Learning our plants

ramps

Today was a really good day for Jessica & I to get out and check out plants for foraging. First we hiked at a weird little park and found a large number of wild edibles. Then we returned to our new house to meet the previous owner who was going to give us a tour of all the plants she had planted in the various gardens here. A large number are ornamental perennials, but every now and then she mentioned a plant which was edible, or medicinal. Some of these we already identified, others were a nice surprise.

Jessica made a list of everything, but the edibles which I recall off the top of my head are: serviceberry, sand cherry, solomon seal, false solomon seal, various chives, garlic, and allium, wild raspberry, wild strawberry,  sumac, spring beauty, ramps (in the woods), and possibly trout lily. She also pointed out areas where field mushrooms often grow.

There are still a lot of things we will need to identify in the wild parts of our land and we hope to learn some new foraging skills at the Spring Foraging workshop in the Wild Edibles and Medicinal Plants Series put on by Moonwise Herbs with guest instructor Samuel Thayer – Forager’s Harvest.

While we still have plans for traditional annual vegetable,  herb gardens, and a modest greenhouse, we really look forward to increasing the perennial wild edibles and medicinals which would grow natively to this area.

 

The Plants of Spring

bloodroot

 

We are having fun watching all the plants come up in the gardens and woods at our new house. While the previous owner had planted a lot of purely ornamental varieties, we are finding several which are also medicinal.

Yesterday I identified the flower in the photo above as Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis). Jessica also identified Lungwort (Pulmonaria officinalis) and Trillium (exact variety not determined yet). Both Bloodroot and Trillium are listed as at-risk medicinal plants with United Plant Savers, so we are even more excited to know that we are helping to save these plants.

Recent rain storms had raised the water level in our pond by at least a foot, and filled the wetland designated areas. With that additional water in areas of the woods I haven’t been back there to check and see what plants are coming up in the woodland.

We also transplanted some Catnip (Nepeta cataria) and Stinging Nettles (Urtica Dioica) from the yard at the old house. We also seeded Ramps (Allium tricoccum) in a small section of our woods. It is possible that ramps are already growing in the woods here, but since the wetland survey didn’t list them, we wanted to get some started just in case.

United Plant Savers have added Ramps to their “To Watch” list because they have the potential to become “At-risk” due to over harvesting. With ramps having become the new hip wild food for chefs and at ramps festivals, over-harvesting could wipe out ramp populations. Ramps take 5 to 7 years to produce seed,  and then the seeds take 6 to 18 months to germinate.

Our plan is to mainly observe the land this year before starting any serious permaculture designs, but we’ll probably plant a few things. Extending one of the garden beds to make a small kitchen garden is on the to-do list.

The New Homestead

pond-geese

 

Last week we said goodbye to the modest bungalow home on a city lot, and hello to the new home on almost three acres of land. Urban homesteading is a nobel goal, but we’ve been craving a bit more space between us and our neighbors and this new house gives us space!

The land is great—it has woods, an ephemeral pond, many perennial gardens (with some medicinals), plenty of room for annual veggie gardens and probably room for a greenhouse once we see where the shadows fall on the land. Another nice this is that the land has slope. The slope helps add more of a private feel to the yard, gives it more of a natural feel (instead of a typical flat yard), and the slope helps direct water to the ephemeral pond.

A wet land survey done for the previous owners shows we have: wild strawberry, black raspberry, hawthorn, selfheal, cramp bark (European highbush-cranberry), and various other plants with some medicinal or edible qualities. We look forward to identifying more plants as they come up, and to start planning what we want to add to our gardens and within the woodland.

Golden Milk – My new favorite beverage

golden milk

 

Turmeric has been on my mind lately. Maybe because we haven’t been cooking with it enough, or because of the complete lack of Indian restaurants where we live, or maybe because my body needs it. I’ve almost felt as if I’m getting arthritis this winter, and turmeric is a well known anti-inflammatory and works well for arthritis. This plant also has other benefits such as: aiding digestion and heart health, helping to prevent diabetes and memory loss, and some studies say it is effective in treating depression.

I recently read about Golden Milk which is made with turmeric, and had to try it. If you want a tasty, warm and soothing drink… give this a try. I’ve added Cardamom to this recipe partly because I love the taste and aroma, but also because it is good for digestion and offers other health benefits. For maximum health benefits I suggest using quality organic ingredients for this recipe.

Step 1: Prepare a Turmeric Paste

  • 1/8 cup Turmeric Powder
  • 1/4 tsp. Ground black pepper
  • 1 tsp. Ground Cardamom
  • 1/4 cup water

Slowly add water to dry ingredients while mixing to create a paste. Store the paste in a small sealed jar in the refrigerator.

Step 2: Make Golden Milk, aka Turmeric Tea

  • 1 cup Milk (organic whole milk is preferred, or you can use a milk substitute as needed)
  • 1 tsp. Coconut Oil or Ghee
  • 1/4 – 1/2 tsp Turmeric Paste
  • Honey to taste (locally produced honey if possible)

Combine all ingredients except honey in a small saucepan, heat over medium heat until hot but not boiling. Remove from heat and add honey to taste. Enjoy!

A new homestead

flowers-yard

 

Jessica and I had been working on our permaculture design for this house we’ve been in for a little over a year now, but something changed. We found a house on 2.75 acres nearer to Milwaukee that we just couldn’t pass up. It already has tons of perennial gardens, an oak woodland—two oaks being over 200 years old—and has an ephemeral pond.

So there will be a new permaculture design happening in the future! We’ll probably start with a few smaller vegetable & herb gardens this spring and then just observe the property throughout the year. It will be nice to see what wild edibles and medicinals grow in the woodland area.  We’ve dreamt of having a forest garden since we met, and now it can come true.

More updates as they happen…

Online Garden Planning

smartgardener

 

Jessica and I normally do our permaculture design plans the old fashioned way, on paper, but this year I wanted to try software based planning (along with paper.) I ran across an online garden planner called Smart Gardener which seemed to have many of the features I wanted to see in a garden planner.

I don’t intend for this to be a comprehensive review of the program since I’ve only been using it for about a month, perhaps a more detailed review will come next fall after I see how our gardens did. I mostly just want to point out some of the features I like, and my initial impressions about it. They offer the basic planner for free, and then have paid add-on’s such as: Smart Shapes, Shade, Succession Planting, Harvest Calculator, Vertical Vegetables, Berries, Smart Squares, and Notes & Calendars. I paid for most of the add-on’s so some of what I mention here aren’t available in the basic free version.

As you can see from the image above, the planner allows to you specify your total yard size, draw your garden beds, and add in other objects like your house, garage, bushes, trees, etc. It also allows you to mark areas of partial shade (with a paid add-on.) I believe the shade add-on basically just allows you to mark where you have shade, and then the software can offer suggestions on which plants are shade tolerant.

plants

What drew me to this online garden planner is that it offers a harvest calculator, succession planting, and it calculates the available garden space and tells you how much planting space you have left as you plant things. During the setup for your garden plan, you can even enter the number of adults and children you wish to feed.

Planting space is calculated by the plants in your plant list, and not the little icons you drag & drop on your layout. That confused me at first since I assume it was calculating when you dropped a plant icon on the garden bed. In the image above you can see I’m using the Smart Squares add-on and planting my Arugula more tightly per square foot. You adjust the number of plants you want, which then adjusts the number of square feet required. This is where the planted space is calculated. Pretty easy once you get the hang of it.

In the image above for Arugula, you’ll also notice that there is basic planting calendar which shows when to seed, when to succession plant (with the paid add-on), and approximate harvest dates. This info is based on your location and frost date info when you set up your plan.

journal

This screenshot shows the Journal section where you can click on a plant in your list and get a good deal of information from the various tabs. You can also see the additional dates for seeding later in the season for fall and winter harvest. I haven’t really looked into this part enough, but it is a nice option since we grow in a low tunnel in the fall and winter.

Since I bought the Harvest Calculator add-on, that shows up in my tabs. The add-on offers info on: ripening, when & how to harvest, suggested plants per person, approximate yields per plant, and some basic nutrition info.

harvest

In the notes section of the journal you can enter your harvest information, and if you sell at market you can add your market price to keep track of the value of your crops. This was another reason I chose this planner, and look forward to using it to track our harvests this coming season.

So far I like what I see with this planner. It has most, if not all the functions I would want, and since I’m a more visual person I like the garden design function.  I believe it has size limitations, so it may not be viable to use on for a working farm, but it could work for a small market gardener. It is also pretty easy to use, although I did need to ask support a question or two, and check the forums for other answers.

Since I mentioned using this as part of our permaculture design tools, while I think this could be a tool that permaculture designers could use, it is not permaculture specific but could be a helpful tool for parts of the planning.

More on this after growing season begins!