Dear MOTHER February/March 2018

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Photo by Clark and Company
Barn cats are great at pest control including mice, rats, chipmunks, and even squirrels.

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While visiting an old friend of 50 years in Boston this past autumn, I looked long and hard for a copy of your magazine and was finally successful in a big grocery store. As a dedicated grower of organic vegetables here in the United Kingdom, I’ve been following your Facebook page for a year now. I’ve recently discovered I can read Mother Earth News online with an app!

I so loved “Pearls of Wisdom” in my paper copy of the August/September 2017 issue, and have been inspired by Pearl O’Neill’s optimistic outlook on life at the age of 101. By her reckoning I still have 25 years left of growing food to keep me healthy, wealthy, and wise!

Jan Jones
Manchester, England


The Value of Barn Cats

I really enjoyed reading the Ask Our Experts response on “How To Keep Your Barn Cats Healthy” in the October/November 2017 issue and I hope others follow the advice.

When I was a young boy growing up on a farm, we had two feral cats living in our barn. Nobody knew where they came from — they just showed up one day. One had black and gray stripes and the other was all gray. My grandfather named them Snookums and Smokey. Although they wouldn’t let us get close, they were unconcerned with us working in the barn or the noise and movements from the livestock. They were the greatest pest control. Hardly a day passed that we wouldn’t find a dead mouse or rat, or even an occasional chipmunk or squirrel on the floor.

To reward them, my grandmother kept two large mixing bowls on the barn floor, one filled with dry cat food and the other filled with water. She would refill them when needed. The barn cats were with us for many years, and then one day they were gone. Your fine article brought back fond memories of Snookums and Smokey, and of when I was a young farm boy.

Stephen A. Pratt
North Bennington, Vermont


My Amigo and Me

I’m employed on a farm in North Texas. When I first came to the farm, I acquired my dog Amigo. Amigo was 6 weeks old at the time; I wanted the dog to be young so I could train him my way. He is Chow Chow crossed with Golden Retriever. On this cattle farm, I perform many tasks. When I feed the cattle, Amigo minds me very well. After feeding is over, he always goes and takes a dip in the lake. He loves the water.

Amigo has had a close encounter with a coyote. He learned quickly the difference between a coyote howl and a dog bark. I trained Amigo early on to be friends with the rooster, goat, cat, and little donkey. Before I had Amigo, I never realized how well different animals could get along.

He likes to run and jump up on bales of hay and look around everywhere. Amigo rides with me when I go to town in my truck. People in that small town know him. They tell me how well he minds me and how beautiful he is.

After all my work is done, I take Amigo to his favorite places on the farm so he can hunt, sniff, and chase squirrels, birds, deer, and rabbits. At the end of the day, I sit down and talk to Amigo as if he’s a person. He never takes his eyes off me. I tell Amigo what our job is for tomorrow. He looks at me as if to say, “I understand.” He is truly my amigo.

Armando Perez
Alvord, Texas


Giveaways and Contest Entries

I enjoy your magazine and notice you often have giveaways and chances to win nice prizes. However, in order to enter, one must have access to the internet and electronics, such as smartphones and computers. I have none of those and am not electronically savvy. Could you please include an address to mail in entry information?

Lena Lavalle
Frederic, Wisconsin

Readers, if you’re interested in entering our giveaways but have limited access to email, feel free to send in your written letter submissions with your contact information to:

Mother Earth News Letters
Attention: Giveaways
1503 SW 42nd Street
Topeka, Kansas 66609

Our dedicated staff will be more than happy to enter your details in the giveaway or contest of your choice!
— Mother


A Sharper Blade

Chainsaws are such an essential part of country life, from cutting firewood to trimming hedgerows to even providing emergency services. Steve Maxwell’s “Maintain Razor-Sharp Chainsaws” (October/November 2017) is a must-read for anyone who’s more than just a casual chainsaw owner. Steve is correct to recommend having a stock of at least three chains and that you should dedicate time to properly sharpen all three at the same time. Having three or four chains is perfect because by the time they’re worn out, the drive sprocket will also need replacing because its tooth pitch won’t match the tooth pitch of new replacement chains.

As a machinist with layman’s knowledge of metallurgy, I will however offer one critique of Steve’s fine article, in which he states “sparks fly, metal is removed, and a sharp edge is created.” True, but that finite new edge will have been damaged by the heat generated during the sharpening process, as evidenced by the sparks flying.

Simple solution: Use a hand-held trigger pump spray bottle filled with water to spray the grinding wheel while sharpening each tooth. This will cool and preserve the hardness of each cutting edge and multiply its cutting life. Upon completion, spray each chain with WD-40.

One last tip: Cut only green wood if you have the time because the moisture in it will keep the cutting edges from overheating. If you have to cut hard, dry wood, wet it while cutting.

Lee King
Poestenkill, New York

Thanks for your comments and suggestions, Lee. In my experience, overheating of saw chain cutters from grinding isn’t an issue in practice. As long as you keep the grinding wheel clean and well-dressed, it grinds cool without much heat buildup in each tooth. The grinding of each cutter only happens for a second or two before I move on to the next one.

That said, I have seen chains that became overheated from improper grinding, and they became harder, not softer, because the high-carbon steel was reacting to being heated and then rapidly cooled. But even then, the problem was minor. You can no longer sharpen a heat-hardened chain with a file because the steel will be too hard, but if you have a grinder you wouldn’t want to use a file anyway. Because electric sharpeners aren’t rated for use around water, be cautious about spraying water on each cutter while grinding because there could be a shock hazard.
— Steve Maxwell


Unexpectedly Perfect Addition to the Family

I loved your dog stories from the previous issue (“Tales About Tails,” December 2017/January 2018). We’ve had our adventures with our four-legged friend too. Our beloved dog is named Saydee. She’s 5 years old and a Labrador-Pit Bull mix.

There isn’t a mean bone in that girl’s body. When we picked her up from our local Humane Society, we brought along two cranky toddlers who were screaming and wailing. That dog was as still as could be, and I knew then that she was meant for us. After we brought her home, Saydee followed our younger daughter around the house like she was her puppy. During the night, Saydee would rotate beds between our older and younger daughter. In fact, I can guarantee she’s in our younger daughter’s bed this very minute.

Saydee loves to hike, swim, go camping, steal pillows, and stare out the window, looking for deer. She really loves our 2 year-old son as he always shares his meals with her and our other dog. There’s nothing more I could ask for in a dog. Our three kids have all pulled her tail, jumped on her, played dress up with her, and more. Saydee has remained patient, loyal, and loving.

Katie Haysom
Cle Elum, Washington


Garden Secrets

I just finished reading Hank’s column (“Adapting to Change”) in the December 2017/January 2018 issue News from Mother. My garden has changed every year. Last year, my green peppers were terrible — I didn’t harvest a single pepper from very healthy-looking plants. I haven’t a clue why. This year, I was buried in green peppers. Last year, tomatoes were prolific; this year, not so much. I marvel at how nature may take a hit one year and cause a lack in production, but overproduce the following year.

Fortunately, I haven’t been hit with disease, mold, or insects in my garden. My challenges have been wildlife. One of my neighbors saw a fox. Well, if there’s one, there are usually more. The list of inner-city wildlife just keeps on growing.

I’ve done quite a lot with my garden but this year’s growing period has come to a close, and I’m not one to try to extend the season. After nine months of gardening, I’m ready for a rest and planning period before the next season starts. I’m planning on growing some microgreens under grow lights this winter until the seed starts begin in February. All is well here. Life continues to be good for this old gardener.

Nebraska Dave


Boards for Seeds and Weeds

After reading Celeste Longacre’s tip about using coconut husk grindings under carrot seeds to help them grow and keep weeds down in “Coir for Carrots” (Country Lore, October/November 2017), I knew I had to drop a line to Mother Earth News.

What I’ve done for years, after learning from my uncle, is plant the carrot seeds and then immediately cover the row with a 6-inch wooden board. The board will insulate and warm up the soil. Take the board off after 7 to 10 days. Your carrots will be sprouted and coming up. You will have good moisture and no weeds. The method works with any seeds.

Richard Petermann
Evan, Minnesota


Taste Budsfrom Basil to Dill

I read Hank’s column “Adapting to Change” (News from Mother, December 2017/January 2018) regarding his love for basil pesto and I must agree that basil pesto is extremely good. We need all we can harvest from our basil plants to survive the gloomy winter season every year. At least that’s what I thought until I experimented with dill. You can make pesto with dill the same way you’d make pesto with basil, except substitute equal parts of organic dill and flat-leaf parsley. A whole lot of garlic makes for a helpful and tasty transition.

This pesto is extremely good on pasta and broiled salmon or just about any fish. It’s so good that you’ll find numerous uses for it. I hope Hank and my fellow readers decide to give this unique variation on pesto a try.

Brook Edwards
Tipton, Indiana


Plague of Pigs

I saw the prompt in the Dear Mother section of the October/November 2017 issue for homestead emergencies, and we’re in the midst of one of our own. We live in East Bay, just outside of San Francisco, on top of a ridge that overlooks a canyon. We have a few fruit trees, a small chicken coop, and a triple-tiered vegetable garden that’s terraced because the backyard extends down a steep decline into a forested drop-off. A watering system is in place, and my husband extended it after we finished building the third tier of the terrace.

Recently, our neighborhood and nearby towns have been invaded by feral pigs, and our backyard has been ravaged. The pigs found a few weak spots in the flimsy plastic mesh fence that surrounded the perimeter. They came in and ripped up two of the three tiers, digging up plants and eating them, wrecking the watering and drainage systems, destroying the stone garden paths, and nearly pushing the chicken coop over the side of the top tier in an attempt to reach the chicken feed. We thought it might have been a one-time rampage, but the pigs came back a few nights later and for several consecutive nights after that, continuing their reign of terror.

We did our research and learned that our yard was probably on their radar permanently now. While feral pigs aren’t nomadic, they do have several dens they alternate between. Moreover, they’re smart. My husband began putting in a second fence next to the plastic one, with metal stakes and hog wire, but also digging a 12-inch trench to install it in. It was slow going, and we worked on it over the course of a week.

Every day, when we thought we might’ve finally extended the fence to their entrances, we would hear rustling in the brush down below in the live oaks and Russian olive and realize they had found another way in again. It was discouraging, assessing the damage each morning, seeing even more of our garden destroyed. They were really working our nerves and our patience. I was thankful that we harvested most of what we planned to preserve, though, and I was glad they couldn’t get to the bottom tier, where we have most of our Roma tomatoes and squash. It was depressing, but we didn’t want to give up.

We continued with the trenched fence, all the way around. We finished a few days ago, and so far, the pigs haven’t returned. I’ve walked the perimeter of the fence and have spotted areas that look tested, but the fence seems to be holding up.

I thought we only had to worry about foxes getting at the chickens and ground rats picking off the young squash and cucumbers. Or maybe the occasional mountain lion wandering in somehow and then getting scared off. The feral pigs have become a major problem for our area in general. Hopefully we’ve found an effective way of dealing with this problem!

Erin Vaganos
San Francisco, California


Living Thoughtfully

I’ve been reading Mother Earth News since about 1980. It has been a pleasure to read. We’ve followed advice from various Mother Earth News articles about using natural treatments and herbs for decades. Our immediate family is much healthier than the rest of our family members, who have chosen to use prescription drugs despite any potential side effects. I’m now 64, fit and healthy, and still don’t require any prescription drugs. Thank you for improving the quality of my life all these years.

Lawren Green
Brigham City, Utah