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Collection of strainers and colanders to clean seeds. Find these in your kitchen or at yard sales-BLOGIt is easy to talk about saving seeds and what a good thing it is to do. In fact, I wrote a whole book about that—Seed Libraries and other means of keeping seeds in the hands of the people. You will be able to read it when it becomes available in late January/early February 2015. I’ve been working on it all year and have now submitted it to New Society Publishers. In the coming months it will be going through the editing process and everything else involved in bringing a book to fruition. In Seed Libraries I give some tips about saving seeds, but it is not about the ins and outs of seed saving. Rather, it is about how to establish a community seed saving project and keep it going.

I thought I’d give you a preview of the photos that will appear on one of the eight color pages in my new book. You can read all you want about when to harvest the seeds, but when it comes right down to physically doing that, I’m sure you will have some questions. When saving seeds you need a way to separate the seeds from the chaff and you can do that using seed screens. As you will see, there are seed screen options to fit all budgets. The first photo shows my collection of colanders and strainers. You probably have these items in your kitchen already. When I visit yard sales I keep an eye out for ones that might have different size holes than what I already have. These work great and the price is right. However, the holes are not always the size I want to work with.

Homemade seed screens-BLOGThese two wood-framed screens were made with scrap wood and hardware cloth. The smaller one has ¼” holes and the larger one has ½” holes. The smaller one is borrowed from a friend. I made the larger one to facilitate working with beans and cowpeas. I can thresh the beans from the dried pods in an old pillowcase by hitting it with a piece of old broom handle. Everything gets poured out of the pillowcase onto the screen. The wood sides keep things contained so I don’t have pods and beans all over the place. When we moved to our five acre farm thirty years ago, I found an old screen like this in a shed. I made my new one to the same dimensions. I added the wooden blocks in the corners to strengthen the frame and to keep seeds from getting caught in the corners, and made a box to fit under the screen frame to catch the seeds.

With half-inch holes, some chaff comes through with the beans. Chaff that is smaller than the seeds can be quickly dispelled by pouring everything through a screen that is slightly smaller than the seed, holding the seed back and letting the chaff and dust through. I usually use this system for cowpeas and you would think that the quarter-inch screen would do that job for me, however I need something just a little smaller. Some of the cowpeas pass through the quarter-inch spaces. If I was trying to sort the seeds to save the largest, that would be an advantage.

Interchangeable sieves found at an Indian grocery store. Cost less than $15-BLOGThanks to my friend, Molly, I discovered the 4-in-one sieves that are available at Indian grocery stores. There is one stainless steel frame that is 8 ½” in diameter and four interchangeable screens—the holes in the largest are 1/8”. My interest in these screens is in working with the small seeds. Currently I have kale seeds to thresh with these screens. The screens are lightweight, don’t take up much space, and have the size holes that I want. For home use, this does well and should last a good while, but it is not going to stand up to the abuse that the screens in the first two photos will. At a cost of less than $15, these screens are a good deal.

Seed cleaning screens. Cost about $190-BLOGBy contrast, here is a professional set of eight screens that will take much handling for years to come. With eight different sized holes, you could surely find the size you needed. The price for these screens is about $190. With the other options available, you would have to be a serious seed saver to invest in something like this. Or maybe you just have more money than I do. These screens would be good for farms with many different people handling them and lots of seeds to thresh.

kale seeds-BLOGMy last photo is not in the book. It shows threshed kale seed put through the small yellow plastic strainer, with the pods left behind in the strainer. It works just fine! I acquired this strainer when my mother was going through her cupboard to give me a few things. I asked about the strainer and she said she didn’t think I would want it because it was plastic. She was right—I avoid plastic in my kitchen, but this strainer stays with my seed saving supplies. I like it because the holes are small rectangles, rather than circles. If you are a seed saver, take a look around your kitchen before you spend money on seed cleaning screens. What you need might already be there—at least to get you started.Homeplace Earth

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Floriani Red Flint and meal (L)-Bloody Butcher and meal (R)

Floriani Red Flint and meal (L)-Bloody Butcher and meal (R)

For some years now, during the Fridays in Lent, I have been only consuming what I’ve grown myself in my garden. You can read about my previous Homegrown Fridays here. I know from experience that this takes some concentration and dedication each Friday that I do this. We usually have something at a meal that comes from our garden or from a farmer we know personally, but limiting the meal to only what I’ve grown means no dairy products, no vinegar on the greens, and no olive oil. Also, this time of year if I’ve run out of potatoes and onions I have to buy them from the grocery store—something I’m not happy with. Last year, in spite of being terrifically busy writing Grow a Sustainable Diet, I kept to the Homegrown Fridays eating only what I had grown. This year I am deep into writing another book—Seed Libraries and other means of keeping seeds in the hands of the people. I really want to keep the momentum going on this newest book and decided to be kinder to myself and not be so distracted on Friday. Also, maybe if I back off a little on my self-imposed rules, others will find it more doable. Last year on my Homegrown Fridays 2013 post I invited comments from anyone who had tried the same thing and had no takers.

I’m still sticking to eating something that I’ve grown at each meal on the Fridays in Lent, unless I’m traveling and eating away from home. This year, however, the meals might also include some other ingredients. The stored staple crops I have available are the same as before—sweet potatoes, cowpeas, corn for cornmeal, garlic, peanuts, and maybe hazelnuts and walnuts. There are also greens from the garden, eggs from the chickens, dried and canned produce, and mead. Check my past Homegrown Fridays for examples of meals from only these ingredients.

This year I have some new additions. We made grape juice from our grapes in 2013. Not a lot, but some to save for Homegrown Friday breakfasts. Breakfast is still by the old rules. I have cornmeal mush cooked in water, rather than milk. The honey I put on it is a gift from my friend Angela’s bees (okay, so I bent the old rules a bit for breakfast since it’s not my honey). Our bees did not survive the winter in 2013 and, being so busy, we didn’t replace them. However, new bees are arriving this week. Yeah!

I tried a new corn in 2013 and find I like the taste a little better than Bloody Butcher. Floriani Red Flint corn didn’t yield as well as my tried-and-true Bloody Butcher that I’ve been growing for more than twenty years, so I’ll be working with it to see what I can do. I’ll be planting both varieties in 2014. When I first planted Bloody Butcher I had also planted a yellow variety that I don’t remember the name of. Bloody Butcher did much better than the yellow corn, so that’s what I stuck with. Since Floriani Red Flint and Bloody Butcher are both red corns, I was surprised at the difference in color when I ground them into cornmeal. You can see in the photo that Floriani Red Flint is yellow and the Bloody Butcher cornmeal is purple, which I was already familiar with.

cowpeas with dried tomatoes and onions

cowpeas with dried tomatoes and onions

Changing the rules gives me the opportunity to tell you about my dried tomatoes in olive oil. When I dry tomatoes in my solar dryers, sometimes there are ones that aren’t quite dry when the rest are. I put the not-quite-dry ones in a jar of olive oil that I keep in the refrigerator, adding tomatoes as I get them. An easy and tasty dish is to sauté a cut-up onion in the olive oil from that jar, along with some of the tomatoes. Add some cooked cowpeas until they’re heated through and there’s lunch. I often refer to those tomatoes as flavor bites and add them to scrambled eggs and quiche.

blessing_130516_A1-198x300If you’ve enjoyed following my Homegrown Fridays, you are going to love reading Blessing the Hands that Feed Us by Vicki Robin. If her name sounds familiar, you may know her as co-author of Your Money or Your Life. I read Blessing the Hands that Feed Us when it came out in January this year and thoroughly enjoyed it. Robin limited her diet to what was grown within 10 miles of her home for a month! It all began when a friend wanted to find someone to feed from her garden for a month and Robin, who refers to sustainability as an extreme sport, offered to give it a try. Before starting on this adventure she put some thought into it and decided to widen her diet to the ten miles to include dairy, eggs, and meat, but the bulk of her meals came from her friend’s garden. She allowed what she referred to as exotics—oil, lemons and limes, salt, a few Indian spices, and caffeine–which enhanced her meals. Giving yourself limits like this doesn’t so much limit you as it does open your heart and mind to so many more issues at hand. If you include exotics, how are the workers responsible for growing them and bringing them to you being treated? How is the soil that grows these things being treated? The food you get from local growers—how is it grown and are the growers getting a fair return for their labor, knowledge, and care? Is the treatment of the soil your food is grown in building the ecosystem for those living nearby and for the earth community at large?

One of the things that Robin brought up in her book was that as we go forth in these changing times we need to be operating out of love and not fear. I talked about that same thing in Grow a Sustainable Diet. Both books also talk about community. We do not live in a vacuum, needing to provide all of our own needs. Yes, on Homegrown Fridays I explore what it would be like if my diet only consisted of what I’d grown myself. I do that to bring my own focus to what is really important to me and examine what I really need. It deepens my appreciation for what I eat all the other days of the year and for the people and the land that supply what I can’t. When Angela gave me that quart of honey last summer, I truly valued it, knowing that my homegrown supply from the previous year would be running out. My Lenten Homegrown Fridays begin the thought process about what it would take to go forth in a peaceful, loving way that treasures all of life.Homeplace Earth

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4.1 How Much To Grow - BLOGHow Much to Grow is the title of Chapter 4 in Grow a Sustainable Diet. If your garden is small and whatever you get from it is a welcome addition to your table, you might not be concerned with exactly how many pounds are produced of anything. You are just happy to have homegrown food in your meals. If you want to be able to predict how much your harvest will be so you can plan to have a certain amount for your family to eat, you can put pencil to paper now and do some calculating.

butternut squash

butternut squash

Chapter 4 contains a worksheet (you see part of it here) to help with those calculations. (There is a link in the book that will take you to PDFs of all the worksheets so you can print them out.) Whether you are trying to decide how much to grow for your family or for your CSA, the process is the same. Decide how much you want for each week and how many weeks you will be eating it, or in the case of a CSA, how many weeks you need to put it in the CSA boxes. If you have no idea how many pounds of something you need, go to the grocery store and pick out a reasonable quantity for a meal in the produce department. Weigh it on the scale that is right there. Multiply that weight by how many meals per week that item will supply and you have the pounds needed per week. The number of weeks you want to eat something could be only the weeks it is fresh from the garden, or every week of the year if you are preserving for eating out of season. Rather than the weight, you may need to know the count; how many of something you will have, such as butternut squash. Sometimes you can find that information in the seed catalogs, and sometimes not. From my experience, I know that I can expect about 4 squash per plant. If the catalog doesn’t have that information for the variety you choose, read the description of all the varieties, as well as the specifics for each crop to get an estimate.

Finding out how much is needed is the easy part. You need to know how much you can grow in your area and pounds/100 ft² is a good universal measure to use. How to Grow More Vegetables by John Jeavons has Master Charts that can help you with that. The Master Charts have columns for Biointensive yields and for the US Average for each crop. Use those figures as guidelines. Your yield will depend on many factors, including your soil, climate, and management style. You might already know how much you can harvest in the area planted. If not, this exercise should encourage you to record your harvests this year, at least for the crops you are most interested in.

Mississippi Silver cowpeas

Mississippi Silver cowpeas

Remember the charts are only guidelines. For the Biointensive yield, the Master Charts give three numbers; the beginning yield that you could expect getting at some time, the intermediate yield that could be reached after good soil building, and a high yield that few might reach. The Biointensive yield of winter squash is shown as 50/100/350. There is no US Average shown in the Master Charts, but my research determines that number to be 49.5 pounds/100 ft². The target yield I use for butternut squash is 150 pounds/100 ft². I have reached that yield and sometimes higher in my garden. For cowpeas, the Biointensive yield is 2.4/4/5.9. The US Yield of cowpeas isn’t shown, but through my research I’ve determined it to be 2.6 pounds. I live in a great climate for cowpeas and have found I can use 5 pounds/100 ft² as my target yield. On the other hand, I would love to plan on getting 100 pounds/100 ft² regularly with my potatoes, but the voles keep the yield below that. The Biointensive yield for potatoes is 100/200/780 and the US Average is 84.2. Depending on the variety, I don’t always reach the low Biointensive yield of 100 pounds for tomatoes. The US Average for tomatoes is 67 pounds for fresh and 153.4 pounds for processing tomatoes per 100 ft².

From your garden map you will know how much space you have available. My post Making a Garden Map can help you with that. It becomes a balancing act, deciding how much space to allot for each crop. Having a target yield makes planning easier. Your target yield may need to be adjusted from year to year, but at least you have someplace to start from. Between cover crops and food crops, plan to have your beds full all year. Immediately after your early spring crops are harvested, plant the next crop. Leaving the beds empty is an invitation for Mother Nature to plant her favorites, which we tend to think of as weeds.

The rest of the page of the How Much to Grow worksheet that you don’t see is a space for comments and three columns for the amount of calories, protein, and calcium per pound of food. It is always good to leave space for comments—something about that crop you want to remember. Since I keep records for my certification as a GROW BIOINTENSIVE Sustainable Minifarming teacher, I am interested in the amount of calories, protein, and calcium in each crop. There might be other things that you want to record in those additional columns.

Use this information to enhance what you are doing, but don’t let it overwhelm you. Keep track of what you can. As you find you have more questions, add the appropriate recordkeeping to your system. Most importantly—have fun in your garden this year!Homeplace Earth

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after the frost foodThe first hard frost of fall has come. I think it happened here on October 24. I can’t say for sure because I was in Ohio visiting family. I knew the seasons would be changing in the eight days I would be gone. In preparation for leaving I was busy cleaning up the garden, which goes hand in hand with building compost piles, and planting cover crops. When I returned on October 30 the leaves on the trees had changed colors and the newly planted cover crop seeds had sprouted.

When the first hard frost comes in the fall, everything changes in the garden. The pepper plants that were so lush the day before are now wilted, along with so many other warm weather crops. That doesn’t mean your garden is finished for the season, however. This is the time for the cold weather crops to take center stage. I look forward to the frost bringing out the sweetness in the carrots and greens. In fact, I don’t worry about growing carrots to harvest in the summer anymore because we are so spoiled with the ones we have in the cold months. For the next six months we will have sweet carrots fresh from the garden. I’ve previously written about how I grow my winter carrots.

Other fall and winter crops that we eat fresh from the garden are beets, Jerusalem artichokes, collards, kale, chard, and parsley.  There are more root crops that I could add to the list, if I had grown them this year. Those crops are turnips, Daikon radish, and kohlrabi. No doubt, some of my readers could add more choices. With onions and garlic, potatoes, sweet potatoes, cowpeas, and peanuts from stored harvests, there is a wealth of food one can eat without further preservation. Our winters here in Zone 7 are not so mild that we don’t need protection for the greens if we want to have a continual harvest. Even at that, picking once a week is what to expect, and less frequently during the weeks of the least daylight, so more area needs to be planted for winter harvest than needed for a spring planting.

kale-row cover-carrots-BLOGI don’t cover the carrots and beets with anything so as not to encourage voles to move in. They are planted early enough to be mature now, so only need to be held in cold storage in the soil. For protection from harsh winter weather for the greens I use low tunnels made from plastic pipe and old greenhouse plastic. This type of cover is easy to erect. The ½” plastic pipe can be inserted into larger size plastic pipe stuck in the ground or put over pieces of rebar. The rebar and larger plastic pipe is cut to 2’ lengths and put half in and half out of the ground. If you leave rebar in the ground without a hoop over it, be sure to cover it with a plastic bottle, piece of plastic pipe, or an old tennis ball. You don’t want anyone to get hurt if they stumble upon it. You can find rebar precut to various lengths in the building supply stores near the cement blocks. Plastic pipe comes in 10’ lengths. I cut it to 8’ to form a hoop over a 4’ wide bed. These pipe structures also have a pipe across the top and a cord (anchored to the bottom of the hoops) that goes over the plastic cover to keep it in place. More details about that are at my blog post Managing a Cold Frame, Low Tunnel, or Mini-greenhouse. The plastic is held to the end hoops with clips made especially for that purpose. They are nice to have.

row cover clip

row cover clip

Having this bounty of food available in my garden all winter is the result of careful planning done sometimes a year in advance. To have the cabbage family greens at a good size now is sometimes a challenge, since they would have been started during hot weather. I have to keep a vigilant watch to pick off cabbage worms and harlequin bugs during those weeks. The seeds are started in the coldframe, not because they need protection, but because the coldframes are my seed starting areas. I do, however, sometimes cover the coldframe with a shadecloth if the weather is too hot and sunny. Once established, the best plants are transplanted to the garden beds. The winter covers don’t go on until cold weather hits. I’m just now bringing the covers out. A big advantage of using this type of low cover, rather than a greenhouse, is that the covers are easily added, removed, or vented, allowing the plants to get the full benefit of the natural climate, including the rain.

If you don’t have this variety of food available in your garden after the frost, and would like to, start making notes now and work on your garden plan to make it happen next year. Go ahead and prepare a bed and put a cover on it now, or at least put up the hoops and be ready for a cover. In late winter you can use it to get off to an early start. Put the cover on two weeks before your planting time to warm the soil. When my community college students planned a season extension structure for their projects, many of them constructed their designs, but put in transplants and seeds too late for a fall or winter harvest. However, often they found they had a very early spring harvest from those plants, especially with things like spinach. If you have the time and inclination to prepare now, it will put you one step ahead for early planting next spring.Homeplace Earth

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lima beans on a livestock panel trellis

lima beans on a livestock panel trellis

Last year I grew pole lima beans for the first time. I had several tall bamboo tepees in a garden bed with a bamboo pole connecting them along the top. The plants grew up the poles and along that top bar with a mass of foliage. I felt the urge to step into the welcoming shade, but I would have had to step in the bed. That’s when I had the idea to grow them so they would grow over a garden path, rather than the garden bed.

My large garden is divided into four sections of nine 4’x20’ beds each, with a 4’ wide grass path between each section. I decided to connect five pairs of beds with trellises over the path between two sections.  Each trellis was made with four metal t-posts and a 16’ livestock panel. The posts were put at the corners of the beds and the fence panel was bent between them and attached to the posts with wire. I use old electric fence wire for things like that. You could put all four posts in at once, then with a helper, bend the panel and slide it between the posts. Or, you could put in three posts, add the panel, then sink the fourth post and adjust the panel. I wrote about using these livestock panels many ways at http://homeplaceearth.wordpress.com/2012/04/17/in-praise-of-livestock-panels/.

limas-bushel gourds-limas on trellises

limas-bushel gourds-limas on trellises

It is no trouble to bend them into shape. Just anchor one end against something (a post or a person) and pick up the other end and walk forward. The 16’ long panel made an arch 7’ tall over the 4’ wide path. At 52” wide, this trellis is slightly wider than the garden bed, which is why I didn’t trellis every pair of beds along that path. It would have been too crowded getting in and out of the 1½’ wide paths between the beds.

In deciding what to plant over these trellises besides lima beans, I chose luffas and bushel gourds because I knew they would put out lots of vines that would last till frost. It is interesting to try new crops, so I also chose Malabar spinach for one of the trellises. Friends and family who had grown Malabar spinach told of how it climbed over everything in their gardens and I imagined I could just go out and pluck some leaves as needed for dinner from a trellis as I strolled through the garden. I learned that the variety that climbs over everything is Red Malabar. The variety I bought was green and didn’t do much climbing. I still took a walk in the garden and picked for the dinner table as needed, but next year I’ll be planting Red Malabar to fill out the trellis.

luffa hanging on the trellis

luffa hanging on the trellis

The luffas performed as expected, covering the trellis in a hurry. I will be harvesting 20 luffa gourds from one trellis! The plants only occupy four square feet of garden space—a 6” strip along the end of each bed. The luffa trellis has many yellow flowers poking out the top right now, although it is too late for the flowers to do anything but beautify the garden—which they are doing very well. One year I grew luffas along a fence and measured a vine that was 20’ long

bushel gourd

bushel gourd

I knew bushel gourds were good for lots of green vines. In fact, if you don’t watch out, they can get away from you. I had some growing 10’ into the beds on each side of the trellis before I cut them back. I let them go a little wild and some vines hung down so far over the ends of the trellis into the path that under that trellis would have made a good meditation shed or a children’s playhouse. As a bonus I’ll have five large gourds to play with. I finally cut the overhanging foliage with a machete and fed it to the compost pile. The luffa and bushel gourd plants will stay green until the frost kills them. Winter squash would probably finish earlier. That could be an advantage if you grew them over a trellis such as this, but then wanted them to be gone so you could cover the trellis with plastic to make a winter greenhouse. Seminole squash vines are pretty prolific. The description for Seminole in Southern Exposure Seed Exchange (SESE) catalog subtly warns about that when it says to give it “room to roam”.

lima beans overhead

lima beans overhead

This all started with lima beans. The variety of pole limas that I grow are Worchester Indian Red Pole. The description in the SESE catalog designates it as the hardiest lima and says it is heat and drought resistant. These are the ones I grew last year and saved the seeds. I let the seeds dry in the pods on the vines, so I haven’t picked any yet, but they will certainly be easy to see and pick. This has been fun this year and I’m already looking forward to doing it again next year. It is rather magical to walk under these trellises in the garden as I go about my regular work. I enjoyed the shade in the paths and didn’t notice any problems with shading in the beds because of the trellises. I already had these fence panels and old t-posts left from other projects. Buying everything new could get pricey, so use what you have, but make sure your trellises are sturdy. If you want to try this next year, plan for it now. In fact, as you clean up your beds and plant cover crops, put the trellises in now so they’ll be ready. I hope you have as much fun with this as I did!Homeplace Earth

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  • sweet potatoes with peanuts, cowpeas, and collards

    sweet potatoes with peanuts, cowpeas, and collards

This is the fourth year, of the past five, that I’ve eaten only what I’ve grown on the Fridays in Lent. I call these days Homegrown Fridays. I find that it deepens my understanding of what it takes to feed ourselves when I limit myself to only what I’ve grown. By this time of year stored food supplies are diminished and the garden is not quite awake. Our garden and food preservation program has evolved to depend on staple crops that can be stored, rather than canned or frozen. Although I did do a little canning this year, most of the things that couldn’t be stored properly to keep were dried in our solar food dryers.

In the photo you will see one of our Homegrown Friday dinners. It consisted of cowpeas, sweet potatoes, peanuts, and collards fresh from the garden. I often try new things on these days and that day I boiled peanuts. We (my husband and I) decided that eating them raw or roasted was our preference. I depended a lot on peanuts at lunchtime this year. Maybe it was because I seemed to be extra busy on these days. I’d grab some peanuts while sweet potatoes were cooking for lunch. My peanut harvest had picked up in 2012 when I planted some after Austrian winter peas in the rotation. The previous year I had peanuts in a bed following onions and garlic. At harvest time there was a definite difference in the yield in the onion half of the bed compared to the garlic half. Winter peas were the winter cover crop preceding the onion sets that had been planted in the spring. I was pretty sure that the increased peanut yield was due to the winter pea cover crop and not the onions. In 2012 I planted one bed of peanuts after winter peas and one in a bed that had had garlic, onions, and kale. The onions were multipliers and had been there with the garlic and kale since the previous fall. The yield following the Austrian winter peas was three times the one following the alliums and kale.

roasted carrots and beets with black walnut oil

roasted carrots and beets with black walnut oil

I had a great carrot harvest this winter. You can read about it in my post on Winter Carrots. I also had beets in the garden through the winter. The black walnuts yielded in 2012 so I shelled some and made some oil to put on the carrots and beets when I roasted them. Shelling the walnuts and pressing oil took a long time. I wouldn’t want to depend on that for my cooking oil. Frying locally grown bacon and saving the fat for cooking is a lot easier, but that wasn’t an option for these Fridays, since I hadn’t raised the pig. The roasted carrots and beets were delicious.

Soup made from dried ingredients is always on the menu during this time. One soup I made had no dried ingredients. It was made from carrots, butternut squash, and garlic. I cut them up and roasted them—no oil that day. Then I added water and simmered the cut up, roasted vegetables for about 20 minutes. It all went in the blender and resulted in what you see in this third picture. It was good, but a little bit of dairy added—sour cream, yogurt, or milk—would have been nice. Onions would have been a good addition, but I was down to my dried onions and they were in short supply.

butternut squash, carrot, and garlic soup

butternut squash, carrot, and garlic soup

Dried onions went into bean burgers using the same recipe as I did in 2012. Our staples for these meals from stored crops were sweet potatoes, peanuts, cowpeas, garlic, sorghum (for flour) and corn (for cornmeal). Fresh from the garden came collards, kale, carrots, and beets. I ground Bloody Butcher corn to make cornmeal mush for breakfast. We have chickens, so we have eggs. I use an egg or two occasionally on Homegrown Fridays, but not much because I don’t grow all the feed for the chickens. Since some of their nutrition comes from our property, an occasional egg is included. Dried tomatoes were important for sauce and other dried vegetables and herbs provided variety in our meals. I’ve already written about our new tea ingredient—Red Thai Roselle Hibiscus. With such a great honey harvest last year we could sweeten our cornmeal mush. Unfortunately, our two beehives didn’t make it through the winter, so I’ll be looking for new bees this year. We had mead made from our honey and grapes, and popcorn cooked without oil.

Observing Homegrown Fridays at this time of year makes me more determined to work out my vole problem with the potatoes to make sure I have enough to last through the winter. I’m also acutely aware that I need to up my wheat harvest. I had an interesting conversation with Eli Rogosa of the Heritage Wheat Conservancy in January while I was preparing an article for Mother Earth News that will appear in the June/July 2013 issue. Eli filled me in on heritage wheat and how to grow it. A chart with her recommended varieties for each region of the U.S. will appear in the article. A chart with crops I’ve mentioned here and varieties recommended for each region will also be included in the article. You will be interested in that article if you want to grow staple crops for your meals.

If you have done any of this, even in a small way, I welcome your comments. It is in sharing, both information and food, that we will move forward on this journey.  Homeplace Earth

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green and brown cotton bolls with spindleI usually write about food crops and soil building, but today I’m talking about fiber. I have begun to grow cotton and have learned to spin it using a spindle. Growing and using cotton is more than just a new craft for me. It adds diversity to my garden, which is important in a permaculture garden, and it helps me connect with factors beyond the garden. Plants are grown around the world for more things than food. If our gardens are to provide for us and if we are ever going to be free from corporate domination, we need to consider everything. From our plants we can get food, fuel, medicine, fiber, dyes, and so on. The movement to make available food grown in a sustainable manner to everyone is gaining momentum. What about obtaining our other needs from sustainable sources?       

When India was a colony of Britain, Indian cotton was shipped to Britain and the Indians had to buy it back as fabric. Gandhi promoted spinning as an act of independence. If the Indians spun and used their own cotton, they would be free of British control of that resource. In fact, Gandhi had a contest to develop a small spinning wheel that was portable enough that people could easily spin in public and the box charka was born. What better act of nonviolent protest but to spin cotton into thread and yarn in public! Unfortunately, today Indian cotton farmers face another peril with the introduction of GMO cotton seeds. In 2000 I heard Vandana Shiva speak about the number of suicides among cotton farmers in India. They had been convinced to grow GMO cotton by Monsanto and things were not going well. The problems continue to this day. Please take the time to listen to her tell you about it here. Shiva’s organization Navdanya goes into these areas with open pollinated seeds to help the farm families recover.

In doing some research for this post I was heartened to find that there are projects underway to promote the sustainable growing of cotton around the world and in the U.S. You can find more about that at http://www.sustainablecottons.com/. Where is the fabric coming from for your cotton clothes? Begin looking for a Fairtrade label for cotton. Also, consider how the cotton you buy gets its color. Cotton grows naturally in more colors than white. Pakucho is the brand name of cotton from a project developed in Peru to revive the growing of colored cotton on small farms.

green cotton fiber and seeds--BLOG

1 ounce green cotton fiber/seeds

In 2004 I came across an article in Spin-Off magazine about a woman who had grown the cotton that she then spun (with a spindle) and wove into fabric for a shirt. You can read “My Cotton Shirt” here. At least I knew that my idea of growing cotton and making a shirt out of it wasn’t totally crazy. I did grow some cotton around that time, but I didn’t know anyone who was spinning cotton and I was busy with other things, so the harvest was stored away. The only spinners I knew worked with wool and said that, since cotton had such a short fiber, it was really hard to spin. I figured that if spinning cotton was all I knew, spinning cotton would be my normal and that wouldn’t be a problem. After all, people have spun cotton down through the ages so I should be able to learn this. For the past two summers I grew both Erlene’s Green and Nankeen Brown cotton. The seeds came from Southern Exposure Seed Exchange the first year and I saved them after that. There are a lot of seeds in cotton. In one ounce of green cotton that I weighed, 75% of that ounce was 185 seeds and 25% of that ounce was fiber.   

I turned to Joan Ruane to learn to spin the fiber into yarn, once I found her video Cotton Spinning With the Takli. A takli spindle is what is recommended for cotton and that’s what I’ve been using. My husband gave me her kit with fiber, spindle, and DVD as a gift and it was a great way to get started. It was very slow going at first, though. I had to remind myself of how it was when I taught myself to knit—only this seemed harder. Clothos Handspinners, a group of wonderful folks into handspinning, came to my rescue. At the first meeting I attended in November, 2011, Judith spent time teaching me some basics and I will be forever grateful. Most of the members show up with their spinning wheels, but there are some, like me, who are using a spindle. Most work in wool, but not exclusively. I am not interested in getting a wheel right now because I want to master the spindle. Besides, I want to see how much skill and knowledge I can gain with the least money spent. Another DVD that has helped me is Spinning Cotton by Stephanie Gaustad. If my garden DVDs have helped people as much as these cotton DVDs have helped me, I will be happy. My goal is to make a vest out of my homegrown, homespun cotton, so I’ll be learning to weave next. After that comes the shirt.

seeds and green spun cotton from 1 ounce fiber/seeds--plus spindle

seeds and green spun cotton from 1 ounce fiber/seeds–plus spindle

Cotton needs hot weather and a lot of sun. The varieties I grow take 130 days to mature, but it differs by variety. Sea Island White  requires 160 days. Start the seeds and set out transplants as you would tomatoes. I’ve heard of growing cotton in containers and bringing it inside when the weather turns cold if you live in a marginal climate. In my 2012 garden I harvested 2.5 pounds of green fiber and seed in an 80 ft.² bed. That works out to about .75 lb. fiber per 100 ft.² (and lots of seeds). The brown cotton harvest was equivalent to one pound fiber per 100 ft². I had 7-12 bolls on each plant. Now that I’m paying attention, I believe that I can better that harvest. The U.S. average is 1.7 pounds fiber per 100 ft². You could begin with just a few plants among your flowers.

knitted homegrown cotton sampleGrowing colored cotton has been really interesting. After cotton has been spun, it needs to be boiled to set the twist. When you do that, the color deepens. The green spun cotton shown with the spindle and seeds is the same cotton that is shown as fiber in the other photo with the seeds. In the sample that I’ve knitted, the deep green and brown colors are the natural colors after boiling the spun fiber. The white is what I grew years ago with only an inkling of an idea that I might want to do this sometime.

In 2007 a new charka was introduced in India. This e-charka allows the spinner to produce electricity while he/she spins. A battery stores the electricity to operate an LED light and a transistor radio. Spinning cotton by hand is still important in rural areas of India and elsewhere and this new charka will increase the quality of life for these spinners. Gandhi would be proud. For now, at least, I’ll stick with my spindle. Growing cotton and learning to spin it is a wonderful project. Doing it with children gives them a great glimpse into history. There are so many things you could talk about with them when you are working with the plants and fiber. As you spin your own homegrown fiber, keep in mind all those farmers who are keeping the old skills and seeds alive. Every good thought we have goes out as a ripple that eventually connects us all.Homeplace Earth

For more thoughts on growing and spinning cotton see http://www.motherearthnews.com/permaculture/grow-spin-cotton.aspx#axzz2LRWabZ00

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Red Thai Roselle teaIn August 2011, I was on a tour of the gardens at Acorn Community, home of Southern Exposure Seed Exchange, when we came upon the hibiscus plants—specifically Thai Red Roselle. This was entirely new to me and the Acorn residents were visibly excited about it. Well, you know how it is when you see your friends really excited about something.  I just had to give it a try. I put it into my 2012 garden plan.

Hibiscus is what puts the color and zing in Red Zinger tea. Hibiscus tea could lower your blood pressure, boost your immune system and supply you with antioxidants. Since it has an effect on your blood pressure, if you are taking medication for that, you might want to check with your doctor before making it a part of your life. The leaves can go into your salads, but I was after tea ingredients—whatever it was that would give me a red, zingy tea.

hibiscus

Three Red Thai Roselle plants.

This plant is a perennial in the tropics and grown as an annual as far north as New Jersey. The variety Thai Red Roselle is the variety you want to grow if you live north of the Sunbelt. It matures earlier, which means more harvest before frost. Even at that, my harvest didn’t begin until late in August. I’ll pay more attention this year and make it a priority to get the transplants in the ground around the time of the last frost, or soon after.

Red Thai Roselle calyx?When it began to flower, I realized I didn’t know exactly what I should be harvesting. I learned to harvest the calyx, which is the part beneath the flower. When the flower fades, the red calyx grows into a pod that holds a green ball. The seeds that are beginning to develop are in that ball, but I only needed the calyx. The seeds are not yet mature at the point you want to take it for tea. I left some to grow larger and harvested them for the mature seed later. I bought seeds to start from Southern Exposure Seed Exchange, but will be planting my saved seeds this year.

Once the harvest began I would check every 3-7 days for something to pick, prepare it at my garden washing station and put the calyx pieces in the solar dryers. After a day or two, when they were dry, I’d bring the trays in and store the dried pieces in a jar. It’s just that easy and it was a good use for the solar dryers in September and early October when my vegetable drying slowed.

Preparing hibiscus for drying.Hibiscus should be planted at least three feet apart, but as much as five feet between the plants may increase your yield per plant. They need plenty of sun. I had three plants in 2012 and was really encouraged by my experience. I’m looking at my yard for just the right microclimate to plant them in this year.

You can make hot or cold tea from just your dried Red Thai Roselle or add it to different herbs. It is interesting to make herb mixes for tea. Using spearmint or bee balm as a base, you could add any number of things. Hibiscus is great alone, and its red color and fruity taste is a nice addition to blends. Sometimes I’ll make a jarful of a mix, putting the ingredients in a blender, then storing them in the jar, ready for tea-making.

Lent is approaching—it begins February 13—and as I’ve done the past few years, I’ll be observing Homegrown Fridays. Homegrown Fridays is a personal challenge of mine when, during the Fridays in Lent, I only eat (and drink) what I’ve grown. Water from our well, of course, and salt in the pickle ferment is allowed in my challenge. Although I don’t necessarily do it for religious reasons, Lent is an appropriate time, since it is a time for reflection. Also, doing this in February and March makes it more challenging and fun. I’ve written of my Homegrown Friday experiences in 2011 and 2012. This year Red Thai Roselle tea will be on the menu!Homeplace Earth

 

For more thoughts on Red Thai Roselle tea see http://www.motherearthnews.com/permaculture/red-thai-roselle.aspx#axzz2LRYfjI6u

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winter carrots-1-18-13-BLOGI have to tell you about the wonderful carrots we are eating right out of our garden this winter. The carrots you see in the photo were pulled January 18, swished in a bucket of water to take the mud off and photographed right in the garden. We had our first snow of the year the night before and you can see that didn’t bother them. The varieties I planted are Danvers 126 (on the left in the photo) and Chantenay Red Core (on the right). The seeds came from Southern Exposure Seed Exchange. In their catalog both varieties were listed as having a blunt end, with Danvers growing to 6½’’ long and 2’’at the shoulders and Chantenay 5½’’ long and 2½’’ at the shoulders. I have done a taste test and looked at both varieties side-by-side and I have to say, unless I was really looking for differences, I wouldn’t be able to tell which was which. One was ever so slightly sweeter, but they were both so sweet, it didn’t matter. The carrots of both varieties varied in size. I cut the larger ones into carrot sticks to eat raw and put the small ones into soups and cooked dishes. A favorite snack (or quick lunch) of mine is to cut carrots into sticks and use crunchy peanut butter as a dip. Delicious!

Carrots and rye-in-rows-11-22-12 -BLOGTo have all these carrots available now took some planning. They were planted back on June 27 into a bed that I had harvested rye from, cutting it at maturity for grain and straw. The planning, however, went back further than that. The rye was planted on November 3, 2011. Knowing that I intended to plant carrots next, I made furrows close together with a hoe and planted the seed in the furrows. Otherwise, I would have just broadcast the seed and chopped it in with my cultivator to cover it. When rye and wheat are harvested at full maturity, the roots are already on their way out and the soil is soft. The stubble was in rows and I just hoed between those stubble rows and sowed the carrot seeds, covering lightly. The brown stubble that was left in place gradually decomposed, feeding the carrots. I had to be diligent with watering and replant in a couple areas that had not-so-good germination, but I have been rewarded well. This photo was taken on November 22—Thanksgiving. On the left is the carrot bed we are eating from now and the rye that I planted on October 23. You can see the rows in anticipation for next year’s carrots.

Although these carrots were outside the part of the garden that I keep intense records on, I couldn’t resist finding out how much was really there. Of course, I wasn’t going to dig the whole bed all at once to find out. Neither was I going to weigh each carrot I harvested, something I would have done if I was keeping those intense records. Instead, I dug carrots from a 2’ strip for each variety. The bed is 4’ wide, so I was measuring how much was in 8 ft². From that measurement I calculated how much it would work out to for a 100 ft² planting. The results were 115 lb/100 ft² for the Danvers and 145 lb/100 ft² for the Chantenay. I think these are accurate estimates and the yield could have even been a bit higher. I had randomly harvested some carrots previously, so some could have already been taken from these areas. In this trial Chantenay yielded more than Danvers, however since I wasn’t paying too much attention to details (such as randomly harvesting earlier) I wouldn’t say that one variety out yielded the other—yet. Maybe I’ll be more serious about it next year.

Once carrots (and other root vegetables) get hit with frost they sweeten up. Eliot Coleman writes about that in Four Season Harvest. For that reason I only grow carrots for fall and winter harvest these days. Sort of like enjoying strawberries when they are in season. Summer carrots just don’t taste as good and there are so many other things to be eating from the garden in the summer. I need to plant the carrots so that they will be mature by mid-October. Keep in mind that once the nights cool down, growth slows. After mid-October they are just being held in cold storage in the garden until we eat them. If you have been following my blog you know I have trouble with voles. One end of this bed has had some vole damage, but not the devastation you would expect. That could be because I didn’t mulch these carrots. If we were to have harsher weather than we do, I would mulch with leaves, but not until the cold weather really sets in. I want the voles to find other winter homes before I cover the carrots.

At Christmas I usually give sauerkraut to some friends and family. This year I hadn’t made sauerkraut. I was celebrating the carrots that were bursting from that bed that I had tended all year, so everyone received carrots. I’m not sure they were as excited receiving the carrots as I was giving them, but oh well. Maybe I’ll get sauerkraut made for them next year—with carrots in it.

If you would like to be eating carrots like this in mid-winter, keep that in mind as you make your garden plan for this year. I actually make a note on my garden map to plant the rye in rows in that bed so I don’t forget. You’ve missed the window of opportunity to have rye planted in rows for this year, but maybe you can sneak some carrots in somewhere. Make sure to plant them early enough and water well. Good luck!Homeplace Earth

Learn more about winter carrots at http://www.motherearthnews.com/permaculture/winter-carrots.aspx

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collards-parsley-kale-BLOGIf you were getting most of your food from your garden, the three nutrients you would need to pay particular attention to are calories, protein, and calcium. I’ve already talked about calories and protein, so now I’ll address calcium. The next post (November 27, 2012) will be about something entirely different, I promise. The dairy industry has done a great job of telling people how much calcium is in milk and cheese. Such a great job, in fact, some people might think that’s the only place to get it. You can put calcium on your plate in the form of leafy greens right from your garden. You will also get calcium from the beans you eat.

A vegetable that is loaded with calcium is collards at 921 mg per pound. That translates to 357 mg calcium per cup of cooked collard leaves and stems. By comparison, a cup of whole cow’s milk contains 291 mg and a cup of goat’s milk has 326 mg calcium. Parsley has as much calcium per pound as collards. People don’t usually eat as much parsley as they would collards, but it is something to think about. Everything adds up, so including parsley in your recipes will increase the calcium content of those dishes. Kale is a good source of calcium at 601 mg per pound or 206 mg in 1 cup of cooked kale. These numbers come from How To Grow More Vegetables, 8th ed, and The New Laurel’s Kitchen.  We usually eat steamed kale and collards with some vinegar added. These greens, along with garlic and/or onions cooked in butter or olive oil, are also good as a topping for mashed potatoes.

With a low tunnel we can grow collards and kale through the winter here, harvesting about once a week at most. The best over wintered collards I’ve grown were in the 12’x20’ greenhouse I had at one time. Once March hits, these crops realize they are in their second year and send up seed stalks. Leaving at least some of these plants go to seed will attract beneficial insects, as well as give you seeds.  You especially need to let your parsley overwinter. It comes back to life early in the spring to put out flowers attracting beneficial insects, just in time to protect the new spring brassica plants in your garden. By the end of March, or even earlier if you are putting them under cover, it is easy enough to have new plants set out.

At Ecology Action in Willits, California they grow perennial collards, otherwise known as tree collards. The summer nights are cooler there than here, and the winters aren’t quite as severe.  Bountiful Gardens occasionally sells tree collards and has more information in their catalog. I’m not sure tree collards would do as well here.

It is good to seek out varieties intended for your region and conditions. Southern Exposure Seed Exchange (SESE) sells Green Glaze and Cascade Glaze collards. The smooth leaves are more resistant to cabbage worm and cabbage looper. Even’ Star farm in Maryland has been breeding collard and kale varieties specifically for winter harvest. You can find the Even’ Star varieties at SESE.

There is much more to know about calcium. You need calcium for strong bones and teeth. If you are pregnant and not getting enough calcium, your baby will take it from you. I had a friend who had to have major dental work done each time she was pregnant. No matter how much calcium-laden food you’ve eaten, other factors in your diet can work to block absorption. Not enough fat is one of those factors. You have probably heard that it is important to have enough vitamin D to work with the calcium and you can get vitamin D from being in the sun. However, what you might not know is that D is a fat soluble vitamin, so you need fat as a catalyst to help things along. That means, including some milk and cheese in your diet would be good after all, along with the greens. You could add peanuts and hazelnuts to your crop plan. Peanuts (313 mg/lb) and hazelnuts (948 mg/lb) are sources of calcium and are good sources of fat. I have heard of vegans who suffered broken bones from otherwise minor incidents, as a result of not enough calcium. It might have been not enough calcium absorption.  Sugar consumption and stress will relieve your bones and teeth of calcium, but it is best to avoid sugar and stress for so many reasons anyway. According to Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon, the best sources of usable calcium are bone broth and dairy products. When that old hen reaches the end of her laying days, make sure you stew up the bones for soup.

Phytates in grains might block calcium absorption. Soaking, fermenting, and sprouting will help prevent that. Soaking oatmeal overnight is a good idea. Not only is it better for mineral absorption in your diet, but if you do that, your breakfast is almost ready. It is already in the pan, just turn it on and let it cook while you make your coffee or whatever it is that you do in the morning.

 It is important that we get our nutrients from the food we eat and that food needs to have been grown in healthy soil. The nutrients in food come naturally packaged with other things necessary for their assimiliation in our bodies. If you rely on supplements, you could be throwing things out of balance. There is so much to know about a healthy diet. Educate yourself and eat a variety of foods from local, sustainable sources.

 

More about Growing Calcium at http://www.motherearthnews.com/permaculture/growing-calcium.aspx.

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