Awesome Information Resources (Your Answers to the Question of the Month!)

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We’re guessing that, like us, you’re constantly striving to improve your garden and your gardening methods … to make your composting processes a little bit more efficient … to strengthen the microbial activity in your soil a little bit more … to improve your favorite vegetable variety through seed saving and experimentation … and the list goes on!

And while you can achieve those goals by yourself, no one would argue that getting a little help from others makes the process a whole lot smoother, faster, and more fun!

So where do our Community members turn when they’re looking for advice and information on gardening, homesteading, and home medicine (besides The Grow Network, of course!)?

We asked them recently and compiled the following list of recommended resources. (Many thanks to Fibrefarmer, Marcia, Mary Kathryn, Permies949, Scott Sexton, tracyWandling, and all the other TGN Community members who contributed their ideas!)

Wildcrafting, Foraging, and Plant Identification

  • Eat the Weeds (blog and educational resources about foraging and edible wild plants)
  • Plants for a Future (database containing the edible, medicinal, and other uses of more than 7,000 plants)

Gardening, Farming, and Permaculture

  • Acres USA (Marjory says, “Mostly geared towards small farmers, the in-depth articles on a particular crop are great.”)
  • Your local Extension office (Merin says, “The climate and wildlife here (SW Colorado) are so different from those where I used to live (SE Texas) that it has been really helpful to be able to speak to our Extension agent and fellow Master Gardeners in this area to learn how to tackle some of the differences. A lot of them are also a wealth of information on organic and permaculture practices that work in this area….”)
  • MIgardener.com (gardening products and information)
  • North Texas Vegetable Gardeners Facebook group (“I love this group because it’s focused on gardening in my region,” says TGN’s social media manager Ruth Reyes-Loiacan. “It’s nice to have a large community of local people doing the same thing. Currently, the group has 29,000 members!”)
  • Permies (Of this forum for permaculturists and homesteaders, tracyWandling says, “It has a category for just about everything, and a wide variety of contributors of all levels who share their experiences and expertise with readers. It’s a great place to ask questions and interact with others who are doing the same things you are and are always willing to lend a helping hand. Great site.”)
  • PermaEthos (educational and community-building site)
  • Permaculture Apprentice (permaculture-related resources)
  • Permaculture Design Magazinere (contains articles on eco-regeneration, broadscale farming systems, agroforestry, home garden design, and community action)
  • Permaculture Magazine (magazine for permaculture enthusiasts covers all aspects of life)
  • Praxxus55712 YouTube channel (Marcia says she also recommends the YouTube channel WisconsinGarden.)
  • Self-Reliant School (information on growing, cooking, and preserving food)
  • Stacey Murphy/BK Farmyards (offers educational training about backyard farming and real food)
  • Tenth Acre Farm: Permaculture for the Suburbs (information on micro-farming)

Homesteading and Sustainability

  • BackYard Chickens (Merin adds that, with nearly 100,000 members—many of whom are both knowledgeable and willing to share information—the related Backyard Chickens Facebook group is also a great resource for backyard chicken keepers.)
  • Food in Jars Community Facebook group (Wendy Meredith says it offers “great ideas and new recipes on how to can much of what I produce.”)
  • MelissaKNorris.com (information on raising, preserving, and preparing food; home of the Pioneering Today podcast)
  • Mother Earth News Magazine (articles on homesteading and organic gardening, with a focus on self-sufficiency and sustainability)
  • The Prairie Homestead (blog offering homesteading advice)
  • Starry Hilder’s Off-Grid Homestead (blog about off-grid homesteading)
  • The Survival Podcast (online talk show about modern survivalism, sustainability, and alternative energy)

Health and Herbalism

Finally, regardless of the category, remember that your local library likely offers myriad excellent, free resources. “My library is a tremendous source of inspiration,” says TGN Community member Fibrefarmer. “They have the best books for the best price (free), but I have to give them back after a few weeks :(.  But still, it saves money, and they let me borrow the books as many times as I need. If they don’t have the book, they can order a copy or borrow it from another library via interlibrary loan.”

What about you? Is your favorite resource on this list? If not, let us know about it by leaving us a note in the comments!

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The Grow Network is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate program designed to provide a means for our team to earn fees for recommending our favorite products! We may earn a small commission, at no additional cost to you, should you purchase an item after clicking one of our links. Thanks for supporting TGN!

 

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3 Expert Tomato Growers Share Their Best Tips

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Name: James Worley
Home Digs: Kansas City, MO
Business: KC Tomato Times
Blog: KCTomatoTimes.wordpress.com
Follow on Social Media: KC Tomato Times (Facebook)
Fast Fact: I won the 2017 World Championship Squirrel Cook Off in Bentonville, Arkansas.

Claim to Fame: I’ve been growing rare tomato varieties for over a decade and have grown almost 800 types so far. I pride myself on growing the most hearty, tough, and ready-to-plant seedlings available in the area. I also host a tomato tasting each year on the first Saturday in August. This will be our 10th annual event! We’ve had as many as 100 different types of ripe fruit in years past, but always have at least 40–50 types for people to taste and experience the uniqueness of each variety.

Top Tomato-Production Tip: Soil building is key. I make my own soil for my raised beds with locally produced compost mixed with peat, perlite, and vermiculite in an 8-1-1-1 ratio. I do not use manures as they tend to be too high in nitrogen. I fertilize with Tomato-tone when I plant and then every 3 weeks throughout the season.

On Less-Than-Ideal Growing Conditions: Mulch is your friend. Use some sort of mulch to keep your soil moisture consistent. Also, I prefer silver reflective film, as this keeps the moisture in and the weeds out, and it bounces light under the leaves to drive off insect invaders like aphids and hornworms. It is very shiny and you’ll need sunglasses when working with it, but you can see your garden from outer space!

Favorite Tomato Variety: Carbon is hands down the best I have ever grown. It has deep, complex flavors and a beautiful purple color, and is fairly disease resistant and very productive. I plant at least a dozen Carbon in my gardens every year.

Sharin’ the Love: I’m an educator at heart and in my profession. I make sure that anyone who buys my plants knows the best way to plant them, care for them, and eat them as well. I’m available year-round by e-mail to help gardeners with questions they may have. As for ripe tomatoes, we eat them at home in myriad ways; however, I love to take in a box of ripe tomatoes and other vegetables from my garden to local restaurants and trade them for delicious meals or have the chefs prepare them for me in their own special ways.

Read More: “TGN Talks Tomatoes With Dave Freed, Local Changemaker”

 

Robin Wyll, Tomatoes

Nominee: Robin Wyll
Home Digs: Woodinville, WA
Business: Robin’s Gourmet Garden (Nursery)
Website: GrowTomatoSauce.com
Follow On Social Media At: Robin’s Gourmet Garden (Facebook)
Fast Fact: Well, besides gardening, my other obsessions are theater and politics, so, of course, I can rap the entire opening number of the musical Hamilton!

Claim to Fame: I grow tomato sauce—125–200 pounds of tomatoes from 36 plants! I roast them, puree, and freeze about 2–3 gallons each year for winter meals. People asked me for help, so I created a website to help inspire others. People also asked me for cuttings, so I started a business raising around 1,800 heirloom tomato plants (nine varieties) and selling them directly to customers as well as supplying five stores. Customers say my varieties are unique in the local market and more robust than industry-grown options.

Top Tomato-Production Tip: Test your soil for everything down to the trace elements, and then mineralize accordingly. I started this five years ago after reading Steve Solomon’s book The Intelligent Gardener: Growing Nutrient-Dense Food, and it made a world of difference in my tomato production. Also, to get the most flavor out of your tomatoes, do not water the plants during the 24 hours before you pick the fruit. Watering just dilutes the sugars in the tomatoes, thereby diluting the flavor.

On Less-Than-Ideal Growing Conditions: Here in the Pacific Northwest, the biggest challenge is wildly fluctuating weather conditions. Sometimes the temperature will drop 20–30 degrees overnight, and we tend to get a lot of rain off and on throughout the summer. My solution is twofold. I select varieties that mature in fewer than 85 days, and I grow them under a protective shelter that can be opened up during good weather for air flow and pollination. The goals are to keep the leaves from getting rained on, which can lead to fungal issues, and to hold in the heat as much as possible. This method allows me to plant tomatoes in April when it’s still pretty cool and wet and extends the harvest into November.

Favorite Tomato Variety: My single favorite tomato variety is Speckled Roman, because my goal is to freeze as much tomato puree as I can—and the Speckled Roman is thick and meaty with few seeds and excellent, rich flavor. Some of the fruit will grow to more than one pound each—and it is so dense that you can grill the slices. My preferred pick for salsa is Black Sea Man, which is a Russian variety that produces lots of beefsteak-type tomatoes that are a beautiful mottled deep green and red with delicious sweet tomato flavor.

Sharin’ the Love: I share my 15 years of tomato-growing experience, failures, and successes via my website; I answer questions and share info related to my plant business on my Facebook page; and I share my expertise live by giving presentations to local garden clubs and, of course, in casual conversation. It seems that successfully growing tomatoes is a subject of great interest in my area. Plus, my tomato sauce gets around—lots of it went to college with my daughter, and I share it with neighbors and friends in the hopes of inspiring more people to try growing tomato sauce.

 

Leslie Doyle, Tomatoes

Nominee: Leslie Doyle
Home Digs: Las Vegas, NV
Business: Sweet Tomato Test Garden
Website: SweetTomatoTestGarden.com
Follow on Social Media: Leslie R. Doyle (Facebook)
Books Authored: Growing the Tomato in Las Vegas in Terrible Dirt and Desert Heat, self-published (1996); Growing the Tomato in Las Vegas in Terrible Dirt and Desert Heat (2nd edition), self-published (2002); Slam Dunk Easy Desert Gardening, self-published (2009)
Fast Fact: I actually don’t usually eat vegetable greens. I prefer berries; tree fruit; nuts; grilled steak, fish or chicken; and chocolate (yum!).

Claim to Fame: I wrote new directions for growing tomatoes and veggies in the desert—including new ways to irrigate and fertilize the farm or garden, a way to increase light on the plants, and a method to repel insects and avoid disease. I also developed a soil/compost that is very popular and widely used in the desert.

Top Tomato-Production Tip: Help them be all that they can be. You get more reliable results when you grow a variety that is known for prolific production and then give them ample water, nutrients, and sun—and grow them in the right climate.

On Less-Than-Ideal Growing Conditions: Gardening in Las Vegas is very, very different for new residents—and impossible for them without some coaching by a successful gardener. Growing here is actually easy, but there are growing rules. Wherever you live, pay attention to your plants, and learn how to fulfill their needs and diagnose their ailments.

Favorite Tomato Variety: My favorite tomato variety is Hawaiian Tropic for several reasons: It has an 8- to 10-ounce average size, is simply delicious, and is very prolific. It grows extremely well in our hot desert climate and has been disease resistant. Hawaiian Tropic tomato is only available through me at this time. I also like Juliet, a smaller Roma-like tomato. It is easy to grow, delicious, and an All-America Selections winner.

Sharin’ the Love: We sell our harvest here at the Sweet Tomato Test Garden and donate extra fruit to the Lutheran Social Services Food Panty. Some is also shared with friends. Over the years I have written articles and tips for various publications, including Organic Gardening magazine, where I worked for almost 10 years. I publish a subscription-based e-newsletter for desert gardeners, and I have decades of teaching and speaking experience at our Desert Gardening School, the library, our local university, civic events, and nurseries. People are welcome to visit my garden, and I am delighted to answer questions!

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The Grow Network is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate program designed to provide a means for our team to earn fees for recommending our favorite products! We may earn a small commission, at no additional cost to you, should you purchase an item after clicking one of our links. Thanks for supporting TGN!

 

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8 Genius Uses for Buckets on the Homestead

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Life on the homestead requires a lot of creativity and frugality. The “five R’s” seem to be constantly in play: Reuse, Reduce, Recycle, Repurpose, and Repair. Nothing ever goes to waste—today’s trash simply becomes tomorrow’s resources.

When buying something new is necessary, I usually try to make sure the item fits at least one of the following criteria:

  1. First, does the item have more than one alternative use or purpose?
  2. Second, does the item take up minimal space?
  3. Third, is the item inexpensive?

My Favorite Homesteading Tool

My absolute favorite “tool” on the homestead actually fits all three criteria: none other than the five-gallon plastic bucket. Not only do these wonder tools nest neatly into a tidy stack, they also have a seemingly unlimited number of uses.

Whether you are into homesteading, preparedness, or permaculture, five-gallon buckets are essential tools of the trade!

Getting Buckets for Free

A note about price: If purchased from a hardware store, you can expect to pay anywhere from $3 to $five-dollars per bucket. But you can acquire them for FREE from your grocery store’s bakery department. All you have to do is ask nicely for the buckets that their icing came in. Other free sources include pickle buckets from hamburger joints, soap buckets from car washes, and lard buckets from Mexican restaurants.

Of course, be prepared to clean them!

Uses for Buckets

The Bucket List

So, what exactly can you do with a five-gallon bucket once you procure it? I thought you’d never ask! Below, I showcase some general ideas that I use quite frequently. (If you’re keen on any given idea, more detailed tutorials can be found all over the Internet.)

1. Container Gardening

First and foremost, five-gallon buckets make for outstanding container gardens when you drill drainage holes in the bottom of the buckets. While some permaculturists might frown on the idea of container gardens, they are quite useful if you want to keep invasive (opportunistic) plants such as mint from taking over your garden. Additionally, in a grid-down situation, you can easily secure your food indoors overnight to protect from potential looters. That brings a whole new meaning to the words “food security!”

2. Growing Mushrooms

Another clever use for buckets is growing edible and medicinal mushrooms in them. Just drill staggering holes in the sides of the bucket, fill the bucket with free coffee grounds from the local corner coffee shop, and inoculate with the spawn of your favorite mushroom.

3. Organizing Your Tools

A five-gallon bucket also makes for a great tool bag. Either online or at your local hardware store, you can buy organizers that are specifically made for buckets and have all kinds of compartments. The outside sleeve compartments of the bucket are ideal for your smaller tools, such as screwdrivers, wrenches, and pliers. On the inside of the bucket, you can store your heavy-duty tools like your hammers, axes, and saws.

Read More: “No More Disappearing Tools With This Simple Trick!”

4. Making Wine

You can even make wine with a five-gallon bucket. Simply pour in some apple cider (sans preservatives), sugar, and yeast. Drill a hole into the lid, insert a rubber grommet, and then insert an airlock bubbler (available for a dollar at most home-brew stores). The Big Bird/Cookie Monster–style explanation is that the “yeasties” eat the sugar and essentially poop out carbon dioxide and alcohol. The airlock bubbler allows the carbon dioxide to escape, but prevents oxygen or other contaminants from entering your wine. There are a few more specific steps and ingredients that go into producing quality wine, but this is basically how wine is made! People drink alcohol in both good times and bad. Wine making can prove to be a very valuable and profitable skill in a grid-down scenario.

Uses for Buckets

5. Feed the Worms

One of my favorite uses of a five-gallon bucket is as part of a vermicompost system (a.k.a. a worm bin). Red wiggler worms are voracious eaters. I feed them my shredded junk mail and food scraps. In return, they give me “black gold.”

If mushroom compost is the Cadillac of compost, worm castings are the Rolls Royce!

6. Make Compost Tea

In addition to vermicompost, compost tea happens to be the secret of success for many master gardeners. And with a five-gallon bucket, you can brew your own compost tea right at home. All you need is an air pump for aeration, some worm castings (compost), non-chlorinated water, and a few other ingredients. After two days of brewing, it is ready to spray on your crops using a pump sprayer. Your plants will grow twice as big, twice as fast!

Read More: “Compost Tea: An Easy Way to Stretch Your Compost”

7. Make a Mousetrap

Have a mouse problem, but don’t have the heart to set out a traditional mousetrap? Well, you can make a catch-and-release mousetrap out of a bucket and a few pieces of wood, plus peanut butter for bait. The contraption reminds me of the board game Mouse Trap that I used to play as a child!

8. Filter Water

Lastly, you can make a heavy-duty water filter from two five-gallon buckets stacked on top of each other. The top bucket has a ceramic water filter that filters out the dirty water dumped into it. The bottom bucket has a water spigot that allows you to extract the newly filtered water.

I hope you enjoyed some of the examples I’ve provided of why five-gallon buckets are the absolute best and most versatile tool for homesteading, preparedness, and permaculture. Five-gallon buckets not only serve as a container to grow your food in, they can be used in creating the fertilizer that enriches your garden. To top it off, you can use buckets to collect and ultimately store your bountiful harvests!

What about you? What’s your favorite way to use a five-gallon bucket? Leave me a note in the comments!

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The Grow Network is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate program designed to provide a means for our team to earn fees for recommending our favorite products! We may earn a small commission, at no additional cost to you, should you purchase an item after clicking one of our links. Thanks for supporting TGN!

 

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Reforesting Land With ORANGE PEELS?

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Compost everything, orange peel edition:

“Treuer initially set out to locate the large placard that marked the plot—and failed.

‘It’s a huge sign, bright yellow lettering. We should have been able to see it,’ Treuer says. After wandering around for half an hour with no luck, he consulted Janzen, who gave him more detailed instructions on how to find the plot.

When he returned a week later and confirmed he was in the right place, Treuer was floored. Compared to the adjacent barren former pastureland, the site of the food waste deposit was ‘like night and day.’

‘It was just hard to believe that the only difference between the two areas was a bunch of orange peels. They look like completely different ecosystems,’ he explains.

The area was so thick with vegetation he still could not find the sign.

Treuer and a team of researchers from Princeton University studied the site over the course of the following three years.

The results, published in the journal Restoration Ecology, highlight just how completely the discarded fruit parts assisted the area’s turnaround.

The ecologists measured various qualities of the site against an area of former pastureland immediately across the access road used to dump the orange peels two decades prior. Compared to the adjacent plot, which was dominated by a single species of tree, the site of the orange peel deposit featured two dozen species of vegetation, most thriving.”

I’ve seen massive changes in an area after dropping lots of tree mulch. Struggling trees suddenly found their stride. Wildflowers and mushrooms appeared. Sweet potatoes exploded in productivity.

Read More: “Extreme Composting—How to Compost Everything”

Feed the soil, and the soil takes care of your plants. That’s why I argue in Compost Everything: The Good Guide to Extreme Composting that making lists of rules of things you “shouldn’t compost” and chucking good stuff like bones, wood, etc., is foolish.

Compost Everything

Nature breaks down organic material wonderfully. She’s a well-designed machine. Work with instead of against her and good things will come your way.

If something as simple as orange peels can restore lousy land, imagine what would happen if you added in a wide range of compostable material?

Big changes occur, even when you start small. Compost everything!

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8 Homeopathic Remedies for Plants and Animals

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Recently, Marjory was kind enough to feature me as a Local Changemaker on The Grow Network blog. When I completed the interview, I felt there was more to share. We especially did not discuss how homeopathic remedies extend beyond medicine for humans to include the treatment of our pets, livestock, and agriculture.

Read More: “Meet Elena Upton, Local Changemaker”

Homeopathic Remedies for Plants

Did you know that homeopathic remedies can help weak, pest-infested, and frost-damaged plants—and can even build them up?

Give Your Plants a Springtime Boost

You can strengthen plants in the early spring by giving them Silicea 200C (made from silica, a building block of all cells). Place 6–8 pellets in water to melt them, then use that liquid to water trees and shrubs by pouring it directly on their trunks and in the soil around them.

Treat Downy and Powdery Mildews

Since homeopathy is symptom-driven, different presentations of the same disease may require different homeopathic remedies. That is the case with both powdery mildew (which thrives in dry, warm weather) and downy mildew (which appears in damp conditions).

Use the following homeopathic remedies to treat powdery and downy mildew, but pay special attention to the symptoms of the disease and treat accordingly.

When the symptoms of each disease are as follows, the remedy of choice is Cuprum metallicum 30C:

  • Powdery Mildew: White, moldy layer on the upper sides of leaves (can be wiped off)
  • Downy Mildew: Gray-to-violet coating underneath the leaves after rainy weather

But the remedy of choice is Natrum sulphuricum 30C when the following symptoms are present:

  • Powdery Mildew: Grayish-white mold on stalks and upper sides of leaves
  • Downy Mildew: Gray or grayish-violet under the leaves after warm, humid weather

Treat Gray Mold on Strawberries

Another homeopathic remedy that benefits plants is the use of Calcaria phosphorica 6C and Ammonium carbonicum 30C to treat gray mold (Botrytis) on strawberries. This condition is due to deficiencies of calcium, phosphorus, and magnesium and to excess nitrogen in the plants. Using Calcaria phosphorica 6C and Ammonium carbonicum 30C resolves this deficiency and toxicity.

Also keep in mind that when Botrytis is present, you should not use artificial fertilizers or fresh or composted animal excrement. Just apply compost made from plants to ensure a less acidic environment.

Homeopathic Remedies for Animals

Let’s move on to animals. As I mentioned above, homeopathic remedies are chosen based on symptoms. This is as true for animals as it is for plants and humans.

Following are some examples of symptoms commonly found in horses (although you could replace the word “horse” below with “goat,” “cat,” “cow,” etc.—the same remedy would be used for any animal exhibiting these specific symptoms):

  • Do you have a horse with anxiety that is restless, fearful, or suffering from gastritis? Try the remedy Arsenicum album.
  • Or has he gotten sick with a fever, developed bronchitis, become irritable (wants to be left alone), and started thirsting for large amounts of water? Try the remedy Bryonia.
  • Or maybe she has digestive issues, along with apathy, indifference, sluggishness, and lack of reaction? Try the remedy Carbo vegetabilis.

I use a horse as an example with 3 different sets of issues to demonstrate how observation is key to choosing the correct remedy. Again, if you see these specific symptoms being exhibited in an animal of any other species, the same remedy would be used.

To offer another example, if a dog overindulged in his food (and everyone else’s he could steal when you weren’t looking) and later appeared bloated and irritable, I’d give him Nux vomica. If the horse out in the pasture overgrazed on grass and was bloated and irritable, Nux vomica would also be the remedy to relieve his discomfort. 

How to Administer Homeopathic Remedies

Homeopathic remedies for animals can be dropped into their water.

Dosage is not an issue with homeopathy. It is not like milligrams of pharmaceuticals. Remedies consist of little sugar pills, and the medicine is sprayed on the pills during the manufacturing process. The sugar pills serve as the carrier for the medicine, so 4 pellets, 6 pellets, or 8 pellets are all okay. Use your best judgment based on the amount of water you are dropping them into. You can also dissolve a few pellets into a little water and use a syringe to dispense the liquid directly into the animal’s mouth. 

In addition, you can purchase remedies as liquid tinctures. Although they aren’t readily available in the United States, you can purchase them online from other countries. My favorite source is Helios in the United Kingdom. Ordering from them is easy, and the tinctures usually arrive within a week. Here is the link: https://www.helios.co.uk/

3 Major Differences Between Homeopathic Remedies and Pharmaceuticals

So what are these remedies? Dr. Samuel Hahnemann (1755–1843), who developed the concept of homeopathy, recognized something that most doctors did not (and still don’t): There is an energy that drives all of nature. It is also referred to as a life force, vital force, vitality, or energetic signature.

Difference #1: Restoring Balance

The human body is subjected to a number of insults at every moment—changes in temperature, physical strains, and exposure to toxins or germs. In spite of all this, we rarely fall ill. And even if we do, we get well most of the time. We cannot escape the conclusion that there is a force within all of us that coordinates our system—a force that helps to keep the balance between us and our surroundings. Hahnemann recognized it as a function of life itself.

When we do get sick, it is because that life force, or vitality, has been disturbed. The disturbance of the vital force is the real dis-ease and that is what needs correction.

Homeopathy addresses these disturbances. Just as it takes a clear signal to tune into your favorite radio station, a clear energetic signal is the key to restoring balance to the organism, whether it be plant, animal, or human.

This is the first major difference between homeopathy and pharmaceutical medicines.

Difference #2: Like Cures Like

The second difference is the concept that “like cures like.” You see this in nature everywhere you look.

Let’s use stinging nettle as an example. It comes by its name quite honestly. Who hasn’t accidentally run into a patch and come out hollering, knowing you are about to come down with an itchy, burning rash? The homeopathic remedy Urtica urens is made from the stinging nettle plant that has been diluted and attenuated. When utilized for a rash, hives, prickly heat, or any other skin issues that exhibit similar symptoms, the results are nothing short of miraculous.

Difference #3: Dosage

The third difference between homeopathy and other forms of medicine is the tiny amount it takes to be effective. As mentioned previously, it rebalances disturbed energy patterns.

The body is a brilliant mechanism and only needs the correct information to right itself (as do plants and animals).

My point in moving from explaining the use of homeopathy for humans to discussing plants and animals is that we all have the same carbon structure, and therefore we are all healed in the same way. I have used these remedies on plants, animals, and humans for nearly 30 years—and I have yet to be disappointed.

Interested in Learning More About Homeopathic Remedies?

If you’re interested in learning more about homeopathy, you might want to consider reading my new book, MASTERING ALTERNATIVE MEDICNIE: Your Family’s Guide to Wellness, Volume I, which will be released in the next two months.

The companion book, MASTERING HEALTH: Secrets to Success, is geared toward those who are new to homeopathic remedies, and it offers a much more in-depth explanation of homeopathy and other natural medicine practices. It also covers top homeopathic treatments and their uses, plus case studies so that readers can gain a better understanding of how to dispense the remedies.

I will be offering a free download of MASTERING HEALTH: Secrets to Success to members of The Grow Network Community when they purchase MASTERING ALTERNATIVE MEDICINE: Your Family’s Guide to Wellness, Volume I. More details will be available soon, so stay tuned!

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The Grow Network is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate program designed to provide a means for our team to earn fees for recommending our favorite products! We may earn a small commission, at no additional cost to you, should you purchase an item after clicking one of our links. Thanks for supporting TGN!

 

 

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Pokeweed: The Weed, the Myth, the Legend

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This article on pokeweed is part of a series on weed gardens and identifying and using the plants you’ll often find there. For other articles in the series, please click here.

Pokeweed (Phytolacca americana) is a milestone plant for many foragers. It’s the first plant that many of us eat that could also kill us.

Don’t get me wrong. Correctly prepared, pokeweed is absolutely safe. It’s also highly nutritious and delicious. But it’s a rare person who doesn’t feel at least a little trepidation when cooking and eating it for the first time.

Pokeweed = Poison?

My most vivid memory of pokeweed isn’t from painting with the berries as a child, or from the smell coming from the boiling pot in my grandmother’s kitchen. It’s from just last year. Our (then) 2-year-old came up to me with a big purple-stained grin on his face.

“Have you been eating elderberries again?” I asked him.

He shook his head and led me to a tall pokeweed plant. I saw that berries were missing. Lots of them. One of us might have said a swear word. I’ll let you guess who.

It’s funny how panic will totally wreck your ability to think. My mind was racing to recall everything I knew about pokeweed, but all I was getting was the word “poison.”

I took several slow, deep breaths to calm myself. Gradually, my brain started to work again. The berry is the least poisonous part of the plant. The juice from the berry is safe. It’s the seed that’s poisonous 1) http://www.eattheweeds.com/can-be-deadly-but-oh-so-delicious-pokeweed-2. The seeds are designed to pass safely through the digestive tract so that the plant can spread. So unless he chewed up the seeds, any poisons would likely remain safely locked away. And at this age, our boy was more of a gulper than a chewer.

My wife and I decided to wait and see if any symptoms developed. As it turned out, he was fine. He never had any problems with the pokeberries at all.

That day, two things happened:

  1. One was that I cut down all of the pokeweed plants in our yard.
  2. The other was that I became skeptical of the oft-repeated claims of 10 berries (or even 1 berry 2)The Essential Herb-Drug-Vitamin Interaction Guide: The Safe Way to Use Medication and Supplements Together. George T. Grossberg M.D., and Barry Fox. Publisher: Harmony. 2008.) being enough to poison a child.

One study tried to determine the lethal dose of pokeberries for mice. What the researchers found was that it was impossible to give the mice a large enough dose to kill them. After three doses, one per hour, of as much as the mice’s bellies could hold, some finally died. The equivalent amount for an adult, male human would be about 45 pounds (20 kilograms).3)http://digital.library.okstate.edu/oas/oas_pdf/v43/p54_57.pdf Just for the record, 45 pounds of water would also kill an adult, male human.4)http://www.nleomf.org/officers/search/search-results/james-c-mcbride.html

Of course I wouldn’t recommend you eat a big bowlful of the berries. Humans may not be very much like mice. But this study does give credence to some people’s claims of having eaten pokeberry pie.

Let’s Eat Some Pokeweed!

Our grandparents would have thought all this caution and fear was far overblown. For them, pokeweed was a mundane food—a staple of spring. But at some point that familiarity with our wild, native plants began to dwindle, and now pokeweed is something of a daredevil food for aspiring foragers. Let’s take back our horticultural heritage and eat some pokeweed (after preparing it correctly, of course).

This video should help:

Plant Identification

Adult plants are the easiest to identify, so let’s start there. Mature pokeweed (also called poke salad, poke sallet, pokeberry, and others) stands 5–10 feet (1.5–3 meters) tall.

Pokeweed leaf close

The leaves are alternate,5)Alternate: A leaf pattern in which leaves appear back and forth or in a spiraling pattern on a stem. large (4–10 inches or 10–25 centimeters), toothless, oval- or lance-shaped, fairly succulent, somewhat wavy along the edges, and prominently veined.

They also make a neat, rubbery sound when you rub a handful of them together.

The flowers are white, pink, or green; grow on a pink stem; and form a drooping, finger-shaped cluster. Flowers appear in spring through summer and turn into glossy, deep purple-to-black berries toward the end of summer and into fall. The berries are about the size of a pea and are flattened at the top and bottom. A mature pokeweed stem is red or magenta, darker near the base, and has a mostly hollow core.

Pokeweed has a perennial root, with the aboveground parts dying back every winter. The dead stalk can remain through the winter and are one of the easiest ways for beginners to safely ID young plants. Mark the location of a dead stalk and come back in the spring to harvest the new stalks growing where it stood. Once you do this several times, you’ll start to recognize the young leaves by sight even without the older stalk to give it away.

Look-alikes

Overall, the mature plant is very easy to identify, though it might be confused with elderberry. Elderberry does not have alternate leaves, and the berries grow in an umbel,6)Umbel: A flat, disk-shaped or umbrella-shaped cluster of flower. rather than a spike.

The berry clusters resemble wild cherries, though cherries don’t have that garish stem color, their leaves are toothed, and they grow on a tree.

Some people say that pokeweed is a grape lookalike. I don’t see it, myself. But if you’re having trouble, remember that grapes grow on a vine. Pokeweed does not.

Where to Find Pokeweed

Pokeweed is native to the U.S., growing throughout most of the contiguous states, except for in the Rocky Mountain States and North and South Dakota. It can also be found in the eastern provinces of Canada and has been naturalized in the Mediterranean region.

It prefers damp woodlands and open area.

Birds help spread the seeds in their droppings, as well. You can often find pokeweed shoots beneath popular perches. Try fence rows.

Harvesting Pokeweed

The conventional wisdom is to harvest leaves and stems from young plants, no more than 6-10 inches (15-25 centimeters) tall.7)Peterson Field Guides. Edible Wild Plants: Eastern/Central North America. Lee Allen Peterson.

Pokeweed young plant

Berries can be harvested whenever they are ripe, from summer into fall.

I do not recommend harvesting the root, as it contains the highest concentration of poison. (However, those who do opt to take the risk typically harvest the root in the fall, after the main stalk has died back.)

Some people harvest from taller plants, even taking the newer growth from mature pokeweed. Depending on your level of sensitivity to the plant and your level of experience, this might or might not be a good idea.

The Pokeweed Boogeyman

And this would probably be a good time to talk about the pokeweed boogeyman.

In my opinion, the poisonous nature of pokeweed has been exaggerated. People tend to repeat warnings about poisonous plants without verifying them. This can cause errors or exaggerations to be perpetuated until they assume the rank of “fact.” This seems to be what has happened with pokeweed.8)http://digital.library.okstate.edu/oas/oas_pdf/v43/p54_57.pdf

Don’t misunderstand me. Pokeweed is poisonous and has killed people. You have to respect it, and you have to use it correctly. But the level of fear exceeds the reality.9)Herbal Antibiotics, 2nd Edition: Natural Alternatives for Treating Drug-resistant Bacteria. Stephen Harrod Buhner. Storey Publishing, LLC. 2012.

To further muddy the waters, some people are more sensitive to the toxins in pokeweed than others.

  • For example, the plant juice causes dermatitis in some people (like my wife) and not in others (like myself).
  • Some people get a stomachache if they boil the leaves only once, while others may have no ill effects and always boil once.
  • I’ve even seen a man claim that he saved the cooking water for use in soups. That one’s a bit much for me, but you can see how the claims of pokeweed’s relative toxicity might get confused.

A Common-Sense Caution

So what’s a forager to do?

Go slowly.

Just cook a little bit your first time, and use one of the longer boiling methods described below. The next time, you can cook more.

Just use your own wisdom, listen to your body, and don’t do anything that makes you feel uncomfortable. In all likelihood, you’ll be fixin’ a big mess of greens in no time.

Culinary Uses: Cooking and Eating Pokeweed

Nutritionally, pokeweed is a powerhouse plant. It’s a dynamite source of vitamins A and C, and a good source of calcium and iron, too.10)http://www.eattheweeds.com/can-be-deadly-but-oh-so-delicious-pokeweed-2 But how do you get to that nutrition without poisoning yourself?

Poke leaves are boiled before eating. Opinions differ as to how long they must be boiled and in how many changes of water. This is how I do it:

  1. Boil the leaves for 1 minute.
  2. Pour out the water and bring new water to a boil.
  3. Now boil the leaves for another full minute.
  4. Change out the water and boil for 15 minutes.

The whole process looks like this:

Boil 1 minute –> Change water –> Boil 1 minute –> Change water –> Boil 15 minutes

Remember, your timer doesn’t start until the water reaches a full boil. You can keep a second pot of water boiling so that you don’t have to wait for the water to heat up every time.

If you want to err on the cautious side, you can always boil it longer. Two boils of 15 minutes each, or three boils of 10 minutes each, are common cooking protocols.

Serve with salt, pepper, and butter. Some people like to add vinegar or olive oil, as well. I like to add a pinch of brown sugar. My way isn’t the healthiest, but it gets the kids to eat it. Another popular option is to toss the cooked pokeweed into a pan and scramble it with eggs. I like to add barbecue sauce. (Try it, then tell me if I’m crazy!)

Young shoots can be peeled, breaded in cornmeal, and fried. Some people boil them first, but many (including myself) don’t. Another option is to boil and then pickle the stalks. I’ve never tried this one, but it sounds tasty.

Medicinal Uses: Properties and Contraindications

Used correctly, pokeweed is a powerful medicinal plant. However, the margins of safety are smaller than with most popular herbs.

The berry is the safest part of the plant to use medicinally. The root, while a very powerful medicine, is also the most poisonous. Use caution, and get in touch with an experienced herbalist before experimenting with it yourself.

Pokeweed has a wide variety of medicinal uses, both traditional and modern. Most of these likely stem from its antiviral, lymphatic, and anti-inflammatory properties.

Properties

Pokeweed has terrifically potent antiviral properties against a wide range of viruses, including SARS and coronavirus. Pokeweed is a powerful lymphatic-system stimulant, helping to prevent cytokine storms.11)Cytokine Storm: A potentially fatal, hyper-inflammatory, immune response often linked to certain viruses. Isolated compounds from the pokeweed plant have even been used to inactivate the HIV virus in rats, rendering them HIV-negative.12)Herbal Antivirals: Natural Remedies for Emerging & Resistant Viral Infections. Stephen Harrod Buhner. Storey Publishing, LLC. 2013. That’s a lot of antiviral potential.

Pokeweed is also strongly anti-inflammatory, and has a long history as an arthritis herb.13)Encyclopedia of Herbal Medicine: The Definitive Home Reference Guide to 550 Key Herbs with all their Uses as Remedies for Common Ailments. Andrew Chevallier. DK Adult. 2000. Some people take 1 berry a day to ease their symptoms. Others use the root in powder or tincture14)Tincture: A preparation in herbal medicine wherein the medicinal components of a plant are pulled into a solution of alcohol, vinegar, or glycerin and administered by dropper. form. One suggested dose of root powder is 60–100 milligrams.15)The Essential Herb-Drug-Vitamin Interaction Guide: The Safe Way to Use Medication and Supplements Together. George T. Grossberg M.D., and Barry Fox. Publisher: Harmony. 2008. A 1:5 tincture of the dried root in 50% alcohol has also been suggested with a dose of 5–15 drops up to 3 times a day.16)Herbal Antibiotics, 2nd Edition: Natural Alternatives for Treating Drug-resistant Bacteria. Stephen Harrod Buhner. Storey Publishing, LLC. 2012. 

Again, use caution and seek a trained expert before putting any of this into your body.

Contraindications

Pokeweed has the potential to interact with drugs that have sedative properties. Possible side effects include lowered blood pressure, confusion, weakness, blurred vision, nausea, difficulty breathing, and death.17)The Essential Herb-Drug-Vitamin Interaction Guide: The Safe Way to Use Medication and Supplements Together. George T. Grossberg M.D., and Barry Fox. Publisher: Harmony. 2008. Pregnant women should not use pokeweed.18)Encyclopedia of Herbal Medicine: The Definitive Home Reference Guide to 550 Key Herbs with all their Uses as Remedies for Common Ailments. Andrew Chevallier. DK Adult. 2000.

If you’re looking for similar effects from safer plants, try skullcap or cleavers as alternatives.19)Herbal Antivirals: Natural Remedies for Emerging & Resistant Viral Infections. Stephen Harrod Buhner. Storey Publishing, LLC. 2013. Red root also has some similar properties, though it has safety issues, as well.

Hopefully I’ve scared you just the right amount—not so much that I scared you away, but not so little that you jump in with abandon. Pokeweed is a powerful, nutritious, delicious plant that is safe when it’s given proper respect, and dangerous when it’s not.

What are your experiences with pokeweed? Were they good or bad? Have any of you every tried pokeberry pie and lived to tell the tale? I’d love to hear all about it in the comments.

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Psst! Our Lawyer Wants You to Read This Big, Bad Medical Disclaimer –> The contents of this article, made available via The Grow Network (TGN), are for informational purposes only and do not constitute medical advice; the Content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of a qualified health care provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. If you think you may be suffering from any medical condition, you should seek immediate medical attention. You should never delay seeking medical advice, disregard medical advice, or discontinue medical treatment because of information provided by TGN. Reliance on any information provided by this article is solely at your own risk. And, of course, never eat a wild plant without first checking with a local expert.
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References   [ + ]

1. http://www.eattheweeds.com/can-be-deadly-but-oh-so-delicious-pokeweed-2
2. The Essential Herb-Drug-Vitamin Interaction Guide: The Safe Way to Use Medication and Supplements Together. George T. Grossberg M.D., and Barry Fox. Publisher: Harmony. 2008.
3, 8. http://digital.library.okstate.edu/oas/oas_pdf/v43/p54_57.pdf
4. http://www.nleomf.org/officers/search/search-results/james-c-mcbride.html
5. Alternate: A leaf pattern in which leaves appear back and forth or in a spiraling pattern on a stem.
6. Umbel: A flat, disk-shaped or umbrella-shaped cluster of flower.
7. Peterson Field Guides. Edible Wild Plants: Eastern/Central North America. Lee Allen Peterson.
9, 16. Herbal Antibiotics, 2nd Edition: Natural Alternatives for Treating Drug-resistant Bacteria. Stephen Harrod Buhner. Storey Publishing, LLC. 2012.
10. http://www.eattheweeds.com/can-be-deadly-but-oh-so-delicious-pokeweed-2
11. Cytokine Storm: A potentially fatal, hyper-inflammatory, immune response often linked to certain viruses.
12, 19. Herbal Antivirals: Natural Remedies for Emerging & Resistant Viral Infections. Stephen Harrod Buhner. Storey Publishing, LLC. 2013.
13, 18. Encyclopedia of Herbal Medicine: The Definitive Home Reference Guide to 550 Key Herbs with all their Uses as Remedies for Common Ailments. Andrew Chevallier. DK Adult. 2000.
14. Tincture: A preparation in herbal medicine wherein the medicinal components of a plant are pulled into a solution of alcohol, vinegar, or glycerin and administered by dropper.
15, 17. The Essential Herb-Drug-Vitamin Interaction Guide: The Safe Way to Use Medication and Supplements Together. George T. Grossberg M.D., and Barry Fox. Publisher: Harmony. 2008.

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5 Keys to Food Security in Extreme Weather, for Home Gardeners

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Back in August 2015, I wrote a post about the findings of a joint task force of experts from the U.K. and U.S. The group had released recommendations for Extreme Weather and Resilience of the Global Food System. You can read the original post on food security here: 

Read More: “Extreme Weather and Food Resilience for Home Growers”

Quite frankly, that report was pretty scary. It detailed all sorts of reasons why our global food supply was in serious jeopardy. When that report was released in 2015, I had noted how relevant it was in light of a number of catastrophic weather events going on at the time, wreaking havoc on crops and raising food prices in some areas.

Now, just a couple of years later, the situation has become even worse. Hurricanes, mudslides, drought-related fires, disrupted weather patterns, wars, and more have caused crazy fluctuations in food supplies around the world.

In March 2017, the Food Security Information Network (FSIN) released a Global Report on Food Crises 2017.1)http://www.fao.org/3/a-br323e.pdf In that report, they indicated that the number of people suffering from severe food insecurity had increased by 35% since the release of the 2015 report.

Quite a bit of that lack of food security was related to conflict. However, catastrophic weather events like droughts had also driven up the costs of staple foods, making them unaffordable for large groups of people.

If you think this can only happen in poor, war-torn countries, then consider this. In the U.S. in 2017, there were at least 16 weather events that cost over a billion dollars each and resulted in losses of crops, livestock, and other resources, as well as of homes, businesses, personal property, and lives.2)https://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/billions/events/US/2017 In 2016, there were 15 of these weather catastrophes; in 2015, there were 9; in 2014, there were 8; and in 2013, there were 9.

It might be too early to say that 15-16 catastrophic, billion-dollar weather events is the new normal for the U.S. However, new data modeling shows that there are real risks that both the U.S. and China might simultaneously experience catastrophic crop losses that could drive up prices and send more countries into food famine in the coming decades.3)https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/jul/15/climate-change-food-famine-study

In 2017, due to a weakened dollar, food prices in the U.S. increased by 8.2%.4)https://www.thebalance.com/why-are-food-prices-rising-causes-of-food-price-inflation-3306099 That trend hopefully won’t continue in 2018, but between weather and world volatility, isn’t it better to bank on building your own food security independent of global markets and events?

We think so, too! So, we want to give you some ideas to help you build your own food security at home.

Food Security Recommendation #1: Understand Your Risks

Building on the ideas from our earlier post on “Extreme Weather and Food Resilience for Home Growers,” it’s really important to know the risks for your area and plan your gardening practices to be resilient even when disaster hits.

Many  governments and global non-governmental organizations have made predictive models for the likely regional effects of climate change available. You can use these models to identify trends in your area. Here are a few example models available:

Even if you don’t live in one of these areas, a quick Internet search for “climate change impacts” for your area should give good results. This search may link to articles about impacts as well as to modeling tools. Focus on search hits from government or academic websites for more comprehensive, peer-reviewed climate change data.

Food Security Recommendation #2: Consider Using Permaculture-Based Landscape Design

There have been so many weather-related disasters recently that it is hard to know what to prepare for anymore. In California, extreme dry weather and winds made for a devastating fire season. Then, the loss of vegetation from the fire season led to severe mudslides during torrential rains. Parts of Australia have also been suffering similar catastrophic cycles of drought and flooding.

In Western North Carolina where I live—a locale that we chose specifically because it is expected to be less impacted by climate change (e.g., sea levels rising, coastal hurricanes, etc.)—we’ve had extended dry periods followed by heavy rains that led to lots of vegetation losses in our area.

Drought-flood cycles are extremely damaging to plant life. In dry periods, plant roots dehydrate and shrivel. Soil also shrinks from water loss. Then when heavy rains come, the soil and roots no longer have the water-holding capacity they once did. Rather than the rain being absorbed, it sits on top of dry, compacted soils in flat areas, causing flooding. Or it moves downhill, taking topsoil and vegetation with it as it goes, causing mudslides and flash flooding in other areas.

When you use permaculture design in planning your foodscapes, you take into account these kinds of cycles of drought and heavy rain that would otherwise be damaging to vegetation. In fact, you make them work for you. Simple solutions like catching and storing water high on your land can help you better weather the cycles of drought and flood.

By applying permaculture principles, you can help safeguard your food security by making your landscape more resilient to weather extremes and diversifying your food supply to ensure you get good yields regardless of weather.

To get an idea of how permaculture works, check out this tour of Zaytuna Farm given by Geoff Lawton.

Also, if you want a short but powerful introduction to what permaculture can do in extreme landscapes, check out these titles by Sepp Holzer:

Food Security Recommendation #3: Manage Your Microclimates

Every property has microclimates. For example, in North America, it will almost always be a bit warmer along the edges of a south-sloping blacktop driveway. This is because the path of the sun will cast more sun on southern-facing slopes. They are literally like sun scoops, catching its rays.

food security - blacktop asphalt

“Closeup of pavement with grass” by User:Angel caboodle is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0

Additionally, dark colors absorb more heat than light colors. If you painted that same driveway white, it would still be warmer due to its southern slope. However, the white paint would reflect light and heat away from the driveway and would keep that same area cooler than with a blacktop driveway.

The physical mass of blacktop asphalt material also acts as a heat sink. It draws in heat during the day and releases  it back into surrounding areas as air temperatures cool at night. The same driveway made with light-colored concrete might not absorb quite as much heat as an asphalt driveway due to its color. However, it would still act as a heat sink by virtue of its mass.

The shade of a large oak tree creates a cooler area than the dappled shade of a pruned fruit tree. Large bodies of water will help regulate extreme temperatures. A wide, stone knee wall around a raised bed will insulate the soil inside better than thin wood boards because of its mass. Boulders in your landscape are also heat sinks. Even things like black trash cans can impact temperatures directly around their vicinity.

Gaining a basic understanding of how colors attract light waves, learning how different kinds of mass (rocks, soil, trees, etc.) store heat and divert wind, and knowing the path of the sun at different times of the year in your area can help you use microclimates to moderate the effects of extreme cold and heat. Using your slopes, like north-facing slopes to keep things cooler and south-facing slopes to heat things up, can also help. Working with shade patterns to minimize or maximize sun exposure can help moderate hot and cold temperature extremes.

For example, I live in USDA planting Zone 7a. With the extreme cold weather we’ve had this year, our conditions were closer to Zone 5.  Some of my plants—like rosemary, which is hardy to zone 7—were killed by the cold. After our last risk of frost passes, I plan to replant rosemary bushes in front of our south-facing house and mulch them with dark stones. In that location, even if we have Zone 5 conditions again, my rosemary should make it just because the heat mass from our house and the stones, the southward orientation, and the wind protection give it the right microclimate.

Cold frames, greenhouses, and underground areas (e.g., walipinis) are also good ways to create microclimates on your property to ensure longer and more secure food production in extreme conditions. Check out this post from Marjory to learn about building your own underground greenhouse.

Read More: “Underground Walipini Pit Greenhouse Construction”

Food Security Recommendation #4: Go Big on Organic Matter in Your Soil

If I pour a bucket of water over some of the heavy clay soil in my landscape, water runs off on slopes. In flat or cratered areas, it sits on top, eventually making a big muddy mess that becomes algae-covered if we don’t have enough wind or sun to dry it out.

If I pour a bucket of water over the same approximate amount of area in one of my vegetable garden beds, loaded with compost, the bucket of water soaks in. Even on sloped beds, the water sinks and stays put rather than running off.

Soils that are high in organic matter are more porous and spacious than compacted soils.

If you try the same experiment with sand, the water will also soak in as it did in my garden bed. Unfortunately, it won’t stay there. Come back a few hours later and that water will be gone, which means it is not stored in the root zone for later use by plants.

Soils that are high in organic matter also preserve moisture better than sandy soils.

In order to hold water in your soil during droughts and catch it during heavy rains, you need a lot of organic matter in your soil. Here are a few easy ways you can up your organic matter quotient at home.

  1. Add compost.
  2. Mulch with things like wood chips, straw, old hay, grass clippings, and mulched leaves.
  3. Plant, then chop and drop cover crops like grain grasses, clover, mustard, or chicory.
  4. Use no-till or minimal till practices and leave decaying roots and plant matter in the soil.

Check out these TGN posts to learn more about these methods.

“No Till Gardening: Homesteading Basics (VIDEO)”

“Build Your Compost Pile Right On Your Garden Beds!”

“From Weeds to WOW: The Weed Island”

“No Bare Soil! Vegetable Garden Cover Crops”

Adding organic matter not only slows the flow of water in your landscape and sinks it deeper into plant roots, but it actually sinks carbon dioxide, too.

Yes! Building soil that is higher in organic matter can actually help solve our CO2 problem. And solving our CO2 problem will moderate the disastrous effects of climate change and can mitigate future weather extremes. (No, this one answer won’t solve all our problems—but if lots of us do it, it will help!)

Food Security Recommendation #5: Remember ABC—Always Be Cover-cropping

Plant roots are like plumbing for your soil. They create little channels that help divert water down into the earth so it can be accessed by the plant and other biological soil inhabitants. By growing something in your soil at all times, you keep those pathways open for water to filter down into the soil.

For annual growing areas, planting cover crops in off seasons is critical. However, even for the rest of your landscape, having some sort of cover crop is necessary for extreme weather resilience.

Many of us grow lawns as our primary perennial cover crop. Traditional lawns, though, are shallow-rooted and do not contribute much to soil health. Growing grasses with deeper root systems like perennial rye and other prairie- or meadow-type grasses can be even more beautiful and give you deep roots to help sink water further into your soil.

Using vegetative perennials (i.e., that die back in the winter) with expansive root systems is also a great way to prevent soil erosion and build biomass in your landscape. Yarrow, Russian comfrey, curly dock, burdock, vetches, and even invasives like mints are useful for covering bare soil in a hurry. Since these plants lose their leaves each year and can be heavily pruned in the growing season, they make great green manure or mulch plants, too. Tap-rooted trees like black locust and paw paw also drill water and air down deep into your soil.

In addition, having a continuous cover of plants (or leaves from those plants) keeps your soil cooler on hot days and warmer on cool days. This protects all the biological life in your soil like bacteria, fungi, worms, and more so that they can work year-round. Their continued hard work means that your soil will get better year after year so that your plants will have more disease resistance and resilience during bad weather streaks.

Bare soil  = No biological life = More pests, more diseases, and greater weather sensitivity for your plants

Covered soil = Year-round biological workers = Healthier plants better adapted to your weather extremes

If you are willing to do the research and the work, there are plenty of things you can do to mitigate your risks from a changing climate and more volatile weather patterns. These ideas are barely the tip of the iceberg (which is lucky for us since glaciers are now melting at an alarming rate)!

What about you? What other ways are you safeguarding your food security against extreme weather patterns?

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The Grow Network is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate program designed to provide a means for our team to earn fees for recommending our favorite products! We may earn a small commission, at no additional cost to you, should you purchase an item after clicking one of our links. Thanks for supporting TGN!

 

References   [ + ]

1. http://www.fao.org/3/a-br323e.pdf
2. https://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/billions/events/US/2017
3. https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/jul/15/climate-change-food-famine-study
4. https://www.thebalance.com/why-are-food-prices-rising-causes-of-food-price-inflation-3306099

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Cold-Weather Chicken Care: How to Keep Chicken Water From Freezing

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In my neck of the woods, winter weather is almost behind us. But some parts of the globe are still up to their ears in some of the worst winter weather conditions they’ve had so far. So, as our final post in our cold-weather chicken care series, I want to offer up a few solutions for how to keep chicken water from freezing even when the temperatures plummet.

In case you missed our earlier posts on cold-weather chicken care, you can check them out here.

Cold-Weather Chicken Care: 11 Quick Ideas to Improve Chicken Comfort

Cold-Weather Chicken Care: The Tale of the Frostbitten Chicken and Lessons Learned About Prevention and Treatment

Cold-Weather Chicken Care: Cold-Hardy Chicken Breeds

Now for some ideas to warm up your chicken water!

On-Grid Solutions

If I lived in a place where dealing with frozen water was a regular issue, I would most definitely get some power to my coop and use some kind of electric heat to keep my chicken water flowing. Plug-and-play devicesonce you have a reliable electricity source installedare about the most headache-free way of keeping chicken water from freezing in extreme conditions.

Even after you have electricity, you still have some decisions to make on which devices will work best for your purposes.

The Heated Coop

If you are giving your chickens supplemental heat and light to keep them laying in winter, and you have an insulated coop, then you likely just need to keep your water bowl close to your heat source.

If you are thinking about going this route, brooder lamps are a classic go-to for winter heat. But newer technologies like chicken-safe heat walls may require less maintenance, and are definitely better from a fire-safety perspective.

Heating Units That Work With Your Existing Watering Devices

If you have a lot of chicken-watering devices and just want to find a solution that works with what you’ve already got in place, consider these.

Fount heaters, which are basically heated pedestals, can be used with your existing self-watering founts and poultry waterers. They can also work well with the nipple-style bucket watering devices. They often look like an upside down pie tin with an electric cord. A high-quality unit will usually cost around $50.

DIY Fount/Bucket Cinder Block Heater

You can also make your own fount pedestal heater for around $10-$15 using a concrete block, paving stone, lamp socket with cord, mounting bracket, and a 60 or 100 watt bulb. Alternatively, you can use an extension cord and a plugable light socket.

The lamp socket you buy should be rated for use with a 100-watt light bulb. Also make sure you get a good fit between your cinder block and your paving stone to ensure that no water can drip into your light socket and create an electrical fire hazard.

Assemble the light kit, mount the light inside the block, and cover the block with the paving stone. Some people will drill holes to run the cord through the concrete block or will buy notched cinder blocks and use a file to deepen the notch to pass the cord through. If you have an elevated wood floor, you can also just drill a hole in your floor, run the cable through the hole, and set the open bottom of the cinder block over your light.

Plug in your cord. Turn the lamp on. Put your waterer on top of the paving stone. And voilà! The lamp will heat the paving stone and the paving stone will heat your watering device. The concrete barrier also provides some degree of fire protection.

You can build this in just a couple of minutes. In many cases, a 60-watt light bulb will be sufficient to keep the water flowing. But depending on your temperatures and the density of the paver top you choose, you may need to upgrade to a 100-watt light bulb to fully heat your water. As with any DIY project of this nature, you must keep a close eye on your homemade heater to make sure there are no safety issues until you are completely confident that your setup is working well.

Submersible Water Heaters

In addition to pedestal heaters, you can also modify your existing watering systems using a submersible deicer. These work particularly well for watering systems that have easy-access openings at the top. They can range in price from $15-$50 depending on design and quality. Many chicken keepers who live in extreme cold opt for higher-end heating models because they tend to last longer and end up costing less over time.

If you have larger water systems, like Marjory’s 55-gallon drums, then you would need to opt for a higher-powered submersible device. Make sure the device you choose is rated for the number of gallons you plan to heat.

To learn more about Marjory’s watering systems, check out this video:

(video) Simple And Effective Watering Systems For Small Livestock

Watering Devices With Integrated Heaters

For about the same price as high-quality submersible or fount water heaters, you can buy watering devices with built-in heaters.

This one is not my favorite method because I like to fill up my water containers in my house on cold days and bring a fresh container to my chickens as needed. So, I keep several watering devices ready to fill on my porch and just swap them out as needed. That means I’d have to buy three or four of these waterers with built-in heaters, and that’s a lot more expensive than just plugging in one fount base heater and using my regular fount water containers or buckets.

If your coop is close to your water source, though, then using a watering device with an integrated heater might be right for you.

There are lots more on-grid options for heating chicken water, but these are a few of the more common, tried-and-true methods to consider.

Off-Grid Solutions

Not all of us are able to run electricity to our coops. Luckily, there are some good off-grid solutions to keeping chicken water from freezing. Some of the ideas that follow are geared more towards us hard-core off-gridders who love to tinker and push our homesteading limits. But even if they seem a bit out there, most of these can be adapted to your average suburban backyard.

Easy Fixes: Double-Wall Waterers, the Saltwater Trick, Placement, and Insulation

Depending on your conditions, you may be able to keep water from freezing longer with a few easy fixes.

Metal, double-walled chicken waterers have better insulation and may keep water from freezing a bit longer than your standard single-walled waterers.

Saltwater has a higher freezing point than fresh water. By submerging a plastic bottle filled with saltwater inside your chicken waterer, you can increase the freezing point of the surrounding water. Make sure your submerged bottle is well-sealed and does not leak into your fresh water, though, or you may overload your chickens on sodium.

By using a dark-colored waterer and placing it in sunlight, it will absorb more heat and be less likely to freeze even in cold temperatures. I like to use blue or black buckets or black rubber concrete mixer containers set against a south-facing wall on top of dark-gray gravel. The dark containers draw the sunlight. The wall and gravel act as heat sinks, absorbing heat and releasing it back to my water container even when the sun slips behind the clouds or horizon.

Create an insulated water area in your coop, such as by making a bagged wood-shaving igloo. If you use wood chips in your coop anyway, just stock up and use the box-shaped bags as building blocks. Or, create a permanent insulated watering nook inside your coop to buy you lots of time between waterings. Similarly to protecting your pipes, buying appropriate insulation and creating a more weatherproof space for water access might even get you through extended subfreezing conditions.

Keep in mind, if you change your chicken water area in cold weather, you want to make sure they know where to find it. I like to leave a fermented scratch trail to the new water station as both a cold-weather treat and a training device.

Longer-Lasting Lake Effect: Use Large, Deep Containers Filled With Warm Water

In cold weather, I give my chickens warm water. I do this because they love it, and because I discovered that it actually buys me time in bitter cold before I have to bring out fresh water again. Here’s why.

When I use large buckets filled with warm water, the water at the surface actually freezes a bit faster than when I use cool water. This is something called the Mpemba effect. And it’s the reason why you can make ice cubes faster if you fill your tray with warm rather than cold water. However, once that surface-layer freezing occurs, that ice layer actually insulates the water underneath, keeping it from freezing. The ice layer will become thicker over time, but it will happen at a much slower rate than if you had the same volume of water in a shallower container.

With their powerful beaks, my chickens will then just break through the ice as needed to get to the fresh water below. Frankly, my chickens love breaking the ice, so this adds a bit of bonus entertainment for them in less-than-pleasant weather conditions.

Even during a string of single-digit days, this little trick meant I only needed to water once in the morning when I let my chickens out and once again in the afternoon when they were doing their heavy pre-roost eating.

Overnight, in cold weather, I remove access to food in the coop and do not try to offer water again until morning.

Keep in mind that chickens are not designed to be water animals. So make sure whatever container you give them can be easily accessed from the ground and does not create a risk for drowning.

If you are a really hard-core off-gridder and have the space, then you may just want to let nature do the work for you with our next suggestion.

The Drip Effect: Offer Constant Drip Water Sources

We have a spring-fed pond that always has at least one section that continues to flow even in our coldest weather. If it does start to ice up around the flow point, I’ll just break that area up with a shovel and keep it flowing longer.

Even if you don’t have a spring-fed water source, you can use this idea to keep water flowing in your coop. By using a bit of grit, you can jam up a nipple feeder to keep it dripping. Make sure to put some kind of collection receptacle below it to collect the constant flow so you don’t get ice patches in your coop.

Similarly, if you set up your watering system with ball valves, you can create a small wedge with a pebble in your valve suction so that the water keeps flowing in. This is like what happens when your toilet handle is breaking and the toilet keeps on running after you flush. If chickens don’t keep up with the flow, then you may need to set your water bucket or bowl in an overflow box full of absorbent material like wood shavings or sawdust.

In both of these scenarios, water will be constantly dripping, so you will need to keep a close eye on it to make sure your watering system doesn’t run out of water or overflow your collection areas.

The Underground Winter Coop

Now, this idea is speculative. I haven’t tried it. But, since we all know a well-built root cellar will keep liquids from freezing, adding an underground component to your coop should also work great to give chickens a suitably warm location for year-round water.

Keep in mind that a cellar will only work if you dig it well below your frost line. So make sure you find out the cellar specifications for your area before you build. Also, you need to take special precautions in your design to avoid potential flooding in your wet season or structural failure over time.

Now, a chicken cellar is probably only worth considering in extreme cold, or if you have a lot of time and are looking for a fun project to tackle.

Here’s one more idea that takes a bit of work, but also gives you great compost in the end.

Watering Chickens the Jean Pain Way

A Jean Pain Mound is basically a giant compost pile of wood chips with a heat-safe coil of tubing buried inside. (The method also calls for a methane digester—but that’s not necessary for chicken watering.) When the compost heats up, cold water is drawn through the coil and forced up through the pile where it comes out hot on the other side. This is called a thermal siphon.

Now, Jean Pain used this method with a really large pile to heat his whole house and also to trap methane gas. But you can also use this concept with smaller piles—like, say, your standard 4′ x 4′ compost pile.

During the winter, when I am giving my goats extra bedding materials and hay rations, I clean their barn thoroughly every 3-4 weeks. That gives me enough material to build a 4′ x 4′ compost pile in just a day. Since the chickens love to hang out on this pile anyhow, I discovered that I could make a divot in the center of the pile after it starts composting, insert a bucket, and keep water from freezing for several days. As the pile shrinks, I top it off, dig a new divot, and insert my bucket.

If you wanted to take this idea up a notch, you could install a thermal siphon that feeds into a bucket from a storage receptacle using a ball valve. The water may come out too hot to drink direct from the siphon, but thanks to Mpemba effect, it will also cool rapidly.

If you are really clever, you could even go further and create a repeating loop with a watering nipple system by harnessing the natural heating and cooling cycles of the water in relation to the thermal siphon. You’d just need to make sure to place your nipples at a point in your loop where the water is cooled enough to drink.

Check out this tutorial from Cornell University to get a basic idea of how to use compost piles to harness heat. Then you’ll be ready to start designing your own creative methods for turning that information into a winter water supply for your coop!

Learn More: http://smallfarms.cornell.edu/2012/10/01/compost-power/

There are literally hundreds of ways to supply your chickens with warm water, even in freezing conditions. I’ve just covered a few to get your creative juices flowing. If you have a wacky, innovative idea for watering your chickens in winter, please share your ideas with our readers using the comments section below.

Now, as winter eases into spring, be on the lookout for more posts on chicken care—including ways to effectively use chickens in your garden and more!

 

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The post Cold-Weather Chicken Care: How to Keep Chicken Water From Freezing appeared first on The Grow Network.

Cold and Flu Remedies (Your Answers to the Question of the Month!)

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What’s your most effective remedy for colds and the flu?

Cold or flu got you down? Our Community’s got you covered! Check out these great tips and tricks for treating (and preventing!) colds and flus naturally.

Silver

When it comes to fighting off colds and flu, several of you swear that silver is worth its weight in gold.

  • Suz says, “Since flu starts in the gut, we take colloidal silver at the first symptoms: 5–6 ounces for adults over 170 pounds, 4 ounces for adults under 170 pounds, 3 ounces for those between 80–110 pounds, and start with 2 ounces for a child. After 90 mins, you should see a reduction in symptoms. Four hours after the first dose, take a second dose of equal amount. Six hours after the second dose, take a third dose of equal amount.” She says it will stop not only flu in its tracks, but also stomach viruses and food poisoning. Suz also suggests taking probiotics or eating yogurt the next day to help restore healthy gut bacteria.
  • At the first sign of illness, Marly gargles with and swallows ASAP Smart Silver, and keeps it up all day while symptoms persist.
  • Dsymons recommends snorting some colloidal/nano silver to help assuage a stuffy nose.
  • Phil Tkachukrecommends 10ppm colloidal silver. He says you can either buy it, or make it yourself using The Silver Edge generator or Atlasnova generator.

Fire Cider/Four Thieves Tonic/Dragon’s Breath

Community members velaangels, Mark, Kathy, Brodo, and Rhonda all rely on homemade fire cider as a winter immune booster. Rhonda takes 1 shot per day throughout the winter for prevention, and also uses it to shorten the duration of the illness if she does catch a cold or the flu.

Loa uses Dragon’s Breath—which she says is similar to fire cider—daily during flu season. She works at a high school “around a LOT of sneezing, wheezing, coughing kids” and says she hasn’t had a cold or the flu in the 13 years since she started boosting her immune system with Dragon’s Breath. Here’s how she makes it: “I layer onions, garlic, horseradish, ginger, parsley, and cayenne peppers in a jar and cover with natural apple cider vinegar. I let it steep for about 6 weeks, then strain, add some powdered turmeric, and put the glass jar into the refrigerator. To use, I mix a tablespoon of the mixture with a tablespoon of honey added to a cup of warm water.”

Read More: “How to Make Fire Cider”

Teas, Tonics, and Tinctures

You offered our Community members some wonderful ideas for teas, tonics, and tinctures.

  • Thomas Hodge makes an infusion with crushed Linden flowers and stems by adding 1/2 ounce of plant matter to a quart canning jar and then filling the jar with hot water. He seals it, lets it sit overnight, and strains it in the morning, squeezing the liquid from the linden. Then, he says, “chill it or drink it right away—8 ounces every 3 or 4 hours.”
  • Val recommends a “flu tea” made with 1 teaspoon each of elderflower, mint, yarrow, and lemon juice. This makes 2 cups of tea. “The elderflower is anti-catarrhal and anti-inflammatory, the mint is diaphoretic (it increases bile, thereby helping to release toxins), and the yarrow increases sweating but lowers fevers. It is a pleasant-tasting tea.” Brodo makes a similar tea, but substitutes lemon balm for the mint and adds a spoonful of local, raw honey.
  • Sunny makes a tea from dried elderberries, turmeric, freshly ground black pepper, and slices of fresh gingers, and drinks it all day long, usually mixed in with coffee or chai tea.
  • peaveyplunker mixes together 3 cloves garlic, 1 tablespoon honey and 1/8 teaspoon of cayenne pepper, and takes 1/2 teaspoon of the mixture every half hour until symptoms subside.
  • Stephanie Lebron creates a tea with hot water and lemon juice, plus either ginger, rosemary essential oil, or lemon eucalyptus essential oil.
  • w13jenjohnuses a homemade tincture of elderberry, licorice, and wild cherry bark, and also recommends a tea made with sage, lemon eucalyptus, and ginger, then sweetened with honey.
  • Shrabonisays that a “ginger, pepper, and turmeric-powder decoction in a glass of warm water works wonders.”
  • moncaivegan90boils 2 cups of water with a cinnamon stick, adds 1 cup of fresh red or purple bougainvillea flowers, turns off the heat, covers it for 2 minutes, and then strains it. “I like to add a spoonful of raw honey and enjoy 2 to 3 times a day. This works especially well for colds and coughs.”
  • Yvette McLean makes a tea with mullein, peppermint, and lemongrass, and drinks it around the clock—hot or cold—for 2 to 3 days. She also uses the tea in the following recipe:5 cloves garlic
    2 Tbsp. sage (fresh or dried)
    2 Tbsp. oregano (fresh or dried)
    3 Tbsp. fresh ginger
    1 Tbsp. thyme (fresh or dried)
    1 Tbsp. rosemary (fresh or dried)
    2 Tbsp. honey
    2 whole lemons (including skin)
    2 c. mullein/peppermint/lemongrass tea, cooledBlend all ingredients together. Do not heat mixture. Take 1–2 ounces 3 times per day.

    “You will be better by the third day,” she says.

Oregano Oil

Several of you recommend using oregano oil to fight off colds and the flu. But do your research! Joy Deussen says, “Be careful with oregano oil. It is hot and will burn the inside of your mouth. I recommend you put it in a capsule and swallow for no discomfort.”

Vitamins

Increase your vitamin intake when you’re fighting off a cold or the flu.

  • Sunny increases consumption of vitamin D.
  • Stephanie Lebron says she takes 2000 mg of vitamin C every hour or so in the first 24 hours of feeling something coming on.
  • Nance Shaw also takes vitamin A morning and night.

Elderberry

Take some form of elderberry for its immune-boosting properties.

  • Along with taking homeopathic oscillococcinum and drinking a Linden infusion, Thomas Hodge takes a tablespoon of black elderberry extract before bed.
  • Denise takes 1 teaspoon of elderberry syrup every day during cold and flu season.
  • Scott Sexton takes elderberry syrup and/or tincture, plus recommends “Lots of water and rest. Meditation and yoga. And frequent sips of apple cider vinegar. I use essential oils, too. Oregano and the Thieves blend. Plus, I always add a citrus oil. Citrus oils are just happy, and I think they put me in a better mood, too.”

Onions and Garlic

Onions and garlic are a favorite food when you’re dealing with colds and the flu.

  • For air purification, Rebecca Potrafka leaves a cut-up onion sitting out in a glass dish. She also takes honey onion syrup for a scratchy throat.
  • Susanne Lambert offers an interesting thought on using onions: “I’ve done some experiments with onions underfoot before bed with a pair of socks. I found that when I woke in the morning, my stuffy nose was gone.”
  • Sunny adds raw or slightly roasted garlic cloves plus sautéed onions to meals.
  • Michael Gray says that if he feels something coming on, he adds to his meals “a fresh clove of garlic, smashed, chopped fine, left out for 2 to 3 minutes” and says that he gets better faster than others who are sick at the same time but don’t take fresh garlic.
  • Marjory is also a huge fan of using raw garlic as an immune booster when she’s fighting off a cold. She’ll chop up several cloves, let them sit for about 10 minutes, and swallow them straight. (Yes, we’ve seen her do this firsthand! 😉

Over-the-Counter Remedies

Sometimes, the pharmacy is your friend. Our Community members recommended several over-the-counter products that help fight colds and the flu.

  • Bonnie Camo and Thomas Hodge both recommend homeopathic oscillococcinum. Bonnie says it “usually cures colds or flu if taken in the first 24–48 hours. Available in most pharmacies and inexpensive.”
  • Jill recommends cocolaurin. “It’s a natural supplement, anti-bacterial, anti-viral, and anti-fungal. Very effective and safe.” (Cocolaurin is a super-concentrated form of monolaurin, which is distilled from coconut oil.)
  • Several of our Community members take zinc when fighting off a cold or the flu. Nance Shaw recommends a dose morning and night, kathybelair52 sucks on zinc acetate lozenges at the first sign of cold, and Jill takes zinc in the form of Zicam. Sunny also occasionally uses Zarbee’s Nighttime Cough and Throat Relief drink mix, which contains zinc.
  • Sunny also puts Plant Therapy Organic Immune Aid essential oil in the diffuser, under the nose, and on the soles of the feet.
  • When TommyD feels something coming on, he takes 3 capsules of echinacea 3 times a day for a few days.
  • Marius says colloidal silver usually helps him avoid the flu. However, “this year the flu strain was extremely potent, and it got me for the first time in 8 years. I cured it in about 2 days by ingesting hydrogen peroxide 3% In the next days, I rebuilt my intestinal flora—which could be damaged by hydrogen peroxide—by eating probiotics.”
  • Among other things, Nance Shaw recommends soothing coughs at bedtime by putting Vick’s VapoRub on the arches of the feet.
  • Several of you recommend using a neti pot during the sickness to help relieve symptoms. (Remember, though—the FDA recommends rinsing only with distilled, sterile, or previously boiled water, as tap water may contain harmful organisms that could actually make the problem worse.)

Encourage Fever

PInteaReed says, “If you are stricken with flu, make sure to help your fever. Wrap up in heavy blankets and try to keep the fever at 101°F to 102°F. Of course, if it goes higher, unwrap! Fever is what helps kill the viruses inside you. We just used this on this recent strain of really nasty flu that is going around. An hour after you wrap up, you should see a huge abatement of symptoms.”

Prevent It

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, and our Community members offered some great suggestions for keeping colds and the flu at bay.

  • TommyD says he can’t remember the last time he had the flu, and attributes part of his immune strength to cooking regularly with a spice mix of turmeric, freshly ground black pepper, ginger powder, and Ceylon cinnamon.
  • Sandy Hines says neither she nor her husband have caught the flu or a cold in over 30 years. “If your
    body is alkaline, flu viruses and cold germs cannot live. Every night before bedtime, we have 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon of baking soda in a few inches of cool water.” They also eat about 2/3 cup of plain yogurt with a teaspoon of raw, unfiltered, local honey in it during the day; drink plenty of clean water, eat nutritiously; drink orange juice; and take 1,000 to 2,000 mg of vitamin C every day.
  • Michael Gray helps prevent illness by taking a teaspoon of apple cider vinegar and a teaspoon of honey mixed in warm water every day.
  • Emily says she doesn’t catch colds or the flu, and attributes it to taking Citricidal brand grapefruit seed extract at least once per day. She adds, “I take up to 24 drops. Three is what the package says. Vitamin C is one reason it works so well, and that’s natural Vitamin C, not ‘ascorbic acid.’”
  • Community member bobcarmenmertz has been taking homemade Golden Paste for more than 8 months and credits it for feeling well. “I did start to get a cold, but the severity and duration were greatly reduced. The paste includes turmeric powder, coconut oil, and freshly ground black pepper. You can make it yourself and refrigerate for 2 weeks.” One recipe we found for Golden Paste is as follows:Golden Paste Recipe
    1/2 c. turmeric powder
    1 c. water (plus up to an additional cup of water, if needed)
    2–3 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
    1/3 c. healthy fat—either from raw, unrefined, cold-pressed coconut oil, flaxseed oil, or virgin/extra virgin olive oilCombine the turmeric and 1 c. water in a saucepan, and bring to a boil. Turn the heat to low and simmer for 7–10 minutes or until the mixture becomes a thick paste. (You may need to add some or all of the additional water during this step.) Remove from heat and let the turmeric/water mixture cool down until it is warm and not hot. Add the freshly ground black pepper and oil, and stir well to incorporate. Allow it to cool, then keep it in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks, or freeze some if you don’t think you’ll use it up by then. You can use Golden Paste in smoothies, in yogurt, as a condiment—even as as an immune-booster for your pets!

Thanks so much to each and every TGN Community member who shared your favorite home remedies in response to our February Question of the Month! You are highly valued!

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The post Cold and Flu Remedies (Your Answers to the Question of the Month!) appeared first on The Grow Network.

Three Sisters Gardens: Grow More Food With Less Work

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Imagine a small garden that produces an above-average harvest, yet needs minimal water, fertilizer, and weeding—and, as a bonus, leaves your soil more fertile at the end of the growing season. Some might call that a dream come true, but what it’s really called is a Three Sisters Garden.

Yet this remarkably savvy strategy for growing corn, beans, and squash wasn’t developed by a Ph.D. in a modern research garden. Instead, it began centuries—perhaps millennia—ago as a Native American agricultural tradition.

Three Sisters Garden 3

What is a Three Sisters Garden?

Unlike today’s gardens where plant varieties are separated by straight rows, a Three Sisters Garden allows corn, bean, and squash plants to grow together and benefit from each other.

The beauty of a Three Sisters Garden comes from the symbiotic relationship between these three crops.

  1. As corn stalks grow, they create poles for beans to climb on to gain support and find sunlight without getting outcompeted by the sprawling squash.
  2. The bean roots also help stabilize the corn in heavy winds and fertilize it by “fixing” nitrogen from the air into a form that corn and squash roots can absorb.
  3. The squash’s large leaves are prickly enough to deter pests from coming close, and they shade out weeds while keeping the soil moist.1)The Old Farmers’ Almanac: The Three Sisters: Corn, Beans, and Squash 

History of the Three Sisters Garden

When agriculture began in the Americas 7,000 years ago, it quickly changed the landscape and local cultures beyond recognition.

Maize, beans, and squash were domesticated in Central and South America and gradually made their way to the American Midwest.2)University of Nebraska: The “How” of the Three Sisters: The Origins of

Different Native American tribes began to integrate these crops into their horticultural traditions, though the Iroquois (also called the Haudenosaunee) first used the phrase “Three Sisters” to describe the practice of growing them together in highly productive garden plots.

Over the centuries, the Three Sisters gained physical and spiritual importance for the Iroquois. Their planting method involved sowing all three seeds in fertilized mounds that prevented the young plants from getting waterlogged.

Women then weeded and hoed these mounds throughout the summer and harvested the crops in the early fall before drying and storing them for winter. Celebrated as a gift from the Great Spirit, corn, beans, and squash were eaten together for most meals.

American colonists first learned of Three Sisters Gardens over 300 years ago.

Since they were used to straight, orderly farm fields, most settlers first dismissed these densely planted gardens as wild.

However, they soon learned that this biointensive combination-planting method was perfectly suited for the region, as cleared land was difficult to maintain and small Iroquois garden plots needed to produce higher yields than European ones.

Today, a Three Sisters Garden is a great example of an ecological guild in America because each plant directly benefits the others.

Grown together, Three Sisters crops produce more food with less water and fertilizer.

In fact, Three Sisters Garden plots tend to produce 20 percent more calories than when the same crops are grown apart.3)Estimating Productivity of Traditional Iroquoian Cropping Systems from Field Experiments and Historical Literature

A Nutritional Cornucopia

Not only are the Three Sisters naturally suited to grow well together, they also pack a powerful nutritional punch. In fact, a diet of corn, beans, and squash is nutritionally balanced without the need for other protein sources.

Corn kernels are rich in carbohydrates and become a complete protein source when eaten with beans.

Full of vitamins and minerals, squash rounds out the diet nutritionally.

Making them even more valuable, corn, beans, and squash all could be dried and eaten throughout the winter.4)Native Seeds: How to Grow a Three Sisters Garden When combined with other vegetables native to America like peppers and tomatoes, the Three Sisters fueled culinary creativity and promoted health all year long.

Three Sister Variations

Not all Three Sister gardens are the same.

While squash, beans, and corn were important food crops throughout America, many native cultures made variations on the growing method to better fit their local conditions.

For example, throughout the dry Southwest, the Three Sisters were often planted in separate fields with wide plant spacing to maximize the use of a limited water supply.5)Native Seeds: How to Grow a Three Sisters Garden

In some places, a fourth sister joined the trio. Sunflowers attracted insect pollinators to the garden while distracting birds from the corn and providing support for bean vines.

Throughout the Southwest, tobacco was interplanted with the Three Sisters as a ceremonial plant.

Likewise, watermelons and gourds were easily substituted for squash.6)Native Seeds: How to Grow a Three Sisters Garden

Three Sisters Garden 4

Tips for Getting Started

When you follow the Three Sisters method today, you equip your garden with the building blocks it needs to grow flavorful plants that are well suited to your natural conditions.

You can also help preserve a Native American heritage and benefit from centuries of horticultural innovation and experimentation by growing your own Three Sisters Garden at home.

Layout

There are plenty of variations for laying out a Three Sisters Garden, but it’s always best to plant your corn in clusters instead of rows. This makes it easier to attract pollinating insects for your squash plants and for wind-pollinated corn tassels to fertilize each other.7)Native Seeds: How to Grow a Three Sisters Garden

Make sure you choose a spot with plenty of direct sunlight and a neutral pH level (6.0–7.0 is best).

Minimal space is needed for a Three Sisters Garden. A 10-foot-by-10-foot plot tends to be ideal. That’s a small enough space to be fairly simple to prepare and maintain while ensuring that you sow enough corn (about 10–20 plants) for it to cross-pollinate.

To set up a traditional Three Sisters Garden in a 10-foot-by-10-foot plot, mark off three rows spaced five feet apart. Each row will have five 18-inch mounds, alternating corn/bean mounds with squash mounds.8)Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine: Growing a Three Sisters Garden

Planting

Sowing a Three Sisters Garden takes a little longer from start to finish, but the steps are simple—and the results are oh so worth it!

  1. Start by fertilizing the garden bed with your favorite amendments.
  2. Form the soil into flat mounds that are a foot high and 18 inches in diameter.
  3. Alternate the corn/bean mounds with the squash mounds.
  4. Stagger the planting by species to create a “stacked” garden that gives the corn and/or sunflowers a few weeks’ head start. This also prevents the plants from outcompeting each other in their beginning growth stages.
    1. Once the danger of frost has passed, plant four kernels of corn an inch deep and six inches apart, with each kernel forming one of the four points of a diamond shape.
    2. Once the corn reaches five inches tall, plant four bean seeds in a pattern that adds corners to your diamond shape, effectively making it a square.
    3. Squash seeds should be planted one week later in the remaining mounds. In each mound, plant three squash seeds four inches apart in a triangle shape.9)The Old Farmers’ Almanac: The Three Sisters: Corn, Beans, and Squash
  5. Make sure to hill up the soil as it starts to level out so that there is plenty of material for the root systems to work with.

Maintenance

As the Three Sisters grow together, you will notice the bean sprouts starting to climb the corn stems, and heavy squash leaves starting to fan out along the ground.

While squash leaves help shade out weeds as they grow, it’s best to regularly weed your plot when the plants are young to prevent them from getting outcompeted. Laying down a layer of organic mulch is also a good way to help the soil retain moisture on hot summer days.

Insect pests are likely to find your garden as exciting as you do, so make sure to watch for squash bugs, squash vine borers, and corn earworms.

A drop of vegetable oil on the tips of corn ears can help fend off an invasion, and you can keep your beans healthy by working them only when the plants are dry.10)The National Gardening Association: Growing the Three Sisters

To preserve the purity of heirloom varieties, you can hand-pollinate your corn plants. Simply place waxed paper bags over the corn silk to prevent pollen from getting in. When the tassels are two inches out, remove the bags and shake your preferred pollen on the silks before replacing the bags to prevent contamination.

Harvest

By mid-to-late summer, your Three Sisters Garden will be brimming with produce.

Summer squash is often the first to mature. You can harvest the squashes once they are two inches in diameter, as they taste best when small and tender.

Winter squash needs to be harvested when the outside skin is hardened and the squash has lost its natural sheen. Make sure to cleanly slice the stem with a knife, and leave the stem on the squash to help it stay fresh for several months.

Green beans are best harvested when the pods are slim and tender. So long as you prevent your beans from over-maturing and going to seed, they should produce vigorously for a month or two. Take care not to damage the vines as you pick them, and you should enjoy fresh beans for much of the summer.

Ears of corn are ready to pick about 20 days after the first silk stacks appear. You’ll know the ears are mature when the silks are dry and brown and the kernels are smooth and plump, and emit a milk-like juice when you puncture them with your thumbnail. Simply twist off each ear when ripe, and eat immediately for the best flavor.

Three Sisters Garden 2

Best Three Sister Varieties to Grow

Not every variety of corn, beans, and squash grows well in a Three Sisters Garden.

Oftentimes, traditional heirloom varieties are better suited to the specific growing conditions that companion planting calls for.

Below are varieties of corn, beans, and squash that are well suited for Three Sisters Gardens.

Corn

Sweet corn was a staple food in Native American diets,11)Mother Earth News: Native American Gardening: The Three Sisters and More and most varieties grow well using the Three Sisters method. Native corns tend to be heartier and more drought resistant than industrial varieties, so make sure you look to corn varieties that are naturally suited for your growing conditions.

It’s best to choose a tall variety so that your bean plants have plenty of room to grow.

Pencil Cob corn is a prolific, six-foot variety, and Flor del Rio is an excellent heirloom popcorn.

If water is an issue, Southwestern varieties like Tohono O’odham and Hopi mature fast and use less water, but their short stature makes it harder for them to support beans.

Beans

When choosing your beans, it’s essential that you select pole beans instead of bush beans to ensure they trellis themselves on the corn stalks. Common pole bean varieties include pinto, kidney, black, lima, and navy.

Ideally, you should grow “corn beans,” as they have adapted to growing in shady conditions and won’t suffer from overcrowding.12)Mother Earth News: Native American Gardening: The Three Sisters and More

Few Native American bean species have been preserved, but the Ohio pole bean and Amish Nuttle are two options.13)Mother Earth News: Native American Gardening: The Three Sisters and More Other versatile pole beans include Blue Lake, Kentucky Wonder, O’odham Vayos, and Four Corners Gold. If you do end up with a short corn variety like Tutelo Strawberry, you might pair it with a bean variety like Wild Pigeon, since it isn’t aggressive enough to overpower the shorter corn.

Squash

Unfortunately, few squash varieties that were common in traditional Native American gardens are still in use. While Yellow Summer Crookneck and Early White Scallop date back at least to the 1700s, the varieties available today are significantly different from the originals.

The best squash variety depends on the amount of space you have to work with.

If your garden provides ample room for plants to sprawl, go for a winter squash variety like Tarahumara Pumpkin or Magdalena Big Cheese.

Tighter arrangements better suit Yellow Crookneck squash, Ponca butternut, and Dark Star zucchini.

A Harvest of Heritage

A delightful combination of science and history, the Three Sisters Garden nurtures both body and soul.

Yes, it provides larger harvests with less work and water. But it also connects gardeners with centuries of heritage—and lets them play a vital role in ensuring that this wondrous planting method survives to nourish yet another generation.

For more information on Three Sisters Gardens, check out THE definitive book on the subject—Native American Gardening: Buffalobird-Woman’s Guide to Traditional Methods.

 


 

 

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Cold-Weather Chicken Care: The Tale of the Frostbitten Chicken and Lessons Learned About Prevention and Treatment

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Frostbite isn’t normally something I worry about in my holler here in Surry County, North Carolina. However, this year, with record-breaking cold temperatures lasting for weeks at a time, I learned a few lessons in preventing and treating the frostbitten chicken.

It all started when Rasputin, my rebel rooster, refused to use good sense and get out of the cold. As our temperatures dropped into the single digits and 40 mph wind gusts sent the rest of the flock running for shelter, Rasputin planted his feet firmly—in a few inches of frozen-over snow—and held his ground.

I don’t know if it was the wind that made him crazy, or if the idea of being stuck in a coop with 22 unhappy hens kept him from the coop. But, even as his comb began to swell, then turned white at the tips, and his feet flushed red … he stood tall.

Now, Rasputin happens to love being held and cuddled. So I repeatedly picked him up, gave him a warming snuggle and took him to one of our many straw-laden sheltered areas. Yet each time I went back out to deliver warm water to my flock, I would find him out in the cold. Again.

So, here’s lesson No. 1 in frostbite prevention:

Lesson 1: If your chickens don’t have the good sense to get out of the cold (and stay there), lock them up!

Our coops keep predators out, but they can also be used to keep chickens in. They might not like it. But for their own safety, don’t hesitate to keep your chickens in the coop during extreme cold.

Now, I have to confess, I wasn’t really thinking about the frostbite when I carried Rasputin back to the coop. I was concerned about how much feed he would eat if he burned all his calories out in the cold. He’s a big rooster, with a big appetite, and I like to keep my feed costs low. Also, I had a few other hens out in the yard—namely my Buckeyes and my Salmon Faverolles—showing no signs of cold whatsoever.

It was only later, when I noticed that some white spots on Rasputin’s comb started fading to black and shriveling up, that I realized what had happened. Now, Rasputin is descended from a rescued fighting rooster, so he is very heavy and tall and has a few circulatory problems. His comb is more susceptible to episodes of ringworm than the combs of my other chickens. So, even though the timing was odd, I thought those white spots were just a little ringworm recurrence.

Discovering that I’d missed the early signs of frostbite in my big boy helped teach me these next two lessons:

Lesson 2: Comb size matters. Pay extra attention to your roosters with large combs and wattles and to any chickens with standard combs.

My cold-hardy breeds like the Buckeyes and the Salmon Favorelles have small combs that sit tight on their heads. In cold weather, your chicken’s body will preserve heat by cutting blood flow to the comb. This puts chickens with larger combs at greater risk because large combs are more exposed to the elements.

Many people who keep chickens in cold climates swear by slathering petroleum jelly on larger combs and wattles to help prevent frostbite, and some talk about lanolin as a more eco-friendly alternative. Keep in mind that humidity, even more than cold, is a factor in causing frostbite, so make sure you have proper ventilation (but no drafts) in your coop to keep the humidity level as low as possible.

Now, even cold-hardy breeds, with cold-suited combs, can be subject to frostbite on their feet. Which brings me to my next lesson:

Lesson 3: Know how to identify the early signs of frostbite and take action sooner rather than later.

Early frostbite looks a whole lot like a minor case of ringworm. Patches of pale white appear on the affected areas on the comb and wattles. As the frostbite continues, the areas start to darken and spread. If the area becomes solid black, it then begins to dehydrate and look a bit like crispy bacon (though not nearly as appetizing).

On the feet, frostbite shows up as splotches of red. The tend to be most prominent between the toes, but the splotches also show up on the legs. Some cases may result in swelling and blistering.

Severe frostbite can also impact behavior. Frostbitten chickens can become lethargic and disinterested in normal activity, and can lose their appetites.

Once you know what to look for, then you need to be prepared to act if necessary.

Treating Early Frostbite

If you see the early signs of frostbite while they are happening, take your chicken to a warm place and slowly bring affected areas up to temperature. For example, have your chicken stand in a warm foot bath (around 100ºF) and gently press a warm wash cloth around the comb area. Do not rub either of these areas as that will likely be painful for your chicken.

Once your chicken is sufficiently warm, give them time to dry before returning them to their coop.

Treating More Severe Frostbite

If your chicken is showing signs of lethargy and loss of appetite as a result of frostbite, this is likely a more serious case. Keep your chicken confined to a warm area and monitor their affected areas and behavior for a couple of days before returning them to their coop.

If they develop more severe symptoms like blistering or continued loss of appetite, infection may be a concern. At that point you will want to refer to your chicken health manual for details on how to treat infection and when to enlist the help of a veterinarian.

The one I use and recommend is The Chicken Health Handbook by Gail Damerow.

 

What Happens After a Chicken Suffers Frostbite?

In Rasputin’s case, he recovered quite quickly from his frostbite. He never faced infection and always had his appetite. However, the most affected areas on his comb are in the process of sloughing off as the damaged skin dries and withers. A little while from now, he may lose some of the tips of his once-stately rooster comb. He probably won’t notice this loss most of the time. However, in hot weather, his reduced comb area may impact his ability to cool himself quickly. So, I’ll need to give him a little more attention in hot weather now, too.

In case this crazy cold weather has made you consider cold-hardy breeds for your coop, the next post in our series Cold-Weather Chicken Care will highlight a few breeds to consider for your spring purchase. Or for emergency cold-weather care ideas, check out this post:

Read More: “Cold-Weather Chicken Care: 11 Quick Ideas to Improve Chicken Comfort”

 

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The Grow Network is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate program designed to provide a means for our team to earn fees for recommending our favorite products! We may earn a small commission, at no additional cost to you, should you purchase an item after clicking one of our links. Thanks for supporting TGN!

 

The post Cold-Weather Chicken Care: The Tale of the Frostbitten Chicken and Lessons Learned About Prevention and Treatment appeared first on The Grow Network.