Courage to Change the Things We Can

It’s been over a year since the lockdowns, restrictions, supply chain disruptions and all of the other problems related to Covid-19 began, not the least of which have been the deaths of 580,000+ people and counting. A great deal surrounding this has been politicized in all directions. Politics has been characterized as “war by other means,” and it has long been known that “the first casualty of war is the truth.”

Because it would be close to impossible to unscramble all that messaging, I try to focus as much as possible on the human element: human needs, human relationships and things like that. For thousands of years the average person didn’t have to worry about politics. The “game of thrones” was someone else’s problem that didn’t really affect the average person’s daily life. It has only been in the past couple of hundred years that ordinary people have had any role to play, and the fact we have such a role to play as others jockey for position has made us the target of pretty much non-stop efforts at persuasion with varying degrees of veracity. Politics is reported like a football game and may well have become our de-facto national sport, except that the rivalries have become serious enough to be incredibly dangerous all on their own.

What I am getting at, here, is that I don’t so much avoid politics as sit above it. As people “on the ground,” we have to deal with what is real, no matter how we vote in elections. Although some people have a high degree of security, most of us don’t. Economic rises and falls, lockdowns that disrupt supply chains, regulations that allow meat from other countries to not be labeled as such … these all affect us. They affect our sense of security, and because of that, they create a level of anxiety in the background, that sits there like a barely noticed high-pitched whine that makes everything more difficult.

And now we are seeing prices at the grocery store rise. It’s the very last thing people need when so much else has become insecure.

Reinhold Niebuhr wrote a prayer so famous that nearly everyone has seen or heard it. It’s fame spreads from its simple wisdom and truth:

God, please grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
the courage to change the things I can,
and the wisdom to know the difference.

This also works in reverse. That is, if you make the effort to change the things that you can change, you will be far more serene in the face of those things you cannot.

And thus the focus of my books. There’s little we can do about prices at the grocery store, or even the empty shelves and smaller packages. And we can’t snap our fingers and make Covid-19 go away. But we can create some raised beds and start raising our own food. Raising our own food gives us an area where, through our own efforts, we can create an aspect of security in our own lives. This sense of effectiveness and security puts us in a far better position from which we can confront the unknown while also revealing that often we accept limitations without testing, and that we are often far more capable than we realize.

I am grateful that the books I have written thus far have been of such great value to so many people during this crisis. As always, if you run into any questions, let me know via the contact form!

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Currently, Mini-Farming, Self- Sufficiency on 1/4 acre is sold out on Amazon, but the Mini-Farming Bible is still available. so get it before they are gone. We will keep updating when more are available.

Why Herbs?

A lot of the Mini-Farming books focus on vegetables, and rightly so. Growing your own food lets you take control of your health, and your grocery budget. But I want to emphasize the importance of growing herbs in your kitchen garden- or in containers right in your kitchen! This will give you a quick overview of growing culinary and medicinal herbs, and in the coming weeks we will focus on a few specific ones that I can’t live without.
For those of you that don’t know me, I’m Brett’s little sister, Carole. Like Brett, I was raised in the south, But I’ve had 27 years of gardening in Northern Minnesota to learn how to grow things in a climate that is not always easy to grow in. And, being of a more artistic mindset, instead of scientific, I like my garden to be a beautiful, sensory experience, not just practical. And I like my food to be the same.
One of the most exciting things for me as a mom, and now a grandmother, is watching and teaching children about gardening. And children love the sensory experience of a garden. Particularly the smells. And for me, it’s the scent of warm dirt and fresh lavender that takes the stress right off my shoulders when I get home from work. It’s the smell of the basil, rosemary and thyme that gets my creative juices flowing when I’m getting ready to cook dinner. It’s so much more fun, and delicious, to eat healthy, when you spice things up a bit with fresh herbs. They are so easy to grow ( mostly), and can help add endless variety to the preparation of what you are already growing in your garden.
THE BASICS: Herbs need about 6 hours of sun- so pick a spot that has that. I started with a couple small flower gardens and containers right outside my kitchen door.
MY FAVORITES: Basil, Thyme, Rosemary, Oregano, Parsley, Cilantro, Dill, Sage, Fennel, Savory, Bergamot, Mint, and Chives. These are the herbs I just can’t live without.
START FROM SEED: Don’t waste money buying plants. These all start from seed, and, if you aren’t using hybrid seeds that are sterile, these will actually self -seed if you leave one to go to seed at the end of the season, and the next spring you’ll have even more. ( except Rosemary- it doesn’t like non- Mediterranean climates so much)
USE CONTAINERS FOR: Mint and Chives. Mint is pretty invasive, and even the harshest Minnesota winters won’t kill it. I use a big old washtub for mine, and it keeps it from taking over. Watch out for chives, too- Don’t let those go to seed willy-nilly, or you will have them everywhere. Pick those beautiful flowers for a bouquet inside, then dry the seeds and put them only where you want them to grow.

FOR YOUR HEALTH: Some herbs get labeled culinary, some medicinal, but the truth is, all herbs are good for you. The ones that taste less pleasant get labeled medicinal, but that doesn’t mean the delicious ones have no value besides flavor. Just a few examples are:

Basil: Basil has been used for stomach problems and gas, to increase circulation, and to start the flow of milk after childbirth. Both Genovese and Holy Basil have been shown useful for eczema and acne. Holy Basil is so revered medicinally in Asia it almost deserves it own section. It has been shown to boost immunity and fight infection. The ointment I make for soothing and preventing infection after childbirth in cases of tearing or episiotomy includes Holy Basil, Thyme, Calendula and Comfrey.

Thyme: Thyme has been shown to lower blood pressure, help stop coughing and treat bronchitis. Its also high in Vitamin C and A and boosts immunity. I use it in various skin preparations and salves because it has anti- bacterial properties and has been shown to be effective in treating acne. It’s scent is a mood booster. The fresh oil from rubbing the leaves can even repel mosquitoes.

Sage: Sage has been shown to boost memory and brain function. Currently its properties are being studied more closely in helping improve function for Alzheimer’s patients.

Mint: Mint helps sooth unhappy stomachs. We use its scent to calm and relax, internally in herbal infused water to aid digestion, and in sachets to help fight nausea. It was a primary ingredient I used in the aromatherapy to help my daughter in labor.

Rosemary: Rosemary is a good source of iron, Calcium and vitamin B6. It is full of anti-oxidants and anti-inflammatory compounds. Rosemary helps with nasal congestion and allergies. Its scent is energizing and is said to help focus. Rosemary has long been used for its ability to aid in concentration, and it can help people struggling with ADHD symptoms. Some studies have shown it to be helpful in healing brain damage after stroke. I keep a live Rosemary plant on my desk, so its scent helps me focus when I have work to do.

Growing herbs is easy, and it can add so much zest to your life. Intoxicating scents invite you to cook, sooth you in your bath, or aid digestion or other troubles in a tea. Start growing herbs today, and I will add articles and recipes weekly to help you find great ways to use them!

Dandy Dandelions

Today on the radio I heard an advertisement for a local yard maintenance company, promising a great deal to come treat your lawn with some fantastic herbicides to get rid of those pesky dandelions and weeds in your lawn. I got kind of miffed, and thought I should run a Public Service Announcement on the radio begging folks to not hire this lawn service. Why? Well, of course I’m not a fan of chemically treating lawns, but really, it was my love for the much maligned dandelion that had me in a huff.
It has only been in recent times that the dandelion has gone from being a much loved ingredient for teas, jellies, salads, and even herbal remedies, to a destroyer of the perfect lawn. They are high in vitamin K, Vitamin C, Vitamin A and vitamin B6. They also contain a lot of iron and potassium, as well as having folate and magnesium. ( If you are on blood thinners, consult your doctor). They are natural immune system boosters and can help balance blood sugar levels, relieve heartburn and more ( Though as with all herbal remedies, this claim has not been approved by the FDA).
Since I want an edible landscape anyway, I leave the dandelions. And to give some extra encouragement for you to leave them too, remember that they are the first food of our honeybees in spring, and what would any garden look like without pollinators?
Preparation- rinse thoroughly in cold water to float out any garden friends hiding in the plant, then try the tender leaves fresh in a salad. Try to choose younger leaves, as they are less bitter. For a break from kale or spinach, cook them like collards.
Flower heads: dip in egg, then flour with a little salt and pepper, and fry.

Dandelion Jelly:

2-4 cups dandelion petals

4 cups boiling water

3 cups sugar

2 tablespoons lemon juice

1 box pectin

  1. Cut the green part off of the flowerand put the petals in a large bowl
  2. Pour boiling water over the petals, and allow to cool for 24 hours
  3. strain liquid, squeezing the soaked petals to get as much out of them as you can- cheesecloth or a flour sack towel works for this
  4. Put 4 cups of the liquid, lemon juice and pectin into a large container and bring to a boil
  5. add sugar, bring to a boil again, for 1-2 minutes
  6. Pour into jars, and put jars in a canning boiling water bath for 10 minutes

The Second Best Time

The current situation (for historical purposes, as I write, large portions of the world are locked down due to an epidemic) only happens once every few decades. Although some few experts — always ignored — have stated we should be be ready and vigilant, most of the world was anything but.

A couple of weeks ago, if you walked into a grocery store, you found the meat shelves empty, strict limits on eggs — one package per customer — and no canned or frozen vegetables left.

Most recently, some meat packing plants have shut down.

Though I don’t think we are going to get to the point of mass starvation, it should be understood that our supply networks are fragile and that an emergency — even a global one — can take us unawares.

So starting your MiniFarm is a lot like planting a tree. The best time to do it is 20 years ago, but the second best time to do it is right now!

Seed suppliers are back ordered and struggling so if you need to order seeds, get your orders in early!

Upland Cress: A Free Lunch!

Last summer, the state re-did the road in front of my house, in conjunction with a bridge project. As part of improving the drainage, the project had the unfortunate side-effect of emptying my well, which means a new (and much deeper!) well had to be installed.

Every dark cloud has a silver lining though!

Putting in a new well resulted in my side yard being torn up, and one thing that thrives in disturbed soils is cress. As a kid, in spring, my father would take me to gather cress, which we prepared like spinach and served with apple cider vinegar. I’ve always loved wild cress.

So in the wake of the well project, that whole area was covered in cress! Rather than tear it out and seed with grass, I let it all go to seed with waves of tiny yellow flowers. When ready, I collected thousands of seeds from it, which I will be sowing in my garden early this spring! It is best harvested young and before it goes to seed for best flavor.

There are several varieties of wild cress in North America, but this particular variety is Barbarea verna, a close relative to the mustard family, is a biennial that makes seeds every other year. Garden cress (for which you can find seeds at the store) is an annual.

In terms of flavor, wild cress species vary from barely edible to delicious. Cardamine bulbosa (also known as bitter cress) is a perennial with white flowers, that is best eaten cooked whereas the Barbarea verna variety can be eaten fresh.

So now I have thousands of seeds of a delicious wild edible I enjoyed in childhood. I can’t wait for Spring!

It’s Out! The Food Dehydrating Bible

Dehydrating is probably the oldest method of food preservation.  The foods will keep for years, lend themselves well to making your own convenience foods, and will keep even if you have no electricity

I have been dehydrating foods for 20 years, starting when I was down on my luck and had to live on a $30/week food budget. Now I do it because it helps me process large harvests and helps me make some of the best convenience foods!  I covered the essentials of dehydrating in MiniFarming: Self-Sufficiency on 1/4 Acre, but The Dehydrating Bible goes into a lot more depth.

This book covers the how and why, including the science that underlies dehydrating.  It describes everything you need to know about pre-treatments, marinades, storage and more.  But just like in my other books, I don’t just tell you “what to do.”  Instead, I explain the underlying principles and ideas so you have the knowledge to create your own marinades and recipes and handle situations that might not be specifically covered in the book.

The Dehydrating Bible covers proper and safe preparation, pre-treatment and dehydrating of fruits, vegetables and meats.  But it also covers herbs and spices, and has a chapter dedicated to step-by-step instructions for building a cost-effective dehydrator large enough to handle big harvests. I give a lot of helpful hints that come from long hands-on experience so you’ll be an expert yourself in no time.

But the most useful feature of the book, the aspect you’ll likely use the most, is the section of recipes for making your own soups, stews, salad dressing mixes, and convenience foods like instant oatmeal and instant mashed potatoes.

A long time ago, I was living pretty much hand-to-mouth and I would do most of my cooking in a thermos.  I grew vegetables in a secret plot under some high voltage lines. I couldn’t always afford to keep my electricity on. Over time, I developed a ton of recipes for making and combining dehydrated foods to make delicious and healthful meals.   The food was so good, even today my daughter sometimes asks for me to make it for her.

I’m not living hand to mouth these days, but the recipes remain and are just as good — and I share them with you in the book.

If you have undertaken Mini-Farming, you likely have some really large harvests to handle.  The large-scale dehydrator I describe in the book can have twice the capacity of the largest countertop dehydrators and costs less than half as much to build.  Combined with canning, freezing and pickling, this will help you put away a lot of veggies in a short time!
dehydratingThe Food Dehydrating Bible is available from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Indie Bound and independent bookstores.

It’s Out! The Modern Caveman!

It only stands to reason that a guy who cares enough to grow his own food, and develop methods for doing it effectively as part of a modern lifestyle, is concerned with diet and exercise.

After many years of research struggling with autoimmune, blood lipid and gastric issues, and doing a tremendous amount of both laboratory research and study, I decided to first go gluten-free, and then adopt paleo diet altogether.

The result is that at 49 years old I can run hurdles, do martial arts and feel great!  My blood lipids, blood pressure and other objective measures of health are what they were when I was 18.  I look and feel great!  So can you.

Paleo diet has now become trendy, so when my publisher first approached me to write a book on the topic, I refused.  I have absolutely zero interest in chasing trends just to make a buck.  When I write a book it is to address a specific need, to address it comprehensively, and to address it in a unique and enlightening way that actually helps people.  If it happens to make money, that’s great — but a secondary consideration.  My reputation for writing worthwhile books that help people is more important.

But I looked at existing books on the topic over the next six months, and I discovered they were either of overall poor quality, inadequately researched and accompanied by hyperbole, completely neglected important aspects of diet such as gut bacteria, ignored the concepts of evolutionary exercise, or were needlessly laden with jargon people don’t understand.

Modern Caveman is comprehensive.  Not only does it contain over 200 citations of studies and other research to backup its claims, but it thoroughly explains not just what you should eat, but why. Just the chapter on oils and fats is worth the price of the book, because it demystifies the mumbo jumbo and alone might save your life. Because I had answered questions for friends about paleo diet for years before writing the book, this book is written to answer nearly every question you might have.

Like all of my books, Modern Caveman integrates knowledge from a variety of fields, so it contains vital information not covered in other books including:

  • How your gut bacteria sabotage your efforts to change your diet, and how to fix that problem.
  • Caveman lifestyle issues beyond diet, and their impact on mental and emotional health.
  • Why birth control pills should not be used to treat acne in teenage girls.
  • A complete progressive scalable exercise regimen based on solid research that will keep you in peak health and can even be started by desk jockeys.  In only 30 minutes three times a week!
  • Why what your coach in high school taught you about stretching is wrong, and what you should really be doing.
  • Maintaining your sense of balance and proprioception into healthy advanced age.
  • Maintaining and enhancing your fertility (for both men and women) and attractiveness.
  • The nature of cancer as a preventable metabolic disorder. (Has it struck you as odd that though smoking rates have declined by 50%, lung cancer rates have remained unchanged? This book explains why!)
  • A full explanation of lectins and their evolutionary role.
  • Easy supermarket check lists.
  • Much more!

Modern Caveman is obviously a large book, but don’t let that dissuade you.  Despite the academic citations and underlying science, all of the biochemistry is explained and the information is presented in an entertaining way with humor sprinkled throughout!

Most importantly, not only will you love this book, it will literally change your life.  It demonstrates irrefutably why a caveman diet is not just a fad: it’s the real deal.  It’s a way of eating, moving and living that will add real quality to your life, every day of your life.

moderncavemanYou can buy Modern Caveman at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Indie Bound and at fine independent book stores such as Toadstool.

Low Power Morse Code

I typically write about matters of farming, food preservation and nutrition. I figure since most folks are familiar with me through my books on these topics, that’s what they’d be seeking here!  But though I have no intention of writing regularly about the topic, I think ham radio has a place in these discussions.

One of the major benefits of growing and preserving your own food is that you are well prepared for an unforeseen emergency long before an emergency occurs.  The time to start raising your own food is *before* all the supermarket aisles have been cleaned out.  The time it takes to start seedlings and grow food to the point of useful harvest is long enough that you’d starve while waiting for the food — so it is something you should have running all along so you are already prepared no matter what time of year an emergency occurs.  And if there is no emergency?  Well, you’ll just have superior food while saving a ton of money in the meantime!

People are generally aware of the risk of food shortages, which is why you’ll see grocery stores cleaned out just before major storms.  And they are aware of the risk of electrical outages, which is why so many people buy generators.  But few people are aware of how delicate our communications infrastructure really is.

In 2008, my region was hit with a major ice storm.  Practically every utility pole in my town was snapped.  Trees and utility poles littered the roads, making them impassable for three days.  Nobody in, nobody out. I don’t live in Alaska or the backwoods of Montana.  I live within a 90-minute drive of Boston, so this scenario is not a far-fetched thing that can only affect people living in the hinterlands.

There was no electricity at all in the region for anywhere from six to twenty days.  There was no land-line phone, and no cable service.  But what most people didn’t expect was the lack of cell phone service.  The cell tower backup generator ran out of fuel before the downed trees could be cleared sufficiently for fuel to be brought.  The ONLY communications out of the area were by radio.

VHF radio and UHF radio is strictly line-of site.  The reason the VHF walkie talkies work over longer distances is because of repeaters.  But the repeaters had no power after their backup batteries were exhausted.  So the only communication was via satellite (for those equipped for satellite communication) or HF (high frequency) radio.

And this is where low power Morse code shines.  In ham radio speak, that is QRP (low power) CW (continuous wave a/k/a Morse Code).  A SSB (single sideband) voice signal requires 2Khz of spectrum, but a CW signal requires only 200 Hz of spectrum.  Because of the power density, a 5-watt CW signal is more easily detected and interpreted than a 100-watt voice signal.  And these low power CW transmitters can work for hours and hours on small 5Ah and 7Ah sealed lead acid gel cells or for days and days on a car battery.

Of course, just as it would have been too late to start a garden and feed the family in the midst of an ice storm, it would have been too late to develop ham radio skills too.  The time to have the garden and saved food is before you need it, and the time to have ham radio skills and gear is before you need them.

In the aftermath of the ice storm in 2008, we wanted for nothing while the infrastructure in the region was rebuilt.  We already had plenty of food set aside, and I harvested fresh eggs from the chickens that we fried on the wood stove.  And though I didn’t need to make any emergency communications, my station was at the disposal of local authorities should it be needed.  I felt better knowing that if those radio skills were needed — I had them along with the requisite (inexpensive) gear.

If you are interested in growing your own food (and better food than money can buy!) — you are in the right place!

But if you want to go beyond that in your preparedness plans and enhance your communication abilities with low power Morse code, I would encourage you to get in touch with the American Radio Relay League to get your license, and with the North American QRP CW Club to get pointers on QRP and learning Morse code.


Your Gut Bacteria and Your Mind

I have worked long and hard to write what I believe to be the most comprehensive book out there on caveman diet, and it will be available in the spring.

Among the subjects I covered was the impact of gut bacteria on behavior.  There are so many neurons in your gut that some scientists call the complex of nerves in your abdomen “the second brain.” Much more information flows TO your brain from your gut than vice-versa. Bacteria in your gut secrete various substances based upon both the species of bacteria and the diet those bacteria are fed.  Your immune system, your environmental exposures and your diet will all effect which bacteria are in your gut, the substances made by those bacteria, and thus the effect on your brain.

NPR recently did a short segment on the way gut bacteria affects your brain, and I think you’ll find it interesting.

Here’s the link: Gut Bacteria Might Guide the Workings of our Minds

With so many people suffering from anxiety and depression, it is worth considering that a short fast followed by a purge with saline laxative and replenishing with a broad-spectrum probiotic could be more helpful than a whole pharmacy full of pills.