Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Photo Update May 29th

The back gardens

raspberry patch
this mornings eggs
onion patch
peas climbing the garage
tomatoes and peppers
pallet greens garden

the girls
kale and collards
the girls
the girls
the girls

trees in bloom
the back garden
the girls




squash garden
the back garden

herbs and medicinals

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Herbal Allies and Wild Food from the Backyard

Now that my garden is in and growing for the season, I thought it would be a good time to take a look around at some of the wild food and herbal allies on my property. Next time you go to mow down those "weeds" or pull them out, you might want to stop and look closer. Green food and green medicine is all around us.

Symphytum The mucilage of Comfrey heals and soothes irritated tissues. The roots and leaves are astringents, mucilaginous and contain allantoin. Comfrey is really useful externally on cuts, scrapes and burns and as a infusion to soak healing and sore tissues. I use Comfrey for postpartum soaks for the the mama's I midwife. It also makes a great healing salve for all those scrapes my daughter gets sliding into home plate at softball. Comfrey has wonderful internal uses too, however, it can be toxic so I recommend you consult someone knowledgeable or learn more about this plant before using it internally.

Greater Celadine
Chelidonium majus
Greater Celadine has leaves that look like oak leaves, yellow flowers and grows just about 30 inches high.The juice of Greater Celadine is used externally for all kinds of skin disorders, corns, warts, infections and incurable herpes. Internally Greater Celadine can lower blood pressure, help stomach ailments, aid digestion, cure constipation, help with gallbladder issues, bile production, and relieve toothaches.

Jewel Weed 
Jewel Weed is an extremely important plant to get to know, especially for those of us who spend a lot of time outside in the wild. Jewel weed is the go to plant for skin irritations. If you touch poison ivy and rub jewel weed juice on the spot right away you probably won't get the rash. You can make a poultice or cream to treat poison ivy you already have. If you rub fresh jewel weed juice from the plants stem on a mosquito bite and leave it for 20 minutes the sting will go away.  It can be used for warts, bruises, and fungal skin infections. It has succulent, translucent, hollow, stem, powdered with a pale blue-green, waxy bloom and partitioned by nodes, making the plant easy to identify. It grows orange trumpet shaped flowers. Jewel weed grows up to five feet tall, branching toward the top, and toughening with age.

Common Plantain
Plantago Major
This is a very common lawn "weed". If you shred the leaves of plantain and you can cure new mosquito bites by repeatedly applying the juice for 15 minutes. It also helps heal poison ivy rash and relieve virtually any skin irritation. A tea made from the leaves of Plantain works well as a remedy for colds, flu, asthma, emphysema, bronchitis, fevers, hypertension, rheumatism, bladder problems, gastritis, ulcers, irritable bowel, cystitis, sinusitis, coughs, kidney stones, intestinal complaints, goiter, PMS, regulating menstrual flow, hoarseness, congestion, hay fever, diarrhea, and as a blood sugar stabilizer in diabetics. Plantain is a dicot with parallel leaves and a slender flower stalk. It is rich in Vitamin A, C and K.

If you want to learn more about Wild Food or plant identification I recommend the following resources: 


Edible Plants of the NorthEast pamphlet, compliled by John Root
My Favorite Plants by Blanch Derby
Edible Plants Video's by Blanche Derby

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Growing Local Food - Buying Local Food

It is May already! I've managed to get plenty of greens in the garden, along with beets, carrots, onions, herbs, strawberries and kiwis. Being outside and digging in the dirt has been really healing. The tomatoes and peppers that I started on the sun porch are happily growing and getting to be several inches tall. I have about 150 started plants that are just waiting for warmer weather. It will still be a few more weeks before I can plant those. I may see tomatoes from my indoor window boxes in the next week or two. I will attempt to wait patiently for the first CSA share of the season from Many Hands Farm Corp.

Meanwhile, I thought it was a good time of the year to talk about buying local food and have a review of some ways to buy responsibly. Just because it is at your local grocery store doesn't not mean your food is local. The same is true for the big fancy "health" food type stores (yes I mean Whole Foods). Food is often trucked in out of season from far off lands. Pay attention to the labeling and you'll find there is actually a lot less local or organic food then you may have been led to believe.

The best place to start when trying to buy local is at the source with your local farmer. Many local farms offer CSA shares of local produce and some also have winter shares and/or greenhouses, hoop houses where they grow greens throughout the winter and spring when not much is in season. You can often get local milk, cheese and honey from local farms too. Here in western, Massachusetts I can also get grains and beans grown locally. To find local farms and CSA's near you start at CISA's website http://buylocalfood.org/

One step out from the farmer are small local producers of food and your small local store. Buying from local bakeries, cooperatives and small local stores that carry local and/or organic food keeps your dollars in your community and sends the message that you support the continue presence of this resources in your community.

When you do have to go to the big grocery stores try to pay attention to where products come from, ask questions of the produce managers, make a request for more local food! When you buy food and other non produce items try to buy local when possible, organic is possible and to think about who you are giving your money to! To get the low down on the priorities and environmental/social record of some of these companies check out the Better World Shopper rankings.

You are what you eat so let's all try to put our money/energy where our mouth is and eat closer to home and closer to the garden. 

Waiting anxiously for the garden to grow....

Thursday, January 26, 2012

A Midwinter Start to a Mini Farming Season

It is midway between the winter solstice and the spring equinox. I know I just might survive winter because it is time to start planting for the upcoming year.
By the beginning of February, I had planned out the upcoming season, what crops I would plant, where each would go, when each crop would need to be started indoors, sowed outdoors or transplanted. Even when a second crop would need to be started. Just before Feb 2nd it is time to sow onions, leeks, celery and chives indoors. The week after, around Feb 12, it will be time to plant broccoli, kale, cool weather lettuce. These might be able to go out in the garden as early as March 11. Things like peas, arugula and radishes can go directly in the ground as early as March 2nd. Have you planted your onions yet?

Many people think of gardening as only a late spring and summer hobby. When warm weather hits and their local garden shop or the farmers market is selling started plants. When you are farming or growing your own food you learn quickly that "working on the garden" is something that needs to be done year round. I have been studying mini-farming, biodynamic farming, French intensive, biointensive, square foot method and a few other techniques to get a maximum harvest out of a small piece of land. These methods allow small farmers to get an equal about of harvest using only a fraction of the space. I'm excited to put some of this information into action. I'm planning to use a combination of techniques that build on the concept of healthy soil, healthy plants, maximum efficiency and maximum harvest. I won't be using raised bed, which many of these methods recommend. Still there will be a strong focus on soil preparation, planning and organization.

Let's look at a few of these methods:

Mini-Farming is a holistic approach to small-area farming that will show you how to produce 85 percent of an average family’s food on just a quarter acre. "Mini-Farming is primarily different from gardening in terms of attitude. That is, gardening is a hobby that is usually a break-even affair financially at best; whereas mini-farming is undertaken from day-one as an economic enterprise whose intent is to be a net economic positive." (Markham) It has a strong focus on self sufficiency.

Biodynamic Farming:
  • An impulse for deep social change rooted in the practice of farming. Biodynamics calls for new thinking in every aspect of the food system, from how land is owned to how farms are capitalized to how food is produced, distributed and prepared.
  • A type of organic farming that incorporates an understanding of “dynamic” forces in nature not yet fully understood by science. By working creatively with these subtle energies, farmers are able to significantly enhance the health of their farms and the quality and flavor of food.
  • A recognition that the whole earth is a single, self-regulating, multi-dimensional ecosystem. Biodynamic farmers seek to fashion their farms likewise as self-regulating, bio-diverse ecosystems in order to bring health to the land and to their local communities.
Square Foot Gardening is a simple system that adapts to all levels of experience, physical abilities, and geographical locations. "Grow all you want and need in only 20% of the space of a conventional row garden."

Biointensive Farming has eight essential aspects:
  1. Double-Dug, Raised Beds
  2. Composting
  3. Intensive Planting
  4. Companion Planting
  5. Carbon Farming
  6. Calorie Farming
  7. The Use of Open-Pollinated Seeds
  8. A Whole-System Farming Method

French Intensive Gardening  is a method in which man works with nature to foster healthy, vibrant plants with smaller space and less water than more traditional gardening. As a very detail oriented method, more time will be spent than on an average type of garden, the maximized productivity and beautiful arrangements will be more than satisfying for the patient gardener. It started outside Paris in the 1890's and gained renewed interest after WW-II.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Winter Fare - Keeping in Local

While my family has been eating local and gardening for several years, this is our first attempt at getting through the winter with our stored local and home grown food as our primary food source. So far, I'd say it is a success. I have lettuce, spinach and salad greens growing in a flower box on the windowsill. Peppers and tomatoes started indoors and a healthy crop of wheatgrass.

Most of the peaches, pears and blueberries that I canned in the fall are gone. I do still have plenty of frozen blueberries, cranberries and one precious jar of strawberries left. The apples in the root cellar are holding up well and should get us through into March. Warm apple sauce for breakfast is extra yummy on a chilly cold winter morning.

Our supply of sun dried tomatoes ran out this month. I realized I need to grown a lot more tomatoes next year. I was lucky to find a local source of greenhouse tomatoes and have purchased some of those. I froze a bunch of our summer cherry tomatoes and still have several jars left. These make a great addition to soups and roasted veggie dishes.

Cold winter days scream out for soup! This beautiful yellow tomato soup that we made in September from heirloom tomatoes from Red Fire Farm is the exact right fit for winter lunch fare. It has been a real favorite this season.

One of the biggest complaints I have heard in trying to eat local during the winter is that people just get sick of root vegetables. The cure is to be creative. We like to make smoothies with our root veggies and some frozen fruit.We toss yellow and candy stripe beets, carrots and other roots in the juicer (uncooked) and then into the blender with some frozen fruit. It makes for a yummy breakfast or healthy mid day snack.

Another creative way to eat veggies is also very simple. Just braise them in a frying pan. Here's how we do it:

Warm Veggie Fry
  • cut up in 1 in pieces yellow and orange carrots, 1 small sweet potato, beets, brussel sprouts and leeks
  • add sliced up yummy peppers, sweet pepper and cherry tomatoes (we keep these frozen so we have them year round)
  • Put them all in a pan with a 1/2 tbsp of butter, salt lightly
  • Cook, stirring frequently, until the root veggies are soft
  • Melt some cheese on top and serve (we like home made feta or provolone)

I'd love to hear other creative things people have done with their root veggies. Please share your ideas.