Friday, November 30, 2012

Dynamic Accumulators

Comfrey leaves
As we continue to work on improving our soil, we are learning about plants that gather micro and macro nutrients and minerals through their root systems and store them in their leaves.  These plants are called dynamic accumulators and can be used in the garden for many purposes.  They can be used to detoxify the soil and for gathering specific nutrients and minerals, bringing them up from deep in the ground through their extensive root systems.  We can use them as fertilizer for other plants that may be lacking those particular nutrients by cutting down the nutrient rich leaves and spreading them as a mulch or adding them to the compost pile.  Many of us are familiar with nitrogen dynamic accumulators such as clover which can fix nitrogen in the soil, restoring soil fertility.  

By planting certain dynamic accumulators that bring up calcium from the soil in a bed with plants that need extra calcium, you can create a symbiotic relationship allowing plants to flourish in a sustainable way.  Growing dynamic accumulators throughout your garden is a great way to fix deficiency in your soil as well as add diversity through their multi-functional qualities.

Comfrey, stinging nettles, yarrow, chicory  alfalfa, and dandelion are all dynamic accumulators, as well as, medicinal plants that we can use in our kitchen pharmacy.  We are interested in dynamic accumulators and their capacities for healing, not only the human body but also the earth in which they grow.  As we become aware of the powers these plants have to restore the soil and how to use them as compost teas, mulches, cover crops, and companion plants, the possibilities seem endless.  

Here is a list of some dynamic accumulators and the specific nutrients they supply:
1. Sugar Maple, Acer saccaraum K, Ca
2. Maples, Acer spp. K
3. Yarrow, Achillea millefolium K, P, Cu
4. Chives, Allium schoenoprasum K, P, Ca
5. Black Birch, Betula lenta K, P, Ca
6. Birches, Betula spp. P
7. Shagbark Hickry, Carya ovate K, P, Ca
8. Hickory, Pecans, Carya spp. K, Ca
9. German Chammomile, Chamaemelum nobile K, P, Ca
10. Chicory, Cichorium intybus K Ca
11. Flowering Dogwood, Cornus florida K, P, Ca
12. Horsetails, Equisetum spp. Ca, Co, Fe, Mg
13. Beeches, Fagus spp. K
14. European Beech, Fagus sylvatica K Ca
15. Strawberry, Fragria spp. Fe
16. Wintergreen, Gaultheria procumbens Mg
17. Licorices, Glycyrrhiza spp. P, N
18. Black Walnut, Juglans nigra K, P, Ca
19. Walnuts, Juglans spp. K, P
20. Lupines, Lupinus spp. P, N
21. Apples, Malus spp. K
22. Alfalfa, Medicago sativa Fe, N
23. Lemon Balm, Melissa officinalis P
24. Peppermint, Mentha piperita K, Mg
25. Watercress, Nasturtium officinale K, P, Ca, S, Fe, Mg, Na
26. Silverweed, Potentilla arserina K, Ca, Cu
27. White Oak, Quercus alba, P
28. Black Locust, Robinia pseudoacacia, K, Ca, N
29. Sorrels, Docks, Rumex spp. K, P, Ca, Fe, Na
30. Salad Burnet, Sanguisorba minor Fe
31. Savory, Satureja spp. P
32. Chickweed, Stellaria media K, P
33. Comfreys, Symphytum spp. K, P, Ca, Cu, Fe
34. Dandilion, Taraxacum officinale K, P, Ca, Cu, Fe
35. Basswood, Tilia Americana P, Ca, Mg
36. Linden (Lime in the UK), Tilia spp. P, Ca
37. Clovers, Trifloium spp. P, N
38. Stinging Nettle, Urtica dioica, K, Ca, S, Fe, Na
39. Vetches, Vicia spp. K, P, N
40. Violets, Viola spp. P

Abbreviation Key

Ca = Calcium
Co = Cobalt
Cu = Copper
Fe = Iron
K = Potassium
Mg = Magnesium
N = Nitrogen (Nitrogen fixers)
Na = Sodium
P = Phosphorus
S = Sulfur

*list from Temperate climate permaculture

Wednesday, November 21, 2012


More on the fermenting tip, last year when I finally broke down and bought Wild Fermentaion, I read it cover to cover and added a whole bunch of new recipes to my list of new things to try.  Amazake is one I am most excited about and I'm finally getting around to experimenting with it.  I'm guessing that few of you out there have heard of this delicious fermented Japanese creation.  We usually buy it in the health food store as a thick smoothy like treat which the kids love.  During the fermentation process, simple rice (or any other grain you choose) becomes extremely sweet as the mold spores in the inoculated rice product called Koji turn the complex carbohydrates into simple sugars.  According to Sandor Katz, amazake is versatile enough to eat as a pudding, to sweeten your baked goods, or blend into a thick sweet beverage that can be consumed hot or cold.  The most exciting part about this recipe is that it only takes 12-24 hours to ferment.  Here's how you do it...

-2 cups sweet rice (or any other grain)
-2 cups koji  (I found at local health food store, but you can order here.  Koji is also the culture used to make miso)
-you will also need:  1 gallon wide mouth jar and an insulated cooler large enough for the jar to fit into

Cook the grain in 6 cups of water.  Preheat the cooler and the gallon jar by filling with hot water.  When the grain is cooked, remove it from heat, stir and cool to the point where you can hold your finger in it for a moment but it is still steaming hot.

Add koji to cooked grain and stir well.  

Place cooked grain/koji mixture into heated jar, screw on lid and place in heated cooler.  add additional hot water to maintain the heat in the cooler, not too hot to touch.  Shut the cooler and place it in a warm spot. 

Check amazake after 8-12 hours, if it is very sweet then its ready.  If not then heat it up gently with more hot water and allow to ferment for a few more hours.  Once it is sweet bring it to a boil to stop the fermentation.  If you leave it to ferment after it becomes sweet it becomes the alcoholic beginnings of sake.  You can now serve it as a pudding or add water and blend into a smooth drink.  Some delicious added flavorings are, coconut. grated ginger, nutmeg, vanilla, espresso.  There are other methods you can try (you basically want to create an incubator that will stay between 130-135 degrees).  Your amazake can sit in the crock pot or rice cooker filled with water.  I was thinking of putting the closed jar in my dehydrator next time at 135 degrees.  The oven can also work.

I have yet to try baking with amazake but the notion of having sweet baked goods on hand in our house that require no sugar, honey, maple syrup, etc. is REVOLUTIONARY!  Here is a recipe I will be trying asap for gluten free cardamom-peach amazake scones.

Another great book on the subject that explains in more detail the fermenting process, health benefits, and gives many more recipes is Naturally Delicious and Nutritious Amazake Rice Beverage, by John Finnegan and Kathy Cituk.  Enjoy!!

*first image from

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Perennial Greens

We cling to our own point of view, 
as though everything depended on it.  
Yet our opinions have no permanence; 
like autumn and winter, 
they gradually pass away.
swiss chard
With the coming of the rain, the greens in the garden are popping.  All the kale, cabbage, collards, and broccoli are steadily growing but it is the perennial greens that we tend to rely on daily.  This time of year the chard, purple tree collards, and Malabar spinach become the mainstay of green vegetables in our diet.  

Swiss chard is such a versatile vegi, you can use it in salads, stir fries, soups, or in any way you would use spinach.  To make the savory treats above, saute an onion and fresh garlic with a large bunch of chard.  Wrap generous spoonfuls of the mixture up in filo brushed with lots of butter and olive oil.  Baked at 400 degrees for 20 minutes and you have the most amazing flaky little hand pies.  Serve with a lentil or chicken soup for a comforting meal on a cold evening.  

purple tree collards

I am becoming a firm believer that everyone should plant at least a few  purple tree collards in their garden.  These greens are a bit tougher than swiss chard but have such longevity in the garden and are so useful for feeding the family as well as any livestock.  Fed to the chickens, they make the yolks bright orange.  One of my favorite uses for tree collards is to make chips, like kale chips only better!

Purple Tree Collard Chips
-1 large bunch tree collards or kale
-2 tbls miso
-1 1/2 tbls. tahini
-2 tbls. olive oil
-1/2 tsp. granulated garlic
-1/2 tsp. granulated onion
(you can also add sunflower seed butter, cashew butter, cumin, shredded coconut, etc.)

Wash and chop greens into small pieces and dry well.  In a large bowl mix the rest of the ingredients.  Add chopped greens and toss into the dressing mixing well to coat all pieces.  Arrange on dehydrator racks and dry until crisp.  You can also dry on a baking sheet in the oven on low or warm but check often as the oven can cook them instead of just dehydrating.  Once cool store in glass jars and enjoy as an inexpensive, healthy snack.  

malabar spinach

Malabar spinach is a perennial vine found in the tropics.  We have observed that it does love heat but is also thriving in this cool wet weather.  Although we are just beginning to get acquainted with this vegetable we have found it to be tasty, hardy, versatile, and I have heard it makes an awesome substitute for spinach in the Indian dish saag paneer.  So far we are enjoying harvesting handfuls of the tender leaves just before dinner time to enhance our meal.  

What are some perennial greens you find useful in your garden?

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Seasonal Cycles

"To take what there is, and use it, without waiting 
forever in vain for the preconceived- to dig deep 
into the actual and get something out of that- 
this doubtless is the right way to live."
-Henry James

We have come around on our third autumn here at Soul Flower Farm.  As we transition from one season to the next, we are beginning to observe the familiar cycles and traditions unique to each time of the year, a familiarity that can only happen when you put your roots down, dig in and stay in a place for a while, really getting to know the land and learning to know yourself as part of that place.  

If I had to describe this time of year in one word it would be GATHER.  We have been collecting and preserving all the harvest for cold rainy days to come, as well as, gathering materials we will need for the animals, garden, and ourselves.  

For me, certain sights and events will always mark the presence of this autumnal season; the magnificent piles of bright orange pumpkins, stacks and stacks of hay bales, the sweetness of persimmons and the huge fat wild turkeys prancing about.

Right now we are planting lots of garlic, getting the last of the greens in the ground, tidying up in preparation for the rains, and generally turning inward for self reflection.  Having family time, getting cozy by the fire in the early evenings, and enjoying many new good books are all part of this season's goodness. 

A few current favorite reads in our house...
The Dirty Life, By Kristin Kimball
The Small-Scale Poultry Flock, By Harvey Ussery
The Seasons on Henry's Farm, By Terra Brockman
The Beginner's Guide To Growing Heirloom Vegetables, By Marie Iannotti

Monday, November 12, 2012

Protein Out of Thin Air

Yesterday afternoon was spent harvesting and processing most of the meat birds.  In our quest to feed our animals from home resources, we decided to save the leftovers from cleaning the chickens and try out a method we read about called "protein out of thin air".  After reading most of Harvey Ussery's book, The Small-Scale Poultry Flock, I have to say I was impressed.  He has a bunch of innovative and creative ideas I had never read about or thought of before on how to sustainably care for your flock.  Sustainably meaning not going elsewhere for feed.  The basics of the "protein out of thin air" method are...

-drill 3/8 inch holes all around the sides, bottom, and lid of a 5-7 gallon plastic food grade bucket
-add a thick layer of mulch such as straw or dry leaves
-place your animal innards, road kill, that gopher you trapped, etc. in the center over the mulch
-cover with more mulch and secure the lid on tightly
-hang above the ground in your chicken yard

The idea is that female flies will enter through the holes and lay their eggs, which will in approximately six days become larvae (or maggots).  The larvae will grow and feed on the animal parts, quickly devouring all but bones, hair, and teeth.  When they are ready to pupate into winged adults they will make their way out of the holes in the bucket in search of earth to burrow into, dropping down to the ground and becoming...voila! protein snacks for the chickens.  

I know, I know, very few things on earth are as gross as maggots, but I'm learning part of this farming business is developing a strong stomach.  In his book Ussery addresses many of the questions you might have about the possible smell, what happens to the carcass, "aren't you just breeding flies?", disease, and attracting predators.  Personally, none of those issues really worry me especially since our poultry area is large and nowhere near any neighbors.  I am excited to think that an added benefit may be a decrease in the already annoying fly population since many of their larvae will be eaten on the spot by hungry chickens and ducks.  

In less than a week we will know whether or not it works.  I'll keep you posted!

Friday, November 2, 2012

Family Cow Chronicles: Volume 2

Our little Ginger is settling down and has become the sweet young thing I dreamed she would be.  (Now we are really praying she is a fertile young thing too!)  Unfortunately, the artificial insemination we did back in June did not take, so in July, Ginger had a nice month long vacation up in Hopland where she was bred to a beautiful black Dexter bull named Meatball.  

It has been almost four months since breeding and Ginger has not gone back into heat.  Our odds are looking pretty good.  She has completely mellowed out, no more bellowing, she comes when we call her, she is generally a pleasure to be around (unless you are a goat, in which she will steal your food).  It would be ideal to get her a preg check so we can have a definitive answer -however, once again, living so far from the large animal vet makes it difficult, and transporting her is such a hassle, not to mention stressful for her.  We will most likely just let nature take its course, waiting for April to see what happens. 

Now there are a few big tasks under way to get us organized and ready for a potential calf and an abundance of milk.  We have almost finished designing a simple milking parlor.   I've been reading up on the Weston A. Price Foundation website which has tons of information on raw milk and the legalities of herd shares.  There is also an exciting workshop coming up that we are planning on attending.  The Principles of Raw Milk Production Workshop with Tim Wightman, will cover; balancing soils, forages and rations and the relation to herd health and milk safety, warning signs of failing soil, forage and herd health, proper milking practices and milk handling, animal behavior, animal scoring, basic herd principles and human interaction, milk culture, quality and pathogen testing and how to interpret them.  There are five different locations where the workshops will take place across California and Oregon.  

I have to say that having Ginger is personally my favorite part of living on our farm.  I have really bonded with her.  There is no way to explain how much I love her earthy smell or how beautiful and soft her fur is, how she uncannily resembles a lion lying out on the hillside in the sun, or how cool it is to have an endless supply of cow patties for the compost pile.  Even though it would have been soooo much easier to have bought a cow in milk, I'm happy to have her and grateful to get this opportunity to raise her up and for us to get to know each other.  She really is part of our family now.