How to Do Things: A Timeless Guide to a Simpler Life (Gardening Books, How-To Books, Homesteading Books)

How to Do Things: A Timeless Guide to a Simpler Life (Gardening Books, How-To Books, Homesteading Books)


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An ode to self-reliance brimming with wit, wisdom, and nostalgia.

Sometimes doing things the "old-fashioned way" is still the best way: For anyone who wants to learn how to catch a runaway pig, mend a fence post, milk a cow, or throw an unforgettable barn party, this engaging volume delivers timeless advice on accomplishing tasks big and small around the house, garden, and farm. Written by farmers and craftsmen and featuring original text and illustrations from the 1919 first edition, the 100th-anniversary volume of How to Do Things presents a new generation of readers with expert guidance on every facet of homesteading in a very handsomely crafted package.

  • With projects that range from practical (ridding a yard of poison ivy) to downright bemusing (organizing a potato peeling contest), this delightful book is equal parts useful and entertaining.
  • Originally published by the editors of Farm Journal a century ago, How to Do Things still contains relevant information for today's world.
  • With the handwriting – and doodles – of the test taker, readers will have flashbacks of anxiously sitting over a test paper chewing on the end of a pencil.
In today's fast-paced, non-stop, technologically-centric world, How to Do Things: A Timeless Guide to a Simpler Life is a refreshing trip back in time.

An ode to self-reliance and an invitation to reconnect with life's simple pleasures.
  • A must-have for anyone who enjoys doing things with their own two hands.
  • Beautifully packaged, How to Do Things makes a great gift for farmers, city dwellers and everyone in between.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781452171678
Publisher: Chronicle Books LLC
Publication date: 04/02/2019
Pages: 264
Sales rank: 516,355
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 7.90(h) x 1.10(d)

About the Author

Brian Barth is a contributing editor at Landscape Architecture Magazine and writer at large at Modern Farmer. He lives in Toronto.

William Campbell is an editor and writer. He lives an idyllic pastoral life in Brooklyn.

Read an Excerpt



Almost every farm can use mailing lists to advantage. In buying, the lists help locate the cheapest and the most suitable article at once. In selling, they drum up trade, add new customers, and help obtain the highest market prices.


A farmer who had made a hobby of growing sweet corn — cultivating it for years until he had developed a superior strain — found that the local stores were glad to handle his seed but offered a low price. He compiled a list of nineteen seedsmen operating in his territory, securing the names from farm paper and newspaper advertisements and from personal knowledge. Some of them sold seeds by mail, some through retail stores, and others were city wholesalers.

Using a typewriter, the farmer wrote a businesslike letter to all nineteen seedsmen, telling them what he had to offer and forwarding samples. His results were typical of mailing-list work. Eight businesses did not reply at all, and seven answered that they had adequate supplies arranged for. Four firms offered $1 a bushel more than the grower had been offered at home.


Another farmer with a big crop of hickory nuts used a list of entirely different character. During a trip to town he borrowed several city directories and wrote down the names of professionals, manufacturers, and others chat he believed had better-than-average buying power. These were classified in the directories and were easily copied. To every one of the several hundred families on his list, he mailed a printed catalog, with 1-cent postage, describing the superior sort of produce he had to offer and quoting prices in bulk lots. The prices were somewhat below what the city fruit stores were charging. He easily sold his entire crop in this way and had a fine beginning toward a parcel-post trade in other farm products.


A third farmer obtained a list of pulpwood buyers and secured a price 50 cents a cord better than that which he was about to accept for his wood.

Purchasing agents of corporations send form letters to every business manufacturing articles they are in the market for, giving specifications and asking for samples and prices. Farmers who are making purchases of considerable size can follow the same plan. From the local farm newspapers a list of businesses can be readily complied. It is well to get prices from the local dealer, too. Whether the articles to be bought are fence posts or farm implements, it pays to feel out the market thoroughly, and the mailing list is a cheap, effective way of going about it. The fellow who buys without comparison is often the disappointed one.

Mailing lists for most farm purposes can be compiled at home. There are businesses that make a specialty of furnishing lists, their charges running from about $2 for every thousand names with a guarantee of accuracy. If the list written to is a long one, it is oftentimes good business to use a printed form letter. With smaller lists, a typewriter will do. The typewriter lessens the labor in correspondence, and every farmer who does a great deal of writing should have one.


Where a bull is kept on the farm great care must be taken that he has no chance to do any one an injury. No chances should be taken. A rope attached to a ring in the nose serves as an extra hitching arrangement in the stall, but the bull should not be led by this alone. He can charge on the one leading him at will. Put an extra ring in the rope near his nose and have a stick with a snap in the end, and then the bull can be led anywhere in safety, the rope and the stick being taken together in the hand.


Here is a cure for that old hog that eats up all the chickens. Use a piece of stiff leather wide enough to cover the hog's face within an inch or so of the snout, and secure it with a hog ring to the lower edge of the ears. An old bootleg will do.


Hiram Hogg: "At last my owner has solved the hen problem to my entire satisfaction by hinging the door to my sty so that :t will always swing shut. When I leave my house to roam in the alfalfa I push it open with my snout and need not worry about any fussy old hen and a host of chirping chickens scratching in my nest. Nor will I again waken from my afternoon nap to find that same fussy old hen hovering her brood on my back."


Here is a device that will take the lice off the farmer's hogs as they are sound asleep. Drive a stake in the ground, wrap an old rope around the stake, and tack with shingle nails. Saturate the rope with equal parts of coal oil and lard once a week, or use one of the commercial coal-tar dips. Drive the stake near the hogs' sleeping quarters. This is so effectual that the hogs will stand in line waiting their turn to rub against this homemade hog scratcher.


Good butter making begins as far back as the milking, if not further. The process of milking must be clean if sweet butter is to be made. Fit a funnel, with strainer in the bottom, to the milk pail and milk into this. This will keep out much floating dust and will also assist in keeping the milk closed to odors while it has to remain in the stable.


The guinea pig is a native of Brazil and comes in three different colors — white, black, and fawn. Some of the white ones have red eyes.

Before starting in the business of raising guinea pigs, you should carefully consider several things:

If you have hay, apples, and similar feed on the home place, it is all right; if not, it may be a mistake to start in the guinea pigs business, as these feeds cost too much. Grain must be purchased, but that is a small expense compared with the other feed.

Then there must be a good place to keep the little animals. They won't thrive down in the cellar, nor out in the shed, nor up in the garret. They must have a place where a fire can be kept in cold weather.

They must be attended to as regularly as other farm animals. They must be watered once daily, fed two or three times, and have their hutches cleaned out every day.

When you get two hundred or three hundred guinea pigs, which would be necessary to have a steady income, you will find it work — not hard labor, but work you cannot shirk.



Too little attention is paid to the subject of scientific hand milking. A poor milker may easily do enough harm in a herd of cows in one year to equal in loss the amount of his wages. In other words, it would pay to hand him his year's salary in a lump sum and buy him off instead of allowing him to milk poorly ten or twelve cows each night and morning. Such a milker, if he is rough, cross, noisy, unclean, irregular, or imperfect in his milking, may quickly or gradually dry off the cows.


We know of one case in which a beginner, in two months, completely dried off the milk secretion in the cow upon which he was allowed to practice. In another case a new milker by his roughness and harshness so reduced the milk flow that the owner had to fire him in self-defense. It probably is a fact that in every herd where the milk is not weighed night and morning and close tally kept one or another of the milkers is doing indifferent or disastrous work. In Great Britain, girls who are taking up farm work are learning to milk by practicing on dummy cows until they become sufficiently expert to tackle the living animal safely. It would be well were our would-be hired hands put through such a course of training to make them proficient without spoiling or injuring a cow or two in the process.


Seeking the cause for many mysterious cases of intermittent Garget — inflamed udders — experienced in some dairies, it must be suspected that the milker often is to blame. We think that incomplete milking is a possible cause, but one that is little suspected. The way a milker feels at milking time will in many instances determine the amount of milk he obtains. If he quickly extracts it all, it will be well for the cow and the employer. If he is in a hurry, indifferent, tired, or feeling sick and does not strip the cow clean, slight, unexplained garget may result. If such work continues, the cow will soon show a serious shrink in milk, prove profitless, or dry off entirely and have to be discarded.

It would be a good plan for every dairyman, especially in herds where slight cases of garget are prevalent, to have an expert strip the cows 10 minutes after the milkers have finished. By this means some very rich milk will be obtained for use on the farmer's table and at the same time a check will be kept on the work of each milker and some cases of garget possibly prevented. Knowing that the cows are going to be stripped, the milker will, if conscientious and anxious to please, milk just as well and completely as he knows how, and so all concerned will be benefited. If he is the other sort of a worker, he will be detected and discharged before he has done permanent damage.


The milker who can make the milk fairly boil in the pail and raise a lot of foam usually is getting the maximum flow of milk from each cow, while the slow milker, no matter how particular or faithful, often fails to get all that the cow would let down to the fast milking expert. A change of milkers may have a good or bad effect. In one experiment, two equally proficient milkers changed cows and at once there was an increase in milk yield from each lot of cows. A change of milkers, however, more commonly results in a decrease in milk production, and this sometimes is so noticeable that the accustomed milker has to resume his work with affected cows.


How is the stable's floor? Has it been pawed out in front and is there a space under the manger? A horse, the most ambitious animal when up, is the most helpless when down. Many a fine animal has lain down naturally enough, and in some manner, when trying to rise, has forced himself forward under the manger, or trough, and been found dead or badly injured in the morning. All our folks know about this danger, but in the multiplicity of things to be looked after it is sometimes forgotten.

Let us consider the manger. To begin with, every horse ought to eat off the ground. If the bottom of the manger is on, or within 2 inches [5 cm] of the earth or floor, no horse can get under it, and where the knee touches the manger when the animal paws it will rarely be continued. Standing upon an earth floor is good for the feet and necessary for some horses, but such a floor must be leveled often.


A horse s coat is a good indication of his condition at this season of the year. If it "stares," or looks rough and unkempt regardless of the daily brushing, he is not fully nourished and needs a change of feed. A molasses addition to the ration, of say a ½ cup [160 g] or 1 cup [320 g] twice daily, or a small handful of oil meal gradually increased to 2 cups [480 ml] twice a day, or 8 cups [2 L] of potatoes or apples twice daily, will presently work wonders in his appearance and spirits. A warm bran mash once a week is also good.


Do not run risks on icy spots. It is better to carry half a peck of sand and make a gritty path for the horse rather than force him forward with dull shoes.


I have seen two horses of late that plainly showed they had ground their teeth to a sharp edge and now were suffering with sore cheeks due to laceration. It is easy to smooth down the sharp and rough outer edges of the molars when they get in this condition. Gently draw out the tongue, hold it first on one side and look carefully at the teeth, then the cheek, and then next the tongue. Let the sun shine into the mouth so you can see plainly. Then hold the tongue on the other side and repeat the inspection. Next, after giving the horse a little rest, take a sharp file by the handle and rasp off the troublesome sharpness. If you doubt your ability to do this, employ a veterinarian.


Harnessing and unharnessing necessarily take up much time on every farm. But, on some farms time is wasted thus that might be saved. To stop this extra labor, let a carefully planned system be followed by all who handle the teams, in both harnessing and unharnessing, so that everyone shall know exactly where to find each strap and snap. Speaking of snaps, these useful little things need looking after once in a while, to see that they have not gotten out of order and so are ready to fall and perhaps make trouble and expense.


The best time for hatching future layers or breeding stock in most areas of the country is between the fifteenth of March and the fifteenth of May. This gives the youngsters a good start, and before the hot weather of July and August strikes them they will have matured sufficiently to be able to withstand the depression. Late-hatched chicks are likely to become stunted when when hot weather comes. This causes a setback, and there will be few if any eggs before the latter part of February or March. Early-hatched young hens, or pullets — those that lay at or before eight months of age — are the ones that lay when eggs are scarce and prices high.


The eggs from early chicks will be of good size. On the other hand, late-hatched young hens at times lay eggs that are so small they are practically unsalable. Early-hatched pullets are more steady layers, and their yield can be regularly counted on. However, it is not advisable to get pullets out before the sixteenth of March, because such birds will go into molt in the fall and thus pass over a valuable season without laying any eggs.


Aside from laying, there is a big value in the early chicks from a meat standpoint. Such birds will develop large carcasses and come into the broiler or the soft-roaster age in fine condition and just at a time when there is a strong demand and prices are high. From a breeding standpoint, we get better vigor, better laying, better fertility, and better size from hatches made between the six-teenth of March and the sixteenth of May than we do from later hatches; in many ways, too, they are better than hatches brought out during February and the early part of March.


The value of early-hatched pullets and roosters or cockerels, does not depend alone upon the time of the year they were hatched. Instead, good care and good feed go hand in hand with the date of incubation. In other words, they must be kept growing from the very beginning. Any setbacks will show themselves at once. There must be good, nourishing food, and it must be given so that the chicks do not stall at it. I believe in having a trough of dry bran or some commercial chick feed where the little ones may help themselves between meals. Part of their ration must be mash food and part cracked grains or commercial chick feed.

Equally important with the kind of feed is regularity in giving it. I never took kindly to the old advice of feeding every two hours. However, the chicks should be fed three times a day morning, noon, and night. There must be a regular hour for feeding and at that hour the food must be given. It is almost incredible how well the chicks, with their ravenous appetites, know when feeding time has come, and every moment's delay has a telling effect upon them.

With wise feeding comes exercise, which is induced by scattering the grain among the litter on the house floor. This exercise not only sharpens the appetite, but it puts the pullets in a good, vigorous condition. Early pullets, well hatched, well fed, and well cared for, will mature rapidly and go to laying at six to eight months of age, according to breed.


The essential thing is to get the hens to eat enough of any combination to bring results. While the following proportions may not produce the highest results, they will certainly raise the general average of egg production wherever put to practice. There are many groups that might form a big-four combination. In this instance, the four most common feeds have been selected. The nutritive ratio, as given, will be found reliable for autumn and spring feeding. But for the winter period, 25 percent more cracked corn may be fed to advantage. For summer, wheat or first-grade screenings should be substituted for the corn. The quantities, as given, may be increased or decreased to accommodate the size of the flock.

Cracked corn: 49pounds [22 kg]

Wheat bran: 31 pounds [14 kg]

Beef scrap: 13 pounds [6 kg]

Mangel-wurzel beets: 29 pounds [13 kg]


A scratching place should be prepared and supplied with clean straw to the depth of 1 foot [30.5 cm]. Scatter cracked corn in this area several times daily. This exercise will not only do good, but will add to the egg basket. Place the bran and beef scrap in an open hopper. Do not mix them. Reduce the beets or place in a clean spot for the hens to pick at. They may be hung up, just enough to force Biddy to jump for them.


Excerpted from "How To Do Things"
by .
Copyright © 2019 Maria Ribas Literary, LLC.
Excerpted by permission of Chronicle Books LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

PART I DOWN on the FARM, 17,
PART V OUT in the WORKSHOP, 221,
INDEX, 254,

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