A Sunday Link Stroll

Get over the idea that only children should spend their time in study.  Be a student so long as you still have something to learn, and this will mean all your life.  ~Henry L. Doherty

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On this rainy sunday afternoon, as I plant my peas in wet soil and my hair is drenched by the rain, I’m dreaming of being on this beach again. Here are some links you may enjoy learning from:

Thomas Edison predicting the future.

I’m super excited to grow Zingiber officinale in pots this year.

Where Tiny Homes get official support.

Ingredients for natural body care.

Farm dogs

Victory gardens

-M.

Values in the Garden Patch: On Being a Caretaker

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At one point or another in your life I’m sure someone has taken care of you without asking for anything in return. Maybe they changed your stinky diaper, gave you advice you really needed, or handed you something for free that was worth it’s weight in gold.

But what does it actually mean to me to be a caretaker? There are a lot of things in my life that I must take care of, like my car or our tiny house. But I don’t think making sure those things are clean and operable really makes me a caretaker. I think the true sense of the word caretaker entails giving little parts of yourself in order to create something beautiful that can be shared.

Any good gardener knows that they are not just a Dirt-Shoveller, Seed-Planter, or Hose-Wrangler. A good gardener knows deep down that they are willing to sacrifice little bits of themselves–whether of their time, their clean clothes, or their sweet equity–to create a beautiful and meaningful space that can be shared with others. And even better, a space that will provide something for them in return in the form of delicious healthy food.

Being a true caretaker is one of the most important values that compels me to carry on with our little homestead. Our garden, chickens, rabbits, and crazy puppy dog bring me enjoyment, yes, but more importantly just being a caretaker of them is valuable to me in an of itself.

How many times has a friend told you “If you don’t take care of yourself, you’ll never be able to take care of anybody else”? Oh how true it is…

I have been sick with a cold the past two days for the first time in almost a full year. Yes, you read that correctly: I really never got sick this past flu season and I teach elementary-aged kids with runny noses that cough all over me. Ridiculous, right? It’s by design, not accident, that I’ve stayed so healthy. I made a strong immune system one of my goals for taking better care of myself this year, and have learned to make medicine for myself to prevent illness.

Some of my go-to daily preventatives during flu season have been my homemade Elderberry tincture, homemade Rosehips & Ginger Elixir, Vitamin C, Fish Oil, and homemade Bone Broth. Once I feel a tickle in my throat, I amp it up with Organic Echinacea & Yarrow tea every 3 hours to boost my white blood cell count and flush the congestion out. It has worked like a charm and I have no doubt this little bug will be gone within a few days.

Now before you think I’m trying to sound all “I-am-so-smart-and-take-better-care-of-myself-than-you,” know that I never used to do any of these things to take care of myself. It took a lot of research and trial-and-error to figure out what works for me. Now they are as normal to me as brushing my teeth in the morning or making breakfast. Healthy habits, once you get through the initial break-in phase, really just become a part of your daily routine.

I also feel at home when I am tending to nature and helping it bloom. I have always been a nature-lover, from back in the days of making daisy-chain headbands with my mom in the yard to my more recent immersion in herbal medicine. I feel at home when I have the sun on my cheeks and my hands in the dirt. I love the simplicity of nature, how it just makes sense to be there with others. I love botany and gardening and get excited about sharing my knowledge (and curiosity) with others.

I try to be a caretaker of nature and not just an observer by taking really great care of the soil, and not just stripping it of it’s nutrients year after year for my own sake. I see restorative agriculture as the only way to utilize the resources of the land without depleting it’s value for future generations. Even though our little homestead is itty-bitty, I see our space as an opportunity to provide health for myself and my family through real foods, and a great habitat that birds and wildlife will keep coming back to again and again.

My community is one of the most important places for me to be sacrificing bits of myself to create something beautiful that we can share. If I’m just restoring the earth for myself, that’s not much of a legacy to leave behind, is it? I’m a big fan of keeping it simple, so I tend to have a smaller sphere of influence and stick with that. I try to be a loving caretaker towards my husband, family, and a small core group of friends.

This looks like a lot of different things at different moments, but one of my core values is to do for someone (or something) else what you’d want for someone to do for you. Whether of not it’s convenient or glamorous, being there to care for people in our community who need it is the only way to get through this life with a few ounces of sanity left, in my opinion. You community might look a lot different than mine. Your might have no family at all, or prefer a network of at least 100 friends to stay happy. If that’s what works for you that’s great! This is just how I’ve structured my life. I have a big-picture perspective that can easily run me in circles over-thinking things, so I need to keep things simple.

Of course, there are always days when I could care less about being anybody’s caretaker and just want to mope around. But when I’m really honest with myself, being a caretaker of myself, my community, and my earth is one of the most fulfilling jobs I could ask for.

-M.

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What about you? How are you a caretaker of yourself? What are the little bits of yourself that you give in order to create a more beautiful space that can be shared with others, whether in nature or on your street?

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How to Play Hooky from your Life for a Day

Jump into a mental exercise with me for a moment.

Imagine all of your duties and responsibilities for tomorrow suddenly vanished, and you were left with a whole glorious day to yourself, free to do or not do whatever you please. No animals or people you have to care for, no to-do list, no job to go to, no chores to do, no need for any kind of productivity, nothing at all that must be done.

What would I do?

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I would begin by waking up when the sun wakes me up, instead of waiting for some horrible beeping sound to jolt me out of a lovely dream. I’m an early riser naturally, so this might just mean waking up to the hint of the sun at 5:30 or 6am, but doing so by my own choice instead of by an alarm can sometimes make all the difference in starting the day off on the right foot.

Then I would spend some time stretching, showing care for my body and preparing for being active throughout the day. Note that I hardly EVER do this, this is just what I would like to think I would do if I had the time and no obligations to be anywhere or do anything first thing in the morning.

Then I would gather eggs from our beautiful hens, and make myself an amazing breakfast along with some hand-blended Echinacea and Yarrow tea, with some Rose Hip and Ginger Elixir stirred in. Cold weather preventatives, dont’cha know.

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After eating I would pack up a basket with food and supplies for the day, finding a willing friend (or four) to come along, and I would head up into the mountains for a day of harvesting wild herbs. Some of the most valuable medicine for chronic and minor conditions comes from nature. After all, that is where we began making medicines from in the first place, before labs started making synthetic ones! And who can turn down a fun-filled day of hiking?

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Of course, if the day were truly free of duties, I would be sure to drive slow on my way to said hike, and take the leisurely and pretty route through some amazing scenery. I might even stop on the side of the road a few times for no reason at all, just to look around.

I would look for my many herbal friends, this time of year including stinging nettle, dandelions, salal, willow, and so many others. I think that spending time with the plants in nature, learning not only to identify them but also to see how they grow, is what turns an aspiring herbal medicine-maker into an accomplished and confident herbalist.

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Oh, and cheese—I would be eating lots and lots of delicious goat cheese, havarti, aged cheddar, and so on. And of course some warm homemade bread. Because we’re talking about the perfect day here, right?

All the while, I would be getting in an amazing range of movement, through the exercise of hiking and climbing and reaching and breathing the mountain air, and would be improving my own wellness before I even think about making therapies with the plants! How amazing is that!? Who needs to be a hamster on a treadmill in a stinky gym when you can walk about in the freshness of nature like we were meant to do.

I would probably try to fit in some fishing on this wildcrafting excursion, not because I need to but because I love to fish whether I catch anything or not. Although, I have been known to catch a mean salmon when they’re running.

I would draw my day to a close with a bonfire full of good laughs, good food, good friends, good stars to gaze at, and so many dreams of the future. Dreams of the future are the currency of the inspired, and I refuse to ever stop dreaming about where this life will take me.

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What about you?

If you had a day all to yourself, with zero responsibilities, what exactly would you do and who would you spend it with? I feel this is an amazing mental exercise to help you realize what you actually could be doing with your days, rather than what you feel you should be doing with them.

You’re never going to be on your death bed wishing you’d worked more hours at the office or mopped your floors cleaner or kept your kids dressed as cutely as the neighbors, but you just might regret not going for more walks with the ones you love, not telling someone how you really felt about them, or not spending enough time enjoy the beauty of nature.

Try closing your eyes and taking this mental journey with me. See what you learn about yourself that you didn’t already know. Maybe your deepest desire is to spend your perfect day with a person you wouldn’t expect. Maybe you never get to see them. Maybe you should give them a call. Or maybe your longing is to spend your perfect day right in your own yard, tending to it. And maybe you never do. Maybe you need to step out your own back door.

Let your dreams do the talking.

-M.

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Resources:

Here are some amazing Nettle recipes to get you excited about the harvest season that’s just getting started!

Nettle Pesto Recipe (from my amazing Herbal Mentor, Suzanne Jordan!)

Nourishing Nettle and Root Tea with Lemon

“Those people died from eating, not starving. That’s progress.”

Get over the idea that only children should spend their time in study.  Be a student so long as you still have something to learn, and this will mean all your life.  ~Henry L. Doherty

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A visit to Lavender Wind farm, Whidbey Island, WA

And here lies my list of useful links for the week. These are links to what I’m currently reading that you might find educational or otherwise important for improving your quality of life (read: free entertainment).

You could wander aimlessly through the internet on a sunday afternoon, or you could try a few of these tidbits on for size.

GROWING

List of seeds you can start right now from the Urban Farmer.

Thinking about creating some raised beds to get your spring garden going? Check out a succinct list of pros and cons of raised beds vs. in-ground growing here.

For those interested in raising livestock for consumption, and because you know I love my chickens, here are some tips on raising chickens in the city and some thoughts on raising rabbits the right way.

EATING

Roll up your sleeves and practice eating local foods that are in season. Check out these delicious recipes from a Seattle chef-turned-blogger. The Beet Carpaccio with Goat Cheese and Walnuts looks divine, now I just need to convince someone to cook it for me…

WORKING

Why your spare time is worth way more than $25 per hour.  Many arguments which could be summarized with the thought “Buying Shit Doesn’t Make You Happier,” also known as defining basic needs.

And in the ever-enticing Early Retirement through Financial Independence category, Retire even Earlier Without Earning More or Spending Less, which may stir up a few ideas for your own fiscal planning, or just be obnoxious chatter from a guy who’s about to retire young. Never know till you read it.

ENTERTAINMENT

Wonder how you’ll feel about exploding cows in the food chain? My favorite part of this is that what is supposed to be a hilarious satire already has the corporate mega-farming industry up in arms to defend itself. Nobody pointed the finger at you, but if you want to point it at yourself….

-M.

Hugelkulturs: The dirtiest scandal to hit your family in years

Don’t tell me this is the first time you’ve heard the word hugelkultur? Oh, but they’re all the rage in the permaculture/biodynamic gardening community these days. They’re so edgy, gritty and risqué, I’m sure you’re going to love them. And once you start using them, your family is going to be the scandal of the neighborhood with all of the food that you’re harvesting with such little investment and effort.

One of our hugelkulturs growing a bit wild last summer. This single mound (8'x15') produced approx. 30 lbs squash, 20 lbs onions, 10 lbs. peas, 15 lbs garlic, and some beautiful flowers!

One of our hugelkulturs growing a bit wild last summer. This single mound (8’x15′) produced approx. 30 lbs squash, 20 lbs onions, 10 lbs. peas, 15 lbs garlic, and some beautiful flowers!

Have some tree branches blown over by a recent storm?

……….You want to build a hugel.

Have problems with paying too much to irrigate your garden during the summer?

……….You want to build a hugel.

Want lots of delicious food this season with minimal effort compared to raised beds?

……….You want to build a hugel.

Want to lose 50 pounds in 5 days?

……….You want to….wait that’s not about hugels. Ahem, anyways…

Hugekultur is a German phrase which loosely translates to “mound culture.” The idea behind the concept is that you can utilize your own yard scraps while growing an amazing variety of edible plants in a small space by creating a mounded growing surface on top of decomposing materials. Read: A giant raised bed filled with rotten wood. You may have done this on accident at some point, if you ever had a pile of chopped wood or yard debri sitting in your yard like an eyesore, until one day you finally decided to throw some dirt on that shit and plant a marigold in it. Voila! Accidental hugelkultur! Ok, actually, it’s a bit more complicated than that, but you were on the right track.

Hugelkulturs utilize logs, wood debris, and other items that would otherwise probably be burned or hauled to the dump, and repurposes them as they rapidly decompose under layer of soil, straw, manure, compost, etc. that you place on top before planting your food crops in it. It gives you the opportunity to do some carbon sequestration (capturing and long-term storage of atmospheric CO2) in your own backyard. They are immensely useful as a means of growing plants for consumption without irrigation. Ah-ha! Now your budget-minded ears have perked up, haven’t they? No water bill, you say? Tell me more!

The pretty mounds of flowers and veggies on the left is one of our many hugelkulturs this past summer, in front of our house. No, I'm sorry you don't get an awesome miniature log cabin just because you build a hugel....

The pretty mounds of flowers and veggies on the left is one of our many hugelkulturs this past summer, in front of our house. No, I’m sorry you don’t get an awesome miniature log cabin just because you build a hugel….

The larger (taller) the hugel, the less irrigation it will require. According to Paul Wheaton, if you build your hugelkultur tall enough, after the 2nd year growing in it you will not have to water it a single drop to get your plants to grow, because the wonderful decomposing materials inside of it with sponge up all the water from the soil underneath and provide it to the plants on the surface. So I recommend building your hugelkultur way higher than you think you will need, and remember it will sink back down a LOT as the carbon material decomposes underneath.

Erica from NW Edible gave you an example of a very basic hugel construction on her blog here. She calls it a half-ass hugelkultur, but it actually looks like it took a whole lot of sweat and effort to build.

As promised, it is gritty, edgy, and risqué, right? Way better than the latest The Bachelor episode. Now that you know all the wonderful benefits of hugels, I’m guessing that you want to build one of your own, right??? Of course you do!

Well, I’m planning to write a future post about the hugel that I’m creating in a beautiful spiral shape to plant herbs and a few veggies into here in a few weeks. I’ll provide you before, process, and after pictures so you can get an idea of the work that goes in from start to finish (hint: it mostly involves spading a bit, carrying stuff from one pile to another, covering in soil, and planting. Crazy difficult, I know.). So stay tuned for pictures of a little baby hugel growing up, so that you can imitate it in your own yard if you so desire.

-M.

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In the meantime, check out a few of these links to gorge yourself on some hugelkultur porn and get psyched up for the project all of your neighbors are going to be gossiping about:

Paul Wheaton has some beautiful info graphics that show the decomposition process here.

The Permaculture Research Insitute has a short few bullet points here to give you some more facts that will make you go gaga for hugels.

The Permaculture magazine has another nice infographic here.

Three herbs you can harvest right now to stock your Herbal First Aid Kit

In my corner of the country, the soggy Pacific Northwest, we’re beginning to see the green little shoots of spring growth from some very exciting plants. In fact, I am going to be guiding a small herb walk this saturday to introduce some folks to three fabulous plants which they can use as part of an all-natural first aid kit, so I decided I’d like to write about the plants so that you can learn alongside us. It doesn’t take much investment, aside from your time, to learn about how to treat your family’s medical needs at least partially through herbal options.

Salal

Gaultheria Shallon

This perennial bush is native to the Pacific Northwest which has waxy-shiny green leaves that remain on the plant all year long. The berries of the plant are high in antioxidants and can be used to make jellies and jams. But beware, they’re a bit tart! Of course, February is too early for the berries to be ready for the picking, that must wait till this summer, but we can still benefit from the wonderful leaves! The leaves have historically been used by many native peoples for coughs, colds, wounds, and digestive problems. A tea can be made with the dried leaves which has drying properties, supporting health by removing congestion and mucus from the sinuses to through the respiratory system. When gathering the leaves, go in spring and summer and seek out the most vibrant, healthy-looking leaves.

Stinging Nettle

Urtica dioica

This plant is not only medicinal, it is also a food source of many vitamins and is highly nutritious. It is a leafy plant growing in stands connected by an underground network of rhizomes. The plant is famous for the tiny stinging hairs on the underside of the leaves. I for one learned very quickly as a child exactly what it looked like and not to touch it! It has been used for generations to treat conditions including painful muscles and joints, eczema, arthritis, gout, and anemia. I also personally know herbalist friends who use nettle as part of their regimen in treating their seasonal allergies and hay fever. When collecting stinging nettle it is important to cover your exposed skin by wearing gloves and long sleeves. The leaves can be dried to make a tea or to use in cooking.

Usnea

Usnea longissimus

Usnea is a lichen, which is a combination of an algae and a fungus growing together. It grows prolifically in areas which have heavy rainfall, such as the Pacific Northwest. You can often find the lichen growing on old fallen branches or decaying trees. It is a potent anti-microbial and anti-bacterial defender. It can be used for a great many effects on the human system, including for infections, pneumonia, urinary tract infections, sore throat, fungal infections, vaginal infections, sinus infections, colds/flu, mastitis, and boils. It is very important not to over-harvest usnea, so when harvesting take only as much of it as you will need. It can be prepared as a tincture and a decoction.

I hope you enjoyed your brief education on early spring-time herbs, and that you will go out this week and look for these or other medicinal herbs in your area. You’ll be amazed to see what you can find growing in your own backyard!

-M.

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Check out these websites for more great information on these plants:

Stinging Nettle on Edible Wild Food

Usnea on Methow Valley Herbs

Usnea on Susun Weed

Salal on Wild Foods and Medicines

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