Planting in fall for winter gardening

Garden news – it’s not too late to get your fall/winter garden in.

I seeded a bunch of seed cells last week in special blend soil I make myself. This is composed of equal parts Peat Moss, Vermiculite, and compost. Then I planted the rest of the large enough seedlings to be moved as well. I had started lettuces, broccolis, kales, Swiss chards, and other various greens and root vegetables starting in August, through September and into October. As the summer plants were harvested or died out, the spaces in the garden were worked over. I save my kitchen waste, vegetable peelings and such, and dig them into the soil directly. I don’t till, but I make a trench about 4″ deep, spread out some kitchen waste that has been sitting in large cottage containers on my porch getting nice and mushy, then cover it with top soil, and add some soil or fine mulch on top. When the seedlings are ready, I add them to the empty spaces.

We had an early frost and I lost many of my tomato plants. Also, large areas of the garden were covered in squash plants which also died off. so those vines got cut up and put on the compost pile. The beans never did well this summer – too hot or too wet. So, the bean supports were also taken down. That area has been cleared of everything and I will be putting in either cover crops or deep mulch over the winter. The tomato supports were dismantled, the vines chipped in the chipper (they were quite dry), and those areas are now open awaiting more seedlings to come mature enough to plant.

Here at Hillside Gardens, we have two main areas of food production – the West side and the East side of the house. On the West side it is quite steep and because I had ankle surgery this summer, I am not inclined to walk or work on that part of the garden over the winter because it can be very slick footing. There the beds will be deeply mulched or cover crops of rye or clover will go in to add fertility for next year. On the East side, we have a large annual growing area which is fairly flat, and a food forest – orchard with beds below each tree or shrub also growing herbs, flowers and some vines for maximum use of the space. But that area is likewise quite steep.

The Food Forest area will be prepared with mulch and chicken poop as a top layer, trimmed and pruned as needed, and herbs harvested before the cold. In the annual area, there are long beds either raised with wood boxes or in-ground surrounded by cinder blocks with deeper soil than the food forest areas. Also, we have a row of tree sized planters also growing annuals. They are about half planted for fall now and as the crops in them are harvested we will be rotating other crops in.

My neighbor who has chickens has kindly let me have the coop’s production of chickipoo and wood shavings – 5 large industrial sized bags worth – for my garden, so that will be spread as a final mulch before we have cold set in. The chicken poop would be too high in ammonia to dig into the soil until well composted. But as a top dressing, the rain or watering only leaches some of the fertilizer components in at a time.

Get your perennials well mulched now while the weather is still pleasant. I make sure the trees particularly get at least a foot of coarse wood chips. I don’t use colored mulch or any kind and only use big pieces of wood chips so air and water can reach the roots without suffocating them. All the perennial areas except the trees get finer textured mulch made primarily from chipped organic matter from the garden. It breaks down fairly well unlike wood chips. On top of that which is spread around the perennial herbs, flowers, bushes, and such, I put a light layer of the chicken poop with wood shavings.

But I want to give everything a nice liquid fertilizer of our own making before the winter to help the plants survive. We make manure tea by soaking a shovel full of manure plus shavings in a kitchen sized waste paper plastic bin, add a cup of molasses and put a bubbler in from the fish section of the pet store to keep the water moving around. In about a week, strain out the liquid, and dilute the manure tea about 1 part tea to 8 or 9 parts water. Great liquid fertilizer. Apply with a watering can. Good to use a bit of this diluted more like 1 part to 10 or 11 parts water to seedlings once they have their second set of true leaves.

Once the seedlings are planted, carefully add finely chipped garden waste or compost around the babies. Keep them damp but not over-watered until they are well established. And if the garden has somehow gotten compacted during the summer, I loosen but don’t till the soil by using a ‘golden claw’ cultivator just enough to loosen it and add in any new top soil, sand, crushed granite, or other amends prior to planting. If I have the ingredients I will sheet mulch using layers of organic matter each season to every bed and include a handful or compost or good commercial organic top soil for each plant as I replant for fall right into the sheet mulched bed. Either way the soil is boosted.

When I know it is going to get cold enough to frost, I lay my round tomato cages on their sides alternating direction along my planted beds and once it starts to get below about 36 degrees at night, cover it with 3.5 mil plastic sheeting purchased in rolls from Home Depot – preferably the transparent kind, but white will also do – not black! Weigh down the sheeting with cinder blocks or good sized rocks when frost is expected. Roll back the sheeting when the weather gets above 65 during the day or to let in rain. You can grow cool weather crops all fall, winter, and into spring.

Plants will continue to live and grow in all but the coldest winter, even with snow covering the plastic sheeting, but it slows down considerably. Get the plants in early enough to get well established, watering as needed. But once it gets cold, watering usually becomes unnecessary unless you get a particularly warm period. The plastic tends to keep in the moisture but also keep it warm enough not to freeze the soil.

Good luck with your sustainable and high yield gardens. Harvest carefully all winter and into spring. If you plant enough, you can take a leaf here, a leaf there leaving greens plants intact with enough leaf surface to continue photosynthesis. I leave garlic and onions in the ground to grow and harvest in spring but if you need a touch of flavor, nip off a leaf from the root here and there.

I’m saving up for a new camera and hopefully soon, you’ll get pictures in my blogs. Meanwhile, enjoy your own garden activities.

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Mushrooms, How Fungi Heals People and the Earth

For quite some years I have been fascinated with mushrooms. They are the fruiting body of fungi which forms a network in the ground and within decomposing organic matter like tree stumps, roots, old fallen limbs and logs, and throughout the whole of nature actually.

Mycelium forms the ‘body’ of fungi though it is made up of innumerable fine long hairs (hyphae) which criss-cross through soil and invade (beneficially) fine hair roots of plants. When the mycelium binds with a root of a plant, it is connected at a cellular level for the interchange of nutrients and communication. This incredible body of living fibrous matter draws from the soil and living or decomposing organic matter the nutrients which can then flow from one plant to another.

Mycelium is the internet of nature. It is also the transport system bringing nutrients along its tiny threads, which flow from plant to plant or from micro-organisms to plants, in any number of ways. Some species of fungi form the largest living organisms on the earth – thousands of acres across. Of all the micro-organisms in the soil, fungi forms 80% by volume. And their fruiting bodies, mushrooms, contain some of the most beneficial, nutrient rich, medicine rich living matter on earth. Fungi is closer to animal than plant as a life form. One could say we are distant relatives.

As food, mushrooms contain carbohydrates, proteins, enzymes, minerals and vitamins, organic acids and fatty acids, and a host of medicinal compounds. Many species of wild life live off of them, and people have eaten them for most of the lifespan of humans on earth.

So, when I got interested in mushrooms as a subject, and medicinal mushrooms in particular, though edible ones have been a part of my diet for a long time, I took some time and did mushroom foraging walks and read a lot on the subject. I was finding the visible white thread-like or mesh mycelium around my garden breaking down the wood chip mulch and integrating the soil in my garden beds.

I was fascinated by the process of soil creation from seemingly dead organic matter, and wanted to know how to increase the fertility of my soil. I learned that there is a structure of micro-organisms and plants in soil that meant the difference between healthy productive plants and poorly producing ones. That difference was the micro-organism population of the soil. This includes literally trillions of thousands of kinds of bacteria, virus, protozoa, actinomycetes, and algae, that all influence the fertility and health of soil.

For example I discovered that it takes certain bacteria interacting with inorganic minerals, where a bit of carbon is added on, so a plant can recognize it as a nutrient, for plants to be able to ingest them. Then I discovered that the mycelium of fungi was what distributed that digestible (by a plant) mineral around in the soil.

Then I came across research and a knowledgeable expert on composting at ECHO facility in Florida which greatly surprised and delighted me, in that there is communication between plants, beneficial micro-organisms like bacteria, virus, protozoa and other such tiny creatures, and that the way this occurs is along those same mycelium. If there are no or poor populations of these beneficial micro-organisms, plants are limited to the amount and range of nutrients to the extent of their tiny rootlets, not beyond. But with the extension by way of the mycelium, a plant such as a tree can reach great distances and get what it needs. (see below on mycorrhizal fungi)

There is something called a ‘mother tree’ – usually the largest tree of any species in a given forested area. That tree not only drops her seeds which become trees, but she also provides them with nutrients and nurtures them for long periods of time. When we cut down the largest tree in a forest area, we cut off that beneficial activity. We need to completely re-think forestry in light of this knowledge~!

So, the interaction of the fungi, beneficial micro-organisms, worms (which produce those BMOs), and plants are what make up life on earth so that humans and animals can have something to eat, oxygen to breathe, rain (forests cause rain) to drink, and other vital conditions.

But fruiting bodies (mushrooms) have come to mean much more to me. It turns out that certain mushrooms are particularly powerful healing agents. Since many of our most virulent diseases come from a break down in our ability to detoxify, and weakened immune systems, anything that restores those abilities physically is important to our survival. Personally I’ve wanted to help some dear friends.

So, I started looking for certain mushrooms which grow in this area of NE Georgia. On my mushroom forages I found many of them growing wild in the woods. Turkey Tail is abundant in un-cleared forested areas because they grow on fallen branches usually, or rotting logs. My fellow foragers told me they make a tea of turkey tail for the immune system and cancer. Later I learned that adding alcohol tincturing process to the making of turkey tail medicinally grabs more of the medicinal qualities out of it than just tea.

I had heard of Reishi before I ever saw one, but came upon a bunch of them around the stump of a log in a town nearby, where kids had kicked them off the stump. They were lying around on the ground, and I quickly recognized them from pictures, and scooped them up. They are quite woody shelf mushrooms (they look like a shelf growing off a tree). When young they can be cut with a knife, but later they need to be sawed up. Then to my surprise, after looking through numerous woody areas around my locale, I found several of them growing off a stump in the middle of my garden! Yahoo!

A friend of mine was diagnosed with breast cancer a few years ago. I had been researching the effects of various botanicals and mushrooms on cancer, so I gathered up my research, wrote it all up, and sent a goodly supply to her. The three which came up as most powerful in my research that I had access to were Turkey Tail, Reishi, and Shitake. I had dried shitake because it’s a favorite mushroom in Asian cooking, which I am fond of. I collected the turkey tail on forage, and had the reishi from my own organic garden.

There is a technique called double extraction where a mushroom is soaked in alcohol for about a month (at least 80 proof Vodka is what I use), juiced, the tincture thus created set aside. Then the debris from the juicing is decocted – simmered for some time in water, perhaps several hours, and juiced again to extract every drop of the medicine infused liquid. The water and the alcohol tincture are then brought together, and given several times a day in ¼ teaspoon doses. I didn’t know this technique at the time unfortunately, but it wouldn’t have made any difference because my friend was scared into chemo and surgery. Then she started doing her own research but by then she had tossed my package in the trash and I didn’t have replacements. Sadly she passed 3 weeks ago. She had later researched more and gone into a detoxification protocol, and alternate methods of botanicals and oxygen therapy thereby extending her life about 3 years, but they weren’t soon enough and things had gotten out of control.

Knowledge can save your life. The more good and true knowledge one has, the better chance of overcoming some of these really nasty disease processes. It’s being done every day with methods which are dismissed by the usual medical and pharmaceutical corporate community because those methods compete with their massive profits. But after a great deal of research into this subject, if I knew I had cancer, the last thing I would do is put myself in the hands of an oncologist or medical doctor for anything but diagnostic techniques.

Because I have a large organic garden, I have taken the time to research what it takes to grow food, have the soil sufficiently fertile to produce quantity and quality foods and medicinal herbs, and to understand the relationships between the plants and the soil, the micro-organisms and their role, and ways to enhance all these elements. The more I researched the more I realized how vital it is not to till the soil, which breaks up the network of fungi connecting bmo’s and plants constituting the ‘structure’ of the soil, but instead I only keep adding layers of organic matter and mineral sources such as crushed granite. I let the worms do the mixing up of those layers, which they are very happy to do.

Another way to introduce beneficial fungal populations is the addition of Mycorrhizal spores into the soil. “Mycor” – “rhiza” literally means “fungus” – “root” and defines the mutually beneficial relationship between the plant and root fungus. These specialized fungi colonize plant roots and extend far into the soil. Mycorrhizal fungal filaments in the soil are truly extensions of root systems and are more effective in nutrient and water absorption than the roots themselves. More than 90 percent of plant species in natural areas form a symbiotic relationship with the beneficial mycorrhizal fungi.

“Mycorrhizal fungi increase the surface absorbing area of roots 100 to a 1,000 times, thereby greatly improving the ability of the plant to access soil resources. Several miles of fungal filaments can be present in less than a thimbleful of soil. Mycorrhizal fungi increase nutrient uptake not only by increasing the surface absorbing area of the roots, but also release powerful enzymes into the soil that dissolve hard-to-capture nutrients, such as organic nitrogen, phosphorus, iron and other “tightly bound” soil nutrients. This extraction process is particularly important in plant nutrition and explains why non-mycorrhizal plants require high levels of fertility to maintain their health. Mycorrhizal fungi form an intricate web that captures and assimilates nutrients, conserving the nutrient capital in soils.”

Mycorrhizal fungi are present in undisburbed soil, but because of many practices of modern agriculture or common gardening, such as tilling, use of pesticides, herbicides, fungicides and other anti-microbial chemicals, erosion, removal of topsoil, compaction of soil, invasion of weeds and leaving soil fallow, its presence is diminished or wiped out.

I have purchased mycorrhizal inoculants and added them to the soil in my garden beds to increase fertility and help keep moisture and nutrients in the soil. I also recommend this to my consultant clients. A little goes a very long way though. But keeping the viable beneficial fungi population happy and healthy, it goes a long way in cutting the work load of growing food or any plants. They don’t necessarily grow mushrooms, but they are worker bee fungi in the soil.

Worms are very important to the soil health and fertility. They are the little rototillers of the soil which don’t disturb the structure, just help to transport organic matter down into the lower levels of the soil, open it to oxygen which the roots need, and allowing moisture to penetrate below the surface. They also are microbe factories. And because they eat root matter, they have a ‘gullet’ organ which helps to grind that up. So, they need a source of sand or tiny granite particles.

I’ve done what I can to enhance the prospects for the worms, the bmo’s, and thus the plants and herbs. This includes making compost tea, bio-char (fermented activated charcoal), composting, and companion gardening so the plants are happy with one another. But also I have done what I could to enhance the mycelium in the soil. Since fungi are so important, they need to be fed just like plants and bees and butterflies. What they like is woody matter.

So, I load up the wood chips on pathways, and use finely ground up organic garden waste as top dressing around my crops. All my pathways are about four to six inches deep in coarse wood chips, and I try to give my beds at least an inch or two of fine mulch every new planting season along with layers of compost, coffee grounds, crushed egg shells, fresh kitchen waste (peelings and such), and when available, as a very top dressing, the cleanings from a chicken coop. I don’t mix the chicken manure into the soil. It goes on last after planting. If dug in it will burn the roots. But on top it infuses with watering and breaks down slowly.

I get some little brown mushrooms coming up sometimes in the beds or pathways, but fruiting of fungi can occur anywhere that mycelium exist. I am always happy to see these mushrooms growing because they tell me the fungi is healthy in the soil and breaking down organic matter which plants can then feed off of. It also tells me that there is a working order of mycelium networking under the surface of the soil, passing nutrients and communication for the health of my garden overall. Some people think that fungi are bad, spray their lawns, pour toxins into the soil, and never understand how nature is at work.

One very valuable job fungi do is hold onto moisture in the soil. This makes it possible for roots to stay viable and this moisture provides what the plant like a tree, needs to grow. It also helps stave off erosion, and keeps the environment staying in balance with moisture and soil. Trees create rain. If they can’t draw from moisture in the soil, the activity of transpiration (where the moisture in leaves evaporates into the atmosphere), where it forms clouds and causes rain, can’t occur. It’s a relationship that keeps all plant and animal life alive. Without this activity of fungi, we would be living on a desert planet with no life.

And because fungus breaks down dead trees and plants as well as dead animals, and thus creates compost and top soil, if we didn’t have this fungal activity, our planet would be covered in the waste material of the dead and dying trees, plants and animals (that aren’t eaten as carrion by other animals), our world would be like a giant trash heap. Nature recycles all the nutrients in these dead life forms and gives them back as raw material to support all life.

There is exchange between plants and fungi because the trees and above ground plants through photosynthesis can make sugar which the fungi needs to eat but can’t itself make, being under the ground and not having light available to it. They need each other and form a symbiotic relationship.

Paul Stamets and Tradd Cotter both have done extensive research on various aspects of fungi to remedy the state of contamination in soil and the environment, and how that has affected our forests and food producing lands. Mr. Cotter wrote a book on how to organically farm mushrooms and remediate the soil. Paul Stamets has been a leader in enlightening people on the uses of fungi to save the bees and other critical environmental issues and written many books as well.

Interestingly enough, it has been found that certain fungi actually eat plastic. One experiment by Paul Stamets was the decontamination of petrochemical matter in soil by the use of oyster mushroom inoculation. Research is underway on several continents in the use of fungi to overcome the devastating effects and die-off of life in many areas and the decontaminating (detoxifying or neutralizing) of the chemicals used in agriculture and the result of manufacturing. Fungi is truly one of the biggest tools nature uses to bring back balance to our world.

There are so many parallels between what happens in the soil and environment and our health, where fungi plays a part. We can’t ignore the effect of what we do to the earth and how it impacts our own existence and well being.

Our bodies have fungi in them, but usually infections like athletes foot are bad news. I see things like fungal infections as an indicator of a problem, not the problem itself. Fungus usually is a digesting agent. It is breaking down organic matter and processing other substances. Nature has a way of eliminating toxins and unwanted or harmful substances and it often uses fungus to do that. So I look further into that kind of problem to see what is unbalanced and repair that rather than just try and kill off the infection only.

Fungus plays another role in our health. Edible mushrooms are highly nutritious because they are the accumulation of the entire mycelium bringing up nutrients from the soil to create reproductive spores. The resulting fruit is loaded with many of the same nutrients found in meats, grains, or beans. In fact if someone is a vegan or vegetarian, mushrooms can provide many of the vital nutrients that vegetables and fruit alone are lacking. “Mushrooms are low in calories, fat-free, cholesterol-free, gluten-free, and very low in sodium, yet they provide important nutrients, including selenium, potassium (8%), riboflavin, niacin, vitamin D and more.”

Other nutrients in mushrooms include B vitamins, for energy and the nervous system. They are rich in minerals but also beta-glucans, which are immune boosting compounds that are being linked with cancer research and other immune related diseases. High in anti-oxidants, and having anti-tumor properties, they provide powerful protective and healing effects. They also provide Vitamin D, something unusual in other foods such as vegetables. Vitamin D is powerfully linked with protection against and handling of cancer and many other diseases.

Some types of fungi also help us utilize grains, fruits and other foods through fermentation by fungal cultures (as well as yeast), for bread, wine, cheese, beer, soy sauce and marmite. But mostly, through the ages, people have found the edible mushrooms and benefited from their food value directly. The benefits of fermentation have expanded our diets and made many foods available for human consumption when it might not have been, or given us a more diverse and pleasant diet. Plus these activities have also acted to preserve foods which would otherwise have gone sour or rotted and not been available in winter or famine times. We owe fungi our long stay on earth as a species.

I have continually been amazed in my research and study of all the things fungi has given humans not to mention all other life forms on earth. But recently my attention has gone onto the healing qualities not only because my one friend recently died of cancer, but also because I’m seeing more and more illness and ill health among my family, friends and associates.

We’re actually experiencing a mass epidemic which the media doesn’t really express but which is obvious when you put together what IS on the media – the subjects of increased obesity, diabetes, auto-immune, cancers of all kinds, and un-diagnosable strange illnesses cropping up, not to mention the emergence of antibiotic resistant strains of old diseases like childhood measles etc., influenza, and new ones introduced from around the globe.

I believe that these health issues are directly relatable to a toxic environment, poor and poisonous food and food additives, gmos, chem. trail heavy metal contamination, the expanding electromagnetic pollution from cell towers and microwave ‘smart phones’, water contamination with fluoride, chlorine, chloramines, pharmaceuticals and others, and poor air quality making for a very contaminated every day exposure to health destroying substances and energies. These all add up to a tremendous health problem only more visible because of the healthcare political football being tossed around. It’s getting harder and harder to afford treatment and quality health care. We are under tremendous stress just to stay healthy and well fed.

So, from my own viewpoint, I feel that if people can learn how to stay healthy themselves through the use of food, simple home remedies using things available nearby or easily accessible through the internet and reliable resources, we can focus the health care dollar on things that can’t be done at home. If we can stay free of colds and the flu, of wound infections and even tougher conditions, and even stave off the use of harmful pharmaceuticals and medical protocols that destroy the immune system or fill our bodies full of toxic materials, we can protect ourselves and our families.

My emphasis in the thousands of hours of research I have conducted as a citizen scientist and Certified Permaculture Designer, has always been on solutions. First isolating the problems, then finding ways to combat them in the direction of health, environmental protection and safety, increased crop yields as an agricultural consultant, and soil remediation, has been the focus of my explorations for the last 7 years. We aren’t going to get answers from the media, from the government, or even from the corporate world we live in. They all have agendas which don’t necessarily include our interests. But the data is out there, and there are solutions! We need to take on more responsibility for our own states of being and use our own judgment, but that can only happen with knowledge.

We are blessed with some brilliant people who have discovered things beyond the usual pathways of knowledge lately and really think outside the box.

One forerunning guru on the subject of fungi as a planet healer is Paul Stamets who has heralded the benefits of all aspects of fungal solutions on TED talks, and a host of memorable and enlightening books. In terms of fungi and its part in our survival, we can look to Tradd Cotter, a fungi expert, for data on soil remediation.

The internet is rich with information on mushrooms, their identification, benefits, ways to locate and utilize them, recipes for eating, and general good information. I have greatly enjoyed studying them ongoing, and have really started to become aware of their presence around me and in my garden. This process has been greatly expanded through friends and the local mushroom groups like the Georgia Mushroom Club who conduct forages and talks by knowledgeable mycologists (those who study mushrooms).

A friend who is a forager and does a lot of harvesting in forests in our area brings me a wonderful selection of edible and medicinal mushrooms. We went up to North Carolina a few weeks ago to see Paul Stamets speak, and on the drive she brought out some Black Staining Polypore jerky which tasted like the finest beef variety because this particular mushroom tastes like steak.

On my own property I have found Turkey Tail, Reishi, Black Staining Polypore, Oyster, and delicious edible Puffballs. My mother was skilled in recognizing edible mushrooms when I was a child and we often feasted on mushrooms that grew in our yard in Michigan. But for myself I have heeded the warning about not eating anything not completely identified. You can die from poisonous mushrooms and toad stools that look like good ones if you don’t know the difference. So, I have really done my homework before eating or using any of them. There is a mushroom identification group on Face Book which I have benefited from as well.

That being said, when I have found and properly identified the beneficial mushrooms, I have greatly enjoyed eating them. Recently we have had an outcropping of puffballs which are delicious when sauteed in butter. And one of my interns spotted an outcropping of the delicious Black Staining Polypores in amongst my tomato plants a few weeks ago. Upon careful inspection in amongst the thick growth of vegetables and herbs, we found close to a hundred pounds of them! Their size was astounding, some being clusters of ‘leaves’ in a single mushroom weighing over 35 lbs. I cleaned and cut them up, sautéed the outer tender portions of the ‘leaves’ and refrigerated them – to be vacuum packed and frozen for later use. The tougher parts I cut up and dehydrated, some used in making mushroom boullion which tastes like the most delicious beef bone stock.

In further research on the medicinal qualities of some varieties, I have started to make various DIY mushroom medicinal tinctures of turkey tail, and reishi. It turns out that all edible mushrooms have health benefits. And they help the body detoxify many pollutants and contaminants which we are exposed to through food, water and air.

A list of some of the more important medicinal mushrooms are: Chaga, Reishi, Maitake (Hen of the Woods), Turkey Tail, Shitake, Oyster, Cordyceps, Lions Mane, Chicken of the Woods, Poria, Tender Polypore, Wood Ear, Chantarelle, Button, Honey, Morel, and many more.

Preparing the mushroom into tinctures made of alcohol, or as a tea, or decoction (simmering in water for various amounts of time), or making a powder of them and ingesting them directly all have been used medicinally for a very long time. Traditional Chinese Medicine, Ayervedic (traditional medicine from India), medicine of native American Indians, and in European medicine practice have all used medicinal mushrooms depending on what was available to them. We happen to be very rich in these fungi in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains but beneficial mushrooms can be found on every continent on the planet except where climate forbids such as Antarctica. So, no matter where you live, some variety or another can be found.

But if wild-crafting isn’t your thing or you don’t live near a suitable hunting area with lots of woods and uncontaminated spaces, you can grow your own mushrooms from spores available from Fungi Perfecti (Paul Stamets) or Mushroom Mountain (Tradd Cotter) or any number of reputable mushroom growers and supply houses. Often they are available as kits. Especially popular are oyster and shitake kits. They are relatively easy to grow. But others such as Maitake can also be grown either on inoculated logs or grown from blocks of compressed wood chips or straw.

You can also purchase already dehydrated powders and mushrooms from the same sources which save you having to identify them. Many of them are highly healing and immune boosting, if not to say, curing of various ailments. But you can save yourself quite a bit of money by finding or growing your own.

Growing mushrooms can be an excellent source of nutrition, gourmet quality and delicious, not to mention a fun hobby. But the more tricky types such as the polypore varieties – known more as ‘shelf’ mushrooms, can also be grown from spores. Some take longer such as Reishi which can take a year or more to fruit.

Gourmet commercially grown or hunted mushrooms include: button mushrooms, crimini, truffles, portabella, morel, Inoki, oyster, and shitake. I get many of these from my local Oriental market. Asian cooking often includes mushrooms whereas our own culture usually limits our mushroom use to button or portabella or if we’re really lucky, truffles. But having been exposed to my foraging friends and their culinary experimentation, I can say that we could really have so much more variety by knowing and growing some of these other kinds. There’s nothing like a broth made from Shitake mushrooms – delicious!

If you get the bug and want to learn more, there are mushrooming clubs all over, just Google your locale. You can find classes or organized forays online with a little research, there are field guides available, and as mentioned above, a Face Book identification group. I took advantage of a club forage event in Atlanta a number of years ago, and have since gone out with friends who are more knowledgeable than myself. Sometimes you find neat things, sometimes not so much, but I always enjoy walking through the woods.

If you see mushrooms growing out of your lawn, be very careful to get expert identification because sometimes mushroom circles will appear after a rain which are not edible. My mother was knowledgeable enough to know which was which, so don’t just automatically discount something you find. Just get exact identification.

Right now there’s a lovely puffball mushroom in my kitchen I picked yesterday, which is waiting for my attention – to be cut up, sautéed in butter and added to an omelet. When my friends who have more property than I who also are mushroomers or foragers have an abundance of chantarelles, oysters, puffballs, or other delectable wild crafted mushrooms, I happily trade my herbs and vegetables for their bounty.

I have learned that all edible mushrooms have some medicinal elements which keep the body healthy and the immune system jumping to stave off the usual traveling colds and flues or other bugs. So I stay healthy way more than my friends who aren’t so enlightened.

I also have a shitake growing log in my basement, but because I have playful cats who bring in the odd mouse to play with, the mice get the mushrooms before I have the pleasure. One former intern has really gotten into growing shitake mushrooms and has a number of logs stacked at her farm, like a log cabin, all growing ‘rooms’ profusely – to sell. I’m not that ambitious. However, I am determined to be able to provide my own mushrooms to eat and make medicine. Inoculating logs or making up kits is a fun thing and I only need to prepare a better location. I know that particularly oyster mushrooms can be grown right from a container of used coffee grounds and nothing else. Very productively too, as I have seen done.

I hope I have opened your eyes to the potentials of mushrooms for health, the understanding of how fungi benefit the world, your garden or farm, and the whole of the environment and planet.

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In Defense of the Renaissance Being

Recently I watched a TED talk by a brilliant thinking woman named Emilie Wapnick. (see link to TED Talk below) In this talk she spoke of why some of us don’t have one true calling (the name of her talk by the way). It really got me thinking because so much of what she said rang true to me.

She named what had been in my mind a lifelong protest of having to find what I would be when I grew up. Limited to one thing. Luckily I have been interested in myriad things in my life and finally many of them came together in the design science of environment called Permaculture. But not limited to that because I continue to expand, learn, research and try new things. The latest is mycology (study of fungi and mushrooms) among others.

But it has been a life long struggle to come up with what I wanted to “do” with my life, more than what I wanted to “be”. I couldn’t imagine being stuck doing one thing an entire lifetime. I felt this since I was a little kid. It left me feeling in mystery about what that thing should be and I never really found ‘it’ because the real answer was ‘all of the above’. ‘One thing’ was the big lie. For me it didn’t exist, so the question was the wrong one – “What do I want to be when I grow up?”. The question should have been ‘What are all the things you would like to do and be as you grow up’. It isn’t a list with one answer, it’s a journey.

At heart we are all one thing and one thing only – ourselves! No two of us are so alike we could live in each other’s skins and have no dissention. That is the glory of being alive and living with others – our un-alikeness, our uniqueness. There is magnificence in the differences, talents, abilities, skills, outlooks and viewpoints, intentions and agendas we have within ourselves.

I keep hearing people say about themselves and others that they are ADHD or some other psych influenced word to describe that they are particular, that they pay attention to detail, that they are driven to do certain things and do them well. Included in this are every normal trait of a Renaissance person. And I object!

Let’s not allow those who wish to make victims of us all or to sell us drugs or control our thinking to define our breadth and depth of life experience or our purposes or what drives us. It isn’t a disease, it’s the human condition. And we are lucky to be so versatile, so nimble, so creative that we can move around in our creations and interests, be exacting of ourselves, set high standards, and to find genius in our lives.

Miss Emilie calls us “Multi Potentialites” who are not cogs in some wheel invented during the Industrial Revolution to turn all of us into pieces of equipment for those who would profit from machines and people made into machines. Emilie talks about the question we all get when we are children “What do you want to be when you grow up?”.

If we grow up and haven’t found the ‘one thing’, somehow society looks at people as if they are lost or something is wrong with them. And then we start to think of ourselves that way, and invalidate who we really are. That gives about half the population a good feeling and the other half or so the feeling that somehow we have missed the boat or are built wrong spiritually or mentally. This is a big lie and we can drop that one right now.

It begs the question, how did we let this kind of limiting mind set into our lives. Why haven’t we been questioning this mindset before? Thank you Emilie! We have gotten led to it by the paycheck, by the carrot of the easy life, the middle class “go to work, do the one thing, go home to the dream of ideal family life, get that vacation once a year, send the kids to college” that seems to be acceptable and respectable. We haven’t wanted to buck the system which appears to give us the good life. It works for some. It never worked for me. That doesn’t mean we can’t have all the good things by being nimble, it just means we don’t get there by the same road.

She expresses the idea that some people are driven to be one thing, or are so focused on that one thing that they can spend an entire lifetime doing that. We need people that are ‘wired’ like that. They give stability and a host of other beneficial attributes to society. But she gets bored once she accomplishes a sufficient competence and moves on. That gives her multiple disciplines to draw from in her next interest and journey to competence in that. It’s a growing lexicon of knowledges and skills from such a life. I enjoy that and most of my friends are of like mind in that we are rich with imagination, curiosity, and the ability to absorb and apply information at a high rate, not scared of starting fresh in a new subject or pursuit.

Another friend pointed out that specialization came in with the Industrial Revolution and I started to realize how much of a paradigm that has instilled into our current civilization. If someone wanted to benefit from your energies to accomplish their agenda, keeping you focused on something they could benefit from would be of prime concern.

The control factor to keep you thus focused would be necessary to keep a work force thus occupied. Standing at a work station in a factory punching out a part or assembling some contraption may bring in a pay check every week or two, but it is mind numbing. For the renaissance mind, having some cubicle in a corporate office, or being stuck doing the same thing an entire lifetime is likewise numbing and stultifying.

If from the first day at school we are herded into finding our ‘level’ for this kind of slavery, which actually is the basis for “Outcome” education, people don’t think that they have a choice to explore their potential. The world is a lesser place for this kind of thinking. Where would the inventors, the innovators, the ‘think outside the box’ people be if they are shoved into that box and the key thrown away mentally by the education they get from an early age.

That’s one of the things I am so happy about in our current society – home schooling, and other non-traditional educational modes. It gives the multi-potentialite an out.

In an era and in a culture where people need to survive, as things go through drastic changes, which describes things as they are now, one must be versatile, nimble, smart and able to turn on a dime without the world coming down around their ears.

People who are one trick ponies get lost in the dust. Look what happened to the middle level execs in Detroit when the auto industry crumbled, just to name one example. People limited to the ‘one thing’ get lost in the shuffle when technology shifts or when their skills become obsolete.

So, a certain amount of suppression can occur of the nimble, the thinkers outside the box, occurs because the “one thing” society can feel threatened. It’s a clash of temperaments and a paradigm which has been successful for about a hundred years coming to terms with a changing world. It can come from above where those who have held control by keeping things orderly in this way are faced with changing conditions they can’t control.

But that is an unnecessary worry. The focused and the nimble have always found each other helpful. Working together as a team provides necessary components to success. We have resources and those resources in terms of motivation are both precious and when explored so much more can be accomplished.

In terms of emerging non-traditional societies such is found in Permaculture villages, and new ways of organizing peoples, having multiple skills and abilities is a huge bonus. When someone can blacksmith a tool, play a musical instrument, make a medicinal herbal concoction, program a computer, and write a technical manual, that person is an asset not only to himself for varied interests, but to the harmony and overall survival of the company he keeps.

It isn’t mental illness to whole heartedly jump into a new pursuit, learning at a high rate, produce all kinds of new things, get to a point where it’s ‘old stuff’, and start looking around for the next great passion. It makes for a very happy life.

If we looked at this from another perspective, one of environmental components, we could say that instead of being multi-potential, we could say ‘bio diverse’. In an environment that is changing, having bio-diversity is a key component because it means that when one solution no longer works, there’s another one waiting in the wings – a plant that handles colder or hotter weather, more moisture or less, the trampling of animals or the lack of bees. With people, we need bio-diverse kinds of people. In agriculture the lack of bio-diversity is called ‘mono-cropping’ meaning thousands of acres of one crop only. If we have a planet with only the focused, only the conformers, only the followers, that is a kind of mono-cropping and in the long term it is disastrous.

And if people who do make progress leave a trail of written knowledge which someone else coming down that path can benefit from, then we grow as a culture.

Maybe we Multi-potentialites are hard to control, don’t fit into other people’s boxes, and maybe pose a threat for our innovations and new thinking, but that is what human kind has been doing for a long time. We all have benefited from the renaissance people throughout history. We wouldn’t have good plumbing, refrigeration, the internet, swift transportation, fast communication across the globe, full stomachs, or abundance without them.

Looking back a couple of hundred years, being a 1700’s re-enactor and history buff, life was much more precarious. To thrive in that world a single person survived to the degree that every need could be met by his/her own skills and understandings.

We had to be able to make shelters, find and transport water, grow or find food and cook it, have fire and a source of light and energy, arrange transportation, create shoes and clothing, and the fabric or the material to make them, be able to recognize threats in the environment and protect ourselves against them, heal ourselves of wounds and injuries, illnesses and disease, care for children and the older among us, bear those children and provide for them, be in control of our food supply not only in cultivating the soil but preserving it and having seeds for the next season or hunting.

We had to be able to handle weapons, protect ourselves from dangerous animals and humans, defend our holdings, and compose towns and the societies around us. No ‘one trick pony’ type of person survived well in the wilderness. Perhaps they did well in the cities where people specialized more, but not as pioneers.

The accumulation of the products and knowledge from the innovators have brought us up from that precarious state. It has taken the combined strengths of both the focused and the multi-potentialites.

We make a mistake if we think that there is no more to right, that there will never be another precarious condition because we are at a cross roads right now with food safety and security, water scarcity, Fukushima born radiation, population concerns, and a cascade of other planetary problems which loom on the horizon or already impact us daily. So, even more, we need the problem solvers, the new thinkers, the ones who can step back out of the ordinary viewpoints and come up with a better way.

We are always blazing new trails in this world, cities and the modern technological society we live in notwithstanding. First our society lives in how we think about proceeding. It starts out as concepts. If we control our own concepts of things and are free to build upon those which benefit the greatest number and for the greatest good, we can have a future worth building.

Left up to those only in the boxes or those who control the boxes, keeping things under control and not allowing the little guy with the big idea to proceed, we all loose. The balance between the focused and the broader thinking people is what needs to be achieved for then the power of both kinds of people go towards that greater good.

It isn’t a battle between the multi-potentialite and the focused. It’s a meshing of the resources and skills, powers and knowledges, and their free expression as well as the right to move from one skill to the next and use them as we see fit, that brings about the balance. Cooperation and harmony as well as the right to go off on one’s own and pursue one’s passions without needing the approval of anyone has to be part of this process.

Never in the history of mankind has this cooperation and harmony been more needed. If we continue with the path we are on, we will see famine, radiation problems, civil unrest, suffering and unimaginable chaos. But if we get busy and start using the new ideas, apply new wisdom such as Permaculture (which is based on nature, not really new, just new application), the internet for research, and our good thinkers, we can bring order before we see those negative outcomes. We need our multi-potentialites to just bring outselves to a new plateau of civilization and freedom.

That means no more labeling of the renaissance being as an aberration or unwanted state. No more corralling the kids into that kind of thinking, drugging them if they are restless and don’t do well in government educational institutions, or labeling them. Just give them the basis of education so they can follow their own ‘wiring’ whether they fit into government schools, need home schooling, or charter schools, etc. and let them grow into competent adults who can contribute to life as they see it. Then we all win.

It’s a matter of potential. How are we going to use this potential – the free thinker, the researcher, the innovator, the entrepreneur, the inventor, the artists of societies and environments, the writers and other multi-potentialites? If you are one of us, then you have the right to pursue your passions as long as those passions lead to positive things. We can do without the bomb makers and the chaos merchants.

Ethics always has to be part of this process. Permaculture Design says “Care for the Earth, Care for People, Equitable and fair distribution of the abundance thus caused”. Without ethics we have seen the ravaging of the earth, the despoiling of pristine places for profit, the killing of millions of people in the name of political or religious ends, the wasting of the resources of this little planet for the power of a few and the aggressions towards the earth and its people which hasten the end of our earth as a home.

Renaissance people, the Multi-potentialite, the multi-talented person has to be recognized and supported within our culture. Be proud if you are one. Support any around you whether you are one yourself, or you are a proud focused individual.Work together in harmony. We can make a better world together.

Thank you Emilie Wapnick for your brilliant TED Talk.

Diann Dirks Oct 13, 2015

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Tomato Worms, Assassin Bugs, and getting ready for fall planting.

I went out into my garden today and saw my poor tomato plants looked like skeletons. I searched and found at least 10 tomato horn worms, 3 of which were huge. I had a very good time popping them with my foot, the bastiges. But my poor tomato plants. :< Then there was this huge writing spider on top of the plant and she wasn’t doing a darned thing about it. Gee, you give a gal a good home and she lets you down! Hopefully that spider is getting other things while she’s up there. At least her web was beautiful. I also found about 4 or 5 black with speckles 1 1/4 inch long fat worms also eating my plants. They got an early retirement as well. But now all I have are a bunch of holed green tomatoes. They came on so fast, in one day! You having that happen too?

So, I got busy and cut away all the dead stems so I could see better. And today I added some fermented organic matter around the base of the plants so they could continue growing. But I also got a bunch of assassin bugs which I’m about to handle. I think they are assassin bugs – they are like squash beetles only they fly. I have a butterfly net which I am going to use to try to catch them. They fly away so fast it’s hard to get them by hand. I’ll see how that works and if it’s a success, I’ll share it with you. I also picked off several very fat tomato worms as well.

It finally cooled off a bit here. We had many days of thunder storms and rain, and it got so much nicer. We’re down into the mid 80’s today instead of that horrible 90 degree heat and high humidity.

I use Farmer’s Almanac moon phase planting site to determine if I can plant well on a certain day. So, last week during a good period I planted loads of greens, cabbage family seeds. Today they are poking up out of the soil. Not all, some are longer germination, but here’s the site to check moon phase:  Farmers Almanac planting by moon dates calendar. Start now to get your cool weather seeds started.

I also went to our local Grower’s Outlet in Loganville, Ga., and picked out 4 perennial herbs to plant. Start getting ready to put in your perennials and fruit trees which are best planted in the fall. Many of the nurseries online have sales this time of year.

My helper and I cleared away a huge bunch of seed starting seeds yesterday as well, pulled up bags of mulch which got distributed in beds, put everything in order, hosed off the deck, and in general made some very orderly space. While we were there, we found two long flat head worms. They got their early retirement too, but I hate when I find them because it means there are probably more of them. Flat head worms are a recent invasion. They are parasitic and kill off our good worms. If you find one, it’s not round like a garden worm. They are long (maybe as long as 6″), very flat all along their bodies, and their heads have a little arrowhead shape. Don’t throw them out. Grind them into slime or they reconstitute. Just sayin.

A nice lady from our Homestead Gathering was giving away a bunch of screens as her husband does home renovation. She offered them to our group, so I went Sunday and picked up a bunch of them. They are useful for so many things. You can prop them up on cinder blocks or bricks in the shade where there’s a little air circulation and dehydrate herbs and flowers. I think I will teepee them over newly planted seedlings to keep the deer off – using cable ties to hold them together. The deer have been very happy eating my seedlings this summer, so I have a new solution I’m trying. Also, some of the screens were double threaded and actually have some shade cloth ability so they are going to go over plants in extreme heat next summer or to keep winter crops going longer as the heat increases in late spring. Can you think of something else we could do with them? I’d love to hear your creative ideas.

Hope you are getting your fall garden ready.

Enjoying the cooler weather,

Best, Diann Dirks, The Garden Lady of Ga.

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Setting Up For Your Fall Garden

Now is the time to gather your cool weather fall/winter seeds and start planning your cool weather garden. Mid August is the time to start them in seed cells or little newspaper pots you make by rolling newspaper around the bottom of a wine or beer bottle, pinching the bottom together, and fill with seed starting soil (1/3 perlite or vermiculite, 1/3 peat moss, 1/3 compost).

Put them in a sunny window or in a cool porch area and keep them damp. By the time they are big enough to put in the ground, it will be time to set them in your beds. Cool weather plants include the (brassicus) cabbage family, spinach, lettuces, Swiss chard, beets, carrots, pansies, etc.

Grow year round. Winter, I grow under plastic. Home Depot sells rolls of white 3.5 mil plastic which can be cut to size. I lay my tomato cages on their sides alternating direction on the bed, and lay the plastic over that to keep it from squishing the plants.

Then I weigh the edge of the plastic sheets with cinder blocks or big rocks. It also helps in windy areas to have something to lay over the top of the plastic to keep it from being a sail. Whatever you have on hand.

Also, now start your perennials which you want to plant in the fall, or look in catalogs for the trees, bushes, and perennial herbs and things you want to plant in then. Fall is one of the best times (along with spring) to plant your orchards or just a tree in the yard.

As your annual food plants die off in the heat or as the season progresses, make sure to add layers of mulch to your beds if you are no-till like we are here. I like to gather organic matter and layer it 3 layers deep (of different things like grass clippings, crushed granite for minerals, alfalfa pellets for nitrogen, used coffee grounds for the worms, or the last of the chipped autumn leaves from last year) for a good 4 inches in existing beds each season. It will decompose and feed the worms, as well as insulate the garden over the winter.

As we start getting leaves falling, gather them, run them through a chipper if you have them to make them lighter and finer texture, or run your mower over them and catch it in a mower bag. Or put the leaves in a garbage can and stick your weed eater string trimmer down in there to break up the leaves. Use these leaves to layer mulch your beds, or store them in large contractor bags (not light garbage bags which break up) which can be reused 10 to 20 times. These are available in boxes at Home Depot.

In bags, leaves are great insulators for delicate perennials, laying them around the plant. I use mine to surround my un-planted nursery of trees and bushes, then cover it all with plastic to weather the winter. In the spring I use the crushed leaves to mulch newly planted spring plants, or to build new soil for new beds using ‘sheet mulching’ techniques (aka lasagna gardening).

Choose plant varieties that do well in your growing zone. If you don’t know what that is go to see the map at: The hardiness zones for each seed packet can be found on the back of the packet. It also helps to find out from neighbors or the local Extension Office which varieties do best in your area. I plant only heirloom, heritage or open pollinated varieties, skipping anything that is ‘hybrid’ because they don’t breed true and the seeds are useless to save. But I experiment with varieties people give me or from seed swaps so I am always expanding the bio-diversity in my garden, and increase my seed varieties.

I want sustainability in the kinds of things I use in my precious garden space. They need to go into the future. We are loosing our bio-diversity of foods just because they are being neglected by big farming operations or dropped by the seed companies as not profitable.

That means it’s up to us to keep those landrace varieties going. A landrace is a domesticated, regional ecotype;[1][2] a locally adapted,[3] traditional variety[4] of a domesticated species of animal or plant that has developed over time, through adaptation to its natural and cultural environment of agriculture and pastoralism, and due to isolation from other populations of the species.[3] Landraces are generally distinguished from cultivars, and from breeds in the standardized sense, although the term landrace breed is sometimes used synonymously instead, as distinguished from the term standardized breed[5] in contexts in which the word breed is used expansively.[5] The -race in this word refers to the taxonomic definition of race in biology, not the ethnographic sense of the word. Wikipedia

Look out into your garden. Make detailed journal notes for yourselves to record what you grew in which bed this summer so you can keep track of the soil needs and rotation of your crops. Then decide how much of this growing area you want to plant in fall and/or winter crops, and what you want to lay fallow (unused), or cover with a cover crop like rye or clover (which gets turned over in the spring, adding organic matter to the soil), so you know how much space you have for your next season. That way you know how many of which kinds of seeds to start now.

If you have trouble deciding how much space you need for each thing, get a copy of the book “Square Foot Gardening” which has lovely tables of plants and how much space they need.

I usually inter-plant many varieties of plants in the same space rather than do clumps of one kind of thing. I use the idea of ‘companion plants’ (google it, it’s a fascinating subject) so that the plants help each other growing next to each other. In Permaculture Design this is called a “Guild” because the plants form a kind of family that works together.

I intensively plant and make sure the soil is rich, so I get the most yield out of a given space. I don’t leave spots or areas un-planted for long. If I pull something out, I fill that space asap. This is called succession planting. I add in a handful of nutritious amends like coffee grounds and alfalfa pellets mixed into the soil, then plunk in the new plant or seed.

I am available for consultation either by phone or email no matter where in the country you live. Contact me by email if you want my help at I am familiar with many areas of the country for growing one’s own food. And I’m a Certified Permaculture Designer who loves to help people get started, increase their yield in existing spaces, or help with projects big or small.

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Bees in the Garden

For the past several years the honey bee visitation in our garden here in Auburn has been very sad. Only saw a few now and then, seeing a cross section of the wild bee population coming to visit.

But this year, I’m very hopeful because I’m seeing loads of honey bees, and little and big bumble bees, an assortment of sizes of wild bees and in good numbers.

We’ve had a lot of rain this spring and early summer so the flowers in the garden have been abundant. And I’ve let all my herbs to go to flower so we’ve had catnip, thyme, peppermint, lavender, yarrow, bee balm, echinacea, butterfly bush, kale, and others in great bloom – which have fed the flying beauties very well.

We also had a lot of early blossoms on the fruit trees which gave the newly emerging baby bees something to eat right away. My peach tree was abuzz with bees as soon as it warmed up enough for them to fly. I am tempted sometimes to take branches of flowering fruit trees inside for bouquets on the trees that don’t really produce much fruit but this year I didn’t do this because of the bees, letting them eat. I drew joy from just standing under the trees and listening to their happy humming.

Just as a reminder, for the sake of our dwindling bee population, grow some flowers or herbs which are known to flower, and don’t mow them or cut them all. I leave half of the flowers on these plants above instead of harvesting everything. Then I leave the harvested branches out on my front porch out of the sun and let the bees continue to eat.

I had a great bin of flowering catnip on the porch which had been harvested, but the blooms still fresh for 4 days. They were visited constantly by bees. Once the herbs dried out enough, that the bees weren’t interested anymore, then could I set them out on screen panels to dry.

As a note about bees, a lot of my friends have back yard or farm bee hives which they care for and provide the right bee haven for. In these hives there have been almost no deaths of hives. Where we are seeing the destruction of hives is with the big commercial bee keepers who drive big semis around to the orchards and farms which need commercial sized bee populations to pollinate them. Into this population of bees there have been great influxes of various contaminants such as pesticide, herbicide and a whole host of other ‘icides which all kill something and as it turns out, bees.

Small bee keeping hives almost never are hit with the hive death. All the more reason to consider bee keeping yourself. I would love to do this but I don’t have a good place for the hives. It’s so steep here on Hillside Gardens, I’d have to put them in a place I couldn’t actually get to, and they do need care. But someone in the area is keeping European Honey Bees because they find my garden.

Bees fly up to 5 miles to collect from flowers. They will go to a specific area as a group when their scouts find hopeful areas of flowers and they just harvest that spot that day. So, I try to keep my flowering plants of a specific kind in a relatively small area so they will come and pollinate all of the squash or beans or herbs or whatever and make it worth their while. If you move the flowers between when the scout goes and the rest of them show up, it confuses them – like if you pick something and keep it out for them but move it several feet away. They will find it, but their tracking and information of where food is is so accurate that they hone in exactly on where the scout tells them the goodies are.

For pity sake, don’t use Sevin or other insecticides on any flowering plants – PLEASE! The bees don’t know they are taking back poison to their hives and this is one way to kill an entire hive. Better yet, don’t use any insecticides at ALL – hand pick your bugs. Squash bugs are particularly prevalent this year – so look for the little bronze eggs in rows on your plant leaves – on top or underneath – and pick them off before they get big enough to eat your plants. Look for the little white babies too, and squish them before they ruin your plants. That way you can save the bees from the chemicals.

For every 5 bites of food you eat, 3 of them were pollinated and provided by bees. It isn’t just a pretty idea, it can mean life or death if we loose our bees. As it is, Japan has lost most of their bee population. As a result they have to hand pollinate all their fruit in entire orchards then cover the buds up with little bags to protect them. So fruit in Japan is hugely expensive! We need to protect our little flying ladies for everyone.

Good Gardening.

Posted in Bee haven gardens, Bees, bug repelling in garden', Flowering herbs, Flowering plants', Food protection, Gardening, Herb gardening, organic gardening, Permaculture, pest management, Self-Sustainability | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Using the weeds around us – food and medicine.

For about 5 years I have been studying and researching almost every plant that grows wild in my area. It all started when I attended an herb walk with Patricia Kyrsti Howell, a very well known local herbalist in the SE, up in the Appalachian mountains in NE Georgia. I have a large garden in the foot hills of the Blue Ridge so I wondered what grew further into the mountains. She took about 25 of us around the wooded area of a friend who invited us all to learn.

I was shocked because she was pointing out the plants that were medicinal and all the things that can be done with them, in just a small area. There were over 40 of them. But the real shocker was how many of them I had been pulling up in my gardening thinking they were WEEDS! Astounded me completely! I bought her book “Medicinal Herbs of the Appalachian Mountains” and have that as the anchor in a library I’ve been building on this theme.

It turns out that the Cherokee People had a pharmacopia (list of medicinal plants) listing over 1500 plants of the Appalachian Mountains and foothills. Which means that of all the plants in our area, very few don’t have medicinal value of some kind. A larger list (many the same plants) are edible for wild crafting, and in fact the wild crafted foods have a higher nutritional value than the crops I had been planting in my garden. The difference being that coming from the European heritage of my family, they were unfamiliar to me and are not as abundant as say a row in a garden. And they don’t have the familiar tastes. So, to use them it’s a whole cooking and food preparation skill which needs to be learned. But they can be incorporated in with the familiar foods quite nicely. You have to look around and find the wild plants, and be responsible in not over-harvesting.

So, I thought I’d share a link someone sent me for native medicinal herbs which are quite common from Canada down into the South of the U.S. which can be found almost anywhere. This link has good pictures and a gallery of the flowers, stems, leaves and other characteristics so they can be identified. Of course not all of these will be found anywhere, and if you live in the city, probably few of them. But if you venture out into the less populated areas, say in a fallow farm field, or along a roadside, you can find them.

What I have done with this study is not just pull up every thing that is unfamiliar (as in thinking they are weeds) in my garden and let it go to flower (easier to identify), keeping maybe one or two of something volunteering. I have had lots of great surprises. Some have been invasive and I’ve learned from that. But many were good finds. Also, as I have learned what to look for from study, I have found various plants along the road sides which I then bring back and purposefully plant in my garden, and give it a season before harvesting. I tend not to want to use a plant that could be contaminated from being too close to a road, but after a season, any toxins would have gone and I can then use them.

Some of my happy finds have been wild strawberries, which thrive in the partially shaded section of my food forest, plantain – narrow and broad leaf, lamb’s quarters, and broad leaf and yellow dock, to name a few.

Many of the older herbal books from libraries of friends and herb wild-crafters going way back in this area contain references to herbs with loads of different names depending on the area and peoples using them. So, I have learned to look for the Latin botanical names when researching them. But once I know exactly what I’m looking at, I can use them with confidence. Now I purposefully look for the odd ones which tend to be rarer and trade with friends or get seeds in seed swaps.

The bottom line on this is that if we ever are caught in the situation where normal channels of providence for food and medicine are cut off or fail, I know that at least I won’t starve and myself and my husband will survive it. I know I will be able to handle most health issues and be able to help others. I have tested this already and unless it’s a major issue like a broken bone, or the plague (even that can be handled but the herbs would have to be on-hand and already processed for quick action), at least there is some hope of being able to come out of an illness or injury. I think I could set a bone on someone else, but forget doing it on yourself! Recent experience has taught me that one. We will need to rely on a community of others if we would wish to flourish in the face of hard times.

Do your own research and open your eyes to what is around you. I think you will find how amazing nature is in your area, no matter where you live. In the tradition of the Wise Women (natural healers who are a growing group of very knowledgeable people in our area of the SE), for any health condition we find ourselves in, most likely within a very short distance from where we live we will find the herbal solution to it. But that requires being knowledgeable. If you have an interest in that area of exploration, the internet is rich with people who connect up on a regular basis, or classes, or wonderful knowledge sites.

Please forgive the lack of pictures in my last few posts. My camera gave out and I have had so little time to choose a replacement, I’m hoping you can appreciate the information and get pictures if you need them as in the above article, from other sources on the internet. Visit me on facebook – Georgia Gardenlady.

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