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

Building a Front Yard Pond

garden-pondPhoto by Adobestock/valentinar.

A couple weeks back we hosted a work bee with Reno's "Permaculture Northern Nevada" group to build a small pond in our front yard.  Our friend with pond building experience led about seven of us for three hours of pond making. Our motivation in building a small pond or water feature was twofold.  First, we sought to add the soothing qualities of water in a area of our homestead where we spend a lot of time in the summer hosting guests and eating meals.  Second, we wanted another habitat to diversify the little ecosystem of our land that would support birds, aquatic plants, and insects.  

Katy and I spent some time beforehand figuring out the future location and size of the pond with particular attention to how it would fit in with an raised sitting area we intend to build later in the summer.  The pond will anchor one corner of this future "outdoor room". 

Photo by Kyle Chandler-Isacksen

Garden Pond Building Steps:

With the help of the group we dug a hole roughly seven feet long by four feet wide and two feet deep at its deepest point.  The edges we kept as vertical as possible.  The size of our our was in part determined by the size of the old pond liner our friend had for us to use.  We made it a bit irregular – one end wider than the other - to give it a slightly more natural look.  We also added about two feet to each measurement knowing we'd have to cover additional length over our earthbags (see below).

We used earth bags (sand bags) filled with the extracted soil to raise up the sides of the pond.  We stacked them two high to give us about 8" above grade.  Earth bags are great for this as they are malleable, smooth (no sharp edges to poke the pond liner), and easy to maneuver into place.

Level the bags using a long 2x4 with a level atop it and then tamping down or fluffing up the earthbags as needed.  We left a foot-wide spillway on one end intentionally lower by a couple inches.  This is the outlet should our pond overflow from rain or, more likely, our mistake in overfilling it.

We filled in the gaps between the bags and the ground and between the bags themselves with wet clay-rich soil from what we dug out of the hole. This served to make all the sides smoother and more plumb. 

We cut several roots back and laid an old nylon/polyester blanket at the bottom and up the sides to act as a cushion for the pond liner and reduce risk of puncture. 

Using scraps of an old billboard sign we then lined the sides of the hole and up and over the bags.  We tacked the billboard vinyl to the bags with old nails. Old billboard signs are another great urban resource – call your local companies and ask for their old signs. They are usually 40'x14' and can be found for around $20. 

We then lowered the pond liner into the hole and over the other materials with a large rock placed roughly in it's center point.  The weight made it easy to lay the liner and knowing the middle helped us get the placement right quicker. 

Last, for the work bee day anyway, we filled the pond up with water.  As it filled we stood around the edges and made slight adjustments to the liner placement before it was too heavy to move. 

Since the work bee we covered and lined the liner with urbanite (salvaged concrete sidewalk chunks, in this case) and rocks to hide the plastic and help "ground" the pond in our yard.  We also added some aquatic plants, a log perch to make it accessible for birds, and a disc that promotes the growth of a certain bacteria which inhibits mosquito larvae development (gotten at the same place as the plants).  Mosquito Fish, which eat mosquito larvae, are on the way, too.  

Photo by Kyle Chandler-Isacksen

In the future, as our outdoor room takes shape, we'll add flowers and plants in the urbanite and rock cracks and connect a small deck to one side so we can sit and dip our feet as we like.

Kyle Chandler-Isacksen runs the Be the Change Project with his wife in Reno, Nevada. They are dedicated to creating a just and life-sustaining world while having fun doing it. They were one of MOTHER EARTH NEWS’ Homesteads of the Year in 2013. Shoot him an email.


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Purchasing a Used Tractor: A Checklist to Consult Before You Buy


 Photo by Pexels

Given the choice of a new or used tractor, most would choose new, but sometimes it makes sense to purchase used. Purchasing a used tractor may not be a bad way to go, especially for beginning homesteaders who are still learning their properties and the repetitive work tasks involved.

This post does not claim to be all inclusive, but is intended to assist those considering a used tractor to make more informed purchasing decisions. It goes without saying of any used tractor purchase, "let the buyer beware." 

You should inspect any tractor that you intend to purchase, even if you feel that you know its history. So before forking over the cash and extending that final handshake, it is worth assessing a used tractor before making a final decision.


  • Safety first. Never start a tractor without first being securely seated in the seat. There is the possibility of the tractor starting and moving forward, with serious injury or even fatal results occurring.
  • Also, never start a tractor without first determining if oil is present. Severe engine damage may result. Before starting the tractor, ensure that there is sufficient oil in the reservoir by checking the dipstick.
  • While you are there, check the oil. The oil should appear clean and relatively clear; without debris. The oil filter should also be relatively clean; not excessively dirty.
  • Next, check if an oil filter date has been recorded on the oil filter. It may coincide with the last oil change date.  However, there are no guarantees.
  • Check for leaks under the tractor. Dead or discolored grass underneath the tractor may indicate leaks. 


Check for general cleanliness and overall good condition of the tractor. Generally speaking, a well cared for tractor generally indicates a tractor that has been well cared for mechanically and otherwise. Again, there are no absolute guarantees.


  • Check that the tractor's body parts are all the same color. If not, it could indicate that some parts have been replaced. The tractor could have been in an accident. If you see any body part replacements, ask the owner about it.
  • Check the tractor's bumper making sure that it's the original. Again, bumper replacement may indicate an attempt to hide damage from a previous accident.
  • Check the condition and security of the muffler and exhaust pipe to the tractor. A hot or warm exhaust pipe could indicate a seller attempting to warm the engine beforehand for a smooth starting performance. 
  • Make every attempt to inspect the tractor from a cold start.
  • Check that the fuel tank and fuel neck is rust free and in good condition.

Tires and Wheels

  • Check the tires and wheels. Check that the quality of the tire's rubber and treads are not excessively worn, cracked and in good condition. Check that the rims and valve stems are not rusty or in poor condition. Some older tractors may have counter weight added to the rear tires with the use of caustic chemicals that can leak and rust the rims.
  • Check all hoses and belts. Make sure there are no cracks or deterioration.
  • Check that the tractor's floor pedals are tight; not loose and wobbly.

Checking the Electrical Components

  • If possible, check the alternator's output by bringing along a $10.00 volt meter. Read the alternator's output while the tractor is running.
  • Check the good working condition of the heater and air conditioner, if present.
  • Check all lights. Any outage may indicate electrical issues.
  • Check that the battery and battery terminals are in good condition and that they are rust and corrosion free. 
  • Check that gauges are functioning.

Checking Tractor Start-Up

  • Put gear in neutral. Release the kill switch, if present.
  • Turn the ignition key switch to on. The tractor should fire right up without hesitation.
  • Note: The tractor should not start while in gear.
  • Gradually rev the engine up to PTO range (2400 RPM), then gradually decrease the engine back down to idle. Engine combustion should sound strong and smooth throughout. There should be no misfires, knocks or sputtering.
  • Check the PTO. Turn it to "off" and observe that the PTO shuts off. If the PTO continues to run, it may indicate pending clutch and or brake failure.

Checking Tractor Shut-Down

  • Turn ignition key switch to off.
  • Pull the kill switch out to engage. 
  • The tractor should shut down immediately.
  • Check the radiator front tab cover is in good condition. Observe that the radiator fins are in good condition; not bent or dented. Check that the radiator fluid is clean, green and that the radiator is not leaking.
  • Check the optimal level of transmission fluid is clean and not leaking. Check hydraulic fluid. Weep hole should have the Cotter key hanging in place.

Tractor Test Drive 

  • On test drive, increase speed, taking the tractor through at least the working gears - one through three.
  • Attempt to check performance in both high and low gears.
  • All gears should shift smoothly without grinding.
  • Check if the clutch is slipping.
  • Drive uphill, downhill and across grades, if possible.
  • Observe the tractor's handling performance on each.
  • Check that the loader raises and lowers easily.

Check hydraulics.

  • Disengage the brakes. Place gear in neutral. 
  • On level ground, the tractor should raise the front wheels. If it does, this is a pretty good indication that the hydraulic pump is working properly.
  • Check the tractor's steering. Does it pull left or right?
  • Check the front tie-rods by turning the steering wheel left and right. Steering should not feel loose or with any play.
  • It should feel solid and fully intact.
  • Check the brakes both in tandem and separately, if possible. On many tractors, there is a lever which allows the operator to test the left or right brake separately. Disengage the left brake to check the right and vice-versa.

Sources of Resale Value of Used Tractors

Sources of Used Tractors

Final Considerations

Check used tractors from local tractor dealerships that have a good service department. Some dealerships may fix the tractor on your property or pick up the tractor to take in for service. Also, be prepared with your own means of transporting a tractor to and from your property.

Whether you are dealing with a manufacturer, dealership or private owner, don't be shy about negotiating your best deal on price, any warranties and financing terms. Aside from the inspection itself, the final negotiated price and any agreed upon terms are crucial to getting your best value.

So invest all efforts upfront. If you are uncomfortable with any aspect of the inspection or any negotiated terms of the deal, don't be afraid to walk away. More value is likely obtained by investing more time and waiting later for the right deal, than by accepting any aspects of a poor deal right now. 

Remember to remain in the driver's seat at all times. With a little knowledge and preparation beforehand, you should be able to secure a better deal and reap the full value from purchasing a used tractor.

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.

How to Make Holiday Gift Tags Out of Discarded Art

Artwork before punching into tags 

I have a lot of discarded art papers lying around. Working with ink as a medium can be a beautiful and unpredictable practice and not every work I create is good. I’ve had a large stack of work lying around my studio waiting for me to put them to use in some way. Last week, while wrapping my Christmas presents the PERFECT idea struck!

I love to get creative with my wrapping - it adds an extra layer of beauty to the process of gift giving and the receiver always appreciates it, I think. I love creating my own gift tags. I typically use blank business card stock, the kind you can get at any office supply store that come ready to print at home. They have perforated edges and are so easy to get crafty with. For Christmas, I have a few Christmas themed stamps that I hand stamp the business card with (Use your homemade inks for this process too!) and sometimes I print them off the computer using templates from  

Final gift tags after putting them together

But this year is by far my favorite! It dawned on me that I have large hole punches lying around from previous projects. One is a large circle, the other is a large punch that punches three different size tags at the same time. You can pick these up at any craft store- be sure to check their website for a coupon!  I positioned the punches around the discarded art, finding blends of color and compositions I liked and punched. That was it! I used another small hole punch and tied kitchen cotton thread to each. In under an hour I had way more tags than I even needed for this year’s Christmas wrapping so I’ll have extras to use when wrapping products for my shop.

Don’t have fancy hole punches? Not to worry! Just cut up your paper using any shape you like. Easy shapes like rectangles, squares, circles. Use jar tops, mug bottoms, anything lying around the house that you can turn into a template and then cut with a pair of scissors. Use cotton thread, embroidery thread, twine, yarn, etc. to tie to your packages for a unique color palette that fits your style. 

Another option that I have done in years past is to get a box of the manila inventory tags from an office supply store. You can usually get 50 or more in a package for just a few dollars. I have tea dyed them for a vintage look. You can easily do the same or use your homemade inks to dye the whole tag, dip the bottoms in the ink for an ombre effect or paint directly on the tags. The possibilities are endless!

Presents wrapped and ready to give

This is an easy and fast project to do with the kids too during their winter break.  Let me know how your crafty session goes- I’d love to hear.

Sarah Hart Morgan is an artist, photographer and author of Forrest + Thyme Apothecary: simple skin care formulas you can make uniquely your own. She lives in the Shenandoah Valley, where she works with foraged plants in her skincare and apothecary products, camera-less photography, using plants as a developing agent in film photography, and creating natural inks for painting. Connect with Sarah on her website, Instagram, Facebook and Pinterest. 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.

Pallet Wood Walkway

Pallet wood walkway 

There are many paths we walk multiple times a day around the farm to get to the barns, coops, and gardens. Many of these paths are on the north side of the buildings, and during the winter the shade causes them to become a slippery, dangerous mess. When we first started building our homestead, we quickly realized that these paths needed to be more than just dirt. They needed to be something that could be easily shoveled and kept clear, and not track too much mess into our house as we were going in and out. We also wanted them to look nice and add to the rustic atmosphere of our farm.

We tried gravel — too messy and hard to shovel. Then we considered cement or cement pavers — too pricey. Ultimately, we ended up building a walkway out of pallet wood. We spent very little money on it and five years later ,it is still serving us well. It was quick and easy to build, is easy to shovel snow off of and keep clear through the winter, and it decreases the mess tracked into the house on our boots.

Supplies and Tools:

  • Hardwood pallets for decking and supports
  • Pressure treated lumber for supports (optional)
  • Screws
  • Bricks or edging
  • Gravel and/or Weed Fabric (optional)
  • Sawzall with long metal cutting blade
  • Circular saw
  • Power drill with drill bit and driver bit

Hardwood Pallets

Many people are familiar with pallet wood and places to get pallets. But for this project it is important that you use specifically pallets made of hard wood (oak, ash, poplar, etc). If you use soft wood pallets (pine, fir, etc.), then the walkway will not hold up and will not last as long as the hard wood will. To tell the difference between hard wood pallets and soft wood pallets look for heavier pallets with a tight, dense grain. You will be using all parts of the pallets, both the main slats, and the pieces in between that hold the slats together.

Pressure-Treated Lumber

If you live in a very wet climate, or the walkway will be built through a very wet area, you might consider using pressure-treated lumber for the supports under the walkway so that they will last longer and not rot. We live in a dry climate and have not had any trouble with using the wood from the center of the pallet (the pieces that the main slats are attached to) as our supports.


To hook your path together you will need to use 1.5 to 2-inch screws that have an all-weather coating on them.

Bricks or Edging

As you can see in the photos, we used red cement edging bricks. Having something to edge the walkway makes building it go quicker and easier and gives it a more finished look. You can try doing it without the edging, but you will need to be more careful and purposeful that your walkway edges line up and end where you want them to.

Gravel and/or Weed Fabric

Depending on where you are building your walkway, you might want to use weed fabric underneath it to prevent grasses and weeds from trying to grow up in between your decking. We used weed fabric in several places under our walkway. If you are putting the walkway in a very wet area, you should consider prepping the area with gravel for drainage and using pressure treated lumber for the supports as discussed above.

How to Build the Walkway

Prepare the area. Start by deciding exactly where you want your walkway to go, and how wide you want it. I recommend not going any wider than the width of your pallets for the majority of your walkway as this will reduce your waste and the labor involved.

Prepare the ground by making it level and smooth. If you are going to use gravel, dress and prepare the area for good drainage. If you are using weed fabric, lay that out, being sure it goes underneath your edging as well. Get your edging set firmly where you want it along both sides of the path.

Prepared Ground for walkway 

Disassemble pallets. There are many ways to take apart pallets. In order to get the most length out of your slats, and thus have less seams, you should cut the pallet apart with a Sawzall. Use a metal cutting blade - longer is better. Cut through the nails holding the slats to the interior wood of the pallet by putting your blade between the slats and the interior wood. Keep all wood pieces as you will be using the interior pieces as the supports under your walkway.

Using sawzall to cut pallets 

Separate the slats into piles based on their width so that if you need to use more than one to span the width of your walkway, you have them matched up by their widths.

 Pallet slats

Lay the supports. The pieces of wood under the walkway give it support and lift it off the ground, as well as giving you a place to attach the pallet slats that are the decking. Lay the supports out along the length of the pathway. You should have a support 1-3 inches from each edge, and as many more as are necessary to be sure there isn’t a span of greater than 12 inches between them. This will ensure that your decking wood will be supported and feel solid as you walk.

In this photo you can see that we only needed 3 rows of supports for the width of this section of our walkway.

 Supports for under the walkway

Supports for under the walkway

Then the walkway got wider where it split, and in that section we switched to 4 supports. The supports can line up with each other, or they can overlap a bit next to each other like you see in the transition from 3 to 4.

 Supports under the walkway

Cut and attach the decking slats. The pallet slats will be attached laying the opposite direction as the supports. First, lay the slat you want to use across the path. Use a pencil to mark where the cuts need to be made.

 Slat marked for cutting

Slats marked for cutting

Using a circular saw, cut the slats where you marked them. Set the slat down in place and make sure you are please with the fit.

 Slat set in place

Slat set in place

This is a rustic-looking walkway, and thus you don’t need to be too particular about it all being perfect.

Once it is in place where you want it, screw it to the supports in two places at each support. If you find that the wood is splitting, you need to pre-drill the holes before placing the screws.

 Screwing slat in place

Continue in this way, a piece at a time, down the walkway. Be sure to keep your slats at the same angle to the walkway edges. If you find that the whole walkway is beginning to skew a bit due to inconsistencies in the slat width, just leave a bit of a larger gap as needed to keep them lined up how you like them.


How to Place Two Slats for a Wider Walkway

Most of our walkway was a good width to use one slat at a time. But in areas where it changed direction, it got wider and one slat wasn’t long enough. If you need to use two slats to you’re your path, pick two that are very similar widths. Lay the first slat out and cut the end to fit the edging.

 First piece in place

First piece set in place

Then set it in place and draw a line to cut it where it falls halfway across one of the supports.

Cutting first piece 

Cutting first piece

Next, lay your other piece on the other side and cut it to fit the edging.

Placing second piece 

Placing second piece

Lay it in place and then lay the first piece you cut in place over top of it.

Cutting second piece 

Cutting second piece

Mark the line where the other piece ends on top of it.

Close up of cut line 

Close up of cut line

Cut the second board on that line and put each in place. They should line up nicely and fit snugly.

2 slats in place next to each other 

Finishing the Pallet Wood Walkway

Once you have all your decking in place, it is time to apply finish to the walkway. Decide if you like the look of the wood as-is, or if you would like to sand it down. If you want to sand it, use a square floor sander (12x18 inch) with 36-grit sand paper.

Whether you sand it or not, you need to clean it off thoroughly before applying the finish. Also, be sure the weather is good for finishing. It needs to be warm and dry, with no wind, for at least 6 hours.

Apply an oil-based finish, such as Penofin, Cabot, or a similar product. It takes at least 24 hours to dry, so be sure not to walk on it until it is fully dry.

Finished pallet walkway 

Finished pallet walkway

You now have a beautiful walkway made of pallet wood that cost you next to nothing and will last for many years.

Kat Ludlam is a wife, homeschooling mother, and homesteader living in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado, where she breeds landrace sheep, chickens, and crops accustomed to elevation. She and her husband own and operate Willow Creek Fiber Mill. You can read about their adventures homesteading at high altitude on her blog Willow Creek Farm and read all of Kat’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.

Foot Salvation in a Jar

finished salve

I walk barefoot. I’ve walked barefoot since a kid. I’ve even walked barefoot in snow, if I was too impatient and wanted something outside in winter and was too lazy to put on shoes or slippers. My husband thinks I’m crazy but that’s just how I am. I love the feel of the earth between my toes and the floor beneath my feet. The only time this becomes a problem is during goat’s head sticker season. Ow! I’ve found another one. You would think I would learn but you can’t teach this old dog new barefoot tricks!

The other problem is my feet get very, very dry. I mean, extremely dry to the point of soreness. As I’ve gotten older this is even more of a problem. Fortunately, I have discovered my own homemade remedy which I will now pass on to you. Years ago I bought an amazing ointment from a cosmetics manufacturer. I used it with great success until the manufacturer decided to discontinue the product. Oh, no! I read the ingredients on the jar of the quickly dwindling supply and decided right then and there that I was going to make my own. The manufacturer’s ointment smells better than mine, I have to be honest. But mine works very well so who cares? Mine doesn't smell bad. To me. Maybe you can improve the scent. If you do please let me know how you did it.

This recipe is so easy you’ll wonder why you didn’t do it sooner.

Homemade Dry Feet Salve


1 ingredients

  • 2 oz shea butter
  • 1 tablespoon cocoa butter
  • 2 tablespoons beeswax
  • 1 tablespoon virgin olive oil
  • Essential oils of your liking (I like tea tree oil for its antiseptic properties and peppermint oil for its aromatic properties)


3 tools

Double boiler (An old-fashioned double boiler is hard to find these days and if you do find one they are very expensive! I use a slightly bigger pot that holds a smaller pot inside it. It’s also very convenient to have a smaller pot that has a spout. I got both my pots at a secondhand store. I use these pots exclusively for making cosmetics. Then I don’t have to clean them out as well as would be needed to cook food in them)

A small jar with a lid, approx. 4 oz. (this can be any jar you’ve saved up. Baby food jars are great. Old cosmetic jars are great.)

Stirring stick (I use wooden chop sticks saved from after we eat Chinese. They don’t conduct heat and don’t have to be cleaned so well. Just wiped off.)


1. Fill the bigger pot with water about 2 inches deep. Enough so when it starts boiling it won’t boil away fast.

2. Place the smaller spouted pot inside the bigger pot so it rests on the edge and not down in the water. Turn on the heat and bring it to a boil. While you’re waiting for it to come to a boil add the ingredients to the small pot but not the essential oils. Wait on those.

3. Stirring occasionally with the stick, melt all the ingredients together.

6 melt

Warning: do not walk away from the melting ingredients! These ingredients are not as dangerous as melting paraffin but if you let them get so hot or the bottom pan boil dry you could have a kitchen fire.  Trust me on this one. I know what I’m talking about because I got too distracted one day and the pan did boil dry and it was bad news.

4. When the ingredients have melted add a few drops of essential oils. Start with a couple drops, smell it and if it’s not fragrant to your liking add a few more drops. You can always add drops but you can’t take them away so go slow.

5. Take the spouted pot off the heat and let the melted ingredients solidify. I like to let it solidify in the pan to see what the consistency comes out to be. If I pour the melted stuff into jars and I don’t like the consistency, it’s hard and messy to get it all out to be adjusted and melted again.

6. After it solidifies and you like the consistency melt it again and then decant it into your jars.

7 solidify

What if it isn’t to your liking? Simply melt it again and add whatever ingredient is needed. It’s ok to melt and re-melt.  If it’s too hard, add a half ounce of olive oil. A little bit goes along way in this recipe. If it’s too soft add an ounce of beeswax or cocoa butter. This recipe is meant to be on the stiff side. A little bit stiffer than petroleum jelly.

Note: if you modify the recipe it’s a good idea to note what you did so the next time you make it you will have the exact amount of ingredients and don’t have to start from scratch.

This is how it works best for me: when my feet get too dry and before the calluses start cracking I apply this ointment liberally to my feet and put on socks that I don’t care about. I wear them to bed overnight or put on shoes and wear them all day. When I remove the socks my feet are vastly improved!

Renée Benoit is a writer, artist, ranch caretaker and dedicated do-it-yourselfer who currently lives in a 26-foot travel trailer with her husband, a cat, and two dogs while they travel the Western United States in search of beautiful, peaceful vistas and hijinks and shenanigans. Connect with Renée at RL Benoit, and read all of her MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts.

Tractor Attachments Guide for Small Farms


Time loves to be wasted. From that waste there is no salvage. 

 - Henry Ford

Tractor attachments can be the key pieces of equipment that can add value and time saving factors to both large and small scale farm and homestead operations. Whether you're a new homesteader just starting out or an experienced land owner, chances are the use of a tractor and its attachments are likely to be very beneficial to you. 

Given the vast majority of attachments on the market, you may be wondering which attachments are the most useful to your property. The answer lies not so much in the attachments' function, but in the specific job(s) that the attachments will be used for. For example, will there be digging, lifting, moving or land grading?

It makes sense to identify the overall goals of the property first. Next, determine the short and long-term tasks needed to reach these goals. From there, a general work overview should start to materialize. The work overview should point to the specific jobs that are needed of the attachments.

It would serve a new property owner well in becoming acquainted with the basic tractor attachments on the market. While established land owners may wish to stay abreast of new attachment advancements which may help streamline their current and future operations.

Those considering an attachment purchase should do their homework. Acquire specific knowledge of attachments based on comparisons made between manufacturers, models, maintenance and any special features or finance options offered. As with any specialized purchase, owners should be careful not to over or under invest in their attachments.

Since no two properties are the same, it's reasonable to expect that no two owner's tractor's attachment needs would be the same either. For example: Two properties may have the task of distributing gravel in common. However, one property may need to distribute gravel for a small, narrow garden path, while another may need enough gravel to cover a small network of interconnected roadways. It then makes a significant difference in the type of attachments that each would use for their property. Even the seemingly common task of cutting grass, is actually a very property specific job. Consider that each property may have different types of grasses and acreage to be cut or cleared. Again, the work needed, dictates which attachments would be used. 

Following is an unofficial list of the 10 most useful tractor attachments used by both beginning and experienced homesteaders and landowners.

The list is broken down by the first five most useful attachments, followed by, what many would consider to be the next five most useful attachments to have around the operation, if needed. 

Tractor Loader

A tractor loader increases a tractor's versatility exponentially by loads, with its various attachments. In addition to scooping, hauling, dumping, and picking up loads of materials, there's countless attachment combinations which can be used on a loader to accomplish many different jobs. The loader can even have forks added to create an effective forklift to move and store materials more efficiently by an organized system of stackable materials secured on pallets. 

Grooming Mower or Rotary Cutter

A grooming mower is used to cut and maintain refined lawns and groomed landscape areas. Whereas a rotary cutter is used to cut and maintain rougher grass areas, such as large lots and pasture acreage that's not going to be heavily featured.

Box Blade

To get an honest day's work for an honest day's pay out of your tractor, few attachments will out do the box blade attachment. The box blade can be relied upon to tackle any number of jobs. If you have jobs that require grading,leveling and scraping around your homestead, a box blade scraper is your attachment. Also, a durably built box blade fitted with slots and scarifiers, can make child's play out of tilling and plowing chores. It acts as a ballast or counter weight when used with heavy front and rear loader attachments, as well as be used as a forward or backward scrape blade. 

Because a box blade is such a highly used attachment, every consideration should be made to the quality and durability of the attachment's design. When purchasing a box blade, look for strong steel plating in the blades, adequate steel reinforcement at the weld points and a strong, sturdy steel frame.

The quality of hinges is worth inspecting, as well as the way that shanks are attached to the box blade. For example, if the shanks are attached by metal brackets vs being inserted into slots, it will make them prone to being broken off, should they happen to catch on to ground roots, rocks, or other ground debris.

Horse power and the overall size of the tractor should also be considered with this type of tractor attachment combination. A box blade should extend slightly beyond the back tires' overall width.

Try to opt for scrape blades that are removable and reversible. As well as box blades that have strong reinforced plating on the sidewalls that will provide added load support. Additionally, offset slots are helpful when using with scarifiers. 

Rear Blade

Acting as a land groomer, the rear blade is an attachment  that will grade, smooth, dig and level ground areas needing precision land refinement or may also be used for snow removal. Quality rear blade frames and pivots are made of heavy tubular steel and some are made of formed channel construction for long-term durability. Some top quality rear blades have the ability to be hydraulically controlled. Allowing precise angle control of the rear blade with just the flick of a switch within the driver's compartment.

Land Plane

If you have goals which require that the land be leveled and smooth, such as roads, trails, horse paddocks and other land smoothing applications, then a good land plane should smooth the job out nicely.

5 Tractor Attachments Considered to the Next Most Useful

Snow Blower

For all areas, during winter months, which require snow removal, a snow blower attachment will get the snow cleared off right away. You may need a snow plow for heavy and solidly packed snow removal jobs

Post Hole Digger

If fencing or other applications requiring deep post holes are needed to be dug, a good post hole digger will eliminate much of the manual labor, by getting the job done more efficiently with the use of this powerful attachment.

Rotary Tiller

To get gardens and other impacted soil areas prepared for planting, a rotary tiller break ups hard, unworkable earth. A good rotary tiller will aerate and till the soil well, making it soft and more receptive for new planting.

Pallet Fork

Landowners often have the need for storing and moving stacked materials in bulk. With the use of pallet forks, many jobs and bulk materials can be moved, loaded or implemented immediately with the use of forks. In a pinch, even bales of hay can be moved with the use of forks.


When the need is to get a large amount of substance spread over large areas, a spreader will bring this chore down to size. Be it spreading seeds over ground or salt over snow, a durable polyethylene or other quality finished spreader will work most effectively to spread the most volume, without rust or contamination.

Attachment Safety 

Read all operating manuals before use and adhere to any safety warnings while using the attachments.

Tractor Attachment Care and Maintenance 

After using attachments, address any repairs or maintenance issues as soon as possible, before next use. Allow a dealer or professional maintenance for any areas beyond the scope of your knowledge /or ability. Keep attachments and auxiliary parts as clean and debris-free as you possibly can after use.

Storing Tractor Attachments 

Aim to store attachments in as accessible and at a safe level as possible for the size and shape of the attachment.  Ensure added flexibility and adjustability is included in the storage area(s) to allow for the weight/size of the attachment(s) to be stored in its current and future use.

When to Consider New Attachments 

Replace attachments when they are no longer safe, malfunctioning or when the current performance is causing inefficiencies. If newly manufactured attachments come on the market, it's a good idea to consult with other new owners and read reviews to find out how the majority of new owners are faring with the new equipment. You may also wish to schedule a demonstration or familiarization session before committing to purchasing the new attachment.

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 Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. 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. 

Knitting with Natural Fibers

Beautiful hand-dyed wools create wearable art.

It’s the time of year when I turn my attention to choosing a winter knitting project. I will probably spend most of the next six months feeding the woodstove and shoveling snow. Having a trunk full of luscious yarns will keep me happy in my little cabin in the woods. Who cares about freezing rain? I’ve got nowhere to go anyway.

I learned how to knit when I worked for my mother, who bought a wool shop in the 1980s. I started designing my own things from the get-go. Within two years, I had designed and knit the bodice of my wedding dress. I had grand ideas of becoming a sweater designer, my creations being featured in Vogue Knitting, and traveling the world for shows. Well, I have designed over 200 sweaters, but I never made much money at it.

I did have a design featured in Chatelaine magazine and two in Crafts Plus, but that was over 20 years ago. For about 10 years, I provided the artwork for Luce’s wholesale/retail store in Ottawa; they had my designs knit in China and distributed them across Canada under the Aston label. That dear couple closed up shop years ago, and now I just design the odd thing for myself or for presents.

A Multitude of Choice

Yarns today are nothing like they were in our grandmothers’ day. The choices are scrumptious to look at and therapeutic to hold. Having a good stash of yarn (as all true knitters succumb to) is better than money in the bank. Who knows when you might get stuck at home for an uncertain amount of time? If your stash fills shelves from floor to ceiling, you are increasing the R-value of your home. More is better.

There are bulky yarns that will enable you to knit a sweater in no time, and thread-like silks and mohair’s to create the most intricate shawls. There are a multitude of colours to choose from, and yarns that create a colourful pattern, all by themselves.

Just handling my stockpile of yarn each autumn ives me the encouragement I need to move forward, and do something new and creative. Feeling that silky cotton gliding through my fingers or squeezing a large skein of alpaca, gets my fingers itching to knit something. Knitting means I’ll get to enjoy that feeling for hours. And hours. And hours.

Wool yarns, including roving, two-ply, fine merino, super-wash, and Lopi.

Yarn Categories

There are three major categories of yarn: animal-based, plant-based and synthetics. Most yarns are blends, but there are still pure natural fibre products on the market.

Animal-based yarns include: wool (sheep), angora (rabbit), mohair (goat), cashmere (goat), silk (silkworm) and alpaca. Lesser known specialty yarns include yak, possum, camel, and the most expensive, qiviut: soft inner wool from the musk-ox. One single 28-gram ball of qiviut will make a small, luxurious and amazingly warm scarf, but at a cost of almost a hundred dollars. Many animal-based yarns are blended with wool and/or silk to reduce cost and increase durability.

The oldest woolen mill in Canada is Briggs & Little Woolen Mills Ltd in York Mills, New Brunswick. Despite being lost to fire four times, the owners have rebuilt and are continuing to uphold a family legacy of producing wear-like-iron natural wools.

I’ve heard of people spinning their dog hair with wool, and creating their own unique yarn for a truly one-of-kind item. Imagine turning all that dog hair into a memory blanket — a winter coat for a short-haired pooch, slippers for the postman, the list goes on.

Plant-based yarns are predominantly cotton, linen, bamboo, and hemp; many being produced as blends. The plant-based yarns lack elasticity, and blending them with a bit of synthetic helps the finished garments keep their shape, also making the yarn easier to knit with.

Today, there are thousands of different yarns on the market: from super-soft, machine-washable wools to fashion-trendy yarns with flare. I have an incredibly soft baby sweater made from 100% milk yarn. I’ve heard of yarn being made from banana peels. High in demand now are the hand-painted yarns; every skein being unique.

These days, most people are spending a lot more time at home, and the knitting business is booming. Being able to work with fabulous yarns on your lap while listening to an audio book or music is a great way to enjoy being creative, practical and productive. Who doesn’t love a pair of handknit socks, warm mitts, or those cotton dishcloths?

Cashmere, possum, camel, yak, silk ,alpaca, mohair, angora and qiviut.

How to Choose Top-Quality Natural Yarns

Most yarn shops today have websites and ship anywhere, sometimes for free. My mother’s shop, Wool-Tyme, in Ottawa, Ontario, one of Canada’s largest yarn stores, ships daily, around the world. With the convenience of shopping at home, and an incredible selection of the most amazing yarns to view and research on the web, why not plan a hand-made natural fibre project?

Make a 2020 heirloom. If you don’t know how to knit or crochet, learning is easy with an abundance of free videos available on the Internet. I recommend starting with a dish cloth. No matter how ugly, it will be put to good use.

So how do you choose a yarn? Synthetics, the most popular, are the least expensive, durable and wash well, but they don’t breathe and I don’t think they’re comfortable as garments. Read the label and research feedback. Are there allergies to consider?Natural fibres aren’t cheap and some need to be hand-washed but I think they’re worth it considering the hours involved in knitting.  A beautiful hand-knit garment is a work of art; why not use the best of materials?

Plant fibres: Linen, bamboo, cotton and hemp.

Considerations for Washing Natural Fibers

The things I want to know about a yarn are: how comfortable is it, and how will it react when it’s washed. Far too many dollars and precious hours have been thrown away by a hand-knit project gone bad. As long as you know how a yarn will respond to wear and washing, you can prepare for the result.

Knitted cotton garments tend to grow, so I’ve learned to account for that, in my designing. I knit my cotton wedding dress bodice one foot shorter then needed, then wet it and hung it to dry, pulling on it to get the extra length out of it. Otherwise, it would have stretched a foot during the day of wearing it. Knits will stretch when hung. Simple as that.

I learned that angora shrinks, even as you wear it. The sweat from your hands makes the rabbit hair in mittens felt, which means the fibres tighten, and the fabric shrinks. Two winters ago, I knit my treasured angora stash into half a dozen pairs of mitts, socks and wrist warmers. It was a knitters’ dream working with that yarn — like knitting with a cloud! I made the items larger than needed, so that after they were worn and washed, they would shrink to fit the person wearing them.

Natural fibres are environmentally the better choice. Understanding how they will react to washing, and even wear, will help avoid disappointment in your expenditure of time and money. Keep warm and happy knitting!

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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