Learn to Grow Sprouts, Make Your Own Curtains and Other Homesteading Tips

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Put these unique pieces of reader advice to work around your home.

Here’s another fine batch of homesteading tips and hints from down-to-earth readers all over MOTHER EARTH NEWS land.

Reader’s Tips

Connie Kerr-Laughlin of Edinboro, PennsylvaniaCountry nights are quiet (between the calls of the owl) unless you have one of those old slat-type beds that creaks every time a sleeper changes position. “But you can silence those complaining boards,” says Connie. “Remove the slats, wrap both ends of each one in newspapers, and replace the boards. Peace at last!” 

Patricia Lynch of Woodinville, WashingtonSetting posts in concrete will help fence posts will stay put a lot longer (especially in damp areas). But there’s a wrong and a right way to do the job. If you just pour the mix into a hole and then push the post down into it, you’ll create a “vase” that holds water. And sooner or later, that water will cause the post to rot or rust off. Patricia had a better idea: “Dig the hole, throw in a few inches of pebbles or crushed stone for drainage, and ‘plant’ the post. Then pour the concrete around the upright. Any water that seeps down between this post and its concrete will harmlessly drain away.”

Mrs. Melvin Frederick of Durango, Iowa — suggests putting a large handful of baking soda into the water you use for scalding fowl of any kind: “You’ll find that it makes it easier to do a quick, clean job of de-feathering the birds.”

Evelyn Stewart of Milford, New Jersey — It can be tricky to grow sprouts at home. Bean, alfalfa, wheat, and other sprouts take over for many of us where garden vegetables leave off. And, since sprouting seeds need both warmth and darkness, it’s only natural to cultivate them in the cupboard where they’re easily forgotten. “That°s why I just invert a paper bag over my jar of sprouts and leave them right out on the kitchen counter,” says Evelyn. “The sack keeps the shoots as warm and as dark as they need to be…yet lets me grow them next to the sink so that I never forget to rinse the developing crop regularly.”

Sister Anthony Ames of Erie, Pennsylvania — If you make up your own chicken feed and need a source of protein, ask your butcher for the “meatsaw dust” that accumulates daily as he cuts steaks and roasts. Sister Anthony Ames reports that her biddies thrive on the fine scraps of bone and meat (which, of course, may be frozen whenever you collect a surplus that you want to feed to your flock later). And if your butcher won’t give you the dust free, offer to trade a few eggs or some garden vegetables for it.

Deldee Johnson of Butte Meadows, California — Oops! You’ve started to make a cake and you’ve just discovered that the egg tray is bare. But that won’t stop you if you’re Deldee Johnson. Deldee keeps a jar of flaxseed in the kitchen and when she comes up short this way she just substitutes a tablespoon of the ground seed for one egg in a recipe.

William Hussman of Eagan, Minnesota — Short of freezer space? “Store cured, smoked hams and slabs of bacon in a cool, dry place in a wooden box filled with beardless barley,” says William Hussman. “My family’s used this trick since Grandpa Lightfield homesteaded in Idaho. And, yes, you can use bearded barley the same way…if you remember to wear gloves to protect you from its barbs when you dig into the grain to retrieve your meat.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE: Oats and wheat will work, too. At least Indiana farm families have been stashing wrapped, cured hams out in the oats bin for generations. And watermelons too! You just haven’t lived until you’ve buried a halfdozen choice, unblemished watermelons in the oats bin at the end of a good summer…and then dug the crisp, ripe, juicy fruit back out of the granary for the annual Thanksgiving reunion feast!)

Ken Raspotnick of Washburn, Wisconsin — For an inexpensive, attractive way to let light into a log cabin, cap or cork (to keep the grout out of the containers) either clear or colored bottles and cement them right into spaces cut into the wall. Wipe the exposed surfaces of the glass clean before the cement dries on them, says Ken. Then stand back and admire the sun that shines in.

Lee Lewin of Placerville, Colorado — Lee homesteads through seven months of winter every year away up (10,000-foot elevation) in Placerville, Colorado. He has some tips for improving cold weather egg production:

  • Pour boiling water over your layers’ feed every day, to make it into a hot mash.
  • Give the birds hot water to drink twice a day.
  • Let the chicken house bedding build up all winter, so that the flock can take maximum advantage of the heat generated by the decomposing manure.

Fort Kent, Maine’s Gale Flagg — “You can buy several 5/8 inch wooden dowels for the price of just one conventional metal curtain rod,” says Fort Kent, Maine’s Gale Flagg, “and, if you know how, they’ll support curtains just as well.” Here is how to hang window curtains:

  1. Drive a finishing nail into each side of the sash’s frame
  2. Then cut a dowel to length
  3. Hold it up to the nails
  4. Mark the spots where they hit the wooden rod
  5. Drill slightly oversized holes through the dowel at these two points
  6. Bend the head of each nail up to form an “L”
  7. Slide the wooden rod into the curtain casing
  8. And settle the dowel down onto the nails.

“You can curtain shelves the same easy, inexpensive way. Drive supporting finishing nails spaced two feet or so apart into the edge of each board and continue as above. If you prefer to hang one long panel of fabric on each shelf–instead of several short ones between the nails–make a small hand-finished ‘buttonhole’ in the cloth to admit each supporting hook.”

Michael Gray of Dillsburg, Pennsylvania — Got a calf with the scours? Try this remedy: Mix one whole egg and one teaspoon of grated nutmeg together (fork the spice into the egg gently, as though you were making a custard, without beating in a lot of air). Give the ailing calf a dose of this “nog” as soon as you notice its intestinal problem, and repeat the treatment in 12 hours if the symptoms persist.

Barbara Saltenreich of Essex Junction, Vermont — Here’s how to treat a horse with colic: “Hold the animal’s head up and pour about a quart of mineral oil into the side of its mouth while you stroke its throat gently. Then walk the horse slowly for an hour or so or until it quits lying down each time you stop. And never let it roll!”

Mrs. Robert Hill of Atlanta, Texas — “You can make the job easier on yourself, the next time you’re driving cattle or hogs, if you twirl a strip of rubber or a short rope above your head. The animals naturally tend to move away from the whirring noise.”

Gary and Gayle Hajek of Snohomish, Washington — Ever try to set up a big extension ladder all by yourself? It isn’t easy. Unless you know the trick of tying a stout rope to the bottom rung of the ungainly beast and then stretching the length of cord out on the ground under the ladder. Which makes it easy for you to step on the rope and then “walk the line” as you gradually push the “slipless” ladder upright.

Mr. and Mrs. Eugene Olm of Stratford, Wisconsin — Got a nice china dish that’s cracked? Before you settle for a plastic replacement, boil the damaged plate or bowl in sweet milk for 45 minutes, and it’ll probably seal the crack. Honest! And that’s just one more good reason for keeping a milk cow or goat on a homestead.

Joy Birnseth of Gold Hill, Oregon — Do you need a strainer for your goat or cow milk? There’s no reason to buy one if you own a blender with a jar that comes apart. Just unscrew the ring that holds the bottom on the jar, remove the blender blades, stretch your filter paper or cheesecloth across the container’s open bottom, and screw the ring on again. Presto! A strainer that works just fine for the one-cow or one-goat family.