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Posts Tagged ‘sustainable diet’

Come out and see me at my book signing on Saturday, February 22 at Ashland Coffee and Tea, Ashland, VA 23005. It is a good treatment for the spring fever you will have by the weekend with the warming trend coming. Find more upcoming events at http://homeplaceearth.com/5.html.

Book Signing and Movies-flyer-FACEBOOK

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homegrown feast for two

homegrown feast for two

Growing up Catholic I was familiar with the term Feast Day. It was a day when certain saints were remembered. Unfortunately, I don’t remember any food feast on those days and the only celebration would have been attending Mass. I assume other cultures somewhere celebrated with a food feast at some point, and maybe still do. St. Patrick’s Day receives a lot of attention. We have feast days within our family when we celebrate birthdays. Weddings, especially, are feast days and the happy couple celebrates that day from then on. We need to declare other events in our lives as feast days, if only for one day, and pay particular attention to the feast involved. I’m sure you can find many things to celebrate, so I’ll concentrate on the food part in this post. This photo is one I took when I was writing my Homegrown Fridays post in 2011. Our dinner that evening was sorghum noodles, tomato sauce, and steamed collards—all food from our garden.

Every bite we take is a vote for how we want the earth used to grow our food. If we really take that thought to heart we become mindful of what we are eating and where it is grown. To be healthy beings, our food needs to be grown in healthy soil. My other posts, my DVDs, and my book will help you plan your garden to feed the soil, while growing to feed yourself. Most likely, you are not growing all your food. That brings the opportunity to find growers who pay particular attention to the soil to provide you with good food. Farmers markets have sprouted everywhere and many have times when they are open during the winter months, allowing you to source your food directly from the growers. That way you can inquire about their practices. Grocery stores, even big ones, are carrying more local food. Foodhubs have been established for small growers to pool their produce to sell to the large buyers. In the big scheme of things, it is not practical for a large store to deal with many, many small-scale growers. Also, there are small-scale growers who don’t want to sit at the farmers markets waiting for you to come by. For them, the foodhub is a welcome place to sell what they grow, as are restaurants. Eat at restaurants that buy from local, sustainable growers. You can find sources of local food at www.localharvest.org. Find out what you can about each grower you buy from. Just because they are local doesn’t necessarily mean they are organic or sustainable.

travel table service kit

travel table service kit

We are often involved in potluck dinners. That’s the way to go with a large group of people. Hopefully everyone brings a large dish of food to share so there is enough food for however many people show up. When I was the faculty advisor for the Sustainable Agriculture Club at the community college we came up with the idea of a sustainable potluck, since we didn’t want to have to buy or throw away paper and plastic products. In a sustainable potluck, everyone brings their own non-disposable table service—plate, cup, and silverware. We loved it! To make that experience even more enjoyable, one year our daughter Betsy gave me a birthday gift of a travel kit with plates, silverware, and napkins (red work handkerchiefs). Her old bluejeans provided some of the fabric. This kit is so handy. When my husband and I travel we even take it to the hotels that only offer Styrofoam plates for the free breakfast.

The sustainable potluck idea worked so well I suggested it to my beekeeping club. It took a few times for some folks to get used to the idea, but now it works like a charm. There is no trash! I didn’t have to mention it at the handspinning group I joined. They were already bringing their own table service to their potlucks. I belong to one other organization that has a potluck twice a year. When they start to make plans I bring up the idea of bringing our own table service, along with our potluck dishes. Each time the response is a flat-out no, with no discussion. I know that others in the room agree with my idea, but they never speak up. It is painful for me to see the trash accumulate at these events, so I choose not to attend. When new ideas are suggested, if you agree you have to speak up. That is the only way to bring about change.

Every action we take is important—whether it is the food we eat or how we eat it. Where will all that trash go if we choose to generate it? Our county landfill is full and the trash is now shipped elsewhere. Our celebrations should not be responsible for trashing someone else’s backyard. Planning a zero waste event can be a fun challenge. You can learn more about how to do that and feed a crowd at my Homegrown Wedding post.

Each day, each meal can become a feast when we contemplate what we are eating and how it is grown. The closer we are to the source, the more sacred our food and the act of eating it becomes. In naming feast days and preparing the food, we have to remember to be thankful that we have something to celebrate and thankful for the food that will be shared. An attitude of gratitude puts us in a position for well-being in so many ways. We all know people who pick out the bad in everything. We need to look for the good. Everything is important and everything has something positive. Find the good and celebrate with food from your garden or local sustainable sources.Homeplace Earth

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GrowSustDiet~Cat100%25My new book Grow a Sustainable Diet: planning and growing to feed  ourselves and the earth is now available through my website at HomeplaceEarth.com. The home page contains two recently added preview videos about our DVDs. The purchase page contains more information about the book, plus the “add to cart” button to buy it.

You’ll find more information about what this book is about at my August 13, 2013 post  Grow a Sustainable Diet–the Book! 

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Mead Jug and Book--BLOGMead is an alcoholic beverage that you can make by fermenting honey and water. The first year that I made mead was 2007 which was the first year that I kept bees. Since the production of my bees went to building their hive that first year, I bought honey from friends at the farmers market to begin my mead-making adventures. So, even if you don’t have bees, you can still make mead. My first batches were with honey and water only, but since we have grapes, I usually add them to the fermenting pot. I think using grapes would technically make it honey wine, but I use the terms mead and honey wine interchangeably.

It was the book Wild Fermentation by Sandor Katz that got me started. Page 29 has a recipe for T’ej (Ethiopian-style Honey Wine). It sounded so simple I just had to try it. Mix water and honey together in a 4/1 ratio, cover it loosely and stir it several times a day for a few days until it is bubbly. Then put it in a jug with an airlock. As you can see in the picture, the jug that I use is a one gallon glass apple cider jug. I have found that not all one gallon glass jugs have the same size opening in the top. I prefer jugs with a 1½” opening over the ones with a 1¼” opening. Corks and airlocks are readily available from suppliers of winemaking equipment. The airlock allows the gas bubbles to escape, but doesn’t allow new air in. The ingredients don’t include yeast because you are gathering natural yeast from the air. That’s the “wild” part of this fermentation. If it would drive you crazy to make something without knowing exactly how it will turn out, you might as well stop reading right now. This is a fermenting adventure and there is nothing exact about it.

Crock and stainless steel pan with fermenting mead.

Crock and stainless steel pan with fermenting mead.

I put the honey/water mixture (and fruit) in a 2 gallon crock or a 2 gallon stainless steel pot covered by a cloth. I stir several times a day and at the end of a week I strain out the fruit and put the mead in a jug with an airlock. After it has been in the jug with the airlock for a few weeks is where it gets tricky. The directions on page 29 say to leave it for 2 to 4 weeks until bubbling slows, then drink it or age it. The first year I did this I took that to mean that I could bottle it at that stage. I found out that bottling it too soon could result in popped corks. If you are looking for a crock like the one in the picture and can’t find one locally, check with ACE Hardware. They can order it for you and have it delivered to the store, saving you shipping costs. In the photo the mead pots are sitting on the woodstove. There is no fire in that stove, it’s just a convenient place to put those pots in the summer. I use 2 gallon containers in order to have plenty of room with the fruit. If you are only fermenting honey and water you could use a one gallon jar.

If you are going to try this then you also need to read Chapter 10: Wines (including mead, cider, and ginger beer) in Wild Fermentation. That chapter explains aging, siphoning, and bottling. Now I leave my mead age for a year or two in the jugs before bottling. It’s hard to wait that long the first year, so make enough to try some early and put some away.  One thing I don’t seem to get around to doing is racking, which means siphoning it from one jug to another, then continue to let it age with the airlock. Racking separates your finished product from the sediment, which is supposed to result in a more delicate flavor. There is nothing wrong with the sediment; in fact it is full of vitamins, and it can be used in making salad dressing or other recipes.

Mead bottles and corker--BLOGThat brings us to bottling. I recycle wine bottles and am always on the lookout for extras. Wine bottles need to be corked and that involves a corking machine to insert them with. Although not expensive (about $19) I was hesitant to spend the money, but then, I’m always hesitant to spend money. However, that appliance makes corking the bottles incredibly easy and I’m happy to have one. There are some bottles that come with their own plastic corks “tied” down with wires. The ones we have are the result of buying sparkling lemonade or juice at a health food store. (It is a good thing to serve to children when the adults are drinking something stronger.) We just fill those bottles and tighten the “corks” with the wires. You can see both types of bottles, the corker, and a few corks in the photo. I write pertinent information on masking tape as a label for each bottle in storage. If I’m giving a bottle as a gift I’ll make a nice looking label when the time comes.

To transfer the liquid from the jugs to the bottles you need a siphon, which can just be plastic tubing. This might sound crude, but to get the liquid flowing, you need to suck on the end of the tube that will fill the bottles. Once it starts flowing, insert the tube into the bottle. For each gallon I’m siphoning, I have five clean wine bottles at the ready. At a level lower than the gallon jug, the wine bottles sit in an oblong cake pan that will catch any drips as the siphon goes from bottle to bottle. I’ve recently acquired a mini auto-siphon (a size that fits nicely into a gallon jug) that eliminates the need for me to suck the end of the tube and it works quite nicely. I have learned to leave a 3” headspace when filling the wine bottles and only fill the gallon jugs to the base of the handle (you can see that in the top photo). Even if the action appears to have stopped by the time you fill the bottles, just the transfer can stir things up a bit and it’s good to have plenty of room. With the gallon jugs, air can escape through the airlock, so you won’t be popping it off, but things could bubble up at the beginning and enter the airlock (which you don’t want) if you fill it too full. If that happens, just take the airlock off, clean it, and put it back on.

I’ve made mead using herb tea for the water, but I didn’t like it enough to make it again. I usually add grapes to the honey water mixture, preferring the green seeded grapes to the Concords we grow. I’ve also made mead with elderberries and blackberries. I had more popped corks with the berries than with the grapes, but I can’t say for sure it was the berries or something else I did that caused those corks to pop. Until you get the hang of it, you might have some corks that pop. It will do you well to keep that in mind when you choose a place to store your bottles.

Having meals, including beverages, from only homegrown supplies is exciting. I’ve mentioned having mead on some of my Homegrown Fridays. It is nice to have homegrown/homebrewed honey wine occasionally at home and it is great to give as gifts. I’ve posted my mead recipe on my recipe page here if you want to join in the adventure. Remember, the learning is in the doing and it’s all fun!Homeplace Earth

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GrowSustDiet~Cat100%25I have written a book! Grow a Sustainable Diet: Planning and Growing to Feed Ourselves and the Earth is being published by New Society Publishers. Look for it to be released in Spring 2014. To quote from their website, “New Society Publishers’ mission is to publish books that contribute in fundamental ways to building an ecologically sustainable and just society, and to do so with the least possible impact on the environment, in a manner that models this vision.” Sounds like a good fit for me, don’t you think? They did a great job designing the cover. For years people have asked me when I was going to write a book. They began asking me that when what I was teaching was already in the books I suggested they read, so I told them to get reading. What I am doing now is not readily available in the books presently on the market, so I’ve put my work into print. This book is for folks who want to grow all, or a substantial amount, of their food and do it in a way that has a small ecological footprint. Particular attention would need to be paid to crop choices for your diet and for feeding back the soil.

The cover crop and garden planning information from my DVDs is included in this book, in addition to information about planning your whole diet from homegrown and locally sourced food. If you like what you have found in this blog and on my DVDs you’re going to love this book. I wrote it just as I have always taught, mentioning resources and books for further reference as I go along. As always, you’ll find stories from my personal experiences. I think a story sticks in your memory better than lists of what to do or what not to do. I don’t tell you just how much space it would take to grow all your food, since that depends on your crop choices, soil fertility, climate, etc. What I do is to help you think things through and determine the answers to your questions for yourself. For those of you who like my worksheets, this book shows all the worksheets from my garden planning DVD, plus a new one. From what I’m told, there will be a link in the book for you to access PDFs of the worksheets online.

a good day -BLOGIf you wanted, you could use the information from this book to plan a complete diet of homegrown foods. My intent is for you to realize what it would take to grow all your food, then plan accordingly to grow what you can, considering your skills, equipment, garden space and fertility, and time available. You could start today to compare what you are presently eating to what you harvest from your garden. Most folks would need to make some changes in their eating and in their growing to get them in sync. Really take a close look to determine what you do best in your garden. If you are not going to be growing everything, you could start now to see what is available locally. So, as much as this book is about growing all your own food, it is also about community. We need to be part of the food systems in our communities. There are changes coming in our society. Some predictions point to a collapse of our society, but I prefer to think of it as a change, and changes are not necessarily bad. Working together, we can make sure the changes in our local food systems are good ones. Besides, if change happens suddenly and people are unprepared, they will be lining up at your garden gate for some (or all) of what you are growing. You can participate in the food system as a consumer (buying what you aren’t growing), as a grower, or as a teacher. Once you learn from this book and all the resources that I suggest, and you have experienced some success in your garden, teach it to others. This book and my DVDs are teaching tools that you can use. After all, I developed these materials after many years of teaching at J. Sargeant Reynolds Community College.

Besides chapters on diet planning, crop choices and management, garden planning, and seeds; there are chapters about including animals, food storage and preservation, and sheds and fences. I want you to consider the whole of what it takes to get food from the seed to your table, in a way that nourishes you and replenishes the earth. I encourage you to keep an open mind and make changes in what you are doing if they appear to be necessary. Most importantly, I want you to understand why you are doing what you do.

New Society will be announcing Grow a Sustainable Diet with their other upcoming spring books. When they do, as with all new books, they will be offering a discount for orders before the release date, in case you are looking for a deal. Once it is released I’ll add it to my website at www.HomeplaceEarth.com along with my DVDs. Writing this book has been quite an adventure.  I can’t wait for you to read it!Homeplace Earth

 

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MEN June-July 2013

Includes Best Staple Crops for Building Food Self-Sufficiency.

To truly feed yourself from your garden, you need to grow staple crops. The current issue (June/July 2013) of Mother Earth News contains an article that I wrote about the subject. You can read Best Staple Crops for Building Food Self-Sufficiency in the print magazine (where these things always look better) or online. The crops that I talk about are potatoes, sweet potatoes, corn, wheat, peanuts, winter squash,  dry beans, cabbage, collards, and kale. There are two charts in this article that you might keep for reference. One chart shows suggested varieties of these crops for each region of the continental U.S.  The other chart is “Crop Yields and Calorie Density”. The information posted there is based on my article that appeared in the October/November 2012 issue, with the addition of calories produced. If you don’t have that issue, you can read that article, A Plan for Food Self-Sufficiency, online. The four charts in that article show suggested yields and the number of half-cup servings you might expect per pound of food as it comes from the garden. There are many crops listed, with separate charts for vegetables, fruits, grains, and legumes. A fifth chart (online only) that is connected to that article shows yields and oil content of nuts and seeds. 

Includes A Plan for Food Self-Sufficiency

Includes A Plan for Food Self-Sufficiency.

Including staple crops in your garden plan is one thing; finding the variety for each crop that will do well in your climate, that also fits well with your management schedule, is quite another. Besides depending on my own experience, I pored over catalogs and read variety descriptions and gardeners’ internet postings carefully to decide which varieties to include on the regional chart. Ira Wallace of Southern Exposure Seed Exchange was kind enough to go over the chart with me and make suggestions. It helped that we were both at the Virginia Biological Farming Conference in early February and that our booths were right next to each other to afford us the time and opportunity for that discussion. In working on this staple crops article I met Eli Rogosa through email and telephone. She is the director of the Heritage Wheat Conservancy and provided the wheat varieties for the chart. You may have other varieties of these staple crops that do well for you in your garden. If so, I welcome you to post a comment with the crop variety and the general area where you are located. Your comments will be helpful to everyone. To my readers from outside these U.S. regions, I hope you take this opportunity to write a comment to share the varieties you are growing in your part of the world.

Building our personal and regional food supplies will take all of us sharing information and seeds as we develop a new food system independent of corporate America. If we are to succeed, we need to be active participants in the process. Even with the best information and seeds, the learning is in the doing. Get out in the garden and get growing. Your skills and knowledge will develop more each year. For the sake of us all, I wish you well.Homeplace Earth

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barred rock henIf all your food was coming from plant sources, as it is in a vegan diet, you would still be missing vitamin B12, which is only available in significant quantities in animal products. You could consume B12 supplements, but in a sustainable diet, you need to get all your nutrients from natural sources. Our bodies can store B12, so if you had plenty of it in your diet for years, you would have extra that would carry over for quite some time if you stopped ingesting it. Eventually, though, you would run out. According to Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon, the symptoms of vitamin B12 deficiency include “pernicious anemia, impaired eyesight, panic attacks, schizophrenia, hallucinations and nervous disorders, such as weakness, loss of balance and numbness in the hands and feet.” To quote from the Nutrition Almanac by John Kirschmann, “the brain and nervous system are first affected by vitamin B12 deficiency, which results in faulty formation of nerve cells.” This book also suggests that burning of the mouth could be a sign of deficiency and in the elderly, “symptoms of impaired mental function can mimic Alzheimer’s disease.” I’ve heard that irrational anger is an early symptom of B12 deficiency. In order for B12 to be used efficiently by your body, you need to eat foods that contain folic acid in balanced proportions and you need calcium, so make sure leafy greens, such as kale and collards are a part of your diet.

I wondered just what it would take to get a day’s supply of B12, so I consulted the Estimated Average Requirements (EAR) which meet the requirements of 50% of the healthy individuals in the population and found that the EAR for B12 is 2 mcg. The Recommended Dietary Allowances (RDA), the amount sufficient to meet the need of 97-98% of the healthy population, is 2.4 mcg. These figures were updated in 1997 and are part of USDA’s Dietary Reference Intakes. I’ve used 2 mcg as the target amount for B12 in the following considerations. You would have to eat 2.6 large chicken eggs to get 2 mcg of B12. Surprisingly, if you were eating duck eggs, one duck egg supplies 190% of the B12 requirement. Duck eggs are larger than chicken eggs, but comparing the same weight of duck to chicken eggs, duck eggs contain 3.7 times the B12 as chicken eggs. These figures are assuming that you are eating eggs from chickens that get out to scratch in the grass. I have reason to believe that the eggs from confined hens would contain considerably less B12. I have heard of people avoiding eggs because of the cholesterol content. In 1971, before cholesterol was an issue, I learned in a nutrition class at Ohio State University that the egg yolk contains cholesterol, a nutrient that is necessary for our body to function properly, and the egg white contains lecithin, which helps the body use cholesterol the way it is meant to be used. Nature provides food for us in complete packages. When we separate those packages, thinking we know better, is when we get into trouble.

egg and 1 1/2 cups milkYou could meet your B12 requirement with 1 large chicken egg and 1½ cups whole cows milk. Ideally the cow would get most, if not all, her food from pasture. I found that goats milk doesn’t have as much B12 as cows milk. It would take 2 eggs and 2.8 cups of goats milk to get a day’s requirement. A vegetarian diet generally includes eggs and milk. However, if eggs and milk are part of your diet, you also have to recognize that the young males and old females need to be part of your diet as well, if you are really going for sustainability. If not, what would become of them? You could keep feeding them and let them live out their days, but that would really increase your ecological footprint to bring you eggs and milk. We need to raise these animals with the least environmental impact and in a way that brings them into the circle of our food system. Rather than being the steward who manages things from outside that circle, we need to become part of the circle. We are nourished by the energy of the plants and animals in the circle. Reverence for all of it is part of this sustainable diet.

It might be that pigs are part of your food system. They would love the whey and buttermilk from cheese and butter making. A 3 oz. serving of pork is 40% of your daily B12 requirement. You could raise rabbits, including alfalfa and other crops in your garden to feed them. A 3 oz. serving of rabbit meat contains three times the daily need for B12. Rabbit manure can feed redworms that become feed for your chickens. The resulting compost would feed the garden. The Integral Urban House suggests a system for raising rabbits and chickens in your backyard. Maybe you could work out a way to let your rabbits graze in your yard.

When all your food comes from local and homegrown sources, you need to find a balance that nourishes both body and soul. When you eat a varied diet of whole foods, you can avoid deficiencies. Including animals in this way is much different than including animals raised in conventional systems. In a perfect world, considering sustainability, you wouldn’t need broiler or beef cattle production to meet your nutritional needs. You would be eating smaller amounts of meat cooked in different ways. If you are buying eggs, ask the farmer what happens to the old hens and offer to buy some. Chopped chicken and gravy over mashed potatoes would be on the menu, rather than large pieces of fried chicken. The broth from stewing those old hens becomes chicken soup, known by both tradition and research to  have health benefits. A sustainable diet sustains both you and the earth, with no deficiencies. Becoming a part of your food system is an adventure that I hope you enjoy.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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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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