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Archive for the ‘Plant Info’ Category

There are so many wild plants around that we don’t really know much about.  I am talking about wild plants growing right in our own backyards.  I don’t know about you, but I used to think dandelions were weeds.  They are not only edible, but medicinal and great toys for the kids!  I have decided that before I start “weeding” I need to know what I have around me and be sure to keep the plants that have “value.”  If you try hard enough, you may be able to find “value” in every single type of plant around you.  I’m not just talking about edible, there are so many things you can do with wild plants.  The crazy tangle of vines you have can be used for basket making.  The over abundance of ferns may be great for coppicing.  I want to take the time to learn what all the plants are around me so I can incorporate each one into my homestead in the best way possible.

I plan on taking my time and doing this right.  I want to do a couple plants at a time and actually learn about them all.  This past weekend, I collected 3 different types of ferns.  I spread them out flat in a book to dry them.  This is harder than you might think.  The ferns started rolling up pretty quickly and the edges bruised and turned brown.  I had to try a second time.  This time, I put them in the book right away and closed the book so that they would dry flat.

DSC_0171 DSC_0172 DSC_0173They are drying very nicely this way.  Once they are mostly dry, I will glue them down, each to their own page.  i will make the pages from recycled cardboard boxes mostly.  The front of the page will be the fern (or any other plant) and the back will be a place to collect information about the plant.  If I find magazine clippings about the plants or maybe printing things off of the internet. Even if I could find an cheap book about the plants I can use the pages from that.  Whatever I can find.  I will find useful websites and keep a list of species that I can refer to, but the book will be something to refer to when we are off grid and can’t use the internet.  I plan on making it somewhat decorative as well.  If I am able to get dried plants in different seasons that would be great information as well.  The spores on the back of the ferns should show up later in the year and this would be an interesting form of the plant to have.  Seeds I can collect will be helpful.  Bark or pine cones would be great too.  Anything I can glue to the page I will.  The only exception will be rare plants I find.  I have flowers like lady slippers that are not legal to pick.  If I happen to find a broken one that I can dry, I will, but otherwise I won’t.  I found a Jack-in-the-pilpit this weekend that had been stepped on and broken off at the stem.  I scooped that up and put it in the book to dry.  This should be sure to keep me busy on nature walks for years.  I may never finish it!

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I put in my order for the new trees and bushes for the homestead today!  Now we have to wait until May to pick them up.  I ordered from Fedcoseeds.com.  We are lucky enough to have a local permaculture group, the Maine Resilience Hub, where we were able to take part in a group order and get a discount on the trees.  It really is nice to finally have some people in the area who work with permaculture.  We did not have anything like this in Connecticut.  Let me tell you a little bit about what we bought and why:

Grapes:  First of all, I love grapes, I have to have plenty of them growing n my lot to make grape juice and jelly and whatever else I come up with.  Grapes fit into permaculture nicely too though.  If you plant your grapes over the area where you keep your chickens you get extra benefits.  The chickens love to eat the japanese beetles that will try to eat your grapes.  Apparently, if you go out in the morning and shake the grape vines a bit, the beetles will still be sleeping and will fall right out of the vines for the chickens to feast on.  The vines will also provide shade for the chickens in the summer.  I look forward to having a beautiful arbor on the lot as well.  I plan to incorporate this into our living fence as well.  Here is some info on grapes.

The next thing I picked out was blackberries.  I had attempted to transplant some blackberries from our old home to here, but I’m not sure they made it.  I won’t know until spring, so I got some more.  They will also be incorporated into the living fence.  You get tons of delicious fruits and the thorns can help to keep thing away from the fence.  I did not but any more raspberries, but I believe the ones we bought last year are alive and well.  Here are some links with information about blackberries and raspberries.

We also bought some more highbush blueberries.  I liked the blueberries for the living fence because we have a lot of wet but well drained areas on the lot and this is what blueberries like.  I’m not sure how well they do for the living fence, I’m not sure how thick they grow, but from what I understand they can be pruned to be thicker.  If not, I can plant something behind the bushes to make it more of a fence.  I will plant my bushes on either side of the main water flow through the lot.  I think this will work well because this area will always be damp, but the roots will not be soaking in the water.  I will plant something that like to sit in water between the blueberries.  Growing information for highbush blueberries.

The last of the items I bought were all willows.  I really like the willows for a number of reasons.  They grow fast and grow thick so they will get us off to a good start on the living fence.  The willows I bought last year should give me a few cuttings to attempt to propagate to increase the fences size for free.  You can use the willow branches for a number of craft type projects like basket making or decorative pieces.  Many animals will eat different kinds of willow.  I will do more research on this before I feed them to my animals, but it could be an excellent source of fodder for cows.  Willows can also be used to make rooting hormone substitutes.  Apparently you grind up the willow branches and soak them in water and then use this to propagate other plants.  I hope to try this with the brambles that I planted last year.  The kinds of willows we have are: weeping willow, Japanese fantail willow, arctic blue willow, and black and pink pussy willows.  All willows like wet areas, so this may be an excellent plant to go between the blueberries in the wet area on the lot.  We have quite of few of these nice, wet areas, so there is plenty of room for all of the willows that I bought.  I’m not quite sure how wet or dry an area the willows really need, so there will be trial and error in this area.  Most of the lot really has plenty of moisture, so I think most areas will be great.

I am trying my best to match the best locations with the best plants so that I get the maximum benefit all the way around.  If you take the time to get the perfect spot for your plants to grow, they will be much healthier and happier.  By the time this living fence is done, I will expect there to be dozens of different varieties of plants incorporated into it.  This will make it much more viable and much more valuable to us and the ecosystem we are trying to create.

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I have had a great month for injuries.  I sprained my knee at work and then sprained my wrist moving logs (doing it the stupid way, of course).  I was in total agony after the wrist injury, it was a really good one.  But the post is not about the injury, it’s about the healing.

I believe that part of permaculture is to get as much as you can from nature, including medicines.  I avoid medicine at all costs, but when I can heal with herbs, that is another story.  I am totally amazed at how well some herbs really work.  I know not everything works as well as popping a pill, but the side effects of the pill are not worth the quick and easy result you get.  But again, that is not what this post is about.  It is about comfrey as a healer.

I had some huge comfrey plants in my garden that I had planted for S&Gs.  We dried some of the leaves a while back, just because we could.  They have been sitting in a paper bag stored away for a while.  Then the man was doing some reading about what to do for the agony that I was in.  Make a compress out of comfrey.  I made comfrey tea and let it steep for a half hour.  Then I soaked a small wash cloth in the tea and let it cool just enough to wrap around my wrist.  I held it place with an ace bandage.  I used the compresses for about five days.  The first day I could not even move my wrist it hurt so bad.  It hurt tremendously even if I didn’t moved it.  By the fifth day I could use my wrist for everything but twisting off caps or anything like that.  I can do this motion alright, but it’s a little sore.  I am thrilled that this worked so well so fast.  It should have taken this sprain three weeks to heal.  I need to have function of my hands right now for all the work we are trying to get done before the snow.  I can’t afford an injury.  This worked great and cost absolutely nothing.  I will have a huge supply of dried comfrey around this year for sure!

Comfrey with flowers

Comfrey with flowers

We also have a neighbor down the road that grows comfrey in his garden.  He broke some ribs and came to ask for my opinion on what to do since he knew I was a nurse.  We told him about the comfrey’s medicinal use and said we hadn’t tried it yet.  He came back a week later and thanked us for the comfrey advice.  He said that as long as he had the compress in place, the pain from his multiple broken ribs was significantly lessened.

I know there are quite a few people out there that don’t believe in herbal medicine.  Plenty of people just tell me I am a crazy hippie because I use herbs.  That’s alright.  They are missing out on a lot and I’m not.  I have given up trying to convince people I’m not crazy.  Maybe I am, but my wrist works just fine.

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nasturtiumNasturtiums can be grown for many reasons.  You can grow them because they are pretty flowers that are easy to grow.  You can grow them to eat both the flowers and the leaves.  I grow them because they are beneficial to the bug population that I want to have in my garden, or not so beneficial to the bug population I don’t want.

There are many different types of nasturtiums you can grow in your garden.  Some grow like bushes, some grow like vines.  The colors range from yellow to red to shades of purple.  They grow well in not so good soil, so they can be planted anywhere there is full sun.  You pretty much just plant them and they grow.  I plant mine when I plant my beans and they bloom throughout the summer all over the garden.

Nasturtiums have a sort of peppery taste to them.  They are related to the cress family and are often added to salads both for their flavor and for their decorative qualities.  You can even use the seeds in pickling for an interesting taste.

I grow nasturtiums because they are known to ward off bad bugs.  An excellent form of organic pest control.  Cucumber beetles and squash vine borers dislike the peppery smell they emit.  Good places to plant them are among cucs, pumpkins, squash or anywhere you have room really.  Aphids, slugs and white cabbage butterflies like nasturtiums so they can be planted near other plants these bugs like so that they will go after the nasturtiums first.  I personally don’t like this idea, but some people do use it with success.  Most flowers also attract pollinators to your garden.  Bees and butterflies are always a good thing to have around to help pollinate your crops.

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Chamomile is a pretty little daisy like flower that is commonly known for herbal tea.  They are also very easy to grow in your garden.  You can get German, which is an annual, or Roman, which is a perennial.  Either kind should spread and form a nice ground cover that you can walk on without hurting the plants.  They smell sort of like apples and are calming and relaxing.  They will continue to bloom throughout the summer providing you with tons of flowers to keep you busy harvesting.

I grow Roman chamomile in my flower garden because then I don’t have to replant it every year.  I find that growing it from seed is a little difficult because the seeds are so tiny and delicate.  I ended up buying a few plants and they have spread like crazy and I probably won’t ever need to buy any more.

I grow chamomile for the herbal tea.  Sometimes you come home from a hard day at work and you just need something warm and relaxing.  By harvesting the flowers all summer, you will end up with quite a stash for the winter.  I have about four plants in my garden and it provides for two of us pretty well.  I will likely get a few more when I have the room though.  In addition to being relaxing, chamomile is also a good anti-inflammatory and good for toothaches, allergies, burns, anemia, fevers, and indigestion. All of these great uses make it worth the effort it takes to harvest the flowers.

Harvesting can be quite tedious.  They are little tiny flowers that bloom all summer so you are never done harvesting them.  I harvest mine currently by cutting each bloom with scissors and dropping them into a paper bag to dry.  I am looking into some of the contraptions they make to harvest with and will likely try one out next year.  They are just like the rakes used to harvest blueberries I think.  Either way, it really is worth the effort.

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Also called purple coneflower, echinacea is a beautiful and very useful flower to add to echinacea your garden.  I’m sure you have heard of taking echinacea as a vitamin for good immune health, but there are many other uses.  You don’t need to go out and buy supplements either, just grow the flower in your own garden.

Echinacea is a wonderful flower to attract pollinators to your garden.  Butterflies and bees love the flower and I often find them all over mine out in the garden.  They attract many types of beneficial insects to your garden which are vital to maintaining an organic garden.  The seeds are also loved by finches, which eat the seeds and the bugs in your garden.

echinaceasEchinacea root is loaded with antibacterial, antiviral, and antifungal properties.  Western societies use echinacea as an immune system stimulant while traditionally, echinacea is used to treat acne, blood poisoning, cuts and sores, and fever.  The leaves have some of these properties as well, but the greater concentration can be found in the roots.  The roots and leaves are both fairly simple to harvest and store so that you will have plenty you can put in storage to last you all year.

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As I had mentioned before, a flower garden can be a form of organic pest control if you plant the right flowers.  So what are the right kinds of flowers to plant?  Angelica is the first flower I started in my garden.  Initially, I chose this flower because I wanted some perennials that could grow in partial shade and attract beneficial insects, and these were on sale.  It turns out that these were a great choice for me.

angelicabeeAngelica is a biennial plant which means that it will grow for about two seasons.  It likes partial shade and loamy soil (although mine is growing quite well in the clay that I have).  They like cool moist climates and can get from 4-6 feet tall.  The small flowers are white or greenish white and grow in large clusters.  It is part of the Apiaceae family along with dill, caraway, queen anne’s lace and chevril.  There are also a couple of poisonous plants that are very similar to these plants, so be careful if you find it wild.  

Angelica can be eaten in many ways.  The leaves have a sort of celery flavor and can be used in place of lovage in many recipes.  The stalks are slightly sweet almost licorice like and are often candied when harvested young.  The stalks are also good to flavor liquor and the leaves go well with rhubarb.  Even the roots can be eaten.  Check out this site for a couple of angelica recipes: http://www.mountainvalleygrowers.com/angarchangelica.htm

Angelica is also part of the grouping Dong-quai, second most common herb used in China, second to ginseng.  Angelica contains compounds called coumarins.  Coumarins can be used to reduce swelling, especially in the lymph nodes and associated with arthritis.  Angelica can be used for women to help relieve symptoms of PMS and hot flashes.  You should not take angelica if you are pregnant!  Angelica contains bergapten, which can be used to treat skin conditions and linalool and borneol which are antibacterial and antifungal.  The boiled roots can be used to speed up healing.  It also increases immunity and circulation, stimulates appetite, relaxes muscles and many other things.  

When I bought my first few angelica plants, I did not know any of this.  All I really knew about it was that it was good for attracting beneficial insects.  It’s tiny flowers make it easy for small bugs like parasitic wasps to get to the pollen.  Parasitic wasps are good for your garden because they use big bugs like tomato horn worm to grow their babies.  This is turn kills the tomato horn worm, organically protecting your garden from them.  There are also many pollinators that will be attracted to your flower garden and angelica.  I was happy to see that they bloomed in early spring which helps to get the pollinators to your garden right away.  I now need to add some flowers that will bloom right after the angelica to keep the pollinators around.

Now that I know all I do about angelica, I will be able to take full advantage of the plants next year.  I plan on saving seed (I’ll talk about this later) and learning how to use all the parts of the angelica plant to their full potential.  I can’t believe I was so lucky to stumble across such a great plant!

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