Classic Reader Tips

Though common practice now, many of our readers' tips over the past 70 years were radical for their times.

March 5, 2012

Coffee Grounds (July 1947)

It might interest your readers to know that refuse coffee grounds make an excellent earthworm food. If you add old coffee grounds to a compost heap, earthworms multiply very rapidly. This, I feel sure, helps to accelerate the making of compost, not to mention providing a means for disposing of an otherwise useless product.


Philip H. Smith

Pawling, New York

Cabbage Butterflies (May 1952)

Cabbage butterflies are repelled by tomatoes, rosemary, sage, and peppermint, and the asparagus beetle by tomatoes. Such crops can therefore be used as protective inter-crops. Nasturtiums among the fruit trees will reduce destruction by aphids. The flea beetle shuns tomatoes and is driven away by shade, and dislikes a crumbly soil.

L.F. Easterbrook

Garlic-Pepper Spray Stops Bugs (January 1968)

To control insects, I use powdered garlic and black pepper in equal parts in a pint of hot water. Let it sit till it cools by about half, then strain through a dairy straining pad or something similar. This mix has done exceptionally well for me. It sprays easily from a hand sprayer and really stops the bugs.

Martin Stansbury

Tremont, Illinois

Shovel Sifter (October 1979)

A large aluminum snow shovel drilled full of holes is great for sifting soil over seedbeds. Simply scoop, shake, and watch the fine soil stream down as the shovel collects the rocks.

Treska Lindsay

Arden, North Carolina

Rabbit Residue to the Rescue (March 1992)

We have a quick and easy way to add nitrogen to our compost pile: Our rabbit cages are built directly over our compost bin. The manure from our organically raised animals falls right where it’s needed most—no hauling, bending, or lifting required.

Karen Kaleta-Johnson

Franklin, North Carolina

Electric Tomatoes (February 1984)

I use electrical wire ties [editor’s note: i.e., zip ties] instead of string to tie up tomato plants. They’re used by electricians to tie bunches of wire together. You can buy them at any electrical supply store. They’re plastic, so they don’t rot or break and can be reused year after year. I use the 8-inch ties. They all have a small clip that locks in a series of teeth to hold the tie securely to the stake.

Anthony Siracusa

Sewell, New Jersey

Clover Mites Take a Powder (July 1966)

Ordinary talcum powder sprinkled on windowsills, at doorways, around baseboards, and around the outside foundation of your home will rid the place of pesky clover mites.

Mrs. William Koelhing

Elbert, Colorado

Planting Problem Solved (February 1959)

I have had trouble getting seed of certain plants started, due mostly to birds of all kinds. By accident, I have found a solution to the problem. I picked up a roll of old, discarded screening, the kind that is used on ordinary screen doors and windows. I cut it in 18-inch widths and nailed some old laths on each side. Now when I plant anything, I place this screen over the bed until the plants are well started. It not only keeps out the birds, but many other pests as well.

O.L. Perkins

Bakersfield, California

Ground-Stored Carrots (June 1975)

I live in Minnesota, with long, cold winters. I discovered that the best way to keep carrots from freezing is to cover the row with 2 to 3 feet of leaves, then take a wide strip of plastic and cover them over, and then add several more feet of leaves. You would be surprised how well they keep. We’ve been able to have fresh carrots all winter long. They stay crisp and sweet—a wonderful treat to have in the winter.

Mildred Brennan

Stillwater, Minnesota