Archive for October, 2012

Herbal remedies

October 31, 2012

A few days ago I was cutting back some of the saw-sedges that grow on the property—pulling on the leaves while simultaneously cutting the bases with a serrated sickle. They’re not called saw-sedges for nothing—the edges are razor-sharp. Of course, gloves are a necessity, but dum-dum that I am sometimes, the pair I was using had a significant-sized hole in one finger.

So of course, the inevitable happened—that finger was cut into by a sharp stem.

There was a lot of blood and a lot of swearing as I headed for the bathroom. It was a deep cut. I washed it, dunked it in some antiseptic and tried to apply a bandaid. But it wouldn’t stop bleeding. The bathroom basin was getting redder & redder.

Then I remembered yarrow. I have it growing down in the food forest as a groundcover. It’s known to be anti-haemorragic, in other words it stops bleeding. Isabell Shippard in her excellent book, How Can I Use Herbs in my Daily Life, mentions that Achilles used it during the Trojan Wars to stop the bleeding of his soldier’s wounds, and goes on to say,  “during the first world war it was used to treat wounded soldiers”. Its botanical name is Achillea millefolium, in memory of Achilles and some of its common names are ‘staunchweed’ & ‘soldier’s woundwort’.

So I headed down the back and picked a few feathery stems, took them back to the house, washed them, chewed them into a paste and stuffed it into the cut. After 10 minutes, holding it there tightly, I took a look. There was a slight oozing of blood but no gushing like it had been. I put a bandaid around the finger, holding the paste there and waited half an hour, then took it off and washed the cut again. There was no bleeding. Of course, I knew it would work as I’d done it before!

Here’s yarrow in flower in the garden. Very pretty, but I have to put wire around it as the rabbits love the flower stems and flowers. They don’t worry about it when it’s not in flower. Perverse creatures:

That’s not the end of the story. Being a deep cut, it was going to take some time for new skin to grow and heal over. That’s where comfrey comes in.

I won’t waste time raving about the healing powers of comfrey here. Go to Isabell Shippard’s website and read her article about it.

In this case I didn’t go out to the garden, pick some comfrey and chew it into a paste. I’ve tried that; it’s yuk! Some years ago, being aware of comfrey’s healing powers, I bought a jar of comfrey ointment in a health food shop. Much cleaner and nicer to use:

I knew it would work too, because I once used it to clear up a nasty ulcer on my husband’s leg. I smeared some into the cut and put a bandaid on it. Changed the bandaid twice a day with  more ointment. The rate of healing has been amazing! The deep cut has rapidly become shallower as new skin filled it in. No photos of the finger, I’m afraid—this post didn’t occur to me until much later and anyway, it would have been hard to take photos initially without getting blood on the camera!

So there you go! A collection of medicinal herbs growing in the garden could be a very valuable asset to have in a medically-uncertain, peak-oil future.

Nettle pesto

October 29, 2012

My new little edible weed book arrived a couple of days ago:

It’s a great resource and conveniently pocket-sized. I’m even more enthused about maintaining a collection of edible ‘weeds’ somewhere in a corner of the food forest.  Going to need an alternative name to ‘weeds’ though, to eliminate the negative connotations.

I have a large, healthy patch of nettles growing at the moment so I was interested in the nettle entry. There’s a recipe for nettle gnocci in the recipe section at the back of the book and nettle pesto was mentioned, so today I got to and made a batch, using my normal basil pesto recipe:

I’m not sure about the taste; it’s very ‘green’ (a bit like eating your lawn), and not a patch on basil pesto, but I’ll try it on some pasta later in the week and see how it goes. Definitely won’t throw it out though, with all that goodness in the nettles it’s too valuable to waste. I might try the gnocci at some stage and nettle and potato soup which I made some years ago, is a winner, too.

My pesto recipe:

2 cups basil (or nettle) leaves
1/2 cup olive oil
1/4 cup pine nuts or almonds
2 cloves garlic
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup grated parmesan

Blend all except the parmesan in a food processor until the desired consistency and then stir in the cheese. Of course, it’s a doddle in the Thermomix and it will even grate the parmesan for you.

I picked a huge basket of nettle leaves, so what I didn’t use will be dried and ground into flakes to use in omelets, casseroles, soups, you name it, etc.  Nettles are extraordinarily rich in minerals, with 8 times more iron than beef, lots of calcium and up to 40% by dry weight of protein.

More mini cuttings

October 24, 2012

Remember those ultra-tiny tomato cuttings I did a while ago?

Well, I’ve been trying other species.

It works for lettuces…..and capsicums:

Look at the roots on that tiny capsicum cutting:

I’m really pleased about the capsicums. I find it so hard to germinate capsicum seed; it seems to need a lot of heat.  I’m glad to be able to utilise every seedling that came up by turning it into a mini cutting. Of course if I’d just sown the seed into a tray, I would have been able to pot up every seedling in the normal way, but this year I sowed 3 seeds to a number of small pots and it looks like I’ll still be able to rescue every one.

Giving Lemon Balm a haircut

October 22, 2012

There’s no doubt in my mind that lemon balm (Melissa officinalis) is a weed very successful plant.

Being a member of the mint family (Lamiaceae), means it spreads by underground runners and can eventually cover large areas. It also self-seeds quite well and that’s how most of mine has spread to different places.

It has its good points, though. Listed in permaculture circles as a dynamic accumulator, it can be cut regularly and used as a nutrient-rich mulch on garden beds (preferably without seed heads). It’s dormant through the winter and grows again in spring. It’s rocketing away at the moment:

That’s a comfrey plant in the centre, struggling to get its leaves into the light.

I continually cut back the lemon balm through the spring & summer and either put it through the mulcher for mulch or compost, throw it straight into the compost, or just leave it lying on the ground in the food forest to break down there. I use hedge clippers. No noisy, fossil fuel burning whippersnippers will ever be used on this property! Hello comfrey!:

I’m using the chopped stems to build up the extension to my new hugelkultur bed:

I’ll always leave some to flower because it’s very attractive to bees. New seedlings coming up where I don’t want them can always be pulled out and unwanted established clumps can be sheet-mulched out of existence. It’s too valuable to not have in the garden.

Oh, and it makes a nice cup of herbal tea, too!

New (Aussie) edible weed book

October 21, 2012

Just ordered this book. Yippee! Love getting new food books!


October 15, 2012

Ordinarily I would always grow beans and other large seeds (peas, corn), by sowing direct into their final spot in the garden, the reason being that the large tap root that appears first will serve the plants better if it’s allowed to get itself straight down into the soil.

This doesn’t happen if seeds are first sown in a shallow punnet with a view to transplanting later. What I’m trying to say here is that I would never bother to actually buy a punnet of seedlings of beans, peas or corn or similar large-seeded plants, or sow them first in a container. I know you see these for sale and I know people buy them, it’s just that I wouldn’t, unless I could be sure of a large success rate. Even then, I figure they would take a long time to recover from transplanting shock.

There’s one way to find out, of course, and that’s to do it, so when I saw punnets of bean seedlings for sale at my local Sunday market, I bought a couple. The main reason was that they were a variety called Bonaparte which I’d never heard of, or seen in any seed catalogues. The old guy selling them knows his veggies though, and he said it was a good variety:

I’ve planted them in a wicking box and will see how they go. I only need enough to survive and set pods and I’ll have seed to direct sow for next year:

Junk potatoes

October 13, 2012

I picked these today:

There are just under two kilos. The largest weighs 300 g. I found them in what I call my ‘junk’ compost bin.

It’s a cheap plastic freebie which came from the local Council (our Council never gives anything good away). I don’t use it for ‘serious’ compost. It gets the junk stuff—weeds with seeds, vacuum cleaner dust, deceased possums & rabbits, and so on. I never empty it; just keep chucking stuff in and it keeps on shrinking.

Some huge potato stems appeared in there this year and when they’d died back I thought I’d have a look. These are bigger potatoes than the ones I grew deliberately!

Maybe deceased possums & rabbits are something I should have more of!

Chickens are winning over the world

October 11, 2012

Here’s one of my favourite bloggers talking about one of my favourite subjects.

The end of growth

October 8, 2012

Richard Heinberg is visiting Australia once again, this time to talk about and promote his latest book, The End of Growth.

If you don’t know who Richard Heinberg is, then you aren’t peak oil aware and you should be, so go and do some Googling and find out what it’s all about and why, (if you care about your future), you should be starting to prepare now.

Of course, if you’re growing your own food and attempting to become self-sufficient in all your worldly needs, even without peak oil knowledge, then you are already preparing, so 10 out of 10 for you.

Richard spoke recently to an audience in Adelaide and someone has put the video up on YouTube.  It’s one of his best efforts and that’s saying something, because he’s done so much to wake people up to the energy crisis that’s coming. This talk is not strictly about peak oil but growth, and why it can’t continue. His explanation of the financial/debt crisis is one of the best I’ve heard, beating even Chris Martenson’s Crash Course:

Link to Richard’s talk here

Don’t miss it!

Around the garden

October 4, 2012

I’ve planted out the tomatoes I bought at the Sunday market. They’re big enough and the weather is warm enough and I hope it’ll stay that way.  I notice Suburban Tomato (who also lives in Melbourne), has planted hers out too, so I feel encouraged. My own seedling tomatoes are still too small to go out.

Two Rouge de Marmande in a wicking box. I haven’t grown this variety before and Suburban Tomato has a stunning photo of one at the link above. Hope mine are that big!:

And two Roma, also in a wicking box (with silver beet for company):

The two small plots of wheat I planted (bread wheat & cake wheat), started to flower and I was determined to keep the parrots from getting the developing seeds this year. I’ve netted both plots and if there’s no wind, will give the plants a shake regularly, because grasses are wind-pollinated:

It looks like some nice plump grains in those heads:

The daikon (Japanese radish) is running to seed and I’m disappointed that it hasn’t produced roots of any size. Obviously I planted it too late. Back to the drawing board. I’ll let some plants go to seed and hang the rest up for the chooks to gorge on:

Now I know why I always get such a good crop of blueberries from this plant in a pot on the deck. This Noisy Miner is doing a spot of pollination:

The six redcurrants in the greywater line are flowering for the first time. The plants have been in for three years and most are over a metre tall. They were all grown from seed, which is probably why they’ve taken so long to flower:

I don’t know what pollinates these tiny flowers, but fruits are already forming. More netting needed:

Nearly all the garlic in the ground has died. First it got garlic rust fungus and then black aphids finished it off. I sprayed the aphids, but had already given up on it for this year. But the garlic in the wicking box is doing well. Minimal rust and no aphids. I can’t explain it; I’m just happy that I might get some sort of a crop this year:

Shallots in a wicking tub. There are flower buds appearing, so I hope I’ll get seed and be able to grow more that way. Buying shallot bulbs to plant can be expensive:

This year, for the first time, I’m planting leeks in a wicking tub:

The problem with leeks in a tub is the depth of soil, or at least, not so much the depth of soil as the depth of the tub. The tubs I use are 25 cm deep. When I grow leeks in the garden, I cover the stems way up with mulched bracken, so they develop that nice white colour out of the light. They’re also in a wire ring in the garden, so the bracken stays in place. The tub is too shallow to do that, so I’ll have to build up the sides with some wire or timber to get more depth. Shouldn’t be too much of a problem. This tub is right next to the Girls’ playground fence. The row of leeks at the back might suffer the dreaded beaks-through-the-wire syndrome. THAT will be a problem!

Lettuce seedlings almost ready to plant:

Are you following me? Native Crested Pigeon wanting a feed. Friendly little birds; they’ve become very tame:

And finally, beans. I normally start planting beans in October and plant a batch every month until February. They invariably take 2 months to bear and that means from December onwards I have beans to pick every week until May. I grow Purple King climbers wherever there’s something for them to climb on and French beans everywhere else. French beans grow very well in wicking boxes. This year I got a head start with the climbers and planted them in early September in one of the two corrugated planter boxes where I’d prepared a trellis for them. It’s up against a north-facing wall and I hoped they’d germinate there, even though some days were still a bit on the cool side. They did germinate and so now I’m a month ahead with beans. That’s silver beet in the front of the box: