New Well Bucket Slips Past Pitless Adapter, Inside 4″ Casing

Super-Slim WaterBoyWe get many calls here for a well bucket that will slip inside a 4-inch casing with a pitless adapter or inside a 3-inch casing or liner. We have designed such a bucket, made with our same high-quality parts and handy thumb-lever release.

The Super-Slim WaterBoy well bucket measures 46 inches in length, is made of 2-inch PVC pipe and has an overall outside dimension of approximately 2.75 inches. The bucket weighs 3.5 pounds and holds one-half gallon of water.

Check it out on our Products Page.

©2014 Well WaterBoy Products LLC ♦ WaterBuck Pump™ ♦ Pedal Powered PTO™ logo


Well WaterBoy at the Topeka Mother Earth News Fair

We are excited to announce that, for the first time ever, we will be exhibiting Well WaterBoy Products at a Mother Earth News Fair.  If you’ve ever wanted to see a WaterBuck Pump or any of our other products up close, now is your chance. The fair will be at the Kansas Expocentre in Topeka. We invite you to join us there Saturday and Sunday, October 25th and 26th.

Topeka Kansas ExpocentreCome say hello at our booth 3005 near the main entrance in the Expo Hall and receive a free packet of our homegrown, organic, heirloom seeds. Also, drop your name in our basket for a chance to win one of three prizes.

WaterBuck Pump 22 GPMYou will be able to see in person many of our top Well WaterBoy Products. Select items will be available for purchase at reduced prices. We are pleased to reveal that a full-scale model of the WaterBuck Pump will be at our booth. The convention center certainly could not allow us to drill a well through the floor, but our replica is just like the real thing – without a gushing water well, of course.

To go along with the mother lode of fascinating programs and exhibits scheduled, we will have ongoing live demonstrations of the WaterBoy Windlass Hoist and Well Buckets throughout the weekend. Fair guests will learn how easy it is to get water from a drilled well without power of any kind (except human muscle). We also will have with us our Pedal-Powered PTO, WaterBoy Tripod Kits, SolarBuck Solar Cart Plans and some of our treadle-sewn products including Granny’s Clothespin Bags.

WaterBuck Pump in actionPrices for many of our products will be reduced during the Fair. Stop by early, as we will have limited supplies on hand. If you do not want to tote a 48-inch WaterBoy Well Bucket around the Fair, we will be happy to hold it for you at our booth. Just let us know. Or, pick up one of our handy Mail Order Forms, mention that you saw us at the Fair, and we will honor our event prices. Then head off to hear the numerous speakers on all aspects of sustainable living, and see more hands-on demonstrations outdoors.

jessi-bloomIf you have been postponing attending a Mother Earth News Fair, do not miss this one. The list of speakers is too numerous to list here, but is available on the Mother Earth News site. We are thrilled to see that some of our personal favorites are on the list, including organic farmer Joel Salatin, actor/activist Ed Begley, Jr. and organic gardener/real food expert Barbara Pleasant. We have followed their blogs and work for years. Jessi Bloom of Timber Press will give two presentations over the weekend: Easy Peasy Edibles and What the Cluck?! Getting Started on Gardening with Chickens.

Kicking off the weekend, Mother Earth News publisher Bryan Welch, author of Beautiful and Abundant: Building the World We Want, will delve into the power of visualization, offering an engaging and practical method for building a collective vision of human sustainability one person – and one endeavor – at a time.

coverLike most fans of Mother Earth News magazine, we have boxes of back issues dating to the 1980s.  I have been a Mother Earth News blogger since early 2013.  The WaterBuck Pump has even been featured in the June/July 2014 issue of the magazine. So, attending our first fair is exhilarating, to put it mildly. To be among a huge crowd of like-minded, positive, forward-thinking environmentalists is simply something we have never experienced. We hope to see you there.

©2014 Well WaterBoy Products LLC ♦ WaterBuck Pump™ ♦ Pedal Powered PTO™ logo

Why Have A Well Bucket?

high-voltage-and-stormAs if the threats of war, terrorism, economic collapse, natural and man-made catastrophes, plagues, solar flares and EMPs are not enough to consider, we now have a decline in fresh water — another critical thing to prepare for. As the national news continually warns us, water tables are dropping in many parts of the United States, not only seasonally anymore, but for long periods.

Having enough fresh water

The U.S. Census Bureau estimates the U.S. population will increase by approximately 29 percent between 2000 and 2030, and the
western and southern regions are projected to experience the greatest growth (more than 40 percent) during this time. With such tremendous population expansion, fresh water becomes increasingly scarce. The bureau predicts water shortages in nearly all states. Below is a 2014 U.S. Government Accountability Office map depicting anticipated water shortages over the next decade:water shortage map

As population grows, droughts continue, fresh water declines and water tables drop, more wells are drilled (the National Groundwater Association reports 800,000 holes bored annually), putting more strain on freshwater supplies.

When the water table drops below the submersible pump in a well, many people face desperate situations without water. Often, a professional pump installer must be contracted to lower the submersible pump to reach water. In some cases, the well must be drilled deeper to access water with an electric pump. Another complication is having to wait for a well professional to remedy the problem. In some areas the waiting list can be as long as 8 months. Meanwhile, no water can be pumped.

Get Water Without Electricity.

On our road to self-sufficiency, twice we learned firsthand the consequences of the water table dropping below the depth of our pump. Even though we had electricity, it was useless. On one occasion, while we repaired our well, we depended on a neighbor for water. What would have helped us — and kept us self-reliant while we fixed the problem — was a simple well bucket.

Our main backup water supply system is now a deep well manual pump. Still, if the water table drops again below our pump, we have our trusty well bucket to get water.

Why have a well bucket?

farm with windmillsPrivate wells supply 13.2 million occupied American households with water, according to a 2010 report by the National Groundwater Association. In most wells, electricity powers a pump submerged in the well to bring water to the surface. Without power, of course, water cannot be pumped. A simple well bucket can sustain a family until the power comes back on.

Even if you’re generating your own power (with solar or wind, for example) to operate a submersible well pump, those systems can fail – temporarily or permanently. Ice, snow, wind and lightning can damage electric components, rendering systems inoperable.

And, although you may have a reliable hand pump, something may happen.

bucket tripodA well bucket, also known as a torpedo or cylinder bucket, is the simplest, least expensive way to get water from a well without power. As the name implies, a well bucket is simply a long, skinny bucket that can be lowered into the narrow confines of a well casing to bring water to the surface.

How Well Buckets Work

bucket well casingWe refer to well buckets as “inexpensive insurance” for water without electricity. There is no limit to the depth a well bucket can be used. However, for greater depths, it is easier to use a tripod or windlass to raise and lower the bucket.

bucket windlassSeveral styles of buckets are available commercially, and homemade versions abound on the Internet. Most include some sort of one-way valve on the bottom that holds the water in the bucket until it is hoisted to the surface. The water enters the bucket through the bottom valve.

bucket thumbThe best bucket design enables users to empty the bucket by pulling a lever at the bucket top.

bucket pourBy comparison, buckets that pour out from the top are difficult to manage. Remember, water is heavy (about 8 pounds per gallon) and liquid. Aiming for a pail to empty the well bucket into usually results in overshooting the pail and wasting much of the water.

bucket discharge

Another common homemade bucket type includes an extension on the bottom of the valve that must be pushed up to discharge the water. This works well if the full bucket is lifted onto a device to push up the valve, draining the water into a pail or irrigation trench. However, if the bucket is simply set down in a pail to discharge the water, the volume in the bucket and pail will equalize, not allowing all of the water to be released. The remainder must be poured out of the top.

bucket hoist

WaterBoy Well Buckets and Related Equipment

For more information about well buckets, tripod kits and windlass-hoist, please see our products page. Have the water you need — without electricity from any depth.

©2014 Well WaterBoy Products LLC ♦ WaterBuck Pump™ ♦ Pedal Powered PTO™ logo

Something New at the Watering Hole

woman at a wellEver since we began making well buckets in 2011, people have asked us where to buy a windlass to use with a bucket. Darren researched and pondered this a long time, finally concluding no practical windlasses exist for torpedo well buckets in drilled wells.

Years ago, people used a simple rope and bucket and all manner of windlasses to raise large buckets a few feet from a cistern or shallow hand-dug well. These generally had a hand crank and only hoisted about 15 or so feet of rope.wheel axle windlass

When technology advanced, wells were drilled to greater depths and fitted with submersible pumps. A new, slender bucket style was designed to get water from these deeper, drilled wells as an emergency backup. However, as access to electricity spread, there was no longer a great need for well buckets.

old mining windlassToday, with fuel and electricity costs soaring, natural and man made disasters and more folks going off-grid, well buckets are popular again. But, no one ever really made a windlass, not that we are aware of, for anything other than a shallow well.

Snowy wellSo, just as Darren has done for everything else around here when he couldn’t find what he needed commercially, he built one and improved upon the old style.

Finally, a modern windlass hoist for well buckets

WaterBoy Windlass Hoist

WaterBoy Windlass Hoist Kit

Instead of using a hand crank, Darren designed the windlass with it’s own lift pole and with a 24” hand wheel, making the operation more efficient and less tiresome for deeper wells. Both hands are used and the rope is wound up easier. This also keeps the rope cleaner and off the ground (less chance of contamination).

It’s much safer, too, because there is no crank that could come back and bonk someone in the head if accidentally released under load.

And, just like all Well WaterBoy Products, it’s built to last and made right here in Missouri. We’re excited about the latest addition to our growing array of products to improve the quality of life for the self-reliant – especially regarding water.

Please see our Products Page for more information.

© 2013-2014 Well WaterBoy Products LLC ♦ WaterBuck Pump™ ♦ Pedal Powered PTO™



How to Use a Treadle Sewing Machine

Although I learned to sew on my great-grandmother’s Singer treadle machine as a child, I haven’t used a treadle since I was a teen, which was, ah, some time ago.White Family Rotary treadle

When Darren and I brought home an antique White Family Rotary treadle from a thrift store last year, I thought it would be just like great-granny’s old Singer. After we cleaned it up and doused every moving part with oil, I figured I’d hop on and be stitching away – just like that.

Well, I soon learned the White has one very distinct difference from other treadles. The top of the hand wheel is turned away from the operator to sew. Sure, the wheel will turn toward the front as in other machines, but the thread will bunch up and make an awful mess.

machine parts

Turn the top of the hand wheel away from you to begin sewing.

Treadling “backwards” took some getting used to, sort of like driving on the opposite side of the road, but now is a mindless motion.

That was lesson No. 1.

Then, since the machine had only one bobbin, I went online to eBay and bought four “vintage” bobbins in a package from the 1950s or 60s for about $2.50 each. Although they are slightly different in appearance (stamped “Japan”), they work just as well as the original bobbin.

bobbin winder

Apply a small piece of masking tape to the bobbin winder shaft if you are using modern bobbins. Reduce the stitch length to 0 or 1 to lock in stitches.

Recently, when I realized I needed many bobbins for different thread weights and colors, I ordered a bargain pack on eBay – 20 bobbins for $15 and free shipping.  These bobbins are brand-spanking new and shiny. I’m assuming China-made. In the bobbin case, they work just fine … but, the center hole is larger than the older bobbins, so they spin on the bobbin winder instead of winding on the thread.

That was lesson No. 2.

Darren solved this problem by suggesting I apply a tiny dab of masking tape to the bobbin winder shaft. His solution worked perfectly.


The bobbin on the left is original (from about 1914). The middle bobbin was made in Japan in the 1950s or so. The bobbin on the right is modern, with a slightly larger center hole.

So, yes, you can buy new bobbins instead of the extra cost for antique or vintage bobbins. You can sew with them. However, to save trouble, I recommend finding older bobbins if you can. They are certainly worth the additional cost.

I’ve learned a few other tricks worth mentioning. If you have used an electric machine most of your life as I have, you’ve surely gotten used to modern conveniences, such as automatic forward/backward stitching to lock in your starts/stops. Old treadles stitch only forward.

So, you can make a few stitches (about 1/2 inch), and then pivot on the needle to turn the fabric 180 degrees and reverse your line of stitching back to your starting point. Then stitch forward again. This takes extra time and is awkward when sewing large pieces.


Bring the thread from the spool, through the small wheel at the top of the presser-foot assembly, down to the spring (1), up to the take-up lever (2), and down to the needle (3).

An easier method of locking in your stitches is to start out with very short stitches (I set mine on 0). Stitch about half an inch and then increase the stitch length to about 4. As you near the end of your line of stitching, reduce the stitch length again to 0 or 1 for the last half an inch.

And, since there is no zigzag stitch for finishing seams, I stitch about 1/8 inch away from the seam in places where I fear the fabric could unravel over time. In places of stress or with loosely woven fabric, I’ll make a flat-fell seam, turning under the raw edges. If there is an easier solution, I’d love to hear about it.

So, even without 1,000 stitches to choose from, I absolutely love my old treadle and wouldn’t trade it for all the bobbins in China. The stitches are smooth and uniform, even when sewing through eight layers of heavy denim.

ThreadingThis is also the easiest machine to thread, oil and adjust. With my fancy electric machines, I would often scowl when it was time to rethread or wind a bobbin because it was a nuisance. No longer. Threading the machine takes just a few seconds.

I have not tried out any of the attachments yet for my machine, but will get around to it on the next snowy day. Check back soon to learn more about sewing with a treadle.

To see some of the projects completed on my treadle, click here and here. Also, be sure to see our Homestead Sewn Preps page to purchase our unique, treadle-sewn items to make life easier. Incidentally, we re-purpose quality 100-percent cotton fabric whenever possible, keeping discarded garments from landfills.

© 2013-2014 Well WaterBoy Products LLC ♦ WaterBuck Pump™ ♦ Pedal Powered PTO™



Think Your Public or Bottled Water is Safe?

Before hopping a northbound Greyhound to visit my daughter recently, I went online to buy her a good, long-lasting water filter to strain the fluoride, bleach, birth control pills, drugs, bug killer and other mysterious poisons from her St. Paul, Minn., drinking water. What better birthday gift, eh?Columbia River

The selection was astounding – a virtual array of filtration devices that eliminate the above-mentioned contaminants, plus a host more, including iron, hydrogen sulfide, lead, mercury, calcium carbonate, magnesium, chromium, bacteria, algae and fungi. A radiation filter even removes Iodine -131 , Radium-226, Strontium-90, Cesium-137, Uranium-238, Ionic contaminants, Hexavalent Chromium and more.

Columbia RiverI wondered, how did all this junk get in our water in the first place?

Overwhelmed, I got on the horn with Hilary Ohm, owner of Highwater Filters in Colville, Wash., who walked me through various filters and applications.

“Municipal systems test for certain things,” Hilary told me, “but they go for the low-hanging fruit, the contaminants easiest to detect. There are just a myriad of others that are not tested for, such as hexavalent chromium (remember “Erin Brockovich”?).”

Hilary explained that fluoride is actually a rat poison and dangerous at high levels, but is used in many municipal systems to prevent tooth decay. Advocates believe it’s a harmless and effective additive; those opposed doubt its safety and are concerned about potential health effects. Another controversial public-water additive is chlorine, widely used to kill bacteria.

“What is that doing to our bodies that are full of good bacteria?” Hilary asked.

Highwater Filter

This handsome unit also eliminates fluoride

I eventually picked out an attractive countertop model Hilary recommended based on my daughter’s location and needs. To my surprise, the filter arrived in Minnesota before I did, and even included additional instructions and a birthday greeting from Hilary.

Because my daughter lives in a historic 1920’s building with a kitchen sink big enough to bathe in, but no counter space, we visited Goodwill for a shelf and brackets. Everything was installed in 30 minutes.

Then it was time to relax.

With rare time for loafing, I called to chat with Hilary about water pollution. I was intrigued with her business blog, Highwater Marks, which includes her thoughts on fracking, river salinization, ocean acidification, drought, energy production and future of water.

Three Mile IslandAs it turns out, Hilary has been an environmental advocate for 30 years. As a Plattsburgh, N.Y., college student in the early 1980s, Hilary was among the throngs of hippies and activists who protested against environmental degradation. She turned down a college basketball scholarship to “save the world.”

Since 1999, Hilary has served on the board of “Citizens for a Clean Columbia” in northeastern Washington. The group worked closely with the Colville Confederated Native American tribe and State of Washington to compel a Canadian lead and zinc mining company, Teck Comingo, to be held accountable for tens of thousands of tons of toxic slag dumped into the Columbia River for almost 100 years.Hilary Ohm 1979

The coalition also demanded the Environmental Protection Agency study the slag’s effect on water, soil, fish and wildlife, recreation and local human health, among other things. The studies, funded by Teck, are now being conducted, but due to complexities have taken close to a decade to be completed.

So, it is only natural for someone with intimate knowledge of the dangers lurking in our water to now own an online water-filter business and continue to advocate for clean water.

Columbia River snow

“If you were to see the beauty of this area, you would understand,” Hilary said when I asked how she fits environmental activism into her schedule. “I think we all deserve to have clean air and water.”

Hilary explained, because of humanity’s lifestyle, it is inevitable we must deal with dangerous byproducts. Since we have to live with these materials, we need to do all we can to minimize the damages for future generations, she said.

Buying the web-based business was purely accidental, Hilary said. When her position at a Microsoft call center was outsourced several years ago, Hilary looked online for a way to support herself, yet remain in the remote area she loves. That’s when she stumbled across a water-filter business for sale.

“It fit perfectly with my passion for clean water,” Hilary said.

Hilary said losing her job was a humbling experience that motivated her to help make the change she envisions for our country – a vision that includes vibrant small businesses competing in the marketplace and pure drinking water for everyone. She believes in giving back and supports charities that provide clean water to those in need.Hilary Ohm poster

When Hilary discovered the company for sale, it sold only Swiss-made Katadyn water filter products. Under the new name of Highwater Filters, the business quickly expanded to include a wide variety of American-made water treatment products.

“We believe in supporting U.S. manufacturers who use American workers to produce their products,” Hilary said. Highwater Filters also emphasizes non-electric water treatment and explains why buying water bottled in plastic containers (which is unregulated) is not a healthy or convenient choice.

Bisphenol A, or BPA, is an industrial chemical used in some plastics, including many water bottles. Studies have shown that it can seep from plastic into food and beverages,” according to Hilary’s Highwater Filters’ blog. “Although the FDA currently considers it safe in small amounts, evidence is building that it could have negative effects on children and fetuses, even in small doses.”

In 2006, a panel of experts concluded: “BPA at concentrations found in the human body is associated with organizational changes in the prostate, breast, testis, mammary glands, body size, brain structure and chemistry, and behavior of laboratory animals.”

Hilary said the FDA is continuing to study the effects of BPA, but has yet to recommend a total ban.

Even those of us with deep drilled wells aren’t guaranteed of pristine water. Arsenic is just one of the toxins common in wells.

Perhaps if we had heeded the warnings of scores of environmental activists like Hilary in the 1970s, we might not be buying expensive bottled water today.

“Our reserves of clean drinking water are dwindling,” Hilary said. “Every time clean water gets polluted with harmful chemicals, there is less. As the population grows, the demand is even greater.”

To learn more about Highwater Filters products, visit the site and Hilary’s Highwater Marks blog.

Photos of the beautiful Columbia River in northern Washington State taken by Hilary Ohm. Hilary also provided the historic photos of her early activism. She is still active today, protecting the Columbia River, among other environmental endeavors.

© 2014 Well WaterBoy Products LLC ♦ WaterBuck Pump™ ♦ Pedal Powered PTO™


Snow Time is Sew Time for Pocket Preps

Sometimes a big, old snowstorm can really get the creative juices flowing. Last weekend was like that here.

snow sewWe already had a mass of good oak firewood on the porch when the sleet started coming down Friday afternoon. By Saturday morning, the roads were blocked with a foot of snow, so even if we wanted to go anywhere, which we didn’t, we couldn’t.

With outside temperatures in the teens, it was perfect weather for putting a few hundred miles on my antique White rotary treadle sewing machine. I was sewing up a storm, first restocking dishtowels and washcloths by cutting up an old blanket. Next, I finished a quilt and made placemats and potholders with the extra fabric squares.quilt on line

Then it was time for new ideas for my Jeans OVERhauled business. We call our new merchandise line “Pocket Preps,” concentrating on practical, durable products for everyday use. Just like my other products, we use 100-percent cotton recycled fabric whenever possible.

The first Pocket Prep item, which, incidentally, Darren sketched for me, is a denim placemat with pockets and a napkin that rolls into a compact bundle, keeping silverware clean and organized. No more will we discover, 100 miles from home, that we’ve forgotten our salad forks or soup spoons. We call this handy accessory our Pocket Meal Prep. It is ideal for the bug-out bag, camping, glamping and with your lunchbox.

pocket prep picnicThe Pocket Meal Prep mat exterior is made of upcycled jeans, lined with colorful plaid fabric and padded with 100-percent cotton jersey material.

I also make the napkins of cotton so they actually absorb moisture, unlike polyester napkins that look pretty, but are basically useless.

pocket prep roll

When you’re on the go or camping, simply untie the mat, spread it on your lap, table or the ground, and you’re ready to be served. The pockets hold silverware, toothpicks and even small condiment packets so they are always at hand. One mat (with the silverware and napkin inside) rolls up to about 12″ by 2″, depending on your utensil sizes .

Like all of my Jeans OVERhauled products, I double- and triple-stitch seams wherever stress may be applied. I guarantee my products, including my Super-Tuff firewood carriers, to hold up to the everyday rigors of life. Everything is machine washable.

quiltingAs snow continued to pile up outside, I also spent many hour restocking my other products for the homestead and garden – clothespin bags, kitchen and fireplace mitts, aprons and placemats.

You can see photos and learn more about our products here. I also love special orders. Perhaps you have an old shirt you’ld like to see in a quilt — or how about lining a Pocket Meal Prep? Send it to me. I can give it new life as a useful item for your home.

What do people without a treadle sewing machine do when it’s snowing outside? I shudder to think of it.

© 2013 Well WaterBoy Products LLC ♦ WaterBuck Pump™ ♦ Pedal Powered PTO™ ♦ Pocket Preps™


Bring Back Victory Gardens

As the U.S. government begins scaling back its Food Stamp Program, I wonder how 48 million recipients (almost 1 of every 6 Americans) are being advised to make the transition to reduced or discontinued benefits. Cuts loom ahead, too, for Social Security and other programs.canning

Is home gardening ever encouraged as a way to offset the escalating cost of, well, just about everything?

Some say it would be cruel to ask people to grow some of their own food as Americans did during the first two world wars. Literature from those eras, however, indicates people felt good about contributing, they saved money, enjoyed better health and had fun gardening with their families and communities.

We can certainly attest to all those rewards. Also, we are assured our food is organic. How did gardens (and clotheslines!) ever become symbols of poverty anyway? We consider them icons of abundance, fitness and good stewardship.

front coverOne of my favorite gardening guides is a World War II booklet put out by International Harvester Company that covers everything from cold frames to compost, pest control and root cellars.

“Get at the garden in time. Make a plan for it. Hang it on the wall. Talk about it … Make up your mind when you will plant the different things — then plant them,” the booklet advises.

Now, here’s the part I really like:

“Take care of it; it won’t take care of itself. Anything worth having is worth working for. What isn’t worth working for isn’t worth anything. A good garden will make the home more homelike.”

cold framesI found the 80-page booklet among some old cookbooks. It had obviously been referred to many times through the years, and even has a carefully mended front cover. Although the photos are tiny, Page 3 compares a bountiful garden in North Dakota to another where people have lived for years “and still no sign of growing anything to eat.”

“Grow Your Living,” the booklet warns. “It May Not Be Available for You to Buy.”

When International Harvester composed the booklet, the food stamp program was new, initiated as a temporary benefit that was discontinued two years before the war ended.

EBT snafu

We hope last week’s Electronic Benefit Transfer system debacle in Louisiana does not reveal how people will behave if they fear their benefits might cease or food becomes scarce.

During a two-hour glitch that temporarily disabled EBT card limits in several states, Walmart shoppers in two Louisiana stores filled their carts to overflowing. Some customers reportedly pulled trains of 8 to 10 carts through the store or returned for more free groceries after bringing one load home, according to online garden

When the system was restored, people abandoned their full carts in store aisles and checkout lines. One Springhill woman walked away from her $700 bill at the checkout as she had only 49 cents on her card.

Meanwhile, we wonder – what were people thinking? Did they fear the system was down for good and they needed to stockpile? (Hoarding food is never a sustainable solution.) Have people become utterly dependent on the system?

End of surpluses

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Stamp Program has been reworked a few times since it was created in May 1939. It was discontinued from 1943 to 1961 “since the conditions that brought the program into being—unmarketable food surpluses and widespread unemployment—no longer existed,” according to the USDA website. So, it is not unthinkable the program could disappear again.gardens

Originally, recipients bought stamps that came in two colors: orange for any food product and blue for surplus. For every dollar of orange stamps bought, the buyer received 50 cents of blue stamps for free, which were exchanged for agricultural surplus items, such as milk, eggs or cheese.

In 1961, President John F. Kennedy introduced a food stamp pilot program that no longer included surplus foods. The stamps still were purchased, although the cost was incrementally reduced. The USDA maintained that stamps should continue to be sold so as not to undermine the dignity of recipients. Three years later, Congress made the Food Stamp Program permanent.compost men

The next major change came in 1977 when food stamps were no longer required to be purchased. The move to stop selling stamps disappointed many who had supported the program as a means to help the poor help themselves, not as a direct government handout.

Food Stamp budget cuts

Last month, the government announced a $4 billion food stamp budget cut that will affect everyone on the program now and for future applicants. An estimated 4 million people will be cut from the program in 2014. It is estimated that at least 1 to 3 million will be cut each consecutive year for the next decade. posted some reconstruction solutions, which includes removing illegal immigrants from the program. Currently, children born to illegal immigrants in the United States are entitled to benefits, as are their illegal alien parents. Is it any wonder we can no longer support this program?compost man

Proposed agricultural solutions include farmers markets, donations and co-ops where recipients work for their food. says these solutions “seem barbaric to some progressives and others.”

A few quick online searches revealed little practical preparation ideas for recipients to wean themselves from the program. suggests that single, able-bodied participants find work or create a nutrition plan such as vegetarianism or a sustainable and self-reliant food lifestyle.

Another option is to combine vegetables with meat, grains, dairy, or other foods to make them last longer throughout the week. goes on to recommend ways to make vegetables more interesting, especially for children, by smothering them in dips and sauces. Or, coat celery sticks with peanut butter and decorate with raisins. Also, exchange recipes with Facebook friends.

Some of this seems silly to me, but is actually more advice than I found on the USDA’s site. To its credit, also included a short blog about gardening as a suggestion. The food stamp program now allows recipients to buy seeds. Finally — an idea for sustainability.

good gardenTeaching people to grow food

The USDA was not initially keen on promoting home gardening. When First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt planted a vegetable garden on the White House grounds, USDA leaders worried her example would hurt industrial agriculture.

Eventually, however, the government endorsed household and community food plots and supplied gardening literature. The USDA also issued a 20-minute film to promote and train people how to plant victory gardens.

The call to plant a Victory Garden was answered by nearly 20 million Americans during World War II.  Those backyard plots produced up to 40 percent of all that was consumed. When prosperity resumed, however, many gardens were abandoned.

Today, as food prices continue to climb and more people are unable to feed their households as before, it is time to relearn those skills. As they did in Cuba when their economy collapsed, we should be planting food anywhere we can – on rooftops, in window boxes, along the sidewalk, next to the garage – anywhere there is dirt. Even without soil, a couple big jars of sprouts growing on the kitchen counter are an excellent source of nutrition.victory badge

Modern gardening experts such as Marjory Wildcraft and John Jeavons say we don’t need to plow up the whole back 40 to feed our families. Marjory laughs how she made the mistake of tilling an entire acre for her first garden and ended up with an acre of weeds. Instead, she says now, start small – and keep growing.

Perhaps it is time to bring back Victory Gardens.

garden tips

© 2013 Well WaterBoy Products LLC ♦ WaterBuck Pump™ ♦ Pedal Powered PTO™


Composting Explained in 1881 Household Cyclopedia

When I was young, my mother sent us out every evening to bury the day’s apple cores, carrot tops and hickory nut hulls in the garden. And, because we ate so much wild game, we always had animal innards, bones, skin and other scraps to get rid of. Our neighbors also gave us all the free cow manure we could pitch.sheep

It grossed me out as a kid to put all that stuff in the garden, but Mom had it right – we were imitating nature.

The “1881 Household Cyclopedia of General Information” includes much information about enriching soil. Best of all, it’s from the days before chemical fertilizers. By comparison, a 1940 textbook, “The Earth and Its People,” applauds the invention of manmade fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides for increasing food production.

old bookAccording to the 1940 text, “By practicing more intensive cultivation, by using greater quantities of fertilizers and by taking advantage of scientific discoveries, the production per acre of the leading food crops of the United States can be increased greatly.”

I prefer the older book.

The cyclopedia explains the basics of plant structure and why good soil was vital for a successful harvest, and likely meant having enough to feed a family through winter. Only a lazy farmer was not continually building up his soil. And to neglect the earth meant to have poor vegetables and crops.

“The best natural soils,” according to the book, “are those where the materials have been derived from the breaking up and decomposition, not of one stratum or layer, but of many divided minutely by air and water, and minutely blended together: and in improving soils by artificial additions, the farmer cannot do better than imitate the processes of nature.”1881 cyclopedia

Although the 813-page book was published in 1881, it contains information from farming practices in use before the Civil War, according to the authors. My mother started gardening in the 1950s; but when others were using chemicals in their gardens, she favored the old-time methods – compost and manure.

The old book applies the term “manure” indiscriminately to all substances known from experience either to enrich the soil or contribute in another way to render it more favorable to vegetation. Healing the soil, the book reports, is just like healing a body.

“In an agricultural point of view, the subject of manures is of the first magnitude,” the book states. “To correct what is hurtful to vegetation in the different soils, and to restore what is lost by exhausting crops, are operations in agriculture which may be compared to the curing of diseases in the animal body, or supplying the waste occasioned by labor.”

horsesLike other household hint books on the era, the Cyclopedia is compiled of 10,000 submissions by farmers and home gardeners on topics from 80 topics from agriculture to wine-making. The book states the following conclusions may be regarded as scientifically sustained, as well as confirmed by practical experience:

Organic Manures

1. Fresh human urine yields nitrogen in greater abundance to vegetation than any other material of easy acquisition. The urine of animals is valuable for the same purpose, but not equally so. Still, none should be wasted.

2. The mixed excrements of man and animals yield (if carefully preserved from further decomposition), not only nitrogen, but other invaluable saline and earthy matters that have been already extracted in food from the soil.

(NOTE: A 1972 Mother Earth News story by Elizabeth Allyn details how to compost and use human excrement. Allyn writes, “We rake the privy’s contents down the slope, cover the peaks with the rest, and sprinkle it all again with ashes and earth. About once a year we load the plateau of compost on the spreader and take it out to the fields or haul it by cart to the garden where it’s used as top dressing. It’s only work … the material smells like sweet earth.”)

3. Animal substances such as urine, flesh, and blood decompose rapidly and are fitted to operate immediately and powerfully on vegetation.

4. Dry animal substances (horn, hair, or woolen rags) decompose slowly and (weight for weight) contain a greater quantity of organized as well as unorganized materials. Their influence may be manifested for several seasons.

5. Finely crushed bones, acting like horns in so far as their animal matter is concerned, may ameliorate the soil by their earthy matter for a long period (even if the jelly they contain has been injuriously removed by the size maker), permanently improving the soil condition and adding to the natural capabilities of the land.

Using animal manures

“Dung is the mother of good crops,” the book states, adding that the best plan for cheaply and easily gathering a large quantity for a clay-land farm is to feed grass to livestock during summer.Devon bull

Livestock manure varies in sustenance by the animals’ diets. The book recommends not letting early springtime weeds go to waste as they pop up in fencerows or alongside buildings. Cut those nutritious weeds and feed them to your animals. You’ll be rewarded for your labor.

“In a word, the dung of animals fed upon green clover, may justly be reckoned the richest of all dung. It may, from the circumstances of the season, be rapidly prepared, and may be applied to the ground at a very early period, much earlier than any other sort of dung can be used with advantage.”

Also, the practice of soiling or feeding horses or cattle in the barn or farmyard is eminently calculated to increase the quantity and abundance of manure on every farm. In the 1800s, feeding horses in the summer months on green clover and ryegrass was a common practice in grain districts where farm labor was available.

“The utility of the practice does not need the support of argument, for it is not only economical to the farmer, but saves much fatigue to the poor animal; besides, the quantity of dung thereby gathered is considerable.”

Keep your water source clean

Positioning and management of the pile is also important to obtain the best quality compost in shortest amount of time.

“When driven out of the fold-yard, the dung should be laid up in a regular heap or pile not exceeding six quarters, or four feet and a half in height; and care should be taken not to put either horse or cart upon it, which is easily avoided by backing the cart to the pile, and laying the dung compactly together with a grape or fork.”

In other words, don’t smash the manure pile. Also cover the outer edges of the pile with dirt to keep in moisture and prevent wind and sun from depleting nutrients. A small quantity of earth scattered on the top is also beneficial.

“Dung, when managed in this manner, generally ferments very rapidly; but if it is discovered to be in a backward state, a complete turn over about the 1st of May when the weather becomes warm will quicken the process.” The better the manure is “shaken asunder,” the sooner it will become usable compost.

When starting the pile, select a secluded spot not exposed to wind or where water pools. The pile should also be downhill from and at least 100 feet from water sources to keep from polluting your freshwater.old manure pit

To save trouble later, start the pile in the garden or field where it is to be used. It is also most convenient to have the manure pile near the homestead.

“There it is always under the farmer’s eye, and a greater quantity can be moved in a shorter time than when the situation is more distant. Besides, in wet weather (and this is generally the time chosen for such an operation), the roads are not only cut up by driving to a distance, but the field on which the heap is made may be poached and injured considerably.”

More resources

Read this 1972 article in Mother Earth News story to learn more about composting human excrement. To learn more old-time homesteading skills, you can view a free online version of the Household Cyclopedia here.our garden

The best modern-day instruction on making compost we have seen, by far, is Marjory Wildcraft’s “Grow Your Own Groceries” video series. Among dozens of other topics, she goes well beyond explaining how to use rabbit droppings. She also shows how to raise and butcher them, completing the cycle.


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