Country Lore: A Useful Can on the Farm

Readers' tips on reusing coffee cans, making a DIY car lumber rack, turning fabric scraps to quilts, watering with snow, and more.

article image
by Fala Burnette

A Can for All Reasons

Growing up, I remember scooping goat feed from the barrel with a tall plastic container. We would often wash out these durable containers and use them all over the farm. Fast forward to our own homestead today, and we’re avid coffee drinkers. Some of you may know the feeling of waking up with the sun, taking your first sip of hot coffee, and then starting on your chores. But did you know those empty coffee cans can be used elsewhere?

First, I recommend saving both metal and plastic cans. Both are durable and can be used for different projects. Depending on what you’ll use them for, keep in mind that metal cans will eventually rust. Give each can a good washing after you’ve emptied it out, and make sure it’s dry before using. While the following uses are from my experience on our homestead, with a little ingenuity, you can find many other ways to repurpose these cans.

Feed. Over time, we’ve reduced our flock to just a handful of chickens and ducks. Considering we don’t go through as much feed, we use our cans to scoop feed and disperse it for our feathered friends. In the past, we’d always save the lid when carrying grain to our goats, because putting the lid back on helped make sure pellets didn’t spill everywhere when the goats nudged the can. For anyone who’s experienced mice chewing through their feed bags, these cans can keep small portions safe from nibbling. Plus, they’re great for transporting pet food when traveling.

Water. Since metal cans will quickly rust, plastic coffee cans are preferable for this use. Whether you’re carrying water to your plants on the porch, or refilling the chickens’ waterer, these are handy containers for getting the job done.

Craft materials and knickknacks. I make crafts to use around the homestead, and I keep a lot of different materials on hand, including scrap twine, buckskin, feathers, and craft wire. Oftentimes, I cut a little too much twine or have a few deer hooves around, and I keep them organized in these containers. Cans are also perfect for organizing all sorts of random items.

Nails, screws, and drill bits. Have you ever picked up a box of nails and had the entire bottom fall out? Are you constantly misplacing your drill bits in your workshop? Cans are a great solution for keeping them neat and organized. I’ve even started to transfer smaller tools and necessities in our outbuilding to coffee cans, which are labeled accordingly.

Tanning supplies. Anyone who tans animal hides should save plastic coffee cans. I’ve found that each can holds 5 pounds of salt. This works nicely, because it won’t draw moisture, and it lets you keep the salt in pre-measured portions for use in the tanning and preserving process. However, moisture can be an issue when you leave the salt you buy from the store in individual containers. Salt will rust a metal can, so I recommend plastic.

These are just a few simple ideas for using old coffee cans, but I’m sure there are many others. For instance, you could use cans to make a simple birdhouse for your feathered friends, create miniature planters, or let your children decorate them for pencil holders. With a little homestead creativity, you’re bound to find a use for them.

Fala Burnette
Ashland, Alabama

Pure as the Melted Snow

If you live in a state that sees snow, instead of watering your houseplants or greenhouse plants with tap water, bring several large buckets of snow indoors. Wait until the snow melts and the water reaches room temperature, and then use it to water your plants. Just be sure not to use snow that’s been exposed to road salt.

I usually bring in five or six buckets after the first heavy snow. When they’ve melted, I pour them into a clean trash container with a lid. I repeat this process until the container is almost full. Over the course of winter, I add more melted snow to the trash container as needed.

Luigi Flori
Prairie View, Illinois

On a Bed of Lavender

Several months ago, I was having trouble sleeping. I worked hard during the day, yet slept only a few hours each night. Sleeping pills weren’t on my list of options, as I wanted a natural remedy, so I decided to try lavender, which is said to help lower blood pressure, reduce fatigue, and improve sleep. Thankfully, it worked for me.

Now, each time I change the sheets on my bed, I venture out to the garden, pick a generous amount of lavender, tear it into small bits, and sprinkle it directly onto the bed before I put on the fitted sheet. I also slip some lavender bits inside the pillowcases before getting into bed. Within a few minutes of crawling into bed, my body heat warms the lavender and creates a sweet, relaxing scent. It has definitely helped me sleep better.

Danielle Justus
Yellville, Arkansas

Sticky Snow No More

As we all know, snow will cling to shovels and plug up snow removal equipment. But, don’t give up; there’s an easy solution.

Prior to using any of your tools to remove snow, spray them with cooking spray. Spray it on the front and back of your snow shovel and all moving parts of your snowblower. After you do this, the snow won’t stick. If you don’t have cooking spray, WD-40 also does the trick. Happy shoveling!

Eugene Hecker
Sandy, Utah

Perfect Pie Dough

Pie dough acquires its structure when wheat flour is moistened and then mixed. This exertion activates a family of proteins, or gluten molecules, which stretch out into long, elastic chains as the dough is handled. The protein chain’s elasticity is what prevents the dough from ripping, and these proteins will harden in the oven, giving the crust its solid form. The trick to a tender pastry is to form the dough with as little rolling, or handling, as possible; this will prevent the gluten molecules from overdeveloping.

Begin by flattening the dough into a disk before refrigerating it to minimize the amount of rolling needed later on. Once the dough is properly chilled, place it onto a liberally floured surface. Adding excess flour may seem counterintuitive, but the possibility of not adding enough flour could result in the dough sticking and ripping, which will require additional flour and handling in the long run. Before you begin rolling, press down on the dough with your floured rolling pin to both soften and flatten the dough. While rolling, frequently rotate the dough and maintain a well-floured surface. This will prevent the dough from sticking to the work surface and the rolling pin. Plus, rolling in every direction will create an even circle. Don’t roll over the edges in the same direction that you’re rolling because they’ll thin out and stick. Your pie dough should be about 1⁄8 inch thick. If it’s too thin, it will tear when it’s transferred to the pan. When the dough is large enough and the right thickness, carefully fold it in half and line up the fold with the diameter of the pan. Then, unfold and proceed with the pie recipe’s instructions.

Mallory Rockhill
Port Charlotte, Florida

Car Lumber Rack

I’ve designed a rack to carry 4-by-8-foot sheets of plywood and 10-to-12-foot lumber using my Kia Rio.

Dan Weston
Hastings, Florida

From Scraps to Quilts

After 10 years of sewing clothes, curtains, and much more for my family, I had a lot of leftover scraps. Last summer, I cut more than 500 squares out of those scraps. Then, I sewed the 3-inch squares together and made a king-sized quilt. I used old flannel sheets for the back of it. The only cost for this quilt was the thread. It’s amazing what can be made from things that some might throw away without a second thought.

Karen Dawson

Sourdough Starter

I’ve had good luck with this sourdough bread starter.

  1. Boil 6 large potatoes in 3 pints of water.
  2. Put a handful of hops in a small muslin bag, and boil with the potatoes.
  3. When thoroughly cooked, drain the water into enough flour to make a batter.
  4. Set this on the range and scald long enough to cook the flour (this will help the starter keep longer).
  5. Set aside to cool, and then mash the potatoes and add the batter.
  6. Add 1/2 cup of sugar, 2 tablespoons of salt, and a teacup of yeast, and mix together.
  7. Let stand in a warm place until thoroughly risen, and then place in a wide-mouthed jug, cover tightly, and set in a cool place.

Two-thirds of a coffee cup of this starter makes 4 loaves of bread!

Margaret Metcalf
Canadian, Oklahoma

Recycled MOTHER

For some time, I’ve recycled magazine covers, old calendars, and discarded illustrated children’s books. Instead of tossing these after one use, I turn them into envelopes. Since I recently started reading MOTHER EARTH NEWS, I’ve been turning used issues into envelopes. I mostly make them for my personal use, but I also make them as gifts, and I’ve even sold a few at yard sales. I carefully open all the seams on a commercial envelope and use it for a template. Homemade envelopes can be sealed with glue or double-sided tape, and addressed with a label.

Deborah Ash
Dunedin, Florida

Chive Blossom Dip

This is a great recipe for readers who grow their own herbs.

  • 1/2 cup full-fat sour cream
  • 3 rough-chopped fresh chive blossoms
  • 2 teaspoons chopped fresh chive leaves
  • 1 teaspoon chopped fresh parsley
  • 1/4 teaspoon sugar
  • 1/8 teaspoon garlic powder
  • Salt and pepper, to taste

In a small bowl, combine ingredients.

Cover bowl with wrap or lid of your choice. Place dip in fridge for one hour. Serve with cut veggies, crackers, or chips.

Corrine Gompf
Galion, Ohio

We Pay for Top Tips

Do you have handy home, farm, or garden advice? We pay $25 for each tip we publish, plus another $25 if we use your photos. Send your tips to


Grit has compiled expertly written tips on thriving on less out where the pavement ends. The new Grit Premium Issue: Guide to Frugal Country Living is 112 pages of articles that help you live a more sustainable lifestyle. Inside, you’ll find how to create your own home-based business, heat the homestead with wood, build a hoop house, feed a flock of chickens the easy way, learn more about cast-iron cookware, make your own soap, and so much more.

Learn how a few extra seed saving steps, and simple ones at that, will keep your garden growing next year. Read everything you need to know when considering a biomass system to heat your home or shop. Discover how these reclaimed-lumber raised beds let you garden without the toil of tilling. Versatile, durable and easy to use, the original nonstick cookware is still a kitchen essential. Learn the very best homemade cleaning recipes and avoid harmful chemicals and save money with effective cleaners using this collection of simple recipes.

Order from the MOTHER EARTH NEWS Store or by calling 800-234-3368.