Reader letters about threshing wheat, saving money on groceries, clay soil, hunting and self-sufficiency, walk-behind haymaking equipment, childfree living, and more.
Reader Suzanna Garrett’s Virginia garden brims with bounty and beauty.
Photo by Suzanna Garrett
I’m an avid organic gardener along the Maury River in the mountains of Virginia. Gardening brings me immeasurable joy, and I want to share a few photos from last year’s plots. My house is only 515 square feet, so the garden tends to take over. I don’t have much growing space, but I make the most of it.
We’ve been growing ‘White Sonora’ wheat on our small homestead for three years. As your article From Field to Flour: How to Grow Wheat (April/May 2014) indicated, threshing wheat can be a challenge, and we definitely struggled to find the best way to do it. We tried a couple of hand-threshing methods at first: beating the heads against the inside of a bucket or smashing the heads with a rubber mallet. Both processes were quite tedious.
We looked into machines, but even the cheapest models were still too pricey. That’s when we came up with an easy, quick device of our own: a thresher made from a bucket, drill and chain. You can see a video of our bucket thresher in action and get instructions for making your own in DIY Wheat Thresher. Because threshing wheat by hand is so labor-intensive, it deters some people from growing it. We were unsure about continuing to grow it until we put together the bucket thresher. Now I don’t think we’ll ever stop!
In response to the article Neonicotinoid Insecticides: Are Your Nursery Plants Being Treated With Bee-Killing Chemicals? (February/March 2014): I’ve always preferred purchasing transplants at the farmers market simply to support local, small-scale sellers. Avoiding these dangerous chemicals now seems an even more important reason. No more starts from mainstream garden centers for me!
I hope fellow readers will pass along this article to their gardening friends, as I think many people are in the dark about this troubling situation.
West Covina, California
Thank you for the striking photo of the young deer in the ferns in the New Jersey Pine Barrens on the last page of the April/May 2014 issue (EarthWords).
I have 10 acres here in the southern Appalachians. My wife and I both work full time, but we still make gardening and preserving much of our own food a priority. For most people, the idea of living sustainably likely doesn’t conjure images of hunting, but for us, being able to supply our own meat is at the heart of our living-off-the-land philosophy. We don’t buy from-the-feedlot, full-of-antibiotics beef at the grocery store, and although we have plenty of opportunities to get beef directly from local farmers, we don’t do that either. Instead, I hunt and process white-tailed deer for the majority of our meat. Two deer will provide us with loin, roasts and lots of burger for a year of good, lean, all-natural meat.
The photo of the deer brought the hunt full circle for me, as part of my property includes a small, flat-bottom hollow, and I leave much of it in a natural state for the wildlife. Every spring, at least two fawns are born in the hollow and live there until winter, when they move on. Hunting is an integral part of my family’s pursuit of a more sustainable life. I appreciated the photo of the deer, which reminded me of that.
Smoot, West Virginia
In Dear MOTHER: February/March 2014, a reader wrote in to ask about information on nonelectric tools for small homesteads, particularly what one could use to harvest a small hayfield by hand. A note from MOTHER EARTH NEWS following the letter said an article about tools for large gardens was in the works. When you do the article, don’t forget walk-behind haymaking equipment for doing up a few acres at a time.
We switched from conventional, full-sized equipment just last year, so with only one season under our belts, we haven’t yet figured out cost per bale, but we’re pleased to be able to put up our crops in smaller, more manageable work sessions.
We purchased our walk-behind, two-wheel tractor from Earth Tools in Owenton, Ky., along with the sickle bar for cutting, the rake and the baler. Hooking and unhooking the implements takes some muscle and some extra people, but we’re looking forward to haying again this year.
Annette, not only will you find that article — which does profile walk-behind haymaking equipment — in this issue (Best Garden Tools for Big Plots and Large Harvests), but it was written by Joel Dufour, who is the founder and owner of Earth Tools, the company you recommend! We agree; Earth Tools is a great company, and we were pleased to have Joel on hand to write this piece and even give a presentation about high-quality garden tools at the MOTHER EARTH NEWS fair in Asheville, N.C., in April. — MOTHER EARTH NEWS
I have a family of four, and I’m always looking for ways to make excellent meals that are also economical. MOTHER EARTH NEWS is a great source of inspiration. The following is one of my favorite easy, multiple-meal strategies for stretching my grocery dollars.
Meal 1. Stuff a chicken with your favorite herbs and a sliced lemon. Season it, and put it in a slow cooker on high for 6 to 7 hours (you don’t need liquid). Cook a side of rice or pasta, and make extra. Keep all of the bones from your meal. Keep any leftover meat you pick from the bones in an airtight vessel.
Meal 2. Put all of the bones back in the slow cooker with the chicken carcass (leave any herbs and lemon in the carcass). Add water, some onions, celery and any other vegetables you may have on hand. Simmer overnight on low. The next day, sauté a few cut-up carrots, celery, onions (any veggie you have will do!) and ginger in a pot. Fill that pot with some of your broth. Add the leftover pasta or rice from Meal 1 to make a nice, thick soup. Season, and garnish with fresh herbs. Leave the extra broth in your slow cooker.
Meal 3. Fill up your slow cooker with fresh water and let simmer again. The next day, add some cream of mushroom soup (or make your own creamy soup by adding butter and cream) and any leftover meat to the broth. Make small dumplings from flour and eggs, and drop them into the soup. Sprinkle with parsley. You can also add a 1:1 ratio of coconut milk to your broth to make coconut soup.
Three hearty meals and one happy family!
I had a fantastic crop of butternut squash last year, and, as recommended in the article Food Storage: 20 Crops That Keep and How to Store Them (August/September 2012), I put the surplus in plastic bins under a bed in a spare bedroom.
I made one big mistake, however: When I laid the squash in the bins and put the lids on in fall, it was apparently humid that day, and when the house cooled and the air dried in winter, the water vapor condensed inside the bins, leaving the squash soaking wet and sitting in a half-inch of water. I luckily lost only a few. Lesson learned: Cover your squash storage bins with loose pieces of paper or cardboard — not with tight-fitting plastic lids.
Lake City, Pennsylvania
I followed MOTHER EARTH NEWS diligently for its first decade, devouring every issue, but then I went astray. I have amended my ways, however, and am back as an enthusiastic subscriber — and, boy, am I impressed!
I especially love Green Gazette, Country Lore and your fine cover stories. I feel a bit like the prodigal son returning to the fold!
I enjoyed the article 65 Tips to Save Money Through Self-Reliance (February/March 2014) and wanted to let readers know about another no-cost option for education. The website Coursera offers free online classes from some of the most prestigious universities in the world — Duke, Princeton, Stanford, Yale and many others. You don’t get college credit, but if you like to learn, the website is worth checking out.
I was deeply chagrined but not surprised by the negative responses you received to the article Making a Green Choice: Childfree Living (February/March 2014). Choosing to be childfree or limit the size of one’s family to one or two children is not “anti-children,” as is often the misguided reaction some people have to the concept.
Our planet has finite resources. Species are disappearing at an alarming rate because of human mismanagement and overpopulation. Human-created carbon emissions have already led to catastrophic climate change, which threatens our safety and way of life. Out of concern for future generations, we should consider curbing population size as a key means to remedy these problems.
We can’t recycle our way out of this destruction. Overpopulation is one of the critical issues of our time, but it’s also one of the topics most skirted by politicians, journalists and the general public. Anyone contemplating having children should take time to consider the dwindling availability of jobs, natural resources and food — and the general degradation of the quality of life — for his or her offspring.
I admire the author, Lisa Hymas, and MOTHER EARTH NEWS for having the courage to print this article.
Scotia, New York
To me, “childfree” sounded like an insult to people who do have children. Very close to bigotry! I couldn’t care less whether the author of Making a Green Choice: Childfree Living and others like her do not have children. It is best if they do not!
Keith C. Kraushaar
Thank you for printing Making a Green Choice: Childfree Living. My boyfriend and I are in our early 30s, and everyone around us is having children. We appreciated knowing there are other like-minded individuals who read your publication.
Regarding How to Improve Clay Soil (April/May 2014): We’ve contended with clay soil for many years while farming here in North Carolina. Adding organic matter in the form of cover crops, dried leaves, grass clippings and manure is a lot of work, but it has resulted in great production from our vegetable crops.
One thing I will advise: Do not miss a year of amending. It only takes one year without organic matter for the soil to return to solid clay again. I slacked off one year, and this made for far more work the following spring.
We add manure and cover crops in spring, tilling or turning them in. During summer, we mulch with grass clippings, which are great for the soil. In fall, when we do the majority of amending, we add fall leaves, manure and vegetable crop residue. We plant one more fall cover crop to till in right before winter, or we overwinter it and till it in the next spring. We have amazing loam that doesn’t even resemble clay!
Stokesdale, North Carolina
I have to chuckle with a bit of envy when I see pictures of cute little plots of perfect tomatoes surrounded by urban lawn. Our reality living a mile high in the Idaho Rockies is half-inch welded wire all around and underneath the garden to keep out small critters. Think Fort Knox meets covered wagon.
Is it worth the money? Yes! With just what vegetables I sold to neighbors the previous year, I covered all of my seed and supply expenses and part of the cost of my poly sheeting. We then ate all the ‘Early Girl’ tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, peas and fresh herbs we could. In addition, we also had canned salsa and marinara sauce, pickles, dried tomatoes, and stored potatoes and squash.
The soil and amendments are all free — my son saves bags of grass clippings, leaves and compost, and I get straw and horse manure from a local hunting outfitter. In lieu of a compost pile, I throw kitchen scraps in a bucket I keep on the porch. In spring, I use scraps to fill a trench that I plant my tomatoes and squash into. This warms up the soil and feeds the plants when they need it most.
During winter, while we’re getting around by snowmobile, I’m studying seed catalogs. This is definitely an act of faith, because, at the time, the ground is lying under about 5 feet of snow. Because of the cool, short season, I start my seeds in March in a southwest-facing window by the woodstove. Six to eight weeks later, I’m setting my babies out under covered hoops before the snow is gone. I’ll still be harvesting juicy, ripe tomatoes in October when the snow flies again.
I’ve always loved the idea of making cheese, but I was afraid to attempt it myself. On a whim, after seeing the simple recipe for paneer (How to Make Fresh Cheese: The Basic Steps, April/May 2014) on the MOTHER EARTH NEWS Facebook page, I decided to give it a shot. The instructions were easy to follow, and I had fresh cheese to enjoy that same night! Besides eating it on its own, I tried my paneer crumbled onto a salad. Delicious!
French Lick, Indiana
Thank you for the article about buying clubs and buying in bulk in the April/May 2014 issue (Buy Bulk Food to Save Money on Groceries). I’m a drop-point manager for Azure Standard, a bulk and natural food delivery service based in Oregon. I started just a few months ago after discovering such great foods at amazing prices, and I’m thrilled to have additional companies to look into now thanks to the wholesale distributor resources listed in your article.
My family purchases much of our fruit in bulk and cans most of it, and we’re now looking forward to doing the same with other produce and meat. Becoming part of a food-buying club and buying in bulk are great ways to save money and build friendships and community.
After much research and a quality vs. cost comparison of various meat farmers and community-supported agriculture programs providing meat in our area, we settled on a CSA program for pastured beef, chicken and pork that operates like a buying club for six-month increments.
There is no minimum order required. We place our six-month order and pay in advance, and we then pick up our order monthly. This way, we’ve locked in rates and the farmer has locked in customers, but we only need the freezer infrastructure to accommodate a month’s worth of food.
We estimate the buying club saves us about 13 percent over grocery store prices, and the quality and integrity of the animal care is much higher.
Thank you so much for your website. I’m 15, I care very much about animal rights, and I’ve been vegan while trying to find a local farm that treats animals humanely. I think I’ve found one, and your articles Free-Range vs. Pastured Chickens and Eggs and How to Decode Egg Cartons (on the Chicken and Egg Page) have helped me so much.
I’m relieved I can finally free myself and my family from foods produced from animals raised on factory farms.
San Jose, California
I would like to add a bit of information to your article How to Roast Your Own Coffee for an Amazing Cup (April/May 2014). Ethiopian shops are another reliable source for high-quality green coffee beans. Ethiopian people hold their native coffee in high regard, and they often purchase their coffee beans green and roast them at home and in their restaurants.
Located mostly in urban areas, Ethiopian shops may be less accessible than an online source, but green coffee beans have a long shelf life, so try purchasing them in bulk from a shop when you visit your nearest city.
In our April/May 2014 issue, we ran a piece in Ask Our Experts that discussed the differences between passive solar design and Passive House standards. We received a letter from an architect questioning some points in the article, and we’ve put the letter online so anyone interested can further explore the topic. We’d like to hear your thoughts! Go to Passive House vs. Passive Solar: A Continuing Discussion. — MOTHER EARTH NEWS