Herbs Feed

Learn the Skills to Inherit Property! The SKIP Kickstarter

Say you dream of a homestead of your own but have no idea how to go about getting one. You need land, but that's expensive; you need skills, but those are hard to come by. What if I told you there was a program designed to earn you both?

It's called SKIP, for Skills to Inherit Property. And there's a Kickstarter going on right now for the SKIP bible - a book pulling all the SKIP lessons into one volume.

Here's creator Paul Wheaton to explain the idea behind the SKIP program and book:

Millions of people are blocked from homesteading because of the sheer expense of getting started.  And millions of elderly people are frustrated that they cannot find somebody worthy to pass their homestead to.  Every year hundreds of thousands of homesteads are abandoned - with the government taking possession about half the time.

Other homestead owners are looking for land managers or caretakers.  Or some sort of collaboration.  But their efforts have led to horrific results from dishonest or even criminal people - so their homesteads are, effectively abandoned.

People with homesteads are seeking people with REAL experience and skill.

People seeking homesteading opportunities want to build REAL experience and skill.

This book is an attempt to bridge these two communities.  People seeking homesteading opportunities are provided a way to accomplish hundreds of things and document them for free.  Eventually, they will be able to peruse hundreds of homestead opportunities.   And people with homesteads will be able to peruse hundreds of homesteaders that have proven their worth.

Active homesteaders use SKIP to build their skills for their own benefit.  The verification of their skills lends weight to their words on our forums.  Some people already have land and use SKIP to build their skills for caring for their land.

One thing we can tell you is that we've personally benefitted from our involvement in the permaculture community responsible for this Kickstarter, Permies.com, our weekly go-to for support of our gardening and permaculture projects. Whether it's helpful hints for going sugar-free in our baking, a possible remedy for galls, or a fantastic discussion on honeybees vs. native bees, Permies is the one online community we can count on.

Here's a handy link to the Kickstarter, where you can learn more!

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3 Great Gifts for Gardeners from Small, Indie Shops

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By Lisa Brunette

Springtime is a great point in the year to remember the gardener in your life - yes, even if the only gardener in your life is you! As the soil warms up enough for seeds, and bare bark begins to leaf out, we gardeners get ridiculously busy and might not have time for self care as we're busting sod and ripping open seed packets. Even if there's no gift-excuse day coming up, like a birthday or anniversary, a sweet little basket of gardening gifts is just the thing.

With that in mind, I've put together a trio of my favorite things - gardening items I've personally, thoroughly tested and love. I recommend these without reservation, and in fact all the below links are both 1) stuff I am currently using, or exactly like it and 2) items available right now in Etsy shops. I'm including affiliate links, by the way, so if you do purchase them using the links, Cat in the Flock might earn a commission, at no extra cost to you. So you can support this blog, show small, indie shops some love, and get a great garden gift, too!

Gift Idea No. 1: Name That Plant

Copper Label
As a way to train myself to learn them, I like to write the Latin names for native plants in permanent marker on these elegant copper labels.

Last week, I gave a tour of our garden to a local journalist interviewing me about the Shutterbee project, and it was really handy to have so many of our plants labeled for quick reference. I use these copper labels only to identify native perennials, which warrant the permanent treatment. They're real copper and weather well to a lovely patina as the seasons change.

You can order the same through the Etsy shop TheCelticFarm - they come in a pack of 30. Just remember to pick up a permanent marker somewhere, too.

Copperlabeletsy
Photo courtesy TheCelticFarm.

I don't bother to label annuals, as it's just not cost-effective since they're short-lived and change location each year with our rotation gardening. For those I find it's better to keep a planting chart (digital spreadsheet) and gardening diary (spiral where I paste seed packets with notes).

Gift Idea No. 2: Quick, to the Bat House!

Bat House
Our bat house.

It sucks (and I don't mean 'suck' as in vampire!) that bats got a bad rap just because of our overactive imaginations and superstitions. Bats are safe and worthy pollinators to encourage in your garden. Here's the official word from the Missouri Department of Conservation:

Bats are an important part of the natural world. Bats that feed on fruit are the primary means of seed dispersal for some species, and nectar-feeding bats are responsible for the pollination of many species of plants. In fact, more than 400 products used by humans come from bat-pollinated plants. These products include bananas, avocados, cashews, balsa wood and tequila.

Missouri bats help control nocturnal insects, some of which are agricultural pests or, in the case of mosquitoes, annoying to people. Many forms of cave life depend on the nutrients brought in by bats and contained in their guano.

In our yard, bats pollinate and eat our native passionflower vines. (We have two.) One of my favorite things to do at dusk in summer is to sit in the garden and watch as the bats come out, flittering overhead.

You can get your own bat house from JoesWoodWorksITC - this one is made out of cedar and features a double chamber.

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Image courtesy JoesWoodWorksITC.

Once you get the bat house home, here are some handy tips for how to hang it properly.

Gift Idea No. 3: Face Plant!

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You might remember our face plant pot from "After a Lifetime of Frequent Moves, The Importance of Staying Put." Besides the awesome visual pun in 'face plant,' these just look really cool because whatever you plant in the pot becomes the hair atop the face. Think ChiaPet, only a lot less kitschy.

Unfortunately, mine was a recent casualty when I accidentally kicked it while trying to perform what my physical therapist calls "that kicky thing you do with your leg." Yeah, it's something I do to manually adjust my right hip (scoliosis issues). Too bad the plant pot bit it in the process.

Luckily, Etsy has a few replacement options, most notably these rather more whimsical versions from vintagebohemianstyle.

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Image courtesy vintagebohemianstyle.

You can find more recommendations on my Etsy 'favorites' page, most notably some wonderful wearable wool in the form of a 'coatigan' and some merino wool long underwear. I like to buy a lot of things out of season when it's cheaper, and wool's a good one for that tactic. 

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Meet Chaco, the 'Indoor Only' Suburban Farm Cat

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By Lisa Brunette

I've had the privilege of sharing my home with a total of four dogs and four cats over the course of my life (though only as many as 3 pets at one time, and those were all cats). Of the lot, Chaco is definitely the most entertaining. As the lot includes a poodle who had the odd habit of 'hanging' his turds on plants instead of depositing them on the ground like a normal pet, that's saying a lot.

Chaco's a special breed called a Devon rex, and they're famously described as "monkeys in cat suits." The breed has an above-average climbing drive. This is evidenced in Chaco's need to get to the highest point in any room, consequences be damned. His only health issue is a torn ACL. The vet said we should probably scale back on his Olympic skiing events.

Chaco_Tree

A cat like this deserves to be spoiled a bit, with faux 'trees' he can climb on, of course. As he had the crazy luck to get adopted by a couple of middle-aged empty nesters, it probably won't surprise you to learn that he eats an only-raw food diet, has a an arsenal of colorful cat toys, and sleeps the day away on a heating pad.

Don't judge us too harshly on that last one, though - his breed lacks a guard coat, so he's covered only in short little corkscrew curls of fine down. He gets mighty cold, easily. It's my duty several times a winter's day to rub his ears between my thumbs and fingers to warm them. He also likes to set his cold toe beans on my neck till they toast up again. He's happiest when he's tucked inside our clothing with us.

Chaco_Vest

The short, curly hair is one of his attributes, though: He's as close to hypoallergenic as you can get in a cat. Which makes him the only cat that doesn't trigger an endless slew of mast cell reactions in me. I'm greatly thankful for this, especially because he's the most affectionate, cuddliest cat I've ever met. 

If you come over to our house, you're likely to get a 'kiss' from Chaco, as his breeder taught him to stick his face right up into yours for a smooch, and we haven't been able to break him of the habit. (Not that we've tried that hard.) He sleeps with us, of course; and he really likes the cleft of my neck between head and shoulder. If that's not available, he plops right down on my head. On more than one occasion I've felt something wet... trickling down my chin... yep. Cat drool.

Chaco_Paw

When we first got Chaco, I hadn't yet figured out what was causing my health problems, and we tried to keep him out of the bedroom in an attempt to ensure a symptom-free night's rest, just in case I did react to him. But when I was staying in an Airbnb during our lengthy wait to move into our current home, Chaco was able to push the double doors open to my bedroom, and there was no keeping him out. He took to it as if to say, There. As it should be.

Speaking of pushing open doors, he can pull them open as well. This is of course not a great trait to have in a cat, especially if you don't want your trash all over the kitchen. 

With his big eyes and ears, he has a bit of an alien look that I find simultaneously adorable and comical. He's especially goofy during play, and one of these days I promise I'll capture on camera one of his totally wacked-out 'gonna git you' poses. For now, though, you can admire him in this hat.

CatintheHat

He's indoor-only because the Devon rex breed is a miniature one, putting him at about a half or even one-third the size of a regular household domestic cat. As much as he likes to think so as he gazes out at the squirrels and rabbits and birds just beyond the window, he wouldn't be able to tough it out there on his own for very long. I mean, besides that torn ACL, he's just a lovable goof with delusions of predatory glory. He wouldn't be good for the birds anyway; a surprisingly sad number of them succumb to house cats as it is, so we don't want Chaco contributing to the problem.

Until we can erect a 'catio,' or somesuch, Chaco must enjoy the outdoors from the safety of his home. Yeah, you should hear him bemoaning the injustice of the situation if we're outside and the windows are open.

Chaco_Window

For such a small guy, he can really strike a commanding presence. Sometimes, when running the day job business plus this blog feels like a lot, I can just pretend that Chaco's the boss. 

Chaco_Boss

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He can often make it hard to work anyway. This is a pretty common thing I've seen in other cats, the drive to distract you while you're working on something important at the computer, but Chaco's definitely the hammiest. It's like he knows exactly how to get me to laugh.

Chaco_ScreenPeek

When we adopted Chaco in 2016, it was with the express purpose of giving my stepson, Zander, the experience of living with a pet, something that was new to him. I totally believed Chaco was for Zander. But then Zander went off to college, and Anthony and I realized Chaco filled a huge empty nest for us.

There was never any question when we made the decision to move to Missouri from Washington state that Chaco would be included in that plan, even though it meant moving him via air flight... and it also meant towing my cat and all his supplies with me through a string of Airbnbs while Anthony readied our house to sell.

Chaco_StLouis

But having Chaco with us was more than worth all that. I hope this doesn't offend you, but I've often preferred the company of my pets to people, and Chaco is no exception. He's very much a part of the fabric of our lives here at the 'farmhouse,' even if he does make it impossible to start seeds indoors (he digs them up) or dry herbs on screens (he treats this as his personal resting spot). 

Chaco_Herbs

He participates in our backyard foraging by munching on the yummy wild garlic we bring inside.

Chaco_Greens

He even watches TV with us in the evenings, though he reacts a bit differently to some of the documentaries than we do.

Chaco_Bird

We're sure he thinks of us as lumbering, somewhat awkward colony mates, whose strange insistence on sleeping at night and remaining active all day must be tolerated. We try to give him the best life we can, because he puts a smile on our faces every day, giving us that warm, cuddly, interspecies connection.

We all agree that some days, the exact right thing to do is curl up in a blanket and let everything else go.

Chaco_Blanket

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Crockpot Congee: A Quick, Easy, and Healthy Rice Dish

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By Lisa Brunette

When I showed you how to cook a perfect pot of stovetop rice every time, I mentioned that next up I'd demonstrate a quick-and-easy recipe for a crockpot rice dish. That dish is the Asian rice porridge known as congee. Never heard of it? Well, neither had I until a friend spirited me away to a delightful, unexpected place in Seattle's International District called the Purple Dot Cafe, where I had my very first bowl of this heavenly porridge.

Congee's secret is a relatively low ratio of rice to water - and a slow cooking time. For this dish, I used 1 cup of rice to 10 cups of water instead of the usual 1:1.75. If that sounds like it might produce a bland-tasting ricey soup, never fear. Congee's packed full of ginger, garlic, and onion, making it just the thing to eat in the fall, when your body's readying for the winter season. In fact, the recipe I'm using below is adapted from Thompson Acupuncture's Ancient Roots Nutrition video series. Lindsey Thompson, as a previous guest here at Cat in the Flock, suggests congee as one of three recipes in her segment on the fall season in Chinese medicine. It's my favorite of all the recipes in the series.

But I'm breaking out of the fall mold here with a late-winter congee, and that's okay. The copious amounts of ginger in the porridge is a great spice for the transition season here between winter and spring. I had a whole head of cabbage I wanted to use - this porridge is full of it - and cooking rice by crockpot method is also part of my quest for a permaculture badge in food preparation and preservation. Not to mention, I was hankering for a bit of congee, and since I'm a few thousand miles away from the Purple Dot, that means I have to make it myself!

All right, on to the porridge.

Ingredients: 

  • Half a head of cabbage (or more if you desire)
  • A half or whole white onion
  • Fresh ginger root
  • Anywhere from 3-8 cloves of garlic, to your preference
  • Soy sauce, tamari, or coconut sauce
  • 1 cup of rice to 10 cups of water
  • Salt (optional)

1. First, dice at least half a head of cabbage and one onion. For this batch, I used a whole head of cabbage because I wanted to, but you use what you want. As Lindsey says, "Congee is really forgiving," so don't sweat the exact amounts. You can dice them small if you prefer, but I like my vegetables chunky. Place these in the crockpot.

Congee1

2. Next, grate a good amount of ginger into the crockpot. I used a whole, small-sized root. Depending on your love of ginger, you can use less - or more. Note I used a Microplaner to grate the ginger - I have to credit Lindsey for this tool as well, as I first heard about them from watching her video series. They come in multiple grate sizes meant for everything from nutmeg to cheese and are really handy to have in the kitchen.

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3. You can add in garlic, too, and the same rule applies - as much or as little as you wish. We like garlic, and I tolerate it much better when it's slow-cooked like this, so we went for a lot. Pro tip! Garlic cloves are way easier to peel if you pour boiling water over them first. I just found out about this from the first episode of the Netflix show Nadiya's Time to Eat (love her!). I was skeptical because every 'easy tip for peeling garlic' I've tried hasn't really worked that well, but this one actually does! 

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Now for the garlic, I just use the traditional garlic crusher. I've had my OXO for going on seven years, and it works great. For me the Microplaner isn't as useful because cloves are too small to grip without the risk of grating your finger.

Congee5

4. Now for the rice. Like I said above, the ratio is 1 cup of rice to 10 cups of water. I used white basmati rice this time, but you can use any white rice. I'm not sure about brown, though; I think its "chewiness" might not work for congee. But feel free to experiment!

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Lindsey's original recipe called for 10 cups of water. But it also contained fewer veggies, and since I went for the whole head of cabbage plus dialed up on the garlic and ginger, I added a couple of extra cups of water to compensate, for a total of 12. Remember, congee is forgiving! I've made crockpot congee numerous times, and it's always turned out tasty and satisfying.

Congee8

5. The last step is to season it with a bit of tamari or soy sauce, according to Lindsey, or with coconut sauce if you're me. Soy and tamari are both high-histamine products, which triggers a mast cell reaction for me. Yeah, it bites because I love the taste of soy (and tamari even better). I struggled with this through 13 years of vegetarianism and beyond, though, and it's just better for me to say no. The coconut sauce is sweeter, so I add a bit of salt to bring it over to the umami side of the palate. Then you can start the crockpot, cooking it for 6-8 hours on low. Lindsey recommends eight, but I've had success at just six. Still, it's good to know you can set this all up in the morning, work an 8-hour day, and come home to congee. It fills the house with the exhilarating aroma of garlic and ginger.

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And it tastes great. Though it's low in protein, you can drop an egg on it or eat it alongside a grass-fed beef patty, as we often do, to round out the meal. You could even top it with crumbled bacon, ham, seeds, nuts, or cheese, though I'd hate to subtract from the clarifying quality of the meal by adding a dairy product, especially if you're trying to bust a cold. 

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So there you have it: crockpot congee! But if you're ever in Seattle, I recommend heading to the Purple Dot to get your congee fix. You'll be glad you did.

(Note: We'll always tell you if we're getting a commission or anything else in exchange for mentioning or linking to the products, services, or establishments here on Cat in the Flock, but none of that's happening in this post.)

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Why You Need All of Tammi Hartung's Books

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My own collection of Tammi Hartung books.

By Lisa Brunette

I've been fangirling author Tammi Hartung for some time now. I think you should share in the love, so we're running this giveaway, which I'll get to in a moment. I picked up a copy of her 2014 book The Wildlife-Friendly Vegetable Gardener: How to Grow Food in Harmony with Nature a couple of years ago at my neighborhood used book store, and I was immediately hooked. When I found out she'd also written on growing healing herbs and how to make use of native plants, my soul-sister crush was cemented.

Here's a list of just a few of the many things Hartung has taught me:

  • That plants signal their use somewhat metaphorically, through color, shape, and way of being in the world. This is called the "doctrine of signatures." A good example is the heart-hued, heart-shaped rose petal offering healing powers for the heart muscle.
  • Your quest for food plants does not have to be in conflict with your desire to help support wildlife. In fact, the two can coexist in a mutually supportive way.
  • It's surprisingly easy to grow, harvest, and make use of your own healing herbs as teas, tinctures, food medicine, syrups, poultices, balms, the list goes on.

An ethnobotanical herbalist and organic farmer, Hartung champions an approach to gardening that is gentle on the earth and its creatures. Her books are enormously helpful if you've wanted to garden but felt turned off by guides that call for fertilizer and pesticide use, or simply zap the fun and natural-world connection out of the endeavor. 

Now for a rundown of all four books, in order of publication date. I highly recommend every one. You can try scouring used book store shelves for them, but I've also provided handy links to the Amazon pages for each. We don't receive anything in return for including these links.

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Growing 101 Herbs That Heal: Gardening Techniques, Recipes, and Remedies - Storey Press - North Adams, MA - 2000

Publisher's Description: What better way to take your medicine than straight from the garden? From St. John's wort to fennel, chicory to skullcap, herbalist and gardener Tammi Hartung introduces you to the special cultivating and care techniques required to grow 101 versatile and useful herbs.

How I've used this book: As a reference guide for the historical medicinal use of 101 herbs and for how-to's on handcrafting herbal teas, tinctures, and other products. It's illustrated and full-color, which helps you picture unfamiliar techniques and makes it an attractive reference.

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Homegrown Herbs: A Complete Guide to Growing, Using, and Enjoying More Than 100 Herbs - Storey Press - North Adams, MA - 2011

Publisher's Description: Infuse your yard with the flavor, fragrance, beauty, and healing power of organic herbs. Whether you want to work herbs into existing flower or food gardens, grow them in containers, or plant a dedicated herb garden, Homegrown Herbs is your in-depth guide to everything you need to know about planting, caring for, harvesting, drying, and using more than 100 herbs.

How I've used this book: Same as the above, as I believe this is an updated version of the original. But they're definitely both worth owning. This one includes some helpful tips on harvesting and drying flowers and herbs, a list of edible flowers, a good assortment of food medicine recipes, and other additions.

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The Wildlife-Friendly Vegetable Gardener: How to Grow Food in Harmony with Nature - Storey Press - North Adams, MA - 2014

Publisher's Description: Make beneficial wildlife part of your food-garden ecosystem: they'll pollinate your plants, feed on pests, and leave behind manure to nourish your soil. Tammi Hartung has spent years observing natural rhythms and animal habits in her garden, a peaceful place where perennials attract pollinators, ponds house slug-eating bullfrogs, mulch protects predator insects in the soil, mint gently deters unwanted mice, and hedgerows shelter and feed many kinds of wildlife. Her successful methods are a positive step toward a healthier garden.

How I've used this book: This book has formed the basis for my wildlife-friendly garden design at Dragon Flower Farm. It's why we have a brush pile supporting families of rabbits and other critters, a rock garden for snakes and reptiles, and a host of other features that encourage everything from opossums to monarchs to visit our garden.

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Cattail Moonshine & Milkweed Medicine: The Curious Stories of 43 Amazing North American Native Plants - Storey Press - North Adams, MA - 2017

Publisher's Description: The plants in your backyard have amazing stories to tell and fascinating uses you've never known about. For millennia, we humans have relied on these plants to nourish, shelter, heal, and clothe us. Through captivating tales and images that illuminate our lost wisdom, Tammi Hartung reveals the untold histories of 43 native North American plants and celebrates their modern versatility.

How I've used this book: The prettiest of Hartung's works, the hardcover is a pleasure to leaf through for the luscious imagery, entertaining fun facts, and short tips on native plants we might actually take for granted. It's a bit of a fascinating history lesson, too, as told through flora.

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Tammi Hartung.

Just as I finished this last book in Hartung's oeuvre, I lamented she had no more, but then I discovered her blog, which is an extension of her work as co-owner of Desert Canyon Farm. As mentioned in her Amazon author bio: 

She and her husband, Chris, own Desert Canyon Farm, a certified organic farm since 1996 in southern Colorado, where they grow more than 1800 varieties of plants. They grow all types of herbs, heritage and heirloom food plants, native and wildlife habitat plants, edible flowers and more. In their flower seed production field, they grow over 60 varieties of perennials for a German seed company called Jelitto Perennial Seed Co., so seeds from Tammi's farm end up being grown by gardeners and growers all over the world!

Through the blog newsletter, I enjoy hearing about Desert Canyon's work across all four seasons, as well as getting to know Tammi and Chris, not to mention dog Shrek. Tammi's blog posts offer a glimpse behind-the-scenes for both the farm and her latest author project, a children's plant book. As an avid hiker myself, I also like the photos and accounts of their hikes through southern Colorado terrain, which is much more arid than my environment here in Missouri. Side note: Tammi is a friendly, responsive writer, too; I reached out to her to find out if I could buy her books directly through her instead of Amazon (the answer is no, as she directed me back to the 'zon), and we had a really nice exchange. She's also graciously provided signed copies of her wildlife gardening book, which brings me to the giveaway details...

And Now for That Chance to Win a Free Paperback

We're giving away two paperback copies of Hartung's third book, The Wildlife-Friendly Vegetable Gardener: How to Grow Food in Harmony with Nature, signed by the author. All you have to do if you're new to Cat in the Flock is sign up for our email newsletter. If you're already a subscriber, all you have to do is get one friend to subscribe to our newsletter, and both you and your friend will be entered into a drawing. The bulleted how-to:

  1. If you haven't already, sign up for our email newsletter. That's all you have to do! New signups from today's date onward are automatically eligible for the drawing.
  2. If you're already signed up, forward our newsletter, share a link to our blog, or somehow else get one of your friends excited about Cat in the Flock enough to sign up for our email newsletter.
  3. If you're getting a friend to sign up, mail us at this handy link to let us know you succeeded, and include your friend's email address used in the signup so we know to credit you and your friend!
  4. That's it! We'll reach out if you've won. For friends-telling-friends about Cat in the Flock, if one of your names is selected, you both get a copy of the book.
  5. The deadline to enter is Valentine's Day, Feb. 14.

Good luck on the drawing, and in the meantime, I hope you check out Tammi's books and get as much out of them as I have. 

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