Thursday, December 18, 2014

Let's Say You Want To Start A Food Forest?

Dear Folks,

When the subject of food sources comes up the range of sub-topics is all over the place, but essentially comes down to who produces it and where does a family obtain it?

It is a little to naive, I think, to allow ourselves to be complacent in the who and where.  The important sub-sub-topic is "do I have control" over the who and where?

A number of articles and a video has me trying to put together a simplified concept of growing some or most of your own food - on your property, or sharing the concept with others.

Food Forests are the antithesis of Food Deserts (a term which has come to mean the lack of commercial grocery stores or markets in an urban area - usually a city center but sometimes a blighted neighborhood).

City groups sometimes start food forests to give food to the public at large - notably Seattle Washington and Portland Oregon areas are in the early stages of creating public food forests, where people can literally pick a fruit off of a tree, vine or bush.

So what is a food forest?  Simply put it is a concentrated area producing food on plants.  That it may be part of a park or public thoroughfare is a strong anchoring point to create more appeal.  But it comes down to: Food for Free.  While not entirely free, much labor of love and time, possibly some donated supplies requires the start up and maintenance of the public concept.

I can't say enough how wonderful this idea is and there needs to be more.  If city landscapers are already cleaning and maintaining ornamental plants including litter clean up etc,. the transition to growing edible landscaping in its place is not out of the question (the usual negative is what about the debris, but the ground maintenance people are already cleaning up on a regular basis).

Okay so besides finding a project and volunteering, or starting a public one on your own, what does this have to with home gardeners?

It is about looking at some of the concepts of edible sustainability and food forests in your own back yard.

People get hung up on neat, tidy, orderly gardens.  Doesn't everything need to be in rows or contained, they ask themselves? Shouldn't I have a plan like an orchard setup, or do I have to completely scrape and till my yard to get growing?

Below I've included links to some basic ideas on transforming a backyard or even a couple of backyards into food producing food forests.

These are a combination of very, very old techniques, and keen observation of what nature does.

Some of the ideas you will see are:  nurse planting (using existing vegetation - even weeds - to start plants); density of planting for optimal over-head canopy and shade during the heat; using swales (berms) to keep and hold moisture; using heritage plants; and getting away from the idea that things have to be cookie-cutter orderly..

If you have ever seen an area in the desert where the water obviously drains into a "basin" and looked at the density of the growth vs. areas higher up with sparse growth you will understand more easily the ideas being illustrated.

Density of growth in the desert means less moisture evaporation, less water usage overall and larger more dense plant structures.  All of which equals more production capability.  A forest - but not a forest of orderly trees but a forest of great amounts of FOOD!

I hope these give you lots of ideas.  It is even possible to arrange your food forest in such a way as to need little or no added water over annual rain fall to continue production, after the initial baby-growth stages.

Geoff Lawton is well known to permies for his incredible work on transforming his own land and also showcasing other permaculture concepts.   If the video does not play for you you may need to enter your email.  He does not sell or share this and you will get updates of new video postings which you can always unsubscribe from - personally I want to watch anything he sends!

The use of swales from composting horse manure, native weeds and scrub bush, and making use of existing contours are some of the key concepts here.

Another component is the way to find water sources in dry areas, and make use of the source - in place.

The Kino Heritage Fruit Tree project is one I just learned about and it is fascinating.  These links describe elements of this project and a gentleman named Jesus Garcia who found his life coming full circle from what he thought of as poverty farming in Mexico to sustainable permaculture concepts in Tucson.  Be sure to click on the link for"Tasting History" a vimeo video of Mr. Garcia's journey.

The Arizona Sonoran Desert Museum is one of the hosts for the Kino project.

This nursery is one of those growing the Kino plants.  Native Seed Search is also involved in the project.

 I found myself particularly interested in the Sweet Lime, Quince and the White Pomogrante.

You can read up on one of the community Food Forests Beacon Hill.

And here for one in Colorado.

And finally Brad Lancaster in Tucson, shows water harvesting in urban settings - using run off to grow in concrete islands.

There is so much information on these concepts on line and on youtube.  I hope you do more of your own research and get planting, or expanding, your own food forest.

Nearly every article recently on food and health gets to the nutrient density of foods for maximum health - and the focal point of the whole topic is real food not processed.

To add to or start your food forest, right now, plant kale and sugar peas - work out from there :-)

-- Catherine, The Herb Lady

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

My 12 Days of Christmas - Worth Re-Posting

Dear Folks,

Back 6 years ago I created a post for each of the 12 days of Christmas.

While many people believe the 12 days lead UP to Christmas Day - in tradition, the 12 days START with Christmas Day going to the Eve of "Little Christmas" - the Epiphany.

That does not limit the thoughts and recipes I share in each day, so click on the links and enjoy.  As these are older posts some of the internal links may no longer be active.

One example are the old articles I wrote for the original East Valley Tribune where I wrote a regular column for about 4 and half years.

One of my goals for 2015 is to go back over those old articles and re-post them here :-)

Have a wonderful holiday season, Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

-- Catherine, The Herb Lady


Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Authors at the Boyce Thompson Arboretum Event - December 6, 2014

Dear Folks,

The weather was not the greatest last Saturday, but the company was!

I and 25 other authors participated in what I hope will be an annual event, discussing our books, and visiting with all those who came out under gray skies.

For those of you who did not get a chance to meet us, or who would like to catch up and / or make some purchases, I have compiled a list of authors and their contact information.

If I missed anyone or got it wrong, please feel free to use the comment section, andl I update this post with corrections.

. . .

Boyce Thompson Arboretum Author's Day
December 6, 2014

Teri Aragon
Healthy Cooking and Gardening in the Desert

Jim Burns
Bird and Birding
Photograher, tour guide and author

Catherine Crowley (aka The Herb Lady)
Author / lecturer on growing edibles in the desert and how to use them

Elizabeth Davidson, Ph.D
Research Scientist and children's book author

Max Early
Potter and Author

Dennis Ellingson
Christian pastor and writer

Donald L. Ensenbach
"storyteller of prehistoric Native American legends and myths."

Gary Every
Writer/performer prose, poetry, and fiction

Jean Groen & Don Wells
All things edible and usable from the desert

Jane Gerencher
Author of Children's Books

Anneliese and Doris Hagemanm
"dowsing is for me the best tool to tapping into my Inner Knowing"

Lori Hines
Paranormal Mysteries

Jude Johnson
historical fiction, nonfiction, romance, and children's stories
Twitter: @JudeJohnsonAZ

Junior League of Phoenix
"dedicated to providing volunteer service throughout the Valley to positively impact the lives of families and individuals every day"

Eleanor Mell
"Her love of people and fascination with Dutchman Hunters led her to write her first book "

Pinau Merlin
Author, Lecturer, Naturalist

Colleen Miniuk-Sperry and Paul GIll
[Colleen} "left her software project management job in 2007 to pursue outdoor photography and writing full-time"

Carolyn Niethammer
Carolyn writes about the Southwest

Kathleen O'Dwyer
"O'Dwyer threw her comfortable Chicago life up in the air and moved to Arizona to take on the challenge of ranch management and writing her first novel"

Pat Parish
"For as long as I can remember, treasure hunters have been captivated by accounts of the Dutchman Jacob Waltz's life and the whereabouts of his hidden gold mine."

Dany Pierard Deviche
Little Skiff seires of books - teach children how to stay strong and confident in the face of adversity

Jack San Felice
" author and a historian, and most recently a ghost hunter."

Marilyn Stewart
a childhood and beyond among the Aborigine of Australia
email is!1000%2Cn%3A2%2Cp_n_feature_browse-bin%3A2656022011&bbn=2&sort=relevancerank&ie=UTF8&qid=1418048481&rnid=618072011

Conrad Storad
"author or editor of more than 50 science and nature books for children and young adults"

Sonja White-David
"wrote book reviews for the Denver Post and feature articles for Bloomsbury Review and Denver Magazine. Lady Law is her first book"

Aileen Wilsen
South African cooking in the USA

. . .

I wish you all the best and happiest of holidays, Merry Christmas, and a Very Happy New Year!

-- Catherine, The Herb Lady

Wednesday, December 03, 2014

Author's Day - Boyce Thompson Arboretum - December 6, 2014

Dear Folks,

I and about a dozen other local author's are participating in the BTA's Author's Day this Saturday, December 6th, 10 a.m. - 3 p.m.

Come on out - we will be discussing and selling our books (books are also available at the BTA store).

Anyone who hikes desert trails - or putters around their yard - has pondered this question: "what critter made that little hole in the ground?" Tourguides who lead our nature walks field that question often; Saturday, Dec. 6, brings your chance to hear answers from the naturalist who quite literally "wrote the book" about desert holes: Pinau Merlin. The Tucson writer is among featured authors during an all-day festival of authors and books; dozens of authors will be there - several are leading walks, lectures and chances to learn first-hand about subjects ranging from birdwatching  (a 9am guided walk guided by Jim Burns), to a 'Desert Holes' guided walk at 1pm with Pinau. There will be readings of kids' books - and even a special walk for photographers at 3:00pm with author Colleen Miniuk-Sperry. Events are included with daily BTA admission of $10 for adults, $5 ages 5-12. Organized to showcase Arizona authors, the Saturday event will feature outdoor activities (readings & talks indoors, in the event of rain). Authors will sell their books - and be available for autographs.

Check BTA's website right before the Dec. 6 event to confirm specific event times; as of early November the schedule features these:
9am bird walk guided by Jim Burns (Arizona Birds)
10a.m. Monster in the Rocks by children's author Conrad Storad
10:30 a.m. Ghost Stories at Silver King and Florence by Jack San Felice  
11a.m. The Piano Player by Tucson writer Carolyn Niethammer
11:30 a.m. Santa's Sugar by children's author Jane Gerencher
12:00 Noon Cooking Demonstration by Carolyn Niethammer (American Indian Cooking, The Prickly Pear Cookbook)
1 p.m. Desert Holes guided walk by Pinau Merlin
1pm Jim Burns gives a talk and reading from his book Owls: Journey Through a Shadowed World
1pm Elizabeth Davidson will read from Cheery, The True Adventures of a Chiricahua Leopard Frog
1:30 p.m. Gary Every reads from Shadow of the OhshaD: A Collection of Arizona Adventures
3:00pm professional photographer Colleen Miniuk-Sperry guides a 3:00 p.m. photography walk, demonstrating how December's golden late afternoon sunlight can be perfect for photography composition. She's co-author of Wild About Photographing Arizona's Wildflowers and other camera primers.

A food vendor will be there for you to purchase lunch!

-- Catherine, The Herb Lady

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Curds, Jam and Sauce - Oh My!

Dear Folks,

For some years now I've been canning.  Sometimes spring fruit like peaches or apricots, or making my own whole berry cranberry sauce for the holidays.

I got on a roll the last couple of days and tried my hand at Lemon Curd, using our first crop of meyer lemons from our young tree.  I am in awe of how simple this was, after reading for years about the protracted methods illustrated.  I found a basic idea on the internet and modified it slightly for my use.

Our pineapple guava gave us an abundance of fruit this year and I went looking for other things to do with the fruit besides eating it fresh.  Bam! Jam!

I did not process the lemon curd but will the next time I make it.  I am testing a small jar of it frozen to see how it does when I thaw it out. (Internet notes are yay and nay on freezing curd.)

So my recipes.

Whole Cranberry Sauce
16 oz fresh cranberries (I used organic)
1 1/3 cups sugar (again organic)
1 1/3 cups water.

Dump all in a sauce pan, cover and bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer, stirring occasionally.  Watch because it will want to foam up.  Cook until all berries burst and the syrup thickens.  About 20 minutes.

Water bath can for 15 minutes.

Pineapple Guava Jam

2 cups pineapple guava pulp*
1 1/2 cups sugar (organic)
2 tablespoons lemon juice (organic or your own tree fruit if you can)
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon (get Ceylon if you can)

If you want to control discoloration of the fruit prepare a bowl of acidulated water to drop fruit in after scooping.

Cut pineapple guava fruit in half lengthwise and scoop pulp out with a spoon.
Place fruit, sugar, lemon juice and cinnamon in a pot, cover and bring to a boil, lower to simmer and cook stirring occasionally for 35 minutes.

Water bath process for 15 minutes.

*You may wish to chop fruit before cooking or you can use an immersion blender after cooking before canning.

Lemon Curd is one of the foods many people, including myself, have been in love with but very hesitant to make (like making hollandaise or mayonnaise - there is the fear of really, really messing it up).

Also most recipes call for egg yolks or a mix of egg yolks and whole eggs.  While I have things I can make with whites only - I did not want to have to deal with.

So I went seriously looking when my meyer lemons ripened and needed to be used.

I have a great recipe on - and as the folks there note you can make curd with lime or orange (also read a recipe the other day - elsewhere - for cranberry curd - going to have to try that - maybe for Christmas).

 Lemon Curd
 3 large eggs (using whole egg) 
1/2 cup granulated sugar 
3 tablespoons grated lemon zest 
1/3 cup lemon juice 
1/2 cup butter (one 4 oz stick) 

Eggs, sugar and butter are organic, and my lemons are grown without chemicals.

Here is where the process is easier than some recipes call for.
Melt butter in a separate pourable container.
Whisk eggs, add sugar and whisk to dissolve sugar, add lemon juice and pour in sauce pan and heat med low (3.5) as it starts to thicken, add lemon zest and butter in a steady stream while stirring. Stirring constantly until it thickens. This may take about 5 minutes after you add the butter.

Jar up and chill.  Use within 2 weeks.

As I noted I'm testing a small jar in the freezer to see if it thaws without breaking. 

I hope these give you some ideas for using your own fruit or great fruits you find at the farmers market.  (Meyer Lemons are in season now.)

-- Catherine, The Herb Lady

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Ode To The Sugar Pea

Dear Folks,

In a prior post I noted I was going to discuss the Sugar Pea at length.

Whichever variety of Sugar, Snow or Snap Pea you have an opportunity to grow, do so.

Let me tell you the joys of growing this vegetable in the garden, particularly in the desert garden.  Unlike the English (Garden) Pea this cultivar is useable at many stages.

Pretty much the whole above-ground plant is edible, from the delicate 6 inch growing tips (stir-fry), to the flowers, to the pods, young and older, to the shelled peas and, while I have not done so, the dried and then cooked mature peas. (Pictured to the right is a group of about 3 plants - photo taken March 22nd).

And THEN after the plant starts to die back, you harvest the completely dried peas, save for re-sowing the next season and leave the root in the ground to feed nitrogen back into the soil to help with the next crop (tomatoes anyone?).

These plants will flourish from October through late March (or even well into April if we do not gallop into 100s too soon).  Each plant may produce for 3-4 months as long as you keep the pods picked young (3-4 inches).  Successive sowing (every 2-4 weeks) will keep a small row productive for 5-6 months - how cool is that?

Pisum sativum var. macrocarpon is commonly known as the snow pea.
Pisum sativum var. macrocarpon ser. cv. is known as the sugar or snap pea
– Wikipedia

The nutrient density of this veggie is just about perfect.  Low calorie, high protein and fiber.  (Note: the protein is incomplete, but easily remedied by eating with other foods such as grains, meat or dairy.)

1 cup of chopped pods has 41 calories, 2.74 gms of protein and 2.5 of fiber and vitamins and minerals including potassium, calcium and Vitamins A and C.

1 cup of matured peas (shucked from still green pods) has approx 117 calories, 7.86 protein and 7.4 fiber, but higher sugars than English (Garden) peas.

Source:   Agricultural Research Service, United States Department of Agriculture, National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference, Release 27.

In my garden the first flush of pods usually does not make it in the house.  I/we eat right off the vine. Then I settle down and try to harvest, for use in salads, soups or stews.  I like throwing some chopped pods into a soup or stew in the last minute or two of cooking.  When I make chicken pot pie, I use chopped sugar pea pods instead of English Peas.

Last year was challenging for me and the garden.  After planting successive seeds, I did some traveling then had to deal with health issues for myself and a relative, on and off from early February until October. The result was I missed most of the young pod harvest time.  When I could get into the garden I found many plump green pods.  Still wonderfully edible raw (remove the string :-), but the more I looked the more I found pods with huge peas.  So I thought, well why not just shuck them.  The result was the glorious green peas you see in the bowl.  I found them still sweet eaten raw out of hand, added to salads and soups and stews (again at the last minute or two).  I also froze them for later use.  (I lay fruits and small veggies like this on a tray to freeze individually then put in a zip-lock or jar so I can take out whatever portion I want.)

At the end of the growth when the vines are completely dead, I clip at soil level - some I pull completely, but usually the roots still stay in the soil.  Leaving the vines to dry completely before removing ensures the nitrogen fixing nodes have fed back into the soil.

Even without planning I always find many dried peas in pods to save for sowing the next season.

Harvesting seed for resowing also keeps the region-specific adaptation principle alive and well.  This bit of science says that 2nd, 3rd and later generations of the specific plant are more adapted and more productive to the region (think you garden) than purchasing new seed each year from a commercial supplier.

Growing sugar peas is not only rewarding it is easy.

Choose a full sun spot.  Plan what you are going to use for a trellis set up (trellis, bamboo poles tipee style, string, or cord - whatever works for you).

Sow the first seeds as early as you can in the fall (Sep 1st is okay).  Plant every 6 inches in a row running east to west or along a south facing wall.  Sow 1 inch deep.  If you have bird or critter problems, place a layer of mulch lightly (like straw or twigs) over the sown spot to hide the seed area.  The vines will grow up through this cover without a problem.  Plan on sowing more seeds every 2-4 weeks through the first week in February.  Figure on 2-4 plants for every person in your household.

If you have great success with the vines, consider sacrificing some future peas by harvesting growing tips (up to 6 inches long) and/or flowers for stir frys and salads.  The vines will put out more vine - you are not killing it off.

Once the plants get going good you should be able to harvest about a cup of young pods every week for every 4-5 plants.

So what are you waiting for?  Get your peas growing and experience the delights and many uses of this incredible plant.

-- Catherine, The Herb Lady

I will be participating at the Author's Day at the Boyce Thompson Arboretum on December 6th.  Come on out and visit with myself and other authors on a range of topics.

If you can't make it - I sure hope you can!! -- my books are available in print and e-book at various sites on the internet


amazon - print

Barnes & Noble - print and Nook ebook



Friday, November 21, 2014

Are You Growing, Can You Grow - Your Own Food?

Dear Folks,

My favorite subject - can you grow some or most of your own food?  If not - why not?  It is a simple question with far reaching consequences and benefits.  Through out most of recorded history, people working together created food access systems, whether through shared labor, barter or 3rd party (wholesale to retail sales).

In a modern effort to make ourselves so-called independent, we isolated our talents and knowledge into fractional skills - we can make money doing a job, but we have to PAY someone to grow our food.

This disconnect becomes frighteningly apparent when someone loses a job or becomes unable to work and feed themselves or their families.

This fascinating article from the New York Times - brings this issue of food and poverty into clearer perspective.

Recent discussions by some politicians about reducing or eliminating 'safety nets' like food stamps begs the question - where do the hungry obtain food - and further - WHAT IF you lost your job - can you grow your own food, can you work with others to grow your own food, do you know where to get food without money?

If you believe your only skill and talent is how to make money, then you have set yourself and your family up for unfortunate consequences if life throws you a curve, badly.

Learn how to grow some or more of your own food, read, take a class, attend lectures, join a local gardening club.

"The difference between you and the hungry is not production levels; it’s money. There are no hungry people with money; there isn’t a shortage of food, nor is there a distribution problem. There is an I-don’t-have-the-land-and-resources-to-produce-my-own-food, nor-can-I-afford-to-buy-food problem."

"Claiming that increasing yield would feed the poor is like saying that producing more cars or private jets would guarantee that everyone had one.

Don’t Ask How to Feed the 9 Billion

By Mark Bittman

At dinner with a friend the other night, I mentioned that I was giving a talk this week debunking the idea that we need to grow more food on a large scale so we can “feed the nine billion” — the anticipated global population by 2050.

She looked at me, horrified, and said, “But how are you going to produce enough food to feed the hungry?”
I suggested she try this exercise: “Put yourself in the poorest place you can think of. Imagine yourself in the Democratic Republic of Congo, for example. Now. Are you hungry? Are you going to go hungry? Are you going to have a problem finding food?”

The answer, obviously, is “no.” Because she — and almost all of you reading this — would be standing in that country with some $20 bills and a wallet filled with credit cards. And you would go buy yourself something to eat.

The difference between you and the hungry is not production levels; it’s money. There are no hungry people with money; there isn’t a shortage of food, nor is there a distribution problem. There is an I-don’t-have-the-land-and-resources-to-produce-my-own-food, nor-can-I-afford-to-buy-food problem.

And poverty and the resulting hunger aren’t matters of bad luck; they are often a result of people buying the property of traditional farmers and displacing them, appropriating their water, energy and mineral resources, and even producing cash crops for export while reducing the people growing the food to menial and hungry laborers on their own land.

Poverty isn’t the only problem, of course. There is also the virtually unregulated food system that is geared toward making money rather than feeding people. (Look no further than the ethanol mandate or high fructose corn syrup for evidence.)

If poverty creates hunger, it teams up with the food system to create another form of malnourishment: obesity (and what’s called “hidden hunger,” a lack of micronutrients). If you define “hunger” as malnutrition, and you accept that overweight and obesity are forms of malnutrition as well, than almost half the world is malnourished.

The solution to malnourishment isn’t to produce more food. The solution is to eliminate poverty.
Look at the most agriculturally productive country in the world: the United States. Is there hunger here? Yes, quite a bit. We have the highest percentage of hungry people of any developed nation, a rate closer to that of Indonesia than that of Britain.

Is there a lack of food? You laugh at that question. It is, as the former Food and Drug Administration commissioner David Kessler likes to call it, “a food carnival.” It’s just that there’s a steep ticket price.

A majority of the world is fed by hundreds of millions of small-scale farmers, some of whom are themselves among the hungry. The rest of the hungry are underpaid or unemployed workers. But boosting yields does nothing for them.

So we should not be asking, “How will we feed the world?,” but “How can we help end poverty?” Claiming that increasing yield would feed the poor is like saying that producing more cars or private jets would guarantee that everyone had one.

And how do we help those who have malnutrition from excess eating? We can help them, and help preserve the earth’s health, if we recognize that the industrial model of food production is neither inevitable nor desirable.

That is, the kind of farming we can learn from people who still have a real relationship with the land and are focused on quality rather than yield.

The best method of farming for most people is probably traditional farming boosted by science. The best method of farming for those in highly productive agricultural societies would be farming made more intelligent and less rapacious. That is, the kind of farming we can learn from people who still have a real relationship with the land and are focused on quality rather than yield. The goal should be food that is green, fair, healthy and affordable.

It’s not news that the poor need money and justice. If there’s a bright side here, it’s that it might be easier to make the changes required to fix the problems created by industrial agriculture than those created by inequality.

There’s plenty of food. Too much of it is going to feed animals, too much of it is being converted to fuel and too much of it is being wasted.

We don’t have to increase yield to address any of those issues; we just have to grow food more smartly than with the brute force of industrial methods, and we need to address the circumstances of the poor.

Our slogan should not be “let’s feed the world,” but “let’s end poverty.” 

. . .
Desert Gardening Tip - here is a beginner tip or one to add to your garden know-how.

Plant Sugar Peas - RIGHT NOW!

I'm going to do a separate post on sugar peas and what is so wonderful about them next.  But in the meantime.  Find a sunny spot - I mean SUNNY, not partial shade and sometimes sun.  The spot should be at least 2 foot by 2 foot.  Erect something to serve as a trellis on the North or West side of the area.

Plant 2 seeds for each person in your household, 6 inches apart.  In 3- 4 weeks plant 2 more seeds for each person, arranged between the now growing plants.  Once the plants start producing (in about 5-6 weeks) pick the pods each day when they measure 3-4 inches.  Keep them picked and the plants keep producing.

More in the next post.

. . . 

I have a book - a  beginners guide to when to plant in the desert garden.

Coming up at the Boyce Thompson Arboretum on December 6th, I with a whole bunch of authors will be there for an Author's Day, where you can visit with the author's and purchase books.

If that won't work for you, you can find my books in print and some versions of e-book on the internet.

Don't put off starting or adding to your edible garden - you CAN control where some or much of your food comes from and it is not a store which can't or won't take good intentions, instead of money!

-- Catherine
The Herb Lady

 . . .

My Books:


amazon - print

Barnes & Noble - print and Nook ebook