Dear Mother: Remembering Loyd Bruce Holman

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‘Down on the Farm’

Loyd Bruce Holman was the artist behind the cartoon strip “Down on the Farm,” published in MOTHER EARTH NEWS from 1975 through 1985.

llustration by Loyd Bruce Holman

In his own words:

” ‘Down on the Farm’ isn’t a story about farming. It’s a story about returning to a country setting to live. I live in the country by preference. I’m not a farmer. I haven’t a farmer’s skills. But my wife and son and I enjoy the life that the country affords, and we try to maintain harmony with the land and the seasons. When we work at it, the land and seasons return a good life to us. Our garden produces fresh green things to eat; our chickens lay eggs when they’re so inclined; and when we kept goats, they produced milk by the bucketful and won blue ribbons at the state fair. But life is not all blue ribbons and bucolic idyll. There are also blisters and sweat, and an occasional tear. I’ve always found that a sense of humor is helpful. You can’t laugh life’s problems away, but humor helps keep things in perspective.”

Bruce died recently after a courageous fight with Parkinson’s disease. He was a visual artist by trade and preference, and worked as an illustrator, filmmaker, and cartoonist. He grew up in what was then a small town in Kansas. Both of his parents were artists, and his brother, sister, and he played with pencils and brushes as toys.

Bruce held a doctorate in fine arts, and was a tenured professor who taught drawing, painting, and photography at Cottey College in Nevada, Missouri. As well as being a talented artist, he was also an author, a woodworker, a scoutmaster, a weightlifter, a pilot, a lover of animals, a tinkerer, and a builder of things. Bruce loved the experience and adventure of travel, having shot documentary films in India, photographed Prague during the Soviet occupation, and eaten fresh pineapples on a deserted beach on the Puerto Rican island of Vieques. Bruce loved sharing his experiences and knowledge. At heart, he was a storyteller and a teacher. He will live on through the people who walked beside him in the moment, those who enjoyed the tales of the adventure, and those who were inspired to seek their own path by his mindful lessons.

Original art from “Down on the Farm,” as well as the collected book of cartoons, Holman’s Harvest, is available at Holman Gallery.

Alex Holman, Bruce’s son

Waterfowl Wisdom

I just want to share how much I enjoyed reading Carrie Hardie’s article in the June/ July 2021 issue about pastured waterfowl (“Raise Pastured Geese & Ducks”). We got some Pekin ducks and absolutely love having them, and now we want to expand to other breeds. I gained so much helpful information from the article that we can apply to keep the ducks on grass instead of in a confined space all the time. I even emailed Carrie to request additional information about her portable shelters for her ducks. She was so helpful in answering all of my questions!

Thank you for such an informative article. I hope to read more from her in the future!



Stapled Seat Strands

I was interested to read your excellent article in the August/September 2021 issue about weaving a splint chair (“Weave a Splint Reed Chair Seat”). I taught chair caning for 31 years at a school for the blind, and we had a different way to join the strands. Rather than using baling wire, we put a dab of wood glue on the joint, and then used 2 to 3 staples from a large office stapler to hold the reeds together in a cross or star pattern until the glue dried.

I would never say the folks at Silver River are incorrect. (I’ve visited their museum, which I heartily recommend, and I own one of their T-shirts.) I simply wanted to point out another way to join the strands.


Via email

Photo by Maxine Jess

Self-Sufficient in a Small Space

I enjoy your magazine thoroughly, and I wanted to send you a couple of pictures of our little farmstead by the sea in Nova Scotia. We grow potatoes, spinach, Swiss chard, watermelons, peas, beans, okra, herbs, and our best crops: tomatoes and peppers. I preserve as much produce as possible by dehydrating, canning, and freezing. We enjoy our homegrown food all year long. We also have seven hens–and a friendly rooster named Brewster–that lay enough eggs to provide for us and two of our daughters and their families.

Our home sits by the Northumberland Strait on less than 1 acre of land. I would like your readers to know that people can still be somewhat self-sufficient on even the smallest of properties. We’re grateful every day that we live where we do.

Maxine Jess Port

Howe, Nova Scotia

Photo by Maxine Jess

Homemade Hops Yeast

I love using hops, and I thought you might like this recipe for homemade hops yeast.

Boil 6 large potatoes in 3 pints of water. Tie a handful of hops in a small muslin bag, and then add the hops to the boiling potatoes. When the potatoes are thoroughly cooked, drain the water into enough flour to make a thin batter. Let the mixture cool. Then, mash the potatoes, and add them to the flour mixture. Add 1⁄2 cup sugar, 2 tablespoons salt, and 1 teacup (about 3⁄4 cup) yeast. Let stand in a warm place until thoroughly risen. Then, place the hops yeast in a large-mouthed jug, and cover lightly. Set away in a cool place.

Two-thirds of a coffee cup (about 2⁄3 cup) of this yeast makes 4 loaves of bread.

Margaret Metcalf

Canadian, Oklahoma

Transitional Chicken Coop

Photo by Mary Whitcomb

We built a brooder and transition coop for our newest baby chicks using a recycled plastic tote. We removed the metal frame and wrapped it in chicken wire, which we also recycled from a garden pea fence. We cut ventilation openings, and screened them with a piece of grate that once protected our screen door from a dog. The only things we had to buy new were two hinges and a safety lock for the door.

This little coop is light, so it’s easy to move to fresh grass. It holds up to 16 chicks, or 3 to 5 mature hens.

Mary Whitcomb

Williston, Vermont

Japanese Beetle Solution

In the spirit of turning lemons into lemonade when the Japanese beetles ravaged my beans, I decided to turn the little critters into a resource.

I got some beetle traps and placed them around my property. I have several ponds, so I placed bagless traps about 6 inches above the water. The beetles hit the trap and fall into the pond, becoming fish food. The trap needs to be that close to the water so the stunned beetles don’t recover before hitting the water.

For my chickens, I collect beetles in bagged traps and empty them into a small pail of water. The opening of the bag must be just above or in the water, so the beetles don’t get a chance to recover and fly off before hitting the water. I then call the chickens, and they excitedly watch as I pour the beetles into a pan for them to feast on. The chickens peck at the beetles so enthusiastically that it sounds like a hard rain on a tin roof.

Nathan Shapiro

Via email

Mother Nature at Work

Photo by Marianne Neuber

I enjoyed reading “Living Well with Nature” by John Catenacci in the June/ July 2021 Dear MOTHER. We have several areas in our garden where we’ve let Mother Nature do her own thing. This article reminded me of the beauty and enjoyment I get from watching this process unfold over the seasons and years. I’ve enclosed a photo of our hops taking a front-row seat overlooking our vegetable garden.

Marianne Neuber

Gilboa, New York

Establishing Contour Lines

I’m retired after 27 years as a district conservationist, and I have a wealth of experience with soil conservation and erosion-control practices. I’ve also spent 20-plus years in the dozer business doing farm work as a sole proprietor. So, I thought I might share some of my experience.

You can slow soil erosion without breaking the bank. One of the easiest soil-conservation practices is to make sure all tillage and planting is done on the contour.

Establishing a line that’s level and on-contour is the first step. You’ll need a hand level, a roll of electrical tape, and someone to help you mark the line. If you don’t have a tractor, you’ll also need a straight 8-foot-long 1×2 and a 100-count bundle of marking flags.

If you haven’t used a hand level before, familiarize yourself with the tool first. Hold it in your hand, with the eyepiece up to your eye. Look through, and you’ll be able to move it up or down until you see a bubble with a crosshair. When the crosshair equally divides the bubble in half, you’ll be seeing level.

To determine where to start marking the contour line, go to the middle of the slope, or the end of the field, and find a spot where your eye height grazes the top of the hill. This will put you about 51⁄2 feet below the top of the ridge.

If you have a tractor, attach an implement that will draw a line in the dirt. Then, stand in front of the tractor and use your hand level to find the level mark on the front of the tractor. Mark that spot with a piece of electrical tape. Position the tractor at the end of the field. Walk out from the tractor 30 to 50 feet, and then move up and down the slope until you find the tape on the tractor and it’s level with the crosshair in your hand level. Stand still, and have your helper drive the tractor to you, marking a line in the field. Then, repeat that process, going out 30 to 50 feet at a time, all the way across the slope until you’ve marked the entire line.

If you don’t have a tractor, you can make a leveling rod out of a 1×2. Stand the 1×2 upright, and use your hand level to find the level spot on the board. Mark that spot with electrical tape.

Have your helper hold the leveling rod at the end of the field, and mark that spot with a flag. Carrying the flags and the hand level, walk out 30 to 50 feet. Move up and down the hill until you find the tape mark on the 1×2 looking through the hand level, and put a flag in the ground where you’re standing. Have your helper move to the flag you just set, and then you can move ahead another 30 to 50 feet, and repeat the process all across the field. Leave the flags standing until you’re done planting. A bundle of flags can last for several years.

If your contour line starts to go uphill or downhill more than you’d like, you may need an additional contour line.

With a little practice, you’ll be a pro! Contouring can make a big reduction in soil loss compared with farming straight with the fence, or up and down the hill. Contouring is one of several low-cost or no-cost conservation practices you can use to control erosion.

Bill Willis

New Virginia, Iowa

Creating Resources Out of Waste

In response to “Recycled Rug” in the April/May 2021 Dear Mother, I’m sending along a photo of a mat made by the Bag Ladies ministry in Union City, Tennessee.

Photo by Beth Wright

Now in our sixth year, we crochet mats out of plastic shopping bags for people experiencing homelessness. During the pandemic shutdown, the work of nimble fingers continued, and we’re well over 1,000 mats lovingly donated. We estimate we’ve kept more than 2-1/2 tons of solid waste out of our local landfill! In addition, we use the handles and sealed bottoms of these bags to stuff pillows that we stitch from weather-resistant fabric, so there’s virtually no waste. A backpack of hygiene supplies also goes with each mat. We’re creating beauty and utility from trash — recycling at its best!

Beth Wright, for the Bag Ladies

Union City, Tennessee

Galvanized Duck Bath

Photo by Marsha Rogers

If you’ve ever cared for ducks, you know the joy they can bring by just watching them swim and play in a kiddie pool. This past Valentine’s Day, my sweet husband purchased a galvanized goat trough for me to replace my leaking plastic kiddie pool. The ducks just love it. When the water gets murky from the oil in the duck feathers, I simply bail it out with a square-shaped bucket. A quick brushing inside the tank with a brush or broom removes any dirt or algae. I reuse the tank water to hydrate my roses, flowers, and vegetables, so nothing goes to waste.

Marsha Rogers

Via email

Recycled Cement Projects

Photo by Hank Blumenthal

We have a steep bank on the back of our lot, behind our house. We purchased the house in 1985. The bank had many pieces of broken cement embedded into it, which I’d always wanted to recycle. My wife wanted a retaining wall and raised flower garden. Needing something to do during the 2020 COVID-19 lockdown, I built the wall and had enough cement pieces to also build a set of stairs up the bank. Sometimes, it just takes a while to get a project started.

Hank Blumenthal

Renton, Washington

Photo by Hank Blumenthal

Send Us Your Photos!

Thanks for celebrating the magazine’s 50th anniversary with us 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