Country Lore: Crafting Clay Paint

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by Sherry Pollard

Crafting Clay Paint

We’ve experimented with various natural paints over the years. We wanted a paint we could apply once, that wouldn’t dust, and that would have a consistent matte finish (and, of course, that could be made using natural materials). At last, we’ve found our recipe. We knew wheat paste could be added to a clay paint, or even just pasted over the top to make the wall durable.

We mixed a poster paste recipe with our own clay paint. The paint we made was incredibly durable, gave a beautiful consistent color, and barely dusted, even right after drying. Here’s the recipe.

  • 18 parts cold water, divided, for flour/sugar mixture
  • 6 parts white wheat flour
  • 2 parts sugar
  • 18 parts cold water for clay mixture
  • 20 parts fine filtered clay
  • Color pigment (optional)

First, set aside 12 of the 18 parts of water on the fire to heat. Take another pan and add the remaining 6 parts of cold water. Slowly add the 6 parts of flour to the cold water. Mix well. (You can alter the portions depending on your desired consistency. Less flour will produce a thinner paint, but we wanted a thick paint to cover small cracks and bumps.) When the heated water is nearly boiling, add it to the pan with the flour/cold water mixture, place the pan over the heat, and stir. The longer you keep the mixture on the heat, the thicker it’ll get, so be careful. Then, stir in the sugar. We chose to remove the mixture from the heat at this point. If you want thicker paint, keep the mixture heated, stirring the entire time, until you like the consistency. There’s your flour and sugar component.

Next, you’ll have to filter the clay. We start with a large filter to take out gravel and rocks. Next, we use a filter made for flour to take out the larger sand particles, and leave only the finest clay. When the clay is filtered enough for your purposes, pour the 18 parts of cold water for the clay mixture into a wheelbarrow, and then add 20 parts clay and color pigment, if using. Stir well. Finally, add the flour/sugar mixture, making sure to get all the lumpy stuff from the bottom. This paint will always sink and separate, so whenever decanting and using this paint, make sure to mix and shake it first, or you’ll lose all the solids at the bottom. I stirred it before each use.

Use this paint as soon as possible. Our leftover paint began fermenting after a couple of weeks, and although we were able to use it on a different project, it’s probably not a good idea to apply fermented paint to indoor living spaces because of the odor.

Tom Keeling
Juncal do Campo, Portugal

Let’s Clear the Air

Oh, how I love the way air smells after a spring rain. But in winter, the air in the house can get stale. Recently, I’ve been doing winter canning, which includes kidney beans and leftover turkey from Thanksgiving. Neither of these is aromatic. We all know that vinegar is a great disinfectant for cleaning. But it’s also an amazing air cleanser. Put 1⁄2 cup of white vinegar in 1 cup of water, and simmer on the stove until the smell’s almost gone.

This recipe has freshened my kitchen after accidentally burning something. I have a closet where lots of musty antiques are stored. I poured 2 cups of vinegar (undiluted) into a container and set it in the closet. By the time it evaporated, the closet smelled clean, and has for a few months now.

Mary Martin
Rexburg, Idaho

Coffee Cans Addendum

I read “A Can for All Reasons” (Country Lore, February/March 2020), and have another suggestion for reusing coffee cans. I save the plastic cans with their lids. When you finish painting, there’s usually a good amount of paint left over. Metal cans seem to reseal permanently, so it’s tough to use the paint again once you put the lid back on the can.

I place a large zip-close bag in the plastic coffee can, pour in the paint, zip it up, and put the coffee lid on securely. I put a label on the can with all the pertinent information, including where and when it was used. The paint will last for years this way.

Janice Becker
West Linn, Oregon

Stinky Shoe Solution

After 20 years of smelly work boots, the lightbulb finally came on. For the past couple of decades, I’ve put a bar of the cheapest soap into each shoe. This bar of soap gets rid of all bad odors!

Lb Oslo
Framingham, Massachusetts

Timorous Tomatoes

I love ‘Brandywine’ tomatoes, but so do the birds, chipmunks, and squirrels! I finally came up with a solution that protects them from these animals. I save mesh bags from onions, oranges, apples, and other produce bought from the store. I wrap them around the tomatoes that are just beginning to turn pink. You can also use these on eggplants, which are another treat for chipmunks.

Laura Johnson
Fayetteville, Georgia

Matching Thread

Trying to match thread to mend a garment can be a challenge, especially if it’s store-bought thread. If you’ve tried matching all the thread in the store, don’t give up! There’s another option: Try embroidery thread. It comes in many shades, and it’s reasonably priced. Just separate a single strand from the hank and use it the same way you’d use thread from a spool.

M. Gill
Grants Pass, Oregon

Queenie’s Fairy House

When I told my mother about the used Speed Queen wringer washer I’d bought, she remarked that it was the Cadillac of washers when it first came out. You could set a timer for the number of minutes you wanted your wash to agitate. A bell would ring when it shut off. To house my used “Queenie,” I put up a rough framework, attached it to the well house, and stretched a tarp over it. Not a pretty sight from my bedroom window, but it sufficed until I couldn’t stand the eyesore any longer.

With a $100 budget in mind, I accumulated some recycled materials to repurpose for my project. I found bark in the woods. I acquired two windows from a neighbor, which were just the right size. Some fencing headed for the recycling center took a detour to my place. I used metal roofing from a patch job on my own roof. I grabbed corrugated plastic roofing sheets from an old greenhouse my neighbor took down. I used a curved branch from one of my cedar trees to fashion a fake door. After all this, all I needed to purchase were a few 2x4s and a pint of red paint. It took me two weeks to finish on my own, and I had a great time doing it, even if there were some challenges! Now, Queenie has a home that keeps her dry. At night, a soft light shines through the windows, as if there’s someone home. Now, I can give her that much-needed paint job to spruce her up, which I’ll be doing next summer. Having great fun at age 75!

Sherry Pollard
Hansville, Washington

Raken House

Hello, my name is Seth Collins. I’m 11 years old, and I like to read your magazine. I recently acquired rabbits. I had a chicken coop, and planned to convert it into a raken house. A raken house houses chickens on the floor, and rabbits above the chickens. Here’s how to convert a chicken coop into a raken house. First, I needed to make something to rest the hutches on. To accomplish this, I made a brace against the wall, and then put two 6-foot pieces of pipe on top of the braces and secured the pipe with clamps. To keep urine off the wall, I put pieces of vinyl siding against it. Then, I put the hutches on the pipe. To keep chickens off the hutches, I nailed pieces of plastic chicken wire to the ceiling joist above the hutches.

Seth Collins
Rock Creek, Ohio

Grits in the Garden

I use instant grits in my garden for those pesky fire ants. It took me a while to find something organic that got rid of them. I tried everything, but I just couldn’t bring myself to use pest killer in the same area as the food I was going to eat. A fellow gardener shared this trick with me. First, disturb the ant hill. Then, sprinkle some instant grits on the pile. Wait, and reapply as needed. The ants will carry the grits back to their nest for the queen and everyone to eat. Then, the next time they drink water, it’ll kill them. This works better than normal ant poison, because it actually kills the nest, instead of just relocating them. I do usually have to reapply it, as the nest will get smaller and smaller, until they’re all gone. As a bonus, the uneaten grits act as compost for the garden.

Erin Redditt
Little Rock, Arkansas

Potato Planting Tip

I’ve had trouble with voles nibbling on my seed potatoes for a couple of years. They’ve consumed half of my crop. I set traps and caught a few, but more came back. Last year, an older neighbor shared a tip. My neighbor told me to get some netting from a fabric store and cut it into 12-inch squares. Then, place a square of the netting in each hole you plan to plant a potato. Once the netting is in, fill the hole with soil as usual. Last year, only a few potatoes were eaten at the end of my row. I plan to do this every year.

La Nolin
Via email

PVC Gate

I needed a gate for my driveway. I live in Florida, and wood doesn’t last long here, so I wanted to make a gate out of PVC pipe. I found some PVC fencing at Lowe’s, but it was only 3 feet high. So I cut the crowns off the top, and inserted a 2-foot piece of 3/4-inch PVC pipe on the top of the fence, and 1 foot of 3/4-inch PVC pipe on the bottom. Then, I put the crowns back on top of the PVC pipe. I now have a 5-foot PVC gate, and it’s lasted eight years so far without any paint.

Dan Weston
Hastings, Florida

Small Plant Cages

When I first saw an issue of MOTHER, I was in the business world and thought it was one of those magazines for hippies, but I found that I agreed with its philosophy and the independent living it supported — fresh, safe, homegrown, tasty vegetables right from your own garden. In those early days, I was flying to or living in big cities across the country, but I always had a garden where I could get a freshly picked tomato for a summer lunch sandwich. What else do you need? Those sweet ‘Sungolds,’ fresh cucumbers, Roma tomatoes, and so much more. My garden has grown to be 60 square feet now that I’m retired, but sometimes it doesn’t seem big enough because I donate a lot to the local Veterans of Foreign Wars.

I have a use for old clothes hangers. I use them for tie-downs by cutting off the hook and cutting the bottom in half to get two ties out of each hanger. They’re long enough to not be easily pulled out by wind. I’ve also made dozens for a local food bank garden I support. And I make cages for small plants, such as peppers, flowers, and other short plants, where a tomato cage would be overkill. First, bend the twisted part of the hook 90 degrees to the lower part of the hanger. Then, grab the middle of the bottom and make a rough square. Next, straighten the hook and make a small loop at the end that’ll be a hole to drive a screw through. A second screw will be placed just below the twisted part of the hook. I attach two or more to a stake about the height of the mature plant, which means when you pound it into the ground, a little of the plant will be above the top hanger. As the plant grows, I tuck it in inside the hangers to keep the branches under control.

You can probably get hangers free from places where workers wear logoed shirts. I get mine from a small auto repair shop. The stakes can be made from ¾-inch-by-¾-inch scrap wood, branches, or anything else you can drive a screw into.

Ron Willing
Rogue River, Oregon

Safe and Sound Grain Storage

I have a handy way to store grain, in a broken-down old chest freezer I had. The size you’ll need depends on how much grain you have. The freezer keeps out moisture, as well as mice and other rodents. I use 15- to 30-gallon plastic trash cans to compartmentalize my feed. I pour the feed into the containers and easily scoop it out as needed. This method can be used for storing all livestock grains, or for wild bird seed, if you’d like. It’s a good way to reuse a solid and sealed container. No need to worry about bags getting wet or mice chewing holes in them anymore.

Kelly Jensen
Beech, Iowa

Plant Straight

This technique allows you to plant parallel rows confidently, and circumvents the need to constantly remeasure. I use a string and the type of line blocks used by bricklayers as an aid to keep my planting lines straight and equally spaced. It’s fast and simple to set up and align the next row of plantings. A line block is a small L-shaped block with a groove down the middle to run and secure the string.

After winding the string around one of the line blocks, secure the short end of the line block to one end of the garden. Adjust the location of the block so the string is at the desired distance from the side of the garden. Secure the short end of the second line block to the opposite end of the garden. Adjust the location of the block so the string is at the desired distance, making the string parallel to the side of the garden. (The example in the photo is 14 inches from the side of the garden bed.) For the second row, simply take the measured distance of the first row and add the desired distance between rows. (Example: 14 inches from side + 12 inches between rows = 26 inches.) With the measuring tape against the side of the garden, move both line blocks to the next row. For the third row, add the desired distance between rows to your last calculation, and measure from the side of the garden. Repeat the last step for any
addi­­tional rows.

Luigi Flori
Deerfield, Illinois

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