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

Look What the Cat Dragged In: Homemade Fish Fertilizer Recipe

Fish in the grass

I honestly don’t have a clue how this dead fish found its way into my yard. We have had a lot of rain recently but not that much! I discovered it at the lower border of the orchard bed as the photo shows — half in the lawn, half in the ground cover.

Perhaps a cat picked it from someone’s trash. Or a raccoon dragged it from the creek half a mile away then got spooked by a passing car. Maybe a neighbor wanted to make a not-so-subtle comment about the time it’s taking me to weed my bank. Isn’t there some biblical story about fish raining from the sky — maybe I’m getting my Bible stories conflated.

No matter how it got there or why, I’ve already thanked the Universe for this gift — however delayed it may be. A few years ago I purchased some live sweetgrass (native to Ohio) to grow for personal and ritual use. Upon its arrival, one of the requirements for boosting the starts was a fish fertilizer bath.

My first leaning was to see if I couldn’t economically make some from scratch. I looked up recipes on the internet and found a few calling for fish heads and scraps. Since I don’t fish (other than for salmon with my dad, now passed), I checked with a couple of local seafood counters. No one had any extras to sell me so I opted for Alaskan Fish Fertilizer since it was a name I recognized from my years in the Pacific Northwest.

My initial reaction to this new find in my garden was frankly “WTH?!” But, because of that search a few years ago, that reaction was followed immediately by a decision to create some of my previously imagined home-brewed fish fertilizer. I Googled once again and found new recipes. Most called for more than one fish but I’m a McGyver-style, make-with-what-you-have-on-hand kinda gal so I simply pared back on the recipes. I even learned that Native Americans used to bury a fish before planting corn seed — smart people, maybe in my future!

Fish in a bucket

Anyway, step one was to fetch one of my handy used cat litter buckets. I then placed a lovely bed of sawdusty composted arborist chips in the bottom, added the fish, graced it with some blackstrap molasses, and topped it off with water.

I saw several recipes that included seaweed and something nudged a memory of my having bought some on a whim while at one of my favorite stores, Jungle Jim’s (in Cincinnati). I didn’t want to divert from other garden chores just then, so put that addition off. Three days later, I found the seaweed and braved opening the bucket to find a lovely fermentation bubbling up with no maggots — something that could have easily happened as flies had time to help the decay along before my discovery, I’m sure. I added my seaweed and closed the bucket back up and swirled.

One of the benefits of using my cat litter bucket is that it’s not airtight so it will automatically burp out the gases from fermentation. This bucket is safely tucked away in my garage, aka gardening shed, so the smell shouldn’t be bothering anyone. I’ll be giving it a good sloshing stir by simply lifting it by the handle and swishing it around a bit every few days until the brew is ready to use in a few weeks. I’m guessing many of my plant babies will celebrate this new find as much as I am once they get their first drink.

Fermenting fish

Don’t forget to label the bucket so no one (including yourself) is surprised by the lovely, overpowering smell if the bucket is opened without forewarning! My brew should be plenty aromatic when I open it up again for use but that will be tempered by my giddy anticipation. I have plenty of weeding to do for distraction until it’s time to see what I have wrought.

Blythe Pelham is an artist that aims to enable others to find their grounding through energy work. She is in the midst of writing a cookbook and will occasionally share bits in her blogging here. She writes, gardens and cooks in Ohio. Find her online at Humings and Being Blythe, 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. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

Getting the Job Done: Hiring an Amish Contractor

Mid-work on a roof replacement job by a hired Amish crew. 

We had put it off long enough. After living in our 1901 farmhouse for eight years, and dealing with numerous leaks and water damage to several areas of plaster, we could no longer do any further interior remodeling until Matt and I shelled out some serious coin to replace our metal roof. Our house was mutilated by the remodeling efforts of owners in the 1960s and ‘70s, so it has been a time-consuming and expensive ordeal to reintroduce the Victorian charm that was removed 40 years ago.

Now, we knew that because of the high winds and open fields of northern Morrow County, Ohio, we didn’t want to waste our money on shingles, which are more likely to be damaged or blown off during severe storms. We felt like metal was our only option, which meant spending almost double our budget to get the job done.

And we knew that we wanted to hire a local Amish contractor to handle the project. The MoCo Amish community has a reputation for quality work, fair prices, and trustworthiness, but we didn’t know if any of our neighbors had had someone like this work on their homes.

Get Word-of-Mouth Recommendations

True, there are advertisements in the local papers, especially The Compass, for local construction companies, usually only listing a name and a phone number, but we were searching for personal recommendations. It took a chance comment to our feed supplier, David, who runs a self-serve feed shop in the heart of MoCo’s Amish country, to connect us with a contractor who was willing to take on a job like ours: his son, Paul.  

David gave Matt the phone number of Paul’s driver, John. This was how we were told to set up an appointment to get a quote for our roof and a few other tasks we wanted done, like wrapping a few windows and replacing the porch ceiling, a bit of siding and gutters. All communication was through John’s phone, either by direct calls or voicemails, until we actually met in person.

Communicate Your Project Requests to Ensure Clarity

Our initial meeting with Paul was no nonsense. When dealing with the Amish, a lot of us need to realize that they aren’t much for chit-chat until they get to know you. Paul wanted to see the roof, take a lot of measurements, and discuss exactly what we wanted. He took a lot of notes and said that he’d call with prices of each of the projects. The whole ordeal lasted about 20 minutes, and he hopped in John’s truck and was gone. If you are wishy-washy on what you want for your home project, it’s best to wait until you know exactly what you want. Paul didn’t have time to to discuss possibilities. He wanted to have a set idea of what we wanted so he could give us an accurate quote. In the long run, because of this, we did not experience any additional surprise costs.

In a couple of days, Paul called Matt with the quotes, and we agreed to proceed with the job. But, Paul said, it would be four or five months before he could get started, explaining that he was so busy during the summer that October was the earliest he could fit us into his schedule. That was a disappointment, but we took it as a sign that Paul and his crew did good work if they were that busy.

Worth the Wait

Fast-forward to the end of September, and we got a call that Paul was able to start our roofing job and to expect his crew to be there the following week. When driver John pulled in, Paul and two other guys jumped out and got to work. There wasn’t much discussion, other than a few instructions in Pennsylvania Dutch. In fact, John unhitched the tool trailer, and left.

And boy did they work! I think they took a 20-minute lunch break, and that’s it. I did talk to Paul a little bit, as he showed me what he thought were the original roof shingled that were underneath the old metal. Man, what a fire hazard! The guys on his crew were older teens, apprenticing the construction trade. He said that to them (the Amish), learning a trade is more valuable to going to college. And they’re learning how to do their jobs with hand tools and gas-powered chainsaws and drills.

Once the roof was done, Paul left two of his crew (one being his younger brother, Harley) to replace the porch ceiling. I kept hearing whistling from one of the boys, but I couldn’t figure out what song it was. Finally it donned on me: Harley was whistling “Islands in the Stream,” by Kenny Rogers. Of all the songs, I had to laugh about that, and it’s a small detail I’ll forever remember of our first experience hiring an Amish crew.

Long story short (too late), we found that getting a personal recommendation, being clear about project details, and having patience were key to hiring an Amish contractor for our roof replacement. We had such a good experience and were pleased with the quality of his work that we talked to Paul a little bit about putting on an addition to the back of the house so the kids can have their own rooms. Hopefully we can get penciled in his busy schedule in the next year.

Corinne Gompf is a writer and hobby farmer in Morrow County, Ohio. She is a graduate from the University of Toledo, with a BA in English, creative writing concentration. Along with her husband, Matt, and two children, Fletcher and Emery, Corinne raises poultry, Boer goats, rabbits, and chemical-free produce. Connect with Corinne on her Heritage Harvest Farm Facebook page.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

6 Equipment Rentals That Will Speed up Your Spring Yard Prep

Photo from Pexels

Now that spring has officially sprung, it's time to get started on all the yard work that's piled up through the winter months.

Depending on what type of lawn you have, you may be looking at a good bit of labor in your near future. One of the problems with a large space, especially in a more rural area, is having the equipment on hand to get everything done.

Thankfully, you don't have to drop a few thousand dollars on equipment you plan to use once or twice a year. You can simply rent whatever it is you need at a fraction of the cost. Renting can be a big game changer, especially since it expands what you can get done.

Here are just a few useful pieces of equipment to consider using this spring:

Posthole Diggers

Digging out postholes can be backbreaking work, whether you're trying to get the job down with a shovel or with an old-fashioned wood and metal posthole digger. Powered posthole diggers are an option to consider. They make the work much easier and faster, especially if you plan to put up a large fenced-in area.

Trailer-mounted posthole diggers are easy to use and don't require extra people to operate. All that's needed is extra muscle to move them around, and you're good to go. In fact, the moving takes longer that drilling the actual holes. A powered posthole digger can be expected to run about $50 for two hours and can drill about eight holes an hour.

Stump Grinders

Getting rid of stumps is a difficult process. The old way of burning and digging them out is complicated, but stump grinders often cost a lot. It might be cheaper to hire a professional service to get rid of the stumps for you, but this is still an expensive option.

The best financial option by far is to rent the equipment and do the job yourself. Just be sure to remove any rocks visible around the stump before starting the process. Prices usually range from $35 to $80 for two hours, but that's more than enough time in most situations to get the job done.

Brush Chippers

Clearing out brush is yet another tedious process that comes with having a large yard. Cutting it all down and burning everything isn't exactly the best option for most people, so a brush chipper might be a wise investment. Depending on the lawn and what you want to do with it, you can easily rent a brush chipper for your project.


If you're thinking about making a garden, you'll need a tiller. Depending on what kind of work you want to do, size and horsepower matter. A simple garden won't need much, maybe a 1.5-horsepower model, but a large one is a different story.

If you want something very large, you'll need to get a tiller that can do the job right the entire time you're working. They can be rented at 13 horsepower, able and ready to till areas larger than 1,500 square feet. If you had a lot of work to do, this is the best bet.

Sod Cutters

If you're looking for something that won't chop into the ground but just take up the grass on top, you'll need a sod cutter.

These can be used to plant new grass or make room for a different project. Whatever your reason, sod cutters are available to rent in all sorts of styles and designs. It all depends on the cutting depth you want and the area of land you're planning to cut into.


A chainsaw is likely something you'll find yourself buying eventually depending on the type of yard you have. They have a lot of uses, especially during natural disasters. Still, they are available to rent if the need for them doesn't arise very often. For about $65 a day, you can use a chainsaw for whatever project you have at the moment.

Renting Options

Most hardware stores offer power tools and yard equipment rentals, but their prices might be difficult to work with. If shopping around doesn't work, there are apps for you to rent or lend tools and equipment directly with other people. Toolsity allows you to rent from nearby residents.

Get to Work

Once you have all the equipment you need, there are no more excuses to put off the job at hand. It makes things much easier than the older, backbreaking ways. Keeping technology on hand makes the work fly by, allowing you to get more done.

Whatever you were putting off for next year might actually have a chance this season. Just remember to work smarter, not harder.

Kayla Matthews writes and blogs about healthy living, sustainable consumption, eco-friendly practices and green energy. In the past, her work has also been featured on Grit, Mother Earth Living, Blue And Green Tomorrow, Dwell and Houzz. To read more from Kayla, follow her productivity and lifestyle blog, Productivity Theory.

There’s Gnome Place Like Home

Gnome Place Home

Adding spiritual places to my garden for rest and re-energizing is essential for me. I also love creating opportunities for giggles and smiles. This past winter I decided to replace yet more lawn with additional garden beds.

I have a fairy garden hiding in one of my forsythia forests. Most people wouldn’t know it was there, especially during the growing season. Rather than moving this settlement (since fairies tend to like their privacy), I chose to design a space for gnomes that’s more out in the open.

I decided on a spot nestled near the hedge at the front of our property. First, I used my cardboard and mulching method to create the bed for this vignette. Next I added a few large rocks from my stockpile. Concurrently, during my indoor hours, I was creating seven wee abodes from my stash of gourds.

<>Gnome Homes

I wood-burned the face of the gourds with a variety of inviting styles in hopes that some of my garden gnomes would be attracted by the curb appeal. I embedded nails in the base to make the homes stronger against Mother Nature’s winds which seem to be picking up more and more. The nails will hopefully offer enough foundation against kittycats rubbing against those chimneys.

I opened up holes in the back of each gourd and fashioned sheltered entrances with my trusty Apoxie-Sculpt —the chimneys are made of the same stuff. This way if any of the wildlife living in my garden should want to move in they will find an inside that is drier. I’m hoping a mouse, snake, salamander, or any variety of insects or arachnids will be enticed to make a home, though the openings might prove to be too large for some of them.

It was important for me to back the homes up to the rocks so that larger predators (our cats, for instance) would have a tougher time chasing whoever might move in. Though our cats are fairly well-behaved when it comes to our outdoor friends, I wanted added layers of safety. My artistic eye also appreciated the backdrop framing, and rocks always call to my spiritual nature.

Transition to Gnomes

As you can see in the final photo, a patch of grassy lawn is being transformed into a friendly little smile-maker. I expect that a few plants will eventually find their way into this vignette. When I get around to it, I’m likely to create some ceramic gnomes to help with the landscaping.

Are there areas of your garden where you can create some fanciful fun? Is there a way you can design with a thought to the wildlife and how they might utilize the space? If paying homage to our more ethereal neighbors doesn’t strike your fancy, perhaps you can create a place to honor a parent or someone special. I’ve found doing the latter to be very cathartic indeed.

Blythe Pelham is an artist that aims to enable others to find their grounding through energy work. She is in the midst of writing a cookbook and will occasionally share bits in her blogging here. She writes, gardens and cooks in Ohio. Find her online at Humings and Being Blythe , 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. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

Woodworker Salvages Fallen Trees by Designing Custom Furniture

Brian Presnell of Indy Urban Hardwood Co. utilizes his portable sawmill to salvage fallen and diseased urban trees in Indianapolis, Indiana. In addition to providing high-quality salvaged wood furniture to homeowners and local businesses, Indy Urban Hardwood Co. works closely with Herron School of Art by donating salvaged wood to art students to learn woodworking.

In 1983, Sam Ruff and his wife became the proud owners of his mother’s home in Indianapolis. Sam’s mother had purchased the home from her own mother, which had been passed down from her grandfather. Four generations had maintained and cultivated the beautiful property since 1906.

Beautiful old home Indiana

In 1989, the CSX railroad defoliated their right-of-ways. In doing so, deadly chemicals drifted to the Ruff residence, killing all of their long-standing trees. Sam and his wife lost seven giant spruce trees, an old walnut tree, and many ash trees.

Yard with plants and trees

The Ruffs were devastated. However, endeavoring to keep their wood alive in some way, Sam called Brian Presnell, founder of Indy Urban Hardwood Company.

“Brian’s an artist, no doubt,” Sam says. “He sees art in things other people don’t. I guess that’s how artists work.”

Small custom wooden tables

Brian transformed Sam’s dying trees. Sam knew Brian was trustworthy enough to save his trees because Presnell’s company illustrates their foundational mission in every project:

"Indy Urban Hardwood is the creative problem solving of Brian Presnell and the introduction of urban milling into the Indianapolis design scene. Many cities across the Midwest are facing an excess of dying ash trees due to the emerald ash borer. This epidemic has led to the clearing of trees and a surplus of firewood around city curbs. Indy Urban Hardwood is hoping to save some of the wood that would ordinarily be mulched or burned. After the raw wood is kiln dried it can be sold as slabs to local builders or made into custom furniture by our design team. Additionally, we are building relationships with furniture design students by offering discounted or donated wood." -

“I’m doing this because I want us to do better as a community,” Brian shares. Presnell was surprised that Indianapolis had done so little to save urban lumber and wanted to make a difference.

Indy Urban Timber Company

“You know, I’m really excited,” he shares. “Like the farm-to-table movement is so hot in food right now—and we’re yard-to-table. We’re going to come to your yard and take your tree and bring you back a nice table.”

Wood table from salvaged lumber

Brian started out as a college student at the Herron School of Art in Indianapolis, studying furniture design and sculpture. After finishing his degree, he began to work with his friend, Cory Robinson, at the Indianapolis Museum of Art in the exhibit design department. Together in 2,000, they milled trees for the first time at the IMA, trying to save wood.

“They [Herron] were the first ones to give me some of my tools to get out here and go to these museums and go to these galleries,” Brian says, “and travel around and be taught by artists around the country how to do shows right. I mean, it was huge.”

Carpentry workspace with wood tables

Indy Urban’s day-to-day activities involve extensive manual labor through on-site milling with a Wood-Mizer LT40WIDE, placing wood in their KD250 kiln to dry, or conducting site visits to new properties. Once their kiln wood has reached a moisture level of 6-8%, Brian and his team design handcrafted wood pieces—no two are the same.

Custom built wood tables

Brian’s close friend and colleague, Cory Robinson, is the Chair of Fine Arts at Herron and an associate professor of furniture design. He explains how Brian’s business is also dedicated to reaching college students who study furniture design.

“I think what makes Brian’s business model a little different is that he set out to understand how he could impact educational environments in the region as part of his business model,” says Cory.

Wood-Mizer LT40 portable sawmill

Brian uses Cory’s position at the school as an outlet for the products he produces. He chose to donate and discount some of his wood to students who likely can’t afford lumber at its original retail price. Cory helps to offset the cost of materials for the students as well.

Remembering how the school and professors at Herron enabled him to be successful, Brian says, “When Phil Tenant gave me that old, fat zebra board, I flipped my weight—as any kid would. You go give some kid a $500 walnut board and see what they can do with it. I think that’s what I want to help do more than anything.”

Indy Urban Hardwood Company has such a dynamic passion for their mission, it’s hard not to be a part of it. They strive to:

Stop burning trees

Educate the public about urban milling and responsible tree clearing

Use local wood to create custom furniture, casework, counter tops, etc.

Introduce more local goods into the building market

Create partnerships with tree removal services and contractors

Discount or donate lumber to students

“Hopefully, over time, we gain some traction here,” Brian shares. “I’m trying to go to big people in town that can make a difference with me and make this impact, because I believe trees are worth saving.”


All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

Making a Candle Out of Lard: Experiments in Waste Reduction

Lighting the lard candle! 

Photo by Justin Chamberlin.

Like many homesteaders, I’m fascinated with the idea of a zero-waste economy. The Ellen MacArthur Foundation defines a circular economy in part as one where waste is written right out of the equation—no more landfills, no need for consumer outrage at big food chains’ use of plastic straws. Instead, every item would be designed with its full lifespan in mind—not just one initial use, but the art, building materials, or fertilizer the object would become when that was done. We’re a long way from that point now, but people like you and me can still step out of the cycle of waste in small ways that add up.

One way I experimented with minimizing my waste footprint recently was by using leftover pork drippings to make a candle. It always makes me sad to throw fat away. Although sometimes my family saves it for cooking fat or stirs it into a sauce, fat that has marinated with strong flavors can confuse the flavor of a future dish if you cook meat in it, and some dishes just don’t require a sauce. The recipe my family and I had just made, carnitas heavily flavored with onion and orange, struck out on both counts. So we got creative.

First, we strained the liquid fat that had dripped off the meat through a paper towel to remove fragments of burnt meat. We poured our newly purified liquid fat into the paper cup we were using as our candle holder. For a wick, we used a spare length of string, but string doesn’t stand up on its own, and no one had time to stand around holding it while the fat hardened. Our solution: an ingenious machine made of chopsticks. We crossed two chopsticks in an X over the cup and hung the string over one of them. Then we stuck the whole thing in the fridge.

Waiting to be refrigerated.

Photo by Wendy Chamberlin.

By the next night at dinnertime, our candle was ready. The pork lard had hardened to an iridescent off-white. We sheared the top off the paper cup, as it was twice the height of the candle inside, and trimmed the wick. Then we lit the candle as we ate our carnitas for dinner.

Unlike beeswax candles, which are as good as silent, the new lard candle emitted the quiet sizzle of hot fat. This noise was a little distracting as we got used to it, but the candle added a cheerful glow to our dinner table.

As far as waste reduction went, the little lard candle probably didn’t reduce our footprint very much. Burning beeswax candles doesn’t require us to use paper cups or chopsticks, although both are compostable. Worse, when we left the candle out, it went rancid—a development that, in hindsight, we really should have seen coming. But, for the thrifty among us, reusing household items to make a candle can save money. It’s also a fun project for those of us who love arts and crafts.

If you’re interested, I’ve included recipes both for the candle and for the delicious meal from which it came.

Slow-Cooker Carnitas Lettuce Wraps with Pineapple-Avocado Salsa

For the carnitas:


1 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
½ tsp ground cumin
½ tsp garlic powder
½ flaky sea salt, or more to taste
¼ tsp freshly ground black pepper, or more to taste
¼ tsp dried oregano
Pinch of cayenne pepper, or more to taste
1 (2½-pound) bone-in pork shoulder
1 onion, thickly sliced
Juice of 1 orange (reserve the shells)
2 tbsp fresh lemon or lime juice

For the pineapple-avocado salsa:


¾ cup bite-size pineapple chunks
1 small red onion, chopped
¼ cup chopped fresh cilantro
1 tbsp fresh lemon or lime juice, or more to taste
Pinch of flaky sea salt, or more to taste
1 Hass avocado, peeled, pitted, and cubed

For serving:

1 head of butter lettuce, separated into individual leaves


To make the carnitas:

1. Mix the olive oil, cumin, garlic powder, salt, black pepper, oregano, and cayenne in a small bowl.

2. Pat the pork dry and rub it all over with the spice mixture. (I recommend reserving a little bit for after cooking to heighten the flavor.)

3. Place the pork in the slow cooker and top with the sliced onion and citrus juices. Add the orange shells to the slow cooker as well.

4. Cover and cook on low until the meat is tender and falls apart easily, 8 to 10 hours.

5. When the pork is done, preheat the broiler and line a baking sheet with aluminum foil.

6. Remove the pork from the slow cooker, composting the orange halves and onion. Use two forks to separate the meat from the bones and excess fat, then tear the meat into bite-size pieces. Save the fat.

7. Place the meat on the baking sheet, spoon about ¼ cup of the liquid from the slow cooker evenly over the meat, and broil until browned on top and crispy around the edges, 3 to 5 minutes. Season with additional salt and pepper to taste.

8. If a whole pork shoulder is too much for your family to eat in a night, save the rest of the liquid from the slow cooker and repeat this process the following night.

To make the pineapple-avocado salsa:

1. Combine the pineapple, onion, cilantro, lemon juice, and salt in a medium-size bowl.

2. Gently fold in the avocado.

3. Taste and add more lemon juice and/or salt if desired.

To serve:

Wrap the pork and salsa inside the lettuce leaves.

Recipe adapted from Paleo Planet: Primal Foods from the Global Kitchen, with More than 125 Recipes, by Becky Winkler.

Lard Candle


Leftover fat from cooked meat, such as Slow-Cooker Carnitas Lettuce Wraps with Pineapple-Avocado Salsa
Cheesecloth or paper towel
Paper cup
Spare string
2 chopsticks or Popsicle sticks


1. If necessary, liquefy the fat by warming it.

2. Line the strainer with your cheesecloth or paper towel and strain the liquid fat into a bowl, then pour it into the candle holder—or skip the bowl and use a funnel to direct it right into your paper cup. (After this step, I like to compost the dirty paper towel, but if you do this, don’t leave it in your kitchen, because the fat will go rancid and smell.)

3. Make an X over the top of the cup with the chopsticks or Popsicle sticks. Lower the string into the fat until it touches the bottom of the cup, then drape the part that remains outside the fat over the edge of the X so that it doesn’t fall in. Refrigerate overnight.

4. When ready, cut the paper cup down to the same height as the candle, trim the wick, and enjoy. Refrigerate when not in use (don’t be like us!).

Claire E. is a high school senior passionate about sustainable development, independent living, and the music and stories that connect us.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

How to Make a DIY Water Filtration System Using Sand or Gravel

Green Cup In Stream Water

Water is something most people take for granted because it's so easy to turn on the faucet and fill a glass with the cool, pure liquid. But, there are times when access to clean drinking water is not so straightforward.

In those cases, it's handy to know how to make a water filtration system.

When Might You Need or Want a DIY Water Filtration System?

If you're trying to survive in dire circumstances and the only nearby source of water is a stream or lake, a DIY water filtration system could help you stay hydrated without also consuming dirt.

Many people in developing countries learn to build water filtration systems so they can avoid illnesses, although they use a more detailed method than the one covered below. It removes contaminants as well as filtering out debris. The one you'll learn about below only does the latter.

You may also want to create a water filtration system at home as a project to educate your curious kids and go into depth about how important it is to drink clean water and how even if a water source appears clean, looks can be deceiving.

The kind of water filtration system explained below doesn't require a substantial investment. It uses easily well-known materials, like sand and gravel, to filter out things like mud. Charcoal is perhaps the most crucial ingredient for removing any stuff you don't want to drink, and most traditional water filters contain it. Let's get started.

1. Cut the Bottom off a Small Plastic Water Bottle

Begin by finding a plastic water bottle, like a Gatorade container, and cut about a half-inch off, working from the bottom of the bottle up.

As a point of reference, the neck of the bottle will be the bottom of the filter, and the part with the opening you created is the top. Keep the plastic cap on the top end of the bottle. Some methods of making this kind of filtration system advise making a hole in the bottle's cap with a screwdriver.

2. Insert a Cloth Filter

The next step is to stuff a soft filter into the bottle and push it toward the neck. A bandana works well as a filter, and it's a readily found item. Alternatively, you could use several cotton balls or a coffee filter.

3. Rinse the Filtering Materials

Before you start adding substances to the bottle that act as filters, rinse all of them thoroughly. Doing this should mean the first portion of water passing through should have less debris than if you used unwashed materials.

Many traditional water filtering methods you see today rely on special kinds of membranes made from a polymer called PTFE — or, its full name, polytetrafluoroethylene. However, for our purposes of DIYing a water filter system, you’ll want to use more natural materials like sand and gravel or small rocks. Hence, rinsing off these filtering materials is an important step in creating a clean water filter.

3. Prepare the Charcoal

Get another piece of cloth and use it to spread out your charcoal. If you have charcoal from a grill or fire pit, that's a good source.

Make sure to break the charcoal into small chunks, using an object like a large rock to crush it if needed. After working with the charcoal to make it the desired size, wrap the cloth around the substance tightly. Finally, slide it into the bottle against the first piece of cloth.

4. Add Playground Sand

From here, creating your DIY water filtration system means adding more gravel to assist with the purification. You'll start with the finest material and add layers of progressively coarser stuff. Put playground sand directly on top of the charcoal layer. You don't need to wrap it in a cloth before pouring in the bottle, but add enough to fully cover the cloth.

5. Put in Paver Sand

Paver sand — also called polymeric sand — comprises the next layer. When running it through your hands, you'll notice it's more likely to have small stones in it that the playground sand didn't have.

6. Add the Gravel or Small Rocks

The final two layers of this filter are fine gravel and coarser gravel. Depending on your area, you may find it in nature. Due to the modest diameter of the plastic bottle, you shouldn't need more than a couple of handfuls, equaling an inch or two of coverage.

7. Secure the Contents

You've now added everything to the filtration system, and it's time to make sure all your hard work doesn't go to waste. Get another piece of cloth and stretch it tightly over the bottom of the bottle. Keep the soft material in place with a rubber band or a cable tie.

8. Pass the Water Through the Filter

You're finally ready to start seeing the fruits of your labor. Hold your filter over an empty cup and take off the cap. Then, pour water on top of and through the filter and wait for it to come through the neck of the bottle and into the cup. This is one type of portable water filter that's good to take when you go backpacking.

It's Easy to Filter Your Water at Home

These steps demonstrate it's not as challenging as some people think to filter water at home or wherever they are. Keep in mind, though, that you still need to use water purification tablets to make the water potable.

Kayla Matthews writes and blogs about healthy living, sustainable consumption, eco-friendly practices and green energy. In the past, her work has also been featured on GRIT, Mother Earth Living, Blue And Green Tomorrow, Dwell and Houzz. To read more from Kayla, follow her productivity and lifestyle blog: Productivity Theory. Read all of Kayla'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. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

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