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Showing posts from July, 2016

When You've Got Your Herbs, You've Got Just About Everything

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After a year, our reishi totem logs are bearing fruit. We cultivated reishi mushrooms (also known as the immortality mushroom or the panacea mushroom) strictly for medicinal purposes. With only six totems, we will probably need more to supply ourselves year-round with a daily dose of reishi tea, but if it wards off cancer, that would certainly be worth it. Reishi is so powerful because of the hundreds of different compounds it provides, specifically polysaccharides and triterpenoids, many of which are immunomodulators. These compounds mainly serve to stimulate macrophages, which activate production of natural killer cells, T-cells, and tumor-necrosis factors. Think of it as homeopathic chemotherapy. We normally carry cancer cells in our bodies, but that's no reason to let them have their way with us.

Though reishi mushrooms could be grown just as ornamental objects, what pleases the eye does little for the rest of the body. Likewise in the plant kingdom, not all ornamental or herb…

Herbs - Medicine for the Rest of Us

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When I took up growing mushrooms, the thing that most attracted me to them was their potential health benefits, i.e. their medicinal value. My preferred delivery path is eating or drinking, often in combination with other tasty ingredients, rather than pill form.

Now that our reishi mushrooms are growing on log totems, I'm looking forward to drinking plenty of reishi tea. While I'm at it, dropping a green tea bag into the pot will be an easy way double the immunity boosting power of the brew and help ensure against prostate cancer. Drinking several cups a day will be easy in this climate.

After realizing the magic in mushrooms to cure and prevent major ailments, I also realized that I've foregone potentially significant benefits from herbs as well, merely because our FDA and medical establishment steers us down the prescription drug path. It would be great if my wife and I could cut our pharmacy bill by growing medicinal herbs and cook at least part of our medicine into me…

Self Preservation

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The University of Maryland Extension has me doing a lot these days. The little commitments you make to get into these volunteer roles turn out to require big allotments of time when you count all the self-directed projects and tasks that come from knowing how to do something. Even the free classes, given under the banner of "Garden Smarter," can alter your lifestyle by launching you into home-based activities you may have never undertaken otherwise.

In my case, it was the Garden Smarter series that acquainted me with the Master Gardener program and also taught me how to safely can produce. Prior to taking the free class on Home Food Preservation by our local extension educator, I was on pretty shaky ground with canning (though I still managed to win a blue ribbon in the Calvert County Fair for bread and butter pickles). Now, in our second year of canning per the Ball Blue Book (available at many hardware and farm goods stores), we are becoming somewhat proficient, having alre…

Nature Skills

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I was pleased, yet dismayed, to come across someone's short-lived wildflower patch on the side of a less traveled road in my community. It inspired me to think that guerilla gardening like this could be done in many other places, with no permitting needed. I just wished that the native plants could have out-competed the countless weeds that had come to dominate. Perhaps, with the right soil preparation, the best plants for the location, and attention to plant spacing, it could have looked something like this without much follow-on maintenance.  Even with the array of information easily available on numerous native plants to consider for various purposes, the art of garden design requires first-hand detailed knowledge of plant appearance and behavior. For example, I can see that a Great Blue Lobelia might be a lovely addition to a butterfly garden, but how well does it play with others in its root space? The answer is not easily found in documents, and is probably best discovered t…

Healing the Land

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Restoring habitat is not limited to wilderness preservation. Significantly more biodiversity can also be had by improving landscapes around our built environments. Many private residences are prime opportunities for owners to boldly transform lawns and lots into small wonderlands teeming with beneficial and beautiful beings. Conservation landscaping is a discipline that encourages such transformations and offers tools and guidelines to empower practitioners.

The suburban living experiment has left occupants with half-finished properties. Having met human needs for shelter and infrastructure, builders leave restoration of the remaining devastated environment largely to homeowners. Planting turf is but a temporary salve on a bare wound. The soil under turf will not be anywhere near as healthy as it once was or could be again if covered with deep-rooted plants.

Turf, as much trouble as it can be to maintain, can also be very comely. More often, unfortunately, lawns are a less attractive …

Habitat for Non-Humanity

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Where do we start in preserving biodiversity? Over half our world's lands have lost enough species to jeopardize the future of life on earth. Life includes plants that we cultivate. It should not surprise us, then, that agriculture, rather than urbanization, is the human activity behind most of the species losses.

Even as a gardener, I would like to eliminate some members of certain species, such as the groundhog who doesn't respect my fences or the deer who don't appreciate the beauty of my roses. Unlike the animal lovers who volunteer at my neighborhood's Orphaned Wildlife Rescue Center, I chase deer away and endeavor to kill varmints that steal the fruits of my labor. Perhaps they need to rescue orphaned wildlife because of the likes of me, but first they are going to have to rescue their organization against allegations of animal cruelty, e.g. attempting to save creatures that should have been euthanized.

If we let our hearts win out over or heads, saving mammals a…

Losing Native Naivety

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Our walk to the Elms Environmental Education Center's pond last week was preceded by a slide talk about the importance of using native plants in watershed protection projects. The point was made by +Kurt Reitz, our gracious host, that the reason we want native plants is for the insects.
It takes a while to pull that thread, but what it amounts to is that plants feed insects and insects feed animals and native plants are evolutionarily adapted to the food chain of their area.

I become a little indifferent to the native plant appeals when I recall that I have a food chain that currently doesn't rely on foraging and hunting. In the expectation that this could change rather quickly, I am endeavoring to establish a food forest around my home, but not strictly using natives. Planting natives is a very helpful environmental practice, but environmentmental restoration still takes a back-seat to survival. However, as our fossil-fueled supply chain falters, rejoining the local food chai…

Oh, How the Phragmites Have Fallen

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In our Watershed Stewards Academy class visit to Elms Environmental Education Center, our host, +Kurt Reitz showed us a freshwater pond that was walled in halfway around with deep stands of phragmites australis(the common reed), an invasive shoreline plant so tenacious that it requires herculean efforts to eradicate it. Typically, eradication requires cutting, spraying with glyphosate, burning the stubble, and repeat treatments a few years later. The toil and trouble associated with this regimen deters most attempts at restoration, so owners and environmentalists have essentially acceded to allowing phragmites to rob our ecosystems of their natural biodiversity. The way phragmites dries up in the fall makes it a tempting target for conversion to biochar. Controlled open burns of phragmites risk turning into conflagrations that could touch off fires in surrounding areas. I wonder, though, if it may be feasible to avoid much of the cutting and spraying and make very hot fires out of phr…

Bay Burps

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Laura Lapham, et. al., authors of the paper referenced in my previous post state that the methane bubbles suspected to be lurking under the pycnocline are 85% oxidized by the time the layers of the Chesapeake Bay mix in autumn. This leaves 15% of the methane free to circulate into the atmosphere when the final mixing occurs.

Termed "fall turnover," this mixing sometimes occurs as quickly as overnight when air temperatures drop and wind increases wave action. A quick fall turnover, like a tropical storm surge, can result in sudden bursts of methane from the bay. At 15% of the inventory, the amount available is only about half of the hypothetical storm release noted previously. That is only 23 Aliso Canyon incidents spread around the bay, happening overnight (vice 100 days).

Turnover usually does not occur all at once everywhere in the bay, so chances of this much of a release are small, but with wild weather swings from climate change, it is more likely that all the local tur…

Saving the Bay = Saving the Planet

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In addition to sequestering carbon, biochar's capacity for reducing nutrient leaching from cultivated land makes it an especially valuable weapon against global warming around estuaries like the Chesapeake Bay. Other measures are necessary, but in terms of longevity, they are band-aids compared to biochar.  Biochar can throw global warming a one-two punch when prodigiously applied in the Chesapeake's watershed. The carbon sequestration aspect is pretty straightforward, but the nutrient leaching/global warming connection needs more explanation.

In spring and summer, the Chesapeake Bay, due to seasonal changes in its upper and lower water density profiles, is a storehouse of methane-generating detritus in its cold, dense, oxygen-starved lower strata. As hurricane season swings into full gear in mid-summer, a strong storm can bring about the phenomenon know as wind set-up which pushes water level higher on the western shore of the bay and an upwelling of water from the lower laye…