Sunday, July 31, 2011

We've Moved!!

We've integrated the blog with our herbal products site!  Come check us out.  All new posts will be here:

Monday, May 23, 2011

a homestead update: chicken coop and introductions

And now for some introductions!

Houdini, our very sweet Houdan.

GG allin, our Buff Orpington

Gladys, one of our Austrolorps.  She has grown faster than the others.

My sweet Lottie Mae perched on the re-bar.  She likes to hang out on my shoulder.

A black Silkie Bantam named Eva.  Violet's favorite.  She is soooo tiny.

Our Barred Rock, Miss Fritz and Jade our white Silkie Bantam

We finished the chicken coup and the run with the help of our neighbors and friends.  It finally got warm enough the past couple of days to let the girls out for a bit.  They are growing so fast.

Taken during a downpour.  Very happy that we just got the ground tilled for the Three Sisters Garden.

In other news, the rain and saturated soil has meant that I've been rushing to get my plants in the ground at any possible dry moment that I'm not at work.  So far we have red peppers, roma tomatoes, basil, cosmos, zinnias, garlic, sweet peas, carrots, lettuce, onions, calendula, agrimony, broccoli, spinach, kale, brussel sprouts, wood betony, some woodland plants, lavender and turnips!

Friday, May 6, 2011

Chicken Coop Progress

The chicken coop is nearly finished!  Violet and I chose to paint it something fun and unusual.  We used recycle hardware, wood, windows, hardware cloth, and re-purposed an old steel sign for the roof.  We purchased the siding and the wood for the chicken run which should be built this weekend.

Violet painted the main body of the coop.  She had fun but she doesn't look like it here:

Finished coop pics and official pictorial tour coming soon!

Thursday, May 5, 2011

No-Till Keyhole Garden Bed

A keyhole bed is a circle with a path to the middle and widened into a circle at the center of the bed.  Basically, it is a rectangle curved at the middle to bring together the ends.  It is supposed to be space saving, but I just like circles better than sharp edges. The path into the center is shaped like a keyhole so that you can ideally reach all of your garden from the inside path or the outside of the circle without stepping on the soil.

I am creating a series of keyhole beds that will loosely resemble a mandala garden when I'm finished.  I take my time and build only about 1 or 2 keyhole beds a year.   Here's how I do it:

Hose, stick, tape measure, string and scissors.

Build your keyhole garden you will need the following:
  • flexible hose or suitable substitute for laying out bed
  • a stick, pipe or pole to place in the center of the circle
  • string to tie to the pole
  • scissors to cut the string
  • tape measure
  • shovel
  • lots of newspaper or cardboard
  • compost or soil (or do the lasagna method and use leaves, straw, compost, etc...)
  • water hose
  • straw

Decide on the general area...

You can use your tape measure to get a basic idea for placement of your new garden bed.  I measure mine at about 12-13 feet across, then place my pole in the ground at the middle so that my radius is about 6 ft.

String tied to pole

Tie your string to the pole and measure a little over 6ft and cut your string.  I tie a loop in mine so that the edge doesn't fray.

String stretched from center pole to guide placement of the hose

Lay your hose loosely in a circle around the pole so that it is easier to guide into your more precise circle. Now begin stretching the string to the edge and guide your hose into the circle as you walk all the way around.  This is the general shape and placement of your keyhole bed.

Hose guide in place for digging in edges.

Next, I like to dig in my edges in order to prevent vines, weeds or grass from growing into the garden bed.  Plus, this part of my yard is wet and soggy.  Edging in allows for better drainage and raises my bed slightly.  Follow the hose guide and dig in all the way around the bed.

Edges and part of path dug in (pole is still in the middle)

Now dig in a path from the edge to about 1 foot from your center pole.  My path is quite narrow...maybe 1-1.5 feet wide.  I put the soil from the path and the edges into the garden bed and loosen them up a bit so they aren't too clumpy.

Full path and keyhole dug into center.

Now dig out the circle in the middle.  I would ideally use mulch to cover my path but all I had was straw and it works fine.

Path covered with straw

Next get all of your newspaper or cardboard and your water hose.  Begin laying your newspaper, overlapping and using several layers at once.  Continuously soak the newspaper and the soil in the bed as you go, especially if it's windy outside!  Eventually, your whole garden bed should be covered in several layers of wet newspaper...


whole bed covered in wet newspaper.

Now carefully begin moving your soil building materials onto the newspaper, continuously soaking as you go.  This is important to encourage the worms and other soil creatures to eat all the grass and plant material under the paper layer and eventually come up to the top layer.  I just used compost to cover my newspaper.

keyhole bed with compost

Next I watered it in again and covered with straw to suppress weeds on the top layer and to protect the newspaper while it is breaking down.  I also put up barriers to keep the chickens from scratching it.

Would be easier to see the path if it was mulched!

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Chicken Coop

Jamie spent most of the day yesterday starting the chicken coop!  It is a combination of new and recycled materials. Here is what we have so far.

East side with the beginning of nesting boxes.

North side with large opening for a clean-out door.

Thursday, April 7, 2011


I've been researching breeds for our hens for the past few weeks and have narrowed the decision down to three:  Black Australorp, Barred Plymouth Rock, and Buckeye.  Each of these is an above average layer, cold hardy, docile and friendly, and adaptable to free range and confinement. Further, I can't stand seeing any of my girls get bullied, so I wanted to make sure that for the most part each type of bird we got would get along in a mixed flock.  Since our girls will get names and end up being backyard pets,  we chose breeds that would enjoy our company and allow my daughter to carry them around and sit on her lap (as she does with my neighbor Mary's chickens).

Thanks to Mary who blogs at, I will be ordering our hens through Bourne feed who gets their shipments from a hatchery in southern Missouri. All the images below are from Cackle Hatchery.

The Buckeye is a somewhat rare breed from Ohio.  Buckeyes are known for being easily handled and friendly, and are very cold hardy. She will grow to be about 6 1/2 pounds and produce about 3-4 eggs a week. I like the idea of supporting hatcheries that carry rare breeds and the Buckeye fits the profile of the kind of hen I would like to have around.  She's pretty isn't she!

The Barred Plymouth Rock will mature to about 7 1/2 pounds and is considered a good layer as well as meat bird.  Plymouth Rocks apparently have increased in popularity along with the rise in popularity of backyard chickens in general.  They are considered dependable, calm and adaptable birds.

I am most excited about the Black Australorp hens!  I love the silky black feathers that look iridescent in the sunlight.  These are also considered above average layers with about 5 eggs per week, very calm and docile and cold hardy.  Some folks have reported that these are very broody (sits on the nest to attempt to hatch her eggs), even annoyingly so, but I'll take the risk.  Gorgeous!

Even though the city of Columbia limits backyard chickens to 6 hens (no roosters), I will likely order 3 of each because of the likelihood that some of them will be sexed wrong.  If not, having a couple extra hens will be fine with me!

Update!  When I called the feed store to make my order they had a minimum of 5 per breed.  After talking with my girl, we decided to go for 5 Buckeyes since they aren't sexed and we will just get two random bantoms when we pick them up.  The Austrolorps are on back order until the end of May.  We can't keep roosters in the city, so we can order Austrolorps later in the season to replace what roosters will have to go.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011


There is such an enormous amount of information to share about plants that I had a difficult time discerning what to include and what not to for the first plant profile.  Primarily, I decided to focus on what I know most about the plant and some of my thoughts on how I think about using herbal medicine.
Let me know your thoughts!  Especially share what you would like to know more or less of in future plant profiles!

Agrimonia eupatoria

Energy:  slightly bitter, astringent, warm
Properties:  astringent, hemostatic, anti-inflammatory, analgesic, vulnerary
Constituents:  tannins, bitter glycosides, nicotianic acid, silicic acid, vitamins B and K, iron, cholene, carotene.

Agrimony is an herb that partially works by creating balance.  Agrimony doesn't necessarily just ease tension or increase tone as much as it will set the course for whichever action is needed at the time.  Agrimony has traditionally been used for digestive issues including those concerning the liver, gall bladder and kidneys.  Agrimony is commonly used for both constipation and diarrhea, but most of my experience with agrimony is as a remedy for pain.

Specifically, I tend to use Agrimony for pain caused from tension that is created by repetitive use.  Most of my experience of this type of injury is with my husband, a carpenter who can spend an entire day performing the same motion over and over, stressing the muscles and tendons in one particular area.  However, my favorite case is an old friend and employee of his who spent an entire day prying up an old floor.  His forearm swelled, turning a deep red and he reported pain, but did not complain (this is an indication for agrimony).  The tendon that stretched over the top of his forearm was hot to the touch and also swollen.  I gave him a tincture combination including agrimony and wood betony and told him to take 5 drops every few hours and rub a few drops directly into his arm.  Within just a few hours the swelling had gone down and the pain had lessened to a mellow soreness.  By the next day it was fine.

Traditionally agrimony's use for digestive issues are related to relaxed or constricted tissue states that interfere with the digestive process.  These can be related to the liver, gall bladder and the intestines. Agrimony can be used for issues that originate from the liver or the kidneys or any irritation that causes either of these organs to function poorly.  Anything which causes poor liver function and uneven distribution of bile will go on to produce difficulty with fat metabolism leading to digestive upset.  It also improves blood supply to these organs through the hepatic and renal arteries and the portal vein. I think of using agrimony if the person doesn't complain when it is obvious that they are very uncomfortable.  Often they will hold their breath and try to look like they are doing just fine.  The person will tend to just "grin and bear it". Also, I've noticed that when someone is in pain or uncomfortable they will stiffen their muslces and become tense, often creating more discomfort in the process.  I think this is also a good indication for agrimony.  Even the plant's growth habit reminds me of someone who is stiff and in pain!

As a psychotherapist, I believe that sometimes our physical condition is apparent in the way that we express ourselves, in our demeanor, and how we carry our bodies. Further, when observing my clients I also consider their living situation, who they spend time with, and how they spend their time.  Similarly, we can consider this when thinking about plants because they have evolved to survive in particular environments.  The plants produce particular chemical constituents and patterns that individualize their growth habits, tastes, etc and these constituents are what will have a specific action in the body.  Many traditions in herbalism would suggest that this constitutes a sort of personality of the plant.  This is also recognized as a plant's 'signature'. I don't want to go too in depth on signatures in this post, but for further info, read anything by Matthew Wood (my favorite herbalist).  The basic idea to consider is that sometimes we can look at a plant and say "wow, that plant is really stiff" and begin to consider how this plant's personality may be indicative of how we can use it as medicine.

On with with Agrimony.....

Agriomony is an incredibly 'tense' looking plant.  Even the hairs on the leaves and stem stick straight out and the seeds are prickly.  Yet, at the same time the plant is flexible, sending up a long stem of delicate yellow flowers that flows in the breeze quite gracefully. The leaves, while looking stiff, are actually very soft and flexible as well. Agrimony often grows at the edges of woodlands or in the woods.  However, it is quite easy to grow in just about any garden as well, keeping in mind that the conditions of the plant's environment will have an impact on its medicinal quality.  That said, there are so many different varieties of agrimony, that some herbalists will harvest many of them into one extract, while others will pick one variety and never use any other.

So, with this in mind we can paint a bit of a picture of the agrimony personality.  We can think of agrimony as a remedy for tension across the mind and body and a specific for people who tend to hide their true feelings.  Matthew Wood says that the agrimony person feels "caught in a bind as if in the wrong place at the wrong time, unable to do the right thing, go with the flow or be a good person".  The agrimony person can often be facing tension and anxiety due to having to quietly deal with stress at work or in relationships and we all know that this can lead to digestive upset.  Further, I use agrimony for times when I drink too much or eat too much rich food to bring my liver and digestion back into balance.

*Nothing on this blog has been evaluated by the FDA and is not intended to diagnose, prevent, or treat any disease, illness or disorder. 
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