Dear MOTHER: February/March 2010

Reader letters about colony collapse disorder, growing a food garden, used tractors, water heaters, and more.

Bee pollination

Readers wrote about their concern for honeybees and to discuss possible causes for colony collapse disorder.


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Our December 2009/January 2010 article about growing $700 worth of food in 100 square feet prompted a report from the Wendell Berry Community Garden in Olympia, Wash. They harvested more than 4,800 pounds of food from just a quarter acre! We welcome more reports on the incredible productivity of your gardens — post a comment to Grow $700 of Food in 100 Square Feet!

We’re also hearing a loud buzz of interest and concern following the recent articles Keeping Bees Using the Top-bar Beekeeping Method and Colony Collapse: Are Potent Pesticides Killing Honeybees?. Here’s hoping more and more gardeners will opt to keep backyard hives, which will provide safe havens for bees, as well as higher crop yields and delicious honey for their keepers.

Monoculture; CCD; Artificial Honey

The article on pesticides harming bees (Colony Collapse: Are Potent Pesticides Killing Honeybees?) brings much-needed awareness about the connection of neonicotinoids to colony collapse disorder (CCD).

Neonicotinoids are synthesized products that kill off various pests that have come to exist in larger numbers because of the practices of monoculture agriculture. Monoculture farming is the real culprit. Neonicotinoids are only one of the newest tools of that system, and I fear what will come next.

I was also very pleased that you had Keeping Bees Using the Top-bar Beekeeping Method. Having read extensively on beekeeping, I found this article of great interest. The top-bar hive is a more practical system, and will probably be far more efficient than the current Langstroth system of hives, unless, as stated, the honey is the only thing you want.

As a side note, in New Mexico, fried pocket breads called sopapillas are often served after dinner, with honey to ease the burn from spicy chilies. Many restaurants, though, have begun to serve something called “sopapilla syrup.” It’s mostly high fructose corn syrup with little, if any, real honey in it. It’s popular with restaurants only because of its lower cost.

Peter Goodman
Laguna, New Mexico

Cell Phones Harming Honeybees?

I am very concerned about the plight of our honeybees. I have read that some scientists think the radiation produced by cellular phones may be enough to interfere with the way honeybees communicate, making bees unable to find their way back to their hives.

Kathleen Lackey
Moravian Falls, North Carolina

We have received several letters regarding the possible effects of cell phone radiation on honeybees, but we have yet to see any peer-reviewed scientific studies on this issue. We invite readers to send us any studies you come across. — MOTHER

Advocating for Bees

Thank you so much for your wonderful article Keeping Bees Using the Top-bar Beekeeping Method. As a student of natural resource conservation and environmental studies, I understand the true importance of these amazing pollinators to the agricultural ecosystem. I hope that many other readers were inspired and will use the valuable information to create their own colonies and improve upon the overall population of the honeybee everywhere. Without the bees, much of our flora will not survive. Please continue to write articles about how easy it is to maintain a well-balanced and well-pollinated environment.

Samantha Hill
Santa Rosa, California

Pole Barn Tip

I enjoy your magazine very much. I would like to offer a tip relative to the recent article Do-it-yourself Pole-barn Building.

I replaced a deck using treated 4-by-4 posts sunk into the ground, similar to the process described in your article. The advertisement for my posts claimed they would last for 20 years underground. After about 10 years, I discovered that the posts had almost completely rotted away at the surface. At the time of construction, I had also buried some scraps of the treated lumber, simply to fill a hole. I dug up these scraps and found them to be in like-new condition. I concluded that rot occurred at the ground surface because the organisms causing rot need both moisture and air. If the poles (treated or not) are placed in the ground per your article and have any moisture, they may experience the same problem. I would place the poles in the ground per your article, but wrap them tight from 12 inches above ground level to 18 inches below with some water- and air-tight material, such as polypropylene, to seal out both moisture and air. I suspect a pole barn would then have a 40-year life (or longer) instead of a 10-year life.

Gene Nutting
Lake Stevens, Washington

Raising the Bar for Business

Your article about Yvon Chouinard and Patagonia (Patagonia: Making a Profit and Meeting Environmental Challenges) was terrific reading. Chouinard’s comment that Patagonia exists not to make money but to “prove that it’s possible to do the right thing for the planet and still make a profit” is something every business, large or small, should set as its goal.

The fact that he runs his business on his own terms and provides employee benefits that are unheard of in corporate America should be our first clue that Chouinard is a unique businessman. Who wouldn’t love a boss that allows you to dress as you like (including bare feet) and places value not only on work, but family and play as well? Chouinard and Patagonia set the bar for the rest of corporate America to follow. I would love to see other articles on companies that are choosing to use green and sustainable business models. As always, keep up the great job, MOTHER!

Mary Adkins
Versailles, Ohio

Meet MOTHER on Facebook

I’ve just re-subscribed, since I find I’m constantly haunting your website for older articles and, not being completely broke at present, might as well support that which I lean on!

I write to suggest that you folks establish a MOTHER EARTH NEWS page on Facebook. I for one would gladly become a fan, which would then appear on my Facebook page. The viral implications thereafter are stupendous!

You folks are providing a tremendous service and are doing it with style, grace and sensitivity to the varied points of view of those who come to you looking for basic information about healthy living.

Kathleen Marin
Fall River, Maine

MOTHER EARTH NEWS is on Facebook, and we’d love to have you become a fan ! Click here to learn more about our Facebook, Twitter and YouTube  pages, plus more ways to join the  MOTHER EARTH NEWS community . — MOTHER

Hot Water, Not-So-On-Demand

We have discovered the hard way that on-demand water heaters require a certain amount of water pressure (Energy-efficient On-demand Water Heaters). We live with a gravity-fed well, maximum pressure 14, and spending $1,500 for an on-demand water heater was a real lesson. It will not work.

Cleo Marohn
Livermore, California

Looking for a Farm Share

We would like to live off the grid and also work a farm to grow our own food to be self-sufficient. However, we can’t afford to buy the land and house. I was thinking maybe you could provide a classified section whereby people who own land but can’t work it would trade access to the land for work.

We would farm the land and do the physical work needed in exchange for 10 acres, or something along those lines. There must be people who are about to lose their farms and need help. Instead of selling, might they partner with another couple?

Donna Nocero
Boynton Beach, Florida

We expect to offer online classified ads sometime in 2010. — MOTHER

Another Great Place

After reading 11 Great Places You’ve (Maybe) Never Heard Of, I started thinking about all the great progressive things going on in my hometown and how relatively obscure it is. Stevens Point and central Wisconsin are home to the world’s largest renewable energy fair, the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point (one of the best natural resource colleges in the country), more than 20 miles of bike trails, lots of green space, a tremendous local food movement and farmers market, and a mayor working to create an eco-municipality. If you do a similar article, consider Stevens Point. Thanks, and keep up the great work!

Edward Lemar
Stevens Point, Wisconsin

Head Start on the Road to Sustainability

This is my 14-month-old, Mia Bella, after she snagged my copy of MOTHER EARTH NEWS and got in her favorite spot to read it.

Thank you for being such a great magazine! I always look forward to reading the next issue, and I am very excited to share the information I’ve learned with my daughter and her future siblings.

Tara Kristof
Garland, Texas

Planning for the Future

I am a freshman at The Citadel studying business administration. I was reading up on the documentary Collapse, and I found your site on the links page for the movie. I feel that there is going to be a fundamental devolution in American society over the next 15 years. Looking to my own future, I see homesteading as a way of preparing for the worst. Until now, I haven’t been able to find the resources needed to prepare myself. I just want to thank you for doing such a great job on the website. It really is a treasure-trove, and I am excited to start living simply.

Henry Yates Alexander
Charleston, South Carolina

An All-electric ATV

I read Versatile and Affordable ATVs with great interest. I’m in the market for one to use on our little patch of paradise in northern Idaho. The ATV I’ve been dreaming about is all-electric and would be more economical. It’s the M1 by Barefoot Motors. It will only run for a few hours, but an old geezer like me can only work for a few hours anyway. It has plenty of power. You should check it out.

Paul Smith
Citrus Heights, California

Polaris has just come out with an electric UTV, too. Our power equipment editor, Hank Will, took it for a test-drive. You can read his report and see a video of the Polaris in action . — MOTHER

Rejecting Industrial Meat

On a recent trip though Texas, I saw many stockyards — and experienced the stench of dead and dying cattle, or those still alive and living in excrement.

It was obvious from the scenes I encountered that the government agencies are not doing their jobs. Since that trip, I am using as many organically grown fruits and vegetables as I can purchase. No more meat shall pass my lips. As an aside, I no longer have gas, acid, or that heavy, bloated feeling after eating. What a wonderful feeling.

Norman Wolffis
Reed City, Michigan

Another Bowled-over Bread Baker

I bought the Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day book after receiving an e-mail from our MOTHER, and love, love, love it! This is the best method I’ve tried for delicious, fresh-baked bread. I can hardly wait to get up in the morning to try something different! I used the basic recipe and worked in the last of the jalapeños from the garden and some grated cheddar — wow! I could’ve eaten the whole loaf before it ever cooled. I have since recommended the book to several friends and even my sister, who doesn’t bake anything from scratch. Thanks for the recommendation.

Jody Prestine
Dowagiac, Michigan

There’s now a second five-minute bread book, Healthy Bread in Five Minutes a Day: 100 New Recipes Featuring Whole Grains, Fruits, Vegetables, and Gluten-free Ingredients , with lots more ideas. — MOTHER

No Inbox? Try Our Mailbox

This may well be the last renewal I make to MOTHER: A vast majority of your articles now end with “for details go to our website.” For those of us who choose not to have Internet access, we can’t get to your website.

I am interested in the free plans offered for the beehive in your article, Keeping Bees Using the Top-bar Beekeeping Method. Those plans need to be downloaded, which is something I cannot do.

Ken Bloomfield
Gibsonburg, Ohio

We will be happy to mail copies of any of our website materials to subscribers who request them by mail or phone. — MOTHER

In Praise of Ducks

My husband and I live in an ordinary house in an older subdivision at the edge of a small town. Our front and backyard are just average-sized, but it’s important to us to lower our carbon footprint and also to greatly increase our control over the quality of the food we eat.

I can hardly say enough in praise of our experience with Khaki Campbell ducks. We first got them about a year and a half ago. They do fine on kitchen waste and bugs they forage for themselves, so they eat a lot less commercial feed than you’d think. Our two females have each laid an average of more than 4 pounds of eggs per month for more than a year now. They provide all the eggs our family of two can use, and they are the best-tasting, creamiest-yolked eggs we’ve ever tasted, too. I’d especially like to recommend ducks to those who live in the Pacific Northwest like we do. You’ll never be unhappy to see a slug or snail in your garden again, as they will now become invaluable treats for your duckies.

Karen Shepherd
Arcata, California

Abundant Harvest Reports

Beaucoup Savings

I have grown gardens since I was a kid, and I got way more fresh produce out of an 8-by-20-foot area than my family could use. After the harvest, I would dry herbs and freeze tomatoes, peppers, parsley and other vegetables to enjoy in the winter. The amount of savings in terms of our grocery bills must have been tremendous.

I always wanted to have enough room for a gigantic garden. Later in life, I moved with my wife to a farm in west-central Illinois, and now grow for us and for the Local Growers Network, a group of farmers that sells produce to customers in our area.

Robert Haugland
Dahinda, Illinois

A 4,800-pound Garden Harvest!

I read with interest Rosalind Creasy’s article on the productivity of her garden and your open call for harvest data (Grow $700 of Food in 100 Square Feet!). This summer, our urban agriculture collective produced 4,837 pounds of produce on one-quarter acre that we opened up in April of this year. More than 10 percent of the total harvest went to the local food bank.

Like Rosalind, we weigh every single item harvested and can track by crop, as well as production per month. Our collective model of intensive food production is more productive than a traditional P-Patch community garden and has the added benefit of building community as our members work together. We currently have 15 share members and will increase that number to 20 next year, as we plan to expand our garden by a third.

Stephanie Johnson
Olympia, Washington

Low-cost, Used Tractors

In the October/November 2009 issue, you published Homesteading Lessons Learned: If I Could Do It All Again by Steve Maxwell. In it, Steve talks about his International Harvester Super H Farmall tractor. He said his tractor runs well and starts in all weather. He did not mention that it also rides well on rough ground, which it does because of its large rear tires and long wheel base.

He paid $1,000 for it and used it for 23 years. That’s a pretty good investment in my book. I don’t agree when he says he shouldn’t have bought it. He just needs to invest a little more in it. He can buy a three-point conversion kit for the Super H. The kit comes with dual cylinders, center link and stabilizer arms, and can use the original drawbar. It is available from Saginaw County Tractor & Parts; 9161 Sheridan Road; New Lothrop, MI 48460. He also can convert the tractor to 12 volts (if it’s still equipped with 6-volt electrical components) and attach a 12-volt electric winch to the drawbar.

Maxwell got a good deal on his Super H. Here in Grand Island, Neb., two older Farmall H tractors (lower-powered than the Super H) sold at auction for $2,000 each, with new paint jobs. A third had original paint and had a front-end loader that looked fairly new. It had a hydraulic dump bucket, but not grabbing forks. It sold for $2,500. The front-end loader was controlled by a hydraulic joystick just like the new ones. The hydraulic pump for the loader ran off the PTO shaft, but many Super H tractors were equipped with factory hydraulics sufficient to run a front-end loader. Here in Nebraska, you can buy a 2-bottom plow, 2-row mounted cultivator, or a 2-row pull-type lister for $100 each.

So to me, the H or Super H tractor is the way to go. Why, just starting out, would you want to buy a $30,000 or $40,000 tractor when you can buy two H tractors, front-end loader, winch, three-point hitch and several mounted implements for around $7,000?

The Super H tractor has a 31-PTO horsepower rating. It can be overhauled with new parts that can add up to about 10 more horsepower. International Harvester built 21,701 production-model Super H tractors and almost 400,000 of the earlier Farmall H models, so parts are available.

If you own an International tractor, I also recommend that you subscribe to Red Power magazine.

Darrell Dey
Grand Island, Nebraska

You make an excellent case for going with good used equipment, Darrell. Our power equipment editor, Hank Will, is an IH guy through and through — we stole him from Red Power a couple of years ago.

We asked Will for his recommendations for other used tractors that would be good choices. From the 1950s, he suggests the N-series Fords (they will come with a three-point hitch), the WD-45 Allis-Chalmers, the B-series John Deere or the 50-series John Deere. The IH M Farmall is a real winner, as is the Oliver 77.

Newer machines Will recommends include the Farmall 300, International 300 Utility, Farmall 656 gas, John Deere 4020 (it has really held its value), Minneapolis-Moline Jet Star, Minneapolis-Moline G-1000 Vista (this is a big tractor), and Allis-Chalmers D-17.

He says to be sure to remind readers that tractors from the ’50s aren’t equipped with the safety gear that modern machines have on them. Owners should get a lesson from an experienced operator to learn how to use the old-style, non-live PTOs and hydraulic systems. — MOTHER


Our recent article about energy-recovery ventilators (Energy-recovery Ventilators: Ventilate Your Home with Minimal Energy Loss) stated that using a “true high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter” in your forced-air heating or air conditioning system would reduce allergens more effectively than regular filters. But reader and Georgia Conditioned Air Contractor II John Alderman, of Oxford, Ga., pointed out that this could be dangerous. Mel Mossman, chief mechanical engineer at RSMeans Reed Construction Data helps us explain: “For existing furnaces, the manufacturer should be consulted, as some residential systems may not have enough fan or motor capacity to accommodate higher-efficiency filters.” Read more about this topic, including a statement from the Environmental Protection Agency.

Tell Your Tale — Win a Book!

Helped ‘More Than You’ll Ever Know’

MOTHER EARTH NEWS has helped me and my family more than you will ever know. Your magazine has really inspired us. We are planning to move to Montana to start our off-the-grid lifestyle. Thanks a billion for all of your work.

Jeffrey Barlow
Drew, Mississippi

Inspiring a Change of Plans

I am so inspired by your magazine! I’m constantly interrupting my husband’s nightly TV viewing to show him different ideas. He has now decided that we should “live off the grid” and learn more about sustainable living. We’ve begun searching for a homestead in Kentucky or Tennessee, preparing a spot in our yard for a garden, installing solar lights in our garage, and many other small projects. Thank you MOTHER! My husband has transformed from a “techie” who had high consumption habits and an almost indifferent awareness of the environment, to a man whose dream is to homestead, live off the land and raise chickens!

Cammy Baldwin
Bellevue, Michigan

Help us celebrate our 40th anniversary and you could win a book! Share your stories  about how MOTHER EARTH NEWS has changed your life. Or, tell us about projects you were inspired to tackle thanks to MOTHER.  Post your stories  online and we’ll pick the top 10, for which their authors will receive free copies of one of our all-time favorite homesteading books, Carla Emery’s The Encyclopedia of Country Living.

Receiving MOTHER with ‘Glee’!

I adore your magazine, and its arrival is the one time every two months that I put everything off and put my tired feet up. I peruse every page with great glee. Thank you for all you do and for your exceptional magazine! All the best to all of you.

Toni Browning
Irvine, California

And happy New Year to everyone, from the MOTHER EARTH NEWS team!