Saturday, February 28, 2009

A Tough February

Two gardening friends died and another friend lost her dad within the past week. Made for kind of a sad passing of time here, and this cold, gray and brown, rag tag winter is no help to the spirit. Oddly enough, both friends were named Linda and both had suffered the indignity of cancer for several years. Both Lindas would put you at ease with their unobtrusive, common humanity. One Linda was one of the most graceful women I've ever ever known. And the other Linda was a lot like me in many ways - odd and quirky - only she was pretty, and had a great, subtle, self deprecating sense of humor that some people just didn't 'get'...
They were both people who loved their lives, even though they weren't dealt "winning hands".
I usually dig up some excuse to miss funerals. I really hate funerals but this time I forced myself to go to a "viewing" and just seeing a few of my living friends there provided a small warm glimmer in the gloom.
I subscribe to the Sierra Club's "Daily Ray of Hope" - it consists of a daily beautiful photo paired with a thoughtful quotation. Coincidentally this was the latest quotation, from another memorable character:

"Participate joyfully in the sorrows of the world. We cannot cure the world of sorrows, but we can choose to live in joy. "
-- Joseph Campbell

Friday, February 27, 2009

catching up and spring cleaning the old files

Admittedly, this is an old collection of Youtube videos of a Michael Pollan interview but I might as well post it here to listen to again some time.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

food for thought

Punctuating the nutritional crisis that already exists for America’s poor, a new study documents that an average family’s maximum food stamp benefits fall far short of what families need to afford the USDA’s “Thrifty Food Plan.” Robustly sustainable, locally oriented and regeneratively organic food production must be a policy goal everywhere people are hungry, in U.S. cities and countrysides, and around the world.
The report:

There seems to be a cognitive dissonance in politicians who won't rise and applaud, on camera and in front of the world, the line in a speech that says the children of the working poor will receive a renewal of their health benefits. How pro-child, pro-family is that? Something is very very wrong in this country.

Friday, February 20, 2009

First they came for the free range chickens ...

(I know, not funny.)

A pause for a political vent. This issue is too dear green to post on the cranky blog.
The world of organic oriented folk is waking up to the fact that Big Brother didn't retire to the ranch with George W.

First a little background:
The UN supports organic agriculture (link). Here is a good summary of the global issue of organic farming versus corporate agribusiness as it relates to sustainability.

So what are we doing in America, the land of the free?

Like I've said for ten years now, Monsanto is Satan.
Monsanto bills being rushed through Congress, set to destroy organic farming.
by Linn Cohen-Cole

Learn more here:
Take action link is in top right hand corner of page.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has been working for over five years to force a National Animal Identification System (NAIS) onto American animal owners.
NAIS does nothing to improve food safety for consumers or prevent animal diseases. This program is a one-size-fits-all program developed by and for big Agribusiness. NAIS will increase consolidation of our food supply in the hands of a few large companies and put the brakes on the growing movement toward local food systems.

Follow this link to take action today!

Sample letter:
Docket No. APHIS-2007-0096
I urge the USDA to withdraw its proposed rule to implement portions of the National Animal Identification System (NAIS), Docket No. APHIS-2007-0096.

The proposed rule mandates the NAIS Premises Identification Number (PIN) as the sole means of identifying properties for USDA animal health purposes. The proposed rule also mandates the use of the NAIS numbering system (i.e. the "840 numbering system") for eartags using official animal identification numbers. Tags using other numbering systems would be required to be linked to a NAIS PIN.

The draft rule is seriously flawed for multiple reasons:

1) Does not substantiate the alleged benefits to animal health. USDA makes general claims about the benefits of identifying locations where animals are kept, but the agency does not address the ability of existing programs to meet this purpose, nor how the proposed rule would improve the capability to identify locations.

2) Ignores the costs and burdens. The proposed rule would substantially increase costs for livestock owners and taxpayers. Costs include the development and maintenance of a massive database; purchase of 840-numbered tags by animal owners; changes by state agencies to make existing programs consistent with the rule; and increased federal government intrusion into the lives and daily activities of farmers and other animal owners.

3) Violates individuals' religious beliefs. Amish, Mennonite, and some other individuals have religious objections to the universal numbering system under NAIS.

4) Creates disincentives for people to seek veterinary care for their animals and participate in existing disease control programs. The proposed rule lists four animal disease programs-tuberculosis , brucellosis, scrapie, and Johne's - and will also impact others. These programs include provisions for veterinary care through vaccinations and testing. Animal owners who object to NAIS may avoid participating in these programs, thereby increasing health risks to the public and farm operations.

5) Adds to the confusion. This rule is the latest in a series of ambiguous and often contradictory documents that the USDA has issued on NAIS. This has created enormous confusion over the intent of the USDA and problems for both animal owners and state agencies.

Moreover, the proposed rule is a significant step towards implementing the entire NAIS program. Thus, the agency should address the fundamental question of whether it should be implementing NAIS at all. In addition to the problems with the draft rule listed above, there are many additional objections to the entire NAIS program:

1) No significant benefits: USDA's assertions that NAIS will provide benefits for animal health are not supported, and actually contradict basic scientific principles.

2) High costs for animal owners and taxpayers: These costs include: (1) the development, maintenance, and update of massive databases; (2) the costs of tags, most of which will contain microchips; (3) the labor burdens for tagging every animal; (4) the paperwork burdens of reporting routine movements; and (5) the costs of enforcement on millions of individuals.

3) Impracticality: The databases to register the properties, identify each animal, and record billions of "events" will dwarf any system currently in existence.

4) Waste of money: The USDA has already spent over $130 million on NAIS implementation, but has yet to develop a workable plan for the program.

5) Diverts resources from more critical needs such as disease testing, disease prevention through vaccination and improved animal husbandry practices, and disease detection in currently uninspected livestock imports.

6) Damage to food safety efforts: NAIS will not prevent foodborne illnesses, such as e. coli or salmonella contamination, because the tracking ends at the time of slaughter. Food safety is better served by focusing on programs such as increased testing for bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE or Mad Cow), improved oversight of slaughterhouses and food processing facilities, and increased inspections of imported foods. Programs such as the NAIS are unfair burdens for small, organic and sustainable farms.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Another stepping stone

This one was so easy - it took no time at all to make it. The country quilt-ish looking tile in the center was the inspiration for the colors I chose (along with the limitations set by my small stash of tiles. In fact, the brown tiles on the edges were a last minute decision due to the lack of enough red, blue or green to finish it off. But I like the brown tiles there, go figure.)
I mixed a country blue acrylic paint into the dry grout instead of investing in grout colorant, hoping for a blue grout - but it turned out kinda bluish gray. Which is okay.

I picked the center tile up for pennies at a garage sale years ago, thinking it would be a cute refrigerator magnet, but I never got around to gluing a magnet on the back of it. A good use for some of those kitschy decorative tiles that turn up at the thrift store ... I just found three tiles there with a 1960's Pennsylvania Dutch theme that must have hung in some homemaker's kitchen for decades. They're almost too cute to use for a stepping stone, so I'll hang onto them for a while before I decide how to use them. I love kitsch, but they'd sure make a cool series of stepping stones.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Fermented Honey

In that last blog about fermentation, I forgot to mention some of my favorite fermented foods, so I'll amend that list now. Black tea leaves, cocoa beans, and honey are all fermented into ingredients for wonderful treats - tea, chocolate, and mead.
Hopman's Beer and Wine Making Supplies store had mead making kits on sale last weekend, and I brought one home. Never too old to learn something new ... The directions were included, the process was easy, and in three weeks our mead made with Michigan honey should be ready to bottle up and age. Can't beat that!

Monday, February 16, 2009

Birthdays galore and wandering off topic

It was a birthday weekend! Abe Lincoln, my fave president; my son Skip, an original Valentine baby who finally admitted it was okay, in fact all right, celebrating his birthday on a significant Hallmark holiday; AND yesterday we celebrated our granddaughter Kayla's third birthday. Oh, time does fly.
Here's a photo of our beautiful B'day girl!
Grandma can never get her to hold still and smile for a photo, but the frosting did.

Speaking of birthdays, in a gardening sense we're celebrating a biggie this year, Darwin's 200th birthday. I was listening to NPR's Joe Palka on All Things Considered (link) reporting on the fascination that worms held in the later life studies of Charles Darwin. Darwin was apparently an earthworm aficionado...
It was an interesting human interest story - telling how the scientist at home involved his young sons in the scientific method - one of his children playing a bassoon to the worm bed to see how worms responded to the vibrations.
And noting the importance of his seminal book on the value of earthworms to human agriculture, The Formation of Vegetable Mould through the Action of Worms. Which you can read online, here (link) or in scanned book form here (link).
Anyway, today I was listening to Tom Hartmann demonstrating how to successfully debate an anti-Darwinist who had no concept of historical context (link). Sometimes I wonder at Hartmann giving so much free air time to proud members of the Know Nothing Party, but then I'm reminded that Tom is teaching by example how to counter the prevailing meme. But I'm diverging from my train of thought here. Back to Darwin's worms!
Recalling the previous story on NPR led me to Google Darwin and earthworm, and I found this interesting article from Wired Science dot com above the fold:

Darwin, Earthworms and the Importance of Individuality
By Brandon Keim
October 14, 2008

(snip - The beginning of the article talks about a traditional activity called worm grunting.)

"Darwin's worm research began shortly after his historic voyage on the Beagle, culminating four decades later with the 1881 publication of Action of Worms; he showed, among other things, that earthworms do not respond to the notes of a whistle, a piano or a bassoon, and are "indifferent to shouts."

He also realized that England's lush topsoil was the product of ceaseless soil consumption and defecation by earthworms: about 54,000 per acre, depositing ten tons of fresh soil atop each acre of English countryside, every single year.

"It may be doubted whether there are any other animals which have played so important a part in the history of the world as have these lowly, organized creatures," Darwin wrote.

This now-forgotten fascination was chronicled by David Quammen in an essay entitled "Thinking About Earthworms." To Quammen, Darwin didn't merely illuminate the importance of these underestimated invertebrates, but the importance of thinking individually.

"At the time, evolution by natural selection was the hottest idea in science; yet Charles Darwin spent his last year of work thinking about earthworms. And thank goodness he did," wrote Quammen. "More and more in recent years, we are all thinking about the same things at the same time.... Break stride. Wander off mentally. Pick a subject so perversely obscure that it can't help but have neglected significance."

That is, after all, what Darwin did. What about you?

This image is borrowed from the Wired article.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009


What flower are you?
Last time I did the quiz I was a Canna, but I feel much more comfortable being a Daisy... Some of my answers must have changed in the meantime - probably that one about painting a room.

I am a

What Flower
Are You?

Another step toward spring

A little pun that, I really mean "another stepping stone made by the cabin fevered gardener". Here is my latest attempt at yard art. Fitting together the crazy quilt of broken bits - stain glass scavenged with a friend from an abandoned stash and chipped china leftover from an estate sale - drove me nutty initially. But it was fun to see it take shape after I pushed aside my innate tendency to straighten up edges.
I can only imagine how much fun it will be to set this small but growing collection of decorated stepping stones in the flower beds.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

A helpful tip or 2 about recycled blinds plant markers

They do work well, although they are ugly.
But they do fade, sometimes completely, and I've tried everything to keep them going through a single season - ballpoint pen, number 2 pencil, Sharpies, china marking pencil, and so on.
Two hints that work for me:

1. You have a lot of blind to work with from one set, so don't be stingy. Cut them longish (one end flat, one pointy to make digging it in easy) and write the name and variety twice. Bury one labeled end in the soil and the sun and weather won't fade it.
When you need to determine what pepper you're harvesting in October, you won't have to guess, just pull out the label and put it in the same bag as your harvested produce.

2. Since sun fades your tags, be wise when you set them - face the labelled side to the north - the shady side. Works for me.

I wish I was a better photographer, my blog would be much more fun. But who takes pictures of faded plant tags made out of old Venetian blinds?

My Sauerkraut Tale

This post has photos! Yay! but you need to scroll down to see 'em.

When you were raised frugally, and when your home is your center, then growing a garden for food for your family is basic, a given. Buying local food is a trend now, but buying from roadside stands, pick your own farms, and farmers markets was always better than "store bought".
Michigan is a great spot for putting food by, we have such a variety and bounty of agricultural products grown here. And through the years I've canned, dehydrated, pickled, jammed, frozen ... you name it. But there are still things to learn, and that(learning)'s what keeps life interesting.

This year, as I've mentioned, I've been learning about fermented foods - a culinary art as old as mankind, probably, or at least as old as civilization. Think of many of the most wonderful foods: bread, wine, cheese, cured olives, pickled vegetables, yogurt, beer ... so many of the foods we think of as extra tasty are made with fermentation of some kind. It is both a way of keeping food past its fresh date, but fermentation many times adds another element to the original food that gives it an added health benefit.

You can read about fermentation in some of the books I've mentioned in previous posts, by Googling and so forth, so I'll leave details to experts. I'll just add here that I'm convinced fermented food are 'a good thing'. And move on to telling my little story about sauerkraut.

I've never really bothered to grow cabbage before, it's one of those plentifully available fall storage vegetables and I have a small yard. We did grow cabbage's cousins broccoli and Brussels sprouts until the groundhogs moved into our neighborhood. Blankety blank ground hogs. If you are too busy or too lazy to put up a strong fence against the varmints, then you are just 'planting a row' for the ground hogs.

Anyway, last summer our organic CSA farmer Pat Whetham gave away her extra cabbage seedlings after she planted what she needed and in a good permaculture fashion, I planted mine in my front yard in a spot that opened up when we had a diseased Colorado Blue Spruce cut down. So, instead of the half share of cabbage - plenty enough for two - that we got from our CSA, I had three extra heads of cabbage to deal with. Large heads, they grew like Topsy!

I had been reading some of the great food and gardening blogs out on the Internets, and with cabbage comes inspiration. I'd make sauerkraut.

I don't know why I never did it before. Maybe the stories I'd heard about the atrocious smell. Maybe I thought I would have to make a whole crock or barrel full. Maybe I thought it would have to be pressure canned or something fiddly that I didn't want to bother with. I don't really know why. Maybe everything has its own time and sauerkraut's time had arrived for me.
I can only say, I started small and it was easy.

My first recipe was from a little Extension bulletin, although that recipe was for 50 pounds of cabbage. My 5 pound cabbage made one quart jar of sauerkraut. I made several during the fall, the last of which we are now finishing up.

Finely chopping cabbage is easy and fast. My recipe called for chopping and weighing it. (Handily, my son had given me a postal scale he didn't need any more.) For every 5 pounds of cabbage, stir in 3 Tablespoons of salt. I used Kosher salt the first time.

Allow the salted cabbage to stand a while, to wilt a bit and get the juices working. Then mix and squeeze it for a while with your hands. This step is crucial to getting the action going. After some squeezing and mixing, the volume really decreases!

Pack the cabbage into a sterilized straight sided container - some use jars, some use crocks, some use food grade plastic buckets. It might be a way to make use of some of those old glass punch bowls you always see at the thrift store!
I used an old glass cookie jar I had handy. Push the cabbage down so the liquid squeezes up to the surface. You need the cabbage submerged in the juice. I used a plate and a weight consisting of a jar of vinegar I had handy. Some use clean rocks, in later batches I used a double plastic bag of water which conforms to fit the top of the kraut.

After a while, covered with cheesecloth and kept in a cool place, and yes, after the initial smelly fermentation part, you can pack it in a canning jar and store it in the fridge, ready to eat! If you made fifty pounds you'd have to hot pack it with a boiling water bath.
There it is in the kitchen with my herb vinegars, piima, and sourdough starter. I've always got some project going.

Here it is, ready to pack. Mmmm. Time for some bratwurst! ... or pork shoulder!

Finally, packed for the fridge.

Now after I made that initial recipe and found out how easy and good it was, it was time to try some variations: caraway seeds, the double bag of water trick, and I found a whey lacto-fermentation method in Sally Fallon's Nourishing Traditions cookbook. That's when I switched to sea salt and whey. The process is the same only use about 1 teaspoon salt and 1/4 cup whey to the same amount of cabbage. You can see Fallon's recipe uses whey which has health benefits, and much less salt. Which is important for those of us who are beginning to need to limit our salt intake.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Preserve the Harvest - Garlic

Before I get to the sauerkraut recipe, I wanted to post this very unusual recipe for fermented "pickled" garlic that really knocked my socks off, so to speak.

Growing garlic at home is great! You harvest big fresh juicy cloves and have some left to replant for next year's harvest. Talk about THRIFTY. But beside that, the quality is so much superior to the garlic you buy in the grocery store.

I've looked for ways to preserve my garlic for a long time. Even the nicest big juicy fresh cloves from our home harvest will begin to sprout those bitter green sprouts in midwinter, and by summer they'll be sadly shriveling and getting rubbery and stale while we wait for the fresh crop.

For a while I've been peeling and mashing extra fresh garlic and putting it away in small portions in the freezer. I've never dehydrated garlic cloves to grind with salt, but that is on my to-do list. But in Sally Fallon's Nourishing Traditions cookbook, I ran across a recipe for preserving fresh garlic cloves in whey and sea salt, and tried it this year.
Here is what I did:

Pickled Garlic

Pack clean fresh peeled cloves of garlic (about 10-12 heads) in a clean wide mouth quart Mason jar leaving some good head space. In a measuring cup combine two teaspoons each of sea salt and crushed dried oregano leaves with about an eighth of a cup of whey. Pour the mixture over the garlic and add enough water to cover the garlic. Cover tightly and let sit at room temperature at least three days before refrigerating.

THE SMELL is WONDERFUL! if you like the smell of raw garlic. It fills the kitchen!

The taste is, however, to my palate, quite strong - stronger than fresh garlic -
a little too strong, in an indescribable way.

At first I was disappointed, but then I decided to try to use a few in a cooked dish and was very pleasantly surprised. I took a few garlic cloves, crushed and chopped them, and added them to the typical saute of onions and peppers in olive oil with which I usually begin my Italian tomato based pasta sauce. Delicious!
I'm going to keep using them and see how long they last and how they maintain the same quality.
My summer harvested garlic is beginning to sprout! A promise of spring.

Monday, February 02, 2009


Your fairy is called Field Elfwand
She is a cheerful sprite.
She lives in fields where wild flowers and poppies grow.
She is only seen when the seer holds a four-leafed clover.
She likes to wear red petals in her skirt. She has delicate green wings like a cicada.

Sunday, February 01, 2009

Pickled Daikon

On the daikon radish theme from a few posts back, I wanted to share a good recipe for a pickled daikon radish relish that my friend Pat Whetham of Whetham Organic Farm introduced me to, that I've learned to make from the Nourishing Traditions cookbook by Sally Fallon.

As of late I've been exploring the world of fermented after watching a video of Sandor Katz who wrote The Revolution Will Not Be Microwaved and Wild Fermentation, and coincidentally attending a fermentation class at a United Plant Savers 2008 Planting The Future Conference in Oxford, Mi at a charming place called Upland Hills Ecological Awareness Center last fall.

This basics on fermentation class was offered by Linda Conroy of Moonwise Herbs, and I took it completely by coincidence, having originally signed up to hear Joyce Wardwell, who couldn't make it at the last minute. When that kind of thing occurs I figure there must be a reason.

Linda was an inspiration and after class she gave us all samples of wonderful tasty things, including piima and sourdough to take home and use to begin our own fermentations.
What fun.

Well, somewhere in that same timeframe, Pat gave her CSA subscribers some little baggies of fermented daikon radish to sample in our shares, and then in one of our discussions of sauerkraut, she mentioned fermentation using whey.

I had whey, from my brand new piima, and was wondering what to do with it!

So herewith I'll share the basic recipe for Pickled Daikon Radish.
Peel and grate one or two daikon radish roots into a sturdy bowl. Add 1 T sea salt and about a quarter of a cup of whey.
Using a wood mallet or potato masher, pound the grated radish until it releases its juices. Pack it all into a wide mouth quart mason jar, pressing it down until the juice rises to cover the radish, and leaving a good inch of headspace.
Cover, and keep at room temperature at least three days to get started fermenting, and then refrigerate. WALLA! Pickled daikon, a good digestive garnish to any meal.

Next, sauerkraut.

Call me Cabin Fever Crafty

Join Green Thumb Sunday

Gardeners, Plant and Nature Lovers can join in every Sunday, visit As the Garden Grows for more information.

Been a L-O-N-G time since I've posted on GTS, and hopefully I'll be back more often.

This stepping stone will be put somewhere in the flower borders where it won't get walked on so much. A decorative accent. I can just imagine those glass blobs chipping up with use. But it was fun for a winter day activity and easy to do.
And along with yesterday's theme, cheap! Yes!

I love the easy swirly spiral design. These glass blobs were from the dollar store, but I think trying this same idea in interesting smooth gravel and pea rock type stone will be fun and more walkable than the glass blobs.