Happy New Year! Want A Resolution? Grow Something!

This year, figure out how to supply yourself with all or most of one food or plant product – for a season or for the year. What can you grow within the confines of your current home/living space? What is your favorite vegetable, herbs, or fruit? What do you love to eat? What do you want to have on hand? What can you find or forage from the neighborhood close by?

I love herbs for cooking, both fresh and dried. Parsley, chives, thyme, rosemary, mint and so many more can easily be grown on a sunny window sill, counter, table top or in a floor pot. For some places vertical growing is an easy answer on a sunny wall – inside or out. When you grow herbs, you can easily dry them, save them, and give the excess as gifts to others. Start small. Look at your herbs and see which one is used the most. Plan on having a supply of parsley (for instance) that you grow for yourself – in time to replace the dried herb in the cabinet when it runs out.

If you have a wall outside or planters, think about what you can grow that you enjoy eating. Peas can climb a wall, as can green beans, squash, cucumbers, and melons. You will need some support – I’ve used a cotton 4″ square netting to grow even heavy winter squash successfully. You can even let them mature in the gutter or on the roof if you can harvest them there safely.

Green beans are wonderful fresh, frozen, fermented and pickled. They are even good dried! Figure out how many servings of green beans you want for the year and then find out how many plantings you need in the space you have. You can make a Teepee on the deck with tall bamboo poles stuck in pots with 3 beans in each pot.

Most cities have fruit trees, grapevines, and berries that have been planted by others and are still bearing. Find ones near you (an apple tree, berry bush, or grape vines for instance) and keep an eye on them. When they are full of fruit, ask if you can harvest it and offer some to the home owner if they want some. I frequently find the home owner is glad to be ‘rid’ of them because they are making a mess!

So for now start small with a favorite herb, some veggies in a pot, or a dwarf fruit tree and learn how to take care of them. Enjoy the fruits of your effort, and then see if you want to do more. Please ask a salesperson if what you are buying is free of systemic pesticides. No one needs to eat anymore poisons!

I’d love to hear from you and learn what you have decided to grow and where you are growing it. Maybe you can team up with neighbors and each person grow a different food then share. Taking charge of any part of your food supply is an important step so get growing! Happy New Year!


What’s up with Those Crazy Squirrels??!!??

This year the squirrels have been exhibiting the most radical behavior most of us has ever seen. What? Are they nuts? I mean seriously!! Every year I move my hibiscus outside for the summer. It thrives in the warm weather, blooms profusely, and grows new branches. After it was outside for a month, I noticed the blooms had been eaten off, and the new branches were nipped through – as well as some of the old branches. I moved it back inside. Squirrels!

To screen the southern end of the front porch from sun and the neighbors, a friend helped me hang netting for the hops to climb. They were lush and full of those little shrimp-like pods with the yellow oil under the green ‘scales’. My head was full of notions of homemade ale when I came home one night to see that the netting and most of the hop vines were nipped through leaving raggedy bits of string and a scattering of hops all across the porch. The squirrels had struck again! The weedy sumac growing next to the porch had branches missing, tattered leaves, and gnawed stems! Really?

Checking with my daughters I found that at one house the squirrels were seen in a committed community action, four of them working a ripe tomato over to the net and finally eating it through the plastic bird netting when they couldn’t get it out! Her squash vines were nubs with a leaf or two, and so were the cucumber vines. My other daughter’s veggies fared better only because there is a huge oak tree in the back yard. Of course it is hard to sit out there because of a constant rain of shell bits and nut casings. All over town I hear of peculiar squirrel activities: all the flowers gone from a row of sunflowers; biting through screens and coming into homes to eat the pet food; stripping grapes off the vine and many such vandalistic activities!

Well, actually I do know why this is happening and what the solution used to be! Thinking back to the farm days, it was to be expected. You see, last year we had the most prolific crop of stone fruits to be seen in the Denver area for a long time. Everything that produces fruit was so full to overflowing, branches were breaking with the weight of peaches, apricots, apples, and plums. June berries were ripe by the thousands, grapes hung in great clusters, and cherries were picked by walking by on the sidewalks of the city! Foraging fruits was a full time job, and even then, many fruits rotted on the ground, on trees, on vines, and in alleys. The squirrels were in ‘hog heaven’ so to speak. Their solution? Let’s have more babies!

Last year, a thought rose unbidden in me: harvest and save all the fruit you can this year because with a year this good, next year will be very poor. Now my modern, rational mind said “Oh, that’s just an old wives tale!” Not so! For this spring had two late killing frosts that pretty much took out all the blossoms for stone fruits. But what about the squirrels? They still had those big litters of babies and no super abundance to feed them! What to do now?

If this were back on the farm, this year would be a time to harvest squirrels – or ‘limb chickens’ as they were also known. There would be squirrel stew, squirrel lining to mittens, hats and warm furry neck scarves. Squirrels would be dried, frozen and smoked. You harvested what was abundant in it’s own time, put it by, and knew it might be awhile before it was abundant again. Not harvesting the squirrels pretty much guarantees the up-surge of city foxes and coyotes next year since they consider squirrels their food!

The circle of life. Remember when this had distinct meaning and rhythm to all of us? It still does, you know. We can become distanced from the cycle of life, but it comes to us anyway. Basically this is another example of Nature being outside of our control. I suggest we go with the flow, and stop bucking what is true. Also next year I would definitely keep all little pets inside since that abundance of squirrels will not survive the winter, and the abundance of city foxes will be hungry come spring!

Last Wild Edible Walk of the Season!!!

As the summer winds down, albeit slowly, the weeds are also on their way to Autumn shapes and colors. This is a fine time to see what to do to harvest wild amaranth seeds, and which plants to flag for picking even under snow! All the regular characters are still present and available and so one more weed walk is called for!! Come learn about eating, saving, harvesting, and using these wonderful plants for home remedies. Sign up at: http://tentiko.com/products/finding-food-in-the-city We are meeting on Saturday, September 14th from 9 – 11 am, so make sure you sign up and show up! It’s going to be another Wild Walk!

…And In Winter…

It’s hard to imagine wandering around looking for greens and fruits in this snowy weather. So I don’t. I’m relaxing with the knowledge that I have lots of fruits and veggies on the pantry shelves in the basement, a delicious reminder of the abundance of last summer and fall. There are still dried apples and apple sauce, dried apricots, canned apricots and apricot jam, dried plums, plum chutney and jam, and …well the same sorts of deliciousness with cherries, peaches, and pears. I love to gaze on three kinds of tomato sauce, quart jars filled with various colors of heirloom tomatoes, dilly beans and pickles.

Now is the time to use my dried ‘weeds’ and herbs to make oils and salves for healing. These little pots of green goodness are prized in my family for their amazing properties of healing chapped skin, rashes, rubs, minor burns, and scrapes. My Grandchildren ask for it when they have a “booboo”, and the youngest has to be watched like a hawk since she knows how to get the screw top off and uses it by the hand full in her hair! That’s how we found out it’s good for cradle cap, too. Best of all the ingredients are organic and/or wild crafted from plants that are also eaten, so if the little ones get it in their mouths, it won’t hurt them!

So, in part, that’s what an urban forager does during the Winter – other than wait for the first signs of Spring!

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