Dear MOTHER: October/November 2013

Reader letters about chickens in the garden, pressure canning, apartment gardening, labeling genetically modified foods, a local urban homesteaders’ network, capitalism, green tomato recipes, and more.
Letters from our readers
October/November 2013
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Inspired by the article “Chickens in the Garden” in the April/May 2013 issue, readers Tina and John Jaeger of Jeddo, Mich., incorporated their flock into their garden setup to provide all-natural pest control as well as manure for valuable homemade fertilizer.
Photo Courtesy Tina Jaeger
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The Tools That Bind

We can’t do without MOTHER EARTH NEWS around here. The articles by Publisher Bryan Welch always strike a chord with me, and his piece Old Tools: Sacred Family Heirlooms in the August/September 2013 issue was downright moving.

My father worked for a cotton compress company, and he used a special knife to cut into and examine cotton bales. When he retired, my mom began using the knife in her garden, and now I do, too.

The knife is well over 50 years old, and although somewhat beat-up, it’s still great for digging and transplanting. I think of my parents every time I use it.

Thanks for the memories, Bryan!

Joan Beauregard
Richmond, Texas

Handed-down tools are indeed gratifying catalysts for fond memories. Thanks for sharing your story, Joan. We’re big fans of sturdy tools that last for generations. — MOTHER EARTH NEWS


A MOTHER-Inspired Change of Course

If I hadn’t found a stack of MOTHER EARTH NEWS magazines on the shelf at the Steamboat Springs, Colo., library in winter 2002, I’d not be living off-grid or installing solar systems for a living. Without the countless articles and inspiring people who have shared their stories, I wouldn’t have built a straw bale house (followed by an earth-sheltered, passive solar, active solar, VOC-paint-free, partially recycled house), logged with horses, milled those logs with a portable sawmill, started beekeeping, built an earth-sheltered chicken coop, planted fruit trees, experienced the benefits of homegrown produce, or tried my hand at a number of other projects.

Thank you for spreading the word about how we can each have a positive impact on this world. To the naysayers who claim that humans don’t make an impact on this planet: I say each action has an equal and opposite reaction. Everything we do causes some change to the world. I know I want it to be a better place than it was when I got here.

Every ounce of coal we can leave in the ground is meaningful. Yes, solar panels require materials to construct, and yes, moving them to their destinations takes energy. But their output far exceeds any input. Solar technology is real, and it is changing the concentrated power and wealth of coal, oil and gas companies. They know this and they fear this. And they should.

Jeff Droz
Rich Hill, Missouri


‘Expensive, Inefficient and Inhumane’

We generally love your magazine and find many useful ideas, but we were appalled by the article Chickens in the Garden: Eggs, Meat, Chicken Manure Fertilizer and More in the April/May 2013 issue.

We couldn’t believe anyone would recommend such an expensive, inefficient and inhumane way to use hens in a garden. Penning any animal out in the summer sun with only a small shed (or plastic bin!) for shelter — and no mention of feed and fresh water — suggests your authors care more about saving money than the basic comfort of their livestock.

A vastly easier and cheaper method is the tried-and-true one: Employ your hens as part of regular crop rotation. Fence off this year’s fallow section and let the birds range freely, giving them access to a fully equipped chicken coop. Keeping a rooster with them will help ward off hawks. Till the section in fall or spring, and add used coop bedding to a nearby compost pile. You’ll have happy hens, and you also won’t have to schlep nasty wire cages all over the place.

Anne Kirkpatrick
Salmon Arm, British Columbia

The traditional method Anne describes can work OK if you have enough room, but many readers report that hawks and other predators are a big threat to their free-range chickens — even if a rooster is on the scene. Because of that, we suggest keeping hens in portable, covered wire pens, especially if you’re gone during the day or don’t have a dog on the premises to deter potential attacks.

This arrangement keeps the birds safe while still giving them access to fresh pasture or cover crops in garden beds. It also captures the entire year’s worth of manure (as opposed to what you’d get if you allowed the hens to range outside of the garden during the growing season).

We haven’t found the portable pen setup to be more expensive. In fact, for people raising just a small number of chickens, we think our system is significantly less expensive than a fully equipped coop. We’ve been successfully keeping hens year-round for many years using large, lightweight, rot-proof plastic doghouses or storage bins to give them shelter. And if you have dedicated growing beds, by placing the pens directly over your garden beds, you’ll reap the full benefits of having the hens’ manure directly on the beds without also having it spread on the paths.

Certainly all livestock should have feed, water, and refuge from intense cold or summer sun. Small, portable shelters can easily be situated in shaded sites during peak-summer heat, then later moved to protected locations if winters are severe. — MOTHER EARTH NEWS


Loving Our Coop!

After reading the inspiring article Chickens in the Garden: Eggs, Meat, Chicken Manure Fertilizer and More by Patricia Foreman and Cheryl Long, my husband and I decided we’d roll up our sleeves and implement the plan for ourselves. Here’s a photo of our coop and garden.

It’s been wonderfully successful so far. Thank you so much!

Tina and John Jaeger
Jeddo, Michigan


Pressure Canning? No Fear Here

I wanted to thank you for your article on pressure canning (Pressure Canning Basics: Fearless Food Preservation, June/July 2013). I received a lovely, huge pressure canner for my birthday in 2012, but I was too afraid to use it for its intended purpose.

We stared at each other for almost a year until your article came along and I worked up the courage to give pressure canning a try. I made a large batch of chicken soup and was able to can it successfully!

Christy Kowalski
Cincinnati, Ohio


A Renter’s Garden Oasis

When I moved out of my parents’ house and into the world of renting, I thought my gardening days were over. I tried container gardening, but I never got the same satisfaction that I did from having a “real” garden. I missed the tilling, the sunburns, the bugs, the feeling of accomplishment.

Last year, I talked my landlord into letting me tear out a dead section of lawn behind our apartment that the sprinklers didn’t reach to start a small garden. After I sifted out decades of debris, added compost, and — when I realized we had no outside spigot — carried jug after jug of water from my upstairs apartment, that former patch of death became overrun with fresh flowers and vegetables, and my neighbors loved it!

Not only have I found tremendous joy in bringing my little garden to life, but I’ve also inspired at least one of my neighbors — this year there are potatoes growing in our front yard.

Rachel Fielding
Orem, Utah


GMO Labeling: Closer Than You Think

Thank you for your editorial Why to Support Labeling GM Foods in the August/September 2013 issue. You made great points, and we need as many voices as possible to keep this issue alive. I’d like to point out an update for your article. The numbers you cited for the Prop 37 initiative were 53 percent against labeling to 47 percent for it. Those were the initial figures released within days of the vote. California didn’t actually finalize its count until December, and the final numbers were 51.4 percent opposed to Prop 37 and 48.6 percent in favor of it.

If you include rounding, the conversation then changes to “Prop 37 was narrowly defeated by 51 to 49 percent.” I would like to hear more people having that conversation.

Melanie Bettenhausen
Arcata, California


Green Tomato Memories

Your August/September 2013 issue suggested some ideas for using green tomatoes (Uses for Green Tomatoes), but you forgot to mention green tomato preserves.

My grandmother would make green tomato preserves every year from a recipe in The Settlement Cook Book, and she personalized them by adding sliced candied ginger.

I never mastered the art of making jam, so I haven’t had any green tomato preserves for many years, but I can still close my eyes and taste my grandmother’s.

Judy Millspaugh Anderson
via Facebook

Readers, we’re hosting a green tomato recipe contest, and the winner will take home a Roma tomato strainer from Tomato Growers Supply Co. Go to Green Tomatoes Recipe Contest for details. — MOTHER EARTH NEWS


Reminded of Old-Time Flavor

I tried ‘Floriani Red Flint’ cornmeal, and it is the best I have tasted since I was a child. I am 77 years old, and it reminds me so much of the cornmeal I had when I was young.

Beatrice Dail
Durham, North Carolina


Tastier Cornmeal

Some time ago, we read in MOTHER EARTH NEWS about ‘Floriani Red Flint,’ a grain corn from Italy imported to the United States. I located a source for seed and planted a plot of it last spring. I raised enough to save seed and make cornmeal.

I have been growing yellow dent corn to make cornmeal for years, and I must say, the red flint yields a much tastier cornmeal. Here’s a photo (see Image Gallery) of a few of the ears of ‘Floriani Red Flint’ that I raised.

Joe Maricelli
Merryville, Louisiana

Floriani seed and cornmeal are available from Starke Round Barn. Find info on this exceptional corn — plus recipes! — at ‘Floriani Red Flint’ Heirloom Corn. — MOTHER EARTH NEWS


We All Depend on Capitalism

In response to the letter “Unwelcome Capitalism” in (Dear MOTHER: August/September 2013): I disagree with the letter writer’s view that the article Conscious Capitalism: Doing Well by Doing Good (April/May 2013) had no place in MOTHER EARTH NEWS. Yes, the magazine is, as he says, “dedicated to sustainability and do-it-yourself principles.” However, there is also, throughout its pages, a great sense of connectedness to the larger world, and of community and interdependence.

Homesteading, farm life and urbanism are all bound to capitalism in the United States. At first thought, one might deem this to be untrue. But consider this: That shiny new John Deere is a product of the corporate world. The steel to make it was produced at a steel mill. The paint to paint it was not hand-applied using plant-based dyes — the paint and its application came from industry, as did the fuel that runs it. The tires came from big manufacturers. Even if one bought a used and rusted John Deere and lovingly restored it, its origin would still be industrial.

Most fences that secure livestock were made in factories. Even the nails and screws used to build our chicken coops, greenhouses and birdhouses are products of capitalism.

While it’s always good to repurpose materials and live as simply as we’re able to, we should never lose sight of the fact that capitalism (in a neutral sense) enables us all to live as we dream.

Karen Arencibia
Center Valley, Pennsylvania


A Surefire Zucchini

Compact zucchini plants produce only a few zukes here in Arkansas before they get wiped out by squash bugs. In contrast, the vigorous Italian vining ‘Tromboncino’ zucchini grows like a pumpkin or winter squash vine and is much harder for squash bugs to kill. It’s productive and strong, and it’s available from Territorial Seed Co. and other suppliers.

“Eggplant parmigiana” can be made with ‘Tromboncino’ zucchini long before eggplants produce enough fruits. If other gardeners are having difficulty with compact zucchini plants, I would suggest trying ‘Tromboncino.’

Richard Oberzut
Paragould, Arkansas


What Are You Hiding, Monsanto?

I enjoy your magazine and read every issue front to back. While some readers don’t like hearing about government policies concerning our food supply and farming, I appreciate your efforts to keep us informed. The editorial in the August/September 2013 issue about labeling genetically modified foods (Why to Support Labeling GM Foods) reiterated my concerns about GM seeds and foods.

I do have a question, though: If GM products are the superb inventions that Monsanto and other corporations claim, why are they trying so hard to avoid labeling them? I would think the companies would be proud to have them labeled.

Camille Youngblood
Rochester, New York


A New England Original

I read Cindy Conner’s wonderful article Best Staple Crops for Building Food Self-Sufficiency (June/July 2013), and, as a New England farmer, I want to pass along a thought on your New England winter squash recommendations.

In 1970, after years of plant breeding, the late professor Robert E. Young, of the former Waltham Experiment Station at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, introduced to the world the ‘Waltham Butternut’ squash (Cucurbita moschata). Since then, this All-America Selections winner has been the most widely grown winter squash in New England, and it’s produced excellent results.

Professor Young’s introduction has served us well, and even though ‘Uncle David’s Dakota Dessert’ may be a wonderful variety, as you suggest, why change? I’ll keep growing New England-bred ‘Waltham Butternut’!

Peter M. Johnson
Norfolk, Massachusetts


Cheese Wiz

I appreciate all of the information in MOTHER EARTH NEWS, and most recently, I’ve been enjoying your cheese recipes.

My son had a beef cow that lost her calf, so we decided to try to milk her. She took to it just fine, and was of course glad to get the pressure off of her udder.

We now have fresh raw milk, and my daughter-in-law and I have been experimenting with making butter, yogurt, ice cream and various cheese recipes — all of them provided by MOTHER.

Connie White
Macon, Missouri


Digital Bliss

Wow! I just recently stumbled upon www.MotherEarthNews.com, and I am in love. This website has so many amazing resources — I am so glad I found this gem. Can’t wait to subscribe to the magazine.

Kristen Brett
Manchester, Connecticut


A Timeless Trove of Know-How

Your website has been an incredible inspiration and resource to me as a novice in the world of sustainable living.

The content is classic and balanced — I have found articles written before I was born that are just as relevant today. And even if a person is not ready to move to a farm or off the grid, there are so many ways to make your existing lifestyle more fulfilling and gentle on the Earth. Thank you for preserving this heritage and promoting this amazing way to live.

Elizabeth Singh
Wilmington, Delaware

Thank you, Kristen and Elizabeth! We’re quite proud of our 43-year archive. We’ve just released every issue of the magazine from 2000 to 2012 in a new digital format that allows for convenient, easy reading on your computer or mobile device. We’ll send you both a copy. — MOTHER EARTH NEWS


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