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Celebrating the Humble Harvests of High Desert Homesteading

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Making Winter Medicine

Harvesting rosehips on a cold winters day

For the first time this season I got a cold.  Nothing serious but it made me really appreciate the medicine my garden has provided for me this year.  Over the last month I have been sipping my brews of dried herbs, giving away my precious Osha honey (made from Osha harvested in the mountains this fall and honey from our beloved bees) and of course making tinctures of this and that.  Here are a few of my favorite garden medicine recipes and links to some darn good medicine makers here in New Mexico.

Preping Calendula oil & Rose Hip Oil

Garden Teas– Really the easiest way to use herbs through the year is to pick them, dry them, and drink them.  You will want to dry herbs in a cool, dry, dark place—I usually just hang them under my porch where the wind blows through and the sun never shines.  I also have a few old window screens I got for cents at the habitat re-store.  The beauty of New Mexico is that drying herbs is a cinch.  Our dry climate is perfect.  Just be sure you don’t harvest herbs when wet (24 hours after watering or rain has touched them).

Great herbs to grow and dry for tea: (mind you these are my favorite as I am a woman of childbearing age and these are my greatest allies)

Mint-Mentha  piperita (any kind, but grow the one you love to use)

Lemon Balm-(Mellisa officinalis)

Lavender-(Lavandula augustafolia)

Calendula-( Calendula officinalis)

Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis)

Borage(Borago officinalis)

Hops(Humulus lupulus)

Wild herbs worth gathering– (I actually have invited all of these into my garden, or they have arrived there and I love them and let them be.)

Nettles(Urtica dioica)

Raspberry Leaf( Rubus idaeus)

Red clover( Trifolium pratense)

Comfrey( Symphytum officinalis)

Dandelion-( Taraxacum officinalis)

Rosehips-Rosa rugosa

Gathering forest Medicine in the summer time

Garden Oils-

I don’t know about you, but my skin is so dry, especially in the winter, probably accredited to our wonderful woodstove.  I cherish it as our only heat source, but it is drying nonetheless.  So a few years ago I started just washing with oil and salt.  It feels fancy but is really cheap and easy to make.

Herbal oil & salt wash

I fill a container, about 1pint with Epsom salt

Pour herbal oil over it and let it seep in to cover the salt

Add a few drops of my favorite essential oil – I change it every batch but my favorites are Lavender, Rosemary, Grapefruit, Tangerine, and Lemon Verbena.

That is it.  I just put it on a washcloth and wash

Preparing Herbal Oils

I use both fresh and dry herbs to make these oils deepening on the season.

I have found that with fresh herbs the oils can go rancid, so covering with cheesecloth instead of a lid is imperative for good oils.

Fresh

I usually just chop up fresh herbs and jam as much as I can into a glass jar.  My favorite is Comfrey leaf, as it is wonderful for healing of the skin, bones cuts and bruises. I then pour oil over the herb (I use Grape seed, but Sesame, Olive, Almond, etc.. are great) fill the jar to the top with oil and push the herbs that float up back down with a clean chopstick.  Cover with cheesecloth and a rubber band.  Label with ingredients and date and let sit on the shelf for about 6 weeks.  You can also put them in the sun and the go a lot quicker and some say the sun is the power that draws out the medicine.  if you put them in the sun, 2 weeks should be plenty of time.  You then strain herbs out and store oil in a glass jar with a lid until you are ready to use it.

Dried-

I do the same thing with dried herbs and have found Calendula flowers and Lavender flowers do wonderfully with this technique.

Dried Osha root

Osha Honey

Osha is a magical root, strong and cleansing.  My favorite lore about this herb is that in the spring, when the bears wake from their long winter naps, they dig up Osha Roots, chew them up and bath themselves in the purifying herbal wash.  For this and other reasons, people call it Bear medicine.  It is a great protector, carried to ward off snake bites, and wrong doing, placed over doorways in homes and on new born babies.  I love this root and it’s pungent medicine and this year, a dear grandpa showed us his secret gathering place.  It is super important to be humble and conservative when gathering this root, as it has been over harvested and is rare to find, not to mention a great gift that should be treated with the greatest respect.  I will never tell where I found it, but will say I am deeply grateful and intend to share it’s medicine with many.

Coffee(Herb) Grinder

I wanted to make honey out of Osha this year because when I am sick,  all I want is Osha lemon ginger tea, with honey or course.  (though I haven’t had my precious honey yet, as I am pregnant and Osha and pregnany don’t mix well)  So all I did wash and dry the roots, I then ground them into and fine powder in my coffee grinder (actually I have two grinders, one for coffee and one for herbs, they don’t mix well)

Ground Osha Root

I mixed our honey harvested this summer from our freinds the bees, with the powered root of Osha and put them in little jelly jars.  As it steeps together they create a pungent beautiful medicine that can be taken by the spoonful when you are feeling sick with colds or tummy aches.

Little jars, 1/3 filed with ground osha root, awaiting honey (in the big jar)

Osha Tincture– Similar to the honey,  grind the Osha root and fill up a pint glass jar with it.  Then covered it with high quality 100 proof vodka.  Label it and put the lid on and let the tincture sit for at least 2 weeks.  When the strength you desire is attained, strain the liquid from the herb and store in a dark glass jar (old tincture bottles, boiled to sanitize, work well)

My recipes are really casually written but that is only because I have read many a recipe and had success enough to be comfortable and casual.  If you all would like further recipes and reading, please look into my favorite herbalist and their incredible plant wisdom.

Rosemary Gladstar-http://www.sagemt.com/rosemary-gladstar/about-rosemary-gladstar.html

Michael Moore-http://www.swsbm.com/HOMEPAGE/HomePage.html

Susan Weed-http://www.susunweed.com/

Kiva Rose-http://animahealingarts.org/?s=home&searchsubmit=

Making soil mix

One of my favorite activities is making dirt– It feels like a miracle when you do it and really connects you to the components of what is in soil that makes it so fabulous to begin with.  If you never have done it, I highly recommend it.  You will need to gather a few materials if you want to make a soil mix that is good for seedlings, some store bought, but you will save money in the end if it is your habit to just buy seedling mix.  Making it yourself also gives you options to make mixes that are appropriate to the job at hand; you can make a fine mix for seedlings, a richer one for potting up and even a grittier one for cactus and such.

If you are a teacher or doing gardening with kids, it is a great activity because it is a lot like cooking, only you don’t have to wash your hands till after!!  A bunch of kids gathered around a wheel burrow, mixing and shifting is a great sight, though keep in mind– (FINE DUST FROM SOME OF THE INGREDIENTS CAN BE DANGEROUS TO YOUR LUNGS AND THE LUNGS OF LITTLE ONES…..VERMICULITE, PEAT MOSS AND PERLITE ALL HAVE FINE DUST TO BE AWARE OF)

Now if you feel so bold– here is how I do it

Gather your Materials

Peat Moss or Coir Fiber- Peat moss is made from the remains of dead plants that have decayed over hundreds of years.  Sphagnum moss is specifically moss that grows in peat bogs in Canada and other northern regions.  These are common in soil mixes because they are so fine and hold moisture incredibly well.  Coir Fiber is made from the husks of coconut and much more renewable and eco-friendly than Peat Moss, which take hundreds of years to form and is getting very rare.  These two are interchangeable in soil mix but Peat holds nutrients better, where as Coir Fiber holds water better. Coir fiber is also not as acidic as Peat Moss.  They both are highly compressed in packing so it is good to open them up and put them in a wheel burrow or container and pre-moisten them a day in advance of making soil mix.  They will absorb the water and become fluffy and expand quite a bit.  You can should break up any clumps before using in mixes.

Peat Moss

Fine Sand– Gathering Sand from the arroyo and sifting it through an old window screen is perfect.  Store bought is fine as well, but never use sand from the seashore.  Sands main role is drainage and aeration in soil mixes but can create a cement when mixed with heavy clay soils so keep that in mind.

Arroyo Sand

Garden Soil– Sifted through a 1/4 inch sifter for finer mixes.

Compost– From your pile or  from the store is fine–Sifted through a 1/4 inch sifter for finer mixes

Worm compost-before sifting

Extras

Vermiculite – Exploded Mica that is good for drainage, but does have a fine dust that is harmful when inhaled. Pre-moistening can cut down on dust

Vermiculite

Perlite– Exploded volcanic rock that is good for drainage, but also has a fine dust that is harmful when inhaled. Pre-moistening can cut down on dust.

Perlite

Once you have all your ingredients you will need a wheel burrow, mixing hoe and shovel.

Wheel Burrow and hoe

Mix— Now when you are following the recipes below, it is important to think about the qualities of your ingredients.  You basically want a balance between materials that are nutritious, hold moisture and drain moisture.  These characteristics will of course vary depending on what the mix is for (Ex: cactus want more drainage than seeds) but before you simply follow a recipe it is good to understand what each element brings. Now–Follow the recipes and mix all the ingredients together, making sure to mix well and get everything hiding in the corners, you don’t want pockets of unmixed material.  This is a great job for taking turns, especially with kids.

Moisture

It is good to have water on hand as well, and I of course prefer a watering can or nozzle with a very fine spray, as it is disperses well in your mix and cuts the dust down considerably.  It is nice to have someone else help sprinkle water as you are mixing, not too much not too little.

A fine sprinkle is ideal

You want the mix to be ‘as moist as a rung out sponge’ when you are done. It should feel moist to the touch but when you squeeze it into a ball you are not able to squeeze drops of water out. When you go to use it, if it isn’t the same day, you will want to make sure this moisture level is the same.  Storing the mix in Tupperware can help with this, or just add water when the time comes.

 

Squeeze in a ball

release you should have a ball that breaks up easily

A note on Sterilized Soil–Many farmers and greenhouse owners buy seedling mix because it is sterile, and thus free of diseases that can be carried in soil.  Though we talk a lot about the life of the soil, when it comes to indoor conditions of seed starting, having too much life can create imbalances that nature can’t manage because greenhouses are human controlled environments.  Diseases can really set you and seedlings back so if you know diseases are present, you may want to sterilize your soil.   I have always used soil and compost from my garden without sterilizing, and have had no problems.  I have also been to farms gardens where the gardeners sterilize their own soil by baking it.  I have seen this done in the oven as well as in steel drums over a fire.  The soil only needs to get to 180 F degrees to kill most harmful things.  If you get it too hot it can start to release other toxins, so beware.  Cooking soil stinks so consider yourself forewarned.  It will create a ‘dead soil’ but when seedlings are small the don’t need as much biological activity as when they grow up.  If you choose to sterilize your soil let me know how it goes.

Below are the soil recipes I like to use, published from the University of Santa Cruz Center for Agro-ecology– where I learned all my tricks.

RECIPES

FLAT/SOWING MIX

3 parts compost (sifted .5 inch screen)

2 parts soil

1 part sand

2 parts coir fiber (premoistened)

GARDEN SPEEDLING MIX

2-1/2 compost (sifted .5 inch screen)

1 soil

2 coir fiber (premoistened)

1/4 gallon kelp meal (*1 tablespoon)

*Use 1/4 gallon when one part is equal to one

wheelbarrow. Use 1 tablespoon when the measure is

a shovelful.

POTTING MIX

1-1/2 compost

1-1/2 partially decomposed duff

1 used mix

1 sand

1 perlite

1/2 soil

DRYLAND POTTING MIX

3 potting mix

1 sand

1 perlite

Hope this was helpful and have fun playing in the dirt!!!

Holy Boly!!

 

      

Oh the glories of gardening, verdant life all around your home, plucking your nourishment from right outside your back door, truly a glorious and satisfying act.  But what I find even better, is food, wild and free, there for the plucking with no effort needed by me but a keen eye and a gracious heart.  Nature in her perfect cycles is sprouting life everywhere, only for wandering humans to stumble across it, gather it up and be feed, it is the most natural thing in the world.  Wild food is so simple, yet feels like such a miracle every time I am gifted with some.  Well, these blessed rains have been kind to the wild foodies this year, especially the mushroom hunters. On any given day in August you can take the drive up to the ski basin and find tons of hikers wandering off the trails into forest groves, baskets in hand, looking for mushrooms.  We have gone up three times already and have never come home with empty baskets, the only trouble is everybody else is doing the same thing, so there isn’t much to go around and unfortunately people are tearing through in a way that looks like anywhere too many people have traveled–trampled ground, yanked and discarded fungi, and yes, trash, sad but true.  I will however commend a hiker that made my day.  He exited the trail and as he passed us he asked how the harvest was.  We had found one nice Boleta (we were only there for about 30 minutes) and showed him.  He said, “Check out what I scored” as he opened up a plastic shopping bag.  It was full to the brim with garbage!!  I was delighted he had harvested trash instead of mushrooms so we gave him our prize and thanked him heartily.  I love when people impress me!! It is not always about what you get, but what you give.

Though our harvest from the ski basin was less than abundant we simply love being there, wandering in the forest and soaking up the medicine of the forest itself.  We brought our nephew who visited from Barcelona last week and he had the time of his life with his wild mushroom hunting uncle.

Though the harvest was minimal, we were happy to have gotten up to the forest three times in 2 weeks and were content.  But last we got a tip about a mushroom forest from a friend who we had turned on to mushrooming and by golly I have never had so much fun in the forest before in my life, well maybe in high school while mushrooming!!  It was like a candy store, mushrooms everywhere, I really did feel like an elf, gitty with the abundance, slowly being lured deeper into the forest by another glimmer of color among the fallen leaves, fairies just watching from the trees as we were being put under their spell.  To go mushrooming, one must go slow, at a mushroom pace.  You must watch and listen and let them call to you.  It is like tracking, only when you do find the critters they just seem to smile and peer up at you, rather than dart away.  It is like playing hide a go seeks with a four-year old, who has more fun being found than eluding you.  The harvest was totally glorious, in fact I weighed in when we got home, 25lbs of mushrooms!!  Mostly Boletus Edulis, which I call holy boly!! They are a sponge mushroom, opposed to a gilled mushroom and almost the whole family is edible, with a few exceptions so beware.  By no means am I a mushroom expert, though I may be good at finding them, there are so many millions of kinds, I simply have learned a few and stick with them.  If you want to learn more about mushrooms I recommend Mushrooms Demystified by David Arora.

 He is kind of zanie, but a total expert.  He even mentions on page 546 the Boletivorus clandestinus, a strange breed.  Studying a field guide is totally helpful and can really be fun, even if harvesting isn’t your thing.

So now what to do with 25lbs of Mushrooms? Well, we dried them on screens in the sun and jarred them up for the winter. I made cream of mushroom soup last night from Deborah Madison’s Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone and though it looked like brown mush, it really was wonderful!  I will be hunting more recipes as the season goes on, but for now it is all about enjoying the wilds and putting food up for winter.

Ode to friends with fruit

perfect little apricots

 

The other day I got random phone call from a friend—she was pickling and wanted some dill and could trade for apricots!!!  I made a quick evening drive through the clouding evening sky to do a picking trip.  

Evening Sky opening on 503 toward Chimayo

 

She fed me dinner and then we all—me and her family of 6, picked happily into the evening as we watched the rain roll in. 

It was a bountiful trade on my end as I ended up with a huge basket of luscious apricots—which just twenty minutes away are nonexistent on the trees by my house.  I also have a small garden with immature trees so it was a great way to share an evening and our individual abundances.

I have been to receiver of great gifts from my bees as well, so I decided apricot jam with honey is what would be made.  A little planning ahead was on my side too, as last fall when my husband I got married we decided to buy 10 cases of canning jars instead of glasses.  It was a DIY wedding in the woods that lasted all weekend, so we had plenty of glasses for everyone and now….plenty of jars for canning.

Adding it all up, I only needed to buy lemon juice and the pectin, which turns out I don’t really need either.. I found a non pectin was of jamming here…….jam without pectin

I must admit though, after using totally sugar-free recipe, I decided to add some at the end, it was just too tart to have 12 jars of.

12 jars of jam

 

Now I have  12 jars of apricot, honey, sugar & spice jam, which will last a while and may come in handy for trades in the future.

It reminded me of a friend who was concerned with good food for her family last fall.  She was envious of our garden and since she lives in town, just doesn’t have the abundance of produce to preserve.  I suggested buying seconds (damaged but perfectly good produce) from farmers when the harvest comes in.  Buying food in bulk when it is in season helps your food stash as well as the farmers who are drowning in the harvest and may not have the right venues to move such abundance of food in the short window of ripeness.  You can also ask, if you make the trip to their farms to pick if they would give you any deeper discounts.  Bring the kids and make it a day.  

Little Sophie visiting Fat duck farm with the home school group last summer

 

We may not all have money right now, but we may have the time.  Just figuring out what we do have and trading helps us all figure out new economies and ways to get closer to each other, our food, not mention try new things, we may not even know we love.  Happy harvest!!

Planting into wooden flats

If you are planting inside a greenhouse or in your sunniest window you have probably already figured out your planting techniques.  For the sake of garden teaching, I thought I would include some tips on growing in wooden flats for those of you who are trying it for the first time. 

I actually have these tips typed up and hanging in the greenhouse at school, reminders seem to help new students.

 HELPFUL HINTS FOR PLANTING INTO WOODEN FLATS

* Check moisture of potting mix before putting it into the flat- It should feel wet to the touch, but not drip water when squeezed. I usually squeeze some in my hand, it should hold a loose ball and then crumble.  Many in the trade say it should “be moist as a rung out sponge”

* Fill flats all that way to the top.  Tap a few times on the tables to release air instead of pushing down with hands (that compacts the soil)

*Sow the seeds either broadcasting or in a grid format depending on the size of the seed (bigger seeds need more room and will get crowded quickly)

*Plant seeds twice as deep as they are wide making sure flat is filled to the top with soil when done ( the space between the top of the soil sand the top of the flat is a perfect ecosystem for green gunk to grow.  by filling the flat all the way up you eliminate this habitat)

* Label flats with name & date on a popsicle stick or some other creative label.  Record sowing info onto sowing sheet for record keeping.

*Fill out planting sheet whenever you plant something with all info- name, date, seed co, year seed was packed, etc..

* Water flats with sprinkle nozzle on watering can.  Keep the can moving and don’t allow water to puddle, seeds can drown, or wash away.

* Soil should be keep constantly moist while seeds are germinating, check by touching soil, should leave a little dampness on your fingers.

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