Tuesday, 10 December 2013

Super Adobe- Earth Bag Building with Permastructure

Earthbag Building Workshop
Sept 21st-28th 2013

Its taken me a bit of time to do this write up! So much information was crammed into my brain in that week and I have had to make up for the lost time with teaching, workshops and designs!
Earlier this year I started to think more about the house I would like to build one day... through my journey of Permaculture I have seen many different ways of natural building, but none has stood out to me as much as SuperAdobe- it seems to compliment my left brain mentality when it comes to building.
You can look up some really amazing stuff on Earth Bag building here: http://www.earthbagbuilding.com/
I'm not going to explain the ins and outs- what I will say is that earth bag building is a great way to use resources on site, if you have sand or clay available and appropriate things to make a good mix. These structures are INCREDIBLY stable, they are used for geographic locations which experience high rates of earthquakes. Earth bag domes are not only strong, but insulative and can be used for thermal mass.
They do not always have to be built in a dome shape, although this is what gives them their strength as they are geometrically proportionate. If you want an earthbag roof, you need to build a dome so it actually holds itself up with the geometry, otherwise you can build straight walls with buttresses, or curved walls, and use a different material for the roof (such as wooden beams and tin).

If your not much of a person to colour in the lines or your not one to measure lengths of building material exactly then this may interest you! I absolutely love how you can sculpturally build-
Look at these things!

Aren't they beautiful?!

When I discovered that Permastructure (http://www.permastructure.com.au/) were running an intensive workshop for a week near Dayelsford, I couldn't resist. I decided to take a 'business trip' that would help me implement these incredible natural structures in future designs, and to hopefully gain the skills to build my own dwelling one day.

After battling with the mud like a rally car driver, I arrived safe, messy, and sound at my destination.
Fortunately, I got to live in a friends bell tent for a week, which was camping luxury!
After introductions, we learned about how arches and forms work with a practical exercise using wooden forms and bricks:

Now onto the building!
The base of our structure was already dug out for us, about two bags deep, and filled with scoria. Then a water proof membrane was layed down, with the first earthbag placed on top.
The earth bags are grain bags, which you can purchase in rolls and cut to the size needed. Often, earth bags are filled with wet sand, which when tamped, turns rock hard. The sand mix can also be stabilized with cement if needed.
We were being resourceful and using what we had on site, which was a mixture of mostly clay and sometimes sand, sometimes cement to stabilize some of the rows.

Laying the waterproof layer:

 Rolling the bag out and cutting to size:
We would do this by someone walking around the base of the structure and counting how many of their feet, then walking it out on top of the bag. I love this, much better than a measuring tape for me!

 If building a large structure or a long wall and you have a few people, its best to draw a line in the center of the bag you have cut, and fill it either side with your earth mix, making a nice 'pillow'.
 If you have marked the bag in the center and made a nice sturdy pillow, you can have 2 lots of people filling either side of the bag, which gets it done a lot quicker!
 Once you get to the end of filling, two people sit on each of the ends of the bag and make sure the bags are wrapped like a christmas present, all neat and tidy with the ends tucked under. A brick is used to tamp down the ends so they can meet in a lovely earthbag kiss!
 Here is the first layer! This is after it has been tamped down with a metal tamper, made at a steel fabricators (or you can make them using poles and cement poured into old large tins, when the cement sets you cut the tin off and you have a DIY tamper!)

You'll notice there is something in the middle of this structure, this is the compass, and it is very important! There are two compasses, the height compass (or fixed compass) and the circular compass. The height compass never changes, but the circular compass (the one you can see here) does. It changes according to the height compass, as you build up the layers of the dome. This is where the geometry comes in and is very important to always lay the bags according to the compass, so your dome is structurally sound.

Here is a diagram to help you understand.
They are both chains with a metal loop attached to one of the chains as your marker. Once set, the height (purple) marker never changes. The circular compass (green) has a long chain and the marker changes according to the height compass. GEOMETRY!

Here is what the circle compass is attached to so it can swing around easily. You use this to make sure your earthbag is being layed all the way around in a perfect circle.

Now, using the compass, the earth bags are layered over one another: filled, layed, compassed, tamped... filled, layed, compassed, tamped... etc.!

The forms are put in for the door and windows (when it comes to the time) :

 Short bags need to be laid around the window form, with the circular bags meeting each time, moving from the door form to the window form. Then one circular bag is placed around and on top of the window form making at a level height.

 The archway of the dome is laid on top of the buttresses and forms.

Forms are taken out!

And finally.... the rendering! This is my favourite part, getting my hands dirty, sculpting a house like a beautiful clay teapot!

The render was a mix of lime, sand and cement.
Although we didn't use it for this dome, my favourite render that I saw was lime being soaked in water for a matter of months, which makes this beautiful white cream that you can use like cake icing!
This is anti-septic and anti-fungal as well, protecting your house from critters!

Thank you to Permastructure for such a unique and lovely experience! All the people were friendly and passionate, adding to my ever growing network of Earth Warriors!

Thursday, 3 October 2013

Herbal First Aid Kit

Workshop: 14th September 2013

Firstly, I am not a qualified Herbalist (by Western academic terms that is). My knowledge comes purely from my interest, observation and love of plants. I have studied for 2 years as a Natropath, but decided to do more hands on things, which lead me to Permaculture. I like to know a plant intimately, and as much as I love books, I think there is only a limited amount of knowledge you can learn from a book about herbs. The real learning comes from the plant itself. I like to see them, touch them, taste them, smell them, make medicine from them... really experience the plant as an ally, as a friend.

I suggest this to everyone I meet that is interested in Herbal Medicine, Wildfoods and plant life. Pick a plant for a month, or even a year. Working with a plant for a whole year as amazing benefits, because herbs aren't supposed to cure your ills in one night with a pill. They often take TIME, like everything else, and you will really reap the benefits of being patient and getting to know a plant just like you would a friend. Learn all you can about this plant- sleep with it, bathe with it, use it as a bookmark, make every recipe you can with it, drink the tea each day, make tinctures or oils or vinegars, learn its properties, speak with it, write about it and draw it!! I assure you, you will never forget this herb, it will be one of your friends.

Wildcrafting: Wildcrafting is the practice of picking wild herbs. I suggest you do not do this by a busy roadside or polluted area. Collect from parks or fields. Always leave the 'mother plant' (the plant that looks the oldest and usually largest, that has given birth to all of the plants of the same species around her), ask the plants for permission, and make sure you leave a third of what is there to regenerate.

Herbal First Aid:

Kit Contains:

Calendula Cream:
Calendula officinalis
Sesquiterpene and flavonol glycosides, Triterpenoid saponins, Triterpene alcohols, Flavonoids, Carotenoids,  Xanthophylls, Phenolic acids, sterols, mucilage, tocopherols, calendulin and bitters.
Anti-inflammatory, anti-spasmodic, lymphatic, astringent, vulnerary, emmenagogue, anti-microbial.
Properties and Uses:
stubborn wounds, ulcers, bed sores, varicose veins, bruises, rashes, eczema, burns, scraps, sore nipples, rashes and skin irritations.
Calendula can be used in a number of ways, mashing the petals up for use in a poultice, making an infused oil, used topically as an infusion, or even taken internally as a nourishing and uplifting tea. The flowers can be eaten in salads or you can even use the petals as an addition to biscuits and cakes for extra healing power!
Using the cream, apply to the affected area. This cream can be applied to open wounds, but make sure they have formed a scab (you can use the cream around the freshly wounded area), and always give wounds time to dry out so they can heal properly.

A cream is a thick substance, created using oil components and water components and making them bind together to form a liquid with a firm and creamy consistency. This is usually done using emulsifying wax, which I do not really like using if  I can help it. I use a blender and the miracle coconut oil!

125ml (25 tsp) Calendula infusion >Calendula infused in hot water and left to stand for as long as possible
1 tsp Glycerine

200ml (16 tsp) Calendula infused oil > Calendula infused in olive oil for 1 month
50g (10 tsp) coconut oil
25g (5 tsp) beeswax

Mix all of the oils together in a bain marie over the stove. When all combined put in a blender and blend until creamy.
Add the waters a little at a time, until completely combined with a thick and creamy consistency.
Place in a jar and label with the herb, ingredients and date.
This should last for about three months, but if kept in the fridge will last longer. You can add vitamin C powder as a preservative, but this will not act like a commercial preservative. Home made herbal preparations have shorter life spans because they are real and living, and have less chemical derived preservatives. Its a small price to pay for lush homemade medicines!

Chickweed Lotion:
Stellaria media
High in vitamin C, vitamin A, and vitamin B, and the minerals calcium, iron, potassium, copper, sodium, phosphorus, and zinc.

Ascorbic-acid, Beta-carotene, Coumarins, Genistein, Gamma-linolenic-acid, Flavonoids, Hentriacontanol, Magnesium, Niacin, Oleic-acid, Riboflavin, Rutin, Selenium, Triterpenoid saponins and Thiamin.
Actions:astringent, carminative, demulcent, diuretic, expectorant, laxative, refrigerant, vulnerary.
Properties and Uses:
Chickweed is an amazing herb for the skin, it has a cooling action, making it great for burns, itchiness and rashes. It reduces swollen glands, carries unnecessary fats from the body, can be used for eye complaints such as conjunctivitis and can be used for bronciol infections due to its expectorant properties.
Use the lotion to rub on the skin when insects sting you, for minor burns and scalds and to alleviate itching.

Recipe: A lotion is a low viscosity topical preparation for use on unbroken skin. Usually an aqeuous solution with an oil or alcohol content.

30ml (6 tsp) chickweed succus (fresh chickweed juice in alcohol, 1 part chickweed juice to 3 parts alcohol)
30ml (6 tsp) chickweed infused oil (see the oil recipes below and follow the same method using chickweed)
130ml (8 tbs) chickweed infusion (1 part chickweed to 3 parts boiled water, steeped for 4hrs or more)
8g (1.5 tsp) Borax

Mix all ingredients together and shake well!

Insect Repellant Oil:
This is a mixture of different herbs that smell quite strong and have amazing repelling qualities for both the garden and for us!
It is a mix of Rue (Ruta graveolens), Wormwood (Artemisia absinthium) and Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis).
This is a recipe used by one of my most loved herbalists, Juliette de Bairacli Levy.

Fill a jar with equal parts Rosemary, Wormwood and Rue.
Pour oil over the top (I use olive, coconut or sunflower)
Make sure all plant material is under the oil so it doesn't oxidize and go mouldy, you may need to use a weight to do this.
Cap and keep in a cool and dark place for 1-2 months.
As the plant material absorbs the oil you will need to keep topping it up, perhaps once a week.

Sunburn Oil This makes a great oil to relieve our tired skin of the suns potent rays!

Fill a jar with equal parts St Johns Wort herb and Aloe Vera Gel
Pour oil over the top
Make sure all plant material is under the oil so it doesn't oxidize and go mouldy, you may need to use a weight to do this.
Cap and keep in a cool and dark place for 1-2 months.
As the plant material absorbs the oil you will need to keep topping it up, perhaps once a week.

Ginger Tincture:

Ginger contains volatile oils, pungent principles (gingerols and shogaols), lipids composed of triglycerides, phosphatidic acid, lecithins, free fatty acids (lamic, palmitic, stearic, oleic, linoleic, etc.), proteins, starch, vitamins (especially niacin and A), minerals, amino acids and resins. 

Antiemetic, Diaphoretic, Carminative, Circulatory stimulant, Anti-inflammatory, Antiseptic.
Properties and Uses:
Ginger's active ingredients, gingerol and shogaol, relieve nausea, regardless of its cause. It has been theorized that these ingredients quiet the part of the brain that causes vomiting.

Ginger also has an anti-inflammatory effect; it seems to regulate the chemicals that cause inflammation. And because it is calming to the gastrointestinal tract, it can cause fewer problems than synthetic anti-inflammatory drugs, which in many people trigger major stomach upsets.
It also inhibits platelet aggregation (clumping), which is common in people with coronary artery disease, so it may also be good for heart problems. And its warming effect is good for the general circulation.

Recipe: This tincture can be used for travel sickness, nausea, shock, digestion and stomach upsets. It can also be used as an alcohol rub on feet and hands to stimulate circulation.

Fill a jar with grated ginger
Pour alcohol over the ginger (I use brandy, but vodka is good and I have also used gin at times)
Once again, make sure all the plant material is covered, as you do not want it to go moldy!
Leave in a cool dark place for 1-2 months. 

During the workshop we discuss some more things which can be added to the first aid kit in time, as well as foraging tips and drying techniques.

The next workshop will be on October the 12th in Belgrave, Victoria.
For bookings contact: thepermapixie@gmail.com

Tuesday, 3 September 2013

Monday, 2 September 2013

The Quickening... Setting to bud

Lets just start with a big deep breath in, as I am feeling the warmth of the sun start to angle its way towards brighter days.
The Quickening is a time, in the southern hemisphere it starts on August 2nd, and continues on into the spring equinox. It is the time where we start to see the softness of spring spark and unfold. The sap starts to rise and flow in trees, perennials start to burst with new life, buds open to the newborn sun and blossoms hold their petals strong.
The mornings get warmer and brighter, but there is still a cold clenching to the earth as she bares her teeth in one last yawn of winter. Birds start to sound more, insects collect in buzzing, bees make their way from the hive to taste the first of the springs nectar....
This, to me, has always been the most magickal time. I believe all things are filled with magick and energy, but we can really see it now. Its absolutely beautiful, watching the land burst with renewal. Everything seems to be readying itself for the courtship dances of the season- everything is preparing to procreate. It is a time of fertility, abundance and birth.
It is also a time that we need to start preparing water management systems, nourish the soil, mulch for water retention, start seeds, dig in green manure.... there is LOTS to do in spring!

So as I was walking today with my animal companion, I took special notice of all of the little juicy wildfoods that are coming out to nurture us. I would like to share a few of them with you to get you paying attention to the things growing around you, and how you can use them for both food and medicine.
(Please do keep in mind I live in Melbourne, Australia- the southern hemisphere).

Keep in mind I could probably write a whole page on each of these wonderous plants, but I will keep it down to a list so you can find what is growing in your area Right Now!

Betula pendula
Birch Sap:
Anti-inflammatory, antiseptic, antiparastitic.
Birch sap mainly consists of fructose and glucose, simple sugars that are produced through photosynthesis and then used in respiration for metabolic processes of the tree. In the spring the sap starts to rise, after being dormant in the tree, from the roots to the branches, giving live blood to the tree to produce new buds and leaves.
The sap contains vitamins and minerals such as magnesium, calcium, potassium, manganese, thiamine, phosphorus, zinc, sodium, iron, amino acids, and vitamin C. This makes it an excellent tonic for coming into the new season, fighting off colds, repelling the effects of hayfever and giving you a new burst of spring energy!

Tapping: This will not harm the tree if carried out correctly. They should only be tapped every three years (allowing them to heal and rebuild their reserves- remember, your taking some of the trees life force, it needs some time to regain that strength. The tree produces excess sap in spring, but if you are tapping too frequently it will be unsustainable and the tree may suffer). Trees that are only 25cm and larger in diameter should be tapped.

photo taken by nami nami

- Drill a hole in the tree which is about 8-12mm wide and 50mm deep.
- Insert a sterile plastic tube the same size as this hole into the tree, making sure its nice and snug.
- Make sure the tube is long enough to reach the ground, and insert the other end into a bottle (plastic is ideal in case of frost, as glass may shatter).
- To secure the bottle you can tie some string around it and the tree to fasten it. Bungee cords also work well for this.
- Leave the tree to flow! This, depending on the point in season, can take anywhere from one to 6 days. Getting in early is good, the sap will flow faster!
- When the tree has given you enough of its sweetness, you need to spray the hole with water and insert a cork, or you can use some environmental grade putty or clay. (Cork is best though, as it still breathes). If you do not plug the hole the tree can actually bleed to death! be responsible with your foraging ;)

Using Birch Sap:You will need to use the sap straight away, as the chemical composition will change if left for even a night. Making birch syrup is a good way of keeping its self life strong, and is very versatile.
To make birch syrup you need to simmer the sap down until you have the desired consistency. Birch syrup is only about half as viscous as maple syrup. You do not want to burn the sap! Keep it on a low temperature for a long time, stirring as you do so.
When the sap has reached the desired viscosity, decant into sterilized jars to use in future recipes.
This syrup can then be made into beer, vinaigrette, to caramelize onions or glaze carrots and can also be used on ice cream!

Salix alba
  Weeping Willow Buds: The buds of weeping willow can be eaten, although they are extremely bitter! I am talking about the tree Salix alba and not the weeping willow! Weeping willow can be used for many plant crafts, but is not the best for eating. The willow is a lot harder to find in Australia than in England and Europe, but there are a few places... do dome tree ID and see if there is one near you.
Willow is where aspirin comes from, it is found in the cambium layer (the inner bark) of the tree. It has been used for pain relieving medicine for years in Western herbal medicine history. Unlike modern day aspirin, it contains many other constituents which support the body when taking aspirin, making it a Whole plant medicine!
The new shoots and buds of the willow are high in vitamin C, and are all best cooked with something else- they are described as "not prime eats" and "survival food"....but, if your like me, you'll want to give them a try!

Urtica dioica
Nettle: Nutrative, Tonic, Alterative, Hemostatic, Anti Anaemic.
Stinging nettles are one of the most extraordinary foods on this earth in my opinion! They will be coming out now (in Australia) in full force, on the edge of waterways, barn edges, abandoned paddocks or urban lots. The stinging nettle contains massive amounts of vitamin C, Iron, Calcium, Potassium, Chlorophyll, Phosphorus and Magnesium. Nutritious nettle also contains copper, sulphur, B complex vitamins, vitamin A and zinc.
Yes, stinging nettles do sting, but you can wear some gloves to harvest, or be very careful. The juice of the nettle is actually an antidote for the sting! If there is any dock or plantain growing nearby it will also act as an antidote. The stings, unless you are allergic, can actually have a medicinal effect themselves. There are sections of the nettle that don't actually have stingers, such as the top side of the leaf. If you want a nutritious snack you can actually pick the nettles from the top of the leaf, squish it between your fingers, roll it up (this crushes the stingers and dissipates the acid that causes the reaction) and pop it in your mouth!
If you are not so game, There are some amazing recipes for nettles! One of my favourite things to do is fry them up with some butter, garlic and onion. (Sometimes I add some sprouts near the end too).
There are many recipes for nettle soup which I am not going to repeat. You can add fresh nettle juice to your fruit and vege juices, or nettle Sheppard pie... Mmmm.
I often make up a brew of the dried nettle (it keeps very well dried, and its constituents are extracted easily with a brew or in alcohol as a tincture). I place a handful or two of the dried herb in a bowl, pour boiling water over it and let it steep overnight and in the morning reheat it as my cup of tea.
This herbal wonder is amazing for any kidney upsets, used as an iron tonic for anemics, helps reduce bleeding, is excellent as an ally for women, supports the respiratory system, helps the thyroid and nourish hair, nails and skin. Thank you mama nettle!

Stellaria Media
Alterative, Carminative, Emollient, Demulcent, Nutritive.
In my experience, we only have a month or so left of this little lady, as I have seen her die out in the hot Australian summer. She likes to have enough moisture and now is the time where she spreads loads of energy to her leaves, uses the water from the winter to nourish herself and produce lots of chlorophyll for many animals to munch on!
This grows near creeks and waterways, creeping its way across the land that is in need of repair. Her flowers are tiny tiny, as you can see in the picture, and she has a lovely mohawk of fine hairs that runs along her stem and changes direction at each node! Pretty fancy. She loves areas which receive sun, but not too much, perhaps the morning sun is best for her as she is a little delicate. Chickweed contains high amounts of magnesium, vitamin A, iron, aluminum, calcium and chlorophyll.
I pick mass amounts of this, it is one of my favourite salad greens EVER! It is so nourishing I can taste the goodness as I munch! I never cook this little lady, I use her fresh or juice her beauty to make sauces or combine the juice with alcohol to make a succus. She responds well to being infused in oil, and can be used externally on the skin for itches, irritations, burns and bites. A very good skin healer, used inside and out!
Try making a chickweed and pine-nut salad, or infusing in olive oil to give a nourishing kick to your meals. Chickweed helps to cool skin if there is inflammation or infection, acts as an expectorant (loosens mucus) for the lungs, is great to use for coughs and bronchitis, carries fats out of the body with her saponins and is amazing for soothing tired, injured or infected eyes.

Taraxacum officinale bud
Dandelion Blossoms & Buds:
Hepatic, Tonic, Digestive Stimulant, Astringent, Diuretic, Stomachic, Fungicide
I could write all day about this plant! Dandelion, Dente-lion (teeth of the lion because of its serrated leaves) is a superfood. It also grows pretty much EVERYWHERE! It is one of the post amazing pioneer plants, moving in when the soil needs some help to keep it moist, break up compact soil with its taproot and bring minerals from deep within the soil to the upper reaches of our terrasphere. 
This herb is full of extremes with its healing capabilities, but is well balanced with its vitamins and minerals. Has high amounts of iron, calcium, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, protein and vitamin A.
You can find this plant by roadsides (although please don't collect from busy roads), abandoned urban lots, parks, peeking out through pavement.... anywhere that has disturbed soil (so pretty much everywhere in our world, right?!).
At this time of year the new light and bright green leaves are amazing in salads as they are not so bitter! This is a very bitter plant, but don't be afraid, thats where its healing comes from. The buds are also starting to ripen at the moment, so you can make some amazing omelletes using the buds, stir fry them with meals... they are really good with pan fried things. The leaves can be used to make pies, as a side dish with garlic oil- most people like using dandelion with something else, as it takes away some of the bitter taste.  The flowers can also be used, they make a fantastic infused oil by just stepping the blossoms in some olive, sunflower or even coconut oil. Dandelion blossom infused honey is one of my favourites! The flowers are a great addition to salads or puddings. Dandelions healing action is mainly on the liver, it acts as a tonic, stimulates blood flow, aids digestion, helps premenstrual symptoms and relieves pain. If this plant heals the earth imagine what it can do for us.

Avena sativa
Oatstraw: Nutritive, Tonic, Demulcent, Nervine, Diuretic, Diaphoretic,
This is where oats come from! Wild oatstraw starts to make itself known at this time of year as it flowers. Before that it can just look like a grass. It is a grass with a very hollow stem though, hence its name oatSTAW, you can actually drink from it like a straw if you wish.
During this time of year the lovely flower and seed heads (shown left) start to dance and sway in the breeze. Its absolutely beautiful!
I find it beside train tracks quite a lot, as well as in fields, parks and high along creek lines. It likes to be moist, yes, but can actually withstand quite a bit of sun. Likes well drained soil, and is a little more picky than plants such as dandelion and plantain, who will move in and colonize any bare soil. Oatstraw likes to be in the sun, and can often be found up high. Its very distinguishable by its prong like seedhead which stems from the plant on tiny delicate strands.
Although oats can be obtained from the plant, the 'straw' is what we want to harvest at this time. This is a part of the plant which has many properties, and contains high amounts of calcium, iron, folic acid, fiber, vintamins E and K, vitamin B complex, vitamin A and vitamin C. It is a plant that represents fertility, and can be used as a libido stimulant (sow your wild oats?!), immune strengthener, nerve tonic and digestive aid. The milky substance that you get from oats themselves are a healer, nourishing the skin externally and lining the gastrointestinal tract internally, which is very soothing to people with digestive upsets or bowel problems. Having a bath and adding 2 litres of oatstraw infusion to the water will help sooth nerves as nourish skin. Once you have harvested your oatstraw while it is green and glorious, its best to make an infusion with it by steeping it overnight in hot water. This makes an amazing spring tonic, and can be drank everyday to help rejuvenate our spirits and get us back into the spring of things!

There are also many young shoots and leaves you can start eating now, although our pallet is quite used to sugars and salts, meaning you may not find them so flavoursome!
Here is a small list of edible leaves and shoots to seek out in spring!
- Maple
- Birch
- Persimmon
- Beech
- Common fig
- White Mulberry
- Pomegranate
- Blackcurrent
- Sassafras
- Elm
- Ash
- Linden
- Chaste tree

Hope you enjoy this incredible season and start to learn more about reclaiming your food!
For those interested I will be running a Herbal First Aid Kit workshop in September and a Spring Wildfoods workshop in October, contact: thepermapixie@gmail.com for a registration form.

Happy foraging!

Monday, 22 July 2013

All about.... Berries

I attended a Berry workshop at CERES on Saturday, as a result of a friend giving me their place as they were too busy to attend themselves. (Massive thanks by the way!)
On the dreary morning I slugged my way out of bed and into the city where the ground reflects the grey sky. Due to the weather we spent most of the time inside, chatting about everything BERRIES! It was a small number of people, which gave the workshop an intimate vibe.

A few key pointers when it comes to berries:
- Zone 2 plants, sometimes bordering Zone 1 (particularly strawberries)
-They usually dig acidic soil (a pH test is crucial)
- They need a specific management system, which depends on how you want to grow them
- Getting organic stock means they will be less prone to disease
- Berries dislike humidity
- Plant on mounds
- Most berries need a chill factor (200hrs of chill, below 8 degrees C)
- Berries grow well with citrus, as they provide shade and also like acid soil
- They do not compete well with 'weeds' and grasses
- Need protection from strong winds
- Like to be shaded from hot western sun
- Keep mulch away from stems to discourage fungal disease

Soil preparation is essential for growing most plants. Berries need particular attention given to their soil. A mix of compost and manure, making sure to always rotate manures. Rock dust is also good to add to the soil for trace minerals, and sulfur can be added to bring the pH down.
Looking to nature for observation, berries usually grown in forest woodlands throughout Europe. This means they like to grow as an understory in dappled light, upon heavily mulched mounds. Growing in pine forests makes the soil considerably acidic, which is ideal for berries. By adding pine needles to your compost you will make it more acidic to use on berries and citrus.
They like moisture, but not wet feet. This is where mulching plays a role.
Being highly prone to fungal diseases (this is why they do not like humidity) it is a good idea, like in vineyards, to plant roses near your berries. Roses show signs of fungal disease before anything else, which means you can get onto it before it gets your produce!
Not liking competition, it is a good idea to sheet mulch before planting (laying down soaked newspaper or card over the garden area to suppress weeds before covering with soil, manure, mulch and then planting).

More specifics:

Raspberries These are sucking shrubs with cane-like stems that grow 1.5-2.25m high. They like well drained, acidic to neutral rich soil and grow best in cool-temperate areas.
Plant in autumn or winter in rows facing north to south. It is best if they are shaded from wind and harsh afternoon sun. This would be done by planting next to an east facing wall, or using evergreen trees for shelter.
When planting, loosen the soil by digging a small trench. Work in compost and manure, and create a ridge that is 10-15cm high. Raspberry canes need to be supported with wires or a framework. Attaching 3 wires to a fence, lattice or posts will suffice.
Soak the bare rooted stock in diluted seaweed tonic for half an hour before planting. This helps with root shock and provides minerals for the roots and soil biota to feed on. Alternativley, I thought that adding coir fiber (coconut fiber) which had been soaked in diluted seaweed solution and adding it to the soil would both retain moisture and give the roots a boost.
Mulching with lucerne 10cm deep is best, soaking the mulch beforehand.
Pruning is a must for these suckers! Keeping onto pruning means minimizing maintenance!
Raspberries fruit on canes produced the previous season, which look a little sad after they finish fruiting. For autumn varieties, pruning back vigorously at ground level is required. The summer variates from what I understand do not need to be pruned as heavily.
So... here comes an interesting bit.
There are two types of canes, primocanes and floricanes. Primocanes are the canes which are produced in the first year, and floricanes are canes produced from the primocanes in the second year. If floricanes are cut back then more primocanes are produced from the ground level of the plant.
Autumn varieties apparently do not taste as nice, but fruit later and are easier to manage. They require vigorous pruning of the primocanes, which in turn produce more primocanes and fruit again the next year.
Summer varieties however, are more delicious, but require more maintenance. They produce primocanes, then floricanes, which then produce the fruit, exhaust themselves, and produce more primocanes which in turn produce floricanes which again fruit. Make-a-sense?
Due to the need for floricanes and primocanes growing at different times, it makes pruning a little hard. You want to prune back the floricanes but not the primocanes, and if you leave this too long after they have fruited, it becomes hard to distinguish between the wood.
To make it easier people use pieces of ribbon or fabric to tie bunches of primocanes and floricanes, making it easier to identify at pruning time.
Berries really do require netting, or some kind of protection from birds.

Strawberries These plant well in pots, or make sure they are closest to the wall of your garden bed for easy access, as they are a ground cover. They are herbaceous plants, about 15cms high spreading into clumps roughly 50-100cms wide. They are pollinated by bees (these creatures are AWESOME!).
Strawberries are particularly prone to disease. buy good stock!
Before planting, dig over the soil and add compost and manure (some people use blood and bone too, or worm juice or castings). Plants should be positioned about 30cms apart and like more sun than some of the other berries. They do their best in well drained soils, so planting on mounds again is essential. Do not bury the swollen stem at the base (the crown) too deep.
When the young plants are being established, water well. It is best to surround the plant (not touching the stem!) with a layer of straw mulch, which helps keep the fruit off the ground and prevents rotting. Strawberries grow particularly well using pine needles for mulch.
When they first start to flower, add some pot-ash or wood ash from the fire, this gives the plant more potassium, which aids in the ripening of fruit.
Over the summer, strawberry plants will produce runners. These are modified shoots and can be used to propagate new strawberry plants. In the winter cut these runners off from the stem, leaving the root intact.
Replant in rich acidic soil. Once the 'mother' plant has fruited give them a hard prune and tidy up any old leaves.
Strawberries last for about 4 years, although you can keep taking runners. Some people treat strawberries like annuals by taking the runners each year.

Blueberries These like a soil particularly acidic, ranging from between 4.5-5.5. They need trace elements such as magnesium, boron and zinc. Blueberry shrubs grow to 1-2m tall, and branch out wide. They last between 15-20yrs.
There are four main types of fruiting blueberries, the low bush types (have a chill factor and require very low temperatures in order to set fruit. Unsuitable for most Australian growing conditions), the high bush types (these are partly deciduous, have a chill factor but can be grown in southern Australia) and the southern high bush (grow well in Australian gardens in warmer conditions).
Hardwood cuttings are taken in winter and should be 20-30cms long. Plant out in summer, once roots have been established in some potting mix. The evergreen variates are propagated by taking small cuttings from the tip and are easier to grow in cool temperate climates.
Blueberries like a rich and well drained soil. When transplanting tease out the roots. They need to be shaded from harsh sun and wind.

Home made fungicides:- Chamomile tea
- Milk (dilute 1 part milk to 10 parts water and spray- works great for powdery mildew)
- Garlic
- She-Oak

There are some berry basics!
I am looking a little more into some other types of berries. I would like to do a patch design for a berry food forest, perhaps with a feijoa hedge surrounding, if soil types permit.
Happy brambling!

Monday, 17 June 2013

Autumn and Winter Wildfoods Workshop

 Here is a peek into the Wild Foods workshop which was hosted on the 9th of June 2013 in Melbourne, Australia.

The basket is filled with:
- Honey - Ginger - Elderberries - Hawthorn Berries - Jute string - Jars Jars Jars! - Brandy - Labels

 A couple of meals were prepared for the participants, which included a soup made with wild Mallow, tomato, celery and fennel and a completely seasonal salad made with violet, chickweed, dandelion, pomegranate, violet flowers, borage flowers and pecans. I also made sourdough using acorn flour for everyone, which was just the right amount of rich and nutty.

I also made a small zine for the students to take home, which included some of the following information:

Finding friends
Herbal Allies

The greatest thing I can urge you to do is use your intuition, become empowered and take from the wild world as sustainably as possible.
These plants which grow by our feet have evolved with us for thousands of years and they do it with a purpose. They are our friends, our nurturers, our healers.
We can learn from them if we only take the time to listen.
It comes from curiosity and interest, watch what is growing, observe, pay attention and just have fun with all the wild green lushness that is at your fingertips!
One of the things I love to do most is get to know a plant or herb over Time. I am not a fan of cramming things into the brain to be forgotten

So, Touch the plant, Taste it, Smell it, Speak with it, Listen to what it has to say- establish a relationship, tuck it under your pillow at night, bathe with it, make it into tea and food and medicine, get to know how it grows, where it grows and why it grows there.
Then you will never forget, as it has become your friend, companion and green alley for the rest of your days. 


The only thing that determines a poison from a medicine is Dose Hypocrates

We are not all chemists, so we must use our common sense and intuition!
If you are unsure whether a plant is edible: Don’t Eat It! Usually the flavor of something will tell you it isn’t used internally, so trust your own senses and if you are unsure do not proceed.
Do not gather herbs and Wild plants from busy roadsides or areas which may have contamination (industrial sites etc.). Plants absorb and accumulate minerals which surround them, so make sure the surrounds are lush.
Make sure the plants Look Healthy! A healthy plant will contribute to a healthy You!
Oxalic Acids: these acids occur naturally in many common foods, but some wild plants have higher levels which if taken too much can limit absorption of Calcium in the body or even cause sickness in high doses. Amaranth, Dock, lambs Quarters, Oxalis and Purslane all contain higher levels of oxalic acid. Blanch for 5 mins and dispose of water, don’t eat too much and combine with high calcium foods. Poisonous Plants: Ricinus communis, Conium species, Parietaria judaica

Herbal Remedy

Compress: a wet or dry, hot or cold pad of material with or without medication applied with pressure to the affected area.
Decoction: the extraction of water soluble constituents of a medicinal plant by boiling; a medicinal preparation obtained in this way.
Infusion: the extraction of water-soluble constituents of a medicinal plant by steeping in water that has been brought to the boil; a medicinal preparation that has been obtained in this way.
Lotion: a medicinal solution for external application to the body. (Cream: a meOintment: )
Plaster: a paste-like medicinal mixture which can be applied to the affected part of the body and its adhesive at body temperature.
Poultice: a pad of hot moist material applied to the affected part of the body.
Tincture: a medicinal extract in a solution of alcohol or alcohol and water.
Syrup: a medicinal extract in a solution of honey or sugar to act as a preservative. 

Spiral of the

First I acknowledge the Original Custodians of this Land, whose seasons are different to the ones we are associated with today. 
The seasons for me are a representation of what our bodies need. As plants draw their energies in so do we, we require nourishment from the antioxidant rich berries which ripen in Autumn, from the deep tap roots that sustain us through their starch and minerals, and from the time the season itself gives us to connect and support our journey through the deep.

All I know are the seasons keep cycling,
everything else is just decay and ripening

-The Perma Pixie

Chemical Compounds
Alkaloid: one of a diverse group of nitrogen-containing basic substances found in plants, usually with a strong medical action
Essential oil: A volatile oil present in aromatic plants, usually containing terpenoid substances
Fatty (fixed) oil: a natural vegetable oil or animal oil that is not volatile; a mixture of esters of fatty acids, usually triglycerides.
Flavonoid: any of a group of organic pigments found in plants derived from flavones and related substances, often associated with glycosides.
Glycoside: one of a group of substances in plants containing a carbohydrate molecule (sugar), convertible by hydrolysis into sugar and a nonsugar component.
Mucilage: a complex gelatinous carbohydrate secreted by certain plants.
Saponin: any of a group of plant glycosides that produce a soapy foam in water.
Tannin: one of a group of complex compounds found in many plants containing acids, phenols and glycosides.
Volatile oil: an essential oil.

There was also some information about the particular plants we made friends with...
Hawthorn, Dandelion, Dock, Violet and Elderberry.
We started the day with a weed walk and a general discussion about RECLAIMING OUR MEDICINE, followed by some chalk and talk about these wonderful wild edibles, lunch and then the fun Hands On part!
We made a Rosehip and Hawthorn tincture in Brandy with cloves and cinnamon... Mmmm
And Elderberry and Ginger Syrup to combat coughs and flus.

This is what people took home with them, including the booklet.
It was a very sweet and informal gathering of herbal warriors wanting to learn from the plants and each other.
I love teaching the earths food and medicine!
I teach in quite a wise woman way, and I do not really measure anything... I try and write down recipes and measurements for those that find intuitive medicine a little hard to get their heads around!

I have always been like this, I don't bake cakes with measurements, I don't make medicine with measurements. I know its importance and it does interest me, but I like to let food and medicine speak to me.

Here is some praise I received from the workshop:

"You are inspiralizing, empowering me also to delve into and refine my knowledge and share"
"Great workshop, I loved the interactive and informal style, everyone was lovely and I also enjoyed the fact that it was hands on- fun fun fun!"
"Good balance of theory and practical. Great lunch! Nice little book to take home. Maybe include a little recipe list in the booklet next time"
"Great workshop. Lots of information. Fabulous lunch. Think other seasonal workshops would be a great idea"
"Amazing workshop, super impressive salad, thanks for making foraging a tangible reality for me!"

The next workshop will be the Spring Wild Food and Medicine class in October: