MOTHER EARTH NEWS readers share their farming advice, fun tips and country folklore, including how to keep birds from eating your freshly sown seed, planting basil and tomatoes together yields a better flavor for tomatoes and a saltshaker is the perfect tool for seeding the garden.
MOTHER's Country Farming Advice and Folklore
For years I had problems with birds pulling up as much as
50% of my germinating sweet corn. A friend advised me to
sprinkle lime on the row, and on either side too, just as
the corn breaks through the soil. Since doing this I
haven't lost a bit of corn.
The Choice of Experience
I start more than 500 seedlings in flats each spring, and
over many years I've experimented with various
bottom-heating methods to speed the sprouting process and
promote deep root growth. My time-saving favorite is a
large electric food-warming tray (they're fairly common at
garage sales and secondhand stores). With the tray's heat
control at the lowest setting, an entire flat can be
sprouted in 48 to 72 hours. Plastic wrap placed loosely
over the top retains moisture. As each flat of seedlings
sprouts, I set it under fluorescent lights in our cool
basement and keep it moistened with rainwater collected
throughout the summer and stored in gallon plastic jugs.
—Barbara A. Sabatos
A Blend of Friends
Good cooks know that basil and tomatoes make for a tasty
combination, but I carry this a step further. Once my
tomato plants get a good start in the garden, I grow basil
at the base of each one. Not only do I have dried basil for
seasoning, but my tomatoes seem to have an especially
I make plant and row markers by cutting strips from scrap
vinyl siding. The vinyl can be easily cut with tin snips or
a knife, is virtually indestructible, and can be labeled
with a pencil (which is erasable) or waterproof ink (which
can be washed off with ammonia). A siding contractor would
probably give you all the material you'd need to make as
many markers as you wish.
Seneca, South Carolina
I've got a trick that keeps moles from ruining my rows of
peas. When I'm ready to plant the seeds, I shake them in a
can into which I've poured about a teaspoonful of kerosene.
By also planting early to harvest before summer, I've
always had a good crop.
—Thelma A. Graham
Get Ready, Get Net, Go
As a children's dance teacher, I've spent many an hour
constructing costumes of nylon net. But even if I didn't
have all those scraps to use up, I find the material so
handy I'd buy it anyway. Here are four ways nylon net helps
1. A handful of net makes a sturdy scrubber to clean
flowerpots and gardening tools.
2. To start seeds I use plastic foam cups with drainage
holes punched in the bottom. Before filling the cups with
potting soil, I line each one with a 10-inch square of net.
When transplanting, the whole bundle is easily lifted out
of the cup and into the ground, with no shock to the roots.
They also have no difficulty growing through the holes in
the net, and the screen seems to protect the plants from
3. I tuck a small piece of net into the opening at the top
of each hot cap. It keeps insects out while allowing the
air to circulate.
4. My husband built a series of cubes ranging in size from
12 inches square to 40 inches. The cubes are actually
box-shaped frames made of one-inch lumber strips. To each
of these I stapled netting to cover five sides; white net
for sun-loving plants and green to provide shade. Placed
over cole crops, the cubes let in air and water but really
frustrate cabbage moths.
-Ronna M. Kelly
Palo Alto, California
Pass the Seeds, Please
I use an old saltshaker to spread tiny seeds that are
difficult to distribute by hand.
—Dennis R. Willie
Succulence From the Swamp
If you have access to wetlands or a swampy area, go there
in the early spring to look for cattails. Cut off some of
the new shoots that are only one to three inches long.
Clean them till nothing but the solid ivory part remains.
Then cut them into small pieces and add a bit of salt and
your favorite salad dressing. My father told me about this
unusual salad, and I'll bet once you've savored its fine,
clean taste, you'll want to go back to gather more
—Fred A. Race
Carpeting is very effective for preventing weeds in the
garden. Old, used pieces can be found for free or purchased
for next to nothing. I look for carpet made of natural
fibers, then cut it into strips to run between rows and
into smaller pieces to position between plants. These can
be used for many years, don't blow away (like newspaper
does) and allow the rain to soak through. You can place
carpet over compost, if you wish, and over drip irrigation
systems, too. And it's great for those soggy spots where
you'd otherwise sink ankle-deep in mud.
Atlin, British Columbia
No Strings Attached
Last spring, my neighbor (originally from Vietnam) watched
as I struggled to set up a string trellis for my peas. Then
he went over to a nearby pile of tree and bush trimmings
and came back with several branches, which he stuck firmly
in the ground next to the peas. My problems were over. The
peas climbed the thin limbs and thrived, and I was happy to
find a use for something I would have burned or thrown out.
This spring I plan to use branches to support all my vining
plants and my tomatoes as well.
Greensboro, North Carolina
Waste Not, Want Not
I've found a way to recycle all those plastic bags that
manure, peat and other soil amendments come in. I cut the
bags crosswise into one-inch strips and use these for tying
up tomatoes and other plants that need support.
Through the years we've all probably discovered a few practical, down-home, time-tested solutions to the frustrating little problems of everyday life. Why not share your best "horse sense" with the rest of MOTHER's readers? Send your suggestions to Country Lore, THE MOTHER EARTH NEWS, Hendersonville, NC. A one year subscription — or a one year extension of an existing subscription — will be sent to each contributor whose tip is printed in this column. — MOTHER.