Sunday, December 12, 2010

Niacin + Organics = No Depression?

Niacin from
Back in the 1950's three of my mother's younger sisters worked in a psychiatric hospital. The older of the three, my Aunt Pat, was a registered psychiatric nurse (R.P.N)and worked with Dr. Abram Hoffer. At the epoch of mental health "management" with pharmaceutical drugs, this famous (or infamous?)maverick psychiatrist believed, along with others like Dr. Linus Pauling ("the Vitamin C doctor")that mental illness was basically "an inborn error of metabolism."

Dr. Hoffer promoted the massive use of Vitamin B3 (Niacin) as relief for some forms of mental illness such as depression. Tryptophan (an amino acid found in dark turkey meat and nuts) was also one of Dr. Hoffer's favourite "medications".

Andrew Saul, Ph.D., worked with Dr. Hoffer in his later years (he died in 2009). Go here to listen an interview by Dr. Mercola of Dr. Saul talking about how organic food and vitamins, like Niacin, can be startlingly effective in dealing with depression today. It is certainly clear to me that I feel better when I eat good quality, nutritious fruits and veggies. I haven't tried Niacin for a long time (I DO remember that "niacin flush" though) but if we have a dark and dingy winter I just might give it another go.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

The Next Step with the Wormy Culture: Make the Bed & Spritz

This was probably the easiest part of the task... finding enough newspapers to strip up and put into the bin as 'bedding' for the wee wormies.  I filled the bin to the top and then spritzed with plain water just to slight dampness, just mixing a bit as one would do with a big old salad.  Then I went out into the yard (in the rain, I might add) and dug around in the compost (this time I wore gloves lol) for the cantaloupe that was buried there three days ago, like a cup, to attract the worms.  And there it was, and there they were, I think.... I was nervous about exposing them to light because I hear that they 'paralyze' in light, and so I quickly transferred them in the upended cantaloupe 'cup' to a little icecream pail with a lid and rushed them into the house.  Sort of like the story I heard from a pediatrician I worked with years ago... she had to go along on a plane trip to pick up an donor organ for a child and quickly, ever so quickly, pack it in ice and bring it right back to wherever it was being received.  I know the analogy is a little weak, but... well, you know, I was nervous.  I stuck the cantaloupe up in the right corner and placed bedding over it.  I note that there are a lot of 'wood bugs' and some fruit flies (or whatever) that also made the journey.  Ew.  How do I get rid of them? Stay tuned.
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Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Putting the Bokashi and Worm Compost Equipment Together


As I mentioned in my last post, I am putting together composting equipment for this winter-- a set of bokashi pails for the kitchen and a worm composting (aka vermi-culture) bin for the side room off the kitchen.

Bokashi involves culturing kitchen scraps with a sort of probiotic that one sprinkles on the waste each time it is put in the pail. It is an anaerobic method of composting (meaning there is no air involved-- more like making traditional sauerkraut) and I intend to take the probiotic scraps and bury them in an 18" deep trench in my backyard and cover the probiotic with soil.  In 2-10 weeks (depending where you live), the bokashi will be unrecognizable as kitchen scraps.  It will even digest meat, bone, and avocado pits.  I have been reassured that there is no nasty odor involved in making bokashi.

The kit for making my bokashi includes 3 5-gallon pails and 2 tight fitting lids for the pails.  Today I drilled 3 small holes dead center in the bottom of 2 of the pails.  I will fit a pail with holes into the pail with no holes, and put on a lid.  When it is full, I will remove it and put it on the deck for a few days (with the lid still on) before digging it into the trench.  In the meanwhile, I will have the second pail with holes fitted into the pail without holes, and will be filling it up with my chopped stuff.  I will let you know more about this as I do it (my son is making the actual bokashi formula and I will talk more about that as well in another post).
5-gallon pail for bokashi process.  I drilled
3 small holes for drainage of the "compost
tea" that will collect in the bottom pail.
Just showing the airtight lid that will cover the pail.
The lids can be purchased separately from the pails
at a hardware store.
My other composting project is a Vermi-Culture or worm composter.  In my last post I talked about 'planting' a melon "cup" to collect the worms out in my regular backyard composter.  I'm going to check to see if that worked later this afternoon.  I also have to get together some vegetable-ink printed newspaper strips/shreds to make a bed for the worms, spritz with some water to dampen, add a little table scrap food, and then add the worms.  Still a way to go, but not an impossible task... no banging of hammers and hauling of heavy wood, etc.  I took a workshop a couple of Sundays ago at the Comox Valley Composting Project on Headquarters Road in Courtenay.  I bought a cordless drill (have been wanting one for a long time) and drilled three holes along the top of each long side of the bin (dime-sized) for aeration, and about 4 small holes in the middle of the bottom for drainage.  The worms don't like light, thus the lid.  I'll keep you posted on this project.
3 dime-size holes along the long side of a plastic
storage bin takes care of letting in air.
Drilled 4 small holes in the bottom of the bin, for
drainage.  I will put a small saucer under the holes and
pieces of wood under the bin to raise it up somewhat
to accommodate the saucer.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

The Vermiculture Starts in my Compost Bin

So, this is something I learned last week at the Vermi- culture workshop at the Comox Valley Regional Compost Education Centre: If you have a regular composting bin you don't have to buy your red wigglers!  They live in your backyard!

Years ago I bought a pound of red wigglers, a squiggling ball of them in an ice cream pail, from the local Oxfam group in Saskatoon, just around the corner from my then-workplace.  I think it cost $5.  The profits went into programming for youth in the community, one program of which was actually learning to operate a worm farm and to do other forms of composting.

I thought that the worms I bought were different from the worms in my garden, a more exotic variety perhaps.

Turns out they are the same critter.  And if you want to start your worm colony you only need three things:
*the worms
*the plastic bin with holes drilled in it and a lid on top
*a bed of newspaper and food

Use newspaper with vegetable ink print and not the chemical ink type.  The Courtenay Record is an example of that vegetable-based ink.  Be careful of anything colored, and for sure, DO NOT USE GLOSSY PAPER.  Tear all the newspaper into strips and fill up your bin (that has holes drilled for air: 3 around the center at the bottom-- right around the small center-- for drainage; 3 on each side around the top of 2 sides of the bin-- NO HOLES IN THE LID.

This is your worm nursery.  Find a place where you want to keep it, maybe near your kitchen.  It will not smell bad.  The worms appreciate a warm environment much as we do, so if your garage is heated, that will work, but if it is -20 in the winter, the worms likely won't survive, or won't reproduce as vigorously.

Put a saucer under your box, right under the three drainage holes (that gives you an idea of where the holes are to be drilled).  This centralizes the drainage.

Now, the last thing I did today was to take a half of a scooped out cantaloupe shell, like a big cup, and bury it about six inches in my compost box.  In about three days it should contain the worms that came to eat there.  These will be my colony's first worms.  Neat huh?

This is as far as I have gotten... more as I do it!  Stay tuned!

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Organic Harvest Score Card 2010

Friend Generous Mike's lush organic kale crop
This year our older grand- daughter started kinder- garten. After her first day in the system (an hour in a Montes- sori classroom) she announced, "Kinder- garten is fine, Lola. I made lots and lots of friends". And I watch other kids returning to school in their new duds or new post-summer identities, all looking hopeful, with their new backpacks slung over their shoulders.

All this hopefulness and optimism for the coming year reminds me of my gardening persona in about May. Any May. I have sprouted new plants, tilled and amended new garden patches, read new advice in books and online.

By mid-July (any mid-July) I have pretty much slacked off on the daily 10-minute check for weeds, the necessary watering, the pruning of roses, the pinching off of bolted Cilantro, etc. We travel here and there doing fun summer things. I spend a lot of time on the Internet doing fun writing projects (or just maintaining my surfeit of blogs). It's too hot--too cold--too dry--too wet-- too smoky, etc. to go out and spend time gardening.

By late August (any late August) I begin to pull in the late 'crops' of organic veggies: a mis-shapen cucumber, an apron-full of tomatoes of various sizes and shapes, herbs as they attract me. I also get anxious about gathering seeds for next year.

It's all pretty pathetic, I confess. And especially when we are invited over to the local seaside hobbyfarmer friend's place to help ourselves to some of his abundance (beets, basil, kale). He explains that the soil in his gardens has been amended every year for over 40 years (by his father-in-law before him, and now, him)with seaweed and compost. We lug home heavy bags of his proffered produce. I do stuff with it: make pesto, dehydrate beets and kale (as chips). I feel sad about our non-abundance.

So, I've decided to try a couple of different methods of amending the soil over the winter. I will dig troughs in the garden major and bury bokashi. I will have a worm colony going in my sideroom off the kitchen. I am excited and hopeful. It is another season of hope and inspiration, much like the start of the schoolyear!

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

How To Make Free Fertilizer From Your Weedy Garden

In our area we are not allowed to use chemical herbicides and pesticides in our gardens.  I have noticed that the cloying, toxic odours emanating from the fertilizer aisles in the big stores have diminished somewhat, but surprisingly, they are still selling some stuff. To whom I wonder? People who live further afield, in the more pristine areas of our community perchance? ick.

Several years ago our bio-dynamic son introduced me to the idea of making my own fertilizers by soaking the vital rejected plants in my garden, the weeds. Imagine harnessing the power from these pernicious little flora freaks… some of them (like bindweed) are almost impossible to stamp out entirely. What is their secret? It certainly seems that they have a desire to have Plant World Dominance. I have a big pail of weed tea brewing out in my backyard and my husband found some great paint strainer bags so that I will (in a week or so) just strain off the fermenting weedy brew and apply to my various hungry plants. Here is a great article worth reading:

How to Make Free Fertilizer From Weeds

Supercharge your plants and save money by making one of nature’s best free fertilizers: weed tea!
When you recycle your weeds into fertilizer, you return to the soil a powerful array of nutrients that will give your garden a kind of naturally superior boost that can’t be had with most commercial fertilizers. You will also notice a dramatic improvement in the flavor of garden vegetables that have been given doses of this ‘green gold’ weed tea during the growing season. As a bonus, it has been noted that plants given weed tea seem to have more disease and insect resistance than plants that were fertilized with chemicals.

Weeds spend their entire lives mining valuable minerals and many other kinds of vital nutrients from the soil. You can tap into this large reservoir of free fertilizer by making a tea of chopped weeds and water. This simple brew serves as an excellent liquid fertilizer for root or foliar feeding. As a bonus, some weeds even offer insect repellent protection!

You might be surprised to learn that some weeds have more nutritional value than the average green leafy vegetable, such as spinach or kale. For instance, a common weed called Lamb’s Quarter contains triple the amount of calcium, almost double the amount of beta-carotene, more than double of minerals as kale or spinach. (By the way, Lamb’s Quarter is delicious to eat, but you’ll probably never find it in a supermarket. Because it is so delicate, it can’t easily stand up to the rigors of the commercial food chain.)

There are three easy ways to extract nature’s goodness from weeds: 1) as a liquid fertilizer (either as a cooked or cold brewed tea), 2) or as a mulch, or 3) buried into the soil.
If the weeds are in the seed stage, you may want to consider making liquid fertilizer (see the next heading), rather than using them as mulch to prevent unwanted weeds from sprouting in your garden.


When you pull or cut weeds that have not yet gone to seed, you can simply lay them on top of the ground to serve as a mulch that will provide a small but steady trickle of nutrients. Mulches are a valuable addition to your garden because they will add nutrients to the soil and help conserve ground moisture.

At the end of the growing season, mulches can be turned into the soil, to act as a powerful soil conditioner. In just a few seasons, repeated applications of mulch can help turn the poorest soil into ‘black gold’ that will outperform anything you can buy for your garden.


Recipe A – Regular strength

This is a quick stovetop recipe that does not smell bad, and can be made indoors. (The other recipes smell kind of barn-yardy, and should be made outside.)

You can use either fresh or dried weeds.

‘Suntea’ directions: For every big handful of weeds add 2 or 3 cups of water in a glass jar and set out into the sun for a day or two (use more water if making it from fresh, less if making it from dried.)
Stovetop directions: Bring the weeds and water barely to a boil. Remove from heat and cover. Allow to cool, and to soak for a few hours, then strain.

To use: Dilute one part tea to four parts of water. If using as a foliar spray, add 1/8 to 1/4 teaspoon genuine soap (not dish detergent!). A few thin shavings off Ivory soap bar, dissolved in a bit of water will work. This will help the liquid to stay on the leaves better. A little goes a long way; more is not better. This stickum is not needed if using the brew as a root fertilizer.

Recipe B – Super concentrated fertilizer

This brew is super concentrated and should be diluted at the rate of 1 part weed juice to 10 parts water. For a stronger fertilizer, try a dilution rate of 1/3 bucket of weed juice to 2/3 bucket of water. Pour as needed over the root zone of your growing plants, then water as usual to assist in bringing the nutrients to the roots.

For foliar (leaf) feeding, make sure that the color of the solution is no darker than weak tea, and do not apply it to vegetables about to be harvested.

Although weed tea can be made at any time of the year, the best time to harvest weeds for fertilizer is in in the springtime, or just before the plants go into full flower. This is when the nutritional content is at its peak.

  • For roughly each pound of fresh weeds, add 8 cups of water into a container with a lid, such as a bucket. 
  • Allow to sit outside for about two to four weeks (longer in colder weather). 
  • About once a week, stir well. Hold yer nose, ’cause fermenting weeds can be quite smelly. 
  • Do not touch this concentrated liquid fertilizer with your hands! Wear gloves. This concentrate will stain, and is difficult to remove from skin and clothing.

Don’t wait too long to use your liquid fertilizer. After a time, the green brew will begin to change color to grey, brown, black and maybe even white. When it has changed color, it has been too decomposed to use as high powered fertilizer, but it will make an excellent addition to the compost pile.

If you brew this from nettles, you can make a good aphid spray if dilute it at double strength: 1 cup nettle juice to 5 cups water.

Recipe C – Perpetual supply of fertilizer
This brew is a perpetual, ongoing one. Once made it can be renewed so that it is always available, without having to wait for the brew to ‘finish’. Dilute at the rate given for Recipe B.

Put your greens in a sack, with a strong cord tied around the closed neck. Drop it into a bucket of water. Allow to ferment as outlined in Recipe B. After some of this liquid fertilizer has been used up, add more water and another fresh sack of greens. Repeating this process ensures you’ll have a continuous supply of ‘green gold’.


It is best that you include a variety of plants in the brew, if you can. This way you create a broad spectrum of nutrients for your garden. Too much of one nutrient can create a deficiency in another, just like with ‘people vitamins’.

Although any plant will work well in making your own fertilizers, there are some plants that really shine as particularly nutrient-rich boosters. Here are a few of my personal favorites. In another post, I’ll tell you why these plants deserve a closer look!

  • Nettles
  • Comfrey
  • Yellow Dock
  • Burdock
  • Horsetail
  • Chickweed
  • Alfalfa (not a weed, but one of the most nutrient rich plants I know of)

This article may be reprinted by you for noncommercial use, if the following credit is given:
This article is an excerpt from Mrs. Tightwad’s Handbook #5: QUICK SUBSTITUTES and EASY FORMULAS FOR OVER 100 “CAN’T-DO-WITHOUT” ITEMS. For more information, see the left sidebar on this site:

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

How To Use Up Old Spices

I'm doing some Late Spring Cleaning... (meaning it's almost summer-- and I felt the need to name this rare and exceptional activity : )  I seem to have accumulated a number of spices that are NOT organic or that have lost their essential zest (i.e., have gone flat).  I thought briefly about bundling them up and offering them on freecycle but before I did that I googled and here-- gleaned from several sites-- are some excellent ideas for recycling those seemingly useless "expired" spices:
  • simmer on the stove in water with a little vinegar to 'spice' up your kitchen and banish stale cooking odors (or put in a crockpot on low)
  • pour this mix down your drain to freshen it (won't harm septic tanks)
  • pour this mix at your front or back door path-- you  (and visitors) will have a pleasant fragrance whenever coming in or leaving your home
  • decorate and scent your home-- ex., cloves stuck in an orange, cinnamon sticks with ribbons tied around them, etc.
  • sprinkle crushed herbs on your carpet before vacuuming for scent and deodorizing
  • put cloves or dried lavender in a sock, tie a knot and throw into the dryer with your clothes-- will smell wonderful (and cloves are a deterrent to moths)
  • add colored spices (like chili powder) to emulsion paint for pleasant, warm tones and earthy colors to paint your home with or add it to your art materials -- also vividly-colored spices create great striations in sand painting
  • amass all your bits of old soap and cook up with various expired herbs and spices for some lovely scented soaps (avoid tumeric and other flesh- and towel-staining spices of course)
  • make your own spicy incense to burn at dinner parties
  • "dye" your old cottons using a mix of garam masala and vinegar water
  • "hot" spices like cinnamon, cayenne, etc., can be dusted around plants to off-put neighborhood cats and other pests-- birds can't 'taste' the heat so it won't affect them
  • donate to soup kitchens, churches, etc.
  • make sachets or dream cushions or comfort pillows
  • experiment with spicing up teas... mix up a number of herbs and spices in a bag, shake, and use a teaspoon in your herbal tea
  • some spices-- like fennel seed and caraway seed-- might actually germinate and grow fresh green herbs and veggies!
  • Anything you want to add to this list? Please share here!

Organic Granny's RECIPE INDEX

Organic Granny's RECIPE INDEX
Mostly Vegan & Gluten-Free Recipes