Photo by Andy Firk
I’m proud to report that our little garden — just under an acre — is steadily producing 700 pounds of heirloom, beefsteak, and cherry tomatoes; 1,000 pounds of zucchini and acorn squash; 300 pounds of slicing cucumbers; and 100 pounds of various ‘Anaheim,’ bell, and jalapeño peppers. Not too shabby for some amateurs!
I’m sure professionals could get more, but our work in the garden feeds the men in our correctional facility, so I’d say that’s something to be proud of. We even have enough leftovers to donate to the local food bank; because of our gardening, they have more than enough to help those in the community who are down on their luck.
Every time I introduce someone new to Mother Earth News, they’re instantly inspired to pursue healthy living, organic farming, and righteous business. Gaining access to all this information has brought me to understand how calming and therapeutic it is to work around plants — a feeling that’s hard to come across easily. I appreciate the changes this magazine has helped me make in my life.
I think it’d be great if readers considered donating old or overstocked magazines to institutions, prisons, and hospitals in their areas. Mother Earth News made a big difference in my life, and I know it could do the same for others in a similar position.
Beverly Peterson’s letter about sharing the bounty of her garden (Dear Mother, December 2018/January 2019) inspired me to write in with my own story.
I too am in my early 80s, so I share Beverly’s struggle of gardening as easily as I once did. Even so, with the help of my husband, I still maintain 11 raised garden beds in our backyard. In those beds, I grow lettuce, sweet potatoes, squash, carrots, onions, broccoli, tomatoes, peppers, cantaloupes, and more.
Of course, we don’t eat all this food on our own; we share with all our neighbors. Whatever our neighbors don’t need, I take to our local food bank. Recently, I brought 12 gallons of grapes, five cantaloupes, and a 3-gallon bucket of sweet potatoes to the food bank.
I can’t stand to waste food, so helping my community this way makes me appreciate my gift of gardening more than ever. God gave me the skills to garden, and I think he wants me to share.
Simple Pleasures in Tough Times
In “Dear Mother” of the October/November 2018 issue, a letter titled “Depression-Era Desserts” caught my attention. The recipe in that letter is similar to an old recipe given to me by my mother from our family recipe book that’s been passed down for generations. This particular recipe was also recorded during the Great Depression, and surprisingly has very few differences. How fascinating!
During the Depression, my grandfather operated a small dairy farm in Windham, Vermont. Although his family lived through the Depression, they never had trouble finding enough to eat because they were able to grow and raise their own food. In fact, their farm produced so much extra food that they often traveled the 100 or so miles to Massachusetts to sell turkeys and pigs for some extra
money, as well as provide food for those who couldn’t grow or raise their own.
It’s interesting to see how many families came to a similar solution when trying to keep something so seemingly simple like chocolate cake in their lives during hard times. Even though it wasn’t a necessity, so many people put their kitchen skills to the test just to provide a simple treat every now and then.
James W. Howe Jr.
Floridian Forages for Free Food
In spring, I like to forage for Florida betony (Stachys floridana). It’s easily found near me in southeast Florida. Back in the 1940s, it started popping up on residential and commercial lands. Betony root tastes like a crunchier radish, and it’s one of my favorite things to search for. It’s upsetting to think about how much money is wasted on destroying these “weeds,” rather than promoting them as an edible and delicious gourmet plant.
Florida betony can be identified by its square stem and white-to-lavender-colored flowers. It can be found in wet areas that receive a large amount of sunlight. The plant’s roots grow from early spring into the beginning of fall. The tubers are about the length of your finger, and are crisp when eaten raw. They’re also excellent for pickling. I personally enjoy mixing them with salt, turmeric, peppercorns, coriander, garlic, and freshly foraged grape leaves to create a delicious, tart snack.
Its cousin, the Chinese artichoke — also known as “crosne” — is something I often forage for as well, typically with good results. Crosnes (Stachys affinis) are pretty easy to find down in Florida, and also have a great taste. They were featured in Mother Earth News’ February/March 2004 issue (“Crunch a Bunch of Crosnes”); they were said to cost $40 a pound! I had no idea I was sitting on such a gold mine!
When I first moved to my homestead in Florida, I immediately noticed that my neighbors had false shamrock (Oxalis triangularis) growing in their yard. I was so delighted to see the plant. I dug up a few tubers and planted them in my vegetable garden. Similar to Florida betony, the root bulb is edible, with a sweet and succulent flavor that’s often underappreciated. Even the leaves are edible, and I enjoy using them sparingly in my salads.
A Chance Meeting Through Mother
As I was browsing through the latest issue of Mother Earth News, my thoughts drifted back to a story my wife told me many years ago.
She was born and raised in New Jersey, though she didn’t have the fondest memories of living there. By the time she reached her 20s, she was ready for a new life elsewhere.
Then, fate decided to intervene; she came across a copy of Mother Earth News, and while she was scanning the ads in the back of the magazine, she stumbled upon an ad from a young man in Iowa. He was looking for someone to help build a home on some country acreage he’d recently purchased. She responded to the ad and fled to Iowa to start a new life.
Compared with New Jersey, she thought Iowa was the Wild West. The change shocked her, but she stayed on and got the job done. Over the next year, she helped lay foundation block and build a house in the country. She decided that the “Wild West” called to her, and she stayed after the house was finished.
I met her shortly after her move, through a counseling group while going through a rough spot in life. After we left counseling, I continued to think about her, and one day I decided to look her up and see how she was doing.
We immediately hit it off, and within the year, we were engaged.
In a roundabout way, you might say that Mother Earth News magazine was instrumental in me finding my wife of over two decades. If she hadn’t read that job ad, my wife never would’ve moved out to Iowa, and I never would’ve had the great pleasure of meeting her. I’m ever so grateful.
Tubs of Grub
A long time ago, my husband and I had a herd of cows, whose water we kept in cast-iron bathtubs that we rescued from other farmers in our area who no longer had any use for them. We also had an in-ground swimming pool in the yard when the kids were young. All those years ago, so much activity surrounded our home.
But time flew by quicker than we expected; the cows are gone, the kids are grown, and the pool liner acquired a few holes. We filled the pool halfway with dirt thinking we would build a greenhouse over it, but that never made it off the ground.
Mary Granada and her husband discovered that they could use their collection of cast iron bathtubs to create a container garden. Photo by Mary Granade.
This winter, we were cleaning around the farm and suddenly had a lightbulb moment. Luckily, we’d saved all those cast-iron tubs, just waiting until we found a way to use them again. We carefully lowered them into the old pool, deciding we would use them to build one huge container-gardening space. We filled the tubs with compost made with yard waste from the local landfill, lined the bottom of the pool with some old wooden sheets to control any weeds, and started planting some crops. A recycled tub garden was born!
We’ve eaten and given away baskets of lettuce, kale, and peas. We also have grapevines planted on some recycled window bars that we found in an old house someone was tearing down; we use these as trellises around our tub garden. Next season, we plan to add a few bean plants to those trellises. The potential of our new tub garden is endless, and we can’t wait to keep adding to it!
Aiken, South Carolina
Humble Homestead Heroes
I enjoyed the article about livestock guardian dogs in the October/November 2018 issue (“Get Started with a Livestock Guardian Dog”). I love seeing this type of article published in Mother Earth News, because guardian animals are an absolutely amazing resource for farms and homesteads.
Here in California, we have extreme danger from wildfires; a few years ago, a fire started by a spark from a weed wacker burned more than 200 homes. Because there’s always the possibility of a wildfire here, people have the option of renting a herd of goats to keep grass and brush cleared near their homes for fire prevention. Renting goats includes temporarily adopting the guardian dog in charge of the herd. It’s fascinating to watch these animals take charge of an entire herd.
Donkeys are herd animals, so they’re very happy to watch, herd, and protect your goats. Photo by Kichigin.
My daughter and her husband have an 11-acre ranch in Paso Robles, California. A neighbor of theirs has Great Pyrenees dogs guarding their alpacas. One day, one of the dogs escaped their pasture and came to my daughter’s fencing. Her husband approached to pet the dog, but my daughter told him, “Don’t talk to that dog. He has a job to do, and you could get him fired.” She understands the responsibilities placed on each guardian animal, and the consequences that occur if they’re distracted.
On their ranch, my daughter and her husband have a small herd of goats. Instead of using a guard dog, they have Rosa, a tough donkey who has even killed coyotes to protect the goats. I think it would be interesting to see Mother Earth News publish an article about donkey guardians, or the different possibilities available when choosing which animal you want as a guardian for your homestead. For instance, one of the benefits of having a guardian donkey over a guardian dog is that donkeys eat the same feed as goats, so there’s no extra work or expenses in taking care of them. Thank you for publishing such a wonderful and enlightening magazine.
Thanks for the note, Judy! Readers, if you’re interested in learning more about how goats can manage overgrown vegetation, see our story “Green Goats Grazes to Success” on Page 50.— Mother
Vegging in the Subtropics
The column “Memories, Realities, and Adaptations” by Editorial Director Hank Will (October/November 2018) made me smile and feel a little better about my own gardening conflict between what is and what was. Things grew like crazy in the rich, black soil of my native Illinois. The subtropics are somewhat of a different story.
Like many gardeners who move to Florida, I had this beautiful image in my head of fruits and vegetables growing abundantly year-round — just pop it in the ground and watch it grow! Anyone who’s gardened in Florida can tell you that’s a pipe dream. It took some trial and error to get the hang of what will and won’t grow down here, and I’m still learning every season, but I’m finally starting to understand these fruits and vegetables, and their different needs and personalities.
I quickly learned that tomatoes don’t set fruit if nighttime temperatures climb above 72 degrees Fahrenheit. I was in luck when an old-time Floridian gardener advised me to plant ‘Everglades’ tomatoes instead. They’re tiny but tasty, and can be stored in the freezer.
When it comes to growing blueberries, I figured out that selecting the right cultivar is all it takes to get a good crop going. I’ve found that ‘Jewel’ and ‘Emerald’ blueberries both do well here.
I can grow beans here, but I have to work for them. I’ve had better luck growing pole beans rather than bush beans. I’ve also found that ‘Green Noodle’ and ‘Rattlesnake’ pole beans are my most reliable, though perennial winged beans do nicely too.
Many of these vegetables aren’t the same cultivars I grew when I lived in Illinois, but I’ve learned to adapt my tastes to a new climate. Not everyone has, though; I can’t tell you how often I’ve offered someone a bag of collards from my garden, only to have them turn up their nose and say, “I don’t like those — we didn’t grow up eating them.” My rule of thumb living down here is, “If it grows locally, and it’s healthy and edible, learn to like it!”
Bugs, diseases, and hurricanes — you’ll have to fight them all if you garden in Florida. But all that fades into the background when you harvest a huge bunch of bananas or slice up an avocado you picked in your own backyard. It’s still a challenge some days, but I’d be ashamed of myself if I complained about living in paradise!
“Memories, Realities, and Adaptations” by Editorial Director Hank Will (October/November 2018) evoked a fond memory from my childhood.
Reading his musings of the past immediately brought me back to the beautifully colored canning jars filled with veggies, pickles, and jams that used to line those dusty shelves in my mother’s cellar. I can clearly remember going into the cellar — tiptoeing as quietly as possible down those creaky stairs, illuminated by one dim overhead bulb — just to get a jar of green tomato mincemeat. I even remember watching out for the bogeyman during my sneaky missions, fearing that he would pop out at any second!
Canning allows you to preserve the food from your garden so you can enjoy it year-round. Photo by Foxys_forest_manufacture.
Although I really don’t think as often about the delicious pies my mother made with the contents of those precious jars, I often reflect on that mincemeat when I pick green tomatoes from my raised bed. They’re a nice reminder that life is good and my plate is full.
Slow and Steady Learning
My favorite Mother Earth News articles are the ones about raised bed gardening and gardening in greenhouses.
My husband and I live on a beautiful 2 acres, and we’re using your advice to get the most from it, and learning about raised beds and greenhouses has helped us to do just that. We still have a long way to go, but good things take time!
Jasper, New York
Work with What You Have
I enjoyed Leo Lulich’s letter about making a new handle for a sledgehammer (Dear Mother, December 2018/January 2019). Recently, my granddad broke the handle on his, but he found a creative way to fix it as well! He welded a piece of pipe to the hammerhead to use as the handle. It sure stings when he uses it, but like Leo with his sledgehammer, my granddad used what he had to make sure it never broke again.
I’ve done similar fixes with some of my hand sledges. It just goes to show that sometimes, construction is all about the art of using what you already have. Keep up the great magazine!Rob Beiber