It’s Transition Time at Hillside Gardens

At last we’re having some frost and the leaves are turning in brilliant array, after a very late autumn.


Great Smokey Mountain color from our trip back from Iowa (Early November)

I’m very happy for this because it has allowed much work to be done in the garden which needed doing. When it gets cold early a lot of preparation of soil has to wait till spring. But by doing lots of mulching now, it builds soil all winter, and protects the roots of the perennials in the food forest (a multi-level orchard with trees as the center piece, and herbs, flowers, and vegetables under them in beds).

We now have a full compliment of interns. I only accept 5 at any given time, and we now have Toni, Kiana, Marissa, Amber, and Susan.

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(Toni not pictured above) Plus our good neighbor and friend Rhys. They have been very helpful in all the preparation and the projects below have all been learning activities. We have been having a lot of fun too. Nothing like getting hands in the soil, growing up baby plants, and harvesting summer’s bounty.

We have had bumper crops of herbs (drying), greens, tomatoes, okra, and beans late in the season.

The deer have been particularly stressed this year with the seemingly unending drought. It has forced them to go to extreme measures to eat particularly succulent organic vegetables and greens (in my garden, no I’m not running a deer food pantry, but they think so). We had to rework the fence around the annual bed where we’re growing winter vegetables, because the herd moved in and ate the tops off lettuce, Swiss chard, and other greens. They found a weakness in the deer netting. Luckily I think it was only a morning foray because it wasn’t a total destruction, which has happened at other times.

For a deer fence, we used tall bamboo and PVC pipes as uprights and cross pieces to hold deer netting (which we get in long rolls from Home Depot), with gates along the sides.

And along the base of the netting we have placed, and held in place with cable zip ties, panels of used screens (they were nosing under the netting before that). This goes all around the major all-season beds. It has worked well except it isn’t a really strong system. We’re looking into a more permanent solution. But for now, we used what was on-hand with the exception of the netting itself. I like to re-use, recycle, and re-purpose.

We found a location nearby where a bunch of pine trees were being cut to make room for some commercial projects, leaving piles of mixed mulch of fine wood chips and saw dust, with pine needles mixed in. This is perfect top mulch for perennial plants in the food forest. It breaks down slowly, inhibiting weeds, but holding in moisture and insulating roots over the winter. By late spring most of it will have broken down into top soil. It also helps the worm populations with organic matter food.

I purchased a bunch of pansies which laugh at cold weather, and chrysanthemums which don’t mind it much either, and which are perennial.dscn0711I also got a bunch of ornamental kale and several lavender plants to fill in blank areas in the food forest at the final sale at our local growers outlet. These keep things looking nice and colorful in an otherwise dull and colorless winter garden, and in the spring will provide loads of flowers for the bees coming out of the winter cold.dscn0709

I spent quite a bit of time starting cool and cold weather plants from seeds in late August thru Sept. I use a wonderful technique I learned from the wonderful horticulturist from Bakers Creek Heirloom Seed Company, to start seeds. It’s especially great to germinate older seeds of uncertain germination rate, thus otherwise wasting good garden space with non-production. He told me he takes unbleached coffee filters, wets them, and sprinkles seeds on the wet surface, then folds it over to encircle the seeds. This is then placed in a sandwich sized Ziplock baggie and labeled. In about a week he checks them for germination. Those that have come alive, he places in seed starting mix in ‘mass plantings’ like a larger pot. Then when they get big enough with two sets of real leaves to transplant, he either places individual plants into little seed cells or little pots, or into the soil directly depending on the plant and the current temperatures.


I modified this system and use half pieces of narrow paper towels, and label the top end of it with a sharpie pen, but only wet the bottom half with a tablespoon of water – just enough to moisten the space for the seeds but keeping the ‘label’ dry. This goes into the baggie. I save quart paper cartons saved from half and half, cut off one long side, and punch holes in the opposite side for drainage. Into this I put my seed mix – 1/3 top soil, 1/3 vermiculite, and 1/3 peat moss. Then once the seeds are germinated, I take the end of a pencil and make little indentations for the germinated seeds in the light soil. If the seed has already grown a little root and stem, I carefully plant each one about an inch apart. They get and are kept watered for moisture but not drenched.

Once the mass planting seedlings are big enough to handle, they get transplanted. I save little Greek yogurt cups, put holes in the bottom with a skewer, half fill with the seedling mix, label, then sprinkle more mix so any roots are covered. This saves so much time and resource. I also use used Styrofoam meat trays from the super market as saucers for these transplanted babies.

This year we started broccoli, many kinds of lettuce, Swiss chard, several other kinds of brassicus (cabbage family) plants, spinach, two kinds of beets, flowers, and herbs. Most of them are now planted into the prepared beds.


In order to add fertility and organic matter to the soil, which is in non-stop production, we figured out a way to make use of several bags of egg shells (crushed), coffee grounds, top soil saved from other projects, crushed granite sand (Quicrete brand from Home Depot all-purpose sand for the worms which need grit for their guts), some hardwood ash from last year’s fireplace, and compost.

We have a tumbler composter which hasn’t worked well to compost due to the dry weather. So, we used it like a cement mixer to mix the various components.

I don’t till, but I do use a cultivator which reaches about 4” into the soil, gently loosening any compacted soil in each bed. Into this loosened soil I make a little hole for each plant, add a handful of the mixed soil as fertilizer, plant and mulch.

To make best use of the bed space, I don’t plant in rows. I use a grid pattern like a zig zag – up and down – think trellis holes. And I mix plants integratively, taking advantage of every inch, but leaving room for the eventual size of the mature plant. Cabbage takes up more space than carrots, so carrots can be planted in the spaces left in the middle of 4 cabbage plants in grid planting as an example. I don’t believe in mono-cropping – all one kind of plant in a bed. Different plants need different nutrients in a bed, so they don’t have to compete so much for the same things.

This year I was lucky to have on hand the gleanings of chicken manure and shaved wood bedding from a large coop from a friend’s flock. This should never be mixed into the soil as the poop is too ‘hot’ with ammonia for delicate roots, and the shavings absorb nitrogen from the soil defeating the purpose. But it makes a nice top dressing which as it gets watered slowly releases plant nutrients. We carefully sprinkled a thin layer of this ‘chickipoo’ around the newly planted babies. Over this we put chipped garden waste run thru our big chipper – quite fine and lightweight.


As the babies have grown larger, we went back and filled in more of the lightweight chipped mulch to give the bed a nice layer of insulating mulch for the winter and the worms.


Around the base of the perennial plants and ornamentals in the food forest, we have added 2 to 3” of the sawdust/pine needle mulch.

I didn’t have enough chickipoo for all the plants but with a goodly layer of organic matter on the soil, by the end of winter, this will have decomposed sufficiently to enhance the top soil. Where possible, we have given the perennial plants some homemade liquid fertilizer from compost tea or manure tea.

We have an array of containers in the garden which are deeper soil than the beds. These make great growing spaces for carrots and beets which send roots down deep. Little by little, we have planted these containers with newly germinated root seeds.

They will need to be covered once the really cold weather sets in, but for now they are able to establish with sunshine and the Indian summer weather we’re having.

I came across some research on how to grow potatoes in the fall/winter/spring. This will be a new experience for the garden. I only usually plant my annual beds on the east side of the garden because it isn’t as steep footing, and easier to maintain. But since potatoes will go in and not show until spring, it will be our west terraced area planting. There are several beds which have dying summer plants. Once the supports and plants are removed, we will put in potatoes in that space.

The technique is new to me but exciting. The beds are given some organic matter, gently cultivated in, then a trench of about 18” deep and a foot or more wide gets dug down the middle with the soil piled up on either side. Into this trench goes 4 to 8” of fall leaves or pine needles. The whole seed potatoes are laid on about a foot apart, and covered with another 4 to 8” of leaves, moist sawdust, or pine needles. Then the excavated soil from the trench is mounded up over the trench, and top mulched. The potatoes have good insulation, and have the whole winter to establish a root structure. In the spring the plants emerge with a ‘leg up’ and produce a much earlier crop of new potatoes.

dscn0747(Potatoes now in the ground and well mulched)

I plan on planting onions or garlic along the edges of these beds, which the deer won’t eat, making good use of that space, for a second harvest. Because the deer will eat anything else above ground and I don’t want to cover everything with deer netting, this keeps the space productive. Plus onions are protective of the potatoes which are of the nightshade family (as are tomatoes, eggplant, peppers and tobacco).

We tore down the tomato cages and vines which got killed with the recent low frost (froze for an hour at dawn). The tomato cages were stacked, and the beds now open will be planted soon with baby starts.


We had a terrific rainstorm finally about 4 days ago, so we haven’t had to water, but it knocked out most of the colorful leaves around the area, and we’re looking like winter finally. This week we’re expecting a couple of nights in the 20’s F.

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We’re almost done with wrapping up the garden for winter. That will be our next post. We actually grow more food in winter here than summer, and we’re already enjoying huge salads from the garden. This is the gathering of greens for our Thanksgiving with friends.



Here’s me.

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Fermented Fertilizer DIY


Keeping soil fertile with vital nutrients and charged up with beneficial micro-organisms is key to having good yield. Using commercial fertilizer gives you pretty veggies with very little of the minerals and other nutrients our bodies need, and tends to kill off the micro-organisms which are what convert the unavailable nutrients in the soil into ones the roots can uptake. So having a non-stop source of DIY fertilizer in a form that is easily taken in by the plant is vital to the sustainable garden, which also provides added beneficial microbes and the trace minerals as well as the macro building blocks of nitrogen, potassium and phosphorous. Making a fermented liquid ‘tea’ is that solution. Start with either rain water, good well water, or city water that has been left to off-gas chlorine and other troublesome chemicals. You don’t want to kill off the valuable microbes. Needed: 5 gal. bucket, tank bubbler from the pet store fish section (about $13 Petsmart), 5 gal. mesh paint straining bags from Sinclair Paint (or other paint store), fresh or composted manure, compost or composted soil or freshly dug soil from under trees in a healthy forest or bamboo grove or worm castings compost (or a combination of them, whatever you have available), un-sulphured molasses or organic sugar; optional: kelp meal (B&G Feed), Activia yogurt (small container), Alfalfa meal (non-GMO), granite meal or green sand, used coffee grounds, egg shells crushed, worm castings; Add after brewing is done – Epsom salts, Fish emulsion, collected human pee. Place water in bucket, weigh plastic tubes of bubbler and place at bottom of bucket (if city water, let run for several hours before adding other ingredients), add a ½ to 1 cup of unsulphured molasses or sugar, fit 5 gal mesh bag over rim of bucket and secure with twine. (Can pour stuff directly into water but it will need to be strained later if you use in a sprayer). Add in 2 or 3 cups of each: manure, compost, worm castings, forest soil, a cup of any of the optional material you have, fill water up to 2” from rim, then turn on bubbler. Cover with plastic sheeting – tying with twine loosely – or screening or row cover material. Leave to bubble for 4 days to 2 weeks, stirring every 2 days or so. Remove bag of compost etc., strain if no original bags, mix in optional items such as a cup of Epsom salts, small cup of Activia yogurt (unflavored) which increases breakdown of organic matter in the soil, 2 cups human pee, and/or ½ cup undiluted fish emulsion. Use what you have. Once completed, dilute this original tea with good water and apply either directly to garden beds or put excess into sealed buckets or plastic detergent bottles etc. in the shade. If use as foliar spray strain well 1:10, for soil 1:5 – tea to water. Use within a few weeks to retain potency of microbe population.

FERMENTED WEED TEA Using the same technique as above – with or without the sugars – save all your weeds from the garden (or lawn if not sprayed) and place in bucket with non-chlorinated water. Chop them up for better breakdown of organic nutrients. Cover with water leaving 2 or 3” from rim of 5 gal. bucket. Place in shade away from house as this gets stinky. Cover to keep out mosquitoes. If using bubbler, must have cord access. Weed tea provides great diversity of soil nutrients – use as large a variety of them as are available. Some of the top ones are: Azolla – water weed, watercress or anything in mustard or brassicus family, stinging nettle, chard, alfalfa, comfrey, equisetum, lambs quarters, willow branches, chickweed, dandelions, cleavers, chamomile, lawn clippings (unsprayed), chicory, perilla (aka shiso, Korean sesame), rabbit pellets, parsley, burdock, sorrel or dock, plantain, pigweed, horsetail, and optional bone meal, kelp meal, granite meal, green sand, rock phosphate. Ferment 4 days to 2 weeks, put used plant matter into compost. Use only on soil, not as foliar spray. Can store in plastic buckets or bottles in cool location. Dilute 1 part weed tea to 5 to 10 parts non-chlorinated water. Use throughout the growing season. Provides potassium, phosphorous, nitrogen, many trace minerals, vitamins, enzymes, microbes. Helps to detox the soil. Notes: with both kinds of tea, as a last addition before diluting, you can add bean inoculants (nitrogen fixing bacteria for beans – Cofers Nursery), or mycorrhizae ( which increases beneficial fungi connections for better nutrient accessibility. For larger gardens I use a 15 gal. or larger kitchen plastic waste bin and increase the values of the noted ingredients. Some vegetables are heavy feeders so applying this kind of fertilizer every couple of weeks keeps the plants happy and productive. Esp: tomatoes, night shade family, corn. Compost/Manure Tea can also be used to infuse activated charcoal for bio-char. Never use unfermented charcoal in a garden as it will absorb nutrients and keep them away from the roots. Hillside Gardens, Auburn, Ga.


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The Fine Art of Mulching

As any gardener or farmer knows, the success or failure, work load, and attention necessary of growing things is all in the soil – it’s fertility, texture, depth, ability to hold moisture and general health. One of the Permaculture Design tenants is that you never leave soil open or uncovered. Many farmers do anyway, just putting plants in a row, with open soil all around the plant. Some plants will do alright but what happens is the soil on top dries out, gets blown around or rained on and soil is lost in both cases. We are loosing farm soil at an alarming rate. The USDA tells farmers if they only loose one to one and a half inches of soil a year, it’s good soil management.

It takes nature a hundred years to create one inch of top soil. So, basically when this attitude is taken, using heavy farm equipment and industrial style farming, we aren’t growing or husbanding the soil, we are mining it. When we run out of ‘friable’ (crumbly fertile soil suitable for growing crops), we can’t provide food for people and we will all starve. We worry about peak oil. Peak farm soil and farm land is much more at hand and dangerous.

Without food civilizations crumble because, simply, people need to eat. When they start to experience famine they tend to destroy any civilization around them in their mad rush to eat and feed their families. We take food for granted. Food crisis is already here, and without wise and speedy restoration of our food system, famine is coming sooner than we think. A lot sooner. I’m not a doom and gloom person. I just make my living knowing trends in agriculture being a consultant. And I know our food system is already in danger. Food prices alone have gone up more than 75% in the last 4 years. Have you noticed box contents are smaller for the same price, meat is sky high, everything is more costly.

But study after study by the UN and other international organizations have found that instead of the big industrial sized millions of acres style of food growing using ‘mono-cropping’ (one crop grown by the thousand acres like corn, soy, canola – rape seed, etc.), what provides more food in a more sustainable way and in actual fact CAN feed the world is the small family farm using sustainable practices. The number of small family farms is again increasing as more people are seeing the wisdom of this and wish for that lifestyle.

So, back to the subject of the soil, this idea of never leaving soil uncovered or unplanted begs the question, what does that mean?

In a small backyard garden or small farm, when one crop is done being harvested, the space it took up must be prepared for the next crop quickly and planted. In a backyard garden when a few carrots are pulled, the wise gardener immediately has some other succession crop like beets or lettuce which takes up about the same amount of space ready to put in, either by seed or transplanting seedlings already prepared.

Or a cover crop is planted such as clover, rye grass or other ‘green manure’ plant which when turned back into the soil adds to its fertility.

In a careful garden, where soil is constantly in need of fertilization due to intensive planting, it means that not only is the next crop put in or a little space replanted, but it also means each time digging in a little something to add fertility like some garden waste or a handful of compost or coffee grounds. And until the lettuce gets big enough to shade the surrounding soil which is now open and uncovered, it should be mulched.

Mulch is some kind of organic matter covering above the level of the soil itself. Soil is composed of organic and inorganic matter such as clay, silt, sand, decomposed organic matter, animal manure, plant roots, and micro-organisms such as bacteria, virus, fungi, protozoa, and other tiny organisms. Its texture depends on the ratios of those elements. Mulch is a separate layer sitting on top of the soil providing many things for the living organisms in this rich microcosmic eco system.

Mulch provides many benefits.
1. It covers the soil so the moisture is protected from evaporation. This is particularly important in drought areas, but also any place where it’s hot, especially in summer, where you would otherwise need to water. It also means in container gardens, the amount of evaporation tends to be higher than in the ground requiring more frequent watering. So, an inch of fine mulch can save a lot of watering and the cost of it, as well as the time it takes.
2. Mulch adds fertility to the soil. I am particularly fond of grass clippings caught in a lawn mower over a lawn that is never sprayed with chemicals. The green manure breaks down and adds nitrogen to the soil. But any mulch decomposes and adds to the water holding and nutrition levels of the soil.
3. Mulch provides food for worms. Worms come up to the surface leaving a little channel for oxygen to reach the roots, giving moisture a channel down to them as well, and leave a trail of beneficial micro-organisms which help to break down organic matter into a form the roots can absorb. Also those micro-organisms break down inorganic matter like minerals into a form which the roots can intake.
4. Mulch over time becomes soil by the action of the micro-organisms and the worms, which replaces the organic matter lost through the plant eating what’s in the soil, converting it into the leaves and stems, as well as the fruit of the plant. It needs those sugars, minerals, enzymes and other nutrients provided by organic matter breaking down. Especially important is the fungi which transports nutrients much further through the soil than the roots can reach. Fungi breaks down mulch and organic matter, and even moves it from plant to plant.
5. Mulch acts as insulation for heat and cold. A couple of inches of mulch chosen for the specific use area it goes to, can bring the soil temperature down to one acceptable for the delicate rootlets of a plant in hot weather, or up above freezing in winter. For trees particularly, a foot of coarse wood chips can save a plant when the weather goes colder than the zone it was meant for. I lost 5 trees two years ago when our Zone 7B weather withstood 60 hours of 5 degrees – two zones colder than the trees were meant to survive in. The next year even with newly planted trees, because I mulched adequately, I lost none.
6. Mulch harbors thousands of kinds of fungi which by providing the right kind of material, particularly wood chips but any not-broken-down organic matter, act to foster the growing of the mycelium (strands of fungi which is the body of the mushroom, the mushroom being the fruit) and the breaking down of long sequestered nutrients in a tree’s wood into digestible form. 80% of the volume mass of beneficial micro-organisms is fungi.
7. Adequate mulch will suppress the germination and growing of weeds. Since weeds grow particularly well in disturbed soil, such as if it is tilled, or cultivated, making sure you have at least an inch of cover over the open soil ensures that the weed seeds aren’t activated or if they are, they don’t get any sun to help them grow.
8. Mulched soil tends to be lighter and less compacted making weed pulling, when the odd weed does grow, much easier. The texture difference between well mulched soil and sun pounded compacted soil is amazing and having light soil is so much less energy demanding in maintenance. It holds onto moisture so much better and the roots of weeds just don’t get as much purchase making pulling difficult. If you have to cultivate your beds often, you aren’t using enough mulch. Even using path mulch cuts down dramatically in the amount of weeding necessary and the need for watering.

But all mulches are not equal.

Commercial ornamental dyed or otherwise chemicalized mulch found in landscape and nursery shelves to my way of thinking is just about useless for the growing of food or other consumables. It might look pretty and neat, but it carries with it a lot of stuff the soil can’t use and many of them are toxic. If you’re growing food you don’t want your plants to be drawing in toxic chemicals because you are going to eat that stuff.

I use many kinds of mulch.

Around the little newly planted seedlings in my garden I use the softest finest mulch. I love freshly mowed grass or dried grass fluffy and easy to spread around the delicate little plants. But if I have dry garden waste to chip, that makes a lovely top dressing for annual vegetables.

Around trees, I like coarse wood chips. About once a year I also spread composted manure around each tree, especially those bearing fruit. I also will spread a one inch layer of un-composted chicken coop bedding with wood shavings and chickipoo, but I don’t dig this into the soil around the trees or anywhere because until it decomposes for about 6 months, it is too high in nitrogen/ammonia and will burn the roots. But sitting on the surface and not dug into the soil, it will gradually leach nitrogen and other nutrients in as it rains or is watered, in a slow manner. (I also make manure tea, dilute it, and use that as a liquid fertilizer but always I love manures.)

The manures that have to be composted are cow, horse, chicken, or other fowl. Those that are not hot and can be used as-is are rabbit, goat, and sheep.

As a season progresses, depending on the weather conditions including rain, heat, wind, etc., more mulch may be needed. It breaks down, worms eat it up and mix it in. I have a big chipper and fine chip all the organic waste from the garden. I keep them separate depending on how coarse they come out of the chipper and how easily they will decompose. In fall I chip up corn stalks, tomato vines, dead plants except moist squash vines, autumn leaves, the stems from processed herbs, and any dried organic matter of a fine nature. This is the best for around tender new plants.

I also prune hedges, and in the general progression of a garden various woody branches from trees and they get chipped. These tend to be more of a coarse nature. This kind of mulch is better for around perennial plants such as bushes, perennial flowers, orchard trees and herbs which don’t get replanted often like annual vegetables do. This type of mulch lasts longer on the beds but provides protection for the soil.

Usually perennial beds get a yearly ‘sheet mulching’ (layers of organic and inorganic matter which builds soil) of some inorganic matter like crushed granite for the minerals for the gizzards of the worms (which is used to grind up the organic matter as they eat their way thru the soil), some compost or partially composted manure, and some top mulch. If the soil has shrunk considerably, I may add a few inches of new top soil in newly planted areas, then top mulch that.

I use wood chips as path mulch. For this I like the coarsest type of wood chips. I get them from our local electric company generated from their maintenance of electric lines through the forested areas and to keep the lines clear of trees in general. They even deliver them to us. The mulch on these paths needs to be recharged about every other year. But I notice that if I dig down a few inches below the surface, the soil below that is lush black top soil after a few years.

So, sometimes, before recharging those paths, I will dig up the old mulch base, sift out the larger chips, and take that beautiful loamy soil and use it on my beds to recharge the soil level. The chips come from pretty remote clean areas so I don’t worry about toxins like I would if the trees being chipped were from heavily populated areas or near industrial sites. Trees can collect and intensify toxic materials like heavy metals and petrochemicals if exposed to them over time.

Compost is probably the nicest kind of mulch for vegetable gardens but only the kind I make myself because I know what is in it. Be very alert to the source of any commercial compost as many of those companies add sludge from municipal sources which are absolutely loaded with toxic matter. It must be from a known source. Do your research. If you know a farmer who grows organically, that would be a good source as long as he isn’t also using industrial sludge sources for his own fertilizing.

Another favorite kind of mulch I have used successfully in the past both in pathways and around fairly mature annual plants is straw. Not hay which is basically cut from fields of grasses and wild weeds. Hay is loaded usually with weed seeds and will cause you a lot of extra work. Straw from wheat must be checked out too because farmers are now using Round-Up on non-GMO wheat fields to speed the drying of the grains. Some rice straw is contaminated. But uncontaminated straw from most grains makes great mulch.

Also be wary of hay or straw that comes from fields or pastures where any other herbicide, pesticide or other chemical is sprayed as part of the farmers routine. “Grazon” or similar pre-emergent or pasture herbicide sprays on pastures will knock out your carefully grown broad leaf vegetables such as lettuces and cabbage family. There are some herbicides which are sprayed on organic matter, which stay active for 5 years and have wiped out organic garden and farm crops in England and this country. Know your source. It’s a sad commentary on our world when we can’t trust plants because of man’s treatment of them.

But good natural un-sprayed straw and some kinds of hay if harvested before the plants in the field produce seeds, make wonderful mulch. It breaks down beautifully into rich soil, and feeds the plants and worms beautifully. Same goes for untreated or sprayed lawn grass.

Another interesting kind of top treatment – especially when mixed with other kinds of mulch – feed the soil while also acting as mulch. Organically grown alfalfa, whether in hay form or pellets are very good for the soil and worms. But now farmers are growing GMO alfalfa so again, know your source.

Some kinds of horse feed which is untreated makes good mulch such as Timothy grass. I used to go to my local feed store and they would let me sweep out the semi-trailers which brought in bales of horse and other animal feed, because it was loose and required work to clean up. My exchange was to clean them out and get the good organic matter.

Also, stable bedding with horse manure in it, with also included horse urine, can be gathered as well. But be careful in using this if the horse owners regularly worm their animals because this wormer also kills earth worms, which are your friends. I used to gather nicely composted horse manure and bedding from a customer with stables until I realized I never saw any worms.

One time I found loads of worms, happily, but then I wondered why I didn’t find them always, or why my own beds were lacking in worms. When I figured it out, I never went back for horse manure. It was killing my own earth worms. If you find someone with horses who use natural worm medicine like black walnut tincture that doesn’t kill off the natural worms, that would be OK. But do a test first.

Some people who keep sheep, alpaca or other fur bearing animals use the short furs from the legs or head, or anywhere with shorter fibers, as mulch for their gardens. The plants grow up thru the fibers and eventually the fur breaks down into the soil. It forms a kind of blanket on top of the bed which usually is lighter color, reflecting hot sun as well as keeping in moisture and preventing erosion.

I tried this in a small patch of my garden once but I ended up going back to my plant based mulch. However I know gardeners who swear by using this technique. I was given a goodly supply of older alpaca ‘silk’ (so called instead of fur by alpaca growers) to use as mulch, but I found it was so nice I have been spinning it for yarn instead. The little bit that was too short was so miniscule I didn’t bother keeping it. It depends on what you have available.

If you have a large orchard or widely spaced crops, you can also use un-chipped organic matter such as large leaves from growing plants. If you live near an ocean where kelp or other sea weed washes up on shore, this makes phenomenal mulch and fertilizer combined. People grow the plant comfrey which has large leaves and is also incredibly nutrient rich as a ‘chop and drop’ mulch system, which also does double duty as fertilizer and mulch.

When the comfrey plant gets to be four or five feet tall, they take a machete and whack off the leaves, leaving a foot of the plant above ground, up to 3 or 4 times a season, and lay the leaves directly around the trees or fruit bushes. This is particularly good if you have a regular planting of comfrey every 3 or 4 trees or bushes. You just walk along the row and distribute the leaves as they get cut off. No need to use a wheel barrow.

Another form of mass mulching would be the use of un-chipped corn stalks (from non-gmo corn of course) from a harvester, if it doesn’t already spread the leavings back on the field.

I also gather tree leaves from neighboring towns where the inhabitants rake their leaves out to the curb to be picked up by a big vacuum truck, in autumn. I go there with an empty metal garbage can and a supply of contractor black plastic garbage bags, and a couple of leaf rakes which I use like giant chop sticks. I put the bags in the garbage can to support the bag and make it easier to load. Then I take the two leaf rakes and grab big rake loads of leaves and dump them in the bag.

I prefer the ones where the leaves were run through a lawn mower first as they are perfect for mulch – a 25% ‘green’ (grass), and 75% ‘grown (leaves) for composting and mulching. I try to avoid those lawns where the acorns have been falling profusely as they tend to want to become trees in my garden beds, buried by the local squirrels.

If the tree leaves are full sized, I run them through my chipper into very fine bits, perfect for around tiny plants or composting.

Another use for large bags of autumn leaves, if you have a source with enough volume, is to place a circle of the bags around nursery stock or plants or trees you want to protect from winter cold, such as around a container garden, or baby trees recently planted. They act as wonderful wind protection and insulation. Later you can use the contents for mulch and soil building in the next warm season. I always collect as much of this as I can every year, often making 3 or more trips to town filling the back of my mini-van with bags of leaves. Nobody seems to mind me gathering their leaves.

Having enough gathered organic matter is a constant challenge running an organic garden because I don’t use commercial or chemical fertilizers of any kind except manure, or compost tea of my own devising. So, the soil constantly needs a steady supply of outside sources of organic matter. I used to go to juice bars and get bags of their organic waste when living in California, but this area doesn’t have such a place I can get it from, handily.

However, if you are lucky enough to have such an establishment, work out some kind of deal to get their waste because it makes divine mulch as soil builder. I use it under a top mulch as fertilizer and worm food. If you have a large lawn, capture the grass every other mowing and pile it up or bag it for mulch or soil building in ‘sheet mulching’. You want some of the grass clippings to recharge the lawn itself though and feed the worms there.

I also love coffee grounds because it’s excellent worm food, loaded with nitrogen, and makes lovely soil builder, being the perfect texture. Coffee shops will often save their grounds for you if you supply a bucket and pick it up every day. It’s a bit of trouble but boy, coffee grounds make fabulous soil!!! You might have to pick out the coffee filters, but the abundance of nutrients is worth it. Grounds also make excellent food if you have a worm bin.

A word of caution if collecting grass clippings or other organic matter in large volume from an overgrown location. Watch the seed cycle of the plants. Do your collecting before the seeds are formed or you will be cropping weeds instead of what you want to grow. The idea of using mulch is weed suppression not weed growing.

I like to bag up and save organic matter whenever I find it, or whenever I do chipping. I keep separate kinds separated by location so I know which one to use for which purpose. I keep my eyes open for gathering opportunities and have several regular sources from friends or willing contributors. It’s amazing what you can find if you are looking. Then when I need to recharge a growing bed or am creating a new one with sheet mulching I have everything to hand.

A friend recently was building a house and had a big pile of sand which was too much for the project. She encouraged me to bring a bunch of buckets and several friends, and we filled them up. Now that sand is going onto my beds in preparation for winter. Compost from the summer and chicken poop from a friend’s coop is being spread on all the beds for next year, or recharging my winter growing beds. It all gets used.

If you are wondering why you aren’t getting the kind of yield from your garden or farm, just ask yourself where you can get more organic matter and mulch like a wild person because the more you use this technique the better you and your soil will be. Happy plants come from careful and bounteous use of mulch.

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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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