When Will and I were investigating our hillside last fall, we found this nearly perfect little fir tree. It was bushy, fat and shining; the perfect Christmas tree! I filed it in my memory where it stayed until today. With the 18″ of new snow, and more on the way, David and I decided we’d better get the tree cut, even though we won’t be putting it up for several days. We usually put our tree up two weeks before Christmas, but because we’re anxiously awaiting Will’s coming home on January 9th, we want to have a second Christmas then…complete with a decorated, homegrown tree.

So this year, we are waiting to put it up so it won’t dry up and shed needles. David and I went out on the hill and made short work of the new Christmas tree. Now it’s leaning up against the end of the house, where it’ll stay nice and fresh until we bring it inside. Last night we had two flying squirrels on the bird feeder, and I’ll just bet they will be in our Christmas tree tonight; it’s a short hop from that to the deck railing. Or should I say a short glide. They climb the big fir trees next to the gravel pit, glide to the porch railing, run up that and glide to the bird feeder. Plop! Plop! Incoming squirrels. They’re lots of fun to watch! Cheap entertainment, too.

Readers Questions:

Water bath canning

I started canning two years ago and so far I have only canned Salsa with a hot water bath. I want to can more items but I do not want to use a pressure canner or cooker. I have purchased several canning books but they all suggest a pressure form of canning. Is there a source for recipes that rely on canning with water baths only?

John Barber
Trussville, Alabama

WHY don’t you want to use a pressure canner? If it’s the cost, ask around and I’ll about guarantee you can find a working pressure canner for little cash from someone who just doesn’t can anymore…usually due to old age. If you’ve been told they are hard to use and dangerous, not so. All halfway modern canners have safety release valves so they can’t blow up…the steam pressure releases with a hiss.

You MUST use a pressure canner for all vegetables, poultry and meat and combinations containing them, to be safe. Yes, some Amish use water bath canners for these things, as did our grandparents. But unless you are totally certain to boil each and every food for 20 minutes on opening each and every jar to kill any botulism spore toxins possibly in the food, it is deadly dangerous to do so. Also, food water bathed so long, then boiled on use, not only tastes over-cooked, but IS over-cooked. Please, consider a pressure canner? I PROMISE you’ll love it after your first use. — Jackie

Building and zoning issues

I live in Michigan. Every time I want to start my homestead we run into building and zoning issues. Such as: no animals on parcels less than 5 acres. Can’t build an earth and tire shelter home; building code issues. I just read you book “Starting Over.” Any advice? How did you handle the local officials? Do I need to move to another state?

Rob Dawe
Fremont, Michigan

Well, we did move to an area with less strict zoning laws. But we also have 80 acres, way back in the woods. Yes, we did have to get a “land use” permit (building permit), but don’t have such things as building inspectors, etc.

Some states, and some locales in those states, have stricter zoning than others, by far. Check around to see if another area, not too far from you would be better. Unless you’re up for a bigger move. Personally, I don’t like all the restrictions, either! — Jackie

Canning bacon

In Issue 93 a reader asked if bacon can be canned. You wrote that you have canned it, but you did not explain how to do it. Could you please tell me how it’s done? With the world disintegrating, I’m very worried about using my freezer as much as I do. I can’t afford to discard meat since it’s so costly. Can you help me? I have used a pressure canner for years, so I know how to do it.

Beverly Robbins
Tallmadge, Ohio

I can my bacon in whole chunks, not sliced, as sliced bacon kind of falls apart as the fat cooks. I put the bacon in a roasting pan, in the oven and slowly heat it at low temperatures (250 degrees) until it is hot throughout, but not cooked. Then I quickly cut it into jar-sized pieces and pack it into hot jars, leaving 1″ of headspace. I do not add liquid. Process pints for 75 minutes and quarts for 90 minutes at 10 pounds pressure.

You can also process “store” bacon, handled the same way, but side bacon works better and is much less fatty, resulting in a better product. — Jackie

Canning turkey

I found some frozen turkey breast on sale after Thanksgiving and I was wondering does it hurt to can it? If not should I just raw pack it into jars and process or heat through first and top off with hot broth?

Challis Moffitt
Ramseur, North Carolina

Good for you, Challis! No. It’s great to can. I make broth, then put the rinsed breasts in it and simmer until the meat is done, but not over-cooked so it falls off the bone. Then I cut convenient pieces that will fit into my wide mouth jars, pack the hot meat in, leaving 1″ of headspace, fill the jars with boiling broth, leaving 1″ of headspace, then remove any air bubbles, wipe the rim clean, put a hot, previously simmered lid on the jar and screw down the ring firmly tight. Process half pints and pints for 75 minutes and quarts for 90 minutes (boned) or if you leave the bones in, process pints for 65 minutes and quarts for 75 minutes at 10 pounds pressure, in a pressure canner.

Enjoy your turkey. I do this every time I can buy turkey on sale and we sure use the meat. I can a lot in half pints and find I use that size jar quite a bit when I need flavoring for a casserole, etc. It also makes the turkey go a long way! Also consider canning up any leftover broth with a little meat in it. That’s real handy, too. — Jackie

Buying heirloom seeds

Marjorie and I love your articles, when BHM comes we always grab and read you first. We also live in Minnesota, just south of Bemidji. I am the Chaplain for the Disabled American Veterans and a retired Navy Corpsman. If you are ever in the Bemidji area, we would love to have you come visit and stay overnight. Our home is a free “Bed and Breakfast,” called the “Gospel Trail Ministries.” Our question: where can we get an order for Heritage organic seeds (Non GMO)?

Walter and Marjorie James
LaPorte, Minnesota

Thank you for the invitation. I travel very seldom, especially when taking care of Mom, who’s 92 and in a wheelchair; she doesn’t like to go and I have no one to leave her with if I should travel anywhere.

There are a lot of places that sell good Heirloom seeds. You can shop with Seed Savers Exchange, Baker Creek Seeds, Native Seeds/SEARCH and many others. Try typing heirloom vegetable seeds into your browser and see what pops up! It’s really worth the extra time and it’s fun, too! — Jackie

Dehydrating meat

I can’t do canning anymore (health) but I have discovered dehydrating and I love it. My question is I read that basically any thing can be dried. I would like to roast a turkey and take all the meat and grind it add the juice and dehydrate it at 155 Degrees till DRY. I have a 9 tray Excalibur. I really need to know if you think this is safe and a good idea.

Connie Mellott
Brunswick, Ohio

Yes, you can dehydrate turkey. I would not add the juice, however; it contains a good deal of fat, which is your enemy when dehydrating. I think 150 degrees would give you better results; turkey tends to get hard when dehydrated. To rehydrate it, put some in a plastic container, pour on boiling water, put the lid on and wait until it gets as tender as you’d like. Or simply put some in your casserole that you’ll be baking with liquid, for some time.

Any meat can be dehydrated safely, but for fatty meats like some pork. — Jackie

Preventing the water bucket from freezing

I am putting my chicken house in the garden, like the one shown in the Chickens beginners guide. My question is: the garden is 150 feet away from the electricity. I really don’t want to have to dig a trench to get electricity out there. I’m assuming I can run a solar panel/light combo to put light in the house, but how to I prevent the water from freezing without power? Location, Colorado. Plenty of sunshine, winters here-abouts are around 0F daytime high, -20F nighttime low at it’s very worst so far, but generally sunny and 30’s to 40’s in the day. My dogs water bowl freezes every day, but a heated bucket we have stays liquid when plugged into an outlet.

Kevin Long
Elizabeth, Colorado

Although putting your chickens’ water container in an insulated box will help, I’ve never come up with anything that would keep the water liquid after sub zero nights. I carry a bucket of warm water to my chickens twice a day, knocking out any ice in their rubber tub first.

Where you do have power, I’d suggest either running underground or overhead lines to your coop if the pail-carrying option doesn’t suit you. (You’d also have your lights, too.) — Jackie


  1. we get some freezing cold weather here in western Illinois but also so much wind that we get more ice then snow or the snow we get turns icy very fast. We just returned from Vermont and it snowed there, big fat puffy flakes. I want that!!! That is the time to have your knitting or crocheting beside you and a good book and a fire in the fire place.

  2. Just wanted to wish you and your family the warmest of Christmas greetings! I hope the weather there isn’t too chilly! It’s in the middle 50’s here in TN and I’m missing the snow!

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