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Do-it-yourself projects and plans for anyone who can swing a hammer.

DIY Termite Treatment


We've had (drywood) termite problems on and off for years. Since there's no way I'm going to have the house tented and permeated with Vikane gas,* I would periodically get the bug guys to do the microwave treatment. It cost $2,000 initially, then about $500 per year for future treatment when needed.(I believe orange oil is also used these days for people leery of insecticides.) 

A few years ago, I decided to try Greenbug spray, which is (said to be) made of cedar and natural ingredients. I've been spraying this stuff on the wood where I see termite frass (pellets) and to my amazement, there are no more pellets. I say "amazing" because this is topical treatment and it doesn't seem it would get into the wood where termites live. (All of our termites are in ceilings.)

The stuff smells great, like cedar oil, and I am just now buying a 2nd gallon (about $60). I pour it into squeeze/pump bottles (like Windex bottles) and spray until it drips a little (it's water-soluble). Haven't had the bug guys out for many years.

Greenbug is one of the few products in the world not sold by Amazon.

*First, Vikane is made by Dow — red alert. And, if it can penetrate into the wood and kill termites, I am suspicious of residual effect.

Lloyd Kahn is a sustainable living visionary and publisher of Shelter Publications. He is the author of natural building books, including Tiny HomesTiny Homes on the MoveShelter II and Builders of the Pacific Coast. (all available in the Mother Earth News Store). He lives and builds in Northern California. Follow Lloyd on his blogTwitterand Facebook, and read all of his Mother Earth News posts here

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

How to Build a Garden Aquarium

In order create a more relaxing environment in your garden, you can build an outdoor aquarium. Buying a pre-made aquarium can cost you thousands of dollars, but the expense is avoidable by building your own.

The fortunate thing is that an aquarium is a simple replication of an ecosystem and can be set with the right conditions that support fish just like the commercial ones. It may be challenging to build the structure, but using the proper guidelines, you can make a beautiful and well functioning system at the lowest cost possible. Here are some tips and guidance on making your DIY garden aquarium successfully.

Determine the Location


Choosing the best place for your garden aquarium is important as it should be positioned in a way that it will add beauty while at the same time it should be away from direct sunlight. Keep it away from drafts and vibrations as these affect the fish.

Avoid building the aquarium under trees. This location plays a critical role in the long-term success of the project. Depending on the country where you want to build the system, the weather will play a significant role in deciding where to place it. Regions prone to very cold winters may dictate that you build indoors or in a greenhouse or completely shut it down if it’s outdoors during winter. The planned size of the aquarium will determine the part of the garden where it should be built on the available space.

Choose the Size and Depth of the Tank


Photo by

The garden aquarium size can be decided based on the quantity of fish you plan for and the availability of space and materials. Choose the type of tank material for the chosen depth; glass is commonly used, but a more expensive acrylic can also be used since it is efficient at insulating the whole system meaning the cost of heating will be low compared to glass.

Source Remaining Equipment

These include filter system to provide adequate aeration for the fish. You also need a timer and LED lighting in addition to having fishing rod more here in readiness for fishing. An ultraviolet sterilizer and water pump are also required to build your garden aquarium.

Set Up the Tank

Step 1: When everything has been made ready, place the tank in the chosen position and fill it with water. Check for leaks then add gravel or a substrate then pile it slightly towards the back of the aquarium so as to form an illusion of distance in the fish tank.

Step 2: Using de-chlorinated water or with adequate chlorine remover, fill the tank mid-level. Place a dish on top of the gravel in the fish tank and fill it with water gently, this will create a minimum disturbance to the underlying gravel.

Step 3: After doing all this, proceed to install the filter and heater. The heater is required for a tropical aquarium to maintain the right temperature. This requires the installation of a thermometer in a location that can easily be read to aid in controlling the temperature. 

Step 4: When the basics have been set, it is time to add decorations inside the aquarium. Include some ornaments, rocks or some back pictures on the tank base for additional beauty. If you can, then add some floating plants when the tank is full.

Step 5: The last step is to turn on the heater and water filter and check for optimal functioning of both. Fill the aquarium with de-chlorinated water to the top starting the process of tank cycling.

Adding New Fish to an Outdoor Aquarium

Before adding any fish ensure the aquarium is stabilized. The pH level should acceptable to the fish — the temperature should be standardized to support all the types of fish in the tank. Add the fish a few at a time as you monitor their survival and health before adding more. Putting all of them in the tank may cause you severe loss especially if you have not set the tank and the conditions of the water as required.


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It is a very engaging job building an aquarium in the garden. It calls for commitment in terms of time and money for it to succeed. However, when designed and set properly, it will be used for years raising fish while making the garden more serene and beautiful with the view of fresh water or tropical fish.

All the mentioned components are readily available at local hardware and gardening stores. They can also be bought at second-hand places including eBay, Gumtree, and Craiglist. It looks very basic but once built this aquarium is very functional and beneficial. Just go get your fishing rod more here as you prepare for the fish to mature.

Ann Katelyn is a homesteader in Alabama whohas dedicated most of her life to gardening and botanical study with growing interests ranging from the popular, world-class roses to the rarest and most exotic orchids. She is currently trying her best to become well versed on plants found in desert areas, the tropics, and Mediterranean region. Connect with Ann on Twitter and her website, Sumo Gardener. Read all of Ann's MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to our Terms of Agreement and to follow blogging best practices. They are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on the byline link at the top of the page.

Yearning for Yarn, Especially Recycled

I was fortunate enough to begin learning knitting and crocheting under the tutelage of my grandmother, who was extremely patient at correcting my stitches. I think she loved seeing me working with yarn, as opposed to sitting in front of the screen of a computer, which she never understood. She passed away several years ago, not before seeing me make many blankets, hats, scarves, shawls and baby booties.


Above: a little cap I made while expecting my first child.

Grandma was an educated woman and, I would even say, rather career-oriented for her time (she was born in 1916), but when she and my grandfather were exiled to a small Siberian village during World War II, following a decree by Stalin, life became very difficult indeed. It was cold, food was scarce, and people were doing whatever they could in order to survive.

I guess I should clarify that my family did not commit any actual crime, but like many liberal-minded Jews, they were deemed undesirable and sent to settle a corner of the world nobody wanted to live in. For years, they had lived in the tundra, with wolves and bears for neighbors, and without many of the things we consider basic necessities today.

In order to bring in a little money, Grandma became a knitter. This meant that people would bring her old woolen clothing items – sweaters, afghans, hats, etc – and Grandma would unravel the yarn and make it into something else. Often there were knots and tangles in the old yarn, or it was partly eaten by moths. “Those people would bring me old tattered yarn and expect me to make something good out of it,” she complained to me seven decades later. Today, it’s called recycling yarn. Back then, it was called working with what you have. Grandma was paid a pittance, but that pittance was probably what saved her family from starving. 

Learning to Love Yarn

Whenever I go into a yarn shop and look at all the stacks of brand-new colorful yarns of any type you might possibly want, I think of Grandma. What may be a hobby – and not a cheap one, either – to people today was a venue of survival to her.

For those who don’t have a grandmother to teach them how to knit, there are plenty of video tutorials on YouTube and Choose simple, straightforward patterns at first, with substantial thickness of yarn and crochet hook or knitting needles for easier handling. I like to work with natural yarn such as wool or cotton.

Once you get to working with yarn, you’ll see how addictive it is. Knitting and crocheting is incredibly versatile and will enable you to create a variety of clothes, toys, rugs, placemats, and more.

Personally, I do crocheting a lot more than knitting, because a crochet hook, as opposed to knitting needles, fits easily into an average-sized handbag and can be taken out when I’m waiting for an appointment, at the playground with kids, etc.

Since good-quality yarn is not cheap, you will often get a lot better deal by unraveling a gently worn thrift store sweater and recycling the yarn, rather than buying new. Unravel carefully, hand-wash the yarn, hang it out to dry, ball up, and you’re good to go.

This post was an excerpt from my upcoming book, Your Own Hands: Self Reliant Projects for Independent Living. Get book updates and more by following my Facebook page

Anna Twittos academic background in nutrition made her care deeply about real food and seek ways to obtain it. Anna and her husband live on a plot of land in Israel. They aim to grow and raise a significant part of their food by maintaining a vegetable garden, keeping a flock of backyard chickens and foraging. Connect with Anna on Facebook, find her as SmallFlocksMom on Earthineer, and read more about her current projects on her blog. Read all Anna's Mother Earth News posts here

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to our Terms of Agreement and to follow blogging best practices. They are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on the byline link at the top of the page.

Making Your Own Knives


When I was at the Mother Earth News Fair in Pennsylvania a few months ago, I bought a handmade knife from a mountain man — a guy who dressed in buckskins and made a variety of hunting, trapping, and outdoor tools. The blade was carbon steel, which I prefer over stainless steel. It's softer and easier to sharpen, even if you have to care for it so that it doesn't rust.

He told me that it was a Russell Green River blade, so I tracked it down, and ordered about half a dozen different shaped blades from Track of the Wolf. They're pretty inexpensive at $9-$10 each. I made the first one in the last few days with some manzanita wood I gathered (and dried out) a year or so ago. It's a bit crude, but I learned a lot and am going to make handles for some paring and skinning knives.

Perhaps the best way to start would be to buy one of the kits, which include a blade, wooden handles, and rivets. I'd also recommend getting the pamphlet Basic Knife Assembly, by Ryan and Roger Gale.

Another supplier is Jantz Supply, which describes the Russell (made in America) blades:

"Green River Knife Blades, the same Russell Knife patterns (circa 1834) now available to Knife Makers. All patterns have a rugged, handmade look and can boast the unsurpassed sharpness that earned Green River knives their reputation around the campfires and chuck wagons of the Old West, as well as in the kitchens of our grandfathers and great grandmothers. Heavy gauge high carbon steel blades feature full tang construction and edges that are hand-ground and hand honed to extreme sharpness. Available in Kits which include the blade, Dymondwood handle material and Brass cutlery rivets. Easy to complete, popular with many Boy Scout Troops as a group Project."

Wooden handles glued and riveted (brass rivets) to knife tang before shaping on belt sander

Leather knife sheath, with copper rivets

Lloyd Kahn is a sustainable living visionary and publisher of Shelter Publications. He is the author of natural building books, including Tiny Homes, Tiny Homes on the Move, Shelter II and Builders of the Pacific Coast. (all available in the Mother Earth News Store). He lives and builds in Northern California. Follow Lloyd on his blog, Twitter, and Facebook, and read all of his Mother Earth News posts here

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

6 Things You Can Repurpose Into Homestead 'Mojo'

Repurposing building materials is at the heart of sustainability and mojo is what you build with. I’ve tried many ideas at my homestead and here’s the tips I’ve found are the most affordable, brings that homestead mojo to work for you, and instead of filling up the landfill you’re helping save the planet.

1. Tiki Statues

Why: A Tiki statue brings mojo to your place and a fierce Tiki scares away rascals.

Source: An old log that has grown “legs” when turned upside-down; cool looking rocks.

How To: A) Use a chainsaw to cut a log in half lengthwise into halves, with two legs on each half. B) Draw a face on the log halves and chisel indentations for eyes and teeth. C) Use silicon to glue stones into the indentations and use duct tape to hold the stones in place while the silicon cures. D) Paint the Tikis as needed. E) Attach each Tiki statue to the wall on either side of your door and have a Tiki party!

Tiki Statues

2. ‘Jerry’ Gas Can: Metal Ash Can for the Woodstove

Why: ‘Jerry’ cans are the perfect shape for use around a woodstove because it can fit between the stove and the wall; it can hold hot ashes and/or a set of fire pokers. 

Source: Get a used ‘Jerry’ can at a garage sale, cheap.

How To: A) Rinse out and let the empty can dry until no detectable gas fumes remain; B) Warning — do step (A) before proceeding — then remove the top of the can with a metal cut-off wheel, above the welded seam, and discard the top portion with the spout. C) Smooth the cut edge with a file or grinder. D) Drill a hole near the top center of each of the two short sides and insert a wire handle from a plastic bucket

Jerry Can Buckets  

3. Vinyl Fencing for Greenhouse Benches

Why: Benches are often made of wood and eventually rot.  Vinyl fences slats won’t rot.

Source: Cheap or free at RE Stores or discounted where fencing is sold.

How To: Replace wooden bench tops with the vinyl slats or make a new bench with plastic buckets for support and vinyl fence slats on top.

Greenhouse Benches

4. Office Desk as Kitchen Counter Top

Why: Repurposing an office desk is quicker and less expensive than building a custom countertop. The average office desk is 30 inches deep and 60 inches long — it’s a good size for kitchen counters.

Source: Cheap or free at used furniture store or garage sale. Get an office desk with a top that is thick press-board with Formica top and edging.

How To: A) Unscrew or unbolt the legs, drawers, etc. and remove the top of the desk. B) Mount the desktop onto your kitchen cabinetry and make a cutout with a scroll saw where your sink goes.

Desktop Countertop 

5. Operable Window with Broken Frame and Two Fixed Windows

Why: Operable windows are expensive and broken frames are hard to fix. It’s easier to make a new, fixed window frame, and use the window glass from the broken frame.

Source: ReStore is a great source for windows; much of what they have is operable windows with broken frames. Price is usually $5 per window from a broken frame. 

How To: A) Build a custom frame for each fixed window with cedar fence boards, 4 inches or 6 inches wide, to match your wall thickness. B) Cut sticks of wood about ½-inch square to secure the window into the frame, mounting the window towards one side of the frame so that there will be a deeper sill inside. C) Use calking to seal the window from outside moisture. D) Mount the window into the wall with stick framing and flashing methods.

 Window Frame Detail

6. Hollow Wooden Doors Repurposed as Wall Paneling

Why: The faces of hollow wooden doors are also known as ‘door skins’. Hollow doors are often abused to the point where they are delaminating from the frame and/or one side gets busted.

Source: Free for the asking, especially where apartments are being renovated.

How To: A) Use a putty knife to carefully pry off a good door skin from a hollow door frame. B) Attach the skin to walls with panel fasteners.

Repurposing Used Door Skins 

More ideas for your homestead are in Christopher James Marshall’s holistic guide, Hut-Topia: How to Create Sustainable Small Homes and Homesteads. Read all of his MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

Know Your DIY Limits: Safety on the Homestead

East Hawaii, the windward side of the Big Island, is a bastion of do-it-yourself practitioners. This widespread spirit of self-sufficiency and body of DIY expertise are two of many factors that drew us to this rock when we decided to break from our conventional lives and white collar jobs on the mainland to develop a homestead.

For additional context, let me just mention that during our two years here our family members have rubbed elbows with folk who have personally, and by hand, converted their vehicles to biodiesel and now propel themselves 'round the island using only old kitchen grease scrounged from local eateries.

We have come to know an individual who, by himself and in the later years of his life, like a modern-day Grizzly Adams, built a two-story cabin (that we stayed in for some time) using only hand-powered tools. We have gotten acquainted with contemporary settlers who have designed and hand constructed multi-room compost toilets that exhibit design elegance, efficiency, and functionality (not to mention no smell) that would have left Leonardo DaVinci in awe.

Wild guava saplings hand hewn and woven into a fence on our property.

Learning the Limits of DIY Acumen

This said, we have also come to realize that not everyone who has the time and inclination for DIY projects should necessarily engage in said endeavors, at least not on every level. We have witnessed self-done projects that had function and form, some that exhibited neither, and some that were outright dangerous.

We have learned, too, that some DIYers are more motivated by innate rebellion against "The Man" than a desire for sustainable living — not that this is necessarily wrongheaded. ("Permits? We don't need no stinkin' permits!")

For our part, we long ago acknowledged and learned to manage our personal, relatively low-level of handiness. Screw together 2-by-8s and attach PVC segments to create net-covered raised beds? No problem. Homemade lacto-fermented sauerkraut, shampoo, and toothpaste?  Piece of cake. Install or repair our own plumbing or electricity. Not at this juncture.

Since deciding to more fully embrace the path of the homesteader, have we moved to learn new skills? Sure. In the past 2 years, our family members have learned to butcher both sheep and cows, vaccinate pets against local life threatening plagues, can everything from jams and jellies to fresh caught tuna, and inoculate natural growing media with mychorriza to propagate mushrooms.

That said, we know what we are good at and we are perfectly comfortable trading those skills (or coin earned for said skills) for the expertise and experience that are prudent to have when executing some other things not only well, but safely (and sometimes legally).

Working Smart Over Working Hard

Put another way, we like to learn new things, and we enjoy a bit of toil, but — in our estimation — it sometimes boils down to working smart over simply working hard (instances of economic necessity not withstanding).

Undoubtedly, there is pride to be had in self-reliance. We have tasted that on some levels. It is also true that maiming and death, of self or others, at the hands of your own creation tend to meter pride. We'll happily trade or pay for some goods and skilled services, as necessary, to better manage such risks and still acquire what we need.

So, must you do everything yourself to be a real homesteader, a practitioner of sustainable living, a good steward of the earth? Of course not. Even pioneers of old traded what they could produce well for goods and services of those who were able to do or make other things better. (Some home-brewed fruit vinegar for your handcrafted cheese? A bit of ironmongery in exchange for some carpentry help?)

Also, as alluded to above, not everyone has the same motivation to homestead. We have watched several renegade DIY practitioners, in the name of self-reliance, beam with pride while engaged in construction projects that they were not qualified (or legally permitted) to carry out, at risk to themselves and family, who also import GMO corn and soybean feed for their turkeys, dust their cooped up chickens with toxic miticides, and burn their plastic recyclables in open fires. Sustainability, stewardship, and homesteading are much more than DIY, in our estimation.

John and Esther Atwell and their four kids’ journey into sustainable living, organic food, and homesteading began while living in the San Francisco Bay in the 2008-2010 timeframe. Their current grand life experiment — detaching from a fast-paced, conventional, urban lifestyle to establish a sustainable, organic homestead, homeschool their kids, and become more involved in community and church — began in earnest in early 2014. The couple, graduates of Duke University and the University of Virginia, have homeschooled their four children — two of whom are now in college — and Esther previously ran a tutoring business focused on hard sciences and math up through calculus.  Find them online at Sojourn Chronicle and read all of John's MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

5 Easy Options for Restoring Old Furniture

Refinishing your worn out furniture not only saves you money but is also saves many more resources than buying new. Don’t know what furniture refinishing is?

In general terms, refinishing refers to the act of repairing or reapplying a wood finishing coat on a furniture object. Refinishing can be applied to a variety of surfaces or materials, including metal, plastic, wood, glass with the help of varnish, lacquer, paint or wood finish. Here are five options for refinishing furniture in your home.


Refinishing an Old Dressing Table

Who doesn't love an old, antique dressing table? However, the wood used to create the dressing table tends to go lose its shine and protective layer over a period of years. To refinish an old dressing table, you can start by scraping off the old paint with the help of a scraper and a heat gun.

When you are done with completely scraping away old paint, apply the primer, followed by two coats of paint. You can try using Shellac (commonly known as French polish) for the drawers of the dressing table.

Do not forget to sand the edges of the table for the final touch. Your brand new, yet refinished dressing table is ready to use!


Refinish a Couch

Removing the old upholstery and refinishing a couch can be a tedious task. However, trying the entire process is definitely worth it in savings.

A majority of furniture, including couches, is designed to be re-upholstered. Just because the fabric on the couch has become old doesn't mean that the couch altogether should be considered a piece of junk.

Start by taking the different parts of the couch apart. First, take off all the fabric from the bottom, followed by its back, arms and the deck. If the old fabric is still well and fits the sofa, use it as a reference to cut the new fabric. Also inspect the cushions for filling material. While cheap foam breaks down easily, consider using high-quality foam.

To assemble the new upholstery, start by cutting out the fabric by taking reference from the size of the removed fabric. Next, sew the fabric to fit the couch. Make sure to use heavy thread and needle. You can use a gun to staple the sewed fabric to the couch.

French Polishing for Wooden Furniture

French polish, or Shellac, is a furniture-polishing technique that results in a highly glossy surface. The technique involves the application of several layers of Shellac dissolved in alcohol. The polish is applied with the help of a rubbing pad dipped in oil.

Shellac is used for two primary reasons – appearance and protection. Wooden furniture often needs protection against moisture, sunlight, humidity and everyday wear and tear. In addition to protection, Shellac enhances the appearance of the wooden or timber furniture.

Shellac application leaves the wood with a sheen and luster. It’s like the wood is brought to life altogether. Shellac is also used to change the color of the wood, repair the damaged surfaces and hide any form of marks. It helps improve the appearance of the wood dramatically.

Refinishing Metal Furniture

The primary reason to refinish metal furniture is because of damage done by rust, which is a form of iron oxide formed by a reaction between oxygen and iron in the presence of water or moisture. Surface rust gives metallic things a flaky appearance and stops protecting the inner metal from external damage. This is the primary reason why it should be removed by refinishing the metal furniture.

Metal furniture can be refinished by scraping and sanding off the rust with a brush. Next, you need to clean the scraped off furniture with a solvent and then applying primer. Once the primer is applied, paint of suitable color can be sprayed on furniture to give it a brand new look.


Refinishing an Old Door

With time, old doors start to make creaking sounds while opening and closing. The irritating sound of the doors calls for refinishing of the door. It might also require a refinishing in case of faulty hinges and some other problems associated with the door opening and closing.

You can try refinishing an old door by first removing the old door from its joints. Next, stripe off the old finish from the door and clean it properly with the help of the sanding process. Once cleaning and sanding are done, stain and finish the door and hang it back again.

Refinishing Outdoor Furniture

Furniture placed outside the home is specifically exposed to harsh conditions related to the environment. For example, rain, dust, moisture, humidity and direct sunlight can affect the quality of the furniture placed outside. Therefore, such furniture required special care, maintenance and attention on a regular basis.

Start by sanding down the furniture properly and then spraying a paint of your choice. You can choose to use a cardboard stencil to spray on a name of the chair owner or anything else that you want. End the process by wiping off the stains and you chair is ready.

Refinishing an Antique Chair

Pieces of furniture that has lived for many years often have a great sentimental value associated with them. Antique chairs are one such piece of furniture that is passed down to different generations within the same family.

However, with time, such pieces of furniture lose their splendour. This is the primary reason why antique furniture like a chair needs refinishing over a period of time.

To refinish an antique chair, start by checking the chair for the presence of woodworm. Check if there is dust falling off from the chair, which is an indication of woodworms. Next, check for the sturdiness of the chair. Is the chair comfortable? Is the armchair sound and sturdy?

Check the joints of the armchair. You might want to dismantle the joints and attach them back again or you can use a clamp to push the joints back. Next, check the status of the seat rail.

Lastly, look at the actual sculpting of the chair. You can infill to bring the actual splendour of the original chair.

Nicholes Ammons is a veteran in furniture refinishing and a connoisseur when it comes to picking the right kind of furniture for use. He has extensively studied furniture over the significant time he’s spent working at Austin Furniture Repair as a Production Worker.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.