Tuesday, August 28, 2012

There's gold in these hills!

Well... Not really gold, but it is a nice golden flower. First of all, I want to point out that goldenrod gets a bad rap, it's pollen is heavy and is pollinated by insects, therefore is not the cause of your seasonal allergies. Ragweed looks similar, but the important distinction here is that the long lance shaped leaves of goldenrod grow directly on the stem, while rag weed, branches off and the leaves only grow on these branches.

I harvested some of this today for herbal teas this winter. I have been reading up on it and I have come to the conclusion that having some dried leaves/flowers stored in a jar would be invaluable! You can use it for a variety of common ailments, including sore throats. However, the one I found most interesting is that it is sometimes used to treat seasonal affective disorder, and to stimulate the digestive system. Because the herb induces sweating it increases circulation while also helping to reduce fevers. Mostly I was interested in using it as a gargle for sore throats since winter usually brings on at least one sore throat that makes me hate my life for a few days. In fact, this is also sometimes known as Blue Mountain Tea and has been known to be used for nearly every digestive ailment, and even UTIs.

So just a few factoids for you all. It is kind of a bitter anise-like flavor, as it is described, and it has also been said that every species is different so some are less bitter than others. I will let you know how it turns out! Of course the herbs will take a couple of weeks to dry, and then I will have my first trial run!

**DISCLAIMER:**The medicinal information here is just that, I am not a doctor nor I am an herbalist, while I do extensive reading on each plant, I do not in any way guarantee that these plants are safe to ingest. I also do not want anyone to take anything I say as being sound medical advice, once again, I AM NOT A DOCTOR! So if you have any sort of medical condition, or aren't positive that you actually have goldenrod in your yard, consult a doctor, or an herbalist! I am merely relating information to you that I have found on the internet myself, and it is up to you entirely what you do with it.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Hips Don't Lie (a little more about rose hips)

So, I felt the need to add on to the previous post concerning rose hips. I wanted to sort of fill in some blanks that I may have left without intending to do so.

First of all, I just want to say every rose produces hips, and all rose hips are safe to eat (just make sure that the plant you are getting them off of is a rose! Also be cautious of the use of pesticides!). The hip is the fruit of the plant, and while all roses produce hips some roses will have tastier hips than others. Yes, not all hips are super tasty, they are all a great source of vitamin C, but some species of rose have better tasting hips than others. Further research into this matter shows that the dog rose (rosa canina) has the tastiest hips of all of the rose species. This wild rose is a climber, and can be trained into a shrub. It produces bright red hips that are typically oblong in shape. Unless it has something to climb on this plant will typically only grow to be about 3 feet tall (1 meter), but if it has something to climb on it can reach heights of 15 feet (5m)!

When harvesting rose hips it's said to wait four months after they have formed (oops!) before gathering them. At this point you can either solely collect the seeds or you can also prep the fruit for making jelly, wine, or whatever else your little heart desires to make with the hips. Just a word of caution, the little hairs on the inside of the fruit need to be removed before cooking the fruit, and the little hairs are sometimes used to make itching powder, so be a little careful when cleaning the fruit. If you want to harvest the seeds out of them soak the seeds overnight, discard the ones that float to the top because these seeds are not ready and will most likely not germinate if you plant them. Now you're ready to plant those little guys and see what comes up!

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Roses have hips? (a.k.a. catch-up post)

So yeah, just a catch up post, sharing some things I learned about plants that are growing in my part of New York State, and all the fun things I learned while researching them. I really have my son to thank for this, as his constant questions keep me interested in the natural world while we hang out outside.

So the first plant we came across was this vine with this spiky looking fruit on it. Which, I immediately poked to see if the spines were sharp. Yes, I learned absolutely nothing from the various cacti I have stuck myself with. Well, the spines on it aren't sharp they are soft, and so is the fruit, I wouldn't let the kiddo touch it until I knew what it was so I went inside and did some research. Turns out this highly prolific plant (because it is EVERYWHERE in the back yard) is a wild cucumber, but also goes by manroot, and old man in the earth. It's not harmful to touch, but can be poisonous to ingest, and the plant derives it's name from the large tuber that spawns the vines. Evidently the tuber can be several feet long and weigh up to 100lbs in larger plants. The tuber also has soap-like properties and the fruits can act as loofahs when they are dried and the spikes removed.. So this plant is like the ultimate bathroom buddy. Well I am glad to finally know what this plant is, but I am concerned about trying to find this tuber and unearthing it, if the amount of vines in the yard are any indication, this thing is going to be like digging up a body.

I talked to my son about how various plants release seeds, and we looked at the way various plants spread, since we also have burdock in the yard we talked about how some plants rely on animals to get from place to place. Then, came the fun part of the evening, I showed him the "spotted touch-me-not" that is thriving in the perimeter of the yard. These plants are actually a lot of fun because when their
seed pods are ready to disperse their seeds if you touch them they spring open and fling seeds in every direction. I myself spent the better part of half an hour poking seed pods when I read this online after identifying the plants about two weeks ago. So we had more fun last night as I hunted down the seed pods that were ready to pop and the kiddo touched them and then laughed as the seeds flew everywhere. Part of me cringes to think of the crazy amount of seeds we threw everywhere, and hence this nice border plant is going to be everywhere very shortly. It is a weed, but it's kind of pretty, and the flowers are very unique. It's not poisonous, but really has no use, although supposedly it does help to neutralize poison ivy oil when you get it on your skin. This isn't something I am willing to test out, nor can I really test out since I don't react to poison ivy. But if you do run into some poison ivy and use some of these crushed up leaves and it works, let me know.

Well, the whole reason that I wanted to take this tour of the yard was to harvest some of the rose hips that we have on the multitude of rose bushes that are thriving in the yard. I always thought these things were finicky and hard to grow, but I may have to change that opinion since they are taking over the parts of the yard they have been planted in. I wanted to be sure to harvest the hips off of the bushes that are sporting the most colorful fruit and also happen to be turning this lovely purple color. Another thing about living in the mountains, it feels like fall, and some of the leaves are already changing. So the current plan is to sheet mulch the strip of lawn on the south side of the house, which is really nothing more than a pain in the butt to mow, and replace the grass with rose bushes. I want something there that I don't need to mow. This is part of the process of getting rid of as much lawn as possible and start using that space to produce food. I want enough roses in my yard to produce some rose hip jelly next year, this is the ultimate goal, and I am going to start these seeds indoors next spring and transplant them outside. So why put so much effort into growing roses if all I really want from them are the rose hips? Good question!

Rose hips are not only tasty and used to make jelly, tea, and marmalade, but they also have some great medicinal properties. They are really high in vitamin C (higher than citrus fruits), which for those of us around here looking to eat local is incredibly important because we can't even grow citrus fruits. Without vitamin C you get scurvy, which while talking like a pirate is fun, scurvy is not. Since my ultimate goal is to eat solely local foods, this was a revelation, living in an area with a limited growing season and trying to ensure you don't get certain diet deficiencies is pretty challenging. Aside from their vitamin content, they also have lycopene which is great for prostate health. Rosehips have anti-inflammatory properties, which can be great for those of you who have arthritic joints. I read online that they are sometimes combined with hibiscus leaves to make a tea (hibiscus leaf tea is a wonderful way to lower blood pressure naturally).

I know that it's going to be a challenge growing roses from seeds and I am going to cut open the hips now and soak the seeds overnight to see if some of the ones I picked yesterday will germinate. Wish me luck, I am doing some experimental stuff here.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Sheet Mulching

This is one technique that I recently learned about and just absolutely fell in love with! Mostly because (in my opinion) the biggest deterrent to starting a garden is the idea of ripping up the sod, and tilling. The process is so labor intensive and then you have to figure out a place to put all of that plant matter you have removed from the ground. If you feel the same, then you're probably going to just love this idea. Next time you plan on starting a garden, don't rip up grass, and don't worry about raking up and removing the plant matter from the plot you've cleared, simply layer over it! Yes, that's right, plan on just going right over it!

I know it seems pretty crazy, everything we learn about planting a garden seems to tell us to rip out those weeds and get them as far away from the plants you want as possible. However, one of the biggest points of permaculture farming/gardening is that you want to do everything you can to encourage proper soil health. Healthy soil is living soil, it is full of decaying plant matter that encourages worms to be present, and it should smell like the dirt on a forest floor. Personally, I love the smell of dirt on a mountain trail, just something about it makes you feel so grounded (ha! I crack myself up).

So how do you do it? It's not completely labor free, but honestly compared to the alternative it's like the difference between running through a waist deep field of grass, or through waist deep water. Here's a basic how-to:

1. Look at the area you want to plant, and decide what kind of soil you want out of it (basically if you need acidic soil, add some acidic plant matter, like pine needles etc). Determine what you need to add to the base layer, and mark out the area you will be turning into your garden.

2. Mow/Cut/Knock over the plants. You want everything laying flat, but you also want to remove the large pieces of plant matter (branches, thick stems). Basically if you can't step on it and have it lay flat for a bit after then get rid of it.

3. Put your initial layer of compost/mulch down, and soak it with water.

4. If you have any trees or shrubs to plant, do so now, but be careful to not pile up compost/plant matter too closely to them as you prepare the rest of the layers.

5. Place your layer that will act as a weed barrier. You can use anything biodegradable here, but the most common choices are newspaper/cardboard. You will need about 3-6 layers of newspaper, and you need it to be a nice even cover, with the edges overlapping quite a bit, the point here is to prevent weeds from popping through. After you have that placed, do yourself a favor and wet it down a little to keep it from flying away as you complete the next couple of phases.

6. Layer mulch/compost on top of the weed barrier. Basically this layer mimics the way a forest floor works, you have plant matter and dirt layered to help break down everything below it by encouraging beneficial insects to be present. So aside from compost you can layer in wood chips, dead leaves, straw. Basically put the compost down first and then the plant matter on top of it, your goal is at least a 2 inch top layer.

You can plant seedlings in the mulch/compost layer, or more well established plants can get planted right below the weed barrier by poking a hole right through it for the plant. This is also something you can pretty much do for free if you plan it just right. Personally, this fall as I rake leaves I am going to get some cardboard/newspaper from the bins at the dump and harvest some local dirt to get my garden plot mulching before the snow falls. Doing it this way means that come spring my garden will be all ready for planting and the soil should be enriched by the plant matter that had all fall to decay and turn into compost.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Road Side Veggies

While I will be the first to admit I can be a horrible curmudgeon, there are times when I cannot say enough good things about people. I will admit I love living in this area this time of year, harvest season, the season to scope out all of those roadside stands for fresh vegetables and fruits plucked from gardens and hand carried to where they sit on display. This is just wonderful to me, since when I go to the grocery store (and while I admire Hannaford for labeling where the produce comes from) being told the tomato I am about to buy comes from chili, makes me a little queasy. Not only because it probably means that the produce was picked before it was even ripe, but also that it spent weeks in transit, moved from shipping containers to tractor trailers. But also because I know that very little of the food imported into the United States is tested and/or sampled by food quality assurance workers to be sure the food these big companies are bringing into the country is safe for consumption. So knowing that road stand veggies are not only greener in the sense that they don't travel as far before I buy them, but also are just more lustrous in general.

Well anyway, I have driven past this one particular road side stand a few times while driving between Plattsburgh and Lyon Mountain, and I couldn't help but to notice the squash and cucumbers piled on this little fold-up table. I have a weakness for summer squash, I love it with all my little bitty heart. Well, anyway, I stopped today and was just browsing marveling at the size of the squash, and the zucchini he had was huge as well, but it was also this lovely deep dark green that was almost black.

While I was standing there the farmer came out and greeted me, and informed me that he was just about to pick some tomatoes, which, I thanked him for but was really only interested in getting a couple of cucumbers, so he went and picked some directly from the plants for me! Was just a really nice guy, threw in a couple extra because he was worried that the one larger cucumber he gave me wouldn't have as much flavor as the smaller ones. Just a genuinely nice guy, practically giving away produce because his plants are just producing a ton of them. But it's the little things like that that make me really appreciate living in a rural area.

So if you live in the area, the guy is located nearly directly across the street from the Hyundai dealership. Probably the closest road side vegetable stand there is to town. I am so anxious for apple season to be upon us.. Late summer and early Autumn are by far my most cherished times of year!

Downsizing: Your Wardrobe

The Tumbleweed Tiny House Blog: How to Completely Simplify Your Wardrobe, Right NOW!

I think a lot of you can relate to the following scenario: you have an entire dresser/closet full of clothing, but, you find yourself wearing the same 5-6 outfits. Well my friend, this lack of variety happens subconciously and for good reason, you tend to gravitate toward the clothes that make you comfortable, and make you look good. So it really is no conspiratorial plot of your closet that you seem to always wear the same few t-shirts. I admit every time I move I can't help but to look at the things I own, and wonder why the hell I cart them from place to place. I began to seriously look at the clothing I was hording, and really critically evaluating what I needed to keep.

The article that I linked to is a great way to quickly accomplish this. However, I think it fails to address one major pitfall, that I myself fall into pretty heavily sometimes. The pitfall being "but this would be fine if I just hemmed/patched/altered it a little." Well my dear crafty friends, I know all to well this snowball effect. I don't know about you, but it almost seems like one WIP (work-in-progress) laying around the house almost always begets at least 10 cohorts without you even noticing what's happening. I will admit I am shamefully guilty of buying items in thrift stores solely with the intention of altering it, for example, I have a small stack of very large button-up men's shirts, that were going to be altered into cute summery dresses. However, it is now August (I acquired them in March, you know, PLENTY of time to complete those projects before summer), and I have made pretty close to zero progress on those projects. I have the best of intentions when acquiring these items at thrift stores, but lets face it, hording supplies for crafting quickly becomes an obsession. Not only because supplies tend to be expensive (the price of yarn, WOW), but when you envision something you want to make with it, it's really hard to just, let it go.

So let's apply this to a stack of clothes. In the case of my collection of button-ups, I set myself a deadline, if they aren't made into dresses or useable shirts within 3 months, I HAVE to give them to the Salvation Army. So, with this new deadline, that I have decided to commit to, I need to either make time, or admit that I am just merely keeping these items around for really no reason. I did turn a lot of old t-shirts with sentimental value into a quilt, and will be making another shortly. I also made t-shirt yarn out of the remnants of the t-shirts that were cut up to make the quilt, and the yarn is currently being knitted into a little rug (which my 5 year old has already told me will be going into his room when it's done). So while it is admirable to re-purpose items (and I admit I love doing it!), I really caution you against using that as a perfect excuse to keep around stacks of clothes that could be put to better use if donated, or given to a friend.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Book Review: "Twelve by Twelve" by William Powers

Definite Must Read!

Permaculture, homesteading, tiny living spaces, wrestling with the feeling of being out-of-place in our Capitalist society. This book has it all! While it is definitely NOT a how-to, and it is devoid of specific instructions, it chronicles the author's stay in a friend's 12'x12' (yup, it may be the ultimate tiny abode!). It is a wonderful read for anyone who is on the journey to "what's next" as we all begin to realize that the current way of living that we're accustomed to in Western culture is not sustainable.

Powers discusses his thoughts as he lives off grid in a friend's 12'x12' cabin, and I really got into this book. It gave me ideas, and pointed me in directions I would've never thought to research, but this book itself is purely just a good read. While I will make sure to include reviews on other books that I am currently reading in order to obtain more information on the various plans I am hatching, I felt this was a great book to start with. This book doesn't give you tutorials, it gives you ideas and inspiration. Sometimes I feel like it's best to start with a piece of literature you can relate to, so you can enable yourself to envision starting upon the path yourself. It's heartfelt, funny, and just overall human. He talks about his experiences working abroad and he has such a breadth of experiences to share that this book is never dull.

I won't talk too much in detail about the story of the book, since I am posting a review not a summary. I will however say, that at one point in the book he touches upon the idea that a local economy is what we need to develop in order to ensure the success of our nation. I couldn't agree more, and I think that this is something all local businesses should be looking into working toward. If we all looked to buy local more, and limited our visits to the big box stores, we would start to see more changes in the areas in which we live. While, I would like to point out that buying local produce and food can be more pricey (yes, you can cheap coffee at a drive-thru but isn't it more rewarding supporting the locally owned coffee shops?) but this is the real cost of food. So visit those road side stands, and Farmer's markets! You're supporting local people, and you're getting fresher products. I will get off my soapbox now, and end this review on this note: If you're even remotely interested in tiny living, permaculture, living off grid, or just feel a general disillusionment over our throw away culture, this is a great entertaining read, that will be not only enjoyable to read, but also give you plenty of food for thought.

This is just the first of many suggested reads that I will share!

Friday, August 10, 2012

Keyhole Garden

This is something that was just too cool to not share, I happened across it the other day. This is definitely a good weekend project for someone looking to have a garden in their backyard without really wanting to take on something large scale. This type of garden recycles kitchen scraps as it grows food. The video below is a great how-to:

How to Build a Keyhole Garden

I think this would be a wonderful weekend project for some of you who want to bring a garden into your backyard without either ripping up all of your sod, or tilling it. Let me know what you think!

The Three Sisters, Forest Gardens, and Hands Off Gardening

Companion gardening is nothing new, and in fact the Native Americans utilized it as a way to plant crops that involved little to no work once they began to grow. I am doing a lot of research on this topic, and on permaculture gardening and pretty soon I plan on starting to design a homestead so that it is mostly hands-off, and will share what I learn along the way.

One of the first articles I encountered while starting to research this subject explained "the three sisters." Which for those of you who are not familiar, is a specific way of planting corn, pole beans and squash where the three plants grow together in such a way that they are beneficial to one another. The corn provides a "pole" for the pole beans to grow on, and the squash is a low spreading ground cover that prevents weeds from getting enough sunlight to grow while also helping the soil retain moisture. This system is just so intuitive and so natural that it just intrigued me. So I began to research further which is what lead me to permaculture and forest gardens.

Forest Gardens with Robert Hart

Now, this video on YouTube gives a very brief introduction to the idea of forest garden, and the documentary I linked to the other day mentioned this as well, but it's an entirely low maintenance system of planting. It involves Hart's "7 Layer" technique to gardening, which shows how interplanting and proper planning can maximize the yield of an acre, while nearly eliminating the work involved in such a garden.
Now the diagram to the left (drawn by Graham Burnett) wonderfully illustrates the 7 layer technique introduced by Robert Hart, and the seven layers are as follows:

1. Canopy layer consisting of the original mature fruit trees.
2. Low-tree layer of smaller nut and fruit trees on dwarfing root stocks.
3. Shrub layer of fruit bushes such as currants and berries.
4. Herbaceous layer of perennial vegetables and herbs.
5. Ground cover layer of edible plants that spread horizontally.
6. Rhizosphere or ‘underground’ layer of plants grown for their roots and tubers.
7. Vertical layer of vines and climbers.

So not only does your garden not look like a traditional garden, it really resembles a forest, a forest of edible human friendly foods that you can harvest and eat, but also takes super low maintenance because through resembling a forest you're helping to not overwork the land, and the diversity of plant life helps to enrich the soil and keep the beneficial bugs present. Often we forget in gardening and farming that there are beneficial bugs, much like we forget in modern medicine that there are beneficial bacteria. So this sets up an eco-system in your garden, and the people feed per acre is definitely comparable to modern farming, but this system is sustainable in that, you don't need to let the fields lie fallow to recover for a year, this maintains year, after year. I am beginning to plan out which plant to obtain, and I want to just say for anyone reading this, that my garden is being planned in zone 4b, so keep in mind that I also need to select plants that are cold hearty, as we have long cold winters around here.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

An Introduction to Permaculture

Farm for the Future-- Watch the Full Documentary

This is a great documentary from the BBC that gives you a great introduction to permaculture gardening. Permaculture gardening is something I have become highly interested in recently, thanks to a book that I recently read. This documentary tries to explore how we can feed the planet when fossil fuels decline, and cease to be available.

Something to Ponder...

Life Running out of Control- Watch Full Documentary Free

This site is not only great for this particular documentary, but also gives you access to a ton more, for free. I watched this the other day, and I highly recommend that you watch it as well. It raises some important questions, and is very thought provoking. Dr. Vandana Shiva is one of the main people in this documentary, and she is very quickly becoming one of my personal heroes.

What are you thoughts on GMOs?

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Why, hello. Let me introduce myself...

My name is Shannon, and I am in recovery from Capitalism. I have suffered from Capitalism nearly my entire life, as it was there from the time I was born, surrounding me, brainwashing me, and I have just within the past few years recognized it for what it truly is. Capitalism is a disease, it's a cancer. This method of thinking is destroying our society, and causes people to be viewed only in terms of how productive they are in society. People are not valued, they are numbered, and our environment is seen only as a source of various resources. I am sick of the way our Capitalist culture treats the environment and people, and I have really begun to look at everything with a very critical eye. I want out, I don't need a brand new car, I don't need clothes that are in fashion every season, and I don't want to get caught up working in a job that I can't stand just for some illusion of financial security. If this economy has taught me anything is that nothing is permanent, and that even if you work hard your entire life, when it comes time to retire you could find your pension/retirement is completely gone. I don't want to endure the stress of a life dominated by a job I don't like, I need to make some change. I want to live more simply, I want to learn about the environment around me, I want to be more green, I want to live in tune with the Earth.

I really began this journey when I became pregnant, I began to not only look more critically at the way that food was grown and processed, but also at the way we impact the environment as a whole. This is often the case when you realize you're going to be a parent, you start to self-evaluate, because your values ultimately affect your child. What kind of child did I want to raise? What was important to me that I wanted my child to value? I have a son, he just turned 5, I have come to have a new appreciation for everything, and have worked hard to teach him to appreciate things, and value them. Though it's a hard lesson to teach a kid, less IS more, and you should value the things you have. Learn to want the things you have, and also learn to distinguish between needs and wants. This is a work in progress, however, these are the things I determined to be important to me. I am not just raising another consumer. I don't want my child to be concerned with material things, I want him to be compassionate and caring and spend his energy on more rewarding pursuits than the pursuit of more stuff.

There is more to you than the stuff you own. So many people are devastated when they have a house fire and they lose everything, but are you really the things in your house? I have tried to downsize, and living in a small one-bedroom apartment this past year has taught me to really evaluate what I truly need. Live simply. How much space do you really need, how much furniture, how much clothing? I have constantly asked myself these questions over and over, and ultimately it is leading me to the path of living in a smaller house, I am enamored of the tiny house movement. Do I really need cable, a smart phone, wireless internet, and air conditioning? I am slowly getting rid of all these things from my life. I don't need to use as many resources as I do, I can downsize, and I can start producing food for myself and my family. I can fix things rather than replacing them, I can re-purpose things that are beyond repair. Through this I also free up money, which will allow me to work less. In terms of work less is most definitely more. The more time I have to myself, the more time I have with my family, the more stable my way of life will ultimately be. I think one of the greatest problems with society is the amount that we work, that we spend commuting to and from work, and the amount of time we spend trying to just de-stress once we get home from these jobs that, let's face it, most of us cannot stand.

I want to simplify, I want to revive old crafts and skills, my dream is to have my own homestead. I have been slowly collecting information, finding better ways to do things, sketching plans. I can't tell you how many hours I have spent reading, and researching on the internet. Everyone should have this information available to them. Anyone who wants to stop merely consuming and start producing should have the information available to them and thankfully we have the internet for that. So, in conclusion, this blog is going to be my space to share sketches, photos, recipes, plans, information, tutorials, and anything else I come across as I start to intensively move toward my ultimate life goal. So I hope this can be not only an inspiration to some, but also a resource of a variety of things involved in a journey from being purely a consumer to being more self-sufficient.