Dear Mother: Green Bean Harvest, Career Changes and Pallet Building

Readers share about their adventures growing organically, changing careers, green beans, and pallet building.

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courtesy of Allie Bierman

Gallons of Green Beans

My husband and I spent a couple of weeks this summer picking, snapping, cleaning, cutting, and canning green beans. We had our own little garden at our house with green bean plants, and my grandma had too many green bean plants to keep up with, so we helped her too. In one pick, we got 5 gallons of green beans. We got to work on them right away. It was my first time using a pressure canner too! We got about 50 pint-sized jars canned, and we can’t wait to use them this winter.

jars of green beans on stove top

Allie Bierman
Via email


Organic Without Certification

We have a brown mamma bunny and two baby bunnies that visit our garden daily. They’re so cute! Some gardeners don’t like them, but we do. They eat some of our dandelion greens and coreopsis plants, but they also sit in our raised beds and leave little piles of natural, non-burning fertilizer. Next year, we’ll plant more dandelion greens…–…some for us, some for them.

Our October/November issue of Mother Earth News arrived, and I was sad to read “Unpacking ‘Organic,’…” especially regarding certification, which apparently is difficult for small farmers or gardeners to obtain. Our small garden is organic…–…we don’t use poisons or anything artificial, and we don’t need to be certified anyway. We eat the weeds that we recognize, including plantain, purslane, and dandelion (greens and blossoms), and we freeze them for winter greens smoothies. We use mint, chive, and parsley in salads. We also eat edible flowers; violets are one of our favorites.

We like the straw bale quick garden setup shown in the “Unpacking ‘Organic’…” article. Thanks for all the good info.

E. Reidy
Via email


Changing Directions

When COVID-19 hit full force in 2020, I was resigned to a summer of quarantine from my job in the plastics industry. During that time, I reevaluated my direction in life and decided I no longer wanted to work a job that didn’t complement my life values. My family were originally farmers, and I’ve always had a deep appreciation of the outdoors. I also have a desire to become a better steward of the earth, and a need to contribute to the community and pass down practical knowledge to my daughter. One thing led to another, and I enrolled myself at the local technical college seeking a degree in horticulture. The coursework requires a practicum, and this summer I found a small organic farm willing to teach someone new to the industry. A journal entry of my experiences follows:

“I close my eyes and turn my head to the sky so I can fully accept the sun’s warmth radiating down upon my face. A gentle breeze blows through my hair, and I stop to take a deep breath of fresh, clean air. I take another. I slow down and listen…–…calm, peaceful. I open my eyes and gaze across the land. I see fields of beauty, bright vibrant colors of green. The smell of healthy soil is in the air. Today, I’m on the farm, and today, I’m happy.

At the farmers market with my friend and coworker, Morgan. She’s a seasoned expert at sales…–…working with others, talking, selling, and staying positive. Her energy is contagious. I make eye contact with a customer sucked into her spiel. I’m just here to listen. She indicates to me, so I take a step back to observe and appreciate what’s happening. Morgan, with her energy, has gathered a crowd. She’s talking about potatoes…–…purple Viking potatoes. She has an unquenchable passion for what we do…–…the nutrition and value we offer. Our quality of produce is second to none and speaks for itself. Morgan just helps teach the unfamiliar the language. Today, I’m at a farmers market, and today, I’m happy.

For a long time, when it came to work, it was always a job. I didn’t have that desire, that passion to be there, to put in the extra effort. Today, that’s changed. I look forward to a long day in the field. I love to get my hands dirty and put in an honest day’s work to earn myself a hot bath at the end of it. I’m learning a lot. As I complete more of my learning goals, I further solidify that my choice to uproot my career path and transplant it to another is the correct one. The feelings of independence and connecting the knowledge I’ve gained in the classroom with practical experience in the field are indescribable. Today, this is my life, and today, I’m happy.”

Zachary Whitehead
Kenosha, Wisconsin


Legal Concerns for Sharing Seeds

I thoroughly enjoyed my first issue of Mother Earth News, and I look forward to many more! Of special interest to me was Amyrose Foll’s article on seed saving (“Saving Culturally Significant Seeds,” August/September 2021). While I’m not able to have my own garden at this time, I plan to in the future, and I’d like to practice seed saving when I do.

Interestingly enough, that article is one of several things I’ve seen lately about saving seeds. One was an episode of “Virginia Home Grown” on a local PBS station, and the other was in the summer 2021 issue of Farming Magazine. The author of the Farming Magazine article brought up the point of seed-saving legality, giving two examples: Companies making GMO seeds illegal to save and reuse; and states passing “seed preemption laws.” The article briefly mentioned states could require permits and labeling for sharing heirloom seeds.

It sounds much like the different state requirements for processing and selling milk and honey, at least to me. Regardless, I wanted to be sure that others know a bit of research is in order to ensure compliance with the law.

Calvin
Virginia

Calvin, thank you for the note! Seed-related laws can get a bit tricky. In general, though, they don’t regulate saving seeds for personal use, with the exception of saving patented seeds. This more largely affects commercial farmers, requiring them to sign contracts dictating they buy new seed each year. When it comes to swapping, sharing, or selling seeds, however, things get more complicated, and laws vary between states. For example, some states govern only the sale of seeds and impose no regulations on swapping or sharing noncommercial seeds; whereas in some states, noncommercial seeds can only be exchanged if they meet certain labeling, permitting, or testing requirements. Readers, consult your local extension office or state Department of Agriculture office to learn about seed legality in your area.…–…Mother


Planting with Ease

My husband and I are in our mid-60s, and stooping to care for our garden gets harder every year. We’re building raised beds for our garden next year. Here’s a picture of the four we’ve built so far. The corner blocks allow us to insert 2×6 pressure-treated lumber to build the beds. The blocks can be purchased at most building supply stores. We built the larger bed to measure 10 feet by 5 feet, with four corner stones stacked to create a bed 24 inches high. We also used spare pieces on the inside, screwed down to prevent bowing. Holes in the corner blocks allow us to drive rebar through to add stability. We bought four 10-foot pieces of rebar and cut them into four even sections, 2-1/2 feet long each. The sitting ledges will prevent us from having to bend down to work in the raised beds. We cut four 12-foot long 2×6 boards into four equal lengths, 36 inches each, to build the smaller raised beds.

4 raised garden beds next to yellow house

We purchased organic raised-bed soil that has worm castings in the mix. It’s available at our local nursery supply center and sold by the cubic yard. We hauled it in our truck bed. We also mixed in compost from our chicken pen, which has worked well in our in-ground gardens before. It’s great organic fertilizer. Nothing goes to waste. Happy gardening!

Marsha Rogers
Morrison, Tennessee


Building with Pallets

We’ve had a subscription to Mother Earth News for more than 27 years. We enjoy your magazine. You keep publishing, and we’ll keep reading.

I have to admire my husband; he turned 80 in September. We’ve read a lot of articles about using pallets, and since his retirement at 67, he’s completed a lot of projects.

outside of pallet playhouse

He needed a workshop to try his hand at woodworking after giving up his recreational vehicle (RV) business of 14 years. We spent months gathering pallets and linoleum flooring from carpet companies, plywood from construction site throwaways, and posts and plastic signs from a sign company. Then, my husband mixed and matched until he got just the right sized pallets to build his wood shop. The plastic signs went on the floor on top of pallets, resulting in a fast-clean floor. We installed patio doors, which let a lot of light in and can be locked. We used tin for the roof, leftover from roofing a house. We used benches and cabinets out of vans he used for his RV business.

For three months, he was filling the shop with woodworking tools. He made two rocking chairs and a double-seated porch set out of pallets. He didn’t use a pattern, but just paid attention. Not counting labor, the workshop cost about $125 for nails and materials.

By 2021, our great-grandkids had grown too big for the small playhouse my husband built two years before. So, less than three months before they came up for the summer, he built two cabins with 6-foot benches inside. The benches double as storage containers for camping gear. Both cabins have Dutch doors on the windows, which were throwaways because of moisture between the panes.

outside of small pallet house

I like to camp, so I talked my husband into building a summer kitchen near the cabins. My camp stove works wonderfully there, and I can get away from everyday life without needing a reservation. There’s a deck with a lot of room between the two cabins and the summer kitchen, so we put up two full-sized cots on the deck, and that’s where we camp.

The kids’ cabins needed some color, and mistinted paint doesn’t cost a lot, so I had a lot of fun painting the cabins. Not counting labor costs, both cabins cost about $125. Not bad for the ability to camp anytime. The smiles on the kids’ faces are priceless.

Mary and LeRoy Ranft
Pineville, Missouri


Mother’s Favorite Bread Recipe

I’ve been using this recipe for close to 50 years. I’d tried making whole-wheat bread before, but it always failed. Then, I found this recipe for “Mother’s Favorite Bread” in your magazine. I’m now 88, and I find the kneading tough. I wonder if you have any updates to make it easier? It now takes me half an hour to knead, and I’m still not happy with the results. I divide the dough into six loaves and stick five in the freezer. Any helpful hints? If not, maybe you could print it again and find more enthusiasts.

To make the sponge:

  • 6 cups warm water, 85 to 105 degrees Fahrenheit, divided
  • 2 tablespoons yeast
  • 1/2 cup honey, or 1/4 cup honey and 1/4 cup molasses, divided
  • 1/2 cup powdered dry milk
  • 4 cups rolled oats
  • 2 to 3 carrots, grated
  • 4 cups whole-wheat flour, or a mixture of whole-wheat and white flour
  • 2 to 3 eggs (optional)
  • 1/2 cup millet (optional)

To make the dough:

  • 1/2 cup cooking oil (I use olive oil)
  • 2 tablespoons salt, preferably sea salt
  • 6 to 8 cups whole-wheat flour, plus more for dusting
  • Oil or butter, to coat bread pans
  1. First, perform a “yeast test” by mixing 1 cup warm water with yeast and 2 tablespoons honey. Let mixture rest until it begins to bubble and foam, showing the yeast is alive.
  2. Combine yeast test with remaining sponge ingredients in a large bowl to make the sponge. The mixture should be the consistency of thick pancake batter. Beat the sponge well (50 to 300 strokes by hand) to develop the gluten. (Alternatively, this can be done in a large food mixer.)
  3. Cover the sponge with a damp towel, and place it in a warm location to rise for 60 minutes. (According to the original recipe, you can get away with a 20-minute rise if you’re in a rush, but I’ve never tried this.)
  4. When the sponge has risen, add oil and salt. Then, stir in 6 cups flour, adding more if needed until dough pulls away from the side of the bowl when worked.
  5. Sprinkle flour on your kneading board, and dust flour on your hands and the dough. Knead for 10 to 15 minutes, adding flour as needed to make a stiff dough that sticks only to your fingertips. If dough rebounds when poked, it’s reached the correct consistency.
  6. Place dough in a large oiled bowl. Flip dough over a couple of times to oil it well. Place a warm, damp cloth over the bowl to prevent dough from drying out, and put the dough in a warm, draught-free place to rise. (The original recipe suggests a warmed oven with the heat turned off, but I’ve not tried that.) Let dough rise for 50 minutes, or until doubled in size.
  7. When dough has risen, remove the cloth, and punch dough down gently. Cover dough again, and leave to rise another 40 minutes.
  8. While dough rises, apply a liberal coating of oil or butter to four standard-sized bread pans. (I sometimes use six pans and get smaller loaves. You can also do free-formed loaves on a cookie sheet.)
  9. When dough has risen, divide it into four equal amounts and place each one in a bread pan. Cover pans, and leave dough to rise for 20 minutes.
  10. Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. (The original recipe suggests placing a pan of water in the bottom of your oven, but I often skip this step.)
  11. Bake for 55 minutes, and then check loaves to see if they’re done.

Ruth Morley
Via email

Ruth, thank you for sharing this recipe! Unfortunately, we don’t have any updates that will ease the chore of hand-kneading the dough. Some people find dough scrapers helpful for working all types of dough, and they can typically be purchased inexpensively. Or, if you have a stand mixer or a food processor, you can try kneading the dough in those appliances for a more hands-free approach. Alternatively, you can try a no-knead recipe. These breads are characterized by a long rise time…–…resulting in a great flavor…–…and wet dough. Search for “no-knead bread” at www.MotherEarthNews.com. We hope you find a recipe you enjoy as much as this classic!…–…Mother


Seed-Saving Success

Here’s a photo of my first ‘Cherokee Purple’ tomato from saved seeds. It’s a beauty, measuring 6 inches by 6 inches. I love these tomatoes.

Leigh Mosenfelder
Milan, Illinois


Grid-Tied Solar Considerations

As an alternative energy user and enthusiast for decades, I was extremely interested in the article “Select a Solar Inverter” in the October/November 2021 issue of Mother Earth News.

I’m concerned that the author didn’t address state or local restrictions on solar electric systems: an important aspect of grid-tied inverters. Maybe some locations are more lax in their dealings with grid-tied systems, but Hawaii is pretty strict. The local electric company has to give permission for each installation, primarily because of grid capacity. Then, there are electrical permits and inspections after hardware installation, and there are expenses involved.

H. David Hultquist,
Kula, Maui, Hawaii

H., thank you for the letter! Readers, restrictions and requirements for installing grid-tied solar electric systems do vary by state. The solar installer you choose to work with should be knowledgeable about any restrictions and requirements for the areas they service. Additionally, check with your local power provider before installing a solar system to get an idea of what you’ll need to do to make sure your system complies with local regulations. It’s especially important to do this research if you plan to install your own system. For a more in-depth look at what might be expected, visit the U.S. Department of Energy’s “Grid-Connected Renewable Energy Systems” page, at www.Energy.Gov/EnergySaver/Grid-Connected-Renewable-Energy-Systems.…–…Mother


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