Reader letters on how to live a simpler life, hot water on demand, leaky ponds, pork belly bacon, Facebook Live, and more!
A slab of smoked bacon is sure to pack the people around your dinner or breakfast table.
Photo by Fotolia/Dima Beloconi
I got divorced at age 52, and by 62 I’d lost everything in the stock market crash. At rock bottom, I lost my job and my unpaid-for fancy home and car. I realized that everything I had worked and saved for my entire life was gone, but I simply didn’t want to re-enter the corporate world just to go into debt all over again. I was tired of the rat race, so I took early retirement and decided I could still “have it all” with some serious adjustments.
I poked back every possible penny I could. I rode the $1 city bus, I never ate out, I only bought groceries twice a month, and I learned all the different ways to cook rice and beans. No cable. No extras. Eventually I saved enough money to pay cash for an old car with peeling paint that runs great. I kept an eye on houses as they went up for auction, and found a home on an acre with excellent soil and no nearby neighbors. The house had fire damage and had been gutted to the studs and rafters, but the price was right, and the out-of-state owner was willing to carry the note.
Now, every penny I save goes toward insulation and other materials for the home, which I’ll have paid off in 2018. I have a nice garden going, and an animal trap furnishes me with free rabbits a few times per month. I forage for wild foods and dig up starts for flowers and wild fruit tree saplings. I’m happier now than I’ve ever been, and I’ve learned that you can “have it all” at any age. The only way to forgo money is to banish bills!
I read and enjoyed “Heat Your Water with the Sun” (August/September 2016), and have a question for the author, Bob Ramlow. I’m sure he’s familiar with on-demand hot water systems using natural gas as a heat source. I’m curious about whether a person could pair a solar water heater to complement an on-demand system.
Great question, Dallas. On-demand water heaters can be used as a backup to a solar water heating system. The main thing to look for in choosing an on-demand heater for this application is that the on-demand heater will modulate down to zero if the incoming preheated water is already up to temperature. Most on-demand water heaters only modulate down to low. What this means is that if the on-demand heater only goes down to low and the incoming water is already at 120 degrees Fahrenheit, then the water coming out of the tap can get dangerously hot. I prefer a condensing tank-type water heater to back up the solar. — Bob Ramlow
One of our loyal Mississippi readers, Bobby Stokes, called us the other day looking for solutions to his leaky pond problem. He’d already read articles about pond repair on our website, and was thinking about rigging up a tarp barrier to isolate an application of bentonite.
We asked Editorial Director Hank Will for his advice. Have any other readers had successful experiences with pond repair? Email us at Letters@MotherEarthNews.com and we’ll share your advice with Bobby.
Bobby, it might be possible to source a ton of bentonite clay and spread it or suspend it along the dam face. It could get pulled into the seep and plug it, and might generally plug the bottom. I’ve seen it work. But where I’ve seen it work best is on a pond that had seeped dry before the bentonite was spread and disced in, and then cattle were run through to pack it down.
The surefire option is to cut through the dam, drain the pond, cut in a keyway, and then pack clay into it to seal the dam to the earth. Unless it’s seeping via root channels in the dam or through a ledge outcrop below the surface (and thereby feeding a spring), I suspect there isn’t a proper key for the dam. I’ve personally repaired a dam by installing a completely new key that doesn’t seep. The new installation and the repair each took about four days of D-6 dozer time. — Hank Will
Your magazine is a godsend to my family. We look for every issue to come out and then flip back and forth through the entire magazine!
I was hoping you could point me in the right direction or connect me with someone who’s willing to work with a low-income family that’s trying to get back to its roots and make our planet better. My three beautiful children (ages 6, 5, and 3) and I are trying to find between 5 and 10 acres of land on contract or as a rent-to-own.
Steuben County, New York
Stephen, on our website, you’ll see a link at the top of the page titled “Land for Sale.” There, you can browse small acreages for sale in your region and contact the sellers. We sure hope your family finds a dream homestead! — MOTHER
I enjoyed watching your Facebook Live videos at Lonnie Q’s BBQ on how to smoke and cure bacon! I may have missed it, but how long does Lonnie smoke his meats?
Thanks for watching, Tam. Lonnie generally leaves meat on the smoker for four to five hours. He says that’s long enough to really take on the flavor of the smoke, but short enough to prevent the meat from cooking through and drying out. He then finishes the cooking in the oven to keep the meat moist and tender while retaining that great smoky flavor! We’ve had a number of questions about the recipe we used to cure these tasty slabs of bacon, so we’ve reprinted it below, courtesy of Grit magazine’s Editor-in-Chief, Caleb Regan. Our only modification was to add a handful of freshly ground espresso. You can buy pork belly from your local grocery store or butcher shop, or a pork supplier at a farmers market.
• 5 pounds fresh pork belly
• 2 ounces salt, either table or kosher
• 2 tsp pink curing salt #1
• 4 tbsp black pepper, coarsely ground
• 1⁄4 cup brown sugar, honey, or maple syrup
1. Place belly inside a 2-gallon zip-close bag, on a baking sheet, or in a large plastic or glass container.
2. Rub salts and pepper all over the belly.
3. Seal the bag or cover the baking sheet or container with plastic wrap, and place in a refrigerator for 7 days.
4. After three or four days, give the spices and belly another good rub.
5. After 7 days, remove the belly from the refrigerator, rinse off seasonings with cold water, and pat the belly dry.
6. Smoke the pork belly over apple, pecan, hickory, or other hardwoods until it reaches an internal temperature of 150 degrees Fahrenheit. Keep smoker set at as low a temperature as possible during the smoking process.
7. Cool and refrigerate until ready to cook.
I feel like many farmers are being pushed to the extreme. When my family was “conventional” and trying to follow the “right” way of farming, we were misinformed, unhappy, and broke. My family was recently blessed with 70 acres of organic land and it’s amazing how quickly one can become aware of what’s missing in conventional farming once exposed to what nature has to offer. Thank you for putting the unconventional in print!
Hi, Hank Will! I enjoyed your take on Lentil Underground (“Inspirational Stories Encourage Community,” October/November 2016). I want to suggest Amy Stewart’s The Earth Moved: On the Remarkable Achievements of Earthworms for your nightstand. The Earth Moved is a wonderful book that can be enjoyed even by non-gardeners. Before writing the book, the author wouldn’t even get near an earthworm! So glad you asked for suggestions. I always love to share!
Hank, I read your request for readers’ inspirational nightstand books. Here is some reading I highly suggest: They Left Their Tracks: Recollections of 60 Years as a Bob Marshall Wilderness Outfitter by Howard Copenhaver. You can find it on eBay as well as other titles by Copenhaver, including More Tracks: 78 Years of Mountains, People & Happiness, Copenhaver Country, and Mule Tracks: The Last of the Story. Copenhaver is a Montana author who writes about his life. You won’t be able to put his books down.
My husband and I decided to add a small herd of true Texas Longhorns to our farm in 2011, and what an adventure it’s been raising these amazing creatures! We were attracted to the breed’s reputation for self-reliance, easy birthing, and tenacity, and they’ve certainly lived up to that reputation, even through one of the worst droughts on record. Thank you for bringing attention to the importance of preserving this amazing heritage breed!
My household supports monarch butterflies through a wonderful nonprofit organization called Monarch Watch, headquartered just down the road from Mother Earth News headquarters, in Lawrence, Kansas. This group certifies monarch waystations all over the United States, including the one in my backyard.
We plant four types of native milkweed (Asclepias spp.) in our garden as a food source for monarch caterpillars. We also plant Mexican sunflowers, asters, sedum, and a variety of other plants that are food for the monarch butterflies. When you’re planning your waystation, remember that caterpillars require different food than butterflies! You can find more information here.
Christopher G. Padgett
I love your magazine and have been reading it since the mid-1970s. I’ve put so many great things that I’ve learned into practice. I had the pleasure of going to the Fair in Seven Springs, Pennsylvania, for the second time this year and it was awesome! Keep up the great work!
I grew some ‘Carl’s Glass Gems’ corn this year and it was so beautiful that I want to grow it again. Can I save some to plant?
Yes! Because ‘Carl’s Glass Gems’ is an open-pollinated corn, the seed will breed true if it wasn’t crossed with any other types of corn. Save seed from as many ears as you can to keep all of the genetic variability in the population intact. For commercial breeders, the minimum would be seed from at least 200 plants.
Because you’re a backyard breeder, you’ll be fine with a few hundred seeds taken from as many different ears as you can. In future years of growing, you can simply purchase some new stock if yours begins to perform poorly or you inadvertently lose some of the colors. — Hank Will, Editorial Director
The “Chicken with Apples and Onions” (October/November 2016) recipe is fantastic! I didn’t have Calvados in my cupboard, so I used my homemade apple pie moonshine! I used locally sourced ‘Golden Delicious’ and ‘Fuji’ apples and added cut-up asparagus during the last 10 minutes of cooking the chicken.
Bowling Green, Ohio
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