Reader letters about homemade bread, killer compost, politics in MOTHER EARTH NEWS, container gardening, Passive House construction, and more.
Knowing how to make bread is one of the keys to self-sufficiency. MOTHER EARTH NEWS reader Diane, from Wisconsin, used our recipe for Crusty White Bread to meet her goal of learning how to “bake artisan breads.”
PHOTO: JIM MACKENZIE
MOTHER’s Favorite Letter From Last Issue (April/May 2011):
My family was so happy to see the article in your new Real Food department (April/May 2011) about making maple syrup. Five years ago, we saw a demonstration of home maple syrup production and we’ve been making it ever since. This year, we produced 4 gallons of this delectable liquid gold. The process isn’t complicated, and with a few supplies and a little know-how, anyone can do it!
We have encouraged many people who have only a few trees to give it a try. For us, it has become an enjoyable family affair. It gives us an opportunity to get out early in the spring and clean up the limbs that have fallen on our 3 acres and use them as fuel to boil the sap down. When you taste that finished syrup, it’s worth all the time and effort. I can’t wait to try the maple butter recipe in the article.
Sandra, thanks for writing. We’re sending you some MOTHER EARTH NEWS coffee to accent your maple syrup breakfasts. — MOTHER
I retired four and a half years ago and created a “to-do” list as part of my preparations. On that list I included “bake artisan breads.” Until my December 2010/January 2011 issue of MOTHER EARTH NEWS arrived, I hadn’t made a step toward accomplishing that goal. I was so pleased to learn from your article that I could eliminate the kneading step in bread-making.
I immediately made a loaf of William Rubel’s Crusty White Bread (Homemade Bread: Truly Easy and Delicious) with every intention of following the recipe, but I had to start “making it my own,” as Rubel recommended. I substituted 1 cup of whole-wheat flour and added cheddar cheese cubes and bacon bits before the last rising. It turned out great, so I made a second loaf with sun-dried tomatoes, mozzarella cheese, mini pepperoni and Italian seasoning. My third loaf was filled with feta cheese, black olives and Greek seasoning. I made all of these in one week and am planning my next loaf with onion, broccoli pieces, and cheddar cubes. I’m definitely a convert to this technique. I seldom use recipes for any of my cooking, so this concept went right along with my idea of customizing. I think I’m about ready to just pour flour in the bowl and wing it from there.
I have seen a few letters from readers complaining about MOTHER’s new iPhone app and articles that are only available online (because they don’t have iPhones or computers). But I say: Shouldn’t we share the wonderful knowledge MOTHER EARTH NEWS gives to us to inspire others to live as we do?
It is only fair (and more profitable for MOTHER EARTH NEWS) to allow city folks who have never thought about owning chickens, for example, to dream of having an egg straight out of the nest for breakfast. Reaching people via more “modern” technologies could, in turn, help out the whole world.
I just thought I’d share a picture of Little Jerry. He is our first hatched and raised little boy, and is a cross between an Araucana and a Barred Rock. He turned 1 year old in March. We think he is beautiful.
Rose and John Elliott
I am writing in regard to your article on the herbicide contamination problem (Keep Your Garden Safe From Killer Compost, April/May 2011). I am a farmer in Whatcom County, Wash. I didn’t have the problem on my own farm because I make my own compost. However, we did have it on the food bank farm I manage and in the community gardens with which I’m involved. As the season progressed, the plants (tomatoes, beans, spinach) eventually grew through the contamination phase, but the yields were lower.
The local extension agents had no solutions, but by doing some Web research, I was able to come up with two possible solutions: 1. Because UV rays break the chemical bonds in the aminopyralid herbicide molecules, tilling and exposure of the bare ground to the sun holds some promise. 2. Because buckwheat, rye and clover have the ability to render unavailable phosphorus into an available form, it’s possible this chemical reaction could also break the chemical bonds of the herbicide molecules.
Both of these solutions take time. I no longer recommend buying commercial compost when I speak to local gardeners. Thanks for writing this article.
The April/May 2011 issue of MOTHER EARTH NEWS was excellent! I thoroughly enjoyed every page. My favorite department is often Crop at a Glance. It’s interesting to learn about different garden crops and how to grow them.
Billy J. Jones
I was looking at the letters in Dear MOTHER in the February/March 2011 issue and was especially taken aback by the letter about running off intruders at gunpoint after a hurricane. It reminded me of the great Y2K scare in 1999 — when everything was supposed to go haywire (planes dropping out of the sky, etc.).
A few weeks before all of this was to happen, my husband and I had gone to a gun shop a few miles away to get some more ammo — to fend off all of the people we feared would invade our farm looking for whatever they could find. When we walked into the shop, there were people already there for the same reason, and they were discussing the plans they were making to prepare themselves.
My husband mentioned that I had enough cans of tuna to last 10 years. One man at the end of the counter said he didn’t need to stock up on food or supplies because he had another plan.
We all listened intently: “What I’m going to do is just buy more ammo for my guns, drive to the Amish farm down the road and take everything they have,” he said.
This would have been a really bad joke, except he wasn’t joking. I’m wondering how many other people had this same plan? Instead of preparing for their family’s needs, they would just take from others who did the work to prepare.
This was many years ago, but it’s still fresh in my mind and it scares me.
Thank you for sharing this story, Sandi. It illustrates an important point about the best ways to prepare if you think hard times are ahead. We need to do more than just stockpile food and supplies for our individual families. We will be more secure if we build sustainable communities where neighbors support (and defend) each other. — MOTHER
Thank you, E.R. Bills, for your comments on our sense of entitlement to retirement and the long-term consequences of this (Dear MOTHER, February/March 2011). The topic is a difficult one, but Bills’ words were well-chosen and true: “In the natural world, death isn’t untimely or unfair; it’s just as important as living.”
I am looking forward to reading Holy Shit: Managing Manure to Save Mankind and am glad you featured it in Green Gazette (An Excrement Expert’s Manure Manifesto, February/March 2011). In an era in which clean water is becoming a vanishing resource, I believe we are going to look back on these times and wonder what on Earth we were doing pooping into our perfectly good drinking water!
Grass Valley, California
Anyone who is interested in farming organically needs to keep abreast of genetic engineering news because the future of organic food is at stake.
I’m a small-scale organic farmer and I raise organic chickens. I’d like to grow organic corn to feed them but can’t because a neighboring farm grows genetically engineered (GE) forage corn, which would contaminate mine. I also can’t plant the heirloom Indian corn my daughter-in-law has collected, because the contamination would ruin her priceless seeds.
We’d like to plant a depleted pasture in alfalfa, but we now have to worry about cross-contamination from genetically engineered alfalfa — not to mention the awful possibility of being sued by Monsanto for “patent infringement”!
As a consumer, I resent being made an unwitting guinea pig in a massive uncontrolled experiment. As a health professional, I worry about the huge allergenic potential of genetically engineered foods, as well as glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup, turning out to be an endocrine disrupter.
There is little research out there on the long-term effects of either because there is less incentive to support such research. In the absence of independent (i.e., not Monsanto-sponsored) research supporting the long-term safety of GE plants and animals (as well as glyphosate), I think we need to push for adoption of the precautionary principle: no genetically engineered products until they are definitively proven safe by independent research.
In the meantime, a law requiring the labeling of products containing genetically engineered ingredients would give consumers the opportunity to vote with their pocketbooks. I think I know how that would turn out.
Shelburne Falls, Massachusetts
Readers can access reliable, up-to-date information on what’s happening in the world of genetic engineering at GMWatch. And it looks like Dale’s suspicion that Roundup/glyphosate poses health risks to humans may be warranted — that’s what a new study published in the journal Environmental Sciences Europe reports. In response to the USDA’s recent deregulation of GE alfalfa, a number of farmers and consumer groups have responded with a lawsuit. For more on this and how to get involved in the push for labeling of GE foods, the Organic Consumers Association and the Center for Food Safety are excellent resources. — MOTHER
I picked up a copy of MOTHER EARTH NEWS because of an article about quick and easy bread, but I was captivated by the articles on gardening, especially growing a kitchen garden (Easy Kitchen Garden: Step by Step, February/March 2011).
Two years ago, with a little help from my husband, I converted a side yard to a container garden patterned after the French potager (kitchen garden). The containers make a pattern and, though not next to my kitchen, they are close enough to make it easy to bring in fresh produce.
My husband, an avid and long-time gardener, was initially skeptical that my containers would be worth the effort. He planted his long rows while I planted my little containers.
I ended up reaping an impressive harvest! The second year, my husband helped build more planters and, though not enthusiastic, he was definitely more positive. Once again, my containers produced a tremendous harvest. This year, while my husband hasn’t completely given up on traditional gardening with long, wide rows, he is almost as excited about my potager as I am!
Thank you for the fantastic articles you include in MOTHER EARTH NEWS. Our family has benefited greatly as I’ve learned to garden, grow some of my own herbs, dry the herbs and store the abundance from our garden through the winter. Though I’m not a big magazine reader, MOTHER EARTH NEWS is a subscription I won’t let expire!
I just read and love your digital version of the magazine on my iPad. Crystal clear photos and beautifully done.
We’re proud to offer a digital version of MOTHER EARTH NEWS. You can buy single digital issues or sign up for a digital subscription for your computer, tablet or smartphone. If you already subscribe to the print magazine, you can get the digital edition free. — MOTHER
Reading recent letters regarding the dangers of using certain plants for living fences to contain animals (in response to Living Fences: How-To, Advantages and Tips, October/November 2010) has prompted me to offer the following information.
My neighbor rescued two wonderful Shire horses that happily lived 10 years in a corral with access to a large field for exercise. They were always gentle and welcomed a pat on the nose or a stroke, until recently, when they both became suddenly ill. The cause was not immediately known. They received veterinarian treatment for suspected laminitis and both seemed to stabilize.
It was then discovered that the cause of the condition was walnut wood shavings used in the horses’ corral to help soak up the abnormal rainfall from this past winter. Walnut is extremely toxic to horses and they were standing on it most of the day, allowing the toxins to enter their bodies via their hooves. The shavings and much of their corral base were immediately excavated, but it was too late for one of the ailing horses. She died despite the best efforts of veterinarians and her distraught owners. The survivor continues to improve but misses her companion.
An eye-opening statistic I heard about renewable energy: It would take every tillable land source in our country to grow enough soybeans to make the amount of biodiesel necessary to replace the amount of oil we now use in the United States. Using less energy per person in our nation is a must if we want to have an Earth we can live on for centuries to come.
We in Penobscot, Maine, recently passed a Local Food and Community Self-Governance Ordinance, declaring our right to produce, process, sell and consume local foods, free of overly restrictive state and federal regulations.
Rick and Linda Freimuth
I have been receiving your magazine for the past three years and have completely enjoyed every issue. This is the first time I have ever responded to an article I read, but it really touched a nerve. I am in the master gardener program in New Jersey, and during a recent class we discussed pesticides and the instructor brought up Bayer’s clothianidin insecticide and the collapse of the bee population. He told us this product has been banned in Germany and Italy. Now, if the country where the company is domiciled banned it (Bayer is a German company), why does the EPA say they need further studies? We need to be aware of any side effects before new products come to market. This is really sad.
Howell, New Jersey
It disappoints me to continually see letters from MOTHER EARTH NEWS readers complaining about how “liberal” and “radicalized” the magazine’s content has become. First, questioning the sanitized, agribusiness-approved PR folderol that passes as journalism nowadays does not mean a magazine or news outlet is biased, it means that it has integrity. I assert that MOTHER EARTH NEWS itself is not changing at all, but rather the state of our world and society is. MOTHER EARTH NEWS is simply continuing to do what it has done for years — offer frank and researched facts about environmental and agricultural topics. The only thing that has changed is perhaps the urgency with which we need to face these problems and the stubborn boneheadedness of people who refuse to face reality and re-evaluate their lifestyles.
I would like to see MOTHER EARTH NEWS become more “radicalized,” more vocal about the injustices and frauds that are literally destroying our society and planet, and offer more hard-hitting articles about the terrifying truths that are quickly wrecking our world. This magazine is in a unique position to offer critical information to a knowledgeable, passionate and involved group of people who are likely to get up and do what needs to be done, and I hope it continues to do just that.
I told my wife not to renew my MOTHER EARTH NEWS subscription but she did anyway. Your editors need to take a look at some of the old issues of the magazine. MOTHER has become too political.
Don’t those who bash corporations realize that corporations and their financing and research have provided many of our technological advances and millions of jobs? Without the “evil” corporations, the United States would be another Third World country.
Gardening, livestock, how-to stuff is what made MOTHER. Get back to it or become just another “save the Earth” or political magazine and die!
Prairie Grove, Arkansas
I love your magazine and website. I appreciate that you include articles for everyone from the urban homesteader to the rural farmer, from the techie to the traditionalist. I am concerned about the letters accusing MOTHER EARTH NEWS of being too political or leftist. It’s impossible to separate the environment from the lifestyle of the typical MOTHER subscriber, or of anyone else. Concern for the condition of our planet is not synonymous with lefty wackos, but should be of concern to everyone. Clean air, water, soil and a stable climate for crops is not a left or right issue. We all live here, and so our collective action is essential to Earth’s survival.
I enjoyed your informative article on Passive House construction (Serious Energy Savings With Passive House Design, April/May 2011). Having recently completed my own passive-type house, I’d like to make a few observations based on my experiences in Vermont, where one designs mainly for heating rather than cooling.
Windows and doors can be the dominant source of heat loss in a house, so their performance should always get careful attention. Shop carefully for windows, and realize that, typically, the lower the U-rating on a window, the lower the solar heat gain coefficient. In other words, the window’s winter heat losses will decrease, but so will the heat gain on sunny days. Be sure you choose windows with optimal qualities for your climate. If you choose less costly double-pane windows instead of triple pane, then externally mounted insulating/reflective shutters would be effective in minimizing heat loss — assuming one could find a shutter system that integrates well with your choice of window systems. (In my experience, internal shutters lead to too much window condensation on zero-degree days.)
This day and age of striving for self-sufficiency requires us to have more and more hands-on knowledge. We are encouraged to grow gardens, can our produce, raise animals, have root cellars, recycle and save. So many people want to learn to do for themselves, and books are a great way, but most folks find it easier to learn by watching someone else.
I’ve talked to quite a few people who agree with me that we need a self-sufficiency TV channel. Not just a random program that’s on once a week and encourages us to do certain things but doesn’t teach us how; we need a real, honest-to-goodness schoolroom on TV.
Gallipolis Ferry, West Virginia
In your News From MOTHER (February/March 2011), I first encountered the concept of “village-ization.” This idea was further expanded in your articles on sustainable communities, Great Places You’ve (Maybe) Never Heard Of and Beautiful and Abundant (February/March 2011). I have always liked the idea of smaller, more self-contained and self-sufficient green communities.
Has MOTHER EARTH NEWS ever considered creating a model community based on all of the best green ideas and techniques? A model community representing the best agriculture, homesteading and cooperative living ideas would be a remarkable experiment (like a better Bio-sphere 2).
John Di Giacomo
Port St. Lucie, Florida
It’s not on TV (yet) and it’s not a model community, but our series of FAIRS this year will offer a terrific selection of workshops, demonstrations and speakers on all sorts of sustainable living topics. — MOTHER
More than 150 workshops, great deals from more than 200 exhibitors, off-stage demos, inspirational keynotes, and great food!LEARN MORE