Dear MOTHER: October/November 2014

Reader letters about passive solar homes, making biogas, gardening in drought, neighborhood-scale self-sufficiency, “enhanced” supermarket meat, residential wind power, and more.

Passive solar home

Reader Tracey Allen’s home on Prince Edward Island faces south for maximum solar gain, a hallmark of passive solar design.

Photo by Tracey Allen

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Our Low-Tech Solar Home

I appreciate the discussion regarding your April/May 2014 Ask Our Experts piece Passive House vs. Passive Solar: A Continuing Discussion on the MOTHER EARTH NEWS website. My husband and I found that passive solar design suited our climate here in eastern Canada far better than a home built to the Passive House standard would have.

We built our house in 2012 using the “old technology” of passive solar, and we couldn’t be happier with the results. We looked at the Passive House standard, but with our simple approach and budget constraints, we decided that a pared-down, fewer-gadgets home design was more in keeping with our life philosophy.

We hired an architect, who went to the building site to pick the perfect elevation and orientation for our home, and that was the best money we spent on the project. We didn’t install in-floor heating, as that would’ve defeated the whole purpose of using the sun’s energy to heat our floors. We also opted for natural, earth-berm construction rather than using a mechanical geothermal system. (You can take a video tour of our home on YouTube.)

When we have renewable energy students from the local college out to view our place, they always want to see the “mechanics,” but what we have instead is the least amount of expensive, will-eventually-need-to-be-repaired items in our house. In our case, less is more. Thank you, MOTHER EARTH NEWS, for bringing the topic of passive solar home design back to the forefront from the 1970s.

On a side note: I wrote a book from my perspective as the owner of a passive solar home, and when I delivered it to the local library, the librarian said he was so pleased to have an “updated” version, because all of his books on passive solar were from the ’70s. I didn’t have the heart to tell him we worked from 1970s information when building our home!

Tracey Allen
York, Prince Edward Island

A Good Reason for Anger

I’ve long been aware that supermarket meats are pumped full of a salt-water solution, as you detailed in 'Enhanced' Meat: The Hidden Salt We're Consuming (Green Gazette, August/September 2014). I’m angry I can’t find meat that doesn’t contain nearly the entire recommended maximum salt intake for one day in just one serving, as my husband must limit his sodium consumption for health reasons. Having an excessive amount of salt in every piece of grocery store meat hasn’t always been the status quo — nor has it always been legal.

About 50 years ago, I knew a butcher who had lost his shop. When I asked why, he told me he’d added water to the meats he sold to increase profits, and he’d been caught. Back then, to my knowledge, it was illegal to pump water into meat to make it heavier. Now, injecting meat with salt water is pervasive and completely acceptable. We all know why these ingredients are added. It’s not to enhance flavor — it’s purely done for profit.

Nancy Ward
Livingston, Texas 

‘Homestead Hamlet’ Reports Wanted

MOTHER EARTH NEWS is my dream magazine come true! I was particularly moved by the recent article about residents of a neighborhood in Nebraska working together to become more self-sufficient (Homestead Hamlets: Neighborhood Gardens That Create Community Food Security, April/May 2014). The author’s point that we so often plant things in our lawns that we can’t eat really struck a chord with me.

In my neighborhood, more people are beginning to garden, but I still receive mixed reactions about the large size of my garden. It makes me wonder: Are any other neighborhoods or areas in this country or elsewhere also embracing community self-sufficiency? I’d be interested to know, and to hear the pros and cons.

Elizabeth Wall
Johnston, Iowa

We’re interested, too! We’d love to receive reports from readers about “homestead hamlets” in their cities or towns. — MOTHER EARTH NEWS

Gardening in Drought

I enjoyed the article Top Gardening Challenges and How to Overcome Them in the April/May 2014 issue. I’d like to add another idea for dealing with drought, and it’s a strategy that’s one-and-done: hugelkultur.

This is the practice of planting into beds that were made by covering logs with soil. As the logs decompose, they keep the soil moist, but not too wet. The arrangement will last for years, and some reports claim you’ll no longer need to water at all!

You can read more about hugelkultur and see photos of the process in Hugelkultur: The Ultimate Raised Garden Beds.

Julia Franke
Kutztown, Pennsylvania

Dangers of Biogas

Your article about do-it-yourself biogas (Make a Biogas Generator to Produce Your Own Natural Gas, August/September 2014) causes me grave concern for several reasons. For one, the open, inverted-barrel storage system shown in the article will at times overflow and allow biogas to escape into the surrounding air. This creates an extremely high risk for explosions.

Safe handling of any volatile, flammable gas — be it biogas, natural gas or propane — requires regulators, leak testing and knowledge of proper connections. In my opinion, the brief “Safety Considerations” section in the article was superficial and totally inadequate.

William Best
Arlington, Washington

Interweaving Wind and Solar

Regarding the article Renewable Energy Options for Your Homestead (June/July 2014): We found installing a residential wind turbine to be a great decision, and one of the factors that was important to us was the ability to link the turbine to a solar array. We picked the Pika wind turbine in part because of its microgrid technology that lets us run a hybrid of wind and solar on one system. Check out a photo of our setup in the Slideshow.

Audrey Greenhill Lones
North Yarmouth, Maine

‘Peddle’ or ‘Pedal’?

I love MOTHER EARTH NEWS and study each issue from cover to cover. I try to save each magazine for future reference, and I share numerous articles with family and friends. I’m going to have to get a replacement for my August/September 2014 issue, though, as I gave away so many articles!

I want to mention to you the difference between “peddle” and “pedal” in reference to the Country Lore piece by Monty Kaasch, Attach Your Manual Grain Mill to an Elliptical Trainer (August/September 2014). “To peddle” means to sell things from a variable location, such as selling door to door or on the street. “To pedal” means to rotate the pedals of a machine, such as a bicycle.

Nadia Smith
Pocatello, Idaho

Thank you, Nadia! Yes, we are embarrassed we let that error slip through. — MOTHER EARTH NEWS

Toads vs. Slugs

In response to the article A Glossary of Natural Garden Pest Control Solutions in the June/July 2014 issue: I control deer by draping netting over fruit trees as a row cover. The deer haven’t returned since I put it on. I lay stakes and long poles on the netting’s edges to hold it down to fully protect the crop. This tactic would probably work for rabbits, too.

I didn’t see toads mentioned as a means of controlling slugs. I have a couple of small goldfish ponds that keep the toad and tree frog populations thriving in my garden. Thanks to these natural predators, I just handpick any pests I spot, and then I let the toads do the rest. I haven’t seen a slug in my garden in years. Is there a downside to toads that led you to exclude them?

Jay Smith
Oxford, North Carolina

Nope! As far as we know, pest-eating toads are terrific. — MOTHER EARTH NEWS

Grief Avoided

This is a long overdue letter to say thank you. I was a single mother of three small children in the ’70s, and I put them to work helping me start a garden. We were able to get a substantial amount of our food from it. I began to shop at a “hippie” health food store. As with many things these days, even that was better “back then.” We’d bring our own containers and buy items such as honey and shampoo at bulk prices. One day, I spotted my first issue of MOTHER EARTH NEWS while shopping there, and boy, was I ever hooked. It inspired me to get even more involved in the “back to the land” lifestyle I was already so enjoying.

Fast-forward a little to a remarriage, and MOTHER EARTH NEWS inspired my family to pack a U-Haul and move halfway across the country. No jobs, no home — but we did take the rototiller.

We thought we’d found the perfect piece of land, but an article I’d read in MOTHER EARTH NEWS sure saved us from making a huge mistake. The realtor never told us it was a landlocked piece of property. Your article said to make sure buyers have access to their new land, so I asked about it. The realtor gulped, and I insisted he answer our question before we bought. It turns out, none of the neighbors wanted us there because we were “strangers.” None of them would provide a right of way so we could actually get to the land. There was no sale, and thus we didn’t tie up our money in a useless piece of property.

I’ve always wanted to write to you to let you know how much grief that advice saved my family. Thank you for that, and for all the other helpful information since then.

We did eventually find a good spot, and this past summer marked the 35th year that a garden has helped fill the canning jars lining our pantry shelves. And those kids who had to pull all of those weeds back then? All three have gardens of their own now, and the grandkids love to eat fresh peas straight off the vine.

Judy Way
Phillips, Wisconsin

‘Neo-Marxist Drivel’

I foolishly paid in advance for a two-year subscription to what I thought was a DIY and homesteading magazine. What a waste of time and money. Little did I realize I had forked over so much money to support neo-Marxist drivel.

At first I thought I could just ignore the nonsense and concentrate on the farming and self-reliance articles, but over time, it became ridiculous. Articles about not having children, the evils of insert-any-facet-of-modern-life-here, “green” cars, and capitalism in general all got to be way too much to stomach.

Donald Ramakers
Tustin, California

We will provide a refund on all undelivered issues to any subscribers who are unhappy with the magazine and decide to cancel their subscriptions. — MOTHER EARTH NEWS

Bovine Bliss

Wow! What a fabulous article on industrial agriculture in your June/July 2014 issue (“Hidden Downsides of the Green Revolution”). This is such a complex subject, and it should be a huge concern to us all.

We raise cattle on large pastures with bush areas, and they graze so contentedly and look so healthy that we just know it’s all how it should be. My philosophy is that if agriculture doesn’t look beautiful, you’re doing something wrong.

Deborah Butler
Rose Prairie, British Columbia

A Childfree Life

Thank you for publishing the article Making a Green Choice: Childfree Living by Lisa Hymas in your February/March 2014 issue. I’m not at all surprised by the heated and polarized debate the article has triggered.

I’m a childfree woman in my 30s. When asked why I don’t have children, I simply state, “I just never wanted any,” but it almost seems taboo to admit this. Parents tend to respond with comments to the effect of, “You’ll change your mind,” or, “It’s different when they’re your own,” implying that my choice is somehow immature or shortsighted. Should I really have a child without feeling a desire for one, only in the hope that after the child is born, I’ll actually be glad I did it?

I don’t dislike children — I’ve just never had a desire to raise my own, and I also share Hymas’ concerns about the planet’s overpopulation. Thank you for opening this issue up for discussion by publishing the article.

Solace in the Small Steps

Because Making a Green Choice: Childfree Living (February/March 2014) is still drawing comments, I’d like to add mine, as it hasn’t been mentioned yet. Shall we blame our problems of resource depletion on overpopulation, or instead on overconsumption, unsustainable living, and a selfishness that prevents us from seeing our responsibility to others around us and to those who will follow us? To the readers of this magazine, I am probably preaching to the choir, but it would take four Earths to support the planet’s current population if each person had the habits of the average U.S. citizen.

This is something that deeply concerns me, as I have four grandchildren and I wonder what their world will be like. For that reason, I found a great deal of peace in the article “Small Steps Can Change Our World” in the June/July 2014 issue. I’m going to try to be content to make a difference within my sphere of influence, and try to worry less.

Mary Meyers
Mokena, Illinois

Choosing for Ourselves

In response to Small Steps Can Change the World (June/July 2014): Congratulations to Jack’s parents for allowing their son the freedom to research and determine whether lollipops were good to include in his personal diet. So what is admirable, then, about imposing what he decided upon the other parents and students in Jack’s classroom? While the tone of the rest of the article advocates making personal choices that improve our world — which is a highly desirable method of modeling change to our fellow citizens of Earth — forcing similar change on others is dictatorial and arrogant.

I sure hope little Jack understands that, in an ideal democratic society, we all get to choose for ourselves and bear the consequences of our choices. Far better that Jack and his parents would have presented the evidence to Jack’s peers (and their parents) and let them arrive at their own decisions.

Susan Winter
Puyallup, Washington

Do What You Can

I was motivated to write to my local library, bank and even pediatrician’s office after reading Joel Salatin’s Small Steps Can Change the World in the June/July 2014 issue. What a great article! I have a young son with whom I stay home, and we go to the library about once a week for story time. The library serves a snack, and it’s always some kind of processed cookie, cracker or chips, along with a sugary, colored, flavored drink.

Up until reading the article, I’d just quietly and politely opted out of the snack. Inspired, however, I decided to write a letter to the library about my thoughts on its choice of snacks. This is just a tiny step. It might not make a large change, but all steps have some ripples, no matter how small.

Joel Salatin is right: Do what you can, when you can. Set your example, and with enough of us joining in, things can’t help but change. I also wrote to the bank and the pediatrician’s office about their long tradition of handing out lollipops to children. I guess, to most people, it doesn’t seem strange for even the doctor’s office to give out lollipops to children. The thing that was strange was the look my husband and I got from the nurses when we said that our 2-year-old son didn’t know what a lollipop was yet and that we weren’t in any hurry to teach him. Small steps, but steps nonetheless! Thank you for the article.

Justine Riley
Mayfield, Kentucky

Raccoon Concerns

I want to pass along a report from the Seattle Post-Intelligencer about raccoons being a host for the roundworm parasite known as Baylisascaris procyonis:

“This roundworm can cause extremely serious disease conditions in humans. Indeed, for vulnerable groups such as children and the elderly, as well as those with compromised immune systems, exposure to this roundworm can be fatal. Most exposure occurs when humans have direct or indirect contact with raccoon droppings, which can contain millions of roundworm eggs. Although the roundworms themselves can survive only inside an animal host, their eggs are extremely tough and can remain viable for years in soil, sand or even water. Thus, people can come into contact with old and decomposed raccoon droppings without realizing it.”

A friend of mine traps raccoons and carts them away to try to prevent any exposure.

Jeffrey Dickemann
Richmond, California

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, human infections of this parasite are rare, but contact with raccoon feces should be avoided. Raccoons defecate in communal sites called “latrines.” Their feces are usually dark and tubular and have a pungent odor. If raccoons have established a latrine near your home, you may want to remove it. Search for “raccoon latrines” online, and you’ll find several websites that describe how to do this safely. — MOTHER EARTH NEWS

Pickle Perfect

I tried the recipe for Simple Thai Refrigerator Pickles in the August/September 2014 issue (How to Make Pickles), and I loved them! I grow lots of different vegetables here in the Alentejo region of Portugal, and I’m always on the lookout for new ways of preserving to continue the season. These pickles are a tasty, easy-to-make dish I like to serve with lunch.

Jeanette Elliott
Alentejo, Portugal

Alert for MOTHER EARTH NEWS Subscribers

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The company uses several names and addresses on these solicitations, frequently “Publishers Billing Exchange” or “Publishers Billing Emporium” of White City, Ore.

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