Category Archives: Alternative Farming

Blackberry Leaf Tea

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The blackberry bush in the backyard is trying to take over!  Shoots are popping up left and right, and it continues to wrap its spiny clutches around the lemon tree despite being cut back several times.  Since I will not be one of those ill-prepared preppers that lament the loss of coffee and tea after TSHTF (See Into AutumnInto Autumn) if you’ve got it, use it right?

Blackberry tea leaf is easy to prepare.  Just pour boiling water over dried leaves and let steep. It’s a darker color than some of the other teas I’ve prepared.  It has a rich, deep taste, just right with a drop of honey as a sweetener.

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Fermenting the leaves increases the tea’s flavor.  To ferment, crush wilted blackberry leaves with a wooden rolling pin.  Wrap them in a damp cloth and hang in a dark, warm area.  In 2 or 3 days, the leaves will smell like roses which I thought odd until I realized that blackberries (Rubus allegheniensis) are part of the rose family after all.  Remove the leaves from the cloth and allow them to dry completely before storing.

Not only is blackberry leaf tea delicious but it’s good for you as well.  Used medicinally since the ice age, leaves were chewed to strengthen gums and made into plasters to treat shingles and hemorrhoids. During the Medieval and Renaissance periods, blackberry leaf infusions were used as a gargle for a sore mouth, throat cankers and wound washing. Now in more enlightened times, blackberry leaves have been shown to fight cancerous cells and are a good source of antioxidants.  Blackberry leaf has also been effective in diabetes treatment, as a wrinkle preventative, and as a protection against cardiovascular disease.

There’s been some evidence that the tannins found in blackberry leaves, bark and roots may cause nausea in some people.  However, adding milk to the tea neutralizes the tannins quite nicely.  Thus the German regulatory agency for herbs has approved blackberry leaf tea for relieving non-specific acute diarrhea.  In addition, just like our medieval ancestors, the Germans have determined that blackberry leaf tea, mouthwash or gargle is appropriate for mouth sores and gum inflammation.  

(after use, please put it backin its proper place)

With all these reasons to drink blackberry leaf tea, perhaps this spring you should harvest your own.  Pluck the tender light green new leaves before the plant flowers, being mindful of those tiny pickers.  Ferment as described above or hang to dry and you’ll be all set.

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The Herbal Starter Kit by the Herbal Academy
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Rainy Season Foraging

I’ve already written about how foraging is part of our lifestyle. (See Gleaning) Our animals are taken out of their corrals and allowed free foraging daily.  Recently this mass exodus has not just been limited to the goats, sheep, and horse, but also the chickens, ducks, and rabbits delightedly head out to the tall grass for vittles.

When the Earth provides such abundance, it really is a sin against nature not to harvest its bounty (See Tunas, Pitayas, and Cactus) both man and beast.  Of course, each season brings its own flavors.  This past month, we did some rainy season foraging.

Not edible!

Lots of rain mean lots of mushrooms.  This year was hardly a bumper crop, but we did get a meal or two out of the mushrooms.  I always let my husband harvest these as I’m still a little unsure of choosing the right ones.  Both types of mushrooms that grow in droves during the rainy season look like partially opened umbrellas.  The edible mushrooms are pink underneath.  The poisonous ones are brown or white underneath.

Then there is this plant that my husband called toritos (little bulls).  I’m pretty sure that’s not its name.  The interior of the seed pods before it hardens up is edible. It tastes, well, beany.  Once the pods harden, they darken to an almost black color and two pointy prongs pop out at the end.  My husband and his brothers used these mature seed pods as bulls in their play way back when.

Another edible plant is what my husband calls quesitos (little cheeses) because once peeled it resembles a cheese wheel.  These are bitter in taste.  I’ll pass.

This pretty flower turns into tiny metallic colored berries.  They sort of taste like blueberries.  Apparently, there are several varieties of this plant differentiated by the flower color but all giving the same sort of berry.  Anyone know the name of this plant?

Stopping on our nature hike to take a picture in Los Amoles, I found tomatillo growing wild at my feet.  Tomatillo is used in all sorts of savory Mexican dishes.  It has a tart or tangy flavor to it.

Not edible!

The fruit developing on this plant is not to be eaten, according to my husband, although it bears an uncanny resemblance to a squash.

Verdolaga (purslane) is found year-round.  Cooked up it has the consistency of spinach with a sort of tangy taste.  It’s often used in green salsa.  

This plant is called Chichi de burra (Donkey boobs).  The pods are edible and taste like figs.

The tubular petals from this flower (Klip Dagga) have nectar that can be sucked out making it a favorite of chuparosas (rose suckers otherwise known as hummingbirds) and mariposas (butterflies).  They grow in large bunches under the mesquite tree near our house.  It’s my favorite place to be at the tail end of the rainy season.

This is not an all inclusive list of wild edibles by any means.  Every year, I learn a little bit more about the flora and fauna that surround me.  Where else can I get a glimpse of a mountain lion, a roadrunner, and fox in one day?  Where else do butterflies of every imaginable color and size flutter in clouds?  Where else are daily humdrum activities stopped with the glimpse of a hummingbird? La Yacata remains the place to be for me!

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Discovering Permaculture

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So this month in my spare time, (HA!) I decided to take an Introduction to Permaculture course through Oregon State University.  I managed to get it done in 21 days and received this nifty little badge because I completed all the course requirements.

The final assignment was entitled 10/10/100.  In the next 10 days, devote 10 hours and $100 of my local currency and do something with what I learned.  Then post it here.  So here’s my first section of the assignment, to share with you what I have learned in this course.

What did I learn?

Each week focused on a specific aspect of permaculture.  Week 1 defined the process.  Week 2 concentrated on observing the current landscape.  Week 3 highlighted design methods and the principles behind them.  Week 4 listed specific strategies for applying permaculture.  

What is permaculture?

Permaculture is the ethical creation of sustainable human settlements and food production systems that take into consideration the interrelationship of humans, plants, animals and the natural environment.  You don’t see much of this happening these days, especially with the current movement to abolish the EPA.  Mexico is even worse at this sort of environmentally conscious thinking, in part because of NAFTA.  However, I did learn that there are pockets of resistance even here.  Monsanto GMO crops are still officially banned in Mexico.  Las Cañadas co-op in Veracruz is an organization dedicated to the education about and practice of sustainability.  Mexico City has also been making efforts at urban gardens.  Additionally, Mexico City still uses a limited number of chinampas (floating gardens) first developed by the Aztecs when they settled the region. Is it enough to counteract the damage unsustainable practices have caused?  It hardly seems so.

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See that red rectangle? Yep, that’s us.

Where am I in the process of permaculture design?

Not far enough.  I learned an important terminology distinction.  I should not strive to be self-sufficient, but rather self-reliant.  No single aspect of the ecosystem is self-sufficient but rather is part of the interdependent web of life. With that, my homesteading life goals have changed a bit.

As you know, La Yacata has a dry climate, except for the torrential tropical rains from June until September.  As a result, the natural landscape consists of drought resistant plants, cactus, mesquite, and acebuche.  The area had been cleared for cultivation of las tres hermanas (squash, beans, and corn) about 100 years ago.  Most of the area has lain fallow for 20 years or more.  There is no natural water supply despite claims to the contrary.  Sounds pretty bleak doesn’t it?

It gets worse.  It seems like the colonos (community members) are determined to exploit what there is to the point of complete environmental. Before the chicken feather guys constructed his pig/chicken compound, the upper part of La Yacata had wild orchids during the rainy season.  Before the pig guy backed up the sewer system, the rain flowed freely from the hillside into the arroyo bordered by dense vegetation.  (Have I mentioned that these two are in-laws?) We have others who come and cut down the mesquite to make charcoal to sell in town, removing an essential component of the ecosystem.  There is no recognition of interdependence here.

Breaking it down even further, our green area is not as green as I would like.  Currently, we have a lovely cherimoya tree that provides a good section of shade, as well as a blackberry bush gone wild, 2 guayaba trees, a pomegranate tree that finally is producing fruit now that the goats and chickens are contained on the other side and a lemon tree that is a bit stunted after last year’s blight.  

We have a few smaller trees started, nispero, aguacate, papaya, durazno, capulin, and mango but it’s too soon to tell if they will flourish or die. Our new puppy likes to munch the lower branches and every now and then that rogue white hen escapes and eats the leaves.

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The rain water floods the area beside our house in the rainy season. We’ve had to add a run-off path.

Miss Piggy’s former compound is undergoing a transformation from wasted space to raised garden, although it didn’t work out so well last year.  We catch and store our rainwater in the aljibe and tinacos. The rain runoff builds up on the right side of our wall and so we have a drainage path through the back yard.

klip dagga

Klip dagga grows wild in La Yacata and attracts butterflies and hummingbirds.

I have big plans for our backyard this year, although it seems all my efforts are sabotaged.  In addition to the animal issues, there are human issues.  One year I transplanted a handful of klip dagga plants from under the mesquite down the road to our yard.  They were doing well, sprouting up all over the place, and my son got annoyed and chopped them all down one afternoon.  Sigh.  I’m determined to make another attempt this year.

What are the permaculture design principles?

There are 12 principles of permaculture as defined in the book “Permaculture Principles and Pathways beyond sustainability” by David Holmgren.

I’ll list them here.  You can do your own research if you wish.

  1. Observe and Interact
  2. Catch and Store Energy
  3. Obtain a Yield
  4. Apply Self-Regulation and Accept Feedback.
  5. Use and Value Renewable Resources
  6. Produce No Waste
  7. Design From Patterns to Details.
  8. Integrate Rather Than Segregate.
  9. Use Small and Slow Solutions.
  10. Use and Value Diversity.
  11. Use Edges and Value the Marginal.
  12. Creatively Use and Respond to Change.
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Red is our home zone. Yellow is our home orchard. Green is our farming zone. Light blue is the semi-managed zone. We managed with grazing the goats there. Dark blue is the wild where we forage.

How can I apply the techniques to my own situation?

Our goal for solar is right in line with these principles. We catch and store rainwater. We obtain a yield from both cultivated areas and wild foraged areas. We try to keep down our waste generation and apply self-regulation.  We can improve on using the edges and marginal and the integrate rather than segregate principles.

How important is permaculture?  

A number of the podcasters talked about the imminent crash of the ecosystem.  Imminent as in the next 20 years. How did we get to this precipice?  Daniel Quinn’s novel Ishmael chronicles our historic demise from the birth of agriculture to modern-day unsustainable farming practices.  And yet there have been places where the utter desolation has been transformed into viable habitat in as little as 5 years.  

After seeing these incredible examples of regeneration, it’s easy to agree with Bill Mollison, author of Permaculture Designer’s Manual,  when he says “Though the problems of the world are increasingly complex, the solutions remain embarrassingly simple.”  The solution is simply that more people need to identify themselves as “leavers,” those that live in harmony with nature, rather than “takers,” those that seek to dominate nature, if we are to survive this ecosystem crash as a species.

As for that 10 hours / $100 assignment I mentioned at the beginning–looks like I’m heading to the local tianguis (flea market) this weekend to pick up some more of those home grown, native plants the women in rebozos (shawls) sell.  At $10-15 pesos per coffee can packed vegetation, I’m sure I’ll have the back yard on its way to permaculture in no time.  It’s good for me, it’s good for the environment, and it’s good for the little old ladies.

Interested in learning more about permaculture?  Check out these podcasts!

Earth Repair Radio with Andrew Millison

The Permaculture Podcast with Scott Mann

Diego Footer’s Creative Destruction

Sustainable Living Podcast

Sustainable World Radio  

The course I took is now available to download!  Check out Introduction to Permaculture by Andrew Millison.

discovery

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Surviving Years in La Yacata

La Yacata is more than a bug-out location for our family. It’s our home. Our quest to become self-sufficient is more than a temporary fix. It’s our lifestyle.

surviving all you get

At times, it’s irksome, inconvenient and downright agonizing. Sometimes, we want to just throw in the towel. We’ve had more than our fair share of disasters living here in Mexico, and most probably will experience even more disasters in the future.

So what enables us to continue this life which we’ve been attempting for 10 years now?

Here are some tips.

pleasure

Having hobbies. Each of us has our favorite pastime. My son and I love to read. We have a pretty good library of actual books and our Kindles.  My son has taken up the guitar. He’s taken some classes, but for the most part been self-taught. My husband’s main pastime involves caring for our ever changing livestock selection. Sometimes it’s chickens and rabbits, other times, goats and sheep. We’ve had horses, donkeys, turkeys, quail, ducks and even a cow for a time. We all like to watch movies on our rechargeable DVD players. We like to go on day adventures. There are so many beautiful places here to visit. I knit and sew. Having hobbies keeps us sane. (See also Finding your Passion)

Being flexible about our income sources. You name it, we’ve probably tried it. We are not yet self-sufficient and as such find it necessary to supplement our income with outside work. We’ve sharecropped, taught classes, done bricklaying, baked bread, sold fruits and vegetables, had a store, worked in a store, and even collected and sold aluminum cans and rusty metal. All of these have been learning experiences for us. And while some jobs pay better than others, we never consider ourselves too good for any work. It certainly adds variety to our daily routines. (See also Finding your Passion)

self reliance

Doing it ourselves. My husband built our house from scratch. It’s still quite a work in progress. It’s nearly an organic entity, growing and changing as our needs change. We’ve had plumbers, carpenters, and metalworkers come and do the things that are beyond my husband’s skill, but the bulk of the work he has done himself. We grow some of our own food, although that too is a work in progress. We collect most of our own water. Doing it ourselves keeps us from becoming too dependent on governmental agencies. (See also Homesteading and Prepping)

misson

Having goals. We have both short and long term goals. Getting solar panels is something we hope to be able to do in the next few years. Becoming totally self-sufficient is something that will take longer.  (See also Homesteading and Prepping) My son finishes formal schooling next year. Finding an apprentice type position with a carpenter or mariachi band is his next goal. My husband’s goal is to finish the second floor of our house. My goal is to move away from teaching in the Mexican school system and do more freelancing. Having goals helps us keep our focus on the bigger picture when day-to-day challenges present themselves.

change survival

Being adaptable. The key to making this lifestyle work is the ability to be adaptable to whatever comes our way. It’s either feast or famine sometimes. It has taken some re-orientation on our part to prepare for the worst while things are going well. It’s taken some attitude adjustment to get through the times when things don’t go quite so well. Being adaptable gives us the incentive to grin and bear it in gratitude.

survivor

I’d like to say that we’ve mastered the art of survival, but that simply isn’t true. We do the best we can with what we have at the moment and so far have been lucky. As you’ve seen in this month’s posts, there are things that are impossible to prepare for. So if and when they do present themselves, we will give it our best shot and hope for the best. If we survive life in La Yacata, well, great! If not, at least we tried.

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This post was proofread by Grammarly.


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