Sunday, March 31, 2013

Putting in some onions

Everything got a little green once our temps rose a little. Here is a little guy I plan to maybe eat or harvest roots of at some point, but so teeny now!
Here is some of the milkweed we missed last year, doing its thing. We harvest a lot of milkweed tops and flowerbud clusters to eat in May and June, but it's a very generous plant, and we always have more coming up. We also try to get the pods. I know we went out two or three times to gather up pods. Neighbors are not fans of milkweed seeds. Silly creatures.
This is the fourth row of onions I planted. You may think that's not a straight line, that's actually a new gardening practice called ... contour planting ... yeah. Contour planting!
Someone in my family dragged some logs into the yard a couple years ago, and they got cut into these rather large rounds. They serve at least one purpose, and that's to marginally keep our long-toenailed dog from ripping through there, going after a ball. ... I think I'm going to be moving some more of them as the garden expands this year.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Cardinal points: She likes my compost?

I just saw Ms. Cardinal gettin' down in my more recent compost pile. I wonder what is attractive. It's mostly coffee grounds and eggshells, hmm.

The cottonwood salve, the oil tincture portion of the show!

This is a pint of cottonwood leaf buds, gathered in January and February, 17 oz (500 ml) extra virgin olive oil, and a 2-quart (small) crock pot.

This is the cottonwood leaf buds in the crockpot. There's not a lot of material.
This is after I poured what I thought was "enough" olive oil in. Enough to cover and allow the buds to move around in there. A little over half, so 300 ml??
 I know this crockpot will heat water to 140 degrees Fahrenheit, and I don't want that, so I put a timer on for 20 minutes.
And when I turned it off, I checked the temperature, and it was just below 100 degrees already. Now I'll let it sit a day, then turn the heat on again. Maybe for 10 minutes tomorrow.

I am trying to approximate using the sunshine oil tincture method, where you put the buds in the oil in the sun and let it work for up to six months. I'm feeling the need for the medicine, so I'm kicking it up a bit.

We'll see what happens!

Friday, March 22, 2013

Chasing the uncatchable

I had just perfected the morning cup of coffee a moment ago and I noticed an un-robin-like and un-junco-like activity in the apple tree area. One bird was chasing another and the second bird was just slipping away like oil from the first one. First bird never really got close.

Upon closer look it was a cardinal pair, similar to these two. He's brilliant and immistakable, and she's just a place where the wind separates, she's so hard to see. ... Well, maybe that's coz I have dirty windows, too ... After about a dozen chase attempts, he decided a little foraging down on the ground was in order, and gave up ... for a while.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Dogwood I've never seen

I was reading someone's blog and saw a photo of a dogwood tree in flower. Although I've never seen such a tree (Cornus florida) in person, due to my geography, I knew it.

I think it's cool because I've never seen it and because there is a total certainty in the pointy little 5-year-old voice which chimes up and says "That's a dogwood blossom!" even though my grown-up, prairie native adult mind says "I've never seen that, and MY dogwood does not look like that!"

That's because my mom had a tablecloth that had Cornus florida blossoms with accents of pink. I can't remember what it covered. I remember admiring it is all. Obviously I really, really admired it.

Share your love of plants with your kids like my mom did. No kid is too young. Really.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Say no to paper AND plastic grocery bags!

I'm a recycler. This website does a good job explaining why I try not to use either paper or plastic bags.

Mostly, they come to us at the expense of fossil fuel in one way or another. The plastic is not recycleable, and the bags, if sent to the landfill, can't break down because of the way garbage is put in the landfills.

What to do?

Make or buy your own cloth or canvas grocery bags and take them along. Many stores offer their own branded $1 reusable grocery bags. Use them!

If you're cheap like me, here's how to make an easy bag from a t-shirt. If you prefer good looks, try buying a string bag. If you're really rolling in dough, buy a canvas bag like this:

As time has gone by (probably the past 20 years), I've found lots of different bags on garage sales. I paid $12 for one canvas bag at an awning company from leftover canvas. I'm sure that's the most expensive one I have. I won a string bag in an herb class drawing. I have one or two grocery-store reusable bags. I don't recall how I got them.

Two challenges I face with using my own bags, 1. clerks who don't understand. 2. remembering to take the bags along shopping.

But really, remembering is number one. I leave my bags in my truck sometimes. *Eyeroll!*

But you have to be Right On the clerks or they will automatically put your groceries in plastic. It's an automatic motion. As a former clerk, I've done it myself. If they do that, I apologize, and ask them to put them in my bags. They may not like it. That's okay.

I have had clerks that I didn't alert to my grocery bags (and sometimes even when I DID tell them), bag some of my stuff into a plastic bag. And when I asked that they bag into my fabric bags, some will take the whole plastic bag and put it and my stuff into my fabric bag. I find this VERY ANNOYING and pretty rude. But consider this: I've tried asking them to put my items into a fabric bag without the plastic bag, and they throw the plastic bag away 99% of the time. And they're huffy. So you may want to consider just taking responsibility for that particular bag and just make sure the rest of your stuff goes into the bags you brought.

I put my bags at the beginning of the food on the conveyor belt, and I try to say, "Please use my bags for my groceries." If you aren't clear and you don't let them know what's going on, you'll find that they look for a price to charge you for your bags. Often clerks are on autopilot to a degree; it's' a monotonous job, let's face it. Help them out! The ones who are not, please remember their names and get in their lines again next time. Let's be groupies to attentive clerks! Thank them. Tell their supervisor how great they are. One tip is to get in lines where the clerk is older; that's not a hard and fast rule, nor is it always possible, but that's the way to bet!

Help save the world, and reduce your use of plastic bags.

One more thing: You can tell them you don't need a bag at all. All you really need is your item/s and your receipt, right? Carrying 3-5 items naked in your arms or hands is okay. Really. It is!

More live babies

I was hunting for green things in my yard and found none, but of the 3 cottonwoods I transplanted, I see that ALL of them have terminal buddage. Yessss!

It's a nice sunny day, 35 degrees Fahrenheit, but chilly. (Put your hat on.) The wind actually howls around the house. I guess it foreshadows the 70% chance of snow we have tonight. It surely is roller coaster weather!

Our neighbors are having a sweat today; someone is playing the drum. Nice.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

The cottonwood babies

Obsessed with cottonwoods much? Well. Maybe.

But today it got up to 58 degrees F at 6:05 pm, and I saw my three cottonwood babies for the first time since fall. (They were mulched by leaves, then by snow.) ... You never know if the young plants are going to live through a winter, even a mild one.

And my good news is this: Of three 6"-to-11" cottonwoods I put in the nursery of the driveway garden, the tallest one had a BUD ON IT!

I'm thrilled. That is all.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Snow on the nettles' spot

Well, I threw several cubic feet of snow on the location where my nettles grow. This is pretty much what it looks like. You have to imagine the nettle part.

I hope that helps them, as I will no longer be able to warm the earth with my stare while I search for the slightest hint of  a nubbin that lets me know they are coming back. Well, at least until Friday, when it will likely melt. For now the highs are in the 30s, so there is no real melt going on now.

Thanks to the wonder of whatever caused our village guy to not shovel my intersection versus all the other intersections in town, I got an extra workout making sure I could get into the street with my non-huge, non-4WD pickup. But the extra snow went onto the flower beds and the nettles. Well, I admit, some went on the dog. She's nimble, and it's not easy to get snow on her. Of course, a shovel is not the best tool if you want to throw snow at a moving target, either.

It was officially four inches of snow, but Sunday was a wonder of howling winds. Some of the snow drifted up to 8 inches deep. I can admire that, for four inches of snow, and 30 mph. We think 11 inches at 50 mph is manageable most years.

I mostly stayed in on Sunday. I spackled, and got some crafts and sewing projects underway and finished. I did dishes and cooked and let the cat in. Then I let the cat out. Then I let the cat in, etc. etc. there was a lot of cat action going on, for sure.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Herb books can be unexpected books.

I was recently at a really nice two-hour workshop where the woman, Rachel Liester of Red Road Herbs, hit on a lot of herbal topics in a short amount of time.

One of the topics was books about herbs.

I remember one of the first books I ever looked at was "The Herb Book" by John Lust. I borrowed it from the library and later bought a copy because of the encyclopedic nature of what you can do with herbs. It was amazing.

I also tried earnestly to learn words like "galactagogue," "emetic," "purgative," and "vermifuge." Some of the other cumbersome terms for the actions herbs can have on a human are still in that book but certainly not in my brain.

Just the size of a mass media paperback, yet chock-full of herbal knowledge. Not a ton of pictures, though. I have other books for that!

And I remember enjoying the herbalist portions of Clan of the Cave Bear, the first of an interminably long series of books set in prehistory.

It was an interesting and thought-provoking book. I thought it made it obvious that all of us at one time in our histories knew a lot more about the natural world, and in particular we knew a lot about plants. And not so much, the more time goes by.

But why not again?

And I want to put out there one more book, that only had a small part that was herbal, Cold Mountain. If you saw the movie, you met my favorite character because visiting her was part of his odyssey; the Goat Lady.

I liked how she was busy keeping up with the natural world in her journals and she mentions that she doesn't want to "get behind." We might think a hermit living in the mountains with a few goats doesn't have a lot going on, but she was a busy woman!

If you liked the movie and you like to read at all, that's a good book. It's a re-reader for sure.

Where are those darned nettles?

I've found myself looking pointedly at the ground where the nettles were last fall. I'm looking for leaves. Every time I go to the mailbox, I detour to where they were and stare around a bit.

Did hunter-gatherers do this? I wonder. Did they go to the places they gathered herbs or greens before, but now it's in the too-early spring or the very-late winter. Did they also go and look and wonder when those leaves would come up?

A young, luscious-looking nettle
I have a turkey roast in the oven, but I want some nettles. Fresh ones. I think they'd be great in stir fry tonight.

There are a lot of recipes on the Internet on how to cook nettles, or use them in soups and other recipes, but of course the first, very very most important thing is to know that it's a nettle, and not something else. -- The evil way (crude but effective) is to grab it and see if you are stung by their sharp little hairs, but that's really a last resort!

There's no way to get good at identifying plants other than the big P, practice! Get ID books for your area, talk to folks older than yourself, your local botany teacher, etc.

Never underestimate the unknown knowledge hidden in the heads around you. Ask questions. Don't be shy.

And if you have a camera, take pictures of the plants you see and compare them to your research, whether it be books or the internet. You'll find that plants often look different in various seasons, at different angles, and at different parts of the plant. So be persistent, be curious, be snoopy! Identify!

Does the robins' arrival predict snow?

My mom told me that the first robins always get snowed on. Which isn't exactly that they predict snow, just a note about their arrival time seeming to always be a bit premature.

And I woke up the other morning to the strangest sound outside the door. Birdsong! How weird. And as I drove to work, two robins jousting in my neighbor's yard caught my eye.

And this morning? Howling winds and snow. The jays are up and about, farting around in the apple tree, but I don't see anyone else out there. ... Tough little goomers!

Thursday, March 7, 2013

But why?

Yes, in my obsession for identification and winter botany and gathering, I never told you why I want cottonwood leaf buds. Why I drive down cold roads in crappy weather, the wind wrenching the hat from my head, pruners in frozen hands, and a dashboard of twigs in my truck. Hee!

Well. I want to make a healing salve, and if you do a wise search of the internet, you'll find any number of recipes on how to make cottonwood leaf bud salve. The trouble is, after the first step of gathering the buds, the second step lasts about six months where the buds are infused (soaked) in oil. After that, you remove the plant material, add beeswax and pot up, and it's ready to use.

Cottonwood oil is known to ease arthritic joints and sore muscles.  It has been added to lip balms, body oils and healing salves and makes an excellent massage oil for sore muscles and useful for healing the skin, including sunburn.

Frankly I might not have gotten all het' up about it if I didn't have a potential victim ...I mean volunteer. -- Shh!

Cottonwood trees and winter botany

I have spent several weeks looking for cottonwood trees. Since mid-January I've been watching for them. When you're used to checking for foliage as the give-away, January and February can be tricky months.

The trees have to be juuuust right for me to harvest them. They have to not be along a busy highway or road. They have to have boughs I can reach. They have to be in a place where I don't need to cross a fence or get into or too near a creek. Also, they cannot be within sight of someone's house. ... Let's face it, when I see someone loitering too long near my place, I look twice and three times. So I gather in solitude as much as possible.

These tall, shapely cottonwoods are my backroads Ents!
Many (so many) cottonwoods have lovely fat buds that I can see but not reach. *Shrug* such is the nature of cottonwoods. They have a distinctive shape if allowed to grow naturally and they tend to be TALL. Some have branches that happen to have a couple sprouts down low on the trunk, and that's where I got many of my buds.

Two of the trees I harvested, though, were non-typical.

One looked as if it had its top ripped off by a storm. It had a few years of new growth coming off the stub that were at least 20 ft tall themselves. But it had one generous older limb from the original trunk reaching over the ditch to the road. Its feet were in a tiny creek or seep, which is why it survived the ravages of the storm, I presume.

The other tree did NOT look like a conventional cottonwood. It was broad, not tall, had low limbs that reached out to the sides in all directions, and just looked *wrong*! As I approached this tree, I said mentally "The shape is all wrong!" But the bark was right, and as I slowed on that county road and peered up to see silhouettes of the tips of its branches against the sky, I could see that I had hit the jackpot. These were certainly the right buds. There was no fence to this former acreage, the old corncrib was falling down and the remains of the house were no longer to be seen.

As you know, if you've read previous posts on this blog, I don't harvest as much as is there, and I walked about 30% around that tree and had enough, this without even harvesting half of everything in sight. It really is a generous tree. I hope no one clears that land any time soon, as I'll be checking on it as the seasons progress.