Country Lore: Natural Pest Control, Seed Starters, Removing Fence Posts and More

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Chickens like to take dust baths in ashes to repel parasites.
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Reader Roger Holinaty recommends using chains and a crowbar to help with removing fence posts.

Readers from 1982 submit folk remedies ranging from natural pest control and eggshells as seed starters to tips for removing fence posts and creative ways to use wood ash.

Free Newspaper Rolls

“Our local newspaper gives away discarded paper ‘roll ends’ that are too short to run on the press. The remaining blank newsprint on the rolls (up to 100 yards of it!) makes an excellent wrapping paper for just about anything,” writes Anna Marie Bobnar of Madison, Pennsylvania. “What’s more, we often cover the dining room table with it and draw or do our homework. The heavy cardboard core of the roll burns well in our woodstove, too . . . and the clean, soft ashes it produces serve as an excellent litter for our kitten’s box!”

Creative Ways to Use Wood Ash

Ashes are becoming an increasingly available commodity as more and more folks burn wood to heat their homes. And if you’ve been collecting the timber residue throughout the winter, readers Aune Hofsommer of Aurora, Minnesota and Lawrence Gladfilter of Windsor, Missouri have a few more suggestions for using your stockpile. (Please remember, however, never to burn any painted or pressure treated boards, as the vapors are toxic and the ashes can actually contaminate the earth.)

If kept in a covered container–in the back of a truck or in the trunk of a car–ashes can be lifesavers in ice and snow. By sprinkling some under a stuck vehicle’s wheels, you can often get enough traction to get going.

Chickens like to take dust baths in a tub half full of ashes in the winter . . . and in the summer the same treatment will help keep parasites off the birds.

If you dust your tomato and potato plants and cole-family vegetables with ashes, you’ll find that many garden pests will avoid the crops.

Lilac bushes bloom and thrive when given a spring “meal” of wood ash.

Sifted ashes make a fine scouring powder.

Finally, if your corn patch becomes an annual battleground for you and the raccoon population, try sprinkling ashes on the ears just before harvest time. If you apply the “dressing” in the morning, the dew will help it adhere to the husks (or you could combine the ash with water and “paint” the mixture on). Spread some on the ground around the stalks, too. Many raccoons would rather leave your corn alone than risk getting themselves dirty!

Garden Slug Prevention

Robert Zugelder found a way to keep slugs out of his strawberries. This resident of Springboro, Ohio routinely mulches his strawberry patch with pine needles . . . and he noticed that slugs either won’t or can’t crawl over the cones. Now, Robert surrounds each strawberry plant with pinecones: The slugs stay away . . . and the little “pest fence” allows better air circulation to the plants, which in turn helps the berries to ripen more evenly.

Companion Planting with Mint

“If you plant wild mint around your persimmon trees, you’ll get bumper crops of fruit,” writes Rob Saunier of Little Rock, Arkansas. “Better still, the bugs will tend to leave the persimmons alone! And if you have difficulty restraining the hardy perennial herb, try placing a ring of rocks at the desired boundary.”

Soap Bar Pin Cushion

Need a pincushion in a hurry? A bar of soap can provide you with a handy place to stick needles and pins, according to Kathy and Bob Sanders. What’s more, the Roseburg, Oregonians say the soap lubricates the metal shafts, permitting them to be pushed through stiff fabrics with less effort.

Easy Bulb Extractor

A Silver Spring, Maryland reader knows that digging up winter-sensitive flower bulbs in the fall for replanting in the spring can be tedious work . . . and that many bulbs are missed in the process. So to make his job easier, Hyman Walin shovels an 8″ – to 10″ -deep trench in his garden every spring. After the ditch is prepared, he lays a strip of 1/2″ wire mesh flat in the bottom then fills the hole with soil and pants his bulbs. When fall rolls around, Hyman merely takes hold of one end of the wire mesh and pulls up, bringing all the bulbs to the top. Then it’s an easy task to gather and store the flowers-to-be and ready the area for the next year’s planting.

Crock Pot Ideas: Dehydrator

We once published a tip from a reader who used her Crock- Pot (in an emergency) as a vaporizer. Well, Glenna Tucker of Kettering, Ohio has found another way to make one of the low-energy appliances do double duty. One day, as Mrs. Tucker was making soup, she realized that she’d fixed more celery leaves than were called for in her recipe. She didn’t want to waste the surplus, so–once the soup was in the cooker and the cover in place–she laid a sheet of aluminum foil on the lid and spread the leftover leaves, in a thin layer, on the foil. Glenna writes that when her soup was done, the celery leaves on top were nicely dehydrated and ready to be stored in an airtight jar for later use.

Window Screen Litter Trap

Blair Callaway uses old window screens as handy litter traps for his rabbit hutches. Blair, who resides in Niota, Illinois, fastens the screens (without their wooden or aluminum frames) under his hutches … leaving enough slack so that the mesh slopes down toward the center. He then cuts a 3″ hole in the middle of the screen and places a bucket beneath the hole. This method allows the rabbit’s urine to pass through the screen, and the pellets to roll down into the bucket . . . ready for composting.

Natural Pest Control

The arrival of spring means that flea season is just around the corner. And Sicily Wilson recommends that you begin protecting your canines now by sprinkling powdered brewer’s yeast over their daily rations. According to Sicily, a one-tablespoon daily dose for large dogs (try giving one teaspoon to small breeds) will–if continued throughout the season–discourage the insects from taking up residence on your four-legged friends.

This reader from Tujunga, California also suggests a remedy for an affliction that commonly strikes humans during the outdoor season: She applies a paste of water and meat tenderizer to insect bites and bee stings. Sicily says the enzyme in the tenderizer’s papaya base draws out the insect poison and gives immediate relief.

Landscape Recycling

“My husband and I have found one way to cut landscaping costs,” Kathleen Northcutt reports from Orangeburg, South Carolina. “We keep on the lookout for new construction sites and have found that–if we stop and ask permission–the owners or workers are often happy to let us dig up and remove the trees and vegetation that they were planning to bulldoze over. The variety of plants we find (including fruit trees, rhubarb and asparagus roots, berry bushes, and more) is often amazing, and we think this organic recycling is a good way to preserve a bit of nature that would otherwise be destroyed.”

Tips for Removing Fence Posts

Of course, landscaping your homestead or yard may well require that you move (or remove) some fencing. Here are a couple of tips that might lighten the load when you’re pulling out fenceposts.

Roger Holinaty suggests using a 12″ to 18″ length of chain that has 3″- or 4″-diameter rings at each end. The Canadian from Melville, Saskatchewan says that if you pass the chain through one ring to form a loop and slide the loop over the post to ground level, you can then place a crowbar through the other ring and pry up on the bar. As the post rises, continue to slide the loop back down to ground level and keep prying.

William J. Tomforde, from Seymour, Missouri, has another method of getting the unpleasant job done. He makes a 3/8″-deep chainsaw cut into his fencepost about an inch above the ground. The Show Me Stater then inserts the flat end of a wrecking bar into the cut and places two small 2 X 6 blocks to form a fulcrum. As he applies pressure on the bar, the post starts to move. William continues to add 2 X 6 blocks to the fulcrum and to pry with the bar. By the time the sixth block is in place, the post is usually loose enough to be pulled out by hand.

Eggshells as Seed Starters

“My mother always started her spring seedlings in eggshells,” writes Dottie Dobyns of Walland, Tennessee. “Mom would save the halved shells in egg cartons until the time came to start her seeds. Then she’d fill each chicken-made container with a few tablespoons of rich soil and plant two seeds in it.

“With the tops removed, her full egg cartons fit neatly on a sunny windowsill where she’d water and tend the seeds until they’d sprouted and grown to about four inches in height. Next, Mother would thin her carton-garden by removing the weaker plant from each shell, leaving the healthier one to thrive in its own private home. After the garden plot was prepared, my mother simply transferred the eggshells to the ground. The seedlings weren’t traumatized by having their roots disturbed . . . and the biodegradable eggshells added a few nutrients to the soil, to boot.”