Do-it-yourself projects and plans for anyone who can swing a hammer.

Help Your Customers Do Your Marketing For You


ColumbiaFalls General Store Maine

Beautiful Farm and Artist Products at Columbia Falls General Store in Downeast Maine

Photo Credit: Shelby Greene of Columbia Falls General Store, Maine

What small farm or farm store wouldn’t love to have their customers do their marketing for them?

Whether you already have happy customers or want to attract more, here are some simple things you can do to help them share your message, products or events.

Step One: If you already have a website, I hope you are also writing a blog or a newsletter. And I hope you’re including some great photos in your blog posts, because those photos are going to be your customers’ marketing tool. Even if you only write a monthly newsletter – be sure to post it onto your website and include photos there. I repeat: the PHOTOS are the key here.

Step Two: when you organize your farm or product photos on your computer (this is the IMPORTANT STEP) give them Descriptive File Names. Looking at my friends’ photo here, I would name it ColumbiaFallsGeneralStore.jpg or BeautifulFarmStoreProducts.jpg.

Step Three: when you’re writing your blog post, be SURE to fill in the AltText area with even MORE description. (If AltText doesn’t ring a bell for you, ask me and I’ll write more about creating a blog post) In my example, I might say, “Beautiful display of farm products and specialty items at local Columbia Falls General Store in Maine.”

Step Four: use these properly named, properly described photos on your website, in your newsletter and in your blog posts, social media – anywhere you post your photos.

You’re probably already saying “why on EARTH would I go to that much trouble and bother?” The answer is SEO – search engine optimization – and Pinterest. When your photos have great descriptions, search engines such as Google and Pinterest can find them, and USE them when responding to searches. That’s the first aspect of marketing: being FOUND. Which bring us to --

Step Five: create a Pinterest account with a board dedicated to your farm business and farm products. (want to know more about using Pinterest? Ask me in the comments and I’ll write another post if enough people respond, but basically, Pinterest is a search engine focused on IMAGES, but also where people come to SHOP. They search for Things They Want to BUY.

Well-named photos can be “pinned” onto Pinterest boards by you and your current customers (or anyone visiting your website or Instagram account) and those images will be put in front of the faces of thousands more people than you could otherwise reach. Result: Free Marketing. Encourage your customers to “Pin it!” and follow you on Pinterest.

You’re probably also asking, “Why Pinterest? Haven’t I got enough to do with Facebook and Instagram? Ugh.” The difference between Pinterest and those other platforms is that Pins on Pinterest live for YEARS whereas your Facebook and Instagram posts live for only a few minutes to a couple of days before they are overtaken. Who searches back through old Facebook posts? But Pinterest is a Search Engine – that’s exactly what it’s for. People want to see “Farm Stand” photos and you happen to have a lovely photo, correctly named FarmStand.jpg with AltText of Beautiful Farm Stand in Rural Maine, and you zoom to the top of the search. This means it also helps to think about what your potential customers would search for, then title and describe your photos along those lines.

Step Six: Be sure to include a Pinterest button on your website to make it even easier for visitors to “Pin it!”

Let me know if you have any questions about marketing or using Pinterest and I’ll do my best to help.

Norma Vela is a television writer now living in Maine with a fixation for land, horses, technology and gardening. She has a rope basket-making business, Tether Made, with her son-in-law and daughter and is learning surface pattern design, illustration, watercolor and digital art. Connect with Norma at Dovetail Family Farm, and read all of her MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.


Site and Build a Barn Owl Nest Box

Natural predators come in all sizes, shapes and classes. There are generalists that eat whatever they can get a hold of to specialists that just hunt and consume certain species in a particular way. Lions and cheetahs are good examples. Here in North America, owls own the night skies. Great horned owls (Bubo virginianus) eat a list of mammals, birds, and reptiles that is reminiscent of what the cartoon Tasmanian devil might eat (using about the same table manners).

Great horned owls have been known to eat young raccoons, red-tailed hawks and even great blue herons. They will consume pounds of flesh and not eat for nights due to a slow metabolism. This species is our only representative of the booted eagle owl clan, a worldwide distributed genus of owl that contains among its ranks the world’s largest species of owls. These birds approach 20 pounds and have the physique of a trash can.

Barn Owls for Rodent Control

Barn owls (Tyto alba) are quite different from the eagle owls, focusing on rodents almost exclusively and especially rats, mice and gophers. They also eat moles, voles, shrews and anything brown and fuzzy that runs around on the ground at night. They wash this all down with the occasional cricket and wayward beetle.

Barn owls are "tachy metobolic" and eat roughly half their own weight each night in crop-eating rodents. One biologist's study showed that one pair of nesting California barn owls can consume as many as 2,000 rodents per year when feeding their young. I reckon that number to being about a heaping long-bed pickup load's worth. Their young eat so many rodents in such a short time that they weigh as much as their parents in about 50 nights and fledge in about 65 to 70 nights.

All extant raptors have the steepest growth curves of any known vertebrate. Their cousins the tyrannosaurs had the steepest growth curves ever calculated: from a chicken-sized hatchling to a 40-foot  long, nine-ton giant in 5-7 years. Some paleontologists believe that this gargantuan appetite precluded a parental situation, theorizing that they had to be pack animals!

Pause on that hunting scene for a moment. In the here and now, it is quite easy to attract barn owls in most states. A properly placed and well configured barn owl nesting box, if left alone long enough, may attract a nesting pair.

Siting Barn Owl Nesting Boxes

Good places to install nesting boxes are in trees and on galvanized metal poles. In trees, I like to hang them by a particular chain called "linked loop." A North-ish (from northwest to northeast) exposure is great, east is OK, South is good, West, though? Almost never. The hot afternoon summer sun will often radiate the inside of the box, making it too hot and forcing the owls out to go roost and nest somewhere else.

The point of the compass method is part of the placement decision with the lay of the land factored in. An open flight path is needed for an owl's winged approach. If the approach lane has a totally open view of, say, a lawn, then great. They like a "commanding view" as biologists say.

For me, a simple depth-of-field view from the backyard tree-mounted nest box doorway facing down a driveway with a view of a street cul de sac has worked in the past. It was the only lengthy view there was at this property. I imagined the owls spying rats running across the open pavement out front foraging for food and the owls appreciating that view. That client got owls in two weeks. My record is five hours!

Building Barn Owl Nesting Boxes

A good configuration but uncomplicated is a design I offer called the "basic box. It is made of ½-inch plywood and painted a camouflaged green color.

Its cut dimensions are:

Bottom: 12 inches wide by 23 inches long
Sides: 12 inches wide by 14.75 inches high
Front and back panels: 14.75 inches high and 24 inches long
The lid or roof: 16 inches wide by 24 inches long


Glue and screw the box together or use nails or heavy narrow crown staples. For all nest boxes: Place the box upside down. Using a paintbrush, paint the ceiling (for now the floor) with a slurry of fireplace ashes and water. Allow time to dry. This helps prevent bees from colonizing the box.

The doorway is critical, starting one inch from the left side on the face panel, 14.75 by 24 inches long, and 1 inch up from the deck, cut out a bathtub-shaped doorway 8.5 inches high and 4.5 inches wide. The bottoms of some smaller antifreeze or brake fluid jugs work passively to sketch a pattern with a pencil. This shape and being close to the deck allows the female owl to clean out the box, eliminating the need for humans to do so. This lower doorway allows the young to jump out of the box in heat waves instead of perishing trapped inside. The chicks are naturally afraid of the doorway until older otherwise.

Next, drill two holes on each side 2 inches from the sides — four total — and 2 inches from the top near each corner. With two small bolts, add a 24 inches long stick, 2-by-2-foot lumber scrap, dowel or even a cut off broomstick for a perch near the door along the bottom of the box, and bolt it on solid.

Now sand the edges of the box smooth, top to bottom, and paint it. After it dries, run 6-foot-long lengths of ¾-inch linked loop chain through both holes, one then the other, to mid-chain length. End the chain with a "quick link" locking carabineer or some similar clip. I recommend you have an arborist (like me) install the nest box in a tree. Don't risk climbing trees using a trial-and-error siting approach. It’s not worth it. You could get hurt (or worse).

Mounting a Barn Owl Box

Tree-mounted. See video above of my tree-mounted box. You will end up running two chains through four holes put in the box, two on each side and wrapped around the branch in a "timber hitch" knot, completed with a level to assist in box placement aesthetics as seen in my video How to Install an Owl Box.

If you have no suitable level, stout branches at 15 inches to 45 feet high facing north-ish, east or south, then a pole-mount box might be the only option. These are jumbo-sized —2 3/8ths, 16 gauge — galvanized chain-link fence to rail tubes cut at 16-foot lengths. The box bolted offset to the backside of the box.

Pole-mounted. After the nest box is complete, drill two 5/8-inch holes in the end of the pole, one about 2 inches from the end cut and another about 9 inches down from there. Lay the box on the ground face down. Line up the pole on the back of the box and using the pole holes as a marker, drill two holes in the back panel of the box going through the pole holes first as a pattern. Run two same-size carriage bolts through both pole and box with the bolt head inside and washer and nut outside the pole.

Good spots for pole mounting are facing open ground, just east of a tree about 10 feet away to glean some summer shade. But not too close to a tree. Keep it conspicuous. If no shade, glue a second layer of plywood roof panel and keep your fingers crossed. They amazingly nest successfully in Borrego Springs of San Diego County. This desert town is surrounded by California's largest state park. It is “as hot as the anti-chamber of hell", as one British general commented when he chase the American “scoundrels" through South Carolina's Low Country during the revolutionary war.

Dig a 3-inch deep hole in the ground at a "owly" spot, and slide the pole in, packing dirt with the shovel and using a level as you pack in the dirt with the handle end of the shovel. Or you can take a schedule 40, 5-foot-long water pipe, 1.5 OD, and jack hammer it in the ground leaving about 16 inches above the soil surface. Then sleeve the 16-footer with the box at the top over the pipe. Drill a hole through all four walls of the pole and pipe about 12 inches off of the ground, and put a bolt through them all as a set pin so the pole and box will not spin.

If you live in a lightning-prone area, perhaps you may want to go the 4-by-4 or a series of 2-by-4 foot wooden pole. Be sure to put a metal flashing collar about the 4-by-4 and about 3.5 feet up to keep raccoons off the pole. It is best to have a few boxes hung up in different spots — a two box minimum, his and hers.

Tom Stephan works in the green industry treating sick trees to improve their vigor and vitality through anti compaction and soil fertility. He is a former certified arborist, a master falconer, and has incurable minimalist tendencies. Connect with him at Barn Owl Boxes, and read all of Tom’s MOTHER EARTH NEWS blog posts here.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.


A Productive Garden Chore for Rainy Days

Needed supplies

I find it difficult at best to slow down and sit still during gardening season. As soon as the weather allows for me to spend time outdoors (I’m not a cold lover), I’m out playing in the soil. Whether it’s weeding, bed prep, planting, harvesting, or larger projects like creating beds or redoing established areas, I can often be found in or around my garden.

However, there are (thankfully) rainy days or (not so thankfully) extremely hot days that drive me indoors. During those times, when my indoor chores are at a lull, I take to moving forward some of the necessary preparation steps for the next year’s garden. This chore is one such move, assuming you’ve already been saving the things you need. If not, consider starting. This is a great way to repurpose some of the trash you may be creating each week.

What you’ll need:

  • Scissors (not for fabric!)
  • Steak knife (don’t use your good ones, get a cheapie at your local thrift store)
  • Cat litter jugs (empty)
  • Cardboard beverage containers (empty)
  • Toilet paper and paper towel tubes (empty)
  • Interfolded dry waxed paper (optional)

assembling gardens

How to create your mini seed-starting gardens:

Remove the outer flimsy plastic sleeve around the cat litter jug. Measure up from the bottom 4.5 inches and cut around the container to create a basin. I use a combination of steak knife and scissors to do this. The measurement doesn’t need to be exact, and you may find that you prefer yours shorter or taller than I do. I like to be able to access my toilet paper tubes easily because I normally start my corn in them. Corn is picky about having its roots disturbed — the less I jostle and jerk my tubes, the happier the corn.

Recycle the top of the jug after removing the lid — the lid itself is not recyclable though they are handy for temporarily holding seeds or other small items. You may wish to turn the jug top upside down and use it for a funnel or drill holes in the lid and use it to strain things like homemade fish fertilizer

If you haven’t already done so, cut your beverage containers in half to create 2 “pots” and remove the plastic pour spout where necessary. I usually do this right after we empty them so I can clean them before they get ripe and stinky. Using a sharp implement, poke drainage holes in the bottom of each half. I use an awl. (Note: the pour spout is not recyclable, so unless you have another use for it, you’ll have to throw it away.) You can also use other cardboard beverage containers though different shapes may pose geometric challenges. I find 4 halves tuck perfectly into one basin.


Wrap the toilet paper (or cut-to-size paper towel) tubes with interfolded dry waxed paper. I do this step because it’s surprising how quickly these breakdown and roots begin growing through them. This is not a bad thing at all when you are seeking a biodegradable pot for your seedlings. However, as I stated, I start my corn indoors and it doesn’t like its roots being disturbed too much. Other plants like tomatoes would easily start growing through each other’s neighboring tubes.

I find that by simply wrapping each tube in one interfolded piece, I get the desired barrier for my 3-week old corn. Line the folded edge up with the top of the tube and fold under the excess. As you wrap each one, place it in one of your cat litter basins. Continue until the basin is full of upright tubes.

before and after

That’s it. As you can see in the photo above, 2 hours of work filled half a shelf of my guest room “greenhouse” with readied containers for next spring. All I’ll need to do is fill them with soil, plant my seeds, label the containers and I’ll be ready to cheer on each seedling as it emerges victoriously.

Blythe Pelham is an artist that aims to enable others to find their grounding through energy work. She is in the midst of writing a cookbook and will occasionally share bits in her blogging here. She writes, gardens and cooks in Ohio. Find her online at Humings and Being Blythe, and read all of her MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.


All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

4 Essential Wood-Planer Maintenance Tips

 planer bed waxing

If you’ve got a thickness planer (aka a wood planer) in your home woodworking shop, then there are four things you need to do to keep it running well. If you want to maintain top-notch performance from your wood planer and solve problems that might come up with the machine, you’ve come to the right place.

Wood Planer Problem #1: Boards sticks while it’s being planed

This is a problem of lubrication, so to speak. The first thing you need to do – and it applies to all thickness planters on the market – is to regularly apply paste wax to the bed of your planer. The bed is that part of the machine that the wood slides on. If you don't keep the bed waxed, your lumber is going to stick in the machine and it won't feed through properly.

As for wax,  I use an old can of Johnson's Paste Wax. I bought it in the late '70s (yes it’s 40+ years old), and there's still plenty of wax in the can. I figure I’ll get five, maybe 10 more years out of it. Any kind of floor paste wax will do the job. Unplug the planer, raise the cutterhead to expose as much of the bed as possible, remove any sawdust from the bed, then rub a little wax on it. Apply it with a circular motion. You don't have to be fancy, just as long as you get complete coverage. Let it dry for a few minutes and then lightly buff the wax off with a clean rag. It's amazing how long this wax treatment will keep lumber sliding smoothly while you plane it. Watch this video on exactly how to apply wax to your wood planer where it’ll make a difference.

chipped planer blade

Wood Planer Problem #2: Planed wood has raised ridges

The cause of this problem is a nick in the blades, most often caused by hitting a hard knot. You can’t always avoid this problem, but you can fix it rather easily. With the machine unplugged, remove the top of your planer to gain access to the cutter head.  If your blades are still fairly sharp and leaving smooth wood behind (except for that raised ridge), there’s an easy fix. By sliding individual blades side-to-side relative to each other you’ll get rid of the ridge. If the nick in one blade doesn’t align with the nick in other blades, no ridge will appear.

If you look at the cutter head you’ll see that the bolt holes securing the blades are not round. They're oval and this allows you to slide one blade or the other from side to side slightly. The advantage is if you've got just a little bit of ridging on your planed boards and you want to get that planer planing really well for an important project, but you don't want to change blades, you just loosen off the blade anchoring screws, slide one blade a little bit to one side and then the nicks in the blades that caused the groove in the first place don't line up and you get perfectly smooth results, at least for a little while. It works.

thickness planer action 2

Wood Planer Problem #3: Surfaces produced are not as smooth as they used to be

Wood planer blades wear out in time and changing them is the solution. Most planers on the market these days use disposable blades that are sharp along both edges. Take the old blades out (wood planers use either two or three blades depending on the design), flip the blades over, then secure them again, fresh side out.

As you’ll see when you get into the machine, the blades on all wood planers are held down by a whole bunch of bolts. That's true regardless of the machine you have. But what you need to do is to start loosening off all the bolts and then remove them. Now, before you do that though, I want to show you a little trick.

If you really do have to change your blades (as opposed to simply shifting nicked-but-sharp blades to one side or another) you're going to find the job easy after you understand the basics. Blades these days have holes for registration pins. These are small round protrusions of metal that come out of the cutter head and lock the blade in just the right position up-and-down so you don't have to worry about getting blade height right. When the blade's in place, you put your metal cap strip on top, tighten all of the bolts down, go back and forth several times to make sure you've got them all tight, then you're good to go. Get a detailed tour and video on changing wood planer blades and making these machines cut as well as they were designed to.

Wood Planer Problem #4: Shavings jam up in the machine

Now, when you're changing the blades and you've got the cutter head exposed, there’s one more thing you should do. This is the fourth bit of maintenance. Applying paste wax to the inside surface of the shroud that surrounds the cutter head. This is the same stuff you applied to the bed and it greatly reduces the buildup of pitch where the dust and shavings flow out of the machine. The free flow of shavings is important. If shavings clog up during a cut, the wood planer will press them down into your lumber and create ugly indentations in the wood. Not good. Waxing the shavings passages goes a long way to prevent your planer to jamming up during heavy planing.

Take care of these three issues and you'll have smooth wood every time you walk over to your planer and turn it on. Got a question about wood planers, woodworking or any aspect of rural, hands-on living? Send me an email at I’ll do my best to help.


All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

Creating Garden Art from the Cast-offs of Others

close-up of vignette 

A few years ago a good friend—who knows my proclivities for repurposing the cast-offs of others well—called to see if I would be interested in a cut-up utility pole they were removing from a local park. It was no surprise to him that I said, “Of course! Bring it on over!”

Very quickly I realized these pieces might be useful in building a bed to help screen off my wildlife condominium—one of my treasured features that others in the community might not be so excited to have in plain sight. I hurriedly rolled the posts into place and propped them up with bark chips and concrete blocks knowing that I’d do a more permanent job sooner or later.

I soon realized that I had a rustic old piece of picket fence rescued along with some bricks (for free from an online group) that might work well as part of the scene. I then found some old window shutters to add from my father-in-law’s house. These shutters were original to the house—built in the early 1950s—that hadn’t been in use for years. I thought they would come in handy for backing the post pieces that weren’t quite tall enough for my screening purposes.

I set all these things in place and slowly built up a nice mound of arborist chips in front of them. I used bits and pieces that I didn’t want to use in the rest of my garden because of size—pieces that would take longer to break down since I wasn’t planning to plant right away.

Since I spend long hours keeping the beds I already have planted in shape, I didn’t want to pause to make this backdrop permanent. This delay also allowed me to live with the bed while deciding if it was my final choice. The muffler was added one day when I noticed it at the end of our driveway. I loved how the rusted circle mirrored the knots on the post pieces. For me it was a natural fit.

Aside from the screening for the wildlife habitat, I am also able to use this vignette to shield the trash bags (from the public) that I accrue during my weekly weeding. Our Village has regulations in place that forbid our refuse from being put out more than 24 hours in advance of pick-up so I can’t simply stash them at the curb.

behind the scenes

I should point out here that the additions of both the muffler and the shutters—due to their age— may contain lead or other undesirables that could leach into the soil. For this reason, I will not be planting edibles in this area. You should keep this in mind if using older items in your vignette.

A couple of years ago, I added three coral bells plants (heuchera) that I scored at a local half-price sale. I put them in place with a promise that I’d make sure nothing blew over to squish them. Thankfully, I was able to follow through and they not only remained safe but also thrived in this new bed. This spring, because of a growing number of stronger winds, I decided to make the backdrop permanent. I also knew that it would save me from the occasional chore of repositioning all the pieces.

I bought some pipe strapping and gathered the rest of the supplies from my garage and basement stashes. Using wood cast off from a neighbor, I screwed the shutters together. I moved the t-bar posts and had my husband help me put the shutter group in place. I used strapping around the t-bars to hold the shutters upright then attached strapping to the shutters and around the post pieces to keep them sturdy. I loosely attached the fence post because it’s likely to wither on the sooner side and I want to be able to easily remove it.

This will be handy because I planted a viburnum dentatum, recently purchased from the Cincinnati Zoo Native Plant Sale, at that end of the bed. I figure it will grow well and eventually need the space to spread while it fills out that area. I also added some coreopsis behind the heuchera to help the eye flow upward as well as a couple of bleeding hearts (dicentra formosa) and false spirea (astilbe) to widen the group toward the viburnum.

When showing off the finalized version of my hard work to my husband, he asked what was going to go in the empty space between. I explained that the viburnum would need that space so I was planning on leaving it vacant. Since I’m calling this the Steve and Shirley Vignette (because my husband and our backdoor neighbor both like neat and pretty gardens) I might want to add something else. While I wait for the viburnum to grow, I can add interest with annuals if I want to.

before and after

Are there ways you can repurpose others’ cast-offs in your garden? How can you help delay stuff going to the dump?

Blythe Pelham is an artist that aims to enable others to find their grounding through energy work. She is in the midst of writing a cookbook and will occasionally share bits in her blogging here. She writes, gardens and cooks in Ohio. Find her online at Humings and Being Blytheand read all of her MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

Soap Making Lingo Every New Soap Maker Needs to Know

Itch Off 

New to soaping? Confused by all the terms and Acronyms? The terminology in soap making can leave any newbie scratching their head. As hard as soap making is to learn the terms and abbreviations can make it even more confusing. Let’s see if I can help you navigate the soap world in hopes of making life a little easier.


The alkali used in soap making such as; Sodium Hydroxide and Potassium Hydroxide.

Carrier Oil

Any liquid plant-based oil used to dilute essential oils to make them skin safe.

Castile Soap

Soap consisting of 100% Olive Oil, the name comes from where it was first made in the Castile region of Spain.

Cold Process (CP)

A simple method of soap making that only requires heat to melt the oils. No cooking is involved.

Crock Pot Hot Process (CPHP)

This soap is brought to trace and then further cooked in a crockpot.

Cold Process Oven Process (CPOP)

This soap is made in the same manner as a cold process but is then placed in the oven once molded to force the gel stage.


Refers to the time between making the soap and when it is ready for use, typically 4 to 6 weeks. During this time the soap becomes firm and the saponification process is completed.

Essential Oil (EO)

The oil that has been extracted from a plant for its scent or therapeutic properties.

Flash Point

The lowest temperature at which the vapor of a combustible liquid can be made to ignite.

Fragrance Oil (FO)

Synthetic imitations of essential oils and other scents much like perfume.

Gel Stage

Once the soap has been mixed to trace and poured into the mold it will begin to heat up by the chemical reaction. If the soap is properly wrapped and allowed to heat up enough, it will undergo a change looking much like gel. Some like their soaps to gel but others prefer soap that has not.


A thick, sticky, clear substance created during the process of saponification. Handmade cold process and hot process soaps retain the glycerin whereas commercial soaps often remove it to later sell for a separate cost.

Hot Process (HP)

The method of soap making that requires external heat to speed up the process of saponification.


Another name for Sodium Hydroxide.

Melt & Pour Base (MP)

Pre-made soap that can easily be cut up and melted to create decorative soaps. Contains lye like all soaps do and are available with various ingredients. Beginners tend to gravitate to MP due to the fear of working with lye.

Oatmeal Milk & Honey

Melting Point

The temperature at which a solid substance often oils and butters will melt.

Oven Hot Process (OHP)

Hot process soap making that uses the oven as the sole heat source.

Potassium Hydroxide

Potassium Hydroxide is another name for Caustic Potash. It is the alkali (base) used in liquid soap making.


A preservative is a natural or synthetic chemical that is added to products to prevent decomposition by microbial growth like mold.


Also referred to as hand milling. A home soap maker can hand mill (re-batch) soap by grating it up, adding a small amount of liquid and reapplying heat until it reaches a translucent stage at which time the fragrance is added and the soap is remolded.

Refined Oils

Fats and oils that have had the impurities filtered out.


Ricing occurs when a fragrance oil reacts with your base oils and produces little rice-shaped grains in your soap batter. The soap batter will resemble rice pudding. When using a new fragrance, do not discount the water in your recipe and warm the fragrance oil (while still in its bottle) in a warm water bath before using it.

Room Temperature Method (RTCP)

A soap making method like the cold process method. Instead of using heat to melt hard oils, the hot lye solution is used instead. No thermometers or external heat source is required.


Saponification is the chemical reaction between an alkali (lye) and a fat or oil to form soap.


A rapid solidifying of the soap while still in the soap pan. Usually caused by high amounts of stearic acid, palmitic acid, waxes, or some fragrance & essential oils.


Separation in soap making can happen in a couple of ways. Often right after adding a fragrance or essential oil to your soap batter. The reaction will resemble an apple sauce texture. It can also happen after pouring the soap into a mold before it has reached a true trace. A layer of liquid oil will lay on top of the soap.


Liquid Soap


The result of a chemical reaction between a lye solution (sodium hydroxide for bar soap or potassium hydroxide for liquid soap) and fats/oils. If it is not made with lye, it is not “true soap” instead will be classified as a detergent.

Sodium Hydroxide

Sodium Hydroxide (lye) is another name for Caustic Soda. It is the alkali (base) used in bar soap making.


Capable of being dissolved or liquified.


The excess oils left after the saponification process in soap. The excess oil contributes to the moisturizing properties of the soap.


The point in soap making where the mixed lye and oils have combined to a thick pudding like substance. When “true trace” is acquired a trail can be left when the batter is drizzled onto itself.

What else can make soaping easier? Research, research, and more research. Don't be hard on yourself if failures happen along the way, it happens to even the best soap makers from time to time. Start out with an easy recipe and then add or change ingredients as desired. Be careful! Where a mask, glasses, gloves, and other protective clothing when working with lye.

You can follow me on Facebook, Instagram, Website, and Twitter. Grit Magazine, Mother Earth News Magazine, Community Chickens Blog, Homestead Hustle Blog, Chickens Magazine, Hobby Farms Magazine, and The New Pioneer Magazine Miller Micro Farm Website.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

Look What the Cat Dragged In: Homemade Fish Fertilizer Recipe

Fish in the grass

I honestly don’t have a clue how this dead fish found its way into my yard. We have had a lot of rain recently but not that much! I discovered it at the lower border of the orchard bed as the photo shows — half in the lawn, half in the ground cover.

Perhaps a cat picked it from someone’s trash. Or a raccoon dragged it from the creek half a mile away then got spooked by a passing car. Maybe a neighbor wanted to make a not-so-subtle comment about the time it’s taking me to weed my bank. Isn’t there some biblical story about fish raining from the sky — maybe I’m getting my Bible stories conflated.

No matter how it got there or why, I’ve already thanked the Universe for this gift — however delayed it may be. A few years ago I purchased some live sweetgrass (native to Ohio) to grow for personal and ritual use. Upon its arrival, one of the requirements for boosting the starts was a fish fertilizer bath.

My first leaning was to see if I couldn’t economically make some from scratch. I looked up recipes on the internet and found a few calling for fish heads and scraps. Since I don’t fish (other than for salmon with my dad, now passed), I checked with a couple of local seafood counters. No one had any extras to sell me so I opted for Alaskan Fish Fertilizer since it was a name I recognized from my years in the Pacific Northwest.

My initial reaction to this new find in my garden was frankly “WTH?!” But, because of that search a few years ago, that reaction was followed immediately by a decision to create some of my previously imagined home-brewed fish fertilizer. I Googled once again and found new recipes. Most called for more than one fish but I’m a McGyver-style, make-with-what-you-have-on-hand kinda gal so I simply pared back on the recipes. I even learned that Native Americans used to bury a fish before planting corn seed — smart people, maybe in my future!

Fish in a bucket

Anyway, step one was to fetch one of my handy used cat litter buckets. I then placed a lovely bed of sawdusty composted arborist chips in the bottom, added the fish, graced it with some blackstrap molasses, and topped it off with water.

I saw several recipes that included seaweed and something nudged a memory of my having bought some on a whim while at one of my favorite stores, Jungle Jim’s (in Cincinnati). I didn’t want to divert from other garden chores just then, so put that addition off. Three days later, I found the seaweed and braved opening the bucket to find a lovely fermentation bubbling up with no maggots — something that could have easily happened as flies had time to help the decay along before my discovery, I’m sure. I added my seaweed and closed the bucket back up and swirled.

One of the benefits of using my cat litter bucket is that it’s not airtight so it will automatically burp out the gases from fermentation. This bucket is safely tucked away in my garage, aka gardening shed, so the smell shouldn’t be bothering anyone. I’ll be giving it a good sloshing stir by simply lifting it by the handle and swishing it around a bit every few days until the brew is ready to use in a few weeks. I’m guessing many of my plant babies will celebrate this new find as much as I am once they get their first drink.

Fermenting fish

Don’t forget to label the bucket so no one (including yourself) is surprised by the lovely, overpowering smell if the bucket is opened without forewarning! My brew should be plenty aromatic when I open it up again for use but that will be tempered by my giddy anticipation. I have plenty of weeding to do for distraction until it’s time to see what I have wrought.

Blythe Pelham is an artist that aims to enable others to find their grounding through energy work. She is in the midst of writing a cookbook and will occasionally share bits in her blogging here. She writes, gardens and cooks in Ohio. Find her online at Humings and Being Blythe, and read all of her MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

Subscribe Today - Pay Now & Save 64% Off the Cover Price

Money-Saving Tips in Every Issue!

Mother Earth NewsAt MOTHER EARTH NEWS, we are dedicated to conserving our planet's natural resources while helping you conserve your financial resources. You'll find tips for slashing heating bills, growing fresh, natural produce at home, and more. That's why we want you to save money and trees by subscribing through our earth-friendly automatic renewal savings plan. By paying with a credit card, you save an additional $5 and get 6 issues of MOTHER EARTH NEWS for only $12.95 (USA only).

You may also use the Bill Me option and pay $17.95 for 6 issues.

Canadian Subscribers - Click Here
International Subscribers - Click Here
Canadian subscriptions: 1 year (includes postage & GST).

Facebook Pinterest Instagram YouTube Twitter flipboard

Free Product Information Classifieds Newsletters

click me