Farming Advice: Cooking Sweetcorn, Repelling Pet Pests and a Sunflower Playhouse

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Illustration by the MOTHER EARTH NEWS staff
Farming advice from MOTHER, including planting a sunflower playhouse for children.

MOTHER EARTH NEWS readers share their farming advice, fun tips and country folklore, including repelling pet pests, planting a sunflower playhouse and cooking sweetcorn ears.

Farming Advice: Cooking Sweetcorn, Repelling Pet Pests and a Sunflower Playhouse

Seems there’s always some sweet corn left on the stalks in the garden at summer’s end . . . tough old ears that are no good for boiling or canning. Most people just plow ’em under, but Lucinda Dittmar of LaPorte, Indiana saves every one and uses the kernels to add variety to her family’s winter diet.

First, Mrs. Dittmar strips those late-season ears from the stalks and husks them in her back yard. Then, after it has dried for a few days, the corn is shelled and ground in a small grist mill. “Those kernels make the sweetest, nuttiest cornmeal I’ve ever tasted,” says Lucinda. “The flavor of the hot mush and corn bread I whip up with this home-ground meal far surpasses the bland, sandy taste of foods made with the store bought variety.”

Later (on cold, frosty winter nights) Lucinda also pours a few ounces of the dry — but unground — kernels into a pan . . . adds just enough oil to coat’em . . . and fries the morsels until they’re plump and brown. The Dittmars then sprinkle on a little salt and they’ve got toasted corn nuts, a fine fireside winter treat!

Mr. and Mrs. Steve Schonefeld of Columbia City, Indiana not only grind the corn they raise . . . they grind the cob too. “It makes great kitty litter,” says Mrs. Schonefeld. The granules also can be used as a supplement to potting soil because of the ground corncobs’ moisture-absorbent qualities.

Ever try to change a car’s oil filter but couldn’t find the special wrench that is designed just for that job? Well, Jim Kerr of Buncombe, Illinois never owned an oil-filter wrench in his life . . . and he always changes the filters in his vehicles. Jim just uses a large screwdriver — driven right through the old filters — to twist ’em off. New ones are then put on and firmly tightened down by hand.

If you have a horse or cattle trough that must be filled from a faucet day after day, Lars Laubinger of Chatham, Virginia says there’s a better way to do the job . . . automatically. Lars has replaced the faucet above his barnyard trough with a toilet tank’s “ball cock valve and float”. The gadgets can be bought new for about $7.00, and — when screwed into place with a couple of pipe wrenches — will keep a water tank filled to whatever level you set it.

Since preventive medicine is finally coming of age for people . . . why not for animals too? Caroline Hofer of South Lake Tahoe, California keeps her dog free of fleas, ticks, and lice the natural way with cedar wood chips. Cedar — as you know — has been used for hundreds of years to repel moths from clothes closets and storage trunks. But Caroline says the wood turns off many other insects and pests too, so she places plenty of chips under and around the blanket in her dog’s sleeping box.

If you recycle old soda and beer bottles, you’ve probably found several that just won’t come clean way down in the bottom. Well, Sylvia and Phillip Lokey of LaPine, Oregon make a lot of homemade root beer, and they’ve learned that BB’s — yep, the same BB’s that little boys use in Daisy air rifles — are great for making the insides of bottles sparkle.

The hard, round pellets act like tiny scouring pads when placed in a narrow-necked container along with cleaning powder and warm water. Just swirl the bottle around for a couple of minutes and the caked-on material inside should begin to flake off. Folks who dig for old antique bottles and jars around abandoned homesteads can use this idea, too, to clean the years of patina off the inside of the glassware they find. And, yes, the same trick can be accomplished with lead shot instead of BB’s . . . if you then take care to rinse all traces of lead from the bottles before they’re used.

Ever wonder what you can make out of an overripe banana? Joan White of Descanso, California advises that you can use it for a pretty good whipped cream substitute. Just add the soft banana to several stiffly beaten egg whites, then whip the combination of ingredients until it’s fluffy and thick. This may not produce real whipped cream, but Joan says it tastes much better than that plastic-looking substitute you see advertised on television.

Joan also has a couple of tips for working with eggs. She separates whites from yolks by cracking her hen fruit over a small funnel. The white goes on through while the yolk gets stuck and remains behind. Ms. White then uses a large piece of eggshell to scoop up any tiny fragments of shell that may be floating around in the white.

Everyone knows that sunflowers are easy to raise, produce beautiful flowers and bear seeds that make delicious, healthful food snacks . . . but have you ever heard of anyone using them to grow a children’s playhouse?

Marta Coleman of Fulton, Kentucky plants several dozen giant sunflowers in a large rectangular-shaped “row” in her back yard. Then, as the plants develop-tightly spaced, side by side — the playhouse actually sprouts and comes alive like something out of Jack and the Beanstalk!

A two-foot section is left unplanted along the “front” for use as a door to Marta’s sunflower castle. And, when the stalks are about five feet tall, Ms. Coleman leans their tops together and ties ’em with string. This extra trick adds the “roof” and keeps the tall flowers from falling over when they’re fully grown.

What a wonderful idea, Marta! What do you think about adding a primrose border around the outside and a nearby feeder full of seeds for the wild birds?

John Palermo of St. Petersburg, Florida has discovered a sure-fire recipe for an unusual white bread . . . and it’s flavored with beer! Just put three cups of self-rising flour into a mixing bowl along with three tablespoons of sugar and one can of beer. Mix the ingredients thoroughly . . . put the dough into a greased pan . . . and pop it into a 350 degree oven. John warns that you should have plenty of room in your oven since the dough will rise “beyond all imagination”.

After about 45 minutes, remove the loaf and brush a well-beaten egg on top of the bread . . . then back into the oven it goes for about 15 more minutes to brown its crust. Wow, what a soft and flavorful treat! (And folks who never touch alcohol needn’t worry about this recipe since all the alcohol evaporates away during the baking process.)

If you have egg yolks left over from a recipe, Kristy Riley of Denver, Colorado suggests putting them on top of your head! No joke . . . .

Kristy makes a great organic hair cleaner that’s a thousand times better than the artificial egg shampoos sold in drugstores.

Just whip a couple of yolks . . . add two to four teaspoons of your favorite body oil . . . measure in about the same amount of water . . . then blend everything together very well. To use the shampoo: First wet your hair, massage in the egg mixture to make a rich lather, then rinse thoroughly with warm water. Kristy says her formula leaves her hair cleaner and shinier than anything else she’s ever tried . . . and frequent washing with this homemade cleanser never dries out her hair.

A very good non-commercial hair rinse can be made by mixing a small handful each of lavender, rosemary, mint, and thyme into a quart of white vinegar. Cynthia Macek of Hayden Lake, Idaho advises us to “place the brew in a dark brown glass bottle and set it aside for about two weeks”. Shake the container every day or so, then strain its contents through a few layers of muslin or cheesecloth. Keep the aromatic mixture away from light and heat when you store it, and the herbal rinse will stay fresh for a month or more. After a shampoo, use the solution — and control its strength — by rinsing your hair with the mixture and freely flowing water.

Ever try to think of a recycling use for those styrofoam flats that prepackaged supermarket hamburger and steaks sit on? Most people just throw them out, but Theresa Curtis of Stratton, Colorado has been washing and saving the plastic holders for months. “I cut them into triangle-shaped wedges,” says Theresa, “and use the pieces in my garden as markers for different plants. I write the names of the seedlings on the wedges with a ball point pen . . . and since styrofoam isn’t biodegradable, the labels don’t dissolve and wash away like paper seed-package markers do!” Theresa also applies masking tape to some of the wedges so the names and planting dates written on them may be changed from year to year.

Ed Cicero of Maspeth, New York has another great idea for most any kind of styrofoam: Grind up small pieces in a food blender and use the particles as a substitute for vermiculite or perlite in potting soil. Ed reports that his styrolite does a great job of making the soil “light and airy” for good root development.

Isn’t it always a bunch of trouble to plant tiny carrot, lettuce, and mustard seeds? If you zip a package open just the slightest bit wrong, all the seeds spill out on the ground. Then, if you’re lucky enough to salvage a few for sowing, you usually end up with all of ’em in just a couple of spots along a row.

Well, Phil Trotter of Norman, Oklahoma has a solution to this annual problem . . . and he says it will give you a perfectly even planting in each and every row you try it on. Phil places finely pulverized garden soil into a large coffee can . . . adds a package of tiny seeds . . . covers and shakes the container really well . . . then sows handfuls of the mixture. Trotter notes that — because a good shake distributes the seeds so evenly inside the can that almost none are lost during planting — he now uses a lot fewer seeds than with old-fashioned sowing methods . . . especially since less thinning is required after the seedlings sprout.

Tired of tripping over long appliance cords every time they’re stretched out across the floor? Lois Maloney of Freesoil, Michigan suggests “folding up” the wire and then slipping the coil inside an empty toilet-paper tube. This simple holder then can be placed near a wall outlet and — usually — hidden by furniture. Lois recommends the paper tubes for storing the folded extension cords, too. Longer paper-towel or aluminum-foil holders also may be put to similar uses around the house.

“To prevent or cure scours in young calves,” say many old-timers, “let them be nursed by milk goats.” Mrs. Richard Dailey of Caldwell, Idaho passes along this bit of information from farmers she’s talked with. They usually let a calf stay with its mother for the first week (since the early “colostrum milk” is necessary for the baby’s initial development). Then they move the calf over to a fat — uddered nanny . . . and let the goat raise her new oversized child until weaning time rolls around!

Pat Miller of Culver, Indiana says she’s lost only one calf to scours in the past five years . . . thanks to a formula given to her by an old-time veterinarian. It’s a nourishing food supplement used to keep the animal alive while antibiotics — or other remedies — fight the cause of the intestinal problem.

To make Pat’s wonder food mix four eggs together with 1/2 cup of honey and 1/4 cup of Kaopectate. Then thicken the mixture with flour, but be sure to keep it liquid enough for a good bottle-nipple flow. Pat reports that frequent feedings work best for most calves . .. and for mild cases, no other treatment will be necessary at all. The eggs and honey provide quick energy, while the Kaopectate and flour bind up the bowels long enough for the calf to absorb the nourishment. Since this formula stores well in a refrigerator, you may make a large batch all at once and use it as needed.

OK. Now it’s YOUR turn! We’ve all come up with some practical, down-home, time-tested solutions to the frustrating little problems that bug us every day. Let’s hear YOUR best “horse sense” ideas so we can share ’em and all benefit.

Send your pointers to Down-Home Country Lore, P.O. Box 70, Hendersonville, N.C. 28739, and I’ll make sure that the most useful of the suggestions I receive will appear in upcoming editions. A one-year subscription — or a one year extension of an existing subscription — will then be sent to each contributor whose tip does get printed in this column. — MOTHER.