Giveaway: What’s your favorite tip?

We want to give away a copy of our new book, Making It. To make this contest interesting for everyone, we’re asking you to give us a homesteading-type tip to enter.

Leave us a comment on almost any subject you’ve had some experience with: gardening, fermenting, brewing, sewing, livestock, foraging, cleaning, cooking, building, general common sense–really, it can be just about anything. And the tip doesn’t have to be big and profound. Something like “X is my favorite variety of winter squash” is just fine.

You can also tell us of a mistake you’ve made, something you’ve learned the hard way–a mistake is just an inverse tip!

This way, the comments on this page will be a fascinating read in and of themselves. Only one person will get a book, but we’ll all get lots of good advice.

-We’ll choose the winner using a random number generator.

-The contest will close this Monday night at 10 PM PST. We’ll announce the winner on Tuesday.

-If we announce your name, we’ll ask you to contact us via email to arrange shipping. This way contestants don’t have to put their contact info. in their posts.

So keep an eye out for that post on Tuesday!

ETA on Sunday: We love your tips!!! And we’re amazed at the response, so much so that we’re going to give away two books instead of one. Keep ‘em coming.

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203 Comments

  1. summer squash bushes take up a lot more room than you’d think…my first year square foot gardening i learned this the hard way, as the crowded out a lot of my other plants/seeds…:(…thx for the chance to win your new book!…:D

  2. For those who are raising feeder pigs, and plan to use them to clear or till an area… Our pigs are on about 1/3 fenced acre of brush and trees. We were hoping that they would clear the area out a bit for us, but they just wanted to muck up the area around their hut. We took a jug of molasses, and dribbled it throughout the woods and brush. It did the trick! You don’t need much, as molasses is extra stinky, and you could probably even mix it with water first. After only a day, our pigs were out rooting up the blackberries, and tilling the soil. They’ve continued to explore further, even though we haven’t put anymore molasses out. Good pigs!

    Different tip, for house plants… African violets can be a pain to water. If you get water on their leaves, they can spot and rot. My MiL taught me to put water in the tray under the pot. The plant sucks up the water from there. Since starting that procedure, I haven’t lost another violet (and I’ve killed quite a few in my time!) Have a nice Easter!

  3. I like to look for old abandoned homesteading/farm sites for foraging from old fruit trees, asparagus patches, old roses and irises. They’re pretty easy to spot…I look for periwinkle and sometimes old apple trees…usually there aren’t any buildings still standing…just a faint hint of what once was.

  4. Basic things like curtains, duvet covers, bed skirts, pillow shams, napkins and table cloths are all just big squares or rectangles. Don’t let the lack or pattern prevent you from sewing!!

    And ALWAYS check your iron temperature before ironing your fabric – especially when you found *just* enough of the perfect colour in the remnant bin :(

  5. My investment in a basement chest freezer was one of the best purchases I’ve ever made. Excess tomatoes/berries/squash/beets are easily frozen and are fantastic during long cold winters when you need a taste of summertime.

  6. The decision to stop buying packaged foods was easy once we went vegan and began to pay much closer attention to the sodium and other content of our diets. But we’ve found ways to make things like vegennaise and bbq sauce from scratch – and make experimentation with such recipes a regular part of our menu planning. Over time we have built up a number of ‘favorites’ that we can cook quickly, make multiple servings of, and (even though it’s ‘slow cooking’) put together very quickly. I guess what I’m saying is something you already know – it’s a mindset change as much as anything.

  7. Don’t plant until after the last full moon of May. That wisdom comes from my husband’s Oma (91 years young and still maintaining a garden and orchard). I believe she says this because there is less (but not unknown) chance of frost here in Canada.
    Kim Hoelzli

  8. I intentionally let a few broccoli (or anything else in the brassica family) go to flower at the end of the winter growing season to attract a variety of bees to my yard.

  9. Let people know what you can use and you’ll be surprised what they alert you to: firewood, neighbors with fruit trees (ask permission of course), scraps for your compost or chickens, etc. It’s amazing what we have gotten for free through friends of friends.

    rachelAThoundsinthekitchenDOTcom

  10. Bulk malt syrup from the food co-op works for homebrewing, if you’re too cash-poor to buy it from a homebrew supplier and too time-poor to be malting your own grains.

  11. Strawbale gardening is a great alternative to building raised beds and is great for anyone who has a tough time bending over to garden.

  12. Nasturtium plants can trick the cabbage white butterfly into thinking they’re cabbages. The butterfly lays eggs on the leaves, which hatch and can’t find any cabbage to eat – they can’t eat nasturtium. It doesn’t take care of the problem entirely, but it helps!

  13. Why, just today I learned that if you’re not careful to make your worm composter damp enough and supplied with enough bedding and goodies that are enticing to worms, you might well wake up with some escapees struggling for life on your carpet in the mornings.

  14. It was a complete revelation when I learned that I can clean every surface in my house with common household items (vinegar, baking soda, Dr. Bronners, and olive oil), no more toxic chemicals for me!

  15. A friend has a patch of pretty-well useless land that has water in it most of the year. It’s filled with Cattails. Which turn out to be edible. Suddenly, we realized he had a potential feast on his hands: a cornmeal substitute and an early spring vegetable!

  16. Make an effective pesticide by mixing water, castile soap, cayenne pepper and a whole mess of garlic in a blender, then straining the resulting potent brew through a piece of cheesecloth and storing in a spray bottle. Super effective as well as safe. (Well, safe until you accidentally get some in your eye spraying on a windy day…but that’s a whole different story right there!)

  17. When you’re harvesting seeds form your heirloom tomatoes and they’re happily drying on a plate on the kitchen window ledge, make sure you tell your sons what you’re doing before they do the dishes and ‘helpfully’ put the plate in the dishwasher.

    Hopefully this tip will save someone else’s crop for next year….

  18. City compost is great, in theory, since there’s lots and it is cheap, but if you don’t have the experience to tell for sure if it’s ‘done’, you might want to find someone who does, _before_ you kill your fall planting. (or, watching/smelling the community garden going in across town from us, your spring planting…)

  19. i finally learned the skill of making compost, and the secret is carbon, carbon, and a little carbon. I bought four bales of straw which I keep in the garage, and shred them in my (electric!) shredder. The shredded straw gets kept in a plastic garbage can by the compost pile, and when I take stuff out to the compost, I open up my carbon barrel toss some dry carbon on top of the kitchen parings. Then it all gets tossed together like a salad and the new stuff gets pushed out to the corners to make a square pile (learned that from the Jon Jeavons video linked on this site). I cover the top with a large chunk of plastic to keep the rain out of it, but don’t cover the sides so that the air can get in there. I am finally, finally making compost that actually gets hot, And decomposes. Yay!

  20. Joining a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) is like food Christmas every week. Plus it supports local farmers. And it breaks you out of a rut. Plus you have to use what you get because you’ll get more in a week!

  21. I can’t think of a time of year that I can’t go outside and forage some type of wild greens for dinner. Learning what is naturally available has been wonderfully empowering!

  22. Do not be afraid of composting! I have one designated container in the kitchen for all the scraps – amazing how fast that thing fills up. I now have two large compost piles in my backyard/garden and have even turned a few neighbors onto it as well.

  23. I lived with 6 other folks for a few years, and we were always going through food really quickly. Beans became the most effective way to stretch our simple food budget. Every Monday, someone cooked a pot of beans, some veggies, and a grain. This usually stretched our food a little bit further.

  24. I found that using a fleece sheet for the back of a homemade quilt makes it super soft and cozy. Other quilters scoffed at me when I said I was trying this because it’s not “traditional”. Who cares?

    Diana, Ottawa

  25. Large pieces of fabric can be found inexpensively during white sales or at thrift stores (and in your own closets, too). Sheets can make nice dresses, skirts, shirts, lounge pants…fleece blankets are great for making cloth diapering pants/shorts.

    Taking the same idea further, all sorts of “new” garments can be upcycled from existing clothing…men’s shirts into girl’s or women’s dresses…skirts and bags from jeans. You just have to be willing to look past the current “finished” object and remember that it’s just fabric!

  26. This won’t work for everyone in every area, but for us it’s great. In the fall, just as the leaves begin to drop, stop mowing the lawn. Let the grass grow and the leaves fall for a few weeks. Then cut the grass with the fallen leaves on top, bagging the cuttings. Dump each bagful onto a tarp. When you have a load, drag the tarp to your compost and tip it into the pile. The shredded grass and leaves will decompose beautifully together. You can do one patch of your lawn at a time over a week or so, and the material you add each day will shrink quite a bit, leaving more room on top each day. This gives good compost and saves the tedious chore of raking the leaves.

  27. I keep the chicken scratch in a metal garbage can next to the chicken coop. In the mornings when I’m filling up the feeder, I move the can and let the chickens run over to eat all the bugs that hangout underneath.

  28. My tip is to take the Edible Organic Forest class at the huntington library taught by Erik and Kelly. I am putting into practice what I learned. I’m also sharing what I learned and people think I’m so smart.

  29. Like the catnip tip above, be careful where you plant mint. It will take over if you let it! I have it planted along the side of our house. It is trapped between the house and the driveway. I had hoped to grow other things there too, but it is becoming a mint bed.

  30. Don’t buy canvass bags for your groceries. Get them from: yard sales, friends who have been to a conference, teachers who get them from their schools, professions who go to conferences. My Neighborhood Watch canvass bag was from a yard sale. Look for canvass or cloth bags, and they are suddenly everywhere. I rarely pay over a quarter. Make them yourself from sturdy material–new fabric or repurposed fabric. Sew up the bottom of tank tops. Use mesh bags from citrus by running a strong string through the top for handles or ties.

  31. Use a strainer for your flour scoop. You can scoop out the flour without it sifting through, but when you need to lightly dust your surface the strainer is right there ready for you.

    Also, don’t sift flour. Just put it all in a bowl with the other ingredients and whisk it with a whip.

  32. The best potting soil is half coco coir, half homemade compost and a dash of perlite.

    It retains the perfect moisture ratio whether it is over or under-watered. It very seldom needs to be fertilized, due to the cation exchange of the coco. It transitions flawlessly between hydroponic and traditional container gardens.

    I love this mix!

  33. Vinegar diluted in water makes a great (and extremely inexpensive) hair conditioner. Gets rid of all the build up that used to get left behind in my hair from shampooing with dr. bronners.

  34. I have a balcony garden in my apartment. To protect my tomatoes from birds I used bird netting which protected them from all sorts of pests. I should have covered the herbs as well: the parsley and cilantro got infested with tomato hornworms and were decimated!

  35. At a former rental house, I had severe problems with soil diseases and pests. I used a technique called solarization to sterilize a couple of my beds. To solarize your soil, you remove as much plant matter as possible, spray the area with water, and cover the area with heavy clear plastic for two weeks. You have to do this when it’s hot, which means that your beds might be out of commission during the peak growing season. The plastic has to be clear, because the light radiation is part of the sterilization process.

    This technique is best used as a last resort (when other pest control methods have failed) since it kills the good along with the bad.

  36. I tried to create a new planting bed by buzzing the grass really short & smothering with newspapers then mulch. Either I didn’t get enough newspaper and/or mulch, cause grass was popping up everywhere! :O First try fail. :(

  37. old apocathary books at the library (rare books dept) have excellent and simple recipes for cleaning and bath products and medicines (make your own asprin!)

  38. When making any recipe that requires you to cut the butter into the flour into pea-sized chunks – piecrust, scones, biscuits, etc – use a cheese grater and grate the cold butter into your flour.

  39. we have gotten in the routine of saving our veggie scraps (carrots shavings, asparagus tips, celery ends, leek tops, etc.) in a freezer bag. when we accumulate 3 quart sized bags, i throw it in a big stock pot with 1 onion, bay leaves, peppercorns, salt, whatever i have on hand and boil it down for fresh veggie stock to have on hand. beats the boxed stuff!

  40. Always have your soil tested. Finding out you have lead levels too high in the bed by your house *after* you’ve planted is no fun.

    Also, wild grapes can come in male and female varieties, make sure you cultivate the females for grapes, and a male for pollination, a whole row of males isn’t as useful.

  41. Make sure to store your food in containers bugs can’t get into, like mason jars. I learned the hard way that plastic bags don’t keep out weevils. :( I have since built up a collection of clasp top jars for all my bulk foods.

  42. When I learned how to make yogurt at home, I stopped buying commercial yogurts, and I always have a good starter in the fridge for the next batch.

    I put veggie and bone scraps in a gallon ziploc bag in the freezer and boil up a pot of stock when it’s full. I put the carrot tops in the bag too.

    Starbucks coffee grounds provide a good nitrogen source for compost and the soil. Diluted urine is a good nitrogen fertilizer, and cheap. I’ll never buy compost activator or blood meal again. And I feel good that all that water I drink can go back into the garden.

    My compost pile had too much nitrogen and I had lots of soldier fly larvae as well as sour smelling compost. I cover each new bucket of rotting veggies with a some dried leaves now. No more soldier flies.

  43. If your spouse is not onboard, just keep rowing. Bring him fresh greens from your lonely organic garden and know where the oil lanterns are during a power outage. Quiet persistence weaes down resistance. Best wishes, ddu

  44. Garlic is the easiest thing in the world to grow. Plant the bulbs in the fall, mulch well, harvest in July when the tops are 1/2 yellow. Do nothing in between except maybe the occasional watering.

  45. To get big(ger) ticket items for free, let people know you are looking for a whatever. If those people don’t come through you can get lots of great stuff from freecycle. Using these two methods we have sourced a serviceable upright piano, a beautiful grand piano, a washing machine that needed a little WD-40, a big, upright freezer, a working cell phone, and many other treasures.

    The trick to winning the freecycle lottery is to give the person offering a story about who you are and what you plan to do with their good item.

    It may take a while to find what you are looking for but if you are patient you can save a great deal of money.

  46. I use vinegar for the fabric softener in the laundry. It works at least as well as dryer sheets for everything except a handful of synthetic items. The vinegar is cheaper and doesn’t make me itch!

  47. If you have nutrient poor soil use compost, compost tea, organic soil, straw, and as much horse manure as you can handle. I can’t count how many truck loads of manure my husband has brought into our garden, and it shows with beautiful healthy plants all season!

  48. Just try it!

    Dont worry if it isnt perfect!

    Do what makes you happy, not what you think everyone else does, and what you “should” do!

  49. I’ve been living in Denmark the past few years and the biggest find I’ve made here is a traditional item they call a ‘dejfad,’ or dough bowl. It’s a large, heavy, shallow earthenware bowl that’s glazed on the inside and used for making bread. The shape is such that you can knead the dough and let it rise in the same bowl without getting your counter all messy. A great cleaning-saver if you can find one.

    Also, whenever you cook beans, boil some extra and freeze them, so you can have ready-to-eat beans without resorting to canned.

  50. I had a huge Japanese beetle problem in my raspberries. I planted garlic inbetween plants, handpicked the beetles, and let some pokeweed (a horrible weed) grow between plants too. Not sure which worked but the beetles did not eat my raspberries to the ground like previous years. They sure ate all the pokeweed though.

  51. I have found that the critters don’t touch my golden raspberries. However, I can’t seem to keep any of the black and red raspberries. I think it may be that they can’t see the golden raspberries as well.

  52. Eating healthy is easier to do if you pay attention to eating in season, and check out the barely bruised section of the market. Lots of great stuff is found there, for at least 60% off!

  53. with a 3YO and 1YO, we get quite a lot of crayon marks on the walls… i was inspired by your coffee cup post some time ago to start experimenting with baking soda and vinegar more (i used to just use water and hard work for almost everything, in fact i kinda wondered if vin and bs were a placebo, since water and elbow grease will work for most things)
    anyway, i found that either alone didn’t work, but if i sprayed the wall with vinegar, then wiped with a rag that had a heavy dose of baking soda sprinkled on it, those suckers came off like a dream!!!

  54. We grew tomatillo plants several years back and have had volunteers sprout in the garden ever since. I spare a few when I’m weeding because the striped cucumber beetles prefer the tomatillo plants to my cucumber plants. I go straight to these volunteers and stealthily brush the beetles into a container with some water, which I take to the chickens as a fresh bug treat. Striped cucumber beetles make a terrible noise not unlike a scream while they’re swimming…music to my ears.

  55. you can freeze basil right out of the garden. I learned this from a sicilian man who owns a local pizza place.

  56. We’ve used soap nuts for our laundry for 2 years now, but for some reason our machine periodically eats the canvas baggie with the nuts in it. So now, I put the canvas baggie/nut combo into a lingerie bag when going through the wash. It prevents the lot from getting eaten, and makes it more easily found so they don’t end up in the dryer. ;)

  57. This year we are growing our indeterminate tomatoes in 5 gallon buckets in a 8′x4′ bed, we sunk 2 4×4 posts on either side and then nailed heavy duty lattice that goes all the way across the bed. This will be used to weave the tomato plants up for support. This is the first year we are doing it like this so I hope it works!

  58. We love to use small branches pruned from fruit trees in our smoker. Use a branch about as thick as your thumb and cut into 6-8″ lengths and let dry throughly. Use a couple along with your normal wood chunks to give a nice added flavor and aroma to whatever you are smoking.

  59. If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. And when 3/4 of what you plant don’t grow according to plan, just keep trucking along. You don’t have a black thumb, it’s probably something else like your soil…good veggies can only come from quality soil. :) Happy gardening! Happy Easter!

  60. We follow the backwards beekeeper method of beekeeping, with one addition. In the Pacific NW we get a lot of winter fog, so to keep moisture out of the hive in winter we added a Warre Quilt. Warre Beehive’s are really specific, and it’s way to long to type out here. Quilt = moisture collection.

    To simplify here’s what we did… on top of the hive we placed a super box with a towel stapled to the inside bottom making sure that it would still sit on the hive properly. Then we filled that box with shredded paper and straw things that would absorb moisture. The towel on the bottom keeps all the shredding in and the bee’s out. Then all that material fills up with the water that would formerly have condensed on the cover/inner cover. Keeping the bee’s dryer all winter long.

    It worked great and they pulled through like champs! We may modify it next winter and use a burlap bag instead of a thin cotton towel but still a success! To get a picture of what I mean search Warre Quilt.

  61. Greasy hands? Shake some baking soda on to them, then grab a wet bar of soap and rub. The soda and soap combo seems to flake the grease off quicker than either one alone.

  62. When bugs show up and it’s too late in the season to plant a companion herb, sprinkle the herb liberally between the plants. Oregano, dreid or fresh cut, repels cucumber beetles, and mint, fresh or dried, repels aphids, ants, and cabbage moths. Really works!

    When baking bread from a sponge, after the first rise, treat the inflated sponge as a living being. Incorporate the flour by stirring around the outside of the bowl with a spatula and turning the dough and folding it in on itself without cutting through the mass. This keeps the connections between the yeast cells intact and for some reason feels incredibly good, loving the dough rather than torturing it to an outside will. And the bread comes out so high and lovely!

  63. I live in an apartment with bad interior light and can’t afford “real” window boxes. (I also worry that they’ll damage my window frames and cost me my security deposit.) Instead, I fashioned window boxes from reusable shopping bags. I used the wide, squat bags they sell at Trader Joe’s (at least on the east coast), reinforced them with wire coat hangers, and stapled the bag handles to the window sill to secure them. They weren’t perfect, but they yielded a modest amount of herbs and lettuce (and flowers), looked great, and were easy to remove in the fall. It was a nice, affordable alternative to more heavy-duty window box planters.

    I posted detailed instructions for making these planters on my blog: http://madelinekelly.umwblogs.org/2010/06/13/window-veggies/ . I hope other aspiring homesteaders who are low on space, light, and cash find similarly useful solutions!

  64. We have been battling ants like crazy this year. I can tell you what has NOT worked so far: pepper, coffee grounds, orange peels. I think these ants are some sort of genetically engineered hybrid that somehow found their way to our house because they just will NOT go away!

  65. An empty wine bottle with a strip of an old sponge wedged in the mouthpiece makes a handy (and free) plant nanny for your container plant.

  66. whoa, that’s a heck of a lot of comments.

    I’ve got a few favorites,
    1. Everyone should have a neem tree, boil down the leaves seeds and bark for a nice neem tea that can be used for many plant ailments, anti bacterial (pierce’s disease) anti fungal, anti pest properties can be extracted and used on plants, sometimes injected if needed. they can get large, so a large bonsai’d tree would work best for city living.

  67. When starting seeds indoors in a chilly room in a chilly town (Western PA in the late winter/early spring), put a fan on low in the room to toughen the seedlings up. They grow tall and leggy when it’s not quite warm enough or bright enough, and we’ve saved a lot of almost-lost seedlings by adding some wind to their environment.

  68. Remember in gardening there is no such thing as failure…..just varying degrees of success.
    If a thing is worth doing it is worth doing badly.
    With these two maxims in mind I start projects I would have been afraid to start because I wasn’t sure how to do them.
    Nothing like learning from mistakes!

  69. During the winter we purchased fruit packaged in the plastic mesh bags. When I started seeds, we lined these bags with newspaper, filled them with dirt, and placed them in boxes in the greenhouse. The containers held just the right amount of moisture, and were easy to replant.

  70. An effective way to get ride of powdery mildew (certain species of plants like grapes can get a thin layer of white fungus that spreads like crazy when it’s warm and humid out!): 1 Gal water, 2 Tblsp Baking Soda, 1 tblsp oil, 1 tblsp soap, 1 tblsp vinegar. Mix in that order and spray on the plants. Dries out and kills the mildew, but doesn’t hurt the plants (or pretty much anything else).

  71. Soak raw nuts to increase digestibility and flavor. I soak pecans overnight, then dehydrate in the oven. They are so sweet and keep me from feeling overwhelmed with hunger so I have the energy to cook a full meal.

  72. I like to freeze things before they go in the worm bin. They don’t smell if I’m lazy and forget. When I thaw it I let some of the liquid drain out. It keeps the moisture down and the breakdown seems to speed up.

  73. Investing in a scale has improved my sourdough starter–and my baking–tremendously! Also, though it takes some time, dried garbanzos cooked in a slow cooker are amazing and creamy in texture. I can’t eat them out of a can anymore.

  74. Place leftover whey from draining yogurt into a spray bottle; drill a couple of drainage holes in the bottom of a 5-gallon bucket (one with a lid); place sand in the bottom of the bucket to a depth of about 4 inches. Place food waste into the bucket, give it a good spray with the whey, and snap the lid on tight. Spray each new layer when added. Easy Bokashi!

  75. Tubes from toilet paper rolls make great seed starting containers, and you can plant the whole thing since they’ll compost in the soil – less stress on the roots. Remove the outer layer of cardboard if you can (and compost it) to make it a bit easier on the seedlings.

  76. Vinegar will get the smell of cat urine out of your clothes. I pour vinegar in the downy ball and throw it in the washer.

  77. The best way to remove stains from a light coloured counter top is to pour a little lemon juice on the stain, sprinkle with cream of tartar, then rub thoroughly into stain with your fingers. Wipe with a damp cloth. Voila! No more stain. I’ve used this to great result on plastic bag ink transfers, coffee, berries, and food colouring. No stain has been able to stand against this duo.

    Ezmerelda

  78. Araucanas are my favorite backyard chicken right now. Light body weight means good feed-to-egg conversion, plus they are quiet and seem smarter than other breeds I have had.

  79. Be careful using bleach as a sanitizer when homebrewing. My few few batches had a strange aftertaste that I could not put my finger on. It disappeared, however, when I switched over to a no-rinse sanitizer, forsaking bleach entirely.

    Very excited about the new book. I devoured the last one.

  80. I think my best tip would be to always try to cook extra, and freeze the rest. This saves time and energy; a win/win!

  81. When peeling fruit for processing (drying, canning, freezing), save the peels. You can make your own vinegar by dropping them in a half-gallon jar containing 1/4 cup of sugar dissolved in a quart of water. When you’re all done adding peels, cover the jar with cheesecloth secured with a rubberband, and stick in a dark closet or cabinet. In about a week, you should have a nice homemade fruit vinegar. Strain and bottle.

    My favorite was made with peach and plum peels. It had a nice rich flavor like red wine vinegar.

  82. Sink a yogurt container or the bottom of a milk jug into the earth near the plants that are being eaten up by earwigs. Fill with beer. Empty out a ton of dead earwigs in the morning and refill with beer.

  83. I think I saved something like $50 on shampoo last year, by nixing shampoo entirely and going to baking soda paste for “lathering”, and then once that is washed out, doing a dilute rinse w/ vinegar. I cannot believe I resisted doing this for so long. My hair is way happier, and so is my scalp.

    Other thing I did… I always add lavender-infused vinegar to the washing machine’s bleach compartment (high efficiency front-loader), and it really cuts out soap scum in the best way. The clothes smell a lot brighter after hanging on the line in the sun, too.

    And an educational lesson… I got so excited in the winter when I was jarring up all the chicken stock I was saving from one of our birds, that I grabbed the wrong kind of jar. It was a freezer-safe canning jar, but it was the kind with shoulders, so the liquid cracked the jar as it froze and expanded, and everything on that shelf of the freezer smelled of chicken fat…

  84. Living in a small brick shoebox where there’s no growing space in sight, my work with plants comes in the form of dried herbs, tinctures, and oils. My husband and I make all our own products, lotions, salves, and soon, soaps. One day I’d like to have space enough for chickens, rabbits, and bees.

  85. I let figeater beetle larvae get big and fat in my compost bins and toss an occasional one to my girls. The chickens love me for it. ;) Maybe fruit-tree growing neighbors nearby don’t love it so much, but the adults have never bothered me?? But then again, the ones in my yard are usually clumsy/foolish enough to fly down at chicken level…

  86. Squash vine borers have time for more than one lifecycle in a Central Texas Summer, and once your squash is wilting you’re too late, most of the time. Hand picking the eggs from stems is really the way to go.

  87. i like to wait for the dandelions in my garden to get a little bit bigger before i weed them out so i can use their roots to make dandelion coffee! it’s really easy!

  88. I like making stock out of veges that are not going to get eaten and then freezing them. I make it concentrated so that the stock doesnt take up much room in freezer.

  89. A quick way to convert a patch of lawn to a garden patch is to:
    1. With a spade dig 10-12 inches down in the sod in square pieces and set aside in a bucket or wheelbarrow.
    2. Loosen the soil at the bottom of the hole with a garden fork in 2-inch increments, and scoop up any loose soil from the bottom of the hole
    3. Take the sod and lay it grass-side down at the bottom of the hole.
    4. Cover with loose soil and any amendments you are adding to your soil.
    5. Sew seed or plant out starts.
    You end up double digging with the added compost layer of grass deep in your garden bed. This encourages deep veggie roots, and if you have worms, it spares a good portion them in the roots of the sod by protecting them from marauding birds so that they can naturally till your bed.

  90. The best way to reduce our real trash impact (non-recyclables, non-reusables, etc), is to see that toilet paper roll, newspaper, food scraps, etc as an additional to the garden! So little now goes out into the dumpster. Still trying to reduce all real trash from our lives!

  91. When working with bees, always remember you are on their schedule, not yours! Respect their need to stay warm and dry, so no hive work in the wind and rain. Avoid shortcuts to keep bees and keepers happy. Smoke makes them go and water makes them stay. And always, always… send them love!

  92. Gardening with small children is a great way to practice measuring, fractions and problem solving. Also, a good way to get them eating veggies.

  93. I’ve discovered that I am planting single rows of spinach too far apart and leaving a lot of unused ground.

    For the fall planting, I plan to try a “wide bed” approach as described in Raymond’s “Joy of Gardening”. As in this approach I will plant a 3 ft wide row of spinach and radish mix. Then when they start to germinate, I will thin by dragging a garden rake through the entire bed.

    I expect this to give me a higher yield per sq. foot.

  94. Pick up wonderful 1-5 gallon food grade buckets for free by asking at restaurants or looking in their dumpsters. When planting in these, DO NOT add rocks or screens to the bottom of the buckets. It’s unnecessary. Use a screwdriver to drill a few holes in the bottoms for drainage.

  95. If you have enough room for your chickens to roam, don’t give them feed until evening. As soon as they are old enough to be out all day you can wean them off of an AM feeding. My hens learned to find enough food for themselves and their feed would sit barely touched for days! Out of habit, they’d even come out to scratch thru a foot of snow – despite the fact that they always had AM feed in winter. Maybe b/c they got outside light in the winter, they continued to lay all year. So more eggs and lower feed costs.

  96. To make homemade laundry detergent, combine 2 parts soap (ivory, dr. bonners, etc.) with one part washing soda and one part borax. It’s great for sensitive skin, and super cheap too!

  97. Harvest/forage palm fronds and stems. Cut the fan section from the stem. The stems make fine stakes, the fans can be used as a sun shade or a rain breaker. Strip green fan blades for light purpose twine or braid for heavy duty.

  98. If you’re ever feeling like all this work is too much or you’ll never get something done in time, you need more friends helping. Try to involve as many friends as you can in any farming activity. This way you have less work and you have a lot more fun doing it (and can therefore do more work). Also, you may be able to teach people new things.

  99. If your still using a charcoal grill after you take your meal off, take a foil pan or designated grill pan with deep sides, and put some tomatoes, onions and peppers with a little olive oil, water and salt. Close grill and walk away. After the coals are burnt down your ready to go. Makes a great smokey pasta sauce, or stew base. We just throw it through the blender and freeze.

  100. Keeping enough shredded paper in the top of the worm bin keeps it odor-free and helps control the moisture. I shred my junk mail for it and also flatten paper egg cartons and lay them on top. Eventually, the worms deal with it all.

  101. If your plants are wilting and you have a toddler, double check your irrigation system for kid-sabotage before you bother frantically googling and buying fancy organic fertilizer to fix the problem.

    Also, if you plant fruit, be prepared to defend it from birds & squirrels.

  102. Sauerkraut: cabbage, sea salt, one gallon glass jar and a plastic bag filled with water to weigh it down. It really is that simple! It’s also inexpensive (especially if you grow your own cabbage), keeps for months in the fridge, a good source of vitamin C, and the lactobacilli is a great tonic for the belly!

  103. Another vote for the baking soda/vinegar (no-poo) shampoo. It took me forever to try it, but now my hair is so much healthier, for a lot less $.

  104. sourdough starter makes a fantastic pizza crust, and it’s an easy way to keep your starter good and active without committing to baking or eating a whole loaf of bread.

  105. Get your kids involved in all aspects of your homestead. They love helping out and extra hands in a garden are always a bonus -especially when it comes to weeding.

  106. Grow popcorn. Better yet, let the little kids have charge of the popcorn stand. It’s as easy to grow as typical sweet corn, the little, multicolored ears are beautiful when you harvest them, it tastes much better than commercial stuff, it’s easy to get a year’s supply from a fairly small section of garden, and it’s not a hybrid, so if you keep this year’s crop far enough from other types of corn and thus prevent hybridization, you save a bit to plant next year. Have I mentioned it’s beautiful?

  107. Always let at least some of your favorite veggie plants go to seed–you never know what might be a remarkable re-seeder, saving you having to replant by doing it themselves. In my yard, Italian parsley, Swiss chard and Collard greens come up wherever they want, distributed naturally and freely.

  108. Young shoots of Himalayan blackberry have an edible core. Haven’t tried it myself, but it’s something to do with them once you’ve finished tearing them out of the garden.

  109. Being really, really broke can actually be a boon because it makes you think of things a whole new way. Instead of thinking “Oh, I’ll just go to the store and buy this”, you start thinking “I want or need this, so how do I get it? Does something else I have serve the same purpose? Can I borrow someone else’s or get one for free that someone else doesn’t need anymore? Can I grow it or make it?” It actually can be very freeing to lose that dependency on the stores and manufactured products. I’ve learned so much, I started a blog to share all my tips and ideas with others!

  110. If your seeds are very old (3+ years) it might be ok to plant more than 1 in a spot, but if they are fresher than that, you are really setting yourself up for wasted seed & extra work thinning. I have a real problem with overseeding my starting flats. If you are really, really concerned about germination rates of a fickle variety, germination / sprout testing is your key to peace of mind. I have wasted so much seed & time bc I was too lazy to do a decent germination test!

  111. 1. Wooden lattice SUCKS as a trellis, especially for peas.
    2. Tomatoes get very angry if you try to grow them in a mix of topsoil and compost in pots that are too small. Not sure which was the bigger problem and my tomatoes weren’t talking. Probably because they were dead.
    3. I secretly prefer broccoli after the flowers open.

  112. Wow! So many great tips!

    I was going to say what Silje N. said; if you worry about doing it right, or doing it exactly how everybody else does it you’ll put things off that aren’t nearly as difficult as you’re thinking. Just try!

    Also, learn to recognise a handful of local wild foods and start foraging. Start with easy leaves or berries and a good book or friend that can identify them. I can pick a variety of wild greens, flowers (jam, jelly, bread, syrups, cordials) and berries that I can find easily (they’re all weeds here) and that I’m 100% sure of. There are only 1 or 2 mushroom varieties I’m confident in, so I’ve made friends with a man who picks field mushrooms!

    BTW, I’m in the UK, so if this only applies to the continental US, ignore my comment…

  113. Wow! There are a lot of neat tips here! I am just starting out; moving into our new home in the country this summer. But I have started last year. My tip is, if you are just starting out, read, read, read! Hit the library each week and read all the books you can. Pick out the ideas that suit your vision of your new lifestyle and keep a running folder of ideas and also and online folder of bookmarks of ideas. Also, start freecycling. I have gotten tons of brand new canning supplies and even an awesome custom made walking stick from freecyclers!

  114. Homemade plant rooting tonic using small pieces of willow branch steeped like tea… between seeds and cuttings I rarely buy plants anymore and always have some to gift or trade this way.

  115. Start talking to people around you and find a group of people to encourage you in your homesteading efforts. Canning is always more fun with friends :)

  116. As appealing as all of those unusual vegetable/fruit varieties are in the rare seed catalogs, make sure you do your research and only purchase seeds that originate in a climate similar to yours, or else risk having a minimal harvest. Trust me, I’ve been there and done that! Melons that come from Egypt don’t grow very well in the NE USA.

  117. 1. Let go of the quest for perfection. That just gets in the way and ultimately prevents you from accomplishing anything at all.
    2. Get up off your butt and do something right now. It’s amazing what you can accomplish in a short time if you just get going and try.
    3. Even though every single piece of garden advice you have ever read has told you in bold print not to plant too much and start too big, you will do it anyway. Yes, you will. Just go with it and you will refine your methods and reign in your madness as you gain experience.
    4. Real food matters. It makes a difference to your health, your weight, your quality of life, and the environment. Again, don’t try to be perfect, but do make a start. You’ll be amazed at the benefits of eating real food.

  118. Rake all lawn clippings together and place inbetween garden rows- last year was my easiest and most weed free garden yet!

  119. If you are buried in tomatoes come August and can’t keep up with the canning (or just don’t want to), just freeze them whole with skins on. You can take them out one at a time or as many as you need and as they begin to defrost, the skins just slide right off. They’ll be soft, but are perfect for soups and sauces and WAY less work than canning.
    Also – love the tip idea… it IS way more interesting!

  120. Grow a patch of stinging nettles. If you harvest the tender top growth regularly, you can hold off flowering & provide yourself with delicious, high protein greens for much of the growing season. Or use to make “tea” for the rest of the garden.

  121. Extra-virgin organic Coconut oil is a great oil to cook and bake with, and I also use it to make personal care products (chapstick, deodorant, face cream, hair dressing).

  122. Always be on the lookout for “trash” that could be useful. I built my chicken coop out of “scrap” wood…the garden fences are old metal fencing…the cob oven was built using clay “waste” from a pottery shop…there is just too much waste in the world already.

    Before I make a purchase I think “Do I need this?” then I wait a day and ask myself again. If I still need it I will then purchase it…but most often I realize that I don’t really need it and never buy it.

  123. Living in SoCal, I have learned that tomatoes do not need full sun here. Last years harvest – 200 lbs. from 4 plants in an 8′X6′ bed.

  124. As a remedy for flies in the chicken coop, we have used Diatomaceous Earth. It works great and its non-toxic. I love your other book and I’m excited for the chance to win your new one. Thnx :)

  125. We love to conserve water by flushing the toilet with buckets that we keep in the tub (to catch water during showers, when waiting for the water to warm up, etc.). I used to just pour it into the bowl, but learned that using it to fill the tank makes for a much “better flush.” :)

  126. Using powdered cocoa to make brownies, they still taste like box brownies. Apparently, it matters, the difference between squares of Baker’s chocolate and powdered cocoa!

    Also… if you run a dehumidifier (or have one associated with your a/c) DON’T waste that lovely, distilled water! Water your plants with it… use it in your washing machine… put it in the birdbath… something. Just don’t waste it. My Mother used to have the hose off of her a/c run directly into the washing machine. When it was full, she’d do a load of laundry (and hang it out to dry on the line).

  127. I have a tiny garden so I need to maximize space. Every winter I plant my garlic and come early spring, I underplant it with lettuce.

    All spring I harvest lettuce for salads and come July 4th, I pull up my garlic.

    This way I get two crops out of one space.

  128. Grinding grains is so easy and so satisfying. When I first heard about it I thought it sounded a little extreme and like it would be too much work, but by the time I had read the first few pages of Flour Power by Marleeta Basey I was convinced. Get the book and a grinder (and keep it on your counter so there are no impediments to using it) and happy grinding!

  129. I discovered that using pure Coir as a seed starting mix results in far more damping off than using Jiffy Organic Seed Starting mix. The coir just holds too much water for too long when seedlings are indoors.

  130. Learned this one the hard way: Apparently crows love to gather the “husk” in coconut husk seed starter pots. Lost a few zucchinis this year to this issue.

    So many good comments so far!

  131. If you’re late to starting your seedlings, just get starters at the farmer’s market! They are much better quality than those you find at big box stores. I got 3 great heirloom varieties this weekend and I can’t wait to transplant them!

  132. The best tip I’ve picked up this year is that ice cube trays work just as well as the $40+ soil block makers. Just wet your potting soil/seed starting mix down fairly well and press hard into the ice cube tray. In the freezer for 10 minutes and they are easily popped out just like regular ice cubes. 10 minutes of thawing allows you to make a hole for the seed with a toothpick.

    My biggest mistake was not planting for my zone. Just because the home improvement store sells tropical plants doesn’t mean that they will survive in my not-tropical garden.

  133. I bought bags of green peas, yellow peas, lentils, and black beans. When I read the cooking directions, some said soak, some said don’t soak…cook for 30 minutes, cook for an hour… So I mixed the yellow peas and the black beans together because they had the same directions. Of course, when cooked, the black beans turned the yellow peas a morbid shade of grey. I’m still separating peas and beans!

  134. Most folks don’t realize what they are tossing aside. freecycle, craisglist and every other want ad service is proof of this. If you are patient and willing to check a couple times a day, you can find nearly everything you need in goods or services being given away or offered for trade in these want ads.

    Save your wallet, save the landfill space and save the planet all at the same time. Triple whammy!

  135. another stinging nettles tip (first learned from Jon Young the survivalist from northern CA and later confirmed by Nance Klehm from Chicago): eat raw fresh nettles without the sting by rolling up the leaves into a tight little cigar/burrito shape and crushing the package with your molars. make sure you roll it in a manner that the hairs are wrapped into the center. chew well and all those little hairs should have been smushed so it’ll go down smooth.

  136. I used Facebook to successfully organize residents of our community to convince city leaders to change the ordinance banning backyard chickens. – Facebook was a great way to communicate and organize without endless meetings- people are already on Facebook, looking for local connections.

  137. Also, you can take milk that is starting to turn, scald it, and add lemon juice or vinegar, salt and maybe some herbs, then strain it thru a cloth, and you have a white cheese. Once it’s cheese, sprinkle salt on the outside of it and keep it in a container in the fridge (or eat it up). Good way to save sour milk.

  138. If you have dogs, leave about a 2 ft. wide path between the perimeter of your property and any plants. Even if you have arable land, planting in large pots may be a better barrier for your K9 counterparts.

  139. Take two pair of scissors and two pencils, tie a string to each and hang variously in the garden/yard– you’ll be surprised at how often you need them and you’ll delight at how smart you are to have them handy!
    Thanks for the blog- Kelly O’Keefe

  140. Always kept tract of recipes!
    I improvised some hot sauce that I canned and it sat in my pantry for months until it’s awesomeness was discovered. I have no idea what I did to make it taste so good!

  141. If you are interested in growing a legume for dry “bean” production try cowpeas(Vigna unguiculata subsp). They are extremely productive and significantly more tolerant of heat, drought and diverse soil types than the typical pole or bush beans. Blackeyed Peas may be the most common cowpea but there are many other varieties. My favorite is Black Crowder.

  142. To keep snails and slugs from climbing up into your fruit trees take 1 part copper sulfate to 3 parts white latex paint, mix together and paint a wide band on the trunk. Snails and slugs will not cross this boundary because it makes them sizzle! You could also paint a border around your raised beds etc to also keep them out. It beats paying a lot of money for those fancy copper strips.

  143. Our chickens were very confused when they first started laying eggs, laying them everywhere but the nesting boxes. Very messy. We made some fake clay eggs, placed them in the nesting boxes, immediately they started laying in the nests. Would love to win the book.
    Blessings
    Diane

  144. I live in a development where people don’t know each other very well. I take my neighbors extra eggs, honey and veggies. I also have shown them where to get free mulch. We all start looking out for each other and they start bring me goodies!

  145. My tip: Once you have prepared your fermented food item – kefir, bread starter, kombucha, and or salsa and you have then covered it to protect it from dust, flies and other bugs, DO NOT under any circumstances forget to hide and protect your ferment from the attack of the foodie kitty cat! Foodie kitty cats are sneaky and they will destroy any of the above faster than you can say FERMENTATION!

  146. Make your own pet food!
    It’s easy and affordable and you know what your little buddy’s actually eating. Helpful factoid: dogs’ and cats’ percentage of tearing teeth is directly reflective of how much protein they should consume. K9s generally have 25% tearing teeth. In the wild, they consume 25% meat and forage plants, grains (often partially digested from the intestines of their prey), vegetables and berries. felines have more tearing teeth and thus consume more protein.
    For my dog, I keep all my veggie scraps in a tupperware (carrot ends, broccoli stalks, outer cabbage leaves) and make large batches of organic brown rice (I buy 25lb bags) 1-2 times/week and keep in fridge. he eats 1 cup rice, 1/2c vegetables and 1/2c raw organic meat (scraps from butcher are inexpensive and can be kept frozen) for each meal. that’s 25% meat, 25% vegetables and 50% grain. a splash of flax or fish oil gives a shiny coat and turmeric helps old arthritic bones
    -PD

  147. Get to know your neighbors and exchange tips like this with folks you get to have live interactions with. My husband and I had lived in our neighborhood for 5 years without meeting a single person. We thought we had to travel to “cooler” neighborhoods to be with likeminded people. But this year I started a community garden and a listserv for backyard gardeners to exchange advice and resources…and wouldn’t you know I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else? The power of local connections and support is so inspiring and heartwarming.

  148. Read this blog is my tip. I have gotten several great ideas from it in the short 3 weeks I’ve been reading it.
    Also, Japanese Soya Cucumbers are delicious.

  149. Variations on mine are already here, but for stock I like to save all onion skins and ends, carrot tops & peels, parsley stems, celery leaves, corn cobs, tomato skins (from canning), etc in one bag in the freezer. Lamb, pork, chicken, & beef bones go in their own bags as well and when one of the bone bags and a veggie bag is full, make stock, or if I only have veggies … add some kombu and make a veggie stock.

  150. Vinegar is a wonder product. It’s good as a hair conditioner, laundry rinse, window cleaner (no streaks), drain cleaner with baking soda, for preserving herbs, even supposed to be effective in water to keep dog coats shiny and chickens from pecking. And it can kill ants and weeds.

  151. All I can say is, wow. You are an amazing group of people. I hate to have to shut down the comments on this post but the contest is now closed. Clearly, we’ll have to do this again!

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