Dear MOTHER: December 2011/January 2012

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Reader LeeAnn Coleman finds happiness in her 900-square-foot home. Similar to the homes featured in our Natural Home Living blog, LeeAnn adores her efficient kitchen, cozy living room and great outdoor space.

Let’s Be Civil

It is sad to see the amount of angry, disgruntled mail you receive. What happened to communicating with civility and kindness? My wife and I were both taught to take care of the Earth and our neighbors, and that change happens when compassion for all is expressed through our actions and speech.

We all have the right to communicate our feelings. However, to be rude in our speech toward your magazine, within the kindness you extend to allow us to comment, seems wrong. I praise any and all who speak up about their opinions, but go gently with each other out there. Good changes come through cooperativeness and compassion. Thank you for allowing me to speak my feelings and to continue to support your magazine.

Chee Ammen
Lake Oconee, Georgia

Rabbits and Wigglers

Rabbit: A Great Meat Animal for Small Homesteads (October/November 2011) was a great article about a widely overlooked meat source.

The only thing I might add is if the rabbitry is located in an active fishing area, consider raising worms (red wigglers) beneath the rabbit cages (where they can dine on the manure). The worms can be sold to fishermen and sporting stores, and they might generate enough income to offset much of the cost of raising the little bunnies. Plus, the worm castings can be used in your garden or packaged and sold.

Bob Freeman
Algood, Tennessee

Loves Livin’ Small

We live in a small New Jersey house similar to one of the tiny homes in your Natural Home Living blog. (Look at a photo of a tiny home in the Image Gallery.) Ours is about 900 square feet on the main floor, plus a semifinished family room in the basement, on a quarter-acre. We do just fine!

I made sure I had a fabulous kitchen, and who cares that the living room is tiny? With one bathroom and two bedrooms, we raised a couple of kids with lots of outdoors for them to play in. We have a super-high-efficiency furnace with a low electric bill, plus we’re on a lake, so air conditioning isn’t really needed. We have organically grown veggies out back and beehives on the back deck. There’s no way I would ever live in a big house?–?I’d have to clean it!

LeeAnn Coleman
Bloomingdale, New Jersey

Delightful FAIR

MOTHER EARTH NEWS deserves a standing ovation for the FAIR in Seven Springs, Pa. (Look at the MOTHER EARTH NEWS FAIR logo in the Image Gallery.) You chose a beautiful location and educated speakers, and drew a wonderful crowd of friendly, diverse people. I felt comforted by the large crowds. The more people who support the message you put out, the better. I’d be thrilled to be shoulder-to-shoulder next year.

The food lines were worth the wait?–?the food was outstanding! Heck, I wait months for a juicy tomato, so waiting 30 minutes for a fully cooked, healthy, hot meal was a luxury. The only suggestion I have would be to make the animal husbandry tent and lecture area larger next year. The tent was bursting at the seams with people. Thanks for an outstanding weekend!

Mignon Vath
Liverpool, Pennsylvania

The Myth of Humane Death

Thank you for your thoughtful column What Does It Mean to ‘Kill Humanely’ (October/November 2011). I spent much of my career as a research biologist assessing predation by mountain lions on livestock, deer and bighorn sheep. I’ve done my share of killing for sport and for science, and I appreciate your distinction between the words “humane” and “merciful.”

I agree that the notion of humane death is a myth?–?no animal wants to die. When we choose to hunt, fish or slaughter a domestic animal, we override any propensity we might have to be humane, and I believe we must be honest with ourselves. Such decisions should not be made lightly. Once the decision to kill an animal has been made, we must do the best we can to hasten death and minimize pain; in other words, be as merciful as possible.

For more than 40 years, I’ve hoped to see science find nonlethal solutions to conflicts between predators and hunters or ranchers. I’m afraid there’s no solution that will satisfy all stakeholders, especially on large expanses of public land in the western United States. The problem is complex: Predator numbers, prey composition and densities, climatic effects, and human attitudes all change with time. In some regions, economic loss to large carnivores is very real. Not many agriculturists have adopted your philosophy of mutuality, and I suspect that you, too, have your limits. Even urbanites who oppose control of predators may object when a lion or bear inhabits their neighborhood. Nonetheless, I find it refreshing to see the subject addressed in your magazine without the polarized and venomous rhetoric that so often accompanies it.

Harley G. Shaw
Hillsboro, New Mexico

Firewood Calculations

John Gulland’s comment to “beware of dealers who offer to sell you a random pile of wood” is somewhat unfair and not necessarily true (How to Get the Best Firewood for Clean and Affordable Energy, October/November 2011). Wood processing is a labor-intensive task, and if a dealer moves large volumes of wood, it isn’t feasible to hand-stack every load. (Look at an illustration of a wood pile in the Image Gallery.)

A way of calculating what you’re getting in a randomly piled load is to calculate the cubic capacity of the truck bed and multiply that number by two-thirds.

This is a fair estimate of wood volume.

Thomas Wallace
Stuart, Virginia

Response From the Author
I don’t have any problem with the formula you proposed, but there’s so much variability in the volumes of thrown piles of wood that such a formula should only be used with a conditional element, such as plus or minus 20 percent. The variability is related to big differences in air space depending on piece length and diameter. Such estimates are fine for personal use, but are not accurate enough for establishing price. Price should only be arrived at after the wood has been piled in windrows that can be measured and the volume then calculated.

John Gulland
Killaloe, Ontario

Alternatives to Chipper-Shredder

I was dismayed to see an article featuring gas-guzzling chipper-shredders for handling home yard waste (How a Chipper-Shredder Can Help on Your Homestead, October/November 2011).

I used to own one of those machines for the very reasons you would assume: to neaten up the yard, to speed up the compost process and to create mulch. I found that it became a drain on me financially to keep it up, and it was loud and potentially dangerous.

Now I use my lawn mower in fall to shred things for compost and make piles of sticks on the edge of my yard to serve as wildlife habitat.

Ayn Whytemare
Pembroke, New Hampshire

Tips for ‘Teenie Greenies’

Thank you for printing the letter entitled Tongue-in-Cheek (October/November 2011). It gave my tired husband and me a laugh at the breakfast table.

We’re new parents of an 8-month-old boy, Tobin. We look forward to raising our son with the kind of passion for nature that Mother Earth News embodies.

It’s been an interesting spring and summer, trying to juggle our gardening, composting and chicken-raising on our 5 acres with a new baby! We all had a great time planting our sweet corn together, Tobin strapped to my back with a baby carrier.

For other families with little ones, I’d like to suggest a great little book, The Little Composter, by Jan Gerardi. Tobin already enjoys looking at the bold illustrations of fruits and vegetables.

Thanks for an encouraging magazine that is helping us raise our very own “Teenie Greenie.”

Jean DeSalle
Lebanon, Connecticut

Sphinx Moth Shout-Out

The August/September 2011 issue had a letter about how tomato hornworms become beautiful sphinx (or hummingbird) moths. I was so thrilled to learn this information! We have so many of these moths, and I had wondered where they came from. Thank you for sharing this, and thank you all for a great magazine.

Rose and John Elliott
Weed, California

Cinnamon and Spice

Here’s a picture of my daughter with her first pair of Indian Runner ducks (see the Image Gallery). This last spring, my family decided to try our hands at raising chickens, and, obviously, my daughter talked us into bringing home two ducklings. We have had a great first-time experience so far. Ella has become very fond of her ducks, named Cinnamon and Spice.

Whitney Eads
Gosport, Indiana

Hungry, Hungry Hornworms

In response to the Save the Hornworms letter (August/September 2011) in which a reader claimed that hornworms do not eat the fruit of tomato plants and should be left alone, we offer these photos of hornworm activity on our farm. We can confidently state that hornworms are quite damaging to tomato plants and tomato fruits and should be dealt with at every opportunity.

Even if hornworms didn’t eat tomato fruits, their rapid defoliation of tomato plants quickly cuts into tomato production by limiting photosynthesis and stressing the plants such that other pests and diseases become an issue.

Joanna and Eric Reuter
Boone County, Missouri

See a hornworm and the damage it can do in our Image Gallery.

Trampoline Coop

I tried two things from your February/March 2011 issue. I was able to get a handful of chickens (with no real notice), so I turned my girls’ trampoline into a chicken coop! Then I read about using fishing line to protect gardens from deer. I planted a couple of fruit trees and used the fishing line, and the trees are fine. I also used the fishing line around my garden. Great ideas!

Jennie S.
Mullen, Nebraska

DVD Deal of the Century

I’m a soldier stationed in Kandahar, Afghanistan, and one of the few escapes that I look forward to every other month is my issue of MOTHER EARTH NEWS. It has to be the most practical, utilitarian magazine available today. Thanks, guys?–?I hope you’re around for a long time to come. I just bought the sale-priced DVD that includes all of your issues from 1970 to 2010. Are you kidding me? It’s the deal of the century!

Ryan McCrillis
Kandahar, Afghanistan

Likes the Hard Facts

As a subscriber and avid reader, I want to thank you for your article Signs of Climate Change in the August/September 2011 issue. I appreciate the fact-based articles you include on environmental issues. I realize some people don’t like factual information, as I often see how they try to pressure you by saying they will cancel their subscriptions if you continue to run information that contradicts their political beliefs. Keep up the good work.

Bert Miller
Mt. Pleasant, Iowa

Deep Ecology

Coming from my varied viewpoints as a wildlife and wild lands advocate and book author, naturalist, campfire philosopher and gonzo-traditional bow-hunter, I found Douglas H. Chadwick’s overview of the role of apex predators in top-down ecosystem management and trophic cascades to be informed and accurate (Keystone Species: How Predators Create Abundance and Stability, June/July 2011). His article in no way pushed any “liberal,” “conservative,” or other political or emotional viewpoint.

The term deep ecology describes a bio-centric philosophy that says all living things have worth in and of themselves, aside from any value they may hold?–?or inconvenience they may create?–?for humans. Although Chadwick doesn’t use the term, deep ecology is precisely what he’s attempting to help us comprehend.

I say let’s manage our wild lands and wildlife wisely and charitably, so that we and future generations can enjoy the best of what’s left.

I applaud Mother for publishing solid, scientific information for the edification of open-minded readers, knowing the stink it would raise among many.

David Petersen
San Juan Mountain, Colorado

See a photo of David Petersen in our Image Gallery.

You can read the full version of this letter and a series of back-and-forth letters with Douglas H. Chadwick in Wolves: Opposing Points of View.?–?MOTHER

Understanding Trophic Cascades

Wow! Awesome article by Douglas H. Chadwick (Keystone Species: How Predators Create Abundance and Stability, June/July 2011). I wish this article could be printed in every newspaper and magazine in our country. It holds such pertinent information regarding the web of life and how important the trophic cascade effect is in ecology.

It is difficult to listen to those who wish to kill all dominant predators. These people have such little understanding of the importance of predators’ position in nature. Watching degradation of areas that have species overgrowth because of a lack of predators is sad when the solution can be easily seen yet is not put into motion due to undue fear of predators. Thanks for printing this informative article. You are such a great magazine.

Dayna McDaniel
Raytown, Missouri

1-Acre Dreamin’

Whenever I read one of those Be Self-Sufficient on 1 Acre articles, I want to either cry or laugh. Having moved to a small homestead many years ago and having worked at a county extension office for 20 years, I know these articles give many people pleasant dreams, but don’t provide practical guidance.

The article by the late John Seymour in your August/September 2011 issue is a good example. Yes, on an acre of decent land you can provide a lot of the food a small family would need, and this is an admirable goal. But you can’t be “self-sufficient” in the true meaning of the word unless you want a very austere existence.

Kimberley Willis
Clifford, Michigan

You can read Willis’ thoughts on what you can do with 1 acre in the article 1-Acre Dreamin’.?–?MOTHER

Beekeeping Blog

We’re so happy to have found your Honeybees and Beekeeping blog! We’ve been keeping bees at Sunset magazine for nearly four years. We have never gotten used to going without gloves, especially having seen two members of our staff develop severe bee sting allergies. So, while we love our bees, we hate to be stung and we take every precaution.

We have found that, because we are small women, child-sized gloves work well for us. They fit our hands snugly and we still have a lot of dexterity.

Margaret Sloan
Menlo Park, California

Cargo Bikes Make Urban Homesteading a Breeze

After reading Carolyn Szczepanski’s recent article entitled What the Right Bike Can Do For You (June/July 2011), I realized she left out a whole group of bikes that the eco-conscious, community-oriented, urban homesteader just can’t live without: cargo bikes. (Look at a photo of a cargo bike in our Image Gallery.)

My family has traded our second car for two cargo bikes, which make it a breeze to transport loads by bike. We are continuously encouraged to find more and more things to carry. All of our first year’s garden materials were transported from the local nursery to our home by cargo bike.

Chris Chaney
Arvada, Colorado

Read about cargo trike transportation in Pedal Power.?–?MOTHER

Raw on Raw Milk

I was so shocked by your August/September 2011 issue: John Seymour advocated unpasteurized milk! As a daughter of a veterinarian who researched this topic for many years while teaching at several universities, I cannot believe that people still drink unpasteurized milk and that they give it to their children.

Kathy Pedigo

Learn about this issue in The Raw Milk Debate: Rawness and Rationality.?–?MOTHER

Chickens Chow on Bindweed

I was reading the article about bindweed (The 10 Worst Garden Weeds, August/September 2011), and what I find works is to put chickens in the area that has the weed problem. I had bindweed in one area, but after extending the chicken run into this area, the bindweed is now gone!

Emily Wand
Courtenay, British Columbia

Dogs vs. Rattlesnakes

Jan Dohner’s suggestion to get a terrier if you are “rattled by snakes” (Ask Our Experts: Dogs and Snakes, August/September 2011) could result in an expensive vet visit or a dead dog if you live in rattlesnake country. Even the nimblest terrier may not be able to escape the strike of a rattlesnake, and depending on the potency of the venom, the bite can result in anything from debilitating injury to death, even with intensive veterinary treatment.

If you do have a dog in rattler country, don’t let it roam when the snakes are out, or keep the emergency number for your veterinarian nearby. There is no effective home care for venomous snakebites.

Jon Geller, DVM
Fort Collins, Colorado

Spinosad Caution

I’m a little disappointed after reading the article Control Garden Pests Organically With Spinosad (Green Gazette, June/July 2011). The article, almost as a footnote, mentioned that spinosad can kill bees and other beneficial insects as well as pests. With the noticeable decline in pollinators and the need to encourage more beneficial insects in our gardens, shouldn’t this have had its own highlighted box so there would have been a better chance everyone would read it?

Deborah Newcomb
Minneapolis, Minnesota

Chard Seed Follow-Up

I wanted to follow up with you about the chard seeds that I received after Jeffrey Dickemann offered them in your magazine last fall. I am pleased to report that his ‘Blonde de Lyon’ chard is a gorgeous, vigorous plant, growing some leaves that are more than 18 inches long (the green leaf part alone) and up to a foot wide! The texture of the leaves is much finer than those of the other chards that we’re growing.

The plants are prolific, handling multiple cuttings well. We intend to carefully dig up two of the more promising plants and transplant them to our seed bed, where they will be used as food and later mulched, and then hopefully they will set seeds next summer.

I hope that others who received these seeds are growing them out, carefully marking the best plants and planning on overwintering them?–?we want to save seeds from plants that are true biennials! Thanks again to Jeffrey for sharing his great chard?–?his generosity brings me a smile every time I look at the dwarf apple tree just peeking up from my glowing bed of chard!

Teri Young
Cowichan Bay, British Colombia

Shop-Vac vs. Squash Bugs

We loved your article Organic Pest Control: What Works, What Doesn’t (June/July 2011). My wife and I have gotten rid of squash bugs with a Shop-Vac for 20 years. We have found this to be very effective.

J. Hayden

Broad-Minded Reader

I have been reading the letters complaining about how “liberal” MOTHER has become. As an educated conservative, I understand that magazines like this only come from left of center. While we may not agree on “global warming,” I think we can all agree that living healthier and saving the planet are always good ideas.

James Dotson
Crossville, Tennessee

Wants to Know the Truth

I know you’re being hassled for being too liberal, but I think you’re better than ever. Unfortunately, life is a political place, and you will touch politics when you talk about almost any topic. I’m conservative, but find your insights very informative. It’s important to know the truth about things even when it doesn’t line up with our way of looking at it. Keep up the great work!

Angela Campany
Plattsburgh, New York

Population Complexities

I thought I’d chime in on the population growth discussion that often graces the pages of MOTHER EARTH NEWS. This is an important issue, and it needs to be given the courtesy of its full complexity. Too often we talk about the issue without looking at its root causes. The way to stem population growth is not to tout its harms to an informed population, but to empower and educate women around the world and work to lift all people out of poverty.

The advantaged, educated members of the population often choose not to bring as many children into the world, and if they do choose to, they have the resources to provide for them. Right now we too often preach to the choir about the wrong core issues.

Katie Keller
Wilder, Kentucky

Choosing to Be Child-Free

I am one of those “selfish and godless” child-free people referred to in a letter in the August/September issue (‘Doomsday Nonsense’ on Population). Unfortunately, this is an attitude I’m familiar with.

Our decision not to have children is a deeply personal one, and one that we did not come to lightly. Ultimately, we agreed that remaining child-free was the right choice for us given the life we wish to lead.

We have nothing against children nor against people who choose to have them, so it is incredibly offensive that someone would judge us or imply that we are somehow inferior because we choose not to procreate.

The letter also made an offhand comment regarding pollution caused by contraception, but failed to address the problem of pollution caused by diapers and other disposable products involved in rearing children. That being said, I wholly support the person’s right to live her life by her values, just as I ask that she respect my right to the same.

Liz Asphodel
St. Cloud, Minnesota