Archive for March, 2011|Monthly archive page

Easy Herbs to Grow Indoors

One of the gardening questions that I am asked most frequently is, “what can I plant if I don’t have a yard?” Sometimes when I answer, I get a little bit of a skeptical look, because most people know that my wife and I maintain a full one-acre crisis garden. But I haven’t always been so fortunate as to have this land to grow on. I have experimented with growing indoors and on found plots of land and I can tell you honestly, it is possible and not terribly difficult.

If you have only a rooftop to work with, you can create an urban crisis garden. If you are limited to a small porch, balcony, or patio, you’ll find that many vegetables, including tomatoes and lettuces, grow really well in pots. If you truly have no outdoor space, and your garden is confined to a few small pots on a windowsill in your home, then herbs are an excellent option for you.

You may think of herbs as just a seasoning for your food, but they are so much more than this. Fresh herbs are an excellent source of antioxidants. Common fresh herbs such as sage, oregano, peppermint, and thyme are all chock full of healthy antioxidants. Plus, herbs have incredibly powerful medicinal properties. In fact, the herbs that are included in the Survival Herb Bank have the ability to treat a huge range of illnesses and ailments with no harmful side effects.

Herbs are awesome for a great number of reasons. So if you want to try growing them indoors, here are a few easy types to try:

  1. Spearmint and Peppermint- Mint grows so well and is so hardy that it is almost like a weed. One of the things that I like a lot about mint is that it is good even for people who do not like to cook. You can just throw some fresh leaves into a pitcher of iced tea. Mint is great at calming an upset stomach and is delicious and refreshing in every application.
  2. Chives- Chives are one of the very easiest things that you can grow indoors. They don’t even require much sunlight. To stimulate new growth, all you need to do is cut off about 1/3 of their tops. Their slight peppery, oniony flavor is a great healthy seasoning.
  3. Parsley- Parsley doesn’t require much sunlight either, and is great for both cooking and medicine. If you have a large bunch of parsley, try using it in pesto instead of basil. My dog Hatchet loves parsley, too. You can give parsley to dogs to help calm an upset stomach or freshen their breath.
  4. Rosemary- Rosemary is one of my favorite herbs because of its wonderful piney fragrance. It is so good baked into bread or corn muffins. Plus, it has amazing medicinal properties and can be used for indigestion, and to treat poor circulation and muscle pain.When growing rosemary indoors, leave the soil on the dry side and make sure not to over water it.
  5. Oregano- Oregano is such a classic herb. I associate it with Italian food and therefore automatically find it comforting. Oregano is also powerfully healthy for you. Wild oregano oil is just as effective at treating bronchitis as conventional antibiotics- without the side effects. If you grow it indoors, make sure to put it in a sunny spot because it requires about 6 hours of sunlight per day.
  6. Thyme- Thyme is another herb that requires a good deal of sunlight. Try to give it about 6-8 hours of sun if you grow it indoors. A nice thing about thyme is that there are many different nice varieties from which to choose, such as lemon thyme and golden thyme.
  7. Basil- Basil, like thyme, comes in many different wonderful varieties. Some are more sweet, while others are more spicy. Basil is one of my favorite herbs to use in cooking, but it is also great raw- you can toss the fresh leaves right into a salad. If you grow basil indoors in the winter, be patient. It grows slowly.
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How Does Radiation Get Into Food and Water?

Image source: Mike Morpeth

God bless the people of the country of Japan, as they continue to cope with the aftermath of the deadly earthquake and tsunami that struck them earlier this month.

Immediately, Japan’s residents began to face a food shortage and near-empty grocery store shelves, as depicted here in the above photo from Digital Journal, and the below one from CNN.com. With nearly no gasoline available, food simply could not be transported to stores. Thirst and hunger have been common problems since March 11.

Image credit: ROSLAN RAHMAN/AFP/Getty Images

Now, when Japan is already facing food shortages, they are facing yet another problem with their food supply. Eleven different types of produce, along with milk, and city tap water, have all tested positive for radiation. Some samples of spinach tested contained as much as 27 times the legal amount of radiation.
 
So the next logical question here is, how did this radiation get into the food, water, and milk? Because of the very nature of the word “radiation,” and the fact that it is invisible, it is easy to imagine it traveling through the air in waves, as from a microwave, through walls and buildings. But this is not the case. What actually happens is that radioactive particles(of which there are 4 main types) bind to particles of dust in the air, and can travel for a distance through the air before settling to the ground. This means that radioactive particles, such as such as cesium-137 and iodine-131, that escaped from the Fukushima Dai-Ichi plant traveled through the air, then settled on surrounding crop fields. Crops with a large surface area above the earth, such as spinach leaves, make them more likely to accumulate dangerous levels of radiation. And it does not get into milk by way of the actual milk carton or even the milk processing plant. It gets into milk because radiation settles on the grass, then the cows eat the grass.
 
Experts say that little is known about the long-term effects of consuming radiation on food and in water. Many sources say that the amount of radiation that people could intake from eating produce from the Fukushima prefecture, and others that surround the nuclear power plant, is not likely to cause health problems. However, understandably, many people are frightened, and avoiding purchasing the items in question, such as spinach and milk.
 
This is, in my opinion, yet another example of when and why a survival food source is an absolute necessity. Under normal circumstances, rice is a cheap and reliable commodity. However, today rice may become scarce in Japan, as radiation continues to be a threat, and the Fukushima prefecture accounts for 4.5% of Japan’s total rice crop.
 
Store rice, beans, honey, water and other staples when you can. Keep them in a safe place, and store them for longevity, according to the basics outlined here in my How to Correctly Store Your Food blog. This simple and inexpensive act can save your life when the seemingly reliable grocery store shelves are empty, and food that is on the shelves may be poisoned. If you haven’t already started your store of survival food, start it today.

ZPrepared.com- Preparing for the Zombie Apocalypse

I recently came upon this website while reading up in my favorite survivalist blogs. ZPrepared, it’s called. And according to the website,

Zprepared is a group of like-minded individuals who feel that it’s hard enough to survive the endless hordes of the walking dead, so people should have the option to do so with the coolest gear available. We find all kinds of gear that will not only help you survive, but to survive in style. Make the zombie apocalypse more comfortable and stylish…ZPrepared.

So I got a kick out of browsing through a variety of their different products. I must say, some of them are quite clever. Like this bacon in a can, which has is already fully cooked, required no preparation, and has a 10 year shelf life. Then there’s the Mayday Emergency Food Ration, which is a small bar of food that contains a total of 3,600 calories. That could sustain you for several days, and could fit right in your pocket.

Then, as I was browsing, low and behold, what did I find there listed right between Zombie caution signs and a Zombie-proof bunker that is for sale in the UK? None other than the reliable Survival Seed Bank. On the site, Hudson Steele writes,

If you’re anything like us, you’re preparing for the long haul. That means a fortified shelter, lots of supplies, and a plan to sustain yourself once the dust settles a little. When your food stores run out you’re going to need a way to sustain yourself, and other survivors you’ve collected along the way. When the going gets tough, the though get GROWING. Most people don’t realize that the Produce you buy in the grocery store are of a Hybrid variety, meaning you can’t just plant the seeds from a Golden Delicious and expect to grow an apple tree. We recommend having your own supply of self germinating, survival ready seeds to grow your own crops. The Survival Seed Bank fits the bill perfectly. This kit comes with all the basics for starting your own renewable food source. It features 22 varieties of Open Pollinated “Super Seeds” that yield a full acre of nutrient-dense food crop. They’re individually vacuum packed for maximum shelf life; up to 20 years at 70 degrees, and up to 100 years when frozen so they’ll be ready to plant when you are. The kit also includes a nifty bottle of “Nitro Seed Starter Solution” to help jump-start your crop and a handy manual for rookies. All you need to supply is the land, water, ample light, and the manpower to make it happen. While the rest of the world is scrounging for leftover cans of baked beans, you’ll be feasting on fresh healthy veggies grown with your own hands.

Hudson, I really don’t think I could have put it any better myself. Regardless of whether you think an impending Zombie attack is fact or fiction, doesn’t this product description hit home?

Look at all the good, fine folks in Japan now, for example. Grocery store shelves are, for the most part, empty. There is scarcely any gas available, so it is not reasonable to expect food to be transported to stores in the near future. More than 160,000 people have been evacuated from a 12-mile zone in an attempt to avoid the fallout from an impending nuclear disaster. Really, the situation there is heartbreaking. Because how many of these people do you think abandoned their homes with a supply of survival food in tow? How many of these families could turn to the harvest of their crisis gardens when the earthquake struck, and they faced rolling blackouts and empty grocery store shelves? Probably not many.

The message here is clear. If it’s not Zombies, it will be an earthquake. Or a tsunami. Or a tornado. Or a flood. We must all be prepared for these occurrences, which can happen at any time. It is spring now, and the ideal time to plant. So go get busy in your crisis garden.

Planning for the Spring Planting Season, Part 5: Conducting a Soil Test

 

Not all soil is the same. Some soil is mostly made up of clay, while some may be mostly sand. Plenty of people who are reading this blog right now are looking for gardening tips because their soil is very rocky. Or others may have chalky or silty soil. Depending on where you live, what you are used to as “dirt” can vary greatly from what someone else may have to work with.

When preparing to plant a garden, one of the most important things you can do is get acquainted with your soil. Healthy soil is what I consider to be the #1 most important factor in whether you will have a successful garden. It is the lifeline for all of your plants. Any time that you wish to feed your plants, what you really need to do is feed your soil.

So to get to know your soil, you’ll want to conduct two basic tests:

 (1) Test #1- The Squeeze Test

The squeeze test is the easiest way to test the texture of your soil. This is essential because in order for plants to thrive, you must insure that your soil has the right texture to enable water, oxygen, and nutrients to flow through it.

Go out into your yard/gardening space and pick up a handful of your dirt. Now give it a gentle squeeze. If the soil clumps together in your hand, then falls apart when you poke it, this is ideal. This means that you have loamy soil, which is ideal. Loamy soil retains moisture but also drains well. If the handful of dirt doesn’t hold together at all, this means it is sandy. Sand drains well but doesn’t really hold in nutrients. If it holds together and does not fall apart when you poke it, this means your soil is mostly clay. Clay is typically rich in nutrients, but does not drain well.

Now if you have sandy soil, it cannot be transformed into loamy soil. This is to say that the actual particles of sand cannot be turned into something else. However, you can add to your soil to change its overall texture. This way, you can add other particles around the sand particles in order to allow the soil to overall hold in nutrients.

To amend sandy soil, your goal is to add in organic matter. This will help the sandy soil to drain more slowly, and to hold on to nutrients in order for your plants to be able to use them. Amend sandy soil with organic matter such as cow manure, worm casings, shredded bark, peat moss, compost, or a combination of any of these things.

To amend clay soil, use the same method of adding organic matter. This will help to break up the compacted particles of the clay, and therefore allow water to drain through it, and oxygen to flow in it. Aim for a ratio of 50% dirt to 50% organic matter.

With both clay and sand, make sure to till your garden area before adding the organic matter. “Tilling” means that you will be loosening the soil at a depth of about 12 inches. You can use a shovel, spading fork, or hoe for this task. Mix in the organic matter well, rather than just laying it on top. (Laying something on top is referred to as “mulching” rather than “amending.”)

 (2) Test #2- The Soil Ph Test

All soil, regardless of its texture, has an acidity level. This can be measured by testing the Ph level of your soil. Ph is tested on a scale of zero to fourteen. Zero is the most acidic, whereas fourteen is the most alkaline, and seven is considered to be neutral. Most plants grow best in soil with a fairly neutral Ph that is between six and seven. If plants need a slightly more acidic or alkaline soil, the seed packet will specify this. For example, some root vegetables grow well in soil with a Ph of about 5.5. Plants that like “very acidic” soil thrive in soil at a Ph level of 5.0, whereas plants that like “very alkaline” soil do well in soil at about 8.0. So really, you don’t want your soil to be further on the scale than this in either direction.

To test the Ph level of your soil, I would recommend purchasing an at-home test kit at your local gardening store. These typically do not cost any more than $6. If you do not wish to conduct your own test, you can contact your local cooperative extension, as many will offer soil tests for free. Home tests are quite accurate as long as you follow instructions closely.

When attempting to change the Ph level of your soil, it is very important to first recognize that there is no immediate solution. You may need to use a combination of amendments, or apply several treatments over time. There is no quick fix or instant cure. It is best to start amending a whole growing season before you intend to plant.

With that being said…

*If you have acidic soil– add amendments to raise the Ph level, such as ground limestone or wood ashes. Avoid “quick limestone” as this tends to burn out your  plants.

*If you have alkaline soil– add amendments to lower the Ph level, such as pine needles, shredded leaves, sawdust, sulfur or peat moss. These will all add acid to your soil.

Compost has the amazing ability to bring either type of soil to a more neutral level. So as a general rule, it is always wise to be continuously adding compost to your soil.

Planning for the Spring Planting Season, Part 4: Seed Starting Tips

I just love the month of March. Daylight savings is coming up and the days are getting longer, the frigid weather is beginning to melt away, and the trees are starting to bud. March is also the official start to the spring planting season in many hardiness zones, including here in zone 7b. There are many types of fruits, vegetables and flowers that can be direct sown in March. My favorites are listed here in my blog from last year, What Can I Plant In March?

For seeds that are not quite ready to go in the ground yet, or ones that do not have a lot of success when they are sown directly in your garden, March is a good time to start your seeds. The term “seed starting” refers to the process of  planting your seeds indoors, in a safe and temperature controlled environment. Then, once the seeds have sprouted into seedlings, they can be transplanted outside into your garden. There are several good reasons to start your seeds indoors, including:

  • Seed starting gives you a head start. You can plant seeds inside while the ground outdoors is still hard, and while there is still the danger of seedling-killing frost in your area.
  • Vegetables that like cooler temperatures, broccoli, cauliflower, peas, and head lettuce will grow better when started indoors. This is because they can go from transplant to harvest before the hottest days of the summer set in.
  • If you buy seedlings from a garden store, it is much, much more expensive than growing your own seedlings then transplanting them. Plus, when you buy seedlings, you are limited to the mainstream varieties that are available. When you start your own seeds, you can use any seeds you want.

Now depending on where you live, you may be able to start your seeds right away, or you may have a little ways to go. The best way to tell when you are ready to start your seeds is to count backwards from when you typically receive your last frost.

  • Eggplants and peppers- Start your seeds 7 weeks before your last frost date. Transplant the seedlings outdoors 2 weeks after you receive your last frost.
  • Tomatoes- Start tomato seeds 6-8 weeks before your last frost date. Tomato seedlings can be planted outdoors as soon as your last chance of frost has passed.
  • Squash, cucumbers, melons, and pumpkins- All of these plants generally like heat. You can start your seeds indoors 3 weeks before the last frost date. Wait 2 weeks until after the last chance of frost has passed to transplant your seedlings outdoors.
  • Corn- Start corn seeds 5 weeks before your last frost date. Transplant the seedlings as soon as the last chance of frost has passed.
  • Broccoli, cauliflower and cabbage- These are cool season vegetables, so they can actually go in the ground up to  a month before the last chance of frost has passed. These cool season veggies can be started indoors 5-7 weeks before you want to transplant them. Then the seedlings can be transplanted in your garden 4-6 weeks before the last frost.

For more tips on how to start your seeds, please visit my articles:

Tips for Starting Your Garden With Seeds

Tips for Growing Heirloom Tomatoes From Seeds