Finally it's warm enough outside to drink iced tea! We all know how easy it is to brew sunshine tea, using a jar and some teabags left steeping in the sun. But there's actually some science to making really good sunshine tea, tea that has the best taste and most health benefits.
For tea is a health food: tonic and yet calming, cleansing, saturated with life-prolonging compounds. Made fresh daily and handled correctly, the flavor of sunshine tea is crisp and the liquid is clear. Done the wrong way, iced tea has a musty or even moldy taste and can even look cloudy or slightly oily. Yuck.
For starters, the building blocks of iced tea are the teas you use, and in the proper proportions. I never make more than a quart in one batch, although if company is expected I will make up two quart Mason jars of tea, rather than one half-gallon batch. Sunshine tea has a short shelf-life, and leftover tea quickly loses its great taste; there's invariably too much leftover tea with a half-gallon batch in a two-person household.
In a quart jar I generally use one jumbo made-for-iced-tea teabag, plus one regular-size teabag that has some flavor, like Constant Comment, Russian spiced tea, or Jasmine tea…or if there's no flavored tea on hand I use two jumbo teabags or three to four regular size bags. And then I add either a teabag or two of mint tea or if the mint in my garden is big enough, a sprig of mint. I might add a sprig of lemon balm or other fresh sweet herb too. Using some green tea in the mix can add healthful properties.
Always use a lot of tea bags to a quart of water to get the full-strength experience. There's a reason to use all that tea or even more. For perfection, sunshine tea must be poured into a tall glass of ice, and the melting ice will soon dilute the tea. So start with a strong tea.
I find that Asian grocery stores have the widest and most economical selection of green, black, and flavored teas.
Water: Use room-temperature filtered water, or let your tap water sit in an open container overnight to "de-gas" and lose any residual taste of chlorine; that goes mostly for urban and suburban water systems where chlorine is part of sanitation treatment. Using filtered water assures that you will only taste the tea (and any sweetener or lemon slices).
The actual "making" step is simple. Let the tea bag strings dangle outside the jar, fill the jar with water, screw on a lid, and then set the jar in the sun. I like making sunshine tea as soon as the morning sun has burned off the dew, and I set the jar on a concrete step where it can warm up fast for the steeping tea.
Leave the tea outside only half an hour or at most an hour, even if the weather is cloudy. When the color is like, well, dark tea, bring it in, squeeze the tea bags to release the last bit of concentrated flavor, and then dispose of them. Re-seal the jar and put the tea in the fridge and store it there. That quart of tea I make in the morning is a daily dose for two of us.
Tea will begin to ferment if left long enough, sometimes in just a few days, especially if it has been sweetened, and that process can impart the unpleasant taste.
Now as far as sweeteners, I don't use any at all, just a slice of lemon. Even though I have lived in the South for more than 30 years, I've never developed a taste for "sweet tea," which is the default beverage of the summertime South. There's so much sugar melted into it that I can't taste the tea at all.
Nan K. Chase is the author of Eat Your Yard! Edible trees, shrubs, vines, herbs and flowers for your landscape. She has an actual tea bush, Camillia sinensis, growing in her yard in Asheville, N.C., as an experiment in urban "tough love" gardening.
Cold frames are wonderful places to produce transplants to set out in your garden. They are most often made of wood, but not necessarily. The one you see in the photo is made from 1½” thick pine that has been primed and painted. It is 3’x6’ because that’s the size of the piece of glass I had available to make the top. The new one I’ve built is 4’x8’ and has four 2’x4’ lids that are easier to manage. The design I followed is in Eliot Coleman’s Four Season Harvest. My cold frames stay in one place and are part of my garden design. I painted them white because it looks nice and to keep anyone from stumbling into them, particularly in the evening as the sun is fading. Set on top of 3½” thick solid cement blocks so they don’t get waterlogged in the early spring, my cold frames are “landmarks” in my garden.
Coleman has a new design that is shown in The Four Season Farm Gardener’s Cookbook. It is for a 4’x4’ model that he suggests moving around the garden as needed. In that case it is used to cover a whole crop, not necessarily different varieties of seedlings for transplanting. If you had a small movable cold frame you could have it in one bed for the year and move it once each year with the rotation of crops, or you could move it around every few weeks. If you did that, rather than have a whole frame to move, you might want to have wide boards that hold together with hooks and eyes. They would be easy to move and, when not in use, the boards would stack in one pile. The tops can be made from wood frames covered with plastic.
I use movable season extension made with hoops and plastic for cold weather greens, but for growing transplants, I prefer my wooden cold frames that have an established home in the garden. With the tops off for much of the year, there is no build-up of pests. Whenever I plant a new batch of seeds, I add compost to keep the fertility up and to give the seedlings the probiotics they need for a good start. The planting season begins in January or February, with the first round of seeds being onions, the cabbage family, and sugar snap peas, all for transplanting. Whatever had been in there before, needs to be out by that time, so this is not the place for winter harvested greens, which would still be going strong. Lettuce, planted in September and held into the winter, would be past its prime by that time. If roots — carrots, beets, and parsnips — had been planted there earlier, they would all have to be harvested by the time the first seeds go in after the New Year. These root crops do not need the protection of a cold frame in my Zone 7 climate.
By late winter, and the cool season crops have come up, and the lid can be opened. By the time these seedlings are ready to be planted in the garden, the top would have already been off the cold frame for an extended time. Next would come the warm weather crops, such as tomatoes and peppers. I start these seeds in the ground in the cold frame about a month before my last expected frost. Of course, the covers for the cold frames would need to be back on. I like to have two cold frames in operation so that I can treat them differently—cover on for the warm weather plants and cover off for lingering cool weather crops. Otherwise, I would transplant the cool weather crops into wooden flats, before adding warm weather crops to the cold frame, if they still needed some time before transplanting in the garden.
It is after the warm weather crops have been transplanted out, that cold frames might fall into disuse. I want to encourage you to keep planting. As room opens up in your garden throughout the summer, you can fill it with transplants from the cold frame. By then, the covers would have been put away for the summer and you are only using it as a dedicated space for starting seeds. If my summer seedlings can benefit from some shade, I will put plastic hoops over the cold frame and attach a piece of shade cloth with plastic clips that will hold shade cloth or plastic sheeting to round pipes.
You can find more information about getting the most out of your cold frame at Homeplace Earth. With some experience, you can develop a rotation for your cold frame, just as you would have a rotation for your garden beds, so you know what to expect and how many cold frames you might need. With a little planning, you can have a never ending supply of transplants.
Learn more about Cindy Conner and what she’s up to at www.HomeplaceEarth.wordpress.com.
In a collaborative environment – a co-working space – one would think there would be ample opportunities to share. After all, this space is built with community in mind. The tables are configured to facilitate conversation and there is a “pit” with oversized bean bags yearning for people to lounge in them and contemplate big ideas while sipping coffee.
Truth be told, many of us working in this “collaborative, co-working” environment go days, even weeks, without talking to each other. Some people are busy. Some people are shy. Some of these people I share this space with every day need to concentrate….-hard. They are entrepreneurs building platforms for social networking, building new robust software for large and small companies, or creating mobile apps. Big stuff. Technical stuff.
So, when I started walking around talking about dirt, compost, earth worm castings and container gardening I wasn’t sure what the reaction would be. I mean, these folks are data enthusiasts, content managers and systems engineers. They chat via Yammer about Moodle, WordPress and Ajax. They ideate, iterate and use so many acronyms it makes my head spin. They are “techy.” They are smart.
But what I believed in my mind and my heart – and what I risked when I carried in 10 lb. bags of soil and compost into a very clean office environment – is that people can be connected via this dirt. With some skill (and frankly, lots of luck) this dirt will produce food – the great connector of people. As Wendell Berry wrote in The Unsettling of America: Culture and Agriculture, “The soil is the great connector of lives, the source and destination of all. It is the healer and restorer and resurrector, by which disease passes into health, age into youth and death into life. Without proper care for it we can have no community…”
So, I got approval from the owners of the space and sheepishly started posting on Twitter that I was going to build this community container garden. I typically need to go out on a limb and start talking about doing things before I actually get them done. It is often more to talk myself into it than anything.
What I discovered is that the people working around me whom I thought were just interested in sitting hunched over their computers programming were suddenly bringing in 'Aji Amarillo' seeds they had saved. (These are, I learned, hot yellow chile peppers used in Peruvian dishes.) They started sharing ideas about what to grow. “Basil is pretty easy and smells so great,” said one. “Tomatoes would be hard; we have good sun but they need heat,” said another. I threw a few herbs in some pots and planted some seeds. My hope is the community will make this project grow - and grow.
And so for now - we are talking.
As an advertising manager for Ogden Publications, Amy Koliner has the opportunity to talk with fascinating people and learn new things about sustainable lifestyles every day. She lives in Minneapolis with her family and tries to incorporate the earth-friendly tips she learns into their daily lives.
I once bought a quart of high-quality fish emulsion to try on my strawberries. It cost me $16… and was gone faster than cheese doodles at Marley Fest. Other great fertilizers, like blood or kelp meal, require a generous home equity line to buy in quantity.
I recently wrote a “Chemical vs. Organic Fertilizers” post over at The Prepper Project. One thing I didn’t mention there, however, was how darn cheap chemical fertilizers are compared to their organic counterparts.
Before you send me hate mail: I know they’re not cheap in the long run. Chemical fertilizers can damage soil fertility, wreak havoc on a microscopic level, eat up fossil fuels, put toxic levels of salts in the ground, contribute to the pollution of our waterways and make your hands smell really weird. But – let’s face it – if you want to grow a garden and you don’t have much money, 10-10-10 is pretty affordable.
Most of what I’m going to write today may be old-hat to experience organic gardeners; but there’s always a new generation of experimenters and learners coming up behind us. They’re the ones I hope to reach… encourage… and inspire to grow their gardens both frugally and responsibly. Are you a cheapskate… and an organic gardener? Keep reading.
Cheap Option #1: Manure
Poultry, goat, sheep, rabbit, horse, cow… whatever the farm animal, manure is the classic soil amendment. Problem: much of it is contaminated or at risk of contamination by herbicides. That means we organic gardeners are in a real bind. Can you track down every shipment of hay that’s been fed to the animals producing your manure? Are you sure your local dairy farmer didn’t spray “Grazon” on his fields to control pigweed at some point? Manure may be the best… and hurray if you can get safe stuff… but it’s playing Russian Roulette until we get these nasty persistent herbicides BANNED.
Cheap Option #2: Seaweed
No – I’m not talking about buying seaweed fertilizer. That’s great stuff… but it’s expensive! I’m talking about picking up seaweed on the closest beach, rinsing the salt off it, then letting it rot in a bucket. It smells incredibly bad but is a great source of micronutrients. Strain and water away.
Cheap Option #3: Urine
That’s right. Homemade fertilizer! Thin with about 6 parts water to 1 part urine, then water away. Note: you can use urine in higher concentrations on some plants, particularly if you don’t have a high-salt diet. This stuff works like a charm. I saw a garden in South Florida sand that was green, lush, highly productive… and fed only on diluted urine. It’s completely safe since the human kidneys don’t allow bacteria to pass through, making urine sterile (unless you have a urinary tract infection – then all bets are off, and you probably won’t feel like gardening anyhow).
Cheap Option #4: Worm Tea
This is a great way to add microbes to your soil while feeding your plants. I use it as a drench and a foliar spray. If you keep a bin of worms, “worm tea” is the liquid that sits in the bottom. I’ve got a bin to catch the “tea” that drips from the old dishwasher I converted into a worm farm. I take that precious liquid, mix it with a generous amount of water and pour it around my tropical trees and potted plants as a special boost.
Cheap Option #5: Compost or Manure Tea
There are a lot of ways to make this stuff. Some people will tell you to put an air hose from an aquarium pump into the bottom of a barrel of water with a few scoops of compost or manure in it, then let it bubble for a day or two. Other folks simply let a barrel of compost/manure and water sit in the sun for a few weeks. Yet other gardeners will add molasses, Epsom salts, comfrey, yogurt and all kinds of fun stuff to the mix. Whatever way you do it, once you pour that stuff on plants, they are very, very happy. And it allows you to stretch your manure/compost supply a long, long way.
A Special Recipe for Awesome Growth … and Stinkiness
“Dad! Please don’t spray that stuff anymore! PLEASE!”
That’s what I hear when I use Dave’s Amazing Unbelievable Super Fertilizer™ in my heavy-duty 4-gallon backpack pump sprayer. To get a wide range of nutrients and lots of microbial action, I add (roughly):
1/2 cup unsulphured molasses (to feed microbes)
1 gallon of urine (for nitrogen and micronutrients)
1/2 cup of fish emulsion (adds more nitrogen and other nutrients)
1 cup of liquid seaweed (for trace minerals and even more micronutrients)
A bit of homemade liquid soap (to break surface tension)
A tablespoon of Epsom salts (for magnesium)
A few cups of worm tea (for micronutrients and added microbes)
I top that combination up with water and sometimes let it sit for a day or two before application. It smells horrifying but the plants absolutely love it. The smell will go away in a day or so, so apply at least two days before having a barbecue. Unless you want to turn all your guests vegetarian for life.
This tank mix adds microbes to the ground, feeds the soil web, provides micronutrients, foliar feeds the leaves and makes solicitors stay far, far away from your house.
Whatever method you use to feed your plants organically… keep experimenting! This is a journey we’re all on together. Share your thoughts and your recipes with others (so long as they don’t cost $16 a quart). If you do, we’ll all be a little richer… and our gardens will be a lot greener.
It’s mid-May, time to harvest first crops from the rows of vegetables in the farm garden. CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) harvests begin next week. This week I started sneaking “test harvests” here and there. Sneak preview of the crops. WAHOO! My mouth is watering. Oh, I love my sweet succulent Fun Jen nappa cabbage. It’s like a salad — the lettuce and the celery all in one. This nappa is so delicate I never cook it. I use it raw in salad, rice wraps, sandwiches. It makes good kimchi also, but when the traditional nappa cabbage is ready (our variety is called Blues), I’ll prefer that for kimchi.
Kohlrabi is an interesting brassica, much more popular in Europe than the USA. We grow Kolibri Kohlrabi which has a purple skin. Some other varieties are white. We introduce our CSA members to these purple alien bulbs the first week of CSA harvests. I give slices as samples and then they love it. Kohlrabi is best in the cool spring months, fast growing, crisp and sweet. You can eat the greens, sautée or cook up as you would any other greens. For the bulb, you peel off the tough purple skin and eat the white bulb like a sweet mild radish. Really, it tastes like a broccoli stem. My kids eat them like apples.
We’ll have scallions, herbs, and other greens, maybe kale or chard ready for next week too. The beets are almost ready, their red round bulbs growing fast. We cluster two together when planting them (they like company). I can hardly wait to make my favorite beet salad. Boil them until they are soft, chop, and toss them with a honey balsamic vinaigrette. Chill.
I feel grateful for the harvest every time of year, but there is no time of greater anticipation than these first crops of the spring.
Ilene White Freedman operates House in the Woods organic CSA farm with her husband, Phil, in Frederick, Maryland. She blogs about making things from scratch, putting up the harvest, gardening and farm life at http://blog.houseinthewoods.com, easy to follow from our Facebook Page. For more about the farm, go to http://www.houseinthewoods.com.
After spending the past twenty years teaching composting, I have come to the conclusion that compost is the answer. Never mind the question-Compost is the answer. This pretty much puts me in the compost geek zone, of course. But through droughts and floods, jump-starting new gardens into big production and even battling cancer twice, I’ve found that the “organic matter family”-compost, vermicompost, mulches and compost teas are powerful tools for getting food production and great nutrition right.
About five years ago I started experimenting with biochar. I collected charcoal from my wood stove, crushed it in a tough plastic bag with the car and charged it by soaking it in compost tea.
Microscopic picture of bIochar. These tiny pores are the secret of biochar’s power. Imagine each hole as a home for a microbe or a water trove for a fungal hyphae. It’s like putting a high rise condo for microbial life in every cubic inch of your soil.)Photo courtesy of CarbonGold
I’ve had what I believe are great results, Enough so that I’m ready to take it to the next level by building a small scale biochar retort. Fortunately I’m not alone. In the past year I’ve shared ideas with a growing community of Midwest biochar converts and gained more than I gave. Last weekend I completed my first biochar retort and tested it on a cloudy Saturday.
Picture ( A smoky start to a burn with chips that were too wet.)
Picture ( Paint burning off the barrel and insulation paper charring as my second attempt gets really hot.)
I previously spent a cold day in January completing the first of my New Year’s resolutions helping David Yarrow with two test burns. David is a wise man in many of the ways of Earth keeping but he’s for sure a biochar expert. He’s even mentioned in Albert Bates’ The Biochar Solution. Together we built a screener so we could remove the smallest “fines” from a pile of wood chips then filled and lit one of his retorts.
Picture (David Yarrow and a version of his TLUD (top lit-up draft) biochar retort)
Once lit these retorts roar into life with a red-hot, clean burning flame that leaves no smoke. A full barrel of wood chips yields about a third barrel of biochar- about 150 pounds. David and his friends, near Lawrence, Kansas are building retorts, testing designs, and testing biochar on plant growth in a controlled experiment funded by a SARE grant this year. Me, I’ll be making more char and conducting more of my own project/experiments throughout this season.
Stan Slaughter, The Eco-Troubadour can be reached at www.Eco-Troubadour.com
Stay tuned and visit these sites for more information:
The dirt in our garden is amazing: black, moist, deep. The old 1800s-era Jessaman homesite is nearby – in fact, our garden borders the old cellar hole and wraps around the now-filled-in well hole. We imagine that where we now grow our sustenance, the Jessaman’s, too, raised their crops, or perhaps their animals. It’s the best explanation we have for this extraordinary pocket of fertile soil.
This spring, I’ve expanded the garden by a few additional beds with the goal of growing more potatoes. The chosen area served as the “landing zone” for our cabin construction last year, and has spent recent seasons covered with brambles, wild strawberry, and virgin’s bower. Despite this, the weeding was fairly easy, a testament to the dirt beneath.
I graciously accepted this good fortune. Garden fork in hand, and bucket of weeds by my side, I was pleased to be running my fingers through dirt – and no bugs yet to buzz about my head! With a steady breeze and clouds racing overhead, it was with much contentment that my fingers searched out the roots that my eyes couldn’t see. The weeds seemed to give way willingly to this new growing space. Potatoes will do well here with ample depth to plunge their tubers. I’m hopeful – this will be an important winter crop.
As I go along, I pull out pebbles occasionally, but only one large stone. Time and time again, however, my hands pry free the remnants of bricks. As late afternoon turns to early evening and my work for the day is nearing completion, a collection of the ruddy-colored artifacts is stacked to one side. The sight of them calls up something nostalgic in me, broken bits suggesting a history that is largely lost.
As I methodically weed my way to an additional garden bed, my hands are engaged in the work of the present while my mind flits over designs and dreams for the future. Imagining plans for the season, the year, the decade…my hands grasp another brick, and re-focus my thoughts from the future to the present, and from the present to the past. Which dreams were these bricks a part of? How were they buried in this rich, dark dirt, the legacy of an unknown history from which we now benefit?
The reality of time’s passage is easy to witness with a glance about me – the old cellar beginning to fall in, the overgrown well filled with rocks, the wall of the old saw mill balancing delicately along the river bank, the scars from a logging operation prior to our moving onto the land, the clearing where we once lived in the yurt. As my fingers stumble upon another brick, I see Ryan and I in a chain of history, of dreams, of sweat – and perhaps, of potatoes - unfolding within this nook of a landscape.
For ecological garden design and maintenance, orchard care, or weeds pulled from your garden or landscaped housefront, please contact Beth via email@example.com.