MOTHER's Bi-Monthly 1977 Almanac: Summer Homesteading Tips

Learn how to find star constellations, remove stains, make sassafras tea and use the sun as a compass.
By the MOTHER EARTH NEWS editors
May/June 1977
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 A star chart, from May and June in 1977, which can be used to help learn plotted constellations in the nighttime sky.
ILLUSTRATION: MOTHER EARTH NEWS STAFF


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This may be the first generation to set foot on the moon and shoot rocket probes into the reaches of outer space. But, man for man and woman for woman, great granddad and great grandmother — or, for that matter, almost any primitive tribe of almost any past age — knew a lot more about identifying the stars and planets in the night sky than most of us currently do.

And so, with the help of Guy Ottewell (author of Astronomical Calendar 1977), MOTHER is going to try to change all that.

Star Constellations

Most any schoolchild can tell you that we experience alternating periods of light and dark (day and night) because the earth rotates on its axis once each 24 hours. Few people, however, realize that we live under a canopy of stars — day and night ( not just at night) — during every one of those 24 hours.

Nope. The stars don't "come out" only when the sun "goes down." They're up there all the time. We seldom see them during the day, though, because Ole Sol (which is "only" 93 million miles from us) bathes the illuminated side of the earth with rays bright enough to overpower and "blot out" the much weaker light reaching us from stars thousands of light years (each of which is roughly equal to six million million miles) away.

So. The stars are "out there" all the time. But we usually see them only when our particular spot on the earth's surface is rotated away from the sun ... and our eyes are thus shaded enough from Ole Sol's rays to allow us to see them.

Ah, but there's something else we must bear in mind too: While the planet we ride through space spins on its axis once each 24 hours ... it also swings (or "revolves") — once every 365 1/4 days — in a great circle around the sun. For this reason, we look out at the night sky from a slightly different point in space at any given time each evening than we looked out from at the same time the evening before. And, as a result, we have a slightly different view of the stars than we had at that time on the preceding night.

(Which is why the star chart given for 10 p.m. on the first of any month will be accurate (if you omit the planets) at 9 p.m. on the fifteenth of that month, at 8 p.m. on the first of the following month, etc ... until you've worked yourself all the way back to 10 p.m. again a full 12 months later.)

Yet another (and much lesser known) movement of the earth affects our view of the night sky. Our planet is not exactly spherical in shape. Instead, it bulges at the equator and is somewhat "lopsided" and — perhaps for this reason — wobbles somewhat (just the way a top begins to wobble long before it finally falls over) as it turns on its axis.

Thanks to this slow wobble (a complete cycle takes place only once each 25,800 years), the view of the night sky from any point on the earth's surface slowly sweeps further and further "north" for 12,900 years and then — for the next 12,900 years — further and further "south" before beginning the cycle all over again. As a result — over the course of thousands of years — "new" stars slowly appear over the northern rim of the horizon while "old" ones slowly disappear beneath the horizon's southern edge ... and then, 12,900 years later, the reverse gradually begins to take place.

How to Remove Summertime Stains

Removing stains from good clothing has to be one of the most exasperating tasks there is ... especially since the strategy which lifts a stain from one garment might — when applied to a different smudge — be the very trick that'll set that second spot permanently. But here are a few time-tested tactics (taken from Alma Chesnut Moore's How to Clean Everything, Simon & Schuster, 1968) to help you clean some of the most common summertime stains from washable (make sure they're washable ) fabrics.

Fruit and berries. Sponge the spot promptly with cool water (or soak the material in cool water for from 30 minutes to overnight). Then work undiluted liquid detergent into the stain, and rinse.

Grass, flowers, foliage. Wipe the fabric with alcohol (be sure you color test a hidden corner of the cloth first). Apply a mild chlorine bleach to any remaining stain.

Perspiration. Wash the garment in warm water and detergent. If colors change, sponge the area with ammonia (try vinegar on an older stain). And if an odor remains after washing, soak the material for an hour or more in a solution of 3 to 4 tablespoons of salt per quart of warm water.

Resins. Remove the goo with cleaning fluid, turpentine, alcohol, or another solvent. Then sponge the spot with water.

Blood. Soak the fabric in cold water until the stain is almost gone ... then wash the clothing in warm water with a detergent. Apply a drop or two of ammonia to old stains before washing.

Ice Cream. Wet the smudge immediately with cold water. Pour undiluted liquid detergent directly onto the area, rinse, and let the fabric dry. Remove the remaining greasy spot with cleaning fluid.

Sassafras Tea

In backwoods country, sassafras has traditionally been reserved for use as a spring tonic that "thins the blood" ... but many modern individuals drink the satisfying brew — in moderate quantities — all year round.

Although the sassafras tree (some folks call it a shrub) is native only to the eastern half of the United States and some parts of Asia, its roots are sold throughout the world for use as tea and as a flavoring for medicines and soft drinks. In other words, if you can't find the plant growing wild in your area, it's a sure bet that grocery stores and/or health food outlets will have it for sale.

The yellowish-green flowers of the sassafras are about a quarter inch across and bloom very early in the spring and the tree's leaves are quite unusual: they may have a relatively smooth outline, a mitten shape, or a trident silhouette ... often all on the same stem.

Sassafras roots may be pulled from the ground at any time of the year. They're all good, but the smaller ones are best of all. As long as you use some reasonable restraint, there's no need to worry about ruining a patch of the little trees by gathering their roots, either. The more you harvest, the more underground shoots the shrubs seem to send out.

Wash the foraged roots thoroughly and cut them into pieces a couple of inches long. Then dump a handful of the sections — fresh or dried — into a pot and boil them in water until the liquid is a satisfying red. Sweeten to taste with sugar, honey, or maple syrup, and drink hot or iced. The same roots can be used to make three or four batches of tea.

Lawn Care Tips

By the time May rolls around, most homeowners have already dragged the ole lawn mower out of storage and resumed the weekly task of cutting grass. However — cautions the Encyclopedia of Organic Gardening (Rodale Press) — be sure to leave your lawn a bit taller (at least 1 1/2 inch) during early summer to encourage deeper root systems which — in turn — will protect the stand of grass from drought in later months.

On the other hand, don't let the turf grow excessively between cuttings either. If you find it necessary to rake away the longer clippings (to keep them from smothering the grass), you'll lose both a valuable plant food and a cover that helps to control weeds.

Make a Strawberry Barrel

If you're limited in space — but love the sunny taste of a fresh-picked strawberry — here's an idea that'll enable you to grow dozens of the plants .. either indoors or out!

Start with a 30-gallon whiskey barrel (actually, any type of large wooden keg will do). Cut several two-inch-diameter plant holes (spaced at least six inches apart) into the tub's sides. Next, punch a few more one-inch drain holes in the bottom ... and drop a circular section of aluminum screen into the barrel to cover these lower openings.

Now center a perforated (drill 1/2-inch holes every five inches) four-inch-diameter drain pipe vertically in the planter. Fill this watering core with small-sized gravel, and place another 1 1/2 inches of stone around the pipe's base.

Finally, place the strawberry barrel on a bed of larger gravel (to keep the area clean and dry) and fill it with a rich soil mixture. Keep the earth moist — but never soggy — by pouring water or a weak manure tea into the central drain pipe, and you should be able to harvest berries that'll rival any grown in your area.

How to Use the Sun as a Compass

Even the best of the frontiersmen occasionally became turned around, bewildered, or just plain lost in unfamiliar territory. If you ever find yourself in that predicament without a compass (and a certain number of campers and hikers will this summer), here's how to use the sun to get your bearings.

Old Sol, as we all know, always rises in the east and sets in the west. It follows, then, that shadows invariably move in exactly the opposite direction ... and we can use that fact to plot true north any time the sun shines.

Find a stick about a yard long and push it into the center of a fairly level and brush-free spot of ground. The limb doesn't have to be vertical: you can incline it, if necessary, in any direction that gives you the most convenient shadow.

Once the stick is securely positioned, mark the tip of its shadow with a stone or twig. Then wait 10 or 15 minutes (or until the shadow's point has moved a few inches) and put a second pebble or bit of wood on the ground to denote the new location. Finally, draw a straight line in the dirt from the first marker through and about a foot past the second.

If you'll then stand with the toe of your left foot at the first location point and the toe of your right foot at the end of the line you drew, you'll be facing true north. The line, in other words, runs directly east and west no matter where on the earth's surface you draw it. That alone, of course, won't get you home when you're lost ... but it should orient you enough to help you get started in the right direction.

And if you're really lost, remember that your wisest course of action is no action at all. Just sit down, make yourself as comfortable as possible, and wait for a rescue party to find you.

Earning Some Extra Cash

Working mothers would probably appreciate having someone to plan and entertain at children's birthday parties ... or to help with home canning, cleaning, and small building and remodeling jobs. Arrange to be a plant/house sitter for neighbors on vacation. Collect newspapers, aluminum cans, and 'glass from homes in your area for sale to recycling centers. Start your own errand service ... or have a garage sale.

Ever thought of teaching tennis and crafts classes, or even tutoring local youngsters? How about selling homemade bread, birthday cakes, or other baked goods? A skilled seamstress can make a fair wage turning out custom-fitted garments. Sell your skills at refinishing furniture, or creating macrame and decoupage decorations. And here's an interesting idea: Arrange to take photos, write captions, and have personalized Christmas cards printed and delivered by early fall.

Just remember, once you've established a "business," to get the word out. Don't rely on expensive advertising ... run a small classified ad in the daily newspaper, print up and distribute inexpensive leaflets in local neighborhoods, or even give away a few samples of your work so that friends can spread the news for you by word of mouth.

With persistence, you could end up earning even more money with your little entrepreneurial venture than any "regular" full-time job will pay. And if that's not the case, you'll probably still have learned enough to make the endeavor worthwhile.

Build "Vine Towers" for Your Garden

"One real labor and space saver that we use in our organic garden," say Warner and Lucile Bowers, of upstate New York, "is what we call a 'vine tower.'"

"This is a three-feet-in-diameter cylinder of five-foot-tall chicken wire stapled to six-foot-high 1-by-2 supports. We have eight of these contraptions on which we grow squashes, cucumbers, peas, lima beans, some tomatoes, and any other plants which tend to sprawl. The supports contain the foliage within a small area and raise the crop to a good picking level."


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