Dear MOTHER: February/March 2014

Reader letters about homemade sourdough bread, ag-gag laws, DIY poultry-processing, population growth, working dogs, low-tech home insulation, organic grasshopper control, and more.

Homemade Sourdough Bread

Reader Leah Robinson of Craig, Colo., snapped this photo of her first-ever homemade loaf of sourdough bread, which she made following the recipe in the article “Homemade Sourdough Bread, Step by Step” from the December 2013/January 2014 issue.

Photo by Leah Robinson

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From Passion to Profession

I have always loved MOTHER EARTH NEWS, but I feel compelled to tell you just how much I appreciated your December 2013/January 2014 issue. It was so packed with information and inspiration!

The article Herbal Antibiotics: An Effective Defense Against Drug-Resistant ‘Superbugs’ pointed out such a pressing health concern that I found myself considering a new career path: that of an herbalist. I’ve been circling around the idea for some time, and reading Stephen Harrod Buhner’s message about increasingly ineffective antibiotic drugs may be just the final push I need.

Also, Publisher Bryan Welch’s piece about the new terrain being forged by inventor and entrepreneur Elon Musk was magnificently presented (see Environmental Problems Are No Match for Human Ingenuity). Musk’s work is opening up new and hopeful horizons in a world that’s hurting for fresh solutions. Thank you, Mother, for keeping us informed of such positive work being done.

Salena Levi
Huntington, Massachusetts

Back in the Saddle

I had been out of the practice of making my own bread for more than a year, but just today I baked a loaf following your article Five Minutes a Day for Fresh-Baked Bread (December 2008/January 2009). I can’t say enough about how easy and versatile this recipe is. I am back in the saddle again!

Gretchen Van Deusen
West Lebanon, New York

An Authentic Recipe

I was so excited to see the recipe for homemade sourdough in your December 2013/January 2014 issue (See A Step-by-Step Sourdough Recipe Guide). I had been using a sourdough starter with a recipe I wasn’t too happy with. That recipe called for additional yeast, and the taste, smell and texture of the finished product were not those of a real sourdough.

Since using your recipe, my sourdough is so authentic, and it just keeps getting better. Thank you!

Darlene Hunter
St. Maries, Idaho

DIY Sourdough Starter

I make my own sourdough bread often, so I loved your article A Step-by-Step Sourdough Recipe Guide in the December 2013/January 2014 issue.

I currently bake sourdough with a starter I got from a friend, but I’ve made my own starter in the past from 2 cups of flour, 2 cups of water and 3 tablespoons of sugar. Mix and leave out on the counter for a few days until bubbly. I feed the sourdough starter with sugar, instant potatoes and warm water. The bread recipe is quite simple: Stir together a third-cup or less of sugar, a half-cup corn oil, 1 cup starter, 1 1⁄2 cups warm water and 6 cups flour (I use bread flour) in a large bowl. Add some oil to another bowl, put in dough, and turn it over. Cover with foil and let stand overnight or for several hours. Punch down dough, knead a little, divide in half, and put into two greased bread pans. Let rise a few hours or longer.

Bake at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for 30 to 45 minutes, or until golden brown.

I sometimes replace some of the flour with whole-wheat, or I roll the dough up with cinnamon and brown sugar inside to make cinnamon bread. You can also use the dough to make rolls.

Anne Englebach
Marion, North Carolina

Snapshot: Sourdough Debut

Here’s a photo of my very first loaf of sourdough bread, which I made today following the recipe in your December 2013/January 2014 issue!

Leah Robinson
Craig, Colorado

Chill, Out

More than 30 years ago, I read an article in MOTHER EARTH NEWS that suggested raking up fallen autumn leaves, bagging them, and then placing the bags around the foundation of a house to help insulate against winter winds.

I have done this every year since I read the article, and in spring, I use the bagged leaves as compost. This was such a wonderful idea, and I have encouraged so many people to try it. It really helps keep out the chill in winter!

Thank you for all of the sensible advice about ways to live better and make the most of the natural things in our world.

Jeanne Hill
Danville, Illinois

My Frugal-Living Mentor

A couple of years ago, I flipped through a copy of MOTHER EARTH NEWS from my dad’s stack of magazines and fell in love. Since then I have been a subscriber, and I’m astonished at just how much I’ve learned. I’ve started growing vegetables indoors and in large tubs on my apartment patio, recycling my pet rabbit’s waste for the vegetables, and processing and storing all of my homegrown produce.

I can’t thank you enough for the knowledge you have given me. Since college, I have been living at the bottom of the ladder (or below it, if you can imagine), and with what I have learned from MOTHER EARTH NEWS, I have been able to sustain myself and my better half for the past two years on almost nothing. You saved us, and I just wanted to say thank you!

Ben Coffman
Ypsilanti, Michigan

Dangerous Food Monopoly

Between the ag-gag laws you reported on in the December 2013/January 2014 issue (see How 'Ag-Gag' Laws Undermine Our Food System) and patent-infringement lawsuits by Monsanto against small farms, it seems there is an all-out assault being waged against our First Amendment and property rights.

These biotech companies desire an absolute stranglehold on our food-production capabilities, and, unfortunately, it’s beginning to look like they’re getting the upper hand and will indeed achieve their objective.

Those who control the food control the people, and allowing these corporations to dominate our food production is dangerous.

Ray White
Kingman, Arizona

Inspiration? Check!

Where have you been all my life?

That was the question I found myself posing after perusing your magazine for the first time.

Upon making the discovery that the word that best fit my lifelong search for meaning was “homesteader,” I sought out like-minded spirits. Enter MOTHER EARTH NEWS magazine. I’ve been hooked ever since, and I have learned so many things from your publication. Each issue is a gift, spurring me on to learn more, create, and question my own intentions.

Thank you for fostering the sense of contentment I feel while pursuing my goal of finding my dream farm, and thank you for continually inspiring me and challenging me to learn more. The short and sweet of it is: You’re a keeper!

D. Hubbard
Winter Haven, Florida

Humane Poultry-Processing

I recently read the article Raising Chickens for Meat: Do-It-Yourself Pastured Poultry in your Guide to Self-Reliance and Country Skills special issue. Thank you so much to author Gwen Roland for putting into words what I have always felt but could never explain about raising and butchering my own chickens.

I can’t count the number of times I’ve been told I was “coldhearted” to even consider killing an animal I had raised. Now I have your article, and I have already given it to two people as a response to such comments. It is precisely because I care that I raise my own animals for slaughter.

I was taught by my grandmother that raising an animal for meat is a responsibility not to be taken lightly. She was very particular about every aspect of an animal’s life — and death.

I live near a chicken-processing plant, and it saddens me to see the tractor-trailers going down the road loaded with live birds all smashed together in cages. My girls will eat watermelon rinds and take dust baths in the sunshine until their very last day.

Jeanine Gurley
Eastover, South Carolina

Respecting Earth’s Natural Limits

I was quite pleased with Bryan Welch’s A Vision for a Better World in the October/November 2013 issue. Finally reading a piece that addressed human population issues was so refreshing. In the “Creating Abundance” section, he nailed it regarding the supply and demand of our natural resource base — that the number of people our planet can support with its natural resources is ultimately finite. One point from the article particularly resonated with me: Why not envision an ideal population rather than accept the inevitable growth of the human population?

Ultimately, humans will have to come to grips with this concept. The only alternative is to let nature control our population for us, and nature’s methods will be far crueler (disease, starvation and war).

Never in the history of biology has exponential growth been sustained in any population. Whether it’s fruit flies, mice or humans, exponential growth can never continue forever. In every case, the population reaches a peak and then crashes, eventually returning to a carrying capacity. The same will happen with humans. Denial is simply not an option.

Preston Sullivan
Meadville, Mississippi

Timely Topics

You must have read my mind! A few months ago, I was thinking my family may want to get a working farm dog to keep an impertinent raccoon away from our chickens and gardens, and the very next issue of MOTHER EARTH NEWS had just the article I needed (Working Dogs: Pick a Perfect Pooch for Your Pastures, October/November 2013). Your magazine and website have everything my husband and I need to fulfill our dream of becoming self-sufficient — I even read all of the classifieds!

I was wondering whether you’d consider doing a future article on essential, nonelectric tools and equipment for a small homestead, both for farming and food-processing? My family is undertaking homesteading from scratch, and we know precious little about what’s out there.

For example, I keep seeing references in your magazine to a broadfork for gardening, but I have no idea what a broadfork is used for. I’ve heard about mills that can take corn off the cob quickly, but I don’t know where to get one. I had no idea they even existed! What do I need to harvest a small hayfield or wheat field by hand? Are there special items I can purchase in order to cook on top of or inside of my woodstove?

Any information on these topics would be great, so we don’t have to try to reinvent the wheel. Knowing you, you probably already have an article on the way!

Amy Smith
Lavonia, Georgia

Thank you for the thoughtful suggestions, Amy. We do have an article on top homestead tools in the works, and, in the meantime, you can find information on one of our favorite broadforks and get the lowdown on how to use this indispensable gardening tool in Testing Out the Meadow Creature Broadfork— MOTHER EARTH NEWS

Need a Farm Dog? Consider a Corgi

I’m a huge fan of MOTHER EARTH NEWS and love getting every issue, but I must comment on your recent article about herding dogs (see Working Dogs: Pick a Perfect Pooch for Your Pastures, October/November 2013). I was looking forward to reading it, fully expecting to see at least one reference to the mighty Corgi, but, alas, it was not to be.

You have let your audience down by not mentioning this awesome herder. Cardigan Welsh Corgis and Pembroke Welsh Corgis are both strong and capable herders — that may be why they have such stumpy little legs!

Readers should definitely consider this energetic dog for any herding needs — you will not be disappointed. My Corgi’s herding instinct is so powerful that he herds the grandkids, soccer balls, and even me at times!

Mary Shawe
Fernley, Nevada

Garden to Plate (And Back for Seconds!)

Thank you for the discount on The Four Season Farm Gardener’s Cookbook in the October/November 2013 issue. I have read all of Barbara Damrosch and Eliot Coleman’s books, and, as usual, I was sorry to reach the end of this one.

The authors present the perfect combination of information on growing, harvesting, storing and cooking crops. I have made three of Barbara’s recipes so far, and my husband, who usually doesn’t eat very much, went back for seconds on all three!

This spring, I’ll also be trying some of the cold-season vegetable varieties the book recommends, as we have a very short growing season and cool summer nights here in the mountains of Southern California.

Celia De Frank
Big Bear City, California

Windows: Don’t Replace — Insulate!

I was delighted to read your article recognizing that up to 40 percent of a home’s heating and cooling energy is lost out of its windows (Find the Best Energy-Efficient Window Treatments, October/November 2013).

I don’t think there is any other equally significant, largely untapped way to save energy in U.S. homes than to install insulating window shades — and it’s such a simple solution.

Because the U.S. Department of Energy recommends walls insulated to R-13+, I think it’s long past time we should improve the insulation of any windows that are R-2 or less in today’s homes. But replacing all existing windows would be neither economically wise nor simple to do. Insulative cellular window shades, however, are affordable for the vast majority of homeowners in the United States.

One erroneous impression the article gave that I would like to correct was the undue focus on condensation problems. When a window shade insulates, it causes the glass to become colder, which will exacerbate a condensation issue on extremely cold days in homes that have excessive humidity. In Vermont, we have plenty of those frigid days. However, throughout 20 years, my business has installed thousands of cellular shades, and if I get two phone calls a year about condensation, that’s a lot. In 20 years, not a single person has asked to return shades — customers know how much they are saving and how much more comfortable they are. In short, even the miniscule number of people affected by condensation still think cellular window shades are worth it.

Gordon Clements
Gordon’s Window Decor
Williston, Vermont

Single and Seeking Self-Sufficiency

I am a single parent, and about three years ago, after losing everything, my son and I moved from the Pacific Northwest to the Arkansas Ozarks, where we now rent a 10-acre homestead.

Because I work full time, I don’t have the opportunity or the energy to accomplish all that needs to be done, much less take on any new projects that would go a long way toward carving out a more sustainable lifestyle.

I am wondering how other single homesteaders manage, and I would love to hear their tips for trying to make strides toward greater self-reliance on one’s own.

Beth Sandland
Mountain Home, Arkansas

Beth, we invite you to connect with other modern homesteaders via our new state-specific Facebook pages. Find the Arkansas Facebook page, and read Find Your MOTHER EARTH NEWS Facebook Community for more about how you can use your state’s Facebook page to connect with others, swap knowledge, and ideally make the pursuit of greater self-sufficiency a more collaborative effort. — MOTHER EARTH NEWS

Hopper Hoover

You printed a reader report in the June/July 2013 issue about using electric, Hand-Held Bug Zappers for garden pest control (Country Lore). I gave it a try, but it only works for bugs such as flies and mosquitoes. It does not work for pests that cling to plants, such as squash bugs, nor does it work for grasshoppers or other large bugs.

I’ve found the best way to control grasshoppers is to attach a 5-foot plastic pipe extension to a small, portable vacuum, and then simply suck up the hoppers. As a nice little bonus, my hens love when I empty the vacuum bag of hoppers into their pen!

Luma Rose
Balmorhea, Texas

Toward a Sustainable Society

I am responding to the letter “Downsize Population, Degrade Humanity” in the December 2013/January 2014 issue. The letter writer dreams of a future full of people. I believe that is where we are now. Experts, including Lester R. Brown, founder and president of the Earth Policy Institute, have been indicating for years that the world is overpopulated and that we will get to the point where we can no longer carry on our current way of life.

The author of the letter wants “truth.” I think nobody has stated the truth of our predicament better than Brown, who says civilization cannot survive the ongoing environmental trends of deforestation, over-plowing, overgrazing, over-pumping, overfishing, and overloading the atmosphere with carbon dioxide. This is a losing scenario. And it is all the result of overpopulation.

In his book Plan B 4.0: Mobilizing to Save Civilization, Brown outlines four strategies necessary to saving civilization: stabilizing population, eradicating poverty, cutting carbon emissions 80 percent by 2020, and restoring the Earth’s natural systems, including forests, soils, grasslands, aquifers and fisheries.

Carol Pellett
Anacortes, Washington

Kudos for Cork

You printed a nice overview of cork flooring’s qualities and sustainable attributes in the December 2013/January 2014 issue (see Sustainable Cork Flooring: Elegant and Eco-Friendly — Ask Our Experts). Cork also has the benefit of being warm on the feet, slip-resistant, and an acoustic insulator. It also makes great wall panels.

As with most flooring products, cork flooring brands differ, so pay attention to the thickness of the wear layer, the types of resins used, and the finish coating. MosaiCork and Versacork mosaic tiles are solid cork (not chips) cut from wine bottle stoppers. These tiles are waterproof and installed with flexible grout, and they’re ideal for wet areas, including tub surrounds and even shower pans. They’re also great for bar tops and wine cellars.

Andy Gale
Boulder, Colorado

Hello, North Carolina!

I just saw the ad for the MOTHER EARTH NEWS FAIR for 2014, and I was so happy to see you will be in Asheville, N.C., in April!

I have been hoping the FAIR would come close enough for us to be able to go. Counting down the days until April 12!

Michelle Cantrell Bennison
Flat Rock, North Carolina

We’ll look forward to seeing you in Asheville, Michelle! The MOTHER EARTH NEWS FAIR will be making stops in four locations in 2014: Asheville, N.C., April 12 and 13; Puyallup, Wash., May 31 and June 1; Seven Springs, Pa., Sept. 12 through 14; and Lawrence, Kan., dates to be determined. You can keep up with the latest news on the FAIR, including program schedules and speaker announcements, by signing up for our FAIR newsletter. — MOTHER EARTH NEWS