Produce No Waste: Darn Those Socks

Have a favorite pair of socks that has a hole worn through? Do you throw them out? Repurpose them as something new? Or try to save them? When it came to my favorite pair of Carhart socks, the answer was to try to save them with visible darning.

With a little time and a little yarn that I already had in the knitting stash, I was able to patch up the holes well enough to keep the socks going a little longer. I’m very sensitive to uncomfortable socks, but these are every bit as comfortable now as they were pre-hole. The darning is neither bulky nor terribly noticeable when you put them on.

There are a lot of tutorials out there on how to darn, including some fancy options that leave your garment looking more like art than a salvaged garment, but I found this a good place to start:

Happy Darning!

Garden Visitors: The Signs are There

I’ve been having fun this week going back and forth between videos on the trail cam and physical signs left behind by our garden visitors. It’s amazing how much we can see when we are really looking and piecing the signs together. For example, here is what the space in front of the raised beds looks like this morning. A mess, right?

But what does it tell us about who visited?

There is the seed all over the ground, a sign of the house sparrows, who throw seed from the feeder as they eat.

There are scratch marks from the ground-feeding birda, mourning doves, juncos and more sparrows – who clean up after the feeder sparros.

There are rabbit prints and rabbit droppings, from the cottontails who visit at night to grab the high-protein food left by the birda.

Is there more if we look deeper?

What about the kale? It’s certainly seen better days, but was it wind or something else that left it ragged and torn, with little bits of its leaves like confetti on the snow?

Without the cam, I might not have known for sure, but here is the culprit:

And what about the holes in the snow? Were they caused by snow? Are they deer footprints, expanded by wind or meltage?

No, they were made by someone a bit smaller. This little mole has been popping in and out of them periodically today.

I’m inspired to keep looking a little deeper for the signs that are there.

Garden Project of the Day: Sage, Rosemary, and Mint Tea

The garden is blanketed in snow and the growing season is done for the year. Even the hardy herbs that held out for Thanksgiving have lost their leaves, but I still have dried herbs taken in the late summer and early fall to play around with. And lately, that has meant making herbal teas. Here is the most recent:

This is a mixture of 4 herbs: sage, mint, lemon balm and rosemary. I love the flavor. It is savory and complex, minty and full-bodied. It warms the body and the spirit on a cold winter day. The sage and mint together leave your breath smelling sweet after drinking. The mint will sooth the nagging stomach upset that comes with poor eating decisions this time of year, the lemon balm is relaxing, and the rosemary may act as an immune booster. All around a great combintation for the season!

I’m sharing a “recipe” for how I like to prepare this tea. Nothing about this is set in stone. If you don’t like one of the ingredients, reduce the amount you use or leave it out. If you love one, feel free to add more of it. This is how I like the tea – it doesn’t mean you have to make it the same.

Michelle’s Sage and Mint Herbal Tea

  • 4 parts sage leaves, dried
  • 2 parts mint leaves, dried (I used a combo of spearmint and apple mint)
  • 1 part lemon balm leaves, dried
  • 1 part rosemary leaves, dried

Break the sage, mint, and lemon balm leaves into small pieces – maybe a quarter inch across. This does not need to be exact. If you’d prefer a more uniform look, you could pulse them in a food processor or coffee grinder – I personally like the way they look when they are hand processed. Combine with the rosemary leaves and store in an airtight container.

To drink, steep for 10 minutes.

This is enough for one small pot of tea, but you can (and probably should!) put together more than one serving at a time. You can store the dried tisane in an air tight container so you have it on hand whenever you’d like a cup. Enjoy!

As a side benefit, Sage tea is said to be good for your skin, gums, digestion, and memory. Some sources say not to drink more than two to three cups a day, as it can induce seizures or kidney damage in high doses. If you have any left over after your 2 cups, consider using the rest to rinse your hair. It’s said to be a good natural dye for covering grey hair!

Garden Visitor of the Day: That’s a Big Bird!

One visitor to the birdfeeder last night was a little larger than usual.

Deer are not rare here. At all. But I’ve never seen any sign of them being in our yard before, which I’ve always found surprising. No footprints, no plant damage that couldn’t be explained by rabbits, no sightings on the trail cam. Our neighborhood borders on farm fields, which are favorite spots for deer. (Although the farms are getting further and further form us as more gets built on our end of the village.) I see deer in those fields and in the marsh on the east end of our neighborhood. And there is plenty of food for them here in our yard. I have completely unprotected veggie garden beds, for heaven’s sake.

Well, they are here now. It will be interesting to see how often they visit this winter and how much they eat this spring.

Permaculture in Practice: Produce No Waste

I’ve mentioned my under-the-window compost bin before. It sits just outside of our kitchen window, making it possible. in theory, to simply open the window and toss any kitchen scraps directly in, rather than maintaining a compost pail inside the house that has to be taken out regularly.

This is a view of the compost bin taken through the kitchen window today in the snow. When we first built the bin 10 years ago, we thought we might possibly be setting ourselves up for a rodent problem, having it so close to the house. As it has turned out, we don’t see many critters in it other than chipmunks (and one summer a mess of voles, but they did not stay long). We compost way more than we did when the bin was in a back corner of the yard, because it is so convenient. No one is tempted to just quickly clean the compost bucket into the trash to avoid walking across the yard, and there are no more complaints about a compost bucket sitting on the counter.

Here’s the problem, though – I’ve subverted our carefully planned compost system by having too many house plants.

What started out as a couple plants has grown into a miniature forest. It is no longer possible to open the window without knocking one or the other of these lovely friends over. I’ve subverted by own carefully planned and previously-very-effective system. I would move the plants to improve our access, but this is the only south-facing window in the house and they are very happy here. Time to come up with a more creative solution, but until I do we are getting clips of me like this on the trail cam.

We’re still composting, which is good, but I’d like to get back to a time when I didn’t find myself tiptoeing barefoot through the snow. And here is my warning – when you come up with a system that works for you, try not to be your own worst enemy by breaking it!

Permaculture in Practice: Use and Value Renewables, Take 2

I think I’ve tried just about every type of reusable shopping tote out there. From the inexpensive synthetic ones you can buy at the checkout counter of your local grocery store to eco cotton and pricy rigid totes that are more like a crate than a bag, there are a lot of options and they each have their pros and cons. Since reusable totes are only beneficial if you are actually using them – and using them for at least a year to offset the energy and materials it takes to manufacture them – it makes sense to pay attention to which options are best suited for you and how you live.

I’ve got two current favorites at the moment. The first is the Baggu. Let’s start with the cons. It is not made locally (made in China) and while they do make a commitment to fair labor practices, it isn’t totally clear what that means. It is not made of a renewable material, and while it is made from recycled material, 41% of the material used to make the fabric is not recycled to keep their costs down.

But here’s what is great about it: It is huge when unfolded. It can carry up to 50 pounds of groceries, and really does hold as much as several plastic bags. Even though it has so much capacity, it folds up into a nearly flat 5″x5″ square that fits neatly in a purse or pocket. It comes with a cute little pouch that keeps it neatly folded. I’ve never been without a reusable bag since buying it, because it always goes straight back in my purse when I’ve emptied it. The nylon is very high quality. I’ve had mine for about six months now. I use it at least once a week and it still looks like new. When it gets dirty, it does right in the wash and comes back out looking brand new. Baggu does offer a recycling option when the bags do wear out.

My second favorite is where the renewables theme comes in. A favorite of healthfood stores everywhere, EcoBags Stringbags are another option that folds down small enough to fit in a purse (although you might not want to keep it in there all the time).

Although perhaps not as cute and stylish as the Baggu nor quite as large, they have the benefit of being made of a renewable resource (certified organic cotton) and being a fair trade/fair wage product. I’ve had two of these for at least a decade, but they sat unused in the bottom of a drawer for several years after they developed holes and I started losing as many groceries as I was carrying! I considered composting the bags, but decided to give repairing them a shot.

So glad I did! I had some colorful yarn scraps left over from knitting projects, and used the yarn to weave the spots with holes back together. The yarn is holding up beautifully and adds a little personality to an otherwise bland looking bag. Will I get another year out of them? Or another five? Regardless, the repairs were simple, free, and are keeping two bags out of the landfill (or compost pile) a little bit longer. A definite win!

So why am I writing about shopping bags on a blog about permaculture? Because permaculture is about more than just gardening. It is about rethinking every aspect of your life and home, finding the areas where you are wasting something which can be reused or buying “inputs” when you can use something you already have on site. Repairing what you have (like these lovely shopping bags) and composing them when they are no longer usable, means that you are limiting inputs and using every bit of the materials and energy it took to make the bags as possible. That’s what valuing renewables and closing the loop is all about.

Garden Project of the Day: Sage Pear Herbal Tea

It’s getting seasonably cold here in Wisconsin, and the little flashes of green that remain in the garden are rapidly fading. One of the last plants that is still plugging along is the Sage, which often manages to stay green and lovely through Thanksgiving, when everything else in the garden except for the evergreens has long lost its leaves.

Before it is too late, I’ve been cutting as much sage and drying it in the dehydrator as I can while still leaving enough out there for Thanksgiving dinner. The house smells lovely, and I’ve been dreaming up ways to use the beautiful gray-green leaves while their flavor is still at its best. I think I’ve finally found a favorite! Paired with dried pears that I put up from our trees and a little candied ginger, the sage makes for the perfect tea to warm up with as the days get colder. I find the dried fruit and ginger add just the right amount of sweetness to the drink, but if you like a sweeter tea you can also add honey.

Michelle’s Sage Herbal Tea

Break the sage leaves and pear slices into pieces approximately 1/4 inch long. Mix together with the ginger pieces.

To drink, steep for 10 minutes.

This is enough for one small pot of tea, but you can (and probably should!) put together more than one serving at a time. You can store the dried tisane in an air tight container so you have it on hand whenever you’d like a cup. Enjoy!

As a side benefit, Sage tea is said to be good for your skin, gums, digestion, and memory. Some sources say not to drink more than two to three cups a day, as it can induce seizures or kidney damage in high doses. If you have any left over after your 2 cups, consider using the rest to rinse your hair. It’s said to be a good natural dye for covering grey hair!

Plants of the Prairie: Common Milkweed

Scientific Name: Asclepias syrica

Another really important plant in the prairie is Common Milkweed. With its thick, round stems, large leaves and beautiful flowerheads, it is hard to confuse with our other native plants. And you only have to see the seedpods open in the fall once to understand where they acquired the “weed” part of their name.

The west prairie at GDS has a rather large stand of Common Milkweed. It may be the most prolific native plant out there. You can see it here surrounded by grasses, asters, Butterfly Weed, and thistles.

You probably already know that they are an important host plant for Monarchs (and the plant where I’m most likely to find Monarch eggs and caterpillars in the garden – they really do love these plants). But did you know they are also very fragrant? The next time you see one in bloom, take a minute to smell the flowers. They have a lovely vanilla scent.

Did you also know that the seeds were used to fill life preservers during WWII when other fillings were scarce? When I was a child my grandfather still had a couple WWII life preservers that he kept in the boat box on his speed boat. We hated having to wear them because they were bulky and heavy compared to the modern life preservers that had been added to the box more recently. I wonder now whether they were filled with milkweed fluff? There is apparently a company, Ogallalla down, that used it to make a down alternative. Maybe something to consider if you are in the market for down?

A little more info on the Milkweed plant, if you are interested: Common Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca).

Garden Visitor of the Day: Opossum

Last night’s garden visitor was about as welcome as can be. After a year of running what I dubbed the “Possum Cam”, a possum has finally shown up in the yard. I’m certain he (she?) has been here before, but this is the first time I’ve caught him (her?) on the cam.

What a cutie! Possums are one of my favorite wildlife visitors. Growing up, we had a backyard possum who visited almost nightly for a period of time and was obsessed with the case of beer bottles my dad stored on the back patio in the fall and early winter to keep it cool. Try as he might, the possum could never open the hinged cardboard lid but that didn’t stop him from trying!

This next clip is of our little visitor having a bit of a snack on our deck. Whether he is eating one of the fallen grapes or an insect who was wandering among them, I am not sure. Possums are omnivorous. You may have heard that they love ticks, an especially annoying and dangerous pest in our area, and can eat as many as 5,000 ticks in a single season. This number has been questioned by a study that was done in laboratory conditions and found that opossums did not actually eat many, if any, ticks. Hopefully the truth is closer to conventional wisdom, because anyone who gets rid of ticks, even if it isn’t 5.000 a season, is a friend of mine.

One final video, so you can see our little opossum friend’s footsies. These unique creatures are the only marsupials in North America, have more teeth than any other mammal in North America, is our only native animal with a prehensile tail, and our only native animal with opposible thumbs (on its hind feet). You can see the unique feet and tail in this video.

Delightful, aren’t they?