Why plant flowers?

In case the title didn’t give it away, this is Brett’s little sister, Carole again. To be honest, I like things to be pretty. My yard, my garden, and my food. Let’s face it. Life can be hard. There’s nothing wrong with rejuvenating the spirit with a little whimsey and beauty now and then. I have a little side gig officiating and decorating for weddings, and by far the favorite cakes have been the ones bakers left plain so that they could be decorated with real flowers.
The obvious reason for planting flowers is to attract and feed pollinators. The plight of the bees and butterflies has not gone unnoticed, so it is becoming more encouraged to plant “pollinator gardens”. My Stepford-like neighbors disagree, and find my colorful yard full of dandelions and a wide variety of flowers in various stages, ( including the ugly stages at the end) rather troublesome. It does look a bit like the flower fairies have run amuck. I’ve even gotten a few notes in my mailbox to tidy up my yard. I did not respond with transplanting stinging nettle into their path. I’m trying to be a good human. I did put up my wildlife habitat sign and resolve to add some riotously beautiful rain gardens to my ditch this next spring.
The real reason I have, (or originally planted) all of my flowers was not intentionally for the bees. I love seeing the bees and butterflies, but I planted most of them for their medicinal properties, and a few to add some pizzazz to salads and things. I also add certain flowers, like marigolds, strategically placed in pots and around my raised beds, for natural pest control.
I am going to give you some info about a few of my favorite edible flowers, and a few flowers to add to the garden for medicinal reasons.
* Nasturtium- Super easy to grow from seed. I usually nick the seed and put in water for a day, then plant, because I am inpatient, and it gives me super quick results. They come in ranges of gold, orange and red and have a slightly peppery taste. They make a beautiful addition to salads or as a garnish.
* Calendula- these are also easy to grow by seed. I plant practically a whole field of these, because I use them medicinally in salves as well. The petals are pretty, mildly flavored, and can be used almost anywhere. They also are known for skin soothing properties, and when mixed with comfrey or lavender, make a powerhouse skin soother.
* Lavender- Lavender is a perennial in decent climates but can be finicky. It needs sun, dry roots, and really doesn’t overwinter colder than zone 4. I manage in zone 3 with super heavy insulation. Sometimes. Good drainage is important. The flowers are great in desserts, added to lemonade or baked in breads and cakes. The leaves are also fragrant and make nice sachets. I use lavender infused oils in salves, lotions, and homemade soaps as well.
* Cornflowers- I love cornflowers. Their pretty blue color makes me smile. They are easy to grow from seed, and they are great added to salads or used to decorate cakes.
* Roses- Yes, I did say roses. The old fashioned Rosa Rugosa ( garden shrub rose) is hardy, and produces rose hips that add flavor and vitamin C to herbal tea. You can add flavor to desserts or decorate cakes, and you can use it to make homemade personal care products like soaps, lotion and face wash.
* Violets- I love these sweet little purple beauties. I sugar them and use them a lot to garnish desserts, but they are also great in salads.
* Pansies and Violas- Like violas, pretty as a decoration, a fun edible addition to cookies, or salads and open-faced sandwiches.
I always also plant chamomile for tea, and Echinacea( purple coneflower) for its use in my cold and flu brew tea, to boost the immune system and shorten the duration of colds. I also have tons of Mullein, which only flowers biennially. The leaves are excellent for lung support and coughs, and the flowers have been proven as a serious antibiotic. I infuse a little olive oil with garlic and mullein flowers for my grandsons ears and he no longer gets ear infections. Bee Balm ( Monarda) is gorgeous, and the leaves have been found to be very high in the powerful cavity-preventing compound geraniol as well as the pungent antiseptic thymol.
Obviously, this is just a small sample of the flowers and plants you could grow. I’ll add more when I get my own book done. In the meantime. add a little fun and color to your food garden. I do it because seeing them makes me smile, but I have found lots of reasons to support my little indulgence, in the form of a well stocked herbal apothecary.

It’s all about the calories …

One of my readers reminded me that I haven’t posted in a while, and I think now is a good time because of the issues of food security that are coming to the fore.

The advent of the Covid-19 pandemic brought something Americans have not seen for decades: shortages of basic necessities. Early on, it was toilet paper and paper towels, but I remember walking into supermarkets to find the meat aisle rather scant, frozen foods sold out, and even canned spinach missing.

Although many of these shortages seem to have been ameliorated, the combination of various economic and world events has resulted in shortages of fertilizer and grain, while food prices for most items have either openly skyrocketed or been sneakily hidden through “shrinkflation.”

Though it is unlikely that the United States will see outright absence of food, the large number of fires at food processing facilities will definitely put a further squeeze on supplies, while causing many people to worry about costs, availability, or both.

As I have written in my books, the best time to start a garden is before things get bad, because it can take several months to harvest a substantial amount of food. Obviously, the second best time is “right now.”

Throughout most of the US, including here in the Northeast, right now would seem to be rather late to start growing. But just because things are usually done a certain way doesn’t mean you can’t do things a bit differently and still realize a harvest. For example, you could start broccoli and cabbage seedlings indoors now, plant them out in mid-July, and harvest a Fall crop. Although it is best to plant potatoes early, you would still get a decent harvest if you planted them now. You could plant beans now, and still have time to harvest before frost. So don’t look at the calendar and think it is too late. It’s almost never too late if you get creative!

That said, the thing I want to emphasize at the moment is calories. If you are concerned about food shortages, calories are key.

Most of the vegetables we think of growing in a garden such as spinach, tomatoes, peppers and so forth provide important vitamins and minerals in our diet. These are irreplaceable. However, they do not provide enough calories to keep body and soul together. There is a reason why many diet plans allow unlimited salad, and it’s because even though these vegetables provide lots of nutrients, they possibly use more calories in their digestion than they provide.

Thus, if potential starvation is the fear, the emphasis needs to be on growing crops that are calorically dense. Examples would be potatoes, onions, carrots, parsnips, beets, sweet potatoes, dried beans, corn, winter squash and turnips. These crops would be the backbone of a survival diet, with other crops serving to provide vitamins.

Even if supplies remain steady and we are only dealing with price increases, everything you grow yourself will have high nutrition, lower pesticides, and save you money.

Sorrel, Simply nutritious

Hello all. This is Carole again, with a spotlight on a delicious and nutritious addition to your garden.
Garden Sorrel is an herbaceous perennial, occasionally called spinach dock. The young leaves are tender and edible, but they do toughen with age, when they are better pureed into soups. So harvest it right away. They do have a lemony, slightly bitter taste to them, and are popular added to curries . They have been used around the world, added to spanakopita in Greece, and cooked in France with fish.
Nutritionally speaking, sorrel actually is a powerhouse. After kale, definitely a superfood. 1 cup contains only 29 calories, but has 2.6 grams of protein, along with tons of Vitamins, C, B9 and A , iron, magnesium, potassium and calcium.
So here’s why I grow it. I hide it in various casseroles and soups for extra nutrition, and in spring it adds some dimension to boring salads. It actually makes a good soup and it does have some history of medicinal use for inflammation of respiratory tract, a diuretic, and is in some herbal cancer treatments. But for me, the real magic in sorrel is that its wonderful for your chickens, and it makes fantastic compost.
Yes. I said it. I planted a perennial green because its an easy free nutrition boost to my compost pile. It grows in your most miserable spot with poor soil, and after you are done harvesting for soups, salads and other culinary delights, you can keep cutting the leaves and add to your compost. Plant it once, feed yourself, your chickens and your soil forever.

French Sorrel soup

4 tablespoons of unsalted butter
1/2 cup of green onions, ramps or other wild onion
4-6 cups of packed chopped sorrel.
3 tablespoons of flour
1 quart of chicken or vegetable stock
2 egg yolks
1/2 cup of cream
1. Melt 3 tablespoons of butter in a soup pot over medium heat, and onions or ramps , turn to med/low and cover. Cook gently 10 minutes.
2. While onions are cooking, pour stock in another pot and bring to a simmer.
3. Turn the heat up and add the chopped sorrel leaves to the pot with the onions. Stir well. When sorrel is mostly wilted, turn heat back to medium low , cover and cook 10 minutes. Stir occasionally.
4. Add in the flour, cook over medium heat for 3 minutes.
5. Whisk in the hot stock, stirring constantly. Bring to a simmer.
6. To finish, whisk together the egg yolks and cream. Temper the mixture by ladling a little of the soup into it with one hand while you whisk the egg-cream mixture with the other. ( this prevents the eggs from scrambling).
Now start whisking the soup. Pour the egg-cream mixture into the pot with the soup, whisking the entire time. ( coordination or a helper)
7. Add the final tablespoon of butter. Let this cook at just below a simmer for 5 minutes.
Serve immediately.
I love this with a nice home baked bread.

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!

Get your books now!!

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.