Dear MOTHER December 2017/January 2018

By Staff
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Dear MOTHER December 2017/January 2018

Letters from our readers about alternative tractors, hide tanning, trusted animal companions, and more.

December 2017/January 2018

Photo by K. Uziel

Gifts from the Compost Bin

I’ve been reading your magazine and gardening ever since we moved to my great-grandmother’s homestead in 1996. Although we didn’t plant anything this past year, I was tickled to find dill and epazote volunteers in the garden beds. But the largest and healthiest plants were at the other end of the yard by the compost. Curious as to why, I found your article “Volunteers: A Garden Bonus” (May/June 1980). I learned that plants choose their locations based on where they can get the best nutrients, pH levels, and drainage.

Our volunteer amaranth climbed out of a hole in the black plastic covering the compost box; catnip grew in nutrient-rich cracks around the concrete; and pumpkin and tomatoes sprouted inside the compost bins. Our volunteers are so happy that it’s become a challenge to empty the kitchen scraps — something akin to basketball’s overhead pass!

K. Uziel
Pleasant Hill, Tennessee

Alternative Tractor Options

I read Tim Nephew’s article “Targeting Tractors” (October/November 2017) on selecting the right tractor, and would like to tell readers that for properties under 5 acres, walk-behind tractors are an excellent and affordable option. The high-quality European machines offered by BCS and Grillo come with numerous implements for working soil, mowing, splitting wood, pumping water, and even making hay, all at a fraction of the price of a four-wheel tractor.

We use a walk-behind tractor to manage our 1-acre flower farm and 3-acre field. It allows us to get into tight spaces and does almost everything we need. The only attachment that isn’t available for our two-wheel tractor is a front loader. But rather than spending thousands of dollars on a tractor with a front loader, we’ve chosen an option that saves us money and has environmental benefits too.

Jonathan Leiss
Hurdle Mills, North Carolina

Photo by Katelyn Reist

Livestock Holiday Flair

Our 6-year-old oxen are very friendly Jersey steers. Their names are Frye and Burg (named after the Fryeburg Fair in Maine). We recently took them to our local museum’s pioneer heritage event, where they pulled a historic Conestoga wagon. They can be driven by using voice and hand gestures.

The inspiration to decorate our team came from a newspaper article in Lancaster Farming that included a picture of two calves in a yoke adorned with holly. I really wanted to deck out Frye and Burg in a similar manner so we could include a photo in my university’s Christmas letter. We decided to trim them with bells and Santa hats.

Frye and Burg enjoy meeting new people wherever we take them. They’re very photogenic and love all the attention! They attended the Pennsylvania Farm Show this past year and were one of a few oxen teams that participated in log pulling, navigating the obstacle course, and other events.

Katelyn Reist 
Lancaster, Pennsylvania

Morene’s Garden

I’ve gardened most of my life and have been a fan of Mother Earth News for more than 30 years. I’m 88 years old, I live on a farm, and I still garden, although my garden gets smaller as the years go by. I also do all my own housework, and I quilt and sew quilt tops for veterans. I love to read, and Mother Earth News is my favorite. Thanks for all the great articles on caring for a home and garden.

Morene Portell
Owensville, Missouri

Hide Tanning, Multiplied

I’m a secondary school teacher in British Columbia. Hunting is a large part of my community. While searching online for hands-on projects my students could tackle in the classroom, I came across Dennis Biswell’s article “How to Tan a Deer Hide” (October/November 2016). I’d really like my students to take on this project, but would need to scale up the instructions so we could tan 28 hides total. By the way, I’ve never done this before! The article describes how to pickle only one hide at a time. Is there a way to pickle multiple hides in the same solution without compromising the results?

Noel Bullock
Sparwood, British Columbia

Great question, Noel. Yes, the supplies can be scaled up to handle several hides at once. The important steps to take when pickling are 1. Maintain pH of the solution in the 1.0 to 2.0 range; 2. Keep all parts of the hides in contact with the solution; 3. Soak the hides long enough to finish pickling (until a fingernail impression in the skin no longer disappears) across the entire hide. You could pickle four or five hides at a time with 20 gallons of pickling solution in a 32-gallon container. The solution can be reused. If your number of containers is limited, you can place one set of hides into the pickling solution just as the preceding set comes out. Regarding the other supplies, you should figure on about 10 pounds of salt and 8 to 10 ounces of tanning compound per deer hide.

— Dennis Biswell

Homebrewed Beer Secrets

I’ve been homebrewing for more than 20 years and want to enlighten readers who may be interested in brewing their own beer. In the article “Brewing Beer: The Basics” (October/November 2017), there’s a lot more to the process than the photo of combining malt extract with water would lead novices to believe. But overall I found this article to be very detailed. Since I’ve started homebrewing and occasionally mentoring many friends on homebrewing, one friend has quit his full-time job as a paramedic and opened a brewery that’s doing very well.

Please continue to provide great articles because I keep all of my past issues to refer back to.

John A. Rambo
Boyertown, Pennsylvania

Renewable Energy Worries

Imagine my surprise when reading the article “States Lead the Way with Renewable Energy Policy” (Green Gazette, October/November 2017) that my home state, Washington, wasn’t mentioned.

I live on Guemes Island and have installed solar panels. I know many folks in the Pacific Northwest are putting solar panels on their homes as we have done, as well as using solar-heated water, and I’m disappointed that our state isn’t one of eight leaders in renewable energy policy. It’s the right thing to do, and I encourage everyone to invest in this technology. Besides having a lower electric bill each month, I feel I’m one of the ones working toward a more sustainable future.

Carol Pellett
Anacortes, Washington

Back to My Roots

I love your magazine. The articles have purpose, value, and meaning. I’m a single mom with two kids, four cats, a dog, a fish, and a flock of more than 20 birds. My next goal is to get goats. I also garden. I love my life. I grew up with grandparents who homestead. I just recently started getting back to my roots, living a lifestyle that’s better for me, my family, and the Earth. It’s been a struggle, but your magazine helps! I save every copy. Thank you for all you do!


Canine Critter Control

We walk our two Labrador mixes every day. During the growing season, we walk them around the fenced perimeter of our vegetable garden. We feel it helps deter critters, such as rabbits, by spreading dog scent. When our daughter and son-in-law travel, their two tiny dogs stay with us. Lulu, a Pug-Chihuahua mix, is able to go for long walks like our big dogs. However, Pippi, a Miniature Dachshund, is unable to do so because of health issues. We don’t want Pippi to feel left out, so after we return with the other dogs from their walks, we leash up Pippi and very slowly walk her around the garden fence. Tiny Pippi takes her duties very seriously and carefully examines every inch of the garden fence, doing her part to deter pests!

Helen Orem
Middle River, Maryland

Photo by Mary Whittaker-Myers

Farm Frolic

This picture was taken when my grandson, Ivan, came with us to the pasture to help us water cattle. He was about 3 years old at the time. Ivan, being a farm-grown boy, thought he’d take a swim before the cows got a drink.

Our herd is gentle and patient, as you can see! We have 26 acres we call Separate Peace Farm, where we raise grass-fed beef. We also lease surrounding land for grazing and making hay.

Mary Whittaker-Myers
Hartslog Valley, Pennsylvania

Sarah the Great (Pyrenees)

During the peak of lambing season, my “hobby” farm comes to life with a population sometimes exceeding 200 head of sheep. Two Border Collies and an Australian Cattle Dog also have run of the property, along with four Great Pyrenees who are guard dogs and reside with the sheep 24/7.

Spring lambing brings twins, triplets, and quads — very few single births. By dusk nearly every night, the coyotes howl in the back forty. The Pyrenees are ever-present, sensing possible danger and patrolling the perimeters of the pastures as if they’re soldiers on patrol.

On one particular night, I woke to a lot of howling and barking by all the dogs, but I didn’t think that was too unusual. When I went out in the morning to the barn and the pasture to feed, Sarah and Fritz, the two Pyrenees in that pasture, met me as usual. But Sarah, the older of the two, was limping, and her white coat was bloody. I checked her over, but she didn’t have a scratch on her. I then discovered coyote remains on the fence line. I quickly took count of the sheep and lambs and discovered all were unharmed.

Sarah eventually required ACL surgery at a large specialty animal clinic. With therapy, she returned to her flock and served as a guard dog for several more years. She passed away from old age, tending her flock until the very end.

My three other Pyrs have taken over guard duty. One recent night, they alerted me to the presence of a black bear up a tree near the hay barn. I quickly secured the sheep and dogs and opened all the gates per instructions from the local sheriff and Wisconsin’s Department of Natural Resources — another time the dogs helped to save the flock.

I’ll soon be adding another Pyr to the ranks of guard dogs on my farm, and hope to raise a litter in the future. They prove themselves over and over as great guard dogs.

Fran Wishneski
Green Bay, Wisconsin

Photo by Emily Popa


This will be our first full winter heating our home with the beautiful vintage woodstove we installed last December.

Our neighbor Jimmy invited us over earlier this week to pick up some wood from a few dead trees he had cut down. Jimmy has used wood heat in his home since he was a boy, and by late summer already had enough wood set aside for the season. He’s always sharing his wealth of knowledge with us former suburbanites. He gave us a thorough lesson on how to properly split wood and was very helpful as we got the hang of it. He told us which trees need to be split fresh and which can be split later, and he helped us learn to identify them by their leaves, bark, and smell.

Emily Popa
Wilders, North Carolina

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