Archive for the 'Gardening' Category

Everything Old is New Again…

Tuesday, March 30th, 2010

      1940’s Local Foods Poster

I was listening to an NPR report recently on the cyclical nature of these “credit crises” in the history of the US economy and was struck by something the expert being interviewed mentioned.   He spoke at great length  about the “short attention span” of the collective American public which is something I have watched over my lifetime with great interest.

I like to think that my childhood was unique but honestly there are a great number of folk out there who grew up in a very similar manner to me.   However,  I do think that I might be unique in the fact that I fairly young to have grown up churning my own butter and stoking the woodstove to bake the bread and stay warm.  My family is a bit of an anomaly.    My grandparents, my parents and myself really haven’t cycled through many of societies fads, especially where food is concerned.      Until I was fifteen and we moved off the farm,  I don’t think I had ever eaten much food that we didn’t raise  and prepare.    Even  though that changed a bit when my parents moved us to town, my family hung on to a great deal of that lifestyle.   We bake most of our own food from scratch,  we garden and we preserve
what we grow.   Any given August you will find all of our households bustling with the activities of harvest and preservation.  I have really never known anything different.   So it is with a little bit of bemusement that I watch the latest explosion of the back-to-the land movement because I really never left it.

I often forget when someone spends hours demonstrating how to make a loaf of bread that this really is a skill that has been lost somewhere along the way, not just something people don’t do because they don’t have time.    I giggle when we make homemade macaroni & cheese to take someplace and it is viewed as some sort of accomplishment because in my family that is pretty standard fare.

There is a point to all of this.  Herbalism is newer to me than the natural family living.   I  suppose I started the path about fifteen years ago although I have only been studying seriously about six years (around the same time I started blogging).   But as soon as I started reading,  I recognized it as kindred to the way I grew up and was familiar with a lot of the teachings although they hadn’t been presented to me as “medicine”.   The  connections were there and as I read through the history of herbalism,   I recognized how the little resurgences in the “natural living” movement always coincided with a new generation of herbalists.   I have also  seen throughout my parents’ lifetime and mine what a short attention span the American public has for lifestyle changes that require effort.  I can’t help but wonder what this generation of herbalists can do to keep this “resurgance” alive.

Some acquaintances of mine discovered permaculture within the last fewyears and they spread the gospel according to Toby Heminway from the rooftops.  Their intensity and passion  is inspiring although I think they tend to put the cart in front of the horse.   Society is not going to move from the Big Mac to “fruit tree guilds” as their main source of nutrition without some sort of transition stage.   So, while  I  think that the intensity is wonderful,   at the same time I have seen that  radical change tends to intimidate people into inaction.  How then do we slowly edge people towards positive, permanent change?   How do we keep the message of the websites of today from being lost in a internet archive in the same way the poster above was lost in a file cabinet?

I honestly am not sure of the answers but I thought I would throw the question out there as it is rumbling around in the back of my brain.  What have you been thinking about today?

Gardening Break: Botanical Interest Seeds

Tuesday, January 26th, 2010

I thought I would take a break from the herbs to talk about one of my other favorite subjects: playing in the dirt.   It is the time of year when gardening enthusiasts are beginning to plan gardens and order seeds.   My friend, Tom, asked me for more information about this company on my “Safe Seeds” post so I went out and dug some up.  (tee hee hee -gardening pun intended).

First, I thought I would share my personal experience with the seeds.  I found Botanical Interests Seeds for the first time last year at a local nursery.  I should warn local friends who know where I shop that their selection is pretty limited compared to what is available online.

I admit that it was the artwork that drew my attention to the seed packets, originally.

As I examined the packets, I continued to like what I was reading and is there ever there a lot to read.  These might be the most informative seed packets I have ever run across! The fun doesn’t stop on the outside though, so be quite careful when opening your first Botanical Interests seed packet.

Of course, while all this information is nice, I only bought a few packets to “test them out” .  The seeds are suprisingly inexpensive for organics.
I had fantastic results!   My Trionfo Violetto Pole Beans outgrew and outproduced my Kentucky Wonder Beans.   I think my Dwarf Blue Kale  might still be alive out there under the piles of snow. My favorites was the Broccoli Di Cicco.  I started it indoors and was quite satisfied with the germination rate.   I am not going to claim 100% but we certainly had a lot of sprouts for a salad when it came time for thinning.   My transplants went in next to four nursery plants that were supposed to be my early producers.  Within a few weeks, the Di Cicco had out grown them and produced before they did.  In fact, it was still producing when we got our first snowfall.   My groundhogs adored it but that is another issue entirely.

Earlier in the month, when I started to think about  planning my garden,  I looked  around online to find the company.   I was pleased with the quality of the information on their website and blog.  I also enjoy the selection of heirlooms.  I found a lot of the varieties mentioned in my favorite gardening book:  Moosewood Restaurant Kitchen Garden: Creative Gardening for the Adventurous Cook that I haven’t been able to find, locally.

So with my personal experiences out of the way,  here is some information about the company.  Botanical Interests is a family owned and operated business started by Curtis and Judy Seaborn in 1995.  Their business objectives are “to inspire and educate gardeners; to provide high quality seed to their customers; and to create an enjoyable work place for employees.” I included links to the companies blog and an article about the company at the end of this article.
All-in-all it seems like a good company and I plan on spending a good share of my gardening budget at their website.

Additional Reading:

California Garden Magazine Article

Botanical Interests Blog

Company Profile

The Safe Seed Pledge

Wednesday, January 13th, 2010

While my blog posts have been focusing on herbalism lately, I thought I would take a moment to round out the content, a bit, with a post on gardening. I have been happily perusing the many gardening catalogs that begin arriving this time of year and making plans for the upcoming growing season.

As I grow many of my own plants from seed, one of the most important issues to me when considering my future purchases is seed safety.   In light of the latest news concerning Monsanto genetically modified seeds, I am glad to say that I decided quite some time ago that avoiding genetically modified food, seeds and plants was the right choice for our family.  Thankfully,  there are many companies out there which have recognized that consumers are wary of GMO’s and with good reason.

According to the findings of an Independent Science Panel report on GMO’s, “GM crops have failed to deliver the promised benefits and are posing escalating problems on the farm. Transgenic contamination is now widely acknowledged to be unavoidable, and hence there can be no co-existence of GM and non-GM agriculture. Most important of all, GM crops have not been proven safe. On the contrary, sufficient evidence has emerged to raise serious safety concerns, that if ignored could result in irreversible damage to health and the environment. GM crops should therefore be firmly rejected now.”

The  documentary, “The Future of Food” did an excellent job of explaining the issues surrounding the food industry today, in terms that are easily understood by your average consumer.  I highly recommend watching it, if you haven’t had a chance to see it.

Thankfully,  many small seed companies are aware of consumer discontent and have taken steps to ensure that non-GMO alternatives are available for gardeners.   Many of these companies have taken the following pledge:

The Safe Seed Pledge

“Agriculture and seeds providethe basis upon which our lives depend. We must protect this foundations as a safe and genetically stable source for future generations. For the benefit of all farmers,gardeners and consumers who want an alternative, we pledge that we do not knowingly buy or sell genetically engineered seedsor plants. The mechanical transfer of genetic material outside of natural reproductive methods and between genera, families or kingdoms, poses great biological risks as well as economic, political, and cultural threats. We feel that genetically engineered varieties have been insufficiently tested prior to public release. More research and testing is necessary to further assess the potential risks of genetically engineered seeds. Further, we wish to support agricultural progress that leads to healthier soils, genetically diverse agricultural ecosystems and ultimately people and communities.”

There are many companies which have signed this pledge but I thought I might recommend a few, as I have purchased seeds or plants from them with good results:

Botanical Interests, Inc.

Freedom Seeds

Horizon Herbs

Seed Savers

Richter’s Herbs

Additional Reading:

Monsanto Squeezes Out Seed Business Competition, AP Investigation Finds

Monsanto’s GMO Corn Linked to Organ Failure, Study Reveals

Growing Your Own Medicine: Kitchen Herbs

Monday, October 5th, 2009

Recently I was invited to contribute to the  October herbal blog party.   I had no idea what I could possibly contribute.  I find it highly doubtful that I have much to offer that  could possibly add to the wealth of information others are contributing.   Furthermore, it is harvest time and I am extravagantly busy preserving the summer goodness for the winter months, ahead.

When I had almost decided to pass on the invitation, Darian asked me a question about the peppermint I was bringing in from the garden.  It occurred to me that perhaps I do have something to share.  I know that many people who read  my blog are utterly new to herbalism, and probably a bit taken aback by the idea of going out and wildcrafting weeds to combat a cold or flu.  (Don’t worry you will come around.)

I am hoping to offer those of you who are just beginning a comfortable place to start by talking about herbs you might be growing as food.  Somewhere in the beginning of the 20th Century, Americans lost touch with the idea that many culinary herbs contribute far more to our dishes than flavor.  Although these ingredients are thought of only as “seasonings” now, many can be powerful allies in the struggle against winter colds and flu.  Unfortunately,  even in herbal circles the  usefulness of these common kitchen herbs is overlooked in lieu of more exotic or “trendy” herbs.

In the interests of keeping with the bio-regional theme of this month’s blog party (and my philosophical beliefs)  I thought I would share a few ways I use some of the most common herbs I grow in my own garden.

Garlic: 

According to David Hoffman, ” Garlic is one of the most effective anti-microbial plants available, acting on bacteria, viruses, and alimentary parasites.

Garlic is most effective when it is taken fresh and raw.  It can be minced and added to hummus and other dips,  homemade salad dressings, or mixed into butter or olive oil to spread on warm bread.  One of our favorite dips is minced garlic, wasabi, and sea salt stirred into plain yoghurt.
It can also be infused in raw, local honey to be mixed with other herbal preparations.   One of my favorite remedies for a sore throat is to mix this 1/4 cup of this golden garlic honey with 1 tsp of sage tincture.   This “syrup” can be taken by the teaspoon to soothe a sore throat and makes heating the preparation unnecessary which protects volatile essential herbs.

When a virus does hit our household, we avoid cold foods and use fresh garlic in simple broths.  I have a vegetable broth recipe and a garlic broth recipe which we use as base for many soups.  Chives and onions are in the same plant family as garlic and adding these to your foods will also be beneficial.

Mint

Peppermint would be a “must grow” herb if for no other reason than it is an excellent remedy for upset stomach and flatulence.  Peppermint tea is what we fed baby Trapolin for his horrible colic and peppermint tea is what I drink now when my migraines make me nauseous.

The essential oil is another ingredient in my chest rub while the dried herb is a steam inhalation ingredient.  I include peppermint because the volatile oils help to clear the sinuses but also settles a queasy stomach which is a nice combination when one has the flu.

Rosemary

I have  found that a strong infusion of peppermint and rosemary is very useful in addressing flu symptoms.   I would argue that the combination might be as effective as boneset.  The rosemary is anti-microbial, and addresses the achy feelings while the peppermint addresses the fever and queasy stomach.   It is definitely an infusion you would want to add some lemon and honey to as well.

Rosemary combines well with peppermint  in a steam  inhalation for nasal congestion.  Rosemary also has analgesic properties as well and can help ease a headache which might accompany the flu.
Rosemary can also be infused in vinegar and used in salad dressings as a digestive stimulant and nutritional herb due to it’s high level of anti-oxidants and flavonoids.

Sage

Sage’s culinary use seems to be reduced to making stuffing these day, which is unfortunate.  Sage is an excellent digestive aid.   As with rosemary, vinegar infused with sage can be used to make excellent homemade salad dressings.

Medicinally, sage tea is traditionally a sore throat remedy.   Make an infusion of  1/2 oz dried sage leaves,  1 oz of honey,  the juice from one freshly squeezed lemon, a pinch of salt.  Put all these ingredients in a thermos, cover with boiling water and cap tightly.  Infuse for four hours or overnight.  Serve the beverage warm.  It will help to replenish electrolytes and may be used as a gargle for sore throats.

Utter Exhaustion

Saturday, April 25th, 2009

I don’t know that I have ever been so tired in my entire life.  While I do appreciate the prompt customer service I received from the companies  I ordered my plants from, I wasn’t planning on the arrival of these items until my husband was back from his trip around the beginning of May. I can do it by myself but it is hard and I am feeling sorry for myself a bit, this evening.
The biggest problem is that all the areas I wanted to plant in weren’t ready.  I was planning on having this week to work on planting my veggies and next week to get those areas ready. Oh well, if I have learned anything over the years it is that few things go as planned.

I knew I was going to have to put up a second chicken wire fence  for the pumpkin and winter squash this week.  ( I am trellising many of my veggies to save space).  I had also planned to dig the vegetable beds in anticipation of planting today.
I wasn’t expecting to have the added work of prepping the fruit areas.    The back area where I put the berries, needed to be dug, leveled and weeded.   We had to dig giant holes for the grapes in order to make sure their roots had plenty of unhindered space to grow.  There is still a lot of the old tree’s root system under there and we had to cut a lot of roots out of the way.   I am thanking my lucky stars that the bush cherries seem to be arriving according to the original schedule they sent me.
Here is the breakdown of what we planted this week:
3 Concord Grape Vines (I still have to find a spot for one)

2 low-bush blueberry bushes

12 raspberry plants

2 hops vines

2 pots of ginger root

kentucky wonder pole beans

scarlet runner  pole beans

trionfo violetto  pole beans

small sugar pumpkins

straight eight cucumbers

double yield cucumbers

sweet snow peas

more radishes

mesclun greens

baby spinach

more simpson lettuce

romaine lettuce

carrots

curly parsley

basil

rhubarb chard

silver beet chard

morning glories

moon flower

more nasturtium

decorative gourds

transplanted hostas out of the front yard to shadier spot by the back retaining wall.

Earth Day

Thursday, April 23rd, 2009

I spent a lot of time looking for something worthwhile to do today and then the Universe answered the question for me when many of my fruit plants were delivered Tuesday afternoon.   What better way to spend our day than outside working on making our own little corner of the world more sustainable?
We planted grapes around the arbor and potted blueberries and ginger root.   You can see the rain barrel in the corner waiting to be decorated and put together.  We still have one more grape vine along with raspberries and hops vines to plant.  I think Friday will be our next grand planting day as it is the day to get the bean seeds and cucumber seeds in the ground, as well.


We also took some time to water and tend what we have already planted.  The kale and lettuce I planted in mid-March are coming in nicely.  I recently planted chard in front of those greens.  The theory being that by the time we have eaten up the kale and lettuce,  the new greens will be producing and I can plant some hardier greens (Malabar Spinach and Mustard) along with some pretty tomato or pepper plants in their place.

I am  happy with my early peas.  I think they look pretty good despite the snow and cold they weathered.

We did take some time out for fun though at a potluck held in honor of one of our favorite little girl’s fourth birthday.  Isn’t the magnolia tree fantastic.  I am jealous of all her beautiful flowers.

Seedlings

Sunday, April 19th, 2009

My seedlings just don’t seem to be growing as quickly as other people’s seem to be.   I have been fertilizing them with all sorts of natural amendments and I mixed compost into the soil mixture when I transplanted.  While they are growing, I feel like they are coming along slowly.   They were planted around March 11th.

So I decided to break out the pump and start up some compost tea.  It is bubbling away and should be ready in a couple of days.

I can’t help but wonder what other factors lead to slow growth.  I really don’t feel that it can be a nutrient deficiency at this point.

No turning back now…

Monday, April 13th, 2009

As if the dozens of seedlings I have growing in my house were not enough to ensure that my days of serious gardening are at hand,  the plant orders I placed this morning should do so.  I ordered two varieties of grapes, six bush cherry plants, raspberries, blueberries, ginger root, and hops.  I also ordered more greens including the beautiful five color chard.  I am very excited for my front yard to be beautiful and edible.  Once I get the big ticket items planted,  I will move on to the smaller perennial herbs and flowers but I need to take things one step at a time.

I feel like I am finally moving forward with plans that were put on hold when we moved in.   We looked at the place in January when the backyard was under a ton of snow.  We knew there was some work to be done but nothing could prepare us for what the backyard looked like when we closed on the place in mid June of 2006.

The following year  Steve got sent away on business for months and the poison ivy came back, so I hit the road with the boys to rejuvenate.
Then last year, we had the madness of the floods, not to mention this nonsense.  It sometimes seemed like the Universe was conspiring against my garden plans.
It’s taken me almost three years to get to the point where I really felt like I am moving forward instead of just catching up.

Not Buying It: Week One

Wednesday, April 8th, 2009

Compacting is a way of life around here as it is for my good friend, Tansy.  She has recently developed a good way to keep track of her progress by blogging about it on a weekly basis. She calls it Not Buying It which I think is quite witty.   I thought I would join her in creating a weekly post about my strengths and weaknesses in this area.

I didn’t do a great job this week because of the sick children and the fact that I have been really busy trying to get some big projects done before my husband leaves me for weeks (work).
Clothing

I mended a couple of items, sewed a few buttons on and fixed a tie with fusible webbing.

I started a tye dye stack of clothes that we will rejuvenate by dyeing if the weather ever warms up.  That is definitely not an indoor event.

I rescued a few items that fit  from a friends’ throwaway pile.
Food and Garden

We planned our two week menu using items from our pantry first.

The highlights of the week were Reubens with homemade sweet potato fries and deep-fat fried candy bars.  (Okay that was the teenagers’ idea but I would do it again ;-)

Dear husband made his fantastic fried rice for me rather than ordering Chinese.
Dear husband also built homemade “Earthboxes” to conserve the amount of water used when gardening this year.   The downside is that we had to buy some of the materials new but we checked at the Restore and Craigslist.  Neither had what we needed.

We made some self watering planters from two liter bottles and old shirts.  I promise I will get to that post later this week when we are done creating.
Indoor seedlings are still growing well I am using  homemade fertilizer to feed them–seaweed/nettle/chamomile infusion.
Didn’t plant much in the last week due to the sleet and snow.  The kale, lettuce, radishes and peas seem to be hanging in there.
Household

Used homemade chest rub and teas to help provide a little relief from the nasty virus.
Cold-processed a batch of shampoo bars this week.  I am waiting for them to cure so I can get some gardeners’ soap in the mold next.   Is it odd that I am excited to be running low on coconut oil so I can use the little bucket as a tomato hanger?

Made homemade lotion and bath oil. All that swimming wreaks a bit of havoc on our skin.
I found some paint on Freecycle that I think will work for a project I have in mind for my daughter’s room.
Utilities

The furnace hasn’t kicked in much despite our snap of wintery weather but I haven’t taken down the window blankets or the plastic on the windows yet, either.
We do a good job of turning lights off and appliances when we aren’t using them but  I need to find some power strips to put the computers and that sort of thing on.

Took the rugs outside and beat them rather than vacuuming.  Okay the vacuum doesn’t work that well anyway but we still did it.
Gifts

I am working on a birthday gift for a friend and an end of the year gift for our HSAP coordinator.

see weaknesses
Exercise/self improvement

When it is nasty out,  we exercise on the free use equipment at our community rec center and have an annual pass to our community pool.  We usually go on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays.

My daughter and I are taking English Country dancing lessons as well.
Homestead

I am not sure what to put here that I haven’t already covered somewhere else.
Education

Using our local library as a source for many educational projects.  They have a fantastic selection of DVD’s from the Teaching Company.
I am using some old wooden boxes to make a Cuisenaire rod game.

Using paper Steve rescued from the recycle bin at work to print off schoolwork.
Purging

This was my strong area this week,  we cleaned every closet in the house and took loads of clothing and old stuff to Goodwill.  We are also re-using items when making planters for the garden.
Weaknesses

Not really a weakness but my garbage-can-turned-rain-barrel seems to have cracked during the winter so I have to find a new one for that.   Until then,  I am stuck using “expensive water” on my garden.
Bought gifts for my nephew and niece for their birthdays.  It was a combination of not being able to come up with a good idea or time to make something.

We bought bread instead of making it which I had been doing a good job of keeping up with.
My son and I grabbed lunch at the coop on Thursday and we ate out on Friday because we went to the rally.  I can’t remember the last time we have eaten out twice in one week.


Tuesday, March 31st, 2009

My youngest son came down with something yesterday and it has been rough. I am having to reschedule some stuff I really wanted to do and I am bummed but such is motherhood.   The other kids have a bit of a cold but nothing along the lines of what is going on with him.  I am glad.  I don’t think I could handle all four of them down with this at once.
My garden is doing well, though.  We had a bit of a winter weather snap and some snow over the weekend but everything seems to be weathering the cold.   My seedlings are doing well although my broccoli is a bit leggy.  I am not quite sure what to do about it.  I can’t get the lights any closer to the seedlings without sitting them on the plants.  I might try putting them outside in my cold frame to see if they do better with the direct light from the sun.

One of my reasons for taking the Master Gardening classes was an attempt to get out there and make myself more useful to groups interested in the issue of locally grown food.   I don’t know how successful I will be at this but I am trying.   I sent an e-mail to our local food bank offering to help with the garden they have there and I volunteered with Local Food Connections which is a non-profit dedicated to helping low income families gain access to healthy locally grown foods.   I also called today and offered to help out our local LGBT resource center with some gardens they are hoping to put in around the center.   So now I will have to wait and see if anyone gets in touch with me for help.   The woman I talked to at the resource center seemed happy to hear from me so I am hopeful that I will finally be taking some steps forward in this area.