Dear MOTHER: Barn Building

Letters from our readers about grand plans, the state of bees, barn building, and gardening adventures.

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by Rich Shaefer
In two weeks, Rich and his family were able to disassemble and transport this barn 5 miles.

My wife and I raised our kids on a small acreage in southern Illinois. When our kids were young, we encouraged them to join 4-H. As part of 4-H, they raised sheep and goats. Eventually, our small operation grew into a flock. Because of our large number of animals, we needed more room than the little shed we had. With the harsh weather and a growing sheep population, we had to decide whether to keep a small number of livestock or build a better facility to accommodate the animals. We didn’t have much money, but we did have plenty of energy. As luck would have it, one Friday night, we were talking to a farmer friend who was interested in removing their early-20th-century barn to build a new building to feed their hogs. If we could take down the barn in two weeks, we could have it at no cost.

The barn was 30 feet wide by 30 feet deep, and 33 feet tall with a steep 12-pitch roof. It was 5 miles from our house. To move the barn in two weeks, we needed a plan. My wife, Jean, carefully marked the wood planks with chalk before commencing the teardown. We built special ladders we could hang from the top of the barn to pull off the tin roof. Our friends lent scaffolding; we borrowed a farm wagon to haul the wood; and we solicited family and friends to help us pull apart the building. In two weeks’ time, after taking time off work and getting help from my father-in-law, brother, Jean, and our kids, we completed the task.

It took a year of designing and planning to figure out how and where to reconstruct the barn on our property. In the end, we added 8 feet in width, and entry and exit doors so we could move our farm wagon and an old WD45 Allis-Chalmers tractor in and out of the barn conveniently. The next summer, we started the project by excavating a location near the house, digging and setting concrete forms for the footing, and locating piers for the supporting post timbers. After the footings, we constructed 4-foot concrete forms to pour the foundation wall. Next, we placed the sill plates on top of the foundation and raised the first 16-foot corner post. Many more posts would follow, along with crossmembers and crossbeams to recreate the barn’s frame. The wood was solid oak, so every hole was pre-drilled. To transport the 20-foot timbers to our place, I built a wheel jig with a V-slot to seat the wood and allow easy movement of the big timbers. Diagonals were located on the four corners of each floor to add strength to the structure. Since we added a few feet in width to the old barn structure, we were short on floor joists. As luck would have it, we found a supplier who collected lumber from demolished buildings. Then came the rafters. We used the extra lumber we purchased to build scaffolding we could walk on to raise the trusses into position. We raised and set the trusses in position. With the framing up, we attached the wood planks to the sides and put up the tin roof. With a lot of help, and hard work, we succeeded in dismantling, moving, and rebuilding a century-old barn.

Rich Shaefer
Freeburg, Illinois


Savored Sweet Potatoes

I enjoyed Editorial Director Hank Will’s “Roots Reconnected” editorial in the February/March 2020 issue of MOTHER EARTH NEWS. I, too, grew up in a rural setting on a small farm where we gardened and preserved most of our food. I remember, as a child, my parents allowed us kids to each have our own small garden where we could choose to plant whatever we wanted, as long as we took care of it.

I’m now 60 years old and still gardening. I’m currently growing an heirloom variety of sweet potato. I don’t know what kind they are, but they’re bright orange and flavorful. I remember my parents growing them when I was very small. They got starts of the plants from my aunt and uncle, who got starts from a couple who lived near them. Each year, we started new plants off the sweet potatoes we’d saved from the previous year. All those people in my life have passed on, but I’m still keeping these heirloom sweet potatoes going. I always grow extra and share them with others, teaching them how to start their own plants. My hope is that when I’m gone, others will still be able to enjoy the bounty of these delicious sweet potatoes. Thank you, Hank, for sharing your touching story.

Donna Steinbauer
Via email


Alarm and Appreciation

Readers, we received a number of responses to Jonathan Lundgren’s “The State of Bees in the United States” (December 2019/January 2020). Here are our favorite letters from you. –MOTHER

Get to Work, New York

I just read the article on the state of bees. Thank you, Dr. Lundgren, for the informative analysis of what’s happening to the bee population in the U.S. We live in western New York, close to Lake Ontario. Several local beekeepers have lost their hives repeatedly in our area. Unfortunately, my hives have suffered the same fate. The New York bee inspector thinks my particular hives were lost because of pesticide residue. We as a group would like to have a conversation locally with the New York Department of Environmental Conservation, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, or whoever will help us with our concerns. We think farming practices must change, and realize the pesticides used are weakening and killing the species. Thank you so much for any help you can give!

Debbie Retzlaff
Via email

The Truth About Bees

Thanks to Dr. Lundgren for providing the truth about beekeeping. I’ve made my living from beekeeping for over 40 years, and have read so much confusing information about it.

Kenneth Friesen
Via email

Simple Synthesis

Dr. Lundgren, thank you for your article. I liked it better than the 2018 USDA publication on the state of honeybees. I also enjoyed your TED Talk on regenerative agriculture. You’ve summed up in one article and a couple of short videos my last four years of research on bees and farming. Armed with this big-picture view, I hope to grow diverse nutrient-dense foods for people and bees in a captive conservatory or greenhouse setting, where I can control the soil, air, and water. I wanted to express my gratitude for your inspiration!

Samuel Winston
Plains, Montana

Remedial Research

When we first moved to our farm, we had a dearth of worms. I populated the area around the home with red wrigglers and night crawlers, which were doing well. Despite my concerns, our farm was treated with Roundup for several years during corn and soybean crop production. Prior to this, hand-shoveling was relatively easy. Now, the ground is rock hard. The worms have disappeared, and our orchard and blueberries aren’t healthy. I wonder about the wash of the pesticides and fungicides through the soil to the area around our home. I’m trying to figure out a plan to remediate the soil. Thank you for your efforts.

Terryl Mackey
Johnstown, Pennsylvania

Winter Wasteland

I just read Dr. Lundgren’s “The State of Bees in the United States” (December 2019/January 2020). I want to thank him for all he’s done and is doing for the health of our bees. He said things in the article I’ve always believed to be true. I hate pesticides and herbicides, and I try to speak up about it. We grow organic vegetables and flowers. We don’t have a big place, but we try to do our part for the bees and the butterflies. I’m worried by the low numbers of bumblebees I’ve seen this year compared with past years. I don’t know what happened. It was a hard winter last year in northern Minnesota. As a senior citizen, I don’t have much money or clout, but I keep trying to teach the kids about the environment. Thanks for what you do.

Shirley Adolphson
Garrison, Minnesota

Regenerative Farming

My husband and I had a dryland wheat farm in northern Colorado for more than 30 years, with maximum tillage and little herbicide or pesticide usage in what was basically a monoculture wheat and summer fallow system.

Following my husband’s death, our land passed to our son. He’s now engaged in what he refers to as regenerative farming. He plants a cover crop, grazes it off, follows the cattle with chickens, and then sprays the remainder and plants wheat. I’m very proud of him for using better farming practices. Wind erosion is a serious hazard to dryland farming in our region, and the changes he’s made have eliminated that problem. While I love all this change, I’ve always been concerned with the use of chemicals. Thanks for your work on behalf of bees. We’re shortsighted when looking to the future.

Patricia Deplazes
Via email


Garlic: Origins Unknown

Here are pictures of garlic that my family has grown from saved seed for over 50 years. It’s a hardneck cultivar, and nobody can remember where it first came from all those years ago. By adding compost when planting, and mulching heavily with leaves, there’s never been a crop failure. We plant it at the end of September and harvest the last week in June. We always plant around 300 cloves, to have enough supplies for all of our family and friends to use, and enough to have plenty left over to save the largest bulbs to plant again in September. For quick use, I always peel a pint jar of cloves and pour olive oil over the cloves. I love storing a jar or two in the refrigerator so I always have some garlic handy when cooking.

Leslie Witte
Bland, Missouri


A Colorful Epiphany

These are bell peppers I grew. I couldn’t believe my eyes when they began to grow, and I wondered why they were so colorful. At first, I wondered if they were even safe to eat. But, after some serious thinking and reading, I finally realized what had caused this: cross-pollination. I had planted one purple bell pepper, one orange bell pepper, and one yellow bell pepper in the same area. Not only do they taste great, but they also look mighty pretty in a salad.

Jeannie Hammer
Independence, Kansas


Milkweed for Monarchs

After several years of letting milkweed grow in my perennial garden, I saw my first monarch caterpillar this spring!

Sandy Lincoln
Bristol, Wisconsin


Closing the Chasm

I thought Gary Paul Nabhan’s “Bringing Everyone to the Table” was excellent (February/March 2020). I’ve long perceived and deplored the gap between country folk and city folk, and it does seem to be growing. It seems to have started — or maybe just suddenly grown worse — with the transportation technology revolution. Development of the roads system and urbanization seems to have accelerated the urge to channelize water systems, which leads in the opposite direction of the techniques in the article, and contributes to the erosion of desert soils and the spread of barren land.

Former residents of the Grand Canyon area built granaries above the high water level. Looking at the area now, you can’t help but wonder where they could’ve possibly grown corn. Perhaps installing numerous small check dams in the tributary canyons and watercourses would restore arable land to the canyons.

As a conservative-libertarian sort of fellow, I also deplore big government, and the sort of centralized, top-down arrogance it generates. This article, and the photos of results, represent the sort of action I like: unfettered, individual initiative and stewardship of the land. Since I was impressed with the article, I’ve purchased Nabhan’s Food from the Radical Center from the MOTHER EARTH NEWS Store.

Jim Wolfe
Bradford, Rhode Island


Learning to Live with Less

We began our homesteading journey 22 years ago when we were given some chicks in need of a home. Since then, we’ve raised chickens, ducks, goats, geese, pigs, rabbits, and bees. We’ve gardened, canned, and foraged food for our family. MOTHER EARTH NEWS has been such a big part of our learning process and support. Here’s to the next 50 years!

Heidi King
Mesa, Arizona


A Hippie Magazine

Our most memorable experience with MOTHER EARTH NEWS was in the early 1970s. Newly married, my husband and I left our house near Sanderson, Texas, early one cold winter morning to go to the family ranch. When we got there, we noticed an unusual amount of smoke coming from the burn barrel. My mother-in-law was frantically stirring the burning trash to ensure incineration. She said that she’d received a “hippie magazine” in the mail, and didn’t want that kind of stuff around.

Ecology was her way of life but not a part of her conversation. It was determined that her brother, who always gave unusual gifts, had sent her a subscription to MOTHER EARTH NEWS for Christmas.

We got our own subscription a little later when our son was a Cub Scout selling subscriptions for a fundraiser. We’ve maintained our subscription most of the time since then. MOTHER EARTH NEWS embraces the concept of the land we ranchers have followed since we were given the original charge “to subdue it, and have dominion over every living thing” (Genesis 1:28). We were ecologists long before science coined the word.

Eldora Hagelstein
San Angelo, Texas


Get to Know Nålbinding

Readers, we received several letters in response to Carla Tilghman’s blurb about nålbinding in Them That’s Doin’ (December 2019/January 2020). Here are two, along with the author’s response. –MOTHER

For a Friend

I have a friend who chooses not to use computers. She works in fiber, and I know she’d love to learn more about this ancient technique. Can you pass along some instructions that I can surprise her with? Many thanks for your time and help.

Mike Hughes

Via email

Budding Interest

Carla, please do a tutorial on nålbinding. I’ve been intrigued ever since a woman showed me on a trip to Ireland. I wasn’t able to spend the time to actually learn how to do it, but I’m very interested to learn!

Anna Stange
Madison, Florida

Mike and Anna, thank you for the letters. Here’s a video on nålbinding basics. If you’d like to delve deeper into the subject, Ulrike Claßen-Büttner’s Nålbinding – What in the World Is That? is a great book. For those who’d like to try their hand at a more challenging project, here’s a video on late Roman-era socks made by nålbinding. –Carla Tilghman