Dear MOTHER: Environmental Epiphany

Letters from our readers about having an environmental epiphany, building garden structures, fishing for food security, and more.

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by Sheri Steinmetz

Beat the Heat with a Grape Vine Arbor

Working in my vegetable garden, I can spend hours cultivating, planting, harvesting, and weeding every day. The summertime heat in Texas can make it extremely difficult to keep up with all of my gardening chores.

So several years ago, we used two cattle panels, a few T-posts, and three grapevines to make a grape arbor in the center of the garden. The cattle panel keeps the grapevines contained, while they arch up and over a sitting area, without taking up a lot of space in the garden. Our grape arbor provides deep shade for me during water breaks, and it also provides delicious grapes for snacking on and huge grape leaves for making stuffed grape leaves! It has been a win-win-win for us.

Sheri Steinmetz
Austin, Texas


Environmental Epiphany

Congratulations on your 50th anniversary! You, along with Rodale’s Organic Gardening and Farming, were my bibles back in the day. In 1973, I was in my second year at the University of South Florida, where I belonged to a group that planned a community garden. This project fell flat, since I was the only one willing to work.

From there, I had an epiphany about my future, changed my major to agriculture, changed schools, and became part of the back-to-the-land movement. The early issues of MOTHER EARTH NEWS helped me find work in 1974 on a small farm in Tennessee. The information and stories from like-minded individuals also inspired and helped me continue to learn. I saved all those back issues.

Ever since that epiphany, I’ve grown a significant part of my family’s food and generally lived close to the land. From 5 country acres in the ’70s and ’80s, to a more intensive acre and a half in suburbia since 1990, it’s been a mix of joy and hardship. For most of those years, I’ve had chickens and bees as well as crops.

This lifestyle was also a vocation. I put in 40 years at the same farmers market, retiring at the end of 2018. My wife and I’ve also used solar for most of that time, including photovoltaics since 2012. For the first time last year, we even produced a little more electricity than we consumed. Keep up the good work, MOTHER! More and more people are “getting it,” and I thank you for helping make that happen.

Peter Burkard
Sarasota, Florida


That Time I Met MOTHER

It’s taken a while, but I finally got around to reading some back issues of my favorite magazines. Of course, MOTHER EARTH NEWS was at the top of the pile. In the issue I picked up, you asked your readers to tell you about how we met Mother (“50 Years and Counting,” News from MOTHER, April/May 2019).

I met her in 1972. Like you, I’d been reading Rodale’s Organic Gardening and Farming for a few years. I remember picking up my first issue of MOTHER EARTH NEWS in an
organic food co-op near The Ohio State University campus in Columbus. That was in 1971. I believe MOTHER was offering lifetime subscriptions for a couple of hundred dollars. I wished I could’ve afforded it.

A few years ago, I got all of MOTHER up to 2012 on a disk. Rereading the few old issues I have is a joy. Keep up the wonderful work.

Nancy Moore
via email


Slower Lifestyle a Blessing

Thank you for your thoughtful opening note on “Home Isolation” (News from MOTHER, June/July 2020).

As I write, in Pennsylvania, we are several weeks into the stay-at-home routine. My wife and I both have jobs that have been deemed essential, and, truthfully, we are busier than normal with the current challenges. Our children are 17, 14, and 12, so we’re blessed in that they’re responsible and actually helpful around our 10-acre homestead.

Despite the challenges this situation presents, the time at home with each other has been amazing. What was once a busy lifestyle filled with activities for each youngster every night and on the weekends has been simplified. No more year-round practices, no more events, and no more running around to multiple places and always being late.

The old schedule has been replaced with cutting, splitting, and stacking firewood; working in the garden, which is in early for once; and enjoying family dinners that are far more regular. The world events are stressful, but our lives at home are simpler. In many ways, it’s a throwback to my own childhood when I grew up on this same homestead.

We’ve completed projects that my parents only dreamed about, and we spent time as a family doing it. We finally finished clearing out the meadow to reseed, and we cleared that patch of old fence row that we were always going to make into an orchard.

We’ve worked together, and, most importantly, with the slower pace, we’ve had a chance to speak to our children about life and what’s important.

While we all look forward to “a return to normal,” I personally hope that the times we spend with each other are never forgotten. And, more importantly, that this return to a slower-paced and more fulfilling life is a change we carry far into the future.

Bryan Cutler
Peach Bottom, Pennsylvania


Casting for Food Security

I haven’t seen many articles in your magazine about the benefits and value of utilizing a pond to help with food production and food security on the homestead. A well-managed fish population in a pond can provide meals throughout the year, even in wintertime. Fish that are caught, cleaned, and prepared correctly are a delicious addition to an everyday menu. We enjoy fish at least 2 to 3 times a month as the main course. Proper management, and keeping records of how many fish you catch, will guarantee fish are always available for harvest. Here are a couple of photographs of some crappie from our pond, prepared with potatoes from our garden, along with a cucumber, tomato, and onion salad, also fresh from the garden. It doesn’t get any better than this.

Leslie Witte
Bland, Missouri


Zip-Tie IDs for Hens

Most hens lay quality eggs for only about two years, and spending money on feed for hens that are only laying eggs intermittently hurts one’s profit.

I used to mark my hens with commercial leg bands. As my hens are free-range, invariably they would lose the band. But small colored zip-ties stay on. I put them on when the hen is 1 year old, so the leg is a mature size. I leave it slightly loose to ensure she has good circulation. Keeping only the most productive hens keeps my profit margin higher.

P.S. In the June/July 2020 issue, the MOTHER EARTH NEWS FAIR article, “Organic Weed Control,” says to use clear plastic to kill weeds. My experience has been that it acts like a greenhouse, and weeds love it. Black plastic blocks the sunlight and is more effective. A thick layer of shredded paper watered and packed down works well. Layers of cardboard work well under rock or bark.

Mary Martin
Rexburg, Idaho


The Lighthouse of the Garden

For the past few growing seasons, my son has felt that his suburban New York vegetable garden lacked personality. Given the amount of time he spends in his plot, I wanted to help him bring in character with an attractive object. So, when I opened the magazine to find an obelisk (“Make Your Garden Grow Up with a DIY Obelisk,” April/May 2020), I immediately got to work on a project that offers visual interest and structural function.

The project made ready use of scrap materials in my workshop, and I was able to be creative by topping the interior posts with blue glass caps I’d been saving from the bottles of a favorite vodka. I also added a NOMA-brand, solar-powered light to the top ($30).

The textured glass casts interesting shadows across the garden at night. My son loves the obelisk, viewing it as the “lighthouse” of his garden — one that allows vining gourds to make a home even in the middle of his beds.

Tom Bach
Chester, New York


What I Did on My Summer Vacation

Well, you asked for what I did during the Great and Lousy Virus, so here goes:

  • Washed all walls and ceilings on the ranch.
  • Worked on one of two chainsaws about five times so I could take it apart and put it back together blindfolded.
  • Worked on my 1985 Allis Chalmers 912 tractor about five times getting it ready for spring cutting.
  • Worked on two lawn mowers to get them ready for cutting.
  • Worked on the garden. Now, as usual, I have a beautiful Pennsylvania garden.
  • Worked on my weed whacker getting it ready for spring.
  • Cleaned the car about a dozen times.
  • Waxed the car at least three times for the heck of it.
  • Went shopping at least 25 times, if not more.
  • Helped local Amish replace ten 18-foot beams on a two-story, late-1700s house.
  • Worked on all of my fishing gear and rods in preparation for fishing trips.
  • Removed a row of hens and chicks and planted wildflower seeds in their place.
  • Set up my rain barrel for the garden.
  • Cut a couple of trees that fell over onto the 1,300-foot trail that I maintain.
  • Made and planted five bluebird houses on conservancy land and on our property.
  • Walked on the boring treadmill every day when I wasn’t out walking the trail.
    Removed the heating cable from the back gutter and downspout.
  • Planted onions and beets early. I had planted rye grain in the garden for a cover crop, and before planting anything, I had to remove it. What a job that was, and never again, I swear. It had round roots that stuck like a tick.
  • Straightened out the basement and cleaned the floors.
  •  2:33:16 PMEmailed and talked to our friends a lot on the telephone.

There’s one nice thing about the virus: I’ve been retired for 16 years, so everything was the same, except shopping, which I limited. I probably did a lot more, but I’ve forgotten by now.

Have a good time out there on the ranch.

Dan Barber
Export, Pennsylvania


Portable Nesting Boxes

I found a great reuse for these blue plastic barrels. I cut one in half, then made plywood dividers cut in the same radius as the barrel and attached the dividers with screws along with some reinforcing.

I then added one to my chicken
tractor. As nesting boxes, they’re easy to clean out, as you can see.

Todd Hackney
Royse City, Texas


MOTHER Makes the Moves

Yes, MOTHER EARTH NEWS goes way back! I have a collection of magazines that has traveled with me through four moves. A couple of times, I almost tossed them, but I had faith that someday a major anniversary would be recognized; ergo, here are two noteworthy sample photographs for the 50th anniversary file. The pages in my collection have yellowed a bit and “fashion statements” have changed a lot through the years.

The ’82 copy illustrates the time when Mother arrived with a removable plain paper mailer wrap — maybe not the most eco-friendly choice, though it definitely protected the main cover. For some reason, I kept the paper covers on my old copies.

I turned 72 last December. MOTHER EARTH NEWS has been a mainstay through several degrees, several career changes, raising a family, and lots of birthdays. Thumbs-up, folks!

Dwaine Phifer, Ph.D.
Cleveland, North Carolina


Protecting Tender Transplants

If I buy a tree, bush, or other plant that comes in a plastic container, I save the container to reuse.

First, I cut the bottom out of the planter. Then, when I set my tender transplants out in the spring, I put the circle of plastic around the transplant. By the time the plants are big enough to put cages around them, they’re sturdy and well-rooted enough to withstand the wind. This has saved many a tomato and pepper plant from being destroyed by our spring storms.

Mary Campbell
Eden Prairie, Minnesota


Lessons from Lucky Pierre

My wife and I live on a “farmette” (24-2/3 acres) near Saratoga Springs, New York. We’ve been working on our place since 1981, and we’ve learned a thing or two along the way. I thought it would be fun to share one of those lessons with your readers.

Currently, we grow veggies, small fruits, and animals: Steers, pigs, chickens, turkeys, and rabbits. Many experienced folks, who have now passed away, helped us be successful. We want to do the same.

If you’re looking at a subject, we can share something helpful.

For example, meet Lucky Pierre.

Every year, my wife raises a clutch of eggs to keep our layer flock at an average age of
2 or 3 years. Of course, about half of the chicks are cockerels. They’re added to one of our chicken processing days and called “coq au vin.”

One time, as we were taking these young roosters to the killing cones, one got loose. Now, most chickens will run 20 or 30 yards, and then stop to catch their breath. This guy took off down the hill and must have covered 200 yards until he was out of sight. I told the crew to forget about him, and that a fox would most likely have a meal.

The next morning, when we went to collect eggs, who was standing in the pen all proud and happy? Yep, and we named him Lucky Pierre. We never eat an animal with a name, and we’ve had several roosters named Lucky Pierre since our first experience.

Living with animals teaches a person to never give up. Sound advice from Lucky P.

Eric Smassaow
Ballston Spa, New York


Protecting Tender Transplants

If I buy a tree, bush, or other plant that comes in a plastic container, I save the container to reuse.

First, I cut the bottom out of the planter. Then, when I set my tender transplants out in the spring, I put the circle of plastic around the transplant. By the time the plants are big enough to put cages around them, they’re sturdy and well-rooted enough to withstand the wind. This has saved many a tomato and pepper plant from being destroyed by our spring storms.

Mary Campbell
Eden Prairie, Minnesota


Nature Close-Ups

In my backyard, I like taking photographs of nature. One of these is of my favorite pileated woodpecker stump grinder; the other is a mother raccoon I watched move two kits to a safer tree hole during a heavy rainstorm. I hope you like them.

A long-time subscriber,

Peter Puglia
Lebanon, New Jersey


One of My Favorite Things

Watching my rooster, Roo, has been one of my favorite things to do this summer. Thank you.

Doreen Knapp
Stanfordville, New York