For two nights now, we’ve had -25, with daytime temperatures fighting hard to make zero. So as you might imagine, we quickly do chores, bring in firewood, and don’t do much else outside!

I decided to clean house for Christmas (not that it needed it!). The day before Will found some cracks in the bathroom wall, where the logs had settled. He sealed those up, then chinked between all the logs to give the bathroom a finished look. Unfortunately (or fortunately), he then checked my office and found the same situation. So today, he stuffed insulation in the biggest cracks and I ran to Hibbing to buy more chinking. This afternoon, he finished off the whole two outside walls of the office, and not only is the room a whole lot warmer, but it looks gorgeous, too!

Every little drafty crack we find and cure, we are becoming more comfortable, and saving wood and propane, to boot. That’s a win-win situation if I’ve ever seen one.

Readers’ Questions:

Seed sources

This is not a question. I would just like to share some information. I recently ordered the Whole Shebang so I’ve been doing a lot of reading now that everything is covered in snow. I have discovered that there appears to be a lot of people out there looking for certain kinds of seeds. One of those was Hopi Pale Grey Squash. There is a farm in Decorah, Iowa that is in the business of preserving heirloom seeds. is a marvelous resource for seeds. Also, in regards to log building. Great Lakes School of Log Building in Isabella, Minnesota is a great place to go and take a class. My husband and I spent 10 days living in a rustic cabin while learning how to build a cabin. Ron is a great instructor. We have also taken stone building courses from him and learned a lot that we have been able to use in our current situation.

Brenda Baldwin
Blue Earth, Minnesota

I’m sure the readers will appreciate your tips. This year, Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds is selling Hopi Pale Grey Squash (for the second year!). — Jackie

Heating with wood

I know that you have wood stoves to heat. My family just had a wood stove put in back in October. We don’t have central air, and are finding it hard to move the heat around. How do Will and you get the heat moving through out the house?

Wilmington, Delaware

We have a small fan behind our stove in the living room and also a ceiling fan above it, which we run occasionally. We also have a wood burning kitchen range in the kitchen, which is in the other end of the house. Between the two, our house keeps pretty cozy. — Jackie

Watering chickens in freezing weather

This is my first year raising chickens and I love the eggs. It has just started getting cold, cold, some nights into the 20’s and I was wondering would it be safe to add a little table salt to the chickens water to avoid it from freezing? Today I had to break the ice 4 times and refilled once. The other option I considered is running a light above the water.

Dennis Santoro
Butler, Georgia

Don’t add the salt. If you add enough salt to keep the water from freezing, you’ll poison your chickens! Either get a heated water pan or just offer your chickens fresh water twice a day. They’ll do fine. — Jackie

Checking jar seals after canning

My canning instructions say to remove the jars from the canner; let them cool for 24 hours…do not touch them during that time. After 24 hours, check the seals. If any did not seal, put them in the refrigerator and use as soon as possible. I recently made turkey soup and had one jar that did not seal. Is it actually safe to eat that soup that had poultry in it and sat out for 24 hours?

Deborah McEnulty
Priest River, Idaho

Most books do say to check the seals after 12 to 24 hours. Personally, I prefer to just check the jars after they have cooled entirely. If they are not sealed after this time (usually less than 6 hours or overnight), they won’t be after several more hours. Even the Ball Blue Book says 12-24 hours, but I prefer to check my seals right after the jars are cooled. — Jackie

Head space

I have been canning for years and recently discovered and subscribed to Backwoods Home. Having seen innumerable canning instructions I am left wondering what determines correct amount of head space and what impact does too much or too little head space have. Perhaps you could shed some light on this.

Carl B

Experience and studies determine the correct head space for foods. Usually the head space is increased for high-starch foods or other foods that tend to swell during processing, such as peas, corn and some meats. Other foods, such as pickles, need a little more head space than, say jams, as the vinegar tends to discolor where the pickle touches the bottom of the jar lids. If you leave too much head space, nothing much happens, at least in my experience. But if you don’t leave enough, sometimes the liquid blows out of the jar during processing or forces bits of food between the lid and the jar rim. If you are canning a food that expands, such as dry beans or corn, leaving insufficient head space can even push the food against the lid, causing it to not seal. — Jackie

Canning questions

I am still canning too, and I have a couple of questions.

When a batch is done processing in the pressure canner do I have to take the jars out of the canner as soon as the pressure drops, or can I just go to bed and take them out in the morning? I get working late some nights and it sure would be nice to not have to wait up.

I am canning venison and would like to make some more stew. Earlier this fall I canned some using the recipe from your great book. I left out the carrots and celery and added ripe bell peppers and stewed tomatoes. It turned out great. I’ve got plenty of potatoes and onions still, but I don’t have any more fresh peppers or tomatoes. I do have a bunch that I canned earlier this fall, can I use those? They were pressure canned with the stewed tomatoes and peppers in the same jar. Would they taste good, or would they turn to mush after being processed a second time?

Steve in Northern Wyoming

Sorry, Steve, but you’ve got to take your jars out of the canner right after the pressure drops to zero. One time I was exhausted from doing corn for 36 hours straight (long story!) and left the last batch in the canner after processing so I could go to bed. The jars seemed sealed in the morning and I put them in the pantry. A few weeks later, I smelled this horrible stench in the basement. Yep. The corn. All of the jars had come unsealed and were spoiled. All 9 quarts and 14 pints worth! All that work wasted. I learned my lesson.

Yes, you can mix your previously canned tomatoes and peppers with your venison. Potatoes don’t take to re-canning, but tomatoes and peppers aren’t too fussy that way. Enjoy your stew! — Jackie

Dry ice for storing grains

At one time in your column you told how dry ice could be used in storing grains and other things by placing it in the bottom of the container and sealing the container after it had completely dissolved. If the container is solid how do you know if the dry ice is gone if you can’t see it?

Lynda Buchholz
Manhattan, Montana

You would put about 1/3 of a cup of dry ice (2 oz) in the bottom of a clean, food-grade pail. Lay a paper towel over it if you wish to keep the dry ice away from the grain. Then fill the pail nearly full with grain. Don’t seal the bucket; you need an escape for the oxygen the dry ice evaporating will drive out. You can tell the dry ice is gone by feeling the bottom of the bucket. If it’s icy cold, it’s not; sometimes it takes a few hours to dissolve. When it has, seal the bucket. — Jackie

Rabbits have ear mites

I bought two new rabbits today and after I got home i saw that they have ear mites. I have never had mites in my rabbits before, I have them separated on the other side of the yard. Is there a safe effective means of treating the mites so that I can use them as breeders or do I have to get rid of them? Also is there a chance that they might still spread just because I have them in the yard?

Brian Davis
Jesup, Georgia

Ear mites aren’t that bad to treat in rabbits if you keep at it. Pick up an ear mite remedy from your vet or even WalMart (use one for cats). Clean each ear out well with alcohol and a cotton ball until the ear is clean.

Then put several drops in each ear and massage it down into the ear canal. Repeat the cleaning and treatment every day for a week. The ears should be clean and healing. Check the rabbits in another week, including a cleaning. If the ears are clean, you should be home free. If so-so, repeat the cleaning and treatment for another week’s course. That should do the trick. — Jackie

Canning smoked sausage

I would like to can my own smoked sausage links that fit in pint jars. Would it be possible to do so without broth do you think? Since they will be smoked, seems like there wouldn’t be much grease to leak out of them in the jars to hinder the seal.

Betty Downs
Covington, Georgia

Yes, you can. I would suggest partially cooking the sausages first. When I’ve canned cased sausages without pre-cooking, they tend to swell a lot during processing. — Jackie


  1. Seed sources: Fisher’s Seeds, PO Box 236, Belgrade MT 59714 – 406 388-6052 – catalog $2. I don’t know that they have Hopi Pale Grey, but they do have short season, high altitude, open pollinated, cold tolerant, heirloom, locally grown seeds, some for locally developed cultivars. Don’t think they have a web site.

  2. re: snow….I really miss the snow, I’m stuck here in california for at least another year…from New England…make you a deal…you send me some snow to play with and I’ll send you some mandarin oranges off the tree in the side yard…take care and keep warm…I love your blog…makes me smile.

  3. This is for Hollis in Delaware about heating with a wood stove. Congratulations on going with wood! You will love it after adjusting, and it is one of the best investments we have made. We live in MN, and heat with a woodstove in the winter time, but like Jackie we have several fans that we use to move the heat around. However, I like to think of our house as being zonal, with our den/ breakfast nook being ~75F, living room ~70-72F, our bedrooms being ~65F and basement ~55-60F. We have a small door fan that leads to the bedrooms, if it ever gets really chilly, but we definitely prefer the cooler sleeping temps. I don’t know if Jackie’s house is that way, but with just a wood stove for heating (instead of one of the outdoors wood burners), you most likely get zonal temps in your house. Just a note, when you clear the ashes, make sure the fans are off… helps cut down on the particulates in the air. Enjoy your stove, we love ours!

  4. What a beautiful color that is, I love all the wood everywhere…..wood is always in motion, it looks like a perfect chinking job….

    I don’t miss those bitter wind chill temps back there, stay warm & toasty!

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