Tragedy brings out the best in us: TSU Biweekly Question


Stories of earth’s collapse surround us. Hollywood increasingly brings apocalyptic visions to life and we see wastelands with turf wars waged as resource scarcity takes center stage. We often wonder, what would happen if an “end of times” narrative played out? In each generation the mythos continues that the ever-looming threat of apocalypse may happen in this lifetime or the next. It is a part of our collective consciousness and we wonder if people in cities would turn to rampant pillaging, the darkest parts of humanity rising to the surface in a free for all scavenging.

image source

Yet actual experiences of communities under drastic threat reveal that a different characteristic emerges in real-life catastrophes.

This week, @tribesteemup asks us,

“If you could teach/show everyone in the world one thing, (something that has a huge impact on humanity) what would it be?”

Currently I am reading a book by George Marshall called Don’t Even Think about it: Why Our Brains Are Wired To Ignore Climate Change. In it, he digs into extensive research he has done in an attempt to unravel & speak to the reasons humans have trouble taking climate change seriously. It’s a very interesting book and I’m reading it to help myself understand the evolutionary & survivalist psychological underpinnings of why we as a species find this hard to face.

Interestingly enough, he finds that people who have experienced extraordinary events of climate change like hurricanes, droughts, severe flooding or wildfires are less likely to “believe” in climate change. Oftentimes, in the wake of such disasters climate change isn’t even mentioned as people sort through the wreckage. Speaking to the town that endured a ferocious wildfire (30 mph winds empowered a fire that burned 54 sq miles of forest, destroyed 1,600 houses, and could be seen from outer space) in the town of Bastrop, Texas in October 2011, he writes,

“What was curious, though, was that, when I visited Bastrop a year later not one person, in a string of formal interviews, could recall for me a single conversation in which they had discussed climate change as a potential cause of the drought or fire.”

The same thing also happened in the Oceanside town of Sea Bright, New Jersey after Hurricane Sandy (damaged 350,000 homes and waylaid the town). It turns out that people most affected by climate change events usually don’t have mental space to attribute it as such. Instead, they’re working on banding together as communities.

Marshall writes about those who endured the fires in Bastrop,

“Above all though, what they wanted to share with me was their pride in their community and their capacity to overcome challenges. They spoke of the many acts of kindness, altruism, and generosity from strangers.” The same happened in the town of Sea Bright,

“The strong sense of local pride I found in Bastrop and Sea Bright is entirely consistent with that found in other areas after disasters. Contrary to expectations, people rarely respond to natural disasters with panic, and there is often a marked fall in crime and other forms of antisocial behavior. People consistently tend to pull together, displaying unusual generosity and a sense of purpose.”

If I could teach the world one thing it would be this aptitude toward kindness.

I was very fortunate in that I grew up in a household full of kindness and experienced much kindness from community and strangers alike as I grew up. This has continued into my adulthood and I make it a part of my ripple to extend kindness into my circles.

image source

Others aren’t so fortunate and have either never experienced kindness or have had a bad experience which closes them off to the potential to receive anything but pain from the outside world. I know some of these people myself, always having a tale of woe to share about how they have been wronged.

It is encouraging and heartening to hear that the apocalyptic narrative of cars on fire and houses looted isn’t indeed what actually pans out in times of severe communal struggle. Perhaps in the larger cities this would be different, but I believe that one of the strongest ways we can influence humanity in an impactful way is to keep the flame of kindness alive. It isn’t partisan and reaches beyond our differences to find the spot of shared humanity. In times of struggle, these communities have found this spot and acted from it.

In the worst and best of times, it is what sustains us. It is a free action that also feeds the one who gives it. This is my hope and prayer for humanity. Let’s change the narrative and keep kindness alive.

In the end, only kindness matters.

Helping Pollinators While Beautifying Your Landscape


Of late when we hear anything about bees, it’s usually scary press. We hear that their colonies are collapsing and that they’re feeling pressure from pesticides, diseases, habitat destruction and insects that attack their hives. When we hear about ways our world is changing, it can seem insurmountable. It can be hard to listen to the bad news because it keeps coming and we may feel that we can’t do anything about these large-scale shifts. In spite this, believe we can help through some simple key actions.

Snowberry Clearwing on the Anise Hyssop

When it comes to bees, especially honeybees, our wellbeing depends on their survival and indeed the ecosystem services they provide for us, pollination being chief. We have a long-term relationship with bees as they provide much of the pollination needed to get our food turned from a flower into a fruit, for example.  In fact, a study done in California found that “native bee species pollinate between 35 and 39 percent of California’s crops and contribute at least $1 billion to its agricultural economy.” For economic reasons alone this is certainly an issue important to humans! Regardless, we wont survive very long in a world without pollinators.

Bumble bee on Coneflower

To help suggests:

  1. Grow a variety of pollinator-friendly flowers (I’ll list some awesome options below.)
  2. Protect and provide bee nest sites and caterpillar host plants.
  3. Avoid using pesticides, especially insecticides and
  4. Spread the word

Pesticides are one of the biggest threats facing bees (and insects) and they often live in the environment long after they’re sprayed, meaning that we aren’t even completely aware of the negative effects that continue to have ripples for years to come. In order to be an ally to our pollinators, stop using them! You can transition part of your yard to a pollinator habitat instead and you won’t have to worry about spraying.

Establishing a pollinator habitat

Studies have shown that wildflower or native plant “strips” planted at the edges of lawns or farm fields greatly benefit pollinators and they can increase pollination in nearby crops (a boon to farmers). This can be as easy as buying one or two plants a year at a native plant sale and putting them into your existing landscaping or you could dig up a portion of your yard and dedicate it to the pollinators. You’ll also find the added benefits of beauty and delight that come from watching bees and insects!

Butterfly enjoying Bee Balm

Some species that bees especially love that I love to witness around our homestead include:

Wild Oregano: aka Bee Balm, there are many native species of this plant and it also comes in a diverse array of bright flowers. It’s easy to grow and comes back year after year. The leaves and flowers are also a great medicinal tea.

Anise Hyssop: Neither a true anise or hyssop, this plant is a stunning plant in the garden that blooms nearly all season long. Out of all of the plants in my garden, this one had the most pollinators on it at all times. It is also easy to grow, comes back each year and produces a delicious medicinal tea from the leaves.

Purple Coneflower: another native that is very well known. Echinacea is a drought hardy, easy to grow (it spreads!) beautiful medicinal plant that is a boon to pollinators. Often I would spy bumble bees on our coneflower.

Butterfly eyeing me from the Echinacea

Mints: These are easy to grow useful plants that also spread (you can grow them in a pot by the house as well.) Pollinators love the mints and, again, they produce a wonderful tea for humans (a theme!).

Clovers: This is as easy as taking a trip to the local feedstore. We get bulk clover seeds and sow them all over the homestead. They not only provide a living mulch and attractive nitrogen-fixing groundcover, but bees, butterflies, beetles & flies love them. They’ll come back year after year and you can even substitute some of the grass in your yard with them. Their dried flowers provide a healthy nourishing tea.

An assortment of mints taken from around the homestead. Great for pollinators and tea.

These are some of our favorite and easiest to grow suggestions for starting off your pollinator habitat. To find out more, you can google “Beneficial Pollinator Plants” and find more suggestions! While beautifying your space, you’re also helping our bees and other winged ones! A win-win!


Living in Connection with Death


CDo I live a healthy life to avoid or postpone death?

Death is perhaps the harshest of inevitabilities we face on this Earth, one that we have little control over. We are incarnated in fleshy body suits with a given set of genetic coding. Born into a family (which “some” may say we choose) within a complex set of circumstances (the same “some” may say it’s due to past karma) that we must navigate.

I don’t see death as an end of life or as an opposing force to life, rather I see it as a unique (and maybe definitive) part of life. The interwoven nature of life and death could forever be pondered but never be fully understood…

Death is like gravity, thirst or  hunger; we all feel it eventually.

As a child death seemed like forever away, and now that I’m into my 30s, I’m seeing it more closely. It seems more real now, more visceral. The death of my Oma when I was 16 was the first close encounter with death I have been touched by it more and more each year.

Death isn’t in opposition to health

I see life as a gift, a rare opportunity to inhabit the Earthly sphere. We can respond to it in a myriad of ways. One major example is the style(s) of life we choose live out. No amount of “healthy lifestyle choices” can postpone death immediately, but I do believe they can improve the time between now and then. Even the most ardent followers of ANY regime succumb to the worldly experience of death, *so why live a healthy life?*

I’ve been chewing on and digesting (pun intended) the idea of health since some illuminating experiences when I was 18. It started with a radical departure from my comfort zone, was followed up by a potent dream that prompted a 8.5 year veganic experiment and has since morphed into an immersive permaculture lifestyle. Lately I’m more in touch with death than at any other time of my life and I feel all the more alive for it.

We were asked whether we live healthy live to avoid or postpone death. I see becoming more intimate and comfortable with death is one way I live a healthier life. Since committing 100% of myself to an Earth based lifestyle, I have become much closer to death in some ways. By that I mean it has touched my life more deeply and frequently.

We lost a dog last year. I killed my first deer to fill our larders. I’ve killed thousand of tiny plants while weeding. I’ve been responsible for the death of billions of microorganisms by digging garden beds. I’ve shot numerous wild animals for food. I’ve salvaged road kill and butchered chickens. On a daily basis I am in control of choosing what lives and what dies in the gardens.  

Homesteading in the healthiest lifestyle for me, and it means I am constantly reminded of death.

For me a healthy lifestyle is one which I can honor life to the fullest and this means being connected to sourcing my base needs. Water from a well or roof catchment. Food from the garden, forest and steams. Electricity from the sun. Heat from our woodland. Meeting these needs requires an intimacy with life cycles as well as death. All life relies on death and sustaining ours means we are simply more closely linked to this web.

While I do immensely enjoy learning about forest gardening, nutrition, herbalism, natural building and other health related topics, I do so mostly for the joy of it. I’m not thinking about pushing death away so much as welcoming vibrant life force in. Although there are some elements of the sustainable lifestyle that could perhaps postpone or avoid the death of our species and so many others. We won’t go down that rabbit hole though.

I’m not only conscious of what goes into and onto my body because I have a later death date in mind. I do so because it feels good. I choose a healthy life because I can enjoy so much more of what life has in store if I’m healthy.  I live this way because something deep and profound stirs me to do so.

I want to live well in the present while caring for a future self.

I suppose there is an element of what we’re planting on the homestead that is about extending life. We have selected nutrient dense and antioxidant rich crops to grow that we hope to enjoy and share to a ripe old age. We all know berries rate high on the list of antioxidant foods, but that’s not the only reason we’re growing so many of them. They happen to be delightful to grow and eat. What we’re really after it living a healthy life to enjoy it as much as possible, and as a bonus are accessing some of the nutriceutical properties of many of the plants we tend.

I define a healthy lifestyle as one that balances the love of life with the fear of death

I’m talking about a healthy fear of death, not simply shying away from looking at it. The kind of fear where you can meet death and not close your eyes. Greet death instead of fleeing. The level of fear that commands respect. I’m not interested in overly risky behaviors, because they may result in death. The other side of it is inviting it in too soon. Somewhere between these two extremes I find my place.

I’m still figuring out so many of the details for how to live the healthiest and happiest life. I’ve spend a lot of time considering what are the “healthiest” options, but I know simple let my body guide me and give my mind a little rest. Much remains to be explored and hopefully I’ll have many more years to explore the nature of healthy lifestyles and continue to experiment.I was moved by this week’s @naturalmedicine question of the week.

This is my response. Check out the post below and scope some of the other insightful answers.

Artificial “Asimina-lation”: Pollinating the Paw Paw, N. America’s Largest Fruit


As the redbud blossoms fade and dogwood flowers makes their appearance, the mighty paw paw flowers waltz their way to center stage in the Ozark woodlands.

These luscious drooping maroon blossoms are sultry in their demeanor, but yet perhaps a little shy…

The paw paw has fast become a very dear tree to us, and we’re excited to get a little more intimate with some specimens this spring.

Immature Paw Paw Flower on the left, Mature on the right

Almost all fruit needs to pollinated to set fruit.

There are a few exceptions such as certain persimmons, which can set fruit parthenocarpically which results in seedless fruit. The same can be said about seedless watermelons. All other fruit require male and female sex organs to intermingle in order to produce fruit. While some trees are self-fertile (meaning one tree can pollinate itself), others require cross-pollination.

Generally fruits are either wind or insect pollinated.

The scope of fruit pollination is far beyond this article. Paw paws (Asimina triloba) are pollinated by insects and often need a little help with setting fruit. Being pollinated by flies and carrion beetles and having female organs that are receptive before the male organs shed pollen, proper pollination (and therefore fruit set) can be tricky.

Some old timers swear by hanging rotting meat to attract pollinators, but hand pollination seems like a more savory choice for most.

The paw paw flowers are known as perfect; meaning they contain both male and female reproductive parts.

The stigma (receptive female part) matures before the male anthers shed its pollen. Here lies the conundrum. To make things even more nuanced, the pollen must almost always (there are some exceptions) come from a different genetic source to ensure proper pollination. This is where is gets a bit frisky.

Today we are harvesting some paw paw pollen from the flowers of several different trees. Paw paws fruit best if cross-pollinated, that is by receiving pollen from another tree. It is recommended to plant at least 3 varieties for proper pollination, so we will be roaming the woods near us and collecting pollen in hopes of increasing fruit set on wild paw paws on our land. Our cultivated varieties have only 1 or two flowers so far.

Our goal is to transfer the male pollen to a clean and dry container and then transfer it to the female stigma. The pollen is ripe when the ball of anthers is brownish and sheds readily. The stigma is ready when the tips of the pistil are green, sticky and glossy. At this time the anthers ball is firm and light yellow to greenish in color.

Once we have collected enough pollen we will use a delicate brush and simply apply pollen to receptive stigmas.

This is a delicate task, but one that we feel is well worth the effort. For a tree that has few to no pests, does not require pruning in almost all cases and produces such a wonderful fruit, hand pollination seems a small price to pay.

Many of the larger scale growers, including the Kentucky State research facility report that pollination isn’t a problem.

Perhaps this is due to the large volume of flowers that creates a habitat for pollinators. The head of the KSU paw paw research team Sheri Crabtree, says that while hand pollination is the best option for optimum fruit set (as opposed to hanging rotting meat), she and her team say it isn’t needed in their paw paw test plots and orchards.

Playing sexy time with trees is fun, and hopefully will pay off in the form of scrumptious fruits in late summer. Artificial “asimina-lation” is a great way to connect with nature in a productive and intimate way.


Paw Paw Fruit Facts


Planting Trees as the Climate Changes: No Backyard Is Too Small


I’ve continued my research into the effects of climate change around the world. After avoiding it for many years – or just not focusing on or looking into the details – I’ve started to face it head on.

It feels like a brave thing to do. The next book I want to get at the library is about all of the reasons why humans avoid taking in information – or indeed doing anything about it – regarding climate change. There are a host of psychological response mechanisms, I’m sure, but I’ll let you know when I read it what I find informative. Currently I’m reading a book by Jeff Nesbit called This Is The Way The World Ends: How Droughts and Die-offs, Heat Waves and Hurricanes are Converging on America. I have to say, having all of this information in one place is shocking, but again I must look and so I am keeping my courage in the face of it all.

Our Red Gem Goumi plants are flowering this spring! A hardy perennial nitrogen fixing shrub with nutritionally rich berries.

One thing that is repeatedly coming to mind as I read about farmers facing drought and desertification all over the globe is how to make a resilient agricultural system. We all need to eat and it is my feeling that Food and Water, two of the human mainstays, will be the limiting factors as the effects of climate change increase around the world.

We’ve written extensively about perennial agriculture and our reasons for choosing this form of land cultivation. You can read some of our dense articles here.

Why We’ve Chosen Perennial Agriculture
A Case for Edible Landscaping with Perennial Plants | 3 Plant Profiles
The Gardens @mountainjewel | Permaculture Design Process
Grow Food Not Lawns: A Vision for Suburban America

In writing this article, I want to reiterate and restate a few of these ideas through an invigorated lens of heavy reading into current and possible effects of climate change.

Climate change in the Sahel

In the book mentioned above, one of the chapters focuses on the Sahel, the arid savanna that runs along the southern border of the Sahara Desert. It spans Senegal, Mauritania, Mali, Burkina Faso, Algeria, Niger, Nigeria, Chad, Sudan, South Sudan, Eritrea, Cameroon, Central African Republic, and Ethiopia and has acted as a buffer to the harsh realities of the desert. However, in recent years, farmers have found earlier springs, drought and extreme periods of rainfall leading to water scarcity and destructive weather events, negative effects of land overuse which is all denuding the land making it difficult to grow anything.

People are worried that the Sahara is encroaching upon the Sahel, but in reality it just appears that way. It is the Sahel that is turning desert-like. Leaders of the World Bank, the government of France and others met at the Paris Climate Accord in December 2015 and came upon a “solution” for this and that was to build a Great Green Wall. It was basically plan to plant millions of trees the first years to create a living wall of trees to stop the desertification. Sadly, though not surprisingly, over 3/4 of these trees died within the first two months. China also tried a similar thing and had the same results.

Fast forward to what actually is working in the region and we find an indigenous solution.

They have found that farmers were allowing tree seedlings that were growing naturally to grow up near their plants and that these farmers encouraged meager rain that fell to puddle near the trees by digging a hole near the base of the tree.

When viewed from the sky, these patches of farms look like swaths of green. What the large institutions and governments could not figure out from a “top down” solution, the farmers were already naturally doing. They’ve switched the Great Green Wall initiative to be this simple yet effective act of the indigenous farmers: allow the tree seedlings to grow, nurture them alongside your farm crops and build up the wall of green slowly and naturally. I know it wont happen this way, but I think all of the funding should go to these small farmers.

I think the world should pay direct attention to this reality in the Sahel right now. With rising air and ocean temperatures, melting Arctic ice, and climate change happening the world round, we are all going to be called upon to adapt in some way. As I study the climate changes, that is the thing that keeps coming to mind again and again.

Climate Change implies that adaptation is key.

The hitch is that though it is the nature of life on earth to adapt, can we do it quickly enough? For that is what we’re seeing – the earth has always been and always will be in a state of flux and all of the creatures here have survived through evolving, but at times and for certain species that can take generations. We may not have generations. For the worldwide coral reefs dying as a result of rising ocean surface water temps, they certainly cannot adapt that quickly. Neither can many of the ocean creatures faced with acidification of their waters.

It is our role now as humans to look forward and see what we need to put in place now to be as adaptable as possible. To me this looks like creating resilient food systems (and knowing where my water comes from and “catching” it on my landscape- but that’s another article entirely.)

Juneberry (Regent variety) in bloom this month

As far as food is concerned, anyone can see that a plant that has roots and comes again each season (a perennial) is more resilient than a seed sowed into the soil each season (an annual) subject to the whims of the current alchemy of sun, water, temps, etc. A perennial is hardy and has worked on growing its root system year after year. It seems intuitive to have as many of these around bearing food as possible in the event of a shaky and unpredictable climate.

The farmers in the Sahel are facing an emergency situation right now and it is said that desertication, the process of an ecosystem turning into a desert, is possible along the entire Midwest portion of the United States within the next 100 years.

Whether for my lifetime or generations to follow after me, I ask myself, What are the things I can set in motion now that may be beneficial in the event of increased drought, rising temperatures and longer summers?

Lambsquarter, a hardy nutritionally dense “weed” grows even in the heat of summer. A relative of quinoa, this plant feeds us when the rest of the salad greens balk at the heat.

My answer is to plant fruit & nut trees (as native and locally hardy as possible), grow perennial roots, find the species that are hardy as hell and that love to grow in the heat (like sweet potatoes, lambsquarter, purslane and others) and get these seed banks established in the soil on my land and start growing these crops now. In the event of desertification, perhaps all of our handiwork will not be able to survive as well, but a tree that is 10-20 years old will have a better chance than one we are planting during the crisis.

37.5 million out of 50 million trees died when planted in the 11 northern Nigeria states worst effected by desertification (pg 62 of This Is How The World Ends).  

Now is the time to start planting edible landscapes and resilient ecosystems.

Annual agriculture, and especially the warlike way it is done by big agribusiness, is not a sustainable or resilient model. While it may have more returns in the short turn, we’re shooting ourselves and future generations in the foot if we believe it will take care of us in the future. We need to start thinking about and acting upon the future. And in the event that much of this horror show that is climate change can somehow “be turned around”, that much the better for us as we’ll have mature edible landscapes to harvest from in abundance! Sounds like a great vision to me!

Just as the farmers of the Sahel couldn’t rely on the “powers that be” to make the change for them, we too must rely on indigenous and small and local solutions. The building of resilient ecosystems really is in our hands – no back yard is to small so get planting!!!!!!

Eating the Forest: An Intro to Mushroom Log Cultivation

A finished mushroom log complete with a hole filled with mushroom spawn & covered in a protective wax

This spring we’re back at mushroom cultivation. We took last year off but we simply had to plug more logs this year. For us the cultivation of edible and medicinal fungi represents one of the most viable and sustainable ventures on our homestead. By harvesting trees that do not present the healthiest of traits (crooked, weak or overcrowded) we are in fact favoring the overall succession of a resilient and balanced ecosystem. In doing so, we also get the chance to turn that biomass into feedstock for delicious mushrooms.

The mycoscape of any ecosystem is infinitely fascinating and diverse. There are many levels of intensity ranging from foraging wild fungi to cultivating in highly regulated environments. Log cultivation lies somewhere in the middle.

By harvesting dormant trees, we are ensuring maximum food availability for our preferred species of fungi, in this case nameko and shitake. When trees are actively growing much of the energy is allocated to growing leaves and fruit if applicable. Dormancy represents a time of rest and concentration of resources for the trees, which is a perfect time to extract dense stores of energy.

White Oak Logs for Shiitake

Preparing for winter means storing up the resources that were used for photosynthesis during the busy summer months.

Trees synthesize sugars from sunlight and water and store them in their cell. These carbohydrates are what we’re after as mushroom cultivators as we’re looking to turn them into mushrooms.  From the time of leaf drop (autumn) to bud break (spring) is an ideal time to harvest most species for log cultivation.

Fungi has a unique and amazing ability to digest difficult to process substances such as cellulose and lignans produced by trees. Using external sets of “teeth” to digest their food, mushroom exude enzymes and other compounds to break down complex carbohydrates in order to make them digestible. In the greater scope of things this has remarkable implications, enabling ecosystems to cycle nutrients efficiently. For us this means we can capitalize on this miracle and turn wood into highly nutritious fungi.

We are honored to steward 15 acres of woodland. Within this land, there are many crooked or densely spaced trees or ones that need to be thinned to open up areas for higher productivity. This year that means cutting abundant oaks in favor full sun exposure to our forest garden site. We have planted a diversity of food producing treea that yield best given full sun including apples, Asian pears, European peas, paw paws, chestnuts and many others. Bringing this area in production means taking out some of the wild species and creating the disturbance needed to aid in the succession of an edible forest garden. In doing so there is the added bonus of many trees that can be used for lumber, firewood or mushroom cultivation.

Tools of the trade.

Which logs suited to mushroom cultivation depends on the species and condition of wood and well as species of mushroom.

In general most cultivated mushrooms prefer deciduous trees (hardwoods). The most commonly log cultivated mushrooms are shitakes, but there exists a wide range of options depending of tree species available and climate. Even within shitakes there exists a wide-ranging diversity of strains. Some favor cooler conditions for fruiting while others prefer hotter. This year we have chosen a wide range fruiting shitake called Beltane as well as truing nameko mushrooms for the first time.

The basics of any log cultivation are the same: cut while dormant, allow a short rest period, inoculate, run and fruit. Sounds simple enough but there is a lot to consider.

Any trees that you may plan to inoculate should be healthy and disease free. Any compromise may lead to complications later on. We choose trees that don’t present ideal characteristics such as straight growth, symmetrical branching patterns and overall vigor. In doing se we are favoring a more resilient ecosystem by culling out undesirable traits. We don’t want to inoculate any diseased trees as the goal of mushroom cultivation is to select to colonizing organism, not compete with existing species.

Angle Grinder Drill bit makes the task of drilling uniform holes in the logs quick & enjoyable

Each species of mushrooms had its preferred food, but many are adaptable. Take for example the two species we are working with this year; shitakes tend to favor oaks, and nameko prefer cherry (but also will yield on mulberry and hackberry). Nothing is hard and fast, but years of human experimentation narrowed things down.  It’s best to properly identify and mark trees the season before (with the aid of leaf and possibly fruits) that may be ideal for harvesting for mushroom logs.

Mushroom logs for most applications should be easy to handle, yet large enough to maintain optimum moisture levels and present an appropriate ratio of heartwood to sapwood. This is commonly found in logs 30-40” in length and 4-8” in diameter. Anything larger and it’s simply too large and heavy to handle comfortably. I pushed the upper limits the first year we plugged logs and regret having to handle such large logs.

Once you’re selected the logs, it’s best to harvest them and plan for the logs to rest for 2-8 weeks (sources don’t seem to agree on exact timing). This allows any anti-fungal compounds present in the tree to dissipate before attempting to introduce a desired mushroom species. You can’t wait too long or other competing organism may gain a foothold.

The holes.

There are many ways to inoculate logs, but the most economical method is using sawdust spawn. This does require some specialized tools, but it by far the most efficient method for the small to large-scale cultivator.

Using an attachment for an angle grinder (battery power makes things easier), holes are drilled every 6” within the row and 2” between rows on the logs. These holes are then filled with sawdust spawn with a specialized tool designed and built for this purpose. Finally the spawn is sealed with wax to retain ideal moisture level and exclude competing organisms.

While drilling holes, start melting the cheese wax. We used a double boiler system.
This handy tool makes plugging the spawn easy. Here our friend Michelle fills the holes.

The logs are then set-aside in a shady location to allow for colonization (6-18 months depending of species). The key here is maintaining proper moisture and temperature.

Inoculating in spring assures that temperature will be above freezing and favor mycelia growth. There are many methods and techniques for achieving this and descriptions are beyond the scope of this article. Once colonized, the logs are moved into different location and/or configuration that favors fruiting.

Michelle & I plugging and waxing the holes.

Log cultivation does not require the sterilization of substrate as some other mushroom cultivation methods do, but does require using common sense and a basic understanding of the mushroom reproduction cycle. It is a lower tech method than many mushroom cultivation methods and suits our land and lifestyle well. It offers us a way to cultivate mushroom with relatively low input and investment.

When we are plugging logs, what we’re after is swift and effective colonization of logs with the desired species. We harvest the fungal food (trees) at an opportune time, introduce the desired species, provide ideal condition for mycelia reproduction and set in motion the conversion of wood into mushrooms.

All of the holes filled! The last step is the first picture of the article which includes waxing the holes to protect them from insects, birds and other organisms.

To keep things simple, what we’re after is harvesting healthy trees (but not high valuable timber such a saw or veneer logs) in an effort to improve the health of the forest and convert these thinning into nutritious, delicious and edible fungi. We’re allying with the natural and magnificent functions of mushrooms, and in doing so are converting wood into medicinal food.

Stinging Nettle Rhizomes For Sale on Homesteader’s Co-op


Spring is fully in swing at Mountain Jewel Homestead. It seems like everywhere we walk we spy plants returning from winter’s cold slumber. Dormancy is breaking and we’re delighted to see so many of our plant allies lush with green vibrant growth!

We have to laugh every year because Spring usually also entails a lot of, “Oh, I forgot I planted that there!” In Fall we are busy dividing and spreading roots like comfrey and nettle, sowing seeds and propagating plants. Spring is when we start to see the blossoming of our hard work!

This Spring, we’re delighted to offer Stinging Nettle Rhizomes to our community! We’ve had these nettles on our land for 3 years and initially received them from a dear friend and longtime organic and biodynamic grower.

She told us they are a noteworthy biodynamic variety from Europe. Nettles are quite popular there and a mainstay in biodynamic gardening. We not only use nettles to help build amazing compost & soil on our land, but they also taste great!

This morning (after being inspired by some recent marketing developments at Homesteader’s Co-op), Ini and I made the profile for our Stinging Nettle Rhizomes. You can check it out on the site and I’ll also share it here.

Seasonally available for a short time. Buy NOW!

Stinging Nettles – Urtica dioica

 This is an essential plant for any garden or homestead. An amazing dynamic accumulator
(of K, Ca, S, Cu, Fe and Na), nettles are a fantastic soil building plant. Often used in compost building and biodynamic preparations, this plant is a gardener’s best friend. Nettles produce abundant delicious mineral rich greens (both summer and fall for us) and make a splendid tea when dried. Seeds can be eaten and stalks can be used to make cordage or yarn.

Once established a nettle patch will yield for years and will continue to spread, so be mindful of where you plant it. Its stinging can help relieve inflammations and arthritis.

What you can expect:

A small bundle of nettle rhizomes packed in mulch. Once you receive your package, it should
be planted or up potted immediately. Due to the nature of this plant, we will only be shipping it out for a short period of time in April. Place your order now. 

Nettle will thrive in rich soil, but will tolerate a wide range of soil types.

As it says in the description, we’ll only be offering these for a short Spring window so if you’re interested, get some now! This is definitely a plant to have for its many uses and absolute holistic nutritional offerings! This is a plant I can’t imagine our homestead without.

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Wild Boars, Butteflies, & Seasonal Indicators


I read today that,

“Schoolkids in Marudi could recall that their uncles would hunt boar after the appearance of a particular butterfly, but they could not recall which butterfly it was or when it appeared.”

Such disconnected earth – human relations are par for the course in our modern age, but we want to change that and we know we aren’t alone in this bid for more intimate earth connection.

Just as cutleaf toothwort, spring beauty and spicebush are showing their flowers after the dormancy of winter, nettle is popping its head up and morel season will come on in a few weeks. Daffodils are sending up their lovely yellow flowers while toads and frogs lay and fertilize their eggs in waters everywhere.

(Cutleaf Toothwort: image source)

Spring is in the air and it is a nuanced thing.

We have learned this within our fourth year, imagine the informative wealth of millenniums wherein a specific mushroom shows its head or a particular beloved plant appears related to this or they event.

I’ve seen a few Zebra Swallowtails out lately which feed on Paw Paws, for example. These are the things we must keep alive, resurrect if they are dead and remember if they are lost.

(Zebra Swallowtail: image source)

We love in increasingly disenchanted times as species diversity and ecosystem devastation happens at an unparalleled rate- it is, sadly, par for the course for our generation.

As the author mentioned above says,

“‘Nostalgia’ is the word we use to describe the bittersweet evocation of precious feelings that lie just beyond reach in the past. Often the emotion arises during rites of passage or out of the intricate matrix of personal history, memory and place, but what word or phrase adequately describes the feelings evoked by repeatedly observing the disappearance of an entire landscape, a people, a language, a way of life? It is akin to forever showing up for the last scenes of a tragedy in which one can glimpse, but never fully experience, the past glory of the protagonist.”

From The Ragged Edge of the World by Eugene Linden

As a human who has grown up with this existential threat over my head my entire life, I am not willing to see the degradation of our earth reach its peak climax. Though consumption and capitalism may try to overwhelm the earth in their crazy infectious nature on human behavior, I wager that earth connection is more a intimately satisfying and sustainable option in the long run.

I vote for knowing our seasonal identifiers’ name, species and interconnections for a better way forward.

Mustard Oil Bomb for the Sore Lactating Boob


It’s common knowledge that cabbage will help relieve breast pain in swollen, clogged and lactating breasts. Mastitis is a painful condition that plagues many moms, my sister being one of them. In order to help her, I’ve started researching What exactly is going on when a cabbage leaf helps relieve swelling in a painful breast.

In this article, I’m going to walk you through the very interesting scientific findings that relate not just to women’s boobs, but inflammation of other types. This also relates to your taste buds and insects.

An article released by the BBC in their Science Focus magazine set me hot on the trail.

Furthermore, a recent study at a Cairo maternity hospital suggests that cold leaves reduce the engorgement that can lead to mastitis. Most advocates agree that the leaves need to be chilled, and some recommend cooking them first to release chemicals from the cells.

So how do the leaves work? The cold helps, especially when alternated with a warm compress. But the key may lie in the fact that cabbages contain glucosinolates. Enzyme action converts these to pungent isothiocyanates, collectively referred to as mustard oil. And mustard oil has long been used as a home remedy for swelling.

Do cabbage leaves cure mastitis?


Cabbage (as well as many other cruciferous vegetables) contain phytochemicals which “are chemical compounds produced by plants, generally to help them thrive or thwart competitors, predators, or pathogens.” [1] They can be used as poisons or medicine.

The two most common phytochemicals in cabbage include sulforaphane and other glucosinolates, which have been proven to have beneficial effects regarding carcinogenesis, and cardiovascular and neurological diseases. [2]

Yet this doesn’t explain the title “Mustard oil bomb”. The inflammatory action occurs when the cabbage leaf is masticated, torn or otherwise crushed, and an enzymatic conversion takes place turning the Glucosinolates into Isothiocyanates.

Chemical structure of some Glucosinolates and their Isothiocyanates Derivatives


Because of the enzyme Myrosinase, Glucosinolates turn into Isothiocyanates in a bomb like cacophony! In 1980 Philippe Matile discovered this and called it the “Mustard Oil Bomb” “because it like a real bomb is waiting to detonate upon disturbance of the plant tissue.” [3]

This happens when an insect chews it (this plant defense accounts for the reaction to begin with), when a human grinds it with a mortar and pestle (accounting for some of the delicious mustard flavors), and when humans chew it bringing the zing of watercress and other pungent & noteworthy flavors out in cauliflower, turnip, radish, horseradish, and wasabi.

Your taste buds can thank the damaged plant tissue for their titilation!

Mustard Oil Bomb

The benefits of this enzymic reaction in the cruciferous vegetables is a subject of much study. You can read a detailed account of the actions of Isothiocyanates here. The authors of a recent study titled, Daily Consumption of Well-Cooked Broccoli May Affect Glucosinolate Metabolites and Inflammatory Biomarkers, confirm some of the benefits of isothiocyanates in saying,

Consumption of Brassica vegetables is inversely associated with incidence of several cancers, including cancer of the lung, stomach, liver, colon, rectum, breast, endometrium, and ovaries. Brassica vegetables are a good source of many nutrients, but the unique characteristic of Brassicas (Broccoli in particular) is their rich content of glucosinolates. Glucosinolates are sulfur-containing compounds that are converted to isothiocyanates (ITC) by an enzyme in the plant called myrosinase, which is released when the vesicles containing myrosinase are ruptured by chewing or cutting. The isothiocyanates are considered to be the active agent for cancer prevention. 


It is now widely recognized that these mechanisms are multiple and include at least the following: alterations of carcinogen metabolism due to changes in the activities of drug-metabolizing enzymes; induction of cell cycle arrest and apoptosis; inhibition of angiogenesis and metastasis; changes in histone acetylation status; and antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and immunomodulatory activities.

Glucosinolates and isothiocyanates in health and disease

If that is not enough reason to eat your Cruciferous family veggies, I don’t know what is! These things pack a major punch.

Isothiocyanates & Inflammation

Yet, for our purposes with inflamed breast tissue or clogged milk ducts due to mastitis, let’s hone in on inflammation & isothiocyanates.

One study, testing the isothiocyanates in Moringa leaves found that,

Both of the isothiocyanates described above significantly decreased gene expression and production of inflammatory markers in RAW macrophages

Stable, water extractable isothiocyanates from Moringa oleifera leaves attenuate inflammation in vitro

Now this is cool as well because they found that the isothiocyanates were stable for 30 days in a water solution.

Stable, water extractable isothiocyanates from Moringa oleifera leaves attenuate inflammation in vitro

This is exciting because, theoretically, macerated cabbage leaf in water may also be stable at 37 °C and a breastfeeding mom could blend some up and leave it in the fridge for an easy breast-relief.

Mastistis is a painful condition that some breastfeeding women go through. A long held tradition is to use cabbage leaves on the breast to relieve inflammation. This has been proven to be effective in a recent study, THE EFFECTIVENESS OF CABBAGE LEAF APPLICATION (TREATMENT) ON PAIN AND HARDNESS IN BREAST ENGORGEMENT AND ITS EFFECT ON THE DURATION OF BREASTFEEDING. This study found that not only was pain reduced, but so was hardness of the breast.

Finding the scientific roots of the efficacy of cabbage is very interesting and can lead to the creation of useful products for breastfeeding moms (like this creme) or at least some peace of mind when they are placing sheaves of cabbage on their breasts. It is still up for debate whether a slightly cooked cabbage (thus sparking more of the enzymic reaction) or cold cabbage, but I suppose in breaking the cabbage up and fitting in on the breast, plenty of crunching happens leading to the enzymic reaction.

Rest assured curious moms, this tradition also finds confirmation in science and the same “Mustard oil bomb” which sparks our tastebuds and deters pests in the garden! In this case, it is medicine and not poison.

Plants for Finding Lost Things: Salvia divinorum


For this fortnight’s Natural Medicine Challenge on the Steem blockchain we are asked to write about Valerian, Salvia divinorum or Thyme. I love each of these plants so it’s hard to pick just one to write about, but I have an untold story concerning one of them.


@Riverflows planted the seed with her own post Diviner’s Sage Musing: Salvia Divinorum, Poetry and Bird Tongues – Plus, The Importance of Reverence for Plant Medicines & The Poison Path. Her post is excellent and includes many paragraphs from my own Salvia “mentor” Dale Pendell- go give it a read!

Dale Pendell is the human tongue for so many plants that humans have had complex relations with. As a researcher/scientist/poet, he has a unique perspective. @Riverflows did a great job weaving with his words and you can read his whole Salvia Chapter from his book Pharmako/poeia here. I have probably read it hundreds of times for I traveled with Salvia for about a year in my 20s and his book was a resource to me.

First things first, through writing this I’m not suggesting, condoning or encouraging the use of Salvia divinorum. It is illegal in most states of the US due to an outbreak of YouTube videos that scared lawmakers into thinking Salvia is the new LSD that will make countless youth do stupid things like jump out of windows.

That said, I will share my experience with the plant which I used prior to it becoming illegal in the state I was in.

Salvia divinorum Luna clone as discovered by Daniel Siebert

Salvia divinorum, as its latin name depicts, is a Sage relative in the Mint family, that group of square-stemmed wise and useful plants that have walked with humanity for a long, long time.

Unlike most Salvia plants, this one doesn’t grow easily from seeds. In fact, its method of growing is along the surface of the earth. It doesn’t have a very strong stem and a branch will actually fall down near a mother plant, set down roots and in this way vegetatively propagate. In this way, Salvia d. has crawled along the surface of the earth in the places it is indigenous to (Oaxaca, Mexico). As I was working with this plant during that year long stint this struck me as very conducive to its healing powers (more on that, later).

In Oaxaca, the Mazatec people have used this herb in healing divinatory ceremonies and continued to do so even under threat from the Catholic church. This “Diviner’s Sage”, as it is also called, went underground and became amalgamated into their worship of the Virgin Mary – hence the name La Maria that Salvia also goes by. This happens a lot when a dominator culture seeks to erase a very rooted, place and plant based culture – the people simply pretend to follow along with the new ways while disguising their original beliefs. Thank Goddess that some of the best traditions aren’t wiped out by this covert survival method.

A Year of Salvia

For anyone who knew me during that year, I talked about Salvia a lot. I was communing with her 3+ times a week and introduced her to a lot of people.

I had had one of those rare experiences of divination when using Salvia and so it meant different things to me than to other people. To me it really was a sacrament, it was like stepping into an ancient temple and hearing the far away tinkling of a bell. I knew things when we were together and they were helpful things, things I needed help knowing at the time.

As Dale Pendell writes,

The Ally:
It is when you are really stuck, when you really don’t know what to do, when you are nearing the edge of funk and self-destruction, that the leaves are the most powerful and the most precise. And symmetrically, for one not seeking engagement, for one seeking diversion, the plant is not much fun. Outside of her sacred context, la Pastora has surprisingly little to offer. It’s not a spectator drug.

Pharmako/poeia: The Salvia divinorum chapter by Dale Pendell

First a bit of backstory

There have been times in my life when a plant will call to me and I intuitively know that I need to take it. This has happened to me countless times. Whether tulsi, dandelion, schisandra, hibiscus, garlic, the drink ayahuasca or others. I have plants call me. They say, “Let’s work together for a while. Take me into your body. You would benefit from me.” So I listen. I listen to the words my body speaks to me and heed the beckoning tendrils of plants that come my way.

Salvia did this. I had no experience of Salvia, had no friends who had tried it and knew relatively little about it, but it called to me so I answered.

I was in a huge huge huge funk during this time. I was a wee bit suicidal, out of sorts, out of purpose, searching and going through a major ego crisis/dying back thing which was really painful at the time, but which was ultimately perfect. It was during this time that I tried Salvia for the first time and I will simply say that she showed me a way out.

Diviner’s Sage

As you’ve caught on, Salvia goes by a lot of different names. Seer’s Sage is another and it is for this purpose that the Mazatec people employ her traditional use.

A lot of people don’t have this experience. Instead they’ll leave their bodies for a short time. In the Erowid vaults you’ll read plenty of stories by people who turned into a chair leg or went into a fractal universe… for 15 seconds (it happens fast.) Salvia isn’t very popular for this reason (after people try it at least once) and I probably wouldn’t like it if that was the only sensation I had.

But that’s not what happened to me.

I’ve looked all over for people who had an experience like mine, but to no avail. But part of me thinks that this effect it has on me might be why the shamans have worked with this plant for so long.

The Ally: 
With the leaves there is no place to hide. That is why it is good for finding lost objects or for identifying thieves. It is a poison that illuminates poison: use it to find dis-ease.


image source

For anyone who remembers reading My Natural Medicine Healing Story this was right around that time. I was breaking out of my Christian conditioning, I had quick soccer (which I had played for 14 years at the age of 21) and changed universities. It was a time of upheaval and I felt lost.

There had been two magical people I had met, but I exploded so much inside when I was around them that I avoided them like the plague. I was riddled with anxiety and was a walking question mark. I was in the perfect position to need Salvia’s help.

The first time I tried Salvia

I was sitting on my bed in broad daylight and smoked some (later learned that it is better to be in the dark when you try it as it’s very much an inward experience that one should close their eyes for and the dark helps focus.) I had no idea what to expect, but the experience hit me sooner than I thought it would and was over before I could laugh. But laugh I did! It was the first time I’d laughed in months! Because I had seen/heard something in the inner landscape during that brief encounter that helped me see my way out of my pain.

This is what I remember: When I took that hit, my head immediately went backwards and to the left. There was a pulling feeling and as my head went up, there were two “angels” waiting for me there.

They were like big pulsing wise spirit beings (I’ll call them angels for lack of a better word) and they communicated to me in such a direct manner that I instantly knew what my problem was and how to get out of it.

I came down reeling from this encounter feeling light hearted and bubbly. I was giggling at myself and crying at the breaking feeling I was receiving for finally knowing how silly I’d been and that I was tying myself in knots.

It was time to reconnect with those two magical people I mentioned above. The message was so simple, but I had forgotten. I knew that it was my ego-fear holding me back and that these people held some keys for me in my life. This, of course, turned out to be true, but not in the ways I could’ve predicted. Nevertheless, it was important for me to know these people and my fear of seeing my reflection in them and so keeping myself from them was an obstacle I now saw through.

Salvia and I went on like this for the whole year. Of course, she couldn’t take the steps for me to change my own life, but she helped me see again and again the next steps on my path. By the end of that year I was unstuck and on my path, a path that has led me to where I am today.

A month or two after I tried Salvia for the first time, my friend offered me a 4 foot tall Salvia plant and I was able to work with the fresh leaves. It was synchronicity at its best as Salvia’s workings in my own life were so much about connection and relieving myself of the alienated & left-out feeling that had haunted me from my youth. Salvia’s inability to propagate easily from seeds (she has sterile seeds mostly) made it necessary that we connect with others, ideally in person, to take & share the medicine. One couldn’t easily order a plant online and it seemed Salvia was forcing us humans to get out of our digital worlds and connect.

Since that year, I’ve tried Salvia a few times, but really don’t feel the need for her any more. She’s really there to See when things are murky or cloudy and you need a way out and I’m forever grateful for her for helping me that day on the bed and that whole year when I was the most stuck I’ve ever been, to the point of thinking about dying.

Though these plant medicines are increasingly made illegal within our modern culture (because what the lawmakers do not understand or want to control, they criminalize), it is our human birthright to have access to these experiences.

I would not be the person I am today without my experiences with entheogens (an alternative word for psychedelics literally meaning full-of-the-god, inspired) and humanity would be healthier and better off if we still had initiation rituals (that indigenous people have practiced since time immemorial) where people encountered themselves through the lens of these ancient human allies.

In a time where the cries of the earth are so loud because of our crazy immature human behavior, these medicinal plants speak to us, through us, they heal us, and teach us! And, immature a species as we are, we drastically need their healing. I’m glad to see a continual revolution of these medicines and yet I’ll also drop a famous line by Alan Watts that is one of my favs,

Once you get the message, hang up the phone.

For these plants are not purely an escape, but they can teach us and it is possible to get burned out or go to them too much when we need to be living and doing the ground work. I know it’s hard to keep doing the groundwork at times and I see a lot of these plants like “purpose refreshers” if we forget at times. But if I learned anything about taking a plant medicine that much for a year I did learn that that plant is not me and it is me who must make the changes in my life, that the plant is my ally, but not myself.

If you’re interested in learning more about the chemical constituents that make Salvia active, I suggest looking into the research of Daniel Siebert who runs Sage Wisdom and is an extensive researcher of Salvia who is bringing together people from all over the world. I have tried his extracts in the past and they’re the real deal!