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I love digging my hands into dirt. The simple act of breaking up rich, sticky clumps and pushing through the top layers to make room for a new plant makes me feel connected to earth, sun and seasons. How can you not feel the miracle whenever a teeny-tiny seed is planted and nurtured  and becomes a plant that produces food?

Last fall, I attended the Minnesota Herbal Education Festival. Well, first let me back it up a bit, I only knew about such a festival because I attended a local farm tour last July. One of the farms I visited was Will Heal Farm. During my visit there to look at their herb gardens, bee hives and the yurt they built to house the classes they teach, I signed up for their mailing list. It was through that mailing list that I learned about the Minnesota Herbal Education Festival. I hemmed and hawed over the cost to attend and how I’m too busy but something kept tugging at my sleeve, so with my usual “this feels like something I should do” decision making process, I signed up to go.

flower and bee

The festival was like discovering Atlantas or some hidden dimension. Okay, maybe not quite that big, but for me, it was an eye opener. I expected the classes would be about the kind of herbs I grew in my garden (lemon balm, sage, lavender, basil, rosemary, thyme, etc) and possibly a bunch of flowers and other herbs that I knew about but had never grown myself (echinacea, St Johns wort, chamomile). But what I discovered was that there are plants that I walk by in the woods all the time, plants that I mainly saw as weeds (mullein, nettle, plantain, wild ginger), and other plants that I thought of as seasoning (garlic, cinnamon, ginger, cayenne) that all had medicinal properties.

I mean, sure, I’d heard garlic was good for the immune system but I kind of thought that was folklore until I heard there’s an actual property in the garlic, allin, which converts to allicin when crushed or chopped (you should wait 10 minutes before cooking with it to allow time for that conversion and to not destroy it with heat) that gives garlic it’s potent medicinal properties. There is science and the wisdom that comes from experience to the folklore that we hear and have, perhaps, passed off as old wives tales.

“Old wives tales,” that is such a condescending label in so many ways…

Mississippi River

As a person who loves fairy tales and folklore and magic and plants and stories and wisdom passed down through the ages, learning about medicinal herbs was like hitting a goldmine! It was a whole bunch of my passions all wrapped under one ginkgo biloba tree! But I also discovered at the festival that I was a mere babe in the woods. There were women and men who had been studying and working with herbs for ages. Some of them had grown up with this knowledge, passed down from a grandmother, mother or neighbor.

Was I coming across this information too late?

As I have felt so often at my age, like with my discovery of bike touring and all the solo adventurous things women do nowadays, I felt as though I had arrived too late to the party. For many things I wish I could do, it’s my aging body that stands in the way, but for learning about and using medicinal herbs, it’s my aging brain and ebbing of time that made me think it’s too late.

It’s a good thing I decided to ignore that immediate defeatist reaction. So I won’t be a herbalist master, open up a clinic and have people coming for miles to seek my wisdom — is that my goal? No.

plants and dogs

plants around bathtub

What I care about is how I feel when I’m growing things and then combining them into a restorative tea or a mind-focusing tincture or a pain relieving salve or just a fun little lip balm. Did you know you can use cinnamon or turmeric to add color to a home-made lip balm or lipstick? Then there is the Fire Cider I have brewing in my cupboard for a month. Can’t wait to try that one out. And the bone broth I made, which I’ve been putting into rice dishes, making into an awesome egg drop soup and just drinking as a warming broth on chilly days.

Fire Cider

I’m not sure why, but making this stuff makes me happy. Perhaps you don’t even have to apply or drink the mixtures to get their benefits. I like the idea of being able to make my own medicines so I know exactly what’s in them and I don’t have a laundry list of side effects to deal with. I also like that basically, you are healing yourself with food rather than chemicals created in a lab. The effects aren’t felt as quickly or strongly but the cost of a quick fix is too high for me.

Anyway, since the festival, I have taken a Roots Medicine Class and a Medicinal Syrups class at Will Heal Farm. I bought a bigger teapot at Goodwill to make bigger batches of tea. I signed up for the North Country Herbalist Guild and have attended their monthly meetings. At one NCHG meeting, a woman brought extra scobies for people to take with them and I have started making Kombucha – what a COOL science experiment that is!

Kombucha

What I have learned from these opportunities to spend time with herbalists is that they are a very generous bunch of people. I’ve been given roots, tinctures, dried herbs, and teas. I’ve been given handouts and index cards filled out with Herbal Materica Medica information and recipes for the things I’ve sampled in classes. And I have seen herbalists bring jars of herbs to gatherings to donate to groups like Standing Rock Medic Healer Council and Tea for the People.

herbs-17-3

This kind of generosity, openness and sharing of information has been shocking in its sharp contrast to what I generally know and experience. Perhaps this spirit of giving and teaching and helping is actually rare, but what I’d rather believe is that it is more abundant than I know about. It’s certainly not what we hear or read about in the media or social networks. Either way, this generosity I see in the herbalists and gardeners I’ve recently encountered lifts me up and makes me want to be part of the givers rather than the takers.

salad table

What about you? What kind of evidence do you see in your life that generosity is alive and well out there? I’d love to hear more examples. Perhaps they will provide ideas of how to build more loving kindness into our lives. Not that I don’t see a need for warriors as well. So if you have those examples, please include them too.

I’d like to recommend a Ted Radio Hour podcast I heard recently that was originally recorded in 2013 called “Giving It Away.”  It consists of a collection of four Ted Talk clips, one of which was by Ron Finley, also known as the Gangsta Gardener. After listening to the short clip in the podcast, I had to later go seek out his full Ted Talk. Finley’s story is a great example of all the positive things gardening can do for an individual, families, and entire communities. A little gardening can help solve big problems.

And on that note, I just can’t resist adding the music video “Gardening is Gangsta” by Master Mark and Sifu Paul Davis.

It’s been crazy cold and snowy here in Minnesota this winter. Those who don’t live here probably think that’s nothing new, but we’ve been spoiled for a while now with mild, almost snowless winters. Time to get our Minnesotan back on!

The chickens are hanging in there, thanks to the addition of a heat light in the coop, in addition to their regular winter heater. I use the light as little as possible as the red glow is a bit disturbing to the girls, but when it’s -35°F at night, I figure disturbing their sleep is the lesser of two evils.

I thought the chickens might turn up their beaks at salad, but they quickly scarfed down the lettuce I gave them as a treat.

After a two month break from laying eggs, the girls seem to think the days are getting longer, the sun’s angle has changed a bit, and Spring has to be on its way, so they have popped back into egg production.

I’m glad for the green growth going on in my Salad Table, a contrast to the vivid winter white. I just started new seedlings to replace the older plants. I’m hoping the spinach seeds I just bought from High Mowing Seeds will grow well as I have so many recipes that call for spinach. With so many greens, I refuse to buy spinach so I’m using Kale in recipes instead, which is fine sometimes, not so great other times.

As long as I was placing a seed order and paying for postage, I also ordered three types of sprouts and two sprouting lids to grow them in large mason jars. I’ve never tried growing sprouts before but thought they’d be a nice addition to my salads. The photo is from when I originally soaked the seeds. It’s been four days and the sprouts are expanding to fill the jar. Maybe I’ll toss some in my salad today.

I’ve been brushing the snow off and refilling the bird feeder quite frequently. This is the view from my office. I love watching the activity.

Sometimes it’s like wild kingdom around here or world’s funniest home videos, if only we were fast enough to capture the antics.

Latte loves to chase the squirrels. We knock on the door to warn the critters before letting her out. 

She’ll still manage to tree them and visibly shake with excitement as she sits waiting to see how they’re going to come down the tree. The squirrels generally can escape by jumping from tree to tree but sometimes, they run across the snow and Latte runs after them.

One day, she was so intent on chasing the squirrel in front of her she didn’t notice the one running behind her who actually ran right into Latte’s butt. But yes, the little terrier ignored the bash of her hind side to keep her eye on her prey. And where was Java? Sitting and watching the action from the sidelines, her head movement mimicked someone watching a drag race.

Keep your chin up people. Winter only comes once a year! 

There’s little risk in becoming overly proud of one’s garden because gardening by its very nature is humbling. It has a way of keeping you on your knees. –– Joanne Barwick

I didn’t say all that much about my garden this year. I guess I was too busy being a Master Gardener… I’m still brown bag ripening the last of my tomatoes, have one butternut squash left, some very thin celery, and a bag of smallish potatoes.

But it’s November now and gardening is done. Outside anyway. Several plants from my herb garden came inside.

I don’t have any windows facing south and only a few facing east to get morning sunlight. Many of my plants have taken up residence on the ledges of my bathtub where they can catch what little bit of sun is available. A couple tomato supports are now supporting fluorescent lights. Obviously, not taking any baths with the lights plugged in…

This was my last harvest from my salad table.

The salad table has been moved down into the furnace room and restarted. I’ve added a Sun System grow light with a 400 watt bulb in it. It doesn’t throw off very much heat so I don’t have to worry about venting the area like you do with some types of light. This photo was taken right before I thinned the seedlings down to one plant per cup.

That sadly barren row is my spinach. The seeds are a couple years old so I knew they might not work. The basil is barely visible (the front two cups to the right of invisible spinach), but basil is very slow growing. Seeing anything at all makes me hopeful they will produce.

The decision to put the table in the furnace room was simple — the furnace room has a drain in case there’s a leak or spill. The worms in my compost bins are probably not very happy about the intense light. Fortunately, most of the time they are covered with thick dark plastic, which must do a darn good job of shielding out the light or some of the worms wouldn’t be resting on the surface of the dirt, unless perhaps they think they are vacationing in the Bahamas and catching some rays.

When I dig below the surface, you can see quite a nest of new worms. Sorry about the blur, didn’t want to use the flash on the poor guys.

Next Spring, I’ll be using quite a bit of this compost in the garden and thinning out the worm herd with a worm release. This is how the two bins are set up. The spout is for draining out the excess liquid (worm juice), which can be mixed with water and used for plant fertilizer.

So, if you’re not very interested in gardening, this has probably been pretty boring.

I’ll try to be more interesting in my next post. For now, I’ll leave you with a bit of a flowering sunset…

 
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