Tag Archives: organic

Where to start?

                Many people use the saying “How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time”. Yeah yeah, yeah, we all have heard that. Then a few things that happen recently made me stop and think about it, and where I am at today, where I was five years ago, and where I want to be in another five years. I thought; how to help people when it seems so overwhelming once you get the self sufficiency, permaculture, or general wake up bug.

One day at one of the tours at our suburban property someone asked, how do I do it all, and where did I start? A day or so ago I was praising someone for sharing so much of their knowledge with me, and one of the online forums we both belong to (TSP). Another member pointed out that her posts should be a wakeup call to all those that are not doing as much. This was in reference to just general homesteading tasks, but I took it as a whole and really could be doing much more on a daily basis. Same forum someone asked a really vague and general question. “Where did everyone get started and what are your best resources for permaculture”.

You start one day at a time, one project, and one idea at a time. So you have never grown anything in your life let alone for food, and worse, have to depend on that food you grow.  Start small, a houseplant over the winter in a window. It gives a sense of accomplishment, and bonus helps filter your air in your home. There are lots Aloe in my front windowof hardy plants that can be grown inside. Start out with an aloe plant. It is hardy enough if you forget to water for a few weeks, sometimes months it can still survive. The “leaves” will tell you what is going on. If they wilt, add some water, start turning brown, too much water, too cold, or maybe needs more sun. It has many beneficial food and medicinal properties as stated on an earlier post. After a few months and a large enough pot, you will see “baby” aloe plants. Separate and now you have more. Share with someone, sell them, or give them away.

So now you successfully raise an aloe plant, now what? Try a tomato, or lettuce in a pot or bucket. While tomatoes, at least here in the Midwest will need to wait until spring or

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summer, you can grow lettuce the same way as you did your aloe plant over winter. Buy romaine, rather than iceberg lettuce next time you go to the store. When you use it down to the heart, plant it in the same window you had the aloe. It should regrow. It will need more frequent watering, but it is a start. Romaine is healthier than iceberg, and I never get the bagged stuff. It is not as fresh, and will not last as long. If you eat regular salads plant each heart, soon you will have several plants going. After a while you can collect a salad or two a week from your recycled romaine plants. You are now growing your own food.

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Here are some other plants you can regrow after you harvest from the store.

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Try some other plants, on a balcony, in a window, on a deck. You do not need to jump right into turning your yard into a garden. Often people feel overwhelmed by trying to do EVERYTHIGN they read about all at once. Remember one step at a time. Build on each new skill you learn.

Here is another quick win. Do you shred your junk mail and other documents you get in the mail before putting them in the garbage? If not you should. Buy a micro shredder. It is harder for crooks to put your information back together from the garbage. OK, ok, what does this have to do with permaculture. Great tip but what gives? Shred your paper waste, no glossy materials i.e. magazines, and some inserts and flyers. Use the shreds to start a worm composter. What? Don’t they smell? Not at all if done right. The paper acts as bedding to the worms, and they will eventually eat it too as it starts to break down. Get a bucket, tub, trashcan, anything that will hold soil and the worms. It could be as small as a 1 gal ice cream bucket (plastic) to 55 gal barrel or bigger. If you must have a lid on your bin add air holes in the top. Add compost material to your bin, (no dairy, meat, or fats this makes it smell) along with a little soil, some red wiggler worms, then cover with the shredded paper and walk away. It needs to have a little moisture, think damp not wet. In a few weeks the worms turn your food and junk mail waste into rich compost. You can add this black gold back to your lettuce garden. It will give back added nutrients and boost your soil for the plants. If you cook pasta or steam vegetables, water your lettuce with the water once it has cooled. No need to send it down the drain. That is some great fertilizer for plants. Looking for where to get worms locally? Keith at Castaway Compost where I got mine to start. Don’t look now; you have just become an organic gardener. Seems small right? But small steps can complete a marathon.

We use something like this. We paid a little bit extra to get one that would handle 8+ sheets at a time. $60. We also shred all cardboard, paperboard, newspaper, office paper etc.

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Here is one of our bins

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Pull back the paper, and black gold with tons of worms.

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Feeling accomplished? Try an aquaponics basic indoor system. It really is pretty simple, and can be accomplished for under $50. In just a few months you have gone from never growing anything to an organic gardener producing at least some of your own food. Let’s call this post Step One. Step Two, grow a salad with cucumbers, lettuce, spinach, tomatoes, carrots and spinach then top it off with homemade croutons and homemade dressing.  No yard, no problem. If you are on Step One, or going to start Step One, do it over the winter. Most people hibernate here in the Midwest anyway, might as well pick up a new skill. January is the time to start Step Two. Do what? It is the middle of winter in the Midwest. Stay tuned and I will fill you in.

Do you know someone who wants to get started but doesn’t know where to start? Share this post with them.

Build an aquaponics system for under $50

Recently I hosted a tour from the great folks from Aquatic Design. A local company that sells, installs, and services ponds and other waterscapes. They are beginning to enter the world of aquaponics, and wanted to see some real examples from the area. Granted my system are no commercial operation, nor are they often pretty to look at. I mean, I use kitty litter boxes as biofilters. It was cheap (free), I felt accomplished, I did it myself, it works, I can replace parts easily and inexpensively (free).  

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The tour was a learning experience for both I felt. I shared my experiences and lessons learn, often the hard way, and what I, as a new consumer, or someone just getting into aquaponics might be asking, looking for, and solutions to some problems I encountered. I have been a past customer of Aquatic Design and probably continue to be. It was a great feeling when they asked me to come see their new building which will house their aquaponics examples and configurations and maybe give advice as they were setting things up. I felt like all my lessons learned the hard way, shortfalls, and set backs were for a reason. I didn’t need to go to a course, an educational institution, or pay a big chunk of money for the education I had experienced. So when I tell people you don’t need to spend a ton of money on videos, books or classes, to learn about aquaponics I come speaking from experience.  

 While they were here I talked about the largest system 4500 gal outdoor down to my smallest system 30 gallon. As of now we have 4 systems in operation. 4500 gal outdoor pond, 3000 gal currently in a greenhouse but being converted to hoop house, the newest a 275 gal poly tote in the garage – still under development, and the 30 gal inside our kitchen/dining room. This 30 gal is something many people can put into place for inexpensively, it is a great conversation piece, it is entertainment, it is educational for kids of almost all ages, and in my mind, it’s really cool.

 

4500 gal system

4500 gal outdoor system

3000 gal greenhouse system
3000 gal greenhouse system
275 gal still under development

275 gal still under development

Tubs on top of the 275 gal tank. Using Raft grow system

Tubs on top of the 275 gal tank. Using Raft grow system, romaine, celery, and azola growing

30 gal indoor system

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Romaine from purchased head

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Romaine 3 days later

I made this system a continuous recycling flow system. I got the aquarium from a friend who was throwing it out. Free. You can look on Craigslist, Goodwill, or friends and family for aquariums. Many times people would love to get rid of them. Bonus if you get pumps or other stuff with it you can use later.

The rocks on the bottom of the tank are landscaping lava rocks. Mine were free. The previous owner of my current house landscaped with it. I hate the stuff in the yard. Again free. (well, if you count the $10 I pay kids to collect if they want to earn money). Fish habitat or hiding spaces I used left over PVC pipe from another project. Find them at building sites, or look around. It could be old Tupperware, or food containers just something for the fish to swim in and out of.

I actually paid for the submersible pump. But it was 75% off so I think I paid $10. Some big box stores will clearance pond and fountain pumps in fall and early winter. Just watch for sales. Or it may come with your aquarium you got for free. You can watch Goodwill and I have seen fountains or other pumps on occasion. Worst case $30 or so retail price.

The grow beds are wash bins. This was a Goodwill special and I only paid $0.25 each. Dollar Store has them for a buck. The grow media, lava rock again. Do not pay for the extruded clay. Not worth the extra money in my opinion. I drilled holes in the bins and had the pump take water from the tank, pump into the bins, and out the drainage holes in the bottom. It is important to add more holes than you think is necessary, because over time roots and other gunk can fill the holes and it will overflow. Another important lesson, add overflow holes below the lip. VERY important, if you don’t, and your drainage holes become clogged, your tank will overflow, and all your water will go onto the floor. Want to know how I learned this?

Because of the location in my house the system doesn’t get enough direct light to support plant growth. So I added a florescent light. The light, the stand, and the bulbs maybe $30. I made the stand out of PVC pipe and fittings. I could have just as easily hung from the ceiling and saved the cost. I use this system sometimes when I to talks or presentations and the stand is needed for display purposes. You need to use a bulb that will hit 2700K to 6500K, read the labels on the bulbs. Choose a T5 over a T12 type of bulb. T5 is higher intensity over T12, and more efficient use of energy. The fixture should match the bulb type, T5 bulbs fit in T5 fixtures. You could use HID, or LED. But for the money and energy I found fluorescent was just fine. HID gives off too much heat, and LED was too expensive. With fluorescent lights you want them 2-6 inches from the plants. The light needed for photosynthesis loses its intensity after 6 inches using fluorescent bulbs. HID can be several feet away because it is a more intense light (and 2-6 inches will literally cook your plants).  

We have some kale, some medicinal plants, and a philodendron, which are poisonous, but we can split and propagate to other containers to sell, or help purify the air in the house. We always leave the main plant so that there is always a plant purifying the water in the system. We have had tomatoes, cucumbers, spinach, parsley, basil, cilantro, marigold and more. You can get plants from what many people think of wastes. We have started planting the bottoms of romaine lettuce. It was originally just an experiment, but now we are just harvesting the leaves for food. Celery is another plant that can be planted from the hearts when you buy them at the store. Here is another list of plants you can plant from cuttings when buying food. You can also regrow scallions, 3+ years of cuttings from the same plant.

Regrow

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Celery, this is the 4th regrowth for this plant

I got feeder fish from the pet store $0.12 each. I got a plecostomus (sucker fish) to eat the algae off the sides so I didn’t have to do it. $2.00. I feed the fish azola or duckweed I grow myself. So feeding them is free.  From an educational standpoint there are so many things to learn. From the 2 year old feeding and watching the fish, to adults and learning about the nitrogen cycle. There are lots of lessons to be learned. Want to learn more. Contact us, or follow us here, on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and Pinterest.  Or come see us in person November 23rd for a full day class on homesteading, growing your own food, preserving your own food and more! Ensure your spot is reserved by registering and prepaying for the class. Schedule your own series of classes with the Be Prepared Series.

The Herb Spiral and Farm updates

                We have been very busy lately. As the colder weather approaches, there just doesn’t seem enough time to get it all done before winter.

 

                I completed the 1st of the herb spirals this weekend. I know it won’t get planted this year, but getting it installed now will allow the ground to settle over the winter, and I can add more soil before actually planting. This spiral cost me noting to make. The walls are made from old concrete field tile that has accumulated out at the farm. The soil is from an excavated area and soil had been piled up. It only took about two full days to complete, and most of that was hauling dirt. I had the layout done in about an hour. Not only can I plant in the bed area, but because I used hollow building materials I can plant in them too. I haven’t yet decided what to plant into the tiles. But while building this I discovered about 6 other larger tiles. About 1 ½ feet across. We are now going to use these as large planter pots. Nothing goes to waste.

Started with a stake, and one tile.

Started with a stake, and one tile.

 

I placed the tiles where I thought it would go adjusting as I needed. Dry fitting.

I placed the tiles where I thought it would go adjusting as I needed. Dry fitting.

 

After I was happy with the design, I started adding soil from the outside first.

After I was happy with the design, I started adding soil from the outside first.

This is what I ended up with. Both my wife and myself can reach the center from any side. The 2 year old calls it her castle and likes to run up the ramp to the top. It helped compact some of the soil and set the tiles, so she helped with this project too.

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      Speaking of nothing to waste, my wife’s grandfather is tickled and laughs almost daily at the stories we tell him of repurposing materials. The tiles were just one example. We found an old door that was repurposed in the chicken house for ease of getting into the laying boxes. Several months ago we found some old aluminum wiring of some sort in a junk pile. We repurposed it to use as a trellis for the blackberry garden. Now it is much easier to harvest the berries when in season. Old fencing, has become used for growing peas and tomatoes. Old bricks will be used for a forge. Old 55 gal drums will be used for water barrels and about 100 uses for old pallets. We have uses or repurpose for just about everything we come across on the farm.

Here is the hay and straw repurposed into fall garden, and the reused fencing in the center as a trellis.

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We have come to the realization, that nothing is junk unless it absolutely cannot be used. Old bailing wire has a million purposes. Junk mail, I shred it and feed it to my worms to make compost, compost tea, new soil, and bait for fishing. Old barn wood has a new life as a dining room table. Old tires, potato vertical growing bins. If I don’t have an immediate use for it, it will go into one of the piles/barns and find a new purpose when one is discovered. Not all the repurposing ideas are my own, but most of the “functional” uses have been developed on demand. The creative are about 1/3 mine 1/3 wife and 1/3 I find online. In my pinterest account you can see some things I stumbled upon.

http://www.pinterest.com/rikkrack/boards/

                We have been cleaning out old garden beds, adding chicken area to keep them safe from predators, and reorganizing materials. 6 new chicken tractors are on the list to build before February. Again these will be repurposed from old materials as much as possible. The build of the tractors will be a post on its own.  Every time we are up there we come up with new projects. We have roughly 45 min to an hour one way drive time from our Indianapolis home. On the way up to the property we discuss what we are going to do, would like to accomplish, and plan for attaching. We have 4 pages of projects, tasks, and wish lists. On the way back we mark off what we accomplished and lists for what we saw that needed to be added or new projects. This week I decided to add a pond to the rose garden that will be build either this fall or next spring. We are repurposing a preformed pond we had here in Indy, which was repurposed from another project. I decided to take all the field stone we have come across during the cleaning phase and make a large waterfall water feature in the pond. This will not only aerate the water for when we stock, but keep some of the unwanted slime and moss growth down. It will be a nice feature to see, and hear. We would eventually like to make the pond into a natural swimming pool so this fits nicely with that plan. Adding a sauna, hand pump for the well, tree nursery, hoop house and the list goes on.

Herb Blurb – Garlic

Recently I wrote about homemade cold remedy, and homemade chicken broth. Here is the details on another great herb. Garlic.

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Garlic is closely related to onion, shallot, leek, chives and rakkyo and has been used by humans for some 7,000 years. Originally from Asia, it has spread all around the world and is used in both culinary and medical applications.

Garlic today is available in many forms, including fresh, frozen, dried, fermented, (black garlic) freeze dried, and shelf stable products (in tubes or jars). Personally fresh garlic, or home dried is the best option.

Garlic is easy to grow and will grow in most areas of the US. While it can reproduce naturally using pollination from a male and female plant, most grown garlic is used by planting a clove from the bulb. One bulb can plant 10-20 new garlic plants. Garlic is typically planted in fall about six weeks before the first frost and deep enough to not go through many freeze thaw cycles as it will develop mold and rot. It is then harvested in the spring. Garlic doesn’t have too many enemies in the pest world, and is actually great to plant near other plants which are more susceptible. We planted garlic around the roses this year and have noticed a significant decrease in pests. You can also do this around more susceptible plants in your vegetable garden. Garlic can be places fairly close together as long as there is enough room for the bulbs to mature. It likes loose, dry, well drained soils in sunny areas. The best USDA zones for planting are 4-9 but don’t let that stop you from trying if you are outside that zone. If I am close to the zone boundary of a plant I will at least give it a try. There are many techniques using permaculture that can elevate your current zone 2-3 zones higher. Example you can get an extra zone using rocks around the base of a tree to increase 1 zone going from 5 to 6. Or a hoop house can get you as many as 3 zones. From 5 to 8.

You can not only eat the bulbs or cloves, but you can also eat the leaves and flowers. Both have milder flavor than the bulbs, but is still usable in many dishes. Garlic has so many uses in the kitchen they are almost endless. You can eat it raw, sautéed, roasted, infused in oils, toppings and that is just a few. My favorite (although my family hates it when I do this) is to roast it in a terracotta roaster. Take a bulb or elephant garlic, cut the top, and roast it. Drizzle with a little extra virgin olive oil, and eat right out of the peels. The reason my family hates it, is I already eat a lot of garlic. From adding to my scrambled eggs, with a little goat cheese and herbs, to minced raw garlic topping on my salad, to garlic herb butter on my steak. Eating roasted puts me over the edge. I start to ooze garlic out my pores. I smell like walking garlic for a few days until it works out of my system. Apparently can smell from a few feet away. I never notice.

As I said in an earlier post garlic is a component in the cold remedy. Garlic has been known to repel parasites, aid in digestion, antimicrobial, antibacterial, improve respiratory problems, and improve low energy. It has been shown to improve cardiovascular and cholesterol related issues. It has shown in some studies to increase good cholesterol and decrease bad cholesterol. Some studies have shown that regular use of garlic in the diet can reduce high blood pressure and even regulate blood sugar levels. During World War II it was used as an antiseptic. Garlic has been used to treat infections, and administered for treatment of chest colds, digestive disorders, and fungal infections such as thrush. Garlic has also been successful in China in treating AIDS patients with certain types of infections and ailments.

The sticky juice of the garlic has been used to glue glass and porcelain together, and even as an insecticide in organic gardening with diluted and sprayed over plants.

If you are looking to add garlic to your gardens, whether it is vegetable or ornamental gardens, fall is the time to buy. A little bit of garlic can go a long way. 1lb of garlic bulbs can yield 10 lbs of garlic next spring. If not wanting to plant garlic to eat, perhaps just plant as insect and pest control. It is also good against molds, and bacteria and viruses that attack ornamental plants. The less people spray they better off we will all be. While I think of garlic as a wonder plant/herb my family is not so keen on the herb. As my wife says “Everything in moderation, and honey…you over did the garlic again… you are banned until you stop stinking.” Yet I don’t get sick very often, and can eat all kinds of food not good for me (mmm fried foods). My cholesterol is low, and I have really low blood pressure for someone my age, weight, and dietary intake. Now there is an idea. Combine my favorite. Fried garlic in some way? Off to the kitchen to experiment…while the wife is still at work.

Homemade chicken or turkey broth

                I have started making my own chicken and turkey broth for the last several years. It is simple, uses what otherwise was a waste product, and is cheap. You all know I like cheap.

I start by taking a chicken or turkey carcass. This is usually left from when we have Thanksgiving turkey, or roast a whole chicken, or make crock pot chicken.  After all the meat is picked off, I place the carcass in a large pot, or leave in the crock. Add enough water to cover. Then I add the other ingredients.

                You can save your vegetable discards for the stock. Celery tops are great. You cut celery for eating or other recipes. Save the tops of the celery. if you bought the heart from the store, save the bottom too. You can both plant it, and grow your own celery plant (only during warmer months) or toss in the freezer for alter use, like in broth.

                Carrots. Tops and bottoms. Save these and add to broth. If you but the bunches at the store, or of you grow your own don’t throw them away. Use them for broth. You can use and should use the green portions as well.

                Onions are the same as carrots and celery. When you cut the tops and bottoms for other recipes, save them and throw in the freezer. I also use the onion skin.

                Garlic, tops and bottoms. Same thing.

Parsley stems, basil stems, oregano stems, and any other herb which you like, that you use the leaves and toss the stems.

                I will occasionally add broccoli leaves just for something different. You can add any number of veggies to the broth for your own tastes.

                Last I add some black pepper and if I have them some pepper tops and bottoms left over from other recipes. Depending on how the chicken was cooked I will also add some salt or season salt. Not necessary, but I will leave off, because sometimes I do not need salted broth.

                Bring all the ingredients to a boil. The longer the boil the more you get out of the bones from the carcass. I typically let boil 3-4 hours at least. If not covered you may need to add more water or even if covered may need to add more water to keep everything covered by liquid.

                After boiling I allow the broth to cool slightly and strain through a metal strainer. Something like this.

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I will strain into a large pitcher. This makes it easier to can it later. While still hot I will put the broth into clean, sterile canning jars and pressure can it. You should NOT attempt to water bath can this. I am paranoid about food poisoning, so anything with meat, meat byproducts, or low acid food I pressure can.

Herb Blurb – Parsley

               Many people think of parsley as just another condiment or a garnish on a plate, but parsley has many benefits beyond garnish. For starters you can and should grow parsley in your gardens. It is a biannual and after the first year establishes will come back again stronger. I have had relatively good success planting and harvesting parsley here in Indiana. Last year’s drought took its toll on many of my plants. What plants survived the horde (aka the chickens) has done well now that I have protected it from them. There doesn’t seem to be anything that they won’t eat.

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Something I didn’t know and again learned recently that there are two crops from parsley. The green tops most commonly used here in the US but also the root. After the first year the parsley plant grows a large tap root to help it survive winters.  This tap root is edible and used commonly in and around Europe in soups and stews. The downside is that after harvesting you will no longer be able to harvest the leaves, which means you will just have to plant more. Some for harvesting the tops, and some for harvesting the roots.

                Besides using parsley in everyday cooking I like to use it in my cold remedy. This will be a series on the components of that remedy starting with parsley. Parsley has anti microbial and antibacterial properties. I recently learned that it also has shown anti cancer properties. Parsley is loaded with antioxidants and has loads of vitamin C and A. Some studies have suggested that it also can help with arthritis, is healthy for the heart, and the anticancer properties have shown promise in colon and cervical cancers.

                Parsley can take a while to grow as the germination time from seed is four to six weeks. I plan on starting my next batch of parsley December-January timeframe. I know, middle of wither here in Indiana right? But this early start allows for a longer growing season. By the time the last frost comes, my plants will be 4-6 inches tall and already on their way to producing for me. This means I can harvest some of the leaves as early as March or April when many people are just starting to think about gardening. It prefers well drained soil and full sun. It can be grown indoors or out, and in the ground or in containers. I currently have my parsley in container gardens, but plan on adding it to one of my herb spirals for next year out at The Farm.

                When I have harvested in the past, I would only collect the leaves. Or cut a large bunch, then chop off the leaves and either dehydrate or use fresh. Lately I have been saving the stems and freezing them. These stems are what I use as part of my cold remedy or to flavor stocks. Whenever I have a component if a vegetable or plant I am not eating directly I save for when we make stock. Parsley stems for example, or the tops and bottoms of onions, or the tops and bottoms of celery. While I don’t eat them directly I wouldn’t dare throw them out. I save it until I have enough to make a stock. Read more about stocks and cold remedy on another post.

                Parsley can be eaten raw or cooked. Raw parsley is said to cleanse the palette and freshen the breath. There are many juicing and smoothie recipes using fresh parsley. Try making it an addition to meals prepared at home.

Herb Blurb – Lemon Balm

Lemon Balm also known as Melissa officinalis, spreads and is part of the mint family. Rubbing the leaves you will get a lemon scent hence the name. In summer it has white flowers and is a pollinator attractor. Because it attracts bees so well it was given the name Melissa or Greek for “honey bee”. Lemon balm is as invasive as other members of the mint family and should be planted in containers or other was contained if spreading is not desired.

Lemon balm is used in candies, ice cream, teas both hot and cold, and is the main ingredient in lemon balm pesto. In teas it is used as a mild calming agent or sedative. The extracts from lemon balm have been shown to have high antioxidant properties.

There have been numerous studies involving lemon balm. From reducing stress in agitated people in a control group to reduction in obesity. Some studies have shown when drank in a tea given to people with regular exposure to radiation, the DNA degradation, and increased plasma levels. While it is known it inhibits the thyroid medication thyroxine it however inhibits antithyrotropic activity and may lead to treatments for Graves’ disease or hyperthyroidism. The extracts from lemon balm have show to improve mental performance and even shown positive results in testing with Alzheimer’s patients. It has both antimicrobial and antiviral properties and has shown to be effective against herpes simplex.

At our homestead we use it as a mosquito and fly repellant in addition to a flavoring for teas. Three of the four kids including myself react harshly to mosquito bites and we have lemon balm growing all over our homestead. Any time one of walks out it is now a habit to grab a handful and rub the leaves all over any exposed skin. This has kept the mosquitoes at bay and prevented us from using any harsh chemicals or pesticides.

We regularly harvest and dry the leaves and dehydrate for longer term storage. We also sell plants from our herb gardens to start your own natural medicinal and culinary herb garden. Use the contact us page for purchasing.

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Herb Blurb – Catnip – Not just for cats

Catnip is not just for cats. Nepeta cataria has many beneficial properties. While most of us know it for the “drug” we give to our cats to make them loopy for a while and act like a kitten again, it is of use in the garden, for insects, and even for people. It looks like a member of the mint family but has a square stem with green-grey leaves. The flowers can be purple or pink. Catnip is an attractant to butterflies and cats. Like my favorite lemon balm, it is also a mosquito and fly repellent in addition to cockroaches, and termites. The chemical terpenoid nepetalactone is the main component of the essential oil which is obtained through steam distillation. Have no fear, you do not need steam distillation equipment to harness the benefits. For fly and mosquito repellant on your person simply pick a few stems and leaves and rub on your skin. Enough pressure needs to be applied to release the oils in the plant. When done it should look slightly crushed and dark green. Research has shown that catnip also attract beneficial insects such as lacewings which eat aphids and mites. Catnip is drought tolerant, and can also respell certain insects such as aphids and squash bugs. Additional research has shown that the essential oil of catnip is ten times more effective repelling mosquitoes than DEET the active ingredient in most insect repellents. Be careful as catnip can be evasive and spread like mint. To keep it contained you can plant in pots or containers around your garden. It WILL attract your neighborhood cats. You can also harvest it and dry it. Either in a dehydrator, hang upside down in a cool dry place, or even hang outside in the sun. Once dry take the leaves and put in a sealed bag.

Catnip has a long history of being used as a digestive aid. It’s a natural sedative that also helps to ease digestion, colic and diarrhea. Dehydration caused by diarrhea, and high body temperatures caused by fevers can be life-threatening. A tea brewed from its leaves may help alleviate these symptoms. Catnip is also a mild sedative that naturally helps calm the nerves during stressful situations.

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Outdoor aquaponic and garden pond

I was jealous of my neighbors “water feature” and wanted one. I couldn’t justify the cost of putting one in and it not be productive. Then while cleaning out my MIL junk barn, we found a small plastic pond. I dug a hole, and with a spare pump from my greenhouse aquaponics I had a water feature. No extra cost. But how to make it productive? Fast forward a year. I decided I wanted a bigger pond and stock with fish. So again I dug the hole by hand. It kept getting bigger and bigger as I thought of all the things I could add.

Here is a picture of the hole. it is 4 1/2 feed at the deepest 15 feet long and 8 feet wide.

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Next we added a roofing liner. I chose EDPM, 60 mil thick. I got a change through my professional work history to meet an engineer who works at firestone. Who make both roofing liners and pond liners. The material is identical. The only difference is the anti caking agent they use when rolling it or folding it. But here’s the catch, the pond liner is quite a bit more expensive. I just bought the roofing liner, and washed it several times, then with soap, and rinsed a few more. I cycled my system for several weeks before adding fish or plants.

Here are some photos of the system when we just got started.

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Here is the same angle today.

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The overflow from my rain catchment system goes into the pond. After a few spots in the yard heal from chicken devastation, I will swale and fence in the area to remove the pipe. It is only there to keep the water from eroding the surface soil.

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The overflow of the pond goes into my garden.

When stocking with fish I use pet store feeder fish. Here locally I can get 100 different colored and patterned goldfish for $12.79. They are pretty hardy to get the system started, and add some color. The fish I started 18 months ago were around 1” and now are 9”+ and 1-2 lbs each. I feed duckweed and a handful or organic fish pellets. Duckweed will duplicate every 24 hrs in summer, and has more protein than soy and the feed I give them. I bought my first duckweed from a pond store, and it just keeps going. I have given duckweed to people on tours when asked and now sell if anyone wanted to start their own for their systems.

For the production piece. I added drip irrigation to recycled plastic containers which I hung from my deck railing. I took 2L bottles and cut off the bottom. Then drilled holes in the lids. The top bottle drills to the second, and then to the third, which drains back into the pond. In each bottle I used coconut coir as media. We planted cucumber, 3 kinds of melons, 5 varieties of lettuce, strawberries, peppers, and cilantro. The liner is pulled up so high to catch the drip irrigation and to keep chickens and the dog from the back side of the pond.

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For the biofilter I again built my own. Recycled plastic feed containers, and PVC pipe. Inside there are river rock, lava rock, pea gravel and more coconut coir. The top container flows to the second which has a diverter and the drip irrigation. Again all recycled parts. Most of the plants I started from seed. The only things that cost me anything were the pump, bought off season for 75% off, and the liner. Since I bought roofing liner, rather than pond liner it saved me a few hundred dollars. The fish, but now we restock it ourselves when we go fishing. Any minnows that don’t get used, or fish that are too small to eat go to the pond to grow, and keep down mosquito population. The rocks were picked up from fields that get plowed. the 55 gallon drum serves no purpose than giving additional height. I am working on another system of hanging baskets from the pergola to give more growing area.

 

Here are some additional photos and description of our outdoor aquaponic system.  I have experimented with different growing systems. From drip irrigation to floating rafts.

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Do you want to turn your “water feature” into a production space? Contact us and we can help. Want your own aquaponic system, again we can help.

Q: What do you do in winter? All the plants and the drip irrigation go away, mainly to compost. I disconnect the biofilter, and run a fountain to keep the water from freezing and oxygenate the water. The water plants move to the greenhouse, and a stash of duckweed goes into the greenhouse, and in the indoor system, to be returned next spring.

Q: What kind of fish can you use? Any kind of fish that will be winter hardy. You can use koi, goldfish, catfish, bluegill, carp, sunfish etc. You may be able to use tilapia but the water needs to maintain 50 or above and for optimal conditions 70-80 degree water is needed. This year we didn’t get the system cycled in time to optimize the growing season for tilapia. Next year we may put them in once the water maintains above 50 overnight, and then harvest before the water drops below 50. MAYBE 9 moths or less. for now bluegill, sunfish, and catfish are stocked along with goldfish for color.

 

Herb Blurb – Aloe Vera, a wonder plant.

Aloe has many uses beyond the treatment of sunburn. Aloe is loaded with vitamins and minerals. Some people are not aware that you can eat aloe and use it’s juices. Aloe is also loaded with between 18-20 amino acids and contains sterols such as HCL cholesterol which lowers fats in the blood. Aloe Vera is a well-known adaptogen. An adaptogen is something that boosts the body’s natural ability to adapt to external changes and resist illness. Aloe is known to soothe and cleanse the digestive tract and help improve digestion. Because it is a gelatinous plant, it can help remove wastes from the body as it moves through the digestion tract. It is a known vulnerary, (meaning it helps heal wounds) and is great for applying topically to burns, abrasions, psoriasis and even to bug bites. Aloe acts as an analgesic, acting to help relieve pain of wounds. Aloe is a Disinfectant, Anti-biotic, Anti-microbial, Germicidal, Anti-bacterial, Anti-septic, Anti-fungal & Anti-viral. Aloe Vera contains 12 substances, including B-sisterole, which can help to slow down or inhibit inflammation. Improving your digestion, and detoxifying your will have a secondary effect in promoting weight loss.

We now have several plants available for sale. $5 per plant. Use the contact us page for details.

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