Dear MOTHER: October/November 2011

1 / 5
In his article, “Food Independence on a 1930s Farm,” Harold Oliver told of how his family slaughtered their hogs each fall when the first snow fell.
2 / 5
Guineas are great bug hunters and will even go after snakes in your yard.
3 / 5
Reader Stephanie Thompson of Memphis, Tenn., suggests solar panels and wind turbines in neighborhoods as a good way to decentralize the power grid.
4 / 5
Our “Food Gardening Guide” smartphone app can help you grow a better garden.
5 / 5
Nutsedge (nut grass) is a perennial invasive garden weed.

I’m So Excited!

I do not recall where I found MOTHER EARTH NEWS, but it has been a godsend. We are preparing to purchase 2 acres, and I was wondering whether we would be able to achieve self-sufficiency. I checked my email just now and the article Start a 1-Acre, Self-Sufficient Homestead is featured in your e-newsletter. I am so excited about this and can’t wait to share it with my husband. Folks like me have so much to learn about these things, and frankly, I don’t know what I would have done had I not happened upon your website.

Lyric St. Germaine
Fort Meade, Florida

Lyric, we’re sending you a couple of books to support your new adventure. They are The Self-Sufficient Life and How to Live It by John Seymour (from which the “1-Acre” article was taken) and Carla Emery’s The Encyclopedia of Country Living. These two books are the how-to bibles for self-sufficient living. For more inspiration, check out Living the Good Life by Helen and Scott Nearing. — MOTHER

Durable Goods

I just read the letter in the August/September 2011 issue entitled Time to Demand Durable Stuff. I’m in my mid-30s and couldn’t agree more. I’m so tired of having to buy junk because that’s the only thing available. When will Americans wake up and realize that the purchase price of something is only one part of the total cost of ownership? I’m a mechanic by trade, and it grinds on my nerves to hear advertisements that attempt to sway the purchaser with selling points such as “voice-controlled electronics” and other superficial bells and whistles.

For once I’d like to watch a commercial about the types of seals and bearings used in vital components, or about a manufacturer’s dedicated, global parts infrastructure that will help you maintain your purchase for decades to come. I would much rather have a small number of high-quality products than a house full of the latest shiny junk with a six-month life expectancy.

Steve Izell
Choctaw, Oklahoma

We renew our call for readers to write to to tell us about products that are of exceptional value and quality. — MOTHER

A Call for a Decentralized Power Grid

Green energy is the latest buzzword, but I’m afraid we’re heading down the same old business-as-usual path. Wouldn’t we all be better off if each of us had solar panels on our house and a small wind turbine?

Excess energy could go back into a smart grid and we could pull it in when we needed to. We should support policies that keep the energy generation near the consumption. Just think of how this could help families become more independent. I think there will also be much less impact on our natural landscape if power generation is dispersed in neighborhoods. We need to change the status quo and the collective conversation to make this a reality.

Stephanie Thompson
Memphis, Tennessee

Planetary Destruction

I found your recent article on climate change fascinating. Richard Hilderman did a great job! Our slow destruction of the planet needs more emphasis, because government and big business will not be talking about it!

Jack Wilbert
Dundee, New York

Vipers Are Venomous

I wanted to point out a common mistake that I noticed in your article Dogs and Snakes (August/September 2011). None of our North American snakes are “poisonous.” You could eat any of them without fear of being poisoned. However, North American vipers are venomous. They inject venom — not “poison” — when they strike a person or a prey species.

Dan Ginter
Albuquerque, New Mexico

Report on Killer Herbicide

Buttercups were taking over the grass in our horse pasture. A landscape contractor recommended to my husband that he spray the pasture with Milestone herbicide to get rid of the buttercups. He did so in May 2010, and we no longer had buttercups.

However, in the fall of 2010, we shoveled the dried manure from the barnyard into feed bags, which were stored in the barn for the winter. Just as we had done for 32 years, we spread the dried manure on the vegetable gardens in early May and tilled it into the earth, along with the grass clippings and mulched leaves that had been spread on the gardens in fall. I proceeded to plant our crops. It rained for a week immediately after the planting, and the plants shriveled up and died. Thinking the problem was too much rain, I planted again. Same result.

Puzzled, I read the ingredients in Milestone and found it contained aminopyralid. I now know that my gardens were contaminated with it through the manure application. I feel like I have been violated, because gardening and canning are the loves of my life.

Joy Keller-Brown
Glen Rock, Pennsylvania

For more about this nationwide problem, see Keep Your Garden Safe From Killer Compost and Imprelis: Another Deadly Herbicide, This Time From DuPont. — MOTHER

Please Continue to Speak Out

I just read your excellent article on killer manure (Keep Your Garden Safe From Killer Compost, April/May 2011). I was not aware of this issue until I read a letter to the editor last year on the subject. People really need to know about this! I forwarded it to everyone I could think of.

I also read the To Be PC or Not To Be PC responses — please, please, continue to be involved. Anyone who feels you should not be is simply trying to suppress information — why, in a country that prides itself on freedom of speech, I do not know. Individuals like this keep us from improving. And like my friend always says: All it takes for evil to prevail is for good people to do nothing. Thank you for doing something!

Ute Miethe
Tacoma, Washington

The Dynamic Balance of Nature

Your excellent article Keystone Species: How Predators Create Abundance and Stability (June/July 2011) by Douglas H. Chadwick showed the interlocking web of life. Natural populations are in dynamic balance: Alter one, and the others must change to compensate. It’s nice to see some science here instead of the usual drivel from “Bambi Institute of Environmentalism.”

Timothy Brandt
Palos Hills, Illinois

Living With Nature

I read the reactions to your article about wolves. It’s important to expand our consciousness to include predators. I raise free-range chickens and have foxes nearby, but I don’t want to lock up my chickens or exterminate the foxes. We are all coexisting quite well. Thanks for encouraging us to live with nature.

Barrie Mason
Santa Rosa, California

DIY Solar PV Installation Details

The June/July 2011 article about DIY solar (Choose DIY to Save Big on Solar Panels for Your Home!) was well written, but as an instructor and code official, I believe you understated the real level of detail involved. For example, when the author talked about grounding, he didn’t explain how complex a PV system is.

I love what you do. Just be safe about it.

Kevin Wright
Quakertown, Pennsylvania

Who’s Been Brainwashed?

When I received your June/July 2011 issue in the mail, I was excited until I saw the “Coming Up Next” teaser for your August/September issue where you boasted about your soon-to-come article on global warming. I can no longer continue to subscribe as a result of your insistence on reporting on this polarizing issue. It would seem you would be able to write unique articles that are of an informative nature (which you do very well) without the offensive articles so prevalent in most other media sources. These attempts to brainwash the layman into believing man is responsible for all of the planet’s ills can be written about elsewhere.

Brad Tonkery
Mount Morris, New York

Sorry to see you go, Brad. — MOTHER

Fun at the FAIR

Thank you so much for bringing the MOTHER EARTH NEWS FAIR to Puyallup, Wash., last spring! Both of my sons, one son’s partner, a friend and I attended. We all kept busy going from presentation to presentation, trying not to be late because we lingered in the vendors’ area. My 70-year-old bones and eyes were whupped, but I learned a ton!

Pat Fletcher
Tacoma, Washington

Bigger Print, Please

Could you please try to enlarge the print size in your magazine?

Rosita McQuown
DuBois, Pennsylvania

This is a tough call for us, Rosita. If we made the print size bigger for those who need it, it would mean less information for everyone. One option that might help: Subscribers who have computers (or a library nearby) can receive a free digital version of each issue (go to our Digital Editions page to learn more) and can then enlarge the text on their computer screen. — MOTHER

Talkin’ About MOTHER

I just got back from a long weekend with my family. I can’t count how many times MOTHER EARTH NEWS tips, articles and ideas came up in our conversations. You really are a part of our lives!

Jessica Walker Stier

Successful MOTHER Projects

I want to thank everyone at MOTHER EARTH NEWS for the inspiration you’ve provided to me over the years. About two years ago, I constructed a shed for storing firewood based on the article How to Build a Woodshed (August/September 1995). I also recently completed a modified version of your wood-fired hot tub plan (How to Build a Hot Tub, June/July 2010) using a 150-gallon stock tank and the recommended Chofu stove. I’ve fired up the woodstove a half-dozen times in the last month and have found that the tub really holds the heat well with the added insulation.

My thanks to everyone who makes each issue such a worthwhile read.

Eric D’Aleo
Plymouth, New Hampshire

Easy Apple Peeling

How I chuckled when I read the Souped-Up Apple Peeler Country Lore tip (August/September 2011) about using a cordless drill to speed up a hand-crank apple peeler. My husband did the same thing 35 years ago. He decided when we had a bushel of apples to peel that there had to be an easier way than peeling by hand. We ended up using it outdoors because it was so messy, but the kids thought it was the best way to peel apples. What a fun day we had!

Elizabeth L. Boise
Sherburne, New York

Handle Hot Peppers With Rubber Gloves

I enjoyed reading your August/September 2011 issue, but I have a comment on the article about hot sauce (Have Fun, Save Money: Make Your Own Hot Sauce). A photo shows someone cutting up hot peppers barehanded. That can lead to a burn that lasts about 24 hours, and there’s nothing that will relieve it. Best to use rubber gloves — I learned that the hard way!

Linda Mullen
Fairbanks, Alaska

Use Heat to Control Weeds

I was surprised that your reader survey results on weeds (The 10 Worst Garden Weeds, August/September 2011) did not mention flame weeding as a method of combating weeds — especially because Weed Dragon is one of your advertisers. The Weed Dragon has become my top weapon in dealing with weeds. And to my surprise and great pleasure, it also combats insect problems. This year I had a terrible asparagus beetle infestation. After my final harvest, I weeded the bed with the Weed Dragon, and my bug problem went away along with the weeds.

Joe Pugliese
Lewisburg, Pennsylvania

Our editorial decisions are not driven by which companies do or do not advertise with us. In this case, the 2,000 gardeners who took the weed survey did not mention flame weeding as a preferred method. Thanks for letting us know you’ve had success with the Weed Dragon. — MOTHER

Straw Mulch Boosts Garden Diversity

I just wanted to add another “win” to those already mentioned in the August/September 2011 article The 10 Worst Garden Weeds. I can’t speak for everyone, but I’ve used newspaper covered with straw for several years and I’ve found that, in addition to weed control, moisture retention and added fertility, this combination also attracts a host of beneficial creatures to my garden. Tons of spiders (large and small), toads, a rat snake and usually a box turtle or two all take up residence under the mulch. I’ve found that squash bugs really dig this mulch, too, so I avoid mulching around squash plants. And, hey, if the turtles help themselves to some melons or low-hanging ripe tomatoes, it’s a small price to pay for the free labor they provide!

Barbara Brooks
Casey, Illinois

Not Sure About SIPs

I’ve been a subscriber for many years — thanks for doing a great job. I’ve built four “stick” homes over the last 30 years and one Insulated Concrete Form (ICF) home 6 years ago. ICFs are hollow foam blocks, with reinforcing rods, into which concrete is poured.

In contrast, the structural insulated panels (SIPs) discussed in your recent article (August/September 2011) are made of foam insulation sandwiched between two sheets of oriented strand board (OSB). Compared with conventional stick homes, my ICF home has been the most comfortable and economical, and was the easiest to build. It cost about 5 percent more than a stick home, but less than that if you do it yourself. I also found the ICF construction convenient in that I could leave it unfinished for a while with no concerns about warping and disintegration due to weather. This would not be true with SIPs. My other concerns about SIPs include:

1. An advancing fire in high winds could have temperatures high enough to melt the foam, which would compromise structural integrity.

2. The structure is subject to termites, mold and bug infestation.

3. Attaching heavy objects such as upper cabinets to the walls may separate the panels from the foam over time.

Dick Fernandez
Warner Springs, California

Hate Those Hungry Hornworms

To the person who wrote that hornworms do not feed on tomato fruits in the August/September 2011 letters to the editor: You couldn’t be more wrong. My hornworms not only take tomato plants down to nubs, but they have eaten the main stalk and have definitely eaten the tomatoes themselves.

Jamie Jackson
Falcon, Missouri

Companion Planting Discourages Hornworms

Regarding the recent letters on tomato hormworms, my solution is to plant seeds of the annual herb borage between all of my tomato plants. Since doing that, I’ve never seen another tomato hornworm.

Sandi Williams
Fowler, Michigan

The Satisfaction of Self-Reliant Living

I just read the article in your August/September 2011 issue titled Food Independence on a 1930s Farm. I grew up much like Mr. Oliver, on a southwest Missouri farm. I love this story! It brings back strong nostalgia! It’s true — we didn’t know that we didn’t have much money. We raised everything or made what we needed. In my earliest recollections, we even used horse-drawn farm equipment, so the cost or availability of fuel didn’t really affect us much either.

If you didn’t run up debts, you could live quite independently. And, it was before the “disposable” era started. I can remember gas at 9 cents a gallon, and you could get an ice-cold bottle of Coke for a nickel!

Keep up the good work! I very much enjoy reading your magazine cover to cover as soon as I get it.

Ruth Forester
Aurora, Missouri

Get Guineas to Control Ticks, Beetles … and Snakes!

In the August/September 2011 Ask Our Experts section, someone asked what kind of dog to get to deter snakes. Why doesn’t she just get some guinea hens? They are great snake catchers and killers, although they can be hard to keep on your property, as they fly really well.

Larry Haynes
Albuquerque, New Mexico

The Internet Is Invaluable

In response to a reader complaint in the April/May 2011 issue about MOTHER’s use of “high-tech,” I’d like to weigh in. When I started building a homestead in a remote part of northern Portugal four years ago, I had never grown anything but tomatoes in a flower bed. I had never known anyone who grew food, and I had never even walked through a vegetable garden. Without the Internet, I would have been completely helpless. Now, with hours of online research behind me and MOTHER’s online Garden Planner, I can say I have a grip on what I’m trying to do.

For those readers who are old-school farmers or have experience in gardening: Be grateful. But I’m not a member of that club, and I suspect there are a lot of people like me who don’t know which are the weeds and which are the carrots they planted. And, if we expect to interest younger generations in taking up the hoe, they will need to be reached online.

Mary Heaner
Vieira do Minho, Portugal

Appeal to New Groups

I wanted to write because of a letter you printed in the April/May 2011 issue called Hates High-Tech.

I was surprised that Mr. Curtis felt he knew the whole of the MOTHER EARTH NEWS readership. My sense is that the readership is becoming — and will continue to become — increasingly more diversified as more people find it unpalatable and even dangerous to consume the multitude of chemicals in the food we buy in our grocery stores. As more people catch the bug for growing food, an inevitable diversity will develop in the readership. And I believe that’s a good thing!

I think that reaching out to this diverse group who may use tools such as iPads and iPhone apps (as I myself do) is not a bad thing. Sure, we don’t want the whole magazine to be about apps. After all, we buy the magazine for all of the tips on how to grow our gardens, bake bread and make things. But making us aware of products that will help us garden better seems to me like a good use of some of the magazine’s space.

Melissa Elenbaas
Lowell, Michigan

Technology for All

A recent letter asserted that country folk do not use technology, and the author preferred it not be mentioned in your magazine. I would like to say that many fine farm and country folk I know do use modern technologies. I follow the Twitter feeds of several farms, connect with people on Internet forums about chickens, read blog posts about the latest cure for bumblefoot, and look at pictures taken with iPhones.

These days, I am able to connect with the farmer who grows my meat and sells produce to me in a way that wasn’t possible for urbanites in the past. I beg you, do not remove your articles on technology. I have used your technology recommendations and found some things I can’t live without.

Danielle Jimenez
Irvine, California

No Mention of Nut Grass?

How can you name the 10 worst garden weeds (August/September 2011) and not include nut grass (nutsedge)? My mother fought it forever in her yard. I found my biggest raised garden bed in my new home full of it five years ago. I have aggressively fought it year-round ever since without success. Nothing kills it. Suggestions?

Kathy Young
Holly Springs, North Carolina

You can find advice about dealing with this increasingly widespread weed in Weed Watch: How to Kill Nutsedge. The only good news is that nutsedge has not yet spread widely enough for readers to have rated it in the top 10 weeds nationwide. — MOTHER

No Goofiness

I have just finished reading your latest fantastic issue. Thank you for your reply to the reader’s rant about MOTHER becoming a political vehicle. I’m not sure what magazine he was reading, but it wasn’t this one. MOTHER is the magazine I read in order to get away from all the goofiness we see in modern living, including politics. Keep up the good work. You just might not hear much from those of us who support you because we’re too busy reading the magazine and putting the ideas into action.

Robert Bruce
Goshen, Kentucky

Protesting Pigeonholing

I’ve been enjoying the back-and-forth in the Dear MOTHER section. I think your statement that some in our society are trying to pigeonhole every issue into some political cell pretty much sums up our country’s problems.

Larry Roth
Kansas City, Missouri


Shame on you for promoting such a glaringly “liberal” agenda by publishing articles on arugula, baby beets and artisan bread! Why are you so scared to cover real “conservative” garden staples, such as rhubarb, apples (so much a part of God, motherhood and apple pie) and beefsteak tomatoes (not those namby-pamby, liberal cherry tomatoes).

In fact, I think we readers should take every single article and label it with mind-numbing logic as either liberal or conservative. But alas, when would we find time to garden?

Shirley Phillips
Santa Rosa, California