Nature and Environment

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Sustainable gardening photo

Gardening doesn’t have to be constant hard work or cost a fortune. Yes, there are start up costs, and it is work, but with the right low maintenance techniques, you can put some of the more tedious chores — like watering — on autopilot.  

Garden smarter, not harder—here’s how:

Rain barrels photo

Use Rain Barrels. They’re low maintenance and eco-friendly. You can conserve water, while still watering your garden during dry spells. According to a recent Home Depot Garden Club Survey, 20% of millennials gardening on the West Coast already use rain barrels, saving precious dollars on water bills in a drought-stricken region, and putting water aside for periods with no rain. If your goal is to be eco-friendly and save money, consider a rain barrel.

Choose Easy Plants to Grow. Succulents are easy to maintain, as are hostas and marigolds. For decorative flowers, choose types that won’t require hours of your time picking, pruning and watering. In drought-affected Western states, 42% of gardeners over the age of 35 are growing succulents, according to The Home Depot Garden Club Survey. That’s undoubtedly because they’re easy to grow and come in many different varieties, shapes, patterns and colors. There’s something for everyone when it comes to succulents!

Succulent plant photo

Plant Perennials. There are perennials for every season and every type of climate: drought-tolerant perennials, non-flowering, perennials for sunny areas, shady areas and even perennials that resist disease.  Perennials can live more than two years, and some live much longer. By choosing plants that bloom each year, you’ll save money and time. There’s another advantage—fewer weeds—because perennials’ roots grow deeper than other flowers. Fewer weeds equal less work and a pretty garden…yes, please!

Container Gardening. If you’re short on time and space, consider container gardening or window gardens. Plant herbs from your kitchen window or grow tomatoes from your patio. Container gardening lets you avoid the tilling and overgrowth of weeds, too! Plus, you can have as many or as few container plants as your heart desires. You can make your own containers and raised bed planters from old doors or other odds and ends from around the house. And container gardening is also a great way to introduce gardening to children.

Baby those Seeds. If you’ve got the time to start your plants from seeds, seeds are an affordable option. Best of all, planting seeds indoors during the winter really helps to get a jump on the gardening season. Plus, there’s something satisfying about watching a seedling sprout into a full-grown green bean plant.

Compost plant photo

Recycle your Waste. Kitchen waste, dead plants, lawn scrapes and leaves — they’re all good for something. Using your waste for next year’s garden helps to make nutrient-rich soil. There are lots of ideas for “lasagna” gardening and composting your waste to help fertilize your soil, right here on Mother Earth News!  So the next time you make a salad, save those scraps in a kitchen composter or go big and get an outdoor composter.  Your garden will thank you later!

Sommer Poquette is a popular mom blogger and avid gardener who writes on gardening topics for The Home Depot. For Home Depot's wide selection of perennial flowers mentioned by Sommer, you can visit the company's website.

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.


Eight days ago, I was packing up my friend’s dirty tent, exhausted and satiated after an incredible weekend in Louisa, Va. Twin Oaks, a rural intentional community in central Virginia, was the site for the 2015 Communities Conference. The plug for the event, according to the website: "If you live or want to live according to the values of cooperation, sustainability, and equality this conference is for you. You’ll get something out of this event whether you’re brand new to communities and cooperatives, or have been living and working in them for decades. The conference focuses on Intentional Communities, including models such as ecovillages, cohousing, and housing cooperatives, and the larger cooperative movement, including all kinds of cooperative and collective organizations."

As a proud member of a brand new intentional community, it felt fitting to find myself back at Twin Oaks, the beginning of my ongoing journey that led to ecovillages in rural Missouri, organic farms in Keezletown, Va., action camps in West Virginia, and ultimately, a burgeoning baby homestead in Hinton, Via.

The communities movement is not new news: From ecovillages to college dorms to co-ops, folks have been experimenting with intentional alternative living for decades, with degrees of success as varied as the participants. The movement has been garnering increasing attention in recent years. Articles featuring Twin Oaks, one of the oldest communities in the U.S., can be found on CNN and ABC. A CNN photo series from August 17 captures some vivid snapshots of the community throughout the 2000s.

The conference drew over one hundred registries, representing close to a dozen communities. There were old-timers who've lived non-conventionally for decades, and kids like myself, who have spent a handful of months in the homesteading, intentional community, co-housing game.

Anarchist collectives from Richmond. Va., faith-based organizations, groups from New York City to Oregon, to homesteaders from the Midwest all participated in the four-day-long event. It was a chance to network, reconnect with old friends, attend workshops, brainstorm, and commune with nature and a fabulous gathering of peoples. I was reminded of why I am living ten miles from my job, and spend my off-days doing things like weeding and building composting toilets out of scrap material.


Tanya, an intern at Twin Oaks writes, "Communal living can be a mode for survival under capitalism. The finances of it are pretty intuitive: you’re sharing resources and labor with a group of people, so you can do more for cheaper.

"Communities have the marvelous potential to become sites of personal and political healing. To build systems that can feed, house, employ, and nurture people is therapeutic work. Having a place where your labor is valued, your needs are met, and where you have friends shouldn’t be as revolutionary as it is."


The fact of the matter is, whether you’re the owner and manager of hundreds of acres of farmland, living in a dorm room, or watering your first potted plants, humans seem to be called to share life together. The Communities Conference highlighted the creative potentiality for doing this. While living in intentional community is a ginormous commitment for a host of reasons, it makes returning back to nature and focusing on DIY solutions much easier.

Additionally, I know my mental health has never been better than when I’m surrounded by a group of loving friends, striving for a simpler, richer lifestyle.

The Fellowship for Intentional Community is a nonprofit that provides a plethora of resources regarding cooperative living, including a directory of intentional communities, a communities magazine, and much more.

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. 



We live in the southern part of our state and some volunteers who picked up firewood to distribute to those who can not get it for themselves came all the way from the northern part of our state to haul away firewood we set aside. As they were loading three cords of firewood, one of the volunteers commented about drones. All I knew about drones was that they were used to spy on people, they interfered with normal air traffic, that they were developing them to deliver packages and they were being used for military purposes.

The gentleman who was so enthused over this technology started to inform me of the positive uses they present and how they are a totally new industry much like the cell phone was several years ago. He challenged me to Google their good uses and check out the positive contributions they are being developed for.

Drones for Emergency Response and Wildfires

Not being one to ignore a reasonable challenge, I did some research on drones and was amazed at how they can be utilized in so many different ways. They can be used to survey areas to develop more accurate maps. They can be equipped with heat sensors and used in search and rescue at far less cost than putting people out there searching for those lost.

Here in the mountains, we frequently have people lost in the mountains and finding them with drones would be a major plus. They are already being used to investigate wildfires and determine needs and personnel or equipment to help fight them. They can be used to access disaster areas to assess needs and deliver medical and survival supplies. They can be used as support for ambulances as they don’t have to fight traffic congestion and can be faster plus deliver defibrillators or other critical medical supplies to victims.

A drone ambulance is being developed that can deliver a medical kit and emergency supplies much faster than a ground ambulance. Living remotely as we do, these applications could and would be beneficial to us and could save our lives. In the spring when it is mud season, or winter when roads drift in, getting drone medical assistance could be life-saving when no other means would be available to us.

The more research I did and the more I read about drones, the more I could see why the gentleman collecting firewood was so excited by these flying robots. Professional pilots are going to be needed for them and manufacturers of drones will be challenged to develop drones that will meet specific needs. This seems to be something to be excited about and may be the new industry in our future.

Agriculture Uses

There are several practical uses of drones for agriculture needs. Farmers and ranchers (from the comfort of their home) can check the development of crops and keep track of livestock. Irrigation systems can be aerially observed plus they can keep a watch on their land and fences. Water sources can be routinely checked to make sure no polluting factors are being introduced into the system and no irrigation problems exist. The positive applications seem endless.

I read that Google purchased a company that manufactures drones that can boost internet use to remote areas. While we live in a remote area and have internet access not all people have that access so that will benefit many. Foresters can check tree growth and insect problems with drones and wildlife officers can do animal surveys utilizing them.

The military and police have been using drones for quite some time but new uses in the private sector seem endless. What these aerial robots are capable of is nearly endless and I can see how we may become very dependent on them as more and more uses for them are discovered. They are affordable running from $1,000.00 to $20,000.00, plus being extremely practical. As they proliferate the airways they will need to be carefully regulated so they aren’t running into each other or airplanes or helicopters but that should be relatively easy to accomplish.

It does seem to me that the possibilities of drones are extensive and that we will all benefit greatly from their development and implementation. To be able to use them for search and rescue by being able to locate a person faster and at a fraction of the cost is a very positive use of this relatively new technology. At night when searchers have to come out of the woods drones equipped with infrared and night vision could continue the search. The agriculture uses are mind boggling. If ranchers have livestock in peril they can respond to the exact place needed. They can also do it in less time than constantly patrolling their property would require.

Drones for Disaster Response

What came immediately to mind was hurricane Katrina and how long it took relief to access the destruction. A drone could do it in a fraction of the time and then direct specific needs to the area where they are most needed. Having visual ability of the area could help prioritize specific  needs. They could carry medical supplies and survival supplies to those in most need until physical help could reach them.

Disaster relief uses would seem to be a priority in the implementation of drones. The wildfires in the West would especially benefit from their use. People would know what the status of their homes were and firefighters could map specific areas of need. I even read about how they can apply fire retardant from the air.

All this technology exists and just needs to be implemented. I’m glad I was challenged to look  into drones as there is a new world available that I was totally unaware of regarding these airborne robots. It was a subject that I had not given any thought to previously but thankfully there are those who are able to visualize the benefits of drones.

For more on Bruce and Carol McElmurray and their life in the mountains to to: McElmurray's Mountain Retreat.

Photo courtesy of Google images

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. 


What is essential to know when living and farming with carnivores? I would suggest that the most important aspect to understand is who they are. Get to know how they live, how they think, their complex social lives and much more.

That is why I wrote my newly published book, I Am Coyote. Although coyotes are the native wild dog of our North American continent, who they are is unknown to most people. Today, coyotes have filled all those important niches left empty after the extermination of wolves in the United States. And in most place, coyotes are playing the important role of the keystone carnivore — one that most affects the healthy balance of species and the protection from disease for all, including us.

Short Review of 'I Am Coyote'

Let me share a little of my book with you. In my work as a conservation biologist in Maine, I spend a great deal of time with the people in our communities and on our farms. These are the people who have inspired me to write my book, for they are full of questions and wonderings about this species. In my first blog post for MOTHER EARTH NEWS, I wrote about the importance of understanding historical perspectives. So my book is firmly placed in the history of our American continent, and the relationship of different cultures to coyotes.

But I have decided to write this historical journey from a single female’s point of view. She disperses from her family’s territory in Algonquin Provincial Park in Ontario, Canada, and journeys in the dead of winter through eastern Canada, carefully finding her way through the great city of Montreal unnoticed, and then discovering a way to cross the mighty St. Lawrence River. Her long journey takes her to Maine, where she finally finds her mate. And together they travel on to Baxter State Park in the wilds of northern Maine.

During her long journey, I create flashbacks of the coyotes’ lives in the prairies of North America and their relationship with Native Peoples, and then the European settlers. What was it that caused her mother, a western coyote to find her way to Canada and then mate with an Eastern Canadian wolf? Discover for yourself her mother’s journey.

Back now to our young female coyote: Once she and her mate settled into their territory in Baxter State Park, I share with the readers the complexities of a coyote’s social life, their relationship as mates, the bringing up of their pups, their role as a predator, and all the hardships of the life of a wild being. Though I tell a story, all the history of our continent and peoples, and the ecology of coyotes is historically accurate and ecologically authentic.

I will leave all the particulars of this special story for you to discover. It is my hope that after reading it, you will have a greater understanding of the intelligent, socially complex carnivore, with whom you share your farm. May your life and your farming be enriched by this understanding.

I Am Coyote, is available on Amazon and can be ordered from your favorite bookstore.

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.



We’re often inspired by the articles in MOTHER EARTH NEWS featuring community projects across the country: neighbors gardening and growing food, tiny house subdivisions, community gardens and fence removals, neighborhood art and culture. We’ve our own little story to share with the rest with the hope of inspiring others in this broader movement towards greater connection with people, planet, and place.

'Edible 'Hood'

What we call “Edible ‘Hood” started when my wife, Katy, grew one hundred tomato seedlings for neighbors our first full summer at our Be the Change homestead in Reno, Nevada. We put the seedlings on a small table in front of our former driveway (the driveway’s become hugelkulture beds since then) and made a point to spend lots of time in the front yard so we could connect with neighbors as they stopped by and went home with tomato seedlings. It was a great success and has been the single best way we’ve met neighbors from just a little farther away.

Each year, Edible ‘Hood has grown and each year it has helped to create the neighborly connection that is the foundation of our growing edible neighborhood ecosystem and a truly connected community in our beautifully diverse, low-income neighborhood. Last year, Edible Hood received a $1,000 grant from the Pollination Project. With it we purchased over 20 fruit and nut tree guilds complete with production trees, five+ edible support species plants, compost, and a soil-building seed mix from a local nursery (Loping Coyote). We gave these guilds away to over 20 interested households and taught over 40 neighbors how to plant and care for their perennial guilds.


Community Connections Made by Growing Food

Two days after we handed out the fruit/nut tree guilds, a 12-year-old neighbor (who had successfully avoided eye contact with us for nearly three years on his way to and from school) stopped by to ask if we thought it would be a good idea to start a garden at his house. That sweet opening radically changed our summer plans and has wildly expanded Edible ‘Hood.

With the help of his extended family, a donation from a supporter and fellow permaculturist, other tree guild recipients and neighbors, a local cooperative committed to providing healthy food for homeless people (Grow Reno), local businesses and nonprofits, and our continued volunteer labor, Edible ‘Hood has grown this season to include:

• A large permaculture garden on a busy corner lot which provides fresh produce for more than a dozen neighbors.  This “Giving Garden” is a growing center of neighborhood connection and relationship-building and offers hands-on learning and small stipends for up to five low-income young people each weekend of the 6 month growing season.
• Our neighbor’s neighborhood-scale backyard composting operation through which he creates and gives away great compost.
• Free classes taught by neighbors and local experts including cool season gardening, herbal remedies, and cooking from the garden.
• The new opportunity to create a small learning center across the street from the Giving Garden on a vacant lot our Two Hands Collective non-profit just purchased with the generous support of friends and supporters.


This is a seed that really wants to grow!

Kyle Chandler-Isacksen runs the Be the Change Project with his wife in Reno, Nevada. They are dedicated to creating a just and life-sustaining world while having fun doing it. They were one of MOTHER EARTH NEWS’ Homesteads of the Year in 2013. Shoot him an email.

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.


I just got back from my first vacation to Yellowstone National Park. Cursorily, as Mark and I drove through the park, I found myself humming and singing This Land is your land by Woodie Guthrie. As a child of the early 60s I always favored this song among all the others that dote on our country.

Living in my beautiful city, but concrete jungle nonetheless, I often forget the vastness of our land. I also forget the diversity in our landscapes. As we drove from Seattle to Idaho, on to Montana, then Yellowstone, and back I marveled at the enormity in its various permutations. There was ample time to pause and think about the natural abundance around us and most important: how to value it, protect and save it, and share it with one and all.

We drove past the high deserts in our state we saw the windmills responsible for creating some of our energy. While driving through Idaho and parts of Montana, I saw signs about hydroelectric dam projects, and when fishing on the Snake River in Wyoming, I heard talk of fracking issues near Yellowstone. Driving the whole way I was continuously aware of the gas that my hybrid was consuming and wondered if our travels were even sustainable.


When we returned from our travels I was excited to look up how wind turbines work and their impact on our states energy supplies. I did a bit of research on the new and more efficient thinking on damns and then I checked out some old articles on fracking near Yellowstone. As I looked into these topics further I was reminded of how little our popular media sources cover with regards to what I hold important. I also discovered how little I know about other region’s environmental issues. I now plan to find new media resources that cover what holds significance in my life.

Finally I looked up Woodie Guthrie's song and it’s lyrics to try and understand why it resonated with me while driving through one of our greatest treasures. The song research unfurled into quite an interesting journey for my soul. To think all of this work was inspired by going on vacation in Yellowstone – what a gift, indeed. It seems that when we break our day to day routines our minds get the space to think about all sorts of bigger picture things.

How can you take a break from your daily life to see what you will you discover? What are your news sources that you educate yourself through and are they worthy? Do you have ways of getting energy from your region that are new, effective, and innovative?

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.


Women Farmers and Goats 

The recent earthquakes in Nepal devastated the lives of millions of small farmers and other rural people. They killed at least 8,800 people, completely destroyed some 594,000 houses and severely damaged another 280,000. In all, more than 2.3 million people cannot return to live in their homes. Most of them are living in temporary shelters made of tarps located on land close to their ruined houses. They are working to re-establish their damaged farms, while using their half-collapsed houses to cook or store goods as they gradually rebuild them.

Earthquake Destruction

The village of Chiri Kharka was among the most affected communities. The destruction there was so complete that the 15 surviving families abandoned their land and moved to the nearby village of Mahankal, where they have taken up temporary residence in makeshift shelters on borrowed land while they look for a new home.

Despite their lost friends, their crumbled houses and scarred landscape, people smile and laugh as they get on with the business of living. Proof of their resilience is everywhere: In the weeks since the earthquake, they have managed to move their families and salvage belongings across a mountain, build shelters, plant crops, and begin re-establishing their herds, as collapsed pens and buildings killed many of their goats and cows.

Chiri Kharka is on the mend, and its healing is being led by its young women leaders, such as Saraswati and Parabati Thapa Magar, the secretary and treasurer of the women’s group they helped form 11 months ago.

Nepal Map The group, the first women’s organization of any kind in Chiri Kharka, has played a critical role in the recovery efforts, building on its recent successes learning vermicomposting, establishing a fodder nursery to improve the production from their goats, and setting up a savings and credit cooperative to provide small loans to members for school fees, farm inputs, and other basic needs.

The situation is especially difficult for women in rural Nepal due to decades of culturally instilled gender inequality and discrimination. Women have limited access to education and health services and cannot obtain credit to invest in productive enterprises that would improve their families’ food security, livelihoods, and wellbeing. This inability to access capital reinforces their marginalization and inequality. Groundswell International and its local partner BBP Pariwar work to foster a constructive environment in which the women may analyze their situation, identify existing problems, examine the various alternatives to overcome these problems, and then choose, plan, and implement the best solutions.

Saraswati and Parabati are not the only young people leading the way. At the conclusion of our meeting with the village, we learned that Bhim Kumari Thapa Magar, Saraswati’s and Parabati’s friend, would graduate from the 10th grade, earning her place in the final two years of high school.

Groundswell International Beneficiaries 

The earthquake recovery will be long and arduous for Nepal, and especially for communities like Chiri Kharka that lost so much. But with such strength of spirit and emerging leaders like these, there is no doubt that the future will be brighter than the past.

Groundswell International started working in Nepal two years before the earthquakes and has increased its support, from four to 23 villages, in recent months to facilitate recovery in the earthquake-ravaged countryside. Groundswell is helping Nepal’s most vulnerable rural people to recover their farming livelihoods and begin to rebuild their homes and lives. Specifically, our work focuses on providing women from the “untouchable” class (dalits) with alternative means of earning income, recapitalizing their livestock assets, and applying ecological agriculture principles to improve their animal husbandry and farming practices to maximize livestock and farm production to recover their household economies.

Photo by Christopher Sacco, Groundswell International

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.

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