Archive for March, 2011

Anyway Project Update: Out Like a Lion

admin March 24th, 2011

Life has been proceeding more or less apace, and it feels like a long time since I’ve sat down and contemplated anything, much less my Anyway Project goals. At the same time, all this business is a series of steps on the way to actually many of the things done. I hope that’s true of all of you!

As you’ll remember, the goal of the Anyway project is to integrate our preparations for a harder future with our daily life now, to turn them many parts into a whole. As I wrote previously:

The larger idea of the Anyway Project is to make our lives work more smoothly. Most of us stand with feet in several worlds - our domestic and professional ones, our adaptations to a world with less and our day to day life in a world with too much (in some cases). Making the intersections between these spaces functional, bringing the edges together and connecting them smoothly is the center of my project.

The seed flats are filled with tomatoes, peppers, onions, tomatillos, basil, broccoli, leeks, basil, eggplant, herbs and flowers of all kinds. By now many years the seed flats make occasional forays outside or onto a sunny porch for a sheltered visit to the world, but it is *cold* right now, and winter is hanging on like the old lion he is. The Garden Plant CSA/Herb, Vegetable and Native Plant nursery is growing apace on every window in the house, and with some things under lights as well, as we wait for the cold to let loose. The good news is that next year I should have a greenhouse - our wonderful friend Loren is going to build me one!

Goats are ready to pop in a week or two - today is Eric’s barn cleaning marathon day, so things should be ready when the babies come after the first of April. All the winter’s manure goes on the parts of the garden that get planted later as well. The first batch of chicks is feathered out and ready to start ranging when the cold spell breaks, and there are more forthcoming.

Eric is totally obsessed with bee keeping - and two nucs of locally bred Carnolian bees are coming in early May. I’m very excited about his obsession, which is frankly, good for both of us. This is the first farm project that Eric in all the years we’ve been here has truly taken on as wholly his own. I’m a little jealous ;-) , in the sense that I’ve wanted bees for years, but I’m also thrilled to see Eric so fascinated and entranced. Besides, bees could be gateway drugs to something else cool ;-) .

I’m also mulling over our planned expansion - we have pasture we’re not using, and I have several ideas for how to make it work. For the last four years, we’ve shared sheep with my friend Elaine, who brings them to our pastures for the summer, and then takes them back for the winter. We get lamb and wool in barter, and sheep to keep the pastures down, but it is time for us to be more fully using that land. So I think this will be the last year of the shared sheep arrangement (which is sad, but she’s got other options and it won’t affect the friendship!). So now it is time to fish or cut bait on what exactly we’re going to do. Raise calves on our excess goat milk, and produce baby beef? Our own sheep? If so what breed(s)? Or should we expand our goat operation into meat goats and/or fiber goats. We’re going to do some expansion - I do want to produce Nigora (dual purpose miniature milk/fiber goats) goats, but how far to go? Decisions, decisions….

All of this is also hanging on the fact that once it becomes possible to actually do stuff outside, everything *has* to be done at once. New garden beds. Greenhouse. Planting. Hardening off seedlings. Taking down the old pasture fence and mowing. Running the new pasture fence. Market days and open farm days. Goat baby stuff.

Along with the usual farm projects, there is our family expansion project as well which has taken up a huge space in our life. More than halfway through our MAPP training (foster parent training), I feel rather like I did when the baby started kicking in each pregnancy - “oh, yeah, there’s a *baby* in there - all this hassle (puking, classes, depending on the case) isn’t for no reason.” The kids that will come into our lives aren’t babies (we assume) mostly, but we’re starting to get focused on the mechanics of real people. Friends of ours whose daughter became engaged realized that their daughter will be needing something other than a set of bunkbeds to sleep on now, and are generously passing them on to us - the bunkbeds and some other furniture arrive on Sunday. I still have hopes of painting the kids’ bedroom spring green, rather than the white and muted yellow it is now (boring), but it may or may not happen. We can always leave open the option of painting both kids rooms in the late fall, when everyone can choose their own colors.

We’ve got books in the bookcase, my mother is starting to look around for used twin bedding, a dear friend has kindly organized a project to knit afghans (more on that at the end of the post), the children have done very well with their weekly babysitting nights, we’re still hunting for a van large enough to haul the six of us and two or three more kids (for years we’ve all driven in one Ford Taurus, which believe it or not can safely hold 6 people with carseats and boosters and buckles - we look like clowns getting out of a clown car, though - very environmentally efficient, but as the boys get bigger, its days were coming to an end anyway) - anyone out there in our general region knows someone selling an inexpensive used 8+ passenger van, let me know!

There are a few more steps in the process - Eric and I have to get fingerprinted (think of the crimes I can’t commit now…damn!), my physical is next week, we have to get the well water tested, and we still have a few more classes, but we can see the day coming when we’ll get down to the brass tacks. My mother’s observation is that she’s ready to get to the essentials - ages, gender, clothing sizes. Me too - I always did think that waiting for kids, whether the old-fashioned way or otherwise, took too damned long ;-) . Patience has never been one of my virtues - I’ve always had a “as long as we’re going to do it, let’s get at it attitude” (actually, I felt that way about labor too), but I’m trying to be patient, and I am enjoying the time with just the four boys. We’ve planned some family visits and travel for the next couple of months, since we’ll be staying home for a while after kids come.

The ties between family and community have been really evident in this - we have been able to turn to friends and community members in so many ways. Our friends and family have covered our weekly childcare (non-trivial, since we can’t leave Eli with everyone) for the MAPP classes. Friends have passed along good advice, shared furniture and offered clothing that we won’t have (and there’s that knitting and crocheting thing again…look at the bottom of the post for more!). After some years of being able mostly to offer help, rather than accept it, we have been turning to others, and the kindness they have offered has been intensely humbling and gratifying. While we’re still somewhat flexible we’ve been trying to do our part too to reciprocate - it is harder in many ways to receive than to give, though, and in some ways, better for us.

A lot of my other Anyway Project Goals are sort of mixed in with this - the nursery business obviously has a lot to do with the farm revitalization project. The family stuff seems part of the project as well - life is tough out there already for a lot of people and just getting harder. It isn’t something I can entirely fix, but I’m anxious to do what we can.

We haven’t made as much progress on the reorganization as I’d really like, but we have three weeks of Pesach cleaning ahead of us as we get ready for the Passover holiday, and the rearranging of furniture that accompanies the new acquisitions, so I have hope.

Outside work and finances have also not gotten the attention they deserve. I applied for an IATTP Food and Policy Fellowship and didn’t get it, so now I have to think about what I will do to support my family in the coming year, beyond the usual, and given that because of new children my normally somewhat limited talk and travel schedule will be *really* limited. I do have to finish the Anyway Project/Adapting in Place book, now in progress 3 years (longer than it took me to do my first three books ;-) ), but I’m starting to realize that I probably need to make or find an actual regular paid venue for my writing, because with more family members, our expenses will go up.

Foster parent stipends don’t cover things like eating locally and sustainably, so I might actually have to get a real job! Or maybe not - I’m still trying to figure this one out. In many ways I’ve been so blessed not to be financially pressed - our very low cost lifestyle has made it possible for me to take the speaking gigs that interest me, rather than the ones that pay well, to write for free where I want to, etc… I know most people don’t have that luxury, but I’m finding it hard to entirely give up on the possibility - at the same time, who can complain about something so ordinary as having to work for money, rather than for pleasure? The problem is that other things will have to give if that’s the case - that’s probably less time for the farm, for the things we do that reduce our costs, etc…. Again, this is nothing that everyone doesn’t have to balance, but I’m still clinging to the hope we can make things work without my actually going to the lengths of hunting for a *serious job* - I work more or less full time on my writing and also on my farming, but the ability to be flexible has been so important, and losing that would be a real loss.

Time and happiness - our life is overscheduled right now, mostly in good ways and I haven’t fully been able to manage this. I haven’t kept my “three days a week” resolution as a writer - I’ve got to figure out what would make that possible for me. I find myself looking more and more towards Shabbat every week, to our sabbath that we explicitly clear upfront - time with friends and family, quiet and peace. I’ve always enjoyed it, but as we’ve been busier, it becomes like oxygen, a necessary space for all of us.

After the second week in July, we have purposely planned to stay home, on the assumption that additional children may be part of our family by then. I’m looking forward to this, too. Summer is busy, of course, with harvesting, gardening, preserving, and by July our thoughts start turning to winter, and I’m certain that two or three new kids will turn our lives to chaos. At the same time, just being at home and staying there for a while, building in time to establish a routine sounds satisfying with all the going and doing we’ve been doing.

Did I mention that I was very fortunate to have kindness and generosity coming at me from all directions? One place it has come from is my longtime internet friend MEA (who I have never met in person but hope to one of these days) also known on facebook as Alyss. I mentioned I was planning on knitting afghans for each of the beds for the new kids, and MEA offered to help and suggested others might as well. I think she rightly suspected that if left to me, the afghans might never get finished! So no pressure at all, but if you are aching for a knitting or crocheting project, and would like to make one or more 8×8 squares, we’ll sew them together at a finishing party (hopefully in MEA’s neighborhood - I’ll come down to NJ and we’ll have a bash!). If we get more than we need, we’ll donate any additional afghans to other foster kids - there are certainly plenty of them.

MEA put together a facebook group “Gleanings Knitters” to get us started, so if you’d like to join a knit/crochet-a-long please do! I sometimes get lost in the fantasy of doing everything myself - but the project of expanding our family has been a powerful revelation of how reliant I am on my community. I’ve been reliant on my community here, as many people who have been through the foster and adoptive process have opened their experience to me, and my home community. I feel very lucky that I can rely so much on my community here - thank you all.

So how has this month been for the rest of y’all?


So American Health Care is Even More Costly than We Thought…

admin March 23rd, 2011

Not-unexpected but useful news item that got buried behind Tokyo’s contaminated water story - apparently Americans aren’t spending 8K a year on health care costs, they are actually spending 10K a year on health care costs.  Is this the time for one of those choruses of “We’re number one!”

These “hidden” costs of health care — like taking time off to care for elderly parents — add up to $363 billion, according to a report from the Deloitte Center for Health Solutions, a research group.

hat amounts to $1,355 per consumer, on top of the $8,000 the government says people spend on doctor fees and hospital care.

“We’re surprised that this number came in so high. It’s significant,” said Paul Keckley, executive director with the group.

The out-of-pocket costs that the government tallies usually include only insurance-related costs like premiums, deductibles, and co-payments.

Keckley said the study is the first to estimate how much consumers dish out on health care related goods and services not covered by private or government insurance.

These include: ambulance services, alternative medicines, nutritional products and vitamins, weight-loss centers and supervisory care of elderly family members.

“These costs can add up to billions of dollars, even eclipsing housing as a household expense,” said Keckley.

The study found that more than half of those costs were the cost of caregiving in lost wages.  This is a number we can only expect to see rise radically.  Many states have already cut aide and home health care support, assisted living kicks you out as soon as your income runs out, disability housing and services for the disabled are among the first convenient targets when budgets get tight, and the state funded nursing homes are both closing and becoming increasingly dire.  Add to that an aging population, and the outcomes are predictable.  The only alternative is for people to do caregiving at home - and at considerable cost in both wages and personal terms.  For those unlucky enough to have no one to take care of them, the outcomes are worse.

This is something I know something about - I worked for many years in elder care and hospices, then cared for Eric’s grandparents in our home, and eventually I will be my oldest son’s caregiver, since he is unlikely to ever live independently.  We are also guardians for our disabled niece whose mother is a generation older than I and who will also probably never live independently.  Giving care is something I expect to be doing for a long time.  I’m very comfortable with that part of my life, but I don’t claim it will be easy or that the costs will be easy to bear.

The hard reality is that a lot of people will have to come out of the workforce in order to do the work of caring for children, the disabled and the elderly.  The good/bad news is that a lot of people are coming out of the workforce, of course, but their obligation is to look for work full time - which pretty much precludes taking care of Grandma, your brother who is a war amputee or any children who need it.

Apparently many economists were surprised by the high cost of caregiving, of transporting the ill too and fro, of all the attempts to find alternatives and to soften side effects that go will illness and disability, aging and ordinary childhood health costs.  Anyone who lives them is not.  The reason these are surprising to some people is that they are “housewifized” out of existance - our society doesn’t recognize the value of caregiving except when it is professionalized and industrialized.  It erases domestic and family support, implies they are valueless and best undertaken in professional settings.  Then, when the money isn’t there or the professional settings are unhealthy, we pretend that this is not “real” work.

The shifting of nearly everyone into the industrial, formal economy resulted in the radical impoverishing of the informal economy - an impoverishment that must be reversed if outcomes are to be better than worst.


Angelina’s Ark Excerpt - Fiction

admin March 17th, 2011

I’m not moving to any farm.

Daddy Ham says we’re going home for good, and that things will be better there for all of us.  They don’t have worry so much about money there.  We’ll have good food. It will be cooler, and safer.  When the power goes out, people up there live too far apart to smash things and fight.  It will be home.

It will never be home.

Papa James says that he knows there have been lots of changes, but that I have to be brave for Grace.    Gramma says she’ll miss me but we’ll visit and won’t it be wonderful to live in the country with all that wonderful fresh food and animals.   Grammy Rose says she’s proud of how adaptable and brave I am.  Uncle Reg says I should eat a ripe red tomato for him.  Nanny says she can’t wait a minute until we get here, that the chickens need me to collect eggs and that I can have a lamb to take care of for my own.  Grandpa Noah says “Right” when Nanny says all that, but I don’t think he is really listening.  Moses is jealous of us, and signed that he wishes he could go to the farm.  I told him I wish it too – he can go instead of me.

I’m still not moving to any stupid farm.  I don’t want to touch eggs that came out of a chicken’s butt.  Lambs poop everywhere – everything on a farm poops all the time.  There are tomatoes in the supermarket, and Grammy Rose grows them on her balcony.  And I don’t want to leave my home and my school and Gramma and Grammy Rose and go where there’s nothing but trees and white people.  I don’t see why we have to.

Papa James still has a job, at least some of the time, although they don’t call him out to work so much anymore at the hospital.  Daddy Ham hasn’t been working, but he could get a job any day now – this is Atlanta, there are lots of jobs here, right?

Besides, when they adopted us, they promised the judge that they would always act in the best interest of the children.  I told Papa James that moving all the way to a farm in freezing cold New York was not in my best interest, and that maybe the judge would come and take me away.  I didn’t mean it though, about going back, and I think he knew, because he laughed and told Daddy Ham what I’d said.

Daddy Ham feels worse about it than Papa James, I know, because even though he laughed too, just for one moment he looked really upset.  Grace is excited about the farm, and she’s so little that she doesn’t really remember before we were all a family, or understand why Nanny and Grandpa Noah are different.  But I know Daddy Ham knows that this isn’t fair to me.

“Angie, we’re going to lose the house.  We can’t pay for it anymore.”  He looks miserable, and I feel a little bad about it, but I still don’t want to go.

Daddy Ham is really thin and not too tall – I’m only twelve and I already come up to his nose.  He has really dark blue eyes with pale skin and a ton of curly dark hair and glasses, and he’s the one who takes everything seriously and worries a lot.  Papa James jokes and calls it “neurosis” and says it is a “Scottish-Jewish thing,” but I don’t really know what that means.

“We could live with Grammy Rose – that’s what Uncle Reg is doing – you can have Grammy Rose’s office for you and Papa James, and Grace and I can sleep on the floor in the room with Uncle Reg.

“No, honey, there’s not enough room for you girls.  And if I could, I’d take Grammy Rose and Uncle Reg and everyone with us.  That neighborhood isn’t really safe anymore and it gets hotter every year, so hot it makes Grammy Rose sick sometimes.  And Uncle Reg doesn’t have a job either.  We need a good, safe place for you girls to grow up and be safe and healthy, and the farm is the right place.

I get nervous because Daddy Ham looks like he’s going to cry again.  I heard him once say to Papa James when he thought Grace and I were watching tv that he felt like a jerk because he couldn’t support his kids anymore.   Then he cried and I didn’t know what to do, so I just pretended I was watching my show.  But I kept feeling like I was supposed to do something, and it made me want to throw up inside.

I almost asked him if maybe I could stay with Gramma for a while, but I didn’t.  And I know that she’d say no anyway.  She always says that if she could have taken us girls, she would have, but it is hard for her even to take care of Moses with her knees and her eyes, and the place she lives is really just for old people.  Most of the folks there aren’t happy that even Moses is there. They get mad at him if he jumps or runs, and it is a lucky thing that he can’t make much noise anyway because he can’t hear, or they’d probably kick him out and Gramma too.  It’s only because she’s so nice to the boss guy that runs everything that she can even keep Moses.  Once, and she told me it was a grown up secret, she said that she only took Moses because he wouldn’t have made it in foster care, and she knew Grace and I would be ok.

I told my friend Mikky that I had to move away, and she said I could come live with her and her Mom, but I don’t think that’s real, and I didn’t even bother telling Daddy Ham.  Nobody ever really means it when they say you can come live with them when you are just friends.  People only do that when they really, really want a kid, like Papa James and Daddy Ham, or when they are your family, and lots of times not even then.  Those people in the foster homes who said I could stay a long time never really meant it.

When we were playing video games I told Mikky everything I remembered about the farm and the mountain.  How there are only six neighbors on the whole road up the mountain.  How Nanny is nice, I guess, but Grandpa Noah doesn’t really seem to like kids, and he talks in another language a lot and prays all the time.  Nanny says he talks more to God than he does to people sometimes.   About the animals that are always pooping (which made Mikky giggle) and about the dirt that always needs digging, and all the work, and how Grandpa and Nanny were trying to get us excited about these boring little packages of seeds.  About how Uncle Jeff lives in a trailer with a little house built on the side that looks like he put it together out of old junk.

Mikky was sad I was leaving, but she was a little jealous too – she said she’d never been to a farm and kept asking me about the baby goats and sheep and rabbits and whether they were cute.  She asked if maybe she could come visit me, and I said sure, but I don’t think she could buy a train ticket, since she’s a free lunch kid just like me, and her Mom won’t let us play at my house anyway, cause Daddy and Papa are that thing that isn’t in the Bible. I don’t really think she’d let Mikky stay overnight with us.

I went home after that, and Grace was sick again and Daddy Ham was helping her with her inhaler, and the house was full of boxes, and Papa James gave me a couple and told me to start packing my stuff.  I got mad and said I didn’t want to go and didn’t want to pack, and that he was just like everyone else, telling me to pack up my stuff and leave again.  He told me to get to work packing and save the drama for later, that we had work to do.

Papa James is very tall and strong, and he’s really dark, almost as dark as me, and much darker than Grace whose father  was white anyway, at least I think so.  He spends all day at the hospital lifting sick people and taking care of them, and he’s got big muscles and a very quiet voice.  He’s older than Daddy Ham, going gray a little bit, and where I sometimes mess around with Daddy Ham and don’t always listen to him and try and make him mad, I don’t usually try and make Papa James mad, because it seems like if he got mad, it might be for real.  With Daddy Ham you always know that he’s going to forgive you and not stay mad, but I don’t know about Papa James.

This time I really wanted to make him mad, so I told him that the boxes were just like the garbage bags all the social workers used to make us pack our stuff up in, and he was treating me like trash too by making me move after he said we could stay.  The I said that he and Daddy Ham were just like Miss Edie.  I was really yelling by then.  That was the meanest thing I could think of to say, since they both knew that we had to be taken out of Miss Edie’s house really fast after she smacked Grace in the face so hard she left a mark and twisted my arm hard when I tried to fight her to keep her from getting at Grace.  Miss Edie’s was the next-to-last place we were before we came to their house and finally, we thought, got to stay.

Papa James looked really mad at that, and I thought for a minute he might hit me, even though he didn’t move. I was ready to run into my room though and lock the door, just in case, even though neither Papa nor Daddy has ever hit me, and they promised they wouldn’t ever.  Lots of people did, though, even though they always said they wouldn’t do it, or do it again, and I figure better safe than sorry, so I got ready to run.

But Papa James didn’t even yell, and when I turned like I was going to run away from him his face changed and he didn’t look mad anymore,  just sad.  I saw Daddy Hamish standing in the doorway, looking at me like he was worried about me or something, but he didn’t say anything.  Papa James just put down the boxes and sat down and told me to sit too.  He told me that this was not the same thing as when Grace and I were foster kids, that he was sorry if it made me feel bad to move, but this was everyone going together, that he and Daddy Ham would never go anywhere without me, and that sometimes you all have to do the best thing for your whole family even if it is really hard.

He talked to me about things that I sort of know about – about no rain and why everything gets hotter and dryer ever y year, and the diseases he sees people in the hospital with that never used to be here.  He talked about jobs, and being afraid there won’t be enough food for us, and how hard it is to find work.  He talked about things being dangerous, and oil, which I didn’t really understand.

I didn’t mean to cry, but I did, a little bit, and I yelled that my whole family was here, and I was leaving everyone – and that I couldn’t go away from Moses, because my whole family doesn’t live in one house, and I have to take care of my little brother even if we don’t live together, because Gramma can’t really. What will Moses do when the other kids are mean to him without me to tell them to go to hell?

“Oh, Angelina!” Now Daddy Hamish came over and got down on his knees and put his arms around me, even though I don’t usually like to be hugged, because I’m too old.  I let him this time.  “Oh, sweetie.”

He looked up at Papa James like he was about to ask him a question, but he didn’t.  And then Papa James nodded anyway, as though he already had, and Daddy Hamish told me something amazing.

“Honey, we can’t take Moses with us right now, because your Grandmother wants him to finish out his year at the school for the deaf, but we’ve been talking to Etty and to Moses’s social worker, and we want to bring Moses with us too – to have him as part of our family.    It isn’t definite, but you are right, it isn’t fair for your family to be in so many places, and we want Moses to be part of our family.  We’re going to move now because we need a place that isn’t going to be foreclosed on anyway, to adopt him, or they wouldn’t let us but once we get back to the mountain, we’re all going to start getting ready for Moses to come.”

I admit, I’d been hoping since the very first day they told me that they wanted to keep Grace and me forever that eventually they’d take Moses too, but except for once, a long time ago at the beginning, when they’d said they couldn’t, I never asked.  It isn’t smart to ask for too much. They might be just telling me what I want to hear, or maybe they’ll forget about Moses when we’re gone.  It still leaves Gramma here, and everyone else.  My family still isn’t all one piece.   I  feel a little better, though.  A little.

Harvesting and Preserving Medicinal Herbs

admin March 16th, 2011

Note: This is a re-run from a few years ago, but I was thinking about the beginning of the herb season (starting with cleavers, dandelion and witch hazel, right soon now…)  and thought it might be worth a repeat!

For me, the most fascinating part of my whole self-sufficiency project is the plants – don’t get me wrong, I love the skills, I love animals, but I think I like best the project of getting to know plants.  The joy of herbalism is that it requires an intimacy that I really delight in – the more I learn, the better the results, and the more pleasure I take from my garden plants.

When I first started planting culinary and medicinal herbs, I pretty much treated them all the same way  – when I wanted some, or when it was a convenient time for me, I went and cut what I wanted.  But gradually I’ve learned a lot more about harvesting – when and how, and how to make best use of the plants.  Some of this is most important if, like me, you are hoping to sell dried herb, but harvesting at the right time will make anyone’s plants more medicinally active – we all know that there’s a world of taste difference between a green tomato and a red, ripe one dripping from the vine, between a tender, delicate new 6 inch zucchini and a three foot, seedy monster.  Well, herbs also have windows in which they are at their best.

Still, there’s something to be said for the “just go out and pick the herb” strategy – and for most fresh uses, I think this is probably still a good one.  There will be times when you want the most chemically active possible plant, but if your kid has an upset tummy and you have a dill head lying around, there’s really no reason to spend a lot of time wondering if you should have picked it on Friday or should wait until the seeds are fully mature.  By all means, try and harvest at the best possible moment, but don’t make yourself nuts, unless you are trying to sell your herbs.

There’s no real rule of thumb that allows you to completely avoid getting to know the plants themselves more intimately (and after all, this isn’t really something to be avoided), but there are some general principles that can be applied usefully.  Generally speaking, if what you harvest is the flower (say, chamomile or red clover) you want to harvest it just as the flowers open, as close to opening as possible (being pollinated can reduce the medicinal qualities of the flower, as in the case of clover).

If what you harvest is “aerial parts” (say, as in scullcap or feverfew) then you generally (there are some important exceptions to this) want to harvest the top foliage and flowers just as the flowers open.  If what you harvest are the young leaves (like nettle or raspberry leaves), harvest in spring, or keep cutting back or succession planting to ensure a harvest of young leaves.  Seeds (such as milk thistle and burdock) are harvested when the seeds are ripe, that is fully dry. Berries and fruits (such as cayenne peppers or elderberries) are harvested when ripe, or just shy of ripe.  Roots (such as dandelion or echinacea) are best harvested in fall after die back, or in very early spring, before heavy growth is put on.

Barks, (like willow or crampbark) are a winter crop - and in fact, I wonder that more northern farmers don’t consider adding a few bark crops to add to their other winter work with wood – cutting firewood, pruning, etc…

There are some oddities among the herbs – Gingko leaves, for example, are harvested not when young, but when they begin to yellow.  Comfrey is gentler and safer after the first spring flush – the first crop can be cut for compost or animal feed.  Rosemary is more fragrant and active after flowering, rather than during it.  Some roots need several years to develop, others are at their best the first fall or winter.  Again, you’ll want to look at recommendations from several books, since people’s opinions vary a lot on this stuff.

What if you want to combine two herbs with different harvesting periods in, say, a tincture?  You have two choices – you can harvest both plants as close to optimally as possible, say, picking the late flowering clover and digging the burdock before frost to create a clover-burdock root combination, or you can double tincture – tincture the clover at its peak, strain, and then fill the jar again with burdock root, and tincture it again.

The two easiest methods of preserving herbs are folk-style tincturing and drying, and that’s all I’m going to talk about in this particular post.  Again, the books you use will have recommendations for how to handle these plants – and I’ll write future posts about creams and oils and other methods.  But for today, we’ll assume you are going to either tincture the herbs or dry them.  You should look to see how the plant works best – as all of us know from culinary herbs, some herbs dry beautifully, some lose their essence. The same is true of tincturing – I’ve heard herbalists say that alcoholic tinctures are the best way to preserve herbs flatly, but some plants have constituents that don’t precipitate out in alcohol – marshmallow, for example, is valuable mostly because of its mucilaginous qualities, but that mucilage is not alcohol soluble, so an alcohol tincture isn’t the best way to preserve it.

Tinctures involve preserving herbs in alcohol, vinegar or glycerin.  Glycerin has the advantage of being sweet and easy to give to children, vinegar something everyone can tolerate, alcohol’s biggest advantage, besides pulling many plant elements out, is that tinctures last forever.  That way, if you are trying to preserve an herb you can’t grow, or don’t expect to have access to forever, tinctures are really valuable.

Either way, take a quart mason jar, and chop the herb parts up finely (for particularly dry or encased parts, like woody roots or hard coated seeds, you may need to grind them up some in a mortar).  Fill the jar to the top, and add alcohol (100 proof vodka is the easiest, although you can also make tinctures in fortified wine, or in a high proof alcohol that you enjoy sipping – no reason you can’t enjoy, say tequila-lemon balm or gin macerated with elderberries – for your health of course ;-) ), glycerin or vinegar.

Put the tincture in a cool dark place and shake it daily for a month, or more.  Strain through cheesecloth and press or squeeze out all liquid.  That’s your tincture.  Store in a cool, dark place, clearly labelled with both ingredients and with warnings if necessary.  Glycerin tinctures store 1 year if made from at least 70 percent glycerine and kept very tightly capped (they suck water from the air otherwise), vinegars last 1-2 years at room temperature, alcohol tinctures last indefinitely.

Drying herbs is pretty simple – in a dry climate, you can hang them up in a warm, dry place with good air circulation and no exposure to sun, or lay them on screens and just let them dry until crispy.  This method doesn’t work at all for me in my humid climate – plants keep absorbing humidity, and turn grey and dull.  A solar dehydrator doesn’t work for this – bright sun is not good for most medicinals.  So we turned our mudroom (which has a lot of windows and gets very warm in the summer into a drying room.  A humid-climate solar dehydrator with a dark cover also works fine, as does an electric dehydrator if you’ve no other choice.  Generally speaking, you want to dry your plants as quickly as possible – within 1-4 days, and at a temperature between 80 and 100 degrees.  Once they are dry, place them whole  into an airtight jar or crumble them if you prefer (they last longer as whole leaves), and put them away from light.

How do you decide whether to tincture or dry?  For me, it is often a matter of aesthetic pleasure – any herb I enjoy drinking as tea, I might as well dry.  What’s the point, say, of peppermint tincture, when peppermint tea is so delicious?  On the other hand, valerian doesn’t taste that good anyway, so I might as well cover it in cheap vodka ;-) .  Also, if you have kids, I find it a lot easier to get them to drink a cup of tea than to swallow anything alcoholic, so either that or glycerin is preferrable.  Books will have good recommendations about whether to tincture or dry, and some of it may depend on what you want to use them for.

The three books I’d really recommend starting with are James Green’s _The Herbal Medicine-Maker’s Handbook_, Richo Cech’s _Making Plant Medicine_ and for those growing their own, Tammi Hartung’s _Growing 101 Herbs that Heal_.  It should go without saying, btw, if you are not cultivating these herbs, but wildcrafting them, you are doing so completely ethically – not taking more than a fair share of any stand, encouraging them to expand their range, not harvesting endangered plants.  Wildcrafting is best used for plants that are weedy anyway - St. Johns Wort, for example, is a real pest in my friend’s pasture, so we help her out - and me.

Happy harvesting!


CSA Information

admin March 15th, 2011

Hi Folks - I can’t believe how much work getting the information up on my vegetable and herb plant CSA has been - first I had to wait for all the seed orders to come in so I could accurately describe what plants I would have, and I’m still germinating many of them.  I’m still not done, but it is time to put up the CSA membership information, and the incomplete plant lists - watch carefully over the next week for more info and details.

Here is how to join and our FAQ, as well as a list of “garden packages” we offer (if you’d like one of the garden packages as part of your CSA, just take 20% off the price!). Right here is an incomplete list of the varieties of garden annual vegetables and flowers that will be available. Here is a more-complete list of the herbs that will be available.  Here are the native plants, and I’ll have in the next day or two a list of  perennial vegetables and useful other perennial plants - I’ll post a notice when that is up.

Individual plants are priced as follows - all annual 4 packs are $3 or 75 cents each.  Yes, you can mix and match.  Most perennials, natives and herb plants are between $2-6 each depending although a few are available in 4 packs for the same price - I will put that up shortly.

Here’s how you can buy plants from us.  First, you can come to the farm or one of our drop off spots and buy plants individually at full price. Or, if you’d like to join the CSA, you can sign up now, and join at whatever dollar amount you want above $40.  Half is due upfront to support the nursery enterprise.  What you get for your upfront investment is this - you get 20% more plant dollars to spend - so if you guess you will spend $100, you send me a check or paypal for $50, and you get $120 worth of plants from us, with the other $50 due on delivery.  If you have a small garden and want to spend $40, mix and match, terrific, send me a check or paypal for $20, and you’ll get $48 of plants from us.

If you want specific varieties from our seed list, please email me at [email protected] and I will reserve them - otherwise, plants are first come first served.  CSA members get first choice.  I will also send out email notifications when we update our lists, so you can pick more stuff.

How do you get your plants?  I will be arranging drop off at several locations in the Capital Region - in Schenectady and Albany for sure, and probably also in Troy.  You can also come to our farm and pick up, just email or call first.  We will have several open farm days over the course of the spring and early summer as well.  We will have plants available from mid-April (for early garden planting) until July (for fall garden planting), and you can spread your investment across multiple seasons, say, if you subscribe for $200 (which would get you $240 worth of plants), you can get $160 worth of plants in may, and come back for another $80 for your fall garden - or any combination you like.  Your farm credit is good for the whole season.

Many of our plants are rare or unusual, including many pollinator attractants, nitrogen fixeres, permaculture plants, and of course, heirloom vegetables - these plants are things you won’t find at every garden center.  Moreover, they are grown with the utmost attention given to plant health and sustainable production - we use local compost whenever possible, recycle plastic whenever we can, reduce plastic use entirely, and grow in sustainable mediums.

Membership in our plant CSA also gives you farm news, and access to other farm products as well - you become part of the farm and the community.  We will happily provide you with growing advice and support by email or phone!  And that, of course is the whole point of Community Supported Agriculture - to bring us all together!

Please email me at [email protected] with questions or with your plant lists and requests!


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