Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Drinking Water

Photo is a Creative Commons License, Some Rights Reserved, by Jenny Downing

From some of my earlier posts, you must know I am passionate about water: cool, clean water. Water pure as Nature intended it. Water that quenches thirst as no other liquid can. Water that not so fouled by our contamination of the environment that it requires adding a toxin to make it drinkable. You can live a long time without food, but only a few days even in optimal conditions without water.

When my sister and I started searching for a small home/stead to purchase, potable water was high on the list of priorities. This house was not advertised as having a spring, or even a spring house; instead they listed as a big selling feature that it had town water! In fact before "town water" was mandated here 15 years ago, this house and an adjacent house used our spring as the sole source of water for drinking, bathing, laundry, and maybe washing the goats.

I have lived where the water was so sulfuric-smelling you could not possibly get it past your nose to drink; I have lived where hurricanes made the water undrinkable for weeks on end; I have lived where my water pipes froze for the winter and I had to haul water for personal use, and break the ice on the trickle of a creek for the horses to drink. Never, never again, given the choice!

Much of my younger adult life I lived where the treated city water seemed passable, at least for what I knew back then. So, I wasn't too upset that this house was no longer using the spring for water.
I would buy water for drinking and cooking, only using the town water for washing dishes, showering and laundry until I could figure out how to easily hook up the spring water again. There was no way I wanted to drink the town water anyway... the chlorine smell is as strong as my old sulfur water.

Chlorine is a toxic chemical. Duh. Why else would it kill bacteria in a water supply? Thanks to widespread use of toxic chemicals and airborne pollutants, most water needs some form of treatment to be safe and healthy to drink, even water from some deep wells and springs, depending on the source of the water.

Now that I finally have the spring pump working, I'm planning to use the spring as my source for drinking/cooking water, but not without some filtering for safety and peace of mind. I had the spring water tested for bacteria, but could not afford the costly heavy metals tests (the water does contain some harmless bacteria, much like our intestines do). After considerable research on the Berkey filters mentioned in my post about
Emergency Water, along with research into several other systems, I have decided for cost and quality to buy a Berkey stainless steel water filtration system.

With a Berkey system I can have good, filtered water for about 3¢ a gallon, and it works by gravity feed so it doesn’t need electricity or water pressure.
(They offer a fluoride filter as well, but it isn’t necessary unless you have a fluoride problem.) I haven’t fully decided between the “Big Berkey” and the “Royal Berkey”; the price difference is just $25 and both have free shipping plus a bonus item. My choice of which bonus item is a no-brainer: the shower filter! (See my post on Red Eye Showers)

In case you are wondering, I do not work for Berkey, nor do I sell their products.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Kitchen Mixer BeaterBlade

While I’m posting pictures, here’s one of my new BeaterBlade for my KitchenAid stand mixer. I LOVE this thing! It has a flexible rubber strip on the edges which conform to the bowl, so I don’t have to continually stop the mixer and scrape down the insides of the bowl with a spatula. It is one of the 3 best kitchen gadgets I have bought in several years!

This BeaterBlade is made in the USA and is great for mixing cakes, cookies, frostings, quick breads, compound butters, meatloaf, pie fillings, mashed potatoes, and other tasty foods. (Not so good for whipping anything like light cream, though; thin stuff splashes all over the kitchen. Ask me how I know!) Various sizes are available to fit most KitchenAid, Cuisinart, Viking and DeLonghi stand mixers.

It is available from Amazon.

Gooseberry Fool

As promised, I made the Gooseberry Fool today although there were only a small amount of gooseberries this first year growing them in my garden. I only had a very few of the tart green gooseberries so I added them to the sweeter red ones. The resulting Fool was a delightful blend of sweet/tart!

Rinse, drain and 'Top and Tail' the berries. Place them in a pan with a pat of butter; cook over low heat 5 minutes or so, until the berries are soft.

Mash the berries with the back of a spoon (I used a flat stainless steel masher) and add some honey or sugar to taste. Set aside to cool thoroughly.

Whip the cream until firm (I added a bit of sugar), and fold into the cooled berries.

Chill thoroughly before serving.

Gooseberry Fool Recipe 1 pound gooseberries 1 oz. butter Honey or sugar to taste ½ pt. whipping cream Top and tail the berries, rinse and drain, and place in a pan with the butter. Cook the berries over low heat about 5 minutes or so, just to soften the berries. Mash the softened berries with the back of a wooden spoon. Season with sweetener to taste. Whip the cream until firm and fold it into the berries. Chill well before serving.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Why Grow Comfrey?

My grandfather, who was a county agriculture extension agent, always grew lots of comfrey although I was too young to know why. Now I’m finally learning!

Comfrey fell out of favor along with backyard gardens after WWII, and my mother’s generation lost the knowledge of why so many backyard gardeners grew comfrey for anything other than medicinal uses. Even growing comfrey for home herbal preparations fell out of favor with the rapid increase in pharamaceutical preparations at the corner drug store.

So why should a gardener grow comfrey? Free fertilizer, for one thing!! This is because comfrey roots dig deep, deep down in the soil and bring up many needed nutrients other plant roots cannot reach. These nutrients are stored in the fast-growing comfrey leaves, and are extremely valuable for any gardener for plant nutrition and herbal preparations.

One nutrient found in quantity in comfrey is potassium, which is an essential nutrient needed by all plants to make their fruit or flowers. In fact, comfrey leaves have over twice the potassium of cow/horse manure! Some potassium-hungry plants are root crops like potatoes and beets, heavy production plants like tomatoes and grains, and fruit bushes. Roses are also a heavy potassium user.
Potassium makes it possible for the plant to use nitrogen, and to increase the protein production.

The comfrey I grow traces to the Quaker comfrey (also called Russian, or blue comfrey) [S. asperum Lepechin (S. asperrimum Donn)], a natural hybrid of S. officinale L. and S. asperum Lepechin, introduced into Canada in 1954. The majority of comfrey grown in the United States can be traced to this introduction.

I put a layer of comfrey leaves in the trench when planting potatoes. Let the leaves wilt a day or two, put them in the trench, and cover with soil. Then add the seed potatoes as normal. I also make a thick mulch of chopped comfrey leaves to place around my tomato and pepper plants after they have set fruit, where it breaks down slowly to release nutrients.

One cautionary note: do not use the raw comfrey flowering stalks or root parts as mulch or in a trench… they will root, and comfrey roots grow deep. Any tiny piece of root left in the ground will make another comfrey plant!

I don’t have the time (or the inclination) to make comfrey compounds like a gardener’s hand cream or an all-purpose cream for healing scrapes, bruises, and bug bites, but comfrey is great for all of those. Here’s an article by Bev Walker
about how to do it. I have written a more detailed look at potassium here, as part of my series on plant nutrition. (See sidebar for published articles.) Here’s a link for making liquid comfrey fertilizers and tea.

Grow some comfrey… it’s very useful, and has pretty flowers to boot!

Saturday, June 27, 2009

It's Time to Harvest Garlic!

My garlic has been yellowing and falling over for the last few days, much sooner than last year, so clearly it was time to dig them. Of the 5 varieties I planted, I knew one would have small, poor quality bulbs because I discovered too late that end of the bed (which was new last fall just before planting) doesn't drain worth a hoot.

I planted 1 hardneck, 3 softnecks, and 1 Creole variety. Although I have not counted the bulbs, I'd estimate close to 200 from my garlic bed. I'm still experimenting to find the best garlic to grow in my area, and I try several new varieties every year. I've grown several good ones so far, but no clear winner yet.

Here's some info about this year's varieties I grew:

Hardnecks According to many garlic lovers, hardnecks have the only ‘real’ garlic flavor although I am a garlic lover and I heartily disagree. Hardnecks are distinguished by the stiff “neck” or stalk in the center of the growing plant and they tend to have fewer but more uniform cloves around the stalk. There are three distinct groups of hardnecks: Rocambole, Purple Stripe, and Porcelain.

Purple Striped (hardneck) garlic is aptly named for the stripes which all have to some degree. The differences in Purple Stripes in taste are from mild to pungent, and in time to maturity.

The hardneck I grew is Siberian, a Marbled Purple Stripe variety. Prized for its high content of allicin. This helps boost the immune system and improve circulation. Extra large, easy to peel cloves. With mild delightful flavor, not overpowering, 5-7 giant cloves/bulb, heritage, thrives in cold climates, stores 5 months. (I have not dug this variety yet, ran out of daylight last evening.)

Softnecks Artichoke garlics (sativums or softnecks) are the most commonly grown commercial garlic because they are easier to grow and produce larger bulbs than most other garlics. They store well and this is what you probably buy at the grocer's. I grew Red Toch, Susanville and Shantung Purple.

Red Toch
: An import from the Republic of Georgia, near the town of Tochliavri. Red Toch has large bulbs with a pinkish tint. Harvests early in season - stores 6-7 months. Semi-rich but very mellow. Grows very well in warm winter areas. It is not quite as mild as Chet's and not quite as strong as Inchelium Red. Red Toch averages 12 - 20 cloves per bulb, medium heat.

Susanville: (above) is a favorite softneck for braiding (although I don't braid them); the beautiful purple skin adds nice color to a braid. A true garlic flavor that is more flavorful then hot. This softneck can handle cold winters. 12 - 15 large cloves. Early to mid harvest. Stores 7 - 8 months. [Medium heat]

Shantung Purple
: This Turban Artichoke garlic variety originates from China, but my seed stock came from Washington (USDA certified organic). A great garlic for varied climates, it can handle hot dry climates as well as cold northern climates. Shantang Purple packs some serious heat, especially when eaten raw. 6 - 8 cloves per bulb.

The Creole Garlics

With a name like Creole, one would naturally assume these garlics originated in Louisiana, but they really were cultivated in Spain and initially spread by the Conquistadors. Creole garlics were first classified as silverskins although they don't resemble other silverskins in any way. Botanists assured us, however, that they were genetically silverskins… but it turns out not to be so. They are in a class all their own, and gaining popularity with Creole (and other) cooks.

Creoles are among the rarest and most expensive of all garlics, and a little difficult to find.

These garlics are superb for eating fresh, with an initial sweetness that builds in heat. They typically have 8-12 red to purple cloves per head beneath a white skin, and are tolerant of adverse growing (weather) conditions especially in hot climates. Not all garlic cultivars are well suited to growing in mild winter and warm to hot spring climates but the Creole group do very well in warmer climates. Creoles are also longer storing garlics than most.

This year I grew
Keeper: Longest storage quality of all the hardnecks and is in the Creole group. It has dark purple stripes, wonderful hot flavor, plump 5-9 cloves/bulb, mid-harvest, stores 6-7 months.

Curing Garlic
After digging, remove as much dirt from the roots as possible, but do not wash. Put them in dry warm shade with lots of ventilation, but do not bunch them. Hanging them in a shed is ideal... tie a few stalks together, depending on size, and hang from the rafters. An ideal temperature for curing is around 70º-75ºF. They need plenty of room around the bulbs so they do not mold. After about 2-3 weeks they should have developed a dry papery skin.

Storing Garlic
To store the best bulbs for cooking, cut off all but about 1/4" of the roots, and cut the tops well above the bulb (1"-2" so the papery skin stays intact. This skin keeps the garlic from drying out too fast. A light brushing should remove just the dirty outer skin, but if you are in doubt about damaging the bulbs, skip this step. A little dirt doesn't hurt the garlic in storage. I mark the variety on a mesh bag, and hang them in my root cellar. If you don't have the luxury of a root cellar, choose a cool, dark space that isn't too dry.

To store any bulbs (including damaged bulbs) for fall planting, I leave all of the root intact. I don't make any attempt to clean the bulbs, either. I also mark the variety and hang in a mesh bag in my root cellar until time to plant.

After this garlic has sufficiently cured I will make several recipes to test the taste of each one. I'll post the recipes and taste results when I do, probably not until fall.

Thanks to Hood River Garlic for the specific descriptions of my garlic, which I ordered from them last fall.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Just Some Ducky Fun: The Peabody Ducks

I first heard of the Peabody Ducks about 25 years ago when I visited Memphis on business. Unfortunately my schedule did not permit a visit to the Peabody Hotel to see the famous Duck Walk, which has been a Memphis attraction for more than 75 years.

Twice a day, at 11 AM and 5 PM, the lobby becomes crowded with guests waiting to see the ducks. Promptly on schedule, the uniformed Duckmaster brings the 5 ducks from their $100,000 penthouse down to the lobby in the hotel’s glass elevator. The ducks then march to a Sousa tune along the carpeted walkway and up the steps to the large marble fountain in the center of the lobby where they immediately plunge in for a swim.

The ducks are mallards, one drake (male) and four hens. Every three months the ducks are replaced by a new set and the older ones are returned to the Memphis farm where they were raised.

The ducks are never named (since the original 3), and duck is never on the menu in the hotel’s French restaurant.

In 1986 a Peabody Hotel opened in Orlando, Florida, where the Duck March tradition continues.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

June Flowers

I do have a few flowers blooming in June even though most of my time has been spent on the vegetables and fruit gardens. The bed above is a lasagna bed, created on top of the grass by layering cardboard and newspapers covered by mulch and occasionally a layer of dirt and/or compost. After 2 years, it is becoming decent soil. Below is the walkway to the front door. My trusty dragon (on the railing) guards the way.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Inspiration from a Woman and her Car

This is an unusual love story involving an 89-year-old woman, Rachel, and her beloved Chariot. The two have been together for decades and traveled more than 540,000 miles across this nation's highways and side streets, including a recent 3,000 mile trip to Rachel's 70th high school class reunion.

Rachel is 89, and Chariot is a 1964 Mercury Caliente; together they have logged 540,000 miles Rachel has no fear of traveling alone; she is licensed to carry a .38 S&W with whom she took gun safety classes.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009


This is only the second year for my gooseberries and they are still quite small. However, both plants have a few fruit. This one is Ribes 'Hinnonmaki Red' and although there are too few to make jam or a chutney this year, I think there are enough to make a Gooseberry Fool. (I’ll post the recipe and photos later when I make it.)

Gooseberries basically fall into 2 categories: dessert gooseberries, and cooking gooseberries. Cooking gooseberries are usually shiny-green and quite tart, enough so they make your mouth pucker when eaten raw. Cooking gooseberries with a little honey or sugar releases their delicious, complex flavors.

Dessert gooseberries are usually colored from red to yellow, appearing almost transparent, and sweet enough to eat raw. I did find the skins on my red ones to be rather thick and chewy but the taste is wonderful! (I suspect cooking a bit will make the skins tender.)

Any gooseberries to be cooked should have the stem and blossom end removed; scissors work just fine. (The Brits call this “top and tail”.) Put the berries in a little water and add some honey or sugar to taste. Gently simmer the berries for a few minutes until soft, adjusting sweetness. Now you can use the berries for any pie or other dessert recipe. (Note: For jam, cook the fruit and sugar according to your jam recipe but don’t forget to “top and tail” the berries first.)

How to Withdraw from the NAIS Database

Image by "Fir0002/Flagstaffotos", GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2

The National Animal Identification System (NAIS) is a massive new government monitoring system that calls for registering and tracking every farm animal in the U.S., even if you have just a single cow or chicken.

At this point, NAIS is still voluntary, but many people have already been put in the database without their permission.

Here's a quick
Step By Step Guide to making sure your private information isn't already stored in this Big Brother database:

Monday, June 22, 2009

Provençal Vinegar

Since I posted my recipe for Raspberry Vinegar, I thought I make and post my favorite homemade vinegar, Provençal Vinegar. This is a great salad vinegar, and also used in place of a splash of lemon juice in many meat and vegetable recipes.

The recipe says it keeps 6-9 months; that's probably a good age for culinary use as the taste and smells meld and intensify with age. I have had a bottle on the kitchen windowsill for 2-3 years and although I don't cook with it, I often just take a whiff to get my salivary glands going!

Place in each of 2 small glass bottles:

From the herb garden:
1 sprig fresh thyme

1 sprig fresh rosemary

1 small bay leaf

From the pantry:
1 large clove garlic, peeled

1 piece of lemon zest, cut long and narrow to curl

Champagne vinegar to fill each bottle

Thoroughly wash herbs and let them air dry.

Place the herbs, garlic and lemon zest in a sterilized bottle.

Pour in the vinegar to completely cover the lemon herbs and zest.

Seal, label and store in a cool, dark place for about 1 month before using.

This vinegar will keep for about 6-9 months stored in a cool, dark place... and only gets better with age!

NOTE: The garlic clove may turn blue/green. DO NOT BE ALARMED! It is perfectly safe. (Garlic is saturated with a chemical that turns garlic green or greenish blue when released by the acetic acid in the vinegar. The pigment in garlic itself turns out to be a close chemical relative of chlorophyll, which gives all green leaves their color.)

I have been known to first warm the herbs and citrus peel (but not the garlic) in the vinegar to almost a simmer, discard the herbs and peel and pour the vinegar over fresh herbs and peel (plus garlic) in the bottles. It kinda jump-starts the blending of flavors!

Sunday, June 21, 2009

FDA Recalls Becoming Blasé?

Are FDA recalls becoming so common they don't make headlines anymore? In our fast-paced society, most people only scan the headlines or listen to soundbites from newscasters; neither of the FDA press releases below made it above my radar. Is it because there are so many that our attitude has become, "SS/DD"?

For Immediate Release: June 19, 2009
"The U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are warning consumers not to eat any varieties of prepackaged Nestle Toll House refrigerated cookie dough due to the risk of contamination with E. coli O157:H7 (a bacterium that causes food borne illness).

The FDA advises that if consumers have any prepackaged, refrigerated Nestle Toll House cookie dough products in their home that they throw them away. Cooking the dough is not recommended because consumers might get the bacteria on their hands and on other cooking surfaces.

For Immediate Release: June 16, 2009
FDA Advises Consumers Not To Use Certain Zicam Cold Remedies Intranasal Zinc Product Linked to Loss of Sense of Smell

"The FDA has received more than 130 reports of loss of sense of smell associated with the use of these three Zicam products. In these reports, many people who experienced a loss of smell said the condition occurred with the first dose; others reported a loss of the sense of smell after multiple uses of the products.

Several people I know love to eat cookie dough; I wonder if they even heard of the recall?? Also, I happen to have anosmia (loss of the sense of smell mentioned in the full FDA statement) and have had it for years. The FDA warning causes me to wonder if mine was caused by some OTC drug that the FDA passed without adequate testing.

What’s the Water Footprint of Your Garden?

We’ve all heard about our Carbon Footprint, now there is information about the “water footprint” of various vegetables and meats. Most of us know we Americans are water guzzlers, using about 100 gallons per day per person.

But out of the 100 gallons a day, how much goes to grow our food? Some of the numbers are startling!

The following figures were derived (thanks to Waterfootprint.org) from “Globalization of water: Sharing the planet's freshwater resources”, by Hoekstra, A.Y. and Chapagain, A.K. (2008) Blackwell Publishing, Oxford, UK.

The gallons listed below are the amount of water needed to grow ONE POUND of the food listed. The water is a global average rather than from specific localities.

Fruits, Vegetables and Grains

Lettuce -- 15 gallons

Tomatoes -- 22 gallons

Cabbage -- 24 gallons

Cucumber -- 28 gallons

Potatoes -- 30 gallons

Oranges -- 55 gallons

Apples -- 83 gallons

Bananas -- 102 gallons

Corn -- 107 gallons

Peaches or Nectarines -- 142 gallons

Wheat Bread -- 154 gallons

Mango -- 190 gallons

Avocado -- 220 gallons

Tofu -- 244 gallons

Rice -- 403 gallons

Olives -- 522 gallons

Chocolate -- 2847 gallons

Meat and Dairy

Eggs -- 573 gallons

Chicken -- 815 gallons

Cheese -- 896 gallons

Pork -- 1630 gallons

Butter -- 2044 gallons

Beef -- 2500-5000 gallons

(Global figures for the water intensity of beef vary so significantly that an average isn't particularly informative, so a range of figures is given)

I could not discover if the water usage for a pound of beef included the water to grow the corn fed to beef cattle.

This partial list is only a part of the environmental impact of what we eat. Other factors are fertilizers (and whether organic or conventional), water pollution from run-off, whether our food is local, shipped across the country, or imported, and even farm/food politics.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Using Red Raspberries

Due to the excessive amounts of rain lately, I’m picking a few more red raspberries than I really expected, after so many canes were lost when a maple tree fell on the patch destroying most of the mature canes earlier this year.

I’m picking only about a cup a day; even so, I still won't harvest many berries. Next year the new canes from this summer should produce at least a quart a day, maybe even half a gallon daily! With so few red raspberries, I won’t have enough to make my favorite Peach Melba Jam. The jam is easy: fresh peaches and raspberries. Since my older family members cannot eat anything with small seeds, I juice the raspberries and use the juice straight in place of whole berries.

The taste is reminiscent of
Peach Melba although the original recipe was raspberry sauce and fresh peaches over vanilla ice cream, developed by a French chef in London to honor the Australian soprano, Dame Nellie Melba around 1892. (You can deliberately make Peach Melba Jam thinner, to make a sauce for ice cream.)

I should have enough raspberries to make a small batch of raspberry vinegar. I love a splash of raspberry vinegar on green salads, and also on lightly steamed veggies. It is especially good splashed over a chiffonade of baby Brussels sprouts lightly sautéed in butter until just barely tender.

Raspberry Vinegar

To make raspberry vinegar, I start with a base of champagne vinegar. You could use white wine vinegar but I think the champagne vinegar is slightly more subtle. To a quart of vinegar, I add about a quart of raspberries over low heat, and barely warm them, just until the mash starts to give off a little steam. (I mash the berries with the back of a wooden spoon while they are starting to heat.) Be sure to use a non-reactive pan!

Put the whole cooked mash into a jelly bag and let drip overnight. I generally use 2-3 layers of butter muslin in place of a jelly bag. Do not squeeze the straining bag or your vinegar will be cloudy. After it has drained overnight, toss the pulp and re-heat the juice to about 150ºF just to be sure you didn’t pick up unwanted airborne bacteria overnight. Pour into sterilized bottles. (I generally taste mine before bottling, adding more vinegar if the raspberry taste is too overpowering. I seldom need to add any, depending on the berries that year.)

Save several whole raspberries to place in the bottom of the bottles for decoration, if you so desire. I use 8 oz. glass bottles, as a little raspberry vinegar lasts a long time. Cap, and store in a cool, dark place. It is ready to use immediately and will store for a year or more.

The hill out back has wild black raspberries, but it has been too wet to climb the hill to see if they are ready to pick. The wild blackberries farther up the hill should produce abundantly later this year, thanks to a cool (no frost) Blackberry Winter, which they need to set fruit, followed by plenty of spring rain. I will make my much-requested Wild Blackberry Savory (jelly).

On the plate with the raspberries in the first photo above are a few black currants. Last year the plants were new to my garden, and before I could pick them in sprigs, the birds got them. So I’m picking a few this year as they are ready. I won’t have many this year either since I recently transplanted the bushes again, to be next to my new red currants. I hope to pick enough black currants to use in a scone recipe.

Friday, June 19, 2009


In the fruit garden I am building, I have vacillated over planting a mulberry (malus) because of my zone. Normally mulberries grow in warmer zones, and my area appeared marginal at best.

Then yesterday a neighbor took me to see a wild mulberry tree in the edge of some woods nearby. I managed to pick a handful of berries… just as succulent and sweet as I remember from childhood! The size is about the same length, although not as fat.

Back home to search the ‘net again, I see the ILLINOIS EVERBEARING MULBERRY is said to bear excellent quality reddish-black fruits, and will grow in zones 5-8. (I’m between zone 5 and 6 in a microclimate.) Having tasted mulberries for the first time in more years than I want to admit, I think I’ll take a chance and order a mulberry next spring!

Mulberries are self-fruitful so I only need to order one. If you have never grown mulberries, be warned that they are messy, and dropped fruit will stain anything it touches. The best solution is to find a sunny spot away from the house, walkways and driveway. They are rapid growers and available in several tree forms including weeping; fruit varieties are usually red, white or black.

I will be having sweet dreams of mulberry muffins and ice cream for some time, but my favorite will always be eating mulberries right off the tree, or a dish of them for breakfast with just a tad of citrus juice squeezed over the berries. YUM!!

Thursday, June 18, 2009


Muskrat photo is in the Public Domain

My creek flooded again today, second time this spring, and also only the second time in the 3 years I have lived here. I know there is a muskrat den in the bank opposite the house, and I have seen a muskrat diving down underwater to the entrance to the den several times as I have walked across my bridge to get the mail.

Today I saw 2 muskrats at the same time! The larger one was in the watery weeds near the den entrance area, and the smaller one was swimming frantically against the current on the house side. I suspect it is an offspring from this year, and I think the den must be flooded.

The Stranger in my Pocket

I walk every day in my gardens unless it’s winter or pouring rain, and there’s always a weed that needs pulling, a flower to cut for a vase, or something that needs deadheading. My fingernails always seem to get dirty!

Consequently I carry a slim, folding pocketknife to clean my fingernails, or use to cut a stem in the garden. I even carry it when I’m not in my gardening “attire” because you never know when you will need a small cutting tool. Last week at the Ohio plant swap, a friend brought a gift for me, taped inside a cardboard box. I reached into my pocket… and NO knife to cut the tape!

Later I looked through all the boxes of plants, and even my overnight bag… no knife! Once before, I lost that knife, and bought an almost identical Case knife before mine showed up again. So when I got home, I put the “alternate” knife in my pocket.

Funny how things have a “feel”. My alternate knife just didn’t “feel” right, so I went to Google to find another one just like my old one. No luck. Mine is a Case knife with a small blade that locks open (they are called a lockback) and measures 2-1/2” closed. (The “alternate” knife is also a Case knife, same specs.) The newer smallest slim knives that are even vaguely similar are still much longer than I want to carry all the time.

However, I know if I don’t carry a knife all the time, I will lose it. Same for a watch; I have lost many of them! I wear a small waterproof sports watch so I don’t have to take it off even to shower. For several years I have tried to find another one to have a back-up watch but everything I find is huge and clunky. I actually do know where my gold watch is… in my jewelry box, but I never wear it. (Partly for fear of losing it, and partly because I have no occasion to dress up anymore.)

Today, I finally found my "real" pocketknife in some stuff I was still unpacking from the truck. Yippee!! I immediately put it in my pocket and put the other one away. When I did, I realized why I didn’t like the “other” knife… it was like carrying a stranger in my pocket!

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Baking this week...

For those readers who watch for cooking and recipes: I got some more duck eggs last evening. I plan to make cream puffs with them, probably this weekend. My mother had a good recipe for cream puffs which I will use; I just need to think up a good filling. Stay tuned...

Plant Swap and Breaking Bread

The first weekend in June I made a trip to a Plant Swap and Pot Luck Lunch with a bunch of gardening friends in the Ohio River Valley. Last June I attended for the first time, so this year it was a combination of greeting old friends and meeting new ones.

The weather cooperated and we had a lovely day for a picnic along the banks of the Ohio River. The food was wonderful and the people were great. I don’t understand how plants multiply like zucchini, but everyone went home with more plants than they brought to swap!

Plants were not the only things swapped, either. Some bantam chickens were traded, and one woman brought ornamental glass objects from her studio to trade for plants.
It was a fun weekend and I got a good dose of free-range bantams, guineas, and a peacock at my friend Geo’s in Kentucky where I stayed en route to Ohio. I did feel sorry for the peacock, though. He lost his mate recently, and kept putting on a glorious, colorful show of tail-feathers for the guinea hens. They were not impressed!
Peacock photo by Moshe Ash, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:PeacockHead.jpg

I came home with some very nice plants for my garden. I’m happy to say the plants included 2 small fruiting trees for my growing collection: a crab apple, and a wild American gooseberry. I am disappointed that I didn’t get fruiting quince but the man who has them was unable to make the trip. I had ordered pineapple quince and orange quince early this spring but they were out of stock. There's always next year.

My sharpest memory of my maternal grandmother is the smell of guavas cooking down for jelly in her kitchen when I was 5. I think quince will be very similar!

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Tornadoes, Hurricanes, Drinking Water and a WAPI

I’ve never lived in Tornado Alley except the year when a tornado leveled Udall, Kansas killing 80 people and injuring hundreds more, about 35 miles from where we lived. However, I grew up in the Land of Hurricanes and have been through perhaps 20 of them from Cat 1’s to Cat 4’s.

So I know only too well the destruction and interruption of services from severe storms. Even now, living in the mountains, hurricanes pose a threat. It’s not the threat of wind damage, but the flooding that brings down mountainsides from rain coming up with a storm from the Gulf of Mexico or coming inland from the Atlantic. 3 inches of rain on relatively flat land isn’t too bad, but 3 inches of rain on a mountain all flows down to the lowest point, becoming feet instead of inches. With any severe storm, the water supply is usually affected.

I have posted how to make an inexpensive emergency water supply apparatus, but that still costs at least $50 for the filter. We all know you can boil water to kill any bacteria in it, but what if you have precious little fuel? Or maybe none? Sooner or later, the sun will come out and with a little cardboard and some aluminum foil you can make a solar oven.

Later this week I will post some plans for making a solar ovens (solar cookers), but solar ovens will not get hot enough to boil water. However, water doesn’t have to reach boiling temps to be safe. Water heated to 149ºF for a short time will pasteurize water; that is, it will kill disease-causing organisms like E. coli, Giardia, Rotaviruses and even the Hepatitis A virus.

Here’s a $6 gadget that you can use with a solar cooker to let you know when the water is pasteurized. It can also be used when heating water over a gas or charcoal grill or even a wood fire. It’s a great addition to camp and emergency packs.

The gadget is actually a simple thermometer called a WAPI, which stands for Water Pasteurization Indicator. It’s a reusable, durable indicator that contains a special soy wax in one end of the tube, and has a moveable weight to keep it at the bottom of the water when in use. When the water (or milk) reaches proper pasteurization temperature, the wax melts and runs to the bottom of the tube. Remove the tube from the pot and let it cool so the wax hardens in the bottom. To re-use, just turn the tube upside down (so the wax is at the top), slide the weight to the bottom, and drop it in cooking water.

WAPI’s are made by Solar Cookers International and sell for $6 (or less in bulk). Churches, Scouts and civic groups often raise money to supply them to Third World countries where millions of people become sick every year from drinking contaminated water. SCI also sells a solar pasteurizer called an AquaPak that is a bag with a WAPI built in. It will pasteurize 4-5 liters in about 2 hours, and sells for $20. Buy 2 and have water for a hot shower!

Monday, June 15, 2009

The Great Potato Experiment

Last year I grew Yukon Gold potatoes in straw, and fingerling potatoes in dirt in tires. This year I’m experimenting with both kinds of potatoes, and some alternate methods and location.

The straw I used last year was actually straw from the year prior in a strawbale garden, so it was quite well broken down and had been well-fertilized. I just placed the YG (Yukon Gold) seed potatoes just on top of some straw that was about 3” thick, and covered them with more of the old, broken-down loose straw. As they grew, I added more loose straw. The yield from a short 15’ row was 70 pounds of very clean potatoes!

The fingerling varieties last year were Rose Finn Apple Fingerlings. I had placed old tires two tires high, put about 4” of dirt in the bottoms, laid out the seed potatoes, and covered with about 2” of dirt. As those grew, I added more dirt. The yield was not impressive, but it could have been the location of the tires, or the height which prevented the pants from getting maximum sun until the plants were quite tall.

This year I planted the YK’s (from my root cellar, a few I hadn’t eaten) using new straw rather than decomposing straw. The plants are growing well but I’m uncertain about how well potatoes will grow in the new straw I’m packing around the stems as the plants grow. So that’s one part of The Great Potato Experiment.

The second part of The Great Potato Experiment is the fingerlings, started only yesterday because I just hadn’t gotten around to deciding where to plant them and making the time to do it. The YK’s have been planted 2 months already and although they got off to a very slow start, they are growing well and should flower soon. The lateness of planting fingerlings may be a big factor for production in the final anaylsis.

Having no tilled garden area available now for planting fingerlings, I put down weed cloth right over a section of lawn and placed 3 tires in a single layer on it (next to the YK’s). Then I put new straw that was just starting to breakdown in the bottom of the tires, dropped in the seed potatoes, and covered them with more straw. On the outside of the tires, just on top of grass over the weed cloth, I threw down some more straw and the pitiful dregs of the fingerlings, covering with dried grass clippings.

When it dries out enough, I will water the fingerlings with a manure tea made from some 2 year old horse manure. I may even add a thin layer of that composted manure directly to the grass/straw covering before adding another layer of “hilling” material. All this is assuming the fingerlings grow. They all had eyes, but didn’t really look all that wonderful.

Stay tuned; I will post updates!

Hydrogen Peroxide and the Turnip Truck

Hydrogen peroxide (H2O2) is one of the few inexpensive miracle substances still available to the public. The good news is that hydrogen peroxide is non-patentable (it’s in the public domain), so those great pharmaceutical houses with strings to Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney can’t make a dime off of it.

What does happen is that some manufacturers add just a tad of some minor (cheap and perhaps ineffective) ingredient to it, name it the “best” green product to clean and disinfect, and sell it to us in a fancy spray bottle at a high price… when in reality it is nothing more than ordinary 3% hydrogen peroxide you can buy in any drug store for under a dollar.

Those companies are pretty sure we just fell off the turnip truck, so let’s debunk that myth!

H2O2 is a weak acid with strong oxidizing properties, and is a powerful bleaching agent. It is used as a disinfectant, antiseptic and oxidizer. The hydrogen peroxide available at drug stores is usually 3% solution but Pharmaceutical/Food grades are available in solutions up to 35%.

About 50% of the world's production of hydrogen peroxide in 1994 was used for pulp and paper bleaching in the manufacturing process. Other bleaching applications are becoming more important as hydrogen peroxide is seen as an environmentally benign alternative to chlorine-based bleaches.

From here on out, when I say H2O2, hydrogen peroxide or peroxide, I’m referring to the standard 3% drug store solution that comes in brown (opaque) bottles. Hydrogen peroxide decomposes rapidly when exposed to light, hence the opaque bottles.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has approved hydrogen peroxide as a sanitizer. Clean your kitchen counters and bathroom surfaces with hydrogen peroxide to kill germs. Simply put some on a cloth, or spray it directly on the counters. (Remember, it is a bleaching solution so be careful where you spray it.) After cleaning your cutting board, pour peroxide on it to kill bacteria.

Add a cup of H2O2 instead of bleach to a load of whites in your laundry to whiten them. H2O2 is effective at treating fresh (red) blood-stains in clothing and other items. It must be applied to clothing before blood stains can be accidentally "set" with heated water. After peroxide dilutes the blood stain, cold water and soap can be used to remove the peroxide treated blood.

Hydrogen peroxide is generally recognized as safe (GRAS) as an antimicrobial agent by the FDA. Try it as a hand-sanitizer! Carry a bottle of it and some paper towels in the car’s glove box, especially during flu season.

H2O2 is used medically for cleaning wounds. Didn’t your Mama always pour peroxide on a cut before putting a bandaid on it? It causes mild damage to tissue in open wounds, but it also is effective at rapidly stopping capillary bleeding (slow blood oozing from small vessels in scrapes and abrasions).

There are numerous sites (and controversy) about using Food Grade (35%) H2O2 both intravenously and internally
as treatment/cures for a number of diseases including cancer. That's not a discussion I want to get in to on this blog. There are also references to using H2O2 in the water for farm animals (like beef cattle, hogs turkeys and chickens) to prevent disease and increase market weight.

Some horticulturalists and hydroponic growers advocate a weak hydrogen peroxide solution in watering. Its spontaneous decomposition releases oxygen that enhances a plant's root development, and helps treat root rot. I have saved many an over-watered plant by adding peroxide mixed with water to the already soggy, droopy plant. Trust me, it works!

For germinating seeds, mix 1 oz. H2O2 with 1 pint (16 fl. oz.) water; soak seed 8 hrs. Peroxide can also be an excellent, safe insecticide. Simply spray your plants with 4-8 ounces of peroxide mixed with 8 ounces of white sugar and one gallon of water.

You probably knew all or most of these uses (and probably more!) already, but if you are like me, you get distracted by fancy commercials and forget. So let’s get back to using an excellent product that’s good for us, good for our pocketbooks and good for the environment. We already have a miracle product that’s multifunctional, cheap and GREEN… we didn’t just fall off that turnip truck!

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Now THIS is Being Green!

Nedbank (in South Africa) who bills itself as a "truly green bank" recently put up a billboard made of recycled plastic bags. The billboard is over 120 feet long and is woven of more than 2,000 recycled bags. The project took 7 Crafters about 6 weeks to weave. THAT's Recycling!

Nedbank was in the news before, winning an award in 2006 for it's "Power to the People" solar-powered billboard east of Johannesburg. The solar billboard is on the grounds of a primary school, and its 10 PV solar panels provide electricity to the school, and light the billboard at night. The school uses some of that electricity to supply a hot daily meal to the 1,100 students, many of whom would not get a decent meal elsewhere.

My hat is off to corporations who help their own business by helping others, and being truly green. Think more will get the picture?

Pea Blossoms!

After years of trying to grow old-fashioned ornamental peas for the lovely flowers, I finally gave up. Now my first time of growing Sugar Snaps, they have started to produce flowers, and I am SO excited! (Doesn't take much to excite an old lady, I guess.)

I don't expect much harvest; I didn't plant very many anyway. The ground is just a poorly prepared slice out of the lawn, but at least I know now that I can grow them, and will do better next year.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

How Many Vegetables Will I Get per Row?

In the current economic and environmental situation where so many folks are starting backyard vegetable gardens for the first time, lots of how-to information is available on the internet. Most of it scattered in bits and pieces and seldom all lumped together in one place. Now a free 36 page eBook, "Guide to Growing your Favorite Vegetables" is available for download from the folks at USA Gardener.

One thing I really like in this eBook is a chart showing yields... a guide to how much you can expect each 15 foot row per vegetable type to produce (in pounds). Yields will vary from year to year, by geographic location, soil types and many other factors, so it is just a rough guide. New gardeners will find it invaluable for estimating how much to plant (or how much zucchini you'll have to give away if you plant 3 rows of 15 feet).

Subjects covered are instructions on planning and preparation of a garden area, recommended seeds, tools, and links to some good online resources. The book is nicely set-up so all the information
for each vegetable (like seed sowing, propagation, companion planting, care & growing, and harvesting) is all on one page, allowing you to print out just that page.

Download your free eBook here.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Making Biscotti

Biscotti were a staple of the Roman Legions. The word means "twice-baked", thus they could be stored for a long time, which was particularly useful during journeys and wars. The internet is awash with hundreds of biscotti recipes; most are sweet, although a very few are savory (like Rosemary and Parmesan Biscotti). Traditionally, biscotti are almond flavored, although often they are flavored with anise or chocolate. Only your imagination would limit dreaming up your own biscotti recipes!

Last Christmas I made Holiday Biscotti, adding dried red cranberries and green pistachio nuts, with one end dipped in white chocolate. Biscotti dipped in chocolate does not store well, and the chocolate is prone to run if temps are warm. Biscotti are actually very easy to make! Here's a basic recipe and visual how-to steps:

Basic Biscotti Recipe
2 to 2-1/2 cups (before sifting) unbleached all-purpose flour

1 tsp. baking powder

pinch of salt

3 large eggs, plus 1 for egg wash

1/4 cup sugar

3/4 cups brown sugar, packed

Grated rind of 1 orange
(optional, depending on flavor choice)
1 cup coarsely chopped nuts (almonds, walnuts, pine nets, etc.)

2-4 tsp. flavoring of your choice (chocolate, Triple Sec, etc.)

Sift together the flour, salt and baking powder. Set aside.

Beat the 3 eggs until light; add the sugar gradually and beat until ribbony, about 10 minutes.
Stir in the orange rind and flavorings. Add the sifter ingredients and blend on low until incorporated. Fold in the nuts until blended.
With lightly floured hands, form 3 loaves about 2” wide and 12” long; place on a buttered baking sheet and brush with egg wash. Place on a rack in the upper third of a pre-heated 350ºF oven for 20 minutes or so until lightly golden. Remove from oven, let cool slightly to handle and, using a serrated knife, cut on the diagonal into 3/4” slices. Lay the slices on their sides back on the baking sheet, return to the oven and bake for 6 minutes or more on each side until golden brown. Remove from the oven, cool, and store in a tightly covered container. Serve with coffee and cordials. (Dunk in coffee!)
Cook's Notes:
1. Use some vanilla extract as part of your flavoring additions; it will enhance any other flavors!

2. Biscotti will keep for a long time stored in an air-tight container as long as you don't use a recipe with butter or oil in it.
3. If the biscotti get a bit limp, crisp them in a preheated 350ºF oven in a single layer on a cookie sheet for 5 minutes or so.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

You'll Never Look at Dinner the Same Way...

The documentary movie, "Food, Inc." premiers in NYC, LA and San Francisco tomorrow, June 12th, and opens nationwide starting June 19th. Food, Inc. exposes America's industrialized food system and its effect on our environment, health, economy and workers' rights.

As “Food, Inc.” demonstrates, the corporate control of our food has given us new strains of E. coli—the harmful bacteria that cause illness for an estimated 73,000 Americans annually; widespread obesity, particularly among children; and an epidemic level of diabetes and heart disease among adults. The film also describes the abusive persecutions and prosecution of farmers around the country by Monsanto as it attempts to push its genetically engineered crops.

Featuring interviews with such experts as Eric Schlosser (Fast Food Nation), Michael Pollan (The Omnivore's Dilemma, In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto) along with forward-thinking social entrepreneurs like Stonyfield's Gary Hirshberg and Polyface Farms’ Joel Salatin, “Food, Inc.” reveals surprising, and often shocking, truths about the safety of what we eat, the often horrifying way it is produced, and the corporate powers that actually control our food supply.

“The message should be clear,”
Executive Director Andrew Kimbrell, of the Center for Food Safety said, “There is not one American consumer who wants food made using industrial agricultural methods. These practices benefit a handful of companies who profit greatly at the expense of our farmers’ way of life and the public’s health.”

Here Comes Swine Flu "Pandemic" Phase 6, Severity 1

June 11, 2009: The World Health Organization today declared a swine flu pandemic, marking the first worldwide flu epidemic in 41 years.

No fear mongering intended here, just an awareness of facts... and my continued urging for general preparedness for
any disruption of services, for any reason. That means disruption of electric power, water, medicines and food supplies caused by hurricanes, tornadoes, flooding, foreclosure, job loss or even civil unrest, as well as a wide-spread flu pandemic. As I am writing this, my own area is under an emergency flash flood warning due to severe storms; flash floods often take out roads and some of the many bridges in my area, causing disruption of services for an unknown length of time.

Give some thought to what would happen if, this fall, schools closed in your area. Are you prepared for what that means? Now's the time to prepare if you are not. Stock in extra food, water and the supplies that you and your family will need should all hell break loose around you and/or someone in your family gets sick. It is always possible that this virus might evolve into a more dangerous strain in the future. The good news: This relatively mild first wave has given us time to get ready.

H1N1, becoming entrenched in Australia and Chile and in a rising sweep through Europe, prompted the World Health Organization to declare the first influenza pandemic in 41 years. After Thursday's meeting, Chan said the experts agreed there was wider spread of H1N1 flu than what was being reported worldwide.

Margaret Chan, the WHO’s Director-General, made the announcement
, and described the virus as "moderate". WHO said 74 countries had reported 28,774 cases of swine flu, including 144 deaths. Still, about half of the people who have died from swine flu had been young and healthy -- people who are not usually susceptible to flu.

And as far as following this story, a pandemic, even a mild one, is a worldwide health event that will hit developing countries hardest, but will affect all of us. Ignoring it is the height of irresponsibility. So, while the usual grouches might claim "this is all hype", do yourself a favor and realize that a little preparation (for anything) goes a long way.

Toxic Bottled Water

Years ago I would complain loudly when traveling and stopping for a cold drink, only to find no choice but a sweetened soda. “WHY doesn’t someone bottle just plain ole' water?” And a few years later someone finally did, and bottled water became a major industry.

Now, along comes research showing the dangers of plastic bottles for water (definitely from the containers, and maybe even from the water before going in some of the containers). The bottles are so dangerous that they are considering not recycling those PET bottles anymore. Personal re-use of those bottles is an unhealthy thing to do too; in fact, it's as bad as leaving a bottle of water in a hot car all day causing the toxic chemicals leach out at a rapid rate. Taste the water in a new, unopened bottle of water that's been sitting in your hot car all day... you'll know!

Buying bottled water at the grocery store or a quick-stop was now ou
t of the question, but how about getting water delivered in polycarbonate jugs like offices use? I heard polycarbonates supposedly shed very few toxins, and there are almost no other options. (When is the last time you saw water for sale in a 5 gallon glass jug?)

Many water supply places use a Reverse Osmosis (RO) system to provide clean water in polycarbonate jugs, achieved by forcing water under high pressures through a membrane. Before I moved here, I had been filling my own 3 gallon polycarbonate bottles with RO drinking water at natural food stores, for around 40¢ a gallon.

I should have known better, but it was all I knew at the time. Today's RO membranes filter out most of the mineral salts, including those necessary for good health. Not a really good idea. Interestingly enough, Kohler will not warranty their faucets if they are used with a RO system; the RO water eats the metal in the faucets. It also is now known that polycarbonate jugs leach endocrine disrupters like BPA into the contents. More Yucko!

There are few alternatives, either. Some companies still make stainless steel vacuum jugs, and recently some start-up green companies are marketing food grade stainless steel travel bottles in many sizes, even sippy cups for the kids. Glass is seldom used to bottle anything anymore, although I do find milk to buy in returnable glass jugs from a nearby dairy, and I recently purchased ginger ale in throw-away glass bottles. (Those ginger ale bottles will get sterilized and re-used, probably for herb vinegars.)

Do the best you can to avoid drinking from plastic soda bottles anytime, but specifically those bottles that have been in a hot car interior, or even sitting out in the hot sun. An investment of a few dollars for re-usable stainless steel bottles will pay for itself in just weeks, and the health benefits will be a continual payback for the rest of your life.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Crab Pasta Salad

This past weekend was an out-of-town trip to an Ohio gathering of friends from Dave’s Garden. Since it was a potluck lunch as well as a plant swap, I made a cool summer pasta salad that’s easy to make, and a little different from the usual summer potluck salads.

Crab Pasta Salad

½ pound Rotini pasta
1 can pitted black olives
1 pound of crab-flavored seafood (packaged already cooked)
2-3 jars of marinated artichoke hearts
Optional: finely diced sweet onions

Cook pasta in salted water. Drain and chill pasta. Add 2 jars of marinated artichokes, marinade and all, and the can of drained black olives. Stir well, chill for half an hour (or more) and test for taste. You may want to add another can of artichokes since the marinade is the sauce for this salad.
Chop the crab in bite size pieces and mix into the pasta. Serve chilled.

(Please forgive the partial bowl of crab pasta salad in the photo; I didn’t get a shot before everyone dug in!)

The Stars Come Out at Night

"Ralph Waldo Emerson once asked what we would do if the stars only came out once every thousand years. No one would sleep that night, of course. The world would become religious overnight. We would be ecstatic, delirious, made rapturous by the glory of God. Instead the stars come out every night, and we watch television." ~ Paul Hawken