Thursday, July 31, 2014

Holy Basil: My Latest Herbal Love Story

Last year, I fell in love with growing herbs in my home garden.  For those of us who are interested in both the culinary and the medicinal uses of herbs, growing your own supply just makes sense.  Herbs can be very expensive when purchased from a store, especially if you only need to use a small amount at a time.  There is nothing quite like consuming or using fresh herbs that you have grown yourself in your own garden, especially if you grow them organically.  

Last year, my two favorite herbs that I grew in my garden were lemongrass and sweet basil.  I enjoyed many a stir fry dish and drank delicious tea (both hot and cold) made with lemongrass.  I even made an alcohol-based tincture from the lemongrass, which I found to be not too difficult to do once I learned the basics of how to make it.  With the sweet basil, I put it in fresh salads, made basil lemonade, enjoyed it with fresh homegrown tomatoes, added it to dishes, and made some dairy-free pesto sauce with it, which I kept in my freezer and enjoyed during the long cold winter months.  In my opinion, there are fewer tastier things from the garden than fresh sweet basil! 

This year, I am growing both sweet basil and lemongrass again, but I also decided to add holy basil (otherwise known as “tulsi”) to the herbs growing in my herb spiral as well.  My interest in tulsi began with trips to the health food store, where I would often notice Tulsi Tea for sale on the shelves.  Curious about it, I did a little bit of research and learned that it is classified as a tonic and an adaptogenic herb. 

If you are unfamiliar with adaptogenic herbs, they are essentially a class of herbs that help to bring about overall balance to the body and to restore vitality.  Both David Wolfe, the world class expert on super foods and super herbs, and Rosemary Gladstar, a well known herbalist, highly recommend this super herb.  Holy basil grows wild throughout India, and has been used in Ayurvedic medicine for more than 3,000 years.  It is claimed that holy basil helps our bodies to deal with stress and inflammation, among a plethora of other conditions.

Always the experimenter, I decided to grow holy basil and discover its benefits for myself.  Never having tried it in any form before, the first thing that I noticed was the taste.  Unlike any other basil that I had tried before, it has a very unique flavor, but it tastes delicious.  Like other basils, it smells wonderful.   So far, I have made the fresh leaves into a tea twice.  While I can’t say that tusli has changed my world already, I can say that it has given me a feeling of relaxation upon drinking the tea.   I suppose that if I were to consume some on a daily basis, I would likely notice additional benefits.   

I plan to make this wonderful herb into a homemade tincture before the season ends, and I hope to post instructions about how I made it.

Making tea from fresh or dried herbs that you grow yourself is easy.  Our industrialized consumer culture tells us that we must get everything that we need from a store, and that it must reside in a package, box, or plastic wrap to be valid or “safe.”  I grew up consuming tea that comes in teabags.  While I still do buy tea in teabags from time to time, I am increasingly using tea in bulk that I purchase from my local health food store, such as when I buy bulk organically grown black tea to make homemade kombucha, or when I make tea from herbs that I grow myself.  You not only save money this way, you reduce waste, and you reduce the opportunities for companies to add crazy things like weird flavorings to your tea. 

I made my tea with fresh holy basil using the metal tea infuser with the handle (left), but you could also use other types of infusers or reusable teabags to make your own herbal tea.  You could also use some sort of strainer to get all of the herb out after making your tea.  The reusable teabags might be best suited for making tea with dried herbs, but I recommend experimenting and discovering which method you like best.  The mason jar in the picture shows that you can just use whatever you have on hand to make your tea- you don’t even need a mug (be careful of the hot glass though :) )!

This post is shared at Healthy, Happy, Green & Natural Party Hop

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Using Garden “Problems” as Solutions

A few weeks ago, I wrote a post describing how a number of issues have plagued my garden this year, including a failure to not adequately accommodate for the spatial needs of a few of my plants, and my personal squirrelmageddon.  About a week and a half ago, I was reflecting on a few of these issues, and I began to ask myself, “Is there a way to use some of these “problems” as actual solutions?” 

From a permaculture perspective, we emphasize positive and practical solutions.  Included in this holistic mindset, we emphasize producing no waste and sharing our abundance.  We also emphasize the principle that “the problem is the solution.” 

In our conventional way of thinking within our society’s culture, we are all about commanding and controlling problems.  We are consumed with “solving” problems using our technology, and we believe that ultimately, our human cleverness will prevail.   

The truth about this is, though, we really don’t know everything, nor will we ever know everything, no matter how smart we believe that we are.  New information is emerging daily that illuminates things that we weren’t previously aware of and were beyond our prior levels of understanding since just yesterday.  This has been found in many areas of knowledge, whether we are considering energy fields, human consciousness and the human spirit, biology and ecology, nutrition, medicine, space, the connectedness and interaction among living organisms on this planet, and many other fields.  I would have to agree with those who have said, “The more that we discover, the more we find that we actually know much less than we thought we did.” 

So back to my garden “problems.”  It is clear that we can only control so much, so one of the keys to resiliency is in utilizing those “problems” to our advantage.  In the case of my garden, I have had the “problems” of both runaway pumpkin plant vine growth within a small garden area and a squirrel invasion. 

Unfortunately in the case of the squirrels, my chosen squirrel control method of the eco-friendly squirrel repellent appeared to only work on a limited basis.  Despite sprinkling a number of containers worth of these repellents several times, the squirrels (or at least one very determined squirrel) were still getting into my garden and causing trouble. 

Then, I had an idea.  I had recently read that squirrels don’t like plants like pumpkins and some melons because of the prickly stems that they have.  The plethora of pumpkin vines were starting to take over the main garden area, and I was trying to figure out what to do with them.  I know that some gardeners might be brave and do some plant sacrifices, but I wanted to see if I could use this abundance of vines to my advantage.  It occurred to me that I might direct these vines to grow around the perimeter of my garden area, and it might provide at least a certain level of protection from the squirrels.  Not sure how well this will actually protect the garden when all is said and done, but I thought, “What have I got to lose?”

I have since been tying the pumpkin vines around my garden fence as they continue to grow, hoping that it will help to dissuade the squirrels.  We’ll see if it actually works to dissuade the squirrels in the end.  About half of the main garden area now has vines around it, and eventually I’m hoping that I can get some vines to grow around the entire length of the perimeter at least once.

Things seemed to have slowed down a bit on the squirrel front within the last week, and I haven’t noticed quite as many issues lately.  I did catch one of the varmints in there a few days ago, and I ran out to the garden to scare it off.  In an effort to flee, the invader ran right into the main cluster of vines before getting away.  I’m hoping that the prickly vines gave it something to think twice about before paying my garden another visit.   

This pumpkin vine and squirrel issue has got me thinking.  What other garden “problems” can we utilize as solutions?  Where and what might we recycle, reuse, utilize abundant resources for, or direct to solve other garden issues?  Are our garden “problems” actually problems, or can they be views as opportunities for seeking greater resilience and balance? 

One of my pumpkin vines “peeking” around the corner of my garden fence perimeter before I secured it to the garden fence.  Once plants in the squash and cucumber family get established, they start to grow like crazy, and can often seem like they have a mind of their own.  Somewhat humorous to think about…  To learn more about plant “behavior,” I recommend watching the documentary “What Plants Talk About.”  Plants are actually doing a whole lot more than we think they are :).
This Article is Shared at The Home Acre Blog Hop
This post is shared at Healthy, Happy, Green & Natural Party Hop

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Urban Gleaning: Utilizing and Sharing Abundance

Today, I’m taking a break from the discussion of my personal Squirrelmageddon in my garden to discuss what I consider to be a really cool subject.  Urban and suburban gleaning is a great opportunity to use some of the abundance that is all around us.  Far too often, this abundance goes to waste.  Fruit trees, berry bushes, and many more plants that are present in people’s yards often produce much more food than the property owners can utilize, and some folks don’t even utilize these resources at all. 

For those of us who are interested in creating greater resiliency in our lives and making use of the resources around us, gleaning and foraging in our urban and suburban areas presents an opportunity to use these available resources.  There are a number of non-profit gleaning organizations like this one that are beginning to take advantage of all of this unused food, and are collecting and donating such resources to food pantries.  Gleaning food in this manner supports the permaculture ethic of “Sharing the Surplus” and the permaculture principle of “Produce No Waste.”

Two caveats that I would like add to this discussion of gleaning: #1: We need to make sure that we have permission from any land owner when we glean on their property.  #2:  We also need to make sure that we know how to properly identify the foods or other plants that we are gleaning.  While some fruits and plants may be obviously identifiable and are beneficial for human use and consumption (e.g., apples and raspberries), some will definitely hurt you if you don’t know how to identify what you are harvesting.  I always recommend using common sense and not harvesting anything that you aren’t certain of.  Also, please ensure that you aren’t harvesting any endangered plants.

Today, I decided that I would share my first official Day by Day Homesteading video with you!  There is a raspberry bush growing in an alley near my house, and no one is currently living in the house that the raspberry bush “belongs” to.  In this case, the fruit would certainly go to waste or be eaten by birds or other animals, so a few of my neighbors and I have taken to gleaning a few of the tasty berries.  I’m hoping to add more videos to the Day by Day Homesteading collection as time goes by, so stay tuned for that.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

When Squirrels Attack!

My damaged kale plant

Dear Readers, I had an unfortunate setback in my garden over this past weekend.  What I believe to be at least one squirrel climbed over my garden fence and completely decimated my three broccoli plants, as well as damaging one of my kale plants (which hopefully will recover).   The suspected squirrel was not found at the scene, but neighborhood birds have been pulled aside for questioning...

I had first noticed that two of the three broccoli plants were destroyed from something, but thought, “Okay, I can recover from this.”  Then, just a little bit later, I noticed that the third broccoli plant was now toast, and the kale plant had also been damaged.  To make matters worse, I had to immediately leave home for a few hours and could do absolutely nothing about it!  Man, that was a blow to my psyche of resilience…  I mentally spent most of that morning anxious about what other plants in my garden might be destroyed by the time I returned home.  Not a good feeling.

If you read my post last week, you already know that I have vowed to be honest about many of the ups and downs of gardening that I experience so that you can learn from my experiences as I learn through them.  Despite some of the frustrations that can go with gardening, I still believe that any work that we put into the process of gardening is more than worth it, especially when we are getting such nutrient-dense homegrown food that we know exactly how it was grown.

This example of my own squirrel attack incident gave me pause and an opportunity to reflect on my whole “working with nature” gardening viewpoint.  The conventional viewpoint is generally to think, “How can I control this situation?” or “How can I help that darned squirrel to meet its Maker?”  Many of the ecological gardening folks say that some of these incidents are likely inevitable, and that we should plant extra plants since the critters are going to eat some anyway.  While this is very admirable, some of us just don’t have the luxury of lots of planting space, so we are left with a limited sized harvest to begin with, and unfortunately, this can mean in my case that I won’t have any broccoli this year unless I go to a garden store and buy some transplants to replace them.

The conclusion that I came to through this experience was can we really expect nature to always be kind, full of rainbows, and roses and sunshine?  When we decide that we are going to work with nature in our gardens, homesteads, farms, and whatever else we are doing, we must inevitably accept the fact that there will be setbacks, and of course, they will likely not be much fun.  Sometimes, they will be downright frustrating, and you may even have moments when you’d love to make your backyard squirrel residents into squirrel stew (my apologies to all of the vegetarians and vegans out there :)  )… 

The truth is, though, squirrels are just trying to do what all of us are trying to do, survive.  Animals are just trying to make a living just like the rest of us on this planet.  We need to decide that the importance of our overall connectedness to nature and to where our food comes from is much more important than trying to control everything around us.  I believe that such a switch in mindset is especially important during this time of tumultuous social and economic change, as well as with many the ecological crises that we find our planet in today. 

For our own resiliency, humanity must learn how to effectively work with nature despite some of the setbacks.  Perhaps our “setbacks” are simply our views of the fact that we cannot control everything, no matter how hard we try.  The fact of the matter is simple: We will never control everything, nor should we even try.  We can simply learn to be resilient and respect nature for what it is.  I am not saying that we should just “roll over and die” and provide our gardens with no defense at all, just that we need to keep in mind that we can only control so much and that we should try to work with nature as best we can.

In the end, I did buy some squirrel deterrent that is supposed to be more environmentally friendly.  It works by irritating the squirrel’s senses of smell and taste though ingredients like black pepper.  It is also OMRI listed for use in organic gardens, although the directions say to keep the deterrent away from the plants themselves.  I sprinkled it along the outside perimeter fencing around all of my vegetable garden areas and my herb spiral and will keep an eye on the garden to see how effective it is.  I also added an additional post where my garden fence was sagging and it was providing easier access for the squirrels to get in.

I did have a “good nature” moment in amongst all of this fiasco with the squirrel.  That very same morning of the squirrel attack on my garden, I saw a Monarch butterfly hanging out on one of the Milkweed plants near my garage.  I was happy that I had my camera with me so that I could share my picture of this beautiful creature with you.  This was a great reminder to me that the world had indeed not come to an end, and life will still go on.   It is very important to remember that when things sometimes go wrong.  

The Monarch butterfly that was visiting the Milkweed plant next to my garage.  Gorgeous, isn’t it?

My (former) broccoli plant.

The squirrel deterrent that I sprinkled around my garden areas.  I do not represent this product or company, but just wanted to show an example of the types of such products that exist.
This post is shared at Healthy, Happy, Green & Natural Party Hop

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

When Things Don't Grow as Planned

A White Coneflower transplant that I planted in my wildflower garden this past week after most of the wildflower seeds that I planted this spring failed to grow as planned.

Dear Readers, I will admit it: I am a Planner.  I love it when I have a carefully laid out plan, and everything works out according to that plan.  When things work out according to the schedule that I have planned, and all of the details that I worked out in my mind and on paper come to fruition, I think to myself, “Ah, all is right with the world!”  and, “Of course it all worked out.  I had a plan!” 

The truth is, though, most of the time in life, things do not actually work out according to “the plan.”  Things come up in our carefully planned out schedules that we didn’t anticipate and we must adjust our plans, or we must completely throw them out the window.  People get sick.  Accidents and bad weather happen.  Events get cancelled.  Our financial resources fall through and we must make different arrangements or change things entirely. 

In our gardens, things don’t always go according to our plans either, and if you are a newer gardener like me and are still learning a lot of skills and other things about gardening, a lot of things can happen that disrupt your lovely garden plan for the season.  The truth is, nature doesn’t really care about your plans.  Weather events are unpredictable, and for most of us, such things are beyond our control.  

I actually think that secretly, squirrels and other critters laugh at our garden plans and plot against them… 

So far this season, dear Readers, I have had issues with a lot of rain making things very soggy in my garden, and this has made it difficult for some plants to establish themselves.   A number of them have not survived (I will likely have no cabbages this year, for instance, as none of the cabbage transplants that I started and planted in my garden have lived) and others have been slower to establish.  I have had ants in multiple places throughout my yard, which has made it difficult to grow things in certain areas.  I have had squirrels digging in my herb spiral and eating my strawberries from my strawberry plant.  The squirrels don’t seem to care that I have a fence around my main garden area, as they just climb up and over the fence and dig wherever they please.  My perennial wildflower garden, which I attempted to seed twice with wildflower seeds also failed to take off on its own.  These are just a few of my gardening woes that I had not encountered last year. 

I have vowed to make this blog a record of many of the good things that happen in my garden and homestead, but also a record of when things don’t go so well, and to tell you about many of the things that I have learned along the way.  I want you to know that you don’t need to be the perfect gardener right away, or ever.  I certainly am not a perfect gardener yet.  Perhaps I will never be one.  I think that’s okay. 

Don’t be afraid to try different things, experiment and learn.  I think that in our culture, we are often told, “Do it right or just go home.”  To expect perfection right away does not leave much room for personal growth or for learning from our mistakes.  We are in a time of history that we can learn right now.  Although, for some around the world, if your crop fails you will not eat, for many of us, we still have the blessing of being able to experiment and learn “as we grow.”  Take advantage of that and work to gain knowledge and skills as best you can, at your own pace.  Don’t be afraid to try new garden techniques, and try growing different plants and varieties that you’ve never tried growing before.  What’s the worse thing that could happen? 

It’s okay for things to fail, because we can learn a lot through those experiences and we will be all the wiser next time if we are paying attention to what happened.  You can even share with others what you have learned, which can help them in their own gardening endeavors.  Gardening and homesteading is an entire global community of people that love doing these things and love to share their knowledge and wisdom.  As you learn more, you can contribute to the global network of knowledge as well.

I hope that with my willingness to be open about my garden and homestead triumphs and failures, you are inspired to go for it and just be willing to fail if you must.  Often, success happens after we have failed many times.  A successful product often has a history of many failed products and projects before it. 

Thomas Edison, the great inventor, said, “Our greatest weakness lies in giving up.  The most certain way to succeed is always to try just one more time.”  He also said, “Many of life’s failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up.”  If anyone knew about what it takes to succeed, it was Thomas Edison.  Never give up, whether it is in your garden or homestead, with your health, or to achieve your dreams.

The Black-Eyed Susan transplant that I purchased from my favorite local garden center.  The fact that I had to buy some transplants for my garden is another reason why we can’t always “go it alone.”  Often, our plans for our own resiliency need to include our community.  It is very difficult to “be an island” unto ourselves, and we may need help from others when our own plans fail.

My new Prairie Splendor Coneflower plant.  I hope that the pollinators will like it, along with the other transplants that I planted this past week.

Even though I planted four tomato transplants that I started from seed in my new keyhole garden bed, it looks like none of them are going to make it.  This week, I purchased and planted two organic Roma tomato plants in their place, along with a dill and a parsley plant.  Here’s hoping that these plants will do well and produce abundant tomatoes and herbs!

An example of my failure to accommodate for adequate spacing needs for a few of the different types of plants growing in my main garden area.  As a newer gardener, I have been very excited to grow as much as possible in my garden, but perhaps I haven’t adequately planned for the necessary spacing.  Here is one of my two “Three Sisters” plantings that include corn, red kidney beans, and pumpkins.  As you can see, the pumpkin plants have started to get pretty large now, and are starting to crowd out the kale plant in the foreground, as well as one of my “Moon and Stars” watermelon plants to the right.  My plan has been to grow some of these plants vertically as they mature, so we’ll see how everything does if I try that.  Sadly, I may need to make some choices and have to do some plant “sacrifices” soon.