Saturday, April 20, 2013

How Living Close to the Land Can Help Boys

There are some things I'm so passionate about I start to shake and my stomach gets queasy when I think about them. I'm sure the world could fall apart around me and I wouldn't even notice as I type what's going through my mind. It's just that I feel this incredible need to do something with all those ideas and convictions that well up inside... something constructive!


Today is one of those times... I read an article which clearly struck a chord and I can tell I'm going to be late to an appointment because I can't let the moment go without getting my thoughts out.

To say our twenty-first century youth are in trouble would be an understatement. Yes, there are those who are well adjusted and doing amazing things, but they are the minority. (I'm sorry this seems so negative, but to keep our head in the sand will not make the problem go away or alter it in any way.) Most teens and pre-teens are struggling with issues that seem so insurmountable they are taking their own lives and on occasion, taking the lives of others along with their own.

They are hurting, frustrated, and angry.

So this begs the question(s)...

• Why?
• Is this something new?
• Are they facing problems that we never faced as youth?
• What's the solution?

Obviously the answers to these questions are anything but simple and I would be hard pressed to deal with them all in one blog post. (And everyone would quit reading before the article ended!). Nor do I think there is a single reason for this problem, but there is one aspect I'd specifically like to talk about today.

I happened upon an article by Peter Brown Hoffmeister on his blog by the same name. I don't know Peter and I haven't read any of his other posts, so I cannot recommend him one way or the other, but I can say that I according to his post On School Shooters, I believe he is on to something.

You'll want to read it for yourself, but let me just summarize his thoughts briefly... As a troubled youth, he struggled with many of the same things these mass killers have displayed prior to taking the lives of others. Thankfully, he did not act out on his thoughts and tendencies, grew up, got his act together, finished school and college, and became a teacher himself. He now runs an outdoor program for troubled youth during his free time.

Hoffmeister believes the key difference that causes many to act out on their thoughts today is the over use of violent video games. His observation is that his parents' strong convictions (his mom is mentioned in particular) kept him from sitting in front of a screen for hours on end, however all the recent violent attackers have had a long history of playing violent video games at great length. I'm interpreting his article here, but his belief is that this virtual reality training removed or broke down inhibitions that would have helped prevent these kids from acting out on their thoughts and desires to hurt others (because they themselves are/were hurting).

This isn't really a new thought, but it is insightful coming from someone who has walked very close to the line himself. And the reason his article stood out to me was the fact that he has a very viable solution and is putting that conviction into practice with his Integrated Outdoor Program. Again, I do not know anything about his program other than what I've read on line, so I am not recommending it one way or the other. But, I believe he is on to something that we can all embrace.




All children need to live close to the land in some way.

Another way to summarize this is to say... they need the outdoors; to be close to nature; experiencing creation; etc.

Let me back up just a bit and build my case. May I propose that...

1. Boys in particular need to physically exert themselves. A LOT. Have you noticed that almost 100% of these mass killers are boys? Why is that? Ever heard of male testosterone? Young males get a surge of that stuff and they need an outlet for it. Not all work is equal...they need HARD work. Work that will make them sleep good at night and release excess testosterone. Since the fall in the garden, man has been destined to sweat and toil the ground to provide food (Gen. 3:17-19) and God has designed men to physically meet this challenge. Am I saying every boy needs to grow up to be a farmer by profession? No. But I am saying that they are designed to meet hard physical challenges and it wouldn't hurt if they did some homesteading on the side. Through working on a farm (or tending an inner city garden) and caring for animals, boys learn to be self controlled and gentle even when they don't FEEL like it and at the same time they have an outlet for all that energy.

(Note: I listened to Rush Limbaugh this week while driving and someone tried to bring up the point that mass killers are almost always males to which Rush responded with sarcasm and ridicule. His concern was that the caller wanted to ban only males from having guns, which clearly was NOT her intent, but she just didn't know how to express what she was observing. Why is it that this is being overlooked? Yes, testosterone usually tends to cause males to act "in the moment" and the mass killers tend to commit "premeditated" crimes, but I believe the testosterone is closely linked to the emotion of anger and acting out on this anger can be delayed if one knows they are going to get greater satisfaction at a later time.)

2. Boys need physical work which allows them to contribute to the family and society in a meaningful way.  We've all heard stories of dads that made their boys move a pile of rocks and then move them back (usually as a form of punishment). Yes that exerts energy, but it breaks down the spirit. If we want young men that grow up to be pillars of society, then they need to be engaged in work that allows them to contribute in meaningful ways... genuine work, not busy work.

Not only does the work release excess testosterone, but it helps them emotionally as they fulfill their God-given need to protect, provide, and create. It's like emotionally castrating a young man when all that he does during the day is for his own pleasure and not for meeting the real needs of others, especially for those who are "weaker" in some way... children, women, widows, etc. Please know I'm not saying they should never enjoy some "free time" to do something for themselves, but if they ONLY live for themselves, they will never enjoy the satisfaction of knowing they helped someone else.



3. Boys need to physically connect with creation and their Creator. Yes, girls need this, too, but boys in particular seem to connect with God when they meet Him in a tangible way. And for males, it seems the best way they can do this is outdoors, experiencing nature (and God) up close. This doesn't mean they get a pass from God's call to corporate worship, but it does mean they need to see Him in creation and understand that it is God who orders and ordains all things (as in the cycles of nature), that He is BIGGER than man (like the mountains), that life isn't always fair, but it has purpose (how creation works), and life is fragile (animals are born and they die). And they eventually discover that many of theses things apply to their relationships with other people.

I remember on 9/11, watching the horrors of that day for hours on TV; my feelings were raw and running wild through my mind. At some point, I stepped to a window and looked out to see a few birds, happily pecking away at our feeder. Immediately a wonderful peace flooded over me as I realized the world and life would go on as long as the Creator desired and that somehow, we would be okay no matter what happened in the future. Seeing the sparrows going about their routine amid all the chaos reminded me of the sovereignty of God in a big way! I needed that and I believe it's exactly the kind of thing our boys need.

4. Boys need homesteading mentors. It's one thing to tell a pre-adolescent to go out back and play. It's another thing to tell a teen with raging hormones to go outside and find something to do. Older boys need guidance. Wisdom. And they need it over and over again until they're old enough that their hormones have settled down a bit and those ideas have become a part of who they are as men (ie: their character).

Young men specifically need the Word, not just Creation, and having a mentor who can bring God's truths into their lives is vital. A godly adult can help a boy make the connection between what he sees in creation with what God's Word says because application of Scripture doesn't always follow hearing it and boys often need these correlations pointed out. (Note: We've seen evidence over and over that indicates the mentoring relationship is best when another MAN is able to fulfill that role for a boy, however, God has certainly used females to do this when a male is not available, so do not be discouraged or feel your son is being short changed if God has not provided another man. Do look for opportunities for godly men to speak into his life, but don't wait!)




Homesteading is an excellent solution that any family can engage in to help their children. And if you know of a troubled teen in your neighborhood/community who doesn't have an involved family, you can invite him or her to join you working your piece of land, no matter what size it is. Urban or rural, there ARE ways to connect with nature, whether it's a community garden in a lot between two inner city buildings or a farm out in the middle of nowhere. Other articles and posts address how to find opportunities for these kind of connections, so I won't go into details at this time.

At this point, some of you may be thinking...

"But my son doesn't like the outdoors, in fact, he hates it."
It doesn't matter... he still needs it. Boys don't often know WHAT they need! And moms, why are we coddling these young men? Life is tough... they need to do some things they don't like. It's not like we're sending them to be tortured, for heaven's sake!

"But it's not safe out there." 
Maybe. Maybe not. Danger can be found in many places, and apparently the video games are turning out to be more dangerous than we thought. May I suggest that those who are fearful read Last Child in the Woods by Richard Louv. Trust me... it will help you get past the safety issue and stop being so over protective. We live in a remote area with lots of dangerous wildlife (mountain lions, bobcats, elk, coyotes, and sometimes even bears). I found that I was getting more and more leery of letting the girls go out and explore. Reading this book helped tremendously! (Please note, we never send them out without a large dog. Please use common sense.)

If you live in an urban setting that is riddled with crime, and you are unable to move out of that area, find some community leaders or a pastor that can direct you to resources in reasonably safe areas of your neighborhood or avoid crime-heavy locations during "peak" hours.

"Not all boys are called by God to be the outdoor type." 
It's true; God has called some to a 9-5 job, sitting behind a desk. But all the more reason your son will need to know how to go outside and get some exercise when he gets home from work! My husband's formative years sound like a chapter from Tom Sawyer. Oh, the stories he can tell! But by vocation, God has called him to the role of a pastor. Not exactly an "outdoor" job. When he comes home, he needs time outdoors because all those hours in study and counseling weigh on his body physically and without exercise, fresh air, and sunshine, the toll on him is even greater! On days he comes home and sits in front of the computer, he never feels as good. Thankfully, he learned as a boy those things that call him to the outdoors as an adult.


"I don't know anyone who can mentor my son in homesteading; I'm just learning myself." 
Excellent! Learn together. By discovering new skills along side each other, your relationship will be even stronger. Every child can appreciate a humble parent who is willing to say, "I don't know, but let's find out!". And the fact that you are willing to stop what you are doing and specifically spend time with him will speak volumes! If you don't know much about the Bible, do that together as well. Attend a good church that teaches from the Word verse-by-verse, join a Bible study, or seek out a pastor who can recommend a mentor.


"He doesn't respect or obey me and won't get off the computer and stop playing video games." 
Or something of the like. I really feel for the single mom who finds she's in a situation like this. I may be a girl, but I confess, as a teen (before Christ in my life), I was this kind of child although I wasn't into video games. My mom was afraid to tell me "no" on anything for fear I'd run away or worse. When she told me this years later, I was shocked! Yes, I was rebellious and disrespectful, but there was a limit to it in my mind. I just never let on to that fact. For each child, that limit may be at a different place, but I believe children crave for parents to be strong and place boundaries in their life.

If you have a child like this, you may need to seek some professional counseling from someone who can help you both. And as a parent, you may need a parenting class to help you with your son or daughter. But for most, it's as simple as packing the equipment up when he's gone and send it to an undisclosed adult friend's house until he is ready to get it back WITH LIMITS and respect. Then sit down with your child and discuss how he's going to be spending all that "free time" in the future.


A few closing thoughts...

I realize this post is being read by the "choir" for the most part. If so, please share this with those you feel might benefit. Perhaps someone you know just needs encouragement that they are on the right track and not to give up. Parenting is a 24/7/365 job that lasts for YEARS! And we all have those moments that we drop the ball because we're feeling worn out... physically and emotionally (cause hey, we ain't gettin' younger at this job!).

I also understand that absentee parents probably aren't reading my article and it's no surprise to most of us that these are often the very homes that breed troubled and angry youth. Instead of going into detail here supporting this argument, readers can google statistics that prove this point over and over again. But assuming it's true, what can we do with this information that would help?

Find ways to be involved within your community for those whose parents either can't or won't engage with them. Pray and ask God to direct you to some child in need. Allow your children to bring home a friend who seems a bit... unattended by his parents. Only be sure to have very strict rules as to what they will do and where. In other words, don't be afraid to hang out with them even if it seems "uncool". For girls, that might mean all of you cooking together in the kitchen (something I do with my children when their friends come over). But for boys, give the big outdoors a try. Build a garden box together, make a compost bin, haul some dirt for the garden and play a game of "King of the Mountain" while you're at it.

Finally, consider adoption. Whoa... seriously? Yes. It doesn't even have to be a formal adoption. Just be willing to open your home up to a young person in need of a place to spend extended amounts of time. Foster care is an official term for that. Be wise... this isn't a calling for everyone. Don't bring teen boys into your home with teen girls or you'll be creating a situation that isn't good for either. But some of you have big farms or ranches and no girls OR your children are college age and beyond. You might be the mentor some boy desperately needs. We can't change the all the boys in the world, but we can change the world for one boy. Imagine the impact that would make if we all did that!

In closing, I want to reiterate that I am not as naive as you may think when you read this post... I realize this is only a part of a bigger problem and that it's way more complex than what I've addressed here. But could I get an AMEN that this is a big chunk of it? I apologize this post is much longer than normal, but it's as much for me as anyone... I NEEDED to write this. By thinking it out on "paper", I'm able to process my thoughts better and understand things that seem so overwhelming. I hope... in some small way... it has done the same for you.

Blessings to you and your boys!



Monday, April 15, 2013

Keeping the Goats Warm

I doubt many of you are thinking about how you're going to keep your goats warm in April, but here on the mountain, I'm watching the weather closely. Tonight's forecast continues to morph and so far it has ranged from a hard freeze and snow to a light freeze and rain. It's any one's guess what will actually take place over night.

Being prepared for cold weather takes on many forms. Having covers ready for early spring crops, tarps for fire wood, extra insulation on pipes, and protection for animals... just in case. Animals in the wild can often move to warmer locations (migrating or seeking better shelter), but our domestic animals depend on us for meeting needs they can't accomplish on their own. Keeping them warm enough must be considered if you live in cooler climates. Here are some things we do at Sweetwater Farm...



Personally, I don't like to blanket animals too much because they need to develop plenty of their own hair. If they are blanketed before it's REALLY cold, they won't develop a nice thick coat for winter. But when the temps drop to the single digits.... now that's another story. It's also an issue if you have open housing that can't retain the heat or if they have to go outside to another building for milking.

And then there are those sudden late cold snaps. Like today. We've had so many warm days leading up to this that most of the goats have shed their winter coat and their hair is a LOT thinner. A thinner coat means less protection against the cold. Good thing we have some goat coats ready.

Before purchasing goat coats, I looked around to see what's out there and in my humble opinion, these by Horseware Ireland are the Cadillac of goat gear!

Besides being waterproof (goats hate to be wet) and windproof (I live in one of the windiest places of the United States, thus the massive amounts of wind farms here), these coats seem to be pretty indestructible... which for goats is saying a lot! Someone at Horseware Ireland put some thought into these.

All the claps are really secure. They must have used some industrial strength Velcro! My goats have yet to undo one and I've tested these for at least 24+ hours at a time. You have to consider that they won't try to undo just their own closures, but their herd mate's, cause nothing is more entertaining than to nibble at your friend's flashy gear, right? That big strap that goes under the belly is nice and wide, secures on the inside (to prevent all that curiosity), and still clears the udder (we just slipped the leg straps off to milk).


Despite the wear, these seem to be holding up beautifully. They're designed so that the goat can eliminate without getting it on the coat itself, but they can still lie down in poo. No problem since they repel dirt for the most part, so even afterward, they're reasonable clean looking. (I thought they'd look a lot worse.)

If their is anything negative to say about these, it's only that the leg straps for the back are too long even once adjusted. However, this can be easily remedied by cutting and sewing them back. I've yet to do that, but it's on my agenda. Should be simple enough to do.



The other caution is sizing... the chart is a bit confusing since my goat's measurements didn't match up with what the website shows. The folks at Horseware Ireland were very gracious to work with me until we got it right. Keep in mind if you have a breed other than Nigerian Dwarfs, these measurements may be fine, but here's what I found out after some experimenting...

The depth was the only measurement that seemed accurate when comparing the chart, the coat, and the goat. The back seam and the length did match when comparing the chart and the coat, but didn't match up with the goat itself.

For example, most of my does measure as follows (approximate):

Back seam: 23 - 24"
Depth: 11 - 12"
Length: 26"

By looking at the chart below, the depth is pretty accurate, but the other two measurements are off.  If I were to order based on the back seam, my goats would need a XL. For length, they'd need either a small or medium. And for the depth, a M.


I experimented with an XL, L, and M sizes and it was immediately obvious the XL was too big. There was no way it was going to work regardless of how I tightened the straps, etc. The L worked okay (seen in photo below), especially for one doe, Symphony, that is ever-so-slightly larger than her herd mates, but the M was the ticket for most of the Nigerians (seen on Dance Hall Girl in photo above on milk stand). It fit close enough to the body to actually stay in place, keep the goat warm, and yet cover enough to do the job. It would be nice if it was just a tad longer. Again, I still need to cut and resew the leg straps, but that's do-able. Even without these being adjusted, the coat has stayed in place. The L tended to slip a bit, but didn't do too badly (see photo below where it the coat slipped to the left side of the goat a bit - it never did more than this even after 24 hours).





Speaking of goats, coats, and keeping them warm... it's a good idea not to shave their udders until you're sure the weather will stay warm enough. One of my goats had hair that was getting in the way when milking, so instead of shaving it off, I just carefully took some scissors and clipped what was in the way (not too close to her udder, but just enough to solve the problem).

We have a small mini barn at the moment (only 8' x 8'), which works fine for the smaller breeds. But it has a gap up at the top so air can circulate a bit and odors (such as ammonia) can escape. That means snow can sometimes blow in despite a south facing door. To help keep the goats warm, I put a large dog crate inside the barn, took off the door, and added some straw. My daughter has often gone out to open the door in the morning, only to find all 3 of the does in the crate together! Body heat in a small space works really well. The crate also comes in handy when I need to keep one separate at night for various reasons. I just add the door back on and put the goat inside that I need to be partitioned off. It's an inexpensive short term solution that works well for smaller breeds or smaller does and kids (four legged kind).



Another thing to consider having for small kids that may need extra warmth is a heat lamp. These are designed to be safer than the traditional brooder lamps most of us use for our chickens. My friend Jan uses them and is very happy with how they've been performing. (Molly got to visit her herd with me and see the new little ones.)



Theoretically, if the kids knock this to the floor of the barn, it won't catch the straw on fire. The bulb is way up inside closer to the grey part of the lamp. I have not tried it myself, but I'm seriously considering these. I touched the outside of it while taking this photo and it's warm, but not hot like my metal brooder lamps... trust me, you'll know when you've touched one of those!

Finally, an active rumen can help keep their body temperature up a bit. We feed Chaffhaye at night which works well, but I understand oats and some Probios can assist in this effort. (I use Probios, but not for this purpose.) Just be sure you're not overfeeding them. Also, some extra straw that is dry is helpful.

So even though our weather is warming up overall, remember to keep your caprine friends in mind. With summer approaching, it will give you some time to consider what you need for next winter and keep your eye out for a good sale or perhaps even a great find at a barn sale or on Craig's list (a good place to find those large dog crates!). Be prepared for winter 2013!





This post was shared on the Homestead Barn Hop!

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Giveaway: Natural Linens Ticking Towels & Napkins

By now you may be aware of my love for cloth towels and napkins. (If not, feel free to catch up by reading HERE - we use them exclusively now, not just once a week.) You, too? Or perhaps you'd like to begin your journey toward reusable linens. Either way, you'll want to check out Natural Linens Eco-Friendly products made from 100% organic GOTS (Global Organic Textile Standard) certified cotton.

And what a blessing that Carmen at Natural Linens is offering a giveaway for a lovely set of two hand towels along with a set of 8 napkins... all in a lovely blue ticking! Be still my heart!









The hand towels would grace any home, either in the kitchen, a guest bath, at the dinner table in a large bread basket, or even as an accent in a creative display. But keep in mind... they are made to work and can be used every day. Finished in a rustic serged edging, the blue ticking looks great with almost any decor from shabby chic to French country.


I can just imagine a summer table set with these napkins, interspersed with white dishes or enamelware and bright yellow sunflowers. Definitely an alfresco affair to remember!


But why just use them for special events? Why not create a home-culture that includes lovely linens? The blue ticking would be perfect for every day. And let's face it... the men in our life might adapt more readily to blue stripes as opposed to something floral. I think these are a win-win for any home!

If stripes aren't your thing, be sure to shop Natural Linens' Etsy store for their Birdseye Unbleached organic cotton products. These items come unadorned, but if you wanted to add a creative touch, they're the perfect blank slate for creating personalized items. A little fabric painted strawberry on a hand towel, perhaps some bright orange carrots with green tops on napkins, or how about a hand stamped initial in fabric ink on the Natural Linens handkerchiefs?

I've been using Carmen's Natural Linens for some time, and I am impressed by their ability to look fresh even after heavy use. The natural color seems to hide a lot of discoloration and dinginess I typically get on all-white cloths. And they do hold up! At just over $1 each, their un-paper towels are economical enough for you to give them a try. (2 un-paper towels cost about the same as a roll of disposable paper towels, but they last MUCH longer!)

*NOTE: As with most 100% cotton products, ironing is necessary if you want a wrinkle free look. However, it is up to you and many people just hand press has they line dry their natural linens.

Natural Linens has several items in their product line. Click one of the links and check out their Etsy store or website and see for yourself! And then be sure to come back and enter the giveaway!



Monday, April 8, 2013

Vegetable Gardener's Handbook

Update 4/9/13: I have added photos that I neglected to include when I originally posted this yesterday.

I have FINALLY found a gardening journal that I can recommend wholeheartedly!

It's not really a journal first and foremost, although it does have space to record your notes. What it focuses on are lots of VERY WELL ORGANIZED tips and guides for WHAT TO DO and WHEN TO DO IT... no matter where you live or what your gardening zone might be. (Note: some adjustments must be made for southern climates, but it is feasible to do so and make a few personal notations of exceptions.)

I do love organization and yet for some reason, I've had a terrible time trying to remember what to plant when. I'm finally getting the hang of the big picture and a general idea of what to do when and I understand the concept of working from the first and last frost dates, but... remembering the specifics? Now that's another story. I've used charts, sliding things (similar to wheels you turn and line up with a date), on-line programs... you name it, I've tried it.



So you're probably wondering how the Vegetable Gardener's Handbook makes it so much easier? I'm glad you asked.

You Insert Your Own Dates. The "chapters" or sections in this handbook are broken up into the various weeks based on how far out they are from the last frost. For example, if the top of the page says "20-19 weeks before average date of last frost", I would insert Jan. 6-19 on the line that reads "MY DATE: _______" since my last frost is usually around May 31. (A few read something like "17 weeks after average date of last frost".) I went through the entire handbook and inserted all the correct dates so that it was ready to go for the whole year. Now all I do is look for the matching date and I can read what I need to be doing for THAT particular week.

* NOTE: If you live in a warmer climate, I suggest you fill in your dates a bit differently. The darker colored pages include a side label for the season, such as "early summer", "mid-summer", or "late summer". I would fill in your dates so that the weeks coincide with the correct time of year or season. (See pages 22-23 in the handbook for more information on how to fill in your own dates). It would be nice to see an actual "southern" version of this book in the future.

Seed Starting. Each week of the year, seed starting guides are given depending how far out you are from the last frost. One would think there isn't much to this, but the authors have something for almost every single week of the year! Herbs, succession plantings, what to direct sow, what to sow indoors, what should be sown in peat pots for easier transplanting... they've thought of it all!

• Planting. This weekly section includes items you should be planting directly in the garden as whole plants. It may include things like asparagus crowns, but it could also include your seed starts or even cover crops.



• Maintenance. Ever forget to do the small things that make a big difference? You won't forget anymore. The handbook has this covered, from soil to dead heading plants.

• Harvest. You may think you won't forget to harvest the produce, but think again... ever find one of those great big gigantic zucchinis in the garden? And what about how you'll put it up for later? The handbook makes suggestions to keep you eating all year long. Oh, and it tells you when to know something is ready... I could use help with that! A section in the back discusses the various methods in brief as well.

• Tips and ideas. Interspersed among all the weekly "to-do" lists, you'll find an enormous wealth of tips conveniently inserted during the time of year you need to know! This is HUGE! How many times have you seen a great book with ideas, but totally forgot to implement any of the things you learned? I like to highlight my favorites I plan to try.



• Journal. This page, inserted about every 3-4 weeks, allows you to record what you accomplished for a 3 year period. It's helpful to know the following year what worked or didn't work specifically for you.



The handbook doesn't include colored photographs, but rather very nice line drawings that I enjoy coloring in... my thinking time. As I color each in, I think about what I want to do, based upon what is being suggested. (And I just like to color!)



At $14.95 ($10.67 at Amazon), this handbook will certainly give you a large return for your investment. I suspect it will pay for itself many times over at my house! And did I mention that everything is based on organic gardening? Yes... I'm definitely smitten with this book. I think I'll love it even more after 3 years of coloring, notes, tags, inspiration, and perhaps some incredibly bountiful harvests!





Saturday, April 6, 2013

'Tis the Season to Harvest Nettles

I've grown up in the high dessert mountains which means scrub brush, poison oak, Mojave Green rattlers, and stinging nettle. The nettle always seemed to infest the best fort making areas... shady cool spots under trampolines and under sage brush branches. Now, I know where to expect it... cool, shady, moist areas with healthy soil such as creek beds. Nettle favors areas near berry bushes, specifically blackberries, sometimes even choking the plant.

Like many herbs and plants with medicinal uses, stinging nettle is considered painful and an invasive weed. In our garden it has taken over the spot for potatoes and lines all of our raised bed boxes. I harvested about four pounds of nettle shoots and leaves this morning alone! 

The first step to nettle harvesting is ensuring that you are properly protected. Thick gloves, a heavy jacket, tough jeans, and boots are a must. I made the mistake of using garden gloves and my hands are riddled with stinging bumps. The best time to harvest nettle is from late March through April when the leaves are tender and between one and three inches wide. If the plant is flowering, you are too late, but you will have twice as much next year to remind you. (Note: there are other uses for mature stinging nettle plants not addressed in this post.)



How to Spot Stinging Nettle 
When you look up descriptions of nettles, they use words like ‘rhizomatous’ or ‘dioecious.’ While it is good to know that there is a male and female nettle plant and the root system sends off shoots, that won’t help locate or avoid it. It commonly grows in shady wooded areas with other weeds in a ‘chain’ of plants because the root system sends out shoots to grow more plants. There is never just one plant... nettles need other nettles to pollinate and grow more nettle plants. On average, the plants are two feet tall with pointed egg shaped leaves and serrated edges. It is entirely covered in tiny hairs.  Any Boy (or Girl) Scout would also know that there are 3-5 main veins on the leaves with hairs that are like needles which inject inflammatory chemicals, creating a burning sensation.  



Harvesting and Processing
Once you are protected and have found a patch of nettle, you’re all set to forage to your heart’s content. The best way I’ve discovered is to start furthest away from the biggest plant working your way in, so you don’t accidentally bury your knee in an unseen plant. While jeans are tough, the little buggers can worm their way through almost anything. Don’t cut it at the base, but trim about a third of the way from the top. This will ensure that the plant will continue to grow and seed for a future crop. Also the lower leaves are tougher and more difficult to process. I filled a plastic bag with trimmings in about twenty minutes. You can also just trim the leaves off, but it takes longer on the harvesting end. I prefer to take the stalks and trim the leaves straight into the pot. 

After this, soak the leaves in a full pot of water for about twenty minutes and then rinse them about 3 times. At this point most of the stinging hairs will be gone, but I wouldn’t advise rinsing with your bare hands. 

After rinsing well, fill the pot back up with water and simmer for five to ten minutes. After this you can do a couple things. I strained and dehydrated the leaves for medicinal use and reserved the simmered broth for tea. Nettle greens are as nutritious as spinach and delicious with a little butter and pepper, giving it an earthy flavor. Nettle Soup, made of the broth and leaves from the cooked green, is a well known early spring dish. 

Stung... Now What?
I always end up with a couple stings even when I use the right gear. It can be annoying and even painful if you get an armful of the tiny needle-like hairs. Traditional remedies include a “tough luck” from your mother, aloe vera, and a paste of baking soda and water. Like most semi-poisonous plants, the remedy grows near by. Yellow dock, another edible plant, takes the sting away. (It can also be used in salads and as a laxative.)

If your sting is keeping you from work, look for the smooth long leaves (that are almost more prolific than stinging nettle!). In the fall they can develop red spots which makes it easier to notice them. I usually make a paste by chewing it a bit and caking it on the stung area. The more delicate individuals just rub it on. 

If you can’t find dock, plantain works just as well, but only if it is fresh. They sell dry plantain leaves, but those work best as tinctures and infusions. Also used in wild salads, it is claimed to be an anecdote for many poisons and toxins ranging from spider and snake bites to worms and laryngitis. It usually has long slender leaves, but sometimes you'll find the more mature plant with fuller oval leaves. 

Why Bother? 
It is difficult to gather and mess with nettle... it can seem more trouble than its worth! But... nettle is high in iron, calcium, and silica. It is considered a tonic food and given to people with anemia, circulatory disorders, and rheumatic problems. It can reduce inflammation and assist in tissue repair. Traditionally, joints would be flayed with the leaves to reduce swelling and in a recent double blind study, it worked. It is excellent for the skin helping with eczema and psoriasis. It also helps children prone to nosebleeds, allergies, asthma, and hay fever. For the more vain, it is a good hair rinse leaving a slightly tingly feeling in the scalp. NOTE: It should not be taken by pregnant women as it can cause miscarriage and was used as an abortive herb in ancient Rome. 

As with any foraging adventure, there is usually more to the story... gathering stinging nettle is not for the faint of heart and certainly not boring! You can read my own hunting mission and mishap on my post... Mountain Girls Eat Nettle.

Forage on...







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Thursday, April 4, 2013

Hobby Farm Home Magazine Feature

We're just a little giddy around here with the latest publication of Hobby Farm Home Magazine (May/June 2013)!


Check out the laundry line article "Hung Up on Appearances" on page 60... Homestead Revival is featured in Stephanie Staton's piece along with some photos and other great options for line drying clothes. You'll also find some other great articles on canning, perserving basil, making artisanal sodas with fruit from your garden, dealing with broody chickens, fermenting foods, and lots more great stuff!

Thanks, Hobby Farm & Stephanie!


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