Despite the below normal temperatures here in Minnesota during the month of April, that have also crept into the beginning of May... this week there is a change in the air, and along with it are signs that spring has returned. A Dwarf Korean Lilac that is just beginning to bud out and Autumn Joy Sedum shoots poking through the soil.
A hardy perennial herb, that has been dutifully displaying its early spring green and purple splendor for years in my zone 3 garden, is lovage. It grows six feet tall and spans three feet, so it's an excellent background plant behind shorter perennials. It self-seeds, so the plants can (and should) be divided to replant in a new plot so they don't become overcrowded. Rabbits don't nibble it and it's almost completely resistant to insects.
Every part of the plant is edible. The leaves and stem can be used in cooking like one would use celery. The large, aromatic roots can be peeled and eaten as a vegetable. The seeds can be harvested from the seed stalk that forms in early summer and used like celery seed. I have found the plant's flavor, which is a combination of anise and celery, to be quite over-powering... a little goes a long way. How about this little bit of fun? Remove the leaves and the hollow stem can be used as a drinking straw for summer beverages. The straw's flavor has a bit of a "bite", however, when used fresh. I prefer to use the stem for a straw after the plant has dried in the fall.
Today was my mom's funeral.To make her going away party a special one, I had trekked out to my friend Sandy's Country Roots Greenhouse on Highway 18 east of Brainerd earlier this week to select some flowers for luncheon table centerpieces.
Upon returning home that same day, I repotted the flowers in 6-inch pots... sixteen of them... one for each table set for luncheon guests. I wrapped each pot with sewing pattern tissue paper and secured it with ribbon encircled twice then tied into a bow. Set atop a pattern instrution sheet... look how cute!
You're wondering what is the significance of the sewing theme? My mother sewed clothes for all of her twelve children. She made all of my brothers' button down shirts and dresses for my sisters and me. I don't remember owning a store-purchased dress. What fun it was in mid-summer when the Fall/Winter Sears Catalog arrived in the mail! I spent hours poring over the pages of the catalog choosing the perfect fabrics for the dresses my mother would make for the new school year.
If you have been visiting my blog recently and I have appeared not to be "home", it is so. My 93 year old mother has been ill. On Good Friday, April 22, she departed her earthly world to be in the presence of her Heavenly Father. It is a home she has prepared herself for all of her life. As a child, our family would kneel on the living room floor each evening as she read a passage from the Bible then, in unison, we would pray the rosary. We each chose a section of the couch, a cushioned arm chair, or a chair brought in from the kitchen to lean against as our support while we knelt. Now, I see that chair as symbolically representing the support that our God in Heaven provides each of us as we walk through happy, difficult, confusing... and sad times. My mother taught me well. Today, as we celebrate Easter... a commemoration of the Resurrection of our Saviour Lord Jesus Christ, my mother is reaping the reward of the sacrifice Jesus made on Good Friday... as he took upon himself all of our sins then died on the cross so that we might live eternally with him in Heaven.
My mother got to feel her first great great grandchild before she died, as my niece Buffie's oldest daughter, Whitney, is in her second trimester of pregnancy. She proudly beamed when she shared the news of the pending arrival of a new generation with visitors who stopped by. Her legacy will continue to thrive despite her absence. There is a life cycle in plants, too. It is wondrously healing to witness. I recently allowed a sweet potato to sprout while sitting on my kitchen counter.
Some sources instruct you to suspend the sweet potato over a glass of water to encourage it to sprout. I learned in a recent gardening workshop that it's not necessary. It'll send out shoots unaided. Once the shoots grow to a length that will allow them some height above the soil when planted in a pot or in the ground, twist them off close to the sweet potato's surface. Insert them into a container with a bit of water and watch them rapidly send out roots in 3 or 4 days. (A friend of mine said that she used a grocery store sweet potato and it didn't sprout. My suggestion is to use an organic variety because I have read that nonorganic potatoes sold in a grocery's produce section are sprayed with a chemical to prevent sprouting.)
Yesterday, I placed an order for four different varieties of flower seeds and my parcel is on its way to me today. Parcel vs. package or shipment... I think the term denotes a heightened element of anticipation as I await its arrival, which perfectly describes my present state. You see, these are not just any seeds. These seeds are organic, heirloom, homegrown, hand-harvested, and... they are housed in handmade envelopes! They have been lovingly tended by Etsy shop owner, Jenny aka Jen, of The Little Ragamuffin. My shopping experience gets even more special, but first see what I ordered! (These are photos from Jen's Etsy shop since obviously I haven't planted my seeds yet.)
Top: forget-me-not and plains coreopsis Bottom: black-eyed susan and lanceleaf coreopsis
Now here's where my little seed ordering adventure gets good. I recently wrote a post about The Little Ragamuffin because I was so smitten with the owner's way of life and the Etsy shop's name... instantaneous unbridled love. Upon placing my order, I received an email from Jenny. Here is a paragraph from that email: "It's funny, some time ago I somehow ran across your beautiful photograph of the plains coreopsis (on my blog's home page) growing along the stone path and fell in love with the flower. It was that photo that got me to growing that variety. I think we were both seeking one another out and it was bound to happen that we meet! all the best, Jenny" Life is precious because of the people who make it so and it is the little quirks that make it fun.
I scarcely had time to decide upon a location to plant my flower seeds from The Little Ragamuffin and in my mailbox... there they were!
The seed packages and shipping envelope are all handmade from recycled paper. Jenny's special attention to detail is evident in the vintage look of the shipping envelope's paper as well as how she folds the paper to create a visually appealing, artsy presentation.
A visual for you... happy, healthy, playful chicks in a sunny outdoor playground with roosting branches and space for running and flapping wings. This is the home that we have created for our chicks that are now 3 1/2 weeks old.
Is this the image in your head when you buy a carton of eggs at your local grocery store? Think again. The photos and description of what occurs in factory poultry farms will open your eyes to the atrocities... the extremely shocking, wicked, cruel, brutal, frightful, inhumane treatment of chickens. We must educate ourselves... we must not turn away and pretend this is not happening. The Humane Society steps in to rescue abused dogs and cats. Where is this animal protection organization when hens beaks are partially cut off to prevent them from pecking one another... an act that stems from living in crowded quarters. With partial beaks, the chickens are unable to eat, drink, and preen properly. For several years, we have ordered 17 week old hens from an Iowa hatchery. Last year, the hens arrived debeaked with 1/3 to 1/2 of the top beak cut off. We were horrified. One might think that it is akin to trimming our fingernails. Not so. The chicks experience severe pain. This practice should be prohibited by law... along with many other horrific acts occuring in the poultry industry! This year, we are raising our laying hens from baby chicks so that they may experience a loving environment from birth through adulthood. What can you do if raising your own flock is not feasible? Buy eggs at a farmers market, food co-op, or directly from a local farm. Visit with the farmer so that you aren't relying on confusing, deceiving carton labeling that sounds wholesome (cage free, free range, free roaming) but may not be what you think. Even the term "organic" is being abused. Check out the Mother Earth News Scrambled Eggs YouTube video that explains that "there is a corporate agribusiness factory farm takeover of the organic egg industry well underway. The large corporate egg operations control 80% of the market. They are playing lip service to the organic standards." (Source: Scrambled Eggs YouTube Video) Become an educated consumer. Visit a local poultry farm. Dick and I joined a group of about twenty others on a field trip to the farm that supplies our food co-op's eggs. The hens are rotated to new fenced pastureland weekly via a portable coop. "The gold standard in organic production is the pastured poultry producers" where chickens can roam willy nilly in the grass to forage for bugs, seeds, worms, etc. (Source: Scrambled Eggs YouTube Video) We are in need of a sweeping movement across this country to support small-scale farmers' efforts. It begins with each of us.
Today, I attended a Sustainable Living Conference at All World Acres near Tampa. An Eternal Student t-shirt, worn by a fellow conference attendee, perfectly expressed the importance of lifelong learning as the morning began with a search for wild edibles led by guide Andy Firk from Bamboo Grove Farm in Arcadia, Florida and his Ithaca Forest Farm summer homestead in Ithaca, NY.
While chatting with a wise woman at the conference, she shared with me her learning strategy. When there are so many new things to learn, and we want to acquire a firm grasp of it all, choose one or two things and learn them well before moving on to the next. Good advice. I decided that I would learn to identify miners lettuce (aka winter purslane) growing in the wild and make a conscious effort to include it into my diet.
The origin of its name dates back to the California Goldrush when miners harvested it to prevent scurvy caused by a deficiency of vitamin C. The identifiable characteristic of this tender, succulent, wild salad green is a stem growing in the center of the plant's round leaf. It is one of the first spring greens to emerge. Reminiscent of spinach, it can be used in sandwiches and salads... with pine nuts, cheese, dried cranberries, and a vinaigrette dressing maybe?
All workshops except the wild edibles hike were held under a roofed area open on all sides to provide a sense of being outdoors but protected from the heat of the sun. John Starnes, a presenter from Tampa, explained how to create a "water wise container" by drilling pencil-size drainage holes 3" from the bottom of a 5-gallon bucket. To make an air wick so there is no standing water in the bottom of the bucket, place dried stalks like perennial sunflowers, cornstalks, or cassava (John's favorite) vertically in the bucket. Next, add growing medium by "lasagna-layering" two-inch layers of whatever brown and green material is available like dried leaves, grass clippings, well-rotted manure, fruit and veggie scraps, etc. in the bucket. The addition of red worms will speed decomposition. Top off with a two-inch layer of finished compost. Finally, plant the seeds or seedlings. Caution: paralyzing nitrogen deficiency can occur if brown stalks aren't balanced with green material. It works well if you pay attention to this. The premise behind this "water wise container" method is that each bucket is a mini composter housing its own rich ecosystem as the plants grow and mature. To provide additional nutrients, John recommends Alaska Fish Fertilizer which sells at Home Depot for $7.57/quart. A better deal can be had at Lowe's for $13.99/gallon. He mixes 3 tbsp in a gallon of water, which will cover a 3 to 4 foot row, and feeds every 4 to 6 weeks. In container gardening (using the 5 gallon bucket), water until the fish fertilizer solution or plain water comes out of the drilled holes.
I had a wee bit of time in between workshops, so I grabbed a black-eyed pea patty on pita bread and a fruity nut milk yogurt and wandered over to a nearby veggie/herb/flower garden. There, my eyes fell upon a mangled fence that created a little garden "room."
Then it was back to my next workshop... As explained by permaculture presenter, Jim Kovaleski from Freedom Farm in New Port Ritchey Florida, the lasagna layering method can be implemented in a garden setting, as well. This is done by layering green and brown directly in the garden, top with finished compost (or a nutrient-dense soil purchased from a garden center until you get your compost pile/bin/tumbler set up and doing its thing), then plant seeds and seedlings in the compost. The green and brown matter will decompose and feed the plants as they grow. You are providing a setting for a vast, beneficial ecosystem to develop. What perfect sense this does make!
My barred rock and red star chicks are two weeks old today. A major growth change since my last photo shoot at one week old is their wing development. We created an outdoor playground where Olga, Pearl, Flossie, Opal, Henny Penny, Cora, Phoebe, Edith, and Hilda frolic in the sunshine during the daytime hours.