MOTHER EARTH NEWS readers share their farming advice, fun tips and country folklore, including shortcuts to spring chores, a flowerbed protector and cooking trout in the dishwasher.
MOTHER's Country Farming Advice and Folklore
Shortcuts to Spring Chores
It was with a great deal of interest that I read the piece submitted by Ms. Carol S. Larson of Harvard, IL dealing with the utilization of discarded carpet as a permanent mulch in the garden ["Country Lore," MOTHER EARTH NEWS NO. 152]. During the early and mid 1960s, I assisted my grandmother in her garden, where carpet was utilized for just the purpose Ms. Larson speaks of.
As a resident of the Blue Ridge foothills here in Northwest Georgia, I would add one enjoinder to Ms. Larson's suggestion. Any one who would utilize carpet remnants for mulch in an area inhabited by venomous members of the crotalid family would do well to forego any carpet of a pattern or coloration resembling that of the indigenous reptiles. My Cisco, Georgia, garden is located next to a hollow that harbors a spring and a creek. The extremely dry summer we recently experienced witnessed many a copperhead and an occasional rattlesnake utilizing the garden for provender. I have been more successful in avoiding contact with these fellows since using the polypropylene type synthetic backing—a material that allows passage of water and fairly good weed suppression. This material has also allowed me to rapidly identify those members of the crotalid family touring my garden and humanely remove them back to the hollow from whence they came (As a silver medalist in the Southeast Asia War Games of 1960 through 1975, I am reluctant to dispatch any creature for merely being itself.).
Thank you for an extremely informative publication.
—Joseph R. Dombroski
Setting a Lean-proof Post
The usual technique for planting fence posts is fairly standard, whether for 4 by 4s or 6 by 6s or round posts. Dig a hole and throw a little gravel or concrete in the bottom. Then insert the post, plumbing it while adding more gravel or concrete to the hole. Easy enough.
Sometimes, however, a post needs to be especially rigid and well-anchored, able to resist a lot of lateral stress. These might include lone gate posts, corners and some sign posts having horizontal, load-bearing arms. Here's a sure-fire method of installation that adds a new wrinkle to the usual procedure, and will prevent a post from eventually loosening or leaning.
To begin, drive a stake at least 6 inches deep at the center of the post hole location. Then, digging all around the stake, excavate a circular "form" hole, 24-28 inches in diameter and approximately 5 inches deep. At the center of this shallow, dish shape hole (the spot still marked by the stake), dig the post hole in the usual manner. Obviously, the deeper the hole, the more rigid the post, so dig as deep as practicality will allow.
Pour a couple of inches of concrete into the hole first, to act as a support pad for the post. Then set the post, positioning and plumbing it as you add enough concrete to steady it in the hole. Be sure to tamp the concrete mix as you pour, in order to prevent voids or weak spots. Continue pouring the concrete mix until it fills the narrow post hole and spreads out into the shallow form hole to a depth roughly 1 or 2 inches below ground level.
The mix in the form hole should look like a big donut around the base of the post. For added strength, you may wish to float a few short pieces of steel reinforcing rod (rebar) down into the mix. More importantly, trowel a small amount of slope, or "fall," into the surface of the donut, so that it will shed water away from the post. After curing, the concrete may be covered with sod/pebbles, etc., for a cleaner appearance.
This donut pad, gripping in the soil at 90 degree angles to the post, will hold the ground much more effectively than the usual "sleeve" of concrete, and the post will be extraordinarily rigid. I used this technique to anchor a single 6x6 post on which I mounted a 16-foot tubular metal gate, and no loosening or leaning has occurred in years. Try it.
Flower Bed Protector
A way to protect any flower patch from garden hose or electric cord is to use parts of discarded lawn chair tubing. Cut with a hacksaw or a pipe cutter about 6 inches from the 90 degree bend and 12 inches the other way. Push the longest end into the ground at the edge of the flower patch to about 4 inches above the surface where you want to protect your flowers. When not in use , it can be left there for next time, but turned into the flowers so it is out of the way of the lawn mower or feet.
—D. E. Andrews
Riding Mountain, Manitoba
Maggie's Dishwasher Trout
My sister Maggie has never been one to do things the usual way. I admit 1 was skeptical when she told me about her unique method for cooking trout, but I had to try it. It worked so well I told all my neighbors. Now my neighbor Marydel Portner won't have her trout any other way.
The first thing you do is catch some trout. Then clean them and prepare them to be eaten. Put a little butter and lemon on them, wrap them in foil and place them on the top rack of your dishwasher. Turn it on for a full cycle. (No soap in there though.) The heat from the water cooks them perfectly. They'll emerge from the dishwasher tender and ready to be served.
To check and see
if an egg is old,
Place in water
That's very cold.
If on its side
It comes to rest,
Then you can bet
It's very fresh.
When three or four days
Have gone bye
You'll see a tilt,
A rake, a rise.
An upright egg
is ten days old,
For baking it
Is solid gold.
A floating egg—
Handle With Care!
You don't want it
Exposed to air!
—Knight C. Duerig
King Hill, ID
We'll Bet You Never Thought Glue Can...
Remove a splinter. Coat the splinter with a drop of glue, wait for it to dry, then peel off the dried glue. The splinter should be stuck to it.
Seal plants. Gardeners can use glue to seal the ends of pruned stems and branches against insects and excessive moisture loss.
Prevent broken shoelaces from fraying. Dip the ends.
Fix small hole in walls. Small nail holes can be filled by squirting in a drop before painting.
Make moldable dough that dries without baking. Mix equal parts glue, flour and cornstarch. Mix and knead well until blended. If too dry, add more glue. If too moist, add more flour and cornstarch. Food coloring may be added if desired. Dough can be molded into any desired shape to create animals, figurines, ornaments, and jewelry. Dough keeps for weeks in a zipped storage bag.
Tighten a screw hole. When a screw hole is too worn out to hold a screw, soak a cotton ball in glue, stuff it into the hole, and let dry for 24 hours. You can now put a new screw into the spot.
Make a starch fabric stiffener. Mix water and glue in a bowl to desired consistency. Fabric dipped in the mixture can be shaped and dried in decorative forms and shapes.
Teach kids how to write their name. Use crayon to write the child's name on a piece of paper, then trace over the letters using glue. When the glue dries, children can use their fingers to trace along the tactile letters of their names, making it easier to understand the shapes of the letters.
Soften a new pair of jeans. Add one-half cup to detergent in the washing machine.
Repel fleas. Since salt repels fleas, wash doghouses with salt water to prevent fleas.
Remove rust from household tools. Make a paste using two tablespoons salt and one tablespoon lemon juice. Apply the paste to rust with a dry cloth and rub.
Dissolve the soap suds in the sink. Sprinkle on soap bubbles to make them pop.
Clean coffee and tea stains from china cups. Mix equal amounts salt and white vinegar.
Stop pipes from freezing or thaw frozen pipes. Sprinkle salt down waste pipes in cold weather.
Clean dust off silk flowers. Put the flowers in a large paper bag, pour in two cups, close the bag, and shake. Salt knocks the dust off the flowers. Remove the flowers from the bag and shake off the excess salt.
Remove dandruff. Shake one tablespoon into dry hair. Massage gently and shampoo.
Prevent grass from growing in crevices. Sprinkle in the cracks. Salt is a corrosive that kills plants.
Absorb spilled cooking grease or a broken egg. Pour immediately on the spill, let sit for 20 minutes, then wipe.
Prevent colors from fading in the wash. Add one cup coarse salt to detergent in the washing machine.
Keep slugs away. Sprinkle on the sidewalk close to the grass. When slugs try to approach your house, the salt will kill them by reverse osmosis. This works well in keeping slugs away from pet food, too.
Revive an ailing houseplant. Give the plant two tablespoons Geritol twice a week for three months. New leaves should begin to grow within the first month.
Polish shoes. In a pinch, you can shine your brown leather shoes with a few drops on a soft cloth.
Remove stains, rings, and minor scratches from wood furniture. Apply to the wood with a cotton ball, wipe away excess, and polish as usual.
Cat Litter Can...
Create emergency traction for automobiles. Keep a bag in your car trunk in case you get stuck in the ice or snow. When poured under the tire, it provides excellent traction.
Soak up car oil and transmission fluid. Litter works as an absorbent to pick up transmission leaks from garage floors. Pour a thick layer of unused litter over the puddle, wait 24 hours, and sweep up with a broom. Scrub clean with a solution of detergent and hot water.
Deodorize a garbage can. Cover bottom of garbage can with I inch of litter to absorb grease and moisture.
Prevent mildew in bathtub. Pour litter in a flat box and place in your bathtub to prevent mildew when you leave your house for a long time. (Keep the bathroom door closed if you have cats so they don't use it.)
Deodorize a stale refrigerator. Pour litter in a flat box, place it on the middle shelf, and shut the door for four or five days.
Provide traction on snow-covered driveways and sidewalks. Sprinkle on the snow-covered walk.
Prevent musty, damp odors in a closed summer house. Fill shallow boxes with litter. To soak up musty, lingering odors, place one in each room before closing up the house.
Deodorize sneakers. Fill the feet of a pair of knee-high hose with litter, tie the ends and place inside sneakers overnight.
Prevent grease fires in barbecue grills. Cover bottom of grill with a 3/4-inch layer of litter to reduce fires.