Dear MOTHER: Coming of Age

Read this letter from a reader in South Africa who left the corporate world for sustainable agriculture.

article image
by Mark Dula

Sunflower Seed Strategy

Save your fingertips when harvesting sunflower seeds. Gently scrub the seed heads across a paint screen placed in a bucket. It works just like grating cheese!

Mark Dula
Hudson, North Carolina

Coming of Age

I’m writing to you from my farm in South Africa. We don’t have many books or magazines for the homesteader who wants to live more sustainably, so I’ve resorted to modifying the American way to suit the African one. To this end, and besides the mountains of books I’ve read, I started subscribing to MOTHER EARTH NEWS for its wholesome, balanced, and highly informative articles.

You’re celebrating your 50th anniversary in my 50th year, and I feel like I’m finally coming of age. I started this journey three years ago after burning myself out in the corporate world. I looked back on my 33 years in the workforce and couldn’t find a single thing that made me want to carry on, not even the big paycheck. So I quit. Now, I work equally long hours, but for far more reward. I even enjoy my sore back at the end of the day!

I have two backyard flocks of native chickens (Boschveld and Potchefstroom Koekoek), five beehives, two donkeys, a small flock of sheep, a large veggie garden, and my pride and joy: a herd of Nigerian Dwarf goats that I’m learning to milk (for making our own dairy products). It’s a lot! But I’m not afraid of hard work or long hours. It’s all made easier with MOTHER EARTH NEWS. Thank you for an excellent publication, and thank you to all the contributors for sharing your knowledge and experience. It’s much appreciated!

Warm regards,

Bella Milner
Mae’s Folly Homestead
South Africa

A Family Matter

I’m writing in response to Hank’s “News from MOTHER” editorial (“Roots Reconnected” February/March 2020).

I first must tell you how excited I get whenever I receive a new issue of MOTHER EARTH NEWS! My parents used to give me their old issues, and I loved them so much that I recently asked for my own subscription.

You asked readers to share stories about growing adventures that had a profound effect on our lives. My parents and grandparents were all gardeners, selling the extra bounty to regular customers who would stop by. When we settled down and were able, I continued the tradition with my own gardens, using the knowledge and memories I learned from my parents and grandparents.

I was very close to my maternal grandparents, Joe and Esther Lotter. I loved visiting them, and one time, my sister and I wanted to help Grandma in the garden, so she said we could pick the green beans. When we came back into the house with the beans, Grandma mentioned that we had also picked her seed beans. We didn’t know what that was at the time; we just saw beautiful, large beans. She didn’t make us feel bad at all. My mom also grew the same beans and continued keeping the plants going over the years. When my sister and I started our own gardens, Mom passed the seeds down to us. I’m sure the variety of beans is well over 60 years old, if not more.

My grandparents have been gone more than 30 years, and I still feel moved when I plant, grow, harvest, and eat the beans. My parents had to stop gardening recently, but the knowledge they’ve shared means the world to me. As a family, we all helped in the gardens, and I’m so grateful for the time we shared, and I feel so proud and excited with the bounty I’m able to grow.

Thank you for your wonderful magazine! It brings joy to so many people.

Kathy Blumenberg
Neenah, Wisconsin

Enjoying a Bountiful Life

I read “Our Campaign for Natural Landscaping” (Firsthand Reports, October/November 2020), and I found the story inspirational!Our tale isn’t particularly impressive, but worth mentioning, I believe.

My husband and I are retired and in our 60s. We live on our property in rural northeast Georgia, which is surrounded by my husband’s family’s properties. My husband comes from a farming family; they grew cotton in the 1960s, and they always grew their own food, including raising and harvesting farm animals.

We live on what’s left of the homeplace, it having been divided with the passing of my husband’s grandparents and parents. Since we’re not able to manage the acreage any longer, we’ve offered different plots to family members to garden over the years. They’ve grown corn, squash, zucchini, tomatoes, and different kinds of beans in spring and summer. In fall, they grow turnips, mustard greens, collards, pumpkins, and cabbage. In addition, we have a small orchard in our backyard with grapes, peaches, and blueberries. There are blackberries as well. We have black walnut trees all over the property and pecan trees in our yard. Our gardens are small; the family also has larger plots on what was once the 200-acre Grizzle Farm, growing beans and peas to fill the freezer. Although we’re not free from grocery stores, we do enjoy what the earth and hard work provides.

Debra Grizzle

Helpful Hornets

Our family has been reading MOTHER EARTH NEWS on and off since the ’70s, when my dad took out a subscription. Now, I have a subscription, and I’m enjoying it immensely. Having recently retired, moved to the country, and started a veggie garden, I’ve learned a lot from Mother.

I built a hugelkultur berm in my veggie garden, and it soon became home to a hive of bald-faced hornets. In the beginning, I didn’t know they were hornets; I thought they were some sort of bee, since they weren’t aggressive and simply kept me company in the garden, going about their business as I went about mine.

One day, I decided I needed some wood chips for mulch, so I dug into the top of the berm. Bang! Bang! A sting on my forearm and another on the back of my calf. I ran. From afar, I watched as the “bees” buzzed about the berm, surveying the damage. As we were old friends, of a sort, I went closer and chucked wood chips back on the gouge I’d made in the berm. Soon, everyone settled down and returned to their hive, and I returned to my bean plot.

However, considering the pain caused by the stings, my curiosity was piqued. I decided to take a closer look at my winged neighbors. I took a couple of photos, hit the internet, and found bald-faced hornets, along with frightening warnings (primarily from pest-removal firms) of their aggressive tendencies and merciless stinging habits. Suddenly, fearing for my safety, I began to wonder about contacting a pest-control company to come and rid me of the hive in the berm.

Fortunately, I gave myself time to reflect on what happened. Although they attacked, the hornets stung me only twice, and since then (about three weeks), they haven’t bothered me at all. They continue to go about their business in peace, ridding my garden of voracious caterpillars and other hungry, pesky bugs. People regularly remark on the obvious health of the plants in my garden, and I tell them, “It’s all thanks to the hornets.” I’ve done nothing to prevent pests, short of picking a few off when I see them.

There’s value to keeping these “villains” in the garden, because not only do wasps and hornets manage pests, but they’re also pollinators. Sadly, we’ve been so conditioned to fear them that we simply don’t give them a chance. They deserve more respect from us.

Come winter, I’ll dismantle the berm. By then, save for a few queens, the hornet colony will have died. I’ll reassemble the berm outside my garden walls, near enough that I’ll be able to count on the support of any future colonies that might decide to move in, but far enough away that I don’t have to worry about accidents that might cause the hornets to feel threatened and become aggressive.

Thanks for a great magazine.

Heather MacDonald
Sarsfield, Ontario 

Blueberry Netting

My husband cut and fitted PVC pipe, which he placed over leftover rebar that he hammered in the ground. The PVC made a nice frame to hold my netting! I purchased netting, figured out the length and width I needed, and hand-sewed it together to the appropriate size, leaving a little extra on the bottom for tacking to the ground.

Because I sewed the netting together, it’s easy to remove it and put it back up. Plus, I mark the PVC with where in the blueberry patch and on the frame it goes. This makes putting it up and taking it down quicker and easier. I hold the bottom down with fabric pins, and use 2x4s and rocks. I had room between the two rows of blueberries, so I planted strawberry plants. Now, they’re also protected from the birds. I have a few blueberry bushes outside of the big framed area, so I made smaller frames for them.

P.S. Happy 50th anniversary, MOTHER EARTH NEWS! I love your magazine.

Mary Funk
Deer Park, Washington

Portable Planter

Constantly moving to different parts of the country can make it hard for someone to grow fresh, delicious vegetables. After staying in different communities for only a few years here and there, I’ve learned the importance of devising a way to build a mobile planter box. Now, I have the ability to take this guy wherever I land.

Brandon League
Grand Isle, Louisiana

The Big Chicken Chart

After reading about your 50th anniversary in the August/September 2020 issue, I thought I’d send you a photo of a centerfold you published in an early MOTHER EARTH NEWS magazine. My framed “The Big Chicken Chart” has had a prominent place in my workshop for decades. I think I was a charter subscriber, and I’ve always enjoyed your publications.

Happy anniversary!

Ned Strange
Alton, Virginia

Happy in Hawaii

I began reading your magazine in the late ’70s, when I was starting to live more off the land. Now, I’m settling into my retirement years and still enjoying it and learning. We now have the perfect farmstead in Hawaii.

Carol Petritz

A Drying Delight

A clothesline was such a simple thing to do, but something I wasn’t sure I could get used to. The line went up, and our first load of line-dried clothes commemorated Earth Day. The routine has been a breeze to get used to, and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my extra time outside doing the task of hanging. Plus, my electricity costs have gone down with the omission of the costly dryer! It was a win-win for us, and my only regret is not hanging it up sooner!

Amber Griffith
Inwood, West Virginia

Support for Soul Fire Farm

Readers, we received a number of responses to Leah Penniman’s article “Soul Fire Farm: Uprooting Racism, Seeding Sovereignty” in the August/September 2020 issue. We’re delighted to hear that the article resonated with so many people, and this issue features another piece on inspiring community-building work. Check out this farmers market that’s helping increase food security in the neighborhood that hosts it. –MOTHER

A Refreshing Read

It’s refreshing to see a story about farmers of color in MOTHER EARTH NEWS. Leah Penniman’s article was inspiring and informative, and it showed an important perspective on the history of farming in the United States. I hope to see more articles like this featuring the success of diverse groups of people partnering with the land and giving back to their communities.

Kate Karshna
Fridley, Minnesota

Greater Understanding

The article on Soul Fire Farm was perfect timing for other books and thoughts I’ve been having. I’ve been reading The Color of Law and Braiding Sweetgrass, and it has all felt so important for greater understanding. My family is leaving our Denver home in search of land in Iowa to do our part by stewarding a small patch of earth and opening up a part of our hearts we’ve needed to find. We hope our land can be a place of healing and education someday as well. Soul Fire Farm, we’re cheering you on!

Nicole Loyd
Denver, Colorado

Improving Growing Practices

Deep gratitude for including the wisdom and work of Leah Penniman and Soul Fire Farm in your August/September 2020 edition. As a white farmer, Leah’s work has been instrumental in my understanding that the land I love and tend is not mine, despite any deed I may hold, and that the many permaculture principals I depend on are from cultures that are not my own and have not been revered and recognized appropriately, and have even been intentionally muted and whitewashed. For the past several years, Leah’s book has been my go-to resource for the majority of questions I have about how to improve my growing practices of heart, humanity, and delicious food. I encourage all white farmers to investigate Soul Fire’s reparations map and support farmers of color in your community in recognition of the privilege that has perpetrated imbalances in our food systems and our perception of what farmers look like in our country. Leah’s work, and the honor Leah bestows on those who have gone before, have fundamentally changed how I view land, farming, and my responsibility in changing the dialogue about food systems and stewards. I would encourage MOTHER EARTH NEWS to continue to uplift farmers of color with more regularity.

Kate Silver
Rutland, Ohio

Garden Happenings

We have a huge garden every year. We tried our hand at corn, but to no avail. We’re not doing that again! We just don’t have a green thumb for it, I guess. We usually do starters in the greenhouse, till up the soil, and add mulch. I always preserve everything from the garden, or freeze-dry some foods for later use. This season, I had a mess of old seeds, so we planted them in little pots; some came up, and some didn’t. We live in a small community, so seeds are hard to get sometimes. Since COVID-19, I went back to our local store for some seeds I missed, and there were none to be had — just flowers. Back to the drawing board! We kept at it, and got some seeds to grow. We do pick berries when the fruit is ripe during summer, and I process the fruit into juice. I make jellies too, out of blackberries, gooseberries, and elderberries, and I make elderberry syrup for the winter months. My husband and I also can a lot of things, including meat. I don’t use the pressure canner, because I tend to blow stuff up. I blew squirrel meat all over the ceiling, and my girls think it’s hilarious every time someone mentions it. Now, we’re trying to keep the ground squirrels and jackrabbits out of the garden.

Rhonda Hale
Via email