Dear MOTHER October/November 2017

By Staff
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Dear MOTHER October/November 2017

Letters from our readers about aging gardeners, resilience in the face of natural disaster, and more.

October/November 2017

Photo by Maryann Lepic

Gardening for the Elderly: People Like Pearl

I’m subscribed to MOTHER EARTH NEWS and Mother Earth Living and enjoy each issue. I keep them and reread them often; they’re filled with good, practical information for sustainable living. Thank you for all the hard work you do to produce such important magazines.

I very much enjoyed Pearl O’Neill’s letter, Pearls of Wisdom,” in the Country Lore department of the last issue (August/September 2017). I’d like to see MOTHER EARTH NEWSfind more people like Pearl to interview for tips and information about how seniors keep gardening as they age. We have a large population of the baby-boom generation who are now in their 60s and older, and I think this would be inspirational and give the support we long to see. There’s so much on TV telling us that as we age we won’t be as interesting, fit, or productive, and that we must rely on a variety of pharmaceutical prescriptions to give us vitality and quality of life instead of doing it naturally.

Gardening seems to be a great way for people to come together and enjoy fresh air and the bounties of their gardens. I do hope that MOTHER EARTH NEWSwill find a way to include ongoing articles showcasing people like Pearl who show that you can keep on enjoying life in your garden for many years!

Joyce D’Agostino
Wheat Ridge, Colorado

Collecting Pearls

I loved Pearl O’Neill’s Pearls of Wisdom in my August/September 2017 issue. I have a binder that I’ve labeled “Inspiration” where I collect stories and articles of people who are still active in their later years — returning to work, running marathons, etc. However, Pearl’s letter won’t be clipped out because I won’t deface the magazine (I keep all my copies), but photocopying is certainly an option. To Pearl and other senior gardeners like her, I say keep going. I wish her all the best.

Sheri Metschan
Milwaukie, Oregon

A Way to Listen to MOTHER

I’m the director of the Nebraska Library Commission Talking Book and Braille Service, and we just saw the letter to the editor in the June/July 2017 issue about MOTHER EARTH NEWS not being available for blind readers of the Library of Congress program. I’m writing to let you know that MOTHER is indeed available, and recorded here in specialized audio format for blind readers. Letter-writer Brian Bethel would be able to obtain our specialized recording from his talking book library in Virginia, which I’m going to contact. But the magazine is available to blind readers already in a more general sense.

You can call 888-NLS-READ (888-657-7323) to get connected with the library serving your area. You can also search for your local talking book library by going to the National Library Services’ Find Your Library website. In Nebraska, we’ve been recording MOTHER EARTH NEWS for about a decade, and have recorded and GRIT for almost 30 years.

Scott Scholz
Lincoln, Nebraska

Rebuilt on Hope

I just opened up your June/July 2017 issue and found Editorial Director Hank Will’s editorial Seeing Silver Linings,” which described my neighbors and me in the Texas Panhandle still reeling from the March prairie fires in Texas. I lost all that I owned, save my pickup and my beloved dog, Molly Belle. I’m the fourth generation on this blessed ground and will start to rebuild soon, but it’s been quite a sobering experience to start over at 66 years old. Yes, people we knew and people we didn’t know came to our aid, as well as to the aid of our neighboring states.

Seeing silver linings is the way of life here in the ranching and farming communities of the central part of our great nation. God’s rains have showered down on us, and the grass and pastureland is as pretty as I’ve seen it in my lifetime. We are blessed! God bless y’all for bringing this appreciation of silver linings to your readership.

Elizabeth Brownlee
Tandy’s Farm & Ranch, Texas

Sick Hack

My wife and I have been MOTHER EARTH NEWS readers for less than a year, and we love it! We like the idea of a composting toilet, but the thought of leaning over it to vomit when sick isn’t attractive. What happens when you get a stomach bug that results in vomit and diarrhea?

Stephen McGinley
Hagerstown, Maryland

Stephen, I’ve been using a variety of composting toilets over the years — some that I’ve made and others that I’ve purchased. Diarrheal deposits are no problem. You simply let nature take its course and then cover up the evidence with sawdust. As far as vomiting, though, it all depends on the type of composting toilet you install.

If you install a remote dry-composting toilet with a “throne” above the composting chamber in the basement, the experience is about as pleasant as it gets (which isn’t saying much). If you install a remote low-flush composting toilet, it’s just like throwing up in an ordinary toilet. Sawdust toilets, which are my favorite, are really just buckets of sawdust and nutrient-rich human excretions. If you cover your daily deposits with sawdust, it’s not a terribly unpleasant experience, but you wouldn’t want to hover over the toilet with your head above the “bowl” as some people do. When you’re done throwing up, cover the stuff with sawdust, and your experience should be undetectable.

Dan Chiras, author ofThe Scoop on Poop

Photo by Alexis Meschi

All Cooped Up

My husband, Zach, and I, along with our three young girls, have begun living in the countryside. We live in stunning Santa Cruz County, California. Epic redwood trees border our house, and a peaceful creek runs by below. Because of the land’s magnificence, we wanted to invest in additional ways to spend time outdoors, connect to the land, and be more sustainable.

We thought keeping chickens would be an enjoyable, intentional activity to get us outdoors more. The only problem was that I’m afraid of birds. Growing up, my family had chickens, and one mean Bantam rooster, Chester, scared me. But the desire outweighed the fear, so we started our endeavor with a small two-bird coop. After a year, we fell in love with our chickens and decided to build a permanent coop.

Zach is a general contractor, and he designed this chicken coop to complement the surroundings. He wanted to use as many recycled materials as we could find and put them together in artistic ways. He also wanted the coop to be secure from predators and as self-sufficient as possible. The main structure is separated by a wall and has a storage side to the left and a chicken roost to the right. The outer coop has wire cemented a foot into the ground to keep predators out. He ran a waterline to the coop, where there’s a pressure-regulated watering system. The feeders use the PVC pipe system. The nesting boxes are accessible from the exterior for easy egg-gathering. The chickens’ roosts are made from fallen redwood branches. The chevron-patterned front doors are from old fence boards. The corrugated galvanized steel siding dates to the 1970s and is of various colors that accentuate its vintage appearance. The interior of the chicken roost is made from cedar siding left over from a construction job.

We enjoy the ways our chicken coop has connected us to our surroundings, and we have more plans to create spaces on our property to further enjoy the countryside around us.

Alexis Meschi
Aptos, California

A Sense of Renewal

I got a notice that it was time to renew my subscription, and I thought, “Do I really get a lot out of MOTHER EARTH NEWS?” I’m a single woman watching my expenses and living in the city. I won’t be going off-grid or raising chickens and goats, although I do have a very small organic veggie garden in a limited sunny spot on my 40-foot lot. So, I got out my last issue to see whether it was worth renewing. I got to Editorial Director Hank Will’s “News from MOTHER” and noticed I had even put a sticky note there. I reread it and decided right away: Yes, I’m going to renew if for no other reason than to read his wisdom and food for thought. I just wish I had gotten your magazine 30 years ago when I was a lot younger and my husband, son, and I had a 50-acre farm with a log house and a big, big garden. Boy, I could’ve been so inspired with all the info back then. I just renewed, so I’ll continue to enjoy getting MOTHER EARTH NEWS, thanks to you, Hank.

Ferrell Condie Stein
Kirkwood, Missouri

Practical Permaculture

I just wanted to thank you for Jessi Bloom’s article 9 Permaculture Practices in the June/July 2017 issue. As someone who lives in a fast-paced urban environment, I found that while not all of the practices are easily applicable to my own life, I’m reminded that we’re all stewards of the land whether we live in the city or country, and that we can all make decisions that benefit the Earth, people, and ourselves. This was my introduction to permaculture, and I found the author’s easy and approachable practices to be a nice entry point into the study. I especially enjoyed the author’s point about being a systems thinker. After reading the article, I’ve become more cognizant about the systems I rely on in my own life.

Lastly, I think the point to create resiliency in yourself is vital. For me, this means implementing a consistent strength-training routine, playing music, learning to meditate, and, of course, paying attention to what I eat.

Jack Nieman
Brooklyn, New York

Photo by Kay Haupt

Like MOTHER, Like Son

As a new gardener, I think it’s such a magical experience watching my son, Tad, enjoy the process just as much as I do. Every day when we walk into the beds to weed and harvest, he munches on lettuce leaves and cherry tomatoes while I explain which plant is which. He’s now gotten to the point where he constantly asks, “What’s that?” and I’m more than happy to answer. I think children should learn about plants and where they come from at an early age.

Kay Haupt
Kalona, Iowa

Photo by Julie Kutch

Saving Summer

Here’s a photo I thought your readers would enjoy (see the slideshow). This is my 10-year-old daughter, Alexis, and her favorite hen, Summer. Summer loves to rest on Alexis’ shoulder while sledding down the hill or doing just about anything. This picture was taken just before hitting the slopes. This bond was created after Summer was brutally attacked by the other hens. Alexis refused to give up on her and loved her back to health, creating a wonderful friendship between a sweet chicken and a caring girl.

Keep up the good work! We love your magazine.

Julie Kutch
Hanna, Indiana


I wanted to let you know how much I enjoyed and was uplifted by Editorial Director Hank Will’s wonderful article Seeing Silver Linings in the June/July 2017 issue. As he so eloquently wrote, “People in need require support from their fellow human beings” regardless of all the other stuff. Awesome, and thank you!

Terry Tarvin
San Antonio, Texas

Fertilizer for All

I was reading Steve Solomon’s A Better Garden Fertilizer from the June/July 2006 issue, and I had a question. When you add the homemade fertilizer mix to your garden soil, what does 1/2 part, 4 parts, etc., equate to if you’re adding it to a 12-by-4-foot planter box?

Jordan Oleson

Jordan, thanks for your question. Steve Solomon generally makes 7 to 14 quarts of his Complete Organic Fertilizer (COF) mixture at a time, and buys the necessary ingredients in bulk to lower total costs. He spreads the organic fertilizer once a year immediately before planting the first spring crop, at a rate of 4 to 6 quarts per 100 square feet. Your planter box (at 4 by 12 feet) is 48 square feet, so you’ll want to use 2 to 3 quarts just before planting your spring crop.

To make just enough COF for your 4-by-12-foot garden for one year, use the following measurements and mix well:
• 8 cups seed meal (such as soybean, flaxseed, sunflower seed, cotton seed, canola seed)
• 2/3 cup finely ground agricultural lime
• 2/3 cup gypsum (or more of the finely ground agricultural lime)
• 2/3 cup dolomite lime
• 2 cups bone meal, rock phosphate, or high-phosphate guano
• 1 to 2 cups kelp meal, or 2 cups basalt dust

For additional information, you can revisit Steve Solomon article “The Quick and Easy Guide to Homemade Fertilizer.”


Photo by Nebraska Dave

Fresh Salad on the Menu

Two years ago, I decided to take my 5-gallon bucket method for growing tomatoes from the backyard into the basement. I soon discovered that all that soil wasn’t necessary to grow lettuce and radishes because of their shallow roots. Then, I learned that it was possible to grow microgreens in a basement under grow lights.

I hope to plant one 72-cell seed-starting tray every week or so this winter. Fresh salads will definitely be on the menu during the cold season. Young radish tops can be added to salads to deliver a radish flavor.

Nebraska Dave
Omaha, Nebraska

Photo by Joyce Ancrile

A Supportive Shadow

My daughter-in-law, Naomi, and I drove 30 miles during a violent thunderstorm to check out Golden Retriever/Labrador puppies. I wanted a female, and I held this black ball of fur upside down in my arms. She nestled against my bosom, and I was sold. We wrapped her in a towel, and Naomi held her while I drove home through the rain.

Naomi wanted to name her Thunder, which would’ve been appropriate, but I let her personality name her. That didn’t take long, as she followed my every move throughout the house and yard. She was definitely my “Shadow.”

Because I’m in my 70s, I decided to train Shadow to be a helpmate to me. From the beginning, I carried treats in my pockets to reward her good behavior. As a result, I’ve trained her to bring me the phone when I ask her to, pick up things I drop, ring a bell to go outside, and put her toys away on command. She’ll leave anyone alone when told “they’re busy,” and will stop begging when told “all gone.”

I’ve indicated that she’s a very smart dog. One day, I was reading when Shadow brought me a wad of fur. I thought, “Where did she find that? Under the sofa? Behind the chair?” I traded a treat for it and put it in the trash. About five minutes later, she brought me another patch of fur. Again, I gave her a treat for her gift and placed it in the trash. The same thing happened again a few minutes later, but this time I looked at the fur more closely because it looked familiar. Then, I looked in the trash. Sure enough, there was no fur in the trashcan. Shadow had been trading the same batch of fur for treats. She’s smarter than I am — it took me three times to realize what she was doing.

Shadow’s a great companion, and I want to make sure she’s taken care of if she outlives me. I’ve discussed it with my family. In many ways, I hope I go before she does. There would be a hole in my life without her that I’m not sure I would want to fill.

Joyce Ancrile
Vienna, West Virginia

Thanks for the great story, Joyce! Readers, we received an outpouring of letters and photos after Editorial Director Hank Will requested your favorite dog stories in his August/September 2017 editorial, Living a Good Life.” You shared stories of your furry best friends — from the heartbreaking to the inspirational. We’ll be featuring those stories in the December 2017/January 2018 issue. In the meantime, please continue sending your tales about tails to


Keep Up the Updates

Thanks for keeping us updated with the truth on many things and for the great recipes and advice about living a simple life. I love your magazine.

Janet Cook
Atwater, California