deer, garden deer, deer in the garden, forest deer, white-tailed deer, deer garden, Quebec deer

Snow White is Vexed

By Catherine Winter

I love nature. I do. I wouldn’t live in the forest if I didn’t, and I am immensely grateful for the rapport I have developed with various animal friends over the years. All I need to do is step out onto my porch and call out “babies!!” and chickadees will swoop down from the aspens to eat from my hands, and both squirrels and chipmunks will pop out of nowhere to twine around my ankles for seeds and cuddles. They know that my home is a place of safety: they find food here, and are protected from predators, as has been demonstrated when I’ve chased off feral cats and shrieked at kestrels to get away from my bird friends.

red squirrel, squirrel, Quebec squirrel, squirrel in the garden, squirrels
“Oh hai! Thanks for growing all that salad for me!”

The downside to having one’s home known as an Inn of Solace is that the little buggers also feel that my garden is their personal buffet. They devour my plants with impunity, secure in the knowledge that although I might yell a bit and chase them off, they’re not in any real danger. I mentioned the marmot that I found in my potager garden, stuffing sorrel into her face… well, little red squirrels have eaten almost all of my squash plants, deer have mowed my lettuces to the quick, and slugs have had a field day on my beans.

Related Post: When Goals Meet Opposition 

rabbit, wild rabbit, rabbit in the garden, rabbits, bunny, bunnies

An Ounce of Prevention

Since I have neither the space, nor the bank account, to cover my land in greenhouses, the best I can do is take some preventative measures to keep my plants from being totally obliterated:

  • To keep squirrels and other rodents out of my medicinal herb bed, I’ve constructed a mesh mini-fence around its perimeter. It’s only 2 feet high, but it has bird-proof mesh draped over it as well, so I’m hoping that helps to keep critters out.
  • The slugs are being battled with a 50/50 mixture of cayenne pepper and sea salt, which I have sprinkled in liberal lines around my bean bed.
  • I’ve sprayed several leafy greens with a diluted castile soap solution, which may render them less palatable to my hooved friends. We shall see.

garden fence, chicken wire, chicken wire fence, chicken wire garden fence, garden fencing

Creating a chicken wire fence or cover is often enough to keep most critters out of your garden beds, and a perimeter of cayenne pepper or chili powder can help as well. Planting calendula or alliums (like onions, leeks, garlic, or chives) around your garden will repel deer and rabbits, and if you’re feeling really innovative, you can go to your local wildlife centre and ask them for some wolf or coyote poop: scattering some of that around will make herbivores think that there are large predators around, and they’ll keep their distance.

…that last one is hypothetical. There are plenty of coyotes and foxes around here, and I still find marmots eating my lettuce. If you go this route, do let us know whether you’ve had any success.

What are your tried-and-true methods for natural animal control?

Mindfulness: “When You’re Eating, Eat”

By Catherine Winter

You know someone is worth keeping in your life when they hold a mirror up to your hypocrisy so you can learn from it. Recently, a friend (whom I shall refer to as “Sensei” henceforth) said to me: “If you want to encourage others to consider food as sacred and be mindful of what they’re eating, you should probably start by doing so yourself.” This was in reference to me cramming a sandwich into my mouth one-handed while typing feverishly on my laptop, paying absolutely no attention to what I was eating because, well, I was working. I had more important things to do, right?

As long as I didn’t get mustard onto my keys, I really didn’t care what lunch consisted of. In that moment, I could have been eating rat sphincters doused in Tabasco sauce and it wouldn’t have registered as weird: I was eating to end hunger, not to nourish myself. How many of us do this on a regular basis? Staring at our phones while shovelling some type of food product in our faces, or mindlessly moving hand to mouth as we gawp at the latest Netflix release?

eating while on the phone, smartphone, smartphone and food, phone and eating

Mindful, not Mind-Full

I asked Sensei what it is I should be doing to be more mindful while dining, and he just shook his head. “When you’re eating, eat.” That’s it. That when food is being eaten, that is literally the only thing that’s happening in my world; the only thing I’m honouring with my attention. No phone or iPad within reach, no TV or radio on in the background. Preferably not even speaking to others for a few minutes: just. eating.

He suggested that each bite be approached with reverence, with full appreciation of where the food came from, and the effort that went into preparing it. As I eat, attention should be paid to subtle flavours, textures, how each bite makes me feel, what subtle differences exist depending on which morsels came together in that particular forkful. Make each dish as appetizing for all the senses as possible, and then honour it by giving it my full, undivided attention. Chew thoroughly instead of gulping, and imagine the nutrients then flowing through my body, nourishing every cell.

That’s a beautiful way to approach nourishment, isn’t it?

chopping onion, food preparation, onion, chopping onions

Mindfulness Begins During Preparation

I’m taking steps to ensure that mindfulness doesn’t just begin when I sit down to eat a meal, but when I begin to prepare it. Since I often gather bits from my garden to incorporate into dishes, I try to step barefoot out into the yard so I can connect properly with the earth beneath my feet.
When I harvest vegetables or snip herbs for seasoning, I take a moment to give thanks to the plant: I attune myself to its energy, and appreciate its growth, and how its form will help to nourish my own body.

As I prepare the ingredients—chopping, grating, slicing, sautéeing—I don’t have music on, nor any shows blaring in the background. I feel the vibration in my knife as it thunks through a carrot or onion, or the “shusshhh” sound that happens when I slice through a head of lettuce. I can tell that my onions are caramelising properly based on the deep, gold-brown scent they release, and I know when to turn the heat down beneath my soup pot when I hear the liquid dance into a rolling boil.

I wipe down the table, set it with beautiful dish ware, maybe some flowers or herbs in a vase. Whether I’m eating alone or with others, I try to set the stage as for a special event, albeit a small, gentle one. The food is plated or ladled with care, and garnished in appreciation. After all, these beautiful ingredients deserve to be showcased.

goddess bowl, green goddess, hummus, vegetable bowl

Some people have a “no phones at the table” rule, others discuss the food with other diners so everyone has a chance to express what they’re tasting, what they appreciate about the meal, etc. Do you try to cultivate mindfulness with regard to the food you eat? What techniques do you use?

Let us know!

 

 

When Goals Meet Opposition…

By Catherine Winter

Friends and family members from the previous generation (or two) tend to be very attached to their idea of a pristine green lawn. That’s what’s considered “nice” and aesthetically pleasing: a patch of dandelion-free, lush greenery that would fit in perfectly in Stepford.

Anyone who’s read Food Not Lawns, or delved into the history of agriculture in North America and Europe, is aware that lawns have been cultivated for the sake of vanity. People cultivated swathes of empty property to prove their affluence: they had enough money that they didn’t need to lower themselves by growing their own food. They could pay other people to toil for them, and buy their food from them.

This is a very difficult mindset to shake.

Holding-herbs

“Weeds”

One of my family members is a rather wonderful person who is very, very fond of the aforementioned pristine lawns. When I decided to let my land go wild one year instead of diligently hacking the lawns and side areas down with a mower and weed whacker, I was reprimanded quite firmly for letting all those “weeds” grow. I picked five examples of what they were gazing upon with disdain, and asked them to identify said plants.

“They’re weeds”.

Okay, that’s how you’ve been taught to view them, but what species are they? Tell me their names.

“Weeds”.

…okay then.
Those “weeds” were lamb’s quarters, shepherd’s purse, yarrow, St. John’s wort, and evening primrose: five wonderful edible and medicinal plants that are valued the world over. In addition to those were many species of indigenous flowers all around the periphery, from asters and violets to red clover, which is invaluable for replenishing depleted soil with much-needed nitrogen.

Related post: 7 Healing Herbs for Your Garden

I burbled about all of these and talked about how beneficial they all were, but my enthusiasm was merely met with a blank stare, so I brought the cuttings indoors and hung them to dry for later. We just had to agree to disagree on the value of these plants, and cultivate our respective lawns in the ways that we felt were best for us as individuals. Even if we did have contempt for each other’s leanings, we kept that to ourselves, ye know?

This gets a bit tricker when the person who has contempt for your wish to transform your lawn into a lush food garden has equal say in its cultivation, or lack thereof. What happens if you’re living with aging parents who refuse to even consider it? Or if your partner is terrified of what the neighbours will think when yours is the only lawn covered in kale and zucchini instead of grass like everyone else’s? (Or even if your neighbours themselves want to put the kibosh on your gardening dreams?)

Books

Resources to Support Your Stance

A lot of people have difficulty accepting family members’ arguments as being valid, especially if there’s a parent/child dynamic going on. Many parents of adult children still view their offspring as “kids”, and as such don’t take them seriously. Honestly, I know some people with PhDs whose parents insist upon fact-checking whatever they say because well, they’re their kids, right? What do they know?

A similar dynamic can occur if you’re renting a home from someone of the previous generation: they might also see you in a similar light, and you’ll be hard-pressed to convince them of your reasoning to transform what they currently value as a pristine lawn space to a “messy” garden.

You can often encourage more openminded thinking on their part by presenting them with materials that support your goals, especially if they’ve been written or supported by people whom your parent/spouse/landlord respects. Citing examples by scientists like David Suzuki in support of converting lawns into gardens may help to open their minds a little, and if they’re open to reading about the subject, books like Gaia’s Garden and Food Not Lawns may also do a world of good.

Tomato-seedling

Compromise

If they still flat-out refuse to allow the lawn to be transformed, it might help to create a compromise of some sort. Find out what their reasons are for refusing, and then work together to find a solution that can bridge the gap.

For example, they’re afraid things will look unkempt if the lawn is ripped out in favour of edibles, ask if growing a few vegetables and herbs in pretty planters and hanging baskets would be an acceptable option. Do they find the idea of growing food at home to be “demeaning”? Call up statistics on the nutrient density of organic, homegrown food, and the many science-proven health benefits to growing your own. You can even sweeten the pot by showing them how much money they can save by growing even a few simple vegetables: just about everyone appreciates that aspect of homegrown food. If any of your neighbours already use their lawns for food gardens, chat with them, see how they overcame their own obstacles, and use them as examples of what’s possible. (Note: this is also a great opportunity to start a community seed-sharing network.)

Related post: Start a Community Seed Bank

Just about any situation can be negotiated in a way that can make all parties feel heard, respected, and empowered… and even if you just end up able to grow a single tomato plant in a container, it’s a small victory, and sets a precedent: you’ll be able to grow more next season.

Have you faced difficulty in establishing your own garden? How did you solve the issue? Please let us know!

There’s No Such Thing as a Black Thumb

By Angelina Williamson

There’s no such thing as a black or green thumb. I’ve never met a gardener who said “I have a green thumb”, because they know that success in gardening isn’t some magical ability one is either born with or not. It’s something you learn as you go along, and never stop learning. People who claim to have a “black thumb” are people who gave up too fast to experience the success they were hoping for or they really never cared that much about growing plants to begin with. They think that because they killed a few plants they lack the talent for growing things.

I have killed off thousands of plants in the eighteen years I’ve been a serious gardener. Certainly I killed more plants as a beginner than I do now, and yet at this very moment my garden is host to: a half dead mimulus, the blackened skeleton of a tulsi plant, a crispy brown hollyhock, a sickly Abraham Darby rose, and the ghosts of fifty other plants that didn’t make it through the wet spring. Losing plants is a normal part of gardening, it’s not evidence of a black thumb.

Angelinas-Garden

Have you tried growing plants but concluded that you just can’t do it? If you got discouraged but still really want to garden, I promise that you can succeed at gardening. You may need to shift how you think about it and approach it, but anyone who truly wants to garden can do it. I want to tell you the truth about gardening. I want to tell you what I’ve learned about growing that may encourage you not to give up yet.

Plants Are Living Beings

To succeed at gardening the most important thing to understand is that plants are living beings. They aren’t inanimate objects. Whether you believe they’re sentient or not isn’t important but you need to know that they have vascular systems, they breathe, they drink, and they eat much like you do. They respond to care similarly too. The more you pay attention to your plants’ needs, the more they’ll thrive. Plants need to become part of your regular routine. You’ve got to notice them in order to keep them alive.

Forget-me-nots

All Gardeners Kill Plants

No matter how experienced you are at gardening there’s a part of you that will always be a novice because everything you learn opens the door to new things to learn. Every garden you work in has different conditions, from broad obvious conditions like light levels to all the things you can’t see like microbes specific to that patch of earth. This means that an experienced gardener can move to a new garden and find that things they used to grow with ease now give them exquisite trouble. This is normal. Learn your garden. Understand that every plant you lose can teach you more about what works and doesn’t work in your peculiar spot of soil. It’s not a pass/fail test. It’s about having the tenacity to keep trying, keep experimenting, and discover what plants thrive where you are, and which ones you have an affinity for. Just remember that you’re going to lose a hell of a lot of plants on your gardening journey.

Plant-Based Bête Noires

For every gardener I’ve ever met there are plants that simply won’t do well for them, regardless of how much special care they give them or how many different gardens they’ve tried to grow them in. Sometimes these are plants that are considered universally easy to grow. So don’t get hung up on what people say “everyone” can grow. You may meet your plant-based bête noire early on in your efforts or after you become very experienced, but at some point you’ll meet a plant you can’t grow that the books tell you is easy. This is normal and I’m not even envious of the very rare gardener this has never happened to.

My plant-based bête noires are basil and asparagus. Note that basil is considered one of the easiest unfussy herbs for beginners to grow. It’s okay, I don’t take it personally. I suspect there’s some understanding I’ve failed to reach with them.

Tomato

Sometimes There’s Nothing You Could Have Done

Sometimes plants you buy were destined to die young long before you brought them home. This is a true story. You need to know this because sometimes a plant’s failure to thrive is already written in its cells. Plants get diseases and fungal infections just like people do. For a beginner it feels like personal failure. No matter how much you care for a plant it suddenly blackens, wilts, and dies and there was nothing you could have done about it. Some ways you can reduce the risk of this is to only buy plants, seeds, and bulbs from companies that are scrupulous about keeping their plant stock virus-free.

Sometimes it isn’t about viruses but about individual unexpected plant traits. Plants, like people, even when grown in the best and most even growing conditions, are all individuals and can respond out of character to the rest of its family. You can grow one hundred of the same cultivar of tomato that’s known to be vigorous, bushy, prolific, and delicious and some of those plants are going to grow up a little straggly and pale, or perhaps have more bitter tasting fruit, or die of bacterial wilt. Sometimes a plant’s individual wild traits will turn out to be a happy discovery like an uncharacteristically vigorous and delicious tomato. This is all just part of the adventure.

Growing a garden is about developing a relationship with an environment and all the life living in it. The better you communicate with it, and the more you listen to it, the better your results will be.

How To: Make Hanging Lettuce Planters

By Catherine Winter

There’s a marmot (groundhog) in my garden.

That is to say, there’s a marmot that lives on my land, but I often find him plopped in my potager garden, cramming sorrel and lettuce and various tender herbs into his face, since he knows he’s not in any danger from me. Unfortunately, this also means that rabbits and other small herbivores take a cue from him and follow suit, leading to my own food supply being rather gnawed upon and depleted.

The good news is that I’ve discovered a way around this, at least as far as lettuce is concerned: hanging planters.

Hanging-Lettuce-Planter

Whether you’re short on garden space or you like to keep your food within easy reach, hanging lettuce planters are great options for pretty much any growing zone. They’re easy to make, can be grown indoors or outside, and are as delicious as they are decorative.

What You’ll Need:

  • A hanging wire cage
  • Sphagnum moss
  • Lettuce seedlings

Line your wire cage with a bit of sphagnum moss, then draw some lettuce seedlings through the bars on all sides. Layer with more sphagnum moss, and repeat until the cage is full enough to be secure, so the seedlings won’t just fall out.

Planter

Water this thoroughly and hang in a spot where it gets moderate sunlight for the better part of the day, as lettuce doesn’t thrive in direct, continuous sunshine. Keep the basket fairly well watered, and just snip bits of lettuce off throughout the season as needed. You can either tuck several lettuce varieties into a single basket, or, if you have enough space, hang a few of these baskets around with different lettuce varieties in each, so you can mix your greens and have an assortment of different textures and flavours.

Happy growing!

 

 

7 Healing Herbs to Grow in Your Garden

If you’re cultivating edible plants this summer, you might also like to add some medicinal herbs in amongst your vegetables. Having the ingredients at hand to treat minor health issues is of the utmost importance when it comes to self sufficiency, and these plants tend to pull double duty as pollinator attractors to your garden as well.

Calendula

Calendula

The bright, sunny heads of calendula flowers are well known to most people, but few realise just how healing Calendula officinalis really is. Most people just grow these marigolds as decorative plants, but they’re actually invaluable as a medicinal herb. Calendula-infused oil or salve is ideal for burns and various skin irritations like rashes, cuts, scrapes, and insect bites/stings.

Echinacea

Echinacea

I prefer Echinacea purpurea to angustifolia because the former can be taken once illness has set it, whereas the latter is better as a preventative. Wild patches of echinacea have been over-harvested by people, so planting your own is preferable to wildcrafting it. As an added bonus, it attracts pollinators like bees and butterflies like you wouldn’t believe.

Milk-thistle

Milk Thistle

Milk thistle seed powder is excellent for cleansing the liver, kidneys, and gallbladder, and is exceptionally effective at treating gallstones and kidney stones. The powder can be taken in tincture or decoction form, or can even be added to smoothies, but it takes a lot of seeds to make even a small amount of powder: although you can gather the seed heads in autumn after they’ve dried out and stopped flowering, it might be better to purchase the powder or extract from a retailer instead.

Mullein

Mullein

Although this grows wild around my area, I’ve also sown patches of it in the sandy areas on the edge of my property. It’s a biennial plant, so it only flowers every other year, but both its leaves and flowers have very healing properties. Steep the flowers in honey to make a potent
A tea made from the leaves is excellent as an expectorant, and brings great relief from wheezing, hacking coughs. Smoking dried mullein leaf can also alleviate asthma, and oil in which the flowers have been steeped is ideal for treating ear infections. The entire plant is anti-inflammatory, and a tincture of the leaves and flowers can bring great relief from joint pain, arthritis, and even lymphatic congestion.

Stinging-nettle

Stinging Nettle

Although it’s difficult to harvest because its hairlike stingy bits hurt like the nine hells if they touch you, this plant’s medicinal properties are well worth the effort. It’s an anti-inflammatory and diuretic, does wonders for urinary issues, can alleviate rheumatoid arthritis and other joint pain, and can ease allergy symptoms. It’s also quite delicious when cooked and used like spinach,

Just suit up, wear heavy gloves when harvesting it, and blanch the plant with boiling water to neutralize the stingers before using it.

Thyme

Thyme

Not just a delicious aromatic herb, Thymus vulgaris is a wonderful herb that has countless medicinal uses. Its antispasmodic properties help to alleviate stomach cramping and colic, while its antiseptic properties are incredibly helpful for topical applications. The crushed leaves can also be used as an impromptu insect repellent to keep mosquitoes and black flies away, especially behind the ears and along the hairline.

Yarrow

Yarrow

Also known as “soldier’s woundwort”, Achillea millefolium has been used medicinally for thousands of years and is invaluable for any healer’s garden. Yarrow flowers and frilly leaves have many medicinal properties, and are worth delving into if you’re interested in building up an apothecary’s cabinet of your own. Additionally, this lovely plant attracts all manner of pollinators, and is an ideal landing pad for migrating butterflies.

 

NOTE: Please remember that herbs are medicines, and their effects can vary from person to person. A remedy that works well for you might not work for your child, partner, or neighbour, and some people may have allergies to certain plants. For example, people with ragweed allergies may react badly to chamomile, and those who are allergic to latex should stay away from birch. No herbal remedy is guaranteed to cure a complaint, and it’s important to do your research properly before brewing up and drinking an infusion. It’s usually a good idea to speak to your healthcare provider to make sure that the herbs you’re interested in taking don’t have contraindications with any medicines you’re on, especially if you’re pregnant or nursing.

In addition, if you’re gathering herbs from the wild, it’s extremely important that you learn to recognise them properly. A lot of plant allies have toxic lookalikes, so if there’s any doubt about what you may be harvesting, don’t do it. Just buy a tea, tincture, or dried herb in bulk from an apothecary company like Mountain Rose Herbs instead.

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FTW Kitchen: Sorrel Soup

By Catherine Winter

Here in zone 4, very few greens sprout up until mid May at the very earliest. While friends in England start posting photos of snowdrops and daffodils in February, I have to wait until the snow clears (a few months after that…) to see the first greens unfurl. Fortunately, right after dandelions make their appearance, sorrel springs up in great, abundant heaps, just asking to be devoured.

sorrel, garden sorrel, French sorrel, lemon sorrel, perennial vegetable, perennial sorrel

I grow a variety of herbs and perennial greens in my potager garden, just outside my kitchen door, and it’s always a delight to bite into the first, lemony sorrel leaves when they show up after the long, cold Quebec winter. Springtime came earlier than usual this year (which was a delightful surprise), so I have chives and thyme coming up as well. Since the evenings out here are still quite chilly, I decide to gather a bunch of sorrel and put some soup together for dinner.

I grew up with sauerampfer soup, but my family’s recipe was very heavy on cream and egg yolks, and I found it to be way too heavy. I’ve adapted my own recipe to incorporate whatever’s in season (and in the fridge), and omitted the cream and eggs: I use fat-free plain yoghurt instead.

sorrel soup, sorrel soup recipe, sorrel soup ingredients, making sorrel soup

Ingredients:

Olive oil or butter or Earth Balance (for frying)
1 small to medium onion, peeled and diced
1/2 teaspoon thyme, finely chopped
1 small bunch green onions or chives, finely chopped
2 medium potatoes, grated or finely chopped
A couple of big handfuls of sorrel leaves, shredded
4 cups of your favourite stock (I use chicken stock, but leek or onion stock works really well in this
1/3 cup plain yoghurt or sour cream (dairy or vegan)
Lemon juice (fresh, not concentrated!)
Salt and black pepper

Heat your butter or oil in a large stock pot on medium-high heat, and add the onions and thyme, stirring often until the onions soften and start to turn golden.

Add the stock, green onions, and potatoes, and stir well. Bring this mixture to a boil, then reduce to a simmer. Let that bubble away merrily until the potatoes have softened.

Toss in those sorrel leaves, which will turn a sort of murky olive green as soon as it hits the heat: don’t be alarmed, it’ll still taste fabulous.

Use an immersion blender to puree approximately half of the soup, or scoop out half of it and put it through a standard blender or food processor, adding it back to the pot when you’re done. If you find the soup too thick, feel free to add some more stock to thin it out. Stir in the yoghurt or sour cream, and a tablespoon or so of lemon juice. Add salt to taste, and feel free to add more lemon if you like as well.

sorrel soup, sorrel soup recipe, immersion blender, pureeing soup

The sour cream or yoghurt are optional and are just used to make the soup creamy, but you can also use pureed cannellini beans if you’d like to add protein and a silky texture. Some people prefer not to mix the sour cream into the dish, but instead add a dollop of it into the bowl just prior to serving, along with chopped raw sorrel, parsley, or dill.

I made this soup with what I had on hand, but it can be adapted so many ways. Fresh sweet green peas make a great addition as soon as they’re available, and swapping out half of the sorrel for spinach adds more iron and greenness to the pot. I’ve added leftover roasted zucchini, used cauliflower instead of potato… but the one common denominator is always the gorgeous lemony bite from the sorrel.

Do you grow this plant in your garden? How do you like to prepare it? Let us know!

 

Photos by the author, and lead image is by Neal Foley via Flickr Creative Commons.

tinctures, tincture bottles, herbal tincture, DIY tincture, passionflower tincture

DIY: Passionflower Tincture for Anxiety and Stress Relief

By Angelina Williamson

Passionflower (Passiflora incarnata) is useful in treating anxiety, insomnia, upset stomach (especially related to stress), and high blood pressure. This plant is considered generally safe for most people for short-term use (no more than a couple of months according to some sources), but if you take any sedatives or other medications, be sure to check with your doctor before taking this tincture to make sure there aren’t any contraindications.

tinctures, tincture bottles, herbal tincture, DIY tincture, passionflower tincture, dried passionflower, passionflower

How to Make Passionflower Tincture:

Fill a pint jar about half full of dried passionflower and then cover it with 80 proof vodka.

The solvent range for optimal extraction of medicinal constituants is between 40-65 percent. Be sure not to use a proof higher than 100 or you may damage the plant’s efficacy.

Label your jar with the date you started this batch and put it somewhere where you won’t forget about it.

Shake it vigorously every day for two to four weeks.

tinctures, tincture bottles, herbal tincture, DIY tincture, passionflower tincture

Shaking it every day is important because it helps break down the cell walls of the plant material.

Next, get a fresh clean jar fitted either with a strainer or (as I’ve done here) with a wide-mouthed funnel fitted with an unbleached coffee filter, and pour the liquid through it. Alternatively, you can use cheese cloth or muslin. Shake the plant material into the filter or cheese cloth and squeeze as much of the liquid out of it as you can.

tinctures, tincture bottles, herbal tincture, DIY tincture, passionflower tincture

Decant your tincture into a dark bottle and label it. Store in a cool dark cupboard to maintain the best quality.

Your tincture is ready to be used in whatever recipe you like! For precise dosing information consult a reliable herbalist for advice, either with a personal consultation or from a trusted book or online source.

Tincture-dropper

keyhole garden, keyhole garden bed, keyhole bed, permaculture, keyhole permaculture garden bed, notched garden bed, raised keyhole garden

Keyhole Gardens for Small Spaces

By Catherine Winter

One of the most common concerns we hear is a lack of gardening space. Many people who have access to an outdoor garden are city dwellers who only have a small front yard or tiny lot behind their homes to play in, so they feel that they are very limited in what they’re able to grow. A great way to maximize space (and increase growing yields) is with a keyhole garden: read on to learn more about what they are and how to set one up.

keyhole garden, keyhole garden bed, keyhole bed, permaculture, keyhole permaculture garden bed, notched garden bed, raised keyhole garden

Keyhole gardens are so named because they have a notch in them much like their namesake. They’re ideal for small spaces because that lovely little notch allows you to walk into the centre of the garden so you can reach all the glorious plants you’ve packed the space with: you don’t have to crawl over anything, possibly damaging delicate greens while doing so.

Some people also sink an active compost pile into the centre of their keyhole beds: this is ideal for areas that are prone to droughts, as the compost (which should be kept damp!) releases both moisture and nutrients into the surrounding soil on a regular basis. This method of keyhole gardening is quite popular in parts of Subsaharan Africa and various regions in Texas for precisely this reason.

keyhole garden, keyhole garden bed, keyhole bed, permaculture, keyhole permaculture garden bed, notched garden bed, raised keyhole garden

If you have limited space, map out the closest thing you can get to a circle (mark it with chalk or non-toxic paint), decide where you’d like your notch to be placed, and then build up a wall. I’ve used old masonry blocks for mine, but you can use everything from stones and bricks to woven branches. Use what you have on hand. If you’re renting your home, you can reassure your landlord that these keyhole gardens can be disassembled quite easily, though they’ll probably be so impressed by what you’re able to grow in there that they just might keep them around if and when you move.

Once you’ve created the walled exterior, decide whether you’d like that active compost tube thinger in your garden. If you do, make a simple tube out of chicken wire and place that at the sharp V point inside the garden. Prop it into place with some bricks or stones.

Create a layer of loose pebbles at the bottom of this garden for drainage purposes, then create layers inside it as though creating hugelkultur or a “lasagna” garden: some rotting logs, topped by cardboard, yard clippings, old hay, and then compost-rich garden soil.

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Determine where the sun hits over the course of the day, and plant your vegetables accordingly, placing those that need the most light in the sunniest spots, and those that can thrive in partial shade in the areas that get less light. If you plant zucchini or cucumbers, place those along the edges so they can spill over the sides, and don’t be afraid to grow upwards! You can secure some poles or sticks around that composter and use it as a trellis to grow peas, beans, or even climbing tomatoes.

Be sure to intersperse herbs and pollinating flowers in amongst your plants! Take note of which will be the best companions for what you’d like to grow, and get planting!

Photos via Wikimedia Commons, as well as McKay SavageJulia Gregory and K. Latham via Flickr Creative Commons.

wilted plants, dead plants, frosty plants

Learning from Failure

By Catherine Winter

My basil plant died.

It was a beautiful, healthy pot of basil that I had been nurturing on my kitchen counter for nearly two months, and now it’s dead. I’d been diligent about keeping the dove from trying to nest in there (she loves basil), coaxing it to healthy vibrance in the weak late winter/early spring light, and then I went and did something unbelievably stupid, and now it’s dead.

Springtime in my zone (Quebec, 4b) is nothing short of bipolar: outdoor temperatures can shift and change a hundred times a day, and it’s not unusual to have searing heat one day and a snow flurry the next. This is exactly what happened this past week: temperatures reached 36C (97F) in the sunshine a couple of days ago, so in addition to getting sunburnt just by stepping outside for a moment, I also took the opportunity to put Sir Basil out on the porch for some merry sunbathing.

The problem is that I forgot to bring him back inside, so when the mercury dipped below freezing last night, guess what happened?

Sir Basil expired.

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…there was much swearing, let me tell you.

So, here’s the thing: stuff like this happens all the time, to all of us. It’s frustrating and discouraging because so much time and effort are put into coaxing those little seeds into plants, but Mother Nature will occasionally sideswipe us and decimate a crop or three, so it’s best to brace for that inevitability.

There are always more seeds available, and plants can be started anew, with greater awareness, foresight, and dedication to their care. For my part, my basil might be wilted and half dead, but it’s still delicious enough to be used in pesto and soup stock. Nothing need ever go to waste, right?

Don’t let a setback like this make you give up—just learn from it, and keep growing.