Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Making Weed "Vitamins"

To continue from the "Gotta be a pony in here somewhere"...  I'm starting to make some vitamin tinctures from the weeds in my garden.

Above are the things I picked early this morning (June 16th, which is just 1 day past the full moon) to make some vitamin tinctures. Around the full moon is said to be the best time to harvest herbs for medicinal use.  I don't know if that also applies to culinary use, but it might. That doesn't stop me from cutting fresh culinary herbs from the garden when I need them for a dish I'm preparing, but it might affect those same herbs when I want to dry some for winter.

The large stainless steel strainer basket is full of red raspberry leaves that I will dry for raspberry leaf tea. Raspberry leaf tea is not a tasty tea like mint tea; it's uses are more medicinal and you can do an internet search about them. Raspberry leaf tea was recommended by Dr. Abravanel as the morning beverage for the Thyroid Food Protocol which I followed many years ago. (Dr. Abravanel's Body Type Diet and Lifetime Nutrition Plan)

Finished, Dried Raspberry Leaf

The small strainer basket in the top photo above has red clover, and the plastic bucket behind it has dandelion leaves. Many of the recipes for red clover used medicinally call for just the blossoms, but as I'm steeping mine for a vitamin tincture, I'll use some of the top (softer) stems and leaves as well as the blossoms. Red Clover contains calcium, iron, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, potassium, selenium, and zinc as well as vitamins B3, C and E. 

Medicinally, red clover has been called the "woman's herb" as it contains phytoestrogens, similar to estrogen, and is widely used during menopause. "Although the phytoestrogen effects of soy and flaxseed have been more widely studied, red clover may actually be a more effective treatment for relief of menopausal symptoms. It is an active ingredient in Promensil, an over-the-counter supplement used to help treat hot flashes." (Source) Red Clover has many herbal uses, but as I am not an Herbalist, I shan't go into that here.

Dandelion is rich in calcium, iron, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, potassium, copper and zinc.  It also contains vitamins K, B1 (thiamine), B2 (riboflavin), B3 (niacin) and C along with beta-carotene, which our bodies turn into vitamin A. I haven't been able to find a breakdown of nutritional content of roots, and I'm not up to digging roots right now. Instead I'll make a vitamin tincture from the leaves now, store it, and later mix it with a vitamin tincture made from the roots to get the whole vitamin/mineral chorus in dandelions. Below are the vitamin and mineral contents in 1 cup of chopped raw dandelion greens.

To make a tincture requires only a base liquid, and the herbs or whatever you want to incorporate. Generally a food-grade alcohol like vodka, brandy, rum or Everclear is the liquid of choice, but I'm going to use raw apple cider vinegar for some added nutritional properties.  

Note: Everclear generally needs water added because some nutritional properties of herbs are only water soluble, and Everclear has very little water; it is almost all food-grade alcohol, 190 proof, or 95% alcohol.

Dandelion leaves in vinegar

To make the tincture: clean and rinse the leaves and stalks thoroughly as soon as possible after harvesting. (Vitamin loss starts immediately from any harvested fruit, vegetable or herb.)

Chopped red clover

Drain and chop the plant material, enough to nearly fill a glass jar with a tight lid. Fully cover the leaves and stems with either the alcoholic beverage, or my choice: apple cider vinegar. (You could also use vegetable glycerin. Glycerin might be a good choice if making a tincture to give children since it has a sweet taste.) Tighten the lid securely (I'm using the plastic Ball storage lids because the acid content of the vinegar will eat through regular canning lids in a short time.) Store the jar(s) in a cool, dark place for at least 2 weeks although 6 weeks is better, shaking often. Then strain the infusion into clean jars, re-label and store... again in a cool, dark place.

If you think about it, flavored vinegars such as tarragon vinegar, or Provençal vinegar are nothing more than tinctures with a vinegar base, and so easy to make at home with fresh herbs! Since I take a spoonful or two of raw apple cider vinegar (ACV) every day anyway, it is easy instead to use ACV infused with extra vitamins and minerals as a healthy tonic.

Monday, June 27, 2011

The Thyroid and City Water

Photo from WaterWatch USA

For some of you who have been following this blog a long time, you may remember I have a hypothyroid condition. Last year with a change in diet, I managed to get off the meds, but I have backslid on that diet for months now, with a noticeable drop in energy.

I wrote about the importance of iodine and the thyroid in several posts on this blog recently regarding radiation fallout, and possible contaminated vegetables. I just recently came across something that really made sense to me about iodine, city water and my own thyroid.

"Iodine is an essential trace mineral the body depends on for production of thyroid hormones and normal metabolism of cells. According to Oregon State University, iodine deficiency is a significant problem worldwide. The iodine content of foods produced in the ground depends heavily upon the iodine content of the soil it developed in." (Source)

Photo Source

It turns out iodine is part of the Halogen group, along with fluorine, bromine and chlorine. (I did not take chemistry in school, which I now regret.)  Each chemical has a known atomic weight, listed here:
Fluorine 9
Chlorine 17
Bromine 35
Iodine 53

Now here's the catch: 
"The critical activity of any one of these four halogens is in inverse proportion to its atomic weight. This means that any one of the four can displace the element with a higher atomic weight, but cannot displace an element with a lower atomic weight. For example, fluorine can displace chlorine, bromine and iodine because fluorine has a lower atomic weight than the other three. Similarly, chlorine can displace bromine and iodine because they both have a higher atomic weight. Likewise, bromine can displace iodine from the body because iodine has a higher atomic weight. But a reverse order is not possible. 

A knowledge of this well-known chemical law brings us to a consideration of the addition of chlorine to our drinking water as a purifying agent. We secure a drinking water that is harmful to the body not because of its harmful germ content, but because the chlorine content now causes the body to lose the much-needed iodine." (Source)

While my first source (quoted above) was an old-time Vermont country medical doctor who sometimes urged a few home remedies in favor of more expensive prescription medicines, I did some double-checking and found a lot of full corroboration from online medical sites about the thyroid, and also found many sites verifying the action of the atomic weights of the Halogen group that contains chlorine, fluoride and iodine regarding replacement of one for another.

What it all really means to me is that no matter the condition of my thyroid, nor how much iodine I consume in iodine-rich foods like seafood, dairy products from grass-fed cows, kelp, other seaweeds or even iodized salt (which the government instituted years ago to counteract the lack of iodine in our foods), or taking iodine tablets as protection against nuclear fallout, it is all for nothing if I drink chlorine-containing city water. Chlorine blocks the iodine receptors in the body... and besides, chlorine is not healthy anyway! (The same blocking of iodine holds true for fluoride added to toothpaste and mouthwash.)

"The addition of chlorine to our water began in the late 1800's and by 1904 was the standard in water treatment and for the most part remains that way today.

Chlorine is not used because its the safest or even the most effective means of treatment, its used because it is the cheapest means of treatment. In spite of all our technological advances over the 100 years we still essentially pour bleach into our water before we drink it. The long term effects of chlorinated drinking water have just recently been documented. It is not uncommon to find more chlorine in tap water than is recommended safe for a swimming pool." (Source)

It poses a problem for me because I have sworn off bottled water (for the most part) due to the enormous strain of millions of bottles on our landfills. I was buying Aquafina, which is processed by reverse osmosis, which filters out most things including chlorine. What kind of water do you drink, even if you don't have a thyroid problem?

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Garlic "Harvest" 2011

I had not intended to do much garden this year, and instead put my time and effort into making cheese... but as grocery prices keep increasing, I didn't have much choice.

I don't have much to harvest so far, although the zucchini monsters will be upon us soon! Most of what I have harvested is the bit of garlic planted last fall. I planted as many shallots as garlic, but something got almost all of the shallots when they started growing again this spring. Looks like I only harvested 3 small shallots, no more still in the ground look to have survived... and there is still more garlic growing that I'm hoping will get larger before the top growth dies completely. I'll plant shallots and garlic again this fall because I love them, and they are so easy (except for the shallot failure this year)!

My total garlic harvest (after I pulled up the remaining plants) is about 48 heads, now hanging in the root cellar to dry.

I picked a few heads of broccoli and several small, 1-person cabbages shown above. I didn't plant many cool weather seedlings this spring because it was so wet, but I'm hoping to do more in the fall.

I also picked some Yellow Cabbage Collards Greens but didn't take any pictures, just this one above taken today showing the seed pods. At the very base you can see the shape of the collard leaves, and the green growth to the right is mostly buckwheat mixed with a few weeds and grass. These collards are biennial, and the few I picked are apparently from seeds dropped last fall because I didn't plant any this year. I may do a planting for a fall harvest with these ripening seeds. I really like them; they are sweeter, and have smaller and more tender leaves than regular collards.

It will be ages before I have anything else to harvest, other than the summer squash and beans that everyone has growing. If you've seen one photo of squash and beans, you've seen them all, LOL. I did start a few bulbing fennel seeds but they got damping off disease, and it's probably too late to start more here in my zone.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Making Elder Flower Champagne

Photo By Sharondippity of

The elderberry bushes are in full bloom around here, so I decided to pick some of the flowers to make Elder Flower Champagne.

The recipe I'm using is from Susan Weed, Director of the Wise Woman Center in Woodstock, New York, and author of New Menopausal Years, Alternative Approaches for Women 30-90 and Healing Wise (Wise Woman Herbal Series).

7 large heads of elder blossoms
1 pound of white sugar, no substitutes!!
2 large or 3 small organic lemons
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
1 gallon water
4 liter-sized wine or champagne bottles and corks

Dissolve sugar in 1 quart of boiling water. Add rest of water. Slice lemons very thinly and add to water/sugar. Add vinegar and mix well.

Place elder flowers head down in a crock, large glass bowl, or non-metal pot. Pour liquid mixture over flower heads. 

Cover with a kitchen towel held in place with a rubber band. 

After 24 hours, strain through a fine cloth (I used a clean piece of butter muslin), bottle, and cork. 

Mature your Elder Flower Champagne in the dark for three or more weeks. It will be naturally fizzy when ready to drink, so watch out when you pop the cork!

Update 6/25
I walked into the pantry last night and got "shot" by one of the corks! Several of the ten bottles had already blown the corks, so I transferred the contents to one gallon jars and added an airlock.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Gotta be a pony in here somewhere...

Photo by Vossner of

Have you ever noticed that when something shows up, over and over, it's time to pay attention? Like Mother Nature is trying to tell us something?

I've had something showing up for 2+ months now... a new (to me) weed in my garden. I bet I have pulled up several bushels of it since the beginning of May. It seems to die back where I've weeded, then it rains and behold, there is an abundance of new growth, so I finally decided to find out what it is, and why I have so much of it. There's an old joke about twin boys, and their birthday gifts. The favored one got a pony, and the other got a pile of horse manure... which he started slinging about, thinking with all that horse manure there must be a pony in there somewhere.

Photo by Xenomorf of

I figured since I have an abundance (to put it mildly!) of this weed, there must be some good it it somewhere. So I researched my weed, and it turns out to be Chickweed, which is edible and very nutritious. It can be eaten raw in salads, and when cooked supposedly tastes like spinach. Chickweed also has some medicinal qualities, and used topically for irritated skin; I didn't research other applications.

I did find this: "CHICKWEED is a nourishing and strengthening food. Chickweed thins cellular membranes so nutrients are absorbed and utilized to their maximum; she weakens, consumes and dissolves bacteria. Chickweed is a superb metabolic balancer and her regulatory effect on the thyroid seems to help women who gain weight no matter what." (Source)

The big value about chickweed for me, though, is the nutritional value. Chickweed is an excellent source of vitamins A, D, B complex, C, and the flavonoid rutin, as well as the minerals iron, calcium, potassium, phosphorus, zinc, manganese, sodium, copper, and silica. Moreover, it is one of the very few plant sources of essential fatty acids (Omega 3 and Omega 6), which our body cannot make.

One plan I have for chickweed is to make a liquid "vitamin tonic" for winter use when I have no greens growing in my garden. I know the human body utilizes natural vitamins from foods so much easier and better than OTC synthetic vitamins, so I'm going to make up several liquid vitamin concoctions. The first ones will be a chickweed tincture for vitamins, and a maybe a chickweed dressing or marinade/green sauce (depending on how chickweed tastes to me!), and both are easy processes.

Chickweed Chimichurri
(recipe from Fat of the Land)
1 packed cup chickweed, chopped
4-5 cloves garlic, minced
2 tbsp shallot, fine dice
3 tbsp sweet red pepper, fine dice
1 tbsp hot pepper, de-seeded, fine dice
1/4 cup lemon juice
1/4 cup olive oil
1/2 tsp salt

Added later: As it sometimes happens, most of the chickweed in my yard has either been pulled up, or is too nasty looking to eat right now (or to make tinctures) so it will be later, after some new growth before I can make liquid chickweed vitamins.

Meanwhile, this journey has taken me down several paths to other healthy and beneficial "weeds" growing in my yarden, and in a couple of days I will be posting about them. Stay Tuned!

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Making 'Stilton' Cheese

I say I'm making 'Stilton' because Stilton is a "protected name" cheese and by law, can only be made in the three counties of Derbyshire, Leicestershire, and Nottinghamshire in England. A similar tasting cheese made elsewhere cannot really be called a 'Stilton'.

As I'm writing this, I am starting on my third try to make a 'Stilton'. The photos are from the first two tries, both of which unfortunately ended up in the garbage bin due to being out of town longer than I expected.

The process of heating the milk with added cream, adding cultures (with blues that means including penicillin roqueforti to give it the blue veining), adding rennet, allowing the curds to set... is pretty much like making most types of cheese. The temperatures and time are a bit different, and so is the draining of the whey and the steps following the draining.

The first attempt was the night in late April when the tornadoes hit close by. I was following the instructions online when the cable went out, so I did the best as I could remember of the instructions until we got service again in 2 days. I decided to keep the cheese, partly because of the cost of all the ingredients and partly as my "practice" blue cheese.

Within 5 days, my 'Stilton' had developed the beginning of a nice blue fuzz on the surface and it was time to put it in the cave. There is a step I didn't do, which is smoothing the rind before putting it in the cave. By the time I got online to the instructions again, the cheese was too dry. (You may be able to see some evidence of the chunky rind in the photo above.)

This photo above is my second try at Stilton, this time with the recipe and instructions printed out! The photo taken after smoothing, but shows a bit of blue growth even through the smoothing which smooshed most of it down... and it's now ready for the cave. Looks a bit like a birthday cake, doesn't it?

If you have never made a 'Stilton' you may not know the rind usually develops a tan-ish color after a few weeks as the blue dies off at the surface. The photo above is my first 'Stilton' attempt, photo at 26 days, and it was developing nicely. You can really see by the chunky look how it was not smoothed early in the process, but in the end it probably would not affect the taste. At this point, it is ready to be pierced, which allows oxygen to travel to the interior so the blue veining can grow. A close look at the photo should show a couple of the pierced holes.

When I came home from my recent over-extended trip and checked the 2 'Stiltons' in the cave, they had become contaminated with bugs because I accidentally left the lid slightly ajar. Both wheels went into the garbage, but first I sliced the one I had pierced, to see how the veining was progressing. I was very pleased!

In fact, I was pleased enough that I'm now working on my 3rd attempt while I'm writing this. I finally have adjusted the mini wine cooler a friend gave me to the temps needed to age blue cheese, so I should have no more worries about contamination or bugs.

Stiltons require aging at about 55ºF for 90 days, and humidity around 90% or higher. Keeping the humidity high may be a problem in the wine cooler; it doesn't seem to go up even with a pan of water in it, so the wheel may have to be in a closed tupperware container inside the cooler, and come out and allowed to breathe once a day. (The blue veining needs oxygen to grow,)

Here it is, ready for the "cave"... it is still pretty soft. Wish me luck!

Friday, June 17, 2011

Cooking Some Magic Stuff: Trotter Gear

There is a recipe in the book Beyond Nose to Tail by Fergus Henderson for what he calls Trotter Gear. It is a rich pork stock that sets up like jello, and it can then be used as an ingredient to intensify anything from slow cooked stew or casserole to terrines and duck confit giving them additional flavor and body. An added benefit besides the rich flavorings is that the gelatin contains natural glucosamine and chondriton, necessary for supple joints.

The recipe is fairly simple. I don't own the book yet (only his first one, The Whole Beast: Nose to Tail Eating) so this recipe is from another blog.

    * 6 pork trotters (pigs' feet)
    * 2 leeks, roughly chopped
    * 2 onions, roughly chopped
    * 2 stalks celery, roughly chopped
    * 2 carrots, roughly chopped
    * 1 head garlic, roughly chopped
    * 2 bay leaves
    * 12 black peppercorns
    * 2 sprigs thyme
    * 1 cup Madeira (I used Marsala because that's all the grocery store had)
    * 1 1/2 quarts stock (I used a quart of chicken stock and a pint of pork stock)

Clean and chop all the vegetables coarsely and put in a large pot with trotters. I'm using my crock pot. (My trotters came cut in smaller pieces and the recipe doesn't specify cutting or not.) Add wine, herbs, peppercorns and stock. Cover, bring to a boil, reduce heat to a simmer and cook for about 4 hours. You could also braise the mixture in the oven at 325ºF for about four hours.

I have to tell you, the smell as it is simmering is awesome!

Allow the stock to cool enough to handle. Strain the contents into another clean pot or large bowl, and discard all the vegetables. Pick the meat and skin from the trotters, discard the bones (there will be many!) and keep all those weird, gross looking wobbly bits – they are the magic here. Chop the meat and skin and add to the stock. (I chopped mine in a food processor.)

Unless you are using it within a day or so, put the cooled contents into freezer containers and freeze until needed. Many recipes will not need more than a quarter cup and up to one cup of Trotter Gear added for additional flavor and sufficient thickening, so I froze mine in small containers, some with just the stock, and some with the minced solids added. 

You could also line an ice cube tray with plastic wrap and freeze in cubes. Put the frozen cubes in a zip lock bag or vacuum seal them and store in the freezer.

Notes: When I make this again, I will first boil the trotters for about 5 minutes to get rid of the scum, which wasn't too bad in a crock pot but could be plentiful in a soup pot on the stove. Then I'd rinse them and follow the recipe!

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Good Eats Gone Gone

My interest in cooking really began with Alton Brown's Good Eats many years ago. I liked that he explained the Why's and the How's, and it gave me confidence to try more foods than my mother or step-mother ever cooked.

I won't miss the show because I don't watch it anymore. I've come to dislike the programming on the Food TV channel (actually almost all TV shows anymore). I will honor all he has taught me about foods and cooking, though. Now I hear that Good Eats aired their last new show in early May 2011, with episode #249. I'm sure there will be re-runs for years to come. Sure wish they'd re-run Julia's shows, too... I'd make it a point to watch those!

Monday, June 13, 2011

Radiation on your Vegetables?

There is some voiced concern all over the Internet that we aren't being told all the facts about radiation contamination coming from Japan. I have no clue if it's true or not, but I offer an ounce of prevention... just in case.

Vegetables can be washed in a mixture of 1 part calcium bentonite clay to 8 parts of water in a small non-metallic container. Add the vegetables, toss to be sure all the vegetables are well-coated, and allow them to sit under the water mixture for 10 minutes. Rinse, and prepare or store.

Bentonite clay has a strong negative ion charge which causes pesticides, radiation and other toxins to bind with it. When you rinse off the clay, you also rinse off the contaminant. (Source) 

Bentonite clay can be added to catchment tanks, drinking water or raw milk to isolate radioactivity, which will not be released once captured by clay. Also, the body cannot digest clay, but will rather release clay through excrement. The clay can be added to milk or drinking water at a dosage of 1 oz liquid calcium bentonite to 1 gallon raw milk or drinking water. (Source)

Bentonite clay is inexpensive, and non-toxic. I found some on Amazon for $1 plus shipping. In fact some people ingest a tablespoon or two of bentonite in water daily to rid the body of heavy metals, like mercury in old dental fillings and whatever else we ingest from industrial foods and our contaminated atmosphere. I suppose they might use the liquid calcium bentonite like suggested above for water and raw milk but I really don't know.

You can treat your garden vegetables with a spray of Bentonite clay, French green clay, or Zeolite clay mixed in water. They all absorb contamination, from heavy metals and pesticides to radioactivity. If you are concerned that rainfall might bring more radiation down on your plants, just re-apply the clay spray after a rain.

An excellent means of treating the soil is using rock dust to remineralize the soil and remove radioactive materials. Remineralization is essential for growing strong and healthier vegetables and fruits. At the Chernoble disaster it was found that:

“Remineralization protects not only soil and plants from radioactivity, but humans, too. Supplying abundant minerals especially trace elements to the human body improves radiation tolerance, immune system integrity and radiation exposure recovery.” -David Yarrow, 2006 (Source)

A very important part of remineralization and fertilization is the inclusion of magnesium. Magnesium is a crucial factor in the natural self-cleansing and detoxification responses of the body, and Magnesium is the central core of the chlorophyll molecule in plant tissue and nutrient uptake. The loss of a healthy green color in plants can be the first indication of a Mg deficiency. (Color loss reflects the shortage of chlorophyll in the plant.) As the deficiency becomes more severe, the area between the veins of the leaves becomes yellow while the veins stay green.

While this is an essential element for all plants, these crops have been found to be especially responsive: alfalfa, blueberry, beet, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, celery, clover, conifers, corn, cotton, cucumber, eggplant, lettuce, onion, pepper, potatoes, pumpkin, spinach, squash, tobacco, tomato, and watermelon.

Grass Tetany is a magnesium deficiency in ruminants. It occurs when livestock are fed a diet of forages low in Mg.

"Magnesium is a vital mineral whose lack leaves us open to not only radioactive damages but also those from heavy metals and thousands of chemicals, which we are commonly exposed to.

Mercury, and now a long list of radioactive particles, are floating in the environment like invisible clouds that have spread out everywhere. They are raining down on us, damaging and damning our future. We can no longer be passive about building our defenses against the toxic onslaught.

Without sufficient magnesium, the body
accumulates toxins and acid residues,
degenerates rapidly, and ages prematurely.
" (Source)

If plants do not get enough Mg. from the soil, neither do the foods they produce... and neither do we when we eat those foods!

For the garden, you can apply Boron to your garden soil at a rate of 1 pound boron per acre, or 10 pounds of Borax (which is 11% boron) per acre. Boron is recognized as extremely safe and can be used to absorb radioactivity on our soils, gardens, orchards, etc. It can also be safely ingested by humans and animals, where it binds the radiation and is excreted in the stools. For humans 4-10 mg per day of boron OR 1/8 tsp. Borax in a liter of water daily for women, and 1/4 tsp. for men. Red wine and coffee, and non-citrus fruits are good sources of boron. (Source)

Some foods we can eat also combat radiation poisoning, which I wrote about here.

Baking soda, used in baths (with salt) is very effective for counteracting radiation effects on the body, even from x-ray radiation, and cathode ray tubes [CRT's] like my ancient television set and defunct computer. Use 1 cup of baking soda and 1 to 2 cups of ordinary coarse salt, epsom salts or sea salt to a tub of water. You can soak for 20 minutes. (Source)

Lastly, something to watch
Russian scientists in the Khibinsky Mountains in the Arctic Circle have made an important scientific discovery. They’ve found a new mineral which absorbs radiation!

It does not yet have an official name and is known only as number 27-4. It can absorb radioactivity from liquid nuclear waste.

It can extract radioactive substances from any water-based solution and so has a very important practical significance,” said Yakov Pakhomovsky, the head of the Kolsky Research Institute.

After coming into contact with the mineral, radioactive water becomes completely safe. Had this mineral been available to physicists after the Chernobyl or Three Mile Island disasters, the consequences might have been very different, as both accidents resulted in contamination from radioactive water. (Source)

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Berries (and maybe nuts) fruiting soon!

I planted 3 Nanking Cherries 3 summers ago, mainly to divert the birds from other fruiting bushes or trees. This year there are cherries! (Last year I had only about a dozen cherries total from the 3 trees.) The berries are just starting to turn red, and will sweeten as they ripen.

I have 3-4 blueberries in pots that really need to be planted in the ground I prepared last year with sulfur to lower the pH. Looks like at least one of them will have lots of blueberries! To be sure not to stress the bushes and lose fruit, I'll wait to transplant until after fruiting. (Besides, the area needs major weeding first.)

The huge thornless Triple Crown Blackberries are blooming, so there should be lots of blackberries in August. I have been cutting down some of my red raspberries this year while weeding the patch, so the raspberry crop will be diminished for 2011.

My Chinquapin nut bush is starting to make flower/fruit buds for the first time. It needs a pollinator, which I do not have, but hopefully my neighbor's Chinese Chestnut is not too far away to act as a pollinator. I've been looking for a 2nd chinquapin for a pollinator, but they are expensive. A friend up in the northeast send me a sprouting seed this spring, but I managed to kill it.

Gooseberries: I have two varieties, one is a blush pinkish-green (Pixwell) and the other is a Hinoki Red. This is their third or maybe fourth year and they are still less than 2' tall. I wonder if they will ever grow up?

Currants: I have 2 black currant bushes, and 2 red. I don't see any sign of flowering so I'm wondering if a late freeze got them.

I DID have a dwarf elderberry but it looks like The Kid got it with the mower. The photo above is a wild elderberry growing in the wildness between my creek and the road. The mowers who trim the grass along the road usually manage to cut it down before it fruits. (Fruits come from the white flowers, upper left.)

And lastly, itty-bitty Grape nubbins. These are not table grapes so I neglect their care and leave them for the birds. They cover the end wall of a small shed.

All in all, there will be some kind of fresh berries soon. I plan to eat some fresh, and some with my homemade ice cream!

Thursday, June 9, 2011

It's NOT the cucumbers, nor the spinach...

I've been reading a lot about the current E.coli outbreak in Europe. E.coli isn't new, nor are the outbreaks... only these strains are thought to be "new"... meaning they have morphed into being antibiotic resistant because of the abundance of antibiotics fed to CAFO animals as a safety precaution rather than for actual infections. (They also feed the antibiotics to help the animals gain weight.)

In my opinion there is one primary source to almost all of the outbreaks, and it goes hand in hand with overfeeding antibiotics to healthy animals: using their poorly-treated (if treated at all) animal wastes on fields, where contaminated waste containing antibiotic-resistant bacteria not only infects the fields, it enters the creeks, rivers and our water table as contaminated run-off.

The amount of daily animal waste from just one CAFO is astounding; they sometimes put it in ponds but eventually it goes on fields, carrying bacteria like antibiotic-resistant E.coli along with it. A few days ago, in a post about Fresh Milk, I mentioned one CAFO dairy in CA with 8,000 cows, responsible for a deadly outbreak in the early 1970's. Can you imagine how much the daily amount of feces is from 8,000 cows? Multiply that by the thousands of cow, hog, chicken and turkey CAFO's around the US. What do you think they do with that much shit?

So, is BigAg-controlled government going to go after unhealthy waste products and the abuse of CAFO animal antibiotics in the US? I doubt it. They will most likely just increase the already strict requirements and inspections for the small farmer, be it a farmer who grows 2 acres of tomatoes and cucumbers, or the local farmer's market guy who grows a small patch of tomatoes and cukes in his side yard. The Big Guys will still get away with putting contaminated crap on vegetable fields and over-use of antibiotics.

Added 6/8/2011: 

Maybe there's Hope?

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

New project: an apple guild!

I have a new project, a really BIG project: building an apple guild!

3 years ago someone gave me an apple seedling (unknown variety) from his grandfather's old tree. It is now about 5 feet tall. I've been reading up on "guilds" since watching the A Farm for the Future videos and reading about the forest farming concepts.

To me, a guild is like companion planting that has advanced to college level. Generally, guilds are perennial with a fruit or nut tree at the center, and collectively everything around it provides for the needs of all the things planted in the group, in as many ways as possible so it becomes self-sustaining. Each "guild" needs 5 things: Nitrogen, Nutrients, Mulch, Pollination, and Protectors from competition and pests. 

There are other guilds possible, too. I found Bee Guilds (perennial), and annual Bean Guilds, Strawberry Guilds and Tomato Guilds on the internet. The annual guilds are basically heavy companion planting rather than concentrating on a self-sustaining circle of plants and trees.

So for my apple guild, I'll need a thick ring of "protectors"  just barely outside the eventual drip line to keep grass from encroaching and also deter pests; those will probably be daffodil bulbs in the beginning since mine need dividing. I don't have enough for the entire perimeter and will hopefully buy more bulbs in the fall.

Inside the 'protector ring' will be another ring spotted with a few comfrey plants and maybe a couple of artichokes just inside the daffs; they will mine nutrients with their deep roots, plus provide nutrient-laden mulch by cutting the comfrey back several times over the summer and letting the leaves litter the ground. Planted among (as well as just inside) the comfrey will be some bird and insect-attractors like dill, fennel and bee balm (monarda).... and some nutrient accumulators like yarrow, borage, chives and lemon balm. Also interspersed will be some annual vegetable plants like beans, peas and squash.

Next in and closer to the tree will be some ground covers like strawberries and red clover (a nitrogen fixer), and maybe some plants that can take a bit of foot traffic, like thyme. Right close to the trunk will be more "protector" bulbs to deter pests that might gnaw the trunk, or climb for fruit. (The shallow roots of ground covers and bulbs will not interfere with the root system of the apple tree.)

Apple tree I have to build a guild around. As you can see, lots of hard work to do!
I will have a post with photos of how it's changing in a few days. It will be a 'work in progress' for several years to get it all established, and as I add more fruit and nut trees to the yard, I plan to make them all into guilds as well.

Two good books on the subject:
Creating a Forest Garden: Working with Nature to Grow Edible Crops
Gaia's Garden: A Guide to Home-Scale Permaculture

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Fresh (Raw) Milk!

Photo by dybarber

I use FRESH milk, and I choose not to call it RAW, which implies it needs treatment to consume. It does NOT. Fresh milk is far healthier than the CAFO (Confined Animal Feeding Operation) milk sold in stores. Fresh milk is nutritious, and safe as long as you find a scrupulously clean dairy; hygiene starts in the dairy.  Local milk is the best because you can actually visit the farm, inspect the operation, and get to know the farmer!

People have been drinking fresh milk for many centuries, usually from their own cow, sheep, and goat, but sometimes from camel, yak, or water buffalo depending on the animals they kept. They knew to keep everything clean, just as local dairymen do today.

Photo by chrisada

Fresh milk is full of healthy enzymes our body needs, plus lots of vitamins and minerals, and even beneficial bacteria for our large intestines. Fresh milk is Alive... until they kill everything good in it with pasteurization. "Dr Lanctôt (The Medical Mafia) points out that germs that bring us typhoid, coli bacillus [e.coli], and tuberculosis are not killed by the temperatures used for pasteurization, and there have been a good number of salmonella epidemics traced to pasteurized milk.

The heating process injures the milk. Dr Lanctôt points out that pasteurization destroys milk’s intrinsic germicidal properties, not to mention healthy enzymes. She goes on to state that 50% of milks’ calcium is unusable
[the body cannot assimilate it] after pasteurization. So much for all those milk commercials!" ¹

The internet abounds with stories of people with improved lipid profiles (cholesterol levels) just months after switching to fresh milk, and lactose intolerance is vanishing among both children and adults consuming fresh milk.

The CDC data since 1973 says 442,000 people were sickened from PASTEURIZED milk, and 1,100 from fresh milk... with 22 deaths from pasteurized milk, and none from fresh milk. (Sorry, I lost the CDC source link.)

ANY product can become contaminated after harvesting, milking, packaging, or whatever... even after we get them home, if we neglect sanitation, or refrigeration where necessary. (Note: there were 2 deaths in 1998 from Mexican bathtub "queso fresco cheese" attributed by the CDC to fluid raw milk although it was from unsanitary conditions in making the cheese, not the milk.)

There was a big outbreak in the early 1970's in California from fresh milk that resulted in a few deaths of already seriously ill cancer patients, but the milk was ALL FROM ONE CAFO dairy with 8,000 confined cows. I won't even drink pasteurized milk (or buy beef) from a confined dairy/cattle operation, much less fresh milk!

The Battle for Our Right to Choose our Own Healthy Foods is heating up, with the fresh milk issue right at the top. Last week (late May, 2011) in Kentucky, a Food Buying Club had their fresh (raw) milk quarantined by local "health" officials... and NOT FOR ANY SAFETY or contamination concerns, but just because it was fresh milk.

That scenario is going on all around the country as public officials bow down to the lobbying influence the dairy industry (follow the money) has over the USDA and the FDA as they try to fill us with FEAR of fresh milk. Some prime examples are Vernon Herschberger in Wisconsin; the Rawesome Food Club in Venice, CA; a Buying Club in Georgia in 2009... and 2 months ago, Dan Allgyer in Pennsylvania, who was supplying fresh milk under contract to a Maryland Buying Club.

I have endorsed fresh milk from the beginning of this blog, out of the deep belief that it is my Right to Choose. Now that I am learning to make cheese, and studying a LOT about fresh milk vs pasteurized milk in the final cheese, I'm really coming to know what pasteurization robs from our milk... and I don't like it one bit. Cheese from pasteurized milk lacks the enzymes present in fresh milk that give real cheese that exceptional flavor. I even have to add calcium to pasteurized milk to make curds! So much for the "drink milk, the calcium is good for strong bones and teeth" hype still in the ads about pasteurized milk... plus the amount of Vitamin D added is so faint as to be a joke.

The good news is that we CAN stop this unwarranted government harassment if we take a stand at the grassroots level, ALL of us. (The bad news is that most people either believe the "authorities", or don't care enough, or know enough about their health, to get involved and take a stand.)

As for me, I will continue to drink fresh milk and use fresh cream in my coffee, and make ice cream, butter and all kinds of cheese from fresh milk... even if I must build a bedroom attached to my house for a milk animal!


Friday, June 3, 2011

How the Ice Cream Turned out...

Photo by my friend Faye in NC

My weekend gardeners' gathering at a state park in Virginia was a LOT of fun, and the Hand Churned Ice Cream I posted about was the big hit! The grown-ups enjoyed it the most, bringing back memories and tastes of the past when foods were real.

Photo by my friend Susan in VA

The kids had fun turning the crank, but I don't think they truly appreciated the ice cream itself because they have no frame of reference for old-fashioned ice cream.

I didn't quite follow the family recipe posted in that link because later I found my mother's copy, with her notes. 

So, here's Aunt Ola's Ice Cream Recipe:

4 eggs
1½ cups sugar
2 Tbs corn starch
1 Tbs all-purpose flour
2 quarts whole milk
2 cups heavy cream
½ tsp salt
1½ tsp vanilla

Beat 4 eggs until fluffy. Mix with sugar, cornstarch and flour. Scald 1 quart of the milk; add the salt then add to the egg mixture. (The scalded quart of milk must be cooled before adding the egg mixture, or it will cook the eggs!!) Cook over low heat, stirring constantly to make the custard.

Mixture is done when it coats the sides of a spoon. Cool to room temperature.

Add the cream and the rest of the milk, and vanilla. Chill (overnight if possible), then freeze in a churn according to the manufacturer’s directions.

Ideally, you would remove the dasher after churning and put the ice cream canister in the freezer for an hour to firm up the ice cream before serving. We didn't have that luxury at the state park so we ate it on the soft side. There was a little bit of the gallon and a half left over, and I put it in the canister and packed more rock salt and ice around it in the churn until we got back to the cabin and then froze it. 

It was as good the next day... YUM!

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Increasingly Costly Items

Of course we all know the cost of goods is increasing, and the amounts in the packaging is decreasing. (Actually, I do not believe the cost of goods is increasing, but rather the US Dollar is worth less and less all the time.) Some things are already (or soon will be) taking a bigger hit than others... here are some of my notes:

Expect the price of cane sugar to increase now that some manufacturers are (finally) switching from High Fructose Corn Syrup back to real sugar. Plus, most of our cane sugar is imported, and so far Monsanto hasn't broadcast GMO sugar cane although they are trying. They have already succeeded with sugar beets. Unless a package of sugar specifies cane sugar, it probably IS GMO beet sugar. Food products must be labeled as to contents, and sweet things may just say "sugar" although I have seen some that do specify "cane sugar". Thus far, labels saying "Non-GMO" are not allowed.

Most fruit and fruit juices are imported, either whole... or as concentrates. Expect prices to increase more than many other items due to transportation across an ocean, and cold-storage costs. Transportation costs are similar for coffee, although overall costs for coffee are worse now because world-wide weather problems have affected the coffee production yields.

Chocolate: same problems with chocolate as with coffee... weather, and transportation around the world. I'm not a big fan of chocolate but occasionally I like a bite. I buy the high percentage (84%) cocoa bars made by Lindt, since they are mostly chocolate rather than sugar, and less expensive so far than other brands. One bar can last a month or more for me, and they work well in baked goods or shaved on top of a dessert.

Stock up on whatever fruits and veggies are in season by dehydrating or canning them so there are no worries about power outages and a freezer full of food. Where you can, store winter veggies in a cool basement, in a crawl space, or in a root cellar if you are lucky enough to have one. Even the bottom of a cool, dark closet can extend the shelf life of winter produce much longer than a kitchen cabinet.
All building materials are increasing in price... particularly items like the wood used for framing because large-enough trees to mill are getting more scarce and thus more expensive to harvest (which makes paper goods made from wood pulp more expensive, too); also items like plastic plumbing parts and roofing shingles because they are petroleum-based products. 

Any household goods made from plastic, and most cleaning goods, will increase more than other items... again because of being petroleum-based. Take an hour a day away from the TV and learn to make your own laundry detergent and soap. Use vinegar for cleaning; it's antibacterial! Learn to ignore the seductive ads for products. Ask yourself how much an item will increase your quality of life, not your ego or taste buds. (That doesn't mean give up tasty foods!)

The insurance industry in the USA is taking a big hit from tornadoes and floods. Expect them to make it up by big jumps in policy costs for home and auto. Don't even think about health-care costs or health-care insurance!

Don't buy disposable batteries. Buy a solar multi-battery charger and good rechargeable batteries instead. My niece who lives here goes through 4-8 batteries a month for her iPod. In less than 1 year, she'll break even with a solar charger and rechargeable batteries. I know, I just helped her mother buy some.

Now, to offset what I said about buying frivolous items, let me encourage you to buy some fun things... one a month should not hurt the budget too much. Buy a set of Pick-Up Sticks and Tiddlywinks, a Chess-Checkers-Backgammon Set, a Scrabble Game Set (and be sure you have a real dictionary), a couple of decks of Playing Cards, and Hoyle's Book of Card Games. Maybe get a set of Jacks (remember them?) and a couple of yo-yo's and a Slinky if you have kids around. You'll be surprised how entertaining they can be when the power goes out!