Country Lore: Ideas for Reusing Junk Mail, Candle Wax and More

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This reader recommends a cheap, easy way to keep your windshield cleaner than ever.
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Add bird feeders on top of ant hills to not only attract more wildlife to your yard but also help get rid of the pests!
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Get rid of fleas  — and celebrate — with a bonfire.  
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A reader turns her unwanted junk mail into a way to start her seeds for the growing season. 

Baby Talk: Reusing Baby Formula Cans

The trouble with most baby formula cans is that you never use all of the formula in one meal, and the cans don’t come with a plastic cap to preserve the remainder of the contents. Well, in my travels I have discovered a few. Both Hershey’s Chocolate Syrup and Frito-Lay dip containers have removable tops that fit these formula cans very well.

 So after you’ve polished off the chocolate milk or dived into the dip for the last time, save those lids. You never know what they will fit next.

Susan Dawson

Richmond, Virginia

New Life for Candle Wax Stubs

Even though it may look as if there’s nothing left to be done with those old candle stubs, they still have plenty of life in them. Melt a few drops of wax at the end of the stub and use it to seal an envelope that has lost its stick. Melted wax makes a fine adhesive for almost any paper surface, and the old-fashioned seal looks great. You can also throw stubs in with your kindling to use as fire starters. Finally, drawers will stick less and slide much easier when you rub candle wax on the metal runners inside them. 

Sheila Carpenter

St. Cloud, Minnesota

Bag It!

Before starting a messy project such as painting, cut holes for your head and arms in a trash bag. When you are finished, simply dispose of the bag, and your clothes will be clean. 

Rachel Hartman

Perris, California

Herbal Remedies Using Fennel and Pennyroyal

Fennel is one of those general all-around plants that has been held in high regard from time immemorial as a food, flavoring, tea, medicine and insect repellent. Eating the feathery leaves or drinking a strong tea made from them temporarily cuts down on the appetite. Additionally, dry fennel leaves make a good flea repellent. Pennyroyal is also a repellent. A crushed handful of pennyroyal rubbed on exposed skin acts as a natural insect inhibitor. It keeps fleas at bay and will also drive moths out of cottons and woolens. 

N. W. Smeathers

Anamosa, Iowa

New Ways to Recycle and Reuse Junk Mail

Here’s a way to use the stream of junk mail (bulk mail, according to the Postal Service) that comes to your mailbox every day, grow healthier seedlings and save money, too! We make our own organic soil mix using this formula from The New Organic Grower by Eliot Coleman:


  • 2 buckets black peat (peat humus)
  • 1/2 cup lime


  • 2 buckets course sand (builder’s sand)
  • 2 buckets brown peat (sphagnum)
  • 3 cups base fertilizer (1cup blood meal, 1 cup colloidal phosphate, 1 cup greensand)

Mix above ingredients.


  • 1 bucket garden soil
  • 1 screened bucket of compost (2-year-old is best)

You can use a commercial mix, but we find this formula produces a healthier plant, as it provides excellent root growth and vital nutrients. You’ll need a standard stapler to make the pots. Take a piece of junk mail the size of a business envelope and at least two layers thick (an 8-by-10-inch piece of paper folded lengthwise will work). Use two, three or four fingers to form a paper cylinder 1 to 4 inches in diameter. Staple the top where it overlaps and then as far as the stapler will reach (about 3 inches). Then fold the bottom in and fill with moist potting mix. As the paper softens, the bottom will settle in. I use wood flats lined with plastic to hold moisture, or you can use cardboard soda flats from your local convenience store. They will hold 25 to 50 plants, depending on the size of your pots. I put a half inch layer of brown peat on the bottom to absorb moisture. Because the pots are 3 to 4 inches deep and the bottoms of the pots are open, plants develop much better root systems. I prefer to start seeds in a starter flat and then transplant them into these junk mail pots when the seedlings get their first true leaves. When you’re ready, you can plant the whole thing or remove the paper and know that at least some use has come of that tree cut down to make junk mail.

Sharon L.

Carson Delmar,Delaware

Crumbs the Ants Will Hate

If you’re bothered with ants coming into your house, go to the hardware store and get a square of synthetic camphor. Put a few crumbs on a piece of paper and place where the insects enter the house. Three or four days later, they will stop coming near the entrance and never come back!

Terry McLendon


How to Remove Corrosion on Battery Cables — And They’ll Taste Great, Too!

Ever have a corrosion problem on your battery cables where they connect to the battery post? Well, I did, and here’s what I did to avoid the trouble in the future.

Wet the terminals and sprinkle with baking soda. A few drops of water will get this to foaming. When it stops, hose off and repeat if necessary. Use a wire brush and clean the terminals well. Now, dry the terminals and coat them with white corn syrup. (Make sure it is the white variety.) This will dry hard, and you won’t have any corrosion problems after that.

Should you need to loosen the cables, a knife will cut right through the hardened “corrosion eliminator.”

Tom Brantley

Coquille. Oregon

Homemade, Recycled Christmas Gift Tags and Solving Bolt Rust

To help in recycling — and because we live in the country and cannot always get to stores in the winter just before Christmas — we recycle Christmas cards to use the next year as Christmas tags on presents. We cut out the picture scenes on the fronts of old cards by laying off the scene in a rectangular shape with ruler and light pencil lines. Then we cut these out with the scissors just inside the lines, usually about 2-by-4-inches long. After that we punch a hole in one end and string a piece of red or green cotton knitting yarn through. Then we store these labels away until the gift wrapping season next Christmas.

I often come upon a bolt that has a rusted-on nut that needs to be removed and replaced, but is in a position that I can’t get to easily with a hacksaw. I’ve found that by chucking my 6 ½-inch masonry abrasive wheel into my drill — and holding it while running up against the bolt between the bolt head and nut — I can grind it in two in short order.

It sure beats hard hacksawing in cramped spaces, and saves valuable time.

George Lynch

Asheville. North Carolina

Spotless Windshields

For a cleaner windshield, just add 1 to 2 tablespoons of dishwashing detergent to your windshield-wiper fluid. It seems to make the mixture work much better and helps to remove grime more quickly.

Dennis Slodysko

Shade Gap, Pennsylvania

Portable Motor Oil by Refilling Bottles of Maple Syrup

The push-pull top of a syrup bottle makes it an excellent choice for storing and using motor oil that has to be added to chain saws, boat motors, garden gear, or any machinery requiring a gas and oil mixture.

These leak-proof bottles are exceptionally sturdy and are available in different sizes. The big plus is that the handle allows you to hang it from your utility belt, which makes the bottle handy if you’re up a tree, on a lake or away from the tool shed. My brother is a forester for the state of Michigan and these oil-filled syrup bottles are standard gear for the chain saw operators.

After accidentally splattering my new white Levis with deck stain, I was determined to save them. I gathered about half a dozen colors of old paint, dipped in a toothbrush, and spattered on a spectrum of tints. I turned a costly “lost cause” into a customized artistic creation. An all-over light smattering of black will enhance any color scheme you choose.

This also works very well on canvas tennis shoes that have been spotted or stained during the last painting chore.

Mikki Smith

Lexington, Michigan

Foiled Again

Fit aluminum foil around phones, doorknobs and other hardware when painting. It’s simple to remove when the paint is dry and eliminates lots of messy cleanup.

Pat Juenemann

Clements, Minnesota

Anticipation: Refilling Ketchup Bottles

After what must have added up to hours of waiting, I discovered a way to speed up the process of refilling a squeeze bottle with ketchup. If you insert a bendable straw into the bottle to be emptied, it allows air to flow into the bottle and the ketchup to flow out quickly and easily.

Douglas Sity

Racine, Wisconsin

Ants, Rodents…and Lemons?

To keep cats, rabbits or any other rodents out of your garden or flower bed, sprinkle cayenne pepper on the perimeter of the area you want protected. One whiff, and they will not be the least bit interested.

Use bird feeders to help eliminate the ant population in your yard by positioning the bird feeder above the ant nest. This will encourage the birds to eat the ants as well as the feed.

Lemon halves rubbed onto your white porcelain sink will keep it white and free of mold and mildew. After rubbing the sink, let stand for an hour or more before using the sink.

Bindy Beck-Meyer

Novato. California

Bonfires to Get Rid of Fleas

Here’s a guaranteed, sure-fire method to completely eliminate a flea infestation on your dog or around his doghouse. First, late in the evening, chain your dog to his doghouse. Then, at a safe distance, build a small bonfire and let it burn overnight near his house.

Fleas are insatiably attracted to heat and will soon become enamored of the fire, leave your dog and his environs, jump into the flames and die. The next day you will find that all of the fleas are gone.

Janet Dawn Wilson

Bardwell, Kentucky

Homemade Broth Storage

It’s always a good idea to save the broth after cooking meats — it’s a great flavor additive to lots of other dishes and helps to stretch your grocery dollar just a bit farther. The trouble is that the pan used to store it in takes up too much room, and lots of the stuff seems to go to waste. However, I’ve found a way to store it a bit more conveniently.

Pour the broth into a cake pan (include any small pieces of meat as well) and place in the freezer. After a little while it will be cool enough to cut into small squares. Place each of these squares into a plastic bag and put back into the freezer. Use each packet to season green beans, potatoes, ham pot pie, or anything else that can use a bit of extra flavor.

Ash Yeager


Regarding Cleaner Wicker

I have a tip for cleaning wicker before refinishing it with a fresh coat of varnish. Make a saturated solution of oxalic acid by mixing water and as much oxalic acid as will dissolve. Apply this solution to the wicker with a paintbrush and let dry overnight. The next day, rinse off the oxalic acid solution and soil by applying water with a paintbrush. Allow to dry completely before varnishing. Oxalic acid may be purchased at your local pharmacy and does not require any sort of prescription.

Andrew E. Guskea, Jr.

Corry, Pennsylvania

Don’t Go With the Flow: Safety Seals for Conservation

Have you ever tried to pour the right amount of cooking oil, instant coffee or something else from a bottle that the manufacturer has scientifically designed to waste the product and increase sales?

You can use the safety seals over the opening to better control the flow rate. For example: A toothpick-size hole in the top of a bottle of hydrogen peroxide will allow a drop at a time on a scratch rather than a lot dumped all over everything.

In addition, making small openings will slow the rate of the product’s evaporation and will probably save you even more money.

Orville Bodie

Austin, Texas

Hand Mixer for No-Stir Peanut Butter

Regarding the “Do It Yourself Peanut Butter,” on page 25 of issue No. 127: The letter states that a minor disadvantage of this butter is that you need to stir the oil back into the contents before each use. My grandmother had a tip to remedy this problem. Set the container aside, and the next day, after making sure the lid is securely closed, turn it upside down. On the day after that, turn it right side up. Continue turning it and you will find that the oil doesn’t know which end is up, resulting in a consistently smooth and even mixture. Turn once a day, and you may never have to stir again!

Thomas A. Brantley

Coquille. Oregon

Energy Savings?

In regard to the letter in Country Lore (issue No. 127) from Ross Westergaard entitled “Cool Savings”: He thinks he is saving energy by freezing ice packs in his freezer and using them to cool his refrigerator. Either he is pulling your leg or he has forgotten his science lessons. One of the basic laws of science says that energy lost must equal energy gained. Freezing ice packs in a neighbor’s freezer may save money, but not energy. Possibly his freezer and refrigerator run on different energy sources (kerosene vs. electricity perhaps), or maybe his freezer is better insulated and has a more energy-efficient motor. Then he would see a difference in the cost of his electricity. But the energy used to refreeze the ice packs must be equal to the energy saved in the refrigerator. In fact, it is impossible for him to break even. There will always be a loss of energy — most likely in the transport of the ice packs and in opening and closing the freezer and fridge doors.

Phyllis A. Perry

Holts Summit, Missouri