Dear MOTHER: DIY Electric Scooter

Letters from our readers about farming safety, homesteading DIY, foreign gardening, a DIY electric scooter, using a root store, facing challenges, and more.

Powering Business Ventures

Editorial Director Hank Will’s opening letter “Under Cover” (December 2018/January 2019) is prompting me to finally write in concerning something I’ve wanted to ask for a while. In his letter, Hank asks readers to write him if they’ve been inspired to step outside their comfort zones.

This happened to me recently. I have limited mobility and rely on an electric scooter to travel any distance beyond 50 yards. The problem with the scooters available in stores is that they’re all designed for smooth pavement.

I like to go to old tractor and steam engine shows, and neither of those events typically involve smooth sidewalks. As a former airline mechanic with A&P (Airframe and Powerplant) certification, I converted an old rear-engine riding mower to an electric scooter so I could attend and fully enjoy these events again. I repair mobility scooters as a source of income in my retirement, and I’ve had several people ask me to build them their own off-road scooters, but building only a handful wouldn’t be financially feasible.

Here’s where I’ve been prompted to possibly go beyond my comfort zone: These individuals weigh heavily on my mind, because I know exactly how they feel. However, I’m just one retiree with limited resources. I’d love to build these scooters, but I’d have to build at least 10 to 15 of them just to break even financially. Most importantly, I’d have to have some reasonable idea that there’d be enough demand out there for me to move forward, as I really don’t think it would be a wise decision to invest so much in project materials just to break even.

I think MOTHER EARTH NEWS readers would be a perfect market for this type of product, so my question is this: Do you think there’d be enough demand for me to go ahead and build these scooters?

Mark S. Hull
Seymour, Missouri

Readers, we encourage you to give Mark feedback on his off-road scooter project. You can email him at and let him know if this is something you’d be interested in for yourself, a friend, or a family member. –MOTHER

Finally Loving Farming

I just wanted to write to thank the entire staff for everything it does to get this publication out to the world. I particularly love reading Hank Will’s opening words in each edition of MOTHER EARTH NEWS, as they always inspire and remind me of what an important role the magazine plays to others.

Oddly enough, I was raised on my family’s wheat farm in Queensland, Australia, but just couldn’t get into the farming life at the time. It wasn’t until I stumbled across an Australian magazine called Earth Garden in the mid-1970s that I understood the appeal of homesteading, and I’ve been interested in that lifestyle ever since. After I moved from Australia to America, I sought out a new homesteading magazine, and fortunately, I found MOTHER EARTH NEWS.

I love reading the various articles and learning from others’ experiences. Recently, I bought myself a 160-acre farm back in Queensland, and I plan to move there soon. I want to use this farm to try some of your DIY projects and get back to nature now that I can fully appreciate it. It feels great to begin this project knowing that there are like-minded folks around the world who I can connect with in my future adventures.

Greg Tweedie
Los Angeles, California

Safety First

Articles like Joel Salatin’s “Homestead Safety” (The Pitchfork Pulpit, December 2018/January 2019) should be published every month. Over the years, I’ve seen too many accidents in the farm industry that could’ve been prevented if those involved had brushed up on proper safety measures more often. It’s mostly the younger, newer farmers who find themselves in accidents, because they think farming is an easy career. After decades of experience, I can tell you that farming is anything but easy.

Many people don’t realize that a dull knife causes more damage than a sharp knife. I was relieved when I saw Salatin’s article on the subject; hopefully his advice will help farmers better protect themselves and others around them when working. I also think adding his personal experience is a good warning to others, proving that accidents can happen to anyone — even the most experienced farmers — when they aren’t careful.

James Lee
Honolulu, Hawaii

Rooting for Radishes

Our family grows a wide variety of radishes each year. Currently, we’re growing Korean radishes that we’ll use to make an entire year’s supply of radish kimchi. We’re also growing napa cabbages to make our family’s cabbage kimchi.

My wife is Korean, so our family life is a mixture of both English and Korean traditions, and that blend of cultures extends to our gardening methods. We grow a mixture of Western and Korean vegetables, herbs, and fruits using both Western and Korean farming tools and techniques.

I found a root store design on the MOTHER EARTH NEWS website when we needed a way to protect our radishes from the below-freezing temperatures we often experience in winter. We won’t be making our radish kimchi for a few more weeks, and because our radishes aren’t frost-hardy, they would’ve been damaged and rendered unusable. Our new root store protects them.

When emptied, we’ll continue to use this root store space for other root vegetables we grow, such as beets, Jerusalem artichokes, and sweet potatoes.

We also made a broadfork using a free design we found on your website. My father-in-law works in metal fabrication, so he made it for me. We use this to prepare soil for root crops, and it really makes a difference.

Paul Porter
Busan, South Korea

Thanks, Paul! Readers, you can find loads of advice on storing root vegetables online in our “Guide to Root Cellars.”–MOTHER

Fight the Bites

I saw Helen Corson’s Country Lore tip (“Sweet Relief“) in the February/March 2019 issue, and wanted to add a little extra information that may help others fight mosquitoes.

I lived in Glendale, Arizona and can attest that mosquitoes plague the state all year long. I’ve used Corson’s meat tenderizer tip with great results, but I’ve also found that adding a little baking soda to the paste helps relieve the bites even further. Using these two ingredients together helps relieve the itch and neutralize the bite area.

I’ve also recently learned that garlic is effective in repelling mosquitoes; when you eat garlic, your body releases the sulfur compounds from the garlic through your skin, causing you to emit a slight garlic scent. Since mosquitoes can’t stand the smell of garlic, they’ll stay far away from you. You probably won’t even notice the smell, but they sure will!

Mike Rice
Lansing, Michigan

Stitching Skills

At the end of Dennis Biswell’s article “Craft a Better Leather Apron” (December 2018/January 2019), he showed readers how to saddle stitch. I never knew how to make a saddle stitch. This was very informative, with details on how to start and fully finish the stitch. I love learning new things, so a big thanks to Mr. Biswell for teaching me a new skill, and to the staff who put together the magazine.

When I was in my teens, I met a man whom I befriended for a short time. He taught me how to make a baseball stitch from start to finish. Now in my 60s, I can’t remember how to do the stitch. Does anyone on your staff know how to do the baseball stitch, or know someone who’d be able to teach me again?

Terry Greak
Jamestown, North Dakota

Hi Terry,

Thanks for the kind remarks about my article! I’m happy to describe the stitch for you. The baseball stitch is perfect for lacing leather to a steering wheel or putting a leather handgrip on a walking stick.

To begin, punch a line of parallel holes in two pieces of leather about 1⁄8 inch from the edge and 1/4 inch apart. Lay the pieces of leather side by side. For lacing material, use artificial sinew or heavy-duty thread and place a stitching needle on each end. The length of the lacing should be four times the seam length.

Push a needle and lacing through the first hole on each side of the leather. Pull the lacing through so you have an equal length on each side of the leather. Bring the left needle over the seam to the right side. Turn the point of the needle so it’s pointing left. Push the needle through the right- and left-side holes and pull it snug. This will bind the holes together on both the front and back sides of the leather.

Now, think of the baseball stitch like lacing shoes. Run the right-side needle under the seam and out the second left-side hole. Then, run the left-side needle under the seam and out the second right-side hole. Pull both sides of lacing hard enough to snug the seam together, but not so hard that it puckers. Continue stitching in the same pattern through the last pair of holes.

To secure the seam, take the left-side needle over the seam to the right side. Turn the point of the needle so it’s pointing left. Push the needle through the right-side hole and out the seam between the pieces of leather. Take the right-side needle to the left-side. Turn the point so it’s facing to the right. Push the needle through the left side hole and out the seam between the pieces of leather. Pull the lacing snug. Remove the needles and tie a square knot. To hide the knot, clip the lacing close to the knot and push the knot into the seam. Dennis Biswell

What a Hoot!

I thought I’d share what the winds blew in this winter. This little owl — which we named Hooter — and his mother almost didn’t make it. Between freezing weather, lack of food, and predators, I feared they’d both perish. We found Hooter’s mother nesting in our huge elm, and noticed Hooter in the nest. He was often left alone in the cold while his mother went hunting.

I donned some gloves and grabbed a 20-foot ladder, and I climbed that ladder twice a day to feed Hooter and offer him some extra shelter from the cold. Sometimes, I’d see Hooter’s mom watching as I fed her baby; she never attacked me.

This went on until one evening when I saw Hooter surrounded by three other owls. I thought these other owls would frighten him, but then he began to walk out on the tree limbs, singing and hooting when he saw me. I even caught him dancing once! Eventually, Hooter left with his mother and the other owls, but some evenings, we still see him fly across the sky from our backyard.

Jeannie Hammer
Independence, Kansas

The Search for Bee Balm

I recently got the chance to read “Natural Sinus Support” by Maria Noël Groves (December 2018/January 2019). I had a big interest in this article, since I have lingering, long-term sinus problems. I’d like to try these sinus-relieving recipes, but I’ve had trouble finding some of the ingredients listed, particularly bee balm. I’ve searched online and still haven’t come across any good results. If anyone could point me in the right direction, I’d be very thankful.

Jack Williams
Fredericksburg, Virginia

I’m glad to help you, Jack. Bee balm (Monarda spp.) is particularly potent and useful in any form (fresh, dry, tincture, tea, or steam). Easy to grow, bee balm is almost nonexistent in commercial form. Some small-scale herbal companies grow, make, and sell bee balm in the form of dry herbs and tinctures, and a few will even ship products. I’d recommend looking at the bee balms from the following companies.

Elk Mountain Herbs and Texas Medicinals both carry a bee balm tincture. Additionally, ifarm carries a few different species of bee balm; I recommend using Monarda fistulosa over Monarda didyma, because it’s a stronger species.

If you’d like to grow your own instead of buying from these companies, you can often find Monarda fistulosa and similar species in the perennial section of garden centers, as well as from native plant seedling sellers. Bee balm prefers rich soil that’s not overly dry, and full or dappled sun. If you can’t find any seeds or plants in your area, Strictly Medicinal ships both seeds and plants from Oregon.

If none of these options suits you, you can use oregano, or a mix of oregano and thyme, as a substitute; it’s closely related to bee balm, easily available, and has similar constituents. Maria Noël Groves

A Well-Rounded Garden

This past summer, my husband, Henry, and I built our first round gardening beds. We tested the first one with corn, and you can see from this photo that the test was a success! Since it went so well, we decided to try our luck with a few more; we planted okra, tomatoes, squash, and cucumbers.

The beds are made of 16-foot cattle panels and repurposed silt fence on the interior. We filled them about 1-1/2 to 2 feet with soil and compost, and then planted the corn and waited. It was fun creating something unique that we could add to our yard and garden, and I’m sure we’ll be building more in the future!

Linda McMillan
Cleveland, Georgia

Hurdling Over Challenges

In Sharon Passero’s Dear MOTHER letter in the February/March 2019 issue, she talks about the challenges of learning to garden in Florida. Her letter made me think about the challenges I’ve faced in my own life. Most were welcome, but a few weren’t.

I grew up on a farm with my parents and my older brother. When I was just 13, our father had a bad stroke and could no longer do the day-to-day work of farm life on his own. My brother and I stepped up and took over work on the farm to support our family.

Many years later, I started to work as a carpenter. I welcomed the different challenges that came with the profession; I felt accomplished when I was able to do something I’d previously thought I couldn’t do.

I faced another big challenge in my life when our mother passed. After her death, we divided the farm property, and I was left with the house and a very small plot of land. The only place on that land suited to gardening was a small field with soil that was primarily tight clay. I spent the next year working in as much compost as possible. Finally, I managed to grow something in the top few inches of the ground. I continued to work in more compost and soil every season, going deeper and deeper so I could grow a full garden. My son-in-law was a big help to this project, and together, we turned that patch of clay into a wonderful garden space.

I’m no longer able to work such a large garden alone. However, I’ve found a way to keep gardening without having to maintain a large plot. I used old storage containers to create a container garden that I can easily manage alone.

My latest challenge has been the most difficult to face: My wife died in June. Now, at 87, I’m learning to cook for myself. I face this challenge as I have any other; when my life doesn’t go the way I want or plan, I make some adjustments and go on.

Daniel Lang
Gatesville, North Carolina

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