A few more garden critters

We're finding a lot of critters in the few minutes we spend outside each week. It's so hot I have a hard time motivating Mabel to play out there and should admit that I'm pretty happy to sink into the couch for a while each afternoon, too.

We found another batch of swallowtail caterpillars, both of which are now chrysalis. Saturday night I made a sorrel tart. The sorrel, straight from the garden to the kitchen, had lots and lots of little snails which I collected in a jar. I told M we weren't going to keep them, but they're still in the jar on her work table (aka the den coffee table). I'm thinking we could become Matthews, NC's first escargot farmers.  

Tincture Thyme

This weekend Mabel and I went to the community garden to do a little digging. Since I'm the newest volunteer there, I feel best about doing hard labor over planting any of the crops, at least until I get my sea legs there. That doesn't mean I can't enjoy a little of the bounty though!

It's still early in the season to harvest any veggies, but the herbs are going bonkers. I brought a couple handfuls of thyme and about a cup of chive blossoms home to make herbal vinegars.
According to TLC Family,
"Thyme has a pronounced effect on the respiratory system; in addition to fighting infections, it dries mucous membranes and relaxes spasms of the bronchial passages.
The ability of thyme to relax bronchial spasms makes it effective for coughs, bronchitis, emphysema, and asthma. Its drying effect makes it useful to reduce the abundant watering of the eyes and nose associated with hay fever and other allergies. And gargling with thyme tea can reduce swelling and pus formation in tonsillitis.
Thyme combats parasites, such as hookworms and tapeworms, within the digestive tract. It is also useful to treat yeast infections."
Chives have less medicinal value, but are high in Vitamins A and C as well as folic acid, sulfur, and iron. If you haven't tried a chive blossom before, they're in the onion family, so they have a mild onion taste, but also a surprisingly pleasant note of garlic. The chive blossom vinegar will be the perfect addition to homemade salad dressings.

It's fairly simple to make an herbal vinegar. For the chive blossoms I followed the recipe in Grow Great Grub. For the thyme vinegar I followed pretty much the same process:
  1. Sterilize your jar,
  2. Thoroughly wash and pat dry the herbs, stuff them into the sterilized jar. 
  3. With the chive blossoms I warmed white wine vinegar and covered the chives, but with thyme I wanted to reap the enzymatic benefits of  apple cider vinegar in conjunction with the thyme so I didn't heat it.
  4. Cap the jar with a layer of wax paper to prevent the metal to come in contact with the potentially corrosive vinegar.
  5. Steep the herbs for several weeks. Give 'em a good shake or two each day. After at least 2 weeks you can strain the vinegar from the herbs for storage or leave the herbs and just strain off the vinegar as you use it.

down wind of chemical stench

My lengthy dislike for Scotts MiracleGro products started when I was just getting interested in gardening. Scotts was suing TerraCycle for using green and yellow on their packaging, though I never really believed that was all it was about. Perhaps a small start up company with a great idea for reused packaging and simple organic ingredients was putting a hurting on a major corporation's profits. Whatever it was, Scotts image seemed like the popular football star stuffing a nerdy kid in a locker.

Companies like Scotts promote chemical use in the garden, persistent chemicals that perpetuate reliance for gigantic yields and "weed-free" gardens. They promote the idea that a singular plant (grass) is the only acceptable basis of a beautiful, lush yard. A single variety plant space, such as a weed free lawn, is known as a monocrop, and a monocrop's lack of diversity can create all sorts of issues that need other synthetic products to resolve.

I won't get into the many uses of weeds...well maybe for just a second--some of those weeds might replace your prescription medicine, others could be pulled up and used to make an organic plant food, yet others simply feed the wildlife in your yard. Perhaps if the critters had natural forage they wouldn't go after your tomatoes and you wouldn't need that Scotts brand pesticide after all.

The more I learn about gardening, the more I learn that popular kid in the green and gold uniform had a few unsavory secrets. Enter stage left: Monsanto, wealthy, smooth-talking hip best friend to Scotts. Monsanto's own GMO-tainted politics does nothing to endear me to Scotts. 

To put my feelings into perspective, let's talk about something most people have some level of concern about: the honeybees. We've all heard about the rapid decline of bee populations and what will happen if they keep mysteriously dying. Bees an accessible environmental issue: less bees, less pollination, less productive crops, less food, higher food prices, food shortages...you get the idea. Scotts sells all sorts of weed killer monocrop the hell out of your yard. Make it all grass, get rid of that nasty clover...that nasty clover that bees find so useful as a source of food. Yeah, food, that little thing that keeps us all alive. Of course, Scotts' BFF Monsanto, the company that sues farmers whose crops have accidentally cross-pollinated with Monsanto GMO crops. The GMO crops that may or may not contribute to the decline of bee populations, certainly contributing to the loss of monarch butterfly populations (another handy insect that pollinates plants).

And then the National Wildlife Federation announced its partnership with Scotts. Frankly I took the news personally. I felt like an old friend went and made out with the dude that used to tease me every day about being flat-chested. Betrayal.

How do you feel about the partnership? Care, don't care, wish I'd saved my breath for some pretty furniture and lovely pictures?

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You Grow Girl and Native Plants and Wildlife Gardens discuss the new partnership on their blogs.

Gardening Chit Chat

My oldest brother reminded me that it's a good time to pick up some soil sample kits from our local cooperative extension office. Consider this an annual PSA: send off soil samples now, so when the ground thaws you'll know what you need in order to balance your soil nutrients!

Those of you in Mecklenburg County can pick up soil sample kits at these fine locations.

While discussing gardening, I read a few articles on the topic yesterday:
Poisonous food and how agricultural chemicals hurt people at every point in the growing process.
Seeds, who owns them and what you can do with them.

Both articles strengthen my resolve to produce more of our own food this year. If you're new to gardening and interested in a super easy way to get started in filling your belly with homegrown goodness, check out Biophilia {images from Biophilia's site}. 

Biophilia is Danielle, a NC-based permaculture designer. Her shop makes it easy to jump right into a more sustainable lifestyle through gardening and producing your own healthy food.

A brief intro to our indoor composting station

In case you haven't noticed, we take our compost pretty seriously. There's a worm bin in the kitchen, and passive piles (sometimes hot...but to be honest I haven't had much time to keep turning them so they're passive for now) in the yard. The chickens do a lot of compost work by eating veggie scraps, but we don't give them spent coffee grounds, onions, garlic and a few other things; our worms get those.

The worm bin, though was too awkward for our new kitchen arrangement. In order to get into some of the cabinets the bin had to be moved, and worms don't particularly care to be bothered with that. They like to have little by way of change, so I'd been considering a vertical worm bin for some time. We'd kept them going for 3 years in the storage tote bin, I finally decided it was time to move them to something a little fancier: a Worm Factory. Lucky for me, I know a guy.

I got in touch with my friend (and fellow Master Composter) Stefan and ordered the Worm Factory and a bokashi bucket. {Because if you're going to have worms in your kitchen you might as well have fermenting waste as well, right?}

Bokawha? Bokashi is an anaerobic form of composting. You're basically fermenting the food scraps. I thought we should add that to our composting repertoire because you can add bones and dairy to the bokashi bin.

Adding meat to my diet way back when created a new challenge for our household food waste. Before, when there was meat in our house, it was only Charlie's meals and I wasn't a fan of touching/preparing the stuff, so everything was of the heat-and-serve variety that no longer resembled the formerly living creature it once was. No skin, no bones, no fat to cut off.

Now, though, the meat comes straight from the farmer; it looks like meat, there are bones, there is skin, there is fat. Usually trimmed fat and skin go to the furry kids, but bones pose a risk so they are sometimes used for broth preparation, but ultimately go to the landfill.

After little rearranging in the kitchen, the worms are in their new home and the bokashi has started a-brewing. I'll keep you filled in as things progress, but for now I love the fact that I can open the cabinets without shifting everything around. A bonus for the new set up? The two new bins take up less space than the old worm bin alone!