Sunday, May 22, 2011

Eating my lawn: Strawberry Leaf

After a week of rain it is a difficult task to ward off the man of the house and his lawn mower. Fortunately, the mower did not start today and he had to resort to scything some grass for the goat and ram. We set up the netted electric fence to move the ewes into the orchard to start fertilizing some of the trees. They enjoy the fresh green of pasture and after a week of rain they are grateful for the change of scenery from their damp shed. Mower! We don't need not stinky mower!

The sun is still a little shy today and we are supposed to have rain for a few more days here. A lot of seeds have sprouted in the garden but they all could use a little sun and heat to really take off. In the meanwhile I am still collecting dandelion greens and flowers and strawberry leaf.

We have an abundance of wild strawberry in our yard. I have been collecting bunches of the leaves to dry. Strawberry leaf is very high in vitamin C. Juliet de Bairacli Levy, in her book Common Herbs for Natural Health, recommends strawberry leaf tea used internally for fever, improving vitality, anemia, improving your appetite, regulating menstruation and as a stomach aide. Externally the tea can be used as soothing lotion for eczema which my little guy is prone to have during the winter and spring.

My goal this year is to provide all our herbal tea needs. We drink a fair amount of it in our home;especially, in the winter. I have spearmint, lemon balm, bee balm( aka bergomot), chamomile and catnip. Some wild foods will fill out this collections of teas. Dandelion and strawberry leaf are just the start. This week I hope to collect wild raspberry leaf too!

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Independence Days Challenge, Rain Rain Go Away...

We are in the middle of a wet spell here. WE have not seen the sun since last Friday and will not see it till this coming Sunday. Springs like this can make for frustrated gardeners. Fortunately, I put most of my cold crops in the ground. Our last frost date is after the full moon in May, this coming weekend, so I will consider this rainy week a respite from the dirt. At least from the outside of the house. I should get some chores done on the inside of the house.

Should. It is so easy to lose that easy rhythm of housekeeping from the winter once the garden work begins. Especially, when rainy days allow some extra time with the knitting needles:)
The work does go on though...

Plant: Most of this was done when the sun was shining. Hopefully the seeds won't float away, or rot. Calendula, dill, parsnip, carrot,lemon balm, mint, more onions, borage, Kueka gold, purple gold and Kennebec potatoes, cilantro.

Harvest: Dandelion Root, Dandelion Flowers, Dandelion leaves, sorrel, first chard leaves:)

Preserve the Food: Dandelion wine, Dandelion tincture, dried Dandelion leaf.

Eat the food: Dandelion Salads, quiche with sorrel and swiss chard.

Local Foods: yay farmer's market! My lemon balm and mint did not survive the move and the winter so my lovely local farmer was able to supply me with replacements. We have been eating spinach from her greenhouse while ours is not quite ready to eat yet.

Waste not: Rain barrel is keeping full. The compost pile is pretty big and wants to be turn, once the rain has past.

Want not: Finally got the cold room organized so all the food preservation tools are easy to reach. Jars that I use for dried foods are in a better spot. Actually they are all in a one spot instead of the various spots that the locals think they should go. Took a good inventory of the home canned food that was in there. I will not be making rhubarb chutney this year. There is an excessive amount of chutney in there. We enjoy it with pork but we have decided against growing a pig this year so do not need to make any more chutney. Mark did some shearing for some folks up north this past weekend. We have been thinking about doing something different with our big horned dorset ram. We had called some butchers but had not committed to the idea. One woman that Mark sheared for needs some fresh blood in her flock so we may barter Rama-a-lama for a late 90's VW Golf Car. It needs a little work but is definitely worth the price:) The car is a lot more fuel efficient than our dying Subaru. Mark would use this car for commuting.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Dandelion Dreams

Is there really any other flower more sublime than the dandelion? Oh, sure, there is the bold rose with its lovely fragrance. A vast array of perennial flowers bless my garden; echinacea, peony and bee balm. Their wild sisters; Daisy, Indian paint brush and Black Eyed Susans, are great for gathering into summer bouquets. Sun flowers are truly wonderful. But I have thing for dandelions.

When I was a child I have memories of concocting magic potions from dandelion heads. I used to cringe when a boy would grab the flower and say, "Momma had a baby and it's head popped off" and decapitate the flower from its milky stem. I used to weave those stems and flowers into garlands for my hair.

Now as an adult with a home of her own I am warding off the man with the mower. "No dear, you can't mow until the dandelions have passed." Each morning I walk along the orchard and collect the young greens for the dehydrator and a salad for later in the day. This past week I collect the heads for a small batch of dandelion wine. A wine we will enjoy next spring when it is fully matured. I dig dandelion roots to make a tincture of dandelion.

According to Deb Soule, in her book A Woman's Book of Herb's, Dandelion root tea or tincture is "valuable for woman going through menopause to take on a regular, long term basis for helping regulating hormone changes." Dandelion is also great liver tonic which helps with the transition from a winter diet; heavy in fats and meat, to a spring/summer diet that is lighter and filled with more fresh veggies.

Dandelions are the perfect wild food. Abundant, easy to identify, and most parts of the dandelion are edible. The greens make salads and teas, the flowers can be cooked to make a tempura, and the roots can be used as a coffee substitute. In terms of food storage it is a nice crop to start the preservation season with. This blog post has a great recipe for dandelion jelly I would like to try. Alas we are supposed to have a week of rain. I hope there will still be blossoms to pick after the rain has ended so that I can try it.

I am just a sucker for a cheerful splash of yellow on a canvas of spring green:)

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Yarn A Long

On the needles, Cobblestone, for Tristan in Peace Fleece. On the nightstand, Princess Bride, a great funny read. Surviving the Apocalypse in the Suburbs by my friend and fellow Blogger Wendy

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Time, Time, Time.....

Our life, family life, couple life has been busy. But not in a good way. I think there is a "good busy" and a "bad busy". A "good busy" is filled with things you want to do. It is filled with time in the garden, time together as a family, time completing long dreamed of projects. A "good busy" moves your life forward, brings your family together, invests in projects or activities that make your life easier in some way.

A "bad busy" just leaves you feeling like you are on a treadmill; lots of action but not going anywhere. A "bad busy" leaves you feeling exhausted before you even begin the day. A "bad busy" makes those activities that you consider "good busy" overwhelming and not worth the time. A "bad busy" leaves you feeling stressed, impatient. A "bad busy" takes a toll on your relationships.

I think we found ourselves at this point recently. We moved to the new house this past summer without much time to settle before Mark had to start school. Tristan's life became busy too as he finishes his last year of homeschooling and prepares to embark on the next step of his life. Evan was just going along for the ride for a while but he also needed to connect with other kids in his new community. And me? I was busy just getting everyone where they needed to go and making sure they had something to eat.

This would be busy enough, but Mark's job has many more requirements of his time, outside of the regular school day. Mud Season and our road made life hard just getting in and out of the house; adding 20 minute or so to every trip we took. One car was out of commission for most of the winter; so we were a one car family. In order to make this work, I was in the car even more than I was before.

I would say we were burned out. Burned out on work, burned out on homesteading, burned out on each other. We were in a bad space. No doubt. This burn out began to really take a toll on our marriage and family life. We were all so busy that we stopped paying attention to the reasons why we decided on this lifestyle. We were so busy that we stopped being kind to each other. We were so busy that we could not see how each other were struggling with all the busy-ness. We were so busy that we weren't able to really take care of ourselves, individually; so how could we see support each other in their busy-ness.

This busy-ness is far from the simple life I hoped for. But its tough. Many of the things that made Mark's life busy were required of him for his job. Tristan has to do what he needs to do right now, so he can do what he wants to do in the future. Evan needs friends and time with kids. And Momma is the one with the flexibility in her schedule to help everyone else meet their needs.

There are no easy solutions to some of this. We had talked of getting rid of the sheep. But they are really old ewes whose fleece is not desirable, at their age, for anyone seeking a fiber flock. And we love the sheep. They provide good compost for the garden, mow the lawn for us and I do use their fiber. We could down-scale the garden but we already spent the money on the seed and it really does save a lot of money. Time=Money. So if we did not spend the time in the garden we would have to spend more time earning money to buy the food we would have grown. And besides these are the "good busy" things that we do.

Summer vacation starts soon. We have decided not to build a big barn but a smaller sheep shed and a chicken coop. We have decided to take time to things together as a family. There will be camping trips, time to visit with friends from away, bike rides and swimming. We will chop wood and grow a garden. We will take days where we will not, under any circumstance, get in a car.

For now, while the busy-ness remains a part of our lives we will try to be kind to one another.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Independence Days Challenge, Dandelion Greens and Fiddleheads

My ambitious afternoon plans to work in the garden and build fences were rescheduled due to a thunderstorm that came through. Which in the broader scheme is fine. Because the blackflies have hatched right on schedule for the Mother's day weekend. After it passed I took my wild food guide outside to see if we had any wild leek along the small stream. I did not find any wild leek but I did find some fiddleheads ( baby fern heads)and plenty of dandelion greens. I will mix the greens with some salad I bought at the farmer's market and some french sorrel from our garden. Ahh first crops!

Plant: Plenty, I hope I can remember it all. Leeks, onions, shallots, more spinach,rutabaga, magel- wurzle beet, beet, bib lettuce, broccoli, kale. Transplanted highbush blueberry bushes and planted a couple more that we found at the Fedco Tree sale.

Harvested: dandelion greens, fiddleheads, chives, french sorrel.

Preserved: nothing.

Local Foods: there are so many little coolers dotting the roadside, full of fresh eggs. Our farmer's market started. I bought spinach and lettuce.

Eat the food: Evan and I made smoothies from berries from last years harvest and homemade yogurt. We sweetened them with a little homemade maple syrup. Salads, salads, salads. YUM!

Waste not: Our town has a large item pick-up twice a year. I found 2 new-to-me kitchen chairs. I plan to paint them to freshen them up but they are in pretty good shape. We did not have any large items to leave off the side at the side of the road.

Want not: Today was the Kids Stuff sale for the Franklin County Children's Task Force. I found a nice metal sled. This will be helpful for hauling child and other goods in in the winter. I also found a couple of pairs of Carhart pants for Evan when he gets a little bigger. I also found shorts for Tristan. It was a great sale not only for the things I found there but it helped me to see that I am slowly building community. There were several moms there that I new from other things that Evan and I are involved in. I ordered some cedar blocks from etsy to protect my wool yarn and knitted items. Little critters are everywhere right now and I would not want to see the money and time I invested in the wool and woolens lost to moths.We attended the Fedco Tree sale and found blueberry bushes, some seedlings that I did not start, like leeks, broccoli. We also stopped at a local bike shop. Mark will be bike commuting to the school he teaches at 3 days a week. He found some paneers last year at yard sale and needed a rack. I needed new tires on my bike. I plan to ride my bike, with Evan on the tandem, to the local library when we attend summer reading events. Evan needed a new bike helmet that would fit his head.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Plant-A-Row Challenge. April update at few days late

Sorry for the silence in this space. Life got a little crazy around here but hopefully it will return to it usual pace soon.

April's plant-a-row challenge was to make some decisions about what crops you would like to plant. Our local cooperative extension suggested that growers plant crops that would not perish quickly. Good keepers in other words. Crops such as onions, winter squashes, potatoes. I plan to grow a good row of onions. I also think that I will plant a row of Buttercup squash. I have more exotic squash for my own garden but I thought I would make sure that I donate something familiar for the folks that would be eating the squash.

For May's challenge I thought it would be good to think about the seeds we are using. This time of year we are all busy putting them in the ground. Sometimes there are a few leftover;either because we don't have enough room to plant a whole seed packet or really we only need a couple of zucchini plants. Seeds are potential food. In our county there is a group of folks that will provide seed to low income families so that they may grow some of their own food. Is there something like this where you live? Is there someone you know that could use a few more lettuce seeds? Can you freecycle some seeds? If you don't have seeds but a few extra seedlings is there someone you can share with?

I think of gardening as a way of building community. Given the rapid increase in commodity prices, folks living on the margins are really feeling the pinch. So we plant our rows. But another way to weather the storm of tough times is to build community with our neighbors. So this month's challenge leaves it up to you to decide which circle you would like to give your spare seeds to. Your closer circle of neighbors and friends or the larger circle of your community.

It is never too late to join the challenge. In March we researched organizations that accept garden produce. April we chose our crops. If you would like to join the challenge please leave a comment. If you would like to leave an update please leave a comment or link to your own blog update.

Happy planting!