Busy WaterBuck Weekend at the Mother Earth News Fair

???????????????????????????????Darren and Reba are having an exciting time at the Topeka Mother Earth News Fair weekend, which goes on until 5 p.m. today, by the way. Stop by if you’re in the neighborhood, or Kansas, or the Midwest. The Fair is being held at the Kansas Expocentre in downtown Topeka.

???????????????????????????????They rolled out of here at 7:30 Friday morning with a packed truck and trailer, ready for our first Mother Earth News Fair. It was a beautiful day for a drive to Kansas.

Reba sent these photos of our Well WaterBoy Products booth before the crowds were let in the door. Our booth, No. 3005, is at the main entrance and will be hard to miss. We even included a pressure tank and one of our WaterBuck Pump cylinders in the display.

WaterBuck at Fair

Darren spent all day yesterday talking about the WaterBuck Pump and Pedal-Powered PTO while Reba used the Windlass Hoist and our Tripod to show how to use WaterBoy Well Buckets.WaterBuck Fair Darren

Meanwhile, I am here taking care of animals. The weather is perfect for clearing out the end-of-the-season garden growth to make room for more spinach and lettuce. I got some help and companionship from this cute little kid, Cream.

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©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

Get well water the old-fashioned way without electricity

If you have a water well and the power goes out for an extended period, you still can get to your water the old-fashioned way – simply and inexpensively – with a well bucket.woman at a well Long before the age of electricity, people fetched water by hand with a simple rope and bucket.  To make it easier, some used a pulley or windlass with a hand wheel.

wheel axle windlassToday, with fuel and electricity costs soaring, more frequent natural and manmade disasters and because of the uncertain days we live in, well buckets are popular again. Many people are preparing now so they can get water from their well without electricity.

WaterBoy Windlass Hoist

Well WaterBoy Products not only designed and makes the most powerful high-volume, manual deep-well pump known to date, we also crafted and build modern well buckets and windlass hoists.  With the WaterBoy well bucket and optional windlass hoist, you can easily access your well water during long-term emergencies. Since 2011, we have sold our dependable well buckets with 100-percent customer satisfaction all across the United States.

Can you get to your well water without electricity?

Please see our product page to learn how to measure your well and watch a video to see how to use a well bucket by hand or with a windlass.

The WaterBuck Pump

If you need a lot of water for the family and farm, please see our high-capacity human powered well pump.


Homegrown Idea for Planting Tiny Seeds

Sowing tiny seeds like turnips, rutabagas, onions, leeks and herbs can be difficult. For instance, the seeds usually come out of the packet too quickly without enough space between the seeds. Also, heavy rains can wash the seeds into a pile before they’ve sprouted. And, tiny sprouts dry out quickly.amaranth seeds

Fortunately, there is a simple, quick technique for ensuring your veggies are properly spaced in the garden.

The next time you’re at a store that sells seedlings, ask if you can have a few of the empty plastic seedling trays. They are discarded by the millions each season. The trays with openings about 3 inches square (or round) work well for this project. Smaller openings don’t hold enough soil and larger openings use up a lot of potting mix.

To begin, cut or tear 2 inch strips of fabric long enough to reach the bottom of the tray opening, yet leaving about a 1 inch tab on each side (the same as those plastic tabs for getting batteries out of clock radios easily). This fabric strip will be used to lift out the soil and seedlings in one block like a piece of cake, only better for you.Discarded seedling tray

Next, fill the compartment with moist potting soil. Root crops can be planted in the multi-block or cluster method, allowing more plants to be grown in a small space. The fruits will not get as large as if grown singly to maturity, but they can be enjoyed as babies or eaten gradually to thin them.

Planting in clusters works well with bulb, root and stem-type vegetables. Depending on the size of your tray compartments and the vegetable you’re planting, place about 3-5 seeds in each cell. Remember that beet, Swiss chard and New Zealand spinach seeds are already a cluster of seeds per pod. One or two seeds per cell are sufficient. Leafy crops can also be started in trays, but should be thinned when transplanted. Cover the seeds with soil as usual. Label your trays with good tape or sticks and permanent marker, not pencil. (Trust me. You won’t remember what you planted if you don’t label them immediately.)

Water lightly and place in a warm, sunlit area. Some seeds will sprout in just a few days.

When the seedlings have one or two true leaves, begin hardening them off by exposing them to outside conditions for gradually extended periods daily. After about a week of this, they’re ready to move to the garden. This step can be eliminated in warm climates. If planting spinach, transplant it in the garden soon after sprouting. Spinach doesn’t like to have its roots disturbed.

Test the condition of your soil by gently lifting the fabric tabs on one cell. The entire cube, or cylinder, should come out easily and retain all or most of the soil. If necessary, allow the soil to dry out a bit. Or, lightly water it. This step will depend on the potting mix you used.Soil cube

Ideally, you will want to transplant your seedlings in the evening with rain sprinkles in the forecast. Plant your crop one compartment at a time. Make a hole just large enough for the root ball. The seedlings should be planted at the same depth they grew in the tray. Do not touch the plant stems, and do not plant them too deep, which can allow diseases to develop.

The fabric strip can be peeled off of the soil blocks and saved. Or, if they’re made of a natural material, simply compost the strips. It doesn’t hurt to just leave the fabric attached to the soil cube, either, if it’s biodegradable.

©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™



‘American Blackout’ Reveals Chronic Energy Addiction

Watching National Geographic’s “American Blackout” movie last night, it appears we are a bunch of numbskulls who can’t even open a can of peaches without electricity.

We haven’t had television for years, but were able to watch the movie on YouTube. It made for a pleasant evening as I brought in my comfy rocker and we propped our feet on the office desk to watch. The film dramatized what it would be like to live 10 days without power, particularly in cities. In this case, a cyber attack disabled the entire nation.

elevatorAlthough the 2-hour program exaggerated the mayhem (we hope so anyway) in a total grid-down situation, much of the footage of mile-long lines of frustrated people waiting for food and water was real. We kept asking ourselves, “How did Americans get so dependent?”

Most rural areas in this country didn’t even have electric power until 50 years ago. Our 90-something neighbor lived half her life without it. Only a meager percentage of Americans had electricity 100 years ago. Now, without high-voltage juice crackling through the wires 24 hours a day, we cannot fuel up, make phone calls, cook, conduct business or fill a glass with water.

hungryI understand the show’s motive was to get us thinking about preparedness, and was not an actual portrayal of our ineptitude. Still, it is frightening to consider there are people without more than two days of food or water in the house.

An example was the wealthy Manhattan couple who had only “very old caviar and warm champagne” by the second day without power. On the streets, most people were frantically fighting for food after three days. The can of peaches ultimately became a murder weapon during a mugging.

prepperAccording to the program, 3 million Americans (less than 1 percent) are preppers. The film’s one “prepared” family had a bugout place in Colorado with 2 years of food stashed, 4 months of battery power and 250 gallons of potable water.

The prepper dad, of course a total jerk, was portrayed as a Rambo wannabe running around in Army surplus attire and referring to the site as a “compound.” Really?

We were perplexed why the family had no means to generate more battery power, why they would be “crippled” if their fuel was stolen and why no food was growing anywhere on the, uh, compound. Even if the property is not maintained year round, perennial food can be planted. (See the Secret Garden of Survival by Rick Austin for examples.) Even in winter, wild edibles, insects and game are available for those who study the area ahead of time.

The big question for us, or course, was why the preppers didn’t have a means to get water without electricity. In our opinion, they weren’t prepared. No plans were mentioned for water once the plastic barrels were emptied.

If you have a drilled well, there is no reason not to have your own fresh drinking water without power. A well bucket is the least expensive option and can reach any depth. The well must be free of obstructions, such as an electric submersible pump. In a long-term emergency, however, two men with the right tools can pull the pump. Then all you need is a bucket and rope. A windlass of some sort also makes lifting the bucket easier, especially from deep wells.

Several hand pumps, including the WaterBuck Pump, on the market now can be operated with the electric submersible still in place. Hand pumps should be set up and operational before they are needed.Katrina

Another common mistake is long-term reliance on alternative energy and generators for pumping water. In a total grid-down situation, it may be impossible to get parts WHEN something breaks and to get fuel. Different types of storms can also render alternative energy systems useless. So, it is best to have a manual backup for water.

If you haven’t already watched the program, we recommend it. Here’s an interesting and thorough review written by Pat Henry at The Prepper Journal. It’ll get you thinking.

Now, where did I put that can opener?

Photos by The National Geographic Channel and U.S. Government

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


Marjory Wildcraft Visits Cuba to Study Economic Collapse Survival

Author Marjory Wildcraft told us recently she is a wild woman on a mission to put homegrown food on every table. The feisty 50-year-old rollerblader is not kidding.Marjory in row crops

To learn to grow food herself, Marjory has talked to more than a thousand, maybe 2,000, gardeners worldwide. This year, she went to Cuba to learn not only their gardening techniques, but how to grow food when your country’s entire agricultural and industrial system falls apart.

Marjory relays her extensive food-growing skills on her website and others, through her “Grow Your Own Groceries” videos and with numerous personal appearances. I have an entire cabinet of horticultural books, some dating to the late 1800s, and can probably recite many chapters from memory. Still, I learned totally new talents from Marjory’s videos, which cover everything from rainwater collection to butchering rabbits and eating bugs.

Cuba roadMarjory, a former financial consultant, said that as the U.S. debt crisis looms scarier each day, she wanted to learn about surviving economic collapse from those who already lived through it. She figured the best way to witness Cuba’s recovery was to go there personally and talk to common gardeners and farmers.

What happened in Cuba could just as easily happen here. There are many parallels, she said.

“These are crazy and dangerous times,” Marjory said of the recent snafu with food stamp cards. With 47 million Americans on food stamps, there will likely come a time when the U.S. will not be able to provide benefits. “A lot of the riots that happen in big cities start at the welfare office when people can’t get their benefits.”

To learn more about preparing for such chaos, Marjory traveled to the island country, just 30 miles from the southern tip of Florida, with Millions Against Monsanto, a subgroup of the Organic Consumers Association, to talk with working-class Cubans about their transition to gardening.

Before the collapse 20-some years ago, Cuba relied on imported oil to grow its main export crop, sugar. Just like the United States, Cuba had been using large farm machinery and chemical fertilizers and pesticides to produce only a few types of crops.

“The big question,” Marjory asked, “was how do you feed 11 million people when your entire agricultural system no longer works?”

Economic collapse

Cuba’s collapse followed the Soviet Union’s dissolution in 1991, which immediately halted 80 percent of Cuba’s imports and exports. Besides petroleum, other important imports such as food, machinery parts, medicine and textiles, came to a halt. Also, the bottom dropped out of the sugar market for Cuba, partly because of the introduction of high fructose corn syrup.

Marjory in tobaccoIn time, Cubans got healthier growing their own food. But first, they suffered, even resorting to eating domestic pets and zoo animals, according to a Forbes news report. The buffalo, peacocks and rhea (a rare, flightless bird similar to an ostrich) turned up missing from the Havana zoo. Housecats also disappeared from city streets.

Soon after the collapse, Australian and other permaculturists distributed aid and taught their techniques to Cubans, who implemented them in former sugarcane fields, raised beds and urban rooftops across the nation, according to Cuba History.org.

The Cuban government mandated organic agriculture, ousting the old industrialized form of agriculture Cubans had grown accustomed to. Localization, permaculture, and innovative modes of mass transit were rapidly developed. Food consumption was cut back to one-fifth of previous levels. Although starvation was avoided, persistent hunger, something not experienced since before the Cuban Revolution, suddenly became a daily reality.

Poverty benefitted Cubans in some ways, however. Adults lost an average of 20 pounds, while cases of diabetes and high blood pressure declined as meat, milk and other dairy products became scarce. Walking and bicycling came back in style. And farmers reverted to using horses and oxen, which need only “grass and water and to be caressed.”

When imports end

Besides learning about crops and growing methods, Marjory sought Cubans’ advice for Americans preparing for economic collapse. Their answers surprised her.

“Every single one of them said something about being ready to share with your neighbors, to help out in your community and do your best to keep your spirits up,” Marjory said. “Not a single one said to go out and buy a bunch of stuff.”

Marjory said that instead of storing beans in bulk or buying guns, the Cubans did what people naturally do in times of stress – they grew gardens and shared with neighbors. Many of these community relationships were built upon generations.

After the revolution, the government gave Cubans property, but does not allow them to sell it. Unlike Americans who move on average every 5 years, Cubans generally live in one neighborhood for decades. As such, there is a very high level of connectedness with the people and very little violence, Wildcraft said.

“They are all family,” she said.

Now as old-fashioned gardeners who walk or pedal for transportation, Cubans are healthier, according to a British Medical Journal study.

Parallels with Cuba

Marjory noted several parallels between Cuba’s pre-collapse system and the current financial crisis in the United States. For instance, Cuba was highly dependent upon fuel imports. Similarly, America now imports 60 to 65 percent of its fuel.

“More than any other Latin American culture, Cuba embraced monoculture, which is what America definitely has, and that completely failed,” she said. Cuba relied mainly on sugar exports; when the sugar market dried up, Cuba had no other major cash crop. American also has lost crop diversity.

Another similarity, she said, is in U.S. reliance on large agricultural machinery and big farming enterprises. When Russian imports to Cuba halted, fuel and tractor parts were unavailable.

The common folks Marjory spoke with said the economic collapse “came as a big surprise they didn’t see coming.”

Marjory Wildcraft on ‘Beyond Off Grid’

Earlier this month, Marjory highlighted her experiences with a slide presentation on the first of a series of webinars hosted by the producers of “Beyond Off Grid,” a film documentary projected to be released in early 2014. The film, which includes more than a dozen agricultural, economic and homesteading specialists, strives to help people reduce their dependency on the modern control grid. Incidentally, Darren was filmed here in May talking about water issues and the mistake of relying on technology to pump water.

Well WaterBoy in off-grid filmFilm producer Jason Matyas, a lifelong gardener, spoke with Marjory on the 1-hour program about the municipal and private food plots she toured during her 10-day trip to Cuba.

Cubans ate a lot of rice, beans and pork before 1991, Marjory said. All of their rice was imported. Post-collapse, Cubans began eating more vegetables and fruit they grow themselves. They learned to improve their predominantly clay soil by composting and now raise produce and small livestock wherever possible.

“The Cubans did what people all over the world do when in crisis – they started growing food on windows, in backyards, and on corner lots,” Marjory said. “They use all the classic techniques from organic gardening such as composting, vermiculture, companion planting and crop rotations. Why? Because it works.”

Dependence on oil

During the program, Jason explained how an attack on Iran by the United States or Israel could almost immediately double or triple fuel prices as Iran likely would close its main shipping lane, disrupting oil transports.

“Whether that kind of scenario happens or not, the more local you can make your food supply, the better,” Jason said. “The ultimate is growing your own food.”

The next best thing, Jason said, is to trade among neighbors, followed by purchasing from a local farmer where you know the production methods.

“The question is no longer ‘if.’ The question is ‘how’ and ‘how quickly’” Jason said of U.S. economic collapse.

Marjory added that in a crisis, skills are much more valuable than goods. The items usually becoming scarce first are food, seeds, transportation, clothing and medicines. People should also consider how they will do without their addictions (such as chocolate, liquor or coffee).

“These are all patterns that happen fairly predictably,” Marjory said, urging people to begin gardening now. “Growing food is not a skill you can learn quickly or easily.”

Besides gaining self-sufficiency skills, your physical health also will be rewarded as much industrial food isn’t good for us anyway.

To see Marjory’s video interviews with Cuban farmers and gardeners and see more photos, visit her website.

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


Something New Under the Sun

This week, strange noises came from the shop – hammering, drilling and sawing – that I haven’t heard around here for quite some time. Even more mysterious, Darren was grinning like a cat digging through boxes we hadn’t unpacked since moving more than 3 years ago.

cartA few days ago, he came home from town with one of those heavy-duty lawn wagons that I had dreams of using to haul logs or rocks from the woods. I didn’t know what Darren was up to, but it sure was nice to see him taking a break from the hand pump machine.

Then, yesterday, there was an odd new appliance basking in the sunshine outside the shop. It had solar panels, a battery bank, regulator, other gadgets and a beautifully painted wooden frame and cabinet mounted to the cart I thought was for firewood.

adjusting panel

“Well, here it is,” Darren smiled. “Our new mobile, compact, solar-powered, emergency, energy-supply system.”

Catchy name, I thought. What’s it do?

“What’s it do!?” Darren asked. “Why, it’s a solar generator. It follows the sun to store energy for lights, radios and other electronics. Best of all, we can bring it inside ahead of storms. We can easily pull it by hand anywhere to use power tools with an inverter. Just imagine the possibilities.”

cabinetDarren showed me how to adjust the panels for all four seasons and to point it toward the sun for optimum efficiency.

Yay! We don’t have to cut down any trees to have solar power.

Stay tuned for a full blog as we show how we’ve wired our house for DC lights and the inverter.  We’re also preparing detailed plans for this this handy do-it-yourself solar cart. Darren built our 160-watt, 12-volt system of scrap materials and solar supplies we already had on hand. To use all new purchased materials, we estimate it would cost $750- $800 to build, about the same as a fixed solar rack system in the yard.


You can watch a video demonstration here.


Winter Adjustment

The advantages, however, are the unit’s portability and efficiency. It can quickly be maneuvered inside a garage or shed during snow, ice or wind storms. Plus, the panels are easily moved into various positions to absorb the sun’s rays.


Summer Adjustment







waterbuck blueThis little cart, combined with our non-electric water pump, just put us a huge step toward disconnecting from the grid. Ah, there is something new under the sun after all.

You can order your DIY plans today!



© 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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