Dear MOTHER: June/July 2017

Reader letters about solar panels, carpenter bees, lambing, and more.

guardian dog

A livestock guardian dog overlooks sheep in the pasture.

Photo by Fotolia/Daniel Meunier.

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Get Rid of Carpenter Bees Naturally

Please help. I have mason bees that keep coming back to my door frames. I’ve built a house for them near my garden and another simpler one closer to my house. But they continue to drill holes into my door frames. I’ve tried various things, including plugging their holes with moth balls, painting the wood, etc. I don’t want to kill the bees; I just want them to build a house elsewhere. What can I do?

Cassandra Patton
Royal, Arizona

Cassandra, based on your description, it sounds like you may be dealing with carpenter bees rather than mason bees. Mason bees are typically quite small and use already existing holes in which to make their solitary nests, while carpenter bees are larger (think bumblebee-sized) and bore holes into wood. The good news is that you have some options. Typically, experts agree that painting exposed wood surfaces is one of the most effective means of protection against carpenter bees. Since painting hasn’t worked for you, you might try coating the door frames with citrus oil or tea tree oil as a deterrent. You can also try plugging the holes with steel wool or taping pieces of aluminum window screen over the holes for a few weeks (while the bees are out), and then fill the holes with wood putty. If you’re interested in rehoming them, you might consider the above options in addition to placing some untreated softwood logs in a dry, protected area away from your home to serve as a more attractive option for the carpenter bees to burrow into. They do, after all, help pollinate many garden crops, such as corn, beans, peppers, and blackberries. — Mother


Beneficial Pollinators and Garden Predators

I’ve been an avid reader for many years. It was Mother that really taught me the importance and productivity of good organic gardening. Regarding bugs, it took many years for a really noticeable change to take place in the garden. I never thought I’d be a part-time entomologist, but what I’ve noticed is a growing number of pollinators and predator bugs. Once my garden achieved this stage, I’ve not had to fight against the “bad” bugs. My cherry trees still need extra protection, so I buy green lacewings to take care of an aphid infestation. Thank you Mother Earth News, and keep up the fight for all of us.

Joseph Ford
Zion, Illinois


Mother Earth News Supports Solar

In August 2012, we installed our first 24 solar panels on the roof of our home in West Virginia. An engineering firm assisted us with the arrangement, placement, and ordering of materials. My husband and stepson did the actual installation. It went well and performed flawlessly. In March 2014, we added four more panels, and this year, we decided to max out the two electric circuits we have for the panels, adding another six panels. While waiting for a suitable stretch of weather this February, we stored the panels in our sunroom. We needed something to keep them off the floor, so my husband reached for the closest thing at hand. As you can see from the photo, Mother Earth News supports our solar installation. We generate more than 50 percent of what we use in our completely electric household and couldn’t be happier with our decision to install solar.

Chuck & Shelley Guthoerl
Valley Grove, West Virginia


Valuable Lessons

I just want to say thanks! This is an amazing publication. I’ve found so many valuable lessons on your website for choosing livestock guardians, making lye-leaching barrels, cutting straw by hand, using the deep-litter method for chickens, creating homemade soaps and candles, gardening, and the list goes on. Extremely valuable!

Dan Jacob
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania


Protect Ducks from Small Predators

I just read “Learning Lessons from Lambing Season” in the April/May 2017 issue of Mother Earth News. I must say that my husband and I have just dealt with predators firsthand. Our beloved ducks were attacked by a weasel or mink the other day. We’re devastated. However, we learned a very hard lesson about how we need to make sure that every tiny access point to the ducks’ run is covered in 1⁄2-inch welded wire, not the 1-inch stuff that we’d installed. My hope is that other readers out there who are raising small livestock will see that there are predators of every size — not just raccoons and hawks.

Brandi Mietlowski
Western New York


Missing Mother

I’ve been a Mother reader since the beginning. In the past couple of years, I’ve lost my vision. Through the Library of Congress and the Department for the Blind and Vision Impaired, I listen to many books, newspapers, and magazines. Unfortunately, Mother Earth News isn’t available. Let’s make Mother Earth News available for the vision-impaired fans! I miss you, Mother.

Brian Bethel
Glen Allen, Virginia

Brian, we miss you too! Since receiving your message, we’ve begun searching for ways to make Mother Earth News more accessible to those with vision impairments. Thank you for sticking with us, and we hope to have good news to share in the coming months as we explore ways to make it possible for you and others with vision impairments to enjoy Mother Earth News again. — Mother


Loving Our Lamb, Buttercup

Hank, I appreciated your comments on lambing in “Learning Lessons from Lambing Season” in the April/May 2017 issue. This is our first year of lambing, and it’s brought great joy and anticipation to our barn. My experience hasn’t been so successful with “stealing milk,” and we’re still bottle-feeding a little lamb named Buttercup twice a day. However, I must say, having a little lamb follow me and my 5-year-old daughter Olivia around is absolutely heartwarming. I’m not sure I would change it one bit — unless, of course, her mama would choose to care for her.

We’re cattle ranchers, so we’ve always had a bucket calf or two to raise. However, we chose to add sheep to our barn because the calves grow up and create a variety of potentially unsafe situations for our young child, and our goal was for the barn to be entirely Olivia-friendly. The sheep have been all that and more because Olivia can get into the pens with the moms and babies to bottle-feed and play. And she can do all that without me having to worry she’ll get kicked or trampled. I’m sure I speak for many parents, grandparents, friends, and neighbors when I say that we want our children on the farm participating and learning about the Earth, God, plants, animals, and life and death. But we also want them safe. Therefore, my comment isn’t about predators per se, but more on celebrating what carefully chosen livestock can provide in continuing to teach the next generation while considering their age and safety as well. Our whole family has thoroughly enjoyed our four lambs and two mamas, and we’ve shared them with lots of children in our community. It’s good to sometimes change habits (my husband is a fourth-generation cattleman) to ensure that farming and fostering a love of the land is passed on to the next generations.

Candi Douthit
St. Francis, Kansas


Teach, Cook, Repeat

When I purchased my 3-acre property, which had once been a small cattle and sheep farm, I had ideas of turning it into an organic farm and a space for artists. It took a few years to amend the thick clay, but, by the third year, we were ready. The only obstacle, it seemed, was a nice man who was new to the neighborhood and was accustomed to controlling everything with chemicals. Because our properties adjoined one another, we’d have an issue obtaining organic certification for our farm.

Initially, he resisted my hints that there were better ways than using poison to control undesired insects and weeds — he referred to “tree-huggers” as naive to “the real world.” I had to get creative.

As a housewarming gift, I purchased a beautiful peony bush, similar to those on my property. When everything came into bloom, my neighbor noted that his bush wasn’t opening and that the buds looked small and droopy. He asked why my bushes were covered in ants while his had none. Enter my opportunity to teach. I explained that the use of pesticides most likely killed all the beneficial insects along with the others, and that I’d welcome the chance to show him how to enjoy his land in a way that would be safe for beneficial life as well as for his grandchildren to play on.

Then, I began bringing my neighbor home-cooked, organic foods and baked goods, and he noticed the change not only in taste, but in how the foods made him feel. By the next summer, he was on board with my organic plan, and I achieved my certification in organic farming. Now, he grows his own foods too! (My art thrives here as well, and many students have also benefited from learning about organics while I teach them mosaic art.)

Gentle goes the lesson.

Patrianne Boucha
Pittsfield Township, Michigan


Cute Quintuplets

We raise dairy goats, along with some meat-goat crosses. On March 3, we were blessed with a set of quintuplets. Last year, when this dairy goat was a yearling, she had triplets, and I had to milk her on occasion because the kids weren’t able to drink all the milk. This year, I bought a vacuum pump for my milking machine in anticipation of her freshening. Well, she fooled me and had five kids, which are all fed completely by her and growing like proverbial weeds.

The day before she had her kids, I mentioned to my husband that she might explode if she didn’t kid soon. The following day, when I happened upon her just after the fifth kid arrived, it certainly looked as though she’d exploded. She gave birth to three doelings and two bucklings.

Donna Harris
Socorro County, New Mexico


Little Lamb on Instagram

This photo is of my daughter Julia holding a little Shetland lamb she and her sister named Sherlene just a few hours after the lamb was born. We raise Shetlands and pastured poultry on 22 acres in upstate New York.

Josh Tanner
Upstate New York

Readers, tag us on Instagram, and you may just end up in print! You can find us on Instagram as MotherEarthNewsMag. — Mother


True Heritage Breeds

We’d like to apologize to Christine Grafe, the actual author of “Heritage Breeds” in the December 2016/January 2017 installment of Dear Mother, for attributing her letter to the wrong person.