Thursday, November 29, 2007

Say Yeah! for the dandelion

Supposedly the dandelion can be traced to Eurasia, where the Chinese first used it to cure ailments. Another theory is that Arabs were second to apply dandelions in this way, using them by the 11th century and that they possibly introduced Europeans to the plant's medicinal benefits. Though eaten and used for a variety of reason generally the Anglo-Saxons and Normans used it to prevent scurvy. It is because of this reason that the dandelion supposedly made it to America, coming with the first travelers and explorers. Maybe on purpose or maybe stuck to their clothes or with seeds stowing away. However it is, the consensus is that dandelions were not original to North America.

I did some digging and found the nutritional information of dandelions and they do seem to be pretty "tasty" sounding :-)

  • 3.1 mg iron.
  • 397 mg potassium.
  • 9.2 g carbohydrates.
  • 2.7 g protein.
  • 66 mg phosphorus.
  • 187 mg calcium.
  • 76 mg sodium.
  • 36 mg magnesium.
  • 14,000 IUs vitamin A

In Canada, the plant's roots are registered as a drug. They are used to treat conditions such as anemia, kidney disease, jaundice, arthritis, respiratory infections and gallstones, to name a few of many uses. Dandelions are also known to reduce obesity. In scientific studies, rats and humans injected with dandelion lost up to 30 per cent of their body weight.

So maybe we should all plant a bed in our veggie garden and cook them up. Sounds like we could be just a bit healthier for it.

Disregarding all the good health benefits most people consider dandelions as nothing more than a pernicious weed to be eradicated by use of poisons and possibly pulling. But they need not be considered the pest that all think them to be even if we don't eat them. Dandelions have their place in the eco system and if you consider what they do--- there are good reasons to keep them around. Maybe not in your favorite flower bed---but the yard may not be to bad a place for them to live.

Dandelions have long deep tap roots which is why they are so difficult to pull. The translation from Chinese for their name is "coffin nail" because they are so stubborn and difficult to remove without breaking. If you do pull them the leftover pieces will sprout---but with less strength---and over time with more pulling they will die out. Just don't let them go to seed---the downfall of many a gardener!

There are soil benefits associated with these long tap roots though. One is that they bring up minerals from deep within the soil and another is that they break up soils allowing for water to make it's way down. Anything that helps water make its way into the soil and not end up as runoff is good for our plants and the eco system. Another pro of dandelions is that earthworms love them. Supposedly dandelions are good humus producers so the worm congregate around them as they work to improve your soil. Anything that encourages worm has to be good right?

Unfortunately there is one con of dandelions but it's not the commonly heard "they steal water from your lawn". It is that dandelions exhale ethylene gas which limits both the height and growth of neighboring plants. A good reason to keep them from your veggie bed but maybe not so big a deal in your lawn---especially if you are the person that mows.

Even if you decide you still don't like dandelions after this post, and maybe you are pretty sure you will never grow them to eat, knowing why a weed grows in your yard can help you be a better gardener. As we all know when we garden, good soil makes a huge difference in how hard we work, how well our plants do and the also how healthy our plants (and us when we eat them) will be. Many weeds are just "symptoms" of a problem and if we fix the problem we will be better off for it. Here is a quick article pasted below. There are also books on this subject---here's one "Weeds: friend or foe" --but I am sure there are other titles. Look around though and you can generally find good information on WHY you have a particular weed. Study your weeds---make sure you know what they really are, not just what you think they are called.

Using the knowledge of weeds can assist you in your gardening efforts in two ways by planting crops that thrive in the soil conditions indicated by your weeds or provide soil with the appropriate amendments to balance out the soil conditions.
When using weed information, remember to look for large populations of the weed, one plant is not indicative of the whole situation. Also look for another weed that like the same conditions as your indicator weed, this will give you verification or proof of the soil condition. An example is the dandelion and common mullein both indicators of acidic soils. Common mullein can also mean a soil with poor fertility so if you see it alone it may mean several things by with dandelions you know the soil is acidic. Keep in mind the health of the weed plant, a nice healthy stand of clover may indicate soil that lacks nitrogen whereas the same weed will grow in soil that has adequate nitrogen but look much less vigorous.
Soggy or Swampy Soils: If you see Dock, Horsetail, Foxtails, Willows, Ox-eye Daisy,
Goldenrod, Poison Hemlock, Rushes, Sedges and Joe-pye you can expect soil in that area to experience SOGGY OR SWAMPY conditions at some time of the year. Wet spots are obvious during the rainy season but could appear fairly dry at other times. These weeds are excellent indicators that the area will be soggy at some time during the year. It is best in these soil conditions to plant items that enjoy these soil conditions. It is almost always too much work to correct successfully (Mother Nature has her reasons, you know).
Compacted Soils: Chicory and Bindweed are indicators of COMPACTED soil. White lupines and sweet clover are two cover crops that have roots as strong as the pesky chicory and will thrive in compacted soil and break up the soil as they grow.
Crusty Soils: Quack grass or ones from the Mustard Family just love CRUSTY type soils.
Crops to plant her would be cultivated mustards, choys, broccoli, cabbage and cauliflower.
These crop plants can push through crusty soils with ease. Compost can be used as an aerator of compacted or crusty soils. Also be sure that the soil is dry enough before you start working it.
Acidic Soils: Dandelions, Sorrel, Mullein, Stinging Nettle and Wild Pansy all thrive in ACIDIC soils (pH below 7.0). You may wish to take advantage of this acidic soil by planting plants that thrive in acidic conditions like hydrangeas, blueberries, rhododendrons and azaleas or endive, rhubarb, shallots, sweet potatoes, regular potatoes and watermelon.
These plants tolerate soil with a pH as low as 5. Applying lime will bring up the pH also using woodstove or fireplace ashes will bring up the pH.
Alkaline Soils: Field Peppergrass, Salad Burnet, Scarlet Pimpernel, Campion, Stinkweed and Nodding Thistle all indicate an ALKALINE soil (pH higher than 7.0). Asparagus, broccoli, beets, muskmelons, lettuce, onions and spinach all do well in alkaline soils.
Adding peat moss, elemental sulfur or lots of compost will help bring the pH back into balance.
Poor Soils: Daisies, Wild Carrot, Mugwort, Common Mullein, Wild Parsnip, Wild
Radish, and Biennial Wormwood are all signs of POOR soil fertility. Beets, carrots, parsnips, peas, beans, legumes, radishes, sage and thyme will all tolerate poor soil conditions. To improve the fertility, compost or manure (nitrogen), bone meal (phosphorus), and kelp meal (potassium) can be added as necessary.
Fertile Soils: Chickweed, Henbit and Lamb's Quarter just love very FERTILE soils.
Redroot pigweed indicates an abundance of nitrogen, red clover indicates an excess of potassium, purslane and mustard indicates an abundance of phosphorus. Corn, broccoli, lettuce, melons, squash, tomatoes and peppers are all heavy feeders and thrive in fertile soils.
Other Uses: Keep in mind that weeds can be used as you would any green manure crop that is intentionally seeded. Weeds help stop erosion, and the deep roots help loosen the soil better than the usual cover crops and grab nutrients deep down below the surface, far beyond the grasp of most traditional cover crops. It is best if they are cut or tilled in before they go to seed.
The flowers of many weeds provide essential nectar and pollen, foods that beneficial insects need to complete their life cycle. The beneficial insects are the ones that take care of the bad ones.
Remember too, some insect pests would actually prefer to dine on weeds rather than your deliberately planted crops, if given the choice. So consider using some of your weeds as a companion to some of your crops. Also, many weeds are considered herbs and can be harvested for their special properties and used for herbal teas or used as remedies such as Mullein, Wormwood, Chickweed, Joe-pye and Dandelion.

Also--the last paragraph in that article brings up a good point. You can pick "weeds" such as dandelions, chop them up, soak them in water or even compost/manure tea----and then spray them on your plants for a mineral boost. Yum! good for your plants. Helps them defend their selves against pests and disease.

So the next time you look at your weeds and hate them----figure out first if maybe they just might be helping you (and you didn't even know it!).

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Unity 08---have you heard about it?

Until the other night I had never heard of Unity 08, not surprising considering the media rarely gives news coverage to anything they deem not worthwhile. I happened to have the t.v on the channel that the Colbert Report comes on and I saw that Sam Waterston (from Law and Order) was on. So I didn't change the channel. During the jokes by Colbert, Sam Waterston brought up what he hoped would be the changing force of this next election--Unity 08.

And though the media seems to be ignoring it--- this IS worthwhile (more so that why some movie star landed in jail). Unity 08 is an organization that is trying to get enough people together by June 08 to get an "independent" on the Presidential ticket.
Which independent you ask? No one knows yet. That's the whole point---we get to choose. In June 08 they are supposedly hosting an on line forum where members can vote on who will run. You can also submit what YOU think the most talked about issues should be. Don't give a crap about some of these idiotic issues that seem to come up during every debate? Tired of hearing the candidates spend the majority of the time slinging mud at each other while making vague references to some grand new scheme to solve some non defined issue because they don't want to be "pinned" down to having really said anything?
DO care about energy independence or health care or lobby reform or poverty or many many other things? Then go to the web site and take a look. That's it---just a look. They don't require that you donate----but of course you can. They don't require that you commit to any one specific issue or candidate---but you can.

Then---if you like what you see and read---pass it along so more and more people can find out about this. Maybe we can make a difference yet. That's what I hope since I have to admit there isn't one candidate yet that I can say I am joyous about. A couple are interesting---but the media decided a long time ago that they weren't worth while so there for no one hears much about them. The media has made the decision for us. If left to them it will be Hillary or Obama for the dems and for the republicans: Guilliani or Romney.

BUT I don't want any of them really---so I will go with another team at least for now. Even if Unity 08 fails to achieve it's goal I will be no worse off than I was before trying since the choices were picked long ago. Even if you vote in the primaries---you aren't really choosing. Someone else chose long ago. You're just deciding on which one of someone else's choices.
Are we a democratic country where anyone can run? Well, let's see. Here's what wikpedia says about the emergence of the two party system:

America's first President George Washington, did not belong to a political party. This made him America's only independent (no party) president. Most of America's founding fathers were opposed to political parties, and wanted none of them in the U.S.

America's first political party was the Federalist Party founded by Alexander Hamilton in 1792. The Federalists favored a strong central government ruled by a wealthy educated elite, a national bank, strong military, treaty with Britain, and fewer rights for states and most citizens. Federalists controlled the government until 1801. George Washington supported many Federalist policies. America's second President John Adams was a member of the Federalist Party.

America's second political party was the Democratic-Republican Party, founded by Thomas Jefferson and James Madison in 1792 in order to oppose the policies of the Federalists. This is when the two party system began in the U.S. Jefferson was reluctant to create a party because he was opposed to political parties in general, and their power struggles over the government, but he felt that he had to protect the rights of citizens. The Democratic-Republican Party's policies were often opposite to Federalist policies. The party opposed the treaty with Britain, defended the Constitution, denounced the national bank, and promoted citizen's and states' rights. It became the dominant political party in the United States from 1800 until the 1820s, when it split into competing factions, one of which became the modern-day Democratic Party.

Therefore, the two party system in the U.S. occurred to prevent one party from gaining too much power, by creating a second party with opposite policies.

You can read more about the advantage and disadvantage at wikpedia.

But why always stay with a two party system? Why is it so hard for other parties to rise or fall ? Well, there is a "law" (as in Murphy's law) about that too and here it is: Duverger's law -- also taken from wikpedia.
Happy reading---remember the best citizen is an informed citizen (and a voting citizen!)

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Some fall/winter gardening

Here is a picture of one of my cold frames with some lettuce growing happily (so far) in it. I have two cold frames---the second is taller than this one with sides made from 2 x 12's. In the second I have onions, kale and carrots. They could both be slightly improved with a coat of white paint on the inside but I have just NOT gotten to it---maybe this next summer.

Anyway, growing in these two frames this year was somewhat of an experiment since I started very very late with my seeding. The beginning of November if I remember correctly. For some reason I did not write it down like I am suppose to. With that late of a start I was not sure if the plants would actually sprout and grow well but so far so good. The kale and onions are taking a bit longer but the carrots and lettuce are growing quickly considering the amount of light we get. Somewhat helpful has been the weather which has been optimum for cold frame use: not to hot and not so cold I have to also blanket them. I have had to vent a few times---even removing the glass on a few days all together when we got some high 60's---but overall not much care has been needed. They're ideally located next to some of the animals that are fed twice a day so I can open and close them without forgetting---which is always something I have to consider since I forget very very easily.

Cold frames are something every gardener should have---at least one anyway---since they are great for that early season start of veggies in the spring: carrots, onions, kale, broccoli, cabbages lettuce, chard etc. and for late season starting of fall crops of the same or similar plants. In the late summer/early fall it is easy enough to use the cold frame with, not glass, but burlap across the top to provide shade. Either "hoop" some metal or plastic and drape it or lay some boards across the frame to hold it off the plants. Burlap is great for shielding plants and if you bring it in when your done with it you can use it for many seasons. I use wire mesh sold in rolls at the hardware store. Not the super small squares like you would use for bunny pens but the kind with opening about 2 inch by 2 inch. It is flexible--but still stiff and shape holding. It comes in 2 and 4 foot heights. I usually buy four foot but not always. Cut off the amount you need with a pair of pliers that have "wire nips" on them and then bend it in an arch. Because of the grid work it is easy to use string or wire twists to hold on the burlap or even cloths pins. When not in use stack them in an unobtrusive area until the fall when you can use them to drape frost fabric "cloche style" over them for late start plants. A cold frame allows for a warmer climate than this cloche type does---but both have their place in the garden.

There are many web sites and books that address cold frames, heat beds (warmed by electricity or manure), and various cloches. Check them out and if you don't do wood working---ask a neighbor or friend to help you. Or purchase simple tools that are not intimidating to use like a jigsaw and hammer and nails which will easily allow you to build one yourself. The investment of $40 dollars in tools is repaid by the use you get out of them again and again.

Oh yes: here's a cool summer cloche for bird protection or that bit of additional shade for transplants. Though I couldn't find an American supplier I think that transferring that idea to yard sale baskets with some slats taken out could work just fine.

My next picture is of our oink Pumpkin (the guinea hog). Who has, you will notice, a white stripe painted on her back---thanks to my DH while he was painting the front of her house.
The reason I put her picture up there was not so you could appreciate her beautiful new stripe but to show you how good of a tiller she is. Now, when it rains--she's at her best. When the soil is dry it takes her a while longer. Though there could be times when we may run out of tilling areas during a time of prolonged growth (as in the middle of the summer) it seems that with a small pig, such as she is, the winter will work out well to move her around to weed,till and get rid of pernicious weeds and stir in green manure crops and such. Unfortunately I didn't put any clover/vetch/rye etc in this fall because of the lack of rain but I have the seed and this next spring (if it rains like it is suppose to) I will. Pumpkin should be very helpful then as sometimes I find that, even when dried down, the rye and vetch (and even the clover sometimes) tangle in the blades of the tiller. I have shoulder problems so hand turning can be difficult for me at times---hence my reliance on a gas powered engine.
One thing we have noticed is that she doesn't like the potatoes or peanuts she digs up. Hmmmm...maybe with time.

The last picture is for the out of town person. Taken at same time as yesterday approximately. The picture is too small to see---but the log is floating by the Cypress tree.

Monday, November 26, 2007

The Pond

Just a few pics of our pond for someone out of town to see.(Taken at 1:15 this afternoon).
We have had a bit of trouble with water and our pond this year---the drought of course. Never ever empty since the early 70's when it was dug---this year it has been dry (bone dry) since late May and very very low since last summer. Occasionally we have gotten a bit of rain and the bottom has held water for a few days only to dry up again.
These pics show our pond after yesterday and today's rains with the most water it has had since.......about.....last fall maybe. Hopefully the bottom is not permanently damaged from drying out so that it will have to be re dug. Hopefully it will keep at least some of this water. I know it will shrink a bit---it has to---since the bottom was so dry I am sure it requires a fair bit of water to re-establish itself.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Rendering Lard

This weekend we finally got our hog picked up that we have purchased from Sequatchie Cove Farm. They are a local, grass fed and organic farm that raises beef, lamb and pork. We have bought grass fed beef before but never pork and of course we raise our own lamb. Maybe someday our "mini" guinea hog will be able to supply us with babies to eat but currently---it's a no go. So we buy from others when we can.
And though this post is about rendering lard I just wanted to say that the pork chops and their surrounding of heritage pig fat---was outstanding. To die for. Magnificent. I ate all my meat along with every bite of the edging of fat---which I usually hate. The flavor was mmm mmm good. I don't know if I will ever be able to go back to store bought pork. I can't wait to eat them again. I never knew fat could be so darn flavorful and delicious. I could get fat with my new enjoyment of grass fed pork.

Originally when we put in our order for our hog, I was asked how I wanted my hog cut and at that time I put in a request for the lard from my hog also. They thought it an odd request but hey---the customer is always right aye?
My thought though was what better substitute for the crisco in my baked goods. Yes, I know some people just can't imagine eating "lard" (leaf or other fat) in their baked goods but our farming forefathers did for eons. It's natural and good for you and something we shouldn't be scared of. Remember the same "organization" that tells us raw milk is very very bad for us also was the original that told us fat was too. The health industry now realizes if that if ingested within moderation that it may not be as bad for us as originally thought. Of course there is a large difference between grain fed and finished meat/fat versus pasture raised meat/fat which we need to keep in mind when discussing this topic. Supposedly grain finished livestock fat and meat is not as good for you. A topic that has much written about it.
I was curious though about how bad my lard was for me compared to butter or crisco, which would be my normal substitute, and here is what I found out.

1 Tbsp of butter has 0.4g polyunsaturated; 3g monounsaturated; 7.3g saturated.
1Tbsp of lard has 1.4g polyunsaturated; 5.8g monounsaturated; 5g saturated.
1 Tbsp of olive oil has 0.5g polyunsaturated; 3.3g monounsaturated; .6g saturated
1Tbsp of crisco has 4.6g polyunsaturated; 5.2g monounsaturated; 2.3g saturated

Olive oil wins overall but you can't use it to make great flaky biscuits or pie crusts. However when it comes to using the lard instead of Crisco---the benefits in my opinion are obvious. Another thing to consider is that my information was taken from the USDA site. Did they use grass fed cows for that butter? Or grass fed pork for that lard? I doubt it. Crisco also now has "trans fat free" crisco but we are still talking about a corn product which is absolutely GM corn and not organically grown versus a fat from an organically raised pig. There is nothing gross about that at all---but there is something gross about that corn product.

So, now a short tutorial on rendering pig lard. Leaf is the best lard---it is from the area around the kidneys of the animal (beef and sheep also have this nice fine lard but it is called suet for them) and is the best most "flavor free" lard. Then there is also lard from other parts of the body. If you use the other fat from a pig, it can potentially give you a slight "piggy" flavor so be aware of this when choosing and buying your fat to render. Some things are fine with that bit of flavor---but maybe not your apple pie.

To render lard, just chop it up the best you can (smaller pieces will render faster) and put it in a heavy pot with a bit of water on the bottom. Put the pot on low heat or in the oven on about 225.

Stir as often as you can remember. It will take hours to render. You can speed the process up a little by squishing the whole bit with a potato masher once it’s started to melt. (their funky when you squoosh them---but watch out don't get burnt!)

During this part don’t be tempted to turn the heat up---you could burn the fat or make it strong tasting. Nice and slow is the key here. By the way this is good for a cold day to help warm your house.

When the un melted bits start to sink, strain off the nice, clear lard using cheese cloth and put it into some jars. Canning jars are great for this. Fill to within about an inch and half and then cool. You can store them in the fridge for a few months or in the freezer pretty much indefinitley. Better yet---give some as gifts and remake a new batch a couple times a year.

If it looks like there’s still a lot of fat on what’s left, put it back on the heat to render some more. This second batch will be stronger tasting than the first (the first batch is your pie crust batch) but still useful for things like cornbread and greens—and frying, of course.

I forgot where my cheese cloth was so I don't have any strained pictures to show---I will finish tomorrow :-) Also, though you can use all the "leftover" bits for breads, soups, greens etc (many ideas abound for making use of every last bit) your chickens or other feathered friends like them just fine too. So feed away!

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Puttin' my baby to bed

My twin fig trees became a single this year as one was injured by the late frost and then never was able to bounce back with the ongoing drought we have had. Normally dry weather would not worry me in regards to figs but obviously it can be a concern. One I will take much more seriously from now on. Even though I did water it it must not have been enough. It tried to make one futile come back and then "bam" it was gone again. To bad.

The one thing I do consider in regards to figs is freezing weather though. Always a concern with figs unless you live somewhere in zone 8 or so. My husbands grandmother did and WOW! she had a fig tree that you could climb in it was so big and green with leaves almost the whole year. However I don't live in zone 8---though I think global warming (or natural warming---whatever you want to call it) is trying to put me there.
Here is my 7A climate my brown turkey is one of the hardier figs that are grown and generally make it o.k without extreme protection. None of those burlap cages and blankets and rugs some people have to do. Sometimes we can even get a breba crop---but not always. That's o.k though for me---they are never quite as good as the late summer crop.

Recently I read on line about a man that successfully winters his figs through his zone 5 climate by putting a foot and a half of partial composted manure on top of the root zone come fall. So, I thought, why not try it myself and see if I liked it better or worse than the other way we have always over wintered our figs. By the way---our other way has always been do nothing really. If nothing else I thought it will have all that fertility to help it out this next year. So I put down about 3 inches (in a 4 foot circle) of pure dried sheep manure----courtesy of my dam where there is not grass and raking up the poo is easy. Then my son cleaned out my hay feeding area in my barn for me and I got the rest of my hay/manure to finish off my pile. In the picture---with Maggie my jackie wa wa as she is known here----it doesn't look that tall. It is though and that's after I walked on it to "squoosh" it down.

There are some potential drawbacks to using such a deep mulch of which the top and most important would be creating a habitat for voles and mice. These bad little critters could potential chew on my plant over the winter and possibly kill it. Unfortunately I have both of them but I also have an extremely tenacious, patient cat when it comes to hunting these guys. I will have to keep a good eye out for these little bad un's and make sure my cat is pulling his weight. Since right through that area is where he likes to do his "number 2 job" I would imagine it will be o.k. if I where to guess (which I am).

The second drawback is that it could keep the soil cooler underneath thus slowing the beginning spring growth. This particular drawback might actually work in my favor by keeping my plant from growing to soon and getting burnt by late frosts---like we had this year. I can also choose when to pull back the mulch to allow the soil around the tree to begin warming up, so again---not that much of a detriment in my opinion.

My one tree did well this past year considering and even tried to crop me some figs---but they didn't have time to ripen. It was so small of a tree for so long it just wasn't able to start soon enough in the year to have time to ripen them. I think it was the first to middle of October when I saw them starting---maybe even a bit later. They are still on the tree---sans leaves---but obviously will not finish so no homemade fig newton cookies for me. Or worse---no dried figs for my homemade focaccia with mascarpone cheese.

Come spring hopefully I will pull back that deep mulch, find nice un-chewed limbs down there, and take some cuttings. A whole row of figs is what I desire since really having one tree is like having one blueberry bush----there's just not enough to do much with.

By the way speaking of spring---I received my first seed catalog today. My they are starting soon----kind of like Christmas stuff in October. Tisk Tisk. It came from Pinetree Garden Seeds. I don't think I have ordered from them but there is the link in case anyone is interested. I don't know what they specialize in or if they are predominately organic or what since I haven't had a chance to view the catalog.

Happy Thanksgiving!!

Monday, November 19, 2007

Making Tiles

Back on July 4th (was it that long ago!) I posted about how I would like to tile my kitchen. Well, after much deliberation, and procrastination, I changed my mind. I thought maybe I might be going a bit to wild if I tiled the way I originally thought I might like to do.
I decided that a mixed up colored mosaic would probably be just fine and maybe a bit more conservative considering the colors I was using :-)
I had put off making the tiles because I wasn't exactly sure how to do about 120 sheets (each 12" x 12") of mosaics.
Now that we are having family come at Christmas I decided it was a do it "now or never" endeavor. (Good rhyme ) So I looked on line to find out exactly what to stick these tiles to as I make each sheet. The lower cost alternative seems to be contact paper---the kind used to line drawers with. While looking in some of the on line stores specializing in mosaic art I also found a plastic grid, 12" x 12" wide, that holds the tiles in place until you place the contact paper (or whatever you use) to hold them until the actual tiling job. Since it was only 9.95 plus a couple dollars shipping I purchased it hoping that it would make this whole business way way easier. After it got here (in about a week) I went to the store and bought a couple rolls of contact paper. Then the hard part began.
First I had to figure exactly how many tiles of each color I had so that I can makes sure the tiles have about the same percentage of each color. I don't want some to be all greens and others all blue----I wanted it a bit more overall uniformity with all my colors.
Then, I had to soak the tiles color by color to remove the backing paper. I did a few sheets at a time depending on how many tiles per square I needed. Case in only requires 2 little three quarter inch tiles per foot square. But the darker green needs 50. So I only soaked a half a sheet of red versus the many many sheets I needed for my much bigger pile of dark green.
My next step is to count out tiles for each square. I am using a handy chart I made up with one of each color tile taped to a board and the number needed written beside it. I am using 13 colors and it can get confusing trying to remember how many of each since about half the colors are shades of blue or green. As I count them I put them into 10 sandwich baggies I have been using over and over. Fill, make, re fill, make, re fill, make, re fill. A bit tedious to say the least but....each tile would have cost 10 dollars more per tile to have the company do it. Now that is not why I did this though---originally I was only going to have one (just one, not 13) colors of tile. So it kind of snowballed to say the least. However since it takes me about 15 minutes to make one after prepping the tiles (which doesn't take long either) it has worked out o.k.
So I added some picture of my finished stacks, along with the grid we have been using. I have to admit the grid has been GREAT for doing this ---I wish I had bought two so my husband could do it too. It also had one more un intended benefit----it helped us to decide grout color. I would have chosen white however when we viewed the tiles in the black grid we realized that black grout would look much nicer over all. So we will eventually get them up and grout it with black---not white. The one thing I hate about the fact that it looks good with black is that black grout is awful to use. Very difficult to clean off the tiles and I don't look forward to it----but I must persevere for the sake of a beautiful kitchen wall.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Poppy seed bagels and how to grow them

My most favorite bagel has always been plain with poppy seeds. I like poppy seeds so much that I keep an extra jar of them to sprinkle into the melting butter on my bagel after I toast it. Yum! Besides eating them though, another reason to grow them is for their beauty.
Years and years ago we went to the "hill country" of Texas to visit The Antique Rose Emporium (they mail order but go to the link and look at the wonderful pics of their garden) and purchase some old rose varieties. They had the most magnificent display of double flowered poppies I had ever seen. Gorgeous.
So, this year I decided for the second time in my life, the first being a failure, to grow bread seed poppies to supply myself ,and only myself, with organic poppies for my bagels. Since no one else in my family really likes them, they will be mine all mine.

Most poppies are predominately organically grown--- they don't really have many bugs that eat them ---so they are not sprayed with poisons. However they do use chemical fertilizers to grow them so that is why I would like to try and grow my own---completely organic. The only way to go of course.
So, recently I selected a few for the beauty of their flowers and I received the seeds not to long ago in the mail. In the next months or so it will be about time to plant them so I am gathering together my sowing information, supplies and techniques so I will get the best germination rate I can. I do have a few in my garden already (one color only and no doubles) and they will begin to appear in the not to distant future to live through the winter and flower early in the spring. When I see them---I will plant my others.

I purchased a number of different colors and styles including annual poppy somniferum: double black and hens and chicks. I also have papaver paeniflorum (peony flowered) bombast rose, bombast red and antique flemish. Lastly I am growing a perennial poppy (papaver orientalis) called coral reef. Supposedly all poppy seeds are edible but traditionally papaver somniferum and it's very close kissing cousin papaver paeniflorum are used for the seeds we buy in the stores and get on our pre made bread products.

Though there are many many different varieties of poppies, when you speak poppies most people immediately think of the the variety grown for opium. That would be the species somniferum. This poppy has a latex containing several important alkaloids in the immature seed capsules. Cuts are made in the walls of the green seed pods to collect the milky exudation to be dried out and used for medical reasons. The plant itself is one of the most important medicinal plants in the world. 6 alkaloids are collected from the dried out portion of the milky exudation and all 6 are used medically.
Papaver somniferum is a self-seeding annual. It is a true annual in that it grows, flowers, sets seeds, and dies in a single season. It is distinctly different looking from Papaver orientale, which is a perennial, so anyone who knows poppies will know it is not "that" species. People who are unfamiliar with the genus don't have any idea of what it is.
According to the many stores of drug testing at work you will hear both "no, the poppies in bread won't test you positive" and "yes, they will".
Opium poppy seeds have been tested many times. However in the not to distant past supposedly Myth Busters (the t.v. show on sci-fi channel) dealt with this issue and laid it to rest by finding that "yes, it will show up" in a drug test if you eat poppy seed breads, rolls, or muffins. Supposedly it only takes a couple of bagels/rolls. So---if you eat them don't do it the day before your drug test :-)

Two things I would like to leave you with before you go are:

A really good article from Harper's Magazine on growing poppies. It is about a man who got in trouble for it. Written back in the late 1990's I believe it is long, but interesting. It is entitled "Opium made easy" and written by Michael Pollan. I am almost positive it is the same Michael Pollan that wrote "The Omnivores Dilemma".

And also a super great seed germination guide and site called Tom Clothier's Garden Walk. It tells temperature, light or darkness requirements, length to average germination and any other special requirements like stratification of perennials, annuals, tree seeds etc. The list of plants (in latin) is very extensive so well worth printing it out for future use. It also has lots of other article on soil mixes, pests and on and on. Good link I thought since heat and light go a long way in determining how well your seeds germinate.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Lions for Lambs

While out of town (again) we took in a movie this past weekend. Lions for Lambs had come out and, though ambivalent about how enjoyable it would be, we spent the money and went to see it. As usual Meryl Streep gives an excellent performance as does Robert Redford and Tom Cruise. Though the movie is not "action packed" it does have one "on the edge of your seat" aspect that does not conclude until the end of the movie.

Though I had heard a few things about it (including that it was only mediocre and/or not very good) this movie was very interesting to me because it gave a different "perspective" on America and the Iraq war. As someone else pointed out "It asks questions that not only deserve to be asked, but heard" and " the film seeks to elevate the national discussion not only on the war in Iraq, but on the Americans at home who have chosen neither to participate nor to protest" That latter quote was the part that intrigued me the most and caused the greatest discussion in my family afterward.

The movie was well done in the sense that I felt it was not Democratic, left leaning, right leaning, conservative, liberal, pro this or pro that. It told some "things" that have and do effect us as a society and pokes it's finger into all our eyes. It leaves no one unscathed---we are all part of the problem and part of the solution of our political situation then, now and in the future.

In the movie the title "Lions for Lambs" is explained as brave soldiers (lions) being led by weak men (lambs). The quote supposedly came from a German soldier/commander during WWI explaining the bravery of the British soldiers even though their commanders were idiots and sent them as fodder for cannons. The title though is a misquote. The original quote is "Lions led by Donkeys". Robert Redford has been accused of not catching the misquote but I think it probably had to do with the connection of donkeys and democrats---so was changed to keep any form of direct "blame" from the film. As we all know---everyone would have been screaming about that, and that only, if it hadn't been changed. He probably felt it better to get knocked on the head for a slight misquote than the connection with a political party aspect.

Anyway---a good political movie, if that type of film is up your road at all. Try it out---you may like it and-- it will definitely leave you with something to think and talk about in your own home.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Peanuts with Lard---Yum!

Well maybe not so tasty to me....but to the wild birds Yum!

Today I will make up some "suet" to put into my suet feeder outside. We have finally had a freeze---for better or worse.
Of course it's a late one since ours is suppose to be around the middle of October, but that is to be expected after the freaky weather we have been having over the past year or so.

I don't really feed the birds all year long but since we have so many beauties I do like to help them out in the winter. Especially after this year with the lower amounts of food that we notice are available after our unusual Easter freeze and then the drought. Sitings of bears are occurring in our area, which is odd, so we will have to be particularly careful this year. The bears are hungry though and I would help feed them if I could---but I know better than to do that. All I would create is a problem. (I do hope they stay away as I wouldn't want my sheep or guard dog injured).

So, as I was saying, today I will mix up some homemade suet and put it out for the birds. There are numerous sites with homemade suet mixes (some don't even use suet) but check out the Sialis link for many many recipes all "under one roof". It's a bluebird site---and a very good one---but the recipes work for any species of bird that eats suet type food. Another link is this Wildbirds forever site. The have a nice little link section to some of the more common birds you will see at a suet feeder.

We have the two birds shown in the pictures above come regularly throughout the year to our yard. I stole these pictures off of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology web site. It's a nice site to check out and look up many birds and see facts and hear their calls. The one with red on his head is a downy woodpecker and the other---standing upside down---is a nuthatch. The little nuthatch that called our yard home this year made his nest in our peach tree this spring. Unfortunately for him he didn't think through how often we would walk by this tree and ended up having to scold us incessantly each day. The main problem was that the tree he chose is at the corner of our garden and near our chicken coop---so of course we were there very very frequently :-)

So, now that we have had frost in most of the south AND snow up north---don't forget your little feathered friends. They can always use a bit of help when it's really really cold.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Let the breedings begin!

So this morning---after a bit of work over the weekend--- we have now officially begun our breeding season. Icelandic sheep are seasonal breeders and so they start "gearing up" in the fall, about September, as the days start to grow shorter. Then as we get into October and move to November the rams and the ewes (surprised?) will start to fight and jockey amongst their selves to reestablish and affirm their position in the group. While we wait for the true period of readiness--- we make lists and decide who will get to breed who.

One advantage we have always appreciated about this seasonal breeding aspect, is that we can put the ewes, rams and lambs together for most of the year--which is very convenient care wise. However, in the beginning of September, we do separate all the rams out from the ewes and give them their own pasture or pen. That way when we put them back together we know for sure who is the sire of which lambs. We like to choose the sire of each ewe's lambs based on the various aspects, both pro and con, of each sheep. I know they would probably like to choose for their self---but such is the life of a domesticated sheep.

Generally I would like the sheep to be separated into their respective breeding groups by the middle of October. This year though we have been so busy, and gone at times, that time started to race away as our rams languished in the ram pen and the girls in their own pasture.
So this weekend we finally finished fencing another part of our yard and we now have a small group there (in our back yard). Those are the sheep in the picture above. The brown sheep is my ram Guy and the white and black sheep are two of our ewes. Guy is three this year and we are breeding him again since he is by far one of the largest rams we have ever seen. The reason for him getting only two ewes though is that unfortunately his horns are actually "scurs". They are not fully formed horns---but he didn't' turn out polled either. Personally since we raise them for meat, parasite tolerance, and heat tolerance, horns really don't fit into the upper part of our breeding program. We do have to consider them though since others like them and we do sell some of our sheep for breeding. Guy is really a great sheep---so it's easy for us to overlook his horns.

We also have a larger group in our back pasture with our new ram Tex. He is being quite the vigilant guy back there even though he is just a 7 month old ram. He has been fighting with his girls (a natural occurrence each year as the young rams have to convince the older ewes they ARE in charge), keeping them grouped and not letting them spread out and checking religiously to make sure they haven't come into heat in the 5 minutes since he last checked. I am hoping in his vigilance that he might give me early lambs this next year. The very end of March and beginning of April would be my preference---but I don't always get what I want.

My last group is up in the "new ram pen". No longer new---but now used by the rams for the last few months it was a great place to send our last two ewes and their ram. We have two white ewes that may never, because of the way the color patterns in Icelandic sheep work, throw colored lambs for me. White is actually a pattern in Icelandic sheep---not a color. White pattern covers EVERYTHING. So if even one parent passes the white pattern---then the sheep will be white.
I think maybe my girls got that pattern twice, once from mom and once from dad, which means they will only be able to pass white making their lambs always...... white. Easy to understand right? It can seem confusing I know.
So, these two beauties are being bred to a ram that absolutely passes on color---Ike. At least then, though their lambs will be white, the lambs will have the potential to throw colored lambs in their future breedings. Ike also has magnificent heat tolerance. He sailed through this past summer even during our hottest of hot and driest of dry days, so we don't have a problem breeding these two "northern girls" to him at all. He also has the most fleece of all our sheep---so again, a nice thing to try and pass along.

So now the count down begins. From the day that the first ewe is bred I have 145 days until lambs arrive. Hopefully this year rain will arrive with my lambs ---unlike last year. It seems like a long time but with thanksgiving and xmas coming up it will go fairly quickly. It's the last month that always gets me---I am a fairly impatient person after all.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Hard Work

Aren't these flowers pretty? Just to let you know I didn't take these pictures but I got them from this web site on Crinums---which is the type of plant/bulb this is a picture of. My plant looks similar to the picture on the right---the striped one commonly known as "milk and wine" lily and it is the subject of this post.

The reason I titled this "hard work" is because today was the day to move my crinum. I have had my plant for a very long time, bringing it from Texas with me many years ago. It was originally given to me by an older neighbor while living there in our first home. My neighbor was a very kind older lady (her 79 to my 23) and she taught me much about gardening---peonies, poppies and greens to eat for starters--- and many other "things" that people of that age know. Luckily for me---she was mainly an organic gardener (to my completely organic) so I learned much from her. She also had the best compost pile ever----I still have never been able to equal the quality or quickness of hers.

Anyway, when we first moved to this house we planted the crinum lily---many times moved with us to each new home--- in what had lately become a inconvenient location. After a number of years living here,developing a garden and fencing----we found we had positioned the crinum in a difficult to navigate location. Constantly we were trying to mow around it---stuck out in the middle so to speak---and not chew off it's immensely long leaves. The leaves on my particular crinum can get about 6 feet long. They are strappy 6 foot leaves too----flopping all over the place like extra large noodles. Needless to say it needed to be moved ---however as I said previously: we procrastinated about it.

Why? Because the longer a crinum is ensconced in it's location---the harder it is to remove it. The bulbs grow very large---some as big as a bowling ball if left long enough AND they seem to navigate downwards the longer they are there. Also, they are very soft, fleshy bulbs---easily torn or squooshed so you have to be careful or you will rip them apart into a gelatinous mess (yes I have done that once).

So, to begin the removal I started with a set of post hole diggers. I dug 5 post holes each about a foot deep around 3/4 of the plant. Then, I connected all the post holes and chipped away the dirt so that I could see some of the main bulbs (and baby bulbs that had since grown up). Then I took my trusty shovel to the side without a hole and jumped and stomped until my shovel was buried. I then pried that "sucker" right out of the hole----were upon it fell over into the trench I had dug on the opposite side. Excellent! Actually the easiest removal I have done of it----practice makes perfect aye?

I then pried it into two pieces being careful not to tear up all the bulbs. As long as about half remains and some of the root section on it, it will do fine. I then replanted it along the fence to my garden. Voila! completely out of the way now.

Happily---my crinum does very well for me. Hardy at least to zone 6 and in some sheltered places to zone 5 they are quite the site once established. Here is an excellent article in Southern Living magazine with pictures too. You can sometimes see them in old home and farm yards ---they were immensely popular in the 40's and 50's. Probably because of their more "florida/tropical look" which was very popular then.
Crinums are beautiful, hardy, smell awesome and have blooms that are HUGE. Try them out if you can---you won't be disappointed at all. Yes, they are a bit expensive to start with but well well worth it. And as the gentlemen in the Southern Living article says "No crinum has ever died"---I'd say that pretty much sums up the ease of growing them.

New Link

Sorry to get on my "high horse" yet again----but I still need to harp on and on about the NAIS issue. If you still don't understand it and wonder why you should bother calling your representatives to tell them NO----here is an article that will give you yet another side to the story. It come from the Rural Vermont site which has some other interesting articles on site too. Check it out if you have time.

Letter to the Editor: Disease Response Methods are Overkill

October 18, 2007
Mike Eastman
Addison, Vermont

To the Editor:

I recently attended a meeting in Sheldon, Vermont, called “Planning to Survive an Agricultural Bio-Disaster.” It featured Dr. Steve van Wie, a retired veterinarian who had been sent to England during the 2001 foot and mouth disease (FMD) outbreak, to help kill livestock.

We learned that if one infected animal is found in a herd, then all cows, goats, sheep, llamas, alpacas and pigs within a 6.2 mile radius (the “Hot Zone”) are automatically killed, even if they are healthy and disease-free. We were shown a film taken while Dr. van Wie was over there, documenting the horrors of this response to the disease: livestock were killed and left dead, in barns or in outside barnyards, for “two or three weeks” until disposal crews could reach them. Barns and outbuildings were burned to the ground, to kill the virus. Six and a half million animals were killed, and over 80 farmers committed suicide.

We were told that there was a high risk of terrorists bringing FMD in, and that they’ve tried it this past winter. He said it was easy to do.

But what really made me angry, was the way farmers were treated afterward. They were paid a fraction of the value of their destroyed livestock, little or nothing for their burned buildings, and no compensation at all for lost income (it takes a year before a farm is allowed back in production, if it is able to recover at all).

After the meeting, I asked the speaker, “Shouldn’t you be giving this presentation to Congress, so that if it happens to us, we can be given the support we need?” He replied, “I like to stay out of politics, and anyway, it would cost our taxpayers too much.”

Well, this got me thinking. FMD is not a disease problem as much as it is a political problem. It seems to me that the “cure” is much more emotionally and economically devastating than the disease itself. Interestingly, Dr. van Wie said that during the 2001 outbreak in England, deer were not considered to be a problem because they just went into the woods, recovered on their own and apparently pose no risk of re-infection.

I can’t believe that, in the year 2007, we are still using such a Dark Ages approach to controlling a disease that poses absolutely zero risk to human health. In fact, it is only our “response” to FMD that makes terrorists want to bring it here in the first place. Hysteria, suicide, entire counties under lock-down and quarantine, flames and bullets flying everywhere: what else could a terrorist ask for? It is interesting that we have plenty of taxpayer dollars to fund the over-reactive, military style response our government says we need to control FMD, just none for the farmers.

According to agricultural experts, a system of national animal identification is the answer. This involves putting computer chips in all farm animals at birth, and entering them into a national database so their movements and location can be instantly tracked. That way, when it comes time to depopulate a hot zone, the pet llama or backyard beef won’t be overlooked, even as infected deer are allowed to roam free.

Aside from this absurdity, national animal ID will not stop repeated bioterrorist attacks on our agriculture or the illegal imports that might make it through our borders (pigs can get FMD from eating uncooked, infected meat).

I think Dr. Van Wie did an excellent job educating us to the horrors FMD would present to us as things now stand. Dr. Julie Smith of UVM, who was also speaking, outlined strategies she is working on to make Vermont biosecure, in the event FMD ever does reach the U.S. I thought this was a great first step, but until the government is required to fully compensate all farmers and livestock owners for the losses incurred to them by the “shock and awe” method of control we use now, a sane and nondestructive approach will never be found.


Mike Eastman