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8/14/2014

I found some old cast-iron cookware that’s rusty and covered in black crud. Can I resurrect it?

Old cast iron can be a bargain, says Mark Kelly, public relations manager for Lodge Manufacturing in South Pittsburg, Tenn., the last U.S. manufacturer to cast its own iron. Kelly says cast-iron cookware from China is usually lower-quality, with several telltale signatures: It will have odd marks at the “throat” of the handle and perhaps on the bottom, it may not look as finished, it will be thicker and clunkier, and the edges won’t be as smooth. A better bet would be a piece of U.S.-made cookware, no matter how gunky it may appear.Rusty Cast-Iron Skillet

If you’ve found a well-made cast-iron piece, restoring it will be fairly easy. Kelly instructs: First remove rust using a soap-free steel wool pad (or have the rust sandblasted off at a metal shop), and then bake away any crust by heating the piece on a grill, over a wood fire, or in your self-cleaning oven. Cleaning it outside may be best, because the process could otherwise fill your house with smoke. You may need to repeat this process several times before the crust is gone.

When the cast iron is clean, re-season it by applying the cooking oil of your choice all over it. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit, line the oven floor with aluminum foil, and bake the piece upside down for an hour. Turn off the oven and let the piece cool.

Seasoning cast-iron cookware fills the pores of the metal with carbon particles, which creates the nonstick effect, Kelly says. The more you cook with the piece, the more that effect will be enhanced, and that’s why it gets better with time. Re-oil the piece after each use.

“There’s no way to ruin cast iron,” Kelly says. “Well, in Leviticus, it does say that it’s a straight path to hell if you put cast iron in your dishwasher. But that’s the only way.”

To learn more about caring for cast-iron cookware, read The Care and Feeding of Cast Iron: Cleaning and Seasoning Cast-Iron Cookware.

Photo by Fotolia/Jaimie Duplass: Salvage crusty cast-iron with a bit of scrubbing and baking.


Robin Mather is a senior associate editor at MOTHER EARTH NEWS and the author of The Feast Nearby, a collection of essays and recipes from her year of eating locally on $40 a week. In her spare time, she is a hand-spinner, knitter, weaver, homebrewer, cheese maker and avid cook who cures her own bacon. Find her on Twitter, Facebook or .



8/7/2014

I don’t want to mow my meadow every week with a riding mower, but I do need to mow it once or twice per year to keep weedy trees from moving in. What kind of heavy-duty mower do you recommend?

Many people mow large areas too often. If you spend less time mowing, you’ll not only save time and gas money, but you’ll also preserve a vastly better habitat for birds, bees and other wildlife. To mow tall grass a couple of times per year, a brush mower or a flail mower is the most effective tool.Land Pride FM4188 Flail Mower

Brush mowers rotate on a vertical axis — either a heavy-duty, two-ended blade or, in the case of higher-quality mowers, a disk rotating on a vertical axis, usually with two hinged blades. The hinged blades better protect the drivetrain if you hit rocks or stumps. This style of mower is effective for cutting down material, but the way it chews up the matter isn’t consistent. The mower will chop some of the material into small pieces while lopping some off at the base. The lopped-off grass will fall to the ground and the mower will pass over it, so you could have some pieces of mowed material that are 3 or 4 feet long, depending on the height of what you’re cutting.

If you want a mower that will convert your meadow grass, weeds, brush or cover crops into smaller pieces that will break down more quickly into the soil or make good mulch, opt for a flail mower. These mowers have many blades hinged to a horizontal drum that rotates about 3,000 times per minute on a horizontal axis. The mower’s multiple cutting surfaces at various heights allow it to hack any substance into a small, uniform size. (It’s essentially a chipper-shredder on wheels.) The horizontal drum axis will also evenly distribute the chewed-up matter across the width of the mower — unlike a brush mower, whose vertical-axis blade rotation tends to windrow the material to one side.

Both of these mower types are available as walk-behind units, or as power take-off (PTO) attachments for riding or walk-behind tractors. You can also buy towable, self-powered models (for riding tractors that do not have a PTO for driving implements). Even some riding brush mowers are starting to appear on the market.

Photo courtesy Land Pride: Flail mowers, such as this Land Pride FM4188, can help keep your meadow free of invading foliage.



7/30/2014
Every summer, I find being outdoors after dusk impossible because of mosquitoes. Is there a natural spray or trap for mosquito control?Homemade Mosquito Trap

Several synthetic and organic pesticides will poison mosquitoes on contact, but they’ll provide only minimal relief. The best way to reduce mosquito populations in your yard is to eradicate breeding sites and also install both passive and active mosquito traps.

Mosquitoes need water to breed — their larvae are the “wigglers” you can see in neglected buckets of water if you look closely — so you can naturally limit mosquito swarms by eliminating breeding sites in your neighborhood. To do this, always empty water from open containers, old tires and other potential breeding grounds within five days after a heavy rain. Add a product called Mosquito Dunks (made with Bacillus thuringiensis) to rain barrels and other standing-water supplies for a safe and easy way to prevent mosquito larvae from hatching. Or, let fish do the trick — preferably native minnows. You can purchase traps at a sporting goods store that have been designed to collect the minnows from a pond, and then release them to feed on larvae in your rain barrel or water garden.

You won’t need many minnows — fish are some of the best mosquito traps available. One fathead minnow can eat 74 mosquito larvae per day. A study from Rutgers University recommends 10 gambusia minnows for one standard rain barrel, and 35 to 100 for a water garden, depending on its size. Similar stocking rates would apply to arroyo chub minnows or fathead minnows.

Some of the best mosquito traps use multiple attractants — light, carbon dioxide and an attractant called “octenol” — to lure mosquitoes and then suck them in with a fan. A University of North Dakota professor of biology collected data in 2002 showing that the Mosquito Magnet caught 8,000 female mosquitoes per night during peak-summer season. The Mosquito Magnet is pricey, starting at $400. The cheapest Mega-Catch model costs much less — $150 with lures — and is a good fit for smaller yards. Shop carefully: Some anti-mosquito products actually spray chemical pesticides into the air — and those pesticides could be toxic to you, too.

Photo courtesy Mega-Catch: The Mega-Catch Pro 900 ALPHA mosquito trap is an affordable and effective trap for smaller yards.


Contributing editor Barbara Pleasant gardens in southwest Virginia, where she grows vegetables, herbs, fruits, flowers and a few lucky chickens. Contact Barbara by visiting her website or finding her on .



7/23/2014

Seed Packets In Jars In The Refrigerator

What’s the best way to store my garden seeds?

Seeds are living organisms, so don’t simply toss them into a shed or shoe box. To keep seeds you buy viable as long as possible, you should always keep them as cool and dry as you can. Usually, your best option is to keep them in the refrigerator, sealed in a glass jar.

If you live in a humid region, you can add silica gel to absorb additional moisture. Southern Exposure Seed Exchange sells silica gel beads for drying seeds, or you can find them at craft supply stores, where they’re sold for drying flowers. You can also use powdered milk as a desiccant: Measure 1 to 2 tablespoons from a freshly opened package onto a piece of fabric or a paper towel, fold it up, and then place it in the container with the seed packets. Powdered milk will absorb excess moisture for about six months.

If you’re saving seeds from your garden, dry them well before you store them in the refrigerator. Spread the mature seeds in a shallow layer over a fine mesh screen or ceramic plate, and dry the seeds in a warm, dark and airy location for several weeks, until the seeds are hard and no longer pliable. A fan may help speed up the process. If possible, gently stir the seeds every now and then to expose them evenly to the air. Package the dry seeds in envelopes labeled with the variety and date, and then store them in glass jars in the refrigerator.

If treated well, your garden seeds will stay viable for one to five years, depending on the plant type. To learn how to test your seeds’ viability, read Testing Seed Viability.

To learn more about how to store seeds, see Savvy Seed Care.

Photo by Hannah Kincaid: Airtight jars placed in the refrigerator will safeguard the viability of the garden seeds stored within.


Vicki Mattern is a contributing editor for MOTHER EARTH NEWS magazine, book editor and freelance magazine writer. She has edited or co-authored seven books on gardening, and lives and works from her home in northwestern Montana. You can find Vicki on Google+.



5/28/2014

Where do I locate sustainable wood for my home building projects?

Certified sustainably grown wood isn’t always easy to track down. trees in a forestThe certification label could reside on the product’s wrapping paper, shipping document, or an invoice that the distributor sees but that you may not have access to.

You can source sustainable wood with a little digging, however. Two major organizations certify sustainably produced wood: the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI) and the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC). SFI is a North American organization; FSC works globally. Each has a searchable online database that identifies lumber, engineered wood, decking, siding and other wood products that have met the organization’s standards for sustainability. You can check out the SFI database and the FSC database, and then locate dealers that carry the certified brands.

Another approach is to ask your local lumber distributor to direct you to the sustainable wood products it stocks. If a label isn’t clearly visible on the product and you want to verify the product’s certification status, you can ask the distributor for the product’s identification number and then check it on the SFI or FSC website.

If your retail distributor doesn’t already carry sustainably harvested wood, ask for it! That kind of grass-roots demand is one of the best ways to increase its availability and support sustainable forestry, says Valerie Luzadis, president of the U.S. Society for Ecological Economics.

Both the SFI and FSC certification programs officially organized shortly after the 1992 Rio de Janeiro Earth Summit, which put forth a set of principles to guide the sustainable management of forests worldwide. The SFI and FSC certification programs differ, and those differences have led to considerable debate about which system is more rigorous. Over the years, each organization’s certification standards have become tougher, and additional updates are in the works. A 2011 Dovetail Partners report examined the differences between the programs’ certification standards.

If you’re planning to build a home or undertake some other large project, seeking out certified lumber is ecologically wise and impactful. A March 2012 Journal of Forestry report that measured certification’s effects on forest-management practices concluded that both systems have improved the environmental, social and economic sustainability of forests by establishing geographic information systems, controlling exotic invasives, monitoring chemical use, planning with biological diversity in mind, and more.

Photo courtesy Forest Stewardship Council: The Forest Stewardship Council has certified more than 330 million acres of forest around the world.


Vicki Mattern is a contributing editor for MOTHER EARTH NEWS magazine, book editor and freelance magazine writer. She has edited or co-authored seven books on gardening, and lives and works from her home in northwestern Montana. You can find Vicki on .



5/21/2014

I found out the hard way that my garden is infested with poison ivy. What should I do to evict this rash-causing weed?poison ivy

Getting rid of poison ivy in your yard is tough — there’s just no easy way to do it. One of the most effective techniques to banish it is to pull it and pull it and pull it. Wear special gloves that you never use for anything else and use a pair of long-handled pliers. The ivy’s stems run mainly near the surface of the soil and up onto nearby trees. Large lengths will come up when you pull. If the stems are thick and won’t budge, then you’ll have to cut them and paint the remaining portion with an herbicide. Repeat this pulling process as needed each year.

Before you begin pulling poison ivy, apply the FDA-approved product called Ivy Block to your hands and arms to protect your skin. After you’re finished, carefully remove your gloves, wash your clothes, and wash your hands with Tecnu Extreme Medicated Poison Ivy Scrub. You can find these products online or at a drugstore.

Photo by Dreamstime/Stevebrigman: Pesky poison ivy often likes to climb up trees.


Cheryl Long is the editor in chief of MOTHER EARTH NEWS magazine, and a leading advocate for more sustainable lifestyles. She leads a team of editors which produces high quality content that has resulted in MOTHER EARTH NEWS being rated as one North America’s favorite magazines. Long lives on an 8-acre homestead near Topeka, Kan., powered in part by solar panels, where she manages a large organic garden and a small flock of heritage chickens. Prior to taking the helm at MOTHER EARTH NEWS, she was an editor at Organic Gardening magazine for 10 years. Connect with her on .

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5/14/2014

What should I do with the loopy stems growing on my garlic plants?

If you’ve noticed curly flowering stems emerging Garlic spreadmidseason out of your hardneck garlic plants, you’ve probably wondered what to do with garlic scapes. We can help! You should remove garlic scapes so the plants can put all of their energy into growing garlic bulbs. If you don’t remove them, the size of your harvest could be reduced by as much as 30 percent.

Use a sharp knife to cut off the scapes at the base of the curl, but don’t discard this tasty bonus crop. Use garlic scapes just as you would garlic cloves or scallions. The raw scapes have a strong flavor and produce a delicious pesto; simply purée a handful or two of the chopped stems with olive oil, nuts and grated cheese. Cooked scapes are less pungent; chop and add them to soups, sauces and stir-fries for a subtle garlic taste. For more about cooking them, including a recipe for sautéed scapes, check out this Garlic Scapes article.

If a few scapes manage to grow unnoticed and form heads of small, pink-purple bulbils, you can use those, too. Rub the heads between your fingers to separate the individual bulbs, and then sprinkle them atop pizza, salads, eggs or other dishes to add a slightly nutty texture. The bulbils dry easily, too.

Photo by Dreamstime/Danelle McCollum: Pull garlic scapes off of your garlic plants and purée them into a scrumptious pesto.


Vicki Mattern is a contributing editor for MOTHER EARTH NEWS magazine, book editor and freelance magazine writer. She has edited or co-authored seven books on gardening, and lives and works from her home in northwestern Montana. You can find Vicki on .









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