Country Living & Homesteading e-zine: Permaculture, Heirloom Seeds & Seed Saving, Making Leaf Mould
This Month's Quote:
"A backyard without a garden is body without a soul"
~ Megan, aged 12
Country Living e-zine Editorial :
Well, we are nearly into the 3rd month of the New Year. Where does time go?
We hope that Megan's quote above will be an inspiration to those of you who have neglected your gardens of late, and need to breathe new life into them.
Hopefully our articles on Permaculture, and building compost heaps will urge you to try something different, and to save those grass clippings, newspapers and vegetable clippings and make yourself some wonderfully rich compost for your garden. Remember your flowers and veggies will only be as good as your soil.
Gypsy, our resident blogger for the "Homesteading Blog" and Countryfarm Lifestyles will soon join forces with a new section on our website, which could be of major interest to all of you. We are thinking about running a worldwide seed and plant exchange for heirloom varieties.
However, because it will involve a fair amount of administration, with a weekly newsletter to the seed exchange subscribed members, we really would like to hear your views on how this could be run successfully. There will be monthly "give-aways" and competitions, all the details can be found on the Farm Forum, which still gets over 500 visitors a month, but few post to. Perhaps we can change this when you pop in and tell us what you all think about the concept. Your feedback is really important to us, and we would like to hear your thoughts on the matter.
Please tell us what you think of the way it will be set up, any suggestions you would like to make or advice you would like to give. Anything at all. Just feel free.
Article 1) What is Permaculture?
Some of you may or may not have heard about the concept of Permaculture. If you live in Australia, it is probably more familiar to you than those living elsewhere, as this is where this type of organic gardening was first developed.
Permaculture was coined by Bill Mollison and David Holgrem, back in the 70's as an amalgamation of permanent agriculture. It was a way to sustainable agriculture, which included, recycling waste and turning it into compost, using natural pesticides and insecticides and working together with nature rather than working against it.
Bill was so despondent over the way man was destroying the earth, that it took him a trip into rain forests, where is suddenly dawned on him that this was a place where there was no interference from man, and yet everything worked holistically.
Everything worked in unison, everything existed and flourished, because it relied on something else within the system. For example, one of the keystones to Permaculture is that plants that need nitrogen for their survival are found in nature growing next to plants that release nitrogen into the soil. Therefore, instead of planting vegetables in rows like soldiers, dousing them with chemical fertilizers, why didn't he try and replicate these natural conditions?
For Bill, it was working with nature, rather than against it. It was creating food forests where trees and and vegetables grow together, where most of what is planted or built within the system has at least 3 different purposes. For example, a corn stalk can be used to produce corn, it can also be used to grow climbing beans up, and finally it can be used to feed the cattle when it is spent.
In creating permaculture gardens the emphasis is on planting native trees and flowers. Things that are native to the area grow well, and need less water, so you are able to conserve water too.
There are some fundamental permaculture principles that are worth noting, so that perhaps you might think of converting your garden into something more sustainable.
BE ENERGY EFFICIENT
The first one is looking at where your house is situated to the rest of the land and be energy efficient in your garden design. In other words, what is the point of having a herb and veggie garden so far away from your kitchen back door that when it comes to cooking time, you can't be bothered to harvest that sprig of mint, or those ripe tomatoes. It would take too much energy to get there and back! Therefore the areas that you would be using the most, should be placed closest to the house. Each zone of use should be identified, and placed according to use until your furthest zone is the one you visit least.
MAXIMIZE WHAT YOU HAVE
Look at what you have on your plot of land and determine how you can harvest what is already there to your advantage, or get rid of or minimize what is not. This is an extension of being energy efficient. Look at where the sun rises and sets to see where you will position your food garden. Look at prevailing winds. Are they so strong that you will need to grow a windbreaker? To you have a sunny wall that will be useful in the winter to grow some tender plants against? Where are the sheltered and shady spots that will be ideal for your shade loving plants?
Also maximize the uses for your structures that you place in the garden. I wrote earlier of a corn stalk. However, one can look at architectural objects too. What about a trellis that you want to place in your garden to train a vine? Can it also be used to screen an unattractive view or your rubbish bins? Is is being used as a windbreak? Can the fruit that you grow feed your chickens as well as yourselves?
Think about symbiosis and in your garden and how one species can benefit another or have multiple benefits and uses. Permaculture is really about integrating key elements in your garden so that there is a beneficial and useful relationship.
Ducks can be sent into your established veggie garden to eat all the slugs and snails. They also love flies and if you keep horses they are ideal fly catchers to have around. Put them into your orchard and they will clean up the fallen fruit and minimize the fruit flies. They will also benefit you in eggs and meat and good farmyard manure, which they will drop not just in their shelter for you to add to the compost heap later on, but also directly in your orchard and veggie garden without you having to do anything. Now that's being energy efficient! Having geese means that you have roving lawnmowers. Think of what you could do, instead of mowing the lawn on a Sunday afternoon!
Permaculture encourages organically grown and raised vegetables, fruit and livestock. Soils are fed with organic material; compost, blood and bone, seaweed, liquid manures, wood ash etc. All pesticides and insecticides are natural; neem, chili sprays, white oil etc. Everything is recycled and put back into the soil. Nitrogen-fixing legume cover crops are grown instead of using chemical fertilizers for adding nitrogen to the soil. Banana waste, hay and wood ash are used for potash. And finally, fish meal, and blood and bone, and raw sugar waste are added for natural phosphates.
Finally, recycle, recycle, recycle. Grass clippings, (if you don't have geese), can be added to your compost bin, including prunings from soft woods, vegetables scraps that don't get to the chickens or ducks and newspapers that should be shredded. Hardwood cutting and prunings should be put through a mulching machine and spread around the garden to further encourage water pretension in the soil. Just don't put it down too thickly as it will prevent water from getting to your plants.
So, you can see that the concept of Permaculture is really more that just organic gardening. It is about sustainable growing, working with the ecology rather than against it. Trying to create an ecosystem in your own garden where everything is dependent and co-dependent on each other, working in a symbiotic way, and being as energy efficient and as eco-friendly as possible.
Article 2) Heirloom Seeds and Seed Saving
Back in the mid 80s in Australia, people were horrified to see that seed companies were beginning to patent seeds. The open-pollinating varieties were disappearing off the shelves and hybrid varieties were replacing them. And worse, from 1984 the US government, have made it illegal for Iraqi farmers to save seed. All farmers in Iraq now have to buy their seeds from transnational agribusiness corporations.
Some seeds now have been genetically modified to prevent farmers from saving successive seeds as the produce that is produced is seedless. This means that the farmer has to go back to the seed company to buy seed if he wants to plant the following season.
In addition, it appears that seed companies are lucrative business for those wanting to create monopolies and have attracted the investment of corporations such as Shell, ICI, Ciba Geigy and Volvo worth more than $50 billion in worldwide seed trade.
Favourite seeds, used for generations that were enjoyed because they were easy to grow, or tasted great were no longer available. Instead seeds were replaced because they travelled well, didn't ripen too quickly or had a harder skin, so didn't bruise on transit. The fact that they may have tasted like blotting paper didn't matter.
Since then people throughout the world have fought back and formed a network of people who are determined to save the open-pollinated seeds and swap them among themselves. This is where we come in. We have over 30000 people who visit this website every month - and the number grows each month. If we had just 10% of that number willing to save and swap heirloom seeds what a wonderful cyber community we could be to take back some control of our lives from Nanny States and organizations who try and manipulate how we live our lives, and swap and exchange with like-minded others to save our plant genetic diversity.
I have put up the details of this concept on the farm forum. For those of you who are interested, please go to the forum and have your say as to how you would like to see it run.
In preparation for saving seed in the future, we have some advice on how to go about it.
WHEN TO COLLECT YOUR SEED?
The best time to collect seed is about 10:00 a.m. after the morning dew has dried and on a dry, sunny day. Your herbs, flowers, fruit and vegetables should be totally dry.
Fruits that have seeds in their pulp, like tomatoes, eggplants, and passion fruit are best picked when the fruit is ripe and turning soft. Other fruit like red and green peppers, butternut, gem squash, pumpkin and marrows are better when picked when the fruit is just past mature. The seeds have them had time to plump up before can then be harvested and removed.
Cucumbers, zucchinis, okra, sweetcorn all need to stay on the plants for a longer length of time. Here the fruit seeds need to mature fully and develop before harvested. This means allowing the fruit to stay until fully mature excluding a further 3 weeks before the seed is ready to be picked.
Citrus seeds are an exception. They should not be dried but should be placed in wet sand and then refrigerated until needed. Broad beans, runner beans, bush beans and maize can all be left on the plants so that they can completely dry out on the plants. If wet weather sets in then it is better to remove the seed heads and pods and dry them inside.
Some plants end up scattering their seeds as they mature. If left to go to flower and then seed carrots, parsnips, lettuce, onions and celery, for example, all self-seed. When the seed heads start to mature they can be placed into paper bags and shaken every day so that the released seed falls into the bags rather than on the soil.
CLEANING SAVED SEED?
Not all seeds are equal. Those plants that scatter their seed don't need any attention whatsoever. They are clean and dry and just need to be harvested and stored. However, some seeds are very fleshy, surrounded by pulp that needs to be removed. Tomatoes fall into this category.
Here you scoop out the flesh with a spoon and place it in a bowl of water. Rub the flesh vigorously with your thumb and forefinger until the flesh and seeds separate. Remove as much of the pulp as possible, drain the water through a sieve to catch the seeds and dry them out on a plate for about 10 days until they are completely dry and ready for storing.
STORING SAVED SEED?
When saving seeds you will need to think of the best way to store them so that the seed doesn't spoil before you want to use it the following season. My preferred method is to use paper bags and store them in a dark pantry or cupboard. Some people also store them in dark glass jars, but seeds do transpire, as they are still living. When seeds stored in a paper bag transpire, the transpiration is easily absorbed by the paper of the bag. When you store the seeds in glass or plastics, you run the risk of your seeds going mouldy and spoiling.
If you have no option but to use glass or plastic, then the best method is to place a layer of silica gel at the bottom of each jar or container and line with some kitchen paper towels. The fill your containers and jars with your seeds. When your seeds to transpire they will turn the silica gel from it's normal blue colour to pink. When this happens, remove the seeds, and replace with fresh silica gel until your seeds need to be planted.
If you don't know when you will plant your seeds again, they can then go into the fridge as long as they are stored at 5°C/41°F.
We hope that this has given you some indication on how easy it is to save seed, and how important it is to protect our old open-pollinated varieties for future generations.
It is no longer a case of if Peak Oil occurs, but when, and if the world order collapses as we know it today, we may well find ourselves without access to modern medicine. We need to be more self-reliant and try and get to grips with the knowledge of plants and how they can work for us. In the old days, our ancestors relied on their knowledge of plants and herbs to heal. Sadly, very few of us have any knowledge at all on this subject. Hopefully, you will have a better idea after you have read this article.
One of my favourite plants is ginger. It is so versatile. Not only can you ingest it, but it is excellent for getting rid of toxins from your system through the skin. Add no more than a teaspoon of powdered ginger to your bath for this. If you have sore joints, a ginger bath will also do the trick.
Aloe vera or Aloe Barbadensis as it is known in Latin is one of the world's oldest medicinal plants. It is great for soothing burns, midgy and mosquito bites. Just break a leaf off and squeeze the gel out. Anyone who has been bitten by midgies will know just how these little critters can make you itch for days on end. The aloe vera gel really does work and the relief is instant. It can also be used for scratches and cuts and even Athlete's foot, where if applied several times a day will show improvement within days.
Rosemary is not just a useful herb in cooking, homemade cosmetics and soap making. It is also good as a medicinal herb.
Stress is a killer. However, if you make yourself some rosemary wine this will relax you and also work as a good tonic. Take 3-4 sprigs of rosemary and bruise it. The lay it in a glass or ceramic bowl and cover with 2 cups of white wine. Leave to infuse for 2 days before using.
Lavender is not just a pretty cottage plant in your garden that helps attract bees. It is also an excellent natural antiseptic. A few drops of lavender oil in a cup or water is a very good all-purpose antiseptic for cuts, scratches and abrasions.
Those of you who suffer from headaches, and, or insomnia can also get relief from lavender oil. For headaches use a drop of lavender oil and apply to each temple. Massage gently. For insomnia, use a drop or two of the oil on your pillow as you get into bed. You will find that your days of insomnia are over.
Meadowsweet grows about 2 feet high and his white flowers when they open. Also known as Filipendula Ulmaria. Aspirin was synthised from it until it was made in laboratories. It can be made into a tea and can cure headaches and aches and pains as you would use for Aspirin. It is also good for urinary infections, gastric complaints and diarrhoea.
Make the tea by infusing 1 tablespoon of fresh meadowsweet to 1 1/4 cups of boiling water. Infuse in a glass bowl to prevent possible metal contamination.
There are more medicinal herbs and plants than we have space for here. If you have a special medicinal plant that you like tell us all about it and we will publish it on our website.
Recipe for the Month: Lemon Curd
4 medium-sized lemons
100g (4oz) butter
1/2 kg (1 lb) sugar
4 eggs, beaten
Scrub the lemons, grate the rind and squeeze out all the juice.
Place the juice and the grated rind in a double saucepan over a low heat and add the butter and the sugar.
Cook, stirring all the time until the butter and sugar are melted.
Add the eggs and cook, stirring all the time until the curd is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon.
Pour into hot, sterilized mason jars, and seal with waxed discs or paraffin wax.
Store in the pantry for a month, or refrigerate for up to 3 months. Once opened, eat quickly.
Well, we hope that you have enjoyed reading the latest issue of our e-zine, as much as we had fun writing it. We also hope that you will stay with us for a long time, visit our web site for updates, and feel free to contribute to the many forums we have created especially for you.
Until next time!
Philip & Kathryn Bax
Country Living and Farm Lifestyles
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