Humble Garden

ReSkilling for future food independence

Archive for October, 2009

Using and reusing in the garden

Posted by Nika On October - 23 - 2009

Humble Garden 2009: last resort to keep goats in

(Vermont cart being used as a door stop, go figure)

One of the things about permaculture that really resonates for me is the drive to use everything, to have no waste, to get a yield from as much as you can.

Something about looking at what WAS clutter in my eyes in a new way that makes it a resource, it seems magical. I am one of those people who can not stand clutter but I live with people who seem wholly immune to it.

By opening my eyes to the power of yields and re-use, my brain doesnt see clutter but a riddle.

If you would like to learn more about the 12 permaculture principles you might want to visit this site – Permaculture

This is a lovely graphic that they developed, allow it to draw you in and entice you to learn more.

Click to learn more

I had a pile of really sturdy feed bags that I perceived as an eyesore and clutter and garbage – garbage I had to find a way to deliver to the transfer station without too much cost to us.

One day I stood staring at the bags as I was milking the goats and it came to me in a flash, cut open the bags and use them in the sheet mulching method to build the extension to the garden!

Permaculture: 1st bed arc

I had to pause that project because I had used up the feed bags until I had enough for some more beds. Yesterday I put down two more beds but the Vermont cart you see above was in use (we are stacking wood in the basement for heat this winter) so I thought I might be out of luck.

Then I put on my permie-beanie and thought of this ancient wheelbarrow! (it was on the edge of our yard, almost eaten by the forest)

Permaculture: How to use this wheelbarrow

But, it had rotted through even before it was given to us! It was now in sorry shape…

Permaculture: How to use this wheelbarrow

I figured, why not try the brainstorm idea I got, use a tarp to cover the hole…

Permaculture: cover with a tarp!

It worked perfectly well and I was able to move many barrow-loads of compost from the pile to the new beds.

Permaculture: new beds

These beds will get a LOT more compost and then percolate over the winter with a layer of leaves and straw on top. In the spring they will be planted out with a mixture of tender annual vegetables and perennial vegetables.

In between the rows I want to put down wood shavings so as to control the weeds which WILL rule this area if I let it.

Our neighbor is a lumberjack who brings waste wood to his land next to ours and cuts it into wood for heating (sells it). Their waste is wood shavings that have been contaminated with dirt (and thus can not be burned in their biomass generator).

Their waste is our yield!

Today some shavings were brought over and I am looking forward to spreading it around. I think I will need more than this though!

Here are some shots of the delivery.

Permaculture: neighbor delivering shavings

Permaculture: neighbor delivering shavings

Permaculture: neighbor delivering shavings

Permaculture: neighbor delivering shavings

Permaculture: dumping the shavings

Permaculture: waste shavings, to use!

Think about how you can re-purpose and reuse to gain a previously unexpected yield from waste, share it with me!

Elderberry Elixir and Swine Flu

Posted by Nika On October - 12 - 2009

Influenza subtype A - for blog



(Please refer to this newer post for an update on our personal views on vaccination. We still very much advocate elderberry elixir, just not as the single means of fighting an increasingly virulent H1N1 pandemic)

Early on in the pandemic, a bit less recently, I immersed myself in flublogia. These are long standing flu communities, lots of intellectual capital out there.. people I really admire and who really know what is up with the pandemic (doctors, nurses, epidemiologists, scientists in the field and those not in it – like me, am not a viral biologist).

To cut to the chase – neither I nor my kids will be taking the H1N1 vaccine. Why? Beyond the usual concerns that arise from the fact that this vaccine has been extremely fast tracked, under emergency actions, the vaccine to be deployed just about anywhere in the the world was generated from sequence from the earliest identified infections.

This means that the epitopes generated (the proteins that were produced from these early genetic sequences and then used to create a vaccine) may possibly be sufficiently different from those that H1N1 now carries, having passed through so many people, so as to render the vaccine of little use.

Also, poorly reported on in the press (as usual), is the problem of the spread of two genetic changes of note: tamiflu resistance and also a change that allows the virus to be more virulent in colder temperatures (this impacts the where and how the virus replicates in our lungs – shallow or deep).

These sorts of things makes a mom mostly want to hide her kids away but its hard, we do not homeschool all our three kids, just one.

I have stocked up on all sorts of meds, herbal teas for fevers and vitamin C boosting, rehydration powders and liquids, etc. I have laid in stocks of N95 masks and gloves.

I am ready to take on the swine flu but I would rather we never get it. I actually suspect that we did get it this past March (sick for a month, all of us) but if we did, it likely would not confer any meaningful immunity to a second wave or third wave virus that would have evolved sufficiently to bypass our nascent immunological defenses against this disease.

With all this in mind, my ears perked when I heard about a traditional medicinal that was shown in scientific studies to have activity against H1N1 – Elderberry, also known as Sambucus.

The wiki says:

In a placebo-controlled, double-blind study, elderberry was shown to be effective for treating Influenza B. [1] People using the elderberry extract recovered much faster than those only on a placebo. This is partially due to the fact that Elderberry inhibits neuraminidase, the enzyme used by the virus to spread infection to host cells.

A small study published in 2004 showed that 93% of flu patients given extract were completely symptom-free within two days; those taking a placebo recovered in about six days. This current study shows that, indeed, it works for type A flu, reports lead researcher Erling Thom, with the University of Oslo in Norway.[2]

Thom’s findings were presented at the 15th Annual Conference on Antiviral Research.

The study involved 60 patients who had been suffering with flu symptoms for 48 hours or less; 90% were infected with the A strain of the virus, 10% were infected with type B. Half the group took 15 milliliters of extract and the other group took a placebo four times a day for five days.

Patients in the extract group had “pronounced improvements” in flu symptoms after three days: nearly 90% of patients had complete cure within two to three days. Also, the extract group had no drowsiness, the downside of many flu treatments. The placebo group didn’t recover until at least day six; they also took more painkillers and nasal sprays.

It’s likely that antioxidants called flavonoids—which are contained in the extract—stimulate the immune system, writes Thom. Also, other compounds in elderberry, called anthocyanins, have an anti-inflammatory effect; this could explain the effect on aches, pains, and fever.

Elderberry extract could be an “efficient and safe treatment” for flu symptoms in otherwise healthy people and for those with compromised immune systems, such as the elderly, Thom adds.

Russell Greenfield, MD, a leading practitioner of integrative medicine and medical director of Carolinas Integrative Health, advocates treating flu with black elderberry, he says in a news release. “It can be given to children and adults, and with no known side effects or negative interactions,” he says.

“But don’t expect grandma’s elderberry jam” to ease flu symptoms like body aches, cough, and fever, he warns. “Extract is the only black elderberry preparation shown effective in clinical studies.”
1) ^ Zakay-Rones, Zichria; Noemi Varsano, Moshe Zlotnik, Orly Manor, Liora Regev, Miriam Schlesinger, Madeleine Mumcuoglu (1995). “Inhibition of Several Strains of Influenza Virus in Vitro and Reduction of Symptoms by an Elderberry Extract (Sambucus nigra L.) during an Outbreak of Influenza B Panama” (PDF). J Altern Complement Med 1 (4): 361-9. PMID 9395631. Retrieved September 8, 2009.
2) Z Zakay-Rones, E Thom, T Wollan and J Wadstein. “Randomized Study of the Efficacy and Safety of Oral Elderberry Extract in the Treatment of Influenza A and B Virus Infections”, Journal of International Medical Research (pdf)

More recently the following study came out, specific to pandemic H1N1:

Roschek B Jr, Fink RC, McMichael MD, Li D, Alberte RS., Elderberry flavonoids bind to and prevent H1N1 infection in vitro., Phytochemistry. 2009 Jul;70(10):1255-61. Epub 2009 Aug 12. PMID 19682714

A ionization technique in mass spectrometry called Direct Analysis in Real Time Mass Spectrometry (DART TOF-MS) coupled with a Direct Binding Assay was used to identify and characterize anti-viral components of an elderberry fruit (Sambucus nigra L.) extract without either derivatization or separation by standard chromatographic techniques. The elderberry extract inhibited Human Influenza A (H1N1) infection in vitro with an IC(50) value of 252+/-34 microg/mL. The Direct Binding Assay established that flavonoids from the elderberry extract bind to H1N1 virions and, when bound, block the ability of the viruses to infect host cells. Two compounds were identified, 5,7,3′,4′-tetra-O-methylquercetin (1) and 5,7-dihydroxy-4-oxo-2-(3,4,5-trihydroxyphenyl)chroman-3-yl-3,4,5-trihydroxycyclohexanecarboxylate (2), as H1N1-bound chemical species. Compound 1 and dihydromyricetin (3), the corresponding 3-hydroxyflavonone of 2, were synthesized and shown to inhibit H1N1 infection in vitro by binding to H1N1 virions, blocking host cell entry and/or recognition. Compound 1 gave an IC(50) of 0.13 microg/mL (0.36 microM) for H1N1 infection inhibition, while dihydromyricetin (3) achieved an IC(50) of 2.8 microg/mL (8.7 microM). The H1N1 inhibition activities of the elderberry flavonoids compare favorably to the known anti-influenza activities of Oseltamivir (Tamiflu; 0.32 microM) and Amantadine (27 microM).

Thus, I have been meaning to make some sort of elderberry syrup for my family but wasnt sure where to start.

Then, I stopped by a recently opened herbal medicine center and found that they not only had two different elderberry syrups on hand, they also had a recipe and the ingredients to make it at home! I asked them for the latter and brought home all sorts of goodies!

Elderberry Elixir

Elderberry Elixir


  • 7 cups spring water
  • 1 cups dried elderberries
  • 4 medium tongues of dried astragulus
  • 6 pieces of Fo Ti (Ho Shu Wa)
  • 1 ounce dried rose hips
  • 1/4 ounce dried nettles
  • 2 cups honey


Bring water to boil in enamel or stainless steel pot. Add elderberries, astragulus, fo ti, and rose hips, stir, cover and simmer on lowest setting for 35 minutes. Add nettles, stir, simmer for 5- 7 minutes. Take off heat and crush elderberries as much as possible. Strain through cheese cloth several times and, while still hot, add 2 cups honey. Mix until in solution. Store in the refrigerator.

Adults: 2 teaspoons/day all winter
Children: 1 teaspoon/day all winter

If you are actively sick take as follows:
Adults: 2 teaspoons 4 times a day
Children: 1 teaspoon 4 times a day

Elderberry Elixir: ingredients

On the plate above, from top left clockwise: dried nettles (green), dried rose hips (red), astragulus (bark tongues), and dried elderberries (dark purple).

Sorry, in the shot above I left out the Fo Ti, seen below.

Elderberry Elixir: Fo Ti (ho shu wa)

Elderberry Elixir: ingredients

How they came home.

Elderberry Elixir

It doesnt taste too bad, the 3 yo loves it!

As per request, I have added the contact information for the herbal apothecary where I sourced these ingredients (and recipe!)

Alternatives For Health

381 Sturbridge Road
Brimfield, MA 01010
(413) 245-6111


Posted by Nika On October - 7 - 2009


(Some of the contents of this post might be disturbing to the more gentle or delicate reader. I do not mean to offend you, please accept my apologies. I dont mind if you stop reading and visit other of my posts that are much less gory!)

Make no mistake, if you get goats, you will get your hands dirty, less sleep, more manure, lots of broken fences, some broken hearts, and some experience pretending like you actually know something about goat health and veterinarian practices.

If you are a long time reader, you will remember the excitement of this last early, snowy spring, when we had our kidding season. We lost one goat (RIP Wheatie, our sweet goat girl), gained lots of goat babies and some modicum of caprine midwifery experience.

I even got to reach into the back of a screaming goat momma, up to my upper forearm, to pull out what I was certain to be a dead goat to find it perfectly healthy and I didnt kill the momma either (was certain I would do that too). As I was holding that baby, feeling more alive myself although also a bit shocky, I re-learned something I always know as a scientist – I know little but in knowing that I know little I am open to learning a bit more. As I knelt there, holding a strong little buckling and watching the momma goat de-stress, I knew that I had no idea if she still had another kid inside. I palpated her tummy but it all felt like a round tummy and I had no objective concept of what another kid might feel like.

Our goat mentor arrived and kindly helped re-assure me that we had done well and that the momma had only one kid.

I have been trying to steel myself for the next kidding season since. We have been breeding the girls up in recent weeks so it seems we will go through that hell again!

But, of course, I always have something new to learn. One is that its not just kidding season that can bring medical emergencies. About a week ago last Saturday we noticed one of the 6 month old kids was acting odd, tilting her head, acting dizzy, eyes sort of vibrating around in their sockets, back and forth.

The followng images shows you a bit of what it was like. She essentially had no control over one side of her body because the bacteria were attacking her brain stem. The movements or the odd positions you see were involuntary and also very painful for us to watch.

This first shot shows the improvised enclosure we made for her.

Goat Listeriosis: Felicity in throes

Here are a few positions of note.

Goat Listeriosis: Felicity in throes

Goat Listeriosis: Felicity in throes

Goat Listeriosis: Felicity in throes

My first and relatively long lasting response was to feel panic, panic I KNEW was counter-productive but which was there anyways. Panic because we have no way of affording any vet care at all. Period.

I looked in our goat health books and realized how hard it is to do a differential diagnosis while in a panic and also while looking at these diseases for the first time. I googled her symptoms and was able to triangulate closer to the possibilities.

I finally settled on two diseases which are commonly co-diagnosed because they are so similar: Goat Polio (thiamine deficiency – easy to treat) and Listeriosis (HARD to treat and bad prognosis).

What is Listeriosis? Its a bacterial infection, run away infection of listeria. It occurs in goats, cows, all sorts of animals including we humans.

Wiki says this about this disease:

Listeriosis is a bacterial infection caused by a gram-positive, motile bacterium, Listeria monocytogenes. Listeriosis is relatively rare and occurs primarily in newborn infants, elderly patients, and patients who are immunocompromised.

The symptoms of listeriosis usually last 7-10 days. The most common symptoms are fever and muscle aches. Nausea and diarrhea are less common symptoms. If the infection spreads to the nervous system it can cause meningitis, an infection of the covering of the brain and spinal cord. Symptoms of meningitis are headache, stiff neck, confusion, loss of balance, and convulsions.

Listeriosis has a very low incidence in humans. However, pregnant women are much more likely than the rest of the population to contract it. Infected pregnant women may have only mild, flulike symptoms. However, infection in a pregnant woman can lead to early delivery, infection of the newborn, and death of the baby.

In veterinary medicine, listeriosis can be a quite common condition in some farm outbreaks. It can also be found in wild animals; see listeriosis in animals.

More specifically, in non-human animals:

Listeriosis is an infectious but not contagious disease caused by the bacterium Listeria monocytogenes, far more common in domestics animals (domestic mammals and poultry), especially ruminants, than in human beings. It can also occur in feral animals—among others, game animals—as well as in poultry and other birds.

The causative bacterium lives in the soil and in poorly made silage and is acquired by ingestion. It is not contagious; over the course of 30-year observation period of sheep disease in Morocco, the disease only appeared in the late 2000s when feeding bag-ensiled corn became common. Moreover, in Iceland, the disease is called “silage sickness”.

The disease is usually sporadic, but can occur as farm outbreaks in ruminants.

Three main forms are usually recognized throughout the affected species:

* encephalitis, the most common form in ruminants
* late abortion
* gastro-intestinal septicemia with liver damage, in monogastric species as well as in preruminant calves and lambs

Listeriosis in animals can rarely be cured with antibiotics (tetracyclines, chloramphenicol) when diagnosed early, in goats, for example, by treating upon first noticing the disease’s characteristic expression in the animal’s face,[4] but is generally fatal.

The Merck Vet Manual describes the symptoms as follows:

Initially, affected animals are anorectic, depressed, and disoriented. They may propel themselves into corners, lean against stationary objects, or circle toward the affected side. Facial paralysis with a drooping ear, deviated muzzle, flaccid lip, and lowered eyelid often develops on the affected side, as well as lack of a menace response and profuse, almost continuous, salivation; food material often becomes impacted in the cheek due to paralysis of the masticatory muscles. Terminally affected animals fall and, unable to rise, lie on the same side; involuntary running movements are common.

I called my goat mentor and she has had the great fortune of never dealing with this disease in her 20 years and 100s of goats (she has a great business – Shepherd’s Gate Dairy). She cautioned that the prognosis was poor if it was listeriosis. She suggested I call Tufts Vet.

I did a postdoc at Tufts Vet and have had animals vetted there so I know how massively expensive they are. I was profoundly fortunate to be able to talk, on the phone, for free, with a vet who was able to tell me some things about this disease.

The consensus was, put her down. I have grown an aversion to killing and I do not own a gun or injectable drugs to do the job so I chose to do the treatment and see what happened.

At that point I was less worried about the sick goat and MUCH more worried that my son was going to get it from the does in milk who might have it and be asymptomatic (we drink – drank – their milk raw). My son has seen enormous healing strides from a non-verbal autistic child to a verbal intelligent child who just started preschool today. He got almost a year of daily one-on-one ABA therapy and gallons upon gallons of raw goat milk with I think was instrumental in his progress.

Now, I was panicking that the raw milk was also going to kill him. Panic is an evil evil human emotion. Must remember to be more Vulcan next time.

I found this amazing resource on treating listeriosis at Onion Creek Ranch.

So 8 days ago we started injecting our little goat, Felicity, with 3.9 ccs of 300,000 IU Penicillin, subcutaneously, every 6 hours, 24 hours a day. She was almost paralyzed when we started. I pinched up her skin over her ribs and injected the milky white antibiotic into the gap between her lifted skin and the muscles and ribs just beneath.

Our schedule was this (rain, shine, wind, light, dark, cold, chilly, somewhat warm) 12 noon, 6 pm, 12 midnight, 6 am, rinse and repeat.

She was a trooper and continued to eat. My daughter was my vet tech this whole time. She forced water into the goat’s mouth the first few days but the goat has been eating and drinking on her own.

Goat Listeriosis: Q force feeding water

We have likely 2 more days, possibly more, of this schedule. She, against all the odds, is healing! She still seems to tilt her head so we need that to resolve. She is HATING her isolation and she gains strength every day.

You can see her here. She fears me now, thanks to the brutal injection schedule.

Goat Listeriosis: on the mend!

Goat Listeriosis: on the mend!

Goat Listeriosis: on the mend!

We have to be careful when we stop treatment with the antibiotics by treating her with probiotics to repopulate her rumen with beneficial bacteria.

Right now, she is one sick animal but I think she is going to make it.

Before this, I had never given an injection to anything but chicks, rabbits, and mice. Now I am quite a pro at it.

I would prefer to not have to do this ever again.

We love her now, have grown attached.

The rest of the herd seems perfectly fine.

Homesteading is all about the DIY worldview. You may gain some sense of mastery but its illusory! We are now battling a massive drop in milk production due to the seasonality of this breed and we STILL need to get things ready for our -20 F winter days.

About Me

We are a family of 5, including Nika, Ed, Q (14), KD (7), and Baby Oh (4). We garden 1024 square feet of raised beds plus assorted permacultural plantings. We also have 13 LaMancha dairy goats, 40 chickens, and one guard llama.



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