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food

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mother e a rt h n e ws 40t h

t h e o r i g i n a l g u i d t o l i v i n g w i s e ly

a n n i v e r s a ry

oc tober / november

2 010

75 safe and effective

herbal remedies build fertile soil

with free wood mulch

save energy and money

seal up your leaky house

now they’re putting pesticides inside our food, p. 16 Solar-Heated Stock Tank Plan Living In An Underground House

Issue No. 242 • $5.99 US

What To Do With Green Tomatos Living Fences: Benefits And How-To 704883

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800-234-3368 w w w .M other E arth N ews . com

P u b l ish er

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E d i t o r i a l D i r ec t o r B r aya n W e lc h

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Co n t r i bu t i n g Ed i tor s

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G r ou p A rt D i r ec t o r C a r o l i n e L a n g M a n ag i n g E d i t o r / O n l i n e J o h n R o c ko l d F ou n d er s J o h n

and

J a n e S h u tt l e w o r t h


t h e o r i g i n a l g u i d t o l i v i n g w i s e ly

To p S t o r y

75 safe and effective herbal remedies


36

learn how to treat dozens of common ailments with proven herbal medicines.

Fe a t u r e s create an edible landscape
beautify your yard and save

30

money, energy and water by designing a multifunctional landscape that incorporates plenty of edibles.

living fences : how-to, advantages and tips


living fences are a long-lasting, sustainable option for holding

40

livestock, creating compost, growing livestock fodder, protecting and enriching soil, and more.





ghost flowers! earthstars! hickory horned devils!

44 50

... and more weird and wonderful oddi-

ties of nature
from a colossal caterpillar to melting flowers, you’ll marvel at these six strange wonders of nature.



build a solar stock tank
this reliable livestock waterer

will save electricity, and you won’t have to chop ice this winter!

Depa rtments 17

dear mother readers reflect on

40 years of mother earth news.


green gazette
systemic pesticides: chemicals you can’t wash off
plug-in prius test drive
the danger lurking in factory farm

23

chicken
the winter harvest handbook
a reely good product: fiskars’ reel lawn mower


c r e a t e

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edible landscape r o s a l i n d

c r e a s y


A ‘Black Satin’ thornless blackberry bush grows on wires supported by 3-foot-long pieces of rebar drilled into the posts on a low wall. Lavender flowers cover the vine for most of May, and blackberries produce from late June through mid-August. The author grows many edibles in her northern California yard, but few give such delight as this one plant. You can let your dinner guests harvest their own berries. In fall, the leaves are a vibrant yellow.

E

xploring edible landscaping options has been a continued passion of mine for more than 40 years. Americans cover millions of acres of valuable agricultural land around their

homes with lawn, marigold and azalea beds, wisteria, and an occasional privet or maple. Yet as a landscape designer, I know most edible plants are beautiful and that homeowners could grow a meaningful amount of food in their yards — a much more noble use of the soil. Instead of the typical landscape, we could minimize

lawn areas and put in decorative borders of herbs, rainbow chard and striking paprika peppers. Instead of the

fleeting color of spring azaleas, we could grow blueber- A close-up look at the author’s street-side border reveals 12 edible plants. On the bottom, ries that are decorative year-round — or pear and plum trees that put on a spring show of flowers, have decorative fruits and yellow fall foliage. These plants aren’t just pretty — they provide scrumptious fruit and can save you money.

from left to right: society garlic, nepitella (an oreganolike herb with a hint of mint), a cluster of sculptural collards, and thyme and winter savory spilling out of the bed. Middle tier: upright rosemary, purple basils, chartreuse pineapple sages, bronze fennel and a kumquat. Roma tomatoes grow behind the fence and scarlet runner beans grow over the entry arbor. The purple verbena, yellow lantanas and roses, and red zinnias, geraniums and dahlias compete for guests’ attention.


The Future Is Now I’m convinced that, in addition to being a viable design option, an edible landscape (if maintained using organic methods) is the most compelling landscape concept for the future. Edible landscapes offer incredible benefits:

Energy Savings. Food from your yard requires no shipping, little refrigeration, and less energy to plow, plant, spray and harvest the produce.

Food Safety. You know which chemicals (if any) you use, and huge batches of vegetables won’t be combined and therefore can’t contaminate each other.

Water Savings. Tests show that most home gardeners use less than half

Sea berry is one of a number of nutritious berries that will enhance an edible landscape.

of the water agricultural production needs to produce a crop. Drip irrigation It is a tall, upright and deciduous shrub with silver foliage. The plant has a graceful saves even more. And unlike in agriculture, fields aren’t flooded and huge weeping form and dramatic, highly nutritious gold berries that make great juices. You vats of water aren’t needed to cool down the harvest.

need male and female plants for pollination. Perhaps plant sea berry in a hedgerow

Money Savings. You can grow an unbelievable amount of food in a

along a property line with other hardy, edible shrubs, such as elderberries, ‘Nanking’

small, beautiful space. See Grow $700 of Food in 100 Square Feet and my cherries and highbush cranberries. website for exact figures for some popular crops.

Better Nutrition. Fully ripe, just-picked, homegrown fruits and vegetables, if eaten soon after picking, have more vitamins than supermarket produce that was usually picked under-ripe and is days or weeks old when you eat it.

Designing Your Edible Landscape Any landscape design begins with choosing the location of the paths, patios, fences, hedges, arbors and garden beds — establishing the “bones” of your garden. This is critically important in an edible garden because the beds are more apt to have plants with a wide array of textures, sizes and shapes, such as frilly carrot leaves, mounding peppers and climbing beans. Edible garden beds may be filled with young seedlings or even be empty at times. That’s when paths, arbors, fences, hedges and even a birdbath are vital for keeping things attractive. Next, plan your style by asking some questions: Do you want a formal or informal garden? Do you prefer a theme — maybe early Colonial or Spanish? How about whimsical areas with a scarecrow or whirligigs? Have you always dreamed of a bright yellow gate welcoming folks into your garden? After you’ve determined the setup of the landscape, it’s time to choose the plants. Herein lies the true subtlety of the landscaper’s art. First, make a list of edibles you like most and that grow well in your climate, noting their cultural needs. Be aware of their size, shape, and the color of their foliage and flowers or fruit they produce (if any). Do you crave lots of hot reds and oranges, or do you prefer a cooler scene with lavenders, grays and shades of blue? If fragrance is important, consider the scent of apple and plum blossoms, or heady basils and lavenders. With your list of plants in hand, create areas of interest. You could create a curved line of frilly-leafed chartreuse lettuces or a row of blueberry shrubs whose blazing fall color can lead your eye down a brick path and to your en- Even in a limited space, you can use containers to create an edible landscape. Use try. Instead of the predictable row of lilacs along the driveway, imagine a bright colors to add excitement and visual appeal, such as these eye-popping red mixed hedge of currants, gooseberries and blueberries. The possibilities are limited only by your imagination.

containers, which bring style to entry steps. ‘Hungarian Wax’ peppers and a geranium underscore the red theme and help unify the design. ‘Red Flame’ grapes and cilantro grow in the other pots.

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We live on less energy and with less up keep and more privacy in our earthan home.


l i v i n g

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house underground

m e r l e

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a l i x


H

ere in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, we start getting snow in mid-November, though it doesn’t usually amount to much more than an inch at any given

time until early December. Then it has the look of permanent snow (the kind you deal with until March), and the cold settles in for the season. Thanks to living in an underground house, we don’t turn on our heater until that cold has fully arrived.

I took a chance on an underground home, and I can tell you that not one of us would change it for the world. It has been — and continues to be — great to live underground. Living Underground My wife, Anne, and I live with our daughter, Samantha (we call her Sam), in a 1,300-square-foot earthen home, also known as an underground house. The late date for firing up the furnace isn’t unusual for us. Early December isn’t even the latest we’ve turned on the furnace during the past decade. One year we waited until Dec. 24, and we only turned it on because we had the entire family coming for Christmas. It’s not that we enjoy shivering. Because our home is insulated by the earth around it, we simply don’t need regular heat until much later than most folks — even in the harsh, cold climate of the Upper Penninsula. We moved to the Yoop (as most locals call it), more than a decade ago, and took a chance on an underground home. Though we had never been in an underground house be-

fore and were only familiar with them through MOTHER EARTH NEWS, it felt like the right thing to do. If it weren’t underground, our home would be described as a ranchstyle house. Picture a ranch home with three bedrooms and a sunken living room (we enjoy the fun of having a sunken living room in a sunken house) along the south wall, all with large bay windows to soak up passive solar heat. The kitchen, dining, bath and extra rooms lie along the back wall, and a woodburning stove sits in the middle of it all. That’s our house — with three sides below ground. The house is made of concrete, glass and stone, and has wood siding and trim along the south face — on the few parts that stick out from ground level. As a result, it’s extremely wellinsulated and is protected from the worst winter winds, which means it

heats up nicely during the day with average sunlight, and holds heat extremely well overnight. We’ll throw a few logs in the woodstove when we get home from work and keep it going until we go to bed,. That routine keeps us warm well into early December. Even then, it doesn’t take a lot of wood. We usually burn only five or six pieces a night; any more than that and the house gets uncomfortably hot. We’ve never burned a full cord of wood in any winter. And when we finally do need to turn on the heater, we use a traditional, high-efficiency electric furnace with a programmable thermostat. We can’t use gas heat underground because there isn’t enough ventilation for safe operation, but we’re happy with electric heat. Our electricity is renewable and, in this application, inexpensive. It’s supplied by hydropower from the nearby Menominee River, instead of from a coal source. We’ve not paid much more than $150 for a month’s heat, and that was during one especially frosty January when the mercury dipped below zero degrees and stayed there for several days. In case you’re doing the math, yes, that means we heat our three-bedroom, underground ranch that sits about five miles from Lake Michigan for about $500 a year. Better yet, it’s heated solely with a renewable resource. Not bad. Not bad at all.

The History of Our Underground House We didn’t build our home, nor did we buy it from the original builders, but as best as we can piece together its history from neighbors, it’s a story straight from Hollywood. Sometime shortly after the Summer of Love in 1967, eight young couples decided to leave their big city problems behind and buy an old farmstead, complete with a barn, outbuildings and about 10 acres of land. The plan was to build a backto-nature commune of sorts and live simple lives with just the basics.

The couples renovated the farmhouse, put in a large garden and set about the task of building a new house to the east of the original— two stories high, complete with eight suites, and with shared kitchen and living areas on both floors. As their families grew, they decided they wanted individual housing and started building earthen homes. They built the first underground house — our home — west of the main house, near the large garden. I’m not sure what eventually broke up the minicommunity, but after a number of years on the land, the residents divided the three houses and land and sold out, leaving the dream behind for those of us who followed. Today, we’re a group of independent families that share a common water well, and other than that, we’re no different than any other neighbors.

The Downside of Underground Living It’s not all peaches and cream. The rooms along the north wall are a bit dark during the day, even with the open layout of the house and large southwall windows. We have to use lights in the enclosed rooms along this wall (including in the kitchen and dining room) all day, as there just isn’t enough light in those rooms otherwise. We also have to run a dehumidifier much of the year. It’s not as critical in winter, as the woodstove and furnace keep moisture levels down, but it’s absolutely crucial in summer. And we can forget opening the windows for a summer breeze. I’m not sure whether it’s a problem with all earthen homes or just those as close to a large inland lake as ours, but leaving the windows open for more than a couple of hours can make the place damp and really stress the dehumidifier. There’s also the possible problem of claustrophobia. My wife and I have raised three children here and none of us has experienced it, nor have any of our guests, but my mother won’t


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