Since our first issue back in 1970 right up through today, MOTHER EARTH NEWS has featured advice for wiser living. We’ve published great project ideas for DIY solar collectors, tips for gardening and raising livestock, the best ideas for creating a greener home, wacky ideas for personal transportation, creative recipes, and much more.
Straight from our magazine archive, here is a selection of great (or wacky, depending on your perspective) articles from the past 40 years.
Alternative Fuels: Chicken Poop, Wood Chips and …
Forget about gas, diesel or ethanol. Power your car with chicken manure! Mother has always published information about green transportation — from using alternative fuels to improving gas mileage. Perhaps one of our most unusual ideas was using chicken manure to power a vehicle. But first, you need to convert that manure into methane. To learn how, see How To Build a 100 Cubic Foot a Day Methane Gas Plant (1971).
Learn how to convert a non-fuel-injected vehicle (such as a chartreuse microbus, if you have one) to run on liquid propane gas (LPG), methane or natural gas.
Long before the Toyota Prius arrived, Mother Earth News readers learned about gasoline-electric hybrid cars and how to convert an Opel GT into one. We still offer conversion blueprints via our website!
Mother’s Wood-Powered Truck
Did you know you can use wood chips to fire up your vehicle’s engine? This technique was used during World War II and refined by Mother Earth News in the ’70s and ’80s. If you have access to waste wood, why not fuel an old truck with it? This method really works.
It’s a car. No, it’s a motorcycle. Wait, it’s the fuel-efficient, three-wheel 3VG! This futuristic prototype took several years for the editors to develop. Today, Aptera Motors is building a similar vehicle. For details, read Debate Arises on 3 Wheeler.
This supercool sports car is powered by a diesel engine normally used in tractors. It’s still a work in progress, but the goal is to design an affordable 100-mpg vehicle that you can build yourself. Read the most recent updates on the 100-mpg Car page.
‘The Man,’ Long Hair and More
Prompted by “biodegradable” milk cartons, this short article rages against one of the first instances of greenwashing, long before the phrase was coined. Today, we know that virtually everything we put into our landfills lasts pretty much “forever.”
The Tao of Cutting Your Hair (1970)
Brush up on 1970s hair-care philosophy, learn how to cut your own hair, and discover tricks such as how to use stale beer to set hair.
Read about how some “city peace creeps” came to the country, picked wildflowers, developed some muscles, made a lot of friends and set the North Land free. “Step one: Go somewhere where no one else that you know is. Step two: Make friends with the local farmers.” Step No. 2 is certainly good advice — no matter what decade it is.
Energy from the Sun and Compost!
Build a shed with solar collectors, store the hot water in a homemade tank in the shed, then use the water to heat your house. This may be the single best do-it-yourself article we’ve ever published.
Compost Water Heater (1981)
Manure makes great fertilizer and compost, but you can heat water with the rotting stuff, too. It generates heat as it decomposes! The basic concept is to run hose or pipes through a big pile of compost to extract the heat.
When the Mother Earth News ecovillage (a 600-acre research center in North Carolina) was still active, the staff developed and tested all sorts of projects, including this solar water heater. One model performed almost as well as the best commercial model, but cost only one-fifth as much.
These articles give detailed instructions on building a concentrating solar boiler to power a steam engine (to produce electricity), heat a home or heat water for household use. We were way ahead of the times with this one. Today, several large concentrating solar power plants are under construction.
In the 1970s, plans for vertical-axis and Savonius wind turbines were popular. These days, they still have fringe popularity, but current designs aren’t as efficient as traditional horizontal-axis wind turbines.
Natural Foods: Snakes, Bugs and Groundhogs
Venomous reptiles are best left alone, but if they get too close to children or livestock and you have to kill one, don’t let it go to waste! This article covers how to tan a snakeskin, prepare the meat and make snake-bone jewelry.
If grass-fed beef doesn’t quite suit your taste, how about insects? Some of the little buggers contain up to three times as much protein as the meats we routinely eat. Funny, they still aren’t part of the food pyramid.
Yes, you really can eat groundhog. Check out these recipes for a different way to celebrate the end of winter. Would you like fries with that?
Everything for Life (and Death) on the Homestead
The Shoshone Tribe of Nevada uses Lithospermum rudeale as a contraceptive. Taken daily for six months, the lithospermum reportedly halts production of the estrus cycle. (Results not guaranteed.)
Privies, Old & New (1972)
Although your local zoning authority may disagree, a properly managed outhouse doesn’t constitute an environmental hazard. Plus, it’s a great place to think or read. This article includes all sorts of useful advice about building and using an outhouse — including suggestions for “recycling” the paper from phone books and catalogs.
Macrame a Hanging Cradle (1976)
In 1976, macramé was so cool! This couple put their knot-tying skills to work by making a baby cradle that hung at the foot of their bed.
In the early ’80s, we published a series of seven articles explaining how to build a do-it-yourself, earth-sheltered house. In 2009, we republished a classic book on this topic, The Earth-Sheltered House by the late Malcolm Wells.
Building your own coffin may sound a bit macabre, but it’s a cost-effective, personalized option. Plus, it makes a great coffee table or storage trunk until it’s time for its final use.