Halloween Dinner, Wood Hauling, Recycled Yard Waste, and Other Country Lore

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One Maine homesteader uses wire twist ties as "chicken tags" that let him know which laying hens are pulling their weight and which are ready for the stew pot.
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Whether in a pipe—or your head—a "flashlight stethoscope" can reveal the presence of plumbing leaks.

HALLOWEEN DINNER: Want to give your youngsters a nice–and healthful–Halloween dinner? Then serve up Alice McCain’s menu of “witches’ noses,” “ants on logs,” and a “jack-o’-lantern pizza!” In case you’re wondering just what the Woodinville, Washingtonian’s gruesome-sounding delectables are … well, witches’ noses are simply small, uncut garden carrots … ants on logs are peanut butter-filled celery sections that have been topped with raisins … and a lack-o’-lantern pizza is the famous Italian dish covered with a decorative facial design made out of cheese, olives, and salami!

CHICKEN TAGS: Nobody wants to put his or her best laying hens in the stew pot. Fortunately, Daniel Bates of Monhegan Island, Maine knows a clever way to figure out which biddies are really earning their keep … and which freeloading fowl are just driving up the feed bill. The Northeasterner keeps a supply of short wire twist ties in his pocket when he visits his birds’ coop. Every time he notices a hen announcing a newly laid egg, Daniel gently bands one of the productive fowl’s legs.

After a few weeks of this routine, the island homesteader begins to stew up his untagged birds and to watch the expense bill for his hen fruit go down. And Daniel keeps his tagging “records” current by removing all the bands–and starting the whole process over–every six months.

WOOD HAULING: “My woodshed stands downhill from my house,” says Lone Pine, California homesteader Earl T. Richardson. “And for a long time I used a big wheelbarrow to cart the fuel up to my door, but–with every passing season–those loads were getting heavier and heavier. Since I’m only 70 years old, I knew the problem couldn’t have been a sign of my age creeping up on me … but I also knew I was facing a difficulty that definitely needed remedying.

“So I made a 5′-long, unlidded box–with one end open and a width slightly greater than my cut fuel’s length–out of scrap plywood, and wired that crate to a lightweight, 2-wheeled hand truck. I can load this rig just as full as I did my wheelbarrow, but–since I now pull instead of push my wood loads–the hand truck is a lot less strenuous for me to use. True, I have the nagging feeling that this wood hauler, like that wheelbarrow, may get harder and harder to tote as the second 70 years slip by … but I’ll worry about solving that problem when I get to it!”

RECYCLED YARD WASTE: Every fall, millions of folks in cities, small towns, and suburbs gather up their yard leaves into big plastic bags and have them carted away to dumps. But Debbie Poineau has discovered one, two, three worthwhile uses for the wasted lawn gleanings. The Boyne City, Michigan resident simply phones her local trash collection agency and gets dozens of the filled sacks delivered–for free–to her house. (Rural folks could pick up a supply of the bagged tree leavings when they’re making a trip to town.) Debbie then [1] piles the sacks against the foundation of her house to help insulate the dwelling against those cold winter winds, [2] empties the bags’ partially decomposed contents onto her garden and compost pile the next spring, and [3] then reuses the leftover containers for her own year’s supply of trash bags!

SNOW PREPARATION: If you’re establishing a homestead in deep snow country, you might lend an ear to the counsel of Harry and Betty Humbert. The two Wise River, Montana settlers recommend that all farmstead doors (especially those on ground level outbuildings) be constructed at the ends–rather than the sides–of buildings  to assure that snow falling off a roof won’t block the entrance. (You might consider having such doors open inward rather than out, too!)

The Humberts also point out that any fences alongside roadways should be erected a few feet back from the drives to leave room for those mounds of snowplow-pushed snow. And lastly, the Treasure State residents remind folks to incorporate ample room–just inside their homestead’s door–for hanging up winter-wetted coats, caps, gloves, mittens, and boots!

PRE-DARNED SOCKS: Lista Haverland has figured out a way to make sure expensive winter wool socks do, indeed, last all through the chilly season! She darns the heel and toe “trouble spots” of her newly purchased footwear before she even dons them … and then redarns those patches once wear spots begin to show up. The Kelseyville, California reader has found that the technique makes her wool socks last three times as long as they used to. “So nowadays,” she adds, “whenever a hole starts to develop in a sock, I say `Darn it!’ … and then I do!”

ELDERBERRY JELLY: In September 1979, this column ran George E. Luther’s suggestion for separating foraged elderberries from their stems by rubbing the fruits over a 1/2-inch mesh hardware cloth. Well, Charleston, Tennessee’s Carlyn Rohrig has come up with an even simpler way of extracting jelly juice from the plentiful–but tiny–berries. After “scissor gathering” a garbage bag full of the purple clusters, Carlyn thoroughly washes her pickin’s, plops them–stems and all–into a large pot or canner, and starts warming the container on her stove. Elderberries pop open as soon as they are heated a bit, so before long, a mass of juice collects in the bottom of the kettle. Ms. Rohrig then spoons out the stems, strains the juice through a sieve, and is ready to make delicious jelly!

HONEY EXTRACTION: A lot of hobbyist beekeepers (whose small honey harvests don’t merit the purchase of an expensive extractor) can efficiently glean the sweetener from its comb sections by trying Dorothy McGuire’s “solar car” technique. The Hancock, New Yorker fills a cheesecloth bag with fresh honeycomb and suspends that sack–over a large pan–in a sunny spot in her auto. Dorothy then rolls up all the car’s windows (to keep out insects and to help the vehicle store heat) and lets her bee crop “self-separate”!

CIDER WITHOUT A PRESS: Most folks don’t have a cider press or make their own apple squeezin’s, but Paula Gammell knows a juice-making method that any apple lover can try. The Knoxville, Tennessee woman simmers a kettle full of the quartered fruits until the sections are tender. She then gently spoons the softened slices into a colander that’s been placed over a large pot and lets the fruits drain. A half hour later, the vessel contains plenty of tasty, clear apple juice that’s all ready for drinking or canning.

And what does Paula do with the leftover pulp in the colander? Why, she simply strains the contents through the sieve and into another pot, seasons ’em up, and has a saucepan full of quick-cooking apple butter!

WINTER PEPPERS: Seabrook, Maryland’s Pat Brown advises folks who have a good “sun-catching” window in their homes to be sure to bring a couple of their vegetable garden’s pepper plants inside during the chilly months. The Free State lady finds that the fruiting perennials give her fresh vegetables all winter long (you might want to supplement the plants’ magnesium supply by burying a couple of paper match heads near their roots) … and can be moved back out into the cropping patch the following spring. (In fact, the resourceful gardener is still getting crisp produce off a pepper plant she started back in 1977!)

TOILET REGULATOR: One way to reduce over half of the water consumed by a flush toilet is to rig the water closet so you can regulate the amount of liquid it uses! (After all, it isn’t necessary to use the same amount of water to dispose of both solid and liquid wastes.)

Well, Todd Paine invented just such a “direct drive” flushing mechanism by securing a length of coat hanger wire to both his toilet’s flush lever and its flapper valve. Whenever the Paso Robles, Californian pushes the handle down, the bowl’s plug gets lifted up. But the instant Todd lets go of that lever, the flow is cut off. The conserving Californian can run either a smidgen or a bowlful of water … instead of using five gallons of the precious fluid with every flush!

FLASHLIGHT STETHOSCOPE: Did you ever hear of a “flashlight stethoscope?” John Berry hadn’t, until a plumber came out to replace a faulty water meter in the basement of John’s Akron, Ohio home. After finishing the repair job, the wrench twister pulled out his flashlight, put the butt end of the “torch” on a pipe, and held its lens close to his ear. In a few seconds the man declared that there must be a water leak somewhere in the house because he could hear a faint ticking sound through his flashlight! Mr. Berry, though, was a bit skeptical of the plumber’s statement … until the house owner did some hunting and found a faulty valve in an upstairs bathroom!

And what’s the moral of John’s tale? Simply this: If you want to check your home for wasteful plumbing leaks, put a flashlight to your pipe work and start listening!