Saturday, March 28, 2009

This is a Test

A couple issues ago, Mother Earth News printed a letter to the editor about garlic tea being the cure for a cold. Crush a few cloves, let 'em sit 10 minutes, pour near-boiling water over, add lemon. Add honey (ideally, when the water's cool enough to stick your finger in, so it won't destroy enzymes in the honey). We've tried it a few times, and the beginning-colds we've had never got much worse. It seems to work!!

I recently read Mycelium Running by Paul Stamets, and found out some of the fungi growing on our dead logs are Turkey Tails (trametes versicolor). After poking around online, to make really really sure I wasn't about to eat something poisonous, I decided to try them. Because I have a cold, and turkey tails happen to be great immune stimulators. Not to mention anti-cancer, and more. Mycelium Running cites scientific research to that effect, this isn't just superstitious folklore about medicinal mushrooms. (The same goes for reishi/ling chi, and other long-used edible/medicinal fungal allies.)

These particular turkey tails have long been dried up on the stumps where they grew, but I figure, since mushrooms are typically stored dried anyway, well, there they are. I picked a few, washed them off a little, and simmered them for a long time, about an hour. Since these are notoriously tough fungi, not exactly "edible" in the "side dish" sense, I poured the tea through a strainer into my mug. It tasted like a mushroom broth or tea would taste--not bad!!

The next day, my cold was a bit worse, following a normal course it seems. But I wasn't puking or turning green or anything I'd blame on misidentified fungi. (Yay!) So, time to up the dosage a little, and now I've tried taking the turkey tail water and pouring it over the crushed garlic cloves. It's not bad!! I add a little bit of salt for taste. Two mugs later, it's evening now, and I really really hope my cold is better tomorrow. We'll see.

I have a long day of work Monday, at the School of Medicine, and it would be SO nice if I'm not dragged down by cold and/or OTC meds.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

wild white indigo

I have seeds for wild white indigo, and I wanted to share what I discovered. Also known as Baptisia alba macrophylla, this plant is used as a dye, although it is not as "striking" as the old world indigo plant. However, this is a perennial nitrogen fixer, and a native prairie plant. It's also beautiful, as evidenced by the picture.

More info here:

Monday, March 23, 2009

work and play inside and out

How this page gets formatted is beyond me, so I hope you can match the pictures up with the text. Don and Kaleigh assisted Mike, who defied 1908 construction practices to install much-needed shelving in K's room. She started moving over her stuff today. At last, enough room to organize somewhat.

There is a refrigerator impersonating a hedgehog. Really, it's dumpstered shag carpet. (Of course! you say...) Bill brought it over, and has been waiting patiently for this blog report on our efforts. It's on! It seems to work for insulating. We'll put it to the test in July, when it is way too hot for the poorly made modern fridge to function.

Another picture you may see on this page is our south side yard. This is 3 years post-tornado, with the last of the wood gone. Here it is pictured with paths and beds figured out, and spring planting begun. It most likely looks like a big mess to the uninitiated. This is our beginning; we like it, and we are excited. So far we've planted onions, potatoes, and peas. I'm hopeful the anticipated rain chirks them right out of the ground.

It got into the 70s today, and the cherry trees popped out all kinds of blossoms. I didn't see much in the way of pollinators. It was pretty, though. I've noticed a few other trees around town popping out blooms. Another blooming tree on this page is the American elm. They are not exactly pretty blossoms, but they are delicate and intriguing in their own way.

And lastly, there are some pictures of crocuses. I need color and beauty in spring. It is what gets me through winter without lethargy and depression.


Sunday, March 22, 2009

Big Steps

Long time no blog, eh? I don't remember the last time I actually sat down and typed something, rather than quoting and linking for a quickie post.

In addition to the Urban Renewal Think Tank, my favorite new internet forums are Midwest Permaculture's very own Ning. They're inviting graduates of their permaculture courses to join, and members of the public can sign up, post, and discuss on the public parts of the network. So, come on by, read, participate. Both sites are just way cool, and very positive in tone and outlook. We all want to know WHAT WORKS. And we just love the folks who run Midwest Permaculture.

Last weekend, we got some significant progress made in the ol' garden of zomba, and I blogged about it on my new ning profile, but it's hard to find the blog through all the profile and recent comments and whatnot. So I'm reposting here, where people are more likely to see it.

From Monday, March 16:

Big Steps

The past few weeks Carey and I have been working on a pathway design for our garden, to be more interesting and functional than the typical rows of 4-foot-wide beds. I went through a long series of doodles, starting with a mandala design, trying out other patterns (e.g. branching spirals), taking breaks, indulging inspiration, and referring to the Designer's Manual and Edible Forest Gardens. Eventually I arrived at what now seems obvious, what EFG calls "rootlike" path design. This would be a dendritic pattern where one can easily head toward any part of the garden from the main entrance. The main throughway path is a bit wider than the branches; we'll see how it plays out in practice, if I need more or less room to get down there and pluck edible weeds.

On the ground, we took old cardboard that we had been saving for sheet mulch or worm food, and laid it out on soon-to-be paths, to get a better idea of the spacing of everything, and a feel for how it feels to walk these paths. It feels good. More recently, I went out with a tape measure to make sure beds are double-reach (4 feet), and gave the design a few last little tweaks.

Yesterday, it was a spectacular early spring day, and we got out there and did a lot. We built up a bed from a compost pile that turned out to be on a main path. We had a lot of bark on the ground and in piles, from the downed trees of a few years ago; this I spread onto the cardboard paths to replace the bricks that were holding them in place. The bark is no fun for bare feet, but it's a resource at hand so we're using it. We moved some surprise lilies that also turned out to be in the way of a path. I harvested some bricks from a defunct firepit, moving them to line a bed of day lilies by the street so folks won't walk on them so much (like I was doing the other day).

Friends came over and dug up roots from a future bed, played with our daughter, contributed to the new compost pile, played music, chatted, shared bread and wine, the usual good times--our Sunday "unchurch" routine.

Someday I'd like to post a few scans of garden design doodles, and pics of the progress, but now I have errands to run and dishes to do. I look forward to getting on my bike today, even though certain sets of muscles are still sore from yesterday. It's already beautiful out--why am I sitting here staring at the screen?!

Today, then, was another Sunday, with visiting, food, good times, and more projects getting done. I'll leave it to Carey to fill y'all in about that.

It rained today--was supposed to be "partly cloudy" but we got a nice long gentle rain. I'm SO happy for all the little plants, which will just be popping out even more insanely now. Happy happy happy. The million little seedlings under the elm smell like garlic mustard--I guess we didn't overeat it last year, after all. I think we'll enjoy trying to keep up with it this spring, it'll need serious thinning!

Friday, March 20, 2009

eleanor roosevelt's dress

Spring is happening in zomba. The trees have lost their red hazy mist and are now infused with a yellow red hazy mist. A bit of warmth and moisture, and leaves will be popping out. Our cherry trees are almost there. Dandelions are getting to edible size at last. Crocuses are spilling gold and purple among the greening grass and the slowly decomposing fallen leaves.

There's a patch of creeping charlie that grew last year in with the garlic mustard. I can smell the garlic mustard, but I can't find it as the two plants look fairly similar at this stage. We apparently overate the garlic mustard last year! Do we let the remains of this invasive exotic go to seed, continuing our free food, vestiges of the garden of eden? Shall we consider eating garlic mustard a more proficient means of extermination than round-up?

The south lawn garden gets in more recognizable order each nice working day. Today, I cut potatoes for seed, and after a couple of days of scabbing over, we'll plant those (have more still sitting around sprouting). I've wanted to try growing potatoes under layers of straw, and since we have a couple of straw bales, I will. I've gotten several tomato cages in place, with peas planted around them, and onions planted around that. So far, I've planted about 80 onions, and I have two more bags of sets (Humphreys!) to plant. Even if I get them all planted, that's barely enough to cover our yearly onion needs. When you really start to think about feeding yourself, it gets intimidating.

I transplanted the last tray of sprouts, some cabbage, broccoli, and rhubarb, but the vast majority is heirloom peppers and tomatoes. These are now sunning themselves and putting on additional leaves in our sunny south window. I planted another tray of seeds to sprout, mostly herbs, plus tomatoes and peppers I received from Baker Creek (more!!). Our perennial investment order is ready to be mailed off: three blueberries, four hazelnuts, two chestnuts, five elderberries, a pink seedless grapevine for Kaleigh, and my splurge order of a dwarf lime because I like how they look and smell (my pleasant greenhouse worker memories, plus you can never be too prepared for climate change).

I met today with members of the Springfield local food task force. It's exciting to think that my actions are hopefully going to create change, yet I know we are attempting to create change from the top down, and it's not an arena I particularly enjoy or have faith in. At the same time, it seems necessary to remove legal barriers for people to be able to provide for their basic needs. A city that encourages its citizens to provide for themselves is secure, and more easily copes and adapts to chaos.

The Zion Missionary church down the street is moving ahead with its plans to plant a garden to provide fresh, local, and nutritious organic food to patrons of their food pantry. This is exciting to see happen in my own neighborhood, and I am delighted to be a part of it.

A few days ago, Justin gave his talk on bioremediation, notes available here. It was a great talk, and I learned a lot about removing toxins from soil, and also about the hovering umbrella of greed that corporations have legally enforced. Not only is it their products and services that put the toxins in the soil in the first place, but now they've patented a lot of hyperaccumulator plants. So if you want to plant soil amending plants, you'll need to pay them for the patent to do it. It's not that the plants been genetically modified or altered in any way; they're just plants. It's ridiculous.

Corporations need to have less control over us people. They need to be responsible and accountable to someone, it would seem. And why not us? We have to pay the price for their stupidity, short-sightedness, and inevitable destruction. (I am not a Communist.)

Kaleigh's been reading like crazy lately, devouring a dozen chapter books in a week, at least. She's been rabid about bike rides. She really wanted to ride in the critical mass tonight. Sometime, maybe next month! It's a little cold out, and we adults are pretty tired out tonight.


Wednesday, March 11, 2009

the dispossessed

Speech by Shevek
The Dispossessed, by Ursula LeGuin

It is our suffering that brings us together. It is not love. Love does not obey the mind, and turns to hate when forced. The bond that binds us is beyond choice. We are brothers. We are brothers in what we share. In pain, which each of us must suffer alone, in hunger, in poverty, in hope, we know our brotherhood. We know it, because we have had to learn it. We know that there is no help for us but from one another, that no hand will save us if we do not reach out our hand. And the hand that you reach out is empty, as mine is. You have nothing. You possess nothing. You own nothing. You are free. All you have is what you are, and what you give.

....You cannot buy the Revolution. You cannot make the Revolution. You can only be the Revolution. It is in your spirit, or it is nowhere.

Friday, March 6, 2009


Today was exquisite. We were blessed with almost 80 degree temperatures, with gentle breezes. We were also blessed with no time commitments today. We had a lot of fun work/playing outside.

The south side lawn, our soon to be beautiful crazy garden, is in the process of transformation. Gone are giant rotten trunks of wood and piles of weeds. Rough paths are marked out in bark, and beds have begun being marked. It is exciting to see. We're thinking of flattening out our surplus of boxes and putting them down to mark paths, and putting bark on top of those. After that, it will be putting plants in the ground until it all grows into a verdant jungle.

I pruned all of our fruit trees today. I learned how to prune today, I hope. I pruned the grapevines, and removed a lot of dead or old wood from the raspberry patch. The raspberry patch has been around for 8 years now, and parts of it are starting to peter out. Hopefully a thorough going-through will rejuvenate it. Don selectively cut out some weedy mulberry trees; there are so many, they can't all possibly grow here. He also cut off one big almost-dead limb on the redbud tree. The tree is slowly dying, half of it being flung away during the tornado almost three years ago. The light will stimulate whatever next will grow there--a big chestnut tree, I hope.

Bulbs are greening out of the ground, as is the garlic. Strawberries are greening up, as is the dame's rocket, and white clover leaves have begun springing out of the ground. The fruit trees all have buds, and I even saw a tiny leaf on a cherry branch as I pruned it away. There were lots of bugs running around, as we wreaked havoc in their living space today. The mosquitoes are out.

Kaleigh played in mud, baked in the mud, through mud balls and made them into mud pancakes, and rode her bike over to turtle alley, around the yard, and down the street. She's on a reading binge currently. Even with all the beauty and warmth outside, she still read one and a half Boxcar Children books. Kaleigh helped out with whatever was going on also. We had a good, fun, getting-stuff-done day.

My back is tired, and I'm ready to dive back into Ursula LeGuin's lovely story, the Dispossessed. It's exactly what I need to read right now.


Monday, March 2, 2009

February's end

Last week was a productive one for the homestead. With our big out-of-the-house commitments (Laura Ingalls Wilder Celebration Day for homeschoolers, and basic and advanced gardening workshops) finished, a bit of down time and relaxation in there, we're back on thinking of what needs to be done in this place, and doing it.

This week we got up two grow lights in our kitchen, and Kaleigh and I planted two seed trays. There's the usual overabundance of tomatoes. I am not good about keeping the heirloom varieties separated, so I have started 18 plants of my own seeds I saved last year, with maybe 4-5 types of beautiful and delicious tomatoes. I also started 18 seeds from tomato seeds I saved a couple of years ago, from my friends Gus and Andy, who had 60 kinds of heirloom varieties, the tomatoes of which they sold at the farmers market. I can't wait to see what happens!

Additionally, we started broccoli, hardy kiwi, black currants, sweet peppers, cabbage, ramps, currant tomatoes (small and very sweet), rhubarb, red currants, passionflower, "wild" strawberries, and cilantro. I hope to set out the cold season plants as soon as they are big enough, and have the warm season plants beautiful and healthy when the ground warms up.

Don has crafted a plan of paths to convert our big south side lawn (our garden) into a less straight-line garden. In other words, the 4' wide beds are no more, and anything that is not path will be planted in an integrated vegetable, fruit, herb, and tree garden. It's going to be beautiful, and productive! We have some dead wood still to get off the site, and plenty of weeds (mulch!) to hack away. The soil under the rotting logs (which collected leaves over the winter) is beautiful. Don made a good start in getting the whole place cleared off.

Yesterday, we chopped up 8 heads of cabbage, 10 carrots and onions, and three bulbs of garlic, making about 3 gallons of lacto-fermenting kraut. We shall have plenty to share in the coming weeks! I really like kraut now, and heartily eat big bowls of it. I think it's kept me from getting sick much this winter.

Don has kept up with splitting and stacking wood. Kaleigh and I spent a nice warm day outside last week hanging clothes on the line, planting greens and a small amount of peas, picking up garbage, and weeding out her strawberry bed and strewing it with straw. Greening things in the yard are: garlic tops, strawberry leaves, dame's rocket (pretty flower, not edible), and dead nettle (ground cover, not edible as far as I know). I pruned the peach trees, but the pruner was so dull, I was afraid I was doing more harm than good, so I stopped (couldn't find the file to sharpen). The fruit trees have little red buds on them. Spring is here! (Yes, I know it's 20 degrees out.)

Kaleigh showed her rock collection at the Illinois State Museum's Junior Collectors' Day. She had a great time talking about rocks, and one patron went home and returned with two rocks for Kaleigh. They are unique to Monterey Bay, and are formed from the action of water within the bay. They are nice. Today, Kaleigh is at a holiday gymnastics clinic downtown, doing gymnastics, relay races, obstacle courses, and hopefully having a good time with kids. For those of you who know Kaleigh, you know this is a marked change in her independence. She is now her own fearless person! Hooray!

Don's parents graciously purchased a very nice wringer and a rapid washer to accompany our wash basins. With a little bit of hardware and some nice temperatures, our new washer will be put to the test.

We traded wine for a deer roast with some friends, and had some most delicious roast. I cooked it up with some apple cider wine, potatoes, carrots, onions, and garlic. We ate it with homemade bread, sauerkraut, and pickles, with a dessert of Southern Illinois peaches I canned last fall. The meal felt appropriate--this is what we are supposed to be eating in winter in this place. And it was delicious!

I'm sure there's about 200 other things we did on the homestead this week that have not been mentioned (lots of wood heat activities, morning house-cleaning chores, dishes and cooking), but we're having a good time, even with our sore backs. We have a lot of plans for this spring, and are hopeful we'll have interested persons visiting helping us to enact our vision for this place.