Mail Call: January/February 2011

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Early season preparations for the raised-bed vegetable garden.
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Pastor Marion E. Fast put our July/August 2010 article ("Do-It-Yourself Swing") into practice and built this homemade swing.
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Raised-bed gardening did well for Lynda and Karl Grenon.
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Now THAT’s a sweet potato.

GRIT readers offer tips, feedback and more in Mail Call of the January/February 2011 issue.

Aspiring Green Thumbs

We have lived at our home for about 20 years, and in that time I have had at least three small vegetable gardens. None hold a candle to the one we grew in 2009. My husband, Karl, was not really into gardening, but that year, since the economy was in such bad shape, he was in the mood to grow our own food. This was his first attempt at gardening, and I wanted to share our adventure with you and your readers.

We live about seven miles outside of town on five wooded and rocky acres. You can go around and pick up tons of rocks, and, by the next week, it seems like they are all back. We also have whitetail deer that eat all my flowers, so we needed a high fence. Our garden measures about 30 feet by 40 feet. We decided to make a raised-bed garden. We put up a 6-foot fence around our garden area, then we started to wheelbarrow in the topsoil we ordered.

The raised boxes are 2-by-12 boards, 4 feet by 8 feet, with chicken wire attached to the bottom of them to prevent the gophers and moles from coming up into our garden. The next step was one of the most fun of all – choosing what to plant in our garden. Then we waited to see if anything would grow.

My husband and I would take our coffee and tea out into the garden in the morning and see what was growing. It was fun as well as relaxing. We now had an outdoor room where we could go to discuss the day and be excited about our garden.

Soon plants were growing, and it started to look like a garden. We took photographs like parents of a newborn baby would take photos of their new addition. We are proud of our accomplishment. Our garden today has plenty of vegetables growing: snap peas, two kinds of bush beans, carrots, two kinds of lettuce, beets, spinach, white and red chard, broccoli, cabbage, tomatoes, basil, potatoes, zucchini, yellow neck squash, radishes, okra, sugar pie pumpkins, lemon cucumbers, pickling cucumbers, an eggplant, a strawberry bed, and a row of asparagus. You can see what our garden looked like in full swing.

My husband was so proud of his garden that he began talking about what to plant the following year. What a change. I, too, am proud of our garden. It is enjoyable to go out there and just sit. We will always have a garden, and we anticipate harvesting our crops and storing them away for the winter. Thank you for the inspiration and the ideas to design our garden.

Lynda and Karl GrenonRogue River, Oregon

Healthful Pizza Crust

I was excited to find the recipe for oatmeal pizza crust in your September/October 2010 issue (Page 39) because not only do I have celiac, but I also have a yeast allergy. The recipe as written can be made useful for a person with celiac.

Sorghum flour can be substituted for the all-purpose flour. It has the same texture as wheat, and it offers the heaviness that you often get when using wheat. I get mine through Twin Valley Mills (

The oats called for in the recipe may often be a problem for celiac sufferers because of cross-contamination during milling. I use certified gluten-free oats ( to make my own flour, baked oatmeal and now this pizza crust.

Thanks for this recipe. We’d given up having pizza in our house because even if we found a gluten-free crust, it had yeast in it. As I type, my crust is baking.

Traci StewartOakdale, California

And as we type, we can almost smell it! Always glad to help, Traci. Never hesitate to e-mail us at – Editors

Bedtime Snacks

In “Put Your Garden to Bed” (Page 68 in the November/December 2010 issue), manures are listed, but there is no mention of poultry litter as a soil amendment; only cow, horse and sheep are mentioned.

Poultry litter from large commercial farms in our area (northwest Arkansas) usually contains rice hulls, and it’s usually free when the growers are cleaning out the houses for a new flock of birds.

In the fall, I till the litter into the soil, along with aged grass trimmings and a bit of sand. Fresh litter should be aged outside for two to six months. Applying fresh litter directly to the plants may burn them, but tilling in fresh litter in the fall works great.

We planted a bunch of blackberry and raspberry plants in mid-November. Half a shovelful of litter in the bottom of the hole with a couple of inches of soil covering the litter will get the plants off to a great start next spring.

Two things: The roots will not contact the litter directly, and the litter will mellow over the winter as it ages.

Marvin ShelleyHogeye, Arkansas

Thanks for adding this good information, Marvin. We like to turn the chickens loose in the garden in early fall, depending on what we have in and the timing of the harvest; it’s mutually beneficial and entertaining. And we have a humorous article on just this topic on Page 28. Enjoy! – Editors

Chicken Scratch

A picture in your article “Chicken Lovers’ Chicken Coops” (Page 19 of the September/October 2010 issue) shows a chicken house with a fenced yard that is very attractive. But it could be even better. Up close, that dirt yard is hard-packed, with chicken droppings and feathers here and there; not very pretty and somewhat unsanitary looking.

If a person were to spread a minimum of eight inches of straw in that yard (it will pack down), the chickens would be so happy to have that straw to scratch in. As a bonus, they would turn into little rototillers, turning the straw, dirt, droppings and feathers, and composting them for you.

When the straw becomes soiled, just remove it and put it into your compost pile or till it into your garden, then put clean straw down in your chicken yard again.

Your chicken yard will look better, and your chickens will get lots of exercise, stay beautifully clean and will not get muddy when it rains.

Carol MichenerZenia, California

Hand-Tool Talk

I enjoyed the article “Making Do,” (Page 6 in the November/December 2010 issue) a “whole bunch!” I’m a native Okie and retired forester from Fort Supply, Ringwood, Enid and Stillwater. Hurrah to Hank for making his own tools. I have two or three froes, and noticed Hank used a froe and an iron-splitting wedge. The back edge of that froe will receive a lot less damage if Hank finds some persimmon and makes his own splitting maul, instead of hitting it with iron.

American Persimmon (Diospyros virginiana) has a unique cellular structure that prevents it from splitting and fuzzing. That’s why golf club heads, loom shuttles and circus mauls (for driving tent stakes) were made from persimmon, as well as mauls for splitting (riving) shingles and yard-fence boards with a froe.

Larry Trekell (OAMC/OSU, 1956-1960)Via e-mail

Excellent advice, Larry. When I found that ancient froe, it had already been damaged from getting whacked with a sledgehammer. I actually used the splitting maul in the photo to open up the log before using an Osage Orange billet to drive the froe. I’d love to get hold of some American Persimmon root to fashion several mauls. – Hank

Swing into Action

Just thought you might like to see that someone used the “Do-It-Yourself Swing” plans on Page 74 of your July/August 2010 issue to build another swing. Doesn’t it look great?

Pastor Marion E. Fast
Longmont, Colorado

Once again, our readers take our shop plans and construct a masterful utility. Keep it up, and keep sending us images! – Editors

Giant Sweet Potato

I really enjoyed the article on growing tips for great sweet potatoes in your November/December 2010 issue (Page 54). My father grew a sweet potato in his garden that weighed 6.75 pounds and was 13 inches long. It was one big sweet potato.

We cooked it up for Thanksgiving, and everyone enjoyed it.

Jeanne MayKearney, Nebraska

Thanks for sharing, Jeanne! – Editors

Bat Safety

In the July/August issue, there’s an article called “Beneficial Bats,” written by Tim Nephew. On Page 71, at the end of the first paragraph, it reads, “then releasing it outside.” In Michigan, only 1 percent of bats carry the rabies virus. However, in 2009, a Michigan resident died from rabies that he contracted from bat exposure.

The article could have taken this op-portunity to educate readers that if a bat is found inside their house, they should call their local health department to determine if an exposure has occurred. An exposure includes a known bite or scratch from a bat, or the presence of a bat in an enclosed area with a child, sleeping person, or other individual who may not be aware or able to communicate that there was an exposure. A typical case would be finding a bat in a bedroom where someone was sleeping.

The only way to rule out if a bat has rabies is to have it tested at the state lab. However, if the bat is released outside, as the article says, and it qualifies as an “exposure,” then the only alternative is to begin post exposure prophylaxis immediately. Rabies is fatal, and immediate treatment is crucial. Readers should not assume that a bat in the house is just “lost,” because sick bats also lose their sense of direction.

Liane Hagerman
Via e-mail

Definitely, Liane, you’ll want to make sure an exposure has not occurred, and always exercise extreme caution with bats; and with all other wildlife as well. – Editors

Chicken Memories

I hadn’t seen your magazine, or what it used to be, for more than 30 years, until recently. It brought back memories of my youth while reading the articles about chicken experiences. Mother used to always get 100 little chicks, battle the brooder house thing, the medicine water and all that goes with it.

I would go gather eggs and battle the old hens that wanted to set, cluck and peck at you while you were getting the eggs out from under them. As I got a little older, I understood that the mother hen was only doing what nature taught her to do naturally. So my young brain went to work. I began by pulling out individual nests with sitters, then giving her a little pen of privacy and safety, as well as a dozen eggs of her own to tend to. As a result, I hatched out more than a hundred chicks, with mother hens that knew exactly what to do with their baby chicks. My mother was ecstatic from my successful efforts! She didn’t have to mess with all those chicks by herself anymore. The best part was that butchering chickens did not have to be done all at once, but every couple of weeks, when each group became fryer-size.

Thank you. That’s how we use to do things, with Mother Nature on our side!

David and Susan King
St. Joseph, Missouri

No, thank you, David and Susan, for sharing this story. We hope you enjoy our magazine for years to come, and we hope to keep provoking those memories. – Editors

Machine Maintenance Safety

In your July/August 2010 issue, within the article, “Machine Maintenance Made Easy” (Page 50), you tell how to sharpen and/or change lawn mower blades. You neglected to state a most important first step … disconnecting the spark plug!

Disconnect the spark plug first thing, before doing anything under the mower deck. Rotating the blade while removing the bolt, a spark source can cause the engine to start, causing serious injury.

James Woods
Via e-mail

Good tip, James. Disconnecting the plug leaves nothing to chance. – Editors