Okay I’ll admit I got a little giddy because my liver function tests were hugely improved and I won’t have to have surgery!  But really, it’s just time to start the garden.  Kind of.  Today I got out my cardboard box full of different pepper seeds and sorted out the ones that I just HAVE to plant or try this year.  As I use Wall’o Waters to protect my plants, I can set them out in the garden around the last of April even though we won’t be frost free till the middle of June.  Because peppers don’t grow as fast as tomatoes, I always plant them earlier so they’ll be good and stout when they go outside.
And today was the day!  I picked up two large bags of Jiffy Mix seed starter, which is the only good one available arond here without fertilizer (sometimes harms starting plants and I don’t want to add chemicals to my organic garden!) on sale and had them sitting in the greenhouse.

Years ago, a good friend in New Mexico had given me dozens of surgical trays her daughter had brought up for her.  They are plastic, about 4"x6"x4" deep, clean and very reusable.  They used to contain the sterile surgical dressings, etc. in a hospital operating room.  No.  They were never bloody or icky.  And they make the absolute best seed starting trays I’ve ever used because they are so deep the roots get a great start even before transplanting.
I filled each tray (6 in all!) with Jiffy Mix, then chose my pepper varieties, placing the seeds in neat rows of four.  Some kinds, I only planted four seeds; others I planted a dozen, depending on if it was an old standby or a new trial.  There were about 28 seeds planted in each tray.  I was sure to label each variety with a permanent marker, right on the side of the seed tray.
Then I sifted about 1/8" of mix over them and gently watered them with the spray attachment on my sink until I figured the mix was about damp all the way to the bottom.  Each tray will go into a plastic bag tomorrow, to hold in the moisture, making little individual greenhouses.  I’ve got them in my kitchen window, which gets light, but not much heat.  So the plants won’t cook as they receive light.  They will germinate in about a week, then I’ll move them into the new greenhouse.  See?  Spring IS here!!!!  P.S.  I even planted 6 trays of flower seeds too; pansies, dianthus, foxgloves, delphiniums and snapdragons.
Readers’ questions

Keeping hairs off the meat

Jackie, I really enjoy reading your blog and articles. I look forward to seeing what’s new and learning how to – you are a wealth of knowledge and I appreciate you sharing in your wealth!

Not sure how to delicately ask this question so I’ll just be blunt. My husband has been squirrel hunting lately and we are enjoying the meat immensely! Yes, it DOES taste like chicken (dark meat)! My dificulty is getting all the hair off the meat. We are careful as we skin the squirrel, but invariable there are stray hairs left on the meat – even after a thorough rinsing. I have even tried to pick each hair off but that can make you crazy. Is there a trick to getting hair free meat?

Lyn Ankelman
Thorsby, Alabama

The best way is to rinse off what you can and pick any off, then hold the carcass over an open flame, such as on your gas stove.  Or you can use an unscented candle to singe the hairs off.  This works great.  Then rinse the carcass again to take away the singed hair smell/taste.  Pat the meat dry and you’re in business.
 The best way to get hair-free meat is to cut around the legs, then up each leg.  Cut around the tail and butt end and up to where the hind legs join.  Then grab the tail and skin as it comes loose and pull the whole thing off like you are taking off a sweater, rolling it right up over the belly and front legs.  Then cut off the head.  Most of the hair stays on the skin that way.  I don’t cut up the belly, just pull the skin off like a sweater.  The less you handle the carcass during skinning, the less loose hairs that will fly around and land on the meat. — Jackie

Solar panels

Hope you are feeling better!! My question is about solar panels. What kind or type do you recommend? We live in Northeast WI on a dairy farm and the electric bill is killing us. First we would like to start with the house and then approach the barn. We do live on a hill so we do recieve quite alot sunshine. Any feedback would be great!!

Jamie Mastey
Bonduel, Wisconsin

Sorry, but I’m definitely in the learning stage with solar power.  Why don’t you ask Jeff Yago, also available through the Backwoods Home site.  He knows just about everything about alternative power and can answer your questions.  He’s on the BHM Home page, just below my blog.

I’m just doing baby steps, so far.  We were given a small panel, then my son, Bill, gave me another.  In the spring, we’ll add to those and start saving more money than we are now by having the panels help charge our battery bank, along with the generator.  I’m sure you can benefit from adding solar to your farm! — Jackie

Making jerky from frozen meat

I just wanted to write and tell you how impressed I am with what you do. I am nowhere near doing any homesteading myself (working/studying/in the city) YET, but do have plans for the future,
and you are a great inspiration. I am very keen on doing some canning of meat, but so far have been totally unsuccessful in finding a pressure canner here (South Africa), so am scheming to convince friends abroad to send me one (pricey!). If successful, I intend to do something similar to the French foods, like confit of duck and pork. Do you have any recipes in that line? I would like to make it so that it is ready to heat and eat, without any further preparation.

I got a small dehydrator for Christmas, so have been having lots of fun with it, especially now (mid-summer) that my tomatoes, herbs and chillies from my small garden are ripening. I’d like to try to make some biltong (our version of jerky, but slightly different, mostly in thickness, I believe) in it, but am not too sure how to go about it, as I would like to try to make chicken biltong (partner cannot eat beef), and am a bit concerned about it going off before drying sufficiently, as it is very hot here at the
moment. Have you ever made chicken jerky? (we get it here sometimes) Ostrich might also be an option (he can eat that in small amounts, as well as any venison, but not the right season now). Also, can I make jerky from frozen meat? (venison).

Once again, you re a great inspiration, thank you for your very interesting articles. I look forward to reading the next installment (read your entire blog today). Also, good luck with the romance!

Karen van Niekerk
African Heritage Research Institute
Cape Town, South Africa

Thanks for the kind words.  No, I don’t have the French recipes you asked about; maybe a reader out there does?  Basically you can home can just about any recipe you make, provided that you use the processing method and time required for the ingredient in it that has the highest requirements, in most cases, meat.
You can make jerky out of any kind of meat, but it is safest to either refrigerate, freeze or can it after it has been made to keep it from molding.  Today’s jerky isn’t as hard, i.e. dry as the "old days" stuff.  And with it being moister, it also can mold without further care.  Old style jerky was as hard as a stick and took quite a bit of chewing to eat.
You can definitely make jerky out of frozen meat of any kind, as well.  This does not affect the safety or taste of the end product.  One hint:  partly frozen meat slices so much nicer than does thawed or raw meat because of the ice crystals still in the meat.  That’s a definite plus when cutting the meat for jerky.
If you are worried about your jerky spoiling because it’s only partially finished dehydrating, just take it out and place it in a covered, airtight dish in the fridge, then take it out when you want to resume drying and lay it out in your dehydrator.  This works fine.  Good luck! — Jackie


  1. Ref Squirell hair comments: The best way to keep hair off a squirell carcass is to not get it on in the first place. Here is how to skin a squirell without getting even one hair on the carcass. I skin squirells right when I shoot them, and put them in a plastic bag to carry home. It takes less than a minute.. (I have done this over a thousand times in my 70+ years.)

    Lay the Squirell on it’s belly. Stand on it’s hind feet. With your pocket knife cut through the tail bone while holding the tail up with your other hand-but do not cut off the tail-leave as much skin as possible attached to the tail on the upper side. While standing on the hind feet holding the tail, slip the knife blade under the skin from the cut tail bone and slit the skin for an inch or two down each hip of the Squirell.

    Now take hold of the hind feet and stand on the tail. Pull the hind feet up while standing on the tail and the skin will peal off the carcass down to the head and front feet. With thumb and knife blade cut off the front feet to free the pealed skin to the head. A small triangular stip of skin will be still on the belly and hind legs to the hind feet. Using your knife blade and thumb peal that strip of skin up to the hind feet that you are still holding. Now you are holding a compleatly skinned Squirell suspended between the tail (that you are standing on, and the hind feet you are holding. The skin is “wrong side out, the Squirell is suspended in mid air and you have not touched any hair to the meat.

    While holding the carcass this way, cut a slit in the belly of the Squirell from the vent to the rib cage. Flip the Squirell and the intestines will fall out while you still hold the carcass in mid air.

    Next, cut through the neck to sever the head, and with a thumb and knife blade cut off the hind feet.

    It takes less time to skin and clean a Squirell this way than to read these instructions and there will be no hair on the meat and your hands will not be bloody.

  2. Confit is essentially a seasoned version of Qawarma, which was covered in issue 84. Unfortunately, that article is not available online.

    Let me see if I can find my cookbook with the confit recipes, and I’ll get back to you.

    One catch with canning confits: the fat content may make it hard to get a good seal. If you have a cool cellar, a properly made confit can be stored for several months in an airtight container, as it was originally a way to preserve meat without refridgeration.


  3. So, are you going to reveal which peppers you consider standbys and which ones you’re trying out? We’re sort of pepper-mad around here; I love the sweet peppers and my boyfriend Rob lives for hot peppers, so we always try to have plenty of both. This year, I’ll make sure I plant the prettiest ones (like Trifetti, with leaves splashed with green, white and purple) either in the greenhouse bed or in hanging baskets so I can enjoy them long after frost has killed the outdoor plants!

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