"The tragic reality is that very few sustainable systems are designed or applied by those who hold power, and the reason for this is obvious and simple: to let people arrange their own food, energy and shelter is to lose economic and political control over them. We should cease to look to power structures, hierarchical systems, or governments to help us, and devise ways to help ourselves." - Bill Mollison

Friday, January 29, 2010

Breakfast and a Run

We normally only make two types of meals for breakfast. The first is our old standby salad, usually with and egg or occasionally some fried spuds on top...and a very berry smoothie. The other meal, depicted above, is always fun because it is a mishmashed combination of whatever was left over from the previous night's dinner. This morning I had blue jade corn bread, gold nugget squash with ginger pear sauce and young dandelions, a thick kale and potato soup, one egg sitting atop sauerkraut, and of course, a small slaw salad. It sounds like a lot but that is all I will eat until dinner.

My wife and I will be going on an 8 mile run later this afternoon as she is working towards a goal of 13 miles since she will possibly be running in a half marathon in the near future. My job, per her request, is to make sure she can do it. That mostly involves making her a nourishing breakfast and running along side her, sometimes even backwards in front of her, humming inspirational tunes from the movie "Rocky" and giving her annoying words of encouragement. This usually helps as she invariably picks up speed in order to escape me.:) Normally we eat much lighter on the days we will be running, I hope this meal does not slow us down too much

I wrote this post yesterday and we did have a pretty good run. It was very exciting for Mrs. H as she has never ran 8 miles before (8.1 to be exact). Last year she talked herself into running a 12km (7.46 mile) race and now she will be doing that same 12k plus a half marathon this year. I'm just glad that we are having such a great snow free winter and do not have to train on slippery snow covered roads like last year...so far anyway.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Discovering Mallow

This winter I have been experimenting with a homemade shampoo based on the soapwort we grow in our garden, now our only source of laundry detergent. My focus has been on finding a way to thicken the soap enough so that it would have the consistency of a commercial shampoo. For this endeavour I have used thickeners such as flax, dried mallow, powdered beans, and various combinations of each with limited success...so far. I am fairly confident that some or all of these ingredients combined with my soapwort will make an excellent hair wash once I am able to determine the proper solution. Unfortunately, the supply of dried soapwort set aside for these experiments is all but used up so self-reliance on the shampoo front is on hold until later this year when a new supply of roots can be obtained from the gardens.

This is the last of our dried soapwort, some of which has been powdered.

As so often seems to happen with these funky little projects one thing leads to another and I often find myself discovering or in this case uncovering something altogether different. I was aware that a member of the mallow plant genus was at one time used to make the original confectionery "marshmallow," via its roots. Similar varieties, Common Mallow, Hollyhocks, and (I think) Musk Mallow, that we once introduced as flowers and have now naturalized on the fringes of our garden have the same mucilaginous properties. Hence the reason I am attempting to use them in my shampoo making ventures.

Shampoo making venture #3 produced plenty of suds but not enough consistency...

Anyway, having not thoroughly researched mallow until recently, I was unaware and quite surprised at all the other benefits associated with these plants. Apparently the mallow that was once used as a binding agent (binding sugar and egg whites) in the making of marshmallows has an unbelievably immense medicinal profile as well.

Common Mallow (Malva sylvestris) The root and leaves contain a slimy mucilage that can be used to sooth irritated tissue and relieve various forms of inflammation. They can be made into a tea or combined with sugar to make a syrup, both tea and syrup can be used as an effective cough remedy. Because it contains fair amounts of salicylic acid, an ingredient used in the preparation of aspirin, it has also been used throughout history to help relieve sore throats, reduce fever, and even headaches. I find it somewhat fascinating that, unbeknownst to me, I have had a potentially effective cold and flu relief/remedy growing right under my nose all along and have not until recently been aware of this plant's full potential.

Pulling a mallow root. I have yet to positively identify these as Musk Mallow.

Another once common use for mallow was as an emollient for dry irritated skin. I've read that the mucilages contained in the plant can not only be used internally but externally as well helping to heal skin issues that range anywhere from from diaper rashes and sunburns to psoriasis and eczema. Also, the plants salicylic acid content makes it a viable treatment for acne, helping to clean out the skins pores thus reducing the number of breakouts.

Besides using the plant as a cough suppressant, it is the eczema treatment that we are most excited about. Our grandson, like his father, has issues with dry itchy skin. So much so that it often keeps him awake at night tossing and turning. We are looking forward to exploring this as a possible solution to his dilemma. The poor kid, he is still trying to get the bean particles out of his hair from our last experiment. Hey, someone needs to be the guinea pig and he was paid in chocolate for his efforts. Besides, just think of all the stories he will someday be able to tell his own children about his crazed grandparents and all of their strange and unusual ways.

In addition, the flowers and young leaves can be eaten raw in salads and along with the rest of the plant are reportedly a good source of beta-carotene, amino acids, many minerals and vitamins including B1, B2, and B3. Everything I have read states that there are no known side effects to using this plant in it's various forms...in moderation. Evidently, mallow is so safe that mothers used to give the peeled root to their babies to help with teething discomfort. I must question this action as it would seem to pose as a possible choking hazard?

Common Mallow roots for teething infants? Perhaps they should be tested on our teething puppy first...

We will be making a tea this week by allowing a small amount of the powdered root to steep in warm water for awhile and adding honey upon serving. While it is rare for either of us to come down with a cough or sore throat we can still try it just for grins. What I really need is to find a sick subject to experiment on. The grandson is back in school this week and believe me it is only a matter of time before he comes to us with some sort of ailment that involves coughing. As long as he is unaware that there is anything but honey in his tea we shall soon see if it really works.:)

Monday, January 18, 2010

The Salad...

Lately I have been contemplating a question we are often asked. How can we possibly consume all of the food that we grow? The answer is really quite simple...a salad. Take away the grocery store and the fact that the majority (not all) of our diet is vegetarian in nature, we prefer the term healthy opportunists, and you will find us making each and every meal out of those things that we have spent the warm months growing and the cold months maintaining.

Most evenings find us creating a salad that varies in nature depending upon what is available to us from the garden and root cellar, this is normally our main course often served with side dishes such as bread, eggs, soup, etc. How can a salad be the main course of any meal one might ask? Well, our salads are not just salads but full meals comprised of numerous ingredients such as squash, potatoes, greens, cabbage, beans, seeds, fruits, berries, and anything else we care to throw at them.

For example, last night's salad consisted of:

Grated root veggies
1 1/2 beets
5 small carrots
1 turnip
2 sunchokes
1 celeriac root
3 parsnips
1/2 cup squash
1/2 cup kohlrabi

kale (various)
Swiss chard
turnip greens

flax seeds
diced onions
diced leek greens
dried tomatoes (so good)
diced apples
dried peppers

This was served with grilled cheese & onion sandwiches and tomato soup. The only ingredients not from our garden were cheese and some components of the salad dressing...and a dab of butter. We always make enough salad so that we can also have it for breakfast, usually with a few eggs or fried potatoes on top. We like to mix it up a lot by adding things like salmon, sauerkraut, various fruits, berries, nuts and surprisingly find that this meal not only suites us nutritionally but, with continuously differing combinations, still enthralls us with its menagerie of flavors. In the summer, when more fresh produce is available from our garden, we might have over 40 different ingredients in each salad, that's when it really becomes fun, and things like fresh berries can make any salad delicious.

In thinking about the fact that we eat a similar type of salad every night and most mornings (we normally don't eat lunch) close to 365 days a year that is one whole heck of a lot of vegetables and greens that we need to not only grow but also store and preserve. All of these same foods comprise a good percentage of our chickens diet as well, especially in the winter. Simple food for simple people.

The puppy? Yesterday, after visiting with Mrs. H's parents we stopped on our way back home to take Rowdy for a walk along a trail next to the river and were soon beset upon by a troop of Catholic school girls led by a friendly young nun who upon seeing our little angel-eyed puppy could not resist but to ask if her girls could pet him. Rowdy was in heaven as each girl patted his head and told him what precious little puppy he was. Were he a more vocal dog I'm sure he would have squealed in delight.:)

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Here Comes Rowdy...

After literally years of debate and procrastination on my part I finally gave in to the demands of the majority and agreed to welcome a new member into our family...enter Rowdy. It's not that I don't like dogs but my previous two were so special and the last one lived so very long, 17 years, that I was not quite ready...commitment issues. But now, as they say, in for a penny in for a pound.

Meet Rowdy, a very quiet yet rambunctious 10 week old Kelpie/Border Collie mix who is sure to keep us on our toes and, if trained properly, will be a faithful companion and protector for us and especially the grandson.

His very first night was spent sleeping with the grandson on the living room floor...not a peep or a boo out of either of them that night. No more nights outdoors for this little guy.

Rowdy has quite the appetite, he eats, and eats, and eats some more.

The boy and him are inseparable...literally.

I'm not exactly sure what his living conditions were but Rowdy was a real stinker when we got him...he enjoyed his bath. We are still working on getting the smell out.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

A Basement Full of Garden

This time of year our basement resembles a strange nocturnal garden full of potted plants whose foliage we rely on to help sustain us through the winter months. Just before the ground started to freeze this fall we potted up Belgian & Batavian endive, parsley, Swiss chard, celery, red sorrel, and other greens. We are even experimenting with rhubarb, arugula, and various lettuces this year. Some of these (not the Belgian endive) we leave outside, after potting, for as long as possible so they can more easily adjust, via new root growth, to their enclosures and receive the last few rays of sunlight before entering the gloom of our root cellar/basement for the winter.

Most of these plants are brought upstairs into the light a few at a time starting in January to help supplement our daily salads. This is especially helpful on days that the weather or time prevents us from gathering greens from under our row covers. This week finds the plastic on all of our covered rows firmly secured to the ground by a thick layer of ice making it difficult to remove the covers without tearing them and was a good reminder that I needed to start encouraging growth from our potted plants. Within a week of sitting next to a somewhat sunny windowsill the plants begin to quickly green up and grow. Many of them can be cut numerous times before needing to be replaced.

While our Belgian endive roots were much smaller this year due to the fact that I did not thin them properly (again) we have simply stuffed more into each container enjoying the leaves all the same. The endive does not produce a very good second crop after the first cutting but the roots can then be used for coffee, tea, or roasted chicory chips.

Belgian endive beginning to put out new shoots, they will become very bitter once subjected to sunlight but possibly more nutritious.

This Batavian endive's blanched color will transform to dark green after being exposed to light for a few days.

Parsley is an excellent cut and come again crop that not only thrives in the basement but outside under our row covers as well. It seems to maintain it's greenness long after the other plants have begun to pale in the darkness. I will be growing Hamburg, a root parsley, this year and think/hope it might also perform well in this unnatural environment.

They don't look like much now but I just brought these plants upstairs and trimmed all the bad leaves off, they should start growing soon.

While all but the smallest leaves of the Swiss chard outside in our covered rows have finally succumbed to the weather and turned to mush after numerous freeze and thaw cycles those in our cellar live on. The potting up of Swiss chard is a little new to us in that we have only been experimenting with the forcing of this plant for a couple years. I have noticed that the more mature chard with a bigger root system hold out much better than the younger plants and will provide us with at least a few good cut and re-grow cycles before they are spent and begin to focus on bolting to seed.

I left a few of the smaller leaves on the chard but cut most of them back to compensate for any root damage caused during the potting process. After two months in the dark they are still maintaining their color pretty well.

Our hybrid Utah celery performs much better in the basement garden than its open pollinated kin Giant Red whose stalks tend to be more hollow and can get a little tough as the months progress. We find the new smaller shoots are best off this variety whereas the Utah's bigger shoots are better able to maintain a firm crunchy texture. This year I will be growing three new types of open pollinated celery in the garden in hopes of finding more varieties for winter forcing. I would like to try Safir, Par-Cel, and Ventura. That said, I still love my wild and temperamental Giant Red celery because of its cold hardiness and unusually strong flavor and will probably always save a spot for it in the garden.

We do not normally bring our celery upstairs due to the size of the containers and simply harvest shoots as we need them directly from the root cellar where they continue to put out new, albeit pale, growth.

Occasionally we separate a few of our more gnarly less palatable kohlrabi to bring upstairs and after being subjected to sunlight will harvest the greens. New shoots will then form at various places on this bulbous vegetable's "stem" allowing for numerous harvests. When you use a beet or kohlrabi in this manner the vegetable itself will become tough but can still be used as a food source for animals. Although I did experiment with beets and found that they were still pretty edible if used directly after the first forced growth had been harvested. The bigger the root or bulb vegetable the bigger the greens.

To control this leafy growth on my "good" kohlrabi, the ones whose thick stems I wish to eat, I will either keep them in a cooler part of the basement or am simply diligent in pinching back any growth before it takes hold, much the same as with my potatoes and carrots in the early spring when the cellar begins to warm a bit.

Arugula and the "frilly lettuces" as I like to call them seem to be holding up pretty well, time will tell the outcome of these and decide whether they are worthy of the indoor garden. Although, so far, I have been surprised at how long these lettuces have retained their green color in the gloom of our root cellar. I only potted up thirty 8" pots of the lettuce and arugula for this experiment, but could do many more next fall if we are pleased with the results. My fear is that they will immediately bolt once introduced to a warmer environment...I shall soon find out.

Lest I forget to mention them we also force, to some degree, turnips (the ugly ones), onions, dandelions, and my favorite forced veggie...beets. Tending hundreds of potted plants in ones basement may seem like quite the ridiculous chore but if it keeps me out of the grocery store I am more than game for the task. With any luck, this basement garden alone will provide us with a couple large salads every week during our most challenging months. Gardening never really ends around here it just takes on different, sometimes unusual, forms.

For more of my scribblings on forcing check out last January's post Forced To Provide.

Monday, January 4, 2010

The Pied Piper

Convincing my flock of 13 lazy redheads that the half-hearted throws of winter have temporarily subsided and what little snow we have received thus far has melted was no easy task. I was forced to act as a kinder version of The Pied Piper leading my fat little hens into the forest to fend for themselves for a few hours. They have yet to lose their free-ranging freedom to the winter's cold but have become a little too content to stay holed up in their den anxiously awaiting their all too generous daily ration of greens from our winter rows. As you can see only half the flock was convinced to follow a siren's call to greener pastures.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Reflections of the Past, Looking Forward to the Future

A couple videos showing part of our early July garden bring back many fond memories but what I am really looking forward to is the garden and foraging adventures of 2010. Happy New Year!

The north end of garden plot #3 taken with my little camera, please forgive the picture quality and music that is covering up my neighbor's backhoe noise.

The other end of plot #3.:)

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