Readers’ tips about storing onions, making a free solar food dehydrator, creating upcycled herb planters, rain water storage, and more.
Living in a hollow makes finding nutrient-rich garden space an issue. All the good dirt is at the bottom. I wanted an herb bed on the rocky ground up by the greenhouse, but all I had was some old lumber, some cracked cinder blocks, and a broken washing machine. As decorative as broken appliances are on the porch, the washing machine was taking up space. We removed the inside drum of the washing machine and made it into a wonderful herb planter. Then, we recycled the metal portions of the machine. The old lumber made a nice raised bed, and we turned the cinder blocks on their sides and breathed new life into them as planters. We put up scrap chicken wire from a chicken tractor project to keep my pasture-raised hens out of the herbs. The upcycled herb beds fit right in next to our greenhouse, which is made out of a broken trampoline and used lumber from an old house.
Mount Vernon, Kentucky
Onions grow wonderfully for us. Since we always have a bumper crop, we struggle to find space to store them where they won’t rot. To remedy this, we found an old baby crib and removed the sides. Using wire, we hung the crib sides from the roof of our covered porch. We harvested our onions and let them dry for a couple of days in the garden before we bundled them up, dirt and all. Then, we tied the onions to the crib sides in groups of five or six with leftover baling twine. The crib sides are high enough to be out of the way, so we just leave them hanging up. The main thing is to keep the onions dry and not directly in our hot Texas sun. They last for months, and it’s nice to have them ready to go when we need them.
I had some unused windows and screens in my garage, so I decided to see whether they’d make a good solar dehydrator. I put aluminum foil against the ground to act as a barrier and to reflect the sun. Then, I placed the screen over the foil and put some thinly sliced veggies on it. I set the window on top and propped it up a little with a rock to get some air flow. I had dehydrated vegetables within 24 hours!
When we built our home on our 40-acre farm seven years ago, I’d already planned on using rain barrels to collect rainwater running off the roof. I’m vertically challenged, at a little over 5 feet tall, and I decided the most convenient way to set up my four rain barrels would be to sink them into the ground. Besides making water withdrawal an easy process, I’ve found that sinking the barrels into the ground has had additional benefits. One is that the water in the barrel stays cool, lessening the growth of algae. It also stays fresher longer, providing an emergency supply of water during sustained power outages. You can also fit them into the natural landscape more easily than aboveground barrels. Planting shrubs around a sunken barrel, for example, could hide it quite well.
During my childhood, I had to clean out from under the chicken roost. Of course, I would put it off as long as possible, sometimes until the ammonia stench was nearly toxic. As an adult, I solved that problem in my new chicken digs by building the roost over a “conveyor belt” that I made from an old tarp. A hatch in an exterior wall pivots open and down to form a chute, below which I park a wheelbarrow. Turning a piece of pipe (to which the conveyor belt is attached) pulls the belt toward the chute and around a roller, depositing the droppings into the wheelbarrow.
What was once a dreaded task now takes me about five minutes to do and emits little odor. I then put a thin layer of dead grass on top of the belt so the manure doesn’t stick to it. This system works so well that now I look forward to cleaning the roost for compost material instead of dreading it.
Because my husband is a soldier and a trucker, we’re always looking for ways to cut corners on homesteading labor. We’ve found great uses for recycled conveyor belts. We use them to keep weeds out of the garden; we put them along our fence line so weeds don’t grow up around the fence; and we cut them into pieces and use them as mulch to keep weeds away from our baby bushes and trees. They even direct rainwater straight to the plants we’re trying to grow. Conveyor belts are heavy and sturdy, so riding a lawn mower over them is never an issue. You should give them a try.
We always keep a couple of jugs around for catching the water that would be wasted while waiting for the water to heat up in the kitchen and bathtub. We then use the water for filling our dog’s bowl, rinsing fruits and vegetables, drinking, cooking, watering plants, and more.
Pleasant Prairie, Wisconsin
We tried tying strips of cloth onto our newly installed electric fence to alert livestock and deer of its location, but it didn’t work. The wind would catch the strips and slide them down the wire all the way to the fence post. But we found a solution: Tyvek tape, which is used in construction to seal the seams of exterior house wrap. Cut about 2 feet off the roll and double the tape onto itself, leaving a 2-inch sticky tab on the end. Fold the tab over the wire and adhere the tape to itself. Space these Tyvek markers 10 to 20 feet apart — they’ll stay wherever they’re placed and the tape will flap and rustle whenever a breeze catches it. I’ve been using these for a couple of years now, and they really hold up through all types of weather.
Personally, I have trouble parting with old magazine issues — especially issues of Mother Earth News. But I’m also bothered by how much space they take up. So, I decided to deconstruct all of my magazines. I save the articles that are relevant to me or that I find interesting, and then recycle the rest. I place the articles I save in a clear page-protector (one per issue) and store them in a three-ring binder in chronological order. I currently have three full years of Mother Earth News magazines stored in a single 2-inch binder.
Livingston Manor, New York
I eat from jars — canning jars, that is. During the growing season, I plant vegetables to process for use when my garden isn’t producing. Some of what I put up includes tomatoes, cucumbers, beans, relishes, and applesauce. These preserves make wonderful gifts for birthdays, Christmas, or just because.
I don’t use pesticides in my gardens — instead, I control pests using natural methods. Zinnias and geraniums take care of the pesky bugs in my beans. I plant vine crops, such as cucumbers, with radishes to discourage cucumber beetles. Borage planted with tomatoes keeps the tomato hornworms away. To prevent the apples from getting worms, I use a homemade trap to capture flying pests. I make this trap by cutting a hole about the size of a quarter into the side of a gallon milk jug. Then, I make a mixture of molasses, vinegar, and water and pour some into the trap to attract the bugs. After they’re in the jug, the bugs are unable to get out. Once, I caught 2 inches’ worth of bugs overnight, which I then threw on my compost pile.
By the way, I turned 101 this year. I broke my hip when I was 97 and was told I wouldn’t walk again. For me, this was a challenge, but it hasn’t stopped me from gardening — now I just garden at a slower pace. I credit my longevity to eating food that’s not compromised by harmful chemicals.
Sierra Vista, Arizona
I want to challenge everyone to reconsider the use of toothpaste. A few years ago, I decided not to use toothpaste daily, opting instead to brush primarily with water. This choice has several benefits. I spend less money on hygiene; I produce less garbage in the form of toothpaste containers; and fewer toxic chemicals are coming into contact with the sensitive and relatively absorbent mucous membrane lining my mouth. And if my dental visits are any testament, I’ve had no new cavities since brushing only with water. Prior to that, when I was using toothpaste every time I brushed, I also needed additional dental work every time I had a cleaning. If you really need minty freshness, try keeping a potted mint plant so you can chew on a leaf or two.
I use old golf clubs in my garden as tomato and pepper stakes, and I use an old golf club bag for holding shovels and rakes. I just place the implements in the bag, handle side down.
Lehigh Acres, Florida
I love gardening and always try to think up and implement new ideas. In my home, I support my money plant with hangers. Many of my friends like this idea and have even tried it themselves.
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