City Boy Makes Good

By Staff
1 / 3
2 / 3
3 / 3

City Boy Makes Good

Letters from our readers about moving from the city, processing grief, accessible gardening, chimney sweeping, and more.

December 2018/January 2019

I first discovered MOTHER EARTH NEWS when a copy was sitting on the coffee table of a friend’s country home. I was a city boy at the time, and dreamed of someday having my own homestead. But how could I make it happen? I had no money, no experience, and no clue where to start.

My first move away from city life was when I bought a used step van to outfit as my new home. I spent months adding everything I needed to live on the road — water tanks, a bed with storage underneath, a fold-down desk, a gas stove, a furnace, cupboards, a toilet — all hidden inside so that the outside looked like a generic delivery van. This allowed me to park it anywhere without having to rent a parking space. When I wasn’t working summers as a waiter, I was driving through the country in search of a homestead. I saw many that I liked, but I was waiting for the one that I loved.

After five years, I had enough money saved up to buy land in High Springs, Florida. The property had a large lake filled with bass, bluegills, and catfish. I was able to buy 20 acres — 10 acres stripped land and the other 10 established woods — for $25,000.

During my homestead search, I met and married my wife. Early in our marriage, we only visited the land briefly before returning to our jobs. The next year, we made the permanent move with our infant daughter. We had to live in tents and trailers while our house was being built, but it was worth it to finally start our homestead.

Once the initial structure came together for our house, we got to work on turning this property into a true homestead. MOTHER’s articles were some of the most helpful tools we had when we began creating a new life in the country. This magazine walked us through the basics of gardening, working with chickens for the first time, and building simple structures to make our homestead life run smooth and easy.

The first major project I tackled for our homestead was building a yurt-shaped underground room. In the 1980s, I saw a MOTHER article that helped me build this structure all on my own. I got the materials free by tearing down an old structure for a neighbor, and I used the heart pine and heavy tin roofing from that demolition. That underground room is still strong and dry after three decades thanks to the skillful instructions given by your experts.

When I wanted to run our homestead on solar power, MOTHER was there for me once again. I contacted the sources of an article, studied The New Solar Electric Home by Joel Davidson and Fran Orner, and got to work installing my own solar-powered system. That same system is running as well as when I installed it decades ago. I now pay only $8 per month for electricity.

In the latest years on my homestead, I’ve continued turning to MOTHER EARTH NEWS for ways to improve my home on my own, and it’s never failed me. I’ve used articles to build a timberline geodesic dome, a stairway made of tires, a white-roof cooling system, and so many more projects. After tackling all of these, our homestead is able to run on less than $9,000 a year.

I enjoy MOTHER EARTH NEWS’ helpful tips on living a lifestyle that treads more lightly on our planet. I appreciate your wide variety of homestead stories and reader tips that are still relevant to what I’m doing out here. Thank you for helping this city boy convert to the country lifestyle. I couldn’t have done it without you.

Larry Behnke
High Springs, Florida

Speak for the Trees

Photo by Getty Images/Max-kegfire

I agree with editorial director Hank Will’s wise notes (“Common Ground,” April/May 2018) that we all must come together to solve global problems. I’ve found that MOTHER EARTH NEWS always does a great job sharing important information and connecting its readers. It has to be everyone’s responsibility to grow food for our families and friends, and to share inexpensive and easy ways of overcoming challenges to protect our environment.

I myself try to pass on my knowledge to help others whenever possible. I also love to give away some of my young fruit and nut trees so that others can find their passion for growing and caring for plants. I use pruned branches to create new trees and then give them away to friends and family. This way, I’m not only helping grow new trees, but am also getting others interested in caring for these trees, and helping them become responsible for their own food sources. The more people who are interested in growing trees, the better protected our environment will be.

Jim Rusk
La Plata, New Mexico

Studious Readers

I just love this magazine! Each time the newest issue arrives, I take the whole day to read it through carefully. I like to think of it as studying, trying to soak in all the information.

At 83 years old, I still maintain a half-acre garden, and the tips in your magazine still help me more and more each day. I grow much more produce than I could possibly need, so I give the extra to all of my friends, who are also older but unable to garden for themselves. Anything left over goes straight to my pygmy goats, who appreciate the spare treats.

Gardening has gotten more challenging for me since my husband passed away a few years ago. Luckily, my son is still around and helps me with some of the gardening and most of the farming. It brings me so much joy to still be able to work in my garden with all of my beautiful fruits and flowers, and studying new tips from MOTHER EARTH NEWS makes it possible.

Beverly Peterson
Ivanhoe, Minnesota

MOTHER Put a Fire Under His Feet

Photo courtesy of Bill Kline 

Many, many years ago, I read MOTHER EARTH NEWS’ story “Make Money in the Chimney Sweep Business” (January/February 1978). I was so intrigued by the idea that I immediately sent off for more information. Once I knew more about chimney sweeping, I decided it was something I had to do. I borrowed money from my local bank and purchased the finest chimney sweep system I could afford. It was delivered in February 1978, and the very next day, I set out to become the best chimney sweep in South Carolina.

It was hard work, but I grew my business and built my reputation as a trusted chimney sweep in my town. I was the go-to sweep for every person in Greer, all from my own hard work. I maintained that status over nearly four decades in the business. Though I loved my time as a chimney sweep, those many years on the job damaged my knee and eventually forced me into retirement.

I’ve enjoyed MOTHER EARTH NEWS for many years since reading that initial article, and am always on the lookout for new tips to inspire me to wander down my next path in life. Keep up the good work!

Bill Kline
Greer, South Carolina

Timely Tips

I enjoyed reading Joel Salatin’s “Profitable Permaculture Principles” (June/July 2017). Recently, a powerful windstorm came through our area, resulting in some minor damage, including an overturned sawmill. It’s clear that we’ll need to adapt to weather disruption on our homestead.

We use 275-gallon plastic water tanks. I even constructed a portable water trailer. We’re also building an off-grid house that’s designed for 130 mph winds, so I found Salatin’s shared account of 100 mph winds on his homestead beneficial.

I’d like to suggest a correction to estimating water tower performance. Salatin, speaking on gravity-based water systems, states that water pressure is “0.07 pounds per vertical inch, so even 25 feet of height for your water supply will offer 210 pounds of pressure.” The fundamental equation for gravity-based water systems, however, is 1 inch of water equals 0.036 PSI (pounds per square inch), or 1 foot equals 0.432 PSI. While Salatin was describing a simpler gravity-based watering system for livestock feeding, these measurement differences are still significant. The minimum requirement for household systems is 40 PSI. This means that providing for a household at the minimum requirement would result in the need for a 93-foot-high water source in order for the gravity-based system to supply a minimum amount of pressure.

Robert Richard
Belfast, Maine

Help with Processing Grief

Quite a while ago, you printed an article about home funerals and burials; that article has stayed with me through the years. When my 4-1/2-year-old son died in a tragic accident last February, the knowledge that I had gained about what might be possible enabled me to arrange a meaningful funeral for my son.

His father and I both agreed that being able to dress Max, wrap him in soft blankets, and place him into the coffin ourselves was deeply significant in processing our grief. Your article let me know that it was possible to ask for these things that I never even knew were options.

Please continue to include these topics in your publication. I hope that others are able to see this article, and when they experience the death of a loved one, they too are empowered to participate in ways that are healing and meaningful to them.

Keelia Carver
Maupin, Oregon

We’re so sorry for your loss, Keelia.

Your heartfelt letter arrived just as we finished editing Elizabeth Fournier’s article on backyard burials for this issue. Readers, you can find excellent advice from Fournier, a green burial expert. — MOTHER

Creative Construction

Photo by Getty Images/Nestea06

I recently went through a period of financial burden. During this time, I found myself in need of a new sledgehammer, yet without the funds to buy one. I recalled that my daughter had an old sledgehammer head lying around her house somewhere, so I decided to acquire that and make my own sledgehammer from scratch.

Because I already had the head, I went on the lookout for the best materials for the handle. I was already in the process of removing some vine maple from my leach field, and realized it might make a solid handle. I carefully gathered up the vine maple and carved my handle. When I’d finished, I was amazed at how comfortable the handle felt in my hand, while it still managed to have a “soft” grip. However, there was still something special about it that I couldn’t quite put my finger on.

One day at the laundromat, I entered into an enlightening conversation with a fellow whose career involved working with specialty woods. He explained to me that vine maple is great material for axe and hammer handles because it absorbs the sting of impact. Hearing that made me love my old sledgehammer even more!

Leo Lulich
Kalama, Washington

Winter Garden Wonders

I came to this wonderful country in the fall of 1957. As the oldest of eight children, I worked hard to help my family. At times, we had to live on weeds or whatever else we could forage from the woods. We weren’t allowed to wander too far, but we always managed to find something for dinner that night. Though it was difficult at times, it was heaven to be outdoors, and to know we were free.

As I got older, I started reading MOTHER EARTH NEWS, and learned a lot from your publication. My favorite articles taught me how to incorporate new tips and methods into my gardening, and helped me be successful in my own gardening experiments.

Later in my life, my husband and I bought a beautiful piece of property in the country and built a house. I situated the house so that I could take advantage of the abundant natural light and heat, adding large windows throughout the structure to allow the sun to flood into each room.

I knew that I wanted to add a greenhouse right away. It wasn’t until a year after we finished our home that I began planning the greenhouse. I built it so that I would have direct access from my home, and could still easily tend to it during the cold winter months. This greenhouse was so efficient that I was able to turn the heat off in my home during especially sunny days, open the windows, and have a warm house all day, just from the heat of the greenhouse.

I couldn’t wait to start my winter garden after finally finishing work on the greenhouse. I had no idea how to go about it, but my husband helped me prepare the ground, and very soon it was ready for me to start planting. I filled several beds, each 3 feet wide and 30 feet long, with a wide variety of vegetables. My most successful crops were turnips, carrots, and Chinese greens.

My garden grew as the years went on. We had asparagus, grapes, and berries of every color; the golden raspberries were always my favorite. Even after all these years, I’m still finding ways to improve upon my gardening. It is, after all, a lifelong learning process.

Adele Larson
Saginaw, Michigan

Gardening Tribulations

Hank Will’s reflections in the October/November 2018 issue made me smile. I grew up on a small farm, and both sets of grandparents farmed and had large gardens, so gardening was a given for me. We always had an abundance of vegetables and a thriving orchard. I believed that the entire state of Wisconsin was covered in that same black, fertile dirt.

When my husband and I bought our little piece of heaven, I set out to own a garden of my very own. I had grown up thinking gardening was so easy, but I was in for a rude awakening; that first year, my garden was a dismal failure. No matter what I tried, it refused to match the gardens of my youth. I stuck with it, every year disappointed in my harvest. Some years, I’d have an OK crop, but nothing like those in my memories.

Several times a year, my dad would survey my pathetic garden and give me advice. Every tip of his helped me get closer and closer to the garden I’d always imagined having as a child.

On my dad’s advice, we planted tomatoes and peppers in hay bales. It was difficult to get used to, but he swore that it would help. Finally, that season, we had a worthy harvest. I was encouraged to keep going, to make the season after that even better. Again, Dad stepped in with his advice, and again, my garden began to flourish.

This year, I planted tomatoes and peppers in hay bales again. I had more success with those two plants than I had with all of my previous crops combined; I started picking tomatoes in early July and continued through September. The peppers ripened in time to contribute to 60 pints of salsa.

I have big plans for next year, but I’ll have to go it alone. Dad no longer gives me gardening advice; his Alzheimer’s stops him from recognizing me today, and blocks his wise gardening knowledge. Though he can’t help me next season, his influence has inspired me to continue planting and hoping every spring.

Rhonda Strehlow
Little Suamico, Wisconsin

Gardening Outside the Box

As someone who is disabled, I’m currently restricted to container gardening. My little garden brings me so much joy, and I’m always looking for ways to improve it. Everything grown in my container garden is organic for health reasons, and I’d love to be able to advance my gardening skills. I really enjoy your publication, but I can’t utilize the advice in many of the articles because of my physical drawbacks.

I’d love to read some articles about gardening with disabilities that include tips on how I can expand from container gardening without constantly worrying about my health. I live on a small, fixed budget, so I’d appreciate any suggestions you could make that are budget-friendly!

Susan Butzin
Elwood, Kansas

Susan, check out “Container and Straw Bale Gardening.” In addition to advice on container gardening, author Craig LeHoullier offer loads of tips on straw bale gardening — all on the smooth, accessible surface of a driveway. Good luck with your continued gardening efforts! — MOTHER