On Saturday, my sister, Sue, and nephew, Sean, came up for Christmas as Sean had to work Sunday. David and Sean got to target shoot in the gravel pit and we had a nice visit. Then on Sunday, my son, Bill, his wife, Kelly, and my grandson, Mason, came up to celebrate a late Christmas with us, complete with another Christmas dinner and goodies. We had such fun! It’s great watching youngsters at Christmas time.

We feed the deer during the winter, and we all enjoyed watching them down below our yard. We look on our deer as “wild livestock” and take care of them just like our goats, cattle, and horses. Only we don’t have to have a barn for them or shovel manure! We do get to eat one or two a year, though. Natural, organically-raised venison.

I hope all of you also had a great Christmas. Thank you all for your Christmas wishes for us.

Readers’ Questions:

Hens laying through winter

This is not a question but it seems that we have stumbled upon a way to keep hens laying through the winter. I recently read an article about Laura Ingalls Wilder that stated she was famous for having lots of eggs during the winter. She raised and fed her chickens mangel beets. Since it was too late to plant beets we looked into an alternative for our little flock of 8 hens and 10 pullets that had not started to lay but were due any time. They had only been giving 2 to 4 eggs a day and the 4 was a very good day. We mixed Purina Rabbit Chow about 1 small coffee can to a 5 gallon container of our egg layer mix. In 3 days the eggs numbered 15 and the pullet eggs were far larger than any pullet eggs we have ever seen. Next year we plan to try the beets. It is amazing what you can learn from the “old timers.” We did not use extra lighting or anything else.

Joyce in NW Missouri

Wow! I never thought about using rabbit pellets. Good idea. Grandpa used to save the fines from his alfalfa hay and gather up a bucket every day or two and take to the house. There, he poured boiling water over the alfalfa leaves and let them soak overnight. In the morning, he fed the chickens his “greens.” They also laid well all winter long. We are feeding squash “guts” to our girls, along with their 18% chicken mix and they are laying very well. We do keep a light on for a few hours in the evening. It’s a compact fluorescent and gives enough light for them to scratch around and eat. But it doesn’t take much electricity. When you live off grid, every watt counts. I will give the rabbit pellets a try. We also would like to try mangels; I raised a few last year for the goats and they did well (goats and mangels!). — Jackie

Rancid oils

Speaking of rancid oils, can these oils be used for oil lamps? Are there adjustments of any kind to be done when using olive oils or other cooking oils in the lamps?

Glenda Holcomb
Indiantown, Florida

You can burn oil for lighting, but don’t use it in kerosene lamps; it will quickly ruin your wick. Instead, use it in open lamps with a smaller wick. Better yet, try not to let oil Get rancid! I used to always buy my oil in large containers, as it was cheaper. But I found that I didn’t use enough oil so it went rancid before it was used up. So I switched to using mostly olive oil in smaller bottles and now I don’t have any rancid oil to contend with. And, by buying carefully, on sales, I also am saving just as much money as buying the larger sizes. — Jackie

Storage life of different foods

Out west here we are used to eating more rice and beans as Asian and Mexican food and not as much wheat flour based recipes. Can you give us more information on the storage life of different store bought and home grown and preserved foods?

Jim Van Sant
Valley Springs, California

We eat plenty of rice and bean Asian and Mexican food here at our house, too. Love the variety of flavors! And, luckily, rice and beans will store, right in the store bags, also stored in air/rodent/moisture proof containers (my popcorn tins or 5 gallon buckets or garbage cans), nearly forever! I’ve eaten beans that were 25 years old (oops, I wondered where those went…), and they were just fine. I also ate a few 1,500 year old beans (carbon dated from an ancient Indian ruin) and they were also fine. Admittedly, we didn’t eat many; we saved them for seed and grew out several crops from them!

Brown rice will not store long, as it is like whole wheat flour; it goes rancid after only a few months of storage.

Store-bought canned goods and home canned goods will stay perfectly good for years and years. Only the rusting out of the cans or lids seems to shorten their life. Do NOT be fooled by “use by” freshness dates! That’s only a marketing ploy to make uneducated (or over-educated) people throw away perfectly good food…and go out and buy more.

Dehydrated foods will also remain good, if protected from vermin and moisture, nearly forever.

If you can store your foods in a dark location, at cool temperatures, it will dramatically lengthen the time it remains good. Heat and light both work to shorten storage times in many foods. In home canned foods, it doesn’t spoil the foods, but it will change the color and texture of the food, making it less appetizing.

The main thing is to begin storing foods! It doesn’t have to be huge $1,000 plus units. It can be a few bags, cans, or boxes, stored regularly. Foods add up quickly and that’s very encouraging! — Jackie

Hens eating eggs

My Rhode Island Red hens (I have 4) recently started eating their eggs. They aren’t laying much this time of year, so every egg is precious! I don’t know which of the ladies is the culprit or if it is”gang crime”. What causes this activity and what can I do to stop it?

Spokane, Washington

Usually hens start eating eggs because they first crack one in the nest box and find them a tasty treat. It’s not long before they find out how to crack them on purpose! Who says chickens are dumb?

There are ways to stop this in most cases. First, make sure you have at least one box per 5 hens. Then keep plenty of shavings in the nest to make accidental breakage harder. Usually if you pick up your eggs several times a day for awhile, the egg eating stops (less time to get them cracked). Also, in some instances, putting ceramic nest eggs in the box(es) will stop it, as there IS no cracking/eating possible with these hard eggs. Some people have had luck by blowing out an egg (poke a small hole in both ends and blow out the egg), and filling the hollow egg with hot pepper and gluing or waxing over the holes. I’ve tried it with mixed results. Some of my hens actually LIKED the hot pepper sauce! If all else fails, change your nest boxes to roll-off boxes. That is when the floor slopes a little to the rear, letting the newly laid eggs gently roll out the back of the box, into a holding tray that is protected from chicken access. This is what commercial egg houses do…only they have no loose chickens, so the egg holding tray is in front of the caged layers for easy access for the workers gathering eggs.

Also, provide your hens with plenty of table scraps, hay chaff, and other goodies, such as squash or pumpkins to pick at. This helps occupy their time and seems to satisfy their need to peck. — Jackie

Making stock

I have a question regarding making stock. Is it possible to dehydrate it once you have reduced it?

I have searched online and the BHM website under multiple search terms (dehydrating stock, dehydrating chicken stock etc) and can’t find an answer.

Peculiar, Missouri

Sorry, but there are a few things that are not recommended for home dehydrating and stock is one of them. Instead, can up all you can! It’s wonderful and oh-so-useful. — Jackie

Growing and canning your own food book

I have noticed you mention a few errors in your book…measurements and such. Could you make a note in your column of what the corrections are so we can make corrections on the recipes? Thanks and keep up the great work.

Lee Galloway
Redding, California

Except for the alphabetized index and yields of each recipe readers want, the errors are:

Tomato soup recipe on page 196 says set aside 1 quart of the juice, what do you do with the juice? — mix it with the parsley leaves until they’re pretty rehydrated, then pour into your big batch of juice/puree and continue.

How long do 1/2 pints of chicken need to process? — half pints are processed the same length of time as pints.

The Amish Relish recipe needs 3 pts. of vinegar.

The salt listed for the mustard bean pickles is only the salt added to the water in which the beans are simmered to become tender. It is drained off with the water prior to pickling.

Also on pg. 150, you might like to add “pour boiling water over peppers, leaving 1 inch of headspace.” Other than these, I can’t think of any boo-boos. — Jackie


  1. Jackie wrote about grafting fruit trees in issue #121 Jan/Feb 2010. Territorial Seed in Cottage Grove Oregon http://www.territorialseed.com is selling grafted tomatoes this year. Their catalog explains the benefits of grafting tomatoes. If you use grafted vegetables as a search term in Google you’ll find lots of information including a YouTube video. Although I subscribe to Permaculture magazine and this is well known in England, Europe and Asia, they haven’t done any articles on grafted vegetables. Have any Backwoods Home readers tried this for a home garden?

  2. Glad to see that with so much snow up north you and your family were able to be together this Christmas…. We too were truly blessed this Christmas. Our son, who is in the Air Force, was able to take leave and be home for Christmas!!!! The first one since 2006, making this truly one of our very best Christmases ever……

  3. It looks like you had a great holiday! Cute pictures.
    I love the deer photos!
    You are such an inspiration!
    Have a great New Year!

  4. Our Christmas comes in January when our daughter gets home from San Diego for a few days. We were in Vermont for Christmas with older boys and families. Fun..
    .Did your almonds get there yet?

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