Jesse made this industrious hay baler that you can build yourself to make cheap, environmentally friendly bales.
Photo by Rhoda Ann Ramer
Low-Capital Hay Baler
Every homesteader’s goal is to be as self-sustaining as possible. In trying to reach that goal, many of us raise animals. It’s difficult to keep many animals without hay, and conventional thinking tries to convince us that big tractors and expensive equipment are necessary to make hay bales. But that’s simply not the case. If you’ve got a scythe and some wood, and don’t mind a little work, you can make your own hay bales!
I’ve grown, mown, and dried my own hay. I first used a fork to load it onto a trailer and then stack it in our barn. But loose hay takes up a lot of room, besides being hard to handle (not to mention a great mouse hideaway). So, I made a baler. Here’s how you can make one too.
You’ll need either four 2x2s, or two 2x4s ripped in half. Two of the 2x2s should be 3 feet long, and two should be 4 feet long. Next, you’ll need two 48-by-18-inch pieces of plywood for the sides, one 24-by-48- inch piece of plywood for the back, and one 24-by-36-inch piece of plywood for the front.
After you’ve cut the pieces, assemble the baler. I used screws to assemble mine, but I suppose nails would work also. The 2x2s go inside the corners to add stability. The assembly process can be tricky, so a helper would be a great plus.
Photo by Rhoda Ann Ramer
Now, you’re ready to make hay! Here again, a helper would be wonderful to have. First, tie together one end of your twine and drop it into the baler, allowing it to touch the floor. Hang the top of the twine over the side of the baler. By the way, if you’re a beginning homesteader, you may be wondering where to get twine. I’d advise you to ask nearby farmers for their strings after they cut open their bales. You’ll want to knot two strings together if they’re from small bales; this will be unnecessary if they come from large bales.
Next, stuff in the hay. Keep punching it down as you fill the baler. If you’re spry, the best way to get the hay compacted well will be to jump in and stand on the hay. While you’re standing on the hay, your helper can tie the strands of twine together. Please be careful, though, and make sure you have something sturdy to hang onto, because the baler could tip over.
After you’ve knotted the twine, gently lay the baler down on its front and pull the bale out. I’ve found that this design produces bales that are approximately the size of conventional small square bales, but much lighter and easier to handle. Happy baling!
Wrinkle-Free, Mosquito-Free Clothes
As an outdoorsman, I’m in the woods every day, walking through tall grass, brush piles, the edges of swamps, and so on. To repel ticks, I used to spray my pants, boots, and belt with name-brand tick repellent. Despite this coating in repellent, I would find an occasional tick on me. So, I started using dryer sheets instead of repellent, and to this day, I’ve not had one tick on me. Before going out, I rip a dryer sheet in half and stuff a piece in each boot. Then, I rip another in half and stuff the pieces in my pockets. Finally, I put one in my hat and one in my hard hat. Dryer sheets also repel mosquitoes and flies for me, and even last for several days. The scent I use is lavender and linen, but any kind might work for you.
Galway, New York
I used to have a problem with pickling peppers and okra. They always popped up out of the pickling syrup no matter what I did. I would top them, cut slits, and pack them in as tight as I could, but the vegetables still popped into the headspace. And home canners should never completely fill a jar with vinegar solution, because the jar can leak or even break during the canning process.
My solution to this problem is to fill the top of the jar with clear glass marbles. I fill the jar as directed, within about 1/4 inch of the top, before adding the marbles. The marbles fill the jar completely full, preventing the veggies from floating to the top while leaving space to properly seal the lid.
I did get odd looks from people when I gave them jars containing marbles, so you might need to explain. When opening a jar of peppers to use at home, I simply wash the marbles and collect them in another jar for reuse. Then the marbles are sterilized and ready to use in the next canning batch.
You can find clear glass marbles — usually in a little plastic bag — in the artificial floral department of most craft stores. For around $1, you can buy enough marbles to top off five or six standard jars. Boil the marbles for a few minutes before using them.
All-Purpose Riding Mower
I modified my riding mower to add a front scoop, and I can now move sand and dump it where I need it. I’ve moved three cement blocks and loads of logs with the modified mower, and it still works fine for cutting grass. To make your own, follow these steps:
1. Remove the motor cover. To do this on most mowers, just lift the cover and slide it out of its brackets.
Photo by Dan Weston
2. Cut a 2-foot-long piece of 1-by-1- inch angle iron. Cut notches in the iron where the scoop arms will fit. Connect the angle iron to the brackets with wire. Put a bolt on either side of the brackets to keep the angle iron from moving sideways.
3. Place a snow shovel scoop in the grooves. Install bolts through the shovel handle directly behind the angle iron to keep the shovel from moving (the shovel will only be attached by a chain at the top).
Photo by Dan Weston
4. Attach a small chain to the top of the scoop arm. Attach a hook to the top of the mower just in front of the steering wheel.
Photo by Dan Weston
After adding a scoop to his mower, Dan was able to move sand, cement, and logs around his property.
Photo by Dan Weston
Now that you have a mower with a scoop on the front, you can load up sand, dirt, or whatever you need to move. I can get 15 to 17 shovelfuls of sand in one scoop. To use, push down on the top of the scoop arm and hook the chain loop to the hook on the mower. Drive to the unload point, unhook the chain, and flip the scoop to dump the load. Reattach the scoop to get another load.
Stray Cat Sanctuary
When winter cold arrives, stray cats need a place to stay warm too. We have an injured stray cat hanging around our place. It won’t let us get close enough to treat its limp, so we provide a meal a day and a warm place to sleep. But how to do that on a budget?
One solution came to us from a couple who also cares for a stray cat. They built a double-layered house by nesting two plastic storage containers, one inside the other, with straw for insulation between the walls. They tied the lids closed with cable ties to keep everything in place. A hole cut through the double wall allows the cat to move in and out. I thought that was a good idea, but didn’t want to spend money on two storage containers, so we repurposed a damaged ice chest instead. Cutting a hole through the one end of the ice chest was easy with a reciprocating saw.
To make it a little more comfortable on subzero nights, we put some loose straw inside. Opening the lid makes cleaning easy.
Reusable Household Wipes
We’ve grown accustomed to associating the smell of bleach with cleanliness. But clean isn’t a smell, and bleach can be problematic: Its fumes irritate eyes and respiratory systems.
Fortunately, there are alternatives to bleach when it comes to housecleaning. Here’s one I picked up from my sister-in-law: reusable household wipes. They’re environmentally friendly, inexpensive, convenient, and pretty on a kitchen or bathroom shelf. Plus, they smell good.
- 1 cup water
- 1 capful liquid castile soap
- 15 to 30 drops (any combination) of your favorite essential oils
You’ll need a wide-mouth glass jar and fabric scraps made of T-shirts, preferably 100 percent cotton. If you don’t have discarded shirts at home, try a local thrift shop or a friend who makes T-shirt quilts. You can buy new ones on the cheap from some big-box craft stores. Use multiple colors for a bright, colorful effect. I like mine about 5 or 6 inches square (about the size of a potholder), but any size that works for you will do.
- Layer 10 or more folded cloths inside the jar.
- Combine ingredients, and pour over cloths. If you have more than 10, try filling the jar with half the cloths, and then add half the mixture (do the same with the other half). For a quick daily rubdown, simply pull out a cloth and wipe. It takes just seconds. When you’re done, you can hang your cloth over the faucet to dry, where it will continue to release a subtle fragrance. Throw it in the next washer load, and then reuse. Simple.
- The use of essential oils on granite or marble is not recommended.
- Some essential oils can be toxic to cats. My sister-in-law has more cats than I can count, and they’ve not had any problems. To be on the safe side, check with your vet if you live with cats.
- To qualify as an EPA-certified disinfectant, a product must be 100 percent effective against pathogens. Essential oils don’t meet that definition, though they come pretty close. Rather, they’re best described as effective antimicrobials. Combine the cleaning power of soap and water with essential oils’ antimicrobial properties and your own elbow grease for an excellent kitchen and bathroom cleaner.
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) conducted a study to determine the antibacterial and antifungal activity of 10 essential oils (ageratum, bael, citronella, eucalyptus, geranium, lemongrass, orange, palmarosa, patchouli, and peppermint) against 22 bacteria and 12 fungi.
Lemongrass, eucalyptus, peppermint, and orange were effective against all 22 of the bacterial strains tested. Bael came in at 21, while patchouli and ageratum were effective against 20, citronella against 15, and geranium against 12.
Bael, citronella, geranium, lemongrass, orange, palmarosa, and patchouli inhibited all 12 fungi tested. Eucalyptus and peppermint were effective against 11 fungi, and ageratum inhibited four.
NIH also reviewed the antimicrobial properties of plant essential oils against human pathogens and concluded that essential oils “possess strong antimicrobial activity against various bacterial, fungal, and viral pathogens.”
The Atlantic even published an article on the likelihood that essential oils might become our new antibiotics.
All in all, using homemade reusable wipes for household cleaning chores receives an “A” on my grading scale.
Boone, North Carolina
An Unlikely Lawn
In an abandoned area toward the back of a property I purchased in winter 2018, a gray-green mat of velvety little herbaceous plants began to sprout the following April in a virtual monoculture. They were soft and pretty, and seemed well adapted to the harsh clay soil they occupied. I found I rather liked the look, although I had no idea what they were. My goats also liked them (to eat, of course, rather than for aesthetic reasons). When they grew to about 3 inches tall, I started mowing and watering to encourage them to fill in any bald patches, which over the course of the summer they slowly did.
Photo by Lauren Ruddall
It turns out this plant is kochia (Kochia scoparia), a noxious weed from Eurasia. Fortunately, it’s great for goats, having the same protein content as alfalfa.
Ugly when mature, but successful wherever it gets a toehold, this plant requires little water when managed like a lawn, and remains verdant and soft. I watered it lightly once a week in the height of one of the hottest and driest summers on record for my portion of western Colorado. It seemed to take one-third the amount of water that the more conventional perennial ryegrass lawn did, and it needed no fertilizer. Mowing once a week is necessary to prevent it from becoming “stemmy.”
Although I’d never encourage anyone to deliberately introduce a nonnative plant to their land, if, like me, you find you have a ready-made stand coming up in spring, give it a chance.
Homemade Liquid Hand Soap
My dad was born and raised in the mountains of North Carolina. He grew up on a farm that had a 4-acre garden, hogs, and cows. His family was nearly self-sufficient, so he knows how to do (almost) everything.
One thing Dad taught me was how to make liquid hand soap. It’s a cost-effective, gentle soap, and it’s easy to make.
His recipe calls for one bar of Ivory soap and 14 cups of water. Heat the water. Using a grater, shred the bar of soap. Pour the soap into the hot water, stir until it dissolves, and allow it to cool. When it’s ready, it will be a thick, pearly white liquid soap.
Each bar of soap produces 46 fluid ounces (1 quart and 14 fluid ounces) of soap. Three bars cost about $1.50, so this homemade solution is worthwhile!
All Tied Up
I quilt, and I also grow a large vegetable garden. Quilting uses large amounts of 100 percent cotton fabric. I trim off the selvage edges of the fabric and use them to tie up sprawling plants, such as tomatoes. The cotton selvage is soft on the plants’ tender vines, but also very strong. At the end of the season, I toss the fabric ties into my compost bins with the plants.
Middle River, Maryland
We get a lot of rain here on the southeastern coast of the United States. The downpours wash out the gravel on my driveway, and I have to make trips to the gravel yard a few times a year. I discovered that used carpet works well to fill in the usual ruts and holes in my driveway. To cover your driveway with carpet, cut up the carpet in 16-inch strips and lay it down over the tire tracks. Even if you don’t have old carpet lying around, you can probably find some at a landfill, or ask for used carpeting at carpet stores in your area.
Butner, North Carolina
Photo by Peter Lang
Smell Ya Later
We’ve found that a great way to deter chipmunks and other small critters from eating berries and other edible treats growing in our garden is to peel off some of the outer leaves from garlic or onion plants. Then, we tear the leaves a bit and sprinkle them around the edges of our garden. We also sprinkle the torn leaves on top of the bird netting that’s protecting our berries. We’ve had very good results using this method, and our plants have a lot less critter damage.
Wyckoff, New Jersey
Fortify Your Garden
Shoving used plastic forks into garden soil, tines up, has deterred my neighbor’s cats from using my raised beds as a litter box. And I’ve discovered that squirrels don’t like the forks, either.
Spoil Your Plants with Foil
I enjoyed “Build an Indoor Grow-Light Table” (Homestead Hacks, February/ March 2019). My partner created some repurposed wooden shelves for our basement growing station two years ago. Last year, our neighbor taught us to line the shelves with foil for its reflective properties. We took it a bit further and taped down the foil with silver foil tape, and attached silver metal sheeting to the sides and backs of the shelves.
The plants grew better than ever before thanks to the hanging lights and the reflected light from all sides. No plants got “leggy,” and every one was stronger and greener than our seedlings had been the year before.
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