Saturday, April 30, 2011

Surviving 2011

A few miles from my house

Killer tornadoes, flooding, high winds, hail as big as fists... sadly, these are all in the news this week, almost every day, it seems. The other prominent news is the doubling of gasoline and near-doubling food costs. Those combined facts bring survival to the forefront.

Truck Stop 8 miles from my house
Tornadoes are usually not a concern here in the mountains. However, 2 nights ago (Wednesday, April 27) an EF3 touch down about 8 miles south of my house, killing 10 and destroying the town. Closer by 4 miles, an EF2 touched down, thankfully no loss of life reported so far. We had the edge the storms, but not the brunt of them, and only lost one large tree. My heart goes out to those who have died in this recent rage of storms, and to those left behind to mourn loved ones and clean up the incredible debris.

TS Eliot said, "April is the cruelest month." That sure stands true for April, 2011. The national death toll from the recent rage of tornadoes and storms stands at around 300.

For years I have read Survival blogs, basically for tips on being prepared for weather-based situations where preparedness is of the utmost importance. I have not prepared for tornadoes because they are a rare occurrence here; now that has changed and things will never be the same.

Killer storms, coupled with the ongoing economic downturn, makes it a whole different ballgame. The price of gasoline in the US is hovering around and over $4 a gallon as of late April 2011, and some economists think it could rise to as much as $10/gallon.

Whether you choose to acknowledge it or not, there is no going back; things will never be the same as they were 2, 5, 10, 20 years ago.

So, what ARE we doing to compensate and prepare, individually? Are we willing to accept we actually might be in the throes of a long downward spiral where things do not get better? (AKA the beginning stages of TEOTWAWKI, the-end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it.) Or are we still keeping our heads in the sand and renting DVD's for entertainment to accompany our take-out pizza?

As an example of the latter, I share a house with my sister, and her 23 year old daughter. At age 21 the kid got a minimal wage job, and established some credit. First came a $125+/month cell phone with bells and whistles, then a couple of department store cards for the newest fashions. Not much than a year later she was out of work, cannot pay her CC bills nor contribute a penny to the food and household bills. Yet her goal with her $700 income tax refund coming soon is to pay off some bills so she can get her cell phone back. Not money to pay for food, nor housing... just getting her 'status' cell phone back.  (I admit that her attitude is partly her mother's fault because she financially supports her only daughter, requiring nothing in return.)

However, I think the kid's attitude is far more indicative of some typical thinking of many Americans who have their head in the sand. Many people I know just see it as a "belt-tightening time", thinking we will get through it and it will be fat-city again. 

There are NO economic indicators to suggest that is possible. If you want some proof, just search data on the interest the US government owes on the national debt. If the government never spends another dime for defense, social welfare programs, research, or any funding of government agencies and projects, it would take every dime of tax money to make interest only payments... and it still would never pay off the interest, much less the principal.

Look at the many Americans who have lost their homes and filed bankruptcy because the interest payments would never get them out of the hole even WITH a paying job or two, much less being unemployed in a market with no jobs.... and thus paying no taxes to help fund the government debt payments.

So, my original question us, what are we doing on an individual basis? I'd love to hear what YOU are doing. 

Here's what I am doing, or planning:

1. First and foremost, I am making my spring house which is below grade, into a small storm shelter. I didn't think I needed it before this week. It will be damp and cold, but probably a lot safer than this house which is basically a trailer with some stick-built portions built around it. I just need to stock the spring house with a few comforts like chairs, blankets, oil lamps, food, etc.

2. I'm raising a small garden (it will feed just myself... my sis and her kid won't eat green stuff, or peel potatoes when they can buy mashed potatoes in a box). I have worked on winter produce/food storage areas so things keep without freezing (although that project isn't finished). I am growing more storable vegetables like winter squash, potatoes, onions, garlic, parsnips, rutagagas…

3. I'm trying to figure out how to get enough money to fence an area for a few chickens and maybe a milk goat or two, although a cow would be better as it would provide more milk.

4. I'm adding more insulation to our attic to curb heat loss, and looking at ways to augment heat with solar gain. Solar gain will be difficult to achieve because we have long covered porches running on both long sides of the house, making the house several feet from direct sunlight.
5. I’m looking into building a simple and cheap solar batch water heater, even if we just use it 6 months of the year.

6. I have cut down every possible frivolous use of gasoline, including those rare trips to visit friends even though they help save my sanity. I have cut everything from the grocery store that isn't basic food (or an extra pack of TP to stockpile!)

7. I have learned that foods at eye level in the grocery stores are the most expensive, so now I look high up on the shelves, or way down below my comfort zone for bargains and best unit prices. I've learned that often coupons suck you into buying something you really can do without. I've learned to investigate sale items on the end caps... they are not always a bargain. I've learned to check unit prices on larger containers... they used to be the bargains, but now they are sometimes higher per unit than smaller quantities.

8. I am buying open pollinated seeds and not hybrid seeds. That way I can save seeds to replant the following year and they are non-GMO! With Monsanto in control (or indirect control) of so much of the seeds worldwide, OP and heirloom seeds are becoming more scarce and costly.
“A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.” — Robert A. Heinlein

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Cheese Glue

The one really nasty part for me about making cheese is the clean-up. Not only are there a lot of pots, utensils, colanders, strainers, molds and cheesecloth... they are incredibly hard to clean if the whey or any of the bits of curd are allowed to dry on them.

Thus I began to wonder about the glue possibilities using cheese, and discovered cheese glue been around for centuries. In fact, casein (milk proteins mixed with lime) is known as the strongest natural glue! The Egyptians used it for furniture joints, and the Romans used it for gluing broken statuary back together.

There is, however, one caveat: Do not use it in damp places. Under prolonged dampness, the glue begins to soften, and smell like very ripe camembert. (It can become a liquid, smelly mess and seep out of the joints if enough moisture is present.)

As I understand it, the process of making cheese glue is very similar to making milk paint, but finding any real recipes proved hard. Some say to use the curd, others say to use the whey. Here's a man looking to make a cheese glue for violins.... and here's a recipe for a non-toxic glue from powdered milk.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Making Cheese again...

My newest cheese!

After a long 2-3 weeks with bronchial pneumonia and feeling like crap, I'm beginning to think I may live and I'm starting doing a few non-arduous tasks, like making cheese.

I had visitors from Maryland today, very old friends I have not seen in many years. The visit was too short, of course. I didn't feed them as I had planned (due to no energy), but I did drag out 3 of my new homemade cheeses from the cheese cave... they absolutely raved about the Thyme Caerphilly (top photo above), and liked the Lancashire (shown just above) a little better than just okay (but it really needs to age another month to be decent) and the lemongrass Caerphilly didn't get warmed to room temp to taste, so it went home with them (as did the others).

They also raved about the Humboldt Fog (goat cheese, shown on the right in the photo above), which came from California. I bought a slice to try when I went to Roanoke last month, to taste before deciding if I wanted to make it, and I have to agree it's one of the very best store-bought cheeses I've ever tasted. (so far!)

To date, everyone who has tasted my thyme cheese has raved, so I needed to make another wheel. I thought it was pretty good myself, but I just figured I'm prejudiced since I made it. Faye thought I ought to be selling it... pretty good accolades from someone who lives just outside DC and has every kind of food imaginable at hand, plus a fairly sophisticated palate to boot!

Here's the newest Caerphilly thyme wheel I started yesterday after my company left. It's just out of the overnight press, on Easter morning as I'm writing this. Now it goes in a salt brine for 6 hours, then air dries before going in the cave. Currently it weighs 2.5 pounds, so it should cure/age out around 2 pounds.

I also started yet another batch of feta several days ago. My first 2 batches tasted fine but didn't hold up to storing in brine in the refrigerator. They should keep well for months in a refrigerated brine, but mine turned to mush. I've talked with several cheesemakers who had the very same initial problem, and I'm following their remedies with this newest batch.

As my health and spring weather both continue to improve, I'll get my garden off to its late start and squeeze in cheesemaking when I can.

I plan my first 'Stilton' soon, a repayment for the friend who gave me the mini wine cooler to use as an aging cave for blue cheeses. I will likely post in detail about making it, as it will be my first blue cheese!

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Preventing Some Radiation Effects

Photo by relapsed nun

Lately I have been reading a lot of bits around the internet about what is true and what is false or misleading about the reported radiation amounts coming over the US, and the effects, if any, on our food and water. There are a lot of sites that seem to "prove" the PTB are not fully disclosing all the facts, and frankly some of it is very convincing.

I'm not sure what to believe, so this post is about preparedness and prevention, not a knee-jerk reaction. What I am doing is incorporating some healthy things into my diet that are tasty, nutritious and will help if there is radiation fallout... and won't hurt me if there really isn't any problem. One obvious thing to do is to increase iodine intake, and another is use rosemary, and consume more of the foods and vitamins listed below. 

Even if you are not concerned about radiation exposure, you can't go wrong by adding a bit of seaweed to your diet. What? You cannot imagine eating seaweed? I bet you add salt to soups and stews, don't you? Well, just substitute any seaweed vegetable, which will supply the salt and cook down like any leafy green... plus seaweed is a super food that is rich in many health-promoting nutrients. (In a few days, I plan to post photos of some of the seaweeds in my pantry, and how to use them.)

Kelp, wakame, dulse, sea lettuce, kombu, bladderwack, hijiki, nori and other sea veggies are naturally rich in iodine. The first pack of dulse I ever bought many years ago turned out to be a tasty slightly sweet pinkish-colored snack food, and I've kept some in my pantry ever since!

BTW, several months ago I bookmarked an online supplier of North Atlantic seaweeds, mainly because I wanted more dulse. Unfortunately I didn't have enough money buy any at the time. I went again yesterday to their site, and they are certainly aware of the interest in seaweed; I didn't note the prices in February but I feel confident they might have been less than now. Even so, it's cheap nutrition and protection.

Another Maine certified organic sustainable seaweed site has this to say:

Dear Old and New Customers,
Due to the events in Japan, quite frankly, we are swamped. Please be patient as we process your orders and requests. Expect turn around times to be considerably longer than usual, and please resist the temptation to bypass our limits by ordering frequently. We are committed to sharing our resources as equitably as possible and trust in your good will and co-operation. Thanks for your understanding in this period of planetary uncertainty.

Shep Erhart
Founder, MCSV

P.S. Our phones are ringing off the hook, so call us only if you absolutely have to. Thanks. 

Although taking potassium iodide pills (KI) can be potentially harmful (and intefere with other medications), ingesting natural iodine is not. Right now potassium iodide tablets are back-ordered for months, so it's a moot point on the pills anyway. There have been a lot of politics playing around KI since scientists first discovered it's effectiveness (90%+) in radiation protection back in 1954 and then receiving FDA approval in 1978. There have been many proposals to stockpile it regionally over the years, but the nuclear industry has continually blocked those proposals. They feared it would send a message that nuclear power was unsafe, so the industry decided to protect itself instead of the people.

Seaweed Harvested from deep waters by women divers, Photo by nurpax

Seaweeds purify all the world’s oceans- they can do the same for your body. Seaweeds like kelp, dulse and Irish Moss can protect us from a wide range of toxic elements in the environment, including radiation by-products, converting them into harmless salts that our bodies can eliminate.

Natural iodine in seaweeds can reduce by almost 80% the radioactive iodine-131 that would beotherwise absorbed by the thyroid... that is, if natural iodine is already in the system. Seaweeds are so effective that even the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission recommends that people consume two to three ounces of seaweeds a week (or 2 tbsp. of algin supplements a day, see sodium alginate below) for maximum protection against radiation poisoning. (Source) Gingko biloba can be protective even after exposure to radiation. (Source)

Then there's the use of one of my favorite herbs, rosemary! In two separate studies, scientists in Spain found that nothing fights radiation damage to micronuclei like a simple garden herb known as rosemary. You can make rosemary tea, use rosemary in cooking, and/or buy tincture of rosemary to take a few drops daily. I've never tried rosemary tea but I use a lot of it in cooking; now I'll use more. YUM!

The scientists noted that ionizing radiation causes the massive generation of free radicals that induce cellular DNA damage. The fact that carnosic acid and carnosol found in rosemary are fat soluble allows them to provide highly significant protective anti-mutagenic activity. Even the most powerful water-soluble antioxidants lack the capacity to protect against gamma ray induced damage. This study can be found in the British Journal of Radiology, February 2 edition.

In a study from India, scientists investigated the radio-protective potential of caffeic acid against gamma radiation-induced cellular changes.
Food sources offering significant amounts of caffeic acid are apples, citrus fruits, and cruciferous vegetables. (Note: Wiki says cruciferous veggies contain enzymes that interfere with the production of thyroid hormone unless cooked for 30 minutes.)

Right now it looks like the best defense against radiation poisoning is the same as the best defense against all diseases. This defense begins with diet (including lots of probiotics like yogurt, kefir, etc.), and supplements. Eating a diet high in apples, citrus fruits, seaweed, cruciferous vegetables, drinking red wine, and using fresh rosemary have been scientifically shown to be effective against radiation poisoning. 

Supplements of rosemary extract (or tincture) containing carnosic and rosmarinic acids are widely available. Supplements of DIM offer higher doses of one of the most potent compounds in cruciferous vegetables. 

Broccoli sprouts are the best source of sulphoraphane, another highly potent compound in cruciferous vegetables. Broccoli sprouts are available as supplements too. Making a pitcher of fresh vegetable juice several times a week for all family members to drink is a great way to fortify everyone against an environment that has turned against them. The juice should contain high amounts of broccoli, cabbage or other cruciferous vegetables. Adding a small slice of fresh ginger will give the juice an appealing flavor. Use only organic or fresh locally grown vegetables if they are available.

I know kelp (or any seaweed) is very good to add to garden soil, but I have NOT been able to find anything that says it will increase the ability of plants to ward off radiation. But hey, it can't hurt!

VITAMIN C: This may be the most important thing of all to have on hand for many applications, e.g. poison, bites, viruses, etc. The book “Vitamin C, Infectious Diseases, and Toxins” by Thomas Levy, MD, should be one of your most prized possessions... along with as much Sodium Ascorbate as you can store. Vitamin C cannot only protect against radiation but also repair damage from previous exposure. There is abundant scientific proof for this assertion.

Kelp: Supplement the diet with easily assimilable organic iodine, as in kelp (Norwegian or other clean water kelp if possible), this will saturate the thyroid so radioactive iodine will not be absorbed. Kelp, like all sea vegetables, contains an amazing substance called sodium alginate. Sodium alginate reduces the amount of strontium-90 absorbed by bone tissue by 50 to 83 percent.

Sodium Alginate: (also available as a powder) An effective preventive and therapeutic substance against radiation and heavy metals. In two experiments using rats, sodium alginate decreased by a factor of 12, the uptake of several radioactive isotopes—including strontium-90, strontium-85, barium, radium, and calcium. Skoryna el al. concluded that ingestion of small but regular does of alginate is effective in preventing the daily absorption of small doses of radioactive strontium and other contaminants that are present in the environment. Brown sea vegetables such as kelp are the most effective sources. Alginate is nontoxic and is not reabsorbed for the GI tract and appears to have no adverse affects even at high doses. Red sea vegetables, such a dulse are most effective at binding plutonium, and green algae binds cesium most effectively. 

Protective program for Strontium-90
Calcium and Magnesium: both help your body to pass off Strontium 90. Get supplements that are not made from animal bones (they contain Strontium 90). Dolomite is best. Dr. Linus Pauling says heavy calcium supplementation will reduce strontium 90 absorption by 50 percent, but be careful not to over indulge unless exposed.

Calcium: By the mechanism of selective uptake, calcium blocks or decreases the absorption of strontium-90, calcium-45 and other radioactive isotopes by the skeletal system. Calcium also helps to eliminate radioactive isotopes that are lodged in the bones! The National Research Council recommends that adults consume 800 mg. of calcium per day. For children and lactating women this is 1,000 mg. and 1,400 mg.. Too much calcium can be harmful. The best forms of supplemental calcium are calcium citrate, gluconate, carbonate, lactate, or amino acid chelated calcium. It is good to take a calcium-magnesium combination.

Pectin: Obtained from fruit like Citrus skins (oranges, tangerines, grapefruit, lemons, limes, etc. - the pectin is high in the skin but low in the fruit), tart cooking apples, sour apples, crab apples, (under-ripe apples contain more pectin that ripe apples), lemons, wild grapes (Eastern Concord variety), cranberries, gooseberries, boysenberries,  Blackberries, Currants, Gooseberries, Loganberries, most Plums (not the Italian kind), and Quinces are high in pectin.  

Like sodium alginate in agar and kelp, pectin bonds or chelates with radioisotopes, especially strontium-90, and reduces the absorption into the skeletal system. 
(Source for the supplements information.)

Friday, April 22, 2011

Remember Tom Sawyer's Whitewash?

Photo © Cindy Lovell / AP

Well, I do... and reading about 'whitewashing' the fence... and since today is Earth Day, it seems a good time to post it. I had an idea of what whitewash is... sort of, but not really. Turns out it's a useful, cheap and non-toxic finish that can substitute for paint in many areas. Probably not inside the house, unless you applied it in summer and let it air out until fall, although many older farm houses were painted inside with whitewash.

I came across the notion of whitewash when researching 'caves' to age cheese. It's great for that, and just as wonderful to apply to barn interiors for farm animals, outbuildings, stables, chicken coops, etc. The lime has a purifying action, kills germs, and does not act as a medium for their growth.

A basic recipe is 2 gallons of water, 12 cups hydrated lime aka quicklime (which is very white, unlike the lime applied to fields which is usually gray) and 4 cups salt. I paid under $8 at the local Ag store for a 50 pound bag of hydrated lime, so this is very inexpensive 'paint'. I'll but bulk salt at Sam's or a local Ag dealer.

Actually, whitewash is not really a paint, but instead it's a 'wash', which will eventually begin to flake, or rub off if you lean against it, and the reason why whitewash was reapplied every few years.  It will also wear down over time if exposed to rain. However, the addition of milk or rice flour (or an animal glue) makes it last longer outdoors, like on the fence belonging to Tom's Aunt Polly. (The casein in the milk, or protein in the flour, binds to the lime to make a kind of 'cement' so it sticks better and lasts longer.)

I plan to whitewash the inside of my root cellar to clean and brighten it, once it gets warm enough to empty it out for a few days. I want to re-do the shelving in there, too, and install a breaker box in place of the old fuse box. I'll post pictures and notes when I tackle THAT project!

There is also a paint called Milk Paint, one of the oldest types of paint on earth, and one of the longest-lasting. Along with egg tempera, it was the standard artist paint of the middle ages. Casein, as it's properly called, remained popular for decoration through the mid-1800s, and it’s what gives Colonial furniture its soft color.

Curdle a bucket of milk with vinegar, strain out the curds, add some borax or lime and some pigment, and you're basically ready to go. Milk paint, properly prepared, will last for centuries. Milk protein, stripped of its fat (curds) is incredibly sticky.

Here's some links on Whitewash recipes and instructions, and following them, some links for Milk Paint.
Craftsman Style, How to Whitewash (click to read the page after it, too)

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Some Encouraging News about Food Control

Third Maine Town Passes Landmark Local Food Ordinance
Effort Gaining Attention Nationwide

On Saturday, April 2, Blue Hill became the third town in Maine to adopt the Local Food and Self-Governance Ordinance. The Ordinance was passed at Blue Hill's town meeting by a near unanimous vote. This comes on the heels of the unanimous passage of the Ordinance in the neighboring towns of Sedgwick and Penobscot on March 5 and March 7, respectively. The Ordinance asserts that towns can determine their own food and farming policies locally, and exempts direct food sales from state and federal license and inspection requirements.

Blue Hill resident John Gandy said the passage of the Blue Hill ordinance “is a huge milestone in the struggle to protect the rights, not only of farmers to sell their products, but also of all citizens to eat the food of their choice.

The Local Food and Self-Governance Ordinance has drawn national attention, with emails and phone calls pouring into Western Hancock County from around the U.S., Canada, and as far away as New Zealand. Farmers, ranchers, and artisan food producers have contacted local residents wanting to know how and why this ordinance came to be, and whether or not it could happen where they live.

Source and full story here.

I wonder if the Feds will actually LET them?

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Short Memories in Government / FAA?

Air Traffic Controller aboard the US Navy Aircraft Carrier Kitty Hawk, photo by expertininfantry

In August of 1981, President Regan fired 11,000 union Air Traffic Controllers who were striking for shorter (safer) hours and higher wages. Regan put a lifetime ban on re-hiring any of them. Today there are fewer Air Traffic Controllers than in 1981 despite a huge increase in air traffic.

Who is to blame for the current and smaller number of controllers (relative to air traffic) pulling double shifts, being overworked and falling asleep on the job? The FAA hires and manages them.

Gee, you don't think the government might be culpable, do you?

One of my memories as an older teenager (18 and licensed to drive) is that sometimes my friend Alice and I (late at night) would go up to the air traffic control tower at Miami International Airport and ask if they wanted company. If traffic was slow, they'd let us in and try to explain some of what they were doing. We only went a very few times, and there were always at least 4 men (usually men, although I don't recall any females) in the tower. I can still remember how they valued their awesome responsibility to get planes safely on the ground. I cannot imagine a controller today having any less work ethic, and in my mind can only attribute 'sleeping on the job' to overwork.

(Yeah, I know it's not like my regular posts on gardening or making basic foods... I get  short-tempered when I'm sick.)

Monday, April 18, 2011

There's Something SO Exciting about seeing a Seed Sprout!

Today, my first seed sprout emerged. Keep in mind, I'm a gardener who starts seeds every year so it should be "old hat" to me, but somehow, it's as exciting as if I'd never seen it happen!

Perhaps because it reminds me of the infinite knowledge carried in a tiny seed that allows it to become a squash, or a pepper, or an orange tree... and to both provide food for me, and to also make more seeds so it can reproduce? Or perhaps it is a reminder that Life prevails in Nature despite humankind's collective efforts to destroy it.

It has always fascinated me that a single human egg and a sperm can combine and grow into a complex organism where some cells that have divided know to make arms or legs and other cells know to make hearts and lungs. 

I'm sure something similar happens when a plant seed starts to grow... some cells know to make stems and leaves, some know to make flowers... which in turn know to make fruits containing seeds, either on the outside like strawberries, blackberries or cashews, or the inside of the fruit like tomatoes and bananas.

It's kind of awesome, isn't it?

Saturday, April 16, 2011

The Full Moon of April

The Full Moon of April is known as the "Full Pink Moon". This yer it is April 18. The name comes from one of the earliest widespread flowers of Spring, the herb moss pink aka Creeping Phlox as pictured above in my garden, and/or wild ground phlox.

Full Moon names date back to Native Americans, of what is now the northern and eastern United States. The tribes kept track of the seasons by giving distinctive names to each recurring full Moon. Their names were applied to the entire month in which each occurred. There was some variation in the Moon names, but in general, the same ones were current throughout the Algonquin tribes from New England to Lake Superior. European settlers followed that custom and created some of their own names. Since the lunar month is only 29 days long on the average, the full Moon dates shift from year to year. Source: Farmers Almanac. (Last year, the full moon was on April 28.)

Other names for this months’ full moon include the "Full Grass Moon", the "Egg Moon" and among coastal tribes, the "Full Fish Moon", as this was the time the shad swam upstream to spawn. My friends in NJ have been enjoying shad roe this year, so the shad are still aqround!

April's new moon was on the 3rd and the Full Moon is on the 18th.

Moon Folklore

* Rail fences cut during the dry, waning Moon will stay straighter.

* Wooden shingles and shakes will lie flatter if cut during the dark of the Moon.

* Fence posts should be set in the dark of the Moon to resist rotting. Ozark lore says that fence posts should always be set as the tree grew. To set the root end upward makes a short-lived fence.

* Don't begin weaning when the Moon is waning.

* Castrate and dehorn animals when the Moon is waning for less bleeding.

* Slaughter when the Moon is waxing for juicier meat.

* Crabbing, shrimping, and clamming are best when the Moon is full.

* Best days for fishing are between the new and full Moon.

* Dig your horseradish in the full Moon for the best flavor.

* Set eggs to hatch on the Moon's increase, but not if a south wind blows.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Experimenting with growing Sweet Potato Slips

I have never grown sweet potatoes. Last year I wanted to buy some slips, but first the many varieties and growing needs gave me too many options, and my timing was off anyway.

Last week a friend gave me some sweet potatoes from NC that are not supposed to be stringy, so I decided to try and grow my own slips from some of them. I DO remember my grandma putting a sweet potato in a glass bottle on the windowsill, and it produced a lovely plant. However, I was too young to know if she was starting slips, or just a pretty indoor plant.

So I dinked around the internet for how to start my own slips and decided to go for it. Shown in the photo above is a shallow pan, and a seed starting mix with an equal amount of sand mixed with it. Optimally, I'd have a box outside like a cold frame, and some fresh manure in the bottom to generate heat. Since I do not, this is my best idea for a substitute. 

I read that sweet potatoes need temps above 80ºF to germinate... and I can't remember if any of my sweet potatoes ever grew roots when stored in the kitchen bin the way white potatoes and onions do. I think I might remember if they did. Of course many potatoes, including sweet potatoes, are treated against germination before they hit the grocery store shelves.

I covered the sweet potatoes (a deeper pan would have been better), wet the soil down thoroughly, and brought it into the house where I placed it on an electric seed starting heat mat, and covered the top with plastic wrap and a towel to contain the heat and moisture.

I have no idea whatsoever if this will work, but I will be sure to report any success or failure!

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Chewing the Restraints...

Some days it's not even worth chewing the restraints...

So in addition to everything else running amok, I now have bronchial pneumonia. Why me? ...and God says, "Why not?"

My doc says 6-8 weeks to get over it, minimally/optimally. Meanwhile I don't have the energy to do squat, and my legs and arms are like rubber bands. Plus, the meds are raising havoc with my system and that's not how I want to lose weight.

So please bear with me, I'll get back in the swing of things asap. My posts may not have much punch until I can focus better, but I'll do what I can even if it seems disjointed.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Storing Seed for Best Shelf Life

I'm such a dunce sometimes! For many years I have bought OP (open pollinated) and/or Heirloom seed, both for the interesting varieties, and so I could save seed for the next year. It never occurred to me to look into how to store them in the best possible way, simply because I never looked beyond next year's garden... and my seeds were "mostly" viable for the next year.

Since I had not planned much of a garden this year (until recently) I only had a stash of old seeds pre-2010, and no new seeds on order. Now that I have researched the longevity of some seed varieties with optimum storage, I'm pretty sure a lot of the old seeds I have are now duds. I always save tomato seeds but the last 2 summers have seen all my tomatoes fail with NO seeds to save, so any tomato seeds in my stash are at least 3 years old.

As it turns out, tomato seeds are among the longest lasting when stored properly, so I still have a tiny chance of some germination. All my seeds have been stored dry (necessary to extended life), but not stored cool (also necessary). That will change this year as I am now determined to store all my seeds properly.

I did order seeds last week. However, most seed packets come with many more seeds than I need to plant, so this year I will properly store unused seeds instead of just taping the packet shut and dropping the packet in my seed shoebox!

Two main things affect the storage life of seeds. One is their natural longevity, and the other is storage conditions, which include temperature, humidity and light. Remember, seeds are alive!  What you want to do is store them in the opposite conditions that are suitable for growth... seeds germinate with warmth, moisture and light so you want to keep them cool, dry and dark.

Some seeds simply do not store well even in the best of conditions. Those primarily include onions and peas, but also corn, grains and beans. 

Seeds that store the longest:
Crucifers: broccoli, cabbage, radish
Nightshades: tomatoes, peppers, eggplant
Melon family: zucchini, watermelon, pumpkins

Best Seed Storage

First, seeds need to be dry initially, and then kept dry and in the dark. Storage conditions of less than 50% RH (relative humidity) are best, but not too low or the seeds will dry so much they are virtually dead. You can achieve low humidity with seeds in jars by adding some packages of a desiccant like silica-gel (those little packets that sometimes come in potato chips, or leather goods). Silica gel crystals are usually blue, and they turn to pink when they have absorbed moisture. You can put them in the oven to drive off the moisture; they will turn blue again and can be re-used. Survival foods sites sell them.

Secondly, seeds need to be kept cool, under 50ºF. You can store seeds in the refrigerator, the freezer, under the house in a crawl space, or in a root cellar, any of which greatly extend shelf life. I will store mine in the freezer until cool fall weather arrives, then they will go in the root cellar to free up freezer space for fall butchered meats.

I plan to vacuum-pack all my unused seeds in their packets. That way I can toss them in the fridge or freezer and not worry about any absorption from anything else. Seeds I will save from this year's crops I may put in canning jars with some silica-gel packets until I'm sure they are fully dry. Then they can go in the root cellar.

Here are some helpful links:
Giving Seeds What They Need In Storage - good, commonsense information for the home gardener 
Seed Storage Tips - the basics for home gardeners
Seed-Storage Times and Viability

Interesting tidbit

Out of about 10,000 edible plants, only 120 (about 1%) provide 90% of the food worldwide!

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Seed Starting Mix

Today I made up some seed starting soil in anticipation of my seeds arriving soon, and will also plant a few old seeds I already have on hand. 

The seed starting soil is easy to make and much better (and cheaper) than what you can buy. A 'part' measure can be a coffee can, a teacup, or a bucket... depending on how much you want/need:

3 parts peat
3 parts worm castings or vermicompost (nutrition)
1 part perlite (keeps soil loose for root growth)
½ part greensand (mineral nutrition)

Mix everything but the greensand together until well mixed, then add the greensand and incorporate as uniformly as possible. Dampen the mix before planting seeds. Peat is not very 'wettable' so you may have to over-saturate it and then let it drain/dry some before planting seeds.

So today, with some old seeds, I started French filet beans (hariciot verts), spinach (which I will continue to sow over 2 week intervals), and 4 kinds of heirloom tomato seeds, as I  await my 2011 my seed order.

Tomorrow I plan to plant 2 sweet potatoes to develop slips to plant. Wish me luck, because I've never tried this... and I hope my seed starter mat gets to the necessary temps!

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Shut 'er Down?

I generally stay away from ranting about political stuff, other than those that directly affect my foods and food choices.

I've pondered this "budget debate' all week, and admittedly I am only partially informed. I suspect that is true of most of us, though. At this point I am all in favor of shutting the government down, and in fact... please do away with it all together. Just a bunch of bickering magpies determining MY fate, without as much as a nod to our voiced concerns over many years. Hidden expenditures attached to everything. Taxation without true representation.

I came to the conclusion last night that they should shut down the government, and that was even though I thought my social security checks might end. I have no other income, no assets, and yet I am willing to take the risk of no government and no check. One way or another, I will survive. They have taken away everything but my sense of self and survival. It's time to stop living in fear.

What's the worst that could happen, if I look at it from my local level? Neighbors would still band together to put out fires, and aid those displaced by fire. When those who no longer get free food stamps get hungry, I'm sure there will be some chaos but there will also be the community folks who come together to help feed them, one way or another. They may have to work in a garden in exchange for food instead of being idle, and give up TV. Too bad. When those with a penchant for crime decide it's open season without police departments, I suspect they will find an awful lot of local folks own guns for hunting and know how to use them.

What's the worst that could happen, if I look at it from an international level? Who wants a country with no assets and far too much debt? How much blood can you get from a turnip? Anyone who wanted to take over would have to deal with our assets all owned by foreign countries, along with staggering debts owed to them.

Look at all the displaced, homeless Japanese citizens right now. They are living in untenable situations, yet they ARE living. Of course it's not the same thing surviving weather and nuclear chaos as surviving our raging political chaos, but the end result could be the same.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Fighting Food Prices 2011

Photo from The Comsumerist's Photostream

I had planned to cut back on my vegetable garden this year and concentrate my time and energies on making cheese and curing meats. Guess what? With the increasing food prices, it ain't gonna happen!

In 2010 alone, the cost of food increased 25%, with an additional 9.9% in the first 2 months of this year. That's a 35% increase just for food in 14 months, and the EIU is projecting an additional 19% rise this year. Can your food budget withstand a 54% increase? Mine can't!

So yesterday I put off a personal loan payment and ordered vegetable seeds instead. Much of what I ordered is OP (Open Pollinated) Heirloom seed so that I can save seeds for next year. That assumes we have a decent gardening year, which a lot of the world is not expected to have (and that will drive prices even higher).

For a long time, I have encouraged people to Eat Local, to buy from their Farmer's Markets and roadside stands, and to grow a few vegetables in their yards or pots on the balcony. I've encouraged the idea of converting the front lawn into a garden patch studded with fruiting bushes and trees alongside the rows or patches of veggies. This year I think those ideas are becoming imperative for more and more people, except those with their heads in the sand. (I think I've had my own head a little bit in the sand because I had NOT added up the actual food price increases until now. Shame on me!)

As an aside... Our minds do strange things with the thought of nuclear disaster, from denial to running scared... and one of the places my mind went was to row covers for foods growing in my garden. IF airborne nuclear radioactivity falls to earth contaminating our water and soil, what is the possibility that garden rows covered with long hoop housing could mitigate the soil accumulation and allow plants to grow untainted? Frankly, I have no idea... it was just a thought. (I don't have the money to do such a project anyway.)
In much the same way governments worldwide are trying to hide realities to calm fears arising from Japan's nuclear disaster, so are food companies trying to mask the incredible price increases by subterfuge in their packaging. You will find these look-alike packages on the shelves in the stores... they will be from the same manufacturer and look the same, perhaps have a price increase, but the contents will be reduced by the following amounts:

Kellogg Cereal: roughly 15%
Snickers Bars:11%
PepsiCo’s Tropicana OJ: 8%
PepsiCo’s Frito-Lay Chips: 12.5% - 20%
Haagen-Dazs: 12.5%
Chicken of the Sea Tuna: 17%
Kraft Foods’ Saltines and Graham Crackers: 15%
Reese's: 37%
Bounty: 7.2%,
Heinz Ketchup: 11%
American farmers are said to be switching some food acreage into cotton this year because the price of cotton has increased nearly 60% in the last year.

Be assured my tiny vegetable plot will remain planted in vegetables, as long as I feed the soil and the soil will support growth. I'll be posting more on seed starting plus how to make your own seed starting mix in the next few days.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Mini Cheese Cave

One of my friends has graciously donated a small wine cooler to me. It will be perfect to age blue cheese types, which must be separated from other cheese lest everything get a blue mold!

Now I'm excited to start some Stilton, and look through my cheese recipes to see what else I can make with what cultures I have on hand.