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Thursday, May 30, 2013

Baby Chicks are Growing Up!

It was a big day for our baby Rhode Island Red chicks. At six weeks old they are fully feathered and no longer need the heat light. They are now outside from morning to evening in their little coop. For the past two weeks they were only out on nice days and brought back inside under the heat light till morning. But now that it is almost June and the weather has finally settled down to nighttime temperatures in the 50's, it is no longer necessary to bring them back inside under the heat.

Below are pictures of their weekly development. It is amazing how fast they grow.

2 day old arrival of chicks, April 19th

They were housed in a dog crate that I had enclosed in chicken wire using cable ties. At this age they would've slipped right through the bars. We also have cats so this kept naughty paws from reaching in and hurting any of the chicks. The floor of the cage is lined with paper towels on top of newspaper. The paper towels keep their little legs from slipping. At this age I only changed the paper once a day. I did make sure there was always food and clean water available for them.

chicks at 1 week

By two weeks the paper towels are no longer necessary. I put a small storage tub in the crate to give them something to perch on and play a bit as they learn to jump and flap their little wings.

chicks at 2 weeks

At three weeks things are getting a bit messy. The paper definitely gets changed morning and evening. Even if the water bottle has water it needs to be dumped and fresh added.

chicks at 3 weeks
By four weeks, the chicks are ready to spread out and get out of the crate a few hours on nice days. We have a smaller coop inside of the larger coop (our original structure which I now use as a nursery). The first day they were scared of all the new sights and sounds around them, so stayed inside the large cat carrier I used to transport them back and forth from the house to the barn.

chicks at 4 weeks
Five weeks and we and the chicks are very ready to get them out of the basement. The cage is crowded and a mess within an hour of freshening up. The chicks make a mess with their scratching and most of the food is kicked around rather than staying inside the dish. But to be in the crate just for sleeping overnight, they settle down quickly.

chicks at 5 weeks
Six weeks and out they go! The crate is moved out into the barn (our inside coop is a stable).  At their present size now, it is time to split them up into two crates. To avoid overcrowding there are only six in each crate. My second crate was once used for a guinea pig, so we utilize what is already around. Inside their outdoor coop I have an old dog box which comes in very handy on rainy days, as well as for shade.
So during the day they are transported from my dog crate(s) to the outdoor pen (which is inside the main outdoor chicken pen), and at night they come inside the barn back into the dog crates. It is much easier to catch chickens if you wait till it is dark. They cannot see very well in the dark and it puts a lot less stress on them to be handled.

It is fun to watch how the chicks enjoy the freedom of being outside and how the older chickens nosey around their pen. Very cute is their fluttering around and the instinctual scratching and cleaning themselves in a dirt bath.

chicks at 6 weeks
From the picture of our outside fenced area, you can see that the older chickens are right there with the babies, but cannot have actual contact yet. By the time the chicks are around eight to ten weeks, everyone is used to each other, and I open the nursery coop door and let the young ones access to the larger pen. I want the babies to learn to come into the barn with the older chickens at night, which will put an end to the hassle of my getting them in every night.

Be available to observe this first interaction between the adult chickens and the young ones. There will be a scuffling as they meet and greet and establish the new pecking order. Be sure to have somewhere safe for the young ones to retreat to if they want. If you have any doubts as to the young ones' safety with aggressive older birds, then wait till they are older and of more equal size before mixing them. Some people say that the ideal way to blend the birds is to wait till dark and place the young chickens on the roost with the older birds. Then in the morning they will see each other in the light and being all is calm as usual,  the older chickens will just assume they belong.  A good post about adding new chickens to a flock is from The BackYard Chickens

By summer's end those cute little fuzzball chicks will be around 5 pounds and fully grown. By September they will be 18 weeks and we should begin to see the start of their laying eggs. It begins with little pullet eggs but soon they will be laying the beautiful large brown eggs expected with Rhode Island Reds. With the end of the season and its cooling temperatures and shorter daylight hours, the real egg laying won't start until the following spring. By then, these birds are mature, strong and offering their full potential. Between egg laying and manure for the garden, having your own chickens is worth all the initial work. For a much more detailed post about raising your own chickens, click here

Enclosed chicken pen, Chick nursery coop is on the left

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Living Air Purification Systems - Houseplants

Spider Plant and Boston Fern do well in the humidity of a bathroom

 It may seem no matter which direction we choose for housing there are some drawbacks. Modern, energy efficient homes which are tightly sealed and insulated, are much more economical to heat and cool than the drafty old farmhouse we may remember as children. But then again, the more modern homes often lack good indoor air quality, resulting in the need for purifying and air-cleaning devices to help remove toxic pollutants. Do we have to sacrifice the quality of the air we breathe in order to have fuel efficient homes? Author Ellen Sandbeck, "Green Housekeeping", offers excellent advice on how to live in a clean, healthy, economical, yet earth-friendly way.

During the 1980's, scientists at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) had to find a solution to the problem of toxic contamination in tightly sealed chambers in order for long-distance space travel to be possible. Their studies have shown that houseplants placed in sealed test chambers were capable of removing large concentrations of chemical contaminants from the air. It was found that plants' leaves absorbed air impurities which were then transported to the roots and the soil surrounding them. The roots and microorganisms actually digested and inactivated organic pollutants. Experiments also have shown that houseplants can reduce by 50 percent indoor concentrations of molds and bacteria. Even radon was absorbed by plant tissues. 

Dr. B. C. Wolverton, author of "How to Grow Fresh Air: 50 Houseplants that Purify Your Home or Office", recommends the following houseplants:

Areca palm (Chrysalidocarpus lutescens)
Lady palm (Rhapis excelsa)
Bamboo palm (Chamaedorea seifrizii) 
Jade plant or Chinese Rubber plant (Crassula ovata)
Boston Fern (Nephrolepsis exaltata)

Houseplants are a prime example of how low technology can be the way to go. Plants produce oxygen and water, whereas electrostatic air cleaners produce ozone. Plants absorb dust while electric air cleaners stick it to the wall. And while plants absorb and digest toxic gases, electric air cleaners do not.

So, the next time you reach for the hydrofluorocarbon propellants in aerosol air sprays to freshen stale indoor air, think about the eco-friendly, human and pet safe alternatives. Plants wick away air pollutants and in return produce life giving oxygen. Volatile chemicals emitted by the synthetic materials in the building materials, furniture, flooring and carpets, all contribute to the constant battle of oxygen fighting for space. According to Renee Loux in "Easy Green Living", the most effective plants for purifying indoor air include: 

Bamboo palm (Chamaedorea seifrizii)
Chinese evergreen (Aglaonema Crispum)
Corn plant (Dracaena massangeana)
Dragon tree (Dracaena marginata)
English ivy (Hedera helix)
Peace lily (Spathiphyllum cochlearispathum)
Pothos (Epipremnum aureum)
Snake plant (Sansevieria trifasciata)

The three that are of major concern are benzene, trichloroethylene and formaldehyde. Exposure could lead to health problems such as asthma, allergies and potential for cancer.

Formaldahyde is a suspected carcinogen used in disinfectants and found in many preservatives. It is toxic when inhaled or swallowed.

Benzene is a petrochemical used as a solvent. Its vapors can be absorbed through the skin and cause irritation.

Trichloroethylene is a hydrocarbon also used as a solvent.  

Looking at the pictures, you may recognize many of these plants as familiar plants in office settings. These plants are easy maintenance plants, often surviving in less than ideal lighting.
Areca Palm

Bamboo palm

Boston fern

Chinese evergreen


Corn plant

Dragon plant

English ivy

Lady palm

Peace lily

Jade plant

Snake plant

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Featured Zibbeter Interview

 With pride and pleasure I was asked to participate in the  Featured Zibbeter interview found on the Zibbet blog. 

Enjoy learning what Meadow Muffin Gardens is all about!

Featured Zibbeter - Meadowmuffin2010

Zibbet is excited about introducing you to Stacy Whalen of Berks County, Pennsylvania. What an amzing shop he has!
Meadowmuffin2010 has it all! Treat yourself to her wide array of herbal body care products. If you are concerned about the chemicals used today in your current commercial products you’ll enjoy shopping at Meadow Muffin 2010.
Please enjoy the interview, leave Stacy a comment, and then use the Share Tools so others can read it, too. Please spread the Zibbet Love!
  1. Tell us a bit about yourself?

    To describe myself in a few words, I’d say I am first always the student. Books have always been not only the key to higher learning, but they are a portal to any place I’d rather be, a friend when lonely, and the secret to maintaining a sharp mind.
    Our family tries to uphold a holistic, simplistic and eco-friendly way of life. To do so we have accumulated a library of information concerning gardening, native plants, natural family and pet health, handmade remedies, food politics, environmental issues, household product safety, etc.
    Aside from years of tinkering around with making my own remedies for our ailments, Meadow Muffin Gardens developed out of another very practical purpose. Systemic Lupus Erythmetosis, an autoimmune disorder in which the immune system attacks the body’s own tissues, has been an unwelcome guest for quite some time. Lupus patients can have a great sensitivity to the sun and have to aware of skin protection and care. It seems there is always something stirred up and we deal with rashes, itching, aches and pains, headaches, the list goes on.
    Tired of trying to decipher the ingredients in commercial products I began to do my own research and make my own lotions and potions.  Knowing exactly what is in each product gives peace of mind and it was flattering when others began to pick up on the “first do no harm” philosophy and began asking for products made for their own families.
    So my husband’s playful nickname for me became the name for my little home based business. Of course I get teased about whether I know what a meadow muffin really is. My response is ‘well, you can’t get any more organic than a cow flop’.
  2. Apart from being ‘creative’ what do you do?

    We are at a neat crossroads in our lives with our children. A daughter in graduate school and a son in the Army Reserves as well as a college student, has left them with one foot out the door. After years of being consumed with the responsibilities of the home and family, it is an interesting time for re-evaluating our roles and identities. Empty nesters can easily slip into limbo once they no longer are revolving their own identities around the hustle of the kids’ lives.  It has been the ideal time for taking my Meadow Muffin Gardens shop to the next level of opening an on-line shop.  The overwhelming list of things to learn, such as computer skills, a sense of business, bookkeeping, on top of keeping up with the growing and putting up my herbs and oils, not to mention making the orders, all has certainly distracted me from a mid-life crisis.
  3. What inspires you to do the kind of work you do?

    A little research into human history soon brought to light how quickly people forget what was once vital information for survival. Before our age of technological advancement the use of plants was a necessary part of everyday life. People took care of their own and depended on plants for supplying their families with not only food but to make their own home remedies, body care and cosmetics. Human ignorance and indifference has taken quite a toll on nature’s balance. It is very important that we dust off the knowledge of our grandparents and give it back the respect it deserves. I can remember my grandmother no longer making the effort to teach her heirs the old ways because it was believed to be out of date folklore in comparison to the new pharmaceutical age.
  4. Do you look up to anyone? Who? Why?

    As a child, we always had a garden but when it came to ‘weeds’ I never thought twice about their value. A weed was a weed. I now know that a weed is just a plant that man hasn’t a use for. One man’s weed to eradicate in a quest for the perfect lawn is another’s foraging treasure. The credit for that change in view came from a co-worker with a passion for herbal gardening.  She introduced me to the few places one could purchase herbs other than the typical cooking herbs easily found at the grocery store. As she got older and wanted to simplify her belongings, she gave me many of her herbal, gardening and naturalizing books. Many of these are older books I will always treasure.
  5. What other passions do you have in your life?

    If it breathes, I fall in love and want to take it home. Be it plants or pets, I am known to take on more than I can handle. We have chickens, two dogs and more than a few cats, and last my son’s chinchilla which I suppose is now mine.
    Due to the Lupus, years ago I got into yoga. A stretched out body is less painful. Now I rely on that hour I call my own to not only do my body a favor, but to blissfully block out everything else for a little while.
    And of course my children are my utmost passion. Watching them grow up and out is as rewarding as wrenching as I try to let them make their own mistakes.
  6. What do you like most about Zibbet?

    I discovered Zibbet about a year after I started my on-line Etsy shop. While I do love Etsy, it is so easy to feel lost in the shuffle with all the competition. Being Zibbet was new, I liked the idea of being a not so small fish in the sea, to feel as though should someone search for my category, my own items may actually show up without having to go through twenty pages.
    The groups, blog, forums are all so helpful and personal. It is nice to feel part of the “mom and pop” type of store a home business is supposed to be. These sellers are taking their skills and reaching out to buyers looking for honest, homemade crafts. There isn’t the worry that we are competing with actual businesses setting up a shop.
  7. What ‘new’ things would you like to see added to Zibbet?

    Zibbet is growing and improving all the time. Adding the ability to make treasuries has been addressed before and would be nice for creating themes, holiday shopping ideas and connecting with other shops.  I have to admit, often the only time I discover other shops is when I am making an Etsy treasury. I know there are many wonderful Zibbet shops out there but I just haven’t taken the time to really search them out.
  8. How do you promote your work?

    I have a business Facebook page which is connected with Twitter. I have a Pinterest page which is all the rage right now. I just joined Google+ but have a lot to learn to get the most out of my circles. I have a blog which is a great way to tie in my products with what I am writing about. I know how important social media is for connecting with customers but I am terrible at chit chat. I use these sites for promotion and hope that people discover my sites and if interested take the time to check them out.
  9. How would you recommend other Zibbeters make the most of

    I have noticed frustration amongst sellers in terms of sales and exposure. It is true that sites like Etsy are household names and people still ask what’s a Zibbet. My advice to other Zibbeters is to focus on making their shop as appealing as possible by taking excellent pictures and using their tags wisely. If a photo looks out of focus or too distant people will assume the product itself is that of an amateur. I don’t have an expensive camera but it helps to learn how to use the micro and the editing features to help with the lighting.
  10. In the future I’d like to be…

    Of course I want my shop to be successful. I have two more years before my accountant will let me know if I am considered a business or a hobby. At that point I’ll have to decide what is stronger…. my pride, my passion or my pocketbook.
    But wherever this business leads me financially, there is no doubt I found satisfaction in developing my own sense of personal accomplishment. The fear of failure or not being good enough haunts most of us and when every step of the way lies on one person it can bring out true character. For now I plan to keep plugging away, and the future will play itself out.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

King of the Greens in all its Glory

Kale (Brassica oleracea acephala) is one of the leafy green vegetables belonging to the cabbage family. A powerhouse of nutrition, kale is called "King of the greens". It is even said that the absorbable calcium levels in kale can equal or exceed the absorption levels of milk. For people with lactose intolerance, this is a great alternative to dairy.

Considered a cool season crop, it grows best in the spring and fall with its taste improving after a frost. The time to plant kale is anytime from early spring to early summer. It is really a biennial, which means it completes its life cycle after two years.  It returns in the spring of its second year, upon which it flowers and goes to seed. In areas where the ground freezes during the winter, it's season can be extended with heavy mulch, but it is usually treated as an annual and people plant fresh seed each spring. Plant seeds 1/4  to 1/2 inch deep into well-drained, light soil.
Fertilizer should be 1 1/2 cups of 5-10-10 per 25 feet of row mixed into the top 3 to 4 inches of soil.
After about 2 weeks, thin the seedlings so that the plants are spaced out 8 to 12 inches.

Kale is ready to harvest when the leaves are about the size of your hand. Avoid picking the terminal bud which is at the top of the center of the plant. This will help keep the plant productive.

The small leaves are tender and can be eaten uncooked as part of a salad.
The larger leaves are better cooked like spinach. Remove the thick ribs before cooking.
To store, put the kale in a plastic bag and store in the refrigerator. It'll last about a week.

There is a limit to how much a family can be enticed to eat greens before tired of being told how good for them it is. Lucky for everyone, kale can be frozen. Wash and cut off the stems. Blanch in boiling water for 2 minutes, then submerge in ice water. Spin in a salad spinner to remove excess water. Place on parchment paper on a cookie sheet and put in freezer until frozen. Put into an airtight container and return to freezer.

For those family members who turn their noses up at anything green and don't share your enthusiasm for eating healthier, try a few of these yummy recipes. Soups and juice blends are great ways to be sneaky if necessary. 

Baked Kale Chips
 Fresh kale is very voluminous but when cooked or baked, it shrinks down considerably. To make it worth your while expect to use a few bunches. 

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
Wash the kale and tear the leaves into large pieces. Tear them off of the tough inner stems.
Dry off as much of the excess water as possible. A salad spinner works well for this or dab well with paper towels.
Put kale pieces into a large bowl.
Toss with olive oil, starting with about 1 tablespoon and be your own judge. You want a light coating but not too much or the chips will be greasy and limp.
Sprinkle with sea salt and black pepper to your own taste preference.
Layer the leaves onto a baking sheet lined with aluminum foil or parchment paper. Lay them in a single layer so as not to be overlapping. They won't bake uniformly if too close.
Bake for 12 to 15 minutes, checking periodically to toss and make sure they aren't about to burn.
Remove from the oven and cool.

Sweet Potato Kale Soup
4 oz. fresh kale, coarsely chop, discarding the thick vein from each leaf
1 large onion, chopped
3 1/2 tsp. Italian seasoning
2 tsp. olive oil
3 (14 1/2 oz.) cans vegetable broth or your own version of stock
2 (15 oz) cans white kidney or cannellini beans or soak and cook your own beforehand
1 pound sweet potatoes, peeled and cubed
12 garlic cloves, minced (yes 12, not a mistake!)
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. pepper

Coarsely chop kale and set aside.
In a large saucepan, saute the onion and Italian seasoning in the oil until onion is tender.
Stir in the broth, beans, sweet potatoes and kale. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer, uncovered for 10 minutes.
Stir in the garlic, salt and pepper. Simmer until the sweet potatoes are tender, about 15 minutes.
Yields 2 quarts of soup.

Kale With Lemon and Garlic
 Yield: Serves 6 to 8

  3 to 4 pounds fresh kale
  Olive oil
  2 - 3 garlic cloves, minced
  Salt to taste
  Lemon wedges

Clean kale thoroughly, rinsing the leaves in several changes of cold running water. Strip leaves off stalks; discard stalks. Boil leaves, uncovered, in salted water to cover. Cook just until tender (20 to 25 minutes) and drain well in a colander. Transfer to a serving dish or mixing bowl. Drizzle on enough olive oil to coat, tossing leaves gently. Add garlic and salt to taste. Serve hot or cold with lemon wedges on the side.

Sauteed Kale
1 1/2 lbs kale, stems and leaves coarsely chopped
2 tablespoons olive oil
crushed red pepper flakes, to taste (optional)
2 garlic cloves, finely sliced
1/2 cup vegetable stock or 1/2 cup water
salt and pepper
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar 
Heat olive oil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. 
Add crushed red pepper flakes, if using, and let them sizzle a bit in the oil.
Add the garlic and cook until soft, but not colored.
Raise heat to high, add the stock and kale and toss to combine.
Cover and cook for 5 minutes.
Remove cover and continue to cook, stirring until all (most) the liquid has evaporated.
Season with salt and pepper to taste and add vinegar.

Kale Harvest Pie
Kale tastes best after a light frost, making this a good late-season harvest dish. Include a mixture of other greens (Swiss chard, spinach, turnip greens) for varied flavor.
Yield: 6 servings

3 pounds untrimmed kale or other greens
1 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 red or yellow pepper, finely chopped
1 medium zucchini, shredded
1 small carrot, shredded
2/3 cup fresh chopped basil
salt and pepper
3 large eggs, beaten
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 cup fresh bread crumbs

Trim stems and ribs from kale and discard. Wash, drain, and chop into bite-size pieces. Melt 1 tablespoon of butter with olive oil in a large skillet. Add onion and garlic and cook for 2 minutes, stirring constantly. Add remaining vegetables and basil. Cook, covered, over medium heat for 10 minutes. Uncover and simmer gently until liquid has evaporated. Add salt and pepper to taste. Remove from heat and cool slightly. Add eggs and pour into a buttered, shallow baking dish or pie pan. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese. Melt remaining butter in a skillet and saute bread crumbs until golden. Sprinkle over the pie. Bake at 375 degrees F for 25 minutes. Let cool for 10 minutes before serving.

Last we have juicing recipes:

Bone Builder's Cocktail
3 kale leaves
2 collard green leaves
handful of parsley
3 carrots
1 apple, cut into wedges
1/2 green bell pepper

Green Drink
handful of parsley
2 granny smith apples,cut into wedges
2 kale leaves
handful of spinach

Purple Cow
1/2 head of red cabbage, cut into wedges
2 kale leaves
1 red bell pepper, quartered
1 red apples, cut into wedges

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Farmer's Almanac's Planting Calendar

People tend to be so anxious to get their hands back in the dirt that it is very easy to rush too soon to the nursery or to plant that envisioned garden.
According to the Farmer's Almanac the last possible frost dates in our area (zone 6), aren't until the end of April. Just because we are starting to have beautiful warm days doesn't mean it is safe to plant everything at once. The soil needs time to dry out and warm up before planting many of our annuals and tender vegetables. Seeds may just rot if the soil is too wet or cool. Young plants from the nursery usually have the protection of their greenhouse to survive the night time temperatures. Heat thriving plants like tomatoes and peppers may survive a cold snap but won't ever really thrive if they get stunted.

The Farmer's Almanac has a neat reference table using the wisdom of observation:

Plant corn when the oak leaves are the size of a mouse's ear, when apple blossoms begin to fall, or when the dogwoods are in full bloom.

Plant lettuce, spinach and peas when the lilacs show their first leaves or when the daffodils begin to bloom.

Plant beets and carrots when the dandelions are blooming.

Plant cucumbers and squashes when the lilac flowers fade.

Plant perennials when the maple leaves begin to unfurl.

Plant hardy annuals like pansies after the aspen and chokecherry trees leaf out.

There is an old proverb that says: "Don't plant until the Three Ice Men have passed"
The tradition comes from Northern Europe, and is tied to the successive feasts of St. Mamertus, St. Pancras, and St. Servatius, whose respective days occur on May 11, 12, and 13. They are also sometimes referred to as the “Three Chilly Saints.”

People often use May 15th as a guideline to be safe to start filling those flower pots and planting garden beds with nursery started flats. Garden seedlings which were started indoors can be moved into the garden but only after being gradually exposed to the outdoors and full sun. A few hours at a time each day for about a week will " harden them off".

If you don't want to be bothered with planting flower seeds and then waiting and hoping they will germinate, flowers that self-seed and volunteer themselves are for you.
These types of flowers are for those of you who like the cottage garden or wild garden look. I have spent enough time trying to control what goes where and now just appreciate what thrives at certain spots.

Four easy to grow, drought tolerant annuals are:  Calendula, Cosmos, Cleome (spider flower) and Kiss Me Over The Garden Gate. I still gather their seeds in the fall and sprinkle them at certain spots in the spring but these types are great for self-sowing. Wait till the last frost date for your area before planting to ensure the seeds will germinate. Here in zone 6 I wait till late April. (That is for planting seeds. For planting already potted plants wait till around Mother's Day). They do like full sun and if you do plant them remember the rule about seed size. Only plant three times the size of the seed deep. So these seeds barely get covered with soil. They need some light to germinate.

All four of these types will offer continuous blooms right up until frost.

Calendula is also known as pot marigold and is one of my medicinal plants used for making healing salves for skin conditions and wound care. All season long this plant flowers and matures into easy to gather seeds, all while forming new flowers. You can already start gathering seeds by August.

Cosmos is one of those plants that can take a beating and keep on going. Branches broken by the weather will still survive unless broken off completely. It is wild and carefree, and tends to look a bit messy by seasons end. Plant where tidiness isn't an issue. In the fall, the flowers dry and form easy to gather seeds.

Cleome is a beautiful plant but just be aware that should you brush up against it or work around the mature plants they tend to be a 'pricky'. Not thorns just the defense of the plant itself. Also, should you stick your nose right into this plant to smell it you probably won't smell anything but when you just walk by its general vicinity you'll smell a vague skunk- like scent. Not enough to turn you off to planting this beauty but it is interesting. In the fall the flowers form 2 - 3 inch pods that dry and split open to reveal pepper-like seeds. Gather these if desired.

Kiss Me Over The Garden Gate can become a cottage garden favorite. Towering up to 8 - 9 feet tall, this plant is very appealing if there is a spot where it can reseed in masses. The drooping pink flower tassles dangle in the breeze, just waiting for a passerby to caress them. At the end of the season, the seeds can be pulled off with a swipe of your fingers and spread wherever you want them to reappear. Because of their height, the wind does a very efficient job of spreading them for you, as they will pop up in other places.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Eat Your Greens and Like It

Stinging Nettles (Urtica dioica), a herbaceous perennial found almost worldwide, has earned itself a bad reputation among some people due to a lack of understanding and respect for the plant. Discovering nettles the hard way, by unwittingly brushing up against the stinging little hairs, certainly won't leave a good lasting impression. But once one learns the plant's value and proper ways of handling it, it can become a medicinal and vegetable dish favorite. 

The leaves and stems are covered with brittle, hollow, silky hairs that contain three chemicals, a histimine that irritates skin, acetylcholine which causes the burning feeling and serotonin. The stingers are deactivated by cooking, steeping, or drying, but not by juicing.

Nettles are a foraging favorite for those seeking out the nourishing spring greens. They cannot be eaten raw, but used in tea form or cooked like spinach, you can just taste the green energy. For health purposes, nettles are known as a kidney and adrenal ally, great for removing toxins from the blood, reducing inflammation, help with eczema, and are a traditional food for people with allergies. According to "Wildman" Steve Brill, this natural source of green energy is good for rebuilding the system of chronically ill people. Many of the benefits are due to the plant's very high levels of minerals, amino acids and they're 10 percent protein, more than any other vegetable. When skin and hair are a problem, nettles come to the rescue to restore balance and vitality.

To gather nettles, you must wear long pants and uses gloves to touch them so avoid the nasty sings. Best when gathered while tender and young, April and May are the best months to cut and harvest the plant. After they flower, the leaves may be bad for the kidneys. By that time wait till fall when new nettles may come up before being killed off by frost.

As with most greens, they cook down a great deal, so you need to cut a good quantity for most recipes. Gather in bulk (cut and toss into one of those circular, collapsable, mesh hampers), use what you need for your recipe and dry the rest for tea.

This recipe was borrowed from Matt and Betsy who have the very informative site: DIY Natural. 

(makes 2 - 3 servings)

Gather 8 cups fresh stinging nettles, rinse and chop into smaller pieces
  (wear gloves when handling nettles and use tongs to rinse them)
1/2 cup spring onions
2 - 3 crushed garlic cloves
2 tbsp butter
2 tbsp bacon fat
  (Bacon adds a great taste to greens. Fry bacon and save for another time or use bacon in this recipe in place of the ham)
1/2 cup ham cubes (optional)
1 cup noodles, uncooked
salt, pepper, additional garlic powder to taste
freshly grated parmesan cheese

Boil water and cook the noodles. Strain, add a little olive oil to prevent sticking, and set aside.
Melt butter and bacon fat in large skillet. Over medium heat, saute onions and garlic gloves until soft (add garlic after onions are half cooked to avoid burning them)
Using tongs, carefully add nettles to skillet with onions and garlic and saute until cooked down.
Add ham, if desired, and noodles. Toss together to combine.
Season with salt, pepper and additional garlic powder if desired and top with parmesan cheese.


Next time you are feeling run down or miserable with spring allergies, think of this delicious dish as an idea for dinner. Follow with an energy restoring cup of hot nettle tea.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Hummingbirds are On Their Way, Dig out Those Feeders

Even if you think it is too early for hummingbirds, put up your feeder now. If you have a feeder out when they arrive, there is a better chance a hummingbird will stick around and nest in your area.
Though it depends on the weather, those of us in the northeast can expect hummingbirds to make an appearance around April. The southern U.S. welcomes them back as early as February, in central U.S. it is in March, for Canada and Alaska it is May.

Hummingbird feeders range from simple plastic to really cool glass art. It is best if there is a splash of red somewhere on the feeder to attract them, eliminating the need for the addition of artificial red dyes to the sugar water. It's not needed and better safe than sorry in offering anything that could be harmful.
Homemade Hummingbird Nectar Recipe

Try to pay attention to keeping your feeder stocked.
Hummingbirds will start eating every morning about a half hour before the sun rises and will stop every day about a half  hour after dark. They will eat 25% of their daily intake of food during the first hour they are awake, and take in a bunch more nutrients like food and nectar just before they go to sleep.

At the end of the summer season hummingbirds will migrate, but keep your feeders up until you have not seen them for two weeks. There are always stragglers and with dropping night time temperatures you want to have available nourishment to help them prepare for their long journey.

The departure periods are weather dependent, but generally, hummingbirds will start leaving in the fall (northern hemisphere time) as early as August way up toward Canada and Alaska, September in the upper portions of the United States, October for the middle United States, and November in the southern part of the United States.

                            Some hummingbird attracting plants

Pineapple Sage, a tender perennial
Scarlet Runner Bean, an annual
BeeBalm, a perennial    
Beardlip Penstemon, a perennial