MOTHER EARTH NEWS readers share their farming advice, fun tips and country folklore, including cement block shelves,
lengthening jeans and fixing treadle sewing belts.
Sometimes it’s hard to find storage space for all those
canned goods you put up for the winter, but June Egland of
Nekoosa, Wisconsin knows a way to create temporary shelves
that work very well.
“My husband came up with this idea,” June writes. “You just
lay several ordinary cement blocks flat and add planks as
shown in the sketch.”
The shelves are easy to assemble and can be stacked to any
height, and the space between planks nicely accommodates
either quart- or pint-sized bottles (leaving the top
shelves for larger jars). Best of all, this storage
arrangement can be permanent . . . or can be easily
dismantled for relocation or when no longer needed.
If you’re saving odds and ends of fat until you’ve
accumulated enough to make soap, take a tip from William
Welch of Portland, Oregon: Cover the stored grease with a
weak solution of lye. That way it won’t turn moldy or
rancid before you have a chance to use it.
When Joy Blanchard of Silver Springs, Nevada prepares dried
beans, she adds one teaspoon of ground ginger to the
cooking water for each pound of the beans. The spice
affects flavor very little, and works better than baking
soda to counteract the well-known gas-generating tendency of
legumes, Joy says.
If those comfortable, well-cut jeans you just bought turn
out — after their first washing — to be too short,
take a tip from Joan de Vitry of Marietta, Pennsylvania.
All you have to do to lengthen your “high water” pants
attractively is sew a cuff of denim salvaged from another
pair of Old Faithfuls to the bottom of each pant leg. The
only trick to remember is to make sure that this added-on
cuff is twice as long as the jeans you’re working
on are too short. Then turn up the added material so that
it covers the seams, and take several small stitches in the
side seams of the turnups to keep them from sagging.
Since it’s natural for the “wrong” side of the denim to
appear on a turned-up cuff, you needn’t worry about
matching the scrap fabric to the jeans you’re lengthening.
While we’re on the subject of lengthening: “When trying to
let down the children’s skirts and slacks, my wife has
always found it so difficult to iron away the old hemlines
and cuff lines,” writes Howard Berg of Concord, California.
“Then a neighbor suggested dampening both the creased
material and the pressing cloth with a solution of three
tablespoons of white vinegar to one cup of water. It works
like a charm — even on synthetic fabrics — and it’s
sure saved us a bundle on school clothes.”
Here’s another helpful use for your indispensable household
vinegar. Bargain fabrics may be easy on the budget, but
unfortunately they sometimes fade after only a few
washings. To help inexpensive sewing material retain its
original colors, Mary Buckingham of Davis, California
advises that you soak the cloth for at least 48 hours in a
solution of 1/2 cup white vinegar to a gallon of water
before you start to sew with it.
And before you put away the vinegar jug, Judie
Friedman-Misterka of Dillsburg, Pennsylvania has yet
another use for the all-purpose acid. When her electric
steam iron went on the blink, Judie poured full-strength
vinegar into the iron’s water well and left it there for 20
minutes, then dumped the liquid out and thoroughly rinsed
the iron’s reservoir with plain water. Apparently this
treatment dissolved some of the mineral deposit that was
clogging the appliance’s steam apparatus, because the iron
worked well again with no further ado. You might try the
same method on mineral-encrusted teakettles.
If the belt on your treadle sewing machine should become
loose, just remove the staple that holds it together, cut
about 1/4 inch from each end of the strip, and use an awl
or nail to punch a hole near the edge of the leather at
each end. Then sew the ends together with heavy thread
(“Button and Carpet” if possible). Debi Perrywinkle of
Miranda, California says she’s used the same leather belt
(repaired in this way) on her machine for five years.
Or suppose you’re stuck with a broken drive belt on your
electric sewing machine. That, too, you can fix yourself,
according to Maureen Darby of Leslie, Arkansas. Cut a piece
of 1/4-inch-wide elastic about 10 inches long and tie the
ends together in a square knot. Then stretch this loop
between the small wheel (near the motor) and the large
wheel (right where the drive belt was before it broke). It
the elastic circlet is too loose, just untie it, snip off
an inch or so, and reknot It. The new loop should fit
tightly enough so that a slight turn of the large wheel
with your hand will start the machine. When you resume
stitching, the makeshift drive belt should work fine.
Put an end to that ice-cold seat in your unheated outhouse!
Treat yourself to an inexpensive, ring-shaped styrofoam pool
toy . . . and perch on that instead of on frigid
wood. And thank W.B. McConnell of Presque Isle, Maine for
sharing his discovery with the rest of us.
Kathleen Keith of Ramona, California swears by this method
for home-style car radiator repair: Mix a batch of epoxy
cement, using equal amounts of the two components of the
glue. Add a walnut-sized clump of steel wool for each two
tubes of epoxy used, and mix well. Make sure the edges of
the hole to be repaired are dry, and apply the sticky wad
of cement to the gap, filling it in completely. Then let
the mended patch dry thoroughly before you refill the
radiator. Even a large hole can be sealed in this way, says
Kathleen, and a spot so patched should never again be a
source of leakage.
Will you be clearing land in the spring? Before you chop
all those stumps down to ground level, remember this advice
given to Mary Gene Beheler of Ona, West Virginia by her
neighbor (a farmer of some 50 years experience). Cut the
saplings off at waist height, because the longer stumps
will rot more readily and are much less hazardous to
grazing critters and tractor tires.
Problem: How to hold a chain saw steady while you’re
sharpening the chain. Solution: Make a jig like the one
described by Bernard Davies of Remsen, New York. You’ll not
only save time, but also have a sharper saw, since you’ll
be able to file all the teeth at the same angle. Also, by
thus making the sharpening chore easier, you’ll be
encouraging yourself to do the job as soon as it becomes
necessary, rather than putting it off till the chain is
hopelessly dull and much harder to hone.
Ready to begin? Select a log that’s at least 14 inches in
diameter and make a single rip cut down its center, as
shown in the diagram. This gash should be slightly longer
than the chain saw bar, and deep enough so that just the
top inch of the bar and chain protrudes.
Next, saw out a rectangular opening in the chunk of wood
(at one end of the cut) so that the powerhead portion of
the saw will just fit into the cut-out space, with one inch
of bare chain exposed. Then set the saw in the jig and file
Since the commercial weatherstripping for entrance ways is
made for doors that hang square in the frame — and
since the exterior doors of old farmhouses are usually
warped and ill-fitting — Judy Daily of Reedstown,
Wisconsin notes that it’s often necessary to improvise
one’s own draft stoppers.
What Judy did was sew double-layered strips of heavy,
brightly printed cloth into tubes the length of her door
openings. Each tube was sewn inside out, with one end left
open, so that no seam edges would show when the contrivance
was turned right side out. Judy next filled the long,
skinny “pillows” with sand, and then stitched the open ends
According to their creator, one of these tubes looks much
better flopped against a door than an old coat or towel or
folded rug would.
It can be difficult — or downright dangerous — to
get a stubborn horse to give you its leg when you want to
clean or treat some part of the appendage. But here’s a
gentle, persuasive technique that works well for Mike Klein
of Wolcott, New York.
First, tie the horse at head height to a sturdy support. If
you want to work on the animal’s left front foot, start by
lightly touching the left side of his neck and stroking
downward over his shoulder. Then, move your hand slowly
down the Inside of Dobbin’s left leg.
When your hand is just below the knee, press your index
finger into the leg (cannon) bone. Pressure on this spot
will cause the horse to raise his foot . . . right to where
you want it.
To work on a hind leg, use the same gradual stroking
approach, starting at the hip and working your hand down,
until you reach the cannon bone at a point just below the
hock. It’s some. times necessary to press the spot for up
to 30 seconds, but Mike says the horse will eventually give
you his leg.
“I was glad for the young Leghorn rooster that a friend
gave me to round out our henhouse population,” writes Brian
Sharkany of Miami, Florida, “but the cock would attack me
whenever I’d go near. I found a simple way to outwit the
bird, though, without resorting to strong-arm methods.
“I tied a loop of soft twine around the rooster’s neck,
with a larger loop suspended from it . . . just clearing the
ground. Whenever the Leghorn springs at a victim now, his
feet get caught in the lower loop. He suffers only from
humiliation, and should soon decide that fighting isn’t
worth the trouble.”
Brian added that he does check frequently to be sure the
bird doesn’t become tangled in the string while undergoing
this peacemaking treatment.
“When we moved last spring,” writes Janice Witul of
Berkeley, California, “a farmer who came to look at the
heifer I was selling gave me some good advice. When you’re
trying to sell an animal that has been accustomed to
roaming free in an open space, don’t tie or pen the critter
to show it more easily to prospective buyers. Such sudden
close confinement can make a free-running animal ‘gait up’,
as the farmer put it. It may go off its feed or even
develop diarrhea, and generally appear less fat and healthy
than it usually does.”
Luckily, Janice adds, the farmer had seen her penned heifer
unconfined and in good condition a few days before, so he
bought the animal anyway.
It takes a bit of old-timey know-how to keep rugs clean
without electric equipment . . . like this tip from Sandy
Lesko of Aurora, Colorado: When sweeping a rug with a straw
broom, always sprinkle a little water on the carpet first
. . . to keep the dust down and help the broom sweep clean.
Erik Watts of Ft. Collins, Colorado has come up with the
ultimate bird feeder . . . one that used no wood, nails, milk
cartons, or suet. Erik’s attractive, uncomplicated, and
completely recyclable feeder is . . . a sunflower head! Hang
the “cafeteria” from a tree, seeded side up, by rigging
together a simple sling of string. (Add macrame and beads,
If you like!) When the birds have polished off the seeds,
just toss what’s left of the sunflower top onto the compost
hasp and suspend another head in its place.
Do you have a good bottle that’s standing useless because a
cork has been pushed into it . . . and all efforts to fish
the stopper out have failed? Sharon Albertson of
Ridgefield, Washington has the answer for you. Just pour
enough ammonia into the bottle to float the cork, and wait
48 hours . . . or until the chemical disintegrates the cork
and there’s nothing left of the troublesome stopper but
pieces small enough to pour.