Sunday, February 28, 2010


"From December to March, there are for many of us three gardens -
the garden outdoors,
the garden of pots and bowls in the house,
and the garden of the mind's eye."
- Katherine S. White

guide for worm ranch dudes and dudettes

I was just Googling around and ran across this informative, handy, colorful brochure about vermiculture offered online by Metro Vancouver. Good for handouts if you are spreading the word...

Saturday, February 27, 2010


The other day I was following a Google trail to learn of a timeless African folktale concerning a wise and tricky spider which is very similar to the trickster wisdom stories in several other ancient cultures in diverse parts of the world, and I ran across this sentence you may enjoy.
The traditional Ashanti way of beginning tales is so: "We do not really mean, we do not really mean that what we are about to say is true. A story, a story; let it come, let it go" and traditionally we finish thus: "This is my story which I have related. If it be sweet, or if it be not sweet, take some elsewhere, and let some come back to me."



"Time is an herb that cures all disease."
- Benjamin Franklin

Spoken as if "herbs" were commonly accepted as a medicine in Ben's era, which they were.

NOTE for those who may have been wondering, especially after all of those made up quotations about freedom and so on that were exposed as fraudulent during the last election cycle... about whether I've sourced all of these quotes in a properly scholarly manner. Sadly, no. I just run across neat thoughts everywhere, and like a crow that pecks up shiny objects, I take them home to my nest. If they shine for you, use them at your own risk.

Friday, February 26, 2010

What is an herb?

"If you can cook with it; garnish a salad with it; soothe a burn or scratch with it; make a tea from it; soak in the tub with it; perfume your sheets with it; kill a bug with it; make a potpourri, sachet, wreath, or something else good smelling with it; weave, dye, or spin something with it; scour pots or wash with it; worm your pet with it; formulate oils and lotions to beautify your body with it; cast a spell with it; or make abig mess involving a glue gun, wheat stalks and raffia with it --- it's an herb."
- Rob Proctor and David Macke, from Herbs in the Garden

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Outlier resistance. after a conversation with Sharron

How are you on the intellectual property debate? When is some piece of knowledge - a dead author's work long after his immediate heirs have died, a folktale from Africa passed down through American slavery and copyrighted by Disney, even the genetic code for a fruit fly or a staple crop or a human - private and not shareable? Something to think deep thoughts about.
I love my conversations with Sharron.
We were discussing this the other day.

Sooo, I'm having an internal debate as I write...

I do want to share this (following) haiku with you, even though Tina threatens to bounce off her Yahoo Group anyone, no exceptions, who copies and publishes anything posted in the group. The group and its participants are a reservoir of good herbal conversation that ferments into a wonderful, independently published magazine, devoted to herbs, called The Essential Herbal.
If you Google The Essential Herbal you will be directed to Tina's website and blog.
Anyway, I'm hoping she takes this as a compliment - and an ad, a recommendation, pointing out to you that you really should subscribe to the Yahoo group (go to Yahoo, get an account, and search for The Essential Herbal) and subscribe to receive the magazine.
I'm expecting my copy to land in my mailbox any day now, can't wait!
So, here's the haiku that got me thinking about all of this, written by the other half of the sister team, Maryanne. I think it is lovely.

Pristinely, softly,
the snow covers the earth.
The world seems to sleep.

Cotton covered trees.
I live inside a snow globe,
silent and peaceful.

We learn patience now.
Slowing down and snuggling up.
Love it while it lasts.

Soon enough we'll see
the world awaken to green.
All unfurls with Spring.



"The ordinary world is already enchanted. The enchanted world is not a fantasy or a hope for the future; it is real, and it is now. What keeps us from seeing the enchanted world - really, now - is the Dead World story we tell ourselves and each other. We soak up this story unconsciously as we grow up. It comes from a narrow, poverty-stricken vision that our world is made only of lifeless matter. This story was invented over the past few centuries in the name of science."
- Jeremy W. Hayward, from Letters to Vanessa

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

an internet classic for catalog addicted gardeners

I first read this website ten years ago when it was on members dot tripod... If you like reading plant catalogs, have fun... then go read the link at the bottom of the page - Plant Delights, for a really good catalog.


"Technology is, of course, a two-edged sword; it can be the means of understanding the wholeness of man and nature or of destroying it."
- Eugene Odum, from Fundamentals of Ecology

Tuesday, February 23, 2010


"Nature cannot be ordered about, except by obeying her."
- Sir Francis Bacon

Monday, February 22, 2010


"The sun, with all of those planets revolving around it and dependent upon it,can still ripen bunch of grapes as if it had nothing else in the universe to do."
- Galileo

Sunday, February 21, 2010


"How can those who do not garden, who have no lot in the great fraternity of those who watch the changing year as it affects the earth and its growth, how can they keep warm their hearts in winter?"
- Francis King

Saturday, February 20, 2010


"Progress is simply the price we have to pay if we are determined to continue losing our sanity."
- Ben Maudlin

Friday, February 19, 2010

Some useful advice to counterbalance all of my whining

Since I mentioned having taught a class on green cleaning in that entry about having lost my cement Buddha attachment, it's probably a good time to show one of the best cleaning tips I came up with in all of the time that I spent researching the subject. Oven cleaning - the recipe is at the end of the post.

I offered the class along with three other herbally inspired classes through our local community education program and got very little response. Although maybe in the time that's passed since then, people have become more receptive to the idea of cleaning with nature, instead of killing nature in order to meet a Madison Avenue generated perception of cleanliness. And I also presented the class to the GCHS Spring Herb Symposium a couple of years ago as well, as well as a shortened version presented as an herb study to the GCHS during the following year where it was well received.

But it wasn't just something I did as an challenge for my volunteer commitment to educating the my small circle of the world about practical living with the useful plants known as herbs. I first got into green cleaning when I cleaned house for a friend who was an Executive's wife while she went out and got a real job. Her standards were like something you'd see in Architecture Digest... her favorite magazine, and since her kids were the light of her life, she wanted to go as natural as possible.

We used to walk together in the mornings, and discuss the way the world was being poisoned... NO, let me write that in the active voice... we used to discuss the way we are involuntarily being sold into poisoning our world. And so when the job presented itself, for a year I cleaned a beautiful house with completely green cleansers. And did she buy anything particularly expensive and rare to use as cleaning agents? No. I used white vinegar, Bon Ami, soap, baking soda, borax, and Barkeeper's Friend.

Anyway, background done, let me tell you about cleaning your oven. About 10 or so years ago I bought one of those so called self cleaning ovens, but the first time I used it, I had to leave the house. There is something in that coating, combined with the high temperature, that just affected me horribly.

The next time a pan of lasagna boiled over I tried the green method, and it worked like a charm. Here it is:
Green Oven Cleaning
1. Try to catch the spill as soon after it happens as possible. Scoop it up with a spatula.
2. While the oven is still hot, sprinkle the mess with a good amount of baking soda, or a mixture of equal parts baking soda and borax.
3. In a spray bottle, combine water and a small amount of liquid soap (maybe 1/4 cup soap per 2 or three cups of water)- I recommend using Dr. Bronner's peppermint soap. Use this spray to spray the baking soda.

4. Allow it to work overnight. The next morning you can just about wipe the burned, oily, or sticky mess away with a dish rag. No harsh chemicals like the aerosol foamy stuff we used to gag on in the old days. No invisible gaseous vapor to wonder about breathing. you can use this method in the winter when the windows need to stay closed. And if you use peppermint soap, it even smells nice when you're done.

Thursday, February 18, 2010


"If you have a garden and a library, you have everything you need."
- Cicero

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

watch what you say about, Ahem, social media

Oh, Bubbie, within an hour of posting that entry about not "sharing" on FB, my monitor went out. Co-inky-dink? Woooo... ain't life funny?

I'm now posting from my new laptop ... waiting for my IT guy to bring me a new monitor (he just got a new shipment, by chance) ... and I still haven't figured out how to get into my main mailbox, being an old lady with few technical skills.
But it does give me an opening to talk about website and blog "comments". I read plenty of other blogs, but must admit I rarely leave comments. I'd have to go from the RSS reader to the blog, then write the secret word as it appears to get past the spam filter, and then think of something original to say. Too much volunteer work and you may know how I feel about that.

I do appreciate comments, so I guess it makes me a bit hypocritical. And as much as I appreciate your comments, replying is even more work, so I usually either decide I need to check out a new link or something I've bookmarked, or I get up and let the cat out ... but please, don't feel I haven't read the comments... I really do like the feeling that someone out there is reading.

Someone, anyone, except those gosh durn persistent "Anonymous-es". Here's the low down: if you send a comment as "Anonymous" your message goes right into my spam file. But I still end up sifting through the replica watch, Viagra, and broken English hacker practice entries, just to find your missive. I encourage you to leave a name, even if a pseudonym, if it's not too much trouble.

ordinary perception needs some polishing now and then

This quote is for an acquaintance of the ignorant sort who commented that I must be a Buddhist (after a conversation about a disturbing forwarded email concerning Mr. Obama and reforming the health insurance system that I debunked with Snopes), because I talk about loving the earth, and being (OMG! shockingly!) green. Like when I taught that class on green cleaning. (Sheeeeesh) I didn't know whether to be insulted or flattered. I sometimes am completely flummoxed by the way Right Wing Christians treat other mortals. I can't imagine a Buddhist presuming in such a manner.

"In the Buddhist tradition, mandalas are objects of meditation with a specific purpose: to transform our ordinary perception of the world into a pure perception of the buddha nature which permeates all phenomena."
- from Mandala: The Architecture of Enlightenment

I was once "attached" to the cement Buddha in that photo above. I'd found him on a rare outing to some nursery in the middle of nowhere - he was sitting in an old yard full of abandoned cement yard ornaments, half hidden in long grass and weeds and the place just happened to be open as we were driving past. Something made me ask to stop, and Herb actually did, for once. It was karma, or kismet, whatever they call that, when you find something you should have.
My middle son, who never wants anything, and is the very hardest person to find a gift for, actually pointed it out on a visit home, and I gave it to him when he graduated. I don't even know if he bothered to take it to Massachusetts with him. And he sent me a cute "Cat Buddha" one Christmas, but that is an indoor prop.
I now have a cement Foo Dog that guards my door, but the attachment is missing. Was that the point?


"Anticipation is one of the joys of gardening and if you look you can find signs of each season long before the calendar confirm it."
- Nancy Goodwin

Tuesday, February 16, 2010


"Therefore all seasons shall be sweet to thee
Whether the summer clothe the general earth
With greenness, or the redbreast sit and sing
Betwixt the tufts of snow on the bare branch."
- Frost at Midnight by S.T. Coleridge

my FB work-around

Did you ever read something really good, say from the Organic Consumer's Association website, and hit the "Share on FB" button, then wait forever for FB to tell you there was a problem? That never happens with the middle of the road corporate sites, does it. Just askin'.
For example, here is a nice explanation of why several years ago I quit answering questions for the Master Gardener hotline and help desk. After a lot of wrangling with my conscience I simply could not go on ethically recommending products that I feel may be injurious to the "seventh generation".
But this morning, when I tried to "share" this Monsatan bashing OGA link on FB... ::crickets::

So, from the same list serve I wrote about previously, here is the very link (note how old this research is!) that FB couldn't or wouldn't "share":
More discussion from the list-serve:
"Here is documented biological hazard:
this link has numerous reference links. Health Hazards abound:
For a combo look check out
The USDA is considering a proposal to de regulate Glyphospate (Roundup)Tolerant Alfalfa.
The public comment period ends today.

(And FB isn't the social networking site that is owned by Rupert "FAUX News" Murdoch! I'd expect censorship over there!)

occasional wisdom

As if you or I need to be adding list-serves to our daily load of FB, RSS and bookmarks, there is one list-serve I occasionally check in on that is written by community gardeners who feel the need to network for resources and ideas. Occasionally someone posts a link I follow or a post worth savoring.

During a recent discussion on the merits of using weed block landscaping fabric, someone posted the following nugget, in agreement with most of those who complained about the lack of performance, and downright nuisance of using landscape fabric:

"Amen! Bill is 100% right.
And... non-biodegradable plastic landscape "fabric" will come back to haunt you, as it shreds and keeps re-emerging in ugly clumps. I speak from experience - never again!

We all need to make sustainable thinking automatic. Does your community garden _really_ need to purchase that petroleum-based (or GMO soy based) product? If not, don't buy it! Every dollar you don't spend is another dollar for your garden's budget. Think of creative frugality (especially with a green consciousness) as your own "sustainability grant". with no strings attached. Cool, huh?

It also helps bridge people working for social justice with those working for environmental sustainability. We need both. Without justice, sustainability isn't sustainable.

(I have withheld the writer's name)
Charlotte, NC

Monday, February 15, 2010


"To him who in the love of Nature holds
Communion with her visible forms, she speaks
A various language."
- William Cullen Bryant

Sunday, February 14, 2010


"I wonder if the sap is stirring yet,
If wintry birds are dreaming of a mate.
If frozen snowdrops feel as yet the sun
And crocus fires are kindling one by one."
- Christina Rossetti

Saturday, February 13, 2010


"Half the interest of a garden is the constant exercise of the imagination."
- Alice Morse Earle, 1897

Friday, February 12, 2010

New Jersey Tea
Genesee County Herb Society / February 2010, Herb Study

Common names: Redroot (Red Root), New Jersey Tea, Jersey Root, Walpole Tea, Wild Snowball, Mountain-sweet, (Western var. California Lilac)
Latin name: Ceanothus americanus / Family: Rhamnaceae (Buckthorn)

C. americanus is an easily grown native shrub of eastern (as far west as MN) North America. Other more attractive varieties from western N. Am. are not cold hardy in our Mid Michigan hardiness zone and are not the varieties of historical importance.

Cultivation: Zone 4-8 (western varieties are not cold hardy here)
Ht: to 2-3'. Woody shrub with showy clusters of white blooms on new growth during whole summer. Leaves are toothed oval, textured and parallel veined. Roots have a reddish outer skin.
Prefers full sun to light shade, poor soil, not too damp. Not fussy, except can suffer rot from ‘wet feet’. Can be pruned hard in early spring (like a Spirea).
Flowers are attractive to bees, hummingbirds and butterflies.
Roots have nitrogen fixing nodules and a reddish colored epidermis.

Harvest leaves for tisane. Dried leaves have more flavor of "China tea” (Thea sinensis). Frontier offers wild crafted, cut leaves from the U.S. 5 cups per pound, starts at $12.70/lb. Richters sells dried cut root $7 for 50g (1 2/3 oz.), and seeds (pkt: $5 plus shipping).

To Use as a Herbal Tisane (herb tea): 1 t. dry leaves per cup of boiling water (or 1 Tbsp. fresh leaves). Steep 5-15 minutes. Sweetener and milk or cream helps flavor.

History and Folklore: Eastern tribes made a sedative tea from the root, and a skin treatment from an infusion of the whole plant. (Native Harvests by Barrie Kavasch)
Am. Indians used root tea for colds, fevers, snakebite, stomachache, lung ailments, laxative, blood tonic. Root is strongly astringent (8% tannin), expectorant, sedative. (Peterson Field Guides - Eastern/Central Medicinal Plants by Steven Foster and James Duke) Root tea was used for dysentery, asthma, sore throat, bronchitis, whooping cough, spleen inflammation or pain. Richters Herb Catalogue notes Indians used it for skin problems, skin cancer, venereal sores, and says tisane is a good gargle for mouth and sore throats.
Alkaloid in root is mildly ‘hypotensive’ (lowers blood pressure).
1758 - part of a Cherokee syphilis cure that reportedly worked in one week, which used a combination of Mayapple root, Lobelia root, Wild Cherry bark, with the powdered root of Redroot applied topically. (Planting the Future - Saving Our Medicinal Herbs, Edited by Rosemary Gladstar and Pamela Hirsch) English colonial doctors who used only Lobelia and were disappointed.
Note: Walpole Tea? Robert Walpole was the first Prime Minister of Britain. There are also a couple of New England towns and a bay named Walpole, so it could be a geographic reference. Geographical locations named after the PM.)
Civil War doctors used a Ceanothus decoction for "ague cake" or malarial 'splenitis'. (Henrietta Kress)
The dye is reported to produce a rich cinnamon brown shade. (No mordant mentioned, and I assume that means the root, since the tisane is a very pale shade of golden.)

Here is a photo I took last year at the County Extension's Backyard Herb Garden, right before garden tour weekend. (Just a reminder, if you click on the photo you can see an enlarged version of it.)

Liberty Tea—America’s First “Buy American” Campaign

The Boston Tea Party of December 16, 1773 was a grassroots, direct action protest against import taxes on imported Chinese tea, which were imposed by the British crown on the American colonies.
After dumping 343 barrels of imported Chinese tea into Boston Harbor, American colonists boycotted the British Empire’s tea and substituted local native herbs as their beverage of choice. They even went so far as to spread rumors about the unhealthful aspects of Tea.
The colonist’s first choice for "Liberty Tea" was the herbaceous perennial Monarda (then known as Oswego, now as Bee Balm) and northern colonials also preferred Labrador Tea while more southerly colonials preferred New Jersey Tea. (Eat the Weeds by Ben Charles Harris)
Raspberry leaves, various mints, and sarsaparilla are also mentioned in the folklore of the boycott.

Drinking Liberty Tea became a patriotic political statement that encouraged unity in the years of the American Revolutionary War. These native American herbs have a similar astringent flavor and healthful properties to Tea, but without the caffeine.

NOTE: Our tea bags to sample at the meeting were of a Liberty Tea blend that was harvested late last summer from shrubs at the Extension herb garden. I blended a pinch of Monarda blossoms into each tea bag before sealing, which improved the flavor of the tea considerably!

Last night at GC Herb Society

We had a good meeting, as usual, and the weather wasn't too bad for nighttime driving. Some of these women have been steady and reliable members for over 20 years, braving whatever weather Mom Nature throws at us, to get to the meetings. We're all volunteers here, in our love of herbs as our common purpose and in our friendships with each other. No one gets a paycheck for showing up - we just do it. Like in that old Nike commercial.

Our discussion ran, as we were talking 'business' about our upcoming Symposium, to the subject of raising the ticket price. Frankly, we live in an area, mid-Michigan (specifically Genesee County) that has seen the worst of the recession and the heart of our county, Flint, has been in a slow moving economic Hurricane Katrina for the past thirty years. The statistics tell that over thirty years Flint has lost as many percent of residents to the changing of the economy from an industrial base to a information/technical/financial base as NOLA lost to a single weather event.
Only when it happens quickly, people run to your aid.
Flint is the original bootstraps city, only our grit and determination keep us fighting the good fight. There are neighborhoods of wealth nearby, but we are all affected by the plight of our neighbors, and respond in our unique ways, "pressing on, regardless."

We have decided one more time to keep our ticket prices steady, and of course, as a non-profit organization, our profits will be used to help and educate others in our community as is outlined in our bylaws. I must say, I'm proud of our herb women.

A few commercial messages

This video was posted on Mountain Rose's FB page, soooo cute, Chives the Mouse! I had to share it with you ... even if I haven't yet managed to fit it on my blog properly.

And, I copied this a few days ago... but it sounds like Tina and Maryanne are still snowed in! "The Mar/Apr issue is ready to be labeled for mailing, which we will start tonight so we can beat the next storm to the post office! Subscribe or renew today! It is full of good stuff. Like:
Shaker Gardening
Susanna Reppert started a new series on Herbs of the Zodiac
An excellent article on seed starting - just in time!
Part 2 of Marita Orr's discussion of herbs "down under"
Herbal Hand Lotion (several recipes included)
Green Drinks
Lemon Verbena
Spring Cleaning
and a whole bunch more!
Until the 15th, new subscriptions will begin with the Jan/Feb issue,
and receive the Mar/Apr in a few weeks.
Lots of other herbal goodies on the website too!
Tina Sams
_The Essential Herbal Magazine_ (
_download FREE ISSUE_
_The Essential Herbal Blog_ (

Thursday, February 11, 2010


"All the flowers of all the tomorrows are in the seeds of today."
- Indian Proverb

Wednesday, February 10, 2010


"There ought to be Gardens for all Months in the year, in which, severally, things of Beauty may be then in season."
Sir Francis Bacon

Tuesday, February 09, 2010


" To create a garden is to search for a better world. In our effort to improve on nature, we are guided by a vision of paradise. Whether the result is a horticultural masterpiece or only a modest vegetable patch, it is based on the expectation of a glorious future. This hope for the future is at the heart of all gardening."
- Marina Schinz

on a lighter note

Crib notes. Cheer up, Gloomy Gus!

unintended consequences

I usually strive to keep the real world out of this home and garden blog. But this is a powerful message that needs to be heard.
"The Heat Is On" by Ross Gelbspan

Woodies For Local Herbies

The Genesee County Conservation District (Michigan) has their woody plant sale page posted. Order right now and pick up in April at Cummings Center - just in time for planting.
The prices are incredible. This is one way people (like me) who live on a budget can justify buying plants. I just ordered a ~$4 Hazelnut and a 10 pack of Serviceberry shrubs for ~$9.
Local herbies - you can order various other woody herbal trees and herbal shrubs.
Think Elderberry, White Cedar, Black Cherry. They are small and bare rooted, but alive and ready to go! Planting a small woody plant may seem like a long term proposition, but there is no shock from transplanting from a nursery pot, and if the plant is in the right spot, it'll take off! I've successfully planted GCCD Ginkgos (not available this year), a Serviceberry, a Filbert, and Elderberries. Check it out:

Monday, February 08, 2010

Women of the Herb Garden

a poem by Mary Ann Titus, published in a years ago issue of The Herbarist.
Does it ring a bell for you? It did for me.

Women of the Herb Garden

No woodland sprites or gnomes are these--
the solid women -- on their knees
tending marjoram, lavender and thyme.

Snipping growth that overruns the beds,
pulling plants whose lucious heads invade
and placing them -- the weeds-
inside a plastic laundry basket,

If others shrug intent aside,
urge Sweet Annie ramble wild until
a single iris chokes, sheds its velvet --
these will not.

These women who wear aprons with pockets
to hold steel tool close answer
by snip of shears, pluck of wrist, a snap,
a twisting crackle.

Firm-handed women in heat and in fog
who harvest the homely, shelter the rootless,
return the rose-bearing shrubs,
water and cradle
the bug-bitten leaf,
the tender ephedra flower
until power leaves their backs
and the arch of the foot goes flat.

Bare heads to the sun,
bare hands to the soil,
they scoop up the slugs and the snails
in dirt-creased palms that force recall of how easy
the helpless fall
into a metal coffee can.

Herb women pray
with trowel in hand.

A Midwinter Worm Update

My worm bin is about 2 1/2 years old now, surviving a second frigid Michigan winter in our unheated but "attached" garage, so I'm probably enough of an experienced old worm wrangler to give some advice and make some observations that may encourage you to start your own bin if you've been considering it.

First, worm ranching is not a demanding occupation. I've skipped feeding my herd a week or two, here and there, and they seem no worse for wear.
Second, you don't have to follow the books precisely to get good results. I've broken rules and made some new rules according to the path of "What Works is Good".
Third, TRUST me, you'll get over worm-squeamishness once you've held a few cold, squirmy handfuls of these quiet pleasant little workers.

If you find the vermiculture link in the right column, you can spend some time reading my past worm ranching posts, and watch my amateur video about putting together my second bin after the backyard wildlife (I suspect Racoon. J'accuse!) destroyed my first box.

Where to Keep Your Bin
I am an advocate of keeping the bin in the garage. Where to keep your bin is something to consider if you live where there are animals who might break into the box (for worms or for vegetable scraps?) the same way skunks break into bee boxes. And in the Way of Permaculture, if the box is close to your back door, it will be handier to keep the worms fed.

I've read of other Michigan worm wranglers trying to keep their boxes outdoors covered by bags of leaves. That seems to be going to an extreme, to me. When the thermometer in my garage goes too far south, I stick a trouble light with a 40 watt bulb in the box to keep it from freezing solid. I can take a container of scraps out to that garage wearing my house slippers.

Another consideration for keeping the bin out of the house is the fear I've contracted from others who report they have inadvertently introduced the dreaded fruit fly. I hate fruit flies. I can successfully report no fruit flies, even after feeding my herd peaches and apples in the late summer and fall. My theory is that you need to be sure to bury such fruity scraps completely, and keep the damp surface of the bin contents covered with a few inches of dry bedding.

Speaking of bedding, I've used dampened sphagnum peat and coir. I got an end of the year deal (years ago I stocked up at $1 per Brick! Score! at Meijers) before coir became a popular amendment. However, in the past year I've been using shredded paper - it gave me an excuse for buying a paper shredder - which even beats the price I paid for the coir. By tradition I avoid paper with colored ink and suspiciously 'coated' bills.

Catching the Worm Juice
Worm juice is supposed by some to be a smelly problem, but I guess my garage is airy enough that it hasn't bothered my delicate nose. I did figure out the best way to catch it is in a lid from a second box of the same size. I made my bin from a Rubbermaid bin, and put the bin on top of a second identical bin. (That bin can be used to store potting soil, etc.) There is window screen in the bottom of my bin, but I've read if a worm need to escape, he can get through even that.

An added benefit of this Bin over bin arrangement is that the worms are thus raised so I can feed them (and see them) without bending over by half. The drippings should be collected into a wide mouth canning jar occasionally to keep the messiness at a minimum.

To Feed or Not To Feed
Speaking of unpleasant odeurs, I've discovered the least tolerable smell comes from members of the cabbage and onion families. Those kitchen scraps go out to the compost pile. I also find my worms can't keep up with all of the orange and grapefruit peels Herb goes through, or the numerous corn cobs in August. So I compost citrus peels and cobs. All other vegetative scraps go to the worms, along with tea bags and egg shells. I've read that worms like to lay their eggs in the interior of egg shells, so I don't go crazy trying to crush them.

Here I'll quote an interview by Bob Forbes with another worm wrangler from a program handed out at the 7th Annual Spring Horticulture Show put on by the MSU (Michigan State) Horticulture Club, that was in my Neverending Pile. I completely concur with this advice.
"Books and articles on this subject talk about burying garbage at selected locations in the bedding and rotating or alternating between these locations. This gives you the impression that the worms live in the bedding, coming over to the "buried" garbage for meals, and then returning to the bedding. I have not found this to be the case. I think they hang out in the garbage all the time. So I put some bedding in when starting the bin to give them a place to live, and after that I don't worry about maintaining the bedding. I also don't worry about alternating Where I put the garbage, or even mixing it in..." Here he adds ... "or burying it" which I disagree with, but then, he has had fruit flies and I haven't.
This quoted technique eliminates the need to figure out a system of marking the last scrap burial, and the worms don't seem to mind.

Finally, Harvesting the castings
Here I quote again from the above interview, and again I agree:
"The production of castings ... has fallen a little bit short of expectations. As with other kinds of composting, the volume reduction from start to finish is tremendous." I recommend harvesting a bin like mine only twice a year, ideally - in May and September. The spring harvest renews the bin and provides castings for spring planting, and the late summer harvest renews the bin, but gives the worms enough time to get comfortable before the harsh temperatures slow down their activity in the bin once more. A single midsummer harvest will work too.
To harvest castings I turn the whole bin over onto a large tarp which is spread on the garage floor. The western sunshine streaming in the open garage door keeps the worms digging for damp cool shade, making it easy to separate the worms from the castings.
The process is as follows: The sun lights drives the worms down, I scrape off a layer of castings, the uncovered worms dig deeper, I scrape off another layer, until we scrape tarp. The worms are pinkish red and easy to see. They are different sizes, babies to adults and some will be overlooked, but there will be enough to restart the bin.

Renewing the Bin
I put a small amount of damp bedding and some of the old castings, including unprocessed scraps, into the empty bin, and put the mass of worms back into the bin where I feed them, and cover all with dry bedding.
If, as I suspect, there are any tiny baby worms and eggs, or escapees in the castings, then using them in the garden in midsummer can only be beneficial to the garden and give the worms plenty of time to get used to living outdoors, so they can dig down into the earth as they should in the fall to survive the winter.

Sunday, February 07, 2010


"We know enough of the internal workings of the seed to stand in awe at its variety, its toughness, and its practical simplicity."
- Nancy Bubel

Saturday, February 06, 2010

In the spirit

True to my last caution about sources, this snippet came from someone I jotted down as "Rita".
Not that I can't come up with all of this myself, but ... from someone else, if only from a vague formless miasma from the past, it seems so much more authentic.

Herbs and Wine
If you ever have a half a bottle of wine left over from a party, add some herbs to it and keep it in the refrigerator for use in cooking.
Use as a reduction sauce, in marinade, or to flavor stew or Italian style tomato sauce. For best results, use within a few weeks.

Herbs for red wine:
basil, bay, chives, garlic, lovage, marjoram, oregano, rosemary, sage, thyme.
Herbs for white wine:
bay, chervil, lavender, lemon balm, lemon verbena, lovage, savory, tarragon, thyme.

Rita's Tonic
Steep a couple handfuls of fresh rosemary sprigs in a bottle of red wine for 4 days; serve as a cordial. Or float 1 or 2 sprigs in a glass of wine for 1 hour. Rosemary’s healthful properties include taming headaches and tummies.

Friday, February 05, 2010

More heat than light

The worst thing about having all of this pile of useless outdated information is that most of it is not properly sourced. Mea culpa. If you want to claim something, write and convince me it's original.
The saving grace is that my blogging is completely worthless, so go ahead, sue me if you want to hire a lawyer and can prove damages. Do I sound cynical? Well, if irony died with Bush, optimism is dying with Obama ... at least round these parts.

The following crucial piece of herb craft is the lazy man's alternative to my previous post on those Christmas-y pine cone fire starters... This is a great project for using up the stripped, or as we say in the herb world, "garbled", woody stems left over from making nice piles of dried tea, culinary, medicinal, or otherwise useful herb leaves and flowers. For the frugally inclined among us.

Fireplace Fragrance Bags
Fill small paper bags with dried aromatic herbs and tie closed with raffia or twine. Fill a basket to put next to the fireplace (stored safely away from flame) and toss one on the fire when you start a fire.
Suggested Herbs: lavender, lemon balm, rosemary, sage, thyme, eucalyptus.
Dried pine, cedar, and juniper tips.
Whole spices: cloves, allspice, star anise, crushed cinnamon sticks.

Thursday, February 04, 2010

Borrowed snips are better than none

Say, howdya like my nifty new digs? About time, you say?

I've been playing around at cleaning out old computer files lately, in lieu of getting any real work done. Years ago, when I edited the newsletter for our local herb society (in the hands on days of cutting and pasting with real scissors and actual glue) I got into the habit of saving every interesting scrap of information. It gets to be a pack-ratty sort of habit, though, the result being that in these quieter days I have mountains of useless information to keep me busy.
Lacking all other inspiration, I'll be posting some snippets from my piles along with more of the endless supply of garden-y quotations from smarter than me folks that you may have noticed lately.
Shall we begin?

Torn from the pages of the biggest tool in America, Parade Magazine, advertising copy (note the charming use of the mitigating word MAY to obfuscate any health claims for the herbs they are selling you):
McCormick Spices For Health
Seven Super Spices (Have you noticed this campaign?)
"great sources of flavor as well as concentrated sources of natural antioxidants."
McC has developed 1/2 teaspoon recipes. "is there anything better than adding a favorite ingredient that may also support your health?"
& in another ad:
1/4 t. add to a grilled cheese sandwich.
Ground Cinnamon (1 t. as many antioxidants as 1/2 cup of blueberries)
1/4 t. sprinkle on oatmeal.
Ground Ginger
a dash - add to cooked carrots, winter squash, or sweet potatoes
Crushed Red Peppers, Ground Paprika
1/4 t. add to hummus or guacamole
mix with olive oil and sea salt to dress ready to bake rolls
1/4 t. stir into soup
sprinkle on steamed rice (add peas and carrots)

After looking at their list, I see I grow 4 (and sometimes 5, when I'm growing ginger in a pot) out of the seven.

I cut this from the back of an Alessi instant soup mix bag. First, let me clarify that Herb bought the soup, I'd never buy a package of instant soup; and second, how does a five word sentence translate into all of that verbiage? Ah, advertisers, how you do judge your public:
"People today eat soup for different reasons than they did yester year. Once considered an inexpensive meal for the poor, soup has become popular among the health conscious consumers of today. There is a saying about soups in Southern Italy that states, "Sette cose fa la zupa" which (loosely) translates to "Soup does seven things, it relieves your hunger, quenches your thirst, fills your stomach, cleans your teeth, makes you sleep, helps you digest and colors your cheeks."

I think I'll try to memorize these seven virtues of soup.

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

The kind of thing Lois would say

Tea For One
"Whenever you create something special for yourself, you are honoring yourself. Tea for one gives us a daily opportunity to evaluate, revaluate, to come to grips with our feelings. With this ritual, it is possible on a regular basis, to bring harmony and balance back into our lives."
- Alexandra Stoddard

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

K told a joke

A was fruitlessly trying to jump up, grunt, jump up, grunt, jump up... to get herself a second helping of "rewards" (M&Ms - hey, they work!) for peeing in the potty, and we were all enjoying her struggle With gravity (sooo easily amused), when K said, "We need to buy A a trampoline so she can jump up high enough to get her M&Ms". I guess you had to be there. We did enjoy repeating the word trampoline for the rest of the evening, though. Peace.

Monday, February 01, 2010


"Seedsmen reckon that their stock in trade is not seeds at all ... it's optimism. That's what they're selling when you're seduced by that gorgeous picture on the front of the packet."
- Geoff Hamilton