Mail Call: September/October 2016

From raised beds to draft horses and cranky roosters, readers write in with letters to the editors.

Mobile strawberry planter

Attaching a couple of wheelbarrow handles and two lawn mower wheels was genius!

Photo courtesy Ken and Joan Roberts

Content Tools

Rural Ingenuity

We enjoyed your “Summer Strawberries” article, and thought you might like to see how we are trying to move our strawberry bed “closer,” as well. Both of us are at the age where bending down to weed and to harvest berries is more difficult; and at the same time, the chipmunks and robins have no trouble at all helping themselves to our strawberries before we do. So my husband took an old pallet, filled it with dirt, and fastened it onto two sawhorses. We planted strawberries and one row of lettuce in the cracks. We planted the first several rows with bare root plants purchased in a big-box store, and most of them did not grow. The healthy ones you see here were from a local greenhouse.

Since this experiment turned out so well, we’ll fill the pallet with strawberries next year. Also, as we went along, we realized it would be nice to be able to move them occasionally to a sunnier spot, or to mow under them, so Ken added old lawn mower wheels on one side and wheelbarrow handles on the other. They can be slid back out of the way when not in use. It’s a good solution for us, and perhaps some other readers may be interested in adapting it for themselves.

Ken & Joan Roberts
Johnstown, Pennsylvania

Awesome design, Ken and Joan, and one that will make weeding and picking berries a much less tedious chore. Thank you for sharing! – Editors


Back to the Basics

When I was a boy, some 50 years ago, my mother and father raised myself and my two brothers with mostly hard work, as did many others in those days. My father had a very large garden where he grew sweet corn, tomatoes, green beans, peas, and just about everything else you can imagine. I think the job I hated the most was picking green beans. He had two rows 50 feet long. At that time in my life, I hated everything about the garden.

He also raised about 150 broiler chickens every summer. I hated those just as much as the green beans. Mom and Dad are both gone now, and about 10 years ago, I started raising my own garden. I have started canning my produce as well as freezing it. This summer as I was canning green beans in my hot kitchen, my mind went back to another time as a boy watching my Dad plant his garden in the spring, and thought about the hundreds of jars of canned produce I carried down into the cellar for Mom.

Their hard work kept us fed during the fall and winter months, until Dad could start all over again in the spring. A little late perhaps, but I gained a new appreciation for the hard, hot work that they did for their family. I was thinking the other day how I would like one of Mom’s Sunday dinners with fried chicken, fried potatoes and gravy, green beans or corn with either a pumpkin pie or apple pie with a homemade crust with her “put up” pie filling.

My parents were both children of the Depression, so nothing was wasted – if we put it on our plate, we ate it. As I think about all of this “green” talk, I guess we were “green” and didn’t even know it.

I enjoy your magazine very much, and keep up the good work.

Don Swartzendruber
Shickley, Nebraska

It is exactly with people like you in mind, Don, that we go about putting the magazine together. That same grit and determination that your folks passed on to you, is part of why country living is such a rewarding way of life. – Editors


Draft-Horse Mowing

Check out our neighbors’ 1920s horse-drawn mowing equipment in front of our home’s American-made solar powered battery storage system. My neighbors help us maintain our lawns and hayfields, while at the same time meeting our family’s goal of lowering our fossil fuel consumption. We get a parade each year, while they get a few bales of hay to keep their draft horse hobby going. A win-win for both sides.

Mrs. Tammy Reiss
Butternuts, New York


Cranky Roosters

I had to laugh when I read the letter, “Facing Fears,” in the May/June issue of Grit. When I was growing up on a farm south of Columbia, Missouri during the 1940s and ’50s, I wasn’t scared of roosters, I just didn’t like chickens. As a matter of fact, I hated chickens. I hated feeding them, I hated gathering eggs, and I especially hated cleaning out the henhouse, one scoop at a time, and then spreading it on the garden, one scoop at a time. Therefore, after my wife and I got married in 1961, I thought chickens were out of my life for good. I missed the country eggs, but considering the trade-off, I learned to survive on pale, bland, store-bought eggs.

In 2007, Marcia and I sold 10 acres of our farm to our oldest son and his wife. Chickens and country eggs came back into my life as soon as they were finished building their house. A short walk across the pasture is all it takes to get a couple dozen eggs whenever I need them.

A couple of years ago, Greg and Jamie went out of town for a few days, so naturally it fell on me to take care of the dogs, horses, chickens and ducks. Before they left, Greg told me, “Watch that old rooster, he’s getting a little bit snarky.”

The first morning, as I walked towards the henhouse, the rooster charged me with his wings flapping. When he got about 4 feet from me, he launched himself at my face. I slapped him down and got a kick in before he ran off. The next morning I didn’t see him, but as I walked across the yard, I got a quiver down my back. I glanced around just as the rooster launched himself from about 45 feet behind me. I met him with an elbow in his chest, and kicked his butt pretty hard before he ran off.

When I got home, I went out to my machine shed and got an old ball bat that was leaning in the corner, and put it in the back of my truck. The next morning as I walked towards the henhouse, the rooster dashed my way with his wings flapping. When he launched himself, I timed my swing perfectly and hit him square on the side. He hit the ground with a thud, and laid there flapping his wings, kicking and squawking. As I stepped towards him I said, “Old man, you better run, or you’re dead.” He ran as fast as a rooster can run on one leg! He looked like a chicken on a pogo stick. I finished my chores without any further interruptions, and didn’t even see the old rooster for the next two days.

When Greg and Jamie got home, I told them what had happened, and a couple of weeks later I thought to ask how the old rooster was doing.

Greg said, “Well, he hopped around on one leg for about a week, then it took him a few more days to forget what had happened. But he eventually forgot, and one morning when I walked outside he tried me. The next night we tried him, and he wasn’t too bad in a pot of noodles.”

Alan Easley
Columbia, Missouri


Makin’ Bacon

I have been buying uncured bacon and other uncured meats for several years now, and hate the thought of going back to stuff with sodium nitrate in it. I was excited when I saw a recipe for bacon in your magazine, until I saw that it calls for “pink curing salt,” aka sodium nitrate. That stuff is so bad for you in so many ways. Does anyone know how to make bacon without sodium nitrate?

Linda Smethers
Granite Falls, North Carolina


Covered Bridges

I enjoyed the story in the May/June issue about the covered bridge in Frankenmuth, Michigan (“Grit’s Covered Bridge”). We had just gotten home from a trip to Michigan when the issue came. We went there to attend my mother’s memorial service, as she had passed away last October at the age of 89. As a young girl, she rode the bus from Detroit to Frankenmuth, to partake in the wonderful chicken dinners. It was one of her favorite places. While there this last time, we visited the restaurant, had dinner in her honor, and threw some of her ashes off the bridge into the river there. Even though the bridge is a fairly recent addition, it helped to make our day even more special. Thanks for supplying the background information.

Pat Scott
Glen, Montana


Chickens for Pest Control

I am a recent subscriber to your great magazine. I do want to comment on an omission that most articles about chickens tend to make. I grow roses and fruit trees and shrubs, in addition to a vegetable garden. Every summer, I am plagued by Japanese beetles – darn things eat my prized roses as well as devour a lot of my smaller fruits. I tried all kinds of pesticides with mixed results. Then after moving here to rural Tennessee, I decided that I might want to get into raising a few chickens for eggs. So I researched it, and found that chickens eat Japanese beetles! My chickens think they are a treat, and go nuts for them. Matter of fact, they are one of the small handful of birds that will eat the pests. Well, the saving on chemical pesticides that I would try every summer was about two to three months worth the price of chicken feed. Plus, they are entertaining to watch go through some of their day.

Word to the wise, the chickens will also eat berries of all kinds, so make sure to put in a few additional bushes so you have some too. Chickens are docile but nervous by nature, so you do have to work with them from the time they are newborns, if you want birds that you can pick up and pet. The rooster can and will flog you if given half a chance, so treat him with respect and keep those legs away from your flesh. Other than that, I would encourage anybody who can raise a few chickens to do so, they are so worth it!


Share your thoughts

We welcome letters from our readers. If you would like to comment on an article or share your opinions, send us an email (with photos, if available) to letters@grit.com, or send a letter via the USPS to:

Grit Mail Call
1503 S.W. 42nd St.
Topeka, KS 66609