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All About Mint.

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In my garden at home I’ve declared this year, “The year of Mint”! I added many mint varieties to my garden & have enjoyed learning about this herb. My favorite varieties have been strawberry mint, catmint, penny royal, chocolate mint and the classics: peppermint & spearmint. I’ve enjoyed many a few cups of homegrown mint tea, and I hope this article inspires you to do the same!

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About Mint:
-Genus is Mentha, family is Lamiaceae (other family members are basil, rosemary, sage, oregano & catnip). There are 13-18 estimated species of mint. Hybridization between some mint species occurs naturally. There are well over 30 varieties of mint.
-Mint is found growing across the world, in Europe, Africa, Asia, N. America, and Austria. There were even traces of mint was even found in an Egyptian tomb!
-The name “mint” comes from a Greek myth.. As the story goes, there was a mythological Greek character named Minthe. She was a river nympth that Hades fell in love with. Hades wife learned of their affair & turned Minthe into a plant so everyone would walk all over her & crush her. Hades gave the plant a pleasant aroma so he could still enjoy her presence & smell her.

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How to prepare/eat/preserve:
-When cooking with mint, add it at the end of cooking to preserve it’s flavor & texture.
-When cutting mint be sure to use a sharp blade & cut gently. If you cut mint with a dull blade you will bruise the leaves & the flavor will be lost on the cutting board.
-Mint Tea: pour boiling hot water over fresh/dry leaves & let steep for 5-6 minutes.
-Add fresh leaves to: salad with ginger & lemon zest, a fruit salad, to a homemade smoothie or juice, to chocolate chip cookie dough, or use them to flavor vinegar or oil. You could also dip fresh mint leaves in melted chocolate & chill in the fridge until hardened.
-Make a Tincture: Chop enough mint leaves to fill a glass jar. Cover with vodka. Shake jar daily for 4 weeks. Strain off mint, and you have a tincture!
-Storing/Preserving: Leaves can be stored in the fridge in a plastic bag/container. Leaves can be frozen in icecubes. Drying: Mint can be dried by tying branches together & hanging upside down in a cool, dark place; when dried store in an airtight jar.

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Other Mint uses:
-Use peppermint essential oil on stomach & temples for headaches or on bottoms of feet to break fevers.
-Add mint essential oil or fresh/dried leaves to bath water!
-Mint water is effective in preventing nipple cracks & nipple pain when breast feeding.
-Menthol is the solid constituent of peppermint or corn mint oil. Menthol is used to flavor food products & in products like muscle rubs.
-As a steam: steep mint tea & remove from stove. Drape towel over your head/shoulders & lean over pot taking deep breaths. This should help clear sinuses.
-Sunburn soother: make a strong peppermint tea & cool in fridge. Apply to sunburn with cotton pads.

Medicinal properties of Mint:
-Used traditionally for stomach aches & IBS. It’s thought to increase bile secretion which speeds up & eases digestion.
-Also used for sore throats, chest pain & sore muscles. Mint contains Menthol, a natural decongestant that helps break up mucus & phlegm.
-Mint is high in antioxidants, is anti-inflammatory, and also contains a phytonutrient called perillyl alcohol which is thought to prevent cancer growth.

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How to grow it yourself:
-Mint is a Perennial Herb, it can grow year round.
-Mint prefers moist, wet soil that has good drainage. Mint can grow in full sun (as long as soil remains moist) or partial shade.
-Consider mint to be a ground cover – it will spread quickly (some species are even considered invasive!). To prevent this, grow it in a container (12-16” wide is ideal) on a hard surface, or sink your container into the ground.
-Mint plants spread through vegetative reproduction by producing lateral stems, either underground as rhizomes or above grounds as runners.
-Pests: Susceptible to spider mites, flea beetles, cutworms, cabbage loopers, and a few other pests.
-Propagation: Propagating by seed is generally considered unreliable for a few reasons: seeds are highly variable & may not end up being the same as the parent plant, and some mint varieties are sterile. It’s best to propagate by division, or by taking cuttings from the plant or it’s runners. Mint plants will need to be divided every few years, in late winter-early spring.
-Harvesting: You can harvest individual leaves from your plant at any time. Once plant is established you can also pinch off growing tips (leaving one third of each branch). Once mint starts to flower you can cut it down to 1” from the ground. You can generally get 2-3 harvests per season.

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Mint products we carry at Deep Roots Market:
-Fresh mint in the produce department.
-Dried Spearmint & Peppermint in bulk herbs & spices.
-Mint tea bags in Wellness.
-Peppermint & Spearmint Essential Oils in Wellness.
-Mint plants: I have a small selection of my homegrown mint available at the co-op! They are selling fast, so pick one up while they are still available!

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garden, Uncategorized

All about Kohlrabi

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We recently brought in a case of locally & organically grown Kohlrabi into the produce department of the food Co-op I work at. I’ve gotten many a few questions of “Kohl-whati? Kohl-whatchamacallit?” Which lead me to the realization that I didn’t know much on this wonderful vegetable myself.. Thus my inspiration to learn more about this vegetable & to share with you what I learned!

About Kohlrabi:
-It’s a member of the Brassica family; kale, cabbage, broccoli & radish are some other members of this family. Brassica family crops are know for their antioxidant properties & are generally considered to be cancer inhibitors!
-It’s very popular in German speaking countries, and this is where we get the name “Kohlrabi” from, Kohl meaning “cabbage” & Rube or Rabi meaning “turnip” in German.
-There are two types of Kohlrabi: purple & light green/white Kohlrabi.
-Kohlrabi’s flavor is reminiscent of broccoli stem or cabbage heart, but milder & sweeter. It has the texture of radish with the sweetness of jicama.
-Kohlrabi is a nutritious plant high in Vitamin C, potassium, B6, and various minerals.
-Kohlrabi is commonly mistaken for a root vegetable, but it isn’t. It’s actually and enlarged stem that grows just above the soil line.
-Kohlrabi was first grown in Europe in 1500 and imported to America 300 years later.

What to look for when buying Kohlrabi at the store:

-A bulb that is 2-3″ in diameter will have the best flavor & texture. When bulbs get large they become tough & woody.
-Bulbs should be firm & not spongy with no visible brown spots.
-Bulbs that are spherical are ideal, tapered bulbs tend to be woodier.

How to prepare/eat:

-Both the bulb & leaves are edible raw or cooked.
-The leaves can be used like collards or kale.
-In order to use the bulb you must first peel off the tough outermost layer with a vegetable peeler. Inside is a crisp, juicy vegetable!
-Once the bulb is peeled, you can grate it & use it raw in salads, slows, or spring rolls. There are many ways to cook it: you can add it to a chunky vegetable soup, puréed in a soup (esp. tasty with celery root or potatoes!), cook as fritters, roasted with other hearty veggies, or steamed (then can be used in other recipes like frittatas, stir-fries or pasta dishes).
-Kohlrabi bulbs are also tasty when fermented or pickled!
-Kohlrabi freezes well: peel & slice it, blanch it for 2-3 minutes, drop into an ice bath, pat dry, then freeze.

How to grow it yourself:
-Kohlrabi is a biennial.
-Sowed to maturity takes 55-60 for most varieties.
-It’s subject to the same pests & disease as other brassica crops – cabbage worms are the biggest problem.
-Sow seeds 1/4-1/2 inch deep, thin to 2-5″ spacing. Maintain adequate soil moisture.
-Seeds can be started indoors & transplanted outside when ground becomes workable. Sow outside in early spring, make small plantings every 2-3 weeks for a continuous spring & summer harvest.
-Kohlrabi can withstand some frost. Plant like you would late cabbage in mid-summer for a fall crop.
-If growing during hot weather, seedlings will appreciate shade.
-When to harvest: bulbs will have best flavor when picked small, ideal size is 2-3″ in diameter. Once they get large they will become tough & woody.

garden

Our Garden Journey: Year Three [2016]

New year, new state! We left Chicago on 2.26.16 with all our belongings, the kitties, and our house in tow. Our hearts were full & ready for our new home state: NORTH CAROLINA. We arrived at our new parking spot bright-eyed & ready for this new adventure. We had found a good place to park our house with nice hosts that we met through craigslist. We had really lucked out with finding the perfect people! They own 10 acres of land, have a micro-animal sanctuary & offer lots of vegan-friendly events through their event center! It’s such a blessing to live with & create community with like-minded folks! They agreed to let us put in a garden next to our house! We took a few days to get our house situated, and all of our systems working properly.. Then it was time to get to the gardening!

Lasagna Garden Beds: On 3.3.16 we prepped our four garden beds using the “lasagna gardening” technique. This technique was low-labor & easy to do: We covered the grass with cardboard, then layered straw, leaves, compost, food scraps & manure. We topped the beds with top-soil, I got one pickup truck bed of soil & also added 2 cu ft of higher quality bagged soil to each bed.  We added a bamboo trellis to bed #1.

Our Seedlings: We started our seedlings on 3.6.16!

Early Mistakes (a.k.a. valuable learning lessons!) : When we first arrived in March is was SO WARM.. Compared to Chicago… Which lead to be a little presumptuous & think that it was OKAY to start transplanting plants out.. I was very, very wrong.. Many plants died. I killed ALL of my tomatoes =( I also ran into another learning experience: the manure we had added to the beds was pretty fresh, and therefore all of the plants we put into the beds got nitrogen-burned & died =( Our beds took a few months until they were ready to be planted in.

Cover Crop: This was my first time planting a cover-crop. I scattered some clover & radish seeds over the bed & raked them in. The radishes perished due the the manure within a month (see above image), but the clover grew happily. I learned that baby grasshoppers love young clover, and many of them lived out their youth in my clover patch. It was fun to watch them grow up, and see them chomping on the clover!

Figs: We bought our first fruit tree at a plant sale, an Ischia Fig tree, we named the tree Chia & potted it up in a bigger pot. We got two figs off of Chia! I also experimented with rooting fig cuttings & had success, though all the cuttings did die…

Shiitake Logs: I had a great opportunity to go check out a local farm, and help the farmer inoculate Shiitake logs! For each hour I volunteered I got to take a log home with me! The spawn we were working with was Night Velvet Shiitake!

Sprouting/Microgreens: I love growing sprouts & microgreens forever, especially when there isn’t much growing in the garden beds!

Flowers: While I didn’t plant any flowers, I tend to always let some of my plants go to seed to provide pollen to the sweet critters that visit my garden!

Purslane: While working my job as a landscaper, I found some wild purslane growing.. I brought the plants home & transplanted them in my garden. My love for purslane grew throughout the season.. Thus “Purslane Gardens” was officially born!


Our garden growing throughout the year: Our summer garden wasn’t very impressive.. Not enough time & the beds weren’t very developed yet. By the time fall came, a lot of plants had self seeded themselves. I had also quit my landscaping gig, and had more energy to be out in my garden. As of 11.2.16 we were still frost free & our peppers, tomatoes, & basil were still growing. Our fall garden was quite productive & we had various greens grow uncovered all winter long. Our best winter crops were lettuce (3 different varieties, but we loved sweet valentine romaine the most), bok choy, & turnips.

*SOME* of our Bounty! We of course harvested more than this, but here are some of the highlights of the year!

2016 was my most productive gardening year to date! I finally got some experience creating garden beds on the earth, and had some decent success. I learned a lot about weeds, North Carolina weather, and the other new challenges I will continue to face as a gardener. The longer I garden, the easier (sort of) it gets.. Experiences turn into knowledge & familiarity with the rhythms of gardening. It’s my favorite thing I do in my life, and I hope this glimpse at my year of gardening has inspired you to get out there & grow something!

garden, tiny house on wheels

Our Garden Journey: Year Two [2015]

With my first year of gardening under my belt, I was feeling good. I extended the season by growing sprouts in my kitchen, and by growing microgreens in my bedroom throughout the winter of 2014!

Early in January 2015 we met with our architect who was designing the plans for our TINY HOUSE ON WHEELS! It had taken us a year from when we decided to “go tiny” to get to this meeting. I knew that 2015 was going to be the year of us making our tiny house dream a reality. Because of this, the garden wouldn’t be my #1 priority. But I couldn’t help but start seeds and trust that I would have someplace to plant them in a few months.. I started my seeds in my bedroom on 3/18/15.

Our tiny house construction began on 4/16/15.

We moved from our apartment in Chicago (goodbye patio container garden!) into our tiny house on 5/22/2015. I took my seedlings along with me, and several days after moving in, I planted my seedlings in my trusty 5-gallon buckets, and into the ground (scary territory for me!)

I also emptied my worm bin, getting 19 #’s of worm castings. There were HUNDREDS of worm eggs!


Our garden suffered many challenges over the season: 
-My in-laws landscapers weed whacked the entire garden bed taking out all of my leafy greens.
-The garden bed flooded and remained underwater for several days at a time after any rain, killing the rest of the plants that hadn’t been weed whacked!

We did have a few victories though! We got a small harvest of tomatoes:


We also got a few other plants to produce:

Overall, 2015 was not our best year of gardening! I learned hard & fast about how important it is to have good draining soil, full sun, and landscapers who don’t kill all your veggies! I learned a lot over the year. I knew 2016 was going to be a way better gardening year… ‘Cuz we were moving ourselves & our tiny house to NORTH CAROLINA! 

garden

Our Garden Journey: Year One [2014]

The year is 2014, we were in the process of dramatically changing our lifestyle. We had changed our habits, our diet, & found our food co-op.. I felt a real sense of urgency to begin growing *some* of my own food, from seed. We were living in Chicago at the time, in a small one bedroom apartment in Avondale. We didn’t have much room for a garden, but we did have a small patio. We were able to fit 20 5-gallon buckets on our patio! On 3/17/14 we started seeds in ziplock baggies & our journey as gardeners began!

Pictures of our garden & the plants we grew ❤

TOMATOES: black & red cherry tomatoes!

GREENS: swiss chard, kale, beet greens, spinach, red deer tongue & lily’s lettuce


ROOT VEGGIES: 
beets & carrots


BELL PEPPERS: red bell pepper


HERBS: mint, sweet & lemon basil


PEAS: snap peas


FLOWERS: violas, lettuce, mint & basil flowers 

Before I knew it our first year of gardening was over!