Category Archives: Gardening & Healing the Land

Gardening, Trees, Herbs, and healing the land.

The Dandelion Mind: Do you have it?

Do you have the Dandelion Mind? I know I do.  What is the  Dandelion Mind and what does it mean?  First let’s talk about a dandelion in real terms.  I’ve talked about why these weeds are a blessing before. I love this plant which others deem a weed.  I love it for so many reasons:

  • Dandelions are dynamic accumulators of nutrients.  A dynamic accumulator is a plant that mines nutrients (micro and macro) and minerals from deep within the earth and brings these nutrients to the surface.  This helps with overall soil health.
  • The dandelions break up compacted soil.  They make the soil more habitable for other plants.  They are paving the way for other plant life.
  • Dandelions are resilient, and spreading the seeds of the dandelion is fun and easy ! (think of blowing the beautiful white fluffy head and making a wish)
  • All parts of the plant are edible or useful.  They even have medicinal qualities which aids digestion.
  • It is a beautiful flower.

But others can see Dandelion as a nuisance:

  • It’s not grass.  It grows wildly and spreads easily.  It is therefore a weed.

What does the dandelion mind mean to me?  The Dandelion Mind means you try to mine value and bring that value to the surface to help the beings around you.  Whether that’s cooking a healthy meal, teaching someone a skill, or just leading by example.  Being the best you you can be.  You try to be useful.  You ask yourself what you can do to help.  Spreading your way of doing things can be fun, much like spreading the white fluffy seeds of a ripe dandelion.  Dandelions add beauty in the world.  You might add beauty  through music, art or by modeling kindness.  You have your own unique beauty to add.   But beware, not everyone sees the beauty of the dandelion.  That doesn’t mean it’s not beautiful, it just means that there are some folks who don’t see it.  And that’s okay.  The dandelion will still bloom, providing nectar for the bees, and flowers for a child’s bouquet for their mother.  The Dandelion Mind celebrates the differences.  The Dandelion Mind is not mad at the grass for not being a Dandelion, it still mines the nutrients and breaks the compacted soil, making the land more fertile for other plants to grow, including grass.

The dandelion will continue to live and thrive where it is needed most.  So if you let your beauty shine, and contribute by being true to yourself, no matter what the surrounding opinion, you have the Dandelion Mind.  So bloom on beautiful Dandelions, bloom on.

Seed Saving – Squash

I had a rough year with squash.  I planted four kinds: Delicata, Pie Pumpkin, Butternut, and Spaghetti squash.  I find all of these types of squash to be delicious.  Squash Vine Borers agree.  They decimated my squash vines.  I yielded a total of 1 Delicata, 2 Pie Pumpkins, 7 Butternut Squashes and 1 Spaghetti Squash.  The Borers’ yield was much higher.

The squashes that survived, survived the plight of the borers.  They also fruited in the soil, the pollinators, and the climate specific to my area.  These squash were open pollinated, which means that the bees were responsible for pollination.  I could have pollinated them myself so that I would have a more reliant seed result, but I did not.  Perhaps next year.

I am saving the seeds from my squashes as these seeds come from plants that are well adapted to the growing conditions in my garden.  That way, as time progresses, the plant that evolves from these seeds will be custom made for my garden.  Here’s how I saved the seeds (and this method will work for any squash):

When I was ready to eat one of my squashes, I started to prepare it as usual, cutting down the middle of the squash.

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I scooped the seeds out, and put them in a glass mason jar.

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Then I filled the jar with enough water to cover the seeds.

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And then I let the seeds sit fore a few days.  I think I left this one sit for almost two weeks.  That’s a bit of a long time, but It works.  After this time the top of your water may get some growth:

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Drain your seeds.  I drained my seeds directly outside, as there was a definite odor to them.

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Run them through a sieve to clean your seeds.  Use cold water here.

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Don’t be afraid to use your hands.

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Lay the seeds out on paper towels and allow to dry.

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Make sure the seeds are completely dry, and I mean SUPER DUPER COMPLETELY DRY, if there is any moisture, your seeds will mold.  Once dry the seeds are ready for storage.  I put mine in an old glass container, labeled it, and now I’m ready to plant my butternut squash next year.

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I will do the same with the rest of my squashes, so that I have squashes that are hand selected by me for the characteristics I want.

 

Fruit Tree as an Investment

I am slowly but surely working on turning my lawn into food, and most of that food I would like to be Perennials, specifically, perennial trees.  Trees can be expensive, my apple trees cost me $23 plus shipping.  When ordering lots of trees and shrubs at a time, this really adds up quickly.  One way to curb your costs is to start your root stock from seed and then grafting scion wood on to it.  I have not tried that yet, but I will (and I’ll tell you all about it!!).

I’ve had shipments of trees (and blueberry bushes) that cost over $200.  And if I could probably spend another $1,000.  Is this being ridiculous?  Absolutely not.  This is an investment, no different than investing in CDs, Real Estate, or the stock market.  Although, I would argue that this investment will over more “earnings” than most investments in your portfolio and less risk.

It is a pet peeve of mine when people refer to items they are buying as an investment.  For example, “I have to go invest in some lip stick”.  No, you don’t. Your lipstick will never make a return upon it’s initial purchase price.  So when I say that a tree is an investment, I’m prepared to back it up.

I’m going to go through an actual cost analysis so we can determine the cost versus real output of this investment.  Let’s take an Apple tree for example, and assume that we already own the land.  I bought an apple tree for $23 plus shipping for a total of $30.  I planted it for free, the water was free, and I used a half a bale of straw to bed it down, if I figure I use about a half a bale a year, so we’ll add this in to our figures.  Also note, I am not calculating my time in for this, as I really enjoy the time outdoors.  This is my recreation.

According to the Stark Brothers’ website, I should be getting fruit within two to five years after planting.  I would like to take a highly conservative look at this, so we’ll say 5 years. So we’ll have five years of straw (assuming I don’t use leaves, or other mulch found elsewhere), plus the initial planting cost. (5 years x $1.25/year) + $31.25 = $37.50.

I have had some trouble finding data on yields from apple trees.  I’m finding a whole lot of “it depends.”  The variables include soil type, sun exposure, type of tree, and density of plantings.  Asking how many apples you can expect to harvest is similar to asking  how much can I expect my salary to be my first year working?  There is a huge range of salaries that people earned their first year working.  There’s no way of giving one hard number for this, even a range would be deceiving.  Is your first year working as a bus boy or an attorney?  So, suffice it to say, there is a huge range of apple yield possibilities.

However, a member on the forums at permies.com told me his production model includes 10 pounds in year four and increases until it plateaus at 200 pounds a year at year 13 and continues at this yield for 40 years.  Let’s assume we’re getting 20 pounds a year so we can be SUPER conservative.

A hard and fast number I do know is the amount we spent on our organic apples that were pick your own at an Organic Apple Festival.  We got a half a bushel for $35 and a full bushel for $60.  A half bushel weighs about 20 pounds.

These numbers are telling me that we will pay-off our initial investment at year 6.  That means that from year 6 forward we are getting a return on investment, and at 100% per year of initial investment.  This is only looking at the apples.  When it comes time to retire your apple tree (cut it down), you can use the wood to heat your home or chip it up to smoke meats.  A five-pound bag of apple wood chunks goes for about $10.  And you don’t have to pay taxes on any of this.

So, your initial investment in an apple tree will have a return on investment through it’s production of apples, through the wood and apple chips for smoking.  You will also have the benefits of increasing soil health, decreasing erosion, increasing the beauty on your property, and providing increased habitat for animals.  Oh, and the blooms of your apple tree will help to feed the bees.

Purchasing a risk-free CD will leave you with a less than 5% ROI, and the stock market is highly volatile, so you may lose some money or you may make some.  I’m pretty dang sure you won’t be making 100% of your initial investment every year after 5 or 6 years.

And if you apple tree is a complete failure?  Cut it down and use it for wood.

Looking at tree purchases from this perspective shows you that this is a wise way to invest your money.  I will continue to add trees to my investment portfolio as the years go on and I hope you do, too.

You know you are a Gardener when:

  1. The idea of someone dropping a load of animal poo off at your home would be a treat.

    Chicken Poo mixed with straw aka Gardener Gold

    Chicken Poo mixed with straw aka Gardener Gold

  2. Likewise, the idea of someone dropping their yard waste off at your home (leaves, grass, etc.) makes you excited.
  3. Seeing a huge flat yard with beautiful sun exposure and grass as far as the eye can see makes you a little sad.
  4. Getting a seed catalog in the mail is a beautiful warm ray of sunshine on a winter day.  This catalog will keep your dreams and your thoughts racing when your garden is under inches or feet of snow.
  5. Dirt under your nails and on your jeans makes you smile.
  6. Eating a fresh grocery store tomato in January makes you wonder about your grocer’s definition of “tomato.”
  7. You have to control yourself from yelling, “STOP!! I can compost that!” when you see someone putting a fruit or veggie compost material in the trash.
  8. You know what zone you live in.  (6A)
  9. You are hyper aware of the weather during the beginning and ending of planting season.
  10. You read the farmer’s almanac and study their weather predictions.  I wonder if this is what people feel like reading the sports pages before a big game?
  11. You think it’s odd when you go in the grocery store as all you can buy is one type of carrots.  It took you half a day last year to decide which type of carrot to plant from the 20 different varieties available,

    One of two pages of the different varieties of carrots from the High Mowing Seed catalog.

    One of two pages of the different varieties of carrots from the High Mowing Seed catalog.

  12. Buying any organic leafy green in the grocery store cements your gardening gusto.  $7 for a pound of spinach?  I’ll stay and play in my garden and get a pound of spinach for less than $1, thank you very much.
  13. You consider owning bees, not only for the honey but for their pollinating powers.
  14. A dreary day of long slow soaking rain makes you happy, and you start to think you can almost see your plants getting happier.
  15. You start to learn to preserve your harvest.  Canning, dehydrating and Lacto-fermenting are all in the search history of your computer.
  16. Seeing earthworms while you’re digging is like getting a report card from Mother Nature, and she says you’re doing okay.
  17. Happy rabbits bounding along can make you mad.  Those buggars have A LOT of audacity.
  18. Your heart quickens when you see cabbage moths flying around your garden.
  19. You understand the fundamental difference between dirt and soil.  (soil has life)
  20. A salad sourced from anywhere but your garden looks sad and colorless.  It tastes pretty yucky as well.
  21. You talk to your plants, or can at least understand why some people do.
  22. You’ve spent time in the garden harvesting and have nothing to bring into the house.  My son and I will eat freshly shelled sweet peas.  I would say less than one bowl made it into the house, and many more bowls worth of peas made it into our bellies. YUM!!

This was spurred on by the arrival of my 2015 seed catalog.  Oh how I love it’s arrival!!! Let my 2015 garden planning BEGIN!!

Do you have any good thoughts to add to this list?

New Apple Trees

From my experience, the best time to plant trees is Fall.  This gives the tree all winter to establish its roots.  When you plant a tree in Spring, all the tree’s energy goes right into sprouting leaves.  Don’t get me wrong, I fully intend to plant trees this upcoming Spring, as funds allow.  But right now, I’m planting trees too.

I bought 3 apple trees which are bred to be disease resistant.  I will not be spraying my apple trees, and by purchasing disease resistant trees, it will be easier to have healthy happy apples.  I purchased these trees from Stark Brothers in a “disease resistant” bundle.  The bundle includes:

Enterprise Apple: This is a red apple which matures late in the season (mid-October). It has a mildly tart taste (according to Stark Brothers).

Jonafree Apple: This apple is also red, and matures a little earlier (mid-September), the taste in a combo sweet/tart.  Sounds like a good baking apple to me.

GoldRush Apple: This is a yellowish golden apple which matures mid to late October.  This has a very sweet taste, and is good for fresh eating.

This is a nice combination of apples and picking times.  I already have Gold Delicious and Cox’s Orange Pippin Antique Apple trees planted.  These trees’ fruit matures late September and mid-September respectively.  They both have sweet fruits.  This should keep me busy with apple sauce and apple butter through the fall once these tree mature.

As these trees were mail-ordered, they were shipped “bare-root”.  That means they look like sticks when you get them.  All three trees came in a box that measure 4 inches x 4 inches x 6 feet.

Those three sticks are our three new apple trees.

Those three sticks are our three new apple trees.

After the bare-root trees arrive get them into a bucket of water and give them a good drink.  Make sure the roots are fully submerged.  Ideally, let the tree soak for 4-6 hours, but no more than 24 hours.

Soaking the roots of the new trees.  There is one rebellious root that keeps sneaking on top of the hose.

Soaking the roots of the new trees. There is one rebellious root that keeps sneaking on top of the hose.

I will be using two of these trees as a living grape arbor.  Will it work?  I have no clue!  But I will in a few years, and so will you.  I will plant them directly next to my grapes with the idea that the grapes will climb up the trees.  This apple tree set up allows me to function stack my apple trees.  My apple trees will be: making a stronger better soil, providing apples, a home to wildlife and act as an arbor to the grapes.

I have two types of grapes: Joy and Neptune.  The Joy grape matures in August and the Neptune grape matures in early September.  This allows me to function stack my trips to visit the grapes.  When I check on the grapes, I am checking on the apples and vice versa.

Here is a video outlining the basics of how to plant a tree:

My 2014 Garden – A look back

It is the beginning of November.  My chickens are putting my garden to bed for the winter.  All of my veggies have been picked and eaten, or preserved. (with the exception of some kale and lettuces).  It is now the time to look back and determine what I can improve in my garden.

Basics:

Planning:  I feel I would have had a better garden had a drawn out a plan.  I had a little bit of a plan, but nothing specific.  I “winged it” a little more than is ideal.  This is one of my personality traits that I really need to work on.  I need to take my time and think things out a little more.  I used to err on the other side of this dichotomy and go into “analysis paralysis”.  I would get so caught up in minor details that nothing would get done.  Now, I tend to just go for things.  This is good, as I get to experience and I try more things.  This is bad, as I could have had a higher more productive garden had I taken more time to create a plan.  It’s time for this pendulum to swing back toward the side of planning.  This plan should include the plants I intend to cultivate as well as their location.  I always have this plan, but get a little overwhelmed with the companion planting.

Also planning the timing of my plantings.  We have our early crops (peas, lettuce), are post-frost crops (tomatoes, cucumbers) and then there is time for one last planting.  So I  need to make sure my plan includes not only a parameter of space, but also a parameter of time.

Note Taking: I started off wonderfully.  I drew my garden on piece of paper and wrote when my seeds went in the ground.  After my first planting of peas and carrots, I stopped taking notes.  I just started to plant.  My notes are valuable for my future gardens and also with helping others with their gardens.

What I planted:

Next year I want to plant more:

Peas: Jaxson loves peas, and most of them didn’t even make it inside of our home.  They are also Nitrgoen fixing, so they leave you with healthier soil.

Potatoes: Almost every morning, my husband makes a pan full of hash browns and eggs over-easy.  We use a lot of potatoes.  They store incredibly easily.  No processing is needed to get them ready to store.  Conventionally grown potatoes are heavily sprayed, so you want to avoid them.  However, organic potatoes are very expensive, but growing them yourself is easy.  This is something I want to plant enough of so that I don’t have to buy any from the grocery store.

Sweet Potatoes: These are super easy to grow, and just as easy to store.  They require no processing, similar to the potato.  I recently saw organic sweet potatoes for sale for $3.99 for two potatoes.  Plus sweet potatoes have beautiful vines and have attractive purple flowers.  Some people actually use these vines for landscaping and never benefit from the tasty sweet potato.  Please note that sweet potatoes cannot be eaten fresh.  They must first be cured (that means sit around) for a few months.

Cabbages/Broccoli/Brussel sprouts: I love these veggies, but I always get so frustrated because they become infested with cabbage moths.  I think it may be worth the effort to plant some this year.  I’ll cross my fingers and we can figure out how to get a successful brassica harvest together.

Next year, I want to plant less:

Corn: This is a hog of a plant.  The directions on the seed package instructed me “to plant only in the most fertile of soil”.  I was put off.  Corn is good, but not good enough to give up my best soil.

Preparation: I will also prepare my beds for carrots with a little more love.  A lot of my carrots got stuck and gnarled on rocks.  They were quite difficult to harvest.  I believe if I spent more time to prepare the bed, the harvest would have been much easier.

Those are my notes on this past year’s garden.  What are yours?

The Chickens Are Working

While we are currently not getting any eggs from our hens, we are still making them work to earn their living.  One way they earn their keep is by making us laugh.  Another way they earn their keep is by turning down our garden for us for the winter.

There are two main ways I like to put my garden to bed for the winter:

  1. use a cover crop
  2. mulch it

I usually mulch mine, although I find a cover crop to be highly beneficial.  This year I mulched my garden down, and released the chickens to knock help break up the soil and fertilize everything.  They cleaned up the dropped veggies, and are helping to aerate the soil.

The area we fenced for them is slightly larger than my old garden, so they helped me to expand my garden.  We simply place a bale of straw over the grass and the chickens get to work.   They spread the straw and break up the sod.

The amount of feed we were giving the chickens decreased dramatically when we first gave the chickens the run of the garden. As the days get colder, and the garden is more picked over, we are seeing our feed bill increase again.

This is our way to do as Mike, the Gentleman Homesteader says, ” have our systems work harder than we do.”

Here’s a little un-editted video to show of some of the work our feathered (and semi-unfeathered) friends are doing for us.

 

 

Seed Saving – Beans

 

I previously posted this on my old blog.  I decided it would be good to re-post it, as this is the time of year to save your bean seeds.  I include some updated notes which are in italics.

Saving seeds is a great way to be even more economical in your garden.  Every time you are able to provide something for yourself and therefore not purchase a product, you are closer to closer to self-sufficiency.  It’s better for the planet, and it is just neat to watch the way the natural world works.  Also, the process of selecting the beans that work best in your garden and your climate

Today, I’m going to talk about saving some seeds from Dragon Tongue Beans. They were fairly tasty, and looked rather awesome when they were growing. They were purple speckled (and had beautiful flowers.)

At the end of the bean season, I left a few beans on the vine to dry out naturally.  The area isn’t the prettiest, but to me it looks like more nourishment for next year. 

The unpretty patch of beans:


I pick the pods from the patch:


This is an individual pod, so you can see what it looks like all dried out:


Now, I simply split the pod open.  Please excuse the dirt under my nails as I was out in the garden playing):


These were the fruits (perhaps beans?) of that single pod of labor:


Here were the beans from the rest of my labor (I love the pretty color purple!):


There were some brown beans in the pods.  I removed those, as I thought they didn’t look very fertile.  But what do I know.  I may be wrong on this one.  I may also be right.  I have no brown beans.  I didn’t notice whether these germinated or not, I did plant it, though.  Experiment and see what works:


I stored the dried beans in an old glass baby food container and will plant them next year.  This task was easy, and relatively quick and really fun.  I will continue to save seeds as the sense of personal satisfaction is HUGE. I had a great harvest of beans this year.  So many we couldn’t eat them all.  The entire process of saving the seeds, planting the seeds that I saved, and then cooking up the beans from those plant was incredibly cool.  Give it a try this year, or plan to do it next year.  I think you will really enjoy the process.

Types of Garlic

Garlic (Allium sativum) is an herb that has many uses: cooking, medicinal, companion planting and vampire repellent. Today, I will discuss the different types of garlic, and will continue with a series of posts discussing planting, and using garlic.

A bulb of garlic is made up for four to 20 cloves of deliciousness.  Each clove is covered with a papery skin that needs to be removed before using it for cooking.  There are many varieties of garlic which can be classified into two categories: hardneck and softneck.

The softneck category can be planted mechanically, stores longer, grows in more climates, mature faster, and are more productive forming more cloves on a larger bulb.   All of those reasons contribute to why this garlic is preferred by commercial operations and processors.  This type can be braided.  Softnecks do not generally bolt and therefore do not produce garlic scapes or seed.  This may be why more cloves are present in each bulb upon maturation.  The flavor is generally milder  and more “vegetable like” than the hardnecks.  There are two varieties of softneck garlic: Silverskin and Artichoke

Artichoke: This is the primary variety propagated in California and shipped around the country.  This is the easiest to grow and will mature in even warmer climates.  There are several cultivars in this variety with a range of flavors ranging from mild to strong.

Silverskin: This variety grows happily in the widest range of climates.  They store the best out of any of the garlics, but they are the last to mature.  This variety has a slew of cultivars with varying pungency, colors (both in the clove and foliage), and harvest time.

Hardnecks have a long flowering stem (garlic scapes) in the middle of the bulb.  Removing this scape during growth will cause the plant’s energy to focus on the bulb, causing a bigger bulb for you to eat (and you can eat the scape!).  Due to the central stem, which gives the bulb a “hard neck”, this variety cannot be braided.  This type of garlic is more colorful and yields a greater variety of tastes.  There are three main varieties of hardneck garlic:

Rocambole: This is the most widely known and therefore most cultivated hardneck garlic.  This variety is preferred by chefs for its deep full bodied flavor and cloves which are easily peeled.  The biggest downside with this type is its lack of storability.  This variety stores well for about 6 months.  They also grow best in zone 6 or cooler.

Porcelain: This garlic has huge cloves that store well, second only to the Silverskin.  Porcelain garlic tends to be the hottest, strongest garlic and thus packs the biggest wallop when it comes to medical advantages.  This hardy garlic does best in Northern climates, but will produce as far south as Texas.

Purple Stripe:  Unsurprisingly, purple streaks decorate the outside of this bulb.  They have a more mild flavor than the Porcelain, and when baked become almost sweet.   This is the garlic that is usually baked or roasted.  I read an account of someone who ate some baked Purple Stripe garlic, specifically Chesnok Red, and swore it had the same flavor and texture as ice cream.  While I find this a little hard to believe, I wouldn’t mind trying it myself.  When I do, I’ll report back!

Each type of garlic has its pros and its cons.  It is interesting to note that there is not a single kind of garlic, but many that vary in size, taste and texture, much like apples, peppers, and even green beans.  I recent purchased two types of garlic, Chesnok Red (look out ice cream garlic!) and Music, a Porcelain variety.  I plan to cultivate these over the years and add different varieties year after year.  I would love to set up a garlic exchange next year so we can all diversify our garlic harvest without emptying our pockets.  Variety is the spice of life, especially when we are discussing actual spices.

Elderberry Harvest

Back in May of this year, I posted about some of the perennials I planted and included pictures.  One of these plants was an elderberry.  Quite frankly, it looked like a stick in the ground:

Elderberry, First planted

Okay, two sticks in the ground.  With a little spurt of green.

My, how four months have changed that.  After producing some beautiful white flowers during late spring/early summer, I got a harvest of berries off of it:

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This harvest of less than a quarter cup is not something that I can even preserve, I have to use it right away, but it is very cool to get a fruit within four months of the initial of planting.  It will continue to get better and better, and most of my work with it is done, all I really  have to do is harvest!! Oh, how I love perennials I have an idea of what I’m going to do with this, but I’m saving it for a future post.  Tune in later!!!!

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Elderberries are mostly used for medicinal purposes and are turned into a syrup.  This syrup can be used to help heal a cough, and also as an antibiotic.  In fact, when Jaxson had what looked like a minor infection, the doctor “prescribed” him elderberry syrup.