Dear MOTHER: Sharing the Knowledge

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Sharing the Knowledge

This year has been hard on everyone. Our small city in Massachusetts was hit with COVID-19 and the unemployment and food shortages that came with it. Meatpacking facilities shut down. Trucks stopped rolling. Each family, no matter its size, was limited to one package of meat per visit to the grocery store. There was a chicken shortage, and eggs were hard to come by. My husband and I have a small urban farmstead, two blocks from downtown. We raise chickens and meat rabbits, and we have our own gardens and fruit trees. All of it is on less than 1/2 acre. What was intended to feed our family has become a source of food for many families. We provide eggs to our neighbors and a couple of elderly friends to make sure they have their protein. We hatch as many chicks as our rooster Elvis and his ladies can manage to fertilize. Some we incubate, and some stay under hens. We help families all over our city look up the city bylaws in their areas, build coops, and establish flocks for their families. Come March, we’ll teach people how to start plants indoors so they can grow their own gardens, whether in window boxes, on rooftops, or in medians. I’m telling you this not because I want to toot my own horn, but because I hope other will be encouraged to share their knowledge and help other families eat during this time.

Angela Bhowmik

Priceless Connection

I’ve been reading your articles online for years now. My husband and I moved out to a “farmette” to let our kids grow up in the country and to grow our own food, just like we did as kids. Sustainability has always been at the forefront of our endeavors, but because I come from a long line of commercial crop farmers, I was always a little worried about what my dad would’ve thought of my efforts to be organic and not till my garden much. He passed before I was 2, so I don’t remember him. If I’m honest, part of moving back to the country and raising my kids here was in hopes of finding a connection to him. Well, one day when my mom was visiting, she noticed your website up on my computer. She exclaimed, “Oh my goodness, MOTHER EARTH NEWS! I haven’t seen that in forever. Your dad used to get that magazine.” And then she told me so many things I didn’t know: Dad was on the county’s soil and water conservation board; he was the first in the area to use a no-till drill to plant; and animal and soil health were important to him. When I told her about how I’d been worried he would’ve thought I was silly for trying to be sustainable, she hugged me and assured me that he would’ve been so proud. I can’t begin to describe how much it meant to me.

I’m so excited to start receiving my own copy of your magazine in the mail. It’s a silly thing, but the connection it gives me to someone I love but didn’t get the chance to know is priceless. I thought maybe you’d like to hear that. Thank you for being around and doing what you’re doing. I’m grateful!

Kate Overpeck
Gaston, Indiana

Sandhill Crane Crossing

Photo by Don Schank

I enjoyed reading the letter about those large “turkeys” on Hank’s property (News from MOTHER, February/March 2021). We have sandhill cranes in our neighborhood year-round. We have so many that we had to put up signs on the road to caution drivers. We’re fortunate to have new parents bring their fuzzy, reddish-yellow chicks to our yard.

Don Schank
Longwood, Florida

Recipe Workarounds

One of my pleasures in reading MOTHER EARTH NEWS is trying the recipes. In your December 2020/January 2021 issue, on Page 28, I saw the Pumpkin Cornbread recipe. Because I have an excess of squash from my 2020 garden, I’m seeking new recipes for squash. 

Now, the problem in your Pumpkin Cornbread recipe for me is that it called for 1/2 cup mild sourdough starter and 1/4 cup brandy or whiskey. I don’t keep mild sourdough starter, brandy, or whiskey in my kitchen, so I made a 1/2 cup “James starter” of sour cream, homemade kefir, and flour. For the liquor, I used my Trader Joe’s Art of the Still Organic Gin (with hints of juniper, sage, angelica root, and coriander). It was amazing. For your recipe readers: When there’s something you don’t have, take a risk and make it up!

James McGrath
Santa Fe, New Mexico

James, we’re so glad you enjoyed the recipe, and were able to tweak it to your liking. It’s a great way to use up excess squash! The alcohol in the recipe is optional, and the sourdough starter can be substituted with 1 packet (75 grams) yeast. Happy baking! —MOTHER

Small Farm, Big Impact

Because clay soil made gardening in-ground challenging, the author built raised beds instead.
Photo by Cynthia Faccenda
Our journey began when I was a young girl spending time with Granny in the hills of Appalachia. Granny had no money, but she had all the “things.” It was there I learned to garden; make soap, salves, and tinctures; and quilt. The pathway around her house was made of flagstone, harvested there on her little mountain. I remember walking those paths, which had such an abundance of flowers that you could barely see the flagstone. It was a jungle of color. Her garden looked like something out of a magazine, yet it was simple. She was utilitarian — the garden’s only purpose was for food.

As I got older and had children of my own, those memories and the importance of gardening and knowing where my food came from hung in the back of my mind. It became a mission and a journey. A little more than five years ago, Pops got sick. He had a diabetic stroke and lost a leg. My husband and I made the decision to move closer to the mini-farm where I grew up, and we bought 5 acres across the road. Sadly, Pops couldn’t hang on long enough for us to get there. From our new property, I could gaze across the road at Momma’s and enjoy the mini-orchard I had planted with Pops.

On our new property, we started with the outdoors. I grew up with chickens, so we needed chickens. We built our chicken barn. Our next big project was the high tunnel. I wanted to extend my growing season, as well as have a place to start my own seeds. I’m not comfortable with genetically modified seeds or starts, or the chemicals associated with commercially purchased starts, so a high tunnel was a necessity for our little farmstead. After looking at options online, my husband wanted to build ours from scratch. By year three, I had my high tunnel. We layered the floor of the high tunnel with wood chips, and we put some raised beds in there as well. We were dealing with a lot of clay in the soil, which translated into a muddy mess. For two years, we tried to garden in the ground. I considered myself a decent gardener, so it was a hard blow to my ego when failure struck. I’d been studying permaculture principals, and I determined that we needed raised beds. Using the “Back to Eden” method, we built more than 40 raised beds. We had to fence them in because of the wildlife in the area.

Next on the agenda was goats. I wanted no part of having goats — I’ve heard all the stories about how hard they are to keep fenced in. I lost the battle. We built a goat barn and bought three baby goats.

By year four, we were ready for beekeeping. We joined the local beekeeping club, took classes, and bought bees. Knowing the benefits of honey, coupled with our need for pollinators in our orchard and garden, it seemed like the obvious next step.

Our mini-farm is a work in progress. We had an outstanding garden this year, for which we’re grateful. The greatest joy in all of this is that we’re able to pass this passion on to our grandchildren. We host a “Cousins Camp” in March. All of our grandchildren come out to the high tunnel and start seeds. We paint flowerpots, and then plant seeds in them to take home. During summer, we go to the garden and eat fruits and veggies right off the vine. We watch butterflies and bees pollinate. My goal for our grandchildren is that they know where their food comes from.

Our plans for the future include raising ducks, sheep, and turkeys. We’re also planning a garden expansion. I blog about our journey in hopes of inspiring others. We’re committed to this lifestyle and to continuing the legacy of growing our own food. Our mini-farm is also part of the National Wildlife Federation’s Pollinator Partnership, and we’re a registered Monarch Waystation.

Cynthia Faccenda
Via email

Water Runoff Hose

I read “Rescued Water” in the February/March 2021 Country Lore. You can put a threaded end on that PVC pipe for the greywater. Then, use a garden hose to direct the water to plants, so you don’t have to carry as much water. I’ve caught 5 gallons of water a day in August from air conditioner runoff. I water trees and crape myrtles with water from my air conditioner runoff hose.

Nancy Suiter
Joshua, Texas

Growing Lemons in Oregon

Photo by Lee Rauch 

Everyone told me we couldn’t grow lemon trees in our area of Oregon. But I wove a string of white lights through the branches, and we enjoy ‘Meyer’ lemons every year. The pot is on rollers, and when we have a sunny day, I roll it out for some sunshine. When the air starts to cool, I roll it back into the garage, and I plug in the lights. Enjoying fresh citrus in winter is amazing!

Lee Rauch
Roseburg, Oregon

Small Home Considerations

I love my 900-square-foot, one-bedroom small house; however, I’ve learned there are some things to consider when making the change to a smaller home.

Storage is a big concern, and a house always needs maintenance, meaning you’ll need space to store your tools and other equipment. I have an attic that holds my rug cleaner, Christmas and seasonal ornaments, extra bedding, camping gear, luggage, house hardware, gift wrap, fishing gear, party supplies, and other things I have no room for downstairs. I also have two closets, as I live in a four-season climate. It’s difficult to fit more than one closet in a one-bedroom house, so my son built me an extra three-door wooden closet — one space is a broom closet, and the other holds all my jackets, coats, and extra paper goods.

I have a small basement area for my furnace, washer, dryer, potting soil, seed starting equipment, detergents, overwintering plants, house paint, outdoor and car cleaning supplies, snow shovel, and other items. Since I’m an avid gardener, I have one small potting shed, and I installed a larger shed to hold all the necessary tools and equipment.

My house has two seating areas for guests, and I can comfortably seat eight people at the dining table. If my grandkids want to stay overnight, they use a couch. Any adult guests get my bedroom while I stay on the couch. If you’ll need hobby or office space, these are best planned for ahead of time.

I hope this will help those planning to live smaller.

Dee Obrochta
Via email

Christmas Obelisks

Photo by Dave Habeck

I built several obelisks from instructions I found in the April/May 2020 issue (“Make Your Garden Grow Up with a DIY Obelisk”). We used them over the summer with our plants. Not sure what to do with them in winter, I decided to make Christmas trees out of them. I hope you enjoy the picture!

Dave Habeck
Merrill, Wisconsin

Winter Harvest

Photo by Jyl Kelley
I’m part of a community garden in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, and I want to share some of our winter harvest photos. We’re excited to be harvesting in our garden, even though the temperatures here are below zero. We hope this inspires other readers to do the same.

This autumn, our gardeners spread a thick layer of leaves over the soil to decompose over winter. The decomposed leaves will provide nourishment for spring soil, as well as shelter for a winter crop of leeks.

I’m attaching a photo of some of our gardeners harvesting leeks in our Forest Street Community Garden on a cold January day (18 degrees Fahrenheit).

Jyl Kelley
Eau Claire, Wisconsin

Caution Against Tobacco Mosaic Virus

The February/March 2021 issue contained a great, unexpected article on growing tobacco, written by Susanne Reed (“Backyard Tobacco”). It contained many alternative uses for tobacco besides the obvious one. But I have a word of caution concerning a suggested use: Tobacco Tea for insect remediation. Yes, it’s a wonderful insecticide, but the article failed to mention that tobacco plants, even the seeds and roots, may carry the tobacco mosaic virus (TMV), which can damage at least 125 species of plants, including (and especially) tomatoes, potatoes, peppers, eggplants, and ornamentals. Additionally, it will overwinter in the soil and debris from the previous year’s crop. It’s even been suggested gardeners wash their hands before handling plants if they’ve recently handled tobacco products. TMV can stunt, wilt, skeletonize, and kill other plants. Just a heads-up!

Brian Sokolow

Brian, thank you for your note, and for bringing attention to the issue of TMV. Readers, if you’re growing tobacco plants, watch closely for signs of TMV, including molted leaves; yellowed, drooping, or curled leaves; reduced fruit production; and uneven fruits. If you identify TMV on a plant, remove the infected plant immediately, and sanitize all tools and equipment before use on other plants to help prevent spreading the virus, which can be rampant. If making an insecticide from tobacco, only use non-infected plants, and monitor sprayed plants closely for any signs of TMV. For more information about identifying and managing TMV in your area, contact your local extension office. —MOTHER

Make the Most of Garden Space

Photo by Leslie Witte
We fence in our garden, because we let our chickens free-range and we don’t want them in our garden during summer months. To use all the garden space, we planted black beans and extra cucumbers along the fence. We had an amazing harvest from space that would’ve otherwise been out of production. If you have a garden fence, use it for added vegetable production.

Leslie Witte
Via email

Recycled Rug

Photo by Lynne Haas
Every day, our newspaper came stuffed in a plastic sleeve. Most of the sleeves were clear, but some were orange, blue, or yellow. A few were pink or green. I saved them, thinking there must be something useful that could be done with them. Thanks to my sister, there was! She took the sleeves, slit them to make long strips, and crocheted them into an attractive and durable outdoor rug. I neither knit nor crochet, but I’m pretty good at saving things other people think are trash.

Lynne Haas
Stow, Ohio

Built with Care

In 1982, with most of my information coming from MOTHER EARTH NEWS, I designed my house. It’s an earth-bermed house facing 6 inches east of straight south. All major construction materials came from the land. We quarried the stone, and cut oak trees for the post and beam construction. The house has a 14-by-40-foot greenhouse with a 12:12 and 14:12 roof line. It functions as a three-season room that helps heat the house. We’ve lived here for 36 years.

I recently found out that, because of health issues, I’ll have to leave here one way or another.

I don’t know if you have any interest in sharing about this house and its history. My family will attest to the fact that MOTHER EARTH NEWS was the primary source and motivation for the design and construction.

Tom Wealand
Via email

Send Us Your Photos

Thanks for celebrating the magazine’s 50th anniversary with use in 2020. Our anniversary year may be over, but we still want to read your stories and see photos of your efforts to live simply. Started in 1970 to raise awareness of environmental concerns and to provide information and support for a simpler lifestyle, MOTHER EARTH NEWS has made it this far because of continuous interest from you, the readers. Your dedication to living more sustainable lives has kept this magazine afloat through five decades and an increasingly digital world. Send photos of your farm, your garden, and any projects you’ve undertaken over the past five decades to

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