Archive for May, 2008

Sister Nettle, how we love thee.

In addition to the Lupine, the Columbine, the Rosebush, and countless other blooming beauties, we’ve been endowed with fields of Nettle. Stinging Nettles. The kind that sting. Like a hive of bees.

And I couldn’t be more pleased. Really. In my short tenure as Aspiring Herbalist, I’ve formed an alliance with Sister Nettle and recognized her as a valuable asset to the herbal medicine chest. Or apothecary, as it’s called in these parts. In fact, much of my herbal study, heavily influenced by Susun Weed, focuses on those herbs that are usually dismissed as weeds: dandelion, nettle, burdock, chickweed. You would not BELIEVE the things these herbs can do. Safely. I see their abundance and accessibility as some kind of proof that Mother Nature (insert your deity here) thinks we’re pretty great and smart and has given us all the tools we need to keep on top of our game.

Nettle, I’m learning, is one of the premier herbs for immune health. It’s chock full of amino acids, calcium, magnesium, iron, B vitamins, Vitamin A, and many more great things I find too tedious to type. Nettle’s resume is pages long, listing abilities to stabilize blood sugar, help normalize weight, reduce fatigue and exhaustion, lessen allergic and menopausal problems, eliminate chronic headaches, infertility, skin conditions, kidney and bladder issues, like Urinary Tract Infections (UTIs), respiratory issues from colds to asthma and even tuberculosis, pregnancy and lactation (boosts the milk supply!!) and on and on…. Quite the over-achiever, and I’ve got fields of it.

And I’ve been using Nettle for some time now, even before discovering this treasure trove. One of the easiest and most effective ways to add Nettle to your diet is to make a long infusion, or essentially a tea that is steeped for a much longer period of time than your Earl Grey. You can use fresh nettle or dried, as I was, having paid money to have some shipped to me. (she laughs at the irony of it now)

Nettle Long Infusion

1 oz dried leaves (2 handfuls cut or 1 handful whole leaves dried)

Add leaves to a quart/liter jar and fill will boiling water. Cover, to keep all of the good stuff from escaping, and let it infuse for at least 4 hours, up to 8 or 10. Then strain off and refrigerate the infusion. Keeps in the fridge for about 2 days.

Steeping it for this long allows for those vitamins and minerals and chlorophyll to come out of the confines of the leaves, where we can use them.  I find it easy to start the infusion before bed and strain it when I get up.  Easy-breezy.

What do I do with the infusion? We try to drink up to 2 cups per day for our allergies. I really like the mellow taste of it and drink it like water, cold from the fridge. You could add honey or even tamari or sea salt to it to hop it up a bit, or drink it warm or hot.

I’ve used it as the base for a broth or soup.

It’s also reputed to be a great hair rinse.

Pregnant or Lactating? Nettle’s got lots and lots of good stuff for you, and is as safe as food.

So this is all fine and dandy, but she still stings. So you need to PAY ATTENTION if you’re going to harvest your own. She was one of the herbs that Isadora first learned to identify, as she’s present all over the place here, and she’s also learned by experience. I’ll be harvesting those plants along our walking paths first, while wearing long sleeves and leather gloves.

The stinging is not a threat once she’s dried or cooked, but until that point, PAY ATTENTION. The sting hurts like a sonnofa… but is only a nuisance. Not poisonous or toxic or of further concern except the stinging, burning feeling that persists for a while.

Hungry for more nettle info? Here‘s a good online reference.

Some interesting Nettle lore, directly from Susun Weed’s Wise Woman Herbal:

Albrecht Durer painted an angel flying to heaven carrying nettles.

Nettle flowers in England provide the nectar which is the sole nourishment of peacock and tortoiseshell butterflies.

The Tibetan Buddhist saint Milarepa lived exclusively on nettles in his retreat; it is said that he became both green and enlightened.

Which ties in pretty nicely with my own goals of green enlightenment.

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RE: Eviction Notice

29 May, 2008

Dear Guineas:

We regret to inform you that you shall be evicted from The Kitchen, effective today. Quite frankly, we abhor your lack of etiquette and find it unsuitable for this high-end neighborhood; your conduct has proven unsatisfactory for our standards of air quality and cleanliness. Our sources have confirmed that the foul odor present in The Kitchen is originating from your dwelling, despite our fastidious attempts to provide clean bedding, food, and water. Is it really necessary to scatter food all over your house? We think not. You’ve been warned, repeatedly and earnestly, to keep the noise level down during the nighttime hours. Hollering is not tolerated at any of our properties, and we strive to create a peaceable environment for all to enjoy, as the Pugs, Hens, Cockerels, and Pullets can attest to. In addition, it’s clear that you’ve outgrown the property, almost doubling in size and girth since moving in little more than a week ago. We find that kind of growth disproportionate to the resources available here in The Kitchen. While we appreciate your fleeting contributions to our Pest Control program, we will require a more comprehensive approach once you’ve gone through the requisite training and have received certification in Tick Removal.

Your well-being is of high importance, second to our own. In an effort to provide for this well-being, we shall be relocating you to another of our properties, The Coop, where we think you’ll be more at home. The neighbors there are mature women with a strong mothering instinct, henceforth referred to as The Hens. Perhaps they can take you under their wings, so to speak, and teach you some manners. Here you can expect all the same amenities as in The Kitchen: heat, food, water, bedding. These accommodations offer three times the square footage of The Kitchen and there are no noise or odor regulations, save those imposed by said Hens. The Coop is, in fact, our most up-and-coming property; an undisclosed number of pullets and cockerels will be moving in at the end of the month, providing new blood for the already active Neighborhood Association. It is the perfect time to be making this transition.

We are confident that you will be more at home there and look forward to an ever-improving tenant-landlord partnership.

Cordially,

The Management

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I’m actually scared to death of the garden.

The weekend, if you can call it that, has left us sore and dazed, not unlike a pair of shipwrecked sailors finally washed ashore. (I’m a big, big fan of metaphors, so I’m going to go with this one a bit. Or, in fact, similes, for you grammar geeks.) By this, I mean that we’ve traveled a great distance, but still have to drag our sorry carcasses off the beach to avoid being pummeled by the surf. And we’re almost too wiped out to do it.

But before I get into the meat of it, look at what the chickies pointed out to me last night: we have Lupine growing in our prairie/wildflower area! (above)

Here’s our main garden. One of three fenced-in gardens, in fact. But for now, it’s the only one I can barely wrap my brain around, so I’m trying to block out the others until I find I need more space. Because, really, I’m a pretty novice gardener, at best. My past experience has been mostly with the flowerbeds. Which are perennials and never really got a whole lot of my time, because they’re pretty well-equipped to care for themselves. And they are only flowers, after all; nice if they bloom, no biggie if they shrivel and die. Andrew’s been the veggie garden guy in the past, but the little things like watering, weeding, and even the meager harvest had taken a back seat to our grueling summer tour schedule. (weddings, parties, picnics, cookouts, and other obligatory visitations)

While I love the idea of a big, sustainable, symbiotic garden and the guaranteed satisfaction (and nutrition) that comes from growing our own food, I’m in uncharted territory here, and it’s got me scared to death. I’ve been reading and learning and plotting the best way to go about this for months now, but have been mired in the very idea of what this “best way” is. This ideal of mine is just different enough from how everyone else I know does it, rendering all my real-life resources not quite as useful as they would otherwise be. (though they’re still rather useful) A book called Weedless Gardening got my attention right away, so I designated it as my go-to manual. It seems right up my alley, as I don’t care to weed, and it seemed to fit nicely into what I’ve discovered is my style of gardening: Laissez–faire. I’d like to supply the necessary conditions up front (mulch, support structures, a mostly-weed-free space, regular watering, and companion plants) and then let the plants go to work doing what they know. Oh, I’ll periodically check in on them, in the midst of chasing a 2yr old out of the chicken coop, pulling fresh-baked bread out of the oven, sewing up a nice little something, indulging in some blog-formatted self-reflection, and attending to a pared-down summer tour schedule. Can this work? Hope so – it’s all I’ve got to offer right now.

The first hurdle was with irrigation. I quickly realized that it had been our downfall in the past. Cultivated plants apparently need more water than they get from the sky, even with a healthy layer of mulch to insulate them. Setting up, monitoring, and moving a sprinkler neither seemed sustainable enough nor laissez-faire enough for me, so I took Lee Reich’s suggestion in the book to set up a drip-irrigation system, one that is hooked up to a timer. This amounted to WEEKS of confusion and bumbling and defeat in pouring through websites trying to understand how they work, which was appropriate for my setup, what parts were needed, etc. I gave up at one point, bought the standard garden center soaker hoses, found they only really work (poorly) up to 50 feet of hose, not the 250 that I needed in just the one garden. So back to the drip-scenario, and I finally called one of the companies referred by the book. In less than a half-hour, the clouds were lifted from my vision, and I had a plan in works, on paper. Amazing what a live, talking human being can do that pages and pages of web content can’t. Note to self: learn from this.

First up this weekend was setting up this system, as everything else relied upon having these hoses in place. Before that, though, I needed to delineate the rows and then choke out the weeds that had taken up residence there while I was busy agonizing over how to do this “garden” thing. “Weedless gardening” it seems, is synonymous with permaculture, or mimicking how Mother Nature gardens, from the top down. Tilling or likewise disturbing the soil is a big no-no, but piling mulch on top, smothering the weeds, and planting into the top layer builds the nutrients and thus creates the “weedless” part. Sounds good to me! In a search for some newspapers to lay down as the first weed-busting layer, I came upon our roll of 24″ corrugated cardboard that we had used to reign in the chicks. The chicks had been thoughtful enough to lightly season it with their brand of fertilizer, so it was truly ideal. I laid it down in the garden to form my rows, laid the drip hoses over that, then Muscles (or Kind Husband) covered it all with some delicious composted horse manure, which we’ve trucked in by the trailer load. My understanding is that, because it’s composted and no longer “hot”, it’s an ideal medium for fostering the growth of delicious vegetables. Let’s hope that’s the case, because I’m planting EVERYTHING into it.

I did manage to get 3 rows planted. The tomatoes, cabbage, and some peppers are in. My other helpful book The Gardener’s A-Z Guide to Growing Organic Food listed cabbage, coriander, basil, and calendula among the plant allies that work with tomatoes, so I worked them into the tomato beds. I couldn’t be bothered to use a bazillion tomato cages, so I fashioned an accordion-like support from some wire fence that we had laying around, giving me Hulk-like forearms, biceps and super-human strength. This zig-zag grid work created the foundation that I planted around. I’ve got a nice little drawing of it, for posterity and next year’s garden planning, shown below.

T is for tomato, and 4 varieties are planted in the two rows.

K is for kraut, or the cabbage we’ll turn into kraut.

B is for basil.

I’ve got high hopes that this all works.  We’ll just have to wait and see.

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So far the mission is a success.

Before

After

Just kidding.

Stopping in briefly today to report some progress on the Guinea Front. In only 3 days, the Guinea Posse has annihilated more than 10 ticks. Given their newborn status, these ticks were hand-fed to them in the nursery, after picking them off of our persons. Or dogs. No matter to them how they got there; they were vigorously gobbled up. Tremendous success that even we, in our rosy haze of optimism, didn’t expect so soon.

So they’re stayin’. And I’m proud to report they’ve been elevated to VIP status, now outranking the dogs, hens, and “chickies”. We shall be serving all future ticks on silver platters, with their choice of sides, until the all-you-can-eat-buffet opens up. The tide has turned, you tick bastards.

And now I shall sign off, in preparation for a Get-Your-Act-Together-Inside-and-Out Marathon Weekend. It’s guaranteed to be jam-packed with transplanting, seed planting, rock-picking, grass seed laying, coop cleaning, compost laying, laundry doing, all around exhausting good time. And I’m worn out just thinking about it.

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Maiglöckchen


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The fabric of time.

I’ve mentioned that this house has an aesthetic all its own. That it requires, gently but firmly, handmade quilts on the beds, bright sunny colors on the walls, handmade rag rugs to cushion our step, and the boisterous sounds of laughter and bare feet tickling the wooden floors. Just imagine, then, my barely controllable JOY at finding this collection of rags. Already wound into balls, ready to become a rug. By the hands of my female ancestors. From the beautiful fabrics that dressed their days. Just imagine my joy.

Grandma says they were, indeed, used to make rugs, but not in the manner that I’ve undertaken. These strips would be taken to the weaver, to make a rug like this:

I much prefer the method of crocheting them. Besides the aesthetics of it, the rugs have lots of cushion and spring, and I can orchestrate the design and carry it out myself, without having to bring it to someone with a loom. And I think the crochet method will better showcase the beautiful fabrics that my elders had spent so much time ripping, joining, and rolling into balls. It’s also rewarding to feel that I have something to contribute to this project that was started so long ago. But if Grandma’s reaction is any indicator, I’m quite sure that they’d laugh at me for calling their old rags “beautiful”. They were rags, after all, worn to the point of being useless for anything but a place to wipe dirty feet. It surely is the haze of time passed that casts such a lovely light on these vintage threads now.

A kind soul commented the other day that she loved how what we were trying to do here at Five Green Acres was deliberately old-fashioned and the stuff of our Grandmothers. I couldn’t have said it better myself; I once read or heard somewhere that, in the event of a catastrophic disaster, only the Grandmothers would know how to survive. That sentiment has stuck with me. Yet while there are many folks who embrace the ideals of self-sufficiency to prepare for such an event, we’re certainly not among them. Our aim is much more rose-colored and perhaps even a little “control-freak”. I simply want to know where my stuff came from, how it was made, and how to make exactly what I want. In my eyes, these skills bring with them immense power. Design power. Power to live in luxury without buckets of money. Power to infuse pure love into something made by hand. Power to feed my family.

It seems that the flawed short-sightedness of our culture compels us to overlook the wisdom of our elders or dismiss it as out of touch with The Now. Perhaps we should be consulting the Grandmothers of the world for our Terrorist Preparation Kits instead of taking Homeland Security’s suggestion to buy rolls of plastic and duct tape for our windows. Echoing this sentiment is a children’s book we just read together, Old Ladies Who Liked Cats by Carol Greene. It’s a lovely, simple story of how things are connected, and how the Old Ladies are the only ones with the wisdom to see these vital connections that turn out to be crucial in protecting their little island. How do we get rid of the pirates? Just ask the Old Ladies. They know.

This stuff of Grandmothers – heirloom seeds, the know-how to make a bounty out of nothing, the smell of bed sheets dried in the wind, the sincere gratitude for life’s joys, the precious Mason Jar jewels lining the shelves of the pantry, the smell of the kitchen, the ability to use, reuse, reuse again, and not waste a single thing… To me, this is the good stuff.

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It is still National Egg Month.

Our after-nap routine usually includes some gentle wake-up time rocking on the porch in our glider. On Friday, however, we found that the glider was already occupied, by this Lovely Lady. She’s one of three hens that we “adopted” a few months back and added to our flock. We were told that they were docile and friendly, but we didn’t understand that to actually mean DOCILE! and FRIENDLY!, which they most definitely are. They coo and murmur sweet nothings in our ear when nearby, which is often, as they like hanging out wherever we are. This Lady is clearly on to our little after-nap routine and wanted to get in on all the snuggling and chatting too.  And today we found her  walking up the back steps – I’ve no doubt that she’d walk right in the house for a cup of tea if so invited.

And the guineas are here! Right now in my kitchen, a dozen fuzzy-soft little tick-munchers are resting up for the big feast ahead. I will try to follow them as they grow with my camera and some intrepid reporting.

I’d better go. My head gardener wants to discuss some flowerbed layout plans.

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To do list.

To do today:

√ 1.  Test alarm clock to make sure it works/is loud enough.

√ 2.   Set alarm clock for 8:45am.

√ 3.  Drink coffee, browse a new library book, snuggle while watching

Sesame Street

√ 4.  At 8:45am, turn on computer.

√ 5.  Log on to Ticketmaster.

√ 6.  Find the appropriate tour page.

√ 7.  Synchronize computer’s clock with actual, precise, official US Time.

√ 8.  Progressively raise the level of caffeine in the bloodstream while

waiting for 9:00a.m. to arrive.

√ 9.  Read some blogs, while waiting for 9:00a.m. to arrive.

√ 10.  At 8:56, double-check time, website, and make sure the “refresh”

button works.

√ 11.  At 8:58, start hitting “refresh” button repeatedly on Ticketmaster web

page.

√ 12.  9:00a.m.  Select 2 tickets, best seating available.

√ 13.  Try to stop hands from shaking while completing transaction.

√ 14.  Start planning a pilgrimage to Columbus, Ohio to see Tom Waits in

concert!!!!!!!

√ 15.  Take down reminder signs posted throughout the house.

√ 16.  Add “Tom Waits” category to blog, acknowledging that more posts will inevitably be forthcoming.

17.  Proceed to everything else that needs to get done today.

Now, at 10:14a.m., I can declare that it is, indeed, a good day.

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Checking in with the Chicks.

Who are most definitely not chicks anymore, but rather cockerels (young roosters) and pullets (young hens). I had really intended to keep you all more up to date on their growth process, but, well… seems life got in the way again. So today I shall reintroduce you. Shown above in the rather poorly-focused image is one of our cockerels. This guy is one of the handful who’ve found their voices! About a week ago, we arrived home one night to be greeted by a sound not unlike a rusty hinge. Only two syllables for this first go at crowing; the next day saw much improvement.

Now we are routinely greeted with much more confident cock-a-doodle-do-s, especially from this guy – he’s one of our favorites. I had been looking forward to this crowing with much anticipation. Indeed, it’s one of the reasons I really want to add a rooster or two to our flock. A rooster, it seems, is an integral part of the Pastoral Idyll. We’re taught this at a young age, with barnyard puzzles, books, and toys, each with its own cock-a-doodle-do rooster. Hens and roosters are always paired up in these toys, which might contribute to the misconception that many people have: a hen produces eggs with or without a rooster.

While I’m not aiming to build a farm, with the plastic silos and pigs and cows and red-and-white barn, I do like the idea of the farmette. It’s more to our scale, since we’re not going to quit our day jobs and track the going rate for corn or hogs. But farmette, as an extension of our home and garden? Yes. And we must have crowing to join the chorus of Sandhill Cranes and soon-to-arrive Guinea Fowl.

Remember my little grey guy? Here he is, almost grown up.

Feeding frenzy. “Yes, do eat up, little ones,” said the Old Witch to Hansel and Gretel, while plotting her supper.

And to close, I’d like to issue a friendly reminder to the 3.8 million ticks residing here on Five Green Acres: Your days are numbered. Make your “bucket lists,” mend your bruised relationships, take that trip you’ve been meaning to for ages. The Guineas arrive on Monday. You’ll be granted a 4 week clemency while they get their wits about them; after this time, you’re toast. Unless, of course, you hitch a ride on me or my family, in which case, you’ll meet your end much sooner, with a public beheading. Consider yourselves warned.

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Some thoughts on foods that are round.

Up first is this lovely looking pie. A Happy Birthday pie for Daddio who much prefers pie to cake. A Happy Birthday Rhubarb pie. Rhubarb from our very own garden,and the very first time I’ve been able to walk outside and cut my own. Which is surprising, even to me now, considering our undying fondness for the tart stalks. Grandma had repeatedly offered plants from her stash to get us started on our own patch, but just as I thought we were ready to take her up on this offer, we would plan another move. But this move has landed us in a hotbed of rhubarb and asparagus, both of which we’ve been enjoying in sporadic bursts of delight. Isadora is now trained in the hunt for asparagus and yesterday pointed out that the clown on her water glass was holding stalks of it in each hand. I don’t think that was the artist’s intent, but we were pretty proud of her interpretation.

So, fresh rhubarb in hand, we set out to make a pie for Daddio. I thought I’d try a new recipe, one that required a top and bottom crust, and proceeded to grab the butter as a substitution for the shortening, like I always do. (I don’t do shortening, ever. Weirds me out.) But wait. I do have that lard in the fridge. Lard was the precursor to shortening, right? And I know exactly where it came from, so I definitely was not weirded out. Perfect! Who KNEW I’d find so many uses for my lard?

I should explain. We’ve got pig connections – bought a hog, had it butchered, packed it into our freezer. Butcher said “Want the lard?” I said “Hell yeah!” Brother-in-Law also had a hog. “Want the lard?” “Hell yeah!” Hence 20 something pounds in the freezer. Why the lard? I had heard that it was wonderful for making herbal salves – you know, the kind you don’t eat. I never considered that we’d actually be eating it. But I also happened to be reading Mexican Everyday, by Rick Bayless, who’s instructions for cooking beans called for lard. Lard was inserted, we didn’t die of heart disease, and all preconceptions about lard were conveniently discarded or swept under the rug.

Enter lard into aforementioned pie. Big mistake. At least with this lard. I’m completely ignorant about the rendering or refining of lard, but I’m going to venture a guess that this hasn’t been rendered to the highest degree. As it was going into the mixing bowl, I thought, with the slightest bit of alarm, Smells like bacon grease. But that will bake out, right? Wrong. Happy Birthday, Dear. Here’s your pork pie. We love you.

But he doesn’t hold a grudge. On Mother’s Day, he ventured out to the same patch of stalk-y goodness in our garden, with a chubby little hand in his, and cut some fresh asparagus for a Mother’s Day Brunch Feast. And whipped up this quiche from said asparagus, fresh Lovely Lady eggs, and pork sausage from the freezer, all from our very own bounty. Yep. This was what we were after – the dual satisfaction of a delicious meal prepared with love and enjoyed with family and the immense satisfaction of procuring the ingredients from our very own store.

Did I mention that it was his first quiche ever? I am a lucky, lucky woman.

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