Buying Seeds for the Garden

Now, now, just because I won't be planting so much this year, you didn't think that meant I wasn't dreaming about seeds and gardens, did you? Ha! I just wrote an article for Equine Wellness Magazine yesterday all about planting edible flower, herb and vegetable gardens for your horse (the issue is coming out in May, I believe)... I simply can not get away from the leaf and shovel :)

My very first blogpost ever was about seeds, and I am reposting that post here because it is very appropriate for the season. Enjoy!

"Having turned the corner through the dead of winter, our days are getting longer and everyone (at least here where I live) is dreaming about Spring and days that don't begin with a stoking of the fireplace. Seed and plant catalogues are a great way to feed the mind and soul during winter, with beautiful images of flowers and vegetables, herbs and exotic grasses. I recently found a great article from Mother Earth News that had links to seed companies all over America. This is a fantastic resource, because when you buy seeds locally you are accomplishing two things: you are supporting local business communities and your plants are more likely to thrive in your soil, having been bred for generations in that spot of earth.

When you are reading about seeds, you will come across the terms Hybrid (F1), Open-Pollinated (OP) and Heirloom. Hybrid seeds produce specially bred varieties that are often disease and drought-resistant, or have special production properties. They are also usually designed to create more seed buying and protect the seed company's economic interest in their stock, which means that they will not breed true: if you want the same plant next year, you'll have to buy the seeds again. If you try and use seeds you collected from the plant, they will grow into a different plant, generally with different fruit production, or not even germinate at all.

Open-pollinated seeds breed true, and are often organic or grown without pesticides. You can save seeds from an open-pollinated plant and expect the exact same plants the next year. Environmentally, they present a better heritage for our children because these seeds are dependable and safe. Heirloom seeds are generally considered open-pollinated seeds which have been growing true for over 50 years or plant generations -- these are the seeds of our grandmothers, and theirs. Some heirloom varieties are endangered, and I love knowing that I am preserving a little bit of istory by planting these varieties in my garden.Here in Connecticut, I chose to order from two companies. The first is Comstock, Ferre, which had many OP seeds to choose from, does a lot of their own growing, and is the oldest seed company in the United States. How cool is that?? The other is a small company just a few towns aways from me, in a really tiny town, actually, called John Scheeper's Kitchen Garden Seeds. I also have some seeds from last year from Park's and Seeds of Change that I will use up."
Another great resource for those of you who are uber-serious about saving and using your seeds for next year is the fabulous book, Seed to Seed.


Cutting back on the Garden so we can GROW

The seed catalogs have begun to pour in, and I am poring over them, loving the photos and descriptions. But I'm not buying much, if anything at all.

This spring and summer, I don't plan to have a vegetable garden. I may hide a few plants here and there in the rest of my gardens if I can't completely restrain myself, but the veggie plot itself is being planted over with grass in March.

Shocked? Surprised? Wondering what on earth I am thinking?

Well, the reasons are many.

1. The soil in my garden has been severely compromised by last year's fungal blight that rocked the Northeast US. It affected my beans, tomatoes and potatoes, and that soil will be infected for about 3 years they say, and I can't grow those crops during that time.

2. We have a baby coming in oh, a week or two, and plan to put the house on the market in the Spring after we do some final fix-ups. This means I should be spennding time beautifying the flower gardens and rest of the house/yard, not the veggies... While I love my veggie garden, it is not particularly attractive.

3. Last summer with the constant rain and being in the first trimester of pregnancy, I did almost no weeding on our property, which turned into a jungle. I have major work to catch up on to make it nice again.

4. We have more veggies than we can eat coming in from our organic CSA, plenty to can and eat. A veggie garden of my own is a fun and provides more to can and dry, but is not totally necessary.

5. Hopefully the house will sell quickly, which would mean we wouldn't get to reap our harvest anyways.

6. Mainly, I'm forgoing the garden this year with an eye to the future: next year, and for years to come, I hope to be living somewhere that I can plant the full garden I want, have the farm animals I want, and live the dream :)


Is Squatting Behavior Submissive Behavior in Hens?

I had a discussion with some other poultry owners today about hens who squat when you reach to pet them (like the one in the picture) . Squatting is a hen's way of "presenting", or signaling a rooster that she is willing to mate. Hens that are reaching the age where they are ready to lay eggs will often begin squatting when you pet them, whether you have a rooster or not. Some people believe the squatting is just a sign of submissiveness, since hens are generally submissive to their roo.

Out of my four hens, I have two that always squat, one that does sometimes, and one I can't generally get near enough to see what it will do, lol. The two who squat are not the most submissive in my flock, but they are the least skittish. In fact, one of them is the alpha of the flock. They are also the two that lay eggs every day. The other two are not so reliable.

Though I suppose that the squatting might be a sign of submissiveness to an owner or a rooster, I believe it probably has more to do with their hormones, thus their brooding and possibly even their mothering capabilities. I have never seen hen squat in submission to another hen, that is for sure!

My mother breeds dogs, and the ones that most eager to present have also been the ones that made the best moms, both from a fertility standpoint (always producing lots of healthy puppies) and as pertained to their willingness to nurture their babies for longer periods of time, nursing, teaching, etc. The dogs that don't present as often, or who dislike it altogether, have made worse moms, or sometimes not conceived at all (even after multiple Artificial Inseminations...)
I believe chickens have real submissive signs, such as head ducking, pecking order at the feed, even roosting order. Just like dogs: I have never seen a female dog present to another female (or male when she's not in heat for that matter) as a sign of submission. But tail, eye and ear position,who eats first, yawning and bowing: these are all signs of submission. I think that because we humans cower in submission, we assume that a similar position in an animal must be the same thing, but it's just not always true. That said, I am no chicken behavior expert, and since I don't have a roo anymore, I can't really test the fertility/mothering link myself. Someday!


Saving Heritage Breeds

Heritage Breeds are farm animals that have been around a long time, and in general are not used by large scale agriculture. These breeds are dwindling due to commercial unavailabilty or viability within CAFOs, but they are vital to insuring the survival of farming in the future.

For example: modern turkeys that are used on most meat farms and sold in most hatcheries have been bred to have such large breasts that the males can not longer mount the females to mate naturally: they must be artificially inseminated. Many of the most commonly sold chicken breeds on the market no longer care to hatch and raise their own young -- quite simply, the desire has been bred out of them. Some larger animals have lost some of their natural foraging and mothering instincts, along with natural disease resistance. Many pigs on large farms are being born with poor leg structure, because the breeding sows don't need to walk or even turn around in their cubicles to gestate, and no one is noticing that their legs are weak and being passed on to their young. Holsteins have been bred with overactive pituitary glands which stimulate exorbitant milk production that is results in milk laced with similarly raised amounts of growth hormone -- making more milk than an average family could ever drink in a day.

For these and many other reasons, a lot of people think its important to assure the survival of the "old" breeds which may not be super-producers but tend to be more disease resistant and better suited to life on small farms or homesteads. Smaller cows such as Jerseys and Guernseys are easier to manage and produce milk in quantities that are better suited to family use. Pigs that know how to forage are better suited to pasture life and may feed themselves for free, especially if you have great stand of oaks for them to rummage through. Baby chicks that are reared by their mamas grow up to be good mothers, too, eliminating the need to buy incubators and monitor hatching. Life on a farm, even a small one, is a lot of work: why not choose animals that help out and simplify matters wherever possible?

Even scientists are getting in on the action. Check out this NY Times article about a heritage breed sperm bank: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/01/06/dining/06frozen.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

Where to find coupons...

My local papers don't carry coupons, only circulars. I use the coupons that print out when I buy groceries, and I buy things on sale, generally saving $10-20 at the register, but I have rarely found any good places for coupons online, and get nothing in the mail.

Until today!

Hoorah, I have found two great places to print out coupons:

I have also signed up at a couple places that are supposed to send lots of great coupons every month -- we'll see how those live up to their reputation. If they are any good, I will post them here. In the meantime, I have lots of good coupons printed out now for healthy cereals, some pillsbury cresent rolls, progresso soups, and more -- and it only took me about 15 minutes to go through both sites, choose what I wanted and print them up. They print all coupons that you "clip" at the end, so that it saves paper, too.


Maple Sap for Good Bones, Syrup for Good Eats!

I am looking forward to tapping some maple trees later this year for the first time -- here is a neat article about the sap itself, which can be used as a healthy beverage or addition to recipes as well as being boiled into sap. Good to know, since it takes 30-40 gallons of sap to make 1 gallon of syrup! I tried some sap about 9 years ago -- it was very tasty :) We usually are still burning the wood stove all day in March, tapping season around here, so we'll do both: boil and drink. Though I don't see myself drinking 5 gallons in one sitting, you?

In South Korea, Drinks Are on the Maple Tree
Published: March 5, 2009

HADONG, South Korea — At this time of year, when frogs begin stirring from their winter sleep and woodpeckers drill for newly active insects, villagers climb the hills around here to collect a treasured elixir: sap from the maple tree known as gorosoe.

“It’s important to have the right weather,” said Park Jeom-sik, 56, toting plastic tubs up a moss-covered slope.
“The temperature should drop below freezing at night and then rise to a warm, bright, windless day. If it’s rainy, windy or cloudy, the trees won’t give.”
For centuries, southern Korean villagers like Mr. Park have been tapping the gorosoe, or “tree good for the bones.”
Unlike North Americans who collect maple sap to boil down into syrup, Korean villagers and their growing number of customers prefer the sap itself, which they credit with a wide range of health benefits.
In this they are not alone. Some people in Japan and northern China drink maple sap, and birch sap has its fans in Russia and other parts of northern Europe. But no one surpasses southern Koreans in their enthusiasm for maple sap, which they can consume in prodigious quantities.
“The right way is to drink an entire mal” — 20 liters, or about 5 gallons — “at once,” said Yeo Manyong, a 72-year-old farmer in Hadong. “That’s what we do. And that’s what gorosoe lovers from the outside do when they visit our village.”
But how can you drink the equivalent of more than 50 beer cans of sap at one go?
“You and your family or friends get yourselves a room with a heated floor,” Mr. Yeo said, taking a break under a maple tree in Hadong, 180 miles south of Seoul. “You keep drinking while, let’s say, playing cards. Salty snacks like dried fish help because they make you thirsty. The idea is to sweat out all the bad stuff and replace it with sap.”
Drinking gorosoe has long been a springtime ritual for villagers in these rugged hills, for whom the rising of the sap in the maples is the first sign of the new season. Some villagers even use the sap, which tastes like vaguely sweet, weak green tea, in place of water in cooking.
In the past decade, thanks in part to the bottling industry and marketing campaigns by local governments, gorosoe sap has become popular with urban dwellers as well.
“I send most of my sap to Seoul,” said Mr. Park, who harvests 5,000 liters, or 1,320 gallons, of sap in a good year.
Koreans may have been drinking sap as early as a millennium ago, historians say. According to one popular legend, Doseon, a ninth-century Buddhist monk, achieved enlightenment after months of meditating cross-legged under a maple tree near here. When he finally tried to get up, his stiffened legs would not work. The sap from the tree fixed the problem. Hence the name’s meaning it is good for the bones.
Mr. Yeo said that villagers used to make a V-shaped incision in the tree and insert a large bamboo leaf to run the sap into wooden or earthenware tubs. Then they would carry away the sap-filled tubs on their backs.
Today, villagers usually drill holes in the trees and insert plastic spouts. A maze of plastic tubing carries the sap to holding tanks downhill.
Every year, Hadong produces 317,000 gallons of sap, which fetches between $6 and $7 a gallon. Although most sap harvesters here are tea or persimmon farmers who gather sap on the side for extra income, some enterprising villagers have begun planting thousands of maple trees as a primary business venture.
Some rural governments host gorosoe festivals for tourists, with activities that include sap-drinking contests and rituals venerating mountain spirits. A popular place for drinking sap is public bath houses, where customers take the tonic while relaxing on heated floors.
Promotional pamphlets advertise the sap’s purported benefits: it is good, they say, for everything from stomachaches to high blood pressure and diabetes.
Lee Jae-eung, a naval officer attending the gorosoe festival on Koje, an island east of Hadong, with his two daughters, said he liked the sap because “it soothes my stomach after a hangover.”
Most of these claims have yet to be substantiated, said Kang Ha-young, a researcher at the Korea Forest Research Institute.
“But one thing we have found is that the sap is rich in minerals, such as calcium, and is good, for example, for people with osteoporosis,” he said. “Somehow, our ancestors knew what they were doing when they named it.”
The seesawing temperatures are needed to collect gorosoe because they build pressure inside the tree, which causes the sap to flow more easily when the trunk is punctured, preferably on its sunny side.
Now that sap-gathering is becoming more commercial, some environmentalists have criticized tree tapping as “cruel.”
“I oppose boring holes in a tree and drinking its sap,” said Kim Jeong-yon, 46, a tourist visiting Koje.
Mr. Kang, the researcher, says careful tapping is harmless. To ensure this, the national forest authorities recently began requiring licenses for sap collectors and regulating the number of holes they can bore into each tree.
Gorosoe farmers, who were doing a brisk business selling sap to visitors from makeshift stands, acknowledged the need for restraint.
“The trees donate their blood to us,” said Yang Heung-do, 51. “If you donate too much blood, you get weak. So we drill only one to three holes per tree, depending on its size.”


The Prodigal Cat Returns

Two or three weeks after my son was born, my skittish indoor cat, then aged 7 years, snuck out the back door and refused to return inside. Ever. She has weathered winter storms in our sheds and allowed me to pet her about once a year. Sometimes twice.

She has been outside for 3.5 years, friendly with our indoor/outdoor cats but refusing to allow us within 5 feet of her. The last few weeks we have had a feral cat hanging around sleeping in her favorite spot and competing for food, and what with the frigid near 0F wind chill outside, I guess she is fed up -- she has been acting like she wanted to come in, but was still nervous.

Until Today!!

She meowed and meowed on the porch, so I went to feed her and she tried to run inside. Then she ate instead, but kept meowing so I went and pet her. She started purring, I picked her up, and brought her inside. Amazing. I checked her over for fleas and didn't see a single sign on them. She actually looks cleaner than our indoor cats. Still, I put spot-on flea medication on her and am feeding all the cats some Diatomaceous Earth in their food...

The oddest thing about all this is that she is returning just a couple weeks before we expect my daughter to be born. Maybe she just wants to see the baby...
I love this cat. I've had her since she was rescued from a back alley in Los Angeles at 5 weeks, her mother and siblings all dead next to her. She's always been skittish, but as long as you DO NOT MOVE, she will roll all over you purring and purring. She is a doll. The only house she was ever successfully indoor and outdoor at the same time was my mother's, where she has all sorts of cat doors going in and out, and a nice warm barn. She may wind up there again, since my mother is always asking after her and I'm not sure that Cleo is really up to being in a house that now includes a sword weilding robot loving toddler. But I am so glad to have a chance to pet her again :)