Reader letters about full-time homesteading, hoop houses, buying a mower, the White House garden, pesticide drift, broody hens, distinguishing sorghum from molasses, the legality of home distilling, and more.
Hannah and Eric Noel, along with their two children, raise organic produce, grass-fed beef, and free-range chicken and eggs on their homestead in Highgate, Vt.
Photo By Orah Moore
In response to the letter “Does Gardening Really Pay?” (Dear MOTHER: December 2012/January 2013): I think it comes down to your values and what suits you. The quality, freshness and flavor of homegrown food are hard to put a price on. When you involve your children in gardening, you’re not only teaching them the skills, but also how you get rewarded for your work with the food on your table. It’s always exciting when a child gets to pick the first ripe tomato, strawberry or carrot!
I agree with the letter writer that people can spend a lot of money on garden gadgets if they want. But they don’t need to. You can start small — even just a container or two — and then build on that.
My garden is about 75 by 150 feet. No raised beds, no fertilizer costs (we have cattle to provide that) — just a few packets of seeds, a shovel and a hoe. I’ve never tallied up what we save or even whether we save, but what we have gained is priceless, and we are so much richer for it.
Fort St. John, British Columbia
I appreciate your assessment in Zero-Turn Mowers: Best Rides and Best Buys (April/May 2013) that there was a major difference between the less expensive mowers and the high-end units.
I’ve been in the mower business for about 50 years, and the easiest person to match up with a quality machine is one who has experienced the problems that a low-quality mower brings with it. Your comment about finding a good dealer for parts and service is great advice for anyone.
Besides being a wonderful mower, one of your highest-rated machines, the Grasshopper 725DT, can also be used to move dirt or gravel with a dozer blade and move snow with a snowblower. You can attach a front rotary broom, a sprayer, or a high-volume air blower to clear leaves or dirt. It’s so much more than just a mower!
By mistake, the mailman put the February/March 2013 issue of your magazine in my mailbox. I didn’t notice that it wasn’t addressed to me until I was halfway through reading it, and by then I was convinced I wanted to subscribe.
The article about sorrel (Sorrel Recipes: The Zingiest Garden Green) was a definite omen to me. I’ve been hoping to find some sorrel ever since I came to the United States 50 years ago. It’s not well-known here in Georgia, but I remember the good sorrel soups of long ago, as well as eating it raw from my grandmother’s garden in Luxembourg.
I absolutely bonded with your magazine — and I will be giving it back to the rightful neighbor!
Simone De Vaney
Thank you for the hoop house plans in your October/November 2011 issue (Build This Easy Hoop House to Grow More Food). I built it in August 2012 and started planting in it in September.
We ate lettuce, mustard, chard, scallions, mâche and more throughout winter. Our last delicious salads came in February, after Winter Storm Nemo dumped 12 inches in our backyard.
I’m a lifelong MOTHER EARTH NEWS fan, and I cherish the memories of visiting your ecovillage in North Carolina in the ’70s. Keep up the great work.
Oradell, New Jersey
I will no longer renew my subscription to MOTHER EARTH NEWS. I realize the Internet is a big part of our lives and is very useful. However, I find it annoying that more and more of the articles in your paper magazine route readers to the Web.
Why are you even selling subscriptions for magazines and then directing readers to the Internet to find more details about an article? Or telling them to go to the Web to even read an article you have no room for in the magazine because of the ever-increasing number of ads? I simply feel cheated. What’s the value of your expensive paper magazine anymore?
I am disappointed that your magazine would publish The White House Garden Sets a Powerful Example (April/May 2013) when President Obama and his minions are doing everything possible to promote genetically modified products and Monsanto.
Small-scale farmers are being persecuted by these mega-corporations, and the organic foods we enjoyed in decades past are being forced out by corporate agendas that are not in our best interests. Small farms and organic produce will soon be a thing of the past if we do not fight the Goliaths responsible for the demise of our right to quality, healthy foods.
In Europe, food must be labeled if it contains GMOs. Why can’t we do the same thing here?
There’s just something about reading your magazine cover to cover over a nice cup of tea.
I particularly want to thank you for the article Simple Living: How to Save Money and Smile More (February/March 2013). What beautiful families with real stories. I commend them for following their dreams and living the sort of life many of us long for. I was inspired. Best of luck to them.
I read with much interest about homesteaders Anna Hess and Mark Hamilton (Simple Living: How to Save Money and Smile More). Homesteading is a full-time job for both. They mention a micro-business on the side, and that they just published a book.
What happens to folks like them when they get older and need to pay for tasks they could previously do themselves, and for food and supplies they can no longer grow or make? How about retirement entitlements such as Social Security and Medicare that they have not paid into?
Unless you are independently wealthy going into that lifestyle, or you’re expecting a big inheritance, I don’t see how you can dedicate yourself full time, and I’m sure that’s what’s required.
In the February/March 2013 issue, Anna Hess and Mark Hamilton say they use worm bins to decompose horse manure. Can you explain how to do this?
Carol, we built large bins out of wood, roughly based on the design in the book The Worm Cafe by Binet Payne. After building the bins, we filled them with horse manure (mixed with whatever bedding the horses lived in — straw or sawdust), moistened the mass of manure until it was like a sopping sponge, let it sit for a few weeks until the manure temperature dropped below 90 degrees Fahrenheit, and then added a bunch of compost worms. You can read more about our system at The Walden Effect. — Anna Hess
I read William Rubel’s article Artisan Home Distilling (February/March 2013), and, as an attorney, I want to pass along a word of caution to you.
While distilling has a long and storied history in the United States, it is still a tightly controlled activity, and any home distilling conducted without a series of state and federal licenses is still illegal.
I suggest that, in the future, you preface such articles as educational only, or simply not print them. There are those of us currently working to make home distillation a legal activity, but change is slow, and we must all be patient. There are ways of obtaining legal permission to make such alcohol, but it is an expensive and time-consuming process.
I am a cabinetmaker who specializes in country-style furniture. I saw you referenced sawmills in How to Build a Workbench in the February/March 2013 issue. Wonderful!
In an effort to return to a simpler way of life, I have always built with sawmill lumber when it’s been available. Such lumber is usually air-dried, with spacers between the boards so the air circulates and all surfaces are dried evenly. The resulting boards are not warped or twisted, which isn’t the case with kiln- or oven-dried boards.
Recently, I purchased lumber from Sekulski Millworks in New Hartford, Conn. One log was milled for me, which produced ten 20-inch-wide boards. I have sanded these boards and stacked them in a pile until this summer, when they will be fully dry and ready for blanket chests and hutches. You can imagine how this compares with buying lumber from a “home center.”
Much of the furniture today is made from small-width boards glued up and called “laminated lumber.” How nice to have my wide-width lumber — it looks great!
I’d like to add a little info to your article Raise Your Best Flock Using Broody Hens (December 2012/January 2013).
Broodies will not only provide excellent mothering for their own or another hen’s eggs, but they will also happily adopt day-old chicks from the hatchery or feed store. Isolate the broody as recommended, and order sexed female chicks. When your chicks arrive, water them and keep them warm and draft-free for 24 hours. The following night, while the hen is half-asleep, lift her off the nest and replace the eggs with chicks. The hen will be a very happy mom come morning!
The benefits are that you raise only the chicks you want (i.e., more laying hens and no cockerels), you avoid the hassle of taking care of chicks in your living room for two to three weeks, and the chicks are raised naturally by their “mom.” It is a wonderful sight to see.
I am a new subscriber to MOTHER EARTH NEWS, and I have also subscribed to your e-newsletters. The amount of useful information I’m receiving is amazing, and I can’t tell you just how much I love the Garden Planner! I will be subscribing, as it is a fantastic tool that will help me in my first foray into providing fresh food for my family and the local food bank.
Get a 30-day free trial of our Garden Planner at The Vegetable Garden Planner — Design Your Best Garden Ever. — MOTHER EARTH NEWS
I’ve been reading MOTHER EARTH NEWS for most of my life, and I have to admit my eyebrows raised a little when I saw the review of the book Conscious Capitalism: Liberating the Heroic Spirit of Business by John Mackey and Raj Sisodia (Conscious Capitalism: Doing Well by Doing Good, April/May 2013).
I absolutely agree with the book’s premise, that businesses can be forces for positive change. But I’m perplexed as to why John Mackey chose to write this book. Mackey’s own track record has been mixed and often controversial. As recently as 2012, some news sources reported that his company, Whole Foods Market, hadn’t been completely honest about the use of genetically modified crops in its products. To be fair, Whole Foods has since changed its position on GMO labeling, but this isn’t the only business practice by John Mackey or Whole Foods that I find troubling.
As a result, I think it’s a bit discouraging that Whole Foods was still identified in the article as a “conscientious” company. It is noble and good to recognize companies that are doing the right things; I’m just not convinced Mackey would be able to identify a conscientious company even if it came up and bit him.
Des Moines, Iowa
All across the United States, farmers are spraying pesticides on their fields. Many of these pesticide sprays land off-target — on us, our children, our pets, our gardens.
Pesticide spray drift is grossly misunderstood and under-reported.
In 2011, three organic farmers in Illinois formed the Spray Drift Education Network, a grass-roots organization dedicated to helping Illinois citizens report and prevent pesticide drift. We hope MOTHER EARTH NEWS readers will want to start similar organizations in their states. Those interested can use our website, Spray Drift Education Network, and downloadable brochure as a template.
For more resources on pesticide drift, I recommend the Pesticide Action Network and the National Pesticide Information Center, a cooperative agreement between Oregon State University and the Environmental Protection Agency.
Spray Drift Education Network
I had subscribed to MOTHER EARTH NEWS many, many years ago, and when I talked to a friend about subscribing again, she warned me that the content had changed. I understand that a magazine has to change with the times, but I was dismayed to see that MOTHER EARTH NEWS has become such a yuppie magazine.
I continued to read, however, until I received the most recent issue. I was much more than dismayed — I was infuriated to see an article about the White House garden (The White House Garden Sets a Powerful Example, April/May 2013). To read a piece praising a garden that was built and is maintained by paid people is not in my understanding of what gardening is about.
Regarding your article Sweet Sorghum Revival: How to Grow Your Own Natural Sweetener (February/March 2013): Sorghum is not to be confused with molasses. Although the two have a similar taste, they are very different. Molasses is a byproduct of sugar cane, with a stronger, more bitter flavor. The sugar is removed from the cane, and the remaining substance is molasses. It is typically added to cattle feed and used as a coloring for brown sugar. Sorghum has a sweeter, milder taste.
Many sorghum producers — especially in the South — label their product “sorghum molasses.” This is a cultural term. Sorghum is made from the sweet sorghum plant. All of the juice is extracted and boiled to the consistency of syrup, and this is considered pure sorghum. Although it may be labeled as “sorghum molasses,” the product is most likely sweet sorghum.
Another bit of information to consider about sorghum is its purity. Some producers add products to the syrup to extend its shelf life. One common additive is high-fructose corn syrup, which prevents crystallization. The result is thus not 100 percent pure sorghum. The logo from the National Sweet Sorghum Producers and Processors Association (NSSPPA) signifies that all sorghum bearing the logo is from pure sorghum cane. When shoppers see the logo (see the Image Gallery), they can be assured the product was made with 100 percent pure sorghum cane, with no additives.
Visit our website, National Sweet Sorghum Producers and Processor Association, for more information about sorghum and to find a list of producers.
I recently read an article in your magazine about herbicide contamination in compost (Killer Compost Update: Herbicide Damage Still a Major Problem, February/March 2013). I have been an organic gardener for many years, and since I moved to Arizona — specifically, to Lake Havasu City — I have been appalled at the practices that are widely used in the community.
Lake Havasu City sits on a hillside that slopes into the lake, which is part of the Colorado River system. Most of the people in this town subscribe to pest and weed management services whereby big tanks of weedkillers come around a couple of times a year and saturate their entire lots. In addition, the pesticide control occurs on a monthly basis and consists of the same dousing of each lot. I do not do this, and, fortunately, I live higher on the hill.
I have had many of my orchard trees develop the curled leaves described in your article, and this had been puzzling to me. I realize now it was because my neighbors drench their yards with all of these poisons, which must be moving through the soil to my trees.
No one here seems to have a clue that this could be wrong or dangerous. To me, this is a serious health problem in this community — so much so that I am moving to Santa Fe, N.M.
I also have concerns about what is happening to the Colorado River system from the combined effect of tens of thousands of gallons of these poisons running down into the lake with every rain. This water system grows a large amount of the produce we buy in our supermarkets.
Lake Havasu City, Arizona
In response to Chris Reinke’s letter on GMOs (“In Defense of GMOs,” Dear MOTHER: February/March 2013): He can eat them all he wants, but I want to see GMOs labeled on all food products so I can make informed decisions about my diet.
Unless food producers are ashamed of or worried about GMOs, they should have no problem labeling their products.
I equate GMOs with nuclear waste — after they’re here, they’re impossible to get rid of.
I went through my cupboards, fridge and freezer to gather food products, and then I sent more than 50 letters to corporations telling them to label GMOs. If these companies don’t come clean, I’ll no longer buy their foods.
I am only one person, but we all can do this. Vote with your pocketbooks. Take a stand. I can’t think of another issue that is so vitally important to the health of our families.
Elizabeth Standing Bear
I look forward to reading every issue of MOTHER EARTH NEWS. However, the most recent issue had an article about the Obamas’ garden (The White House Garden Sets a Powerful Example, April/May 2013). That makes me sick. They are the reason this country is in the crapper and I have to grow my own food and be self-sufficient.
If I see another Obama in this magazine, I’ll vomit and cancel my subscription.
I just finished watching a TED talk by biologist and farmer Allan Savory, who has been studying desertification for 30 years. Savory has concluded that grasslands are enhanced by controlled grazing of large numbers of animals to promote the growth of grasses.
He has found that as the number of animals grazing an area of land decreases, the growth of plants also decreases. If you have herds of grazing animals together, they will bunch for protection from predators. As the herd eats, it grazes and leaves manure, and then moves on from the area to avoid the manure. This prevents the animals from totally decimating an area before they move on.
Without regular doses of this “mob grazing,” the grasses grow tall, die in winter, fall over, and then have to slowly decompose before something else can grow.
Before that can happen, though, the land starts to erode, and there will be nothing to hold moisture to allow the grass to start growing again.
You can view Allan Savory’s TED talk at Allan Savory: How to Green the World’s Deserts and Reverse Climate Change. — MOTHER EARTH NEWS
I have a stack of old issues of MOTHER EARTH NEWS from the ’70s and ’80s that my grandfather gave me, and it’s amazing how relevant all of the information and tips are in 2013. Since the recession, people have learned that the best way is the DIY way. Thanks for going the frugal distance!
Our entire Archive is available in digital format in the MOTHER EARTH NEWS bookstore. — MOTHER EARTH NEWS
Our second annual International Homesteading Education Month is this September 2013, and we want you to be part of it. Go to the International Homesteading Education Month website to register to host an event or offer your expertise as a speaker.
Discover a dazzling array of workshops and lectures designed to get you further down the path to independence and self-reliance.LEARN MORE