Thursday, December 31, 2009


With three blogs, it's surprising how rarely one topic carries over from one blog to the other, but this is one of those times.

Today at a local antique shop I found a rare herbal book, Hearts-Ease, by Mrs. C.F. Leyel, one of the most respected herbalists of the last century. She singlehanded saved the knowledge of natural medicine in the United Kingdom, pushing forward even after the 1941 Pharmacy Act made her practice almost illegal. Wander here for more on that topic.

Meanwhile, this amazing book has detailed line-illustrated plates, and fourteen indexes. Each herb is detailed to a minute degree.

For example, this lovely flower:

Speedwell (the little Speedwell's darling blue) Tennyson

Botanical name: Veronica officinalis (Linn.)

Natural order: Scrophulariaceae

Familiar names: Paul's Betony, Cat's eye, Fluellin

French names: The d'Europe, Veronique,

German names: Ehrenpreis, Speedwelltee

Italian names: Veronic, The d'Europa, Quadernuzzo

Spanish name: Veronica

Turkish names: Yarsan otu, Oropa cayi

Symbolizes: Feminine fidelity

Part Used: herb

Action: Alternative, diuretic, expectorant, tonic, vulnerary (this will make sense to those of you who grow and blend herbs)

Mrs. C.F. Leyel's notes:

The Speedwell is almost the first blue flower to appear in the hedges, and is so truely the colour of the heavens, or as the Chinese say, ;the sky after rain', that it is not surprising that it should have been chosen as a subject for legends.

The old name was forget-me-not, and speedwell means goodbye, the name having been given because when it is picked its petals fly away almost at once. (The sister ship to the Mayflower was the Speedwell, but upon departure the Speedwell leaked so badly that she had to be left behind. As a result, the Mayflower shared the historical spotlight with no other, in addition to carrying twice as many passengers as planned.)

A long account of the healing properties of an allied species, veronica orientalis, was written by Francus in 1690, in which an account was given of a king of France being cured of leprosy by it. A woman who was barren gave birth to children after taking it. A few years later other reports were written by Hanniel, at Dusseldorf, and by Hoffman.

Hoffman considered it a particularily efficacious remedy for catarrhal complaints and recommended it for asthma.

As an herbal goes I can't really ask for any more.

Necessary Disclaimer: the gentle reader should not infer that they are to go out and pick large amounts of speedwell (forget-me-nots) and ingest them. No matter how beautiful they are.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Free Calendars....Or, A Penny Saved Is A Penny Earned

If you're like me, you have several calendars about thehouse.

I have one at my desk for billpaying and a second for my bookselling. A third on the frig door for appointments and family events and a fourth for gardening schedules. And, until recently, another for homeschooling records.

As much as I love the beautifully photographed calendars the bookstore sells, it isn't happening in our budget. Even the Dollar Store versions cost more than my solution.

Every year I print my own. Takes 15 minutes, and a minimum of 48 pieces of paper (for four calendars), plus the ink. Done.

Thanks to these lovely people at Vertex42 I have access not only to calendars, but all sorts of forms and lists and logs. My next stop is their debt reduction calculator.


Chewy wishes each and everyone of you and yours a healthy, safe and prosperous New Year!

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Never Mind the Snow! Think Rain Barrels!

Those of you who have been reading here for awhile know about my rain barrels. For the rest of you, suffice it to say it is an obsession with me.

Our county went through a couple years of drought and rationing, and I built my system large enough to store almost 500 gallons. Then last summer we bought a pond form, and started laying plans to connect a pump to the barrel system that would pump the overflow into a 115 gallon wetlands holding pond, where it could be released through drip irrigation to the blueberry patch and then downhill to the tomatoes, gourds, peppers, etc. (Plus a friend has offered their used pond form which appears to be another 100 gallons or so, and we'll try to hook it up as well).

Never mind that this appears to be one of the wettest winters we've had in ages. Put that thought right out of your mind.

The drought will return. It nothing else, I can store enough water to negate any outdoor water usage on my town water bill.

These are my water barrels (the Greeks as they are known,since they started life in Greece carrying olives), and the older trashbin system in the background. All in storage for the winter, and actually at the moment covered in deep snow (we got 16" this last weekend).

Most importantly, this is an example of the four *new* formerly-pickle-barrels-now-rain- barrels I picked up today from a wonderful guy on Craigslist. Thanks to Jonathan in North Carolina who hauled a huge load of barrels up here this morning and fueled the obsessions of the Roanoke water barrel fanatics!

These four will replace the original "trashbin" system, and the trashbins will go out to Dad's farm so he can use them to store drying walnuts.

Recycle, Reuse.....repeat as necessary.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

9 And A Half Inches Morphs Into 20

So far so good - got power, got heat, got gas for the snowblower (which is probably the only one in town- we are popular with neighbors today). Also got 20" of snow.

This is before the big earthmover (road grader?) came through to plow. Last night it was pulling commercial tow trucks up this hill. You can't even see the road anymore, but it's there, twisting and turning down towards the creek. Last night, it looked like it must have looked a hundred years ago - a narrow snowy country lane.

And this is my Swing Garden. Someplace under there are the water gardens. Slightly different than summer.

Little Greenhouse in the Blizzard. I no longer own boots after living in the South for 12 years, so I sent DH and DD out there to sweep off the top. The plastic material is from
North Dakota so it is geared for the cold, and the snow weight. I'm just not too sure about the wooden frame.

Even the birds are snowed in.

And the yellow jackets under the yucca won't be coming up anytime soon.

About noon, this little snow plow showed up, but he decided didn't want to try the hill and headed off to the courthouse instead.

Meanwhile the rest of the state and southern West Virginia are a mess. Interstate 81 has hundreds of tractor trailers jackknifed and waiting for the National Guard to figure out how to remove them. This has cause a 15 mile traffic jam, with who knows how many people stranded overnight. The West Virginia Turnpike came to a complete stop overnight, with stranded motorists spending the night high in the mountains in their vehicles. They hope to get those pileups cleared sometime this afternoon.

Wherever you are, be glad you're not there.

Friday, December 18, 2009

9 And A Half Inches

This was actually earlier this afternoon, when we were still at the 3" level. But at the moment, out there in the dark, it's at approximately 9.5". The road has disappeared, and the hill we sit at the top of is impassable (except for a giant earth mover that went by pulling a commercial tow truck carrying one of those big fancy pickups. Pickup was crumpled. I'm thinking it's owner tried to drive down the hill).

After living in Minnesota for 23 years, driving in the snow is as easy as breathing or walking, but throw in a move to Virginia 12 years ago, and global warming, and now it's nervewracking. Especially when surrounded by native Virginians who haven't got a clue how to drive in this stuff. Plus the 45 degree mountain roads. Plus our usual winter consists of a couple icy slushy days, and its over.

This weekend we make up for that.

Our neighbor's house, circa 1865. This weather sets it off beautifully.

This driver is headed directly past our house, which means they are looking down a 45 degree snow-packed hill, and thinking this might not be a good idea.

They were right. It's a weekend for staying home. I just wish I'd picked up a gallon of paint this morning. I could have painted my office as long as we're snowbound.

Did I mention our town doesn't own a snowplow?

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Washable Produce Bags

A couple weeks ago I received a great offer from Mother Earth magazine: the entire Mother Earth news archives from 1970 through 2008, on CD, for $29.95 (the deal is still available). As an extra incentive, they threw in a pack of 6 washable reusable produce bags.

I actually received the CD within days, and had completely forgot about the produce bags until they arrived today.

These nifty little bags are such a simple idea: scrap nylon net, with a lightweight nylon drawstring at the top. Perfect for letting fresh produce breathe, and washable! You can take them to the store or farmers market, use them to store veggies or fruit in the frig, and I'm thinking I can stuff my pockets full of them when I go to pick blueberries next summer.

Plastic bags emit ethylene gas, causing produce to ripen more quickly than they should. You may have seen the green plastic produce bags sold on TV - they've been treated not to emit the gas, but, hey, they're still plastic. These nylon net bags eliminate the whole problem.

The bags measure 11" x 14", and there are 5 for $6.99. Plus the bag they are packaged in is another net bag, size 8"x12". If I had my druther's, I think I'd like at least one just an inch longer, for celery and romaine (we buy a lot of romaine), but other than that, this is a great little deal and another step closer to being green.

This is a family owned business founded by Cindi Valverde, a great idea and lots of value for the price:

FTC Disclaimer: They didn't give me the bags. Mother Earth News did, but only after I bought their Archive CD, which is pretty cool too.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Red Light Green Light

Warning: This post has nothing to do with gardening, green-life style, or how to make your own detergent.

This post is what happens when you've spent your day in Christmas traffic jams, staring at traffic lights.

Why are traffic lights red, yellow and green? Who decided against orange, white and blue? Or red, white and blue for that matter?

It's things like this - thoughts I mull over while staring at 50 sets of red brakelights, and the all-powerful traffic signals- that drive me nuts until I know the answer.

In case you're the same way, here's the scoop.

It takes a very long distance to stop a train. So the first signal to stop a train was a fire built between the rails. Meanwhile in 1868, London had the first crude gas lantern designed to control carriage traffic. It used red and green glass plates that were operated manually by a policeman. When it exploded, killing the operator, it became the last traffic signal, until electricity was invented in the late 1800's.

One of the first uses for this new technology was an electronic railway signal: green was on top as the universal signal for "all clear"; red was below it, of picked to be the color for "stop", being the same color as the fire that was already used to stop the trains. Then white was added for the lowest signal, as a caution or warning light.

Eventually, in the early 1920s, automobiles had grown to such a volume that traffic was chaotic and out of control. An African American inventor, Garrett Morgan, designed and patented the first electronic traffic light. He chose to use the railway system light colors: red for danger or stop, green for proceed safely, and white for caution. The order was changed, to differentiate the lights from the railway signals.

Trains run on tracks, disregarding street lights. When a white railway bulb burnt out, it was not as big a problem as when a white traffic signal bulb burnt out, causing drivers to mistake the white bulb of the corner street lights for the signal, jamming on their brakes for no reason and thereby inventing the multiple vehicle pile-up.

Several hundred insurance claims later, white was exchanged for yellow, a color associated with sunny warmth and happiness. Now everyone would be happy about stopping for that red light.

Psychologically red creates tension and nervousness in the brain, alerting our thought process that a decision is imminent, while green is soothing and calm.

But I think the immortal words uttered by Jeff Bridges in Starman best explains traffic lights:

"Red light stop, green light go, yellow light go very fast."

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

By The Light of the Silvery Moon

I've been putting off gathering basil seeds, mostly just because I've been busy. But tonight is the full moon, and they needed to be harvested in the next couple days.

All those old gardener tales about planting by the lunar cycles have some truth to them.

There are two waxing (increasing) lunar quarters, and two waning (decreasing) lunar quarters. The full moon falls right in the middle.

During the waxing quarters, the pull of the moon raises the water table, and plants draw up water faster, making it a better time to plant.

The waning phase is better for pruning and weeding.

Some evidence also exists showing larger harvests among gardens planted following the lunar cycles.

Here's a quick guide to planting by the moon:

Quarter 1: The waxing phase that begins with the new moon is the best time to plant above ground leafy vegetables. Plants that respond well during this quarter include broccoli, cabbage, lettuce, spinach, celery and cauliflower. The water table is rising and the plants will take up nutrients and germinate quickly.

Quarter 2: The gravitational pull of the moon is less but the additional light theoretically aids leafy growth. Vegetables that respond well to being planted in this phase include those that form internal seeds like beans, peas, tomatoes and vine crops. The second quarter is also where vegetables should be harvested. This is when their moisture is at its peak.

Quarter 3: Just past the full moon, the water table is dropping and growth is slowing. This is the best phase for planting root vegetables such as potatoes, carrots, beets and onions. It's also a great time to do any pruning in the garden that is needed. The cut ends will lose less moisture or sap during this period.

Quarter 4: A dormant period and no planting, harvesting or pruning should be carried out. This time is best used for weeding, turning the compost and other garden chores.

Thanks to

Tomorrow night, I'll be harvesting my basil seeds -sweet basil, Greek columnar basil, lemon basil and my new favorite, boxwood basil.

And feeling somewhat like a oldtime pagan out there, harvesting by the light of the moon.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Better Than Breakfast at Tiffany's

Remember these?

And this trip last summer to the blueberry farm to pick 4 gallons worth?

And remember how they were divided up and frozen, individually, on cookie sheets, then divided up into pint size bags?

Today's their day to shine. Now that it's late fall, and no fresh blueberries are to be found (excepting the $4.00/pint grocery store version), it's time to go to the freezer.

I like my blueberries on bowls of Special K Red Berry. (Really I do - and Kellogg's has not offered me anything to say this, but if they want to ship me free cereal, I'm okay with it).

The frozen blueberries are packed in pint bags, and the bags are packed inside a gallon size bag.This way I can take out one pint bag at a time, for each bowl of cereal. I keep a wire strainer just for this purpose. Pour the frozen bag of blueberries into the strainer, set the strainer into a bowl, and run cold water over the berries. They will thaw quickly (2 minutes at most). **Frozen blueberries are a great snack BTW -pop one in your mouth, and let it thaw gradually.

After they thaw, I usually pour them out of the strainer onto a paper towel and pat them dry to remove the extra water.

Then pour all the blueberries on your cereal. I like A LOT of blueberries. (This is why I picked 4 gallons last summer, and only had 3 gallons by the time I got home).

Add milk, and savor the taste of summer. And, unlikely as it seems, blueberries are really, really good for you.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

The Butterfly Book

While we wait for the greenhouse lettuce to get big enough to eat, let us dwell on summery topics like butterflies.

Usually I save my book reviews for While Reading to the Dog, but in this case I'll make an exception. I got lucky at a library sale earlier this month and found another vintage copy (1931) of The Butterfly Book: A Popular and Scientific Manual Depicting All the Butterflies of the United States and Canada by W.J. Holland.

Sounds dull doesn't it?

It isn't. This thick, heavy book includes more than 70 full-color plates, with butterflies and their vivid colors exploding out of the pages.

The scientific text includes the names, habitat, natural predators, and line illustrations of the wing profile of each species.

As well as a black and white plate of the very first scientific drawing of an American butterfly from 1887.

Several of the plates include each species' catapillars, in great detail, and on their plant food of choice if it's unique and unusual.

Here and there are tucked butterfly poems and trivia. Did you know the Scots refer to them as flutterby's?

Mostly though, there are just beautiful color illustrations of every conceiveable butterfly, enough to convince you summer is right around the corner.

The Butterfly Book: A Popular and Scientific Manual Depicting All the Butterflies of the United States and Canada by W.J. Holland,
Offered for Sale by Chewybooks as of November 20,2009.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Solar Greenhouse on A Cloudy Day

Someday I'll have a greenhouse with heat, electricity, a automatic water and venting system.....

But for now, my greenhouse uses the sun as its sole source of heat. (And no electricity or auto -venting on too-warm days). Of course the automatic watering consists of me turning the hose on.

So this leaves the problem of maintaining sufficient warmth during the cold months and having a water source that doesn't freeze.

Note: I live in southern Virginia. Having previously lived in Minnesota, I do understand that cold is very relative. Our lowest temperatures of the year *usually* fall at 10-15 degrees during a two week period in January. Even on those days, if the sun is out, the greenhouse will be at 80 degrees, during the day. Your mileage if you live father north will be much different and this particular sort of solar greenhouse wouldn't be worth your time. But you can check the DIY plans at Build It Solar. It can be done.

Keeping some warmth in it at night is the problem. The walls are half-wood, giving it some shelter, and the outside paint is dark green, which helps absorb some heat. The interior walls are white, so they reflect as much light during the darker winter daylight hours. The upper walls/roof area is a heavy duty plastic (an excellent product purchased from Northern Sun in North Dakota -it's lasted three years even in our southern sun, with no visible deterioration or brittleness).

The northern upper wall/roof is also covered inside with bubble wrap - the large bubble air pockets give it some extra insulation. And believe it or not, the floor is carpeted. As of this last week, there are two-three layers covering the dirt floor. Long-term plans include a brick paver floor. Meanwhile the carpet retains some warmth, and minimizes mud.

However, to solve both the heat retention problem and the winter water source, I have several large tubs of water (dark colored tubs, bought at walmart for $5 each) that I fill late in the fall (say, today for instance). The hose connections actually run across the yard, being buried approx 2 feet down, but the connection is outside the greenhouse (it was there first), and so the connecting hose is exposed and vulnerable to freezing.

After filling the tubs, I fill as many plastic jugs as I can save up during the summer, and use through out the winter as needed. Milk jugs can be used, but will only last one winter -the heat in the greenhouse makes them brittle. Ice tea jugs are intentionally heavier, due to the tannic acid found in tea and will hold up much longer.

Most of the solar greenhouse sites I see recommend painting the water reservoirs black. I've tried this and found no discernable difference in heat retention, plus the paint eats the plastic while it peels and chips off.

I have 5 large tubs of water, and 36 waterjugs - this will probably get the crops almost completely through the winter. In the last three years, the water has never froze or even iced over.

The coleus are on borrowed time, but I'm hoping to baby the green peppers through at least December since they are loaded with little peppers.

During the day, both the peppers and the coleus are covered with a gauzey sheet, to keep the heat from burning up (average daytime temps now are 100 degrees,even when it's 50 outside), and during the evening hours the gauze holds more warmth in close to the plants.

Last tip for today: remember this plant? The ever-useful, easy-to-grow comfrey? It naturally loses a leaf or two a week, so I toss the leaves into the water tubs -they decompose quickly and are a wonderful natural source of fertilizer for the other plants.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Milk Thistle

While working in the greenhouse some two weeks ago, I leaned over, and as I straightened up I felt a familiar twinge in my back.

After hurting my back some 15 years ago, it acts up more or less annually now -usually resulting in severe pain for approximately two weeks. During this time I am addicted to heating pads and Advil.

This time, I happened to have an annual checkup, complete with bloodwork, and lo and behold, the liver tests came back high, meaning there might be some liver damage. Immediately I thought it was due to the large amount of Advil I'd been taking. Eventually, a second set of tests were taken, and came back clean.

While I was waiting for the second tests to come back, a friend mentioned milk thistle to me as a liver cleanser.

Turns out milk thistle extract has been used for thousands of years to help clean the liver. It helps to detox and maintain liver health, and canhelp with cirrhosis, jaundice, hepatitis and even gallbladder disorders.

It may also help lower "bad" cholesterol, reduce the growth of cancer cells in breast, cervical and prostate cancers, and help with type 2 diabetes.

The only warnings I can find in research are directed towards women who are pregnant or breatfeeding, and those who have had endometriosis, fibroid tumors, breast, uterine or ovarian cancers. (Didn't find the exact reason why though).

As usual, your mileage may vary, and it may interact with other medications.

This is the part where I say I have milk thistle growing in my backyard and I make teas or dry my own. I don't. I tend to pull up thistle when I find it in my yard (and I have no idea if it's milk thistle or some other type).

I buy my milk thistle at the store. The dried extract is sold in capsules, and I take one a day. I also take as few Advil as possible, but when the choice is writhing in pain or ruining my liver, I figure I'm dead either way, so I take the Advil.

And now I follow it with a milk thistle chaser.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Presents For the Greenhouse!

Guess what came in the mail today!

Last week Carole & Chewy were lucky enough to win first prize in a giveaway at the wonderful White Spray Paint blog, run by Miss Laura.

We were flabbergasted, since, by tradition, we never win anything (at least not since the unfortunate incident with the BBgun in our childhood).

So today - our prize arrives (and the box alone was wonderful, since as booksellers, we appreciate the box as much as the contents) - and it's a wonderful heavy duty canvas gardening apron and a LARGE size foam knee pad. Now we have no excuse for being covered in dirt at the end of the gardening day, or losing one trowel after another in the pepper/potato/tomato/gourd patch (pick your favorite, they are all holding trowels hostage).

Also, our knees deeply appreciate the size of this foam knee pad, since the point of contention with the previous ones has been how-to-kneel-on-one-while-trying-to-move-it-at-the-same-time.

Immediately I had to run out to the greenhouse and introduce the presents to their new home:

This is what photos look like when you run in to take a photo, and it's 65 degrees outside, and 120 degrees inside..... the humidity makes the hanging garden apron look all misty and romantic.

This is what it *really* looks like, when I stepped outside to take the photo looking back in - see the foam knee pad (showing it's striped side, versus it's sortof Frenchy-looking side)?

As long I was out there I watered everything a bit, and the lettuce has grown almost 1/2" since yesterday...

Spinach is still crappy though.

Thanks again Miss Laura! This is ten times better than the BB gun! Everyone go check out her blog - it's one of the best: