Planting By The Signs

The term “planting by the signs” is a colloquial expression or folk term for the ancient practice of timing agricultural and gardening tasks by the moon’s lunar phase and astrological position in the zodiac. For our ancestors, the understanding and application of natural lunar cycles and rhythms to their lives was literally a matter of life and death. By applying the principles that had been passed on to them by each preceding generation, our forefathers and mothers managed to survive famine and disease. Unlike like us, they lived closer to the earth and didn’t have the benefit of 24-hour grocery stores, insecticides, antibiotics or electricity.

Vegetable Garden

Early Summer Vegetable Garden

It wasn’t important to our forebears to understand the science of why something worked. What mattered to them was that it did work. Predictable lunar cycles and phases were a fact of life for them. It’s the reason why almanacs were so widespread and heavily used. And it’s the reason why next to the Bible, almanacs were the second most important book in nearly all Christian households.

For those of you who may think that using the moon to garden or that“planting by the signs” is pure superstition, I would encourage you to suspend judgment and consider what generations before you accepted as self-evident. Experiment for yourself and engage in a closer scrutiny of the natural world. You may just be surprised.

Up until the modern scientific era and the Age of Enlightenment, most people around the world used the information that follows below for their own benefit. In fact most American farmers and gardeners routinely used moon sign planting practices well into the 1930s.
For those who consider agricultural astrology to be witchcraft or evil or un-Christian; well, at one time people thought the same thing about electricity, epilepsy, and anesthesia for childbirth. Please keep in mind that God created this world and the universe. The laws and principles that govern our world and universe are His laws and principles. It doesn’t really matter what you call it.

Moon sign gardening and agricultural astrology is an involved subject. It is impossible for me to do the topic justice in this short article. Instead my purpose here is to present a brief summary of the history and concept of moon sign planting, and to give a general overview of its use in the modern family garden. A simple “when to plant” gardening chart is included.

“Let there be lights in the firmament of the heaven to divide the day from the night; and let them be for signs, and for seasons, and for days and for years.”
Genesis 1:14

Every month the moon goes through a predictable cycle. It takes approximately 29.5 days for the moon to complete its full cycle. During the monthly lunar cycle the moon’s cycle is divided into 4 phases. Each phase or quarter lasts about 7 days.
The moon’s quarters divide two significant visual manifestations of the moon known as the New Moon and the Full Moon. The new moon is the interval of the lunar cycle when the moon is not visible in the night sky. The full moon is the period when the moon is completely round and illuminated.

NEW MOON → 1st Quarter → 2nd Quarter → FULL MOON →3rd Quarter → 4th Quarter →NEW MOON

The monthly lunar cycle begins with the new moon. This 7 day (+ or -) period of the lunar cycle begins in darkness. During the actual day of the new moon, the moon is not visible in the night sky. The day after the new moon traditionally begins the part of the lunar cycle known as the 1st Quarter.

Lunar Phases

The Phases Of The Moon

During the 1st quarter the moon begins to increase its visibility and light. If you look up at the moon during this time you will notice that the moon is becoming more crescent-shaped each night. The crescent moon in the night sky is formed by a shadow from  the sun. The tips of the crescent moon point to the sun. The top and bottom tips of the crescent moon are called “the horns of the moon”. The horns of the moon are an important concept in folklore and myth.

In the Northern Hemisphere the horns of the moon point to the left as the light of the moon increases. In the Southern Hemisphere the crescent direction is reversed and the horns point to the right. The increase in the light of the moon is known as a “waxing moon”.
As the moon begins to outgrow its crescent shape it moves into the 2nd Quarter of the lunar cycle. During the 2nd quarter, the moon is increasing in light and is soon become a round orb known as a full moon.
During the full moon the moon reaches its maximum light. The full moon marks the halfway point of the lunar cycle.

Beginning the day after the full moon the moon gradually begins to decrease in its light. This phase is known as a “waning moon” and signals a decrease of light. The day after the full moon traditionally begins the 3rd Quarter of the lunar cycle. Once again the moon will slowly begin to assume a crescent shape as it moves into the 4th Quarter. The 4th quarter is the time that the moon is returning to the new moon to begin the cycle once more.During this phase of the lunar cycle, the horns of the moon point to the right if you are located in the Northern Hemisphere; and point to the left if you are in the Southern Hemisphere.

Thousands of years ago ancient astronomers observed that many of the constellations that they studied were evenly spaced in an imaginary circular belt along the sun’s and moon’s apparent path in the sky. The always moving and seemingly changing constellations were a back drop in the sky for both the sun and the moon. Many of the constellations in the belt appeared to be in the shape of animals or mythical figures.

Arabian Astrologers

Arabian Astrologers Scanning The Heavens

The circular belt that early astrologers perceived was divided evenly into 12 sections or “signs”. That belt is called the Zodiac. All the sections or signs of the zodiac are represented by living creatures except for one. The name zodiac is derived from the Greek and then Latin word for “circle of animals”.

Our forefathers believed that during the time when the sun and the moon passed through different sections of the zodiac, that life here on earth took on and reflected certain cosmic energies and qualities. The zodiac became an analogy for forces in nature that were not completely understood. Early man recognized that both the sun and the moon had a life altering effect for living creatures.
The sun brought the change of seasons, and controlled the cycle of life and death for the natural world. The moon on the other hand, also controlled the cycle of life and death, but in a much more subtle way.
Our ancestors understood that the moon was mysteriously connected to the movement of the ocean tides and to the weather. It influenced animal migrations and sleeping patterns. And what was most mystifying, was that the moon also influenced the menses cycle of women and childbirth. In fact the moon became associated with women and with fertility.
Primitive man knew that the moon has a profound effect on plant, animal and human life here on earth.
We moderns aren’t connected to the raw and primeval world of our ancestors. In fact most people aren’t connected to the natural world at all. Instead we are connected to digital devices. We sadly fail to comprehend what our ancestors instinctively knew about the lunar cycle and our world. We fail to notice what is literally going on over our heads in the nighttime sky.

The Zodiac

The Zodiac


Each year the sun passes through all the sections or signs of the zodiac. The sun spends about 30 days in each sign.

Every month the moon just like the sun also passes through all 12 signs of the zodiac. The moon spends just under 2 ½ days in each sign.
Each of the 12 zodiac signs is associated with a different quality or attribute.The zodiac as a circle begins in Aries and ends in Pisces.


Aries – The Ram
Taurus – The Bull
Gemini – The Twins
Cancer – The Crab
Leo – The Lion
Virgo – The Virgin
Libra – The Scales
Scorpio – The Scorpion
Sagittarius – The Archer
Capricorn – The Goat
Aquarius – The Water Bearer
Pisces – The Fishes

The 12 signs of the zodiac are sorted into 4 groups that correspond to the 4 ancient elements:

      • Water
      • Fire
      • Earth
      • Air

The elements assigned to the signs of the zodiac help to define and clarify the energies and traits that are associated with them.

The Water Signs are:
Water signs are said to be feminine, wet, productive, nutritive or fruitful.

The Fire Signs are:
Fire signs are said to be masculine, barren, unfruitful, harsh and dry.

The Earth Signs are:
Earth signs are said to be earthy, sturdy, stable, substantial and feminine.

The Air Signs are:
Air signs are said to be masculine, fickle, fluctuating, vacillating and airy.

The Signs

Signs Of The Zodiac


The signs of the zodiac are further divided and grouped by their modes of action. The signs are split into three subdivisions containing four signs each. The three groups of zodiac signs are labeled as Cardinal, Fixed and Mutable signs.

Cardinal signs are those signs which generate, produce or begin a new condition. Hence Aries, Cancer, Libra and Capricorn are the signs which herald each new season. Cardinal signs correspond to the North, East, South and West points of the compass.

Fixed signs have a settled or stubborn quality to them. Taurus, Leo, Scorpio and Aquarius are fixed signs and are ascribed to the well-established seasons of spring, summer, autumn and winter. Fixed signs are stable and committed. They are sometimes considered to be “earthquake signs” due to the belief that earthquakes occur shortly before or after a lunar eclipse when the moon was in a fixed sign.

Mutable signs are unstable and unpredictable. They are symbolic of the inevitability of change. Gemini, Virgo, Sagittarius and Pisces are the signs assigned to months before one season ends and transformations into the next season. Winter breaks with Pisces. Summer comes after Gemini. Autumn is heralded by Virgo. And Winter begins after Sagittarius. The Mutable signs are considered to be the reuniting, resolving and reconciling energies of the universe and cosmos.

“To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven.
A time to be born, and a time to die. A time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted.”
Ecclesiastes 3:1
Knowing the correct sign to plant in is important.
But knowing what phase of the moon to plant in is even more important.

By combining good gardening practices with the fundamental principles of lunar timing; along with the moon’s current zodiac position; modern gardeners and farmers can use the wisdom of our ancestors to grow better food and more beautiful flowers.

Planting By The Moon Sign

Planting Peas By The Moon Sign

In general terms, things tend to increase in the light of the moon; and then decrease in the dark of the moon.

Plants or vegetables that grow above ground should be planted during the 1st and 2nd quarters of the moon. That is when the moon’s light is increasing. Broccoli, asparagus, cabbage, peppers, tomatoes, squash, cucumbers, green beans and corn are all planted at this time.

Plants or vegetables that grow beneath the ground should be planted during the 3rd and 4th quarters of the moon. During the 3rd and 4th quarters the light of the moon is decreasing. Crops that are grown underground for their roots or tubers should be planted at that time. Potatoes, turnips, carrots, and beets are best planted during a waning moon up until the day of the new moon.
Plants, grains, herbs or flowers that have exterior seeds  do best when planted in the 1st quarter. Corn, broccoli, wheat, marigolds, dill weed and chamomile are examples of plants that produce exterior seeds.

Seed Marigold

Seed Marigold

Plants, flowers, grains or herbs that have interior seeds are most often planted in the moon’s 2nd quarter. Squash, watermelon, green peppers, tomatoes, green beans, poppies, pumpkins and peas are examples of plants that produce interior seeds. Cucumbers are the exception to the rule. They should be planted during the moon’s 1st quarter.

Bulbous flowers like tulips, crocuses, daffodils and hyacinths are planted during the moon’s 3rd quarter. Best results are seen when underground crops or bulbous plants are planted in a fruitful sign and sometimes an earth sign.

Be aware that the closer the day is to the new moon all planting becomes somewhat less favorable. Traditionally no crops are planted on the day of new moon.
To destroy weeds and pests, gardening activities done during the 3rd and 4th quarters are more productive when timed to coincide with a dry or barren sign .

Keep the action and quality of the sign quadruplicities in mind when choosing a day to plant or when attending to gardening tasks. Cardinal sign days signal creative energies and new beginnings. Fixed sign days bring a steadiness to the day. And days that are in mutable signs can have an uncertain quality to them.



Aries The Ram

Aries is the first sign of the western zodiac. It is the sign of the Ram or Head. It is a masculine, barren, dry fire sign. It is the cardinal fire sign and is associated with the planet Mars and the god of war. This is a good sign to destroy weeds and pests. It is a reliable sign to harvest fruit and root crops during the moon’s 3rd & 4th quarters.


Taurus The Bull

Taurus is the second sign of the western zodiac. It is the sign of the Bull or Neck. It is a moist, earthy and feminine sign. Taurus is the fixed earth sign and is associated the planet Venus and the goddess of beauty. Taurus is used to plant crops and flowers when hardiness, stoutness or firmness is an important factor. When the moon is in Taurus during the 1st and 2nd quarters, cabbage, lettuce, kale and other leafy vegetable are planted. Hay, beans, peach and pear trees can be planted in Taurus. During the 3rd and 4th quarters root vegetables like potatoes, turnips, radishes, beets and carrots are planted. Taurus is useful for planting all bulbous plants and flowers.


Gemini The Twins

Gemini The Twins

Gemini is the third sign of the western zodiac. It is the sign of the Twins and rules the Arms and Chest. Gemini is the mutable air sign and is associated with the planet Mercury and the messenger god. Gemini is masculine, dry and barren. It is a good sign for cultivating and stirring up the soil to destroy weeds. Lawns can be mowed at this time to retard growth and root crops and fruit can be harvested in Gemini during the moon’s 3rd and 4th quarter. Gemini is never a good time for transplanting or planting. That said, some moon sign gardeners like to plant runner and pole beans in Gemini and have good success.



Cancer The Crab

Cancer is the fourth sign of the western zodiac. It is the sign of the Crab and rules the Breast and Stomach. Cancer is the cardinal water sign and is associated with the moon and with women, motherhood and nurturing. Cancer is fruitful, moist and feminine. Of all the signs, Cancer is the most productive and is best used for all plantings. It is an advantageous sign for watering the garden or for irrigation. When the moon is in Cancer during the 1st and 2nd quarters it is an excellent time to graft fruit trees or begin potted stem cuttings. All root vegetables can be planted in Cancer when the moon is in the 3rd or 4th quarter. Alfalfa, melons, tomatoes, wheat, fruit trees and roses all do well when planted in this sign. Keep in mind that because Cancer is such a moist and watery sign, it is not a good time to harvest potatoes or to dry herbs, tomatoes or onions. Things have a tendency not to dry or cure properly in Cancer.



Leo The Lion

Leo is the fifth sign of the western zodiac. It is the sign of the Lion and rules the heart and the back. Leo is the fixed fire sign and is associated with the sun and with the concept of father. It is a masculine sign that is deemed to be barren, dry and fiery. In fact of all the signs, Leo is judged as the most barren. Like Aries it is considered to be a “killing sign”. Leo is principally employed to kill weeds, destroy roots and to girdle trees. Leo is also utilized to mow lawns to retard growth and is a good sign to harvest fruit and root crops. Herbs, garlic and onions dry the fastest when harvested in Leo.



Virgo The Virgin

Virgo is the sixth sign of the western zodiac. It is the sign of the Virgin and rules the bowels and intestines. Virgo is the mutable earth sign and is associated with the planet Mercury and youth. It is sometimes called the “flower lady” by country people. It is a feminine and moist sign but is considered barren. Virgo is not typically used for planting. Instead like Gemini, Virgo is useful for cultivation. That said, many old-timers believe that Virgo is a good sign to plant vines and for planting certain flowers.Honeysuckle, moon vine, morning glories; peonies and irises are sometimes planted in Virgo.But flowers planted in Virgo produce little seed. Shade trees can be planted in Virgo and will make some leafy growth.



Libra The Scales

Libra is the seventh sign of the western zodiac. It is the sign of the Scales and rules the kidneys. Old-timers call it the sign of the “Reins”. Libra is the cardinal air sign and is associated with the planet Venus. It is a masculine sign that is moist and semi-fruitful. Interestingly, Libra is the only sign of the zodiac that is not a living creature. Libra is used for planting crops where fleshy growth and spreading roots are desirable. Barley, corn, wheat, rice, oats, millet, spelt and rye can all be seeded and planted in the 1st and 2nd quarter of Libra. Grain planted in Libra will produce a reasonable but not a heavy harvest. Libra is the best sign for planting all vines and is especially useful for fragrant and beautiful flowers.



Scorpio The Scorpion

Scorpio is the eighth sign of the western zodiac. It is the sign of the Scorpion and rules the reproductive system and genitals. Scorpio is a feminine sign and is fruitful, moist, and watery. It is the fixed water sign that is associated with the planet Mars. Next to Cancer, Scorpio is considered to be almost as fertile. When a Cancer day cannot be used to plant or prune for growth a Scorpio day works almost just as well. Scorpio days during the 1st and 2nd quarter of the moon is used to plant beans, peas, eggplant, cucumbers, asparagus, parsnips, carrots, pumpkins gourds and all types of melons. As with Cancer, do not harvest potatoes or other roots crops because they will not keep in storage.Medicinal herbs are often quite potent when planted or started in Scorpio.



Sagittarius The Archer

Sagittarius is the ninth sign of the western zodiac. Sagittarius is the sign of the Archer and rules the hips, thighs and buttocks. Sagittarius is a dry, barren and masculine sign. It is the mutable fire sign and is associated with the planet Jupiter. Sagittarius is used like other fire signs to destroy weeds and pests. It can be a good sign for planting garlic and onions during the moon’s 3rd quarter.



Capricorn The Goat

Capricorn is the tenth sign of the western zodiac. Capricorn is the sign of the Goat and rules the knees, bones, hair, teeth and skin. Capricorn is the cardinal earth sign and is associated with the planet Saturn and time. It is a practical and earthy feminine sign that is a little drier than Taurus. During the 3rd and 4th quarter of the moon, Capricorn is useful for planting potatoes, root crops and bulbous plants and flowers. Evergreen trees, shrubs, hedges and living fences can be planted in Capricorn during the 1st and 2nd quarter of the moon. Plants that are used for their seeds, like buckwheat and sunflowers can also be planted in Capricorn.


Aquarius The Water Bearer

Aquarius The Water Bearer

Aquarius is the eleventh sign of the western zodiac. Aquarius is the sign of the Water Bearer and rules the legs, calves and ankles. In modern times Aquarius was traditionally ascribed to the planet Saturn.  Aquarius is the fixed air sign. It is ruled to be dry, barren, airy and masculine. During the 3rd and 4th quarter of the moon Aquarius is good for harvesting fruits and root crops.It can be a good sign to harvest medicinal herbs.



Pisces The Fishes

Pisces The Fishes

Pisces is the twelfth sign of the western zodiac. Pisces is the sign of the Fishes and rules the feet and toes. In modern times Pisces is associated with the planet Neptune, but was traditionally assigned to the planet Jupiter. Pisces is the mutable water sign and is moist, feminine and very fruitful. Like Cancer and Scorpio, Pisces is one of the best signs to plant in. During the 1st and 2nd quarters of the moon, all fruit and deciduous trees can be planted when the moon is in Pisces. Pisces is particularly good for all root growth; and for flowers and for seeding new lawns.



    • God is in control. He is the Author of creation. The laws of the natural world are His alone.
    • Plants that grow above the ground are planted in the increasing light of the moon (waxing)
    • Plants that grow beneath the ground are planted in the decreasing light of the moon (waning)
    • Plants that carry their seeds on the outer part of the plant are planted in the 1st quarter
    • Plants that carry their seed inside the fruit or vegetable are planted in the 2nd quarter
    • Try not to plant during a new moon or during a full moon
    • Nothing takes the place of common sense. Don’t try to plant tomatoes when it’s snowing. Use your head.
    • Plants will grow in every sign of the zodiac and during every phase of the moon. Some planting times are more favorable than other times.The entire point of planting by “the signs” or moon sign gardening is to work with nature and not against it.


Guide For Planting By The Signs

Moon Sign Planting Guide

Oil Lamp Basics

As far as oil lamps go there are basically 3 or 4 different kinds:

  • Floating Wick Lamps
  • Mantle Lamps
  • Flat or Round Wick Lamps
  • Pressurized Lamps

For power outages it’s a good idea to own at least one oil lamp. Your personal family needs and economic considerations should influence the type of lamp that is best for your situation.

Floating Wick Lamps

Floating wick lamps are really just for decorative lighting and emergencies. The light is faint and soft.
For the most part they are safe to use and are based on a design that has been in use for well over 6,000 years.

Floating Wick Oil Lamp

A Floating Wick Lamp

The way that they work, is that a piece of cork, bent metal or other material is fitted with a small wick. The whole rig floats or sets on top of a layer of oil and water. Some people will just use oil in the lamp without the water. Olive oil works best – corn oil is almost useless.

Primative Oil Lamp

Copper Clip-On Wick In Oil & Water

The advantage of using oil and water is that if the lamp should accidentally over turn the water will extinguish the flame.

Floating wick lamps are very similar in principle to early American Betty Lamps.
Betty lamps burn animal fat, grease or oil with a simple cloth wick without the floating cork or water. Betty lamps can be difficult to light when the room temperature is below 45°F . They were usually made of wrought iron or ceramic so the container could be heated from underneath to melt the grease so it would burn.

Mantle Lamps

Aladdin Lamps are perhaps the best known mantle lamps.
In my opinion they are the most effective type of oil lamp for general everyday household non-electric lighting needs. You can easily read and work by them without eye strain. A properly lit Aladdin lamp produces the light equivalence of about a 25 -40 watt electric light bulb. However they are expensive.

Aladdin Oil Lamp

Aladdin Table Lamp

Aladdin lamp light is harsh and has a distinctive blue cast to it. They make a very faint humming sound when in operation.

The way that a mantle lamp works is by the combustion of volatile gases moving across the knitted webbed mantle via a round tube-shaped wick and flame spreader. I use only Aladdin Lamp Oil and K-1 Kerosene in my Aladdin  lamps. Liquid paraffin and dyed kerosene should never be used in a mantle lamp like an Aladdin.

Oil Lamp Mantle

Lamp Mantle

Mantle lamps are  safe. But as with all open flame lighting common sense and caution must be used. The top 18″- 24″ area around the chimney of an Aladdin lamp gets extremely hot and stays hot for a long time after the lamp is extinguished.
In fact the entire gallery assembly of an Aladdin lamp gets super hot. So be careful!

Like all mantle lamps, the flame of an Aladdin lamp will tend to creep higher if it is turned up too high and too fast. When the lamp is turned up too fast it can cause sooting and black spots on the mantle.

Black Spots On A Lamp Mantle

Carbon Spots On A Lamp Mantle

But sooting is an easy fix. Just allow the lamp to cool and relight it again and allow the soot to burn off.

An over-fired mantle lamp can be dangerous and lead to a “runaway” lamp. A runaway lamp is a lamp that burns uncontrollably. The best way to deal with a runaway lamp is to turn down the wick and place an empty tin can over the chimney. The can will starve the fire of air.

Tin Can Can Be Used For A Runaway Lamp

An Empty Tin Can Is Used To Extinguish A “Runaway” Lamp

Aladdin lamps need close supervision if used around children or people who don’t understand how they work.

A Lit Aladdin Mantle

An Aladdin Lamp Without Shade. The Mantle Is Being Warmed Up Before Being Turned Up To Full Light

Most Aladdin lamps benefit from a shade. A shade moderates the bright light and will direct the light downwards towards a work or reading area. Glass shades have the advantage that they are easily washed. The downside is that they are expensive and can be broken.

Non-Electric Task Lighting In KItchen

Glass Shade On Aladdin Lamp. The Shade Directs The Light Downwards Towards The Work Area

Cloth or parchment shades are affordable alternative. They are not as heavy as glass and can be easily covered with any fabric.

Fabric Covered Aladdin Oil Lamp Shade

Fabric Covered Aladdin Shade


Flat Wick or Round Wick Lamps

These are the type of oil lamps that most people are familiar with. The light is soft, quiet and soothing.

Flat Wick Oil Lamps

Flat Wick Oil Lamps

The way that a flat wick lamp works is similar to a floating wick lamp. The difference is that the wick is much larger and stationary; and is threaded through a brass or nickel burner.The flat wick burner is fitted with little “teeth” or gears that allow the wick to be turned up by a round knob.

Brass Burner From A An Oil Lamp

A Flat Wick Threaded Into A Brass Burner

The lamp fuel is drawn up through the cloth wick by capillary action and is burned off. The higher the wick is turned up – the higher the flame. Wick height determines the amount of light.

One problem with a flat wick lamp, is that the wick can be turned up just so far, before the lamp smokes and the flame possibly breaks the chimney. A flat wick lamp has the lighting equivalency of a small electric nightlight. Maybe a little less.

All flat wick lamps benefit from having their wicks occasionally trimmed of carbon deposits and cleaned.

Flat Wick Oil Lamp With Decorative Glass Chimney

Flat Wick Oil Lamp With Decorative Glass Chimney

A lot of people will use ordinary kerosene for fuel in their flat wick lamps without any problem. But kerosene can give some people a headache. Ultra Pure Liquid Paraffin, K-1 Kerosene and Aladdin Lamp Oil  are a better choice for sensitive people. Those fuels will burn cleaner and without too much odor. However sometimes there is a noticeable odor after the lamp is blown out.

Round wick lamps do seem to give a bit more light than flat wick lamps and can be turned up higher without sooting and smoking.

Round wick Oil Lamp

A Miniature Round Wick Lamp

Flat wick or round wick lamps are easy to use, but don’t give enough light to read by. And just so you know, there is a type of lamp called a double wick lamp.
It works just like a single wick except there are two wicks attached to the burner. In theory a double wick lamp gives off twice the light.

Pressurized Lamps

I have limited experience with pressurized lamps. They are popular with the local Amish here in Western Pennsylvania. Petromax, Coleman and BriteLyt are the two brands I’m familiar with.

Like Aladdin lamps pressurized lanterns are expensive to buy. But they are cost-effective to run; safe and very dependable. But there is a learning curve.

Unlike Aladdin lamps, pressurized lanterns must be used with adequate ventilation. Pressurized lamps use a gas generator and gas mantle. They have to be pumped by hand to create the interior pressure and can be a little tricky to operate. Some people find the hissing noise that they make disagreeable, but some people find it soothing. The light is very bright and harsh.


Granny Miller Has A New Book

Readers want to know where I’ve been?
Okay I’ll tell where I’ve been.

A little over 6 months ago I was diagnosed with a rare sub-type of early stage melanoma. GRANNY MILLER was removed without warning from the Internet because frankly I didn’t know how my illness would end. I’m an intensely private person and I was in no mood to share a situation that was potentially life-threatening. My illness was a  profoundly intimate experience for both me and my family.

Facial Incision 2 Weeks After Mohs

2 Weeks After Mohs Surgery

Fast forward to the end of December 2015.
I’ve recovered from surgery and I’m on the mend. Things are probably going to be okay. I’m ready to get on with my life. But there’s problem. It’s obvious that if I’m going to stay this side of the grave, my old farmhouse needs a major remodel to accommodate two older adults.

But remodeling is expensive. So what to do? How can I make extra cash to help pay for the remodel?

Well there are a few different things that I can do for more income. Happily one of those things was to put GRANNY MILLER back up on the Internet. So that’s exactly what I did on January 1, 2016.

In January I also began work on a series on short books to preserve the content of this website in a permanent form. Because let’s face it.
GRANNY MILLER will be removed again sometime in the future. You know it and I know it. Not only am I fickle about maintaining a website, but I’m also mortal. Nothing lasts forever.

My first book is called, “A MIND TO HOMESTEAD”. It is Volume 1 in a series, “Old-Time Skills For A New Generation”. It was released as a Kindle book this past weekend because I was curious to learn how Kindle publishing works.

The print book will hopefully be released sometime in the early spring.

Clean Wool Rugs & Blankets with Snow

Did you know that the very best way to clean a handwoven, hooked, Persian or braided wool rug or wool blanket is with fresh snow?
It’s true.

Clean Wool Rug

Wool Rug In Snow

Cleaning wool textiles with snow is an old-fashioned cleaning method that is very safe, gentle and completely non-toxic. It works better than sprays, steam cleaning or dry cleaning. For antique or collectible Persian rugs no method is better or safer.

Here’s how to do it.
You’ll need a stiff corn broom, a winter day that is between 20°F- 30°F and newly fallen snow on the ground.
Old snow won’t do.
The reason that fresh new snow cleans wool is because it contains trace amounts of ammonia (it’s also the reason snow can be used as a slight leavening agent in baked goods or pancakes). It’s the action of ammonia in the snow that actually cleans the wool rug or blanket combined with the cold air that causes any grease or dirt to become solid and fall out of the fibers when gently swept or slapped with a broom.

Close Up of Wool Rug

Close Up of Wool Rug

Two to five inches of fresh snow on the ground is the easiest to work with.
You’ll first need to place the blanket or rug outdoors for about an hour or so to acclimate it to the temperature change. Wool is very sensitive to temperature changes. You don’t want to “shock” the wool and compromise the fibers by a radical temperature change from a warm house to the cold ground. I use a covered porch or rail to hang or lay out rugs and a clothesline for blankets, but you can use a clothesline for both if the clothesline is stout enough and the rug is small.

After an hour or so has passed and the blanket or rug is cold spread it completely flat on the snow covered ground. Use the broom to sweep clean snow over the rug or blanket and completely cover it with snow.

Covered In Snow

Wool Rug Covered With Fresh Snow

Next take the broom and gently slap the rug or blanket while it is covered in snow. Wait about 10 minutes and then sweep the snow off the rug in sections.
For blankets simply lift the blanket by the corner ends and shake the snow off. Next flip the rug or blanket over to the opposite side and move it to another clean section of fresh snow and repeat the process again.

Half Swept Of Snow

Wool Rug Half Swept Of Snow

When you are finished move the blanket and rug back to the clothesline or rail for about 10 minutes so that any remaining snow can sublimate from the rug. Sublimation is the process by which a substance changes from its solid phase (snow) to a gas or vapor (cold air) without going through a liquid phase (water). This can only happen on a cold dry day.
You may be surprised that the rug or blanket is not in the least wet.
Bring your blanket or rug back into the house and prepare to be astonished at how fresh the rug looks and how bright the colors become.

The Real Meaning Of “Tying Up Loose Ends”

(1.)Tie up loose ends


(Idiomatic) To deal with the minor consequences of a previous action; to tidy up, finish, or complete. “Removing her name from the mailing list was her way of tying up loose ends.”

It’s an expression most of us have heard or used at one time or another. But do you know the origin of the expression? Do you know what it really means?

The expression “tie up loose ends” is a weaving term. When a newly woven item is first cut off a loom, sometimes the warp ends are unbound. The warp ends must be finished in some way to prevent the weft from unraveling. It is the intersection of warp and weft materials that creates a woven fabric.

 Rag Rugs On A Loom

A Group Of Rag Rugs On A Loom

To “tie up loose ends” is literally just that. It’s the process of tying up the warp ends to prevent the weft material of a fabric from becoming unwoven and separating.
The example below illustrates the idea.

This is the bottom of rag rug that was cut off a floor loom.

Rag Rug Right Off The Loom

A Rag Rug Right Off The Loom

The rug is unfinished at this stage. Notice the blue filler yarn that has been woven into the warp (long threads at the top & bottom) and prevents the brown and white rags (the weft) from coming loose. The filler thread will be unraveled and the loose ends exposed and then tied off with a knot.

Knots Are Tied

Knots Are Tied To Prevent Raveling

The knot will become the fringe for the rug.
At one time the home production of cloth was an everyday household affair. Back then people well understood the concept of “tying up loose ends”.

ying Tying Loose Ends On A Rag Rug

Tying Up Loose Ends On A Rag Rug

The expression later became a part of our colloquial speech founded in an everyday familiarity to describe the necessity for finishing or completing a project.

Rag Rug

Finished Rag Rug By Basement Door

Do you think we should let Wiktionary in on it?

50 Old Time Weather Proverbs & Signs

Amish Weather Vane

An Amish Weather Vane

After years of experience I can usually predict rain just by walking on the morning grass, watching the behavior of my cats, sheep, cows, pigs or chickens or opening my dresser drawer.
What follows below is a list of my 50 favorite weather folk sayings.
And like most folk proverbs you’ll find more times than not they have real merit and value. In fact for the most part, I’ve found the weather wisdom below to be more accurate than a meteorologist using computer models or satellite imagery.

        1. Hornets’ nest built in the top of trees indicate a mild winter is ahead; nests built close to the ground indicate that a harsh winter is coming.
        2. The higher the clouds the better the weather.
        3. If the cat washes her face over her ear, the weather is sure to be fine and clear.
        4. Clear moon, frost soon.
        5. When leaves fall early, autumn and winter will be mild; when leaves fall later, winter will be severe.
        6. If March comes in like a lion, it will go out like a lamb.
        7. When ants travel in a straight line expect rain; when they are scattered, expect fair weather.
        8. If the first snow falls on unfrozen ground expect a mild winter.
        9. If bees stay at home rain will soon come; if they fly away, fine will be the day.
        10. A year of snow, a year of plenty.
        11. Dust rising in dry weather is a sign of approaching change.
        12. Rainbow at noon, more rain soon.
        13. Flowers blooming in late autumn are a sign of a bad winter.
        14. If cows lie down and refuse to go to pasture, you can expect a storm to blow up soon.
        15. The darker the woolly caterpillar’s coat, the more severe the winter will be. If there is a dark stripe at the head and one at the end, the winter will be severe at the beginning, become mild, and then get worse just before spring.

      1. When grass is dry at morning light look for rain before the night.
      2. If sheep ascend hills and scatter, expect clear weather.
      3. A warm November is the sign of a bad winter.
      4. When the chairs squeak, it’s of rain they speak.
      5. When clouds appear like rocks and towers, the earth will be washed by frequent showers.
      6. If birds fly low, then rain we shall know.
      7. Evening red and morning grey are two sure signs of one fine day.
      8. The first and last frosts are the worst.
      9. The winds of the daytime wrestle and fight longer and stronger than those of the night.
      10. When down the chimney falls the soot, mud will soon be underfoot.
      11. Rain before seven, fine before eleven.

    1. No weather is ill, if the wind be still.
    2. Cold is the night when the stars shine bright.
    3. When a rooster crows at night there will be rain by morning.
    4. Dandelion blossoms close before there will be a rain.
    5. When clouds look like black smoke a wise man will put on his cloak.
    6. A cow with its tail to the West makes the weather best; a cow with its tail to the East makes the weather least.
    7. The moon and the weather may change together, but a change of the moon will not change the weather.
    8. The sudden storm lasts not three hours.
    9. Chimney smoke descends, our nice weather ends.
    10. A rainbow in the morning is the shepherd’s warning. A rainbow at night is the shepherd’s delight.
    11. Three days rain will empty any sky.
    12. When smoke hovers close to the ground there will be a weather change.
    13. A ring around the sun or moon means rain or snow coming soon.
    14. Bees will not swarm before a storm.
    15. The more cloud types present the greater the chance of rain or snow.
    16. Catchy drawer and sticky door, coming rain will pour and pour.
    17. When the wind blows from the west, fish bite best. When it blows from the east, fish bite least.
    18. When leaves show their undersides, be very sure that rain betides.
    19. Birds on a telephone wire predict the coming of rain.
    20. When the ditch and pond offend the nose, then look out for rain and stormy blows.
    21. Pigs gather leaves and straw before a storm.
    22. Trout jump high, when a rain is nigh.
    23. Red sky at morning, sailor take warning; red sky at night, a sailor’s delight.
    24. When the night goes to bed with a fever, it will awake with a wet head.

The Sacred Bird of January

Did you know that the month of January, and the first day of every month during the year is associated with roosters?
Well it’s true and I’ll tell you why.

A Buff Orpington Rooster

Jimmy the Buff Orpington Rooster

January is named for the ancient Etruscan god Janus.
Janus/Jana was an androgynous, mythical creator sun-god and was considered to be the keeper of the door of life. He was the guardian of all beginnings and endings and every new undertaking. He was father to twelve other Etruscan gods, and his divine children had twelve altars that belonged to the twelve months.
Gates, doors, caves and portals were all sacred to Janus.

The early Romans adopted and absorbed the myths of Janus and he was one of their earliest divinities.The people of Rome attributed the introduction of agriculture, law and religious worship to him.
In Rome, the doors to the temple of Janus were left open in times of war and closed during times of peace.
In art and literature Janus is most often portrayed as a two-faced or two-headed figure.


The Two Faced Roman god Janus

One face looks to the past – and the other face looks into the future.
Janus is at times depicted with a staff and he is usually in possession at least one key. Sometimes Janus has a rooster by his side.
The staff is a porter’s staff that directs the way forward to new beginnings or ventures.
The key is a symbol that Janus is the gate-keeper of life and that he holds the keys to the gates of heaven.
And because Janus is a sun-god, the rooster was his honored and sacred bird.

The Romans believed that the rooster welcomed the sun at dawn with vigorous crowing that symbolized the sun’s triumph over the night and darkness.

Dark BrahmaRooster

A Dark Brahma Rooster

Distaff Day

“Partly work and partly play
You must on St. Distaff’s Day:
From the plough soon free your team;
Then come home and fother them;
If the maids a-spinning go,
Burn the flax and fire the tow.
Bring in pails of water then,
Let the maids bewash the men.
Give St. Distaff all the right;
Then bid Christmas sport good night,
And next morrow every one To his own vocation.”
Robert Herrick (1591–1674)

Distaff Day is traditionally celebrated on January 7th. Sometimes it is known as St. Distaff’s Day.
It is the day after Epiphany – January 6th.
This day signals the official end to the 12 days of Christmas.

Distaff Day in traditional Christian agrarian cultures once marked the day people returned to their normal work. Women would return to their spinning wheels and men would return to the fields.

Flax Dressed on a Distaff Ready For Spinning

Flax Dressed on a Distaff Ready For Spinning

On Distaff Day, young men would prank and tease the young unmarried women by trying to set their flax on fire.
And the young women invariably responded to the men by dousing them with a bucket of cold water.
It was good fun for all.

In hand spinning, a “distaff” is a type of armature or fixture that supports flax or wool for a hand spinner.
A distaff is typically held above or to the side of a hand spinner’s working space.

A Distaff on a Low Wheel

A Distaff on a Low Wheel

The purpose of the distaff is to keep the long fibers of flax or wool from tangling and perhaps matting while being spun. A distaff makes hand spinning fine linen thread easy.

When I dress a distaff I do not bind the line flax to the distaff tightly. I prefer to spin flax wet and while the fibers hang very loose above me.
It drives some hand spinners positively crazy.

Spinning Flax Into Linen

Spinning Flax Into A Course Linen Thread

Tiny Chicken Eggs – A Natural Phenomenon With A Spooky History

I went to collect eggs yesterday and found a tiny chicken egg sitting in the nest boxes along with the regular size eggs. I thought to throw it over the house but instead decided to tempt Fate and brought it indoors so I could take a picture of it to share with you.

Tiny Chicken Egg

Regular Size Eggs and a Small Dwarf Egg Called a “Cock Egg”

Tiny or miniature size eggs in standard size hens are the natural result when a small bit of reproductive tissue or other small foreign mass enters the hen’s oviduct and triggers the regular formation of an egg.
Inside the hen’s body the bit of tissue or foreign mass is treated exactly like a normal yolk. It is swathed and enveloped in albumen, membranes and a shell and is eventually passed from the hen’s body. When it is laid it looks just like a regular chicken egg except that it is very little and teeny.

These types of malformed eggs have been known for centuries as a ‘Cock Egg’. Most often these little eggs contain only the white of the egg and no yolk. Usually the shells are harder to break than that of a normal egg.

Cock Egg - No Yolk Just Egg White

Cock Egg – No Yolk Just Egg White

‘Cock Egg’ is a synonymous term for any type of abnormal egg.
Sometimes a normal sized egg is formed without a proper hard shell but with a yolk. That egg too is also known as a cock egg, but is sometimes called a “rubber egg’ or “tube egg” by people not familiar with the history or folklore of eggs.

In folk tradition, a cock egg was understood to have been laid by a rooster or cock and not a hen, and was a cause for concern. Cock eggs according to different folklore traditions bring bad luck or illness if they are brought into the house. That’s because a cock egg is believed to have malefic and magical powers. They are reputed to be of value to sorcerers and magicians for mixing magical potions and casting spells.

The way the story goes, is that if a toad, serpent or witch at the behest of Satan incubates a cock egg, the resulting hatchling will be a cockatrice or a basilisk. A cockatrice or basilisk is an ancient winged monster with a serpent’s body and a rooster’s head that can kill and destroy by its breath and glance.

During the middle ages it was self-evident to most intelligent people that a cock egg was the work of the devil. Animals as well as people could be in league with Satan, and in 1474 a chicken passing for a rooster in Basle, Switzerland was put on trial and condemned to be burned at the stake for “the heinous and unnatural crime of laying an egg”. American author and educator, E.V. Walter in his essay – Nature On Trial – The Case Of A Rooster That Laid An Egg , writes, “ the execution took place with as great a solemnity as would have be observed in consigning a heretic to the flames, and was witnessed by an immense crowd of townsmen and peasants.”

A cock egg has also been called a ‘Witch Egg’ since the Middle Ages and a ‘Fairy Egg’ during the mid and late Victorian era. In Scotland and elsewhere in Europe, a cock egg is sometimes also called a ‘Wind Egg’. In recent times here in the U.S. these types of deformed eggs are sometimes called ‘Fart Eggs’.
I suppose language really does reflect cultural ideals and concerns.
Superstition instructs that the best way to protect against the evil of a cock egg is to throw the malformed egg over the roof of the house and smash it on the other side which of course I didn’t do.

So now I guess we’ll just have to wait and see what happens next. But I’m not too worried – it was worth the photos.

The True Cost of Heating with Wood & Coal

I live in rural northwest Pennsylvania. In my house we heat and cook with wood and coal for about 7 to 8 months out of the year.
We don’t burn much coal, because for the most part wood works well for us. Only during the hardest and coldest part of the winter do we use a bit of bagged Anthracite coal for heat.

Wood Fire In Wood Burner

A Roaring Wood Fire in November

Solar heat or energy is not possible for us because we have too many cloudy days here. When given a choice I’ve always preferred affordable low tech options that I can easily understand.

Snow Storm

A Blowing Winter Storm In December


Where we live wood is very plentiful and there are few state regulations that govern the operation of solid fuel appliances. There are certain building codes and federal regulations regarding wood or coal-burning appliances but they are often ignored at the local level whenever possible.
Wood and coal have been an affordable energy alternative for us when compared to natural gas, electricity or petroleum.
Over the years we have literally saved tens of thousands of dollars. Our wood and coal stoves have paid for themselves at least four or five times over – and that’s including the cost of the expensive cook stove in the kitchen. This year alone (2012) we will save between $3600 to $3800 in heating costs contingent upon how cold and long this coming winter is.

What we will save this winter in heating costs is the price of a middle to top of the line wood stove or furnace and it’s much more than half the price of the most expensive cook stove that I know of.

So depending upon the brand and model chosen, a solid fuel stove at today’s prices will pay for itself in saved energy costs within the first year.

The money that we will save in heating costs does not include the money that will be saved over the next 6 months because the LP propane stove will not be used regularly for cooking again until next summer.
Back in the days when I had an electric range the savings averaged about a quarter of my total electric bill every month.
Here in rural western Pennsylvania free wood can often be had if families are willing to spend a month of long hard Saturdays or Sundays cleaning up slash wood from commercial logging operations. Gathering free firewood always seemed to me a better use of family time and resources than shopping, watching TV, going to the gym or hauling children to extracurricular “activities”.
All it takes is a few phone calls, the cost of a chain saw and a willingness to work hard.

For those who cannot cut their own wood, seasoned fire wood at present in my area of the country is running about $150 a cord delivered. Fire wood is measured in “cord wood”. A cord of wood is a stack of wood 4 feet deep by 4 feet high by 8 feet long. It takes 5 – 7 cords of wood for my house to make it though a winter.

My husband cuts and splits all the wood for our home.
It’s a big job for one man and usually takes him about 3 or 4 complete weekends working 12 hours a day.
Time can be saved if the trees are already on the ground. But if the trees need to be dropped it can take much longer. Felling trees and removing the branches takes time and planning. It can be dangerous, hot and dirty work.

Cutting A Tree

Using A Chainsaw To Cut a Small Tree For Firewood

The freedom of not being dependent upon the big energy companies and good weather for a hot meal and a warm home is a source of comfort and security for my husband and me.
Fact is nothing keeps you as warm as wood or coal heat.

But heating and cooking with wood and coal comes with other costs that are often unseen and unknown to the general public who are used to easy energy.
In my life there have been real trade offs in terms of time, labor, convenience and lifestyle.
No matter how you look at it – there’s no free lunch.
You either have to go out to work for someone else to earn the money to stay warm with easy energy if you live in a cold climate, or you have to be willing to adjust to a lifestyle of labor and discipline that many people find confining and sheer drudgery.

We have three wood stoves in our house and two of them have small fireboxes.
So that means that during hard winter I can’t be gone from home for more than 3 or 4 hours unless I’m burning coal because the fires will begin to go out.

Seasoned Fire Wood

Seasoned Fire Wood Ready To Burn

In the early 19th century when wood was the only option for most of rural America, someone usually had to stay behind at home “to keep the home fires burning”.
These days, to re-start a fire is not a hardship because of matches and newspaper. But before the advent of matches it was a small household crises to have a fire go out.
It usually meant having to strike a spark from flint and steel and hope for good luck. Often a child was sent to the neighbor’s house to bring live embers home with sometimes disastrous consequences. Many a child was seriously burned due to immaturity or carelessness while carrying hot embers.

Back then, to have a fire go out meant waiting in the darkness and cold until the fire could be started again. Without a fire there was no cooking or hot water for cleaning or personal hygiene. It could take an entire day to remedy the situation and get the household running smoothly again.

Now if I chose to burn coal I can be gone from home for a longer amount of time.
But bagged Anthracite coal costs money. At present bagged Anthracite is about $6 a bag or around $300 per ton.
If I were to choose to only burn Anthracite coal for heat I would use no more than 1 ½ tons of coal a year.
So this year my heating costs would be around $450 if I only burned coal.

Anthracite Coal

A Hod Of Anthracite Coal

If I were to select Bituminous coal my heating costs would be even lower. Bituminous coal is dusty, smelly and does not burn as clean or as hot as Anthracite coal; but it is readily available here in western Pennsylvania. In fact my farm has been mined for coal in the past and two generations ago a small family drift mine was in operation here.

If I supplement my wood burning with coal, I will typically use between a half to one full bag of coal a day depending upon how cold it is outdoors. The closer the thermometer gets to 0°F the more coal I would have to use.
But even at the price of $6 a bag or $300 a ton, coal is a considerable savings over fuel oil, electricity or natural gas.
If I lived in an area where wood was not readily available or if I worked away from home all day, I would choose coal as my primary heat source.

Because of my small fireboxes there have been many times that I have had to cut a trip away from home short because I needed to return to feed a fire. Those moments are inconvenient. But I’d not be telling the whole truth if I didn’t also mention that there have been times that I have used the excuse of tending to a wood fire to leave a tedious social situation early.

Heating and cooking with wood has many benefits. But one thing I have never been able to get use to and I consider a disadvantage is the sheer amount of dirt, snow, mud, bark, wood chips, insects and debris associated with wood that end ups in the house.
Coal is not so bad. But it takes a good started wood fire to make a coal fire. So there’s no getting around it.
Wood has had a direct impact on my housekeeping and has authored the interior design of my home.
Let me explain:
Wood and coal are very dirty alternatives to electricity, fuel oil or natural gas; but wood and coal are an important part of my everyday life.
So in terms of housekeeping if I want to stay completely happy and sane, the best I can do is manage the mess and realistically accommodate the life I chose to live.
Years ago I had to decline to follow the style of many middle class American homes.
That means painted walls, no carpeting or drapes, washable upholstery and a big red fire extinguisher in all almost every room of my home.

Dirt and Debris on a Floor

Dirt and Debris Are Part of Wood Heat

I try to sweep my floors every day and two or three times a year all the walls in my home must be washed.
Windows must be washed at least 4 times a year. Soot smudges from fingers that end up on woodwork, the bathroom sink or on the refrigerator are a constant battle.
Soot transfers very easily and can be hard to remove. I keep cleaning rags and a spray bottle of ammonia and water handy for that purpose.

Heating with wood or coal is not as convenient as simply flipping a switch or turning up a thermostat.
The heat from a solid fuel appliance is much more comfortable, but is not as stable a heat as modern natural gas, fuel oil or electric heat.
Wood heat always needs to be fiddled with.

Wood or coal heat is a very dry heat. No matter how many pans of water I set out the relative humidity in my house rarely rises above 28% during hard winter.
That kind of desert like dryness takes a toll on wooden furniture, books and on skin.

Most days when I’m busy about the house I work in a tank top because the house seems over hot to me with temperatures averaging around 80°F -85°F. I’m most comfortable with interior temperatures of about 62°F when I’m active.

But on winter mornings when outdoor temperatures are in the single digits or lower, and the house has lost temperature overnight, it often is so cold that I can see my breath.

Cook Stove In Kitchen

The Cook Stove Is The First Stove Started Early in Morning

Leaving a warm bed behind on a frigid morning to rekindle or re-light a fire has often been a real personal challenge of will for me.

Many mornings I’ve lain in bed hoping in vain my husband or the Wood Fairies would get up first to get the fires going again. It’s mostly mind over matter.

Usually by the end of February I’ve had quite enough of wood and coal and all the things that go with them.

Wood Ashes On A Path

A Trail Of Wood Ashes Helps Make The Way Safe To The Barn

The end of March and April are challenging months to heat with wood because of the approaching spring.
Often the weather is very cold only in the morning and in the evening and fires do not need to be going all day. So that makes for starting two and sometimes three fires a day in the same stove.
When the weather is cold and rainy during the spring, it can be a difficult to know how long or how hot or how many stoves need to be fired.

When I first started to heat with wood it took me about three full years to understand all the variables in stove operation, in the weather, in my house and in my own personality and character.
When heating with wood or coal nothing can replace personal experience. You must live it to understand it.
In the beginning I had to learn a new way of living. I had to adjust my attitude and outlook to a new cycle of life centered around tending a fire. The notion of hearth and home took on deeper meaning for me.

Many years have gone by since then.
Now I’m old and well-seasoned just like good firewood and I have been heating with wood for so long I can hardly remember any other way of life.
In spite of the labor and mess involved and the sometimes terribly cold mornings, I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Heating with wood and coal are right for me and my circumstance. It has made good economic sense over the years and brings with it a measure of independence and energy security that wasn’t found back when I was a helpless slave to the energy grid.
But believe me, all that said – the spring is always welcomed here.

Daffodils Blooming

Daffodils Blooming In Spring

Heating Your Home With Coal

During the coldest part of winter I often burn coal instead of wood in my stoves. To my way of thinking nothing keeps you as warm as coal.

Dog Next To A Coal Stove

Laying Next To A Coal Burning Stove

There are two main types of coal used in the United States for energy: bituminous coal and anthracite coal.
Bituminous coal is the most common form of coal. It is the type of coal that is use for electric power plants, but it is also used for home heating. Bituminous coal is dull and dusty looking and is easily burned. It is considered to be a soft coal and burns sooty.Bituminous coal contains 10,500 to 14,500 BTUs per pound.

Anthracite coal is a denser, harder coal that is found in the US, but only in eastern Pennsylvania. Anthracite coal is about twice as expensive as bituminous coal and is almost always used for home heating and not for electricity generation. Anthracite coal is shiny and waxy looking and burns clean. Anthracite coal contains about 15,000 BTUs per pound.

Anthracite Coal

A Hod Of Anthracite Coal

The advantages of coal for home heating are many.
Coal can be safely stored for an indefinite period of time and it never goes bad.
Coal doesn’t rot or draw insects like wood. Coal does not need a pipeline, or any type of special tank or container like LP gas or fuel oil.
Depending upon your location, coal is often a more affordable home heating option when compared to either fuel oil or natural gas.
Best of all, coal is not produced by people who want to behead you or hate you. Coal is a 100% American energy resource. Coal is abundant in the United States and many coal mines are still small mom and pop operations. Coal makes jobs for Americans.

The last I knew, Pennsylvania has enough anthracite coal for home heating needs for about another 150 years or so – maybe longer.
A coal fire puts out more BTUs than most types of hardwoods. Osage wood is the only wood I can think of that will burn as hot as coal. Coal is readily available in many areas of the country and is most often sold in 40lb. bags or in bulk.

Now before you rush out and buy coal for your wood burning stove there’s a few things you need to know.
To safely and effectively burn coal you must use a multi-fuel stove or appliance. Coal fires burn too hot for most standard wood fuel boxes. Burning coal in a regular wood stove or furnace can result in an overheated stove, a burned out fuel box; a warped stove or a house fire.
Coal or multi-fuel stoves or furnaces have a way to bring air to the fire from underneath. Coal appliances are designed with a cast iron slotted grate and have some way to shake or tip the grate to clear out ashes and leftover coal clunkers. Coal must have free circulating air from beneath in order to burn properly. Any buildup of ashes under the grate will inhibit a coal fire.

Coal Grate

Coal Grate In A Multi-Fuel Stove

How To Start & Maintain A Coal Fire
Coal fires unlike wood fires can be hard to start and need to be tended to differently.
I’m going to assume that if you’re interested in burning coal that you already know how to start a fire in a stove or in a  furnace.
I’m also going to assume that you have a multi-fuel stove or appliance.
Along with a poker you’ll probably want a coal hod and a small shovel to manage an indoor coal fire. A coal hod is also called a coal scuttle or coal bucket. Coal hods frequently have a pitcher-shaped end for pouring coal on a fire. Coal hods are usually made of metal and have a handle for carrying small amounts of coal.

Coal Hod

A Coal Hod With Small Coal Shovel

To start a coal fire, you’ll first need to have a good strong wood fire going.
Depending upon the type of coal you plan to burn you’ll need a bed of hot wood coals.
About 1”-2” of wood coals is a good place to start for bituminous coal.
With anthracite coal, about 2”-4” of hot wood coals is what it usually will take to get it started.
With both types of coal, the coal fire is started by adding just a small amount of coal on top of the wood coals.

Adding Coal

Adding A Small Amount Of Coal On Top Of A Wood Fire

Open the lower door or damper of the stove so that coal is being fed air from beneath. Wait about 5 minutes and add about twice as much coal as the first time.

Open Bottom Door Or Damper

Open Bottom Door Or Damper

After about 10 – 15 minutes add more coal and watch for the blue flame that is characteristic of coal-burning.
At this point you can close the bottom door or damper. Once there is a full bed of ignited coals on the grate an entire hod of coal can be added. The way that I add coal by the hod, is I open the bottom door, and then just throw or pour an entire hod of coal on the fire.
I wait to make sure that I see blue flames creeping up through the coal before I close the bottom door.

Coal Pile Burning

Coal Pile Burning

Many people who become frustrated with coal burning fail to appreciate the differences between the two types of coal.

With anthracite coal it’s important to neither rush the coal ignition nor to stir up or poke the fire like a wood fire. An anthracite fire needs to have the grate gently shaken or lifted slightly and moved every once in a while. If you disturb an anthracite coal mass by poking or stirring it, the fire will tend to go out and you’ll be left with unfired clunkers.

With a bituminous coal fire, the coal will tend to burn and lump together into a large solid mass. Bituminous coal fires need to be lightly poked and stirred up in order to burn completely.

The most important thing to understand about burning coal is that it doesn’t burn like wood.
Coal radiates and burns from the bottom to the top. The fire spreads upwards through the coal and one piece of coal will ignite another. When a coal fire is properly burning there is little flame. The coals just glow.

Glowing Fire

A Glowing Coal Fire

An entire hod of anthracite coal will keep my 1200 square foot house comfortably warm in -15F° weather for about 6 hours. In sub-zero weather I used just over 1 bag of anthracite coal a day.

I never burn bituminous coal in the upstairs living area of my house because of the soot. However I do burn bituminous coal in my basement stove to keep the plumbing from freezing in sub-zero weather.

Anthracite coal has a more complete combustion than bituminous coal. Anthracite coal leaves little ash and waste when compared to bituminous coal. Unlike hardwood ashes, I don’t spread coal ashes on my garden. Instead coal ashes are scattered in my driveway to melt ice and snow.

Some people prefer to start coal fires with outdoor charcoal briquettes. I don’t recommend the briquette method due to the costs of the briquettes and the lack of availability of charcoal briquettes in some areas of the U.S. during the winter months.

Pick The Best Day For Hatching Eggs

I’m a great believer in agricultural traditions and folk wisdom.
That’s because much of what I learned about homesteading was passed onto me by the two generations of garden farmers that came before me. Heeding their advice enabled much success and fewer homesteading failures.
One bit of advice that was given to me by those far more experienced than myself was regarding the best time for setting or incubating eggs.

The most favorable time for setting eggs under a broody hen or in an incubator is 21 days before a waxing moon is in the zodiac sign of Cancer.

New Hatched Chick

A Buff Orpington Chick Hatched During A Waxing Moon in the Sign of Cancer

In order to determine what day that would be you’ll need an almanac for the current year. All good almanacs have tables or charts that map the course of the moon though the zodiac.
If we use chicken eggs as an example here’s how to find the best day.

Chicken Eggs Hatching

A Clutch of Chicken Eggs Hatching In The Moon Sign Of Cancer

Chicken eggs need 21 days to hatch.
So a quick look in any current almanac will find days that the moon will be in the sign of Cancer, and will also be waxing.
Most years there will be a couple of days that this will occur during the light (waxing) of the moon.
All that is necessary is to pick a Cancer, and then count backwards 21 days. Whatever day that happens to be is the day to begin to incubate the clutch of eggs. That day counts as Day 1.

If for some reason a waxing Cancer day is inconvenient for setting eggs, a day that a waxing moon falls in the signs of Scorpio or Pisces would be a second best choice.
Chicks that are hatched during a waxing Cancer moon tend to hatch with fewer problems and grow faster.

A Hornet Nest Winter Forecast

Yesterday morning while walking in my apple orchard I noticed an active Bald Face Hornet nest built very close to the ground.
The nest is good size and is about 3 ½ to 4 feet from the ground.

Bald Face Hornet Nest

A Bald Face Hornets Nest

Old timers say that when hornets build their nest close to the ground a cold and snowy winter lies ahead. When they build high up in the trees the winter will be mild.

Hornet Nest Built Low To The Ground

Hornet Nest Built Low To The Ground

Judging by how low the nest is, I’d say we’re in for another long hard winter.

Chicken House Paint Job

Remember my chicken house that needed a paint job?

Before Paint

Chicken House Before Paint Job

Well it got one last week.

Isn’t it amazing what two coats of good paint can accomplish?

After Paint Job

Chicken House After Paint Job

The Best Time For Setting Fence Posts

Sooner or later most small holders or garden farmers will have occasion to erect a permanent fence.
Whether you build it yourself or pay someone else to construct a fence, there is no getting around it – fencing is expensive.

High-Tensile Fencing

Sturdy Fence Posts Hold High-Tensile Fencing

In fact fencing can be one of the most costly capital improvements on a homestead or small farm. It often takes years to get good sturdy fences put up.

But once they’re up, they will last for years with sensible maintenance. When building fences it’s a false economy to go on the cheap.
Build the best fence you can afford.

But before you drive a fence post into the ground, you may want to consider a bit of fence building folk wisdom from our agrarian ancestors.
Pay attention to the moon’s cycle (and to where the water line is).

Looking In A Hole

No Matter What Day It Is, Don’t Try and Set a Fence Post On Top Of A Water Line

The moon’s monthly cycle affects how well a fence post will stay in the ground. The most suitable time for driving and setting fence posts is when the moon is waning. Earth days are the most favorable – Taurus, Virgo & Capricorn.
Avoid the water sign Cancer. Posts will loosen and rot more quickly if set in that sign.
Fence posts can also be set on the day of the new moon.
With correct lunar timing a well set fence or gate post will stay in the ground. It will not shift nor heave and the posts will remain rock-solid even after 30 or 40 years.
Consult any good almanac for lunar cycles.

Brass Beds

A couple of months ago I bought an old brass bed at a local antique shop. The bed was in fairly good shape but was in need of a good cleaning and polishing.
The polishing turned out to be a much bigger and messier job than I had expected.

Brass Bed

An Old Brass Bed

It took days of work, but when it was finally done and the bed was clean, I was well pleased with the final result.

Brass and iron bedsteads were fashionable and prevalent in the United States and England during the middle and late part of the 19th century. In fact all the way through the early part of the 20th century metal bedsteads remained popular. Nearly every farmhouse, house in town or city house had at least one iron or brass bedstead. It wasn’t at all uncommon for middle class homes to boast three or four.

Most “brass beds” that survive today are actually not made of solid brass. Instead they are made of iron that was wrapped with brass tubing. Brass beds were constructed that way because brass ( an alloy of copper) is a very soft metal. It’s hard to find an antique brass bed now days that doesn’t have a nick, crimp or ding in it.
If you can find a solid brass bed you’ve found a treasure.

 “Foul Contagions” and “Injurious Air”

The popularity of brass or iron bedsteads during the 19th century and in to the 20th century, was in part fueled by a changing Victorian aesthetic. Large, dark and heavy furniture was cast off in favor of a lighter and more unassuming style.
But the trend for brass or metal bedsteads was also energized by the growing scientific understanding of the germ theory.
At that time it was not at all uncommon for people especially young children, to die from infectious disease. Throughout the 19th century hundreds of thousands of people died in influenza and yellow fever epidemics. The widely held belief among doctors and lay people was that “foul contagions” and “injurious air” was responsible not just for yellow fever and influenza, but also for typhoid, diphtheria, small pox, tuberculosis and cholera.
So anything that could keep the air fresh and circulating in peoples’ homes was a good thing.
Air circulation meant good health.
Brass beds with their clean lines and open design (so the air could circulate) seemed to be a healthier alternative to old-fashioned solid wooden beds. In the opinion of most 19th century physicians, wooden beds could and did in fact harbor the “foul contagions” that fostered disease.
And who would dare argue?

Sick Room

Victorian Sick Room

Practical sickroom experience demonstrated time and time again that vomit or the profuse diarrhea that accompanied cholera or typhoid fever was far easier to clean up in a brass or metal bedstead than a wooden bed. Ornately carved wooden Victorian style beds were porous and difficult to maintain. Metal and brass beds seemed for their time to be more hygienic and there was a wide-spread belief that “germ bugs” could not live on brass.
As if that wasn’t enough, late Victorians also believed that bed bugs and wood worms thrived and reproduced in wooden beds and not in metal ones. So the combination of “germ bugs” and bed bugs caused wooden beds to fall from public favor and saw the consumer demand for modern metal or brass bedsteads to skyrocket. American manufactures were more than happy to meet popular need and the stage was set for a revolution in bedding.
Enter Sears, Roebuck & Co. and Montgomery Ward & Co. and the American housewife.

“Perfectly Clean No Chance For Vermin”

Brass and iron bedsteads were fashionable and seemingly insured family health and safety.  Every housewife wanted one. Metal beds were affordable for the middle class. Even better, they could be ordered by mail and shipped almost anywhere in the USA. No matter how remote.

Montgomery Ward & Co. and Sears, Roebuck & Co. both carried full-page advertisements in their catalogs for metal bedsteads. The Sears, Roebuck & Co. 1897 catalog carried iron and brass beds for between $7 -$12 depending upon the size and style of the bedstead.  Montgomery Ward’s 1895 catalog advertised that their metal beds were “Perfectly Clean” with “No Chance For Vermin”.

Ads For Brass Beds

Advertisement For Brass Beds

If a family could afford to change over and make the switch, old-fashioned wood beds (with their bed bugs) were consigned to the attic or burned.
It’s easy for us today to think of quaint Victorian doctors and American housewives as being naively uniformed about the nature of disease, microscopic organisms, pathogens and brass beds.
But what would you say if I told you that indeed, bed bugs have difficulty climbing a highly polished brass bedstead? Bed buds need traction to climb. A smooth and slippery metal bedstead poses more of a challenge to bed bugs than does a wooden bed frame.
Would you be surprised to learn that brass is a naturally antimicrobial material? “Touch surfaces” (like door knobs) made of brass and other alloys of copper prove to be an unfavorable environment for bacteria. In recent years the antibacterial action of copper has been a focus of scientific research. That research has significant implications for healthcare facilities and for public health in general.
It seems that what was once old is new again. Our ancestors weren’t quite so unsophisticated after all.
The brass bed in my upstairs is a standing testament to the quality of American manufacture at the end of the 19th century.

Brass Bed Restored

A Restored Brass Bed

Candlemas Day Proverb

“Half your wood and half your hay you must have on Candlemas Day.”

The above is a bit of folk wisdom that’s spot-on. For traditional agrarian people, February 2nd, marks the mid-point of winter in terms of weather.


A Pile Of Seasoned Firewood

Today is exactly the half-way point from the winter solstice to the first day of spring.
For planning purposes farmers should be half way through their hay and wood pile.

February 2nd is popularly known as “Groundhog Day” (also known as Grundsaudaag in some parts of Pennsylvania).  But did you know that Groundhog Day, wasn’t always celebrated on February 2nd?
In fact February14th used to be the traditional Groundhog Day.


A Groundhog

Back in the days when we were colonies of England, the Julian calendar (Old Calendar) was officially replaced by the Gregorian calendar (New Calendar).
The change was in small increments over the course of two years.

Basically after everything was said and done, the change in calendars meant that 11 days were dropped from everyone’s life in September of 1752.  Here in America we started reckoning time by a new way and really screwed things up for a while.
It’s the reason why Christmas and Epiphany are sometimes referred to as, “New Christmas” December 25th and “Old Christmas on January 6th.
February 2 (February 14 Old Calendar), is traditionally known as Candlemas Day, and it marks the end of the Christmas season.
Candlemas is a very ancient Christian feast day and is celebrated as the Presentation of Christ in the temple at Jerusalem. The day marks 40 days after the birth of Christ and honors the just and devout Simeon, who embraced the Christ Child and prayed,

“Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word:
For mine eyes have seen thy salvation,
Which thou hast prepared before the face of all people;
A light to lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of thy people Israel.”
(Luke 2:22-39).

“A Year of Snow, A Year of Plenty”

It’s a good old weather proverb.
And it’s a truism founded upon practical agrarian experience that has been passed down through many generations of farmers and gardeners. I thought you might be interested in knowing a few of the reasons behind the old-time weather adage.

Plowing Snow

Plowing Snow With A Small Tractor

Lots of Snow Means Lots More Water
One of the reasons that a bountiful fall harvest follows a winter with heavy snowfall is because there’s plenty of fresh, clean ground water for food production. After a winter of substantial snow accumulation, underground aquifers and household wells are recharged during the spring melt and thaw.

Unconfined fresh water aquifers are vital to all aspects of agriculture and rural life. An abundance of fresh water will help to insure that field crops, orchards and home vegetable gardens will have plenty of moisture and water for the coming growing season.

Plants Are Better Protected
Deep snow that lies on the ground throughout the winter is of benefit to field crops, orchards, small fruits and perennial garden plants. Heavy snow acts like a frozen mulch and insulates the soil and plants. During the winter months, plants are protected from the destructive cycle of “freeze, thaw & heave” by a continuous cover of snow.

It’s not the bitter cold that will damage plants as much as it is the wind and ground heaving. The repeated thawing and then refreezing of the ground tends to heave plants up from the ground and creates air pockets that will leave roots exposed. This makes plants vulnerable to winter kill, wind damage and drying out.

Best Time to Apply Fresh Manure
Traditionally it has always been understood by good farmers, that snow cover is of benefit when spreading manure. Fresh manure spread upon snow-covered winter fields insures a fertile future for that field and its future crops. The reason that snow cover is an advantage when spreading manure is because the manure is drawn down deep into the soil structure when the snow begins to melt in the spring.

Fruit Trees Are Slower To Bloom Before a Killing Frost
A long winter with heavy snow and sustained cold temperatures will tend to protect orchards and small fruits from blooming too early. A lot of snow and cold weather slows down the flowering of fruit trees and allows them to bloom when it’s safe. Very often a brief warm spell in early spring will cause fruit trees to bloom and flower too early. If flowering fruit trees are caught by an unexpected killing frost, fruit production can be severely limited or completely destroyed for that year.

Bartlett Pear

A Bartlett Pear

Destructive Pests Are Controlled
Cold weather and heavy snow may keep certain insect pests and internal parasite (worms) populations under control. Fewer insect pests mean less pest damage to fields, orchards and gardens and more food for people.
And when internal parasites aren’t reproducing as quickly due to cold weather, it makes for better feed conversion, and healthier and happier livestock and farmers. Nobody likes to feed blood sucking worms.

Frozen Snow Covered Ground Means Livestock Can Be Turned Out Of the Barn
During the winter months many farmers will keep livestock confined in a holding yard or confined to a barn or shelter when the ground is not frozen. That’s because livestock will tear up and destroy a pasture by turning it into a sloppy mud hole when the ground is bare of snow or unfrozen. Confined livestock can become restless and over fat (especially when pregnant) from lack of exercise. When there is snow on the ground and the ground is frozen solid, livestock can be turned out for fresh air and exercise and be fed outdoors. Fresh air and sunshine is good for everything, but especially pregnant animals. Healthy livestock tend to deliver healthy offspring.

 Sheep Grazing in an Apple Orchard in Spring

A Flock Of Sheep Grazing in an Apple Orchard in Spring

Steel Ash Carrier – Keeping Valuable Wood Ashes Safe Until You Use Them

Pictured below is a steel ash carrier sitting on my front porch.
The ash carrier is full of fly ash and cinders from the daily morning clean out of my cook stove and parlor stove. Believe it or not, seemly cold ash, cinders, embers and stove coals can sometimes keep heat and reignite for up to a week or longer.

Many an accidental house fire has been the result of the improper disposal of ash. The tragic 2011 Stamford, Connecticut Christmas fire in which a woman lost her 3 children and parents is a grim example of how ashes can seem to be cold but aren’t.

Steel Ash Carrier

Steel Ash Carrier On Wooden Porch

In my own life I’ve had a couple of close calls with ash and cinders sitting forgotten in a coal hod (scuttle) in the living room and on the front porch. There’s an indescribable horror to walking into a room filled with papers, books and cloth and seeing a coal hod glowing and cherry red next to a wooden bookcase.

Ash Carrier

Steel Ash Carrier Next To A Hitzor Stove

Steel ash carriers keep coals and ash contained and safe. Steel ash carriers can literally be life savers.
Ash carriers with feet keep the heat of the ash and live coals off the floor and carpet so there’s less chance of burning a wooden floor or carpet.

Some stove manufactures sell ash carriers as a stove accessory, and prices range from about $45 – $75 the last time I checked.
My parlor stove is a Hitzer, and the ash carrier fits the stove ash pan perfectly so that less fly ash blows into the room.

Ashes Being Emptied Into Carrier

Ash Pan Being Emptied Into Steel Carrier

Hardwood ashes are a valued commodity on this farm. They can be used to make soap, clean wooden floors, shine silver, melt ice and in the garden.
Without a doubt, the garden is my favorite place to use wood ashes. They are most often used in the garden to top dress the rows of asparagus . Hardwood ash is rich in potassium and calcium and other minerals.
Asparagus thrive when hardwood ashes are applied to the soil and tomatoes love it when they are put directly into to the hole at planting time.Hardwood ash should never be applied to a potato patch as it may contribute to the development of potato scab.

Non-Electric Drip Coffee Maker

I have hard water on my farm. Hard water has killed every electric drip coffee maker that I’ve ever owned. So years ago I gave up on electric coffee makers and switched to either range top perked coffee or the Melitta pour over system for coffee. Both methods make good coffee but both methods have drawbacks for my particular household.

Non-Electric Drip Coffee

Non-Electric Drip Coffee Maker On Cook Stove

Stove top perked coffee is wonderful but takes too long on most mornings. The Melitta system uses expensive paper filters and I’m not wild about buying disposable anything.
So a few years ago I bought a Lindys stainless steel drip coffee maker. The coffee maker consists of a two piece basket and lid and bottom.

Non-Electric Drip Coffee Marker

Lindys Non-Electric Drip Coffee Pot

Here’s how to make a really good cup of coffee with one:
Set a kettle of water on to boil. Place the basket on top of the pot. Measure ground coffee into the basket well and then place the basket top over the coffee. I use 1 tablespoon of regular ground grocery store coffee to 1 cup of water.
After the water begins to boil remove it from the heat and permit the water to just cease boiling. Quickly pour the water over top of the basket assembly and allow the hot water to drip through.

Coffee Driping

Coffee Dripping Through Basket Into Pot

After the coffee has finished dripping, remove the entire basket assembly from the pot and set aside.
I usually set the basket in the sink because sometimes it will still drip a little coffee.
Put the lid back on the pot and the coffee pot can now be set on the stove to keep it warm.

The manufacture suggests the use of paper coffee filters but I have found that with paper coffee filters much more coffee needs to be used. Without the paper filters sometimes grounds will get into the bottom of the coffee pot but it’s not too bad. I’d rather put up with some grounds than have to keep buying paper filters and extra coffee.
The non-electric stainless steel coffee pots are expensive. But they pay for themselves over time. We have used our coffee pot every day for well over 3 or 4 years without a problem.

When To Make Sauerkraut

Some days are better than others for making sauerkraut. Four generations ago when to pick the best day to cut cabbage for sauerkraut was basic everyday household information. Back then people couldn’t just run to a grocery store for food. What you grew in the family garden and then stored in your home had to last through the lean winter months. Cabbage and sauerkraut have always provided  a measure of food security for the rural poor.

A hundred years ago, even city people recognized that the moon’s monthly cycle had an effect upon the earth and upon agriculture. Today most educated people completely dismiss the notion that the moon’s cycle has any effect on daily life. It’s easy to think that if you’re not a farmer. Or if you are disconnected from the natural world and believe that food will always be available no matter what.

For many hundreds of years folk wisdom has instructed us, that the best time to make sauerkraut is during the time that the moon is new and up until the its first quarter.

Make Sauerkraut

Sauerkraut In A Crock With Plenty Of Juice

When you make sauerkraut during the early days of the moon’s increase there is always plenty of juice in the crock. The top layer of sauerkraut doesn’t dry out and you won’t have to add any extra brine to the crock. To find the lunar days in a particular month where the moon is beginning to wax consult any good current almanac.

A Tip For Sewing Buttons On Hand Knits

I love to knit and spend between 1 – 4 hours most days knitting.
You might wonder how anyone could make or find that kind of time to knit. The answer is easy.
I’m a knitting fool.
I have knitting projects stashed near every chair in my home and if I know that I’m going someplace where I may have to sit and wait, I never leave home without my knitting. When it comes to needlework, the useful employment of small fragments of otherwise wasted time can add up to many finished projects.
In fact I finished a “top down” seamless raglan cardigan the other day, that was constructed solely from just such moments.


Top Down Raglan Sleeve Sweater

Top down cardigan sweaters are a favorite of mine because there is little or no sewing involved. The knitting is very straightforward and wonderfully mindless.
Pretty much the only sewing is attaching the buttons. Many years ago I learn a trick for sewing buttons onto knitted items that has saved me plenty of aggravation and lost buttons.

When sewing a button on a hand knit item, the button will stay more secure if two buttons are sewn on the item instead of just one.

Two Buttons On A Sweater Band

Two Buttons On The Band Prevents A Pull Through

The way I do it, is I first pass a thread of split yarn through the back button and attach it to the sweater from the wrong side.

Back Button

Back Button Goes On First

I then bring the yarn to the front of the knitted item and then attached the main button. The yarn is then passed through the back button once again and is secured with a double knot. The result is back to back buttons.

Front Button

Front Button

The ends of the yarn are clipped and the outcome is a button that stays secure and will not readily fall off.

Giant Hogweed

For the past 2 weeks or so, Giant Hogweed has been blooming along my road in the ditch in front of my house.
I’ve been trying to get up the nerve to go out to the ditch and pull it up by its roots or chop it down – but to be honest with you I’m scared. That’s because Giant Hogweed can be dangerous if it is not handled carefully and I’m in no mood to court trouble. I think I’ll probably play it safe and just spray it instead.

Giant Hogweed (Heracleum mantegazzianum) is a very large and noxious weed that can grow over 15’ tall and is sometimes known as wild parsnip, cartwheel-flower and giant cow parsnip.

Giant Hogweed

Giant Hogweed

It is a stately plant with large leaves, beautiful white flowers and a hollow stalk that originated in Asia and was brought to America in the early 20th century as an ornamental garden plant.  It is a member of the Umbelliferae family of plants which include parsley, anise, Queen Anne’s lace, coriander, carrots, dill, fennel and hemlock. In fact Giant Hogweed has been called “Queen Anne’s Lace on steroids” because it looks a lot like Queen Anne’s Lace but only much, much bigger.

Giant Hogweed is a short lived perianal plant that loves moist soil and an open location. It will thrive in wet roadside ditches, along streams and river beds. It can be very hard to eradicate because the seeds can have a dormancy of 7 years and one plant can produce thousands of seeds.

The trouble with Giant Hogweed is the sap- it’s phototoxic. A very small amount of sap on the skin, in combination with sunlight and heat, can cause severe burns, blisters and redness. In fact skin reactions are often so severe that hospitalization may be required. Large purple scarring is common and often the skin will need to be protected from sunlight for 3 or 4 years after exposure. The sap from Giant Hogweed is so toxic that even a tiny amount in the eyes can result in temporary or possibly permanent blindness. The usual way that sap from Giant Hogweed makes contact with the skin is by brushing up against the stem or breaking the stem or leaves.

In the event of accidental contact with Giant Hogweed, wash the affect area with soap and water and keep out of all sunlight for 48 hours. If you begin to develop blisters you need to contact a physician right away.


Save Your Back & Butt – The Must Have Tool for Pulling Fence Posts

“Experience is the teacher of all things.”
– Julius Caesar

When I was 36 years old, I managed to give myself the largest thrombosed hemorrhoid that my doctor had ever seen.
I developed the enormous “pain in the butt” because I had spent the previous day pulling metal “T” posts over a 4 acre area. The only tools and equipment I used was a pair of rawhide gloves, a hat and sheer ambition.
When I think back on that day it’s a miracle that I didn’t put my back out too. It was a mistake for sure.

Anyone who has ever had to pull lots of metal or wooden fence posts without a jack or puller knows where I’m coming from on this.
What I didn’t know when I was younger, but know now, is that there’s a tool called a “T” post jack or “T” post puller or post popper.

Post Jack

A Post Jack Is Sometimes Called A Post Popper Or Post Puller

A “T” post jack or puller is unbelievably easy to use and will remove both wooden posts and metal posts. The puller employs the simple machine principles of a lever and fulcrum.
The way that the jack works, is that the jack grabs onto the post with a built-in notch for “T” posts or a chain for large wooden posts.

Removing A Post With One Hand

I Can Remove A “T” Post Just Using One Hand

As the lever of the puller is worked, the chain or notch catches and grips the post and jacks it up and out of the ground.

Post Puller

Post Up And Out Of The Ground In Under 30 Seconds With A Post Jack

I promise you the pulling is quite smooth and effortless.
In fact I spent a full day two years ago pulling posts that were set deeper than 2 feet and never strained once.
If you are going to involved yourself in much fencing I recommend that you spend the money and buy a “T” post jack.
You don’t need to spend much more than about $65 – $80 to get a really good one that will last for years and years.
They are worth every penny and you’ll save yourself a lot of pushing, pulling and straining. Not to mention, you’ll be spared a look of total amazement on your doctor’s face.

Lightning Struck Wood

The piece of wood below is from a tree that was struck by lightning.
If you look carefully at the photo you’ll notice the black zig zag line that runs from top to bottom. That’s the path the lightning took when it hit the tree.

Lightning Struck Wood

A Piece Of Lightning Struck Wood

Lightning struck wood is the subject of folklore and superstition in many different cultures. Some of the superstition and folk beliefs are quite ancient. The folk beliefs that I hear most often are:

      • Toothpicks made from a lightning struck tree will cure a toothache. Folklore opinions differ as to whether or not the tooth falls out after the toothpick treatment.

    • Another folk belief is that wood from a lightning struck tree will not burn. This is simply false. The piece of wood in the above photo was on its way to the wood stove right before I took the picture. Often accompanying that particular superstition is that burning lightning struck  wood will bring bad luck or disaster usually in the form of burning the house down. My house is still standing.

  • A modern take on lightning stuck wood comes from people who are into hoodoo, magick and other associated belief systems. Seems that such wood is prized for making a “spell” more potent and is a preferred wood for magick wands. If you ask me, it sounds like an opportunity for a mail order business for an industrious wood-cutter with a PayPal account.

Hand Protection When Loading Wood Stoves

Wood stoves and coal stoves are a big part of my life. I keep a pair of heavy welder’s gloves next to every wood and coal stove in the house and I never load a wood stove or open a stove door without wearing them.

The gloves are a gauntlet length and stay within easy reach on top of the wood boxes both in the living room and in the kitchen.

Welder's Gloves For Wood Stoves

Heavy Welder’s Gloves As Hand Protection

I learned about hand protection and wood stoves the hard way 10 years ago when I suffered a 2″ long  third degree burn to my wrist while loading a stove. I use long leather welder’s gloves.
They’re cheap insurance.

Treadle Sewing Machine Advice

You love to sew.
Or perhaps you are looking for a sensible off grid sewing machine and think you’d like to buy a treadle sewing machine but don’t know where to start or what to look for?

Sewing Corner

A Sewing Corner With A Treadle Sewing Machine

Maybe you are worried that all treadle sewing machines are expensive antiques and you can’t afford one?
Or you’re concerned that you’ll have to do without a zigzag stitch or machine made button holes if you use one? Or maybe you don’t know how to sew but would like to learn?
Well grab a spool of thread and get ready to sew – because I’m about to give you some practical and very basic advice on one of my favorite off-grid topics – treadle sewing machines!

A treadle sewing machine is simply a sewing machine that is powered by what you ate for breakfast instead of electricity.

 With No Electricity

Working By Natural Light & With No Electricity

All Sewing Machines Have  Main Elements In Common
Sewing machines – electric or treadle – consist of a “head” and some type of mechanism that drives the head.
The machine head is the part of the sewing machine that actually does the sewing. A sewing machine head consists of precisely machined and tooled fitted rods, screws, wheels, springs, disks, gears and other parts. Some of those parts are hidden and encased within the head and some parts are visible on the outside of the sewing head.
Keep this information about sewing machine heads in mind because you’ll need it later.

The mechanism which drives a sewing machine head can either be electric or non-electric as in a treadle or hand cranked sewing machine.
An electric sewing machine usually has a machine head with an attached light and the sewing machine may or may not be computerized, and is driven by an electric motor.
Treadle sewing machines also have two main elements to them; the sewing machine head and the treadle base. The treadle base is the table or cabinet that the sewing machine sits in.

Machine Head Out Of Its Cabinet

Singer Model 66 Out Of Cabinet

Treadle sewing machines are powered by a drive belt that is most often made of leather and connected to a treadle assembly.

Singer Treadle

A Singer Treadle Assembly

The belt sits in a groove on the hand/balance wheel of the sewing machine head and is fitted down through the top of the table or cabinet base of the sewing machine in a continuous loop.

Drive Band Goes To Treadle

Drive Band Goes From The Balance Wheel To The Treadle Assembly

The leather drive band loop usually encircles a large metal grooved wheel under the base of the sewing machine that is attached by way of a pitman rod to a foot treadle.

Pitman Rod

The Pitman Rod On Minnesota Model “A”

When the foot treadle is worked, the attached pitman rod turns the large grooved assembly wheel which begins to move the leather drive belt caught in the sewing machine’s hand wheel and the parts of the sewing machine head begin to move.
The result is that if the sewing machine head has a needle and the head is properly threaded, when fabric is placed under the foot of the machine – sewing commences.
A hand cranked sewing machine is also a “people powered” sewing machine. Instead of being belt driven it has a handle attached to the balance wheel. As you turn the handle on the balance/hand wheel the machine sews. Hand cranked sewing machines are a good choice for people who don’t sew often. They can be quite a bit slower to sew on as opposed to a regular treadle sewing machine. Hand cranked sewing machines are usually about ¾ the size of a standard sewing machine.

In spite of the modern electric and digital age, there are millions of treadle sewing machines still in use around the world.
Thousands of brand new and not so new treadle sewing machines are used every day in private homes and in 3rd world garment and textile factories.
The odds are pretty good that if you are over the age of 35 at some time in your life you have worn a factory ready-made garment that was sewn in part on a treadle sewing machine.

A treadle sewing machine in good working order is a joy to use. The physical act of treadling can be soothing and relaxing. Many people who love to sew or quilt prefer to use only a treadle sewing machine. Many who sew professionally will keep a treadle sewing machine as a backup to their electric sewing machine in the event of a power outage or a looming fitting deadline. Believe me the drama of a two day power blackout during a final wedding dress fitting with a nervous bride and her mother will take 10 years off your life.

The needle speed on a treadle sewing machine is usually slower than that of an electric machine. The slower machine speed can be a real advantage for the novice sewer because it is easier to watch their fingers and maintain control of the fabric and seam width. I think a treadle or hand cranked sewing machine is the very best way to teach a child or a beginner to sew.

Learning To Sew

A 10 Year Old Learning To Sew

Treadle sewing machines are built to last almost forever and are actually very simple devices and lend themselves to easy home repair, service and  maintenance.

New Treadle Sewing Machines
Modern treadle sewing machines are available new but they can be very expensive. Janome makes a fair to good modern treadle sewing machine that is supposedly popular with the Amish and other people who live without electricity. The Janome 712T treadle sewing machine uses a top-loading bobbin and has 10 utility stitches and a built-in buttonhole stitch.

The last I knew the Janome 712T is made in Taiwan and has a limited 25 year warranty. The advantage of a modern treadle sewing machine is that service repair, bobbins, needles and parts are readily available. The disadvantages of purchasing a modern treadle sewing machine are lack of quality and price when compared to an older machine. ***See below for extensive sewing machine rant***

Necessity (and frugality) is most often the Mother of Invention.
If you want a modern sewing machine complete with decorative stitches, many vintage sewing machines (and some modern) can be easily converted into a treadle or hand cranked sewing machine.
If you are handy with a screw driver, drill, hammer, wire cutters and a jig saw; and have a dose of creative vision and aren’t a stranger at the local hardware store, then converting the right electric sewing machine may be a low-cost way for you to get a treadle sewing machine or hand cranked sewing machine.
Thousands of older treadle sewing machines were converted from treadle to electric. To reverse the process is not complicated.

Electric Motor Attached To A Sewing Machine

An Electric Motor Attached To A Minnesota “A”

Many good sewing machines made during the 1920s, 1930s, 1940s, 1950s and early 1960’s have heavy grooved balance wheels that are exterior belt driven. All that is necessary to do the conversion is to simply remove the electric motor and set the sewing machine into a treadle table or base.
A sturdy treadle table can be fashioned from an old treadle base and with a new top.
Craig’s List, eBay, yard sales, auctions, thrift stores, Free Cycle and plain old-fashioned asking around, are all good ways to find low-cost or no cost sewing machines and treadle bases.

Sewing Machine At Auction

A Singer Model 66 At Auction

Very often a simple classified ad in the local newspaper (old people still read newspapers) will turn up a gem of a sewing machine. Many people have old treadle sewing machines sitting in their garages and basements and would like to have them gone.

Sewing Machines At Auction

Three Treadle Sewing Machines At Auction

Often the sewing machine belonged to a beloved family member that has passed away and the family would be happy for the machine to go to someone who would appreciate it.
Depending upon the condition, such sewing machines can usually be had for $0 – $90.
A word of warning: A treadle sewing machine with a base or a cabinet is heavier than a dead preacher so be sure you bring help to load it if you plan on taking it home.

If you don’t have enough room for a full size treadle sewing machine a hand cranked sewing machine may be a really good low-cost non-electric solution for your sewing needs.
The Pfaff sewing machine below is a good example of a high quality sewing machine from the 1950’s that can be easily converted into a hand cranked or possibly a treadle driven sewing machine.

Pfaff Sewing Machine

A Pfaff Sewing Machine For Bought At A Thrift Shop for $3.99

The sewing machine is precision Swiss made, has a solid steel head and is built like a tank. That sewing machine was made when I still had my baby teeth and will outlast me.
I paid $3.99 for it last year at my local Salvation Army Thrift store. For about $6-$12 I can convert it to hand cranked or treadle operation if I find a balance wheel to fit it.
*** See extensive sewing machine rant below***

If your heart is set on an older or antique treadle sewing machine but you don’t know where to find one or you’re afraid that you can’t possibly afford one – relax – be happy and don’t fret.
If you really want an older or antique treadle sewing machine you can probably find or assemble one to call your own. It is much easier and more affordable than you may imagine.
If you know how to read and follow directions; and can work in an orderly, methodical fashion; and if you aren’t in too a big hurry and don’t mind some really grubby, dirty work – a beautiful old Iron Lady can be yours.
It is impossible to do antique treadle sewing machines the justice they deserve in a blog post – even a long post like this one.

Among collectors and aficionados of antique treadle sewing machines there are lots of  different opinions. So don’t take what I’m about to tell you next as the only gospel. I would encourage you to follow the hyper links located in this post and visit The Treadle Lady and other websites for more information.

In general, there are 3 considerations when buying an older or antique treadle sewing machine. You must keep all of them in mind.

The 3 considerations are:

The Sewing Machine Head which includes:

  • Bobbin Type
  • Needle Type
  • Feet

Base or Cabinet & Treadle

Availability of Parts

The Sewing Machine Head

When looking at or considering the purchase an older or antique treadle sewing machine, the head of the sewing machine is the most important part and requires the most consideration.
You will need to determine the condition of the machine head and check to see if all parts of the head are present with a visual inventory.
If all parts aren’t present – what parts are missing?
When examining a sewing machine head carefully and slowly examine the head moving from the right to left and from top to bottom.
Does the balance/hand wheel turn or is it frozen?Does the needle move?
What is the condition of the bobbin winder?

Bobbin Winder

A Bobbin Winder on a “Household” Brand Sewing Machine

What is the shape of the base? Are the feed plate/or plates present?
What type of bobbin is used? What type of feet? What type of needle is used?Who is the manufacturer? Is there a model or serial number?

Serial Number

Singer Model 66 Treadle Sewing Machine – Born October 31,1922

Are the thread pins intact and tension disks, springs or plates present?
What is the condition of the steel, chrome, the decals and how much dirt, grime or rust is present?

Household Sewing Machine

A “Household” Brand Sewing Machine Head

Sadly nothing can really take the place of  life experience when it comes to buying antique treadle sewing machines.
But luckily, eBay is a great way to see lots of treadle sewing machine heads, cabinets and treadle assembly bases.
The “zoom” feature on eBay auction listings can give a treadle sewing machine newbie the opportunity to look up close at many different types of antique treadle sewing machine heads.
Just be forewarned about eBay – often the description from the seller is wacky and inaccurate. Complete and intact treadle sewing machine prices tend to be wonky and are often outrageously high.
That said, the eBay prices for sewing machine parts are good and antique sewing machine manuals are plentiful.
Very often there are real deals to be had on sewing machine heads – especially Singer, White, New Home and Domestic.  eBay is my favorite place to buy antique sewing machine parts.
A word of advice:  antique sewing machines are just like coins, guns and rare books. Condition is everything.
Just because something is old doesn’t make it particularly valuable. People who don’t understand or know anything about treadle sewing machines will tend to over price them.

Singer 15-88

A 1953 Singer 15-88

At present (2013) here in western Pennsylvania, the going auction price for a complete antique treadle sewing machine in good condition is about $45 – $120 depending upon cabinet condition and who’s at the auction.

Lastly, keep  bobbin type and parts availability in mind when looking for an older sewing machine. In general, bobbins are divided into 2 types – a shuttle with a bobbin and a modern round bobbin. Shuttles and the bobbins that fit into them come in different sizes and are not interchangeable.

Shuttle & Bobbin

A Shuttle & Bobbin With Thread

This is an important consideration when purchasing an old sewing machine. Round bobbins are a more modern system and they are much easier to find and not as expensive.

Round Bobbin

A Modern Round Bobbin

When buying an old treadle sewing machine it is wisest to look for a sewing machine that was mid-priced and popular for its time.

Singer sewing machines were made by the millions and are still relatively easy to find and affordable.
The Singer model 15-88 and Singer model 66 are both good choices when looking for treadle sewing machines.

The Singer 15-88 was the last sewing machine that Singer made for treadle use. Most were made in the 1930’s, 1940’s and 1950’s. The model 15-88 uses a modern needle, low shank feet and has a reverse.

Singer 15-88

A Singer 15-88 With Attachments

The feed dogs can be lowered and it’s a good machine for darning or free form stipple quilting. There is a buttonhole attachment, a zig zag attachment and a walking foot attachment for the Singer model 15-88, along with the standard hemming foot, ruffler and other specially feet. As of today, I would expect to pay between $75 -$170 for a head in very good condition.

The Singer model 66 was made from 1902 to about 1960. It is uses a round bobbin and a standard needle. Singer model 66’s made before the early 1920’s have feet and attachments that are non-standard. They have a back clamp instead of a side clamp and don’t have a reverse. The Singer model 66 often has attractive and distinctive decals and is nicknamed a “Red Eye.

Singer Red Eye

A Singer Model 66 Or Sometimes Called A “Red Eye”

As of today, I would expect to pay $40 -$90 for a Red Eye head in very good condition. In fact Craig’s List and eBay are positively polluted with them.

Often times it is easier and more affordable to assemble an antique sewing machine from parts.
Old sewing machine heads tend to outlast their cabinets and bases and it’s very common to find a sewing machine head in good working order with a cabinet that is beyond repair.
If you plan to assemble an antique treadle sewing machine from parts it’s a good idea to find the base or cabinet that you want first, then buy the sewing machine head.

Mid-price Singer Cabinet

Standard Mid-Priced Singer Treadle Cabinet From 1920’s

Singer is my first choice for this kind of “parts & pieces” assembly. Singer heads will almost always fit in Singer treadle cabinets (never seen one yet that didn’t -but measure first to be safe); but don’t assume that other sewing machine brands are sewing head to cabinet interchangeable.
That said, sometimes cabinets and machine heads will fool you – but it is still safest to stay with the same sewing machine brand. That means a Minnesota model “A” should be moved to a Minnesota treadle or cabinet- don’t take a chance with a White or Domestic cabinet. When you go shopping for a cabinet take the machine head with you so you can fit it on the spot.
A good quality cabinet is scarcer than a good sewing machine head.

And just so you know it is possible to construct a new top for an old treadle assembly. Read more about it here.
When you buy your treadle sewing machine don’t forget to hunt down an owner’s manual for the one you are buying. Many old manuals are free online and many are available for purchase as reprints or on CD’s for under $10.

Tools You’ll Need to Clean the Sewing Head
A camera
Lots of clean rags
Sewing machine or household oil
Flathead screw drivers – large & small
Needle nose pliers
Air in a can
Liquid Wrench
Extra fine steel wool
Tooth brush
Small paint brush
Tin can
Small plastic bags
Paper towels
Car wax

NEVER EVER! use any type of household cleaning product on a sewing machine head. It is risky and you may destroy the decals. Household oil is the only product ever used to clean the exterior of an antique sewing machine head. Household oil will remove rust, layers of grime and dirt.

Grime On A Sewing Machine Head

Typical Grime On A Sewing Head In Good To Fair Condition

When I bring home a “new” treadle sewing machine the first thing I do is to set up a neat and orderly work space.
Before I start to disassemble the sewing machine and while it is still in the cabinet I begin by taking pictures from all angles. I photograph everything about the machine – the hand/balance wheel, the bobbin winder, the needle position, the shuttle, the tension disks; every screw, loop or spring.
I next take pictures of the cabinet from every angle too – the under carriage, the skirt guard, the treadle, the pitman rod, all hinges, springs, the drawers and top.
By keeping an extensive picture diary I have a record of what the machine looked like before I started cleaning it, but more importantly a I have a reference for how the machine is supposed to look like when I’ve finished. More than a couple of times I’ve been left with an extra washer, spring or screw from a sewing machine restoration that I couldn’t figure out or remember where it was supposed to go.
A photographic record will save you lots of reassemble headaches.

Cleaning A Sewing Machine Head

Carefully Cleaning A Singer Model 66 Sewing Machine Head

To clean a treadle sewing machine head it must be removed from the cabinet or base.
As I remove the head I set the screws or bolts on a paper or cloth towel and sometimes letter or number the towel to keep track of  the disassemble order. I take a picture of the towel for reference.
After the head is removed from the base I will usually remove the front plate, bobbin cover (covers) and any other chrome or steel pieces or fittings from the head that have screws in them. Those pieces are put on to a different towel which is also numbered along with the screws and I photographed them too.

Sewing Machine Parts

Some Of The Parts From A “Household” Brand Sewing Machine

Next the tension disks are removed and placed on another numbered towel in the order which they came off – and you know what comes next-…I take another picture.
I continue in this manner around the entire head.

Household Machine Oil Is Your Best Friend – You Can’t Use Too Much
When the head is complexly stripped of all removable parts I begin cleaning the head in earnest. I rub machine oil over the entire surface in a circular motion with my fingers and wait awhile for the oil to break through the dirt and grime. After about 10 minutes the surface is wiped with a clean rag. I continue “massaging” oil into the surface and wiping until there is no grime – just oil on the cloth.

Removing Dirt With Oil

Apply Sewing Machine Oil To The Surface Of A Sewing Machine To Remove The Dirt

It is important to proceed gently as too much surface abrasion will remove the decals.

I clean all the fittings the same way – with household oil and rags, Q-Tips or a toothbrush. Sometimes if I’m feeling brave I will clean the brass or metal fittings with Formula 409 and a toothbrush.
When the exterior of the sewing head is as clean as I can get it I then proceed to clean and oil the entire interior.

Anything that moves (or is supposed to move) will get a coat of kerosene with a small brush.
I let the kerosene soak into the grime and then wipe with a clean rag. Sometimes I will blow out the dirt or dust with a judicious blast of canned air – but not too much.
For a really filthy sewing machine head I will put it into a covered plastic tote tub outdoors and pour 5 gallons of kerosene over it and let it soak for a few days.

Machine Head Ready To Be Cleaned

The Underside Of An Old Household Head Ready For Cleaning

The grime will sometimes just dissolve in the tub.
Often a couple of squirts of Liquid Wrench or any other brand of penetrating oil product will be needed if the sewing machine head action or balance wheel is stiff or frozen.
I clean the forked bars under the machine head with a brush and kerosene first, followed by oil, clean soft rags and fine steel wool.

Cleaning Grime

Cleaning Grime From Under The Head With Fine Steel Wool

After the last bit of grime or dirt is removed from the sewing machine head I will dry the head with a clean rag and apply 2 or 3 coats of a high quality car wax and buff it.

Using Car Wax On A Red Eye

A Singer Red Eye Is Protected With A Coat Of Car Wax

The sewing machine head is ready to reassemble after it has been completely cleaned, oiled and waxed. This is where the pictures and separate numbered towels come in handy. The parts are carefully reassembled in the order in which they came off. Once the head is reassembled I usually will oil it with a good grade synthetic oil.

If the treadle base is in very good condition often all that will be needed is a thorough cleaning with mineral spirits and a coat of paste wax.
But more often than not, the wood finish will be bleached, dark, dry, cracked, stained or peeling or a part of the cabinet will be in need of repair.

Repairing And Restoring A Tp

Cabinet Restoration

If the finish on the cabinet just looks dirty and not in need of complete removal, I will usually try to clean it with Murphy’s Oil Soap and water and lots of soft rags. I apply the soapy water with a soft cloth and then dry the wood with a clean rag. I repeat the process until the wood is clean.
When the wood is clean and dry I like to apply 2 coats of Milsek Oil or Old English Scratch Remover over the entire cabinet and allow the product to soak in. I remove the excess with a dry, lint free cloth.The metal treadle assembly can be cleaned with a bucket of hot water and diluted white vinegar. Be sure to dry the metal parts after they are cleaned.
If the cabinet finish is completely hopeless and beyond the powers of ordinary soap and rags, I usually will remove it. I have had good luck with fine steel wool and an acetone based furniture refinishing product like Formby’s. But I will use standard paint remover like Zip-Strip in a pinch.

Cabinet Is Refinished

Refinishing A Sewing Machine Cabinet

I refinish bases and cabinets by removing all hardware and working in small 6” X 6”sections using a pad of fine steel wool that has been soaked in Formby’s or paint remover.

After the old finish has been removed, I will go over the wood surface with rags and a small amount of mineral spirits before I finish and seal the wood. Sometimes I will apply 3 coats of Johnson’s paste wax, buffing between coats. Other times I mix paint thinner with polyurethane. I have also used Danish Oil with excellent results. The type of finish that is chosen depends upon personal taste and preference.

When the base is clean and presentable, the sewing machine head is finally ready to be reinstalled.
Hopefully by the time you are done cleaning the machine head and treadle base you took my advice and found an owner’s manual. The manual will give the proper threading sequence, bobbin winding procedure, needle placement and other important information.
All you’ll need to do next is to prepare yourself for a lifetime of sewing joy.
Good Luck!
Strong opinion below-read at your own risk

What the hell is wrong with people living in a country who will pay more for a Big Mac and fries than the used Swiss made sewing machine in the above post?

Not a month goes by that I don’t come upon a vintage used Swiss or German manufactured sewing machine for sale for under $30. That’s less than a six pack of beer, an order of cheese sticks & a large 5 topping pizza.

Swiss, German and some American Singer sewing machines made prior to 1960 or so, were for their time and still are, some of the finest household sewing machines ever manufactured in the world.

Less than 60 years ago it was not uncommon for a regular blue collar American family to spend 3 – 5 months of the family’s entire income on a household sewing machine. And that money was very well spent.
That’s because at one time in this country Americans actually produced some of their own clothing and household needs instead of sitting on their fat asses and watching television or screwing with their phones and tablets.

Let’s face it, the vast majority of Americans are happy to wear cheap underwear and ill-fitting clothing made by essentially slave labor in 3rd world sweat shops instead of sewing it themselves.

What really gets me cranked, is that so called “public education” (funded by a coercive shake down of property owners), believe they are doing children and society a favor by “teaching” correct & hygienic condom use or SAT test preparation to teenagers instead of basic sewing or cooking.
Yeah that’s right…like I’m so sure every young person in this country can’t wait to get laid or plans on wasting $35,000 for a useless college education.

The fact of the matter is that with sound and basic sewing skills, the $3.99 Pfaff pictured above, along with a pair of scissors, chalk, thread, a yardstick, tape measure, an iron & ironing board and some old-fashioned common sense, is the start of a lucrative home based business.
Think I’m kidding?

How many of you reading this have wanted new custom fitting slipcovers for your ratty looking furniture but couldn’t afford them or couldn’t find someone to make them?
Well guess what?
Slipcovers are easier to construct than a dress or a pair of pants and you’ll find a leprechaun faster than you’ll find someone to make a custom slipcover or lined drapes.
How many of you are a specialty size or have a clothing need that ready-to-wear cannot address? Lots of other people have the same needs too and would love to find someone to help them with their apparel requirements and concerns. That’s a business opportunity just waiting for you or your child.
Enola Gay’s Naturally Cozy is a perfect example of a successful home based sewing business meeting a need.
So the next time you order a Big Mac and fries or kick back with a pizza and a 6 pack, consider that you could have started your own business with a Swiss sewing machine or saved your son or daughter from the heartache of being “college educated” and unemployed.

Don’t Buy A New Sewing Machine

I have never bought a new sewing machine – electric or treadle and don’t recommend that you buy one either.
I know that new treadle sewing machines are being manufactured at present but don’t waste your money if you can help it.
Buy a good Singer model 15-88 or Singer model 66 if you want a treadle sewing machine.

If you are determined to buy a new treadle machine because you don’t want to deal with a restoration project please buy it from the Amazon link below and help me pay for this website.

Here’s a blanket statement that you can put in your pipe and smoke: Modern household sewing machines electric or non-electric are not as well made as older sewing machines made before 1965 or so.
This is especially true of current Singer and Janome sewing machines on the market.
Don’t ever pay more than $200 for a household sewing machine. Always buy a good used sewing machine.
The Singer model 201-K or a Singer 401-A are both excellent electric sewing machines and I recommend them.

Singer Model 401-A

Singer Model 401-A

Pfaff, Elna and Bernina have always made good sewing machines.
The older vintage Pfaffs, Elnas and Bernina machines from the 1950’s & 1960’s are superior in every way to the newer computerize bells and whistles sewing machines that cost an arm and a leg. Sure the old machines may not look as snazzy as the brand new computerized sewing machines. But believe me, a brand new sewing machine will not make you any more skilled and you’ll never be sorry that you didn’t spend an extra $2000.
End of story.

Husband & Wife Trees

There are two very large maple trees standing side by side in my front yard near an old shallow well.
They are called Husband and Wife trees.

Husband Wife Trees In July

A Pair of Husband Wife Trees In July

Old timers called them that and you hardly ever hear the term any more.
It has gone out of fashion: like marrying for life and farming.

Eric Sloane mentions Husband and Wife trees in A Reverence For Wood.

“The big trees appeared two at a time, placed as ‘husband and wife trees’ when a house was built. They were usually on the east side of the house or at each side of the entrance; you could pick out farmhouses on any New England landscape by these double clumps of green.”

Of course the expression is a folk term and an analogy taken from the material and natural world that was used long ago to describe a married couple’s relationship.

Husband & Wife Trees

Husband & Wife Trees In The Early Spring

A married man and woman are like two separate trees planted in different holes at the same time. They are a permanent fixture in the landscape and together they watch the years and the seasons pass.

The trees are the same size and one does not hinder the growth of the other.
Because the trees stand so close together they are not as subject to wind or ice damage as a single tree is. The two together are more likely to survive adversity.

The trees grow very close to one another.
But they are truly separate and there is space enough between them for the wind and air to pass. Their roots are entangled from beneath and how they are joined is hidden from the world.
The trees derive their sustenance from the same Source and one cannot be separated from the other without risking them both.

Pennsylvania German Superstitions

Rural Pennsylvania German farmers have always been superstitious bunch. It’s not for nothing that Punxsutawney Phil hails from Pennsylvania. The use of rodents for weather prognostication is just the tip of the Pennsylvania Dutch folklore iceberg.

Pennsylvania Groundhog

Ordinary Fat Pennsylvania Groundhog

I thought I’d share a few more Pennsylvania Dutch superstitions. Fact is the Pennsylvania Dutch are known for more than just good food.

• Don’t take the cat with you on the day that you move; it’s very bad luck. Fetch her later.
• Open the windows in a room after someone has died so the soul can get out.
• Nail a toad’s foot over the barn door to keep the witches out.
• If you dream of milk it means you will fall in love.
• Sweep the house in the dark of the moon and you will never be plagued with spiders or moths.
• Spitting into a fire causes a toothache.
• Never plant peas or beans on the day that baking is done.
• To cure founder in horses from over feeding grain, pee on their hay before feeding.

• If a tree will not bear fruit drive nails into it.
• Don’t clean out cattle stalls or pens between Christmas and New Year’s Day. If you do witches will bother you.
• The number of snow storms during the winter is indicated by the number of days from the first snow in fall to the next full moon or to the first day of the following month.
• “A fat wife and a big barn never did a man any harm.”
• To drop a fork means a man will come for a visit; a knife means a woman.
• On Ground Hog’s Day short men should stay indoors if the weather is clear so as not to unduly tempt the forces of nature which control the balance of nature.

A Morning Prayer

Grant unto me, O Lord, that with peace of mind I may face all that this new day is to bring.
Grant unto me to dedicate myself completely to Thy Holy Will.

Grant Unto Me

A Morning Walk

For every hour of this day, instruct and support me in all things.
Whatsoever tidings I may receive during the day, do Thou teach me to accept tranquilly, in the firm conviction that all eventualities fulfill Thy Holy Will.
Govern Thou my thoughts and feelings in all I do and say.
When things unforeseen occur, let me not forget that all cometh down from Thee.
Teach me to behave sincerely and rationally toward every member of my family, that I may bring confusion and sorrow to none.
Bestow upon me, my Lord, strength to endure the fatigue of the day, and to bear my part in all its passing events.
Guide my will and teach me to pray, to believe, to hope, to suffer, to forgive, and to love.