Farming Advice: Extend the Life of a Christmas Tree, Beef Chili Recipe and a Painting Primer

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Diagram 1 and 2: Extending the life of socks takes only a few minutes of your time, a pair of scissors, and a sewing machine or needle and thread.
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F.R. Jespersen's automatic coop door opener.

MOTHER EARTH NEWS readers share their farming advice, fun tips and country folklore, including how to recycle and extend the life of a Christmas tree, a beef chili recipe for cold winter evenings and a painting primer to help make clean up a breeze.

How to Recycle and Extend the Life of a Christmas Tree

While driving through town on a blustery New Year’s Day, I saw dozens of discarded Christmas trees blowing around like tumbleweeds on the snow. Why not recycle our cut Christmas trees? With a little imagination we can extend their usable life. Here are just a few ways we can reuse them:

As a deluxe bird feeder

After removing decorations, bring the tree outside. Either leave it in the stand or stick the base through the snow and into the ground. Decorate the branches with seed balls, suet, popcorn and cranberry strings, and apple or orange slices. Smear peanut butter on the branches. This can be great fun for the whole family, and the birds will love it.

As a habitat for wildlife

Put the tree near your bird feeder for wind protection and for cover from predators. Rabbits also benefit from a brushy shelter. If you have a fish pond, you could use your tree as a fish shelter. With nylon rope, attach a cement block to the tree for weight. When the pond is well frozen over, select a site and leave the tree on the ice. In the spring, the tree will sink and provide fish with a safe refuge and ideal feeding conditions.

As erosion control

Christmas trees have been used extensively for beach erosion control, and they can also be used to slow erosion in ravines. If you have a gorge where water carries away precious soil, use a stake to attach your tree in the water’s path. The tree will trap soil and organic debris.

As a creative project

Make sachets and potpourris from aromatic needles and branch tips. Balsam needles are the longest lasting. The tree’s trunk can be made into candlesticks, bird feeders, birdhouses, or decorative reindeer for next year’s celebration.

In the garden

Pine branches make an effective mulch for tender perennials, roses and strawberries, protecting them froth the harsh winter. Branches work well in windy spots where lighter mulches blow away. The trunk can be used whole as an edging for the garden or split for stakes. Some garden centers will chip the tree for use as mulch. If you have a fireplace or wood-burning stove, you could cut up your tree, burn it some cold night and spread the ashes on the garden in spring.

Any way you choose to do it, reusing your tree has got to be better than those New Year’s Day tumbleweeds.

–Helen Hendrickson
Chardon, OH

Sock-cessful Savings

Extending the life of socks takes only a few minutes of your time, a pair of scissors, and a sewing machine or needle and thread.

This method works best on knee socks or tube socks, but any sock with a good long top will work.

1. Cut the sock off above the heel and any worn spots. (See diagram #1). 2. Round the cut end (See diagram #2). 3. Sew the cut edge on a machine with a zig-zag stitch or by hand. 4. Trim close to stitches being careful not to cut threads. Sock tops make great slippers and around-the-house socks.

–Marilyn Gill
Lewistown, MT

Flying the Coop

I am a longtime subscriber and have used a lot of ideas sent in by other readers. Now I would like to share two ideas that might be of help to others.

My first tip is a way to let your poultry out of the coop in the morning if you want them out before you get up. The enclosed drawing will give you an idea how it works. The door should slide easily and should sit in a pocket so predators can’t get in. Hang a window weight or other weight just slightly heavier than the door a foot or less above the floor.

An Automatic Coop Door Opener

An alarm clock should be fastened on a shelf with a lightweight line (fish line is good) wrapped around the wind-up knob for the alarm and fastened to the cord holding the weight. You might have to alter the wind-up knob so you can wrap the line around it. Wrap the line so that it unwinds as the alarm rings, making the weight go down to the floor, lifting the door. Wind the alarm each night and wrap the line around the knob so it keeps the weight from going down and keeps the door closed until the alarm rings in the morning, lowering the weight.

Tip #2. To get rid of June bugs and other night flying insects in an earth-friendly manner, hang a light with a shade over a bucket or pan filled with water to within a few inches of the top. The bugs fly into the light and slide down the shade into the water. In the morning the grackles and other birds will sit on the edge of the container and eat the June bugs. You might want to put gravel in the bucket so there is only about an inch of water above it to keep any small birds from drowning. The June bugs can’t crawl up the sides of the bucket but for some other insects you might want to put a little vegetable or other oil in the water to keep them from flying out.

–F.R. Jespersen
Overland Park, KS

Winter Warmer: Homemade Beef Chili Recipe

For my money, nothing warms you up like a good bowl of chili. Here’s my favorite beef chili recipe, which is very simple to make and is great over rice. You can, of course, substitute home grown vegetables and homemade broth if desired.

1.5 pounds of lean ground beef
2 medium onions
1 28-ounce can tomatoes
16-ounce can tomato paste
I cup water
1 beef bullion cube
1 16-ounce can red kidney beans
2 tablespoons green/red bell pepper, diced
2 cloves garlic minced
2 teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons oregano
2 teaspoons chili powder or ground cumin

1/2 tsp crushed red pepper

1 bay leaf

Saute first two ingredients together in a skillet until beef is browned. Drain fat. Add all the remaining ingredients and simmer gently for about an hour and a half. Serve over rice.

–Jeff Behm

Montgomery Twp, NJ

Point Primer, Plus

Before you start painting, rub bath oil on your hands for easy clean-up. To keep eggshells from cracking during boiling, add a small amount of vinegar to the water. The way to tell sweet corn from field corn is to watch the tassels. Field corn will have a brown tassel. Sweet corn will have a white or light-colored tassel.

–Elva Pate
Windsor, NC

Flee Fless!

Borax laundry powder has kept my house and animals flea-free for the past five years. Just sprinkle on carpet, floors, and under cushions on furniture, leave for a couple days then vacuum. No harmful chemicals are necessary.

–Vivian Gassan
Barberton, OH

Sticky Solution

I am writing in response to the letter by Nancy Markley of Fairmont, WV, in the November 1997 issue, in which she states she covered her patio furniture with denim scraps. Nancy says she had to stitch the covers back on after each washing. My solution is Velcro. I make each cushion like a pillow case and buy sew-in Velcro by the box. Sew a strip along the open end of the cushion case. Then just pull it apart and throw it in the washer!

I also use the whole pair of jeans including zippers, pockets, and waistbands to make rugs. Take an old acrylic blanket, sew the jeans onto it, and then cut a strip of heavy canvas to sew on as a border.

–Lyn Wallace
Biloxi, MS

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