Dear MOTHER: June/July 2016

Reader letters about aging on the homestead, composting toilets, parsnip burn, preserving okra, a homemade swimming pool design, canola oil and omega-3s, pesticide drift, and more.


Readers of all ages enjoy “Mother Earth News.”

Photo by Bill Euclide

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It’s Never Too Early

My wife took a picture of me reading our MOTHER EARTH NEWS magazine to our 21-month-old granddaughter, and I wanted to share it with you. It’s never too young to start reading your wonderful publication!

By the way, I used to get an email that asked my opinion on upcoming covers. I enjoyed taking it, but haven’t received it for some time. How do I sign up for that email again?

Bill, thank you for sharing this sweet photo with us! You’re thinking of our editorial advisory surveys, which we use to gauge reader interest in upcoming article ideas and cover images. — Editors

Our Natural Swimming Pool

I enjoy reading MOTHER EARTH NEWS, and I appreciate all the time and effort you put into creating the magazine. I hope you continue to publish valuable content; the ideas you share are being lost in the crazy world we live in.

Two summers ago, I built a natural swimming pool based on the instructions from your article How to Build a Natural Swimming Pool by Douglas Buege and Vicky Uhland (August/September 2002). I probably read the article 10 times before diving into the. I created two time-lapse videos of the construction, as well, that I posted on YouTube. My community shares the homemade swimming pool, and we couldn’t be happier with it. Keep up the great writing!

We Love Our Composting Toilet

We were tickled to see your article Reader Roundup: DIY Composting Toilet Setups (Ask Our Experts, April/May 2016). We moved to the country in 1975 to pursue a simple, organic life with the smallest footprint possible. We built a pole house from repurposed materials and installed a sawdust composting toilet, which we still have. It’s a wonderful alternative to a traditional water-guzzling toilet. Plus, it’s quiet, and the wooden seat warms easily. We do suspect that our relatives still tell stories about it, though. For example, just last year our 8-year-old great-niece came to visit and proclaimed, “I love your dirt toilet!” We love it too, even after 40 years.

Solar Works Solo

I was happy to see the article 6 Solar Energy Myths Debunked by Dan Chiras in your April/May 2016 issue. However, one important item needs to be corrected. At the end of the paragraph that describes the fourth “myth,” Dan says that folks who use solar systems have to cook their food and heat their homes with gas or wood. This isn’t true. A solar electric system can power electric cooking devices and high-efficiency electric heat pumps.

My own home in New Jersey is a perfect example. We don’t use any fossil fuels, and 80 percent of our power comes from the solar collectors on our roof. The remaining power comes from the grid. For heating and cooling, we use ductless, mini-split heat pumps. These units are incredibly efficient and work at temperatures as low as minus 15 degrees Fahrenheit.

It’s important for homeowners to know that heating with gas and wood is actually inefficient and bad for the environment. Zero-energy homes powered by the sun are definitely the way to go right now and in the future.

WWJD: What Would Joel Do?

In my house, WWJD means “What Would Joel (Salatin) Do.” I’m a MOTHER EARTH NEWS and Mother Earth Living subscriber, and I also read GRIT. I attended the MOTHER EARTH NEWS FAIR in West Bend, Wisconsin, and I plan to go again this coming July. I try my best to walk my talk and live a simple, sustainable life.

Aging on the Homestead

I’ve been reading MOTHER EARTH NEWS for roughly a decade and a half, and I find both your magazine and website extremely helpful. One thing I feel you folks are lacking, however, is coverage of aging homesteaders. Your publication started in 1970, which is about 45 years ago, and many of your original readers are older now. I feel you need to print more articles for those of us who still want to grow or raise our own food, but have found that age can limit mobility. This additional information would help us out now, and it would be useful to your younger readers in the future.

As one of those aging readers myself (I first subscribed in 1970), I think you’re right, Rick! Thanks for the suggestion and stay tuned. Readers, please send any tips for homesteading with aches, pains, joint replacements, and general mobility issues to — Hank Will, Editor-in-Chief

Beware the Parsnip Burn

I really appreciated Barbara Damrosch’s article “Growing and Cooking with Parsnips and Sorrel” (The Gardener’s Table, April/May 2016). However, she left out the fact that parsnip sap can cause severe phytophotodermatitis, which produces painful, watery blisters.

This is more common with wild parsnips. However, I contracted a severe case or parsnip burn in early summer when I was harvesting leftover parsnip seed heads by ripping them off the stalks by hand because I was too lazy to go get my clippers. I stayed in the sun and later broke out in horrible blisters that my doctor couldn’t diagnose. Thank heavens for Google!

More Bang for My Buck

As a longtime MOTHER EARTH NEWS subscriber, I want to say that I really appreciated the April/May 2016 issue. It was both beautiful and informative, and I valued the more in-depth content. I feel like I got more bang for my buck! Keep up the good work.

Why Recommend Canola Oil?

Thank you for the article Fat Matters: Understanding the Science (December 2015/January 2016). I must disagree, however, with your response to a reader about cooking oils (Dear MOTHER, April/May 2016). You state that the preferred oils for a healthy omega balance are flaxseed, olive, and canola. MOTHER, canola oil is largely made up of genetically modified organisms (GMOs). Nearly 90 percent of the rapeseed from which it’s extracted, both in the United States and Canada, is GMO. Further, rapeseed is highly toxic; the oil is extracted with hexane, and even if one finds an “organic” canola, it’s still extracted from a highly poisonous plant.

The Canadian government would like to convince us otherwise, but I think we should consider canola oil poisonous. Although grape seed, coconut, and sunflower oils don’t provide as many omega-3s, they’re still a much better choice when you keep the full picture in mind. The best choice, of course, is pure olive oil.

Canola is a rapeseed variety that was traditionally bred to have lower levels of unhealthful erucic acid. Whole Foods carries non-GMO, organic canola oils that are cold-pressed to avoid hexane extraction. — Editors

Goat Shelter Needs More Work

In the article Build a Goat Shelter from Wood Pallets (Country Lore, April/May 2016), Sarah Plotczyk’s pallet goat shelter is clever and cheap, and I’m sure the goats enjoy it. However, oriented strand board (OSB) is not weatherproof. To weatherproof this structure, a Tyvek-type product should be installed over the OSB, and then some sort of siding should go over that.

Pesticide Drift

In response to Daniele Maciel’s letter, Advice for Pesticide Drift? (Dear MOTHER, April/May 2016), I would like to share what we went through. For years, the 80 acres south of our farm were set aside as grasses. We planted 20 fruit trees in 2012, which was backbreaking work for us. All spring and summer, we hauled water to the trees. Then, our neighbor’s son inherited the 80 acres and planted a crop in 2013. One day, at about 6 p.m., we saw a pesticide sprayer and truck drive up the road and enter that field. The current weather report had just been on the news, and the wind was blowing from the south at about 15 mph. We worried that the wind would blow the pesticide directly into our fruit trees. My husband got into his truck and drove over to talk to the farm owner and the sprayer, who were both present when my husband expressed his concerns. The driver said it wasn’t that windy, but that he would stop spraying when he neared our trees. My husband then drove to the driveway by our trees. The sprayer drove by, and my husband could clearly see the pesticide drifting onto our trees.

Over the course of the next few days, the leaves on our fruit trees developed black spots. The leaves then turned yellow and started dropping. Several yards away, an established cherry tree formed black spots on its leaves, and the leaves began to drop. Near our front porch, the ornamental bushes and small trees also developed black spots on their leaves. We contacted the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship Pesticide Bureau, which sent us forms to file a complaint. A pesticide investigator came out to take soil and leaves for testing. He also took pictures of the trees. It took almost a year for the results of the pesticide drift to come back to us. The results showed how much pesticide was found and which kind. The West Central Co-op was found in violation of Iowa Code paragraph 206.11(3) for using a pesticide in a manner that’s inconsistent with its labeling. The co-op only got a warning, and in 2014, we were reimbursed for the cost of the trees, plus an amount representing the time and labor we committed to the plantings.

West Central Iowa


Joel Salatin’s article, Teaching Youth the Cycle of Life, in your February/March 2016 issue left me speechless. It was superbly written, and I would encourage everyone, young and old, to read it. Not only does Mr. Salatin talk about our obligation as humans to be stewards of life, but he also mentions our added obligation of reverence, respect, and gratitude for what this Earth has provided us. In my opinion, this “Pitchfork Pulpit” is worthy of being read at any church pulpit. It’s by far the best article I’ve ever read in MOTHER EARTH NEWS. Bravo!

Love the Herbal Articles

I’ve been particularly excited about Richo Cech’s article, Grow and Make Your Own Simple Medicine, in your April/May 2016 issue. I’d find more information on this topic interesting. We love reading MOTHER and have recently given subscriptions as gifts so others can receive their own copies.

Culling Can Be Careless

I just read Lorri Atwell’s comment, Uncaring Caretakers (Dear MOTHER, April/May 2016), in which she expressed concern about Bryan Welch’s livestock-culling practices (Raise Sheep: Low-Maintenance Livestock, February/March 2016). I was taken aback by MOTHER’S response to Lorri because it seemed to justify the Welches’ strict culling practices.

On farms and ranches, everything counts. The Welches must own a hobby farm if they can afford to let an animal go to waste. When we had to assist with a difficult birth, we marked the animal and the lambs to sell at a later date. Plus, it’s not a given that a hard birth will get passed on genetically; I understand that it’s often the mother’s nutrition that plays a role.

Appreciate Readers’ Tips

I’m enjoying my April/May 2016 issue tremendously. My favorite department is Country Lore: Readers’ Tips to Live By; people have such ingenious ideas!

OK with Okra

I love okra because it’s easy to grow and high yielding, so I was pleased to see the article Crop at a Glance: Okra in your April/May 2016 issue. A tip for preserving okra is to dehydrate it. I pack it in vacuum-sealed bags and store in a cool, dark place. Dehydrating okra seems to remove the slimy quality that some people find unappealing. You can also lightly oil and salt it before dehydrating it for a healthy snack.

No. 1 Fan

I collect your magazines. They’re my go-to books for gardening or anything else I need. I could never get rid of my back issues of MOTHER EARTH NEWS. Thank you!

Great Time at Texas FAIR

My husband and I really enjoyed the MOTHER EARTH NEWS FAIR in Belton, Texas, and we came away with so much useful information. The speakers were all well-versed in a wide range of topics and drew crowds of people — quite often it was standing room only! Sometimes we couldn’t decide which workshops to attend because so many of them sounded interesting.

I’ve often wondered why there hasn’t been a MOTHER EARTH NEWS FAIR in our great state before, and other attendees echoed that same sentiment. I’m sure many others, besides my husband and me, hope you folks will consider a repeat performance in 2017. After all, Texas is a big state, and people will surely stream in from all around.

MOTHER’s Wish List

Solar homestead options. Have you used solar to power water pumps, electric fences, arc-welders, or anything else? If so, we’d love to hear about it. Please send high-resolution photos and an explanation of your setup to with the subject line “My Solar Project.” We hope to share readers’ solar projects in an upcoming issue.

DIY biodiesel. Lyle Estill showed us how to make biodiesel back in August/September 2015 with his article DIY Home Biodiesel Production: Make Your Own Fuel. How did that process work for you? Did any of you go the mechanical route with straight vegetable oil (SVO)? We’d like to share your stories and photos with our readers in an upcoming issue. Please email content to with the subject line “DIY Biodiesel.” Keep up the great work!