Humble Garden

ReSkilling for future food independence

Archive for November, 2009

Dairy Cow Collective Project

Posted by Nika On November - 29 - 2009

Humble Garden 2009: milk

[I have cross posted this to Peaknix]

As a proponent of the global Transition Initiative and having been “Trained for Transition” in November 2008 in Cambridge, MA I have a certain worldview. (see Food for Hope: DeGlobalizing – ReLocalizing)

Transition is really about bringing permacultural principles to bear on the current and coming crises around the decreasing natural resources that are in our future. This includes Peak Oil and pretty much peak everything as wealth and societal energies go towards the resource wars and skirmishes and agonies as governments jostle for position in the bread lines for energy, water, food, and diminishing rare materials.

This downward slope is called the energy descent and the Transition Initiative seeks to PLAN for rational energy descent in a way that flows power and resources back to localities where people LIVE (called relocalization).

Arctic Drilling Is Just Dumb

Its a HUGE thing, deglobalizing. When I first learned about Transition Towns back in 2007 it was this amazing idea happening in real life but in far away England. Transition in England is profoundly different in terms of challenges to here but it took a while for me to be able to articulate why.

Social safety nets. Thats the key. In the US, we dont have much and those we have are failing now or will be failing as the full brunt of the baby boom aging bomb hits it.

Ok, thats a huge topic, huge. I bring it up for one reason today!

Relocalization of food and jobs is a primary concern to anyone serious about making headway during this financial crisis.

Obviously, we personally have relocalized a lot of food in our back yard. Lots of you have also.

This past year was not a good gardening year and it wasnt the year that I thought it would be in terms of working with local community gardening.

We live in a “sparsely” settled area (for this region) and as such have not gotten to know our neighbors well, yet.

I think its important to, once you have gotten your backyard homesteading rolling, you should begin to get the food vibe radiating out and use it to make connections with neighbors so that food resiliency is about more than your own food.

To these ends, I have started a project with our neighbors.

As you can see in the google map photo below, our land is on the right (see box) and then the neighbors across the street, who have lovely pasture (which we do not, we have lovely cliffs!).


I proposed to our amazing neighbors to share a dairy cow (am aiming for a jersey cow – high butter fat) where we put a cow and her baby on their pasture and we tend and milk her. Both families will share in the milk and cream!

This knits us together as a group, working in concert for relocalized food of extremely high quality (we will drink it raw, neighbors will do with it as they wish).
The neighbors thought on it and then said yes!

I am looking forward to this project, will mean work but its so worth it.

We will reskill ourselves and the neighbors will also, as is appropriate for them.

I hope, also, that the idea inspires others locally to do the same. They might start with communal chickens or goats or perhaps cows.

I am positive that most of us can learn these things, its not rocket science.

Helping to mentor others doing this would be an amazing yield!

Leo: Just cant get enough

Elderberry and Swine Flu Vaccine Update

Posted by Nika On November - 29 - 2009

Swine flu H1N1 vaccination

This is an update from my post on Elderberry Elixir and Swine Flu.

As I am a scientist with some experience in genomics, I follow the evolution of the H1N1 virus. I do this because changes in the genetics of this novel flu are part of my risk equation with respect to vaccination. When I wrote this informative post on the use of Elderberry Elixir as a prophylaxis (Elderberry Elixir and Swine Flu) against all viral syndromes in the winter season here in the North East and in particular against H1N1 I felt that the genetic and phenotypic profiles were of a relatively mild though fast spreading flu.

Things have changed.

As is expected with a recently evolved RNA influenza virus, its genome (8 genes) is unstable and is probing its environment for the best means to improve it’s lot in life: namely, how to increase its’ transmissibility, resistance to our medications (like tamiflu) and its virulence (damage that it does to it’s host as a function of it’s replication or multiplication in host cells which leads to death of those cells).

These changes happen constantly in each infected host. The virus is like a little computer. It reproduces so fast the collective viral population can test many experimental changes.

In recent weeks, mutations (or successful collective viral population changes) seem to be switching more of the circulating second and third wave virus to a more virulent (damaging) and transmissible (infectious) population.

The hallmark of one of the more concerning changes (D225G) is the preference of the virus for deep lung tissue that leads to rapid full lung degradation, collapse, and bleed out – the same mutation and symptom found in the 1918/1919 virulent second wave of the Spanish Flu.

This ticked my risk equation in the direction of vaccination for my kids. They got the first half of their vaccination last week and we have to wait 21 days for the 2nd half. Then 21 days after that to achieve the immunity that it will confer.

I know that some of these mutations have also invalidated the vaccine on some levels (one isolate has been shown to be a “low reactor”).

What this means is that vaccination might not = full immunity but there is some scientific evidence that suggests that even seasonal flu vaccination provides some partial immunity.

Swine flu H1N1 vaccination: vax cards

My kids have now been vaccinated as follows:

  • pneumococcal vaccine (to stop the deadly 2nd half of H1N1 – bacterial pneumonia)
  • seasonal flu vaccine
  • and H1N1 vaccine.

Its likely that some of the backbone of the H1N1 will be recognized by our immune systems. I also believe that we have been exposed to mild H1N1 now twice. We are JUST now recovering from a nasty virus from last week. I view each of these non-deadly exposures as further strengthening of our immune systems. Its important, though, to boost our baseline health as much as possible between these illnesses.

Swine flu H1N1 vaccination: vax cards

Your equation might be completely different than mine, thats fine. I am not telling you what to do! I just wanted to be clear about my change from the previous post.

NOTE: My husband and I are not vaccinated (not available) and we continue with the elderberry. We will not give elderberry to the kids during this time as their immune systems are mounting their primary and secondary immune reactions against H1N1. Do not want to supress natural function or to artificially boost reaction – just want normal function, supported by good nutrition (not supplements).

Learn more about our immune systems

Edible Forest Gardening Workshop

Posted by Nika On November - 4 - 2009

Edible Forest Gardens: sampling paw paws

(Eric and Jonathan teaching on first day of workshop)

Recently I had the great fortune of attending Eric Toensmeier‘s Edible Forest Gardening workshop in Holyoke, MA Oct 16 to Oct 18. Before I go any further let me just say that if you have a chance, please go to this workshop the next time they hold it. You will be very glad you did! I am not sure when the next one might be. I will certainly blog about it here when I find out. There are other workshops that look VERY interesting at Eric’s “Event” page.

Edible Forest Gardens: talking abotu paw paws

(Eric standing under a paw paw tree, freezing with the rest of us!)

As you may recall, Eric, along with Dave Jacke, wrote “Edible Forest Gardens (Vol.s 1 and 2)” and he also wrote “Perennial Vegetables“, a resource for those of you interested in learning about new perennial edibles suitable for your region.

There were three other people who made this event possible.

Edible Forest Gardens: micro cucumber fruits

(Jonathan sharing these really cute little cucumber like fruitlets)

Jonathan Bates, of Food Forest Farm, who was a fantastic co-presenter and amazing resource for so many of the MILLIONS of questions that I had. Check out his site and learn more about what his farm can do for your budding perennial food garden.

Edible Forest Gardens: talking about trees

(Steve answering our many questions while on a walk through some of his land)

Steve Breyer, Tree God Extraordinaire and moss evangelist of the Tripple Brook Farm, very generously hosted the workshop on two of the days. His farm / nursery is an amazing play land of edible plants and northern food bearing trees.

And finally, Marikler Toensmeier (Eric’s lovely wife) who did a ton of work putting together all the delicious and wholesome foods at this event. I dont have any photos of Marikler because it seemed intrusive!

The conference began on the evening of Friday October 16th at Holyoke Community College. We gathered in the conference room you see in the photo at the top of this page and Eric and Jonathan did a lovely job of immersing us into the world of edible forest gardening with an overview of the various aspects of forest and forest-like gardens as well as some permacultural principles.

This got us ready for the next day when we were going to be meeting at Eric and Jonathan’s homes and shared urban perennial garden for a tour and further discussions about edible forest garden design. If you have the book Perennial Vegetables, you will recognize his garden in some of the photos in the book.

Before we ended the night, we snacked on ripe paw paws!

Edible Forest Gardens: sampling paw paws

(Paw paws)

The next morning, Saturday, bright and early and quite chilly, we met at Eric and Jonathan’s home to begin our tour. We started with the very sunny morning sun side of the house and learned about it’s microclimate and the sorts of plants that they are able to grow there. Mind you, back in my garden it had been snowing and the season was DEFINITELY over. It actually snowed at our home while it was nice in Holyoke.

We started the day off by tasting these cute super tiny wild cucumber like fruitlets. I can not remember the name of this plant, sorry!

Edible Forest Gardens: micro cucumber fruits

(Jonathan with wild cucumber like plants)

They also grow non-edible bananas here.

Edible Forest Gardens: non-bearing banana

(Banana tree)

Edible Forest Gardens: hardy kale

(A hardy kale)

Edible Forest Gardens: sub tropical plants

(Other hardy subtropicals)

We walked into the back and learned about how they went from a hardpack urban waste lot to a wonderful abundant perennial garden via a specific design process.

Edible Forest Gardens: design process

(Phil talking to Jonathan as he holds up plans that came out of their design process)

I want to take an aside and say just how glad I am to have gotten a chance to meet Phil and Tom, up from Brooklyn. They have been diligent campaigners for our world and transition. They have put together peak oil, permaculture, urban gardening, and many other sorts of events in the NYC area over the years. I look forward to getting to know them better in the future!

We then split up into groups and Eric and Jonathan took us through the garden, plant by plant, and explained pretty much everything about them from their polyculture setting, to their function in the larger design, to the types of fruits they bore (and we got many taste tests) as well as how they didnt fit in or might need to be or had been modified or moved to be a better part of the whole design.

Here are a few photos from the tour.

Edible Forest Gardens: under the paw paw tree

(Eric pointing out paw paw fruits)

Edible Forest Gardens: sea kale

(Marikler and I made sea kale quiches – REALLY delicious)

Edible Forest Gardens: sea kale

(More Sea Kale)

Edible Forest Gardens: asparagus berries

(Asparagus Berries)

Edible Forest Gardens: talking about plants

(Jonathan holding forth over the comfreys)

Edible Forest Gardens: light and shadow

(Comfrey in question)

Edible Forest Gardens: comfrey

(Comfrey close up)

Edible Forest Gardens: weed

(Sweet cicely and a weed that I have LOTS of [purple in photo] turns out it was used by native americans in region)

Edible Forest Gardens: comfrey and cicely

(Comfrey and sweet cicely)

Edible Forest Gardens: talking about plants

(Eric and others chatting by tool shed and chicken house)

Edible Forest Gardens: lunch!

(Lunch! I made homemade bread for the occasion)

After lunch we took off for the Tripple Brook Farm to begin a look at a large scale of edible forest gardening.

As I mentioned before, Steve Breyer owns this amazing place. There is so much one can say but I am going to simply share images from the tour we took.

Edible Forest Gardens: bamboo

(Bamboo in the wild Massachusetts country side)

Edible Forest Gardens: unidentified

(A neat tree with fruits but I do not know the name. They look like yellow cherries)

Edible Forest Gardens: american persimmon

(American Persimmons)

Edible Forest Gardens: honeysuckle pods

(Honeysuckle pods, I think)

Edible Forest Gardens: talking about trees

(Steve discussing tree husbandry and planting strategies)

Edible Forest Gardens: lethal chestnut husk

(Chestnut husks are PAINFUL to the touch)

Steve feels very strongly that mosses should be the preferred ground cover (versus grasses).

Edible Forest Gardens: assorted ground covers

(Ground covers)

Edible Forest Gardens: micro thyme

(Super tiny thyme ground cover)

Edible Forest Gardens: black walnuts in husks

(Black walnut tree with nuts in husks on tree)

Edible Forest Gardens: black walnuts in husks

(Black walnut tree with nuts in husks on tree)

These photos totally do not give you a sense for how raw and cold it was that day. At this point in the tour we sheltered in Steve’s work shed (with warm wood stove) where we got to taste pine nuts, chestnuts and hardy kiwis and american persimmons and dogwood tree fruits (Cornus kousa).

Edible Forest Gardens: korean pine cones

(Korean pine cones)

Edible Forest Gardens: korean pine nuts

(Korean pine nut husks)

Edible Forest Gardens: hardy kiwis

(Hardy kiwis, the taste was AMAZING)

Edible Forest Gardens: cottonwood fruits, american persimmons

(dogwood tree fruits (Cornus kousa))

Edible Forest Gardens: cottonwood fruits

(dogwood tree fruits (Cornus kousa))

Edible Forest Gardens: black walnut

(Black walnuts in their husks)

Edible Forest Gardens: american persimmon

(American Persimmons – super delicious)

Edible Forest Gardens: american persimmon

(American Persimmons – super delicious)

Steve had the chestnuts roasting on the woodstove all morning. We have nut allergies so I didnt taste them but I fell in love with the way they looked! I shot a series of photos of these crazy spiky chestnuts.

Edible Forest Gardens: chestnuts in husks

(Chestnuts in husks)

Edible Forest Gardens: chestnuts in husks

(Chestnuts in husks)

Edible Forest Gardens: chestnuts in husks

(Chestnuts in husks)

Edible Forest Gardens: chestnuts in husks

(Chestnuts in husks)

Edible Forest Gardens: roasted chestnuts

(Roasted chestnuts)

Edible Forest Gardens: chestnut

(Opening roasted chestnuts)

Edible Forest Gardens: chestnut

(Opening roasted chestnuts)

Edible Forest Gardens: paw paw

(Paw paw)

Edible Forest Gardens: paw paw, hardy kiwis, cottonwood fruits

(Opened paw paw, hardy kiwis and dogwood tree fruits (Cornus kousa)

That evening we went back to Holyoke community college and delved deeper into polyculture design and learned quite a lot about grouping polycultural plantings that enhance and nurture each other and which build a more robust environment.

Some of what we learned that evening we used the next day in a practical way.

I went home just wiped out from that day. I was really worried that I would have no energy to get up and make the hour drive out early on Sunday, the third and last day. An odd thing happened though. I awoke really refreshed and ENJOYED driving at the crack of dawn out into the cold weather. I think there is something in these fruits that did me some good. Its also the fresh air and also, hugely more important, that I was doing something I found VERY exciting and engaging and with people who I really respected and admired.

This is quite a change from most of the jobs I have had in recent years – soul robbing activities. I can definitely see myself doing this for a living (I cant say how but it would be deeply satisfying).

The third day was intense. We assembled ourselves in Steve’s work shed and set to work on designing a new planting design for part of his nursery.

We did site assessment, analysis, and then in-depth design, as groups. It was an exercise in design as well as interpersonal communications.

While we didnt implement this particular design (there is only so much you can do in a few hours!) we pitched in and helped clean up the site and also put in some new plantings.

I have learned so much from this workshop. I would recommend it highly to anyone and I hope that some of you are able to attend future events like this. If you cant come out to tundra-like Massachusetts, you likely can find some near you!

Let me know if you do and how it goes!

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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