a lot, play board games, and work puzzles in the evening. (It really is fun).

Our water comes from a spring, gravity fed into the house. No electricity needed for water pressure. Therefore we have a flush toilet, hot baths, and “normal” water to the faucets.

We do have a gas generator, as my work as a writer helps pay the inevitable bills on today’s homestead. I try to schedule my writing for the evenings. As our house is wired for normal 110-volt electricity, we then have the lights on and our youngest son, 10-years-old, can watch a movie on the VCR while I work. (We could use a couple of solar panels on the roof and battery bank for storage, instead.)

Our fridge is propane, as are our lights, used mostly during the short-day winter months.

I’m sure we could upgrade to solar, but in our northern climate, with temperatures often below zero, water power is out of the question as a year-round option.

Keep reading Backwoods Home and you’ll learn many of those skills you mentioned as well as many, many more. You might even pick up a few anthologies of issues past to catch up quickly. Good luck. " Jackie

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