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

Pine Needle Hand Broom Revisited

hand broom pine needles

A Pine needle hand broom recently made, lying in the Spring grass. Photo by Fala Burnette (Wolf Branch Homestead)

In 2019, I wrote a Mother Earth News online article with information on how to make a Pine needle hand broom in a series of simple steps. It proved quickly to be one of my most viewed pieces, and the article of mine most shared on Pinterest. What started as simply a way to incorporate bits of the surrounding land into a unique holiday decoration, soon became a well-received craft that I wanted to touch more on. I recently updated that original article to include a brand new DIY video, to help others learn more about how to make this hand broom in a way they can follow along with visual guidance.

As mentioned, the hand brooms were simply a way to include gathered material from the woods around our cabin, bringing these materials inside to assemble holiday crafts and décor. I wanted to celebrate the season without all the flair, keeping it simple and more in touch with nature. The goal was to collect these materials in a resourceful manner, and so wind-blown branches gave us green needles to harvest while the dried Pine straw covering the ground gave us the dry needles. The green needles were found to dry out and lose their color quickly, but they gave a fresh fragrance to the home when initially brought in and the hand brooms set for display. The dried needles saw slight shrinkage, not as significant as the fresh ones, but remained perfect for practical use in sweeping up small areas. I like to keep one in my workspace to dust away wood shavings when crafting. The green and dried needle brooms I made for that 2019 article are still sitting on the mantle today.

I have been fascinated by the responses we have received from our customers on Etsy who have purchased these handmade needle brooms. One individual purchased the dried needle brooms, remarking she was going to use them to apply texture to her paintings. This amazed me to know someone had thought of yet another use for these, and I hope to try it for myself soon in my craft painting with acrylics. Another individual used the dried brooms to set up in an 18th century housekeeping display, and I felt very privileged to think of these being used in a way to honor history. While I simply created these to be a decoration or to tidy up my work area, the creative mind can find many other fun, safe ways to purpose the needle hand broom.

Along the way as I have made the brooms over the years, I learned more about things such as shrinkage of the needles and how to store them. I began to bring my binding further down the length of the needles to better support them, as the binding will also affect the grouping of them. For those who may want to paint with these to apply texture, the way you bind them together will impact how far apart your needles are spread, so your pattern may be altered. Another thing I have learned in time is how to secure the needles, which came in great use for shipping. Where the needles are exposed and not wrapped at, it helped to gently use a rubber-band to keep them in shape and from fraying out, not too tightly bound but enough to secure them in a neat group.

With how well received these Pine needle hand brooms have been received by the readers and their shares/pins, I personally believe they would make great holiday gifts for the nature lovers in your life. Gifts from the heart that are homemade seem to have a special significance, and they are easy enough to make that you could make a group of brooms in one sitting. Make sure to wear gloves when handling green needles to avoid sap sticking to your hands, and youngsters should always have an adult’s help. I hope you’ll pair this article with the original DIY article/video and be inspired to make your own Pine needle hand broom. Please share with us the ways in which you use your own hand broom!

Fala Burnette is a homesteader with her husband at Wolf Branch Homestead in Alabama. They are currently building their own log cabin and milling their own lumber, along with raising heirloom crops in the Spring and tanning furs during the Winter. Read all of Fala'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.

Paint Your Own 'Story Stones'


Painted rocks in hand. Photo by Kristen Tool

The soil at our farm in Western Massachusetts is full of stones. We spend hours digging and sifting new garden beds each year to prevent crooked carrots and stunted radishes. But what to do with all the stones once they are dug up? Having piles of stones laying around the farm creates a tripping hazard, and is serious trouble for the weed whacker and lawn mower.

Large stones are great for edging garden beds or building stone walls- the small stuff gets tossed in the dirt driveway to fill potholes. Smooth, flat or round stones are collected, and painted on.

A few years ago I started collecting stones removed from the garden and painting them for decoration, and as teaching tools. At the time I was running a mixed-age after school program for K-6th graders. Children loved using painted stones to dictate stories, and would collect stones from the playground to paint new images on.

This inspired me to create ‘Story Stone’ sets the children could use to share their stories and creativity. A set included about fifteen stones with a different image painted on both front and back. I chose to paint open-ended images, like a tree, a car, a kite, to allow kids to go in many different directions with their stories. Themed sets, like fairy tales, farm animals or vehicles, could be a great addition too.

Story stones. Photo by Kristen Tool

‘Story Stones’ were a huge hit in the classroom. It can be challenging to find activities children of different ages can enjoy together- storytelling is something that reaches across age lines and painted stones were a fun way for kids of different ages to interact wit each other. Older children often spent time transcribing what younger classmates shared, and through their conversations younger kids learned new vocabulary and dictation skills.

Storytelling is a powerful way for children (and adults!) to be creative, express emotions and work on problem solving. Kids have opportunities to practice communication skills, talk about real events or use their imaginations to create stories. ‘Story Stones’ are great for kids who are learning to read and write, as they can use the images to share their stories out loud.

There are a lot of story telling tools available, using stones provides additional tactile sensory input and gives kids a connection to something natural rather than plastic or man-made materials. It also gives all the stones removed from garden beds a wonderful purpose! 

After removing stones from the garden, I wash and scrub them at our outdoor sink to remove all dirt. Any dirt or grit left on the stone’s surface will cause paint to chip off.

To paint the stones I use outdoor acrylic paints, found at the local craft store. Acrylic paints are , dry quickly and are durable as they are made for outdoor use on clay pots. I paint with fine brushes, and use toothpicks for detail work. To prevent chipping I coat dried stones with clear nail polish. Other clear varnish would work as well.

Circle of stones. Photo by Kristen Tool

It is important to only collect stones from areas like personal garden beds or driveways. Rocks and stones prevent erosion, help decrease flooding and provide habitat for many small creatures. Please do not remove stones from waterways and do not remove rocks or stones (or anything else natural!) from State or National Parks.

If you have ‘extra’ stones laying around your garden or farm- maybe it is time to make some story stones.

Kristen Tool is co-owner of Olsen Farm in Lanesborough, Mass., where she works with her husband to revive 28 acres of a four-generation family farm by keeping bees, growing fruit, vegetables and herbs without the use of pesticides, raising poultry, cultivating mushrooms, leading workshops, and preparing plant remedies. She is the Secretary of the Northern Berkshire Beekeepers Association and manages a crew of incredible teens who run the local farmers market through a nonprofit program, Roots Rising. Connect with Kristen at Olsen Farm on Facebook, on Instagram @olsen_farm, and read all of her 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.

DIY Coffee Can Bird House (with Video)

empty coffee can 
An empty coffee can ready for use.
Photo by Fala Burnette

You've just brewed a pot of coffee with the remnants of your can, and are now left with an empty reminder of the aromatic grounds that formerly filled it. As you go to open the new container, you wonder how to put the old one to use and upcycle it into something fun or useful. Consider using your old coffee can to make a bird house through a craft that is suitable for an individual, or even for the family to help with! Some of these materials, including the wood and screws, can be sourced from leftovers found around the home.

SAFETY: Please remember to take safety precautions when working on projects such as this, and youngsters especially should have an adult present, and have them use the tools for them! Also, take care when mounting the bird house if using a ladder.


  • 1 x Coffee Can (plastic or metal)
  • 1 x Scrap Piece of Wood (pallet is easy to source/use)
  • 4 x Screws (recommend two short ones, about 1 inch, then two a bit longer- see instructions)
  • 1 x Drill (with accompanying drill bit to drive the screws)
  • 1 x Hole Saw (drill attachment; we used a 1 or 1-1/4 inch)
  • 1 x Sandpaper (a small hand-sanding pad block works well here)
  • OPTIONAL: 1 x Twist Drill Bit, Acrylic Paints, Paint Brushes, Polyurethane (if painting), Hot Glue Gun

Gathering Materials

Start by ensuring that your coffee can has been thoroughly washed with mild soapy water, then rinsed and dried. I recommend using a durable plastic can, or metal, for this project (some coffee cans are now made from a cardboard-like material and will fall apart easily). If you have scrap one inch thick lumber or rough cut wood, or maybe even a few pieces of pallet lying about, this is ideal for making the backing that you can use to fasten the can to a tree or post. Gather all needed tools for ease of access once you are ready to begin.

Now is the time to research the type of bird you hope to attract, and learn more about the size of the opening, location of the house, and height placement. For instance, we have many Carolina Wren in our area, and they have a wide variety of locations they inhabit (we've had them nest in a coffee can bird house at head level, or almost on the ground hidden behind the wheel of an ATV wagon/dump cart). The Cornell Lab of Ornithology has a great website called NestWatch that allows you to see data about nest box height, entrance holes, and where to place them ideally for different birds in your area. NestWatch also is a place where members of the public can learn how to properly collect data on nesting sites without disrupting the bird and their eggs/young, and submit it to help them learn more about the nest successes/failures different birds species.

Step One: Painting

If you are going to paint anything on your scrap piece of wood, this would be the best time to do so. Start by by sanding the surface of the wood you will be using to help the paint bond to it. Line up the coffee can where you want to place it, but do not attach it yet, and lightly mark with a pencil the outside of where the can will rest. This will help you paint in a visible area, and also help line up the coffee can when you place it on here. Acrylic paints work well with this, so paint your chosen design on here. This is a great step to let kids help along with, by encouraging them to paint a welcoming design on the board! If you're exposing the painted wood to the elements, such as attaching to a tree, we recommend using polyurethane to coat the painted area. Make sure to apply outdoors or in a well-ventilated area and take proper precautions to not inhale fumes. If you use this step, give your board a few days to air and dry properly to reduce fumes. Do not paint anywhere inside where the birds will be staying!

cutting entry hole
The entryway hole and perch stick hole have been cut out from the lid, and sanded smooth.
Photo by Fala Burnette

Step Two: Drilling Hole(s)

Set your coffee can lid on a suitable wooden surface where you can cut the main entry/exit hole out safely. Have a look at nest box diagrams to see where the hole should be placed on your can, as some nests require a bit of depth for the bird to build an adequate nest. With one hand, hold the lid firmly, and use the other to cut your hole using the hole cutter attachment on your drill. If you want to add a little perch outside the bird house, use your twist drill bit below the larger hole and drill a small hole. Find a small twig that's a bit wider than the hole, and wedge it snugly inside. Or, find a twig smaller than the hole and use a glue gun to fit it into hole for the perch. (Another option is to use a mini wooden dowel here). For the entryway, use your small piece of sandpaper or handheld sanding block to gently scrub and remove any roughness.

screws through can
Screws have been drilled through the inside of the can to secure it to the wood backing.
Photo by Fala Burnette

Step Three: Attaching the Can

With the lid off of your can, use your drill to insert two screws through the back part of the can and into the board you are using for a backing/mount. You'll want to do it this way, because coming from the back side of the board and through the can will leave the pointy ends facing inward, and you don't want a bird to be hurt in this way. We used two spare 1 inch sheetrock screws for this, as they're short and provided just enough length to attach the can to the board.

Now place the lid back onto the can, and take your finished product to the location you've selected for the bird house to be mounted. I recommend making sure the area is covered/sheltered from extreme temperatures and elements if possible. Whether a post, a tree, or on a building, remember again to use care if you will be climbing a ladder. On this step, you'll want screws that are a fair deal longer than your mounting board is thick (for instance, if the board is 1 inch thick, use 1-1/2- to 2-inch-long screws to give it a good hold into the location you'll be mounting it). Again, we sourced leftovers, and actually used two roofing screws on this part! Place one screw on either end of the board, whether left and right side if made to face horizontally, or top and bottom of the board if meant to face vertically. This will help secure the bird house to its new resting place.

finished bird house
This finished bird house waits to welcome a visitor!
Photo by Fala Burnette

Now that your bird house is completed and ready for a feathered friend to move in, keep an eye on it from time to time at a distance and see who comes to visit! Before you know it, there just may be a bird scouting the new location for a potential nest (these houses may also double as a later home for chipmunks if forgotten about, and the former tenant's nest has not been cleaned out). It's your turn to take that empty coffee can, and create a unique new home for your local birds!

old bird nest 
This 2019 coffee can bird house (lid removed to reveal inside), once a nesting site for a Carolina Wren to hatch young, was later occupied by an Eastern Chipmunk.
Photo by Fala Burnette

Fala Burnette is a homesteader with her husband at Wolf Branch Homestead in Alabama. They are currently building their own log cabin and milling their own lumber, along with raising heirloom crops in the Spring and tanning furs during the Winter. Read all of Fala'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.

DIY Vertical Gutter Garden with Auto-Watering System

Photo by Pixabay/kriemer

We built this A-Frame garden because our homestead soil has failed us the last few years. This is a simple DIY project and a good opportunity to teach my daughter some building lessons. I designed this project in 3D using Google Sketchup. Those plans are free for you to use here. We also have a gravity fed rainwater setup from last year that can — with the help of 2 AA batteries and a RainWater Kit from Amazon — auto-water the garden on a set schedule for us! Because some people learn better by seeing, we also made a video (which was really fun) for this project. You can see it above.

This is a beginner-level DIY project using some 2-by-2s and some PVC gutters. My 13-year-old daughter, Katie, built almost this entire project herself (with just a bit of help from Dad). The setup is nice, because we can position it where we want and Katie can own it 100 percent. Also, our homestead garden failed the last few years. While we are amending our homestead garden soil, we want to be 100% sure we grow a good crop this year and this will be a great help.

Sometimes people learn better via video, so Katie and I also created a video version of this project (take a look above). The supplies needed for this project could be found at most large home improvement and hardware stores. We picked our supplies up at Menards.


  • 8- 2x2x8 pressure-treated boards
  • 1- 2x6x8 pressure-treated board (this will be cut down to 5 feet long not 8, so get shorter if you can find it. In our project we used cedar because we had it)
  • 3- 10 foot PVC rain gutters
  • 12- gutter end caps
  • 12- gutter attachment brackets
  • 4- 4-nch flap hinges
  • 1- box of 2 1/2-inch construction screws
  • 1- container of wire staples or similar. The Auto-Watering Kit comes with some staples but we needed more.
  • 1- Automatic Watering Kit from Amazon


  • Saw
  • Drill/driver
  • Wire cutter/aviation snips (something to cut the small water tubing)
  • Countersink bit or bit to predrill holes

Step 1: Start Cutting Your Material

Step1 Cutting Material

OK, there aren't any ladders in this project but the two sides of the A-Frame garden look like ladders and that is what we will call them for simplicity.

The two ladders are comprised of three rungs and two side: 3 + 2 = 5 times 2 = 10. So we need to end up with 4-foot pieces. So start by cutting five of the 2x2x8s in half to end up with ten 4-foot lengths.

Next, cut the three of the 10-foot-long gutters in half to end up with six 5-foot lengths. I carefully and slowly did this on our miter saw.

Finally, cut the 2x6x8 "shelf" down to 5-feet-long. The ladders will be 4-feet-long and the shelf and gutters will overhang and be five feet long.

Step 2: Prepare the 2 'Ladders'

Step 2 Prepare the Ladders

Lay out the ladders on the ground. Each rung should be one foot down from the top/next piece. Now we want to mark the holes for each of the three rungs so we can drill pilot holes

In the picture we positioned 2 pieces even with each other and measured down one foot and marked both boards with a speed square and pencil. Afterwards we realized we should have done four at one time. So do four at once. Measure down one foot, mark all four boards (this is your top rung), measure down another foot from your mark and pencil all four boards for your second rung and then down one more foot for the bottom rung.

With your boards marked use a small drill bit our counter sink bit and drill a hole in the center of each mark. This is where you will screw through to attach your rung to the side boards.

Now your ladders and rungs are all prepared for the next step, assembly.

Step 3: Assemble the 'Ladders'

Step 3 Assemble Ladders 

Now it's a matter of screwing in the rungs to each side. We used our drill and the construction screws. Don't go too tight on the rungs. We left them slightly loose so that we could tilt them level once the gutter is attached. Plus you don't want to split the boards.

Assemble both ladders.

Step 4: Attach the Top Shelf Hinges

Step 4 Attach Hinges

The next step is to attach the top shelf with the four-inch flap hinges. Lay out the ladders and the shelf on a large table or on the ground.

Keep in mind you are looking at it upside down. Measure 6 inches over on each side of your shelf (since your shelf is 1 foot wider it will overhang the ladders by 6 inches on each side). This is where you want your hinge to attach to the ladders so mark your shelf. Our shelf wasn't wide enough to allow both ladder hinges to align perfectly without overlapping so we staggered them slightly. Attached the hinges to both sides with the screws that came with the hinges.

Step 5: Attach the Gutter Brackets

Step 5 Attach Gutter Brackets 

Next we want to attach the gutters to the rungs. But first we need to secure this wobbly A-Frame. Attach a temporary board across the top to keep it upright. We had some leftover boards from the shelf we used. You don't have to be fancy here. Remember this is hinged so at the end of the season we could remove several screws to collapse the unit for easier storage.

It will be much sturdier once we add the braces across rungs and under the gutter. The gutter is supported by two gutter brackets in the center- and in the next step we will add some cross braces which will add stability and support the edge of each gutter even more, but let's focus on the brackets first:

Measure in 16 inches from each side of the rung and mark the rung for all six rungs on both sides. This is the location of each of the 12 brackets, two per rung. Next screw in your gutter brackets.

Then install the gutter end caps on each gutter.

And finally click the gutters into place on each rung. Once in place slide the gutter left or right so that you have a six-inch overhang on each side to match your shelf.

Step 6: Install Your Cross Bracing, and Final Assembly

Step 6 Install Cross Brace and Final Assembly

The cross bracing are simply boards that go across each rung from one ladder to the other side, under the gutter.

They serve two purposes, they provide stability and they support the edge of each gutter (while the center is supported by the brackets).

We took our remaining 2x2s and placed them under the bottom gutter and across and we marked the board so it would be long enough to support both gutters on each side but not hang over beyond the gutters. Then we cut each to size and screwed into place as pictured.

At the end of the season if you want to collapse your garden- you will remove these same screws and set the bracing aside to fold this up.

Next drill a ton of holes in each gutter to allow for drainage. You could use the same bit you used to pre-drill your screws in the earlier step.

And now your basic structure is built! You could now remove the gutters now and paint it if you want. Since we used pressure treated boards we are going to let them dry out a bit before painting it white. White is a good color to reflect heat.

Step 7: Install the Automatic Watering Kit

Step 7 Install Water Kit 

The final step is to install the Automatic Watering Kit we picked up from Amazon.

With this kit we can set a timer to auto-water the garden whenever we want. This kit was enough for all of the gutter plants but not enough for the top shelf. We plan to expand the kit once we get the containers on the shelf - we can T off of the tubes to auto-water the shelf.

Follow the directions for your kit. We did three feeders per gutter.

First measure the length across from each gutter on the bottom and then cut six pieces of line half that length (we will have a T in the center aiming up. Then assemble three cross lines (two of the cut lines with a T in the center and drippers on each side). Pass them across and staple them in place. Repeat the same for the center rung (which will not be as long) and then the same for the top rung.

Next measure up from the bottom T to the center rung and cut 3 more pieces of tube. Attach to the bottom T and cut the hose above and tap in with a new T. I know it's a lot of T's! Repeat for the second rung of hoses. Then on the top T your way back to the right side where we will connect to the auto-timer. You could connect the auto-timer to the A-Frame or leave some extra length. We plan to place ours near a fence so we left a longer length from the A-frame to the auto-timer.



This was an easy project with a clever design and it will be nice to automate the watering setup. I designed this project in 3d using Google Sketchup. Those plans are free for you to use here. Please consider watching the video version of this project here.

Kerry W. Mann, Jr. moved to a 20-acre homestead in 2015, where he and his family use modern technology, including YouTube and, to learn new skills and teach homestead projects. Connect with Kerry on his Homestead How YouTube page, Instructables, Pinterest,  Facebook, and at My Evergreen Homestead. Read all of Kerry’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.

Blazing New Trails on a Rural Property

Tree-lined trails bring beauty and maintenance. Photo from Pexels

Take a walk down the trail of any two homesteads and you will likely come away with two entirely different experiences. It should come as no surprise that most homestead trails reflect the owner's different tastes and the ways in which they typically use their homestead.

Homestead trails needn't suffer their appearance in exchange for utility, nor do they have to affect any extremes in design to make them both useful and functional.

Trails can offer homestead owners a golden opportunity to improve the utility of their trails, while increasing the homestead's overall beauty and value.

I should mention that the word trail is used broadly. It includes most roads, paths or passageways typically found on a homestead.

In their simplest form, trails provide an accessible  means of transport. They should allow for the most frequent and commonly used homestead transportation situations and a few specific ones, if necessary.
They do not need to be excessively manicured or play any part of an expensive, poorly functioning landscape design. Homestead owners should consider all of their typical uses to guide their design choices. Trails can be as welcoming and gracious or as rugged and utilitarian as desired.

Design choices aside, the most ideal feature should include a trail which leads one safely and efficiently across any part of the homestead, at any given time... day or night, rain or shine..

Since there are as many ways of achieving highly functioning and attractive trails as there are homesteads, here are a few basic points that you may want to consider when establishing or improving the trails of your homestead property.

1. Obtain a survey map of the property

Or create a rough draft using draft paper. You can convert the property's actual dimensions to plan scale on draft paper. This can be explained further by conducting a quick internet search. Once the property's dimensions are on paper, identify any major topographical features. Consider if these features may be used to full advantage, when planning and routing the trails safely around them. These are areas which may have the greatest natural potential of enhancing the trail aesthetically or  otherwise.

Plant higher-maintenance plants closer to the homestead. Photo by Monica White

2. Identify the best location for a temporary or permanent worksite

As well as any storage sites which may become necessary for tools, excess soil or brush and tree cuttings.

3. Predict accumulation

Before cutting down trees or brush, carefully plan where you may utilize or store the resulting piles of accumulation. The same applies to any accumulation of soil that is dug up as well.

4. Take care to remove roots as completely as possible

In some cases, with felled trees, leave 3 to 4 feet of tree stump to assist with pulling the trunks up completely in the clearing effort. The remaining tree stump provides adequate leverage to attach to and allow them to be pulled up completely.

5. If a road is required, dig out the road bed and build it back up with leveled, sturdy layers of large rocks

Fill the large rocks in with smaller rocks to stabilize this sublayer of the road. Adding fill bond dirt prior to applying the road's top surface layer, will offer the final layer of stabilization for the structure of the road.

Make use of pine needles as trail mulch. Photo by Monica White

6. Carefully look at any areas which may cause flooding

You may address this by using gravity and slope angles to your best advantage. Pay particular attention to where you will direct and manage the accumulated water runoff. During heavy or constant rains, proper planning will pay off in how fast and how much water pools or drains through an effective drainage system. The proper slope angles will allow gravity to offer fast or slow drainage. Angle slopes for the best rain run-off and dig an appropriate drainage system to handle the greatest capacity of water accumulation. Consult weather charts to get some idea of your area's average yearly rainfall.

7. Add a 'turn-around'

It's also good to make additional maneuvering space in areas where vehicles will need to reverse course safely and efficiently.

8. Consider making your own concrete stepping stones

You can use uniformed or creatively shaped molds. The stones may be customized using colored stain and imprints. Making your own molds are an inexpensive way to add beauty, form and function to a trail. An 80-pound bag of general sand-concrete mix should work well and will easily accept small glass chips or pebbles embedded as decoration.

Overall, your primary objective when establishing or improving trails, should be to create form and function. Take a good look at your trails and their use. Identify all that is working well and not so well; making improvements where needed. Use the property's natural features to their best advantage when planning, routing and orienting trails. As a nice touch, offer comfortable places of respite in the most ideal or even surprising places along a trail.The trail should be an experience onto itself. At the very least, when establishing or improving trails, a homestead owner may take the opportunity to add beauty, form and function, while increasing the property's overall value.

In closing, I will share a short story:

On a lazy spring morning, a homesteader was found working peacefully in a small garden shed. A torrential rain shower blew in from the south. Needing to hurry back inside, the homesteader rushed down a narrow path leading back to the main house. In rugged, muddy boots, they struggled hard to keep their footing. The ground, soggy and soft, seemed to give way with each unsteady step. Nearly falling, the homesteader caught their balance by landing on a solidly placed stepping stone. The stones had been laid recently.

Feeling lucky to have escaped the fall, the grateful homesteader thought of widening the path with additional stones. This led to the thought of adding a covered walkway leading from the back of the main house to the garden shed. Which then led to another thought of adding an enclosed, covered walkway along that portion of trail. Then an immediate thought came of that one, for converting portions of the enclosed covered walkway, into extensions of glass greenhouse segments. And so it went, on and on the never ending trail of projects which lead and follow the homesteader home.

Monica White is a freelance writer, member of the Georgia Air National Guard, and an avid runner and cyclist who loves the great outdoors and all things DIY. She divides her time between Tampa and her central Florida property, where she's growing a self-sufficient homestead. Connect with Monica on her outdoor lifestyle blog, on FacebookTwitter and InstagramRead all of her 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.

DIY Homestead Pantry Door for Under $20

Pantry Door

Our pantry is the heart of our homestead. Going on year five of homesteading, our pantry has seen its share of homemade canned goods from the garden rotate through. While our pantry serves a great purpose, it’s also a bit ugly. It's tucked away at the end of our hall and hidden behind an old folding door. While looks don’t mean much to us, we do spend a ton of time at home and we enjoy investing in our home and improving it, because it only increases the overall value.

We’ve had our eye on one of those fancy glass pantry doors they sell at the home improvement stores, but with prices in the several hundreds of dollars, we just couldn't justify purchasing one so we decided to make our own for under $20! Whether you want to make your own pantry door or not, we have a frugal tip that should help any homesteader.

Our main tip is: Buy used and save the difference! We are a frugal bunch here and I would say our frugality has allowed us to purchase our dream homestead and live a relatively free lifestyle. One of our favorite thrift stores for homestead items is the Habitat Restore. If you are not familiar, think of a thrift store for home improvement projects. They have over 900 locations across the U.S. Restores recycle and salvage doors, cabinets, windows, tools, garden implements and so much more. The prices are often good (more on this below)  and per their website: Proceeds are used to help build strength, stability, self-reliance and shelter in local communities and around the world — a good deal for you, your community and the environment.

We’ve scored some amazing deals at the Habitat Restore over the years. But we’ve found the prices are hit or miss: some items are way overpriced while others are a steal. We’ve found doors and windows to be priced really low. On our homestead, we’ve got some amazing and unique windows mostly from the Habitat Restore. For example we have a really unique arched window in our homestead dog kennel which we bought for $9 from the Habitat Restore.

So about a year ago, after deciding we wanted to spruce up our pantry but couldn’t justify spending hundreds on a pre-made pantry door, we started looking for a glass door at the Habitat Restore. My wife, Jen, owns a Cricut Crafting Machine and could make a "Pantry" label  for the door — or we could buy a “Pantry” decal online.

So without urgency, we’ve been checking the Habitat Restore from time to time and last week we found a perfect glass door. The price tag said $65 but at Habitat Restore they have colored tags and each tag has a specific discount, we got lucky with this door (we have been looking for quite some time) and it was 75% off. Grand total of $17 for a heavy-duty really nice glass door!

I had to work on the door a bit for it to fit in our space. Jen used her Cricut Maker to create a vinyl decal to stick to the door she also frosted the glass with some frost spray in a can. Best of all we personalized the decal. We used our little homestead logo but replaced our homestead name with the word “Pantry”. It really turned out amazing, increased the value of our home and all for under $20!

Kerry W. Mann, Jr. moved to a 20-acre homestead in 2015, where he and his family use modern technology, including YouTube and, to learn new skills and teach homestead projects. Connect with Kerry on his Homestead How YouTube page, Instructables, Pinterest,  Facebook, and at My Evergreen Homestead. Read all of Kerry’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.

Lessons from 30 Years of Knitting Clothing

Sweater before changing waistband and before washing. Photos by Jo deVries

This months’ blog post is a follow-up to last November’s Knitting with Natural Fibres. Most autumns, I start planning at least one knitting project. Knitting makes my long winters in Ontario, Canada, pass more pleasurably. It also produces a warm garment that keeps me cozy and happy while knitting it.

I usually start by looking through my inventory, to see if anything catches my interest. My yarn collection was severely depleted three years ago when I went on a knitting spree. I tackled all my unfinished projects that had accumulated, and knit up of bunch of odds and ends for gifts. What a great feeling to complete that task! The result: three sweaters, a headband, two pairs of bed socks, and at least six sets of wrist warmers.

This time, I was looking for a yarn to make a fairly thick outdoor sweater for myself; something that would knit-up relatively quickly. Most of the yarns left in my stash were high quality, thin cottons — that take ages to knit-up. I prefer to use those types of yarns for baby and children’s sweaters. Cottons are comfortable, durable, and machine washable; great for kids. So, I decided to save those yarns for the future children of friends and relatives. After sorting through everything and not finding what I wanted, I went to my mom’s wool shop, “Wool-Tyme” in Ottawa, probably Canada’s largest yarn store. I was like a kid in a candy store. And my mom owned it all.

Finding the Right Yarn

The choice was overwhelming; good thing I had lots of time to look. Hundreds of yarns to choose from, and the colours — absolutely dreamy! Finally, I found something spectacular! It was a beautiful wool and silk blend; a superb mix of many jewel tones, and super comfy to squish in one’s hands. The raw silk squeaked like fresh cheese curds.

Unfortunately, there were only four 100-gram balls left (discontinued yarn), and I guessed I needed about seven or eight for a large sweater. I can only a wear a wool garment if it’s really loose fitting and not the least bit picky, so, I was planning on knitting a sweater with at least a 44-inch chest.

I decided to add four skeins of another yarn, and just use each of the yarns, on alternate rows. This would make the yarn I loved, go twice as far. The second yarn was a wool and acrylic blend. I shuddered a bit, at the 60% synthetic content (true yarn snob) but convinced myself that the acrylic would probably help the sweater keep its shape. If I found out that the sweater wasn’t comfortable enough to wear, my son Jordan would gladly inherit it.

I knew the yarns would be fantastic to knit with, even if I couldn’t wear the finished garment. This second yarn was also a bit thinner than the first yarn, so I decided to knit an extremely thin 100% wool along with it. It’s truly amazing that wool can be spun as thin as thread, and wrapped in those complex skeins without complete mayhem.

Knowing that at least two of these yarns would relax after washing — meaning they would lose much of their elasticity, stretch and change in texture — I decided to knit a 42-inch sweater.  After washing, I guessed it would stretch to about 46 inches at the chest. Perfect.

Knitting is a Labour of Love

The yarn I had picked was considered a chunky weight yarn which meant that it wouldn’t take forever to knit up. Most people have no idea how many hours it takes to knit a sweater. A thick (bulky), small adult sweater could take as few as 20 hours, while a thin knit garment in a large size, with a detailed pattern could easily take 125 hours. Then, there’s the extra hours…

The first step in knitting any garment is to make a tension swatch. This will determine whether or not your knitting produces the same result as the person who wrote the knitting pattern. I need to use at least one size smaller needle than what is required by the yarn manufacturer if I want to achieve the proper result.

I’ve been designing knitwear for 30 years, so I don’t usually follow a pattern, but I still have to make a tension swatch to determine how many stitches I’ll need, and what size of needle I’m going to use. Although the knitted tension piece needs only be a fairly small square, a complex pattern knit in a fine yarn could mean at least an extra hour of work. If one is not completely happy with the sample result, it means ripping-out one’s work and knitting another sample on a different size needle.

Sometimes, three or four samples are required before I’m satisfied with the fabric texture I’m looking for. That’s a lot of extra hours, but luckily, I love knitting. Once that’s done, I’m ready to work out the math required to design a garment, then I’m ready to start knitting my sweater. Or almost…

Tools to Make Your Knitting Project Easier

Many yarns are sold, wound in skeins. In the old movies and photographs, grandpa is sitting with both arms out in front of him, with a skein of wool wrapped around them. Grandma would wind the skeins into balls, to avoid a big tangled mess. The whole procedure could take an entire evening, just to rewind the wool required for one sweater. Sometimes grandpa bailed, and the back of a chair was used instead.

Today we have gadgets (of course we do) to make the job quicker and easier. Luckily, only two of the yarns I was using were in skeins. With the aid of a ball winder and a skein winder, I had all my yarns ready to go in about an hour.

Ball winder and wkein winder (sample yarn)

Knitting Needles

My knitting needle collection consists of circular needles and sets of sock needles (called sets of four, although some companies sell five in a pack). I’m very clumsy with straight needles, and I prefer to avoid sewing-up seams, so I usually knit in the round; which requires circulars and sets. Because I have arthritis in my fingers, I usually use bamboo, wooden or plastic needles. The steel ones are too cold to hold, for hours on end.

Straight pairs, circular, and sets of sock needles        

The Finished Product

Sometimes, I’ll design an item while knitting it (usually because I’m too lazy to spend the time on the math), but that means taking a big chance of messing up, and having to rip-out hours of work to re-work a section. Being Dutch (wooden shoes, wooden head, wouldn’t listen…), that is my usual course. Still, I love knitting.  Although I had to knit the yoke twice, and re-work the waist-band design a couple of times, the sweater was finished in about 60 hours. I wore it once. My son has been living in it ever since. This makes us both very happy.


Jo deVries (Jo of the Woods) designed and helped build her off-grid Ontario home, where she and her son have enjoyed a pioneer-type life-style without electricity. She is the author of Does Your House Know Where South Is? and generously shares what she has learned during her on-going journey of turning a piece of bush land in to a self-sufficient homestead. Connect with Jo of the Woods and read all of Jo’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.

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