Dear MOTHER: August/September 2011

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Reader Christina Scheel of Washougal, Wash., laid out her entire garden in about an hour using our interactive Vegetable Garden Planner. With the Garden Planner e-newsletter, she gets email updates telling her when particular veggies she’s growing in her garden need to be sown or planted out.
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Reader Tom Wechter’s church in North Carolina used the MOTHER EARTH NEWS Vegetable Garden Planner to plan its 92-by-125-foot community garden that will provide food and work for some of the unemployed and financially challenged people in the area.
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The Florida Weave is an inexpensive and easy way to support tomato vines. 
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Hornworms don’t eat tomatoes — the green worms are difficult to find because they remain on, and only feed on, the leaves of plants.

Herbicide Contamination Continues to Kill Gardens

I wish I had seen your article Keep Your Garden Safe From Killer Compost (April/May 2011) before I got 10 yards of composted horse manure. My garden is ruined. All of my tomatoes are curling up like they were zapped by a Martian death ray. I took my plant samples to my state’s agronomist yesterday and he confirmed severe herbicide damage. My county extension office didn’t even know about it here in North Carolina. My dream garden is all but ruined thanks to chemical companies who don’t really care that their potent herbicides have been damaging our gardens for years.

I beg of you to print this information more often — my experience has been hell. The least I can do is try to keep someone else from hurting like I do.

Cary Brief
Raleigh, North Carolina

Abuzz About the Bee Blog

Thank you for taking up the cause of beekeeping for your readers. As a beekeeper, I think your blog (Honeybees and Beekeeping) is a great way to get more people interested in beekeeping. As a member of a beekeeping association, I know firsthand that there is a great need for information on bees. We teach programs in schools, but have had a large influx of requests for speakers. We have sent people out to garden club meetings and insurance company (green day) meetings. The more we can teach people about bees, and bee problems, the better we can manage things like chemical use. I look forward to having MOTHER EARTH NEWS as another source of good information to share.

Mark Emrich
Rochester, Washington

Fine FAIR in Puyallup

There was so much to see and learn at the FAIR. I had a blast. I can’t wait until the next one comes to Washington! Hope all of the vendors were happy with the turnout. I want them all to come back again. The barn with the animals was so fun! Actually, everything was fun. I especially liked the name of one product: Red Ants Pants!!!

Sheryl Schmidt
Tacoma, Washington

Tweaks for MOTHER’s Mighty Chicken Coop

Your article about the portable and predator-proof chicken coop in the June/July 2011 issue (Build an Affordable, Portable and Predator-Proof Chicken Coop) makes some good points, but there are some tricky factors we discovered while using a variety of such coops during our farming years.

  • It can be difficult to catch and get chickens out of such a device if the top lid isn’t fully openable for the length of the coop.
  • Flighty birds can get startled and fly out when you lift a top lid on the covered portion to gather eggs. It’s best to have the egg access from the side in some manner.
  • If you put chickens in a coop on top of a raised bed as shown in the illustration, the chickens will scratch the topsoil 6 feet in all directions — mostly out of the bed — unless you have a wire floor to limit scratching or attach some kind of containment “wall” (cardboard?) to the sides of the coop.

The main objective — to have some chickens integrated into your gardening/farming scheme — is still totally admirable and valuable in almost all settings, urban or rural!

Bob and Bonnie Gregson
Spokane, Washington

Hollyhock Seed Update

In the June/July 2011 issue, there was a letter to the editor from me offering free black hollyhock seeds. Since that notice came out, I have received 1,100 requests for seeds. I’ve filled 500 orders and still have 600 to go and more coming in each day. I will honor every person who requested the seeds but now they must wait until fall when I can collect more seeds.

Stuart Novotny
Austintown, Ohio

Supports Social Justice

A recent issue arrived (December 2010/January 2011) accompanied by a “last issue” notice. I wasn’t going to renew, as I hardly have time to read all the back issues I’ve saved. Then, however, I read the letter from Herbert Crichton and was extremely disappointed. How Crichton can be against “social justice,” I simply can’t understand. The widening gap between the wealthy and the rest of us will surely take this country down the road to the sort of society we don’t want to live in, where warlords with big guns and their own armies grow drugs for profit or kidnap people for ransom.

In my opinion, social justice keeps us from being a dog-eat-dog country, which would be nothing like the one imagined by our founders.

MOTHER, sign me up for another year. The check is in the mail. It doesn’t bother me one bit that you associate your magazine with green festivals. I’m proud of you.

Mary Hooper
Bakersville, North Carolina

‘Doomsday Nonsense’ on Population

We are in the middle of a demographic winter, with aging populations worldwide. The last thing we need are smart people choosing to not “bring children into a world like this” or whatever other doomsday nonsense your various writers and readers like to spout.

Children are a blessing, period. Given that every single developed country is not replacing itself with native births, and is only keeping even, if that, through immigration, it must be the Latino, Asiatic and African countries that are producing a “surplus” of people. We are facing an inability to take care of the aging boomers who subscribe to your magazine because they were too selfish and godless to procreate (but had no problem filling landfills and waterways with the pollution created by their contraceptives). Stick to farming, and stop pretending to know something about worldwide populations.

Tess Bomac
Lake Bluff, Illinois

Well, Tess, I guess we just disagree. The facts are clear: The human population has roughly doubled in the past 60 years; the United States adds the equivalent of a new Minneapolis/St. Paul metropolitan area every year, and it looks like we added more human beings to the total population last year than we’ve ever added before in the history of the planet. Human population growth isn’t a crisis yet, but it will be if we don’t wake up and do something about it soon. — MOTHER

Liquid Gold for the Garden

I was fascinated by your recent article on using urine in the garden (Free, Homemade Liquid Fertilizers, February/March 2011). Years ago, in my former hometown of Victoria, British Columbia, my parents had an amazing Chinese gardener who made the flowers, fruit and vegetables from our garden the envy of the neighborhood. As a fairly young tot on a typical investigative foray around the garden, I remember “discovering” our gardener’s cache of “liquid gold,” though I had no idea at the time what I had encountered.

Some years later, a relative gave me the “untold story.” As I later came to understand, urine is and has been a very common source of fertilizer in Asian agriculture, perhaps because until fairly recently there were few, if any, available alternatives. I’m inspired to figure out a way to capture some of this nutrient-rich freebie fertilizer, as well as greywater from my washing machine, and incorporate them into my garden beds.

Virginia P. Foy
Jensen Beach, Florida

Spider-Cide Those Ants

I read Mike Harte’s letter Arach-NO-Phobia (April/May 2011 issue) with a smile. I have had an endless parade of ants marching across the back of my bathroom vanity for years. I would wipe them out and they would be back the next day — that is, until a daddy longlegs took up residence in my bathroom. The ants have been gone ever since; except for what appears to be either “ant crumbs” or daddy longlegs poo that is in a neat pile underneath where the arachnid hangs out. I don’t really want to know which one it is. It’s much easier to clean up and I don’t have to use insecticides.

Gail Wright
La Habra, California

A Cheaper Tomato Support System

I’m loving all the food-growing articles MOTHER is running lately; they are evidence that those reader surveys are being read and used! I particularly liked The Best Homemade Tomato Cages article in April/May 2011. You’ve got my attention any time you put “best” and “tomato” in the title. But I wondered why the Florida Weave wasn’t mentioned as a tomato support system. It’s cheaper than even the cheapest cage you featured, it relies on the least specialized equipment, and the reason people around here use it is that it works great!

Teresa Youngblood
Tallahassee, Florida

Time to Demand Durable Stuff

I just finished a re-read of the classic book Affluenza, which was published in 2001. The premise of the book is that Americans are drowning in a sea of choices and stuff. (These days, the Great Recession appears to be dealing with that particular issue.) Part of that problem was the lure of the new and shiny — just gotta have more, more, more.

However, the other part of the problem is that nothing is built to last anymore. For example, I like to read and I need a good source of light by my favorite chair. It’s not that I desired to purchase a series of lamps, although I am now at five and counting. The lamps were poorly designed and fragile. Failure points included cracked plastic sockets, inoperative switches, and breakage due to inadequately weighted bases. Nothing is repairable anymore.

If we are to do with less, we have to do better. It’s time to substitute smarts for the wasteful use of materials.

George Burnett
Spartanburg, South Carolina

If you have found a product that stands out for its durability and/or repairability, please send a short report to — MOTHER

Rooster Training Options

Robert Plamondon’s answer to Help! Why Does This Rooster Want to Fight Me? (Ask Our Experts, April/May 2011) was disastrous advice, at least where my Buff Orpington rooster is concerned! It sure sounded logical, and I implemented the strategy immediately after reading it. But after about a week, the rooster attacked and hurt me and wouldn’t let me move so much as an inch in any direction without attacking again. I finally had to hit back, for the first time ever, knocking him on the head with the plastic grain scoop. The next day, he started up again, and it took me half an hour of my old strategy to get things back to detente.

So what do I do? If I see the rooster starting to look like he wants a battle, I face him and clap my hands on my chest. I’m not sure why it works, but it stops him in his tracks and we both stand there, still. If he moves, I do it again. If he moves toward me, I do it and move toward him. I know I can safely leave when he starts pecking at the ground. It normally takes only one or two rounds of this, although as I said I had some retraining to do after the avoidance strategy recommended in your magazine didn’t work.

I have used this technique with success for many roosters. I don’t tolerate a mean rooster for very long. There are always roosters available, and I’ve had some downright nice ones, so I see no sense in putting up with a bully.

Julie Mason
Spring Mills, Pennsylvania

Save the Hornworms

I’ve really enjoyed the February/March 2011 issue, which is loaded with garden and farm information. However, I firmly disagree with the tip in Growing Tomatoes (Crop at a Glance).

The advice to pick and eliminate hornworms gives the erroneous impression that the worms eat tomatoes. If you can find one on or eating a tomato, go ahead and destroy it, but you won’t. The green worms are so impossible to find because they remain on, and only feed on, the leaves. We all know a healthy tomato has leaves to spare. Let’s not encourage the destruction of harmless creatures in our garden environment. (Hornworms morph into amazing hummingbird moths.)

Marilyn Smith
San Jose, California

Spiral Herb Garden Brings Smiles

I just received my June/July 2011 edition of MOTHER EARTH NEWS and opened to Build a Versatile Spiral Herb Garden (Country Lore). All I can say is, “how beautiful.” I grow many herbs and also incorporate the natural sandstone from my yard into all of my landscape. This is quite beautiful and so functional. I have plenty of garden room in my rural yard, but I just can’t wait to try this concept.

Julie Graf
Mayport, Pennsylvania

Moving Toward Homegrown

I just wanted to say the era of cheap oil and coal is almost over and solar energy will pay off in the future. We are just now learning about sustainable living and it is thanks to MOTHER EARTH NEWS that we are finding the resources. We keep every issue of your magazine to help plan for the future. Keep the information coming and help Americans learn. I don’t see anyone else making an effort. I have heard very little from our government officials about sustainable living.

Today, I enjoyed a glass of wine from Argentina, olive oil from Italy and orange juice from Florida. I am aware, however, that this may one day be a fond memory. I am gazing out at newly planted fruit trees and reading about food preservation. My husband is reading about solar panels and compost beds. Thanks for the knowledge. We have much to learn. What next? A cellar and chicken coop!

Susan Green
Gallipolis, Ohio

Garden Planner Report

I wanted to let you know how we at St. Luke’s United Methodist Church appreciate MOTHER’s Garden Planner. We had a vision of starting a community garden to provide food and work for some of the many unemployed and financially challenged people in our area. One of our church members let us use his land and we were able to lay out a 92-by-125-foot garden plot. This is a pretty big space to fill and many of us didn’t have a clue about how to plant and take care of a garden. The Planner was absolutely essential in laying out our beds and rows. We had to figure out spacing for hundreds and hundreds of plants and the Planner made it simple. Everyone who sees our laminated plan (printed on four sheets) is very impressed. And all the great information from the newsletters has been very helpful, as well. All of our raised beds are growing quite well.

Tom Wechter
Hickory, North Carolina

Amazing Garden Planner

Wow! I was reading your Garden Planner newsletter, as I always do anything coming from MOTHER EARTH NEWS, and thinking how great it was that you would send an update when particular vegetables should be sown or planted out. All of a sudden I realized that not only were vegetables listed, but the email was personalized and gave advice on the particular varieties that I had entered in my planner — amazing!

Your Garden Planner itself is incredible and I plan to use it for many years to come. I can’t believe the amount of work and confusion it has saved me. Before using the tool, I would sit down to plan and give up after becoming overwhelmed with the amount of data to include. My whole garden plan (see Image Gallery), completed to scale, only took me about an hour using the Planner. The only suggestion I have is maybe making it easier to find on the website.

Christina Scheel
Washougal, Washington

Three Cheers for Nature

I enjoyed the well-researched article by Douglas Chadwick on keystone species. It’s amazing how the more we observe in nature, the more we realize that everything is intricately interrelated.

Nathan Janes
Stanwood, Washington

Too Far Left

Your magazines are going so far left, I don’t enjoy reading them. Your wolf story (Keystone Species: How Predators Create Abundance and Stability, June/July 2011) had no business in your magazine. I’ll bet PETA loves you. Are they on your editorial board? What next? Obama chosen “farmer of the year” because of the great job he’s done?

I’m only one reader, but more crap like this and I am gone!

Charles Lindsay
Leavenworth, Kansas

MOTHER EARTH NEWS has always provided a platform for a wide range of opinions, including yours. Sadly, we find that some elements in our society are trying to pigeonhole every issue into some political cell or another, thereby polarizing our society and denigrating the public forum. We can’t fathom how you could perceive our piece about the biological value of keystone predator species as somehow siding with one political party or the other. It did not, and we do not. — MOTHER

The debate continues between those who see wolves as natural predators that bring vitality to their surrounding ecosystems, and those who see them as violent killers that decimate game and livestock herds. Read another reader letter critical of our keystone species article — along with a response from the article’s author, Douglas Chadwick — in Wolves: Opposing Points of View.