Archive for September, 2008

Originally published at Women Not Dabbling by Gina




According to Slow Food USA, Shagbark Hickory Nuts are endangered enough to be listed in their Ark of Taste catalog. This means that the nuts were once deemed a valuable food resource here in the U.S., but have since fallen out of favor in more recent times.


Mature hickories are very easy to identify. They have a huge Eastern North American range (Eastern Canada; Maine to Eastern Texas); however Kentucky, Indiana and Michigan have the highest population density of shagbark hickories. The bark is “shaggy” (hence the name!) and grayish in color. They are deciduous (seasonal leaf loss) and can reach heights of over 80 feet. Their leaves are pinnate with 5-7 leaflets. I tend to find them in forests than contain oak, walnut and other “old growth” species.


Historically, the Native Americans foraged for shagbark hickory trees not only for the delicious rich flavored nuts, but also for the wood which has a high heat density and smoky flavor. My husband and I gather shed shagbark limbs and bark in the fall and use it to smoke meats on the smoker through the winter. Turkey and ham are both excellent smoked with hickory wood and bark. Additionally, syrup can be made from the extract of hickory bark. Unlike maple sugar syrup, hickory syrup is made from cane sugar and a flavoring in the shagbark hickory’s bark (although old literature mentions that sap was sometimes used). Stay tuned for the run down on making this type of syrup (end of post).


When should you gather hickory nuts and bark? Right now! When the nuts mature, they are released from their thick skinned outer cover and the creamy white nuts are easy to spot in the grass under a shagbark hickory stand. For the past week I have been picking up buckets of the delicious nuts. I gather what I can, put them in the freezer if I don’t have time to crack them (to kill pests), and shell them for cookies and other desserts over the winter. Other animals, like squirrels and deer love them too, so you have to be quick. They are also susceptible to insect infestation and for every few nuts you find meat, you will also find wormy duds. The nuts are really hard to shell. If you have a nut cracker, you are half way there. Some sort of nut pick will make life easier as well.


Ok, so do you want to know how to make Hickory Syrup? The recipe dates back to colonel times (or possibly even further back in the NA indigenous cultures). It requires patience and a bit of shagbark bark. The fortunate thing is the shagbark naturally sheds its bark and grows new bark, so taking the bark (in the falling off stage) won’t harm the tree. The syrup is a different sort of syrup than maple. It tastes similar to the taste of hickory smoked meats: slightly sweet, kind of savory with a ‘green’ undertone. It’s good on pork, pancakes or can be made into a unique soda pop (or beer)!


Shagbark Hickory Syrup


1.  Make a decoction extract: break up several pieces of the bark and submerge under water (in saucepan). Boil 20-25 minutes. Strain out bark pieces and return the amber colored water to a boil. Reduce to medium heat. This is the most popular technique, but I am going to offer another way. I use my camp stove percolator coffeepot. I break up the wood pieces small enough to fit in the grinds holder and let it percolate for 10-20 minutes. Then, I put the liquid in a pan and proceed.


2.  Gradually add regular sugar (either brown or cane), stirring between additions until sugar dissolves. Keep adding the sugar until desired consistency is reached.


3.  I’ve heard you can use the nutshells to flavor the syrup as well, but haven’t tried using them.


4.  If you don’t live in the Shagbark region, you can get some of the syrup at Hickory Works located in Brown County, Indiana. They are the only commercial manufacturer of hickory syrup. 


*Disclaimer: I have no personal affiliation with the company and I have not tried their syrup!

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This past summer I heard about some sweet potatoes that are purple. Neat I thought—I really like “funny” colored foods since it makes great dinner conversations. You know like purple, white and red carrots, blue Irish potatoes, green cauliflower etc.

It didn’t take much research to find out that the actual name of this particular sweet potatoes is Okinawan Purple Sweet Potato and it is a real regular in Hawaii and supposedly comes originally from Japan. Loaded with great nutrition, as all sweet potatoes are, it has been used in studies and research on treating and controlling diabetes.

How neat I thought and decided right then that I had to have some of them to grow here in my own garden since of course Georgia and sweet potatoes pretty much go hand in hand.

However, deciding to grow purple colored sweet potatoes was easier than actually finding them, kind of like back in the 80’s if you wanted to grow blue potatoes. I proceeded to get on line and search under various key words: Okinawan, purple slips, Sweet potato + purple slips. Every way I could thing to try and get a hit. The first web site I came across during my search for slips was Sandhill preservation but unfortunately….even that early in the season…they already knew they would not have any of the Okinawan for 2008. From what I read on Sandhill’s and some others sites, they are a slow and difficult to get slips from. So on I searched (and searched and searched some more) until I found a gentleman down in Florida that had some slips for the Okinawan and another purplish sweet potato that he grew. http://www.michaels4gardens.com/

I contacted him through email and proceeded to purchase 25 slips of each variety from him.

A week or so after I placed my order they showed up in the mail one hot late-spring day. Opening the box and removing them, I saw that they were wilted which then led me to then notice that they didn’t really have much root—but lots of top. So, I put them into a very large bowl of water to get a drink and cut off about half of their tops so they wouldn’t have as much leaf to support. I thought about rooting the cut off portion but did not do it at that time for two reasons. One, I was expecting another order of orange sweet potato slips and I only had so much room for all of these root crops. Two, I wasn’t sure if we would like them and so I didn’t want to grow HUGE quantities of something we might hate—or at least not like very much.

I kept them in the house for about two weeks in water and they just really didn’t seem to do much. They lived, but the amount of root on them was still just not very much. I really can’t even tell you if they added any new root during that time. Finally, I decided they had to leave since they were taking up too much space on the counter. So, I waited for a raining, cloudy day and proceeded to transplant all of them out into an area that had been previously prepped for them. For two days it rained lightly. It was cloudy and perfect transplant weather. Then we got our first sunny day. When I went out that first sunny evening to water seeds and new seedlings every one of those sweet potato slips was wilted. So I watered them well and by the next morning—they looked fine. However by later that afternoon—wilted again. So out came all my wire half hoops and my burlap fabric I keep just for this reason and shade cloth was set up over them. Doubled up shade cloth to be exact.

So, to make a long story shorter….I watered and watered and watered. Finally about 3 weeks after putting them in the ground I removed one layer of burlap and another week later and I removed the whole mess. And though the slips had added some growth during that time it was not much. After a bit of thought about the issue…..we fertilized. Just a little bit, using an organic nitrogen form of course, and then Tah Dah! They took off. And by that I mean they proceeded to take over their part of the garden. They grew into the walk path and got weed whacked back, grew around the pepper plants— which seemed to like it, and made basically the best living mulch I have ever had. No weed dared grow in their area and the few that bravely tried to put their heads up above those plants were easy to see and pull.

Finally this weekend we had friends over for a lamb recently butchered and we pulled some of those purple sweet potatoes. Some of those absolutely huge, whopper, immensely giant sweet potatoes which we baked up to serve with our grilled lamb. We told everyone that we had never had them before so everyone was on their own as far as how to “dress” them and if they were good or not.

Comments ranged from “pretty good—very nice color” to “really like them—and I have never ever liked orange sweet potatoes”.

My description, so that you can get a better idea is this: They are less sweet than a orange sweet potato but sweeter than a potato. They are denser than either of the others mentioned in an interesting way. One could almost say a pasty way—but that sounds like a bad thing which it wasn’t–to me and the others anyway. My husband and I never could quite come up with a non negative sounding comparison to describe the texture but I liked it—though as mentioned it is different than the orange sweet or regular potato texture.

I generally use my leftover sweet potatoes for pancakes, biscuits and other baked goods and I believe these will be really nice for that since they are not as moist (wet??) as common sweets. However, I did not get a chance to bake with them this weekend so I will have to comment on that later.

If you would like to try purple sweet potatoes I do recommend them—if nothing else than for a great living mulch or as a novelty. They definitely started some interesting conversations and the little kids there really liked them a lot. As a matter of fact one mom said her child was generally a very picky eater but he ate lots of purple sweet potato…and lamb.

Supposedly you can find these interesting sweets in the produce section of areas with a higher Asian population. High enough populations that they would regularly bring “odd/unusual” foods in since the demand is great enough. If you can find one you can use it to start your own sweet potato slips. Also too I would think that those of you in warmer growing zones, say 8 and up, might be able to find them with only a small amount of searching.

If your like me and neither of those situations fit you and you want slips to grow these beauties yourself my suggestion is to start looking early and get on a waiting list for those who will sell them next year (spring 2009). I am sure, just like blue potatoes and purple carrots, it won’t be long before many growers have them—until then we have to search a bit to get a hold of them. Hopefully I will be successful in storing some of mine for use next year—maybe even with a few to trade or sell to others.

I did not take a picture before they were eaten this weekend so the picture is courtesy of a RW Smith Photography. It is however just as my sweets looked—but mine were bigger. Much bigger! 😀

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Natural Home Cleaning

Later this week, I have some guests arriving and am spending some time making sure the house is in tip-top shape as they are our first overnight guests in the new house.  Cleaning at our house is anything but the toxic mess found in so many modern cleaners.  If you’re new to cleaning with all natural cleaners consider the following:

Cream of Tartar– makes an excellent porcelain cleaner.  Simply sprinkle some onto a damp cloth and rub any stained porcelain until clean, then rinse.  This works great on toilets and porcelain sinks if you have hard water and get those orangey colors in the pores.

Vinegar – Vinegar is a great all-around cleaning product in my experience.  Diluted it makes a great cleaner for windows, hardwood floors, bath tubs, showers, and much more.  White distilled vinegar seems to the best vinegar for cleaning and is an extremely frugal choice.

Baking Soda– Baking soda is a great way to deodorize carpets.  Sprinkle some on the carpet, allow to sit for a while then vacuum as usual.

Vegetable Oil – 1/4 Cup vegetable oil combined with 1 teaspoon lemon juice makes a great all natural wood polish for all your furniture.

How about you, how do you clean your home naturally?

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Long Term Survival Prep

Originally published at Women Not Dabbling by emphelan

This week in the survival series, we will be talking about long term preparations. Tansy wrote a wonderful post on short term. Many of these items should has be included in your long term. The goal is to make it harvest to harvest, not just for self-sufficiency, but also as a survival plan. Once you have figured out gardening by seasons, your various storage options, and seed saving techniques (all of which will be covered in stages by myself and other writers here) You will be able to guarantee a steady food supply. Milk, fiber and meat animals should also be on your list. Which types will be up to you, just make sure that you can care for them.

Transportation is another issue when you are in survival mode on your homestead. Horses are a good option, but not necessarily the best. Horses are good for speed, and draft. The problem is maintenance, and that they are not multipurpose. Oxen or low-line cattle might be a better option as they are good for draft, milk, meat and leather. All items that you will need. You need to consider space and your needs when deciding.

Your medical needs are something you should do your own research on. If you can replace manufactured medicines with herbs safely, that is something you should think about attempting to grow on your own. Making your own indoor grow room or closet is rather simple, and can help you keep herbs all year round. Your first aid kits should be well stocked at all times, suture kits, snake bite kits and epi pens are a must. Along with your fist aid kit, you should have animal kits as well, iodine, bleed stop and suturing kits, as well as powdered antibiotics. If you are unable to get bleed stop, a good trick to know for not only animals but for humans as well, is that grabbing and wadding up a handful of cobwebs will have the same effect. Several books that I would recommend when it comes to first aid, is Where there is no Dentist and Survivalist’s Medicine Chest. We even have books on how to reattach amputated fingers. ( of course my husband went to medical school)

A generator will come in handy for those of you on the grid. If you live on an electric well, a hand powered auger is something you might think about hunting down and purchasing. Don’t go to a big box store, they will look at you like you are insane when you ask where they are hiding them. Use the auger to find out how deep your water table really is. This will end up the start to your new well. Yes, you read that correctly. A hand well might become very important to your homestead. You need to be prepared to dig one, or have one already dug. Clean water could become a hard source to score, do not trust you creek or river that you are close to. There are several techniques for gathering water and cleaning it. You have rain barrels and water cistern (which are not difficult to make), you have sand filtering and boiling when it comes to drinking water, as well as a couple more options.

There seems to be a stigma around discussing the topic of survival. We are homesteaders, and at times will get defensive when someone calls us survivalists. This term drags up notions of gun totting, basement or backwoods dwelling homicidal freaks. But survival isn’t like that. Being prepared for an uncertain future is not something that should be ridiculed. People do call me names, call us names. Remember, sticks and stones will break our bones but words will never hurt me? Well my friends, that is another attitude to take when thinking about long term prep. It may never come to a point when we are forced to live this lifestyle that many of us have chosen, but there might come a time when it does, and then. . . then we need to think about security.

Guns, ammunition, bullet makers, knives, hatches and explosives. Well, we will talk about explosives later for now. . . I live in a wonderful country that allows us to have our own firearms. I live in a State that allows you to conceal and carry. We are still very much a cowboy and Indian country, and in an event that causes food shortages, having a gun on premises could become a life saver. I realize that there are many people out there that do not like guns, won’t have anything to do with them. But this is something that needs to be discussed. I use to be one of those people. I was a vegan, I was anti-leather, I was anti gun. But then I found myself in a situation where I had to defend myself. I fell in love with throwing knives after that. I bought a beautiful, well balanced set, and practiced. I carry my knives around my homestead now. I also carry a bolt action 22 rifle. I am sufficiently paranoid. The gun is for the murderer of my livestock. People dump their dogs on us and lazy or sick carnivores ravage chicken coops. My knives are for my protection. I don’t expect to be attacked on my property, but I will not take that chance. We have several other guns as well as a few other sharp objects. They are kept well out of range of my boys, but all of them, including my youngest, knows how to shoot. Gun safety courses are important. I highly suggest that those of you that are scared of guns to contact a gun shop in your area for classes. Most shops will not require you to purchase or even have your own gun (that is so for my area) to take a class. This will help you become more informed, and more comfortable with the thought of gun ownership. You will also get a chance to “feel” the guns and riffles, finding the one or two that are suitable for you. I can not stress enough how important self preservation is.

Security also comes in the form of fencing, electric fences on solar power are relatively inexpensive, barbed wire, and even chain link can help. Guard animals should be given consideration, everything from well trained dogs, llamas and Donkeys. Did you know that a male donkey will go after anything he might think is a predator? Not just kick if they come to close to him, but actually run after biting and kicking, bent on killing the intruder? All three of these guard animals can be used as pack animals, including the dogs.

When it comes to long term prep, take a look at what your basic needs are. Not your wants, things like coffee can be substituted with dandelion root. Your actual needs are what you are going to need to stock up on. Water, food, clothing, bathroom facilities, shelter, warmth and security. Continue your strive to self sufficiency, and you will be on your way to long term survival.

It would take me pages and pages to go into depth on each topic here. If there is a certain subject you would like for me to cover more, please let me know. And I will do my best to accommodate.

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Jenny’s Question:I was wondering if any of you grow your own luffas?  This is the second year I have tried (I live in NY zone 5) & I only have 2 that look big enough to make it.  I planted on the sunniest side of my house this year & the plants have almost reached the roof of our second story house.  I am hoping (someday) to grow them to have my own sponges.  Any tips, advice would be greatly appreciated!  I have some pics on my blog.

Phelan’s Answer: It sounds like you might be having a pollination problem. You need bees and other pollinating insects to get sponges.

In your zone, luffas need to be started inside several weeks before your last frost date. Germination can take up to 3 weeks. Once they are big enough to transplant, you might have shock issues, they are not real fond of transplanting. If you make it through that, be careful about weeds and pests, as luffas don’t tolerate these well. Make sure that the soil you transplant them in is warm, they don’t do cool. A good rule of thumb when it comes to soil type, is if you can grow cucumbers there, you can grow loofahs. And they take 130-150 days to mature. If all of the above is in order, you shouldn’t have any issues. If you don’t have pollinating insects, you will need to hand pollinate your flowers.  Hopeful this helps in some way.

Kathie’s Answer:  I don’t have a long enough growing season, but did find a few thinks I thought were good, though you may have them already: Groovy Green and University of Georgia’s Extension Service.  Good luck!

If you have a question for our panel, please email it too mtkatiecakes@yahoo.com.  We look forward to answering your questions each week, the best that we can.

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the family medicine chest is an ongoing series on the fourth thursday of each month.

making herbal oils is just as easy as making herbal tinctures. the only difference is, they can be made faster if time is of essence.

there are two main ways to make an oil: the sun method and the stove top method. i will discuss both.

first, start with some herbs and an oil of your choice. if you want a massage oil, use something light like grape seed oil. if you want something more emollient, use olive oil. generally, i use olive oil. for my baby oil, i use apricot kernel oil (middle of the road).

for demonstration purposes, i’ll be using the apricot kernel oil and three dried herbs: rose petals, chamomile and comfrey leaf. you can use any herb you wish. it can be dried or fresh. to use dried herbs, use a ratio of 1/3 herb to 2/3 oil. for fresh herbs, i use 1/2 of each or 3/4 fresh to 1/4 oil.

when using fresh herbs, make sure they are freshly wilted. to wilt them, pick them in the morning then leave them out in the shade to wilt until afternoon. this will allow some of the water to evaporate. water is the #1 enemy to oil and will cause it to go rancid. this is why i generally choose to use dried herbs (although when harvesting my st. john’s wort flowers, i use fresh). deciding which herbs to use dried and which to use fresh will come with experience.

for sun/moon infused oils (my preferred method), i place the herb and oil into a jar, seal (some people will put wax paper over the mouth before screwing on the lid so that metal doesn’t contact the oil) and place in a sunny spot for 2-3 weeks. shake daily  while singing and talking to the herbs. (as an aside, i am currently taking master naturalist training and our last class was botany. the extension office leader was stating that plants don’t talk. i beg to differ, i speak to my plants all the time asking for their help, guidance, blessings and healing power as well as permission to harvest them. i always wait until i get a response from them. it takes patience and persistence but the plants DO talk back). plants love to be spoken to and sang to. i fully believe it helps make the medicine.

after the initial period is over, strain off the herb and let the oil sit overnight. (put the spent herbs in the compost and thank them for their healing energy/powers they have given the oil). the next day (24 hours later) pour off the oil carefully leaving behind the dredges in the bottom which may contain some moisture/water.

label your oil with the type, date it was finished and oils used. store in a cool, dark place. the fridge may be needed for oils that go rancid easily.

to make on the stove top, pour the oil and herbs into a double boiler and gently simmer (do not let the oil boil) for 2-3 hours until the herbs look spent. strain off and follow as above.

your oil can be used as-is or can be made into a salve (stay tuned, next month we’ll have a salve making tutorial). it should last several months to a year or more depending on the oil and methods of storing.

the usual disclaimer: i am not a licensed physician and cannot give medical advice. if you are sick, please consult your physician. this information is for informational purposes only. plus a bit more: also, sometimes, i forget to cross my t’s and dot my i’s. i apologize in advance, i am not a professional (nor are my comrads in this blog), i am just a gal who likes to write about my experiences and share with others in hopes that i may help someone heading down the same path i am on.

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Sambung Nyawa!    (sounds a little bit like the Malaysian for “Open Sesame”…)

Also known as Mollucan Spinach, and several other names I cannot pronounce, Sambung Nyawa is one of our recently-acquired plants-in-residence.

In snooping around seed catalogs, websites, and unusual-to-me plant lists, this one never came up. A lot of Malaysian-and-that-area-of-the-world plants unfortunately are completely off my radar because of the language barrier and their unfamiliarity in Western markets.

Sambung Nyawa is known scientifically as Gynura Procumbens.  And as of June 5th of this year, we got Gynura Procumbens! (no, we’re not in quarantine with a horrible skin disease, ha)

About the only way we found this plant, and found out ABOUT it, was in researching alternative herbs for conditions such as diabetes, hypertension, and other ailments.  Its name came up among other plants/herbs, such as Gymnena Sylvestre — plants  we have not yet been able to find sources for.

It’s one of those cases where the information in English is scant, but there is a long history of its common use elsewhere, (available in languages I can’t even recognize well enough even to put into a text translator) especially in areas such as Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore, India, Java, Vietnam, Cambodia, etc.

Despite that barrier, there’s just enough information to be found in English to pique our interest, and  sites of companies researching the medicinal applications and further potential of plants such as Gynura Procumbens/Sambung Nyawa abound.

I found some mentions of this plant/herb in relation to the reduction of blood sugar, and other mentions of its traditional use for reducing hypertension, as well as for the topical treatment of skin disorders.

I suppose this is the perfect place for a mile-long disclaimer about the fact that I’m not a doctor and am not endorsing this plant for any specific use, blah blah blah (meaning in fancy words don’t try it because of me and don’t blame me if you eat it and some body part spontaneously combusts). If I WERE a doctor, I’d be studying this plant, a bigger bankroll,  and would have a whopping homestead with a LOT of horses by now, but that’s off topic… In short, do your own research on anything you put on your skin, in your yard, near your pets and children, and especially into your mouth.

That said (whew), I have not spontaneously combusted after trying this herb in ways I believed to be, for myself, safe. But if something does explode into flame, my husband will be writing the next post…ha! (Maybe he’ll include pictures??) Again, off topic (I hope this is not some weird side effect from trying this herb??? Hmmm)

Well, anyway, one of the claims I found was that this plant’s use in reducing blood sugar levels was that its consumption by diabetics produced pleasing results in lowering glucose levels, while in lab tests with rodents, it had no effect whatsoever on non-diabetic rats. This means the possibility exists that this herb, which is simply a “weed” in different areas of the world (like what we call most of our herbs worldwide), adapts to the diabetic person by normalizing the blood sugar without endangering non-diabetic consumers who eat it by lowering theirs at all…non-diabetics are said by some to enjoy the other herbal medicinal benefits of this herb without the danger of having their blood sugar levels manipulated below normal levels.

No wonder research companies are investigating this…

Lest this plant be dismissed as “merely a medicinal,” it’s also used as table food — raw in salad, sauteed lightly like one would spinach, included in soups or anything you would a green, and chopped raw and included in rice dishes. It can also be drunk as a tea, and herbal companies sell the dry herb powder in capsule form. Researchers are more focused on the use of its extract.

That said, let the buyer beware…like I said, it was OUR decision to explore this plant for OUR uses (see disclaimer above again, if in doubt).

Sambung Nyawa/Gynura Procumbens was hard to find anywhere, as far as ordering it. Since I’m not here to endorse particular companies, I’ll keep it at that, but we had to order it from a site outside of this country. We were pretty excited when it arrived!  Here’s a pic of the little guys, fresh out of the box…(and next to them, a baby comfrey and Zatar plant. All survived our amateur efforts except the Zatar, may it rest in peace)

Of course, plants of this stature must always be displayed to their best advantage in the cheapest possible repurposed plastic buckets “scientifically-approved growth containers.”
Here they are a few weeks later, right at home in Bucketville our transitional garden.


And here is the wild mess these plants became when they learned to survive our gardening inconsistencies, and began to plot how to take over the world…(note the overgrown weeds we were too freaking lazy to pull before taking this picture stunning biodiversity we allow the plants to co-exist amongst)

In this picture, I had just harvested some gynura leaves as well as our first picking of moringa leaves(another whole post). I wasn’t quite sure what I’d do with them as my first “test,” but I knew I wanted to at least try some in hot water, as a tea or tisane.

The Sambung Nyawa/Gynura Procumbens was easy to harvest…all I had to do was merely pinch off either some leaves or a stalk, and the leaves were firm and fresh on the inside, not woody.

This plant/herb is one that will grow in a number of zones as a perennial, or overwinter in Zones 10-11. We’re on the cusp of Zones 9/10, so we’ll bring it onto the back porch in a more protected area in any weather that looks to dip below the 50s, and likely mulch the daylights out of them during those weeks/months, depending on how our winter goes here. I’m not sure what other zones could do, but possibly they could overwinter in their pots when dormant, in an enclosed garage or other non-freezing space…I’m not sure.

Here it is as I tried it in hot water. The flavor was green and pleasing, and not strong. I drank it with no problems, and then ate the leaves. They tasted better than spinach, lighter and a very slight lemon scent/taste. I’ll be sauteeing them lightly and eating them raw as the days go along, and I’ve tested them in small bits. You know, just to be on the safe side in case of any unknown allergies…

My husband has been eating the leaves raw for some time now, grazing now and then on them, as he does on other plants such as the Herba Buena, Mints, and Aloes. We’ll give no testimonials, but he was very pleased to note that his formerly elevated blood pressure has normalized lately, for whatever reason.

We like the idea of finding supportive herbals, especially ones with a long history of safe use. We’d like to know more about how they work for us, but we’re stepping out cautiously. Nevertheless, we’re pleasantly surprised to find some real treasures…green treasure…that can be grown right in our own garden (or buckets…)

I found a Malaysian site that mentions Sambung Nyawa/Gynura Procumbens as one of several herbs included as forage for organic pastured poultry, so it appears it could have multiple benefits for the homestead, including animals.

What useful plants have you found to be helpful to you and your animals?

I am amazed at the diversity of plants and herbs that exist on this earth…I’m happy some mention is being made of many with traditional uses elsewhere in the world, before they may have been lost to our memory in years to come.

Preserving these is vital to our wellbeing and our health as we see more and more resistant strains of bacteria and diseases that have grown “smart” and “stubborn” due to much of the genetic manipulation modern research has promoted. Hopefully, the gardeners of the world can extend traditional herbs’ survival for the millenia ahead.

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The Sound of Crickets

Originally published at Women Not Dabbling by Gina


Autumn is my absolute favorite season. I like most of the others (even winter!), but fall in the Midwest ranks the highest in my heart. Years ago, I turned in my area’s distinct season changes for the sameness of the American desert southwest. Though I truly love the mountains and cacti of the Sonora desert, by the time I reached my second fall season, I was homesick for the smell of decaying leaves and the cool nighttime/warm daytime temperatures. I missed the flamboyant colors of the deciduous trees and the chirping of crickets in the darkening night.


The cricket chirp is basically a male love-song to the cricket ladies. The sound is created by rubbing their front wings together in a process called stridulation. Katydids, a close cousin, sing their own song. Both are temperature dependent, meaning as temperatures increase so does the chirping and as the air becomes cool, the song takes on a more slow melody.


In 1897, a Tufts College physics professor must have been bored enough to discover a fairly accurate range of temperatures could be calculated by listening to this love-song. A.E. Dolbear devised a formula called aptly enough Dolbear’s Law. It centered on the relationship between chirps and air temperature.


TF = 40 + N

F=Degrees Fahrenheit

N=Number of chirps in 14 seconds


Tc = 10 + (N-40/7)


When using the song of the snowy tree cricket, the formula is accurate to about 1 degree. Other formulas, since Dolbear’s time, have been devised for the other less accurate species. Around here, the field cricket is the most commonly heard cricket. Apparently their song is not as accurate because it can vary by age and breeding success of the singers. However, there is a field cricket formula:


TF = 50 + (N-40/4)


Katydids have their own formula as well:


TF = 60 + (N-19/3)


Ok, this is not foolproof science. There are a few problems with Dolbear’s Law. First, crickets will become sluggish once the temperatures drop below 55 degrees F. or above 100 degrees F rendering the formula useless. Second, some cricket species create more of a single “trill” sound instead of a single chirp. Third, as mentioned, crickets can vary their songs when elements such as hunger, mating success, competition from other males and age are present.


I can attest, however, if you suffer from insomnia, laying in the darkness, trying to count the number of times a cricket chirps in 14 seconds to check the temperature is definitely a good way to bring on sweet, sweet sleep!



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Deciding which car to replace my 2001 diesel vw bug with was difficult —I loved that car.

I mean, it was a really cute car, got fabulous gas mileage at 40 to 45 mpg, and made all the little kids smile when they saw it. But like that old saying of all good things must come to an end, the kids and their friends become to big for the back seat. We also realized that it just didn’t work for the farm life we lived as it had been purchased during a short stint of subdivision living after a job change.

So, though it had been paid off for a while, we made the hard decision to sell it.

And though it was sold over a year ago, we pushed the choice of what to replace it with to the back of our minds. Or maybe I should say we became wracked with replacement indecision along with payment phobia. Because really,when you think about it, how many decent cars are out there for under say…12,000? Decent being the operative word here since I didn’t want to buy something barely bigger than what I had sold but with a gas engine that got only 20 to 22 miles to the gallon and still couldn’t pull a trailer or carry livestock in it. Also, as gas becomes more and more expensive and we hear stories of it possibly running out….why would I want to buy a $35,000 vehicle? And don’t even think about new and under $10,000 – you would just be whistling Dixie!

At first it was easy to live with our indecisiveness because I had our small cab truck to drive. Long since paid off, we had bought it new in 1995 and had used it as a back up vehicle for many years after it was paid off. Most often it sat unused in our driveway as a spare vehicle for an occasional trip to the dump. And even though it still didn’t fit all of us at the same time, since it only carries two adults comfortably, it did have the bed to put things in, could pull a trailer and could carry livestock. Three very important things for a homestead. As I said, living without my own personal vehicle really wasn’t that big of a deal….at first. I mean I really like the truck. If one ignores the rust in the bed, dings in the body and the stains on the upholstery, it is a great little vehicle with comfortable seats (a BIG plus since I have a slight back issue) and gets great gas mileage comparatively. I was never embarrassed driving it even when getting out of it at the mall at the same time as the lady in the Mercedes next to me. Why? Because it was paid off of course. And if for some reason I was the least bit self conscious that day, I would just imagine that maybe, just maybe, she was in debt to her eyeballs and I was the “millionaire next door” living the frugal life —just like the Thomas J. Stanley book. As we all know—we shouldn’t judge a book by it’s cover!

However at one point in our lives, we had decided to give the truck to our son for his first vehicle, telling him that when he received his drivers license it would be his to drive.

So when the big day arrived, and he past his test, we went to dinner to celebrate and then handed the keys to him with one condition: That we could still use it occasionally to take large bulk trash to the dump. And with that one gesture—plus a great meal of Thai food—I became officially a totally car-less person who would have to find her own ride and eventually her own vehicle. To my son’s credit he has many times offered me the truck saying he wouldn’t mind catching a ride home from school so I could use it, but I felt that a promise was a promise so I rarely took him up on those offers.

For a while I “made do” walking or ride sharing with neighbors or waiting for my husband to get home. Ride sharing was actually nice because even though I was “making do” it put me in contact with people I actually enjoy and might not have interacted with that day if not for catching a ride with them. But after a while it really came home to me that it is not easy being a 4 driver family. Each person had their own agenda, job(s), and responsibilities, while living to far from what little public transport that is available and often very far from where we need to go—the closest college is 45 minutes away — all the while only having 3 vehicles. Personally my first choice would be public transit—I love it. However, one can’t just conjure up buses and trains very easily in my neck of the woods, disregarding the inconvenience of livestock feed and public transit. So, as you can imagine, purchasing my own personal vehicle was the only solution to the problem.

As I said, for a while I “made do”, but this past weekend I finally got a new set of wheels. Yep, wheels. I say it that way because pretty much that’s the only truly new thing on the whole car. The only thing that doesn’t need a bit of work. The only thing that I do not like about the car.

Though to be honest…it does run. Pretty well at that and with as good of gas mileage as most newer cars. And to be honest again, though I could say I am “making do” I would be a liar to say that because I am actually thrilled to the toe nails over my “new” car: A 1964 Ford Falcon 4 door sedan. Now I have to admit—I would have been floating on clouds if I could have gotten something from the 50’s with fins on the fenders but….I’ll “make do” with this one from the 60’s. And though my new baby needs a bit of work done to it as all older vehicles do, I will be able to drive it just as soon as I go down and get it titled. I may not be able to roll the window up without help…but I can drive it.

So, going back to the title of my article of Making Do. It could be said by some that disdain the homesteading/frugal life that I am “making do” with this car —but I don’t see it that way. Especially if it is taken into consideration that I like and want different things than most other people—just like most homesteaders. I personally have never felt that living this type of lifestyle has ever caused me to “make do”. I understand that financially we haven’t always been able to afford everything, but to say we live this or that way just until we can work our way up to societies idea of not “making do” never occurred to me. Nor do I feel it’s at all true. “Making do” always sounds as if you are giving up something and settling for less — whether less nice or of less quality. As if I might be settling for this car instead of the Mercedes that most people aspire to own. As if instead of using human ingenuity (ie: my brain) to solve a problem I just “make do” until I can save enough money to afford someone else’s more common or more expensive idea. (You know all those great and wonderful ideas built of plastic).

If I did ever say that I was “making do” with this car though, I would also be able to say that my family did not have to give up, or sacrifice in anyway, for me to own it. Secret aspirations to some socially acceptable idea of a grander vehicle are not running around in my mind though—nor am I settling for less than what I wanted or hoped for. I look at my purchase as exactly how I want (and try) to live my life. I am recycling, something I strongly believe in. I am reducing by not purchasing new. I will support businesses, maybe even local, because I will have to purchase replacement parts or have work done that I or my husband are unable to do. I will learn some new skills (about motors) AND I am being a wise spender of my money and not competing with someone’s idea of what the Jones should own.

In the end I will put more money into my car, but I can do it over time, without paying interest, and I will have a great vehicle for way under any of the cheaper, but new cars, I could have purchased. Albeit, no show car — but a worthy car. A quality car that should last many more years.

Yes, I could have chosen some slightly newer, but still used, makes and models—but really I like the “older” look.

And best of all it holds more than two adults AND can pull a smaller trailer of hay or a few livestock.

It also gets as good of gas mileage as many of the newer cars currently on the road.

It’s one that I used my brain to come up with as an alternative to the standard, nee common, idea of buying new as the only way to go.

It’s one that’s going to be COOL when it’s done (and I’m thinking aqua blue).

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Perhaps its the falling leaves, predictions of a long winter, or the financial news, but making sure we’re ready for the winter ahead is in the forefront of my mind these days.  We’ve got wood split and stacked, we have blankets, and warm clothing, we’re stocking a pantry, we’re taking care of the many practical items of winter preparation.  But what about the pleasant but unnecessary preparations?

Many of us make beautiful but functional blankets to warm the heart while warming the body, is it necessary to look good?  Not in a practical sense, but we all need a little beauty to lift the spirits now and then.  Its this philosophy of lifting the spirits, that I started making scented pine cones for our wood stove.  Is it necessary?  No.  Is it pleasant?  Yes.  Could it lift spirits with aromatherapy?  Perhaps. 

Living where we do, there’s never a shortage of pine cones and its always fun to go looking for them.  Mix 1 part water with 1 part glue.  Brush the glue mixture over your pine cone.  Roll your pine cone in your favorite ground spice.  Think cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg or a mixture of your favorite.  Toss into your fire and voila – natural aromatherapy.  A few in different scents placed in a basket around a jar of homemade jelly, makes for a great gift, too.

You can make pinecones that will emit color in your fireplaces and woodstoves as well.  Again not necessary but it might be nice on those dreary winter nights.  Be careful, of wax buildup on the inside of your stoves should you do that.  I haven’t done that because I don’t want to clean up the wax on the inside of my stove, bu there are plenty of ideas at Spazztic Crafts.

I hope that as you prepare for the upcoming winter, you consider making some unnecessary but important preparations for your household.  

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