Mail Call: July-August 2009

1 / 4
Old Jerry was a good mule, he did the chores of several men.
2 / 4
You should cut off the scape to prevent bulbils from forming.
3 / 4
Build your own safe free-range method by converting your dog house for a house attached to a pen.
4 / 4
Richard Wahlstrand will be getting into beekeeping this year.

Mule Memories

I have been reading GRIT since my husband and I were married, and I thought I would put in my two cents about mules (“Cheers for the Long-Ears,” March/April 2007). When I was a little girl under the age of 10, I lived on a 40-acre farm in Virginia with my grandparents, sisters and aunts. Seven of us were at the table every meal and in the fields during the day – unless it was harvesting season, when we would be in the house helping put food away for the winter.

We had a mule named Old Jerry (I never knew his age). He was a great friend to Grandpa and Aunt Joan, who was 14 months older than I was. I can remember when Grandpa went to the fields to work, we would go to the barn with him to harness the mule so we could tag along and open the gates for them. Old Jerry did the chores of several men. He was the plow puller and the harrow puller; he pulled the wagon and the hay rake. When the brakes went out on the old truck, and it rolled downhill into the house, Old Jerry pulled the truck out.

When we got a chance to ride Old Jerry, we did and once I fell off right into Grandpa’s arms when Old Jerry stepped sideways to go through the gate. Jerry was so gentle that he remained still after I started to fall, making sure that Grandpa could catch me and that I wouldn’t land beneath the mule.

My aunt Joan was last of Grandpa’s children and got to ride the mule most of the time. When Grandpa and the neighbors were logging, Old Jerry pulled the logs to the mill – and carried Joan on his back all the time. He once got under a tree branch and wedged her so she couldn’t move. She just laid on Old Jerry’s back as he stopped and waited for Grandpa to come to the rescue and then went on his way.

At the end of our workdays, we took Old Jerry to the barn, removed his harness and let him into his stall to eat. He usually just went in and waited for his hay, but on one particular day he saw something no one else saw. He stayed between us and his stall, even when Grandpa begged him to go in. Finally, Grandpa saw a big snapping turtle and understood why Old Jerry would not let anyone past. Grandpa said then that Jerry was a smart old mule.  

In 1963, the old house that my grandparents had lived in for 30 years burned because of a plugged flue in the kitchen chimney. Grandpa had to build a new house. He had always wanted a basement, so he used Old Jerry and a steel scoop he fashioned to dig one. The scoop was made of a piece of steel with handles that looked like a wheelbarrow without the wheel.

When I visited in 1979, I asked Grandpa about Old Jerry. He simply said Jerry had served him well and losing him was like losing an old friend. Jerry died at an old age in the pasture where he lived for many years. He was a good old mule. Just thinking of the good things he did for our family brings tears to my eyes. He is still missed today.

Lisabeth Olson
St. Helens, Oregon

Country Women!

Wow! What a great article (“Country Women Rock!” March/April). Christine and I moved from Florida, after 24 years, to rural Wisconsin. We had no farming experience. She figured it ALL out. “We” raise cows that she has been milking by hand for almost two years. She makes butter and cheese almost every weekend. We have chickens, both egg-layers and broilers. She studies and finds the right organic feed and mixes the feed to ensure healthy animals. Your description is right on about a garden that is 1/3 of an acre. She home-schools three of our four children. What a gift I have been blessed with. It was nice to be reminded in such a direct way. God bless my country woman!

David Mercier
Town of Erin, Wisconsin

Wouldn’t be the same without them, right, David? We think so. – Editors

Aunt Della

Last year around this time, my 83-year-old great aunt in Benton, Kentucky, was telling me about how as a young girl, she would look forward to a neighbor bringing a copy of GRIT by their farm. It seems that the one issue was passed around many families in this rural Kentucky farming community. Aunt Della was telling me how the paper was always full of down-to-earth, common-sense reading, ideas, tips and the like, and that it was a mainstay of farming life in Kentucky in the early to middle part of the century. I immediately got online to see what had happened to GRIT and was amazed to find that you were still going strong! I purchased a subscription for my aunt, and she has spent this past year enjoying GRIT as she did all those years ago. Sadly enough, in early March, we lost a wonderful, loving, most generous woman after a long and courageous battle with breast cancer. I wanted to take a moment to thank you for your publication and for the happy memories it brought to my dear sweet aunt.

Cheryl King
San Francisco

Our hearts go out to you, Cheryl, and we’re flattered and proud that our magazine could bring such joy to your aunt’s life! – Editors

Built the Coop

“Build the Perfect Chicken Coop” (September/October 2007) was a fabulous article. I’d been tossing around some ideas gleaned from websites and was almost satisfied with my finds. But this is the best yet, especially the wire above and below. And the illustration made it perfect. I had some difficulty understanding (I’m not the mechanical type) how to convert the dog house. The best thing about all this is that I can do it in steps (financially), starting with the pen, and adding the house later, since I have a shelter for them now, but I wanted a safe, free-range method, in case I didn’t get home early on a particular evening. Thanks again.

via e-mail

Garlic Love

I learned so much about garlic from your article (“Garlic: A Plant to Love,” May/June 2008)! I did not know you should cut off the scape to prevent bulbils from forming. Those little bulbils in my garden all dried and scattered, self-seeding. Many are growing this spring. Will they make usable bulbs, if they grow another season? Thank you so much for the informative article.

Sally Johnson
Remsen, Iowa

You can get bulbs from bulbils, Sally, but it can take several years before they develop. – Editors

Global Warming

I think I’ll side with the Farmer’s Almanac on whether carbon causes “global warming.” They have 200-plus years experience, an 85 percent accuracy rate, and best of all, no political aspirations. It’s April 15, and the soil in southwest Illinois is too cold to plant corn! In the past three years, spring soil temps have declined significantly.

Dennis Miller
O’Fallon, Illinois

Lifelong Fan

I enjoy GRIT magazine and have all through the years. It used to be the only mail we had to read, so we looked forward to getting it. I am 87 years old and grew up in northeastern Oklahoma.

One boy in the community rode his bicycle and delivered “The GRIT” for years. In fact, he earned Grit for a nickname, and he is still remembered as “Grit.”

The magazine is all about the farm and how we all had to work to make a living. Brings back so many memories of my growing-up years. Some of our young people are missing so much not growing up on the farm and learning where eggs come from and learning to manage with what you’ve got.

Keep up the good work. It’s a good country magazine. And, I have a pen pal I write to in Virginia whom I found in GRIT.

Dixie Spencer
Pryor, Oklahoma

Friends & Neighbors Success

I recently asked for information about an orphanage my sister and I lived in that was located in Kansas City, Missouri (Friends and Neighbors, May/June). In the process of that search we were, after many years, able to locate the final resting place of a baby brother who died in January 1944. Thanks, GRIT readers!

Patricia Yost
Dawson, Georgia

Country Gumption

I have been a GRIT subscriber for a little more than a year since I bought acreage in a neighboring county. The May/June issue is a valuable resource for me. A few weeks ago, before this issue arrived, I started growing horseradish from a root. My plan is to grow and can it. Your story helps. Secondly, I will plant hardwood trees, including black walnut, on my acreage. Your story on the value of black walnut trees validates my thinking. Also, another reader wants to connect with other beekeepers (Friends & Neighbors), regardless of their experience. I am getting into beekeeping this year. Now I will have another resource to advise me on beekeeping. Thanks!

Richard Wahlstrand
Davenport, Iowa

Letters like this are what our job is all about, Richard. You might also check out posts from Doug Fulbright, a beekeeper who is one of our GRIT bloggers – Editors

Hungry Grad Student

Under no duress from Dad, I just wanted to say I love the simple recipes in every issue of GRIT. I am in graduate school and, yes, many a day I am tempted by the take-out just a phone call away.

Thankfully, when the new GRIT arrives on my doorstep, I am always inspired to try one or two of the recipes. I am particularly fond of the corn pudding and meatloaf from the March/April Grit. I made them both along with one of my dad’s favorite spinach side dishes; maybe he should include it in a future recipe section!

Alaina Will
Washington D.C.
(via Sioux Falls, South Dakota)

Thanks for reminding me about those yummy, pan-wilted spinach greens. – Hank, aka Dad

Population and Energy

Roma Lightsey’s article “Small Changes Save Money” (May/June) asserts that if every person reduced their consumption, our environment would benefit. But what good is it to halve each person’s consumption if we double the number of people? As long as our governments deliberately grow the population with immigration and baby-bonus policies, our environment will continue to get worse even if every person reduces his or her consumption to the minimum level required for survival.

Brishen Hoff
Massey, Ontario, Canada

Hazardous Walnuts

I enjoyed the black walnut tree article by John Marshall in your May/June issue. However, in talking about the “problem with walnuts,” he failed to mention how people can become sick from walnut dust when working with the wood. One should wear a breathing mask since the fine dust can give people a severe case of hives and respiratory problems. I am one of the unlucky ones, I guess.

Chris Hood
Sandpoint, Idaho

Family Walnut

I sure enjoy GRIT. I remember when I was a young girl, it was a small newspaper.

In the May/June issue of GRIT, I saw many faces in the pattern in the burl of the black walnut tree (“Grow Your Savings Account,” Page 80). I was wondering if anyone else saw them.

I found the article on the black walnut tree interesting. My son and his wife have black walnut hardwood floors in their living room, dining room, entry hallway, stairs and upstairs hallway. The wood had been stored in my family’s barn loft for years. When the home place was being sold due to the passing of my mother and father, my son got the wood. It was ugly in its raw stage, but, oh, so beautiful when finished.

I also loved the cake section with the Southern recipes. I have so many recipes, I hope to compile a family cookbook before God calls me home. I guess I had better get moving, as I’ll be 70 in a couple of months. If things get better with age, I’m reaching magnificence!

Rosetta Embry
Hopkinsville, Kentucky

AC Water Collection

Just a reader’s tip: To save water, put a bucket under the outlet pipe of an air conditioning unit, whether it’s a window unit or central air system. Living here in Florida, we use the air conditioning quite often, and the outlet drain is usually forgotten. I can collect about 7 to 8 gallons of water on an average day, then take the water and pour it into one of my rain barrels. It’s a simple but often overlooked source of water for the garden.

Jeffrey Ellis
Holiday, Florida