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2/11/2015

DIY Solar Heated Stock Tank

Wetting one’s whistle can be difficult in winter! We asked our Facebook fans how to keep livestock water from freezing when the weather gets cold. Here are some of their super-cool techniques.

We always “bank” the tank with wet manure and cover it all with black plastic. We leave a hole for one-at-a-time drinking. The manure’s heat keeps the water from freezing too hard, even in our frigid Minnesota winters. — Barb Voth


We used to use electric water heaters. I have since built the solar stock tank from plans in MOTHER EARTH NEWS, which works amazingly, and I now save about $300 per month on electricity. (To read about the DIY solar stock tank Tina mentions, read Build a Solar Stock Tank. — MOTHER EARTH NEWS) Last winter here in the East was a true test, but we never had more than a skim of ice on the water in the morning thanks to our solar-heated unit. — Tina Durborow


My uncle built a motion-activated livestock waterer. When the cattle come for a drink, the motion sensor triggers the setup to pump water from way down in the ground. The water swirls around the bowl (which he made out of a tire), the cattle drink, and then the water drains back down. We live in Manitoba, where winter temperatures normally average minus 13 degrees Fahrenheit. — Carla Marsh


For our chickens, we set a regular incandescent light bulb inside a cinder block, put a metal water pan on top, and turn on the bulb (at least 60 watts). Presto! No ice. — Kate Hughes Brown


We use a submersible heater on a thermostat. When we get a week or two at minus 22 degrees, the heater will come on every hour. Our winter is seven months long, with temperatures mostly sitting at 15 to minus 6 degrees. Heaters make my life easier. — Andrea Procee


Most of my pastures have fresh spring water, but I have arranged mirrors in tandem to catch the midday sun and focus the sunlight on the water in our animals’ stock tank. — Joe Richardson


We mix molasses with warm water and then pour it into the water trough. The sugars in the molasses act as a natural antifreeze. The water will get slushy but typically won’t freeze, and the molasses encourages our horses to drink. — Peter Later

Photo by Gary Reysa: Reader Tina Durborow reports that this DIY solar-heated stock tank design works amazingly.



2/4/2015

Can you recommend a reputable company or website that sells non-GMO, organic garden seeds?

High Mowing Organic Seeds

So far, only a handful of common garden crops have been genetically engineered, and, as far as we know, no garden seed companies are knowingly selling genetically modified (GM) varieties at this time. Additionally, many garden seed companies sell Certified Organic seeds, and the certification rules prohibit genetic modification. Even if new GM varieties enter the market, as long as you choose Certified Organic garden seeds, you’ll be avoiding genetically modified organisms (GMOs).

Two mail-order companies that offer only Certified Organic seeds are High Mowing Organic Seeds and Seeds of Change. Certified Organic, GMO-free seeds are usually labeled as such in seed catalogs and on racks.

When choosing where to buy non-GMO seeds, you can also turn to companies that have signed the Safe Seed Pledge. This pledge is maintained by the Council for Responsible Genetics, and the companies that sign it promise not to knowingly sell GM seeds.

Unlike garden seeds, major farm crops — corn, soybeans, canola, sugar beets, alfalfa and cotton — are now predominantly GM, and 70 percent or more of foods in supermarkets directly or indirectly contain GMOs. For tips on how to forgo GM products in your everyday food purchases, read How to Avoid Genetically Modified Food.

Photo courtesy High Mowing Organic Seeds: All offerings from High Mowing Organic Seeds are Certified Organic.


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 of 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 .



1/28/2015

Butter Churn

I love butter made of cream from cows raised on pasture. I can’t find it in stores without spending a fortune, so I want to make it at home. Do I have to purchase a butter churn to do so?

You’re in luck: You don’t need a fancy butter churn or special equipment to make butter. You can easily produce 1 or 2 pounds with an electric blender, food processor or mixer. Some folks take the no-tech route and simply shake the cream in a glass jar until the butter separates. One quart of heavy cream will yield about 1 pound of butter.

If you want to make larger amounts of butter or like the idea of using an old-fashioned butter churn, you can find a nice selection of such implements online at Homesteader's Supply. Prices start at about $100 for a 1.7-quart hand-crank model and climb up to $8,650 for a 30-gallon electric churn.

For information on how to make your own batch of fresh butter, see Homemade Butter: The Best You’ll Ever Have.

To find sources for fresh, local cream, check out Local Harvest or ask people in your area by posting a query on your state-specific Facebook page.

Photo by Flickr/Molly Sheridan: You can easily whip up butter with your mixer.


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 .



1/21/2015

Hens Egg Production

I’m not sure what kind of production to expect from my hens annually. How many eggs can a chicken lay per year?

Your flock’s egg output will depend on many factors, including which breed you’re raising, the age of your hens, the quality of their feed, whether you provide supplemental lighting in winter, and how much protection you supply from extreme heat and cold.

If you choose an industrial hybrid breed and set your birds up in conditions that prompt intense production, each hen could lay as many as 300 eggs in her first year. Industrial birds are genetically programmed to lay so many eggs that they are spent after just two years, though, so most homesteaders don’t adopt this approach.

Home flocks tend to supply fewer eggs than chickens in an industrial setup. The staff at the Livestock Conservancy, a nonprofit dedicated to preserving heritage breeds, reports that egg generation in backyard flocks ranges from 120 to 250 eggs per hen annually. Some breeds lay far more eggs than others.

To maximize your flock’s production, you should remove older hens that are no longer laying or that are laying at a very reduced rate, and replace them with younger birds.

Originally, wild chickens laid eggs primarily in springtime for reproduction, but over centuries, humans have selected for birds that lay the most eggs year-round. Many breeds are still sensitive to day length and will naturally lay fewer eggs during the shorter days of winter.

Some people opt for artificial lighting to push their birds to continue laying through the colder months. If you allow your hens to rest in winter, they’ll likely live longer. Keep in mind that you’ll still be feeding them regardless of how much they’re laying, so your net annual cost per egg will be higher if you let the birds have a winter break.

Photo by Fotolia/vbaleha: Your decisions, as well as the age and breed of your birds, can affect your hens’ egg production.


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 of 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 .



1/14/2015

Quality Compost

What’s the best way to get my garden beds ready for the first crops of the year?

Taking time in spring to build fertility and loosen soil will set you up for a more productive year. First, a few weeks before you plan to plant, work in any cover crops and then blanket your garden bed with at least a half-inch layer of good compost — a full inch would be even better. The compost will provide the soil with a fresh infusion of nutrient-rich organic matter, and improve the soil’s ability to handle water and nourish your crops. Quality bagged compost can be pricey at garden centers. Unearth local sources of bulk compost by checking Craigslist, or try posting to one of MOTHER EARTH NEWS’ location-specific Facebook pages.

Second, focus on cultivating your soil. Pounding rain, gravity and other forces can cause soil to become compacted over time, so loosening it before planting should be a priority. If you plan to plant in a young bed that you need to cultivate in order to remove rocks or roots, use a shovel or digging fork to turn the soil when it’s dry and crumbly (never when it’s wet and clumpy, or you’ll be stuck with big, brick-like clods). In established beds, you can use a broadfork to break up the soil. This will prime your garden soil for planting by helping it dry out and warm up, and permit roots to penetrate the soil more easily. Watch the Using the Meadow Creature Broadfork video to see a broadfork in action.

Finally, apply an organic fertilizer to the degree that matches the needs of the crops you plan to plant. Light feeders with shallow roots, such as lettuce, will be fine with a small amount of organic fertilizer raked into the top few inches of soil. But for widely spaced plants that have big nutrient appetites, such as cabbage, broccoli, tomatoes and peppers, you should enrich individual planting holes with a mixture of compost and organic fertilizer just before you set out seedlings. For very heavy feeders, such as sweet corn, use a hoe to make deep trenches in the beds, and place the fertilizer in the trenches so it will be directly below the germinating seeds.

As you complete the final step, steer clear of overpriced organic fertilizers. Instead, try free grass clippings or one of the other low-cost options detailed in Build Better Garden Soil with Free Organic Fertilizers.

Pair learning how to prepare your garden for spring planting with discovering some new favorite spring crops. Browse our Crops at a Glance Guide for ideas galore.

Photo by Janet Horton: Infuse your garden with nutrients by mixing in a fresh layer of quality compost.


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 .



11/26/2014

Child And Goat

I’ve heard that one of the theories scientists have put forth to explain the increase in asthma and allergy rates is called the “hygiene hypothesis.” What is the hygiene hypothesis, and how does it work?

Our immune systems were designed to cope with a germy world. Unless you live on a farm, postindustrial life can be relatively sterile. Theoretically, exposure to microbes and parasitic worms early in life matures the immune system, priming it to fight microbes rather than such innocuous things as pollen and dander. According to the hygiene hypothesis, a lack of exposure tips the immune system toward inflammation and allergic tendencies, as does the use of antibiotics in the first year of life. In addition, children born by caesarean section face a higher risk of allergies and asthma, because passage through the birth canal inoculates infants with bacteria that normally populate skin, the upper respiratory tract, guts and other organs. The development of healthy gut bacteria positively shapes the immune system.

Proponents of the hypothesis point out that kids who attend day care early in life, grow up in larger families, or spend time around barnyard animals (or at least dogs) are less likely to develop asthma, hay fever and eczema. Critics of the hygiene hypothesis respond that asthma rates have also soared in recent years among children in cities, who may also be exposed to different kinds of dirt and germs. Other possible factors contributing to higher allergy rates in the United States include increased consumption of junk food, inactivity and obesity.

We can all agree on the benefits of clean drinking water and modern sanitation methods. Meanwhile, here’s how you can expose yourself and your family to reasonable levels of germs: Spend time outdoors. Garden. Play with a dog. Afterward, wash up with plain soap and water. If you already have asthma aggravated by dust mites, reduce symptoms by keeping a clean house and enclosing pillows and mattresses in airtight covers.

Photo by Fotolia/Diana Taliun: Children who keep company with furry friends are less likely to develop asthma and eczema.



11/19/2014

How often should I swap out my furnace filter, and which types of furnace filters are best?Change Furnace Filters

A furnace filter removes dust, dander and other large particulates from the air in our homes when either the furnace or central air conditioner is running, as the two systems share common ductwork for air distribution. Particulate buildup reduces a filter’s effectiveness and makes the fan work harder, shortening its life span. Both the furnace and air conditioner will operate less efficiently and may require more frequent servicing if the filter is too clogged.

The frequency at which you should change your furnace filter depends on the number of people who live in the home; how many furry pets reside indoors; the presence of smoke from tobacco, woodstoves or other sources; how dusty the environment is; the type of furnace filter; and the thickness of the filter.

If you have multiple fur-shedding pets, you live along a dusty road, or several smokers live in the residence, count on changing a 1-inch or 2-inch air filter every month. You’ll likely need to replace a 4-inch filter every two months and a 5-inch filter every three months.

If you have one pet, your home experiences only moderate dust accumulation, or no more than one smoker lives in the residence, filter replacement can shift to two, four and six months, respectively.

If the air in your home is mostly free of dust and completely free of pet dander and smoke, you can replace your filter just once per year.

Some filters are more efficient at filtering air than others. My advice is to buy washable furnace filters that offer the highest level of filtration. Make certain the filter fits exactly. Be sure to post a note on your calendar to remind yourself of how often to change furnace filters in your home. Check your filter every month for the first year after installation. If you find that your filter gets dirty faster than you anticipated, plan to replace it more often in the future.

Photo by Dreamstime/Luckydoor: Keep the air you breathe free of debris by regularly replacing filters.









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