Tips from our readers on upcycling windows, composting in the winter, making homemade lip balm, fighting weeds, and more.
By MOTHER EARTH NEWS EDITORS
What do you do if you have some old windows or picture frames, possess no artistic ability, and yet harbor a desire to create a beautiful piece of unique repurposed art?
After a thorough barn and basement cleaning, this was my dilemma. I looked through countless ideas on the web, and quickly came to the conclusion that some very talented, creative people are out there, but I’m not one of them. I also realized that tracing and coloring is something anyone, even myself, can successfully accomplish, so I finally had a project on my hands. With a short list of materials and a few easy steps, I made those old windows and frames new again. You can find printable patterns for projects like this one free online. Resize them on a copy machine if necessary.
Directions: If using a picture frame for this project, disassemble and clean the glass and frame. Make sure to remove any staples, nails, or glazing points used to hold the glass in place. If you’re using a window, simply clean the panes.
Center the pattern on the glass. Use tape to secure the pattern in place. Flip over the glass or window, because you’ll be painting on the side of the glass without the stencil.
Outline the pattern design with black marker. Allow the outline to dry for 20 to 30 minutes.
Fill in your pattern using colored markers. Allow to dry completely, usually about 45 minutes to an hour.
If using a picture frame: Once your painting is completely dry, carefully place small dabs of glue on the inside edge of the frame. Set the glass in the frame with the painted side up, and allow the glue to dry.
Now you can hang your beautiful project in your home! I’ve found that the glass frames and windows look best hung on walls that are a light pastel color, because they give your stencils a pretty background that doesn’t overpower the pattern.
Sharon Lee Bordeaux
I live way up in Canada, where we know all too well that compost shuts down the second it gets cold again. One of my favorite tips for getting around this problem is simple. My friends can’t believe they’ve never thought of it themselves! I’ve got the whole neighborhood using my little composting trick.
I keep an old blender under the sink that I use to continue composting during winter on our homestead. Throughout my week, I toss everything I would normally compost, except for hard pits, into the blender with a little bit of water. Once it’s full, I purée it. I take this mixture and pour it right onto my flower and vegetable beds, letting the nutrients seep into the ground a little before it freezes. Even frozen, it still gets the job done and sets up my compost nicely for spring. I think it also encourages more worms to move in when spring comes, which keeps my garden healthy all season long!
My wife and I used to engage in an annual battle with common horsetail. Every year, this spindly plant sprouted up all over our yard and completely took over our garden. We tried to fight it off, but its deep and extensive roots made eradicating it a time-consuming process. The areas we always had the most difficulty tackling were our walkway crevices; the horsetail managed to wedge itself into every thin crack it could find in our yard walkways, and it was impossible to dig out the entire root. We would cut it every year, or spend days pulling out as many of its roots as possible, but the second we turned our backs, it would rise again like a vindictive plant zombie.
We have a dog that enjoys playing in our yard, as well as many visiting and nesting birds each year, so we never wanted to kill it with commercial herbicides. We were looking to avoid using chemicals as much as possible, but the situation was starting to look grim.
Luckily, a helpful neighbor gave us some advice for our problem. She suggested that we save the hot water from cooking pasta or other noodles, add a large spoonful of salt, and stir it until the salt dissolved. Then, she instructed us to take this mixture and pour it on and around the weeds. We were skeptical, but willing to try anything to avoid chemical treatments.
It worked like a charm! The hot, salty water was able to seep deeply into the ground and reach all the roots we were unable to remove. This was especially helpful on our walkways, since the water could slip right through the cracks and dry up the roots for us. This easy hack has saved us so much time and energy, and even gives us a way to recycle some water in our household.
This is one of my favorite farm tips. I’m going to tell you how to make a DIY shower scrubby that will make a huge difference for your skin, and also will recycle some materials you have lying around your farm.
For this quick project, all you’ll need are a few medium-length strands of some leftover hay-baling twine. (Make sure it’s untreated sisal twine.) Take all but one of these strands and wrap them around the palm of your hand. Take the last strand and use it to secure the scrubby strands together tightly. Wrap and tie any loose ends around the center, thereby creating a sturdy shower scrubby.
There’s really no wrong way to do this project. Personally, I like these homemade scrubbies best after they’ve loosened up a bit (they tend to soften with extended use and age), but I absolutely love how they make my skin feel regardless. The hay-baling twine is able to hold body soap, and removes dead skin cells without irritating your skin. I also enjoy the smell of body soap mixed with hay on my skin during the day.
I’ve found these homemade scrubbies to be incredibly durable, lasting for years before they need to be replaced. The household uses for this project aren’t just limited to the shower. The texture of the twine is suitable for cleaning as well. I’ve used them for washing dishes, scrubbing out the bathtub and sinks, and keeping our farm in tiptop shape during our busy season!
I’ve been using this homemade cough syrup recipe for years, and it always works great for me! My favorite part is that you can make a huge batch, and then freeze it and reheat as needed. It may sound a little strange at first, but it’s well worth it! Yield: 4 cups.
Directions: Peel and chop the onions. Pour water into a stockpot, add the chopped onions, and boil on your stove until the onions are translucent. Remove all the onions, keeping the boiled water in the pot. Add peppermint candies and honey to the pot on the burner. Heat on low, stirring until the candies and honey have dissolved into the water.
Now your syrup is ready to use. To relieve a cough, I recommend drinking 1/4 cup of the syrup as needed throughout the day.
Note: If you’re having trouble with a stuffy nose and need to open up your airways, you can add cayenne pepper to the pot when you’re dissolving the candies and honey.
Readers, we published a photo of Crystal Schmidt’s homemade lip balm in “Dear MOTHER” of our August/September 2018 issue. Many readers wrote in requesting the recipe, so Crystal has offered to share her secrets to help us all properly prepare for chapped-lip season! — Mother
Every year when the weather turns cool, I make a new batch of homemade lip balm. It ends up slightly different each time based on the ingredients I have on hand, but it still always beats the commercial competition.
I love adding a touch of raw honey because it’s an ultra-soothing, hydrating, miracle-working ingredient for your skin — perfect for chapped lips in winter! The secret to adding honey to a lip balm is to stir it in after the product has set; otherwise, it can separate. And even if the honey crystallizes over time, the crystals will melt as you rub the balm into your lips.
My motto for making lip balm is the more ingredients, the merrier. Each type of fat has unique benefits for skin, so using a variety of fats will yield a well-rounded lip balm. This is one of my favorite recipes to make at home, and I find that applying it once a day is all I need to keep my lips happy, even in our harsh northern winters.
To make this lip balm recipe, you’ll need a small heat-safe glass container, such as a canning jar or a Pyrex measuring cup; measuring spoons; a small- to medium-sized pot; containers to hold the finished product; and the following ingredients.
Directions: If your beeswax is in a block, carefully use a knife to shave off small pieces. Make sure to pack them well into the measuring spoon to get an accurate measurement. If using beeswax pastilles, measure a scant tablespoon. Place the beeswax, cocoa butter, coconut oil, and shea butter into the heat-safe glass container.
Place the glass container into a stockpot, and add enough water to come about halfway up the side of the glass container. Place the pot on the stove over medium to low heat, and maintain the water at no more than a gentle simmer.
Stir the beeswax mixture occasionally with a fork to help break up larger pieces. The beeswax should melt and combine with the other ingredients in about 5 to 10 minutes.
After all the beeswax pieces have melted, stir in the almond oil, olive oil, and lanolin. Allow the mixture to heat for 1 more minute.
Using an oven mitt, remove the glass container from the pan and place it on a heat-safe surface. Allow the mixture to completely cool and solidify, at least 2 hours.
Then, use a fork to scrape and mix the lip balm mixture. It will change from a solid to a fairly liquid consistency. Add the honey, and use the fork to whip the balm. Keep stirring until everything is well-combined, about 1 minute.
Take up the container you’ve chosen for storing the balm (I use a cute little jar or empty tin). Work fast and pour it into the container while it’s still loose, because it will soon become solid again. Slather it on your lips and be prepared for friends and family to ask if they can have some!
Note: Make sure all ingredients are food or cosmetic grade.
Many people see an old, rusty cast-iron pot or skillet hanging in a worn-out barn and think they’re looking at junk, when really, restoring cast iron is simple. To start, you’ll only need the desire to see old made new again, and the determination to make it happen.
Here’s how I restore old cast-iron pots and pans. You’ll need a bucket of sand and water, as well as some steel wool. Using a handful of sand and a cloth, start scrubbing. The sand won’t hurt your hands at all; actually, it will exfoliate them! You’ll scrub with the sand and water mixture until the majority of the rust is gone. From there, you can use steel wool to finish it.
The pan will still have a rustic orange color at this point, so wash it thoroughly with soap and water. Once it’s dry, use a coffee filter to spread lard or vegetable shortening all over it, including any handles or lids.
From here, you can season the cast iron in one of two ways. I prefer firing mine over a natural fire. Here’s how to do it: Let your fire burn down to coals, and then place the cast iron onto the coals. Occasionally rotate the pot or pan, letting it blacken. After it’s completely blackened, remove the vessel carefully and allow it to cool completely.
If you don’t have room on your property for a large fire, you can get the job done in your oven. Begin by preheating your oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Then, put your greased cast-iron pot or pan in the oven, and allow it to bake for an hour. If you use this method, two racks are necessary — one to hold the cast iron, and another below to hold a cookie sheet that you’ve lined with aluminum foil to catch the drippings. When the cast iron is blackened all over, turn the oven off and allow the cast iron to cool completely inside the oven.
I really enjoyed your article on making different types of broths (“Homemade Broth and Stock,” October/November 2018), and thought I’d share my favorite method of making broth for my family during winter.
When I roast a chicken, I typically spatchcock it, which is my favorite way of preparing the meat, so I have the back and extra skin and fat removed before roasting. I throw these pieces into a stockpot after I’ve browned the back skin and rendered the fat, and save them to use later.
After dinner is over, all the chicken bones and any meat scraps are thrown together in the same large pot. I fill the pot with water, and then set it on the burner on low heat — just enough to see water movement, but not enough to let it boil. To get as much flavor out of the chicken scraps as possible, I leave the pot partially uncovered, and keep it on the burner overnight. You could also use a slow cooker overnight if you’re uncomfortable with leaving a stove burner on low while you’re asleep.
When I wake up the next morning, I cover the pot and turn off the burner. Once the broth has cooled a little, I put the stock into the fat separator. Then, I just pour the broth into a bag or container, mark it, and freeze it. I like to store my chicken broth in pre-measured containers, so that when they’re frozen, I can quickly grab the amount I need for dinner that evening.
This method works on any type of animal broth. Though I most commonly use it to make chicken broth, I’ve also used it many times to make pork broth with leftover meat and ribs. You can get creative with this method and work to make it your own special family recipe.
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