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12/11/2015

I want to extend my conscientious lifestyle into my post-mortem arrangements. Can you recommend any eco-friendly forms of natural burial?

If you’re looking for a way to stay green in the grave, consider building your own casket out of harvested materials, or choose a biodegradable coffin or urn. Making such a decision can sidestep the high costs and unsustainable makeup of chemical embalming and a conventional casket.

Biodegradable coffin and urn options range from the Ecopod, a vessel made of recycled newspaper and mulberry pulp, to hand-built caskets crafted out of native, sustainably harvested wood. Simple kits, such as that used to build this Wisconsin pine model from Northwoods Casket Co., will accommodate almost any budget or level of carpentry expertise.

The Somerset Willow Company in England employs traditional techniques to weave locally grown willow into handsome, customizable caskets for burial or cremation. These willow coffins are lined with natural cotton, and can accommodate an oak nameplate. They ship to North America.

The Bios Urn company aims to convert cemeteries into forests with its biodegradable urns, which are made of coconut shell, compacted peat and cellulose, and are designed to support the early growth of a tree. Bios Urn’s “life after life” model, available for both humans and pets, is compatible with nearly any kind of seed.

Many other routes exist to honor the Earth as well as the life you lived on it. The Green Burial Council certifies products, practices and places of rest. Whatever you decide, be sure to let your loved ones know of your decision, and define your wishes in your will. For more information on biodegradable coffins, DIY casket instructions, and planning natural burials, read Natural Burial: Build an Eco-friendly Coffin and Plan a Green Funeral.

Photo by Julie Zahn: Simple kits, such as that used to build this Wisconsin pine model from Northwoods Casket Company, will accommodate almost any budget or level of carpentry expertise.


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



12/11/2015

 

How can you protect your chickens from dogs, or raise the two kinds of animals together harmoniously? We turned to our Facebook community for ideas on keeping Fido from frightening the flock.

I have a pit bull, Boston Terriers and a Chihuahua. When I got our first chicks, I kept them indoors in a wire crate under a heat lamp. Whenever the dogs came up to the crate, I would say, “Easy,” and gently put their paws into the cage and let the chicks nibble on them. As the dogs got used to the chicks, they would lie near the cage, and I would take the chicks into my hand, cover their bodies, and let the dogs sniff and lick them. By the time the chicks could go outside and free-range, the dogs knew they were part of our family, and either played with them or paid them no attention at all. (The Chihuahua had even killed two chickens before he came to live with me!) — Jodi Skoien-Tucker

One quick zap was all it took! When we built a chicken tractor, we put a low-voltage wire at ground level around the outer edge of the tractor and turned it on at night to deter raccoons, opossums and other pests. At first, our dogs behaved poorly. When we turned it on during the day, the dogs ran into it nose-first — once. A few weeks later, we let the birds out of the tractor. Initially, the dogs kept their distance, as though the birds had zapped their noses. Two years later, we have the best protector anyone could ask for in our mixed-breed bulldog, Butler. Whenever our ducks waddle to the frog pond, Butler follows close behind, waits, and then walks them back to the duck pen. — Judith Legare

Our cattle dogs and Cavalier King Charles Spaniel are especially gentle and protective of our birds. When the chickens were first introduced, we carefully observed the dogs and immediately corrected aggressive behavior. Since Duchess (our Australian Cattle Dog/Australian Shepherd mix) has started spending all of her time outdoors with the chickens during the day, we haven’t lost any birds to predators. Set limits, praise good behavior, and let your dogs know those birds belong to you. — Tom and Laurie Bartlett

Choose pups from gentle parents and breeds, and keep dogs with a high prey drive separated from your birds. Don’t be angry at a dog that instinctively responds to fluttering or running chickens. — Linda Hindman

I have Akitas and an Afghan Hound. They have a strong prey drive and would love a chicken snack, no matter how much training they receive. Our chicken pen is attached to our yard with a 6-foot chain-link fence, and I’ve added hardware cloth around the bottom. I also made sure to get chicken breeds that aren’t flyers. The dogs got used to the chickens and will occasionally run along the fence, but, so far, I’ve not lost a chicken to a dog. — Jennifer Kassay Phelps


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



12/2/2015

I want to expand my cooking expertise. Can you suggest your preferred food science books?

If you want to whip up a meringue that doesn’t shrink, have wondered why your homemade yogurt is grainy, or are eager to fix a mayonnaise that’s “broken,” it’s time for you to delve into the chemistry of cooking. Harold McGee and Shirley Corriher are authors of some of the most trusted cooking reference guides, which we recommend for your kitchen library.

On Food and Cooking 

In On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen, McGee, known internationally as a food chemist, blends history with useful explanations of why foods react the way they do when cooked. The 2004 revision features an additional nutrition-focused passage in several chapters.

In his newest book, Keys to Good Cooking: A Guide to Making the Best of Foods and Recipes, McGee covers everything from pantry management and essential kitchen tools to specific food groups, such as eggs, vegetables and oils.

Corriher, an acclaimed culinary problem-solver, offers more than 230 recipes in CookWise — many of which are accompanied by a “what this recipe shows” headnote that reveals the chemistry behind the recipe, to further your learning. For example, she explains the use of different kinds of fats for frying, and suggests possible ingredient replacements for a diverse array of dishes.

Cookwise 

In her second book, BakeWise, Corriher moves on to offer illuminating answers to the mysteries of baking, and examines all things oven-made, from the drying properties of egg whites to the perks of adding cheddar cheese to pie crust. One slice of valuable information, to get a taste: Corriher details why you may not like the results if you reduce or eliminate the sugar in a cake recipe, so you can make such adjustments intelligently.

Any of these four food science books will teach you how to swap ingredients successfully and will make you a more knowledgeable and adaptable cook.

(Top) Cover courtesy Scribner: On Food and Cooking by Harold McGee covers everything from Adzuki beans to Zebu milk.

(Bottom) Cover courtesy Morrow Cookbooks: CookWise by Shirley O. Corriher is one of our go-to resources on the chemistry of cooking.


Robin Mather is a former senior associate editor at MOTHER EARTH NEWS and the author of The Feast Nearby, a collection of essays and recipes from her year of eating locally on $40 a week. In her spare time, she is a hand-spinner, knitter, weaver, homebrewer, cheese maker and avid cook who cures her own bacon. Find her on Twitter or Facebook.



11/25/2015

I’ve heard that petroleum jelly (Vaseline) will protect chickens’ combs from frostbite. Should I grab the grease and gather my birds?

Probably not. Winter cold snaps sometimes damage the tips of birds’ combs, and black spots can form where tissue has frozen. Applying petroleum jelly to combs will prevent chapping, as it would if you applied such a product to your lips. However, Dr. Scott Beyer, a poultry nutrition and management specialist at Kansas State University, confirms that petroleum jelly has no insulating properties, despite long-standing claims to the contrary from some poultry enthusiasts.

Breed selection is a wiser way to combat chicken frostbite. If you live in a place where winters are severe, choose breeds that have small “walnut” or “rose” combs and small wattles, such as Chantecler or Buckeye, as such features are less prone to frostbite. Provide your flock with a draft-proof coop that will keep your birds dry. If the forecast calls for severe cold, consider putting a heat lamp inside the coop to offer extra protection against low temperatures.

Photo by Fotolia/alkerk


Cheryl Long is the editor in chief of MOTHER EARTH NEWS magazine, and a leading advocate for more sustainable lifestyles. She leads a team of editors which produces high quality content that has resulted in MOTHER EARTH NEWS being rated as one of North America’s favorite magazines. Long lives on an 8-acre homestead near Topeka, Kan., powered in part by solar panels, where she manages a large organic garden and a small flock of heritage chickens. Prior to taking the helm at MOTHER EARTH NEWS, she was an editor at Organic Gardening magazine for 10 years.



11/10/2015

Homemade Sweetener

What are the best options for homemade syrups and natural sweeteners from plants I can grow or process myself?

Depending on your region, your choices for homemade syrups and sweeteners may include tree syrup, sorghum syrup (molasses), sugar beet syrup or paste, stevia, and sugar cane.

Two popular homegrown sweeteners are tree syrups and sorghum molasses. Syrup-seekers living in cold climates often opt for sugar maple or black maple trees because they yield a high volume and concentration of sap that’s about 2 percent sugar. Making 1 gallon of maple syrup requires boiling down 40 to 50 gallons of sugar or black maple sap. Because red and silver maples produce a more watery sap, syrup-makers must collect and boil more of it to produce the same amount of syrup.

Other tap-ready trees include boxelder (a maple relative), birch, walnut, hickory and sycamore, but the cost and time commitment of making syrups from these trees can be prohibitive. Birch syrup necessitates twice as much sap as maple syrup does — up to 100 gallons of birch sap to yield 1 gallon of a more savory-tasting syrup.

In warmer climates, sorghum syrup is most common. Making sorghum syrup requires an upfront cost for a press to crush the sorghum canes and extract the juice, but it can yield a sweet payoff — 1 gallon of sorghum syrup requires boiling down only 10 gallons of juice. You can go in on the price of the press with your neighbors as a way of cutting costs and achieving community self-sufficiency. Dig into more info on maple sugaring and tree tapping at Farming Syrup Trees: Maple Sugaring and More, and in Farming the Woods by Ken Mudge and Steve Gabriel.


Amanda Sorell is an Associate Editor at MOTHER EARTH NEWS magazine.



10/5/2015

How should I monitor my garden cold frame on warm days to ensure I’m not frying my plants? Do I need to check the temperature every hour?

No, not every hour, but you’re right to err on the side of vigilance anytime the sun is out — even if the temperature isn’t particularly high.

During spring and fall, when temperatures range widely, check your weather report early in the morning. If the day will be sunny with temperatures above 50 degrees Fahrenheit, the cold frame’s internal temperature will rise too high for your plants, so you should crack the lids open to allow excess heat to escape. Close your units up at twilight if the forecast predicts nighttime temperatures below your plants’ cold-tolerance level.

Photo courtesy Cedar Cold Frames: Even when snow surrounds your cold frame, the plants inside may need a breath of fresh air.


is an Associate Editor at MOTHER EARTH NEWS magazine, where her beats include DIY and Green Transportation. She's an avid cyclist and has never met a vegetable she didn't like.



10/5/2015

Winter Rye

I want to plant a cover crop in my garden beds this fall. Which cold-hardy crop do you recommend?

One of your best bets is winter rye (Secale cereale), the grain used to make rye flour (not ryegrass, which is a different plant). Winter rye loves cold weather, and it’s widely adapted, inexpensive and easy to sow. According to Managing Cover Crops Profitably, published by the Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) program, rye will even germinate in temperatures as low as 34 degrees Fahrenheit, and will grow through winter wherever temperatures stay above about 38 degrees. It will suppress winter weeds, improve your soil’s texture, add organic matter, prevent erosion, and attract beneficial insects when it flowers the following spring. It also makes a terrific winter pasture for poultry — or, you can cut the greens periodically to feed to your flock.

Ordering cover crop seeds by mail can be a bit pricey, but saving your own rye seed is easy. Order seed by mail if you can’t find a local supplier, and then sow it in fall. Allow it to grow through the following spring until June, when it will produce seed heads. Snip off the seed heads and then, without threshing the seeds out of the heads, simply plant the heads in fall (see photo above, left). The mature rye plants will be easy to kill after you’ve harvested their seed heads. Cut the stems at soil level with a serrated harvest sickle or large knife, and then use the straw as mulch or compost. (If you don’t own a sickle, Earth Tools offers a nice Italian-made model for only $23; look under the “SHW” category.)

Growing cover crops in unused beds is one of the best things you can do to improve your soil. To learn more about sowing rye and many other kinds of cover crops, I highly recommend the SARE book mentioned earlier; it’s free online.

Photo by Cheryl Long: Winter rye seed heads sown directly into soil in fall will grow to maturity the following spring.


Cheryl Long is the editor in chief of MOTHER EARTH NEWS magazine, and a leading advocate for more sustainable lifestyles. She leads a team of editors which produces high quality content that has resulted in MOTHER EARTH NEWS being rated as one of North America’s favorite magazines. Long lives on an 8-acre homestead near Topeka, Kan., powered in part by solar panels, where she manages a large organic garden and a small flock of heritage chickens. Prior to taking the helm at MOTHER EARTH NEWS, she was an editor at Organic Gardening magazine for 10 years.









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