Dear Mother: Chicken Coop Compost

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Photo by Bill Present

Chicken Coop Compost

Your articles and tips have made my goal of living off my land a reality. After 20-plus years, it was time to redo my composting bins. Building a new compost bin inside my chickens’ fenced-in area has made them happy, as they compost everything daily.

Bill Present

New Hope, Pennsylvania

Archive to the Rescue

I used to have so many books and magazines — including a complete collection of Mother Earth News from the ‘70s, ‘80s, ‘90s, and on — that I had to rent storage space to hold them all. In fact, in the early ‘80s, I discovered a box at a yard sale full of Mother Earth News, issues No. 1 through 25. (They’re what got me started reading your wonderful magazine.) Unfortunately, last October, someone broke into my storage unit and completely emptied it out! All of my precious books and magazines are gone forever!

I’ve seen the ads for the Mother Earth News digital archive, and I’d been meaning to buy it for a long time. The theft of my magazines pushed me into it, and I’m glad I did! I’ve already accessed the articles a couple of times, looking for advice to help me with my new container garden. Thanks for offering your great magazine on an easy-to-access flash drive. It’s not the same as flipping through the old issues, but it does help alleviate the loss a bit.

Jim Gilbert

Via email

Big Fan of ‘Big League’

The tomatoes on the front cover of the June/July 2021 issue remind me of the ‘Big League’ type I’ve planted for years. It has great-tasting, medium-sized fruit that ripens early, cans well, and grows in big clusters! I always start them from seeds with great success. Try them!

Dale Walling

Shawnee, Kansas

Homemade Pectin Recipe

I’ve been with you for lots of years. We have 44 fruit trees and 14 nut trees on three lots. I have a recipe for homemade pectin you may like:

Save apple peelings and cores from about six apples. Put them in a saucepan with 2 cups water, and bring to a boil. Boil until the pectin thickens. Turn off the heat, and then strain the pectin. Use it for jelly.

Margaret Metcalf

Canadian, Oklahoma

Photo by Penny Wells-Thomas

Hog Panel Garden Beds

I want to share our version of raised beds. We cut two 16-foot-long hog panels into 10-foot pieces. We used the two extra 4-foot-long sections on the ends. We wired everything together, and then put old tin roofing on the inside. We used six metal stakes to hold everything together. We also used a hog panel to cover the top with plastic, in case of bad weather. I hope this inspires other DIYers.

Penny Wells-Thomas

Via email

Missing Venn Diagram

I love getting your magazine. My brother gave me a subscription, and I read it almost cover-to-cover when it comes. The article about permaculture (“Plan Your Permaculture Plot,” June/July 2021) has so much information in it, and lots of things to consider when planning a yard. I would’ve liked to see a basic Venn diagram within the article. Sometimes, concepts are hard for me to grasp without a concrete picture of what’s being described.

Thanks again for all the great articles.

Margareta Buczala

Dunbarton, New Hampshire


Margareta, thanks for the feedback! We will keep the possibility of diagrams to illustrate complex concepts in mind for future issues. — Mother

Organic Chicken Coop Bedding

I’m reaching out because I’m having a difficult time locating bulk organic bedding for my chicken coop. While I want to compost the waste in our compost bin, I don’t want to mix nonorganically grown straw into my garden, as I don’t know which chemicals could be in the commercial bedding I’m purchasing. I’d love to see an article on how other organic farms compost their coop waste, and how they maintain an organic certification standard? For sustainability, we would really like to compost our own waste rather than send it off. Thanks for all you do!

Virginia Grob

Via email

Virginia, thank you for reaching out! Checking with your local farmers and chicken keepers is a good place to start, as they’ll likely be happy to share any sources for organically grown hay and straw. Alternatively, several other materials can be used for chicken bedding, including dried leaves and untreated wood shavings, both of which are compostable. Leaves have the disadvantage of being seasonal, but many people will happily accept an offer to remove their leaves, often for free. For wood shavings, check with your local woodworkers and tree-care services to see if they can provide you with chicken-safe shavings, such as pine. — Mother

Sourcing Canning Jars

For years, I’ve been buying canning jars — pints and quarts — at Goodwill (20 cents each in my area), but I’ve also found that some commercial jars will take a canning lid and ring, particularly Classico tomato sauce jars. They’re 11⁄2 pints, which is perfect for a serving of green beans, and tall enough for the beans to be canned whole.

Alice Cain

Bothell, Washington


Alice, thank you for the note! Readers, we’d like to remind you to take care when using any type of glass jar not specifically made for canning, and to carefully inspect all jars before using them. Oftentimes, these types of commercial glass jars aren’t tempered to withstand the heat and pressure required for water bath and pressure canning, which can lead to breakage. These jars also tend to have a narrower sealing surface than canning jars do, so you should expect more failed seals. These types of commercial jars can work well for other methods of food preservation and storage, such as refrigerator pickling and countertop fermentation. — Mother  

Repurposed Planter

My container garden is a culmination of many ideas from others, and a few from myself. I’m also a person who likes to recycle things. Having an indoor cat helps, because I buy her cat litter in plastic rectangular containers, which I later turn into garden containers.

When the cat litter container is empty, I drill a 1⁄4-inch hole in each of the narrow sides, one about 2 inches up from the bottom on one side, and the other on the opposite side, about an inch below where the top of the container will be after I cut the top off. The lower hole will allow any excess water to escape, and the upper hole is so I can attach twine or string for vegetables that need something to climb. About 2 inches above the lower hole, but on the long sides of the container, I drill many small holes to allow oxygen to enter the soil. Then, I cut the top off the container, so it resembles an oblong pot.

I live in North Carolina, where the summers reach temperatures in the 100s, so I paint the container black and then white. The black paint helps shade the container and keeps green algae from growing, and the white paint reflects the sun and keeps the roots protected from heat. (Further north, you may prefer the black coat only.) I then place a small screen over the lower hole to prevent my potting soil from washing out.

I use a plastic 1-liter juice bottle with a tight-fitting lid for irrigation. I drill a quarter-sized hole near the bottom of the bottle, and place a short length of cloth rope in the hole, which allows a small amount of water to feed the roots for several days. You can also fertilize the plant with liquid fertilizer or blood meal dissolved in the water. I like to tie a knot in the rope so it doesn’t fall out of the bottle during planting.

To use this homemade planter, hold the plastic bottle with the wick in the planter, at the opposite end of the lower hole, so the wick is about an inch above the bottom of the container. Fill the container about a quarter full with potting soil. Add a small handful of bone meal, and cover it with another inch or so of soil. Next, place your plant, cover the roots, and continue rising the soil level to near the top of the container. (If you’re planting tomatoes, remove the lower leaves. More roots will grow from the stem, and it’ll be a stronger plant.) Then, place the container where you plan to keep it, and water the plant gently until water runs out the bottom hole. Next, fill your plastic watering bottle with water, and lightly screw the cap on. The water in the bottle will take several days to wick into the container. The slow dispense of water will provide a constant source for the plant, and save you many trips with the watering can or hose. Also, you won’t have to worry about nutrients washing out of the soil.

Carl C. Campbell Jr.

Fayetteville, North Carolina

Photo by Eric Samuelson

Clothesline Trellis

Do you have an old clothesline hanging around? If so, you can break it down and use it as a tomato trellis, with trellis clips to support your plants.

Eric Samuelson

Via email

Living the Good Life

The pandemic gave us time to consider why we live in the country. After retiring and taking a few years’ hiatus from raising chickens, we began again with six day-old chicks from the feed store. Having time on my hands, I used some scrap cedar siding from the deck to rebuild a sign to advertise eggs. Now, Snow Ball and the girls are living the good life at Rancho Summit.  

Dwight Duncan

Escondido, California

Photo by Nancy Benn

Boatload of Mushrooms  

May and September are the months I prep and harvest shiitake mushrooms. After dealing with old, leaking cattle troughs and plastic wading pools over the past few years, I finally obtained a unique solution for soaking my shiitake mushroom logs. An old canoe filled with water works beautifully, and it’s still attractive tipped over when not in use. Once all my logs have been soaked and are back up on the frame I built from an old dock, I take the water out in buckets to nourish plants in my garden.

Nancy Benn

Parham, Ontario

Medical Lending Lockers

If you think lockers are just for gym class or school students, think again.

Medical lending “lockers” are locations where medical equipment, both new and used, can be loaned out to folks in need, free of charge. This equipment can allow people to live more independently, and it can help ease some of the financial burden associated with medical costs.

If no lending lockers have been established in your neck of the woods, consider starting one yourself. 

Churches, senior centers, libraries, and town hall offices are just a few examples of places to set up a locker. Your local office for aging and disability can be a useful resource for town or state legal issues, and will possibly work with you to establish a lending locker. Seek out lawyers willing to volunteer time to assist in drawing up documents addressing liability, return policies, and damage incurred to equipment. Try advertising the lending locker at medical offices, churches, and senior and disability centers, on social media, and through television. 

Recruit volunteers with the promise of flexible schedules and minimal training and time requirements. Join in as a volunteer yourself to clean equipment between uses and repair broken, torn, or old items. As a charitable organization, lending locker establishments are able to accept monetary donations to help with the cost of operating, including purchasing cleaning products.

Patients will often choose equipment based on a recommendation from their physician, occupational or physical therapist, or other health care professional. Common donations accepted at these establishments include walkers, crutches, commodes, scooters, canes, shower chairs, raised toilet seats, transfer benches, bed lifts, hospital beds, and other durable medical equipment. Donations of incontinence pads, disposable diapers, and underwear are often accepted at these facilities as well. Equipment loans can be permanent or temporary, based on patients’ needs or the establishment’s rules. 

People often ask what they should do with wheelchairs and walkers once they’re no longer needed. Take them, along with any other usable medical equipment, straight to your local lending locker. Donating those items can make things easier for someone whose life just got harder, and keep medical equipment out of our landfills.

I’m a married mom with three children, and I work as a pharmacist to help vaccinate people against COVID-19.

Nanaz Khosrowshahi

Avon, Connecticut

Photo by Anneke

Pergola Garden

Instead of buying a new cover for our pergola, we decided to spend $15 on some netting and make a vertical garden. It’s working out wonderfully, and makes for a nice place to sit.


Rockledge, Florida

Back to the Land

I’m 69 years old. I grew up on a dairy farm in central New Jersey, and I moved at age 13 to Washington, D.C.

I grew to miss the farm life in my 40s. It’s been steadily gnawing at me, and my grown son is saddened about living in a suburban neighborhood with his family. We thought we were doing the right thing, with a job, house, etc. Now that my son has made me realize that I was missing purpose in my life, I feel like I‘ve been lifted out of a dark hole.

We’ve improved the soil, we compost, and we have a few chickens. We can’t wait to find land somewhere to begin a real farmsteading adventure, but with five kids in tow, it’s challenging.

I enjoy your articles.

Fredericka Lane

Via email

Pomegranate Praise

I enjoyed the pomegranate article (“Populate Your Property with Pomegranates,” February/March 2021). We have four wonderful old plants and several pink ones we started from sticks. Of course, sometimes the pinks are half-red — the bees don’t care. The pinks are milder and make a pretty pink jelly. We have a homemade squeezer made more than 50 years ago. I’m 96.

Leonard Keck

Porterville, California

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

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