Here in NW Georgia, we’re about a month early in spring. The earth seems to have shifted a few degrees, enough to make spring appear early. We have fruit trees in blossom everywhere. My fruit trees are in glorious bloom – peach, almond, blueberry. Jonquils and daffodils can be picked in big bouquets right by the side of roads or in gardens. They have naturalized here so nobody cares if you get some for your table.

For those of you who make medicine or forage for wild food, this is bonanza time for harvesting the tender greens of spring.

This afternoon I filled two large baskets of nature’s bounty. Some would call these weeds, but I call them friends and fodder for my dehydrator, air drying, or for making tinctures and dried tea for later. From them I make salves, oils, immunity tea, and often I add the fresh leaves and flowers to salads. Some make pesto from chickweed or henbit, and many of the spring vegetables (weeds…) can be added to stews, soups, sauces, and juiced. Just be aware of those which have a laxative effect. A little chickweed or henbit pesto goes a long way.

What did I find today?

Dandelion flowers. I tend not to pick these first thing in spring because this garden is a bee haven, and the bees need the nectar and pollen after a barren winter. But later I will clear off my front lawn of the just blossomed flowers and make massage oil. Just stuff a quart jar with the flowers (leave the leaves for the salads, very nutritious) and fill with extra version olive oil or sweet almond oil. Poke it a bit with a skewer or chop stick to remove any trapped air. Put it in the back of a kitchen cabinet for a month or more. Then press thru either cheese cloth or make a filter bag with muslin cloth and squeeze the infused oil out. You can add some Vitamin E oil and a few drops of lavender essential oil to the finished oil for a preservative and massage it on sore muscles. Makes a nice moisturizing oil for very dry skin too. It comes out a gentle green/yellow color.

Henbit flowers and leaves. You will see these in great array across pastures, along the side of the road this time of year, or on your lawn. The flowers are tiny purple or white nestled in the top of a rosette of the green leaves. They are very edible loaded with iron, manganese, magnesium, calcium, vitamins A, C, E, K and antioxidants and phyto chemicals for health. They are tasty when young and can be added to salads tasting like kale or celery. Add the flowering heads and leaves to stew, soup, sauces, pesto, on sandwiches, and in smoothies. Some people consider this a super food, and makes good juice. Mix with other spring greens though as too much causes a laxative effect. They are great pollinator attractors for the bees when they need early food. Preserve by dehydrating for tea which is immune boosting or adding to salves and ointments for their anti-inflammatory properties. This makes a good pain and arthritis remedy. A poultice can be made by crushing the flowering heads and leaves and applied to cuts, scrapes, burns, stings and other skin irritations including bug bites. This is also a diuretic (stimulates the creation of urine, a detoxifier for the kidneys), a stimulant, induces sweat, antiseptic, helps with bringing down a fever, and helps with menstrual cramps and excessive bleeding. A little later in the season its cousin Purple Dead Nettle will show up. The little purple flowers are similar but the top of the stem often shows brownish purple leaves along with the flowers. These both can be used interchangeable both for food and medicine. Don’t be in a hurry to get rid of these beautiful plants as they are excellent for erosion control, self seed, and as they die out, add nutrients to the top soil. They are an annual herb.

Chick weed can now be found in abundance. This is another delicious foraging food which can be used in salads, and has many of the same nutritional and medicinal benefits as henbit. It is a strong astringent which can be made into a skin tonic to firm and tighten skin. It also goes well in healing salves and ointments as it draws out toxins and helps to heal the skin. It has been used by some in cellulite treatment in those hard to tighten areas of the body like thighs. It is anti-inflammatory and brings down swelling and pain on wounds and skin irritations. Crush the stems and leaves and apply directly to the skin or add it to salves and ointments and keep in the refrigerator. You can add it to blends of other herbs for greater application. Add to salads, as a tea, make tincture from it, and oil for massage and muscle pain. It has the ability to break down benign tumors and excess fat cells. “The mucilage content of chickweed has been shown to heal stomach ulcers and other areas of inflammation. It also strengthens the lining of intestines and the stomach.” It also releases anti-histamines for swelling.  When taken for both internal and external use, chickweed stimulates the production of mucosal fluids, offering a cooling effect on inflammation. In turn, irritation is soothed and the healing process is enhanced. In terms of arthritis, a chickweed tincture can help reduce swollen, inflamed joints. When administered orally, chickweed extracts reduced the level of circulating lipids, decreased food consumption and reduced lipid metabolism” for weight loss. “This is why many obesity medications utilize chickweed as a key ingredient. Based on its vitamin C, phosphorus and gamma-linolenic acid content, these substances have been shown to aid in the emulsification of fat cells. When sprinkled onto daily meals, it can also decrease cravings and overall appetite while boosting your intake of key nutrients. A compound in chickweed known as coumarin is believed to be a potential treatment for asthma, as well as conditions caused by a compromised lymph system. “  Also, based on the saponins found in chickweed, this herb can reduce thickened membranes in the lungs and throat, improving one’s ability to breathe. Since these chemical constituents also fight inflammation and infection, chickweed is able to target a range of respiratory ailments. “

“If you’re suffering from the common cold or flu this winter, a chickweed tea or tincture is an ideal solution. Not only can you thin mucus build up, but also lessen overall production with the use of chickweed. Whether you are suffering from bronchitis or asthma, you can benefit from the tincture recipe below. Chickweed has long been used a traditional remedy for a variety of skin ailments. Based on its emollient properties, chickweed has been shown to soothe itching and irritation, while enhancing the healing of wounds. Offering a cooling effect, chickweed will target skin eruptions, eczema, insect bites and even treat minor burns.”

“Based on chickweed’s ability to soothe skin conditions, poultices can be applied to cuts, burns and bruises. When making a poultice, you can effectively treat rashes and abscesses based on chickweed’s ability to prevent bacterial infections. This was verified in one key study, which reported chickweed’s therapeutic properties against bacterial infections. “Many individuals drink chickweed tea in order to purify their blood. While cleansing your blood, you will essentially target toxins that may contribute to poor health. The same is true for your kidney and liver, as chickweed offers a range of purifying benefits — leading to an enhanced effect overall.” Read the rest of this article for practical applications and how to make a tincture from chickweed.


Cleavers – best found this time of year while it is still tender, not scratchy. Cleavers is aptly named because it was the inspiration for Velcro. Under a magnifying glass you see tiny hooks on the leaves which grab onto passing animals or your jeans. When young it can be gathered for wonderful medicinal applications.

Here’s what Rosemary Gladstar, a popular herbalist and author says about Cleavers: Cleavers is also highly beneficial for removing toxic debris out of the blood and can help to tone and strengthen the entire circulatory system. It is also good for alleviating edema, bloating, and water retention. Cleavers is often used to reduce and eliminate lumps in the breast as well as reduce swelling and pain associated with urinary tract infections and cystitis. It is also known to help reduce swelling with enlarged prostates as well. 

Cleavers is excellent for the liver and can help to treat and prevent jaundice and/or any liver disorders. It also works as a tonic for the stomach and is a good remedy for ulcers and hemorrhoids. Cleavers contains anti-tumor compounds and is an effective natural treatment taken both internally and externally to help reduce the effects of cancer. 

Topically, cleavers can be used as a poultice, salve or cream to help reduce swollen lymph nodes and breast tissue as well as for skin irritations, abscesses, boils, burns, eczema, and psoriasis. Cleavers makes an excellent tea and is especially good when one is experiencing heavy mucus and congestion from a cold or flu. 

Use 2 tsp of dried herb to 1 cup of boiling water and let steep for at least 10 minutes, sweeten with raw honey if desired. Cleavers can also be found in tincture, extract, capsule, and cream form online or at your local health food store. It is most effective when used for only 1-2 week increments at a time.

It is one of the most effective herbs for cleansing the lymphatic system. It is known to help move and dissolve lymphatic congestion, reduce swollen glands, ease upper respiratory congestion, and eliminate mucous from the body.” https://www.medicalmedium.com/blog/cleavers

I make a tincture of it and use it every day as it is such a powerful detoxifier for the lymphatic system, lungs and liver that I put it in my coffee every morning. Just a 2” dropperful does the trick for me. I like that it also cleans the blood of toxins. “ Bartram recommends it for enlarged lymph nodes and a number of urinary tract disorders. In the ancient world Cleavers was used to treat cancer. Gerard wrote of Cleavers as a marvelous remedy for the bites of snakes, spiders and all venomous creatures. One of the founders of Roman medicine, Galen, described it as a cure for obesity writing ‘it can make fat folk lean’. Cleavers is an old treatment for one of the toughest of all skin problems; psoriasis, it has even thought to be able to help dissolve small kidney stones!

In reviewing the literature on Cleavers one has to come to the conclusion that this herb has an astonishingly powerful reputation for such an unprepossessing plant!” http://www.rjwhelan.co.nz/herbs%20A-Z/cleavers.html

It can be used as a skin tonic when extracted much like witch hazel. There are two sizes of the leaves. I use only the larger leaf variety as I believe it is the more medicinal. I have both growing on my property – the small one has a leaf about ½” across and the larger size is about 1 ½” across but the same configuration. I filled a plastic grocery bag of it and will tincture some of it fresh, and the rest dehydrating for later use for tea or oil. I find it growing all over the garden both in shade and out in the open.

Peppermint – fresh and tender. Peppermint in my garden has become very invasive so it’s everywhere and in great abundance. I pull it out of growing beds and the root comes with it in long strands. If I had known how pervasive it is I would have grown it only in pots. But too late. So, this time of year I go around and hack the tender new growth and if the root comes with, I just snip that off and save the leaves. If harvested in enough volume you can distill it into essential oil and use it for arthritis and pain in joints and along the spine full strength. Or add it to salves and ointments for arthritis or pain along with other appropriate herbal formulas.

For tea it can be used directly out of the garden or dried for later use. Lay it out on paper towels and let it air dry. The volatile oils in it are easily dispersed so I don’t dry it in my dehydrator not wanting to loose the flavors.

Peppermint is only one of the aromatic mint family herbs I grow here. My favorite for flavor is spearmint, though, and it’s also growing up from the containers I have it growing in and soon it will be tall enough to harvest. Along with those, lemon and lime balm, also mint family herbs will be coming along in a few weeks. All these herbs are great for digestion, and have many medicinal properties besides. Antispasmodic (handles spasms like muscles and stomach), antibiotic, antiseptic, antifungal, digestive gas, anti-inflammatory, flu and colds, and other properties. Also it helps with asthma, diarrhea, halted menstruation, upset stomach, dermatitis, and helps with convalescence. This is one powerful family of hearing herbs.

Make a tincture with vodka to preserve, or dehydrate gently. Make it fresh for a delicious and calming tea or when you feel off or are recovering from an illness. It calms anxiety and helps with sleep. I add fresh mint – sweet mint or spearmint – to my salads for a surprising flavor burst. It can be added to peas or other vegetables for added flavor and health benefits. It has so many uses I’m just going to share an excellent website for you showing many other uses: https://www.almanac.com/12-uses-mint-leaves-health-home The bottom line is that if you grow it in a pot or just have it growing around you, this is the time to harvest it fresh and either use it fresh, make extracts, or dry it for tea or washes later, you’ll find it most scented and useful now. It is a perennial so it grows for many years, and all during the warm weather too. I harvested a large bag of it and plan on making some nice dried tea leaves.

There are many other arising spring herbs right now that also have medicinal benefits such as wild geranium. But because it is best harvested later when it’s larger for leaves and roots I’m not including it here.

Wild garlic/onion is now coming up all over the garden. It will continue growing and I prefer to dig it up or cut it fresh, I haven’t harvested it just now. But it comes up so beautifully in the spring.

Dock and Sorrel varieties I also have noticed the three varieties of dock and several kinds of sorrel (same family) now starts to arise throughout the garden and on the lawn. These have medicinal and edible properties and if you don’t want them to become huge and take over precious garden space, now is the time to dig it up before the roots get too established and become hard to remove. We have curly dock, yellow dock, and broad leaf dock here – all valuable when controlled. Wood sorrel and sheep sorrel grow here in abundance. These are sour and contain vitamin C. Sheep sorrel is part of the recipe for Essiac tea used in alternative cancer treatment. Some of the 5 kinds of sorrel are cultivated and some are wild crafted (foraged). Now they are coming up freshly and it’s the time to identify them and either identify and leave them for later harvest, or dig them up. Sheep sorrel can be quite invasive but is powerfully medicinal. Wood Sorrel looks like clover but the leaf is a bit different. It can keep one from getting Vitamin C deficiency (scurvy) but because it also contains oxalic acid like the leaves of rhubarb, it must be eaten in small amounts to avoid toxicity.

The seeds of the larger dock plants stick up above the plants in tall stems loaded with reddish brown clusters of seeds in late summer. In earlier times these seeds were collected and made into a very nutritious flour made into bread either alone or mixed with other flours. Now the new leaves are beginning to appear above the soil, the older ones can be found with new green leaves in larger sizes around the garden.

My method of foraging is to go out with a pair of scissors and a good sized gathering basket. If I know I am going to find several varieties, I bring along a good handful of plastic grocery bags to separate what I find. When I get back in the house, I fill the sink with clear water and wash each kind separately, removing dead or imperfect parts, organic debris, and if I find bugs, they get a new home. I spin them in my lettuce spinner and lay them out to dry. Depending on the use I choose to apply them for, either I let them wilt a bit for making oils so the moisture content is low. If they are to be used fresh they go in the frig. Drying either they get laid out on paper towels in a well ventilated but not windy area. Or into the dehydrator if the volatile oils aren’t important. The ones to be made into tinctures, I cut them up small and place them in a mason jar, to be filled with 80-95 proof vodka depending on the medicinal properties being extracted. Do a little research on this yourself as each herb is a little different. Usually I use cheap vodka80 proof for most. Always label carefully anything you make as once a leaf is dry it looks like everything else. And once an herb has been sitting in alcohol for a month, you will not know what you put in there without a label. This goes for everything you plan on preserving. Don’t forget it. You will waste anything you don’t label, trust me. When they are clean and spun, place in appropriate containers with their labels and later enjoy.

Gather your mason jars or repurposed glass jam jars etc. and preserve these lovely plants while they are fresh and abundant. As soon as the weather turns hot, they will get dry and tough, or disappear. These aren’t the only things to forage now, but they are the ones I take the time to harvest for my own uses. Do a little research on your areas native plants and see what you can gather for nutrition, flavor, and medicinal uses. I’ll bet you will be surprised at what you find.

Diann Dirks 

Posted in Antibiotic herbal, Antiinflammatory herb, Asthma herb, Bee haven gardens, detoxification, Diarrhea and dysentery herb, Fever herb, Flowering herbs, Flu and Upper Respiratory illness, Foraging recipes, Foraging recipes, Gardening, health, Herb gardening, Joint pain, Kidney stones, making medicine, Making Medicine DIY, Mood lifting, anxiety, and depression solutions, Permaculture, Pollinator haven gardens, Seasonal gardening plants, Skin diseases, Wild crafting and wild plants | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Crops Surviving the Cold by Temperature 12-15-22

Knowing your Planting Zones – https://planthardiness.ars.usda.gov/

USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map Your growing Zone is important to know because growing winter crops in your area will depend on how cold it gets and the species of plants and varieties you can grow. When the weather gets colder than your usual zone, you need extra protection. Here are some tips to preserve your crops from especially cold weather.

We’re coming up on some unexpected very cold weather here in NE Georgia in Zone 8a and all across the nation. This weather is coming in from Arctic regions and will hit soon. They are expecting below freezing weather across the nation except parts of Florida. Keep an eye on the weather. But we are seeing predictions all this winter on a colder than usual time.

Here at Hillside Gardens, in Auburn, Ga., we are midway between zones 7b and 8b. There can be micro-climates where it gets colder or warmer within those regions but if you contact your local Extension Office they can tell you more precisely the temperatures in your area from past records, and suggest help.

But within 10F some of your winter crops will be in danger of freezing in the upcoming weather. According to the https://weather.com/weather/today/l/30011:4:US weather site for Auburn (our town), starting on Dec. 22nd the night low is 13F, then over the next several days it is predicted to get as low at night as 13F with daytime temperatures as low as 28F with winds up to 10 mph and some rain. With temperatures this low we may get some snow.

Here is an excellent blog about specific plants and their kill temperatures of winter crops from last year. It’s too extensive to put all the information in this blog, but all the information is there for you no matter which zones you are growing in. https://www.sustainablemarketfarming.com/2021/04/14/winter-kill-temperatures-of-cold-hardy-vegetables-2021/

Row Covering: My favorite strategy to protecting my winter crops is to use covering along the rows. If you can, and have a hoop house, you can further protect the plants by using a cloth row cover inside. More below.

Tip on row covering: If you use covering for your crops, when windy, it can make a sail if you don’t weigh down the covering with sufficient frequency of weights and heavy enough. Also, if your beds are wide, you’ll want to put something over the top of the coverings to hold it to the supports. Old rebar in sections laid over the supports works well but you can also tie string to opposite weights to tie down the covering. Your area may be windier than here so check the predictions.

With the wind, if you choose to use row covers to protect your crops you’ll want to support them under the covers with something to raise the fabric covering or plastic sheeting above the height of the plants to prevent them from being squashed. Having some air between the soil and the covering to capture heat keeps the plant from being directly exposed to the cold air. I use my summer Tomato cages laid on their side along the row, being careful not to crush plants, and use sticks or heavy wire U staples to keep them from rolling around under the coverings. Over this I spread 3.5 mil plastic sheeting, either clear (my favorite) or white but never black or colored. Home Depot carries sheeting in rolls or in square packets depending on your size need. This sheeting will pick up wind if not well weighed down along the row. I use half sized cinder blocks or old used bricks. Rocks work too but they must be heavy enough. Cinder blocks are heavier so they don’t need as many, but bricks are lighter and will take closer frequency along the row. Make sure the end of the row covers is folded so wind can’t get in.

Here is the weather outlook as of this date. It can change on a dime, but better to be prepared than just loose all that hard work of planting. 

Thu 22 44°/13° Showers 43% NW 10 mph

Fri 23 28°/16°  Mostly Sunny 0% NW 13 mph

Sat 24  30°/22° Partly Cloudy 3% NW 7 mph

Sun 25 34°/25°  Partly Cloudy 15% ENE 5 mph

Mon 26 38°/27° Partly Cloudy 22% NE 5 mph

Tue 27 42°/32° Ice to Rain 51% ENE 5 mph

Wed 28 45°/34° Few Showers 35% NNE 6 mph

Thu 29 47°/37° Partly Cloudy 24% NNW 7 mph

Mulching: Another strategy to protect the plants is to give the soil some insulation to protect the roots. I use mulch directly on the soil and around the plants without covering them. I try to keep the mulch from directly touching the emerging stems of the plants where possible. And for very tiny babies, even though the mulch can be right up next to the plant, I keep them from being covered so at least some sunshine can touch the leaves to keep them growing.

I make sure everything is watered before the cold really hits but not sopping, just moist.

I use whatever I have available for mulch but my favorite is usually a mixture of crunched up autumn leaves and some chicken coop bedding with manure in it. I also add shredded paper from my office shredder. But be sure to shred only plain paper, not the shiny colored or slick kind or any plastic windows or tape. So, I sort out my mail and only shred the paper I know will go in my garden.

If you have a chipper, you can chip the whole autumn leaves, or non-sprayed wheat straw or Timothy grass. If no chipper, but you have a weed eater or string trimmer, you can fill a regular sized garbage can with leaves and run the trimmer in it to crush the leaves. If using straw – never hay as it’s loaded with weed seeds, be very sure of your source because hay sprayed with Grazon can kill your crops (as do other herbicides). Also dried lawn clippings can be used but never spray your lawn if you use this for mulch or soil amendments as it will kill your plants.

I mix the leaves and chicken bedding about 4 parts leaves to one part bedding with manure and apply it as thickly as I can depending on how young my plants are and how tall. Not usually deeper than about 4 inches but as thickly as possible down from that. This holds in moisture and heat from the sun, and keeps the soil from freezing as much as possible.

Row Covers: Covering your plants will make a lot of difference in their survival rate.  I use both plastic sheeting and cloth row covers. You can use commercial cloth row covering, not as insulating as plastic, but it will help. This can be purchased from agricultural supply houses. There are several gauges of floating row cloth covering. The summer or light weight gauge used to keep out bugs or cool crops in the summer is too light weight to do much good. Here is some information on that from various sources (sited below).

“What Is Row Cover

“Row cover, also called floating row cover or spun-bonded row cover, is a light-weight and gauze-like white fabric made from polyester or polypropylene. Row cover ranges in thicknesses. A lighter weight fabric, might be labeled as .45 or .5 oz/sq. yd., whereas a heavier weight fabric might be labeled as somewhere between 1.5 and 2.2 oz/sq. yd. Row cover can be cut to size using sharp scissors, which is helpful because it typically comes in large rolls of varying widths and lengths.

“Brands include Reemay, which is a spun-bonded polyester, Agronet, which is an ultraviolet-stabilized polypropylene and polyamide net, and Agribon, which is a spun-bonded polypropylene fabric. Other brands include Agryl, Harvest Guard and Typar.

Using Row Cover for Season Extension

“Used properly, row cover can provide frost protection in the spring and the fall while also supporting rapid plant establishment and growth. Row cover increases both temperature and humidity under the cover and the amount of insulation depends on the weight of the row cover. A lightweight row cover might provide 2ºF of frost protection, whereas a heavy-weight row cover might provide as much as 6ºF to 10ºF of frost protection.

“In the spring, when transplants are small, row cover can often be simply draped over plants without a frame. Row cover should be weighed down – bricks, stones and garden staples are commonly used in a garden setting – but row cover can enable gardeners to experiment with pushing the planting window up by as much as several weeks in May. Used in this way, you can refer to the material as floating row cover.” https://extension.unh.edu/blog/2020/10/using-row-covers-garden

GardenQuilt (gardeners.com)

GardenQuilt is a thicker version of our All-Purpose Fabric, consisting of polypropylene fibers that transmit 60 percent of available light. GardenQuilt provides excellent frost protection (down to 24 degrees F.). The thick fabric is ideal for extending the growing season into early spring and late fall, or for insulating strawberries, herbs, perennials, small fruits, and other tender landscape plants all winter long.

GardenQuilt provides frost protection down to 24 degrees F.


Do row covers protect from frost?

Row covers are used primarily to prevent insects from taking a liking to your plant life and deciding to burrow into the soil nearby and feed on your plants. They also serve to fight off disease and keep your plants and soil from overheating.

However, row covers also protect your plants from harsh winds and take a little bit of the edge off of cold fronts. Though the cold protection is minimal, it may be just enough to keep your plants from getting frostbite in the winter, depending on the area you live in and the garden fabric that you use. Row covers give an average of two to four degrees of frost protection in the spring and six to eight degrees of frost protection in the fall, as the soil is warmer in the autumn months.

Can I leave plants covered all day?

Yes, row covers can be placed and left alone for weeks and even months. If you are using heavier fabric exclusively for frost protection, you will want to remove it everyday during daylight hours so that your plants get plenty of sunlight exposure, but if you are using the recommended floating row cover fabrics which allow plenty of sunlight to come through the fabric and shine onto the plants, there is no reason to remove it on a daily basis, as your plants are still getting plenty of sun with it in place. How do you make a garden row cover?

There are many different types of garden row covers that you can make yourself that use a wide range of different materials. Before selecting what type of row covers you want to make, you should select a fabric that suits your needs. Here are a few of our favorite garden fabrics.

There are many different types of garden row covers that you can make yourself that use a wide range of different materials. Before selecting what type of row covers you want to make, you should select a fabric that suits your needs. Here are a few of our favorite garden fabrics.

All-Purpose Garden Fabric – All-purpose fabric is made from polypropylene and transmits 70 percent of the available light. It works great for keeping bugs out and trapping heat within. It is also a great windbreak for young plants and transplants. It allows plenty of rain and irrigation to reach the soil and plants beneath. All-purpose fabric protects from frost down to 28 degrees Fahrenheit. When not in use, fold and store in a cool, dark, dry location.

One source of row cover fabric is Johnny Select Seed Company but do some research. If you are using floating row covers for frost and cold protection, get the heaviest kind you can find. https://www.johnnyseeds.com/tools-supplies/row-covers-and-accessories/

Some people use old white sheets. They aren’t as long so you need to sew or clip several end to end to cover a long row, but they can be purchased at thrift stores quite inexpensively. If this is all you have access to, it’s going to protect most of your winter garden plants, but not all, and depending on how cold and how long the cold lasts, it may or may not give you all the protection you need.

Hoop Houses: Another strategy which is more permanent to help you get thru a cold winter is making a hoop house. Professional high tunnel or green houses are expensive. But you can look over the information below for DIY hoop houses made with inexpensive PVC pipe and greenhouse plastic sheeting and see if this is something you’d like to try. The beauty of this is that you can make them as big or small as you like. You can even make them using cattle or horse panel welded wire instead of PVC. It will last longer but is more expensive.

Hoop Houses: https://offgridworld.com/how-to-build-a-hoop-house-greenhouse-for-50/  Short for small garden hoop house with pvc you can make a DIY hoop house using PVC pipe and heavy lastic sheeting.

There are many YouTube versions of hoop houses which you can build yourself. Some are permanent, some are moveable and inexpensive.

If you have a hoop house this will raise the temperature inside by 10F or more and if you make it with roll-up sides, it can be used all year long. But it won’t keep your crops entirely protected unless you use double walled sheeting, and heating. This gets expensive. I’ve seen the double walled sheeting using a forced air blower system which acts like bubble wrap for considerably more insulation in Michigan where it gets 20 below 0 for months at a time. But we don’t usually need this kind of heavy duty systems.

So, if you do have a hoop house over your most sensitive planted areas, but no heating, you can do a layer of lightweight row covering over the plants inside the hoop house and get another several degrees of heat that way. You don’t have to weigh down this covering because it’s inside and not subject to wind, just lay it over the plants, and when it warms up, just roll it up and set it aside. It will somewhat obscure sunlight delaying growing, but it will save their little greeny lives. J

So, keeping track of the weather on a daily basis can protect your garden or farm crops.

I am available for consulting for all gardening and agricultural projects or installations using the technology of Permaculture Design and 45 years of organic growing experience in the NE Georgia area. Contact me if you need some help. didirks@comcast.net, Georgia Dirks FB, 678 261-8141 (always leave a message) or PM me on FB. I am a Ladies Homestead Gathering member and give a discount to members. Internships also available – Winter into Spring session now accepting applications. Auburn, Ga.

Diann Dirks, Certified Permaculture Designer 12-15-22

Posted in Food protection, How to increase yield in your garden, Permaculture, Seasonal gardening plants, Self-Sustainability, The beginning Gardener information, Uncategorized, winter gardening | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Bay Leaf Additional Information 11-2-22

Bay Leaf (Bay Laurel) has many benefits, and beneficial applications. In my most recent post I gave you a lot of them. But later I remembered some things that could be of benefit for future survival uses. And more data about handling the leaves once harvested.

Because Bay has insect repelling capabilities it can be used to protect your storage of grains and dehydrated foods. Of course the best way to protect these things is to put them in air-tight sealed and hopefully glass containers. But sometimes even the most careful cleaning before storage misses the odd bug egg. So, in order to keep from infestation, place dried Bay leaves in to the flour, grains, dehydrated or freeze dried foods and seeds. As you use these up, just pull the used leaves aside and remove the contents, and occasionally replace them with freshly dried ones.

When I harvest my stems, I place them out of the sun so they don’t bleach out. You can leave them on the stem and hang them in your house from a hook on the wall, or put them in a heavy vase without water, and let them just air dry. You can also remove the leaves from the stem or still on the stem, place them on an old screen, cleaned of course, in a shady place – outdoors is fine, or in a garage or dry basement. Just make sure there is good air circulation. If you’re in a hurry you can use a dehydrator but on the lowest heat setting so you retain the volatile oils.

Once they are so dry they crack when you break them, they are dry enough to store. Keep in a closed glass air-tight jar – I like Mason jars or repurposed quart honey jars. Smaller is OK too. Keep out of direct sunlight, and in a cool place. Otherwise you loose the volatile oils that are a big part of their usefulness.

Their medicinal properties for hair restoration blends well with other herbs like Rosemary and some others. Don’t be afraid to make your own blend with a little research.

I have used dried Bay leaves for 2 years but they are best if used within one year. Keeping them in air-tight jars lengthens their usefulness. Also, if you use a vacuum unit on the jar, their shelf life improves like is available with Food Saver equipment.

If you want to grow your own plant, find a sheltered place with a west exposure, by a rock wall or cement, or other heat capturing environment if you live in a cold winter climate. They are not particularly delicate but once I had 60 hours of 5F and the outside leaves were burned in my well established bush. So choose the location carefully, and not where it would be exposed to cold winds or air movement below freezing. It is a strong perennial if you take care to give it a comfortable home.

Good growing and medicine making. Diann Dirks 11-2-22

Posted in anti-viral herbs and substances, Antibiotic herbal, Antiinflammatory herb, Antioxidant herb, E-coli, Emergency Preparedness, Fever herb, Flu and Upper Respiratory illness, Food preservation, Food protection, Gardening, health, Herb gardening, Herpes Simplex, Kidney problems, Kidney stones, making medicine, Making Medicine DIY, Malaria herb, Mosquito repellent, organic gardening, Parasites, Self-Sustainability, Skin diseases, Staph infection, Tick repellent, winter gardening | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Bay Leaf Additional Information 11-2-22

Bay Leaf (Bay Laurel) has many benefits, and beneficial applications. In my most recent post I gave you a lot of them. But later I remembered some things that could be of benefit for future survival uses. And more data about handling the leaves once harvested.

Because Bay has insect repelling capabilities it can be used to protect your storage of grains and dehydrated foods. Of course the best way to protect these things is to put them in air-tight sealed and hopefully glass containers. But sometimes even the most careful cleaning before storage misses the odd bug egg. So, in order to keep from infestation, place dried Bay leaves in to the flour, grains, dehydrated or freeze dried foods and seeds. As you use these up, just pull the used leaves aside and remove the contents, and occasionally replace them with freshly dried ones.

When I harvest my stems, I place them out of the sun so they don’t bleach out. You can leave them on the stem and hang them in your house from a hook on the wall, or put them in a heavy vase without water, and let them just air dry. You can also remove the leaves from the stem or still on the stem, place them on an old screen, cleaned of course, in a shady place – outdoors is fine, or in a garage or dry basement. Just make sure there is good air circulation. If you’re in a hurry you can use a dehydrator but on the lowest heat setting so you retain the volatile oils.

Once they are so dry they crack when you break them, they are dry enough to store. Keep in a closed glass air-tight jar – I like Mason jars or repurposed quart honey jars. Smaller is OK too. Keep out of direct sunlight, and in a cool place. Otherwise you loose the volatile oils that are a big part of their usefulness.

Their medicinal properties for hair restoration blends well with other herbs like Rosemary and some others. Don’t be afraid to make your own blend with a little research.

I have used dried Bay leaves for 2 years but they are best if used within one year. Keeping them in air-tight jars lengthens their usefulness. Also, if you use a vacuum unit on the jar, their shelf life improves like is available with Food Saver equipment.

If you want to grow your own plant, find a sheltered place with a west exposure, by a rock wall or cement, or other heat capturing environment if you live in a cold winter climate. They are not particularly delicate but once I had 60 hours of 5F and the outside leaves were burned in my well established bush. So choose the location carefully, and not where it would be exposed to cold winds or air movement below freezing. It is a strong perennial if you take care to give it a comfortable home.

Good growing and medicine making. Diann Dirks 11-2-22

Posted in anti-viral herbs and substances, Antibiotic herbal, Antiinflammatory herb, Antioxidant herb, Corona virus hair loss, detoxification, Diarrhea and dysentery herb, E-coli, Fever herb, Fire Ants, Flu and Upper Respiratory illness, Food preservation, Food protection, Gardening, Herb gardening, Insecticidal herb, making medicine, Making Medicine DIY, Permaculture, Preparedness, Salmonella, Self-Sustainability, Tick repellent | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Wonders of the Bay Laurel aka ‘Bay Leaf’ for Spice and Medicinal Benefits. 1-1-22

I was in Michigan about 8 years ago visiting friends. We visited a nursery and there on the table was a Bay Laurel plant. I had never seen one for sale but I wasn’t sure it would grow in Georgia where I live. The nursery lady said in Michigan it was considered an annual. But we’re in a more southern growing zone so I bought it. It seemed worth the try.

I was building a new area of my extensive garden and found a little micro-climate area on the west side of our house where the concrete foundation is exposed and painted black with waterproofing. I had built an enclosed raised bed along the whole side of the house where the sun shines late into the day, so heat builds up there. And right under the chimney for our fireplace on the main floor was the perfect spot.

Since then that little Bay Laurel has grown into a very well established tree/bush. It is so happy we have to prune it down every fall or the branches grow up under the siding about 10’ tall there. As a result we get a goodly harvest every year, and any time during the year as it is evergreen.


For years I have been adding fresh Bay Leaf to my soups, stews, tomato sauces, etc. for additional flavor and to calm the acidity of the tomatoes, only knowing the edible aspect of this wonderfully flavorful herb. The leaves can be used in culinary recipes both fresh (more fragrant and tasty) or dried. I like using the fresh ones right off the bush, but I dry them carefully so they don’t loose their taste or color as much as you find in the jars on the grocery shelves. The difference is especially poignant when fresh.

Used also to flavor wild caught fish and organic chicken.

Instead of using the whole leaf, the powder made from the dried, ground leaves also has use in cooking singularly or in spice blends.

The powder is useful as a porridge spice for oat or corn meal, in sweet bread combined with cardamom, nutmeg, cinnamon and clove – ¼ tsp of bay leaf in the mix. For a savory Stew Spice combine with spice berry, cumin, coriander seeds, add paprika, black pepper and ¼ tsp bay leaf powder. Can be used in stew or chicken stew.


But recently I have been exploring the medicinal properties of it because one of my interns showed me a site where it’s one of the herbs that can stimulate hair growth. After covid I and others have experienced hair loss and thinning which no Rogaine or other commercial product was attractive to me. I don’t like using chemicals on my body for their potential toxicity, so this was intriguing.

Then I started to explore the many other medicinal and helpful attributes of Bay Leaf. The more I researched, the more impressed I became with this many uses.

The first area of interest was hair loss. Here is what I discovered:


It strengthens hair roots and eliminates dandruff. And it’s effective against head live.

Used as tea (aka infusion) it benefits both the skin and hair. For hair loss, dandruff, and scalp fungal infections, make a ‘decoction’ (a strong tea made by simmering over high heat) making a hair rinse or using in a spray bottle. To make this more concentrated infusion, use 30 or 40 dry or fresh leaves, let simmer, cover, remove from heat, steep till the water cools down, then strain out leaves. The color will turn to light yellowy green. Then use against dandruff and hair fall. Then use the leaves for mulch in the garden.

Pour into a spray bottle or in a bottle, it will keep in the frig for a week. To use on hair, shampoo and condition as usual, towel off, then spray with the infusion, or pour over the hair as a rinse. Massage into the scalp and make sure the hair strands are well covered. To refresh after a couple of days, spray the hair and work into the roots, brush in gently with hair brush, allow to dry in the hair. Wash the next day as usual. For dandruff use additionally with neem about 1 Tbs, 2 Tbs Aloe Vera gel, mix with Bay decoction, apply on scalp for 15 minutes, rinse off.

Hair loss using bay leaf and prevent baldness, and grow in thicker hair as a natural hair conditioner, heat a pan of water on low heat for 10 minutes with a handful of leaves (dry or fresh). This is anti-fungal and removes dandruff. Strain, store in the frig 7 days while using. Spray the roots and hair, massaging the scalp. Do this 3 times a week to stop hair fall and baldness.

Bay Leaf also works well by including rosemary leaves to these recipes as well as fenugreek seeds while making infusion or decoction. Can add also Aloe Vera gel to the mixtures for added health to the hair and scalp. And you can add a bit of avocado oil and shake with them to soften and strengthen the hair but use in one setting, don’t store for long periods of time or it will spoil. And if you have it, you can add a tsp of MSM powder to further strengthen the scalp and hair, spray on scalp – allow to sit and massage till moisturized. This can be refreshed after a few days.


24 pieces of clove, 5-6 pieces of bay leaf. Fill pot with water, bring to boil, add clove, cover and boil 10 or more minutes till water turns pale yellow. Add Bay, stir 5 minutes, let boil 10 more minutes. Turn off heat, cool, strain; apply directly to scalp, massage, leave overnight, then rinse thoroughly.

The benefits – rich in Vitamin A, C, and minerals iron, potassium calcium, magnesium all for general good health. This treats migraines. It contains enzymes that break down proteins and aids faster digestion. It calms indigestion. For this tea: 16 oz. water, 3 bay leaves, the juice of one large or 2 small lemons, decoct (slow simmer), cover and drink.

So, I’m sharing what I have learned here in my blog in the hopes that it will help you. Also, because my garden produces an abundance of the leaves, I can offer them to you at the bottom of this article.

Then I started to explore the other areas of the body Bay Leaf benefits:


You can make an alcohol or vinegar tincture with it for medicine or recipes. It makes a lovely tea alone or in combination with other herbs. It can be made into massage oils and oil based ointments and salves for a number of health issues. It can be made into a stronger water extraction by slow boiling for topical use, or an infusion like making a tea bag. It also can be dried and powdered and used directly or placed in capsules. It is also available as a powerful commercially made therapeutic grade essential oil. And burned the dry leaves can be used as an incense. It has almost no side effects, but always test any herb for allergic reaction before using, or check with your doctor if you are taking pharmaceutical medications for cross reactions.

The areas and systems benefiting from Bay Leaf medicinal preparations:


It’s a digestive helper – relieving symptoms of Celiac disease, relieving symptoms of Irritable Bowel Syndrome, while strengthening the immune system. It also reduces gas and bloating.


It helps with menstrual problems.


Provides quality sleep. The tea calms and relaxes psychological diseases such as insomnia for comfortable peaceful and uninterrupted sleep. It’s a nervine calming and smoothing nervous problems, anxiety and handling stress. Linalool, a compound found in Bay, lowers the stress hormone promoting calmness and depression.

As an aromatherapy, the compounds from the volatile oils are calming of the mind and help relax the body. When burned in a bowl to make smoke as an incense, it is said to change the atmosphere to remove ‘bad energy’ lodged in the house, changing it from the smell.


Lowers bad cholesterol (LDL). It contains caffeic acid which ensures the removal of bad cholesterol from the circulatory system. For this reason caffeic acid also considered a powerful heart helper. When combined with rutin, this benefit is increased. Bay leaf also strengthens the capillary walls in the heart. The caffeic acid also increases exercise tolerance for athletic performance, and mildly reduces the stimulated levels of lactolate which causes muscles to hurt and often is used in pre-workout supplements.


Reduces inflammation in the body. The caffeic acid inhibits the production of nitric oxide, a cause of inflammation. Also made into an infused Bay Leaf massage oil, it is used to relieve muscle aches and pains, swelling, and arthritic pain considered an “anti-arthritic”. A tea made relieves pain caused by diseases in the body. It reduces the pain in muscles and joints. Reduces inflammation in the body. The caffeic acid inhibits the production of nitric oxide, a cause of inflammation. Also made into an infused Bay Leaf massage oil, it is used to relieve muscle aches and pains, swelling, and arthritic pain considered an “anti-arthritic”. Bay Leaf essential oil also reduces severe pain in the body due to arthritis, rheumatism and sprains. Use with a carrier oil such as olive, avocado, almond or other mild oils in salves, or massage oils.

Massage Oil:

Into Mason jar. 30 Bay leaves, 1 Tbs. Perilla oil cold pressed. Seal tightly, Fill pot with water, place sealed jar in the pot. Heat to boil. Simmer 2 hours. Cool slightly, strain, refill with 15 more leaves to oil, repeat process another 2 hours, cool, strain into clean container. Store in cool dark space, use as necessary for pain and inflammation, massaging into the painful areas.  


It’s a powerful headache remedy such as migraines, improving the quality of life by relieving pain. One remedy is placing a single leaf in the nostrils.


Being anti-microbial, and antioxidant, and including polyphenols – a type of sugar found in certain plants, such as eucalyptol, cineole, sabinene, and linalool, all of which are anti-aging, and help with pain and inflammation. See below under “TEA”


Compounds in Bay treat Salmonella (along with white wormwood, rose scented geranium), E-Coli as the essential oil, has the highest antioxidant – and of the three the bay leaf had the highest antioxidant quality. As an infusion, it also lowers fever.


Other phytochemicals (plant chemicals) in Bay are volatile and non-volatile oils, flavonoids, tannins, sesquterpenic alcohols and alkaloids. As such they have many healing powers.

It also fights Candida and other fungal diseases. It’s also wound healing as an essential oil. The Essential Oil disrupts adhesion between the cell wall and Candida so it won’t penetrate so it protects and fights fungal infection.  


It is also a powerful remedy for parasites in the body by chewing and swallowing 1 leaf a day for 15 days. This removes all worms and pathogenic (disease causing) microbes in the intestines. This is very helpful to the immune system as about 85% of the immune system resides in the lining of the intestines called the ‘micro biome’.


Regulates and lowers blood sugar levels for diabetes and blood cholesterol. The ground leaf taken 2x a day lowers blood sugar and LDL as well as increases HDL (good cholesterol), and improves insulin function for Type 2 Diabetes – taken in capsules. Also because it helps release toxins in the body it’s also good for kidney health. As such it helps treat kidney infections and kidney stones. Bay leaf helps release toxins in the body which also helps with kidney health.

Seizures are treated with a poultice of the leaf with cinnamon, nutmeg and olive oil.


Some research shows Bay to be anti-cancer and anti-oxidant. The phyto nutrients (plant nutrients), catechins, linalool and parthenolide helps the body from the effects of cancer causing free radicals. The leaves and fruit kill cancer cells, particularly noted were Breast Cancer and Colorectal Cancer in early stages of detection.


It’s rich in vitamins and minerals – such as magnesium, calcium, manganese, iron.


Used for skin problems, is helpful treating acne and blackheads on skin. Bay leaf powder mixed with a dash of lemon juice clears acne. Keeps neck wrinkles at bay and helps with skin allergies. Makes for clear soft blemish free skin. Effective on difficult to cure skin diseases. And it fights skin infections. Treats bee and wasp stings as poultice, oil, or infusion wash. Also can be included as an infused oil for a skin lotion. Because it is anti-fungal, a daily consumption forms a protective layer on the skin against microbial organisms entering the skin membrane.

Mineral rich and skin astringent, Bay Leaves for skin difficulties.

Teeth Remedies and skin treatment.

Make a paste: 1 Tbs water, 1 ½ Tbs Bay Leaf powder.

Apply to the skin to heal cuts, bruises, insect bites.

Add to Toothpaste for dental health.


It’s cold and flu season, with sore throats, clogged nasal passages and throat phlegm, acting as an expectorant (unclogs mucus), and is antibiotic and antiviral to help with the infection. Used in a tea or tincture in juice or water, it can help relieve symptoms and fight the infection helping the immune system. See how to make the tea below. Besides using it internally, the incense of dried leaves helps with coughs, colds, bronchitis, and chest infections. Used in powder form, it clears cough, sore throat, respiratory system, nasal passages against harmful bacterial.


Bay leaf eases respiratory ailments. It opens airways, purifies ambience in a space, can be used as an incense. Burn 3 to 4 leaves in a bowl, burn.

Nose Bleed: Using 3 pieces of sun dried Bay leaf, crush roughly. In 2 cups water, add leaves, bring to boil, simmer 10 minutes, cool, strain, and drink.


To make a tea, place 1 cup water in a small pot, adding 2 leaves, or for a large mug, a couple of cups. On high heat bring to a boil and then lowering heat to a low heat simmer for 10 minutes, cover with a lid and brew 10 minutes without added heat. The tea is good for colds, flu, and even the covid virus, bronchitis. Add lemon to the tea for Vitamin C. It’s an antioxidant and strengthens the immune system. It also helps weight loss and detoxifies the body.

Making a tea with the powder, place ½ tsp. into a tea bag per cup of boiling water, cover, and steep. Use just before bed to help sooth and sleep. For a Chair Tea, add to this a tsp of ginger powder, mix in, and place in the tea bag.

The tea is antibacterial and aids digestion processes, adding a lemon slice and sweeten with a teaspoon of honey.


Besides being medicinal, it also attracts deer, and can be used as a fire starter.

It’s also a natural insect repellent.

If you are interested in purchasing organically grown bay leaf fresh or dried, please contact me on my email address for prices and shipping charges. Bay is very light weight.

didirks@comcast.net or FB Georgia Dirks PM

Posted in anti-viral herbs and substances, Antibiotic herbal, Antiinflammatory herb, Antioxidant herb, Candida, Corona virus hair loss, Coronavirus | Tagged | Leave a comment

A beginners guide to making medicinal salves and ointments from herbs in the garden. 8-23-22

I get requests for simple explanations of making your own medicine on my FB page. Someone wanted to know as a beginner how to make a salve using yarrow. I posted this little tutorial you might find useful:

I usually use a little double boiler. You can also put a stainless steel bowl or pot that fits into the bottom one over a sauce pan of water on the stove called a Bain Marie. Put water in the bottom but not so much that it will bubble and spray water into the upper bowl or pot. Make sure you keep having some water in it though or it will burn. The bowl has to be wider than the pan.

Put your favorite carrier oil (I like extra virgin olive oil, or sweet almond oil) in the pot – start with about a cup. That will give you about 3 tins finished product. As you get more certain, you can make bigger batches, but smaller amounts of oil are hard to process with the herbs in there. Cut some fresh herb earlier and let them wilt – this gets rid of excess moisture you don’t want in an oil salve. (You can also use dried herbs).  I usually use about ¼ cup herbs for a cup of oil. Make sure the oil covers the herbs generously. Cut them up and add to the oil. Bring it to a simmer and keep it there (not boiling) for about an hour. Let it cool a bit (enough you can touch it) and strain it thru cheese cloth and squeeze all the oil out.

Return to the double boiler and heat it up again. Then add about a tablespoon of shaved or pelletized bees wax and let it melt, stirring till you don’t see the bits in the bottom of the pot. Then have a spoon handy and dip it in. Let it cool, and test for consistency.

If it’s too stiff, add a bit more oil. If it’s too soft, add more wax and get it to just the right consistency. Then pour it into a few small containers. I like to save mint tins like Altoids, cleaned and dry, and pour in about half full. Then label it with ingredients and uses. You can get fancy and add comfrey leaves, calendula flowers, plantain herb, chickweed or others (do a little research). Try various herbs and combinations as you feel more certain. But do your research and go online for Youtube videos. Lots of neat ones in there, google “making salves and ointments”. I’ll bet you have lots of useful salve making herbs just growing in your yard or in a nearby field. Just make sure you choose things never sprayed with lawn care or harmful chemicals. Anything put on the skin if toxic goes right into the body within 7 seconds. Good luck and have fun.

Oh, and if you want to give it a little natural preservative so it lasts longer, use essential oils like lavender essential oil, or vitamin E oil, about 8 drops per cup of oil. Do that last after the wax is in and the consistency is right. Other essential oils can be used too like camphor, clover, oregano, or others as your research discovers.

I make salves for skin care, skin healing and wound care, muscle and joint pain and inflammation, poison ivy, bug bites, psoriasis, rashes, and other conditions of the body. I never use petro chemicals or artificial ingredients, or fragrances. I do use lavender essential oil in small quantities for preservation but not enough to give a smell especially. Use fresh ingredients, and organic if possible. If you see a little dark liquid in the bottom of the pan as the salve cools, let it cool all the way, then let out this liquid as it will make your salve spoil. Then reheat it so you can pour it into containers.

Keep your salve or ointment in the refrigerator if you don’t use Vitamin E or Lavender oil (or both, I do) as it will spoil in a few months. But with these natural preservatives, they will last for a year or more in the frig. And if you have kids, give them a blob of the ointment in tiny jars with screw on lids (cosmetic eye cleaning lotion jars work great) for their personal use so they don’t put dirty hands into the main container and contaminate it. When they run out, refill the little jar. This also works great for the purse or for camping.

This fosters self reliance as kids get used to fending for themselves with a little first aid. Make sure they wash wounds or cuts or scrapes, etc., before applying. Also, for those salves to help with pain and inflammation, be generous and rub in well so it penetrates more deeply if it’s in an unbroken skin condition.

Enjoy your self-reliance!

Diann Dirks 8-23-22

Posted in Emergency Preparedness, Gardening, healthful recipes, Herb gardening, making medicine, Making Medicine DIY, Self-Sustainability | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Home Remedies that work – Chicken/Bone Broth Soup 8-16-22

Chicken Soup/Bone Broth

Good for what ails ya.

Sometimes the old fashioned home remedies are the best. Recently a friend’s son came down with a mystery flu bug (not covid), and was having a lot of nausea, weakness, dizziness, and feeling terrible, minor fever off and on.

Instead of loading the body up with antibiotics which can play hob with the gut microbes that account for 70 to 85% of the immune system, I have found it better to try old standby methods first. My mother called chicken soup “Jewish Penicillin” and I’ve actually seen research on how effective it can be. So, I wrote up my recipe for this soup to my friend. I decided you might find it useful.

Whole chicken (thawed if was frozen and cleaned) in a big pot, add a big cut up carrot or two, chop up an onion in 4 pieces, and a couple of stalks of celery with the leaves (especially adds flavor), some salt and pepper. Add purified water to about an inch from the top, bring to boil, lower to simmer, simmer an hour. Remove the chicken but leave the vegs. Cut the meat off the bones, put the meat in the frig for later. Return the bones and skin and if you have any chicken feet (available at WalMart and many Mexican stores with a meat counter) or more bones saved from baked chickens adds nutrients, simmer the stock for a few hours. Strain off the liquid and return to the pot or put in mason jars for later use and refrigerate. This is bone broth. Compost the now soft bones and vegs.

To serve the soup, pour the right amount of the bone broth into a sauce pan for a serving, add new vegetables you want in your soup – can do more carrot, celery, onion, add parsley, and other vegs as you wish (see below) as well as rice or noodles. Simmer till vegs are cooked. Add meat enough for a serving, let simmer just enough to heat it up, into the soup, and serve. For added flavor, squeeze a lemon into the final soup. Salt and pepper to taste if desired.

Sometimes I like to vary the final soup a bit with some herbs and spices. Oregano, thyme, and tarragon, dried and tied in bundle, later removed, a few bay leaves also later removed, or lots of cilantro or fresh parsley or green onions, added about 5 minutes before serving (keeps the flavors fresh from the fresh herbs) or sprinkled on the final soup to serve all taste wonderful.

Some vegetables in the final soup I like to add (besides the ones mentioned) include fresh tomatoes or home canned tomatoes, potatoes, cabbage, green beans, canned beans like white or garbonzo, celery leaves, parsnips cut up and sautéed before adding, celeriac also sautéed,  bok choy, broccoli, cauliflower, mushrooms canned or fresh, Swiss chard including the stalks, spinach, fresh snap, English or snow peas, or combinations of them. Because I have a big garden, often it’s just a trip out into the beds with a basket and a harvest knife for ingredients available at the time.

This is traditional soup stock kept on hand for many uses besides just making soup. It can be used to cook rice, in stews, or sauces. It’s delicious.

This soup is also soothing to the stomach (if someone is sick, you can just serve the broth without vegs or meat if they can’t hold other things down) and very nutritious. Research has been done on this for healing and illness recovery and it actually has many benefits.

I like to use organic chicken if I can find it and organic vegs. And always use purified water – either filtered, or filtered rain water, or pure spring water. Costco sells good organic whole chickens. Chicken feet add collagen to the bone broth and make it more healing. To a large pot of broth I add one to two lbs. of the chicken feet. When cooled in the frig, this broth will be almost like jello in consistency, it’s so high in collagen.

For added nutrition, you can throw any old vegs in your frig into the pot when you are at stage two with just the bones and skin and original vegs in the broth after you take out the chicken itself. They can be wilted or almost bad. The broth will absorb the nutrients, kill any germs, and be thrown out with the bones at the end.

When you have a garden, you can throw in greens from the broccoli or cauliflower, onion tops, carrot tops or otherwise composted plant matter for additional mineral content and flavor. I have found these otherwise wasted things add another dimension to the flavor and often a sweetness unexpected.

We are a thrifty family so whenever I bake a chicken we save the bones and put them in the freezer to add when making bone broth. I have a very large stock pot which holds over 2 gallons and this gets put to use several times a year so we have a good supply of bone broth all year long. It keeps nicely in tightly covered mason jars for many months in the frig, or longer in freezer bags in the freezer. I don’t like to freeze mason jars because I’m afraid they will crack and spoil the contents.

Making broth with otherwise left over or unused edibles is one of the best investments in time in a kitchen. You can use a crock pot too if you have a big one. It also makes the dollar stretch and increases yield from the garden or farm. Even if you only have a few buckets with soil in them on your patio, you can grow food and make it into things like broth.

Enjoy and bon appétit.

Diann Dirks Auburn, Ga.

Posted in Bone Health, Collagen Formation, Emergency Preparedness, Gardening, Gut health, healthful recipes, How to increase yield in your garden, Making Medicine DIY, organic gardening, Permaculture, Recycle, repurpose, reuse, Self-Sustainability, Thrifty living | Tagged , , , , , | 3 Comments


I wrote this article to help a friend of mine in California who is handicapped but who wants to be able to grow some of her food. I have made it as simple and user friendly as possible. The advice is good for anyone starting out or those with mobility or energy issues, or who just are uncertain that they can even grow food at all. She has a patio off of her condo, but no real yard. This would work for almost any small space.

It can also be used to grow an herb garden instead of a food garden, or a combination of the two.

People now are starting to realize that food security and having a way to grow your own food may become more and more important with the changing of the times. Not everyone has acreage to build a farm, or a backyard in suburbia to set up raised beds to grow their own food. Here is a simple way to grow food on a gradient approach that anyone can do. Even kids. I had a neighbor across the street who had never grown anything. I started her out with a pretty big plastic planter and a tomato plant I gave her. She was nervous at first and thought for sure she’d kill that plant. But I encouraged her and helped her out now and then when she had questions like I can do for you. But she gained experience and confidence, and after several years and teaching her two young daughters what she learned, she had her husband build her 4’ x 8’ raised beds in her yard. Then she moved to Michigan and kept up her garden there. Anyone can do this!

Here are the steps to do this project. In Permaculture Design we are taught to start small and take care of the critical things first. So these paragraphs below are in the sequence you need to put in to do this. Easy peasy.

WATER: Secure a way to water your plants – preferably a hose from a faucet outside the building. Have a hose with a wand with a shower head which screws onto the hose. If you don’t have a hose, you can use a watering can and fill it half way (to avoid hurting your back) to water a few containers to start out.

GROWING ‘BEDS’: Purchase 3 or 4 – 5 gal. buckets from Home Depot, Lowe’s, a bakery, or a soap making company (usually cheaper from bakery or soap company). Make sure you get the lids too. They are placed under the pot to catch the water.

Drill ¼” holes, 6 or 7 per bucket, in the bottom of the buckets. Lay some kind of permeable fabric over the holes so the soil doesn’t wash out. You can save the plastic net bags from oranges and apples, and lay a number of layers over the bottom for this purpose. Or cut a circle of screening like in windows and lay it over the holes. Water will drain through the fabric and not hold it in so it won’t rot the roots.

Purchase large bags (usually 2 or 3 cubic feet sized) of Potting Soil. Just one to start out, and see how many buckets one bag will fill. I prefer purchasing the kind that has already got fertilizer in it like Scott or Miracle Grow. It will say on the bag if it’s fertilized and if it’s ‘water control’ which holds the water better. You’ll  probably need to get help moving this to your patio. Purchasing little bags is easier to deal with but more expensive! I cut a gal. water bottle  with a handle so it is the shape of a scoop, leaving the handle but cutting out a “D” shape on the side starting including the narrow hole at the top. This makes it much easier to move the soil out of the bags into the buckets and it’s free. Much easier than doing it double handfuls at a time.

Fill the buckets with the soil, leaving 1 to 2” from the top to leave room for water, and mulch.

You need full sun for most summer vegetables so place your buckets side by side with the lid under the bucket, close together in a line by the wall. Start with a small number of these until you get used to taking care of them. Add more as you can make a trip to purchase them, and buy bags of potting soil as you need them.

You won’t need to fertilize your soil for about 6 months, then you need to purchase some ‘fish emulsion’ thick fertilizer that you dilute. This is organic and non-chemical, the plants love it. A bottle from the nursery lasts quite a long time. Read and follow the directions on the bottle.

Purchase seedlings from the nursery of Home Depot, Lowe’s, or a nursery. It’s summer but in California it’s such a great growing climate, you can mostly grow almost anything. At first just start with ‘patio’ variety tomatoes, lettuce (likes it cooler and not in full sun), Swiss chard, bush beans, bush cucumbers, and other vegetables that you like. Check in with me before you purchase specific ones. And go onto a seed company site like Burpees, Seeds of Change, Livingston Seeds, Southern Exposure Seed Exchange, and my favorite – Baker Creek Heirloom Seed company, or other seed company to give you ideas for what to grow – online. Usually they tell you what will grow in a container or stays compact in the description. Almost any seed company will have their catalog online but most of them will also send you a hard copy if you want to peruse them (and drool on them like I do, lol).

SEEDS: If you want, you can try sowing some seeds if you can’t find seedlings for what you want. Don’t go nuts. Look thru some seed catalogues for ‘patio’ sized, compact cultivated varieties. They won’t be in the nursery seedling lots except maybe patio tomatoes. Starting from seeds can be so much cheaper and you have so many more varieties to choose from. Nursery seedlings tend to be very limited in varieties. But it’s educational to walk the aisles of the outdoors nursery offerings for ideas about what to plant. Start with a few only and as you get more containers to grow in, you can increase the varieties. I liked growing lettuces, one or two parsley plants, 3 or 4 tomato plants, radishes (easy to grow), Swiss chard, bush beans, and a few other things like chives for snipping into a salad. Lettuces should be leaf variety, not heading varieties. You can pick leaves on them and they keep growing. Head varieties are a one shot harvest. Once you pick the plant, you have to replant.

SUPPORTS: If you grow things that vine or climb, like pole beans, vining cucumbers, and most tomatoes, you need to support them with a pole or a ‘tomato cage’. Poles like bamboo poles can be purchased at a nursery, or if you know a landscaper, sometimes when they prune a bush, they have long branches that can be used for supports when held together in teepees with cable ties and set into the soil of the container.

TOOLS: You will need a few simple tools. Get a plastic 2 or 1 ½ gal plastic watering can from the nursery (for diluting fertilizer and doing spot watering). A garden trowel. A scoop (you make yourself). A spoon – teaspoon and tablespoon – I get old ones from a thrift store or just dedicate one from your kitchen to plant small seedlings – easier than using a bigger trowel. And save the little paper/wire ties in the grocery store or from a non-ziplock plastic bag box to tie up your plants to the supports.

FERTILIZER: You can use the fish emulsion fertilizer. But also crush your eggshells down into as tiny bits as you can, and mix that into the soil, not disturbing the roots. Or just lay them over the top as a mulch. As you find moldy stuff in your frig (not meat or bones, or citrus peels or avocado peels or seeds) dig that into your soil. Carrot and potato skins and other debris from cooking can go in there too.

WATERING: You can over or under water plants on a patio. The test of when to water is to stick your index finger into the soil 1”. If it feels dry, put your finger down 2”. If it’s still dry, you need to add water. If it’s moist 1” don’t add water. In the heat of summer, you may have to water every day. Check every day. In really hot weather, I have had to water 2x a day. If your plants start to wilt, immediately check the soil.

You can also set up a drip system from a kit available online so you always have a bit of moisture going into the containers, to save walking around with a hose. Again, depends on resources and money available, but I’ve seen entire rooftop farms in containers watered by drip systems.

The nice thing about bucket growing is you can move them around to find the right light exposure or take it with you if you decide to move. And if a plant isn’t happy in one spot you can adjust it a bit to be happier.

HOW TO APPROACH THE PROJECT: I suggest if you wish to make your garden from containers, that you build up the numbers, gradually, and line them up along the walls, then leave about 2 ½ feet between the lines of buckets, and in the middle do a double line but leave space at either end and in the middle to walk around them. You could probably get quite a nice garden in the space you described for your patio. It would be done gradually because it’s a heck of a learning curve. And you’d have to spend money to mock it up. Start out with three or four buckets and see how it works for you. Start with a tomato plant in one of them with some garlic cloves pushed in around the edge of the bucket, two inches apart. Then plant another one with some leaf lettuces. Decide what you want to grow and what you can find as seedlings, and start from there. There’s some bending over in working with them but not as much as a raised bed or in the ground. You could even set them up on 2×4 tables so they were at a comfortable height, but that would require more money. Or set the few you are growing up on cinder blocks so you don’t have to bend over at all.

Here is a more elaborate and full scale patio garden with buckets, spaced according to the amount of space, the available resources, and one’s energy to work with them. These plans are elastic, fitting to the space and the resources. It could be on a patio, on a drive way, on a rooftop, on a side walk, along an alley way if there’s enough sunshine or in a vacant lot you have access to. Sometimes people make arrangements with neighbors who have unused space and take some of the produce as exchange. This plan is for a square patio, but you place them according to the shape of your space. Just leave about 2 ½ feet between the rows and maybe 1 ½ feet for pass thru spaces so you can move around easily. You can even just put them in the middle and not around the edge of the space if you have shade there and not enough sunshine.


O          walk ways                                  O

O     OOOOO    OOOOO   OOOOO     O

O     OOOOO    OOOOO   OOOOO     O

O                                                            O

O     OOOOO    OOOOO   OOOOO     O

O     OOOOO    OOOOO   OOOOO     O

O                                                             O


You get the picture. It’s not to scale but the concept is there. Of course the ‘O’s would not be as many because they would be the buckets.  And you would have to see how your energy holds up starting with a few. But you could find out how much you can do and do that.

It’s amazing how much food you can grow using containers like this. As you get more and more familiar with the techniques of growing this way, you can use several buckets to grow something you especially like. And because bio-diversity is a good thing, mix up the buckets so you don’t have a bunch of the same thing in a row. This confuses the pest bugs and helps to keep their numbers down so you don’t have to deal with that.

If you have questions about what to plant with what, you can google ‘companion planting’ asking for companions for the plants you want to put together in a pot. Some plants are happy to be planted in the same pot, some are not. An example of those that don’t like each other – anything in the onion/garlic family, and any of the ‘legume’ plants like beans and peas. They inhibit the growth of each other. Good companions are tomatoes, garlic, onions, parsley, lettuce, and carrots. Of course you wouldn’t put all these in one pot, but they could be paired up happily.

I hope this helps you get started. Remember, start with 3 or 4! Learn, then grow it bigger.

Diann Dirks, Certified Permaculture Designer

Posted in Emergency Preparedness, Gardening, Herb gardening, organic gardening, Preparedness, Self-Sustainability, Sustainable and safe seed companies, The beginning Gardener information | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

How Things Are In The Garden Today – A window into the life of a passionate gardener. 7-25-22

Dear reader,

I forget sometimes that some of the people who read my blog are interested in gardening and started reading it for garden tips and such. So, I’m copying parts of a letter I wrote today to my friend in Switzerland who I correspond with. She lives in a flat in an old part of a village, very picturesque, and she tells me all about her life. I share mine with her. So, she said it was cooler the last couple of days. I’ll start with that. It’s about the current state of my garden and my work here. BTW, I’ll be 77 in November, so you can imagine me out there doing my garden yoga and digging happily in the garden soil, planting, watering, weeding, and listening to the birds sing, the bees buzz, and watching the hundreds of butterflies flittering around. It’s heaven. Did you know the actual meaning of the word paradise is “a confined garden”? Well, this is not confined but it sure is a paradise.

You can ask me about these things in the comment part of the blog, and I’d love to hear from you.

Diann Dirks

I don’t know how hot it will be here today but it’s supposed to be a scorcher. Yesterday it was overcast even though it was hot, and I got a LOT done in the garden. Everything I do in this garden takes effort. Nothing is easy, especially in the heat. But if I don’t do it myself I have no help for another week or so, so I’ve been getting in there and working, and enjoying it a lot. I love getting my hands in the dirt. (My interns are both on vacation with their families before school starts in August.)

I had help from my neighbor Rhys putting in cinder blocks in the garden along a pathway which formerly had rotting 2×12” 12 foot long boards put in new many years ago. I rounded up cinder blocks from all over the garden and between us we lined one long section and the return to the edge of the garden. It’s so much nicer! But I like to plant things in the holes of the cinder blocks to make use of the growing space, and that takes a LOT of prepared soil. Now all the beds are either lined with bricks or cinder blocks, no more wood boxes. The pathways between these liners are filled with coarse wood chips. As part of the redoing of the east garden growing area, we (mostly me) have been digging up the pathways which have had wood chips in there for many years. Now that organic matter has decomposed making beautiful black soil. But we have added more chips over the top of that which have had to be sifted out in order to use that nice decomposed rich soil. So I had filled a long row of black plastic tree planter containers with the chips mixed with the soil.

Over the past week I have been sifting that soil in a sifting box Loren (my husband) made for me, by hand. Then to fill the cinder cells I have added vermiculite (a puffed wheat kind of mineral that makes soil lighter in texture), sand and ash, and composted manure to the sifted soil. This is beautiful light fertile soil! But a lot of work. I think I filled over 40 cinder cells yesterday with two big wheel barrow loads of this mixed soil. I got the last of the chip/soil containers sifted and added, and mixed the other ingredients into it, then precariously wheeled the wheel barrow, two loads, over to the row of cinder blocks. Then I used a plastic liter bottle with the top cut off to fill the cells since they are too small to use a shovel. Amazingly enough I had exactly the right amount of soil to fill the whole row! Nothing left over, and just enough! Phew, just the win I needed!

So today the mission is to plant those cells with seeds and seedlings of flowers, herbs, and carrots which grow very well in those little spaces. It ends up being about a gallon of soil for each hole, so a nice growing space. And I keep them watered. I have done this with all the cinder cells around the beds with zinneas, coleus (lovely colored leaf plants), and some herbs and radishes, which the bees love, and butterflies. So it’s a riot of color out there, as well as being very productive.

The long bed 17’x5’ that I just put in the cinder blocks around now needs the soil refreshed, and everything planted in there. Still putting in some summer plants but also starting some cool weather seeds like broccoli, cabbage, and maybe even lettuce if I can shade those plots.

I divide up the larger area into blocks about 2 1/2 or 3 foot squares, with a rock for stepping on in the middle corner, which is just enough space to work and plant in one hour. Instead of trying to work the whole bed at once, which is exhausting, if I do it in sections, I get it done systematically and get things actually growing quicker.

This long bed is the last of the beds in the east garden area to be planted. I still have two of those beds which need some work, weeding and succession planting in the empty spots, but otherwise it’s a big project almost finished. Then I’ll start working on the west beds.

But now the whole garden area not only is filled with color but the tomato plants are 3’ tall and starting to produce, the peas, beans and cucumber plants are climbing up the stick supports I built. The okra and peppers both hot and sweet are about 1 – 2’ tall, one actually made me a hot pepper so far. Swiss chard is needing some attention but is productive.

And I planted a whole area with squash, pumpkins, melons and peas with various kinds of radishes, some grow 2’ long in an area just down hill of the main beds on an old hugelkulture berm (where rotting wood is first placed as a bottom layer then topped with a couple of feet of compost and soil – very productive). It’s all getting very exciting! I haven’t really had a garden in 3 years due to covid and my own lack of energy.  

The peach tree went nuts this year and produced loads of actual peaches that didn’t rot and fall off before looking like peaches. I don’t spray with chemicals so having them make it this year has been so wonderful! Just the right climatic conditions. Many of them were blown off by a big storm we had, and a lot of them started to rot on the tree whole or in spots. But much of that was salvagable and over the last week I’ve been picking the ones that are almost ripe, and for the ones with bad spots, cutting out those spots and salvaging the good parts. They are delicious peaches! I actually cooked down several quarts of them the other day and will do the same with more maybe today, and when they are all cooked down, I’ll reduce the liquid and make peach butter preserve. YUM! Delicious!

The rotten parts I leave out for the bees in a big gray bin so they get the food they need to last the winter. They love the sweet parts. They never bother me. I’m very kind to bees here. I don’t have any hives but they come in from wherever their hives are and help me pollinate my garden so we’re friends. We have an agreement.

I’m still harvesting the last of the blueberries. The wild raspberries are done. And I am seeing little grapes starting to form on my scuppernong (a bronze kind of muscadine grape) vines.

I have a bunch of fruit now I need to either preserve or use. Some of the peaches I want to make into a pie, and some into ice cream if I can find the electric gizmo that fits over the ice cream freezer bowl like thing in the freezer. I LOVE peach ice cream but I can’t eat what’s in the stores, so much sugar. I’ll make it with stevia.

This year we are reconfiguring the whole growing areas to get the work material like bricks and tomato cages off the drive way and back behind the growing areas. This meant I lost about 1/5th of my growing space on the east side. But I realized also that with age making things harder, lessening the amount of space but concentrating on making the growing space I have better, richer, and more productive, I’ll actually have a better garden and be kinder to myself.

So, all the beds are shorter but now re-lined and neater, the pathways cleared and chipped with fresh wood chips, and replanted, things are looking so much better. Also, with the cinder blocks being utilized for flowering plants for the pollinators, instead of just full of weeds like before, I’ve actually regained a lot of growing space. All in all it’s a much more efficient space. We will move the plant table back into the utility space and have a much nicer looking prospect of the house and driveway.

One of the things I recently posted in this blog was an article about growing in 3’x3’ beds for those whose schedules are too tight for full time gardening, or even regular gardening. I have been using that technique and biting off smaller chunks of work to do. This makes it possible for me to work in an hour or two instead of trying to do 4 or 5 hours before. I just can’t do this anymore. Especially in the heat.

I’ve been working in the mornings before it gets hot and have stopped working when I felt dehydrated, tired, dizzy, or just needed a break.  But smaller time blocks and specific projects done regularly actually is getting the job done more thoroughly and efficiently. Check out that article in the last couple of months in archives. It keeps me focused so when I do a stint of time, I walk away with a real product. Otherwise I often just putter and leave areas half done. This isn’t nearly as satisfying. Just sayin.

Good luck with your gardening, and start gathering your cool weather seeds, planning the transition from summer to fall planting, and enjoy harvesting the results of your summer planting.


Diann Dirks

Posted in Bee haven gardens, Gardening, Herb gardening, organic gardening, Permaculture, Seasonal gardening plants, Self-Sustainability, Soil fertility and yield, The beginning Gardener information, Time management for gardening efficiency | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Deer Fencing on a Budget 7-15-22

For about 4 years I had deer eating all my beautiful organic garden produce right down to the roots. It was frustrating and discouraging to say the least. I loved the deer that came to visit us, but not their greedy ways. So I figured out how to keep them away without spending a fortune. Here is my solution:

Deer Fencing on a budget – Diann Dirks 7-15-22

Time for fencing! This is my own design. Get 2′ sections of rebar cut to order, the size that pvc pipe fits over snugly but easy to fit on. Measure your garden and purchase enough of these rebar pieces to go around. Set a piece of rebar around your garden with a 2′ walk space every 6′ leaving a 2 1/2′ place for a walk thru inside the fencing. Purchase enough deer netting to circle the garden, leaving a few feet for overlap and to make a light weight gate. Deer netting is available at Home Depot in 7’x100′ rolls. Last I checked about $20 – may have gone up some. PVC is pretty inexpensive compared with 2x4s and hog panels! Use cable ties to fix netting on pvc set over your rebar. Put the bottom of the netting right down on the ground, and set a 6′ sections opvc pipe along the bottom, also fixed into place by cable tie so deer can’t nose their way under the fence (especially young ones). I also liked to put pvc across the top of the netting too, to make it more secure also cable tied. The pvc pipes should be 8′ long. If you don’t like the look of white pipe get some spray paint and paint it black or dark green. I had this kind of fence around my garden for 7 years. It got some tears in it which I fixed with little cable ties. Don’t let netting pile up around the bottom. This catches and kills beneficial snakes and they suffer. Cut the netting to size and save the rest for repairs.

My garden is on a steep hillside and is uneven land so there were some places where pvc along the ground left gaps that little deer noses could poke under. So, I had a friend who’s husband replaces windows in people’s homes for a living. She gave me a lot of old used screen panels which I placed around the base of the deer netting and secured with cable ties. I also used one of the larger ones as a gate. If you can’t find this kind of thing, set cut long sections 2 or 3′ wide and ‘sew’ onto the bottom of your deer fencing with fishing line and a long needle, so it overlaps any gapes, and place bricks or rocks on the overlap so bunnies and baby deer can’t nose under. Hope this helps.

I still have a few copies of “A Georgia Food Forest Book” by Cynthia Dill (the only book of its kind for growing ever productive perennial 7 vertical layer garden installations in zones 7 thru 9. PM me (Georgia Dirks) on FB to order.

Posted in Deer proofing the garden, Food Forest, Food protection, Gardening, pest management, Self-Sustainability, The beginning Gardener information | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment