Monday, January 30, 2012

Squash Bug deterrent

Brown Squash Bug, photo by lofaesofa

Did you know that squash bugs (not the equally noxious squash vine borers) apparently hate morning glories and their kin, moonflowers?

I have read that planting a morning gory, or a moonflower, between every 2-3 squash or pumpkin plants acts as a great deterrent. I haven't tried it yet, but I have plenty of time to get morning glories started so they are well advanced before I set out squash plants!

Of course, the best deterrent is a healthy, high-brix plant growing in properly nourished soil, but that's for a later post, as is management of squash vine borers and squash bugs *if the morning glories don't do the trick.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Farmers against Monsanto

"On January 31, family farmers will take part in the first phase of a court case filed to protect farmers from genetic trespass by Monsanto’s GMO seed, which contaminates organic and non-GMO farmer’s crops and opens them up to abusive lawsuits. In the past two decades, Monsanto’s seed monopoly has grown so powerful that they control the genetics of nearly 90% of five major commodity crops including corn, soybeans, cotton, canola and sugar beets.

In many cases farmers are forced to stop growing certain crops to avoid genetic contamination and potential lawsuits. Between 1997 and 2010, Monsanto admits to filing 144 lawsuits against America’s family farmers, while settling another 700 out of court for undisclosed amounts. Due to these aggressive lawsuits, Monsanto has created an atmosphere of fear in rural America and driven dozens of farmers into bankruptcy. Please join us in standing up for family farmers everywhere against Monsanto's abusive seed monopoly." Source

If this is an issue you can support, and have not yet added your name (they only have 55,000 so far), please go here:

Parsnip Snips and Chips

I had a few parsnips in the pantry... and most went into a pot roast with some dried porcini mushrooms, potatoes, carrots, shallots and onions. Then I had a brainstorm with the 2 that were left... parsnip chips! I have to say I was amazed at how good they are!!!

For the first trial batch, I peeled the parsnips, and then sliced slivers off with the potato peeler, down as close to the core as I could get. For the second trial batch, I peeled, then quartered, the parsnips... and removed the pithy core. Then I sliced them as thin as I could with my chef's knife, around 1/8 inch thick.

I heated home-rendered tallow in a cast iron skillet, and dropped in a few strips. Cooked until lightly browned, removed, drained... and lightly salted.  The potato-peeler slices cooked before I could get my camera ready and focused, but the thicker slices took a couple of minutes, so I at least have one photo!

The thicker sliced chips are absolutely wonderful (and easier to prepare), with just a hint of the natural sweetness of parsnips. The fried slivers taste just like most chips... okay (mainly bland and salty) but not outstanding! Next time, I'll fry up a whole bagful of parsnips. YUM!!

Note: The thicker chips are best eaten (just like french fries) while they are still warm!

The Nutritional Data site I use doesn't have a listing for fried parsnips, but here's the skinny on 100 grams of raw parsnips:

glycemic load 5; inflamation, mildly inflammatory -12
high in Vitamin C, Vitamin K, Folate (B9, used in our DNA), Vitamin E, magnesium, potassium and manganese
However, the Omega 3:6 ratio isn't so good... but not as bad as many products:
Total Omega-3 fatty acids 3 mg
Total Omega-6 fatty acids 41

glycemic load 8; inflamation, mildly inflammatory -46
High in Vitamin C, moderate B6 and potassium
However, the Omega 3:6 ratio is better than parsnips:
Total Omega-3 fatty acids 10 mg
Total Omega-6 fatty acids 32

For myself, I'll take the trade-off of more vitamins, less glycemic load and less inflamation over the Omega 3:6 ratio since my diet is higher than most in Omega 3 due to all the grass-fed meats, butter and eggs I eat.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Cooking a Frog

You’ve probably heard the old saying before: "If you want to cook a frog, you can’t toss it into a pot of boiling water because it will just jump out. Instead, you put it in the water first and then slowly turn the temperature up. The frog will slowly adjust to the change until it’s too late."

I'm beginning to wonder if this isn't what's happening to the control over the foods we eat. Rather than implementing strict controls all at once, "incrementalism" makes small changes over time in an atmosphere where people are usually resistant to change. This is especially easy if you add the fear about food "safety" to the mix.

The fear about food safety is now so wide-spread that it ranks right up there with terrorism. The American Public, thanks to government and media hype, has come to believe that even our food and water is subject to a terrorist attack; therefore, we have become hypervigilant and have allowed laws to be passed that curtail our basic food freedoms. In fact, the FBI now can prosecute anyone as a terrorist if they expose animal welfare abuses taking place on factory farms like feedlots, slaughter houses or poultry houses.

Now I am not saying an attack on our food and water could not happen... surely some home-grown malcontent, or even a foreign terrorist, could find a way to poison any water supply, or any fresh produce shipment, but is it prudent to control the entire food supply (and diminish the nutrients) to the extent the government now does, or proposes to do? Where is MY choice for the chemical-free food I prefer to eat?

The Devil is in the Details. "It’s the Farm Bill that largely shapes food and agriculture policy, and — though much of it finances good programs [like food stamps and WIC ~editor] — ultimately supports the cynical, profit-at-any-cost food system that drives obesity, astronomical health care costs, ethanol-driven agriculture and more, creating further deficits while punishing the environment." (Source)

I eat fresh local fruit and vegetables from family farmers I have come to know personally. (I'm pretty sure there are no terrorists among them, nor do I believe they are out to poison me.). So why should that fresh food be subject to the same, and very expensive food packaging mechanization, chemical washing, and handling requirements for the massive produce shippers from several thousand miles away, who must contend with multiple handling of the foods and multiple storage sites of their "fresh" foods for weeks until it finally hits the shelves?

Will the next regulation require Federal testing of the produce I grow in my own garden before I am allowed to eat it?

"If you control the food supply, you control the people." ~Henry Kissinger

ps... I'm almost through ranting about adulterated food... for a while, at least. Soon it will be time to start the 2012 garden and have my own real foods to eat again!

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Turmoil, and Garden Prospects

Photo by Robert Couse-Baker

I apologize for being "out on a limb" lately, with recent posts that are not positive upliftings... that is, no posts like a new garden, or growing technique, or a new recipe. Truth is, everyone's life has ups and downs, and I am lately inundated with less than a positive attitude (in general, but especially towards Monsanto!).

I'd really hate having a Life where everything was just the same, day in and day out, with even the weather being the same. So, I'll roll with the punches... and hope you will too.

Soon it will be gardening time again, and I am anxious to continue working towards a more sustainable garden that this year will include growing a greater variety of foods. There are many perennial vegetables I want to try in the quasi-guild system I am developing. My gardening zone is high 5 or low 6, and marginal for many of them, but having recently used the SunCalc to actually know precisely where the sun moves over my garden during various times of the year, I may have a better handle on protecting marginal perennial foods for survival over winters here.

Malabar Spinach, photo by La.Catholique

I have been growing some of the more common perennial vegetables for several years: asparagus, rhubarb, Jerusalem artichokes, and French sorrel, but there are many more to try. On my list so far (assuming I can find seed) are Skirret (Sium sisarum), 9 Star broccoli, Chou Daubenton (perennial Kale), Chinese artichoke (Stachys affinis), and even things that are not perennials but re-seed annually without being deliberately planted, like Malabar spinach. I've already ordered seeds for the perennial Welsh Onion, both red-stemmed, and white.

Chickweed photo by Jason Stumer 72

There are many "weeds" that are edible, used as salad greens and/or potherbs. Once I determine what I really have growing here already, then I may look for more. Mother Nature has seen fit to expand chickweed all over my grassy lawn areas and all my flower and vegetable beds, so there will be a surplus of it. Fortunately it's both edible and medicinal.

Hardy Kiwi Vine, photo by Joe+Jeanette Archie

I know many of the less common fruits are actually perennial in cold zones like mine, and I hope to start a greater variety this year, like the hardy kiwi vine, the Siberian sea buckthorn, and a couple of fruiting quince if I can find some that are affordable. I want to add a couple more hazelnuts and try the hazelberts too. I had hoped to start a few cuttings from a nearly elderberry clump that has the plumpest berries around here, but with the weather having been so warm, I wonder about their dormancy and my chance of successful propagation.

My intent with adding perennial vegetables and uncommon fruits is twofold, although I do not plan to neglect annual vegetables. One goal is hopefully less work replanting in the garden as I age. The other consideration is that should a frightful scenario actually happen, any invading hungry horde would have no idea what is truly edible. I doubt they'd even dig up the dandelions, although that is possible!


Friday, January 20, 2012

Our Disposable Elderly

Dinner Time Parking at Adult Care by ol slambert

Whatever happened to multi-generational living in homes? Why did we give up the responsibility of personal care of the now-elderly folks in our families... those same folks who hand-fed us and changed our diapers, wiped our tears and put band-aids on scraped knees when we were mere helpless infants and children?

I guess my real question is, why did I? Were the subtle messages broadcast over the years about the elderly being disposable so strong in my psyche? The message that we never needed to plan ahead for elder care because someone else would care for them... (usually with money provided by our tax system, and the gained profits for BigPharma meds and "medi-care")?

That we needn't ever get our hands dirty changing their adult diapers if they became incontinent? That message rode right along on the message about throwing things "away"... "away" being simply some "other place" where we didn't have to look at the mountains of our unwanted things, or dirty, smelly garbage, or the unpleasant drooling mouth of a stroke victim who still needs to be fed.

Until about a hundred years ago, it was accepted that families would care for the elderly in their own homes, however unpleasant it might get to be, or however cantankerous they might be. It was also accepted that as the younger generations married, they might still live at home too, and raise their families in the same home with their parents, and maybe even grandparents. I am coming to believe the interactions and responsibilities of multi-generations living together were healthy for everyone, on many levels we don't see or even acknowledge today.

By the time I was in my 30's, nursing homes were accepted as the norm, and my father's mother was put in one. I never saw much of her after my parents divorced when I was 5, so I wasn't close to her. I wasn't even living in the same part of the country later on, and I don't know why she was put in a nursing home. I flew down and visited once; she was ambulatory (with a walker) and had all her mental and physical faculties. My retrospectoscope tells me now that she was angry about being thrown away, though. 

For 40 years since then, I have thought that nursing homes need to have a nursery or day school school attached, and an animal care facility... so that our elderly are not deprived of those daily interactions. I also believe they need a wheelchair-accessible garden so they can continue to grow flowers... or tomatoes. Now I am questioning if that's enough, and I'm thinking not.

I lamented (although I admit, not too loudly at the time) that I was unable to care for my Mother after her stroke and my sister sent her to me. My excuses were that ➀ I had no physical space unless she slept with me in my double bed (not happening!) and ➁ I didn't have the physical strength to lift her, whether for a bath or just to use the toilet (or get her up from the floor when she fell, which was often). The alternative was Assisted Living, so there she went... kicking and screaming the whole time... and indifferent to me when I visited. I believe she died of loneliness and a broken heart, not disease.

Now I wonder... had always known and believed that sooner or later I would have the responsibility to care for an aging parent, would I have planned accordingly, enough so that I could have done things differently? 

At this moment I am going through my step-mother's rapidly failing physical and mental health, and her desire (when lucid) to forsake all medication and end it all. Would I do differently? No, I'd do whatever it took to never be thrown adrift into a nursing home, if I was able to take such action. Most of us are never able, by the time we are candidates for nursing homes.

My step-mother probably had a huge say in my father's mother being put in a nursing home, rather than have Grandmother live with them. Is that action now a retribution? I doubt it, but who understands The Fates? My step-mother's home (for 30+ years) houses her oldest son and wife, 1st grandson, and now a great-grandson (whose mother abandoned him at birth).

My step-mother has lived in this multi-family household for many years, yet now she's mentally confused and in failing health after imagining herself as being discarded in recent years where meals, household responsibilities etc, are concerned. So I have to consider that just living with multi-generational family is not enough... it might also require good communications and interactions, as well as real food for good physical health. To be sure, that whole family has eaten the SAD diet (Standard American Diet) for many years, and no one in the household is in optimum or even acceptable health, not even the 12 year old chubby great-grandson.

But my point is: What have we lost, that thing deep and essential within ourselves, the pure need to connect to another... by treating our elderly as unloved, and unwanted trash to be thrown away?

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Change in the Wind, Dangerous Opportunity?

Photo Credit here

It is said (and also mis-said) that the Chinese word for Crisis = Danger + Opportunity. Not being a Linguist, I cannot attest either way, but I do hate it when The Universe changes the wind direction right out of my sails, thus creating a crisis, whether it is a dangerous opportunity or not.

Although I wasn't too happy to discover all the work on a new gardening spot I did in the Fall was for nothing, it was acceptable, even though it meant a time-delay of a gardening year, but I didn't consider it a true "crisis", just a major inconvenience.

Now all of a sudden, I do have a true butt-clenching crisis. My plans for the new food garden, along with many planned shade/fruit tree and fruiting shrub orders, and some much needed home repairs (esp. a new roof), are going change drastically quite soon unless some miracle happens. My younger half-sister and I share this house (and thus all the house expenses; although I have separate quarters, I pay half), and she was fired from her job last week. Since she was fired for "poor performance" after working there about 3½ years, it is unlikely she will be able to get unemployment benefits... and at her age of 63 and in a lousy job market, it is also unlikely she can find another job. That will put quite a strain on my already stretched finances. (Plus she has been supporting her 24 year old unemployed daughter who also lives here.)

I don't have a clue what will happen now. I only know that at this moment I am better off than many people in this country... I have a place to sleep out of the cold and rain, I have enough food, and I'm reasonably healthy.

Over the span of my 71 years, radical change has come along more than once, and almost always something good has eventually come from it... even though I could not see it coming at the time. In retrospect, I still believe each of the crisis ultimately presented an opportunity of some sort (despite any confusion on the interpretation of the Chinese word for Crisis).

This time I'm not so sure...

However, I do believe we all have Lessons to learn (or not), and that they are not always obvious to us. One thought in my mind that has been fairly constant over the past 2-3 years is a growing awareness of the importance of "community", whether that community is our actual local community, or the community of Family, or the community of Friends.

For most of my life I have been primarily alone and self-reliant, even amidst a large family and many friends. My generation, the siblings and cousins of our extended family, is now spread out across the country, and we grow farther apart with Time, as their own families have grown to include not just children but now grandchildren, plus all their various accumulated in-laws. I'm certainly not close to this half-sister who lives here, although that was one of my hopes when we decided to pool our meager resources after our mother died.

My connection to life-long friends becomes harder to maintain too, as we age and seldom see each other anymore. That leaves only the possibility of a "local community" to fill the void, and the locals here are a fairly closed, tight-knit group (plus all of them are mostly related). I know only a handful of people after living here 5+ years, and none well enough to call "friend".

So now I'm wondering if this change in the wind might entail having to move once again and start over for the umpteenth time... only in a place where community is possible... or if the change is something else entirely. I have NO clue... sigh.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Wikipedia will go dark at midnight

In case you missed the news, Wikipedia will go dark at midnight Eastern time on Tuesday January 17, 2012, and remain unavailable until midnight Eastern time on Wednesday, January 18, 2012 in protest against the two Congressional bills, the Stop Online Piracy Act, often called SOPA, and the Protect IP Act, which is often called PIPA. The bills have attracted fierce opposition from many corners of the technology industry. Opponents say several of the provisions in the legislation, including those that may force search engines and Internet service providers to block access to Web sites that offer or link to copyrighted material, would stifle innovation, enable censorship and tamper with the livelihood of businesses on the Internet.

Visitors around the globe who try to reach the English-version of Wikipedia will be greeted with information about the bills and details about how to reach their local representatives. Mr. Wales said 460 million people around the world visited the site each month, and he estimated that the blackout could reach as many as 100 million people. In addition, some international Wikipedia communities, including the one in Germany, have decided to post notices on their home pages leading to information about the protests, although they will remain functioning as usual.

Wikipedia’s protest will join several other Web sites, including Reddit, the social news site, and BoingBoing, a technology and culture blog, that also plan to black out their sites on Wednesday. Some sites that are not planning to go offline are still finding ways to participate in the protest. For example, WordPress, a blogging platform, is supplying its users with a widget that will add a banner to their Web sites and blogs showing support for the protest. (Read the whole story from the Source.)

I haven't read enough of the pros and cons to have an informed opinion on the pending bills although I am certainly against anything that limits Free Speech... but I do know that the 460 million people (which includes me) around the world visit Wikipedia each month will be affected by the darkened website.  

Kids... you better finish your homework research quickly!

Monday, January 16, 2012

My Sausges, and more

Recently I spent the better part of a several hours daily making several kinds of sausage patties to freeze. It's nice to know exactly what is (and what isn't) in my sausage: free range meat, no hormones, no GMO's (even in their feed), and only organic herbs and spices. I posted pics earlier of the chicken-feta-spinach sausages, but here's a photo above (Yes, I know I am not a good photographer!) of the whole kaboodle. There are around 80-90 patties in the mix shown above, and that should keep me in sausage for several months. Plus I have enough venison to make another 60-75 patties. I'm short of home cured bacon, but hope to remedy that in February or March.

Next (after I eat up lots of frozen left-overs) is learning to make some terrines and pâtés out of all the odd bits in my freezer. I have several beef and pork hearts, plus beef, pork and chicken livers, some sweetbreads and a few trotters. Hey, how hard can it be to make a "meat" loaf??

Making rillettes is also on my list. I can't imagine that will be too hard... after all pulled pork is simply a slightly altered offspring of rillettes.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

2012... and Beyond

NASA Goddard Photo

The year 2012 should be interesting.

Many folks have an underlying (or at least partial) belief running through their subconscious mind that Nostradamus' and the Mayan "end of the World" scenarios might happen. However, most of our overt behavior indicates total disbelief not only in Doomsday predictions, but also in accepting the critical food/water/health situation worldwide. (Isn't the media wonderful?) Our changing weather patterns continue to impose hardships on many of our lives and gardens, giving credence to possible violent environmental changes that could be coming to this lovely blue planet we occupy.

Personally, I do not believe the "end of the world" will happen in December 2012. However, the environmental, economical and political changes are not only continuing, but increasing... and it could get right nasty down the road.

There is another prediction out there, proclaimed by many, that the "changes" will usher in a "thousand-year era of Peace". IMO, there is much that needs to be significantly altered before real Peace can happen.

On our food and health aspects for change, it is time for us to increase our awareness and ethical/moral responsibility beyond what the for-profit television and advertising media tell us... because ultimately our health/future Is NOT Up to Someone Else.

GMO's have proliferated simply because we didn't raise any flags in the beginning. It is our own fault. For too many years we have allowed ourselves to believe that others ("medical professionals and government officials?") know best, or at least know what they are doing. We are bombarded hundreds of times a day by subtle advertising messages indicating "they" are more educated and/or informed than we are, so the vast majority have given up individual responsibility for our own health and well-fare. Our self-inflicted ignorance has let the government (and us) buy into corporate hype of all kinds (which interestingly also put money in many, many pockets). 

Thus the many corporate tribes and alphabet government agencies motivated by... (power? greed? or something else??) have given us obesity and disease by catering to and building on a human weakness for convenience, sugar and other junk foods. We have become a nation of addicts... and we are addicted to all kinds of substances. For far too many people [including children], it is sugary beverages and junk foods, while for others it might be an escape into alcohol or drugs. But as with any addiction, we never think with 100% clarity under the influence... and will do almost anything to keep getting our "fix" in spite of what our minds know. 

As a nation, we eat more so called "food" and gain less energy (nutrition) from it all the time. The working mother eating the SAD diet (Standard American Diet) has NO energy left to prepare real food meals when she comes home from work, even if she could buy real food anymore in most places. (She says she doesn't have "time" but in reality, she also doesn't have the "energy".) So instead of having enough energy to prepare a real food meal, she barely has the energy to pick up junk fast food on the way home, or frozen boxed junk food to nuke for dinner for the family. Eating this way, she never gains a storehouse of energy for the next day, and simply repeats the process over and over, becoming more frazzled every day from lack of good nutrition. 

Adele Davis always said a food without nutrients would not support life, and her example was a loaf of factory bread left on the counter (unwrapped) for weeks. It might dry out, but it would not support any bacterial life to decompose it. If it won't even support bacterial life, how could it support life for us?? Recently someone left a McD's cheeseburger on the counter for a whole year, and nothing grew there either. It sustained no bacterial life. (Source)

Change is never easy, but for the most part it can be started in small steps. Two years ago when I changed my food intake drastically to eliminate adulterated foods all at once (including foods with added sweeteners), I thought I would starve to death during the first 2-3 weeks. It took a long time for me to learn to think outside the box and change from what I had been accustomed to eating for years, to finding real foods to eat. Then as I started feeling the increased energy every day from eating real food (and probably eliminating some built-up toxins during that time), I began to understand what sugar and chemical-laden foods do to my body.

Unfortunately over the last year, I have slowly added some adulterated foods back to my diet, and I really see the poor consequences, both in my energy levels... and my weight. The good news is that I never deviated from my commitment to eating only grass-fed meats. I'm doing much better now in avoiding chemical-laden packaged foods (thus no GMO's) but where I am still struggling is to get sugars out of my diet again. The traditional and accepted flush of sweet goodies over the holidays put me right back into sugar addiction, and I really cannot totally blame the food industry... They only make the stuff; it's my hand that lifts the cookie to my mouth. 

Then there are the sweets in other foods... "research and development teams have done studies and conducted taste panels that have found sweet sells. The more we sell sweet stuff the more people come to expect it. Sweet is found in loads of savory items. Sweet tomato sauces, crackers, salad dressings, mustards, coated chicken products, sausages, and more. Many of our fresh products are enhanced with sugar also. Butterball turkey, pumped brined pork loins, stewing hens. Our palates are being distorted by sweet." (Source)
Some small but positive steps:
Make a commitment to one family meal every week or two that contains only real foods. Nothing from a chemical-laden package (cookie/cake mix, packaged salad dressings, sweetened yogurt, BBQ sauce, yada, yada), no GMO's. You probably cannot escape the GMO's in the meats from factory meat animals, including chickens and their eggs, unless you can afford pastured meats... but start somewhere. No fake butters, no canola or soy oils (both GMO's), no sugar substitutes, nothing fake. I know many of the regular readers of this blog eat real foods almost exclusively... but perhaps just as many readers do not.

Make the time for a friendly email or telephone call to your local congressional representative saying you'd like to see food labels that state GMO or not, and hopefully even whether routine animal antibiotics in healthy animals were used. Tell them politely that you'd like to know what's actually in your food.

It may take years of persistence, but remember the soil in our yards is the result of eons of weathering effects on rocks that turned them into soil.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

My House & Garden, Elephants and Blind Men

I'm sure you all have heard the story of the blind men and the elephant, but just in case... In various versions of the tale, a group of blind men (or men in the dark) touch an elephant to learn what it is like. Each one feels a different part, but only one part, such as the side, tail, leg or the tusk. They then compare notes and learn that they are in complete disagreement.

The point is that we reach different conclusions depending on our exposure to partial facts.

I have been struggling with designing a drainage system to address the runoff from the hillside behind my house all the way down across my garden areas and on to the creek. I have this personal experience to add to the design considerations:

Three years ago I did extensive work on my garden area, building fluffy raised wide rows between narrow compacted walkways, all perpendicular to the creek. I was careful to only walk on the pathways, but I could plant and manage the vegetables from a path on either side of each bed. By the second year the rows were barely above what had been the paths, and by the third year, non-existent. I don't know how much of the soil went into the creek as run-off, but probably a lot between runoff and flooding. I'm sure some soil was trapped in the 20 foot wide grass swath between the garden beds and the creek, but not much.

Secondly, I also know from my own experience with drainage on the place my mother owned that drainage ditches fill up, and so does buried perforated plastic drain pipe in a gravel-filled ditch. They can fill up in as little as 2-3 years.

I had decided that some terracing in the slope in back of this house, using a hugelkulture bed idea on the lower edge of each terrace might work better than drainage ditches. And it still might be the easiest thing to do.

Then last week I came across this series of videos, which made me realize I was the blind man observing only part of the elephant (the area just behind the house). Our steep woods run behind/above the house, and then run parallel with the ridge behind the next several houses along the road. It's steep, but there are 4WD cart paths running through some of it; access to the paths is limited and I don't have one of those fancy carts, so I've never been up there. I need to get the local forestry person here anyway to talk to me about woodland management.

The first video segment in the series (linked above) is just an over-view and I didn't learn anything much from it except reminding me of how the rivers in the US carry topsoil down to the Mississippi Delta. However, starting with the 2nd video and building on it in subsequent segments, I began to see and understand "my part of the elephant" in a whole new light as a whole elephant, and some things that can actually be done to help the drainage/runoff. 

There is at least one more spring on our property, behind the next house 1000' up the road. I've never seen it, and don't know what feeds it, but it's on the lower part of the hillside about 200' from the road. For all I know, there may be more springs. It's a lousy steward who doesn't know the land entrusted to her care!

I am hoping there might be state or federal money available for woodland management, which might include planting trees to replace what was timbered out before we bought this place, as well as management of water runoff. If nothing else, at least there should be forestry advice available.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Struggling with Food Choices

I mentioned in an earlier post that my intention is to get back on the recommended food protocol from my endocrinologist (I'm hypothyroid), and I began that journey on the first day of this year. So far it is a very real struggle between what my mind knows and what my appetite cravings seek. As when I did this the first time (even though I eventually failed to stay faithful) my goal is better health, and weight loss is just a happy by-product.

I was surprised to see a tiny weight loss over the first week, which I didn't expect. It seems that when I announced I was going to eliminate some specific things from my diet (like sugars), my body just increased the desire for those very things!

The biggest challenge so far really is sugar, but it's followed closely by obesogens and goitrogens (both are endocrine disruptors, which cause weight gain regardless of calorie intake). Sugar is a problem because I got re-addicted to it with all the holiday foods from my birthday cake in early November, then Thanksgiving, Christmas and on through New Years' Day. I discovered in just 1 week that cutting back on sugar doesn't work for me... any more than reducing alcohol intake works for an alcoholic who wants to be free of the addiction.

So, eliminating sugar is going to have to be the cold turkey approach. However, one problem with sugar is those foods that don't necessarily appear laden with sugar, but convert to sugars during the digestion process. Those include some grains and legumes, some tubers and even packaged orange juice (although I don't buy OJ).

Whole wheat bread or cereals are high on that list, but not if they are made from whole wheat grains that are first sprouted, then dried before grinding into flour. (Do you think Kellogg's does that for their packaged cereals?) You can buy bags of several kinds of sprouted flours in addition to a few sprouted, dried whole grains and legumes to make your own here. (There may be many other sources, I just happen to know of that one.) Of course, my local stores do not carry any sprouted grains, nor sprouted grain breads like Ezekiel Bread. I can buy frozen Ezekiel Bread in most natural food stores, but the closest stores are a hundred miles away. 

My options then are to eliminate bread altogether, or order some sprouted flours and make my own. Although I am not a very good baker, I did make my own bread for a couple of years, mostly sourdough which I love. I suppose I will start making bread again, like I need one more thing to do! sigh

Obesogens are also a problem because so many are not just in foods. Many of them come from faux fragrance chemicals added to things like laundry soaps, dish detergents, and shampoos. Some come from plasticizers used in plastic meat packaging, clear plastic wrap, food cans (BPA) and even in tap water which is increasingly tainted with drugs that mimic hormones.  We absorb them through our skin (like water in the shower) even if we don't ingest them.

I solved the laundry detergent problem when I diverted the laundry water out to the garden recently... and switched to biodegradable, low-sodium detergents without phosphates, brighteners, boron, borax, enzymes or bleach. I switched to good handmade bath and facial soaps last year, but now I need to address shampoos and dish detergents.

I am particularly sensitive to obesegens now. I wasn't always so sensitive, but the body collects them in fat cells in the liver and elsewhere rather than eliminating them, and they build up over time. 

The obesogens in pesticides and herbicides used on growing commercial foods (except organic), along with chemical food washes and plastic packaging "for safety" are harder for me to avoid during winter when I have few (if any) fresh greens or vegetables growing.

I don't knowingly eat soy products because soy contains both obesogens and goitrogens (besides the fact that most soy is GMO) but a double-whammy comes from the hidden soy products. "Mysterious ingredients that frequently (if not always) include soy are: hydrolyzed plant protein, isolated vegetable protein, vegetable gum, vegetable broth, hydrolyzed vegetable protein, isolates, methylcellulose, mono- and diglycerides, vegetable broth, vegetable oil, vegetable protein, vegetable starch, and vegetable fat. 

“Natural Flavors” indicates soy. Because soy can be grown organically [although rarely, ~editor], and it is a naturally occurring plant, it is not seen as dishonest labeling practice to include “natural flavors”, or “flavoring” when manufacturers really mean soy. Unless the ingredient is specified, such as “natural vanilla flavors”, or “natural cocoa flavors”, do not trust this catch-all of ingredient euphemisms." (Source)

I don't have any problems with the natural goitrogens found in sweet potatoes, spinach and the brassica family (cruciferous vegetables) because I cook them, and cooking inactivates those goitrogens in vegetables. (I do eat raw spinach from my garden on salads in season, but it isn't much.)

As for the rest of my food protocol, I'm not having any problems with animal proteins, dairy (like cheese, real cream for my coffee, and butter) and other good fats because I never deviated from buying grass-fed / pastured animal products, or good fats like coconut oil and olive oils (in spite of the food miles). Nor am I having any problems with getting enough daily vegetables. I don't do as well with fruits, being against the food miles that are coupled with outrageous pesticide usage on imported fruits. I do have some local organic apples still in the larder, but I didn't store enough and they go fast!

Remembering to take my vitamins (D and B12) every morning remains a hurdle. Even if I put them right in front of my computer screen so I can't miss them with my morning ritual of coffee and checking email, I tend to push them aside thinking I'll take them in a few minutes when the coffee is ready.

There is a lot of fine-tuning to do with my food protocol, like pH balance... but I'll address those in future posts. Right now I'm busy battling the Dragon named Sugar.


Sunday, January 8, 2012

Chicken, Feta and Spinach Sausage

I've had in mind for a while now to make some chicken, feta and spinach sausage and finally made the time. They could have been stuffed into casings, but I opted for patties since I don't like the casings I ordered.

I boned the thighs and legs from 4 free-range birds and ran the meat, fat (there wasn't much) and some of the skin through the grinder. I ended up with just over 2.5 pounds.

To the ground chicken I added a half pound of fresh spinach very lightly steamed, then squeezed almost dry, and chopped. Frozen chopped spinach would have worked also, as long as it was squeezed of most of the liquid.

Then a couple of garlic cloves finely minced, some tarragon, salt, freshly ground black pepper, and about a quarter-cup of homemade goat feta, crumbled.

Mix it all together, put some parchment paper squares on the scale, and weigh out patties. I chose quarter-pound patties because I don't eat a lot of food at any one meal.

They look pretty well mixed. My feta was a tad salty from the refrigerated brine so I hope the added salt (reduced amount) and pepper distributed evenly. I should have fried a test patty for seasonings but I'd just had lunch.

Patties on a baking sheet, ready for a quick freeze. I did end up with one small patty but I'll use that one along with a full patty sometime when I'm especially hungry. 

Once frozen, I'll vac-pak them in serving size bags. It will be a nice addition to variety of my main meals. I hope I don't regret not adding more feta, or that I ground up some of the skin with the meat!!

I also hope they hold together when cooking. In retrospect, I should have made and added a panade, or added a couple of egg whites as I do with one of my venison sausage recipes.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Growing Healthier Greens

One of the best things you can add to your garden for growing superb greens is rock dust. Volcanic rock dust, if you can find it, otherwise any rock dust is better than none. (Rock dust is good for all plants in the garden, but especially the greens because it helps give structure to the leaves.)

"Adding volcanic dust mimics glacial cycles which naturally fertilized the land. Since the last ice age three million years ago the earth has gone through 25 similar glaciations, each lasting about 90,000 years. We are currently 10,000 years into an interglacial -- a hiatus between ice ages -- meaning modern soils are relatively barren and artificial fertilizers are needed." (Quote Source)

The addition of rock dust is usually called RE-mineralization, because our soils have become very depleted in minerals over time. (Plants take up minerals as they grow, some more than others, and normal fertilizing doesn't add all the minerals back in.) There are 17 essential plant nutrients; of those, hydrogen, carbon and oxygen are absorbed from the air, while the other essential nutrients (mostly minerals) and water must be obtained from the soil.

However, what really makes a garden work is all the bio-organisms that will convert any and all the nutrients to a form the plants can utilize (take-up via roots). All the nutrients in the world are useless unless they are in a form plants can use.

When we fertilize, we usually add the inorganic nutrients consisting of NPK or nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium, which are called primary nutrients because the plants use a LOT of them. (Bagged NPK doesn't include anything else but NPK and a filler.)

The secondary (mineral) nutrients are calcium, magnesium and sulfur. Those do not always need re-application every year, but they might, so get a soil sample! The third classification is micronutrients (it's what rock dust contains and needed only in small quantities)... more than 50-60 micro-minerals like boron, manganese, zinc, molybdenum, nickel, cobalt and more are available from some rock dust sources.

The colloidal carbonaceous residue known as humus serves as a nutrient reservoir. Besides lack of water and sunshine, nutrient deficiency is a major growth limiting factor.

There is some thought that the calcium and magnesium in the rock dust converts atmospheric carbon into carbonates... which would be essentially sequestering some carbon in the soil, if I understand it correctly.

Currently, I add 2 kinds of rock dust to my garden: Azomite, and Greensand which is mined in New Jersey. I also add biochar sifted from my woodstove ashes, which I inoculate with mild urea or compost tea. All of these components give the bio-organisms something to convert to nutrients for the plants. I know I probably don't build enough humus yet... that is: I don't add enough active organic matter... but this year I plan to use EM-1 (Effective Microorganisms) on my compost and also make Boshaki to continue growing effective microorganisms for my soil life.

But remember, it all starts with rock dust to feed the existing bio-organisms in my soil, which will feed the plants that will feed me.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Pissing in Drinking Water

Disgusting thought, isn't it? Yet we do it every single day!

Municipalities spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to provide safe drinking water to our homes, and what do we do? We urinate and defecate in it, via the porcelain throne. Then, of course, that once-safe drinking water is now "contaminated" and hundreds of thousands more dollars are spent to get rid of it, either by municipal sewage systems or a gazillion home septic systems.

Consider this: the urine and solid matters we eliminate are made up of nutrients including nitrogen, potassium and phosphorus that either our bodies haven't used, or that are by-products of our digestive systems. Those liquids and solids contain lots of nutrients, just like the animal manure we put in compost piles. Our urine, in fact, is actually sterile. "Urine can contain up to 90 percent of the N (nitrogen), up to 50 percent of the P (phosphorus) and up to 70 percent of the K (potassium) present in human excreta." (Source)

While we throw away all the nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium we have added to our drinking water, we also go out and buy manufactured nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium, aka fertilizer, in bags to put on our gardens to grow green plants. HUH?? 

"This waste is particularly worrisome now because the cheaper sources of commercial fertilizer for farming are declining. Competing uses for natural gas, our biggest source of nitrogen fertilizer, is driving up prices. Potash deposits in Canada, our handiest source, are declining, and talk of opening up new mines in the rainforest does not sit well with the environmental community. Some specialized phosphorus fertilizers are very expensive. The day is coming when we must start thinking about scrupulously saving our wastes for fertilizer as humans have done, especially in Asia, for centuries." ~Gene Logsdon

So why do we use our very expensive drinking water as a vehicle to throw away those nutrients?

Simple answer: fear and ignorance... plus a healthy dose of "comfort zone" boundaries coupled with inertia.

When the liquid and/or dry ingredients are collected from home in a safe manner, it can be odorless, cheap and sustainable, both for us and the planet we inhabit. (Please do not confuse the toxic material from public waste treatment plants as acceptable or the same thing. Those waste systems contain many materials dumped in the system like drugs, paints, solvents, cleaning agents, oils, and who knows what else, in addition to human excrement.)

Human waste material can be collected in a fancy composting toilet like the one pictured above made by environlet™ (where the works are hidden), or even in a simple but adequate bucket with a lid. The liquid components can be collected separately or together in the bucket.

"Bucket and Lid" dry matter system (radiator optional!) photo from Sustainable Sanitation

In the bucket method, if waste is covered immediately with a carbon material like sawdust, coconut coir or peat moss, it will have no odor even if it remains in the bathroom until the container is full enough to empty. When enough is collected, it can be put in a dark-colored plastic 55 gallon barrel and allowed to compost in the sun for 9 months to a year, or it can be put in a well-managed garden compost pile... and either way, when it is fully composted is just like the stuff from our regular garden compost piles... FREE, and sustainable!

Liquid waste material, aka urine, can be collected separately and used immediately as fertilizer in the garden, BUT it needs to be diluted about 1:10 with WATER so it doesn't burn plants. It doesn't have to be diluted with the expensive drinking water we buy either (whether from the city, our own electric-powered well pumps, or in bottles from a store). It can be collected rain water, or water from a creek or even a puddle. You just don't want to burn the plants.

Applying Diluted Urine, Phillipines; photo by Sustainable Sanitation

Large-scale Urine Application in Sweden. photo by Sustainable Sanitation

I have read a little about humanure for many years, and always dismissed the concept, but thinking it would fit in a rustic, off-grid situation. I never really looked at the realities of the nutrients we throw away, only to buy the same soil nutrients from a garden store. Nor did I consider the implications of trashing those nutrients in perfectly good drinking water!

However, now that I AM aware, it will boil down to a matter of how far I'm willing exceed my comfort zone to be a better steward and increase my efforts at sustainability.

Realistically, I can't add a composting toilet to my bathroom (space-wise) unless I removed the existing toilet, but that could be a project for next summer when the temps are warmer and I can put up a temporary outdoor "bucket" facility. Another restraining factor is that I co-own this house with my half-sister and she'll balk at the thought, even though she has her own private bathroom.

I just might install a composting toilet to my private bathroom in spring or summer anyway if I can afford it (in spite of any objections my sis may have) because a new porcelain throne could be re-installed later for any potential resale of the property, and the nutrient benefits I would gain are worth it!

I could, however, begin now to collect my urine, and add it diluted for nutrients my garden soil every day... even now during winter since our ground seldom freezes solid for more than a few days. As a matter of fact, I did collect urine for most of 1 day, and added it diluted to a cold compost pile the day after Christmas. Not sure I want to do that every day until I can get a good system.

(I should mention I have not read the books listed below, so I'm not sure of safety measures or procedures of collecting urine inside and keeping it for more than a day.)

Given the increasing shortage and cost of fertilizers, and the expense of clean, potable water almost everywhere, does it make sense to keep pissing in our drinking water?

There are some problems in making these nutrients safe when they are just mixed together and dumped in a pit, as was typical in the smelly and probably toxic outhouses of generations past. The Humanure Handbook by Joseph Jenkins recommends collecting dry and liquid matter together in a carbon matrix, and adding them to a garden compost bin weekly using some safe guidelines. He also has a website for more information and photos.

Gene Logsdon, a contrary farmer whom I admire, has just written Holy Shit: Managing Manure to Save Mankind, and it's on my WishList.

Mr. Logsdon has this to say just about the impact of just pet waste products:

What are we throwing away in money? In Holy Shit I use my own way to come up with a figure. Experts say that ten tons of animal manure and bedding per year can adequately fertilize an acre of farmland. Therefore we have enough pet manure in this country to fertilize something like 20 million acres every year. If a farmer is paying out $100 an acre for commercial fertilizer (right now it’s lower than that, last year higher) we’re talking about a value for pet manure of something like two billion bucks.

And the cost of throwing it away in the landfill or sewage treatment system is a whole lot more.

The conceptual image of "pissing in drinking water" is not an original thought of mine; it came from Nick Ritar in a TEDx talk.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Gourmet Butchering

Well my, my... I actually won something! I won the DVD, The Gourmet Butcher™ from master butcher Cole Ward. Many Thanks, Cole; it's a prize I will enjoy using for a long time!!

For over 30 years, Cole has taught chefs and butchers, caterers and students, farmers and food-lovers how to cut and prepare their own meat. The DVD takes you through every step of the butchering process from breaking down a carcass into primal cuts, then into gourmet or retail cuts. The lessons cover lamb, pork, and both beef fore-quarters and beef hind quarters, plus tools and safety.

Although I have no immediate plans to do any home butchering (I raise no meat animals so far), I do plan next year to start buying my meat in sides or quarters... depending on the overall animal size and how much freezer space I have available. It will be great to be able to carve up my own, and save some money in the process.

Although I buy only local grass-fed meats, I'm not happy with the quality of the ground meats from the nearby processing facility even though they follow USDA guidelines and all meat is USDA inspected. For example, USDA guidelines allow a certain percentage of bone (and who knows what else like gristle and skin?) in ground meat, which I'd sooner not have.

Bones from packing houses are sold to companies that cook them down for soups and broths, or to pet food companies, or others that process them into bone meal. It's expensive and difficult to get marrow bones anymore, but by butchering my own I can have them available once again!

I can see a lot of good foods coming from Cole's DVD tutorials!