Green Homes
Building for the future, today – combining the best of historical wisdom and modern technology.

All-Electric Snow Removal That’s a Breeze

snowblowerClearing away snow has just gotten a charge from Snow Joe, the leading US supplier of over 140 products for snow removal and other seasonal needs.   I got my hands on their latest innovation, a cordless snow blower powered by a 40-volt lithium ion battery, and compared it to their top-selling cord-based electric snow thrower. Snow Joe is the first company to come out with a cordless unit – and it handled our latest carpet of snow perfectly.

We’re always exploring ways to avoid fossil fuels, trips to the gas station and pollution. The Snow Joe made a great addition to our cordless lawn mowers we use to maintain the farm in the summer. While Snow Joe products tend to be marketed to urban and suburban dwellers, our test this past week suggests that they might consider reaching out to rural folks, too.

While not designed to clear an entire farmstead and around outbuildings (that’s for tractors or skid-steer loaders), either unit could be an easy-to-use option to clear paths to buildings or, if your farmstead is small enough like ours, a less cumbersome and eco-friendly way to dig out after a storm and clear a small driveway. Both Snow Joe units were easy to assemble out of the box and both come with a two-year warranty. Impressive are their large metal rotors and thick rubber blades. While they work best on smooth cement or blacktop surfaces, we skimmed the surface of our gravel driveway and they did the job without spitting too many stones everywhere.

Finally, we can leave behind the temperamental and finicky starts resulting from gas-oil fuel mixture-based snow blowers and what to do with disposing of, responsibly, the leftover fuel at the end of the season. I have too many blisters after trying, unsuccessfully, to get our noisy, smoky and gas-powered units going – even when neighbors helped out one year by rebuilding the carburetors. There’s something about the combo of minus five degrees and gas-oil mixtures that seem to guarantee frustration.

Cordless Power

No gas. No cord. The first cordless single stage snow blower available in the US, the Snow Joe iON18SB with its Ecosharp 40-volt lithium-ion battery, served us well on our small homestead in southwestern Wisconsin. The unit is appropriately sized for our locale and needs, since we rarely get more than ten inches of snow at one time.

The iON18SB snow blower, with an 18-inch clearing width, cut through most of our 150-foot-plus-long driveway covered by about five inches of powder before needing to be recharged after about forty minutes of use. This unit threw the snow about twenty feet. We finished off the job with the Snow Joe SJ623E electric unit we tested out as well (see below). Of course, we could have opted for a back-up battery (for around $150) and just kept going.

The lithium ion battery is simply inserted into a covered slot on the handle of the blower to power the unit. Weighing in at only 31.5 pounds, there’s no straining to push it around (unlike the much heavier cordless lawn mowers on the market). There’s an LED light for illumination and a handy remote switch to pivot the snow chute without bending over.

The freedom that comes with the cordless feature does come at a price, starting at around $400. The EcoSharp charger recharged our battery in about three hours; it’s a “smart charger,” which means you can just leave it plugged in when not in use. However, all charging must take place inside your home or somewhere heated.

snowblowerPlug in and Blow the Snow Away

The 15-Amp Snow Joe SJ623E Ultra Electric Snow Thrower, with a swept area of 18-inches, provided plug-and-go simplicity in tackling the piles of snow at the end of our driveway and out our back door. This unit threw our powder about twenty-five feet.

There’s no messing around this unit, capable of throwing about 720 pounds of snow per minute. Since the unit is so light – weighing only 34 pounds -- it’s a breeze to move around. A halogen light on this unit helps you find your way through the snow in the dark and, importantly, stay clear of the cord.

In our trials, the only hassles are being mindful of the cord and having somewhere convenient to plug in. We added an outlet receptacle near the driveway that allowed us to cover our entire snow removal area with a hundred foot, heavy duty, outdoor 12-guage extension cord. This unit runs about $250.

We’re actually looking forward to our next snowstorm, with these two units on stand-by to clear away the snow. And because our homestead is completely powered by the wind and sun, we’ll not be adding any carbon dioxide (or other emissions) to the atmosphere when we do so.

Photos Courtesy of Snow Joe

John D. Ivanko, with his wife Lisa Kivirist, have co-authored Rural Renaissance, the award-winning ECOpreneuring and Farmstead Chef along with operating Inn Serendipity B&B and Farm, completely powered by the wind and sun. Both are regular speakers at the Mother Earth News Fairs. Ivanko writes and contributes photography to Mother Earth News, most recently, 9 Strategies for Self-Sufficient Living. They live on a farm in southwestern Wisconsin with their son Liam, millions of ladybugs and a 10 kW Bergey wind turbine.

Simple Holiday Homestead Decor

pinecone display basket for fall 

The holiday season is a favorite time of year for me, and I always fondly remember Christmas at my Grandmother's farm as a child. I don't remember the toys or the food, but can still picture the yearly tradition of putting all of her Christmas cards up on the big center beam that was in the living room of that early-1800s home. She always modestly decorated, which helped to teach me that you don't need fancy lights or expensive wreaths to make the season joyful. The holidays are a time for family, friends, love, giving, and happy memories to be made.

The question I asked myself this year was, "How can I incorporate the land and surroundings into modest decorations?" In what way could I take material from the outdoors that is normally overlooked, and give it beauty by making it a part of the indoor festivity? Homesteading is very much about creativity for us, and so the possibilities would start to add up quickly. I then selected five different ways to keep home decor simple, and went to work.

Pine Needles

As the Fall winds arrived and began to make the trees dance and lose their leaves, we would often find clusters of green Loblolly Pine needles on the ground that weren't strong enough to withstand the wind. Stripping the needles from the branch, I tried my hand at making a hand broom and a miniature broom. I clustered a bunch of needles together and wrapped the area to be held in the hand tightly with twine. Then, I trimmed the edges evenly to make a functional and wonderful smelling hand broom. I also made a miniature broom with a small stick and a cluster of needles in much the same way. It had been some time since I'd last made an actual Sorghum broom, but nonetheless it turned out wonderful. A hole was drilled in the top of the stick and string ran through it, so that the miniature broom could be hung up for display.

pine needle hand broom 

A Pine needle hand broom and miniature broom. 

Muscadine Vines

Often times, wild Muscadine vines have made their way up trees that we have selected to cut for firewood. Once the tree is down, I pull the vines away and work them into hoops and wreaths later in the day. These wreaths can be decorated with a variety of material, and it is up to you what features you'd like to add. In the past, we made one for our cabin that featured corn husks from the year's crop. Pruning the Holly bushes at this time and saving their leaves to add to the wreath is wonderful. This year, we added a few Holly leaves, a burlap bow, and a few wild turkey feathers. Adding feathers from the backyard flock, spent shotshells, or deer hooves are other interesting options.

handmade muscadine vine wreath

A wreath made from Muscadine vines, decorated with Holly, burlap, and turkey feathers.

Wood Slices

When clearing land, I always keep my eyes open for Yellow "Tulip" Poplar, as I love to craft with the saplings and branches from this tree. We've given Poplar walking sticks as gifts in the past, but during the holidays I enjoy cutting slices from small saplings or branches to create coasters and ornaments. I don't deny the beauty of ornaments adorning trees each year that have been passed down through the family, but why not add a new memory by decorating wood slice ornaments with your children? Try painting your favorite pet's likeness onto one, or paste an initial onto the slice.

wood slice ornaments 

A variety of Christmas ornaments made from slices of wood, including different animal breeds. 


Fall in this region often finds the squirrels gathering pinecones to feast on, seen high in the trees chewing away on the cone. It is common to see the pinecones littering the ground at this time too, in many different shapes and sizes. We've used tiny Virginia Pine cones to hold name cards at the Thanksgiving table, or to decorate a wreath at other times. A basket of massive Longleaf cones makes for an impressive sight, and some people may choose to spray-paint these in red, white, gold, orange, or green to further add to their subtle beauty.

pinecone display basket for fall 

Longleaf Pine cones painted for holiday display.

Bay/Magnolia Leaves

After watching a holiday special last year that gave a tour of the state Governor's Mansion, I remembered seeing beautiful garland draped over the staircase made from Magnolia leaves. We have quite a bit of Sweetbay Magnolia growing here, and so I tried a few different methods of using the leaves to make garland. My favorite way to use it required few leaves, and easy enough to make by only requiring a sewing needle and fishing line. This particular garland was also great to wrap around the tree.

bay leaf garland on cedar 

Simple Bay leaf garland wrapped around a "living" outdoor Christmas tree (Eastern Red Cedar).

From using Longleaf pine needles to create a basket centerpiece, or making corn husk dolls for the Thanksgiving table, it's easy to make modest crafts that pay tribute to the great land around us. No matter how you choose to decorate this holiday season, just remember that a beautiful house becomes a beautiful HOME when loved ones gather and celebrate together. Have a joyous holiday season, and an even brighter New Year!

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.



Vintage flair isn’t just classy and cute; it’s fun to create and perfect for any budget! So let your creativity run wild on trips to the flea market, and don’t back down from that deal at the yard sale. With Vintage Crafts, use paper scraps, teacups, and a splash of paint to decorate your house room by room.

More than just a craft book, Vintage Crafts features recipes fresh from the countryside, lessons for safe and easy outdoor improvement, and tips for keeping your house eco-friendly. This is the ultimate home decor resource from Sweden’s No. 1 lifestyle blogger, Clara Lidström. Learn to liven up secondhand clothes, turn old fabrics into patchwork projects, and interject some ’50s-era chic into your thrift store finds.

Order from the MOTHER EARTH NEWS Store or by calling 800-234-3368.

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.

30 Ways to Use Firewood Ash (Video)

We process tons of firewood each year on our homestead. Nothing is better than a warm fire on a cold snowy day, especially when that fire was made possible from firewood you cut, split and stoked yourself! But what about all the leftover ash? There are so many uses for firewood ash and in todays post we are going to share 30 uses for firewood ash.

Fireplace Glass Cleaner

Glass doors on your fireplace or woodstove notoriously become stained with creosote and soot. 

A bit of the fine ash on a damp sponge can be used  to scrub it away! Wait for your wood stove to cool down completely before trying this. 

Glass-Top Stove Cleaner

The same method per above can be used to clean your glass top stove. Make an ash paste using the ash and a little water.

Be sure you are using only the fine powdery ash to make your paste.

Boost Your Hen’s Laying Power

Use wood ash to supplement your chicken feed. You may be pleased with better lay rates and longer laying periods.

Mix in the wood ash with your chicken feed at a 1% ratio. This may even help to reduce the smell of your chickens, um-well stinky eggs! 

Freshen Up Your Fridge/Freezer

Similar to how baking soda absorbs odors, wood ash will do the same. Only ash is free and you probably have a lot of it!

Use about a cup of fine wood ash. Put it in a mason jar or a small bag towards the back of your refrigerator or freezer. 

Wood Ash Toothpaste

Your grandparents probably did this! YES, you can even brush your teeth with wood ash.  

Adjust Acidic Soil

Wood ash is an excellent soil amendment for heavily acidic soil.

You can use ashes to help balance the pH of acidic soil. It’s best to test the pH of your soil first before applying. 

The best time to do this is before planting when you can amend it directly into the soil. 

Improve Your Compost

To improve your compost throw in some ash, this boosts the nutrient-dense environment that’s cooking in your compost.

Prevent Snails and Slugs by your plants

Snails & slugs can ruin a garden. 

Stop these guys in their tracks by making a circle of ash around plants susceptible to snails and slugs.

Save Crops from Frost Damage

When the temperatures start to fall, nothing is more worrisome than the thought of frost!

Ash can also help with crops such as, insulating your plants when you are worried about frost, with some ash.

Dust-Bathing Chicks

Chickens love to take dust baths! In the winter, our sand and dust is covered with snow so we provide an artificial dust bath with ash!

Dust Powder Protection for Your Animals

In the same vein, rubbing ashes into your dog or cat’s fur can help kill fleas as well as deodorize their fur. Try it on your farm animals such as your goats, cows and more to decrease the pests.

Deodorize Your Chicken Coop

Put a thick layer of your wood ash, also use some charcoal chunks, in the chicken coop before adding whatever litter you use on top to keep your chicken coop fresh and clean. This helps with the smell and bugs that you may have in your chicken coop.

Control Litter Box Odor

You may have guessed it, the odor-absorbing power of charcoal saves the day again.

Wood ash was the original cat litter, after all, used by cat owners before the invention of commercial clay litters. Sprinkle about a cup of ashes with a few smaller bits of charcoal into clean cat litter and mix it in.

Undo a Skunk Encounter

It’s every dog owner’s worst nightmare, and it always seems to happen at night as you’re getting ready for bed. Use it while you're showering your dog. No need to waste all those tomatoes.

Keep Your Silver Shining

I don’t know anyone that enjoys polishing silver, but you can use wood ash to make the job a little easier.

You’ll want to make a thick paste using the more fluffy white ash and some water.

Smear the paste on your silver item and let it sit for a few minutes before wiping it off and rinsing off with water and if needed soap.

Make DIY Soap

This tip is one of the more commons because we have been using this for a very long time...

But here is a great DIY for making soap using the ashes from your wood stove.

CAUTION: lye is caustic and can cause burns, be careful, and wear the proper protective equipment.

Prevent Pond Algae

Give your aquatic plants the upper hand by feeding them potassium-rich ash. In turn, they will thrive leaving the algae without the nutrients it needs to survive.

When it comes to using ashes in the pond, you do not need to use much, like they say a little goes a long way! Off the Grid News states that you should use roughly one tablespoon per 1,000 gallons of water.

If you aren’t sure of your water volume, proceed with caution; start small and add a little more if you think so but make sure not to use too much.

Stop Mice and Other Household Pests

There is something about ashes that drives rats, mice and other household pests away.

Use this natural pest control to keep them out of your house without having to use dangerous and toxic chemicals. Sprinkle little portions of where it's needed.

You might want to use this technique in your attic or garage. Just sprinkle a little in the corners!

Protect  Fine Fabrics

Protect blankets and clothes from moth damage by giving them a little sprinkle of fine wood ash before putting them into storage.

Simply brush off the ash and wash as usual when you bring them out of storage.

Dry Shampoo

Wood ash has been used as a dry shampoo long before all the fancy dry shampoos today. Start with a small amount, a pinch or two of powdery ash should do. Just add it to where you wish. Massage the ash into your scalp and roots as you would a normal shampoo.  Wait a few minutes for the ash to absorb the excess oil then flip your head down and fluff your hair again to shake out any excess. Then brush your hair out.

Wound Care

Wood ash has been used to treat wounds for very many years.

It’s thought to have antibacterial properties and to speed clotting. There was even a study by ISRA University, which showed that wounds (to a rabbit) that were treated with wood ash healed quicker than those that were not using wood ash.


We have learned that wood ash helps absorb odors and oils, so why not use it for a deodorant. Don't get me wrong it obviously won't smell too good, so if you are going to use this you might want to use essential oils.

Free Fire Extinguisher

Ash makes an inexpensive fire extinguisher, smothering flames and depriving them of oxygen. You might want to keep buckets in places where a fire could easily break out. You also might want to use this method if you have a fireplace in your home.

Grill Cleaner

Mix up a paste using ash and water and apply evenly to the grates and the inside of the grill. You could also use the ash and water and mix it with the animal fats leftover from the grilling and make a natural soap.

Let them sit for a few minutes and then give them a scrub!. Rinse well with water. You might want to wear some gloves for this chore: the soap may be pretty drying.

Save Seeds for Next Year (Keep them Dry)

Seeds that aren’t properly stored lose their viability and won’t grow well. Saving the seeds in a good insulated container or whatever you use to store your seeds is the way to go! This will help absorb any moisture to help keep them ready for next year's garden!

Soak Up Oil Spills in the Garage

Have you ever once wanted to be able to change the oil on your vehicle without making a mess and splashing oil on the ground?

Well if you have, you can use that wood ash to soak up your oil spills. Then sweep it all up and then all you need is to dispose of it properly.

Hide Stains in Concrete

Once you’ve cleaned up your oil spill put down a second layer of ash on the ground and rub it in. Ash is great for hiding stains and discoloration especially on concrete, as it is almost the same color!

Make Ants to Relocate

Dumping ashes on an ant hill will help get rid of ants. Best of all it’s not toxic or poisonous. It's simple just use the ash and dump in on the ant hill and soon enough they will be gone!

Pet Paw Safe Ice Melt

Keep your sidewalks ice free and your pets paws safe this winter. When the ice begins to show up, sprinkle some wood ash on your sidewalk or any other walking paths to melt it off without the concern of using an ice-melting product that could be harmful to your pets.

Vehicle Unstucker! 

Store a little plastic container of ash in the trunk of your vehicle. If you get stuck, the ash works well to gain some traction and also melts the ice!

In conclusion, don't waste your firewood ash. There are many uses for it. 

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.

From Horse Barn to Wellness Center, Part 12: Health-Scare Delays and Finding Resolution

Meeting room

Follow the journey to remodel a horse barn into a commercial wellness center on a Midwestern property zoned for agriculture. This 12-part series recounts the considerations, pitfalls and ultimate successes of a green-building project with an ambitious scope to bring a defunct farm building new life as a natural health destination.

Previously, my hopes of resolving a few issues with the Wellness Center zoning at a Township Board meeting were delayed. As we continued to work over the next week on the project, I got a call from the zoning administrator who told me that he was able to get our matter into a budget meeting that was happening the next evening. I was relieved.

I could not attend the meeting, but one of the owners went. She told me after that everything was taken care of by the Board — a victory for us and the project! If the Board had not signed off on the amendment paperwork for the additional square footage of the project, we could have waited months for a public hearing, or worse yet, been forced to remove the front addition that we had added to the existing barn.

Nothing could stop us now; we were racing towards a finish!

Pandemic Delays Construction

I began to work long hours and I was doing everything that I could to get things ready for our occupancy inspection. We would listen to the radio every day — the music kept us motivated.

One day, we were listening to the radio and we heard about a virus in China and that it was sweeping across this certain town in China. We were getting so close to finishing. Then we started to hear about a possible lockdown in the State of Michigan due to the virus. With the grand opening of the Wellness Center scheduled, we started to get really concerned that we might be unable to finish the project because of the lockdown.

I decided to get all of the sub-contractors on site immediately to finish whatever they could in case this mention of a lockdown actually happened. Thankfully, each trade was willing to show up except for one who was going to Florida. He came back with enough time to finish the majority of the electrical work. The plumbers and the heating contractor were on site each day working to get things ready for their inspections.

Then it happened: Our Governor shut construction down except for essential work. We stood as a group in the center of the big room in the Wellness Center after the announcement on the radio and didn’t say a word.

The young apprentice from the heating contractor was scared and rambling about losing his home. I told him that everyone would be alright and that he shouldn’t worry too much. There had been talk of unemployment funds that would be available. I didn’t want anyone in the room to see that I was feeling all sorts of scary things in my mind.

We all felt that a Wellness Center was an essential job and that we should be able to keep working. I was glued to my phone looking for updates that may allow us to work. I didn’t know what to do or think, so we kept working. Then the owners came into the Wellness Center and said that we had to stop working. They had called the Governor’s Office; our work was not considered essential. The heating company employees were instructed to leave immediately by their boss, but they stayed the rest of the day to finish the work that they were doing.

I was dumbfounded by the Executive Order. Thoughts to defy the order crossed my mind, as I’m sure they did for many in construction. But the stakes were too high and the risk on all levels was too great. The owners moved forward, legally employing someone who lived on the property who finished most of the work.

Front entry

A Health Scare

During the course of the project, I was starting to feel some major discomfort in my lower left abdomen. I wasn’t sure what was going on but I was moving slower and getting winded more often

Just before we heard about the lockdown, we had the load of interior doors show up to the job site. I had received 14 extremely heavy, solid core interior doors that needed to be unloaded and staged inside of the Wellness Center so that I could set them and trim them out. For some reason, I unloaded and hauled every door in by myself. By the last door, I could really feel a serious pain in my lower left abdomen. What was going on?

I thought maybe I was having an intestinal flareup from stress and tried to mask the pain as best as I could. Given the lockdown, maybe it was a time to give my body a rest.

A few weeks into the lockdown, I sneezed at home and something strange happened in the area that I had been feeling pain. There was a large bulge that seemed to grow larger every time I moved. I had a large hernia.

I had to get the courage up to tell my wife that I had something that we couldn’t heal at home. We are not the type of people to run to the doctor’s office every time we get sick, so this was going to be something difficult to deal with. We make the majority of our living off of my body in the construction business, so we were going to have to take a major hit to get me fixed.

I scheduled an appointment with a surgeon and then told the owners what had happened to me so we could line up other contractors to do the concrete work. (This time, I did not start my sentence with, “now, don’t get upset.”) We were so close to the end of the project and on lockdown, I thought the timing was almost divine in nature. How else can you explain the massive effort that I put into the project only to be unable to continue because I got injured?

Working through the Pain and the End in Sight

The focus of the owners was to finish the Wellness Center and as I sat at home on lockdown, I watched the pictures come through on my phone of the progress. I got to go there on a few occasions before my surgery (the work that I did there those days was considered essential).

I bought and wore a special pair of supportive hernia underwear to try to keep from strangulating my intestines while I worked.

I worked the Sunday, Monday and Tuesday before my surgery to finish the tricky stuff:  stairway painting, building the stairs, and the trim work that no one else felt comfortable doing. I felt like I was letting the owners down and had to be constantly reminded by my wife that I could strangulate my intestine and die. Nonetheless, the pressure was mounting to finish the Wellness Center in case they were allowed to operate while I was recuperating.

I felt like I could not win either way. The owners were not happy that I wasn’t there to finish the project and the hospital was the last place that I ever wanted to be, especially during a pandemic!

The owners seemed relieved to have their able-bodied tenant on site doing the work that we were not allowed to do. With a one-page list of things left to do to gain occupancy, the Governor opened construction up in our state and then the pressure was really on. We had to wait for a few items that were ordered to show up when the shutdown backed up production on those items. The last big question was whether we were going to get occupancy without any issues.

Final Inspection and Reflecting on a Roller Coaster Remodel

Two and half weeks after my surgery, I wrapped myself up and drove the hour and 20 minutes to the Wellness Center to finish the trim that was left to do and to meet with the building inspector. Normally, inspectors will find something to correct and not issue occupancy on their first inspection, so I wanted to be there to make sure that there were not any questions. I also needed to be there, because I was the licensed contractor who is liable for the project and I had spent countless hours meeting with the inspector to get to this point.

The building inspector arrived and could see that I wasn’t standing straight up and asked me what was wrong; I told him that I would tell him as we did our walk around. The inspector found two minor things. The guys corrected the issues the next day and the Wellness Center was granted occupancy!

That was my last day on site as the contractor. The remaining work was finished by the onsite tenant along with someone hired from my crew. I had mixed feelings as I gathered up my tools and hooked up the job trailer. I put a pillow on my lap before I put on my seatbelt and took a deep breath — I hadn’t stood and moved that much since before the surgery.

As I drove down the driveway for the last time, I couldn’t help but stop and think back to how much of an emotional roller coaster this project had been. I thought about the hundreds of texts and emails that went between everyone involved in the project. I thought about how much effort it took before we could do any physical work on the project. Then I thought about how I was forced to stay home right near the end of the project because of the lockdown and surgery and how someone else did most of the punch list work in order to keep the project rolling. I was happy that I made the decision to help myself for once. Feelings aside, the goal for over a year was to get occupancy and we got it. Mission accomplished.

The state lockdown is still in effect as I finish this story, so the Wellness Center’s grand opening will wait. I am happy to have spent a year of my life consulting, designing, and building this project and I am very thankful to have been part of such a great adventure.

Read the full series of how this horse barn transformed into a wellness center.

Adam D. Bearup is a designer, green builder and farmer, who learned about biodynamic and regenerative farming for a project he built in Northern Michigan, The Earth Shelter Project MichiganAdam has degrees in marketing and management, and a Masters of Science in Green Building. Read all of his 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.

How to Create an Eco-Friendly and COVID-safe Halloween

DIY Book Of Spells Decoration

Photo by Amber Avalona

Halloween can a lot of fun, but it is also a day full of plastic decorations and many visitors to your front door. Here are Halloween tips on how to make your décor more eco-friendly as well as how to provide socially distant trick-or-treating options for your home.

Socially Distant Trick or Treating Ideas

Create a candy graveyard. Drop individual candy bags throughout your yard making it also fun with a scavenger hunt

Grab and go. Keep the kids on the sidewalk and place a table of goodies for kids to take.

Create a candy chute. Just add any kind of chute at least 6 foot long and send your candy flying to kids at the other end. You can purchase PVC pipe to make your candy chute, but also think of other materials you may have already around the house such connecting multiple wrapping paper innertubes or even gutters or down spouts -- just make sure that they are cleaned thoroughly! 

 candy chute_smaller

Photo Source Fox 13 Tampa Bay

Consider something other than “treats” Instead of candy, things like crayons, bubble wands, balls, etc… can be a lot of fun for kids. This reduces the number of things that kids touch and put in their mouths on Halloween.

Be comfortable. If you don’t feel comfortable interacting with people on Halloween, turn off your lights and/or add a note on your door. No one will blame you for skipping this holiday in 2020.

Eco-Friendly Halloween Decorations

Instead of going orange and blank, go green this Halloween. Halloween decorations can be costly and not very eco-friendly. But here are there ways to improve your Halloween habits so that you are more eco-friendly with your decorations and save money too.  

Trash day is treasure! Typically the day before trash pick up, you’ll find cardboard boxes and Styrofoam laying out for trash pickup around your neighborhood or even in your own trash pile. Use these materials to create graveyard tombstones, coffins, ghosts and other decorations. Learn how to carve and paint your styrofoam gravestones from DIY Network’s tips .


Photo by DIY Network

Don’t toss the pumpkins! According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Americans don't eat the vast majority of the 1.91 billion pounds of pumpkins grown in the U.S. (2014) “The majority of Halloween pumpkins — 1.3 billion pounds, in fact — end up in the trash with silly faces carved into them, and then make their way to landfills, where they generate greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to global warming.” Furthermore, those pumpkins will end up producing greenhouse gases --  Buzzfeed article

What to do with your pumpkins:

  • Eat them! On you can find all kinds of way to enjoy pumpkin seeds, soups, pies, casseroles and more
  • Compost them. If you’re thinking about starting a compost, here are 5 very useful tips on How to compost from Realty Sage

Upcycle old clothes Instead of trashing those stained and torn clothes, use them instead to create scarecrows, ghosts and other frightful figures like zombies! You can stuff them with pillow stuffing, newspaper, or most any soft material.

However, if your clothes are in good shape, but they just don’t fit or your style anymore, definitely consider posting them online neighborhood sites and freecycle listserves. Here are 5 Ways to Reduce Waste from Home including tips and sites where you can sell or upcycle your clothes among other household items.


Kari Klaus is the founder of, a data-driven real estate platform which overlays sustainability intelligence onto home listings. 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.

The Half-Acre Homestead: Designing the House

The following is an excerpt from Lloyd Kahn’s The Half-Acre Homestead: 46 Years of Building & Gardening, a record, with over 500 color photos, of Lloyd’s and his wife Lesley’s owner-built home and garden. They show you what the house and garden look like, how various functions operate, including solar panels, septic systems, skylights, and tools they use in the kitchen, garden, and shop. Buy the book from Shelter Publications and several of Lloyd’s other books in the MOTHER EARTH NEWS Store.

In the early 1970s, I had just come off a 5-year period of building geodesic domes (a friend of mine called it “circle madness”) and had concluded that they didn’t work — for a variety of reasons. Before that, I had built post-and-beam houses. Nothing as simple as stud-frame construction, which I discovered in 1971. Eureka! Rectangles!

Hand-built wooden door

Notes on Design

After years of experimental building, I realized that building a home shouldn’t be a “trip,” at least not for me. A dome, a seven-sided building, a sculptural design — building a home from an abstract idea is not sensible for most people, in my opinion. It’s going to take much longer and cost a lot more money.

Our aims. A lot of what we did was essentially reinventing the wheel. We felt that modern life had lost touch with the practicalities. We felt that homes being designed by architects had nothing to do with the kind of life we wanted to lead.

We wanted a home with versatile, useful space: a place to cook, eat, get warm at night, to sleep, to heal, to listen to music and sit around the table and talk, where we’d be able to work on projects, dry clothes on a rack, put up guests comfortably, and have the necessary practicalities — water, heat, kitchen, lighting, plumbing — functioning well. We wanted it to be built of materials that felt good to be around, to be colorful, and to have good feng shui.

Handbuilt Wooden House In Country

Construction. I won’t go into detail about building the house, other than that the main part of it was stud-frame and built largely of recycled materials — wood, windows, and doors. There’s a very thorough section on building a stud-frame house in Shelter II that is available free online at

The earliest part of construction is what I like best. The foundation, floor framing, and then: nailing down the sub-floor, my favorite part of the building process. Creating a floor where there was nothing but space and now standing on it. It’s a great feeling. I can get a building framed, sheathed, plumbed, and wired, but I’m not good at the details, the finish work. Over the years, I’ve had a succession of carpenters help me tune things up.

Designing during construction. We designed as we went along. First, the kitchen and bathroom, then an expansion of the living space. At first, we had an old, wood-fired cookstove that heated our main room and on which we did some cooking. In those days, a lot of builders made a departure from the typical house, in which kitchen, dining room, and bedrooms were all separate. They opted for an open floor plan — cooking, eating, and sleeping all in the same room, often with an open loft. As time went by, people wanted more privacy, so they started partitioning off the bedroom(s).

Handbuilt Home Living Room

Building 45 Years Ago

 Building a house back then was way different than now:

1. Tools. There were no portable drills, no grabbers (construction screws), no chop saws, no laser transits, no portable planers or joiners.

2. Insulation. There wasn’t much choice — certainly no insulation that was non-toxic in its manufacture. There were no insulated windows.

3. Water and energy. Greywater systems weren’t in use. Solar water heating and generation of electricity were in their early stages of development.

Handbuilt Home Open Floor Plan

Lloyd Kahn is a sustainable living visionary and publisher of Shelter Publications. He is the author of natural building books, including The Half-Acre Homestead, Home Work, Tiny Homes, Tiny Homes on the Move, Shelter II , Builders of the Pacific Coast, and The Septic System Owner’s Manual (many available in the MOTHER EARTH NEWS Store or at Shelter Publications). He lives and builds in Northern California. Follow Lloyd on his blogTwitterand Facebookand read all of his MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.



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Get More Heat from Your Woodstove or Fireplace This Burning Season

Nothing beats a warm fire on a cold winter day, especially when you are burning firewood you cut, stacked and stoked yourself. 

As homesteaders surpassing year five, we know a thing or two about heating with wood. Besides our indoor wood stove, we also have an outdoor wood furnace which heats our entire homestead plus our AirBnB rental, our workshop and all of our hot water. We’ve learned some valuable tips and tricks to help maximize the heat from a wood stove and ensure we are running at peak efficiency. 

Maximize draft. Ensure your chimney is clean. This is important for safety and to help prevent chimney fires but it can also increase the efficiency of your wood stove. It’s all about good airflow.  Think of your wood stove like an engine. If you neglect to maintain your engine and its running old, dirty oil and stale gas you won’t get peak performance or maximum horsepower. The same could be said for your chimney- a dirty chimney can lead to fires and poor airflow and overall poor performance.

We bought this drill attachment tool at our local home improvement store and it makes the job of cleaning the chimney easier. At the end of each burning season we clean both our indoor wood stove chimney and our Central Boiler (outdoor wood burner). 

Burn seasoned firewood. I know, this is common sense, but it has to be said. Freshly cut or green wood burns inefficiently and produces large amounts of smoke. Seasoned wood has had an entire year, or season, to dry and burns hotter and more efficiently.

We like to keep a tall stack of wood near our woodstove to allow it to dry out even more just before burning.

Use fans. We use a heat powered ecofan on top of our wood stove. These are sold on Amazon. These neat little fans require no batteries or plug and they convert the heat from your wood stove into electricity to power the fan. We have three heating areas adjacent to our wood stove and we use our EcoFan to direct the hot air into those areas. Our wood stove is centered in our living room, but during the day, I work from my office and aim the fan towards my office door to direct heat into my office.

We also have high ceilings and we use our ceiling fan in reverse to help circulate the warm air near the top of the ceiling down to the floor. Some wood stoves have build in electric fans that will circulate more air around the fan or you can buy an optional one. We have one on our wood stove and it really does move a lot of air. Electric box fans (traditionally used to keep things cool in the summer time) also work well to circulate heat.

Tip: If you have a long hallway away from your wood stove, try place the fan at the end of the hallway aimed towards the wood stove. I know this sounds counter-intuitive but it works! Most people would think to put the fan near the stove to blow the air across and away from the stove but the opposite tends to work better. The fan at the end of the long hall aimed towards the woodstove will help push the lower cold air towards the stove and the hot air tends to loop back from the stove. If you had a thermal imaging camera I’d imagine you’d see a blue flow of air, near the ground, going from the fan towards the stove and just above that, in the opposite direction you’d see a red flow of hot air going back towards the fan and it is essentially a large loop. 

Use fire bricks near your stove. We did this at our old house. We placed several bricks stacked on top of each other behind our wood stove. These would heat up all day and store heat very well. When the fire would go out at night, the bricks would retain the heat for much longer keeping things warm longer.

Keep it closed! In high school I was a cook at an Italian restaurant. One thing Chef Tony taught me was- “If you are a looking, you ain’t a cooking” Your stove not only heats you from the wood that is burning, you are also experiencing the warmth radiating from the metal wood stove, the glass  and the firebricks inside. When you open the stove door to add more wood or to reposition wood you lose a ton of that built up heat! Of course you need to add wood and adjust things from time to time but people tend to over do it. If you open your stove just a few less times per day, your overall heat production will stretch much further. 

Learn your stove or fireplace. Get a feel for your particular wood stove. Adjust the airflow and see how it behaves. This is our third wood stove and they each have had their own personalities.  For this stove we could get it nice and hot and it tends to burn really hot but really fast. If we reduce the airflow sooner by pushing in the airflow knob, we can conserve that heat and make it last much longer. For some stoves you need max airflow for a longer time to get a good bed of coals burning, for other stoves it may be faster. Learn what works for your stove and adjust your airflow to maximize your heat and make it last as long as possible.

I hope these tips help and have a great wood burning season from my homestead to yours.

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.

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