Dear Mother: Jul Beer Memories and Garden Sheds

Readers write us to share memories, inspiration, bread baking, raised bed gardening ideas, and upcycled materials for garden sheds.

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by Adobestock/Maksim Shebeko
The word juleøl translates to “Yule ale,” or, more roughly, to “Christmas beer.”

Thank you for the article on Norwegian Jul beer (“The Deep Tradition of Norwegian Yule Beer,” December 2021/January 2022). It brought back fond memories. When I was an exchange student in Eidsvoll, Norway, in 1981, my host father made a Jul beer. It was the first beer I’d tasted that I liked the flavor of. The main difference from the recipe you published and his is that Far Helge ( “father Helge,” my host father) added a juniper branch to the mash and lingonberries to the boil, making the beer extra festive. I recently found that Norwegian kveik yeast is now sold in the United States, so I’ll be brewing my next Jul beer with this yeast. It casts light fruity and farmhouse notes into the beer, making it more akin to the beer I fondly remember.

Alison Sheafor-Joy
Arlington, Washington


Organic Encouragement

I just want to express that I found the article “What Does Organic Mean?‘ ” (October/November 2021) quite insightful. The word “organic” can be ambiguous, and I found it helpful to hear different perspectives on what it means from people who are deeply immersed in gardening. I found that it has a richer, deeper meaning among the gardeners interviewed that goes beyond the generic label we as consumers hold in high esteem. I also took away that gardening is truly a learning process, and there’s no one-size-fits-all approach. “We should strive to grow gardeners, not just gardens,” according to the author. With those words of encouragement, I’ve been contemplating trying out container gardening on my roof in Brooklyn, New York City. I’ve never grown anything in my life!

Jack
Brooklyn, New York


Breezy Workspace

We built two 10-by-10-foot stacked wall (cordwood) sheds from black locust split-rail fencing. We joined the two sheds with a breezeway and a porch. The roof is salvaged metal roofing from a chicken barn. The brick flooring for the porch and the breezeway is made from salvaged bricks from a 100-year-old mill. The wood-pane windows and doors came from a Habitat for Humanity ReStore. We built the cupola from salvaged materials, and we found the weather vane on Craigslist. We incorporated bottles into the walls. We cut and taped some bottles together to make glass logs, and we left others whole so the necks can be used to hang garden baskets. We found an old sink for the garden shed, which is connected to water but not to the sewer. We catch the water to use in the garden. The other shed is divided and houses our chickens and our 1950s-model Champion pecan cracker. We hang garden tools on old crib bedsprings in the breezeway.

garden shed with metal roof, porch on the side, and breezeway in

When people see our shed for the first time, they’re surprised that we built it ourselves (with help from our sons) and that it’s made of wood instead of stone. It’s very functional and way cool!

John and Jodi Mount
Villa Rica, Georgia


Shed Solutions

Several years ago, my husband, Don, saw an ad on Craigslist for an old barn that was free to whoever would come and take it down. He bought a trailer and spent a few weeks disassembling the barn piece by piece, salvaging as much as he could. He then built us what was intended to be a garden toolshed in 2013 using the reclaimed beams, flooring, siding, and tin roofing. The colors and design were inspired by photos of historic homes and outbuildings taken near my great-grandfather’s ancestral home on the Swedish-speaking coast of Finland.

raised garden beds surrounded by two gard sheds painted yellow,

The next year, we decided to raise chickens. We fitted the back one-third of the garden shed with a wire divider wall, and we added reclaimed nesting boxes and an antique screen door that we picked up at an estate sale. We also added a chicken run. We let the chickens hatch and raise baby chicks, because why not? Within a year, the flock grew large enough to take over the entire shed, requiring the use of an antique beadboard storage cupboard for additional nesting.

With his garden shed now entirely my chicken coop, Don built a second shed using reclaimed windows, siding, and roofing to house his garden tools and lawn mower. The next year, I wanted to raise a few ducks, so he kindly added a smaller building to the left end of his toolshed for our small flock. We designed all the outbuildings around the perimeter of our kitchen garden to emulate the historic Swedish Finn homes and barns that are situated around protective courtyards.

Over the past couple of years, we’ve decreased our chicken flock back to the point where they comfortably fit in the original rear coop space. This spring, we reclaimed the front two-thirds of the coop as a potting bench and greenhouse. We gave the old beadboard cupboard we’d once used for nesting a fresh lease on life with traditional Swedish Finn paint colors and designs. Having a place to raise our own seedlings will save us a great deal of money, and it makes us happy!

Patty and Don Anderson
Isanti, Minnesota


Working Around White Birch

I built this shed for my wife about seven years ago. It’s actually a pole building, and it only has two sides. It has an open side adjacent to the house, and the rear opening is tucked under a large cedar tree.garden shed built against house with white birch trees growing o

The diagonal boards are salvaged short pieces of live-edge cedar. We couldn’t bear to remove the white birch trees, so we built around them. The roof is made of cedar slab wood, which is normally a waste product. I left the bark on, and the roof doesn’t leak. The stained glass and ironwork are salvaged items and yard sale finds. I built the steel gate, and the bench workspace is salvaged granite.

David E. Grant
Via email


Treasure Trove

brown garden shed with white door, green and white porch floorboI’m a collector of rusty junk – things with history and a story to tell. My husband built this unique shed from my collection of treasures. It houses our water pump and well, plus our seasonal decorations. It also provides winter storage for pumpkins, onions, potatoes, winter squash, and garden tools. The front is sided with barn wood, a window from an old school, and a repurposed house door with a vintage tablecloth curtain and an old wooden dresser carving. The trunk is from an estate sale, the enamelware and angel bath came from a vintage market, and the lantern was a gift from our neighbor. The shed’s sides and roof are rusty corrugated metal, and there’s a rain-collection barrel on one side. Two rusty bedsprings serve as trellises and a place to display vintage car parts. There’s a leaky birdbath that belonged to my grandmother; it makes a perfect succulent garden. I also have a wreath made of 1883 Stubbe Plate barbed wire that was a gift from a friend. The shed is surrounded by wild violets, yarrow, calendula, and mugwort, which are all great for herbal remedies. My treasures are artfully displayed, and it’s definitely a conversation starter.

Becky Darst
Via email


Community Collaboration

Our garden shed was a collaborative effort by six or seven Master Gardeners and was built at our teaching garden on the Scott County Fairgrounds in Minnesota. We used donated, recycled, and reclaimed materials whenever possible, including incorrectly sawn lumber that was originally intended for a playground, remnant shingles, and water-permeable recycled rubber pavers for the front patio. We also used entirely recycled materials for the pathway along the back fence, which honors past members of our group.

garden shed with stone pathway and raised garden beds

The teaching garden is made up of 20 or so different garden beds, each of which illustrates various gardening practices, and many of which are changed yearly. The garden also includes several other types of patio pavers and a large composting area behind the shed. The entire garden and the open area of the shed are used several times each year to host environmental education events, known collectively as “Evenings in the Garden.” The porch shades our members during the days of garden Q&A at our annual county fair and local tree sales.

We feel our garden, and especially our shed, are prime examples of what can happen when people work together and share for the common good.

Jackie Smith
Belle Plaine, Minnesota


Bread-Baking Tips

I read Ruth Morley’s letter (Dear Mother, December 2021/January 2022) with interest, amusement, and a thought of “I know this one, because I’ve been there.” I have some suggestions that I hope will be helpful to all your readers.

If a recipe is too large for a stand mixer or to knead by yourself, knead only half at once or make only half the recipe.

Kitchen counters can sit too high for some people to comfortably knead on. Built-in pastry counters are typically 4 to 8 inches lower than standard counter height. Kneading on a too-tall counter causes neck and back strain, because it places your arms at the wrong angle. Options for other kneading surfaces include a dining room table with a protective cover, or any other table that’s sturdy and at a lower height. If a table has wheels, make sure at least two wheels are locked in place before you begin kneading. Another option is to use a platform to raise your height at the kitchen counter.

Is the dough soft to the touch when kneading? My earlier experiences with bread-making taught me that I used entirely too much flour at the start, making the dough too stiff to begin with. Remedy this by leaving out the last 1/2 to 1 cup of flour when making dough and using it on the counter as you knead instead. If the flour runs out and your dough is no longer sticky but still needs more kneading, put butter on your counter where you’re kneading.

The dough may also be hard to knead if the oats aren’t pre-softened. Softened oats will result in softer bread.

If you’re baking in pans, they should be centered in your oven top to bottom and side to side. If you’re using a baking stone, put it on the lowest shelf in your oven. Preheat it before you place raised dough on it. Follow any instructions that came with your stone.

You’ll need to adjust oven temperature and time according to the type of pans you use and the items you bake.

Always stir the flour in your container before scooping it out into a measuring cup. Dipping a cup into flour doesn’t give an accurate amount. Level the top of your flour with a knife or other flat item, not by shaking.

Here’s an oat bread recipe that I’ve used for years. It’s similar to Ruth’s but smaller in size, so it’ll produce a more manageable amount of dough to work with. Like all basic bread doughs, this recipe is suitable for making free-form on a baking sheet, as well as making into dinner rolls, cinnamon rolls, or even pizza crust. (Make the dough with a little less flour and raise it a bit before flattening it on a thoroughly buttered baking sheet.) I don’t remember where I got it to give credit.

Basic Bread Dough Recipe

  • 1-3/4 cups boiling water
  • 1 cup oats
  • 2 tablespoons yeast
  • 1/2 cup warm water (85 to 100 degrees Fahrenheit)
  • 2 teaspoons honey or sugar
  • 1/4 cup honey, or mixture of honey and molasses
  • 2 tablespoons oil (we use walnut oil, because it’s high in omega-3s)
  • 5 cups flour, divided, plus more if needed
  • 1 carrot, finely grated (optional)
  1. Pour boiling water over oats in a large bowl. Cover, and leave for at least 1 hour.
  2. Combine yeast, warm water, and honey in a small bowl with enough room for foaming. Let yeast proof for about 30 minutes.
  3. Pour yeast mixture into bowl with oats. Add honey and oil, and mix thoroughly.
  4. Add 3 cups flour to oat mixture, stirring in 1 cup at a time. Once flour is mixed in, add grated carrot.
  5. If dough is still sticky, add more flour, 1/2 cup at a time. Don’t add so much flour that dough becomes too stiff to mix by hand.
  6. Put remaining flour on your kneading surface. Dump dough on top of flour, and sprinkle a little flour on top of dough. Let dough rest for 5 to 10 minutes.
  7. Lightly butter your hands before you begin kneading. The dough should hold together and not flake apart, and should yield easily under moderate kneading pressure. It shouldn’t stick to your hands. Knead once, turn dough one quarter turn, roll it over on itself, and knead again. Repeat this pattern until dough is properly kneaded. When you can poke your finger into the dough and it leaves a slight imprint, it’s ready. If you’ve used all the flour and the dough isn’t sticky but still requires kneading, use butter instead.
  8. Liberally butter a pan, especially the corners, and place dough in pan to rise. (Because of the high yeast content of this recipe, the dough only rises once.) When dough is almost sufficiently risen (doubled in size), preheat oven to 400 degrees. Once oven is preheated, bake bread for 30 to 35 minutes. The bread is done when you can turn it out of the pan and the bottom sounds hollow when tapped. If it’s not done, turn oven temperature to 350 degrees and bake bread for 5 minutes, or until it’s done but not burnt on top.

Dianne Tipton
Stayton, Oregon


Funky and Fantastic in San Francisco

wooden garden shed with glass windows and red door, with paintedThis is our funky and fantastic garden shed and greenhouse. We live in San Francisco, about 1 mile from the ocean. Our backyard gets lots of wind and fog, and we use this greenhouse to ripen our tomatoes and other veggies, as well as root cuttings taken from around the city. The shed is built almost entirely from repurposed materials. The wood framing and siding are old-growth redwood planks that came from demolishing a room in our garage. The doors and windows are repurposed from that same room, and we gave them new life with some bright paint. Even the chairs in front of the shed are repurposed from a street corner. We found them during a dog walk and then jazzed them up with fun spray paint. We love our San Francisco greenhouse!

Noelle Bidegainberry
Via email


Raised Cedar Beds

raised garden beds made with cedar logsI needed to add more raised beds for planting vegetables, but the price of lumber made additional beds very expensive. As an affordable alternative, I chose to cut some large cedar trees for the construction. They were free, and they make attractive and functional beds that will last many years.

Leslie Witte
Bland, Missouri


Write to Us! 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, and we’d love to hear from you. Send photos of your farm, your garden, and any projects you’ve undertaken over the past five decades to Letters@MotherEarthNews.com. Or, mail a letter to Dear Mother, 1503 SW 42nd St, Topeka, KS 66609. Please send your full name, address, and phone number. We may edit for clarity and length.

  • Updated on Mar 2, 2022
  • Originally Published on Mar 1, 2022
Tagged with: bread baking, Dear Mother, Garden Shed Designs, raised bed