Archive for April, 2010|Monthly archive page

Herbs Are Good For Man’s Best Friend

Many people chuckle when I say that I planted a herb garden just for my dog. But it’s true. My dog, a faithful mutt named Hatchet, has his very own little herb garden in a corner of my yard. The majority of the time, he’ll wait for me to pick the herbs and add them into his food. Sometimes he’ll snatch a good mouthful right from the patch. Of course, my garden is completely organic so there’s no harm in him doing this. In fact, I encourage him because the herbs that I’ve included in Hatchet’s Herb Patch are particularly good for him, and help to keep him in excellent health. Here are some herbs that I would recommend  planting for your own four-legged furry friend:

    Parsley–  This is Hatchet’s personal favorite. Sometimes I catch him just licking the fragrant leaves of the plant once they get a little bit warm from the sun. There are several different varieties of parsley that you can find. Most are very hardy and will grow to be as large as 3 feet in height.  In the hot summers, parsley does definitely need a good dose of water every morning.

Parsley is a wonderful herb because you can use every part of it: the leafs, roots, and seeds. I grab leaves by the handful and add them into Hatchet’s food. Not only is it a nutritious supplement to his diet since the leaves are packed with chlorophyll, but it is also very helpful in combatting nasty dog breath.

If Hatchet gets into the garbage or seems to have a bit of an upset stomach, I’ll give him a handful of parsley leaves twice a day, in the morning and in the evening, since they work to improve digestion.  By the way, you can also give your dog a fresh clove of garlic if he has an upset stomach. Garlic is great for your dog’s digestive system, it’s just not as friendly on the breath as parsley is. If your dog has arthritis, (which fortunately Hatchet does not yet) try making a tea out of parsley roots. It is helpful for the holistic treatment of arthritis, and is a cleansing diuretic as well.

    Valerian– Valerian is such an amazing herb for a wealth of different reasons. I got my first Valerian seeds from my Survival Herb Bank, and I can’t even begin to tell you how well it has grown with very little effort on my part. My Valerian plant is nearly a good 5 feet tall. It survives through the winters here in Virginia; all I’ve done is placed some mulch around it. I’ve heard that a good Valerian plant is strong enough to survive even in very cold regions such as southern Canada! The plant is supremely adaptable and seems to do well both in sun and part shade.

Now Hatchet, like most dogs, has a tendency to have a bit of a panic attack during thunderstorms. And don’t even think about setting off fireworks around him. He nearly foams at the mouth because he shakes and barks so hard on the fourth of July. Since we’ve learned what Hatchet’s triggers are, we’ve learned when to employ the trusted Valerian root. Once ingested, the root’s calming properties take effect in as little as an hour. My son jokingly says that it makes the dog high, but really Valerian is just pleasantly calming. This is true for both dogs and humans.

I harvest my Valerian root in the fall. The plant blossoms with tiny little fragrant white blossoms in August- don’t plan to harvest your roots until after the plant has bloomed. But, make sure you do it before the first frost of fall. So your window of time is going to be around September or October. I would recommend waiting until your plants are at least 2 years old to harvest the roots, otherwise there won’t be much there.

Once you have uprooted the medicinal root part of the plant, wash it very thoroughly and dry it with paper towels. Then, place your roots on a cookie sheet. The quickest and easiest way to dry out your roots in to place them in your oven on its very lowest setting for a couple hours. Check them every thirty minutes or so, and remove them from the oven once they are completely dry. They will become very brittle, but you must make sure to dry them completely, otherwise they will grow mold and rot.

If you are planning to use the root yourself, you may wish to grind the root using a mortar and pestle, then turn it into a capsules. Most people prefer this, as the roots have an extremely pungent smell. Something interesting, however, is that the smell is very attractive to dogs, cats, mice, and other animals. Legend has it that the Pied Piper actually filled his pockets with Valerian root to attract his critters. So for my dog, all I do is grind up about a teaspoon of root and mix it in with his food. I also keep a little fence around the Valerian plant in Hatchet’s Herb Garden. Otherwise, it’s likely that it would be uprooted by the neighborhood’s bunnies, or by Hatchet himself.

    Calendula– Skin conditions such as hotspots, dryness, and flakiness are pretty common for dogs. While our first instinct may be to give the dog a bath and a good scrubbing, this can actually worsen the problem. When Hatchet gets a bit of dry skin, I make a tea with Calendula blossoms, allow it to cool, and place it in a spray bottle. It makes a safe and gentle remedy for his dry skin.

Calendula is a wonderful herb that has a great number of uses. It can be used for everything from calming insect bites, to treating post-surgical wounds and keeping them free of infection. Calendula can also be consumed to help treat menstrual cramps, ulcers, and upset stomachs. I received my Calendula seeds from my Survival Herb Bank, and the plants are always amazingly healthy. If I continuously water them and snap off dead blossoms, they continue to produce blooms throughout the year.

The part of the Calendula plant that I use for Hatchet’s skin soother is the blossoms. It is best to harvest them when they are in full bloom. I then hang them upside down from the ceiling in my shed to dry them out. You can do this in pretty much any dry place, such as an attic or closet. Once the blossoms are dry, I boil them whole to create a sort of tea, then strain the liquid into a spray bottle. It is remarkably easy. You can even try storing the spray bottle in your fridge for the next time you get a sunburn. A cool Calendula spray is very soothing to dogs and humans alike.


Food Crisis in 2010 is Undeniable


I came across this article today, and frankly, I am surprised that it has taken me a whole 4 months since its publication to share it with others: 2010 Food Crisis Means Financial Armageddon.

Follow the link above. Go one, read the article. And as you do, I will resist the extreme urge to say, “I told you so.”

You see, this article does a great job of pointing out what is overwhelmingly true: a food crisis in the very near future is UNDENIABLE. We’re not talking about something that could happen, just maybe, if conditions worsen. The fact of the matter is that conditions HAVE worsened and the time when you will need a sustainable means of feeding yourself and your family is here. It is now.

Here is one point that I think Mr. deCarbonnel does an exceptionally good job of explaining in his article:

  1. The USDA is concerned with how supply and demand looks on paper. Therefore, they price crops lower than what they should be, based on demand.
  2. Crop staples such as wheat, corn, and soybeans are harvested only once or twice a year. A desperate need for food does not allow them to be harvested more frequently. Food must be priced correctly to prevent overconsumption, and to in turn allow each crop to last until the next harvest.
  3. Because the USDA does not appropriately price these crop staples and others, we buy large amounts of crops for a low price. When we need to buy more before the next crop is harvested, what happens? There is nothing to buy. Incorrectly priced agricultural commodities leads to overconsumption and a depletion of commodities. 

Now, put this information together with the fact that nationwide bad weather coupled with global natural disasters have literally ruined crops all over the world. Stocked grocery store shelves aren’t really looking like such a sure bet, are they? I am sure Mr. deCarbonnel would agree, if you’re going to bet on anything, bet that you need to begin relying on your own sustainable food source.

Once you’ve read this whole article, I would imagine you may start to feel a little bit panicked. Don’t panic! But DO call yourself to action. Think above and beyond our society’s warped underestimate of risk. Be proactive, be prepared, and don’t delay.

The Wondrous Pink Banana Squash

Every year as I harvest the vegetables from my survival garden, it never fails that people are completely enraptured by my crop of pink banana squash. It seems that most people have never seen this bright salmon colored squash before. The conversation usually goes a little something like this:

“What kind of vegetable is that?”
“That’s a pink banana squash.”
“A pink what squash??”

It’s a wonder to me that more people haven’t heard if this veggie, because it is one of my favorites. It’s been around for a long time, too, since it was first introduced to the United States in 1893. It really is a fantastic thing to grow in your garden. Even people who claim to not like veggies, or not like squash, end up having a taste for pink banana squash.

If you order your own Survival Seed Bank, pink banana squash is just one of the 22 types of seeds you’ll receive, and I know that you’ll love harvesting it every year. This year, I planted mine during the first week of April. I probably could have planted it a bit earlier, really. You just need to wait until there is no longer any threat of frost, and temps are right around 60 degrees. The squash will be ready to harvest 100 days after you plant it. I pick my squash when they are about 18 inches in length. If you let them go, they can get quite a bit larger than this. But like zucchini and most other types of squash, if you let them get too large, the flavor becomes woody and unfavorable. Pick your pink banana squash when they’re about 14-18 inches, and they’ll have a delicious, rich flavor similar to butternut squash, and bright, peachy golden flesh.

What’s one of the best things about pink banana squash? It is very no-fuss when it comes to preparation. The first time you pick a pink banana squash off the vine, simply slice it lengthwise and remove the seeds in the center. Smear it with a bit of olive oil or butter, give it a shake of salt and pepper, then nuke it in your microwave for about 10 minutes til the flesh is soft. You can scoop the flesh right off the pink rind and eat it. Or, mash it up, and it looks like bright orange mashed potatoes. Even your kids will gobble it up.

My wife’s favorite way to prepare pink banana squash is to roast it in the oven. This is pretty quick and easy, too. All you need to do is peel the squash, slice it in half lengthwise, remove the seeds from the center, then cut it into chunks. Toss the chunks in a bowl with some olive oil and fresh herbs- thyme goes particularly well with winter squash. Place the squash on a baking pan and roast it at 350 degrees for about 15 minutes. Throw this together with some couscous, rice, or pasta, and you’ve got yourself a meal!

What Can I Plant in April?

Is there anything more lovely than the weather in April? It’s such a welcome change from the chilly brutality of the long winter that precedes it. Here in Norfolk, VA we’ve been enjoying absolutely great weather lately. Highs in the 60s and 70s… even some 80s lately. Lows at night hover well above freezing. My plants have been loving the sunny skies, moderate rainfall, and pleasant temperatures lately. Kids have been riding their bikes down the sidewalk, and joggers are out in full force. In nearby Washington DC, I hear they’ve even had enourmous turnouts for the annual Cherry Blossom Festival. People just couldn’t wait to bask in the sun after a particularly long and arduous winter that included record-breaking snowfall amounts.

These are the joys of April- they are many. This tends to be my favorite month to spend time out in the garden. Now that we’re pretty much safe from the threat of a spring snow shower, it’s time to start planting in earnest. Here are some vegetables that tend to do particularly well when planted in April:

    1. Broccoli- Okay, so George W. Bush doesn’t like it, but in my house broccoli is an absolute dinner plate staple. If your kids are finicky and don’t like it, try disguising it in dishes such as pot pies, macaroni and cheese, or chicken and rice casseroles. Or, try blanching it instead of boiling it. This gives it a less soggy, more pleasant texture.

Broccoli is a very hardy plant, and does well in a variety of different soils. If you’re planting broccoli in a region where you’re still in danger of receiving a hard frost at night, start your seeds indoors and keep them at temps between 75 and 80 degrees F. If you’re in a temperate climate, like me, you can directly sow your seeds outdoors. Broccoli seeds do best with high temps below 85 degrees, and low temps above about 50 degrees. Once your broccoli seedlings are about 1 inch in height, trim your seedlings to one plant every 2-3 inches.

    2. Cauliflower- If it’s time to plant broccoli, then it makes sense that it would be time to plant cauliflower and other members of the Brassica family as well! Cauliflower that is planted in April will be ready for harvest in August or September. It is important to plant broccoli and cauliflower firmly, and water it regularly. Otherwise premature veggies called “button heads” will develop, and these are inedible.

    3. Leeks- Leeks take a pretty long time to grow, but in my opinion are definitely worth it. April is a good time to plant your leek seeds. Later in August, you will also need transplant your leeks. To begin this month, sow your leek seeds about 1 inch apart, and cover each one with 1/2 inch of soil. After about 6 weeks, you’ll start to see some little green shoots. When you see these, thin your plants down to one plant every 4 inches.

By mid summer, your leeks shoots will be about the width of a pencil, and about 7-8 inches high. Now it’s time to transplant your leeks. Transplant your leeks into holes about 6 inches deep, and 8-9 inches apart. This will allow you to grow thick, strong, hearty leeks. Before planting each one, trim the root so that it is about 1 inch, fill the hole with water, place the leek in, then tamp the soil down around it.

    4. Lima Beans- Here’s the thing about lima beans: they are originally from Central America, so they do require a pretty warm climate to grow. If you live in Florida or another Southern state, definitely go for some lima beans. Your soil should be no colder than about 65 degrees. I haven’t always planted lima beans in the past. But this year we’ve had such a warm spring (it was 84 degrees yesterday) that I am going to give it a shot.

Different varieties of lima beans have different growing times. Depending on which variety you get, your lima beans ill be ready to harvest within about 60-100 days. When planting your lima beans, plant one seed every 3-4 inches, and leave 2 feet of space between your rows. Make sure to cover your seeds with a full inch of soil, and tamp the soil down very well. The seeds are particularly tasty to birds and squirrels, so this will help to keep them from getting plucked out of your garden.