Dear MOTHER: August/September 2010

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"Every time we drive by one of our old houses and see those wonderful specimens, we feel great joy in knowing we had the foresight to plant those trees many years ago." — reader Tom Walsh

In response to Best Trees for Your Yard, many readers wrote to petition for also planting slower-growing, ultimately larger trees. More than one cited the Greek proverb, “A society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in.” We certainly agree. (After all, MOTHER’s logo is an ancient oak tree.) It’s heartening to hear from so many homeowners willing to plant for the enjoyment and shady refuge of future generations. Many of the projects MOTHER promotes ultimately benefit not only those doing the planting, conserving or building today, but also those to come. The letters we received championing planting trees for the long haul confirmed how important this perspective is to all of you.

Trees for Future Generations

I’m disappointed in Jeff Ball’s advice on the best trees to plant (Best Trees for Your Yard). He instructs readers to leave large shade trees (oaks, hickories, maples) off of their lists because they might take decades to reach full maturity. Shame on him for advising against planting such beautiful trees now, as their beauty and environmental benefits can be enjoyed for generations.

I’m glad my wife and I (and countless others) haven’t limited ourselves to fast-growing varieties. We remain quite proud of the beautiful oaks and maples we’ve planted over the years. Every time we drive by one of our old houses and see those wonderful specimens, we feel great joy in knowing we had the foresight to plant those trees many years ago.

Tom Walsh
Schaumburg, Illinois

Gardening for Her Community

I just wanted to say thank you. Your publication has given me so many helpful hints that have proven invaluable in my gardening efforts. I have begun a garden that will be harvested for local food banks and community kitchens. These organizations feed the hungry 24/7/365.

It is my sincere belief that everyone deserves a healthy food supply, regardless of his or her ability to pay for it. Your publication has contributed significantly to my ability to provide that healthy food supply and I thank you greatly for all your help.

Heather Boles
Rossville, Georgia

Big Fan of the Smart ForTwo

I’m very surprised you footnoted the Smart ForTwo as a runner-up in The New Era of High-MPG Cars. Mine gets better mileage (40/35) than the Jetta, and takes far fewer materials to manufacture. Perhaps you didn’t consider each car’s global footprint.

Natalie Williams
Seattle, Washington

Natalie, it wasn’t an easy decision to make the Smart ForTwo a runner-up. It certainly is a breakthrough for small, fuel-efficient cars. It requires premium gasoline, however, which costs about 20 cents more per gallon than regular gasoline. That can eat up a significant portion of any cost savings from the Smart’s gas mileage (officially rated at 33/41 mpg). We were also concerned by reports about the Smart’s poor mechanical reliability and its awkward transmission. Overall, we think the Smart ForTwo can be a great car for certain people (primarily those who live in big cities); it’s just not as universally beneficial as the other cars on our list. We do have big hopes for an all-electric Smart (projected to be available by 2012). — MOTHER

Local Honey for Allergy Relief

I read with great interest Allergy Causes and Natural Remedies. I would add that local honey has proven to be a wonderful solution for our family. My husband and children suffer horribly with allergies and we have found that ingesting a tablespoon of honey twice a day from a local farmer’s hives has helped tremendously. Our doctor believes it’s having a similar effect as allergy shots: A bit of the allergen every day makes our bodies less reactive. By choosing local honey, we are getting the best exposure to the local allergens. The results have been dramatic, especially with our preschooler. has proven to be a wonderful solution for our family. My husband and children suffer horribly with allergies and we have found that ingesting a tablespoon of honey twice a day from a local farmer’s hives has helped tremendously. Our doctor believes it’s having a similar effect as allergy shots: A bit of the allergen every day makes our bodies less reactive. By choosing local honey, we are getting the best exposure to the local allergens. The results have been dramatic, especially with our preschooler.

I know many parents may be hesitant to give their child some of the herbs listed in the article, and I thought this might be an alternative they would be willing to try. We just spread a bit on a sandwich or cracker, or give it to our kids in a cup of tea. It’s so delicious we never hear a fuss from them. Just remember to never give honey to a child under 1 year of age.

Covey Denton
Wilson, North Carolina

The reason honey shouldn’t be given to children younger than 1 is that it may contain the spores that can cause infant botulism, a rare but serious form of food poisoning. — MOTHER

The Devil is in the Details

The article 8 Easy Projects for Instant Energy Savings suggested simple ways to cut costs and make your home more energy efficient. One of the suggestions was to vent the clothes dryer into the home. We tried it and loved the warmth, and appreciated the feel of the extra humidity.

Unfortunately, the extra moisture collected in unventilated places around our house and led to a nasty mold problem. We are in the process of ripping out the carpeting and the walls and ceiling of our bedroom and hallway.

More happily, we installed a thermosiphon, per Build a Simple Solar Heater, and we love it. On sunny days here in Boulder, Colo., we can heat our entire 1,000- square-foot home from our 8-by-16-foot thermosiphon. Thanks for the great articles and inspiration.

Kassandra Brown
Boulder, Colorado

Our original article warned against the very problem you have encountered: “Caution: Gas dryers should never be vented inside, because toxic combustion products are in the vented air. Electric dryers should only be vented inside if your climate is dry — be alert for any moisture problems.” — MOTHER

Fish Farming: The Good and the Bad

I was eager to read the article proclaiming hope for the human race based on 10 “good” trends (Can We Save Our Civilization? by Lester R. Brown). But I was absolutely shocked to see fish farming on the list! Has the author not researched the facts of fish farming? It takes 5 pounds of wild caught fish to grow 1 pound of fish on a farm. Farms are drenched in antibiotics, which pollute our water and create oceanic dead zones with their highnitrogen waste. Salmon are fed dyes to prevent gray-toned flesh. This is all without mentioning the fish’s suffering (overcrowding, fish lice, etc.). I’m generally thrilled with MOTHER EARTH NEWS, but this was simply poor research.

Lily Robeau
Belfast, Maine

What Lily is referring to, quite accurately, is salmon farming, which accounts for a few percent of world fish farm output. What I was referring to was the larger production of herbivorous species of fish in China, a carp-polyculture in particular, that is highly efficient and does not use wild fish for feed at all. — Lester R. Brown

Why Buy a Hybrid?

I read The New Era of High-MPG Cars, and wanted to share that I recently traded in my 2000 Infiniti EX for the 2010 Honda Insight (hybrid). People ask, “Why a hybrid?” The better mileage is fine, but low emissions are No. 1 and the technology is No. 2. If we continue asking for safer and better electric and/or gasolineelectric hybrid vehicles, the U.S. auto industry is obliged to offer them or get left behind — again!

Michael McLaughlin
Colora, Maryland

Genetically Engineered Food: See the Big Picture

MOTHER EARTH NEWS is usually fair in reporting both sides of controversial issues. I don’t see that as being the case, however, when the subject is genetically engineered crops.

A distinction must be made between the science and politics of genetic engineering of food crops. I can understand the concerns about industrial agriculture and the apparent corporate monopolization of seed supplies, but those issues are not related to the science behind gene manipulation technologies in food crops. Given that three federal agencies have been tasked with oversight of these technologies, one can assume that someone is awake behind the wheel to make sure that products in the marketplace can be used without unreasonable adverse health effects.

Regarding the insecticidal genetically modified corn varieties mentioned in the article Genetically Modified Corn  — Safe or Toxic?, the same strains of bacteria reportedly responsible for liver and kidney effects in lab animals have been used in a spray formulation by the organic industry for more than 50 years. Where are the adverse health effects resulting from foliar spray exposure? As for the Roundup-resistant varieties, the reported adverse health effects were due to the residues of the herbicide glyphosate, not due to consuming the modified corn itself.

Like it or not, the American population has been consuming genetically engineered food for about 17 years. People should educate themselves on all sides of the issue and make the effort to remove any emotional attachment to our food supplies and separate industry involvement from the safety of the technology. Farmers aren’t stupid and would never produce an inherently harmful crop or one that doesn’t demonstrate profitability or other agronomic advantages.

Brian Steinwand
Silver Spring, Maryland

Hidden Genetically Modified Ingredients

In response to the article Genetically Modified Corn  — Safe or Toxic?: When that genetically modified corn product is used in a mixture or as an ingredient in foods, is it listed as “genetically modified” or just as “corn”? How do I know whether the corn product I’m eating has been genetically modified? I guess I need to thank you for publishing this article, but it scares the hell out of me. Emotion aside, I appreciate the knowledge and information that you have in the magazine. It’s one of a few magazines that I read cover-to-cover.

Vicki Salisbury
Oxford, North Carolina

The biotech industry has thus far blocked efforts to require labeling of the many genetically modified ingredients now being used in our foods.  — MOTHER

Even More Relevant Today

I am so impressed with your magazine. I bought the latest issue for my friend and glanced through it myself. I don’t think I had read it since my hippie days in the ’70s. The articles are great and even more relevant today with all the interest in homesteading and getting off the grid.

I will definitely be giving more subscriptions as gifts. Keep up the good work!

Teri Evans
Berkeley, California

Busy Bee, Thanks to Website

I have been enjoying your magazine for two years now, and I wish I had discovered it sooner. I want to give kudos to you for the website content. I really like the variety of topics that are offered. I am a country girl living in the city, and it seems like you have been posting more information that is useful for city as well as rural dwellers. You have given me so many ideas that I am going to be a busy bee for a couple of months.

Leslie Collins
Austin, Texas

All About Beef

Thank you so much for What You Need to Know About the Beef You Eat. I can’t thank you enough. I’ve sent this article to all my friends. Now to get them to care enough to read it and act! The information in here is overwhelming and almost more than one can truly appreciate, and I salute the author and all those who put this together. Fine work indeed!

Millicent Tishweed
Mango, Florida

The Adventures of Farming

In regard to Keep a Family Cow and Enjoy Delicious Milk, Cream, Cheese and More: We have been milking our own cow for two years now and really enjoy having the fresh milk. We milk the cow by hand, just like my grandmother did years ago.

The first month after the cow comes fresh, it’s a little difficult to keep up with the milk, but soon the calf is drinking his share. After a couple of months, we let the calf stay with his mother at night and separate them in the morning, then do our milking in the evening. He is huge from drinking the milk, and should be excellent beef for the freezer next year. Instead of using disposable filters when straining the milk, I use a mesh cone coffee filter. The milk is put in the freezer after straining for 1 1/2 hours to cool it quickly.

We also built a top-bar beehive after reading Keeping Bees Using the Top-Bar Beekeeping Method last year. I installed a package of bees in it at the beginning of May, and they have comb on the 11th bar so far. The bees pollinate our fruit trees and vegetables, and we’re looking forward to having our own honey this fall. We also have free-ranging guinea fowl (read about them in MOTHER EARTH NEWS) and chickens, so we have very few insects and extremely tasty eggs. The guinea eggs are just as good as chicken eggs; they’re just more difficult to locate! Thanks for encouraging us to live a more sustainable life. I wonder what fine adventures in farming are coming next.

Marcia Barnes
Romoland, California

Broadfork: A Timeless Tool

It’s been a long time since I picked up a copy of MOTHER EARTH NEWS. But when I read the April/May issue, to my great joy and surprise, I saw an old friend: the broadfork (More Tools for Wiser Living). More than 25 years ago, I saw a homemade version of this tool in MOTHER EARTH NEWS and set out to build one myself. I found “ram horn” handles from an old, single-bottom plow, welded an 18-by-3-inch piece of water pipe down low on the handle frame, then scavenged a half-dozen single-socket lug nut wrenches from a junkyard and welded them across the pipe. The broadfork was heavy, and I got a great workout plunging it into the ground, levering it down and dragging it out again, but it worked wonderfully. I tilled up my 30-by-40-foot vegetable garden with it length- and crosswise, and didn’t need a power tiller (but I was younger then). In any event, it was great to see an old friend. I’ll renew my subscription.

Gary Galleher
Ashland, Ohio

The Truth About Vegetarianism?

Unity Better Than Division

If Lierre Keith is seriously trying to make a plug for sustainable living in The Truth About Vegetarianism, I think a message of unity  — rather than blind criticism completely unsupported by facts  — might be in order. If veganism or vegetarianism doesn’t agree with the author or the editorial staff, fine, but believe it or not, most of us are not looking to criticize or convert.

Jennifer Olsen
Raytown, Missouri

Yes, It Is the Truth

I cannot express my approval strongly enough for what Lierre Keith wrote in her article. She nailed it. I came to the same conclusions 20 years ago. I salute the bravery of her convictions and wish her the best of luck. She will need it.

Robert Miller
Gainesville, Missouri

More Than One Valid Choice?

Both eating meat and eating vegetables can be done in a responsible, respectful way. I grew up a meat eater, but 10 years ago, I became a vegetarian for some deeply held reasons.

Since then, I’ve been happier, healthier and more at peace with myself and the world. But all around me are dear friends who approach meat-eating in a humane, ecologically friendly way by supporting small-scale, healthy, organic and chemical- free livestock farming. I respect and support that approach, and find it as valid as my own. Both approaches focus on resisting the march of the artificial into our food supply, and on taking control of what we eat away from distant businesses and returning it to the local level.

Kevin Gamble
Columbia, Missouri

“Silly and Spurious”

After reading several eloquent comments on the silly and spurious premises and content of this article, I have decided that I do not need your magazine. How disappointing! Please do not send me any more issues.

Joann Condellone
Edwardsville, Illinois

Considering Choices

Why are people who read this magazine so inclined to ask the editors not to publish provocative writings? What does this article say that brings out such undemocratic and intolerant feelings in its readers? If your ideals are so vulnerable that a couple of ideas can bring out the worst in you, maybe you should re-examine what the heck made you a vegetarian in the first place.

Richard Smith
Humacao, Puerto Rico

Abuzz With Honeybees

Attract Honeybees With Dandelions

A simple thing that anyone with property could do to help honeybees is to find a little corner to let dandelions or clovers bloom. Both “weeds” bloom early, continuously and into late fall (all year in mild climates).
I have seen honeybees so laden with dandelion pollen that they could hardly fly. Clover blossoms are magnets for them — which means they’ll be there to pollinate the fruits and vegetables in our gardens, too. Honeybees could sure use the boost that little patches of herbicide- and pesticide-free nectar and pollen provide.

Lynda Oldfield
Forest Grove, Oregon

Build It and They Will Come

 A few months ago, you printed Keeping Bees Using the Top-Bar Beekeeping Method. We were inspired to do more research and planning (some would say plotting). Some people at the local beekeeping supply shop and bee society scoffed (politely) at the “if you build, it they will come” idea put forth in the article. Well, we put the hive in the yard on Saturday night, and by Tuesday morning a swarm half the size of a basketball had moved in. No need to purchase bees from an apiary or capture a swarm. They found us! Thank you so much for the article, the inspiration and the encouragement.

Melanie and Gordon Pierce
Denver, Colorado

Send Them Outside!

Bryan Welch’s article Creating a Sustainable Society: Four Questions We Should Ask moved me. He speaks eloquently of the philosophy behind the environmental movement. The goals he discusses are concise and task-oriented, while also allencompassing and far-reaching. A positive destination is truly what we all need. I think most environmentally minded adults can relate to these ideas on a fundamental level. We’ve seen, smelled, touched and experienced the things of which he speaks. I hope Mr. Welch’s writing can encourage us to create our destination.

What’s missing from his article are the children who will populate those seven future generations. He states, “We learned a long time ago that we couldn’t attract an audience if our primary subjects were environmental problems.” Yet most environmental curricula today, whether formal education or “fun” activities created by environmental groups, belabor the problems and are dominated by “prescriptions, commandments and statements of fact.”

Where is the beauty, the joy, the texture of the natural world in children’s environmental education? At least Mr. Welch’s austere backpacking friend was out there. This friend was most likely there because of that indefinable connection to the natural world, of which we are depriving this next generation. Yes, that connection has much to do with beauty. It also has to do with children of all ages having time to experience that beauty firsthand instead of through the pages of print or electronic media. Love of nature cannot be taught; it must be experienced. How can I “save” a polar bear if I’ve never even picked up a worm or a toad in my backyard? If we as a group of adults working on the environmental movement continue to miss and ignore the second generation, the seventh generation has no hope, no matter what else we might accomplish.

Heidi Anderson
Albuquerque, New Mexico