Berries and Broodies!

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First Strawberries

Pre-script: I didn’t do yoga as scheduled this morning. I also didn’t clean the house as needed. Instead I got my zen squatting in a corner of the chicken run, watching a mama hen teaching 5 chicks how to scratch down to the dirt, hunting out tiny bugs. If I hold very still then she knows I am not dangerous, and they all carry on as usual. Usual, but amazing at the same time. This is a prequel because when I wrote Spring Broodies, just weeks ago,  I could not know how it would all unfold…

So spring is finally really here in Maryland. Uh, isn’t it? That 80 degree weather in April sealed the deal didn’t it? I don’t think cold weather can zap us again with a near freeze…in May…well, merely 40s. Yikes. What a strange year we have been having.

Looks like the cherry blossoms escaped that last frost (at least in our yard), and see!

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Fruits are coming where blossoms just were. The winter garlic looked good but now it needs to be pulled before it rots in the ground. The asparagus finally came up in that blast of early hot April weather, and finished too soon. No manure on that bed last fall equals skinny stalks this spring. In 2016 the stalks were fat like I had never seen before! For 2017 we got lots of skinny little guys. Lesson: ALWAYS put manure on your asparagus in fall! Especially if its sharing space with strawberries…

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Look at those skinny stalks! Lesson learned. The strawberries love the asparagus bed, enthusiastically expanding, growing huge green leaves. If we feed the bed in fall, maybe the asparagus will get some of the food too…

Here is the re-planted and recovering greens collection, is now nicely fenced to protect from other ransacking greens appreciators —

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HOORAY for this greenhouse structure Edward put up (with help from Oskar)!  Right now it holds agricultural fleece above the lettuce and greens to protect them from that hot weather we had…(can you remember?) It will  stay up year round, covered in plastic sheeting during cold months to extend out lettuce and greens production as far into the winter as we can.  So many of my ideas never achieve reality (I know. I have too many.) It is pretty satisfying to see one up and working.

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But most exciting to my readers will be the Chicken news! Starting late April we seemed to have two broody hens. Two of my hens began staying in two nesting boxes day and night, making those intense little noises that I recognize. When a hen goes broody all her instincts tell her “Stay put and keep those eggs warm and you will be a mother!” A true broody hen plucks feathers off her breast to get skin to egg contact and the 90 plus degrees needed. A good broody will go out only to relieve herself, grab a bite or a sip, and then get back on the nest. Less informed broody hens poop right in the nest. (Read more about broody hens here: The Modern Homestead)

What this means to the suburban grower though is a chance for an adoptive mother to raise a couple new chicks. I did it once before with success. But I don’t have the space for two mamas to raise chicks in the privacy needed — in nature they like to go off alone into the brush or a corner of a big farmyard.  So I discouraged the Golden Maran, and encouraged the Buff Orpington. This wasn’t easy. I moved her three times trying to convince her that the broody box in the little coop was a better place than the nesting boxes with all the other hens. There is no way that a hen can raise chicks safely with the other hens around – they would be attacked by the other hens as interlopers. But most broody hens have about half the required instincts – they don’t isolate themselves. So I did my best. Finally, after some more research online, I moved the warm eggs first to the new location, and then took her, struggling and resisting, to sit on her eggs in the new spot. This time I remembered to close the door, so the other hens couldn’t bother her. And there she stayed.

Three days later, I picked up 5 one day old chicks from a local feed store – and Edward (who kindly accommodated this errand while on his way back from a medical procedure) agreeably held the box in his nice warm hands.

Once home (and my ailing husband settled) I threw the chicks into a warm oven and scurried around setting up a temporary box – we had to wait for night to make the switch.

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Trum would like to play with the chicks…

It was hard not to worry. This night would be the night that the previously warm weather turned cold again!  Fifty degrees — and baby chicks like 90.  That night I carried the box of them out, and by cover of darkness I slid the hot eggs out from under the broody Orpie and slid the panicked, peeping chicks underneath. I had to shove one little guy under twice – she seemed frozen. All the next cold day I didn’t see or hear a peep. But the hen was all puffed up though over top of them. That was hopeful. She looked…surprised.

Next morning I pushed a flat dish of food and then water up close to her chest, and she ate and drank avidly. Prior to the cold snap, the weather had been very hot and she had been brooding for weeks, hardly leaving her nest for food or water.

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Then she pulled away. She wanted me gone. So I went away, hoping that young and inexperienced as she is, her instincts would tell her that those babies need to eat and drink too, somehow, despite the cold.

I shouldn’t have worried.

I have doubted this broody hen every step of the way – doubting whether she could sit a nest, whether she would reject these adopted babies, whether she would know to feed them on a cold day! I have been distressed to find that she wants to sleep on the ground under the structure I built for her, instead of inside it. Even after I made a new ramps for the little chicks yesterday to get up into it, they showed no interest. We tried moving her once, which caused extreme distress to her and her chicks and she hid them in a corner.  But she is proving herself to be a good mother – and she knows better than I do about the whole process. Last night it went down to the 40s again — but I gave up on the idea of moving her into that nice little coop, and just piled pine shavings around her to help her hold her heat. She did not object.

This morning I opened the top of that little coop to get something out, and noticed that the temperature in there was a lot colder than the air temperature in the run outside it. Ahh. I see. That little house was colder than the ground. Being wood, and drafty, it holds heat more poorly.  Yep – I guess she knows.

I have no idea what this upbringing will do for these babies. They are having a pretty au naturel experience compared to most American suburban chicks: enduring cold, sleeping in the dirt under mom, scratching in the straw and mud for breakfast. I threw them some of the strawberry tops this morning, and they were all excited, mama too. I notice that two have paste butt, which isn’t common for chicks raised by a mother – maybe it’s the switch from 24 hours of heat lamp life to Real World cold spring. I am waiting to see if the mama hen will do something about it, or if  I have to intervene causing great panic and distress. These little ones are eating just the right stuff to be healthy. They have very little interest in the Organic Chick Starter feed I put out. (It doesn’t smell good to me either.) Ah well – on to the next adventure!—-

 

 

Snubby

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Snubby the Chicken gives me a Look

Sunday night I sat rocking a chicken on the swinging bench after a busy day and a busy week, feeling guilty. Edward had found her squatting on the run floor that morning, and when we came to remove her from the rest of the flock that night it was obvious that she was on her way out. So I just sat on the swinging bench and looked at the beautiful gardens and the evening sky and rocked her and thought about her life. Then I set her still wrapped in an old towel into the earth, to give her body to improve the soil and nourish a tree.

This chicken had the kind of life that makes a vegan and vegetarians cry.  She was no real breed – a “sex-link” created for high productivity. Her face had been snipped when she was a chick, so she has a funny snubby thing instead of a beak. This meant she was at a disadvantage for keeping herself groomed for vermin, and for pecking up bugs out of the soil. Chickens are de-beaked regularly as a way of stopping them from pecking (injuring, killing) each other when great numbers are confined together. When I bought this batch of young hens from the local Feed Store I was shocked. This happens all the time, but we humans never see it. I complained to the store manager, and of course she never sells any of those now – but there are chickens being snipped every day of the week, and sold somewhere else.

Further trauma was in store for Snubby and the others in her group of six as they adapted to their new home and tried to find their places in the pecking order with my other hens. Then during July and August raccoons found a way into our chicken run, killing chickens night after night before Edward, assisted by Trumbull the dog, discovered their sneaky access point.  (Trum is still always on the lookout, every night…hoping…)

For a while then Snubby the chicken had relative peace. New young hens were added to the flock, and acclimated. She got lice (probably) and got dusted with the flock to relieve her of them. But when she got the yeast imbalance “vent gleet” this winter as most of the flock did, when everybody else overcame the yeast overgrowth, she never did. Her butt was all dirty feathers. She looked more and more poorly lately, and I wasn’t sure what it meant – but I was too busy with spring garden prep, and spring’s craziness to do more than worry and feed and pasture her well. And that wasn’t enough. She lived just one year.

For animals (or humans) to have good resistance to disease, they have to be bred for that. So much of who gets what is in the genes of any animal system, and there is plenty of sloppy breeding, or breeding for productivity, fast over every other trait. But still plenty is in the feeding, and the animal’s life. Stress is a huge factor. The nutrition to useless carbs ratio in their food. Exercise.  Animals will be healthiest eating a diet as close to what they would eat in nature as possible, and having the opportunity to scratch, or wallow or run depending on what their species loves to do. I am sure these words will sound foolish to some. However, if you are eating animals, or eating and drinking what animals generate, the food can only be as good as the level of care those animals receive. Think about that.

Do you eat eggs? Do you eat chicken? Hamburgers?  Most of the animal products you find come from creatures that have been raised in unnatural or cruel situations, in cages, away from the sun, unable to scratch and peck, unable to stretch out, unable to forage in the grass or wallow in the mud — sometimes unable to move.  Mother pigs caged for their whole lives lest they become violent, chickens in caged one on top of another but still producing daily eggs, steer standing in pools of manure, fed corn that causes them stomach pain and sickness, chickens raised in barns so crowded that they cannot move and trample or attack each other, piglets so bored that they bite each other’s tails off in frustration. Essentially, eating those eggs, that pork, that roast chicken, you are eating poison. It is only a matter of time before you or your offspring develop cancers or digestive issues or auto immune illnesses or you name it.

A toxic setting produces toxic products. This should be so obvious to anyone who reflects on production costs: you can never, ever get something good for nothing. But we make ourselves blind, we think only about the dollars we are saving, buying the “sale meat.” We feel in fact virtuous when we save a few dollars. A few cents. We pay many, many dollars for expensive drugs, for expensive surgeries, for vitamins,  for medical care of all kinds to repair the damage when it’s too late — but we don’t make the correlation. Human health = farm animal health. This is not an issue for the wealthy, a shee-shee fruity goofball issue, nor a political attack point.  It is basic science, and basic business, and practical fact. You get out what you put in.

So to you, dear sad ugly funny faced chicken, thanks for opening my eyes to see in the flesh what I had been told was true. Thanks for the eggs you laid for us. Maybe someday the government will stop giving tax dollars away to fatten the pockets of wealthy big corporations, and instead support the small farmers who are doing things right. How can we make better food available to more people? And this is as true for vegetables as it is for meat products – toxic growth processes produce toxic plants. It’s just that vegetables can’t feel pain and misery while waiting for us to figure it out.

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“Huh! If she really loved us she’d let us get to that kale again!”  “You said it sister.” “I’m gonna go find me a worm.”

Sustain What?

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Savaged

This post was almost ready for scheduled posting 4/5 – but illness delayed it. And yesterday the chickens discovered the star of today’s show….they were very pleased with themselves.  Luckily you can always buy more seedlings – and these guys will come back. Like I said about kale – well, read for yourself…

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The way we were

The morning after I studied the Food Pyramid in the doctor’s office, I spent an exhausted day in bed.   After a couple of nights of brutally interrupted sleep  I had to crash. While in bed I read up on Sharon Stronger and her family, and their sustainable life in Texas. Sharon writes the blog Nourishing Days. Her posts are very real (gritty) and also pretty unreal, in the sense that I do not believe they represent a large-scale solution to the question “how to live sustainably.”  Returning to the land as the Strongers have done it is not a model for many modern families – although a fun read.  Reading about their sustainable off-grid adventures satisfies my life-long fantasy about “living off the land.”  As a third grader, I tried making jam from berry pickings without a recipe or any knowledge. As a starry-eyed 12 year old I pitched my mom on the value of getting a chicken in our back yard, only to be wearily rebuffed.  As a young woman I made crazy claims about having a wood stove before I would ever own a microwave. What Sharon is doing is what I thought I always wanted to do.

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Some of the first crop for 2017: kindling from pruning the crape myrtles

And Nourishing Days is a pretty popular blog, so there must be plenty of others  harboring those kind of dreams. Still, modern America is not about to climb off the grid.  There are too many real advantages to what electrical power brings.  Life on the grid has made possible huge advances in science, medicine, and the arts – literature, theater, music – and farming!  In order to live sustainably, Sharon and Stewart Stronger spend all day long, every day, cooking or growing food with their cute kids — or harvesting food — or hunting for food (or water) —or putting up food for later use.  Yikes.  I realized as I read along that I just couldn’t do this. True she also writes blog posts and takes photos, and posts them online. But this life wouldn’t be enough to sustain my spirit.

So as I lay pondering the latest events in the Stronger household and sustainibility, I asked myself this question: “Sustain WHAT exactly?”

Maybe for me, living sustainably means something completely different – or includes something more: sustaining my artist self in the face of constant demands from every quarter to do something else.

Sustain my sanity?

Sustain my health?

IS THERE a way to grow some of you own food as a part of modern suburban life, without renouncing the world, taking on a vow of poverty, or adopting a full blown alternative lifestyle??

This is the question that I have explored for a decade or so now, that still captures my imagination, and is the subject of this blog. I write for all of us who love their day jobs, and running water, and cell phone texting, those like myself whose burdens of care make them reliant ont the machines that do our work – like my wonderful huge washer – but who also feel the call of the soil. Paying big dollars for organic green peppers from California or Mexico doesn’t make sense when delicious organic peppers grow just great in my own east coast yard, for pennies each.  Nor does it make sense to me to pay $6-7 a dozen for organic eggs that don’t taste that great – not even half as good as the eggs from chickens that roam my lawn eating ticks [oh yeah, and savaging baby plants and kicking the mulch off the beds…].

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“Is she talking about us again?”  “Sustainability?? Ha! Why can’t that woman go — scratch up some bugs or something?”

 

I want to grow some of my own food, I thought, but I don’t want to be consumed by that job. I love the goals of food and energy independence, but also love being part of a larger system of growers whose focused hard work sustains my life. If being “sustainable” means me hand washing all Owen’s bedding in a tub of water each morning…aaacckkk!

But thinking of sustainable leads me to kale. Naturally.  Kale, the ugly duckling of health foods! Here is a plant that is highly nutritious and pretty easy to grow (as long as you keep the bunnies off it) [and chickens] for many months of the year in my climate, particularly if you have a greenhouse structure to extend the season – and tadum!! we do now!

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Nowadays, we use kale at breakfast, sautéd with our bacon and eggs and butter in place of toast. (It’s delicious, as long as you don’t expect it to taste like toast.)  Sometimes we throw it in soups or sauces. Sautéed greens and onions make a great side dish at dinner too.  The point is that growing dark greens and lettuce is feasible, time-wise and space wise, and it’s feasible money wise considering an organically grown  bunch costs $3, and so does a tray of seedlings. Well – feasible money wise if it works. [If I beat the bunnies and chickens to it…] Check back next fall.

To live sustainably – to sustain all the things that need sustaining – is a balancing act. For Sharon Stronger, leaving the grid behind and adopting a slower paced kid-centered life has meant mental health.  For me something a bit different is required. But like so many other subjects, “sustainability” is a nuanced, many layered topic once you get into it, and a conversation worth having.

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Sniff

WHO Says?

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This is a blog about gardening, growing you own food in a suburban setting. Creating your own food stream. Today we spend a minute or two on the why of gardening, on the larger picture of what we eat, and why, and who says so. It’s all my pediatrician’s fault.

I sat in the pediatrician’s office this week with one of my kids who was getting a physical, looking at the Food Pyramid he has posted on the back of his examination room door.  To educate growing minds, presumably, about how to be healthy, be strong, and live long.

Sigh. In every other way my pediatrician is such a brilliant guy.

The first problem I have with Food Pyramid is that in every version the whole bottom layer, the widest layer, indicating “eat the MOST of this!” is made up of carbohydrates, a completely unnecessary food source. (The body can make glucose from fat, and fat from glucose. Check it out for your self about carbohydrates ) Don’t get me wrong – carbohydrates taste yummy. I love them. Many people can digest starchy veggies like carrots and even potatoes ok without triggering an huge insulin problem. And some number of people can eat the various grass seed heads that become bread, pasta, cakes, cookies without any ill effects. Good for them. But alas,  even though I am not celiac, and am otherwise pretty healthy, meaning that I am not overweight, nor dealing with diabetes, nor dealing with ADD or ADHD, and have none of the auto-immune diseases so common today, I cannot eat grain-based foods without getting sick.  This is just from being intolerant. What does that mean? Although I love to lie to myself about it, grains trigger a host of symptoms, particularly when mixed with sugar, as in pies, breads, bagels, cakes, crackers, doughnuts, pasta etc,etc. Instantly, itchy bumps form at my hairline and behind my ears, in my eyebrows. My ear canals itch and crack open and ooze liquid stuff.  I can get away with a little cheating – I am not celiac – but if  I persist in eating grain based foods for long enough, allergies, colds, and ear infections follow.  If I just have a little bit, I only risk increasing my interest in them – and it is so hard to turn off the carbohydrate machine, once he is aroused.

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From 2016

The next problem I have with the FDA and food charts is the amount of influence large corporations seem to have over what is printed on the chart.  For instance, Big Sugar. How is it that sugar on the chart at all, even as “eat sparingly”?  Sugar is an addictive substance (come on, you know this. Do you really need a bunch of research mice to prove it?) Who eats sugar sparingly? Besides, it is now added to most stored-made foods. From lunch meats to pasta sauces to mustard. Even though my ear canals were telling me first, Dr. Lustig and the World Health Organization are there to remind me that sugar is liver-toxic. (Why believe my ears? see for yourself about Dr Lustig, and WHO sugar guidelines)  And then as far as corporate influence goes there’s Big Dairy. Dairy is in the third row on the Pyramid, after vegetables and fruits. In the newest FDA recommendations it has it’s own spot, in your glass:

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Current FDA recommended daily allowances diagram

Just speaking personally, I began to claim my health back about a decade ago when I mostly cut out dairy, which I only did in support of one of my children who was on a special diet.  That was when I stopped having seasonal allergies. Wow. If I want to have seasonal allergies again, all I have to do is enjoy dairy in the season. Especially if I combine it with wheat. Believe me, I have tried this. I experimented with grassfed raw dairy to see if that was any better — I am very fond of dairy, much more so than sugar — but nope. Apparently I am not alone in this (Dairy Products, by Dr. Gina Shaw, MD )

On the top of the Food Pyramid is a tiny space for fat and sugar. WE talked about sugar, but why is fat up here, at the top? My best indicator of what I should eat or not eat is how I feel when I do it – that’s the only measure that has ever been any good to me.The fads come and the fads go. I tasted some “low-fat” foods and could tell right away that they would irritate me. All sugars, no fat. I know that I need fat desperately. I notice that I will not over-eat of fat. It stops being appetizing. When you need fat, you know it! When you eat too much straight butter, butter becomes unappealing.  I notice that naturally occurring fats, such as butter on my vegetables, bacon with my green vegetables, avocados and olive oil with salt on my salads tastes SO GOOD!  I have read that the vitamins in greens and broccoli are absorbed best in the presence of fats, because they are fat-soluble vitamins. Vitamins A and D.  This could be true – how would I know? I am not a scientist.  But what I know for sure is that eating dark green with butter or bacon tastes awesome , and makes me feel great. Whereas pancakes with bacon fat makes me feel stuffed and uncomfortable. And Gluten Free crackers with butter don’t hurt me much, but never really satisfy, even if I eat the whole bag…

By now it should be obvious that I have a very crummy digestive system. You may be wondering, what does work, Wystan?  Thanks to the support of my sister Ann (also on a quest for her health), I have discovered some wonderful things. The broth of bones cooked for 24 or more hours, with carrots, onions, garlic, celery, mushrooms, and some meat cubes makes such a delicious stew. Chicken bones cooked overnight, allowed to cool, and then reheated for another day release amazing things from their marrows for a fabulous healing chicken vegetable soup. Awesome with curry!!  Bacon fried up with onions and any kind of greens (kales, mustard greens, collards – each has it’s unique texture and flavor) are nourishing for hours. Greens steamed a minute and touched with butter are delicious, if you find you don’t want bacon. Brussels sprouts chopped are also delicious sauteed with butter or a slice of bacon chopped up with onions. Then there’s fermented foods: one head of chopped Cabbage, pounded with sea salt, stuffed into a mason jar and left alone for four days in the dark makes amazing, buttery sauerkraut. It’s alive with probiotics, and chases away colds, it’s true, but I eat it because it tastes so – yum- well, I don’t know anything that tastes quite like it! Wonderful! Especially if you add some fresh ginger and red pepper flakes.

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Homemade sauerkraut

Vegetables are dah BOMB. But as with any source of food, you need to know how to work magic on the raw ingredients. Years before we began to fry Kale up with butter or bacon and onions, kale I bought would wither in my fridge. It looked so – ugh. Dull. Scratchy! How was I gonna put that weird stuff in my mouth?? Yuk. But steamed in a little water, and touched with butter, and your tongue AND your body tell me YES! You want this stuff!   There is a reason people eat have eaten collards with the ham bone or a piece of fat back for hundreds of years.

This season, I am going to do my best to put my garden where my mouth is – increasing the rows of kale in my garden by about 100%.  🙂 (Like I said, we didn’t use to like kale much.) The temporary greenhouse that we have struggled to finish (it’s getting there!) will be temporary only in the sense that the plastic walls and roof can be rolled up part of the year. It will be a permanent part of growing. In terms of “growing my own” there is nothing we eat more of right now than salads and dark green vegetables, and this simple structure should allow us to keep growing our own well into winter. We’ll see! Always so much to learn – whether it’s tuning in to your body’s messages, or tuning in to what nature has to teach you outside it. When choosing your seeds, listen to what you love to eat, and listen to what your soil and climate want to grow. It’s always a dance.

But as for what the FDA’s Food Pyramid knows that can help you – fahgeddaboutit.

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Using Your Garden: Lavender

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Hi dear readers – this is the first of a series of segments that I will thread through my garden and chicken posts, talking about putting the many things that pop up in your garden to USE in your home. After all, how do you know what you want to grow if you don’t have an idea what you would use it for? And so much knowledge of how to use plants (and weeds!) has been lost, in the era of the supermarket. Today’s subject is DRYER SHEETS or more accurately, giving your laundry a nice scent without buying any of those chemically scented thingys.

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I have always felt that it can’t be that difficult to do-it-yourself dryer scent. And since I hate and therefore do not use chemical scents, yet am certainly wifty enough to leave the wet laundry sitting for too long, forgotten and accumulating nasty odors, my towels and sheets could really use some perfume help.  So for years now I’ve been messing around with how to use homegrown lavender.  I tried laying it between sheets or towels (pretty crumbly on re-entry). I tried different kinds of bags,  which always seemed too small to have much impact on a load of wet stuff.

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Plus it was difficult to fill the bags without making more mess, and awkward stuffing lavender into a sack.  And the bags seemed to leak leaves.  Lavender is a fine natural product, but that doesn’t mean your dryer likes it as much as you do. Since it was kind of a pain, I forgot to use it all.

My conclusion: this needs to be more simple, and more effective, to be worth doing. Until today.

 

 

 

 

Here is solution, result of my many messes:

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Using an old sock, and tying the top, allows a lot of area for the lavender leaves to make contact with the tumbling damp laundry. Tying the top of the sock makes it pretty sure that the plant material will stay inside. And look how easy it is to fill it up! (I just figured this out this morning.)  No mess!!

So, how do you get started? Plant lavender in a sunny location. In summer pick leaves and flowers. (They say pick early morning for greatest potency with all herbs)

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DRYING lavender is easy peasy.  You can simply hang it upside down, out of the sun, in nice dry weather. I throw mine in a dehydrator, since I live in wonderful moist Maryland (ps this is a GREAT product for gardeners, I highly recommend getting a dehydrator, particularly because it is much less scary than the pressure cooker canner (which I also got second hand, am terrified of, and have yet to use)). But if you don’t have a dehydrator, simply place the leaves on parchment, or a paper towel, on a baking sheet and put into the oven at it’s lowest setting (about 170 degrees). A convection oven is ideal, since the circulating air will help – you want to dry the lavender, not cook it. The idea is to preserve the essential oils in the plant. Once the oven is warm, you may even wish to just leave the oven light on. When the plant is crunchy dry, store it in a plastic bag, or a jar (and add some of those little “keep fresh” sacks left over from vitamin bottles etc to help keep the herb dry.)

Voila!

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Publish or Perish?

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Did someone get the memo?

Somehow between the traveling to wrestling tournaments, and extended bouts of ill health, February garden prep at the Simons Gardens crawls on. No, I don’t have my lettuce started. I wish I had a cool photo of an emerging green house to show you, but all I have is stakes in the ground so far – beeeautifully painted stakes though. Edward likes to do things right. Maybe THIS weekend we’ll assemble the roof and sides..

Meanwhile, the chickens. WHAT is up with these chickens? I have never had so much trouble, or truly I wouldn’t still be doing keeping chickens for  eggs. Although at this point I can’t imagine going back. Eggs from our own yard are so fabulous – it’s hardly worth eating any others, “organic” or not. Still — if we aren’t getting eggs…

Out of ten hens, all winter I averaged 3 eggs a day. Terrible. Seven eggs out of ten hens would be normal.  Laying is improved by plugging in the string of chili pepper lights we have strung up in the coop, providing extended light from 5:30 – 7:30 or so. A couple days now we got 5 eggs!  ONE day last week we got 7 eggs out of ten, now a photo-worthy event. (I wondered if the girls heard Edward plotting their demise…!)  Ours are working girls, not pets, more a farm than a zoo. Animals that are sick or unproductive must be culled. Our gardens in general, our whole effort in growing, is to  learn and to show how much food a family can grow for itself on a half acre in suburbia. It’s a continuing education.

Let me digress for a moment on the uncomfortable subject of keeping of animals for food: I am not opposed to being mostly vegetarian, if I could digest grains and dairy healthfully, that would be possible. Many people cannot be healthy eating the carbohydrates that form the backbone of the American diet, and I, and my husband, and our children are some of them. Then, if you buy food cheap, you have to be ok with inferior food, and an inferior life for the animals that make up part of what’s on your plate. So, we dedicate more of our income to groceries than most Americans do. We want the animals who form part of our diet to have a decent life, for their own sakes and for ours, so we try to buy meat from smaller organic grower operations, close to home.  Smaller farms have more control over the lives of their animals. The less distance it travels, the fresher food is, and the less fuel it takes to get it into our kitchen. If we had the space we might raise more animal food ourselves. Then you really have control over what they get to eat, and how often they pasture.

Having said all that, it isn’t easy to do it right. Raising good food takes education, and patience – and in our country too few buyers seem willing to reward our farmers for the terribly important work they do by paying well for quality edibles.

To prove the difficulty, I look at my chicken flock. I think about what kind of care they re getting. I wonder what I am missing. Could it be that the wild birds who keep getting into the run are dropping diseases? Despite all my research, and yogurt feedings, apple cider vinegar in their drinking water, the poopy backsides continue on most of the flock. (Called Vent gleet)  I dusted them all for lice in the fall. The test for parasites came up negative. I cleaned out the coop, put down new straw everywhere in the run. The girls rotate on four paddocks, two of them grassy. They get daily kale and extra seeds. They seem very happy. But they don’t lay.

Lately the girls have been getting extra snacks helping out in the garden beds in their messy way – scratching out bugs and larva (who knows what they’re getting – amazing eyesight!) Although they kick the dirt around, the long term benefits are real.  I come around after them and put the top soil back where it goes, covering the roots of the perennial plants again.  Last Sunday I called them over to the asparagus bed, hoping to wipe out the beetle larva that are certainly over-wintering there. I weeded in the sunshine, and they scratched alongside.

Before we cull, I have one more idea. I have a friend whose husband …looks at poop for a living. (Hey, somebody has to do it.)  He’s a professor of poop actually, at George Washington University. Maybe I can barter some scientific examination for some salad dressing.  John is a big fan of Edward’s Honey Mustard Vinaigrette.  

But as Harvey Ussery says in his helpful book about gaining food independence, The Small-Scale Poultry Flock, “The recuperative powers of a chicken following even quite serious injury are astounding…On the other hand, where illness is concerned chickens pretty much have two settings: “On” and “Off.” Once a chicken has become ill, the chances of recovery – while not impossible – are so low it makes sense to cull immediately.” (p 218) (Note that Ussery hardly ever has any illness with his flocks though, because his careful management of the flock imitates nature in every way.)

Forgetting this advice, last fall I spent $100+ to find a cure for White Chicken, only to learn she was far more ill than I knew. Until then I had been far too practical to ever take a chicken to the vet — and I’ll be far too practical to ever do it again. The clock is ticking, chickies. For both of us.

Growing Our Healthcare

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Oooh! scary title! — But this is actually not a post about politics, but about growing your own healthcare products. Time to start thinking about your summer gardens!…

Edward meets all kinds of interesting people through work – he’s the CEO of his own company Safeware, a safety product distributor.  A few weeks back over a business lunch he met Susan, who sells protective garments during the day, but in her other life is an avid gardener and a member of the Weston Price Foundation! She told him about how she makes fermented vegetables and grows much of her own food. He was impressed that under that mild mannered business exterior there lay such a warrior for sustainability! Susan also told about growing herbs for healing, and about the success she’s had with the Calendula Salve she makes for herself. When he relayed their interesting conversation to me, I asked the obvious question. “Hey! could we buy some of that salve from her?”

Next thing I know, a package arrived with this little pot and Susan’s leter about her personal experiences growing and using herbs to heal – which I share below with her permission. Let this be a lesson to us all:  we ordinary people who grow our own food (and medicine) are EVERYWHERE!!

Now, in grey February, is a good time to get re-inspired: We can grow our own organically raised food, yes in our suburban back (and front) yards. We can make a difference to our health and our pocketbook, in this same action. And there is always more to learn about how to try again, to do it better.

“Hi Wystan,

I am Susan …and I had lunch with Ed and Daric on Thursday. (…) 

Ed asked if I made cookies over the holidays, and I told him I probably do not eat like many people. Then I told him I’m a WAPF [Weston A. Price Foundation] member, and he said that you guys are in this not quite mainstream world as well. I make sourdough bread, kombucha, eat grass fed beef, pastured eggs, raw dairy, use real lard and coconut oil extensively, make cream cheese and whey from excess raw milk (and love to eat it). I grow a decent sized garden (60 x 30ft) plus about 6 more raised beds (…). I also have a few plots that I use for herbs and medicinal plants. 

I shared the story below about calendula. He told me you were interested, so I’ve searched your email from your blog and am sending this info.

All of this is a continuous education for me, so I cannot say I do any of it perfectly. But I enjoy the learning. Over the last couple of years, I’ve grown and dried comfrey, yarrow, holy basil, (tulsi), plantain, and others I don’t remember. I tincture some of these, and with others I also infuse oils. I usually turn oils into salves.

Twice over the summer I cut a finger that took a while to stop bleeding. I went to the comfrey “patch,” broke off part of a leaf, chewed it, held it to the cut for about 5 minutes, and put a bandaid on it. By the next day, I could not feel the cuts. Usually a paper cut hurts for days. The comfrey immediately sealed these injuries. I have used comfrey salve, but most salve recipes make a firm salve, as firm as lip balm. I think the creamier, less dense salves are better for injuries. To get creamier salves, I am not using half the beeswax called for in such recipes. 

I grew calendula for the first time over the summer. It was late in the season when I realized I should infuse oil from the flowers. I gathered them and followed the process below. I left the flowers in the olive oil for about 10-12 weeks. Just before Christmas, i made salve, and used half as much beeswax as the recipe called for. (I added a pinch of tumeric powder to make a darker color – easier to identify, and one website suggested it).

Two days later I burned a finger on a stove (second degree – blistered fast). I put it under cool water and then remembered that calendula is for skin tissues. I put some salve and a bandaid loosely over burn. I changed the bandaid and used salve before bed. The next morning I could see the injury on my finger, but there was no pain at all. My burns just do not heal that quickly. 

Anyway, I am a believer in this stuff now. I took some to my mother at Christmas. She had a toe that was rubbing the toe next to it and there was a small open sore. I tried the calendula salve. Within two days the sore was healed. (…) I don’t know what else it might do, but so far I am impressed. I’ve ordered calendula seeds to plant more this year.

Ed mentioned your buying the slave from me. I really only make things for my personal use… but I have no problem at all sending a sample. 

[This] link .. is also good:  http://www.mommypotamus.com/calendula-salve-recipe/

As I said I am no expert, but if I can help in any way, please let me know.

Susan”

 Thanks Susan! you are an inspiration!  Out into the garden I go – we have a greenhouse to finish!

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“What’s she waiting for?”  “I thought that thing would be built by now.” “Bagawk! Typical! Always another project.”   

 

Get Ready—

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I have something exciting to show you today. Are you ready?  Ok —

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Tadumm!! WOW!!  The garlic is UP! – isn’t it beautiful?

Could it be that last fall’s kale will over-winter and start up again in spring?

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(Also can someone tell me why the leaves are still being chewed? who knew kale was so desirable??  guess those critters know something!)

And look at the mint, all ready to go! file_001-2

Forty degrees and sunny this morning!  My friend Erin has already ordered her seed for this year’s garden (true, she has a big greenhouse), and it feels like get ready – get set – BOOM!  Before you know it, it will be spring. Yeah I know, I know, Maryland’s biggest snowfalls come in March. Ever since I married 25 years ago my husband has been making that remark, and some years it’s true and some not.  The weather is so wacky these days that anything could happen. But the POINT is that this garlic knows what to do, and so should you. Put those roots down into the soil and STRETCH! (Did you do your planks today? Hmmm? I did mine! Edward is up to four now, so I had better get cracking.)

Now it’s time to — get paper and make garden plans.

This winter we have been looking with shock and horror at last year’s expenditures. Since one thing I refuse to economize on is as many organically raised edibles as possible, I will be looking for

A) how to get as much food from our garden as possible this year, and

B) how to put up as much food from our garden as possible.

“Putting up” means canning probably, as well as the dehydrating and freezing that are easier. That will be next fall’s job. I know I can capture more than I do. Did you catch my re-posting of Shannon Stronger’s blog post on canning? (She’s inspiring – here – Nourishing Days ) This means next August I will have to face something I am very afraid of: the pressure cooker canner. Got one at a yard sale, and there it sits. I may ask Mary, the accomplished older lady who used to own it, to come over and give me a lesson. I am truly terrified of this thing. I feel like I will mess up and it will explode. Silly. But long before the pressure cooker canner, we have to start growing the food.

The first task for “getting as much food as possible out of a garden” is to extend the season – start early. Which means GREENHOUSE. Without a protected environment even in sunny Maryland we cannot hope to eat food form our garden til midsummer. I hope to get lettuces, greens, and radishes, maybe even the elusive broccoli started very soon, and be eating them in March. Now Edward and I have talked for years about putting in a really cool greenhouse – built into the bank maybe, facing southeast. We love to build things, to renovate things…. But building a greenhouse will not do much for the budget.  Oh yeah, that. So, my plan is to wrap a small area of our garden beds on the south side in a plastic enclosure, using sturdy stakes and some of the ornamental plastic sheeting that lies draped about the property here and there, waiting for its next assignment. (Gives the neighbors something to look at.)

Here is my plan:

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Thanks to you all this is actually a lot clearer than most of the sketches I hand to Edward to explain myself when I have a “vision.” So – now that we have envisioned it, all that is left is to actually build it! Oh, that.

I guess I had better get out there locating stakes and plastic sheeting.

 

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“She didn’t even talk about US! Did you notice? Humph!”  “Who wants to hear about garlic and kale??” “I like kale!”   “I can’t lay eggs without publicity.”

 

Supergirls

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Yogurt snacks for my Barred Rock

Good January Morning! Garden Update: The parsley is all that’s left, but it’s still going!  Through snow, thru ice, thru frigid nights!  Tough stuff.

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Our parsley – January 11, 2017

What a great symbol for human growth and survival, right? OR for a relationship! And speaking of relationships, gardens, and chickens, today I am re-posting something irresistible – from another chicken lover and writer Lori Odhner.  She always has funny and warm things to say about relationships, marriages, families – and chickens! In this case, all together. Find Lori’s daily postings at her facebook address for Caring for Marriage.

So — Can Chickens Save Your Relationship?

Araucana Chicken, 8 days old, in front of a white background, studio shot

Photo of Super Girl borrowed from Google Images

More than Eggs
There was a popular post on a chicken page that I added to. Someone asked what we had learned by having flocks. Most of the comments had to do with how much we enjoy them, and their endearing personalities. But one woman changed the tone when she said that chickens saved her marriage.

“Before I had chickens I didn’t know how blessed my life really was. My husband and I were on the verge of divorce. We had nothing in common. We didn’t do anything together. We fought over everything. There was no connection. We realized we needed something to do together. A hobby. A reason to connect. With our love of animals we chose to start a small chicken farm. Instead of wasting energy fighting with each other we spend our energy on taking care of our birds. We laugh over the silly things they do. We have learned so much about them. We work hard sun up to sun down together. We do the chores together. We sit and talk for hours on what we can change to make them happy. We talk. We talk to each other again. We have connected all over again. It has truly been a miracle. We cry when one dies we laugh when one does something funny. He laughs. I laugh again. Before chickens he was my room mate. Now we are husband and wife again. My birds saved my marriage.”

I sent her a private message. asking if I could tell her story, and she went on to tell me about her husband’s relationship with their birds.

“They like to roost on his lawn mower and four wheeler haha poor guy! I’m pretty sure they do it because they know it irritates him !! But if you ever get the chance to see a grown man stand there and lecture a bird it’s a sight ! Then the bird jumps on his shoulder and they walk around the yard together buddies once again. Makes the most aggregating days worth it.”

I was moved to hear her story. Then I reread it, and noticed that she had learned that her life was blessed before having birds. But she didn’t realize it. Many of us welcome a fresh day with a couple of eggs. It sounds like chickens gave her and her husband a fresh start to their relationship.
Love,

Lori
Lori Odhner
Caring for Marriage
photo by Joy A Feerrarimg_5678

How Does Your Muscle Grow?

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At least the chickens can still find something to eat out there…

So friends, ’tis true, your garden beds are bare. But there is something that we gardeners can still be growing — even in this dark and dreary, un-gardenable season. You don’t even have to go outside to do it.

Yes, I thought, as I huffed through a plank (yes one plank) this morning, this is the best thing I can do right now to insure a good harvest next season! PLANKS! Eww, sick, I know. But the solid truth is that gardening can be really hard on my bod. During the off season I do a lot more sitting,get soggy in the middle, and have a lot more back, neck, and shoulder pain than in the summer.

Unlike some of you athletic people, I was not endowed with a hearty frame. In fact, I’m pretty proud of what this scrawny ectomorph-ic structure has been able to do. Much as I have always hated to see myself as frail, I was a sickly kid. I spent years eating foods that irritate me, being chronically sick, and carrying Kleenex around in all seasons. I could blame my scoliosis (an S shaped spine) for what I cant do  –  and it is the major reason why the life a real farmer is not for me. But what I do in the garden is great for strengthening me. When I am outside again, hoisting boards, shoveling dirt, and balancing wheelbarrows for a portion of every day, I do better – PROVIDED I have strengthened my supportive muscles.  At 53, I am careful about what movements I make (not bending at the waist, not lifting stuff), but it doesn’t stop me much. I believe in creative solutions.

Isn’t it tragic though how muscle tissue melts away sans regular use?  Sob.  Gone with summer’s golden brown tan. So, I am going to advocate – to myself and you – to grow your muscles this winter season. YOU are part of your permaculture! Yes – don’t fuss now – I am planning on a winter of daily yoga and strengthening!!

There was a time when Edward laughed at me if I had tried to get him to do yoga stretching. I could see how tight his muscles were, but time for stretching was outside his frame of reference. “Yoga, yogurt, and tofu” all belonged in the same phrase to him, signalling what was goofy and not part of his world. But no more. (Although we do not eat tofu)  When Edward developed an incredibly painful, mystery back condition two years ago, stretching out with Rodney Yee every morning was about the only thing that helped.  The pain in his back was healed six months ago, by an excellent acupuncturist in DC.  But AM Yoga with Rodney Yee  is still part of his morning ritual before the dog walk. To enjoy making your garden grow, you need to be relatively strong, and relatively flexible. Flexible in lots of ways…

So, here I go – three months to enjoy my seed catalogs – and do my planks! (Ok,ok, I know… turning off the computer – leaving for the gym….)

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The most muscle in winter garden -last Parsley struggles on