Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Sustainable Farm Chores: Gathering Kindling For Winter Heat

It's time to start preparing for winter! The less luxuries of the modern world you have the more physical work you have to do in order to keep some basic necessities going - like heat in the winter. Today was perfect beautiful warm fall weather for breaking sticks for kindling - what I kept thinking as I did it was when the winter really sets in this would be alot harder to do. This is the kind of work that is meditative, relaxing, productive and gets your body moving without being extreme. I have a hunch that it's most fun to do with another person around though. After filling the first bucket I was yearning for some conversation or Fleetwood Mac. :)
These branches are from trees already fallen or cut down by someone. Most of what I cut up here are apple tree branches - the wood is kind of papery and will probably light fairly easy. I even got all anal with it and made two sides, one for wide pieces and one for the tiny sticks.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Eco Art: Drawing With Flower Petals and Natural Charcoal

Guess what I discovered today! I was in my garden and I pulled a few marigold petals off the flower and rubbed it hard against some cardboard...voila, it made an orange mark! Then I got some dark orange/red colored nasturtiums, more orange marigolds, and golden rod (yellow) flowers and decided to try and draw with them.
I didn't use a pencil or a paint brush, I simply took the petals in my fingers and mushed them, then pressed them against the paper. The paper I used in these pictures is recycled paper, four sheets taped together. I set up a mirror and used my face as a quick guide... although the end result is a wee bit more haggard then I am in reality, psychically at least. ;)
I started with the golden rod yellow flowers for an outline of the drawing since they have the lightest pigment. When drawing with solid colors it's best to build the pigments up from lightest to darkest.
The marigolds gave a full on orange, bright and full of pigment, the golden rod was a lemon true yellow and the nasturtiums came out strangely reddish mauve.
I got really excited that I remembered there was CHARCOAL in the wood stove from last time wood burned. Funny how in art school it never dawned on me the charcoal was simply from wood, since all our art supplies were bought in stores rather then handmade. When I moved out into the woods and burned wood in a stove for the first time, a piece of charcoal fell out onto the floor and I stepped on it and slide across white tile, making a huge line across the floor. I was like OH My GAWd, this is charcoal!!! :)
Adding the blackness of charcoal to any drawing, any color makes everything very bold and intense. I am also not really one for subtle art though too.
This was a eco art quickie, that took less then 5 minutes for me to draw, but shows that there is a range of stuff we can make without relying on an art store, without spending money and without harming the earth in order to create good art. We don't need to be starving artists cause we've spent all our money on art supplies or because our art supplies are so toxic it's polluting soil and water.
BTW - Next time I will draw something more happy for ya'll, like a unicorn.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

When There's Too Much Rain...

Seeds I was meaning to harvest and save for next year are growing right on the plant! These are marigold seeds growing right out the pouch that holds them, because of the massive amount of moisture and rain we've had for the last few weeks. You can see in the pic below the bottoms of the seeds are all forming roots - pretty wacky!
This is a whole new weird weather happening I never thought of- if the plants going to seed start sprouting on the vine (as did many of the beans too) because of unusual amounts of rain then it's difficult to save seeds for the next season.

Blue & Black Mating Dragonflies

These dragonflies are really thin bodied and have a crazy little clamper hook at the bottom of their tail. At first I thought the hook was possibly a stinger (somewhat scorpion shaped, like two half moons leaning into one another), which I have never seen on any other dragonfly before- but then I saw them mating and realized this clamp is holding the one on the bottom in place. By the neck. Hardcore!

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Skinning A Copperhead Snake

Before I get started on this project, I just want to say that this was my first time skinning a snake and was a learning process. I will link to more professional instructions at the bottom of this post.Last night my neighbor be-headed a copperhead snake - since I didn't find out till this afternoon I was not able to use the snake meat for eating but still wanted to take the opportunity to utilize the skin. Check out that length (that's me looking all haggard & averting my eyes while holding it by the tail) - not too bad for a male copperhead! Below is the process I followed to skinning the snake, if you have any experience or advice please feel free to chime in using the comments section.
REMINDER: * If you come in contact with a venomous snake DO NOT attempt to kill it, nearly all snake bites in America are due to people trying to kill the snake, the human may miss their mark but the snake never will. This instruction is not for killing snakes, but for using a snake already found dead either by hitting it in the road, having been killed by your pet, or hit by a mower, etc. Have respect for nature and don't kill what you don't need.*
STEP ONE: I laid the snake out on some clean paper, after having washed it off under running water. Snakes may carry salmonella so it's best to create an easy to clean surface before operating.
STEP TWO: This snake had been dead since the night before so it was probably a little more stiff then one freshly deceased. Most skinning instructions tell you to use a sharp knife, but there was no knife in my house sharp enough to cut with (and i tried them all), so I used hair cutting scissors. Scissors seem to be way easier with a cleaner cut.
The head was already chopped off this one, if yours still has a head chop it off. You then start from that chopped part of the neck and cut your way down to the tail following the middle of the belly. (The belly is the bottom soft part of the snake that it slithers on.) You are only cutting the skin, don't push your knife or scissors into the organs, especially if your snake is fresh and you want to eat the meat after. It's easy to see how to do this since the skin is somewhat loose to begin with.
STEP THREE: The copperhead had some fatty membrane stuff sticking to the skin. I took my knife and simply pushed through this membrane on both the right and left sides of the skin. This part was a little harder then I thought it would be, I had to really work it- plus get over touching tons of smelly slime. Once you get this sticky membrane loose on both sides, the skin will be ready to peal.
STEP FOUR: Peeling it is actually as easy as they say, I grabbed both the top right and left sides and just went ahead and pulled back. You may have to pull hard at first to get it going, but then it comes right off "just like a sock" or like "taking off pajamas", and any other weird analogy I heard about it. (See pics above and below.)

STEP FIVE: You are now left with the snake skin. Mine still had goo-y stuff at the very edges which I tried peeling and washing off under running water. I am not sure if this is correct but I could not seem to get it all off. What I read is the skin should be clean and have nothing on it anymore.
Up top is the outside of the copperhead skin, and below is what the inside of the skin looks like. Amazing how it's not pigmented on the inside- since that would not serve any purpose in nature.
LAST STEP: I pinned it to cardboard with straight pins and placed on top a warm dry surface. It's pinned backwards so you can see what it looks like, but I am told for it to dry best you pin the white side facing up and the pretty side down (the opposite of how it's pictured below)- then rub it with salt to preserve it.
If you want to know if I was grossed out, I can tell you this - holding a dead snake feels very strange, basically just like they feel when they are alive. You can feel every movement of the spine in your hands but it's not as slimy as it seems it would be. The snake had a slightly foul smell, but I think it was from the length of time that passed since it died. What I did to not feel queasy or sicked out while touching it, was not think any thoughts. :)

Read more on skinning snakes HERE. For skinning snakes to eat, go HERE.


Friday, September 25, 2009

Brown, White and Black Spider

There's two things I love about this spider I found out in the potato field - the first is the really neat coloration of it's head in contrast to it's very round & muted body... and of course the second is the scorpian like stinging thing jutting out that smooth abdomen. Looks like a serger needle for sewing clothes. Is it just me or does it have hairy eyeballs too?

My Birthday Wish List 2009

Yay! My birthday is coming up on October 5th and it's a good reminder to make a wish list. I firmly believe that making lists helps make things happen. People keep asking me what I want for my birthday, but usually when I tell them what I really want I get told "um, besides that!"

So here is to the universe the things I wish for in my own life:

1. A donkey to ride on, so I can travel and have a animal companion to take care of for the next 40 years.

2. Healthy Home - a home free of chems and other toxic stuff, so I can live the most productive life I am capable of. Would be a bonus if I could own it.

3. Cheese Grater (stainless steel)... no really, I would love to have one for grating veggies to add texture variety to my diet.

4. Perfect health!!!!

That is it for me... now for my world wide wishes:

1. A societal shift away from destructive consumer behavior.

2. Affordable renewable energy sources for everyone.

3. That Monsanto is no longer a seed & food monopoly, but rather is dismantled for their unethical business practices.

4. That every generation being born now is taught about the value and wisdom in nature, and learns to not fear the unknown.

5. That the government of each country begins to regulate and hold accountable what products are being sold to the public as safe.

6. That all building materials become safe & non toxic for homes everywhere.

That's all I can think of for now...
please share your wishes too!!!


Thursday, September 24, 2009

Snail With Spotted Shell

What a pretty spotted shell this tiny snail has. Did you know that snails can not hear anything and are hermaphadites that contain both male and female reproductive organs?
The other neat thing I learned about snails is they are not even insects, their scientific classification has crowned them as part of the Mollusk family! It's a land dwelling creature belonging to the same phylum as octopus, oysters and squids. :)

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

My Visit to the Long Branch Environmental Education Center

I am super excited to say I got to visit the LBEEC here in Big Sandy Mush - I didn't even know there was an environmental education center 3 1/2 miles from my house until a week ago. Sometimes the best places, with the greatest cause are hidden in the woods, unknown to those who don't often go off the beaten path. This is an off road path worth exploring for anyone who comes to or lives in the Western North Carolina area. The Enviro Center is not like some hippie haven/eco village but rather a logical, functional, and information packed community resource for anyone interested in learning about native plant species, perma culture, growing heirloom trees (such as chestnuts and fruit), solar heating, composting toilets, raising bees, trout, and a plethora of green building techniques that utilize on site materials (natural and upcycled). The center resides on 1,635 acres of conserved and protected mountain land and is 100% dedicated to preserving native flora and fauna. It goes much deeper then just saving an endangered plant or animal though, as the head of the center Paul Gallimore pointed out, " it's a whole ecosystem we are protecting".
When you first pull up the bumpy gravel onto the Long Branch Center there is an old chestnut wood barn with an incredible amount of bee boxes all stacked up against the outside wall. Honey bees are vital componants to pollinating the 5 acres of organic gardens, berry bushes, edible fruit and nut trees. What you see next is the green house & welcome center (see very top pic) and the awesome solar hot water heater standing on an angle right in front (see pic above). The solar heater can get up to approximately 175 degrees, which is plenty hot for a good shower and some squeaky clean dishes - it stays hot even during the winter, only cooling down on a string of cloudy days. The tanks appeared to be metal, painted black and nestled in a cushy silver insulated padding.
There's a very zen & quaint trout pond with relaxation friendly benches and chairs, begging you to sit and watch the wildlife come to the water. The pond is about 8 feet deep, and when Paul threw in some supplimental trout pellets the fish where jumping right out the water!
It was a feeding frenzy. A small 2 foot long water snake swam right through it too - Paul explained that this kind of snake looked alot like a copperhead and is commonly mistaken for one, but are not venomous. It did look almost exactly like a copperhead (sorry it wasn't in the picture below when I took it.)
We moved along into an area I was very curious about and that was their Chestnut Tree restoration project and heirloom fruit tree & shrub production. The American Chestnut Tree had been a major source of food for wildlife across the US until a disease called Endothia parasitica wiped out nearly all the trees, beginning in 1904. Even the ones that tried to grow back from stumps still to this day will die back after growing to a certain height (usually not over 30 feet.). The only way to fully restore the chestnut is to cross breed them with the blight resistant japanese chestnut tree - it's a solution that will help wildlife have the right sources of food in a delicately balanced eco system. Paul explained that acorns from the Oak Tree took the place of the chestnut when that food source was wiped out, but now the oaks are being threatened too by disease, 'sudden oak death' & pests - making it imperative for us to plant the blight resistant chestnut varieties. There are small pieces of our ecosystem that have huge impacts on life, things we may not notice during our busy lives- but without the acorns or the chestnuts many animals like the black bear will not have enough to eat and would likely starve during winter months.
Me and Paul spent a long time talking about the state of the world in relation to nature and possible solutions to the problems we have been creating as a species, all while he pruned his 'family' of blueberries. He keeps special blue plastic cylinders around the new growth to protect it from freeze and being stepped on - he felt that this was one case were plastic seemed to work in a beneficial way and uses it extensively in order to ensure he can grow alot of healthy trees and bushes (the cylinders are all re-usable!). His philosophy is greatly entwined with conservation and restoration, using organic techniques that won't damage the earth and some modern techniques that will ensure there's a food source for humans and animals alike.They keep mulch and cardboard patches on the ground to attract tons of earthworms. There are also coffee grounds added to the soil to create better acidity for the blueberries and also they attract more heat into the ground due to the jet black color.
There was an entire hill terraced with berries and right on the other side of it were fruit tree orchards - apple, peach, pear, nectarine, etc... (all my most favorites!)
Paul shared an extensive knowledge of native edible plants and invasive species in a short amount of time - he even ate some newly opening poison ivy leaves "to prevent catching poison ivy" next season and said the Native Americans used to eat one poke berry a day for their heart health (even though poke berries now are considered poisonous to humans.) He offered me some leaves to native plants to eat, but due to my damaged digestive & immune system from Celiac Sprue I decided to safely sniff on them, touch and feel them and save the eating for a different day. A moment like that really drove home the point of the LBEEC, which is that preserving the earth in it's natural state, keeping a safe and chemical free eco system promotes health - not just for the soil & food we grow and not just for the animals we love, but for optimal health of our own human bodies.
And good health leads to good spirits!
I can't wait to go back to the Enviro Center again to see all the things I missed this time - the passive solar composting toilet is something I need to try out!
Bye Ya'll!

Monday, September 21, 2009

Wildcrafted Herbal Remedy For Breast Cysts

Before telling you about my witches brew experiment, I have to do this:
The information contained on this web site is provided for your general information only. The Oko Box does not give medical advice or engage in the practice of medicine. The Oko Box under no circumstances recommends particular treatment for specific individuals and in all cases recommends that you consult your physician or local treatment center before pursuing any course of medical or herbal treatment.

I have a cyst in my right breast. I found it about 5 years ago when one of my cats stepped on my boob (Thanks Mr. Toonces!) - I was pretty sure it was caused by a combination of having been pregnant a few months before that (which can cause clogged milk ducts, even if you miscarry I suppose) and the fact that when I was preggers I ate tons of dairy food which I am normally allergic to when un-preggers. (Mmmm, Cream cheese.) I did not go to the doctor about the cyst for 4 years after I found it because I knew what it was - I only knew because I had been made to feel up fake boobs at the Women's Breast Clinic in New Orleans where I felt cysts, fibroids and fake cancer in all the boobies in order to learn the difference when self examining. The cysts and the fibroids are mobile, they can slip and slide around inside the tissue, change in size and hurt when you touch them - the cancer was stiff and rock hard, it didn't move at all, and I was told by the doctor that it would not be sore and hurt like a fibroid or cyst would.
Last year I broke down and went to the health center in Asheville NC, you know... just to make sure I wasn't making a bad choice but mainly to beg someone to go ahead and take it out with a needle. The nice lady doctor touched my breast for all of a few seconds and knew right away announcing it was" just a cyst" - which meant not cancer and also meant they would not be taking it out.

I am a naturalist anywho, so I decided to take my knowledge of herbs and research some different remedies to come up with my very own brew to shrink the cyst and tone down the pain when it's inflamed before my period.
Here is what I came up with and I'll tell you how it worked when I've used it:

I take all the herbs/ingredients listed above and put them in a pot and bring to a boil - not for a drink but for TOPICAL use. I also made myself a small organic cotton pad to absorb the super warm topical tea and then hold the pad directly onto my breast over where the cyst floats around. I would hold it on there for at least 15 -30 mins. always keeping the pad replinished with the very warm topical tea.
Everytime I have used this method I have shrunk it down, when I did it regularly I shrunk it almost 80% but stopped cold and eventually the cyst grew back to it's larger size. When it was shrunk I also found that applying this remedy stopped that one breast from hurting before my period (while the other one still got sore) - so I imagine this may do something for inflammation in general. The reason I stopped cold of doing this till the cyst was gone was because for some reason I got nausiated as the cyst got smaller and thought possibly the cyst was releasing something less then healthy into my body (isolated toxins?) - and was hoping to have the rest taken out by needle (which ended up costing way too much). I am now starting the whole process again, and after just one sitting with the warm pad full of witches brew it already shrunk 20-30% down from the size it was right before. Wild huh?

Have any ladies out there dealt with breast issues? Cysts, fibroid or cancer? What kind of methods did you use to get your health straight?


Short (Spiky) Hair Brown Caterpillar

I found this little buzz cut in a (happily) overgrown meadow of wildflowers. It was just sitting on top a leaf (of a plant I can not identify but looks alot like Japanese Shiso leaves.) The caterpillar is more of a reddish brown, brick red, or rusty orange brown in color - those rust colored hairs were not soft and thin looking either but tight, short spikes coming out in little close together bursts. I bet this fuzz muffin turns into a moth and not a butterfly... anyone know for sure?
I had the distinct feeling it was enjoying the view and looking over it's personal kingdom. :)

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Bear In The Bean Rows

It all started a few weeks ago when I awoke to someone clearing their throat outside my bedroom window. Since I live in an extremely rural area on private land the sound of an unknown & uninvited someone possibly hocking a loogie right out there was un-nerving. After quite a while passed I assumed the throaty sound I heard was in my dream state rather than reality - and in spite of the slight noises outside of something sneaking away I was satisfied to go back to sleep. I knew with 100% certainty I could outsmart an intruder in the pitch dark because my house is surrounded with clothes lines, trash, snakes and tall weeds basically equaling some goonies style boobie traps for any poor soul unfamiliar with the place.
Weeks passed with no more weirdos in the night, so I was relaxed... until at the same exact time around 2:30 a.m. this morning I begin hearing the coughing and throat thing in my sleep, which shot me and my cat into complete alertness. Both me and Toots sat with ears open wide, only to hear some more coughing sounds. Since I was absolutely awake and certain someone was outside the house I stealthily (pure silence) slipped out my bed, grabbed the phone and a flashlight, crawled on the floor out of my bedroom where they might see me and hid in the other end of the house with the phone and a gun I need to learn to use. I was literally shaking, called friends to wake up to my own concerns and then called the 911.
911 answered instantly and connected me to local Po Po's which I whispered my address and my problem to- and upon realizing how far out I actually lived they said "We'll be there right away, well, as soon as we can get there." That was it, I sat there in the dark with a huge gun (not mine) that looks like an oozie and weighs half as much as me, listening for sounds, sniffing for smells, and talking to a friend on the phone to stay calm.
The whole Calvary arrived at the same time (probably within 30 mins. of my call), Police and friends all pulling up together on the gravel road. We stood in the rain outside while the police walked around getting wet with flashlights scoping out the area I pointed to, I knew exactly where the sounds had come from. One of the officers came back around to me and said " Well Mam, there are no footprints, there's no sign of someone having been out here where you heard something. I have been hunting all my life and I know tracks, a person would leave tracks in a rain like this. There are bear tracks in the bean rows..."
Whoa, what? A bear!?
He eventually gets around to telling me the most wildest crazy thing I ever learned. He says "Bears clear their throats and sound jus' like people. One time I went hunting and smelled something. I heard them clear their throat and cough just like a man, then I leaned over the rock and there was a bear eating. They cough and stuff when they eat." He then imitated the bear cough throat clearing sound. A perfect match.

So, guess who had to go out in the rain at sun rise this morning to find bear tracks... :)
That is me below wearing a rain proof jacket about 100 sizes too big for me (Thanks Bort!), to go look for signs of bear, even though I knew the hard rain would have washed the best of it away already.
I walked up and down and around every row carefully, slipping and sliding in the wet rainy mud. Till I got to the 6th row from the back and found this washed out but still nearly perfect bear track!Here is another view of it below without the arrows- of course in real life it has more depth and distinction - you couldn't miss it. This is a front paw track.
This next indention looked like a back bear paw track, very washed out but close to the other one - I could just barely make out toes for it- but when I measured them both they were almost the same exact size (length).
A pretty huge foot there, scaling in at at least 7 inches ( not counting claws since they were washed away). I have no idea what maturity level a bear that size is at- but as the hunter/policeman said "Don't go out there and try to do anything with it during this time of year." Fall creeping into winter is notorious for bears going to more extremes for food.
This last picture is of what looks like claw marks, they were on the same bean row at the other end. I didn't find much other evidence on any of the other rows - most were washed out, or the grass looked untouched. This row, all the grass was obviously smashed down by something large.
As a side note, I have never seen a bear in real life before (even though I have lived in the smokey mountains for 8 years) - but when I moved to this house in April I began having dreams about a black bear that was coming to live here. I knew it would come, I didn't know I would call 911 on it for coughing while eating greasy beans. :)