Dear MOTHER June/July 2018

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Fermenting a Fondness for Mother

My mom had a subscription to Mother Earth News when I was a kid. I admit I really didn’t pay too much attention to the magazines then, but I knew she read them cover to cover and had big homesteading dreams. I sure didn’t! But the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, as they say, and somewhere along the way I started reading them myself for gardening, preserving, and other tidbits of wisdom for living in harmony with our planet. For the past few years, I’ve been honored to be one of many presenters that help bring the pages of these issues to life, at Mother Earth News Fairs across the country. It’s come full circle.

Kirsten Shockey

Applegate Valley, Oregon


You can catch Kirsten or her husband Christopher speak on fermentation and other topics at our upcoming Mother Earth News Fairs 6 times a year. Visit to find the next fair near you. — MOTHER 

A Longtime Reader Recalls Mother’s Early Days

I’ve been reading Mother Earth News for what seems like forever. I own just about every issue, beginning with the very first issue from 1970. Reading the articles in the February/March 2018 issue made me think I was reading Mother Earth News from years ago. I think it’s been the best issue article-wise to have come off the presses lately. “Masonry Heaters” and “DIY Wood-Fired Hot Tub” were just super and brought back so many memories. Since we currently have a greenhouse on our farm, I’m even implementing some of the practices cited in “Add Thermal Mass to Your Off-Grid Greenhouse.”

In 1981, I was the head of our local Mother chapter — a group where people who shared the magazine’s ideals could network and build community. That same year, we visited the Mother Earth News Eco-Village in Asheville, North Carolina. I think such experiences are important for young generations. A lot of information we learned from that trip is still relevant today.

Charles Powell

Henderson, North Carolina


The Mother Earth News Eco-Village was an alternative energy complex on a 600-acre homestead, which offered summer workshops on homesteading and alternative living from 1979 to 1983. Visit to find the next fair near you. — MOTHER

Alternative Gardening Methods

I purchased my farm 15 years ago, and I tried having a garden the first four years. Even though I amended the soil, I couldn’t grow a carrot to save my life. I discovered that I had loamy, white clay soil, which made growing edibles difficult. I’ve gardened most of my life, so this was disheartening.

As a long-standing reader of Mother Earth News, I’ve learned a lot from each issue. Recently, I came across an older article, “Lasagna Gardening” (April/May 1999), and it inspired me to research alternative gardening methods. After that, I came upon an article about raised bed gardening. I combined the lasagna method (using cardboard to keep weeds out) with the raised bed method, using cinder blocks to border the garden.

This past year, I planted my garden more than a month late. Regardless, I had an awesome turnout! I harvested an abundance of large acorn squash, tomatoes, and pole beans. I had happy earthworm trails everywhere. Lifting a cinder block away from the side of the beds would reveal zigzag tunnels all over.

The secret to this garden success was my compost. The main components were horse manure, sawdust, chopped hay, and kitchen scraps. I’d been composting this particular mixture for years. It’s been the richest soil I’ve ever had. With the right amount of added sand, it’s perfect.

Eventually, I plan to add two more large lasagna garden beds to give the potatoes and squash room to grow. I hope the results deliver enough excess produce that I can give some to local food banks.

Becky Daley

Merrill, Wisconsin

Indoor Salad Garden Success

I just had my first homegrown salad, inspired by the ideas in “Year-Round Indoor Salad Gardening” (December 2017/January 2018). This concept is utterly brilliant. The entire process was very easy, and I had no problem finding the necessary supplies. As someone who tries to grow the majority of their own food, this solves the winter fresh-greens problem.

Sue Hodgson

New Hope, Minnesota

Next Generation of Young Advocates

Two weeks ago, a small but beautiful cluster of pine trees stood next to my grandmother’s salon. Today, there’s nothing left except turned-up dirt from bulldozers and cranes. This is happening all over the world, from small plots to large rainforests. It’s very saddening, because rainforests are home to many of the world’s plants and animals. Poachers go there to kidnap all kinds of animals, such as birds, and sell them to those who enjoy viewing them in cages. The way I see it, people shouldn’t destroy animal habitats — they should save them. We only have one Earth, so let’s work together to save it! We have the technology, the brains, and the heart! Let’s save our next generation from destruction and live in harmony.

Kinga Brihammar (age 11)

St. Augustine, Florida

Loosening Desert Soil

I live in a small mountain community about 45 miles northwest of Las Vegas. The growing Zones range from 3 to 9. The native soil is very alkaline so I’ve built raised beds to facilitate making my own soil — which I’ve done using straw, horse manure, and vermiculture. My soil is becoming compacted and I need to find a way to keep it a little loose. What can I do to loosen the soil without affecting its acidity?

Carl Rhoda

Las Vegas, Nevada


It sounds like you could use a broadfork. The tool’s long tines are great for loosening compacted soil. To make your own broadfork, check out our DIY instructions at Happy planting! — MOTHER

Finding Your Way with Progressive Ideas

I appreciated Editorial Director Hank Will’s heartfelt article “Common Ground” (April/May 2018). I’m not a psychologist, anthropologist, or any other ‘ologist, but I’ve got some experience to offer on this subject.

For 40 years, I was a passionate animal rights activist and long-term vegetarian. Over the years, I’ve had many people argue with me about my dietary choices, but none of them changed my mind. But today, I eat humanely raised meat and animal products.

For years, I had negative interactions with people who were supposed to hold my same ideals — vegetarians, vegans, and other animal rights activists — on social media. According to many of these individuals, I wasn’t pure enough for their standards. I always tried to find common ground, but it didn’t make a dent in the negativity.

While defending my position, and pointing out flaws in their arguments, I uncovered flaws in my own arguments. Finding common ground is an excellent starting point, but it isn’t going to win everyone over. I’ve found the best thing to do is politely ask a question geared toward these argument flaws. Blatantly pointing them out won’t work, because people often need to discover these ideas themselves, over time, and they can become defensive when they feel their mindsets are under attack. By approaching topics with sincere questions, aimed at understanding their points of view, instead of using a more aggressive tactic, I can give people the opportunity to reevaluate their ideals.

Be the best example to others that you can be. People often change their opinions when they encounter someone they respect and admire as an honest and intelligent person. This is a slow process, but honestly, there’s no fast one. We’re constantly being manipulated through interactions with others, so when we encounter someone who doesn’t attempt to manipulate us in any way, but honestly practices what they preach, we’re far more likely to listen to what they have to say, and may eventually follow their example.

Mother Earth News is doing this. The magazine provides accurate and helpful information without preaching or inserting propaganda. I think many readers are on the same page and would be irritated by lectures. It’s often said that one person can change the world, but most of us can only change our own little corners. If everyone did so, the world would be improved. Mother Earth News helps people change their own little corners, so take heart. You’re changing the world, in a gentle and peaceful, but powerful, way.

Lynda Hynes

Victoria, Australia

Mother Has Variety

I’m happily busy during planting and harvesting seasons, but during the cold, snowy winter months in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, I thoroughly enjoy catching up on my reading. I’ve been rather blown away by all the articles in the April/May 2017 issue that I can relate to. It’s as if the Mother Earth News editors read my mind. From solar panels and electric cars to shiitake mushrooms and medicinal herbs, I was riveted! Thank you for being so in touch with small farmers and for providing me with glorious and entertaining winter mornings.

Gina Kerr

Toivola, Michigan

Heating Up the Green Way

We really enjoyed Ken Matesz’s article, “Masonry Heaters” (February/March 2018). Our house is built on a slab, and a masonry stove stands between the living and dining area (with doors on both sides). For solar panel orientation and passive solar exposure, our house faces south and has glass doors and overhangs facing that direction. When the sun is shining, our stove requires one good fire in the evening, and its heat retention and the passive solar make our home very toasty until the following evening, no matter what the temperature or wind chill. The efficiency and warmth of the combination of a masonry stove and passive solar is astounding!

Casey Willson

Gerrardstown, West Virginia

Advice on Buying Homes with Solar Panels

After reading “What to Ask When Buying a Home with Solar Panels” (April/May 2018), I’d like to offer my own insight and considerations on the process and benefits of buying a house with a solar panel system. While net metering may not be a possibility for every solar panel homeowner, it’s beneficial and should be taken into consideration if possible.

If your solar system generates excess energy, your utility company can give you a credit for that energy at a retail rate. For example, if you pay 10 cents per kilowatt-hour (kWh) for electricity, your credit should be at 10 cents per kWh, not 5 cents per kWh. Ultimately, this means your utility company is purchasing the excess energy provided by your solar panels.

Be aware that your credit should also carry over from month to month indefinitely. It should never expire or “zero out.” For example, if you accumulate $200 of credit during the year, your utility company may set that credit to zero in May (or at any other time), just before you start using your air conditioner a lot. Make sure this doesn’t happen to you.

Whether your solar system is leased or purchased, make sure a company maintains the system so you won’t be solely responsible for the expense and time needed to take care of it. Selling a house with a leased solar system isn’t more complicated, because the lease can be transferred to the buyer. This leads me to several benefits you’ll gain by installing a solar panel system:

  1. The solar panels will shade the roof of your house, thereby reducing the temperature in your attic and reducing your air conditioning load.
  2. If you sell your house, the solar energy system will be a good selling point, because the new owner will get electricity at a reduced rate.
  3. You’ll generate the most electricity when everybody needs it most (sunny afternoons), thereby reducing demand on the electricity grid and helping to reduce the chance of blackouts or brownouts in your area.
  4. Less energy will be lost in transmission because the power will be used right where it’s generated.
  5. It will reduce the need for expensive new power plants and transmission lines.
  6. The solar energy system won’t use any water, and water is in short supply.
  7. The electricity you generate will be pollution-free, helping the environment.
  8. It will require no fuel, thereby providing a hedge against future fossil fuel price increases.
  9. It will help utilities meet renewable energy and greenhouse gas emission goals without paying for utility-scale solar and wind farms.
  10. It will help strengthen the power grid. For example, the Public Utility Commission of Texas mandates that power companies support the growth of solar power, which helps lower energy demand, thereby strengthening the power grid.

Kirk Miller

Richardson, Texas

Finding the Future in Organic Roots

As a subscriber to Mother Earth News, I continually find inspiration in every issue. After reading Editorial Director Hank Will’s “Common Ground” (April/May 2018), I felt it was a good time to respond in kind.

I think far more people than the media would like to reveal are truly concerned about our food sources and how industry has taken over a lot of what goes into our grocery stores. The transition from wholesomely grown produce and grass-fed meats to the processed foods available now is not only disappointing, but may also be hazardous to our health.

I grew up on a farm in the rural portion of Leavenworth County in Kansas. My Dad was a farm kid from the Junction City area, and said that when he grew up and had his own home, he always wanted to go back to rural living. My father was an organic gardener before people really coined the term. He was determined to never use harmful chemicals around the farm, especially on the large gardens we always grew. So all the fruits, vegetables, herbs, and other edibles on our farm grew naturally. We canned every summer, which helped us enjoy the bounty of the gardens throughout winter.

My husband and I moved to Colorado in 1983, and then to the Denver area in 2002. Growing food here is certainly not as easy as it was back in Kansas, but I’m determined to use clean and wholesome practices, as I did before. Large pesticide, fertilizer, and herbicide companies make it appear in ads that using their products will result in an easier and more fun gardening experience. Fortunately, people are becoming aware of the hazards associated with many of those advertised chemicals, but they often don’t know of any other option to control weeds.

As Hank Will said, when it comes to growing, there is probably no “magic bullet” that will bring everyone to one school of thought. But we need to have hope, and we can keep trying to find ways to grow that are good for all of us. Perhaps we’ll develop new ways that are easier to teach, so more people will realize that growing food isn’t overly complicated.

I think maybe the best tactic is to just tell people to take it one step at a time, rather than getting hung up on labels. Otherwise, they’ll begin to feel they’re not following the rules and can’t do it right, and then stop trying altogether.

For example, when someone who seems to be overwhelmed asks me how they can grow more organically, I suggest trying to grow just part of their vegetables, herbs, and flowers without any synthetic chemicals and seeing how it goes. Then, I recommend adding freshly picked produce to their diet rather than items that spent days, weeks, or months in storage before being presented for sale at a grocery store.

Doctors tell us to eat more fresh fruits and vegetables, but many of us now know that the nutrition in store-bought produce has been on a decline. Big Ag favors crops that can produce the largest quantity at the fastest rate and can travel long distances to market. The overall health of humans is probably suffering as a result.

I don’t have all the answers, but I do appreciate those like Hank Will, who are curious about whether we can bring together diverse groups to a common ground. I guess all it takes is starting small and seeing whether these lifestyle changes will grow, so to speak. The results may be surprising. I look forward to seeing in upcoming issues if more people are trying to form groups to learn from and support each other.

Joyce D’Agostino

Wheat Ridge, Colorado

Cool Bean Cascades

My uncle and I are avid Mother Earth News readers. Luckily, my uncle came across “Cool Beans” (Country Lore, February/March 2017), which emphasized saving time and space by growing green beans on an arch trellis. It worked wonderfully! My uncle and I are always looking forward to new issues and the helpful tips we find inside about improving our garden.

Melanie Nemcek and Glenn Magill

Butler, Pennsylvania

Corn-Fed Country Boy

Our son, Isaac, planted, watered, and weeded his own corn patch this past growing season. He was very proud of and satisfied with his harvest.

Joy Melton

Rock Hill, South Carolina