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All articles here are written by Melinda Briana Epler (that's me!) unless otherwise noted. I'm a documentary filmmaker, writer, and brand experience designer - I've dedicated my life to living a sustainable lifestyle and helping others do the same. Please feel free to contact me if you have questions or thoughts for articles. Welcome!

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Rhubarb Recipes

Chopped Rhubarb by FotoosVanRobin on Flckr

While all you lovelies in the south are enjoying your citrus during the cold months, we in the north have… rhubarb!  It is a wonderful fruit-like vegetable.  Maybe not so versatile as a lemon, but equally flavorful and full of nutrients.

 

Rhubarb is very rich in a number of vitamins and minerals:  it has high contents of Vitamin K and Calcium, in addition to Vitamin C, Vitamin A, Magnesium, Potassium, Manganese, and Omega-6.  It’s also high in fiber, helping to reduce cholesterol.

 

It’s also incredibly easy to grow in the cooler regions of the north – the plants are perennials and will last 10-15 years, it’s a lovely tropical-looking plant, plus it is just fine being neglected.

 

But what the heck do you do with it?


Using my “stick it all in a pot” method works like a charm for rhubarb.  Here’s the easiest rhubarb recipe I know, the one my grandmother made, and my mom made, and now I make:

 

Poached Rhubarb


Ingredients.


  • 6 stalks of Rhubarb (if you have more, scale the recipe up, if you have less, scale it down – no need to be too precise)
  • 1/4 C Sugar
  • 1/4 t Ground Cinnamon
  • 1/8 t Ground Cloves
  • 2-4 T Water


Steps.


1. Wash the rhubarb stems and discard any leaves (the leaves contain oxalic acid, which is poisonous).  Then slice the rhubarb into 1/2″ pieces.


2. Combine the sugar and rhubarb in a sauce pan, and let them stand at room temperature until the rhubarb begins to get a bit juicy (about 15 minutes).


3. Add the cinnamon and cloves.  If there isn’t much juice, add the water to just coat the bottom of the pan.  Then bring the mixture to a boil, stirring constantly.


4. Once it has boiled a few minutes, reduce the heat, cover, and simmer.  Stir it occasionally, and add more sugar to taste.  Continue simmering until the rhubarb is tender and liquid is thick (10-12 minutes).  It should start to look like a sauce.


5. Remove from heat and let cool, without stirring.


6. Refrigerate to cool the sauce – if you want a thicker sauce, refrigerate for at least 2 hours.


You can then serve this over vanilla ice cream (fair trade of course) or creme fraiche.  Or you can use it as a sweet, tangy sauce for tofu, chicken, or duck.  Yum!

 

Other Rhubarb Recipes

 

 

Anyone have any more good recipes for rhubarb?

Car-Free Suburbs Can Happen

Nearly Car-free Suburbs


Imagine: 70% of families in a suburban community don’t own cars, and the percentage keeps going up.  A whopping 57% sold their cars when they moved to the suburbs.  The suburbs! And even better, according to the New York Times, it’s becoming a trend.  It’s even called “smart planning.”  Indeed.  The only two parking lots are on the edge of town, making it easier to walk to the store than walk to the car.


Ok, so most of these communities are in Europe.  But a few are even popping up in the United States.  There is hope…


How Do You Live Sustainably, Build Community, And Make A Living Too?

Seasonal Apples

 

I receive this question a lot.  If you are doing all the things we discuss about here at One Green Generation, chances are you are asked that question, too!  I believe I receive the question most from those of you starting to make some changes in your life, and trying desperately to figure out how to find the time to do more.  So let’s see if I can answer it…


We’ve discussed finding that balance between work, home, and community.  It’s not always easy, and I am often making adjustments.  Here at One Green Generation you may notice I’m writing daily for weeks at a time, and suddenly I drop off because I just don’t have the time to sit and write (how sad that makes me!).  Truthfully, I’m overwhelmed with all I have to do sometimes. Nobody has the ability to do everything they want to do – there just isn’t enough time in the day.  But here’s how I do my best, and the best is all we can hope for!

 

The Rule of Three

 

My husband has a “Rule of Three” he swears by.  It usually works pretty well.  The basic idea is that you can only really handle doing 3 big top priorities at once.  So, for instance, right now I am doing: 1.  Re-Vision Labs Work, 2.  Strategic planning for community development consulting, and 3.  Writing at One Green Generation.  Problem is, really there are more than three right now:  4.  Gardening (at the p-patch and the family allotment), 5.  helping a friend redo her business website, and 6.  Sustainable Capitol Hill.  Let alone family time, which is always a priority.


When you get away from three, there are 3 that usually suffer.  In this case, One Green Generation sometimes suffers (sorry, everyone!), the gardens suffer (we’re still within frost, and the family allotment has been under construction until recently, but I could have been planting cool weather veggies by now!), and Sustainable Capitol Hill suffers (I haven’t been as active as I’d like to be lately, even though this weekend I am trying to write a grant application to host sustainability classes once a month).

 

But I work hard to prioritize.  No one can be everywhere at once – that is just our nature.  Fortunately, in the case of Sustainable Capitol Hill, there are others who are working more than I, and doing the work that needs to be done.  Fortunately, the garden will still do ok, and we can still eat local cold-weather crops from the farmer’s market and Spud.com.  And fortunately, you all will probably hang in there and forgive me for short bouts of absence here (right??!).

 

Utilize Your Community

 

It’s not always easy to let other priorities lag, but usually it’s ok until you find a new balance. This is especially true if you have already done the work to build a community. That is one of the beauties of community, afterall:  as a community, you are there for one another.  If I am too busy to help now, there are others who can step in.  Later, if they are too busy, I can step in and help them.  First create your community, and establish healthy lines of communication so that you can communicate effectively within it. Then, all you have to do is communicate with others that you are just a little bit too busy, and thank them when they fill in for you.

 

Even more important, as we have discussed before, is that as a member of a community you don’t have to do everything.  In fact, you are more effective if you’re not doing everything – so delegate responsibilities and work, and let each person do what they do best. 

 

Take Time To Regenerate

 

I’m probably the least good at this of anyone I know! But here’s something to keep in mind:  this does not have to be a big effort.  I regenerate on my walks home from work, in the shower, when I read before I go to sleep at night, when I garden, and when I recap the day with my husband.

 

You don’t have to go to yoga class every day (though if I could, I probably would), you don’t have to go on a weekend vacation – all you have to do is give your brain the ability to synthesize all you have learned and experienced, and wash away the tenseness and ill feelings that may have entered your body.

 

Take Good Care of Your Body

 

Eat whole, unprocessed foods.  Have well-balanced meals where you sit down and eat together as a family.  Sleep on a comfortable bed, and sleep 6-9 hours each night.  If you take medications and/or vitamins, be diligent about taking them regularly.  And exercise, exercise, exercise!  Walk, swim, work out at the gym, garden, whatever strikes your fancy – do it regularly.

 

I hope that helps answer the question.  I really just do the best I can, and I am still learning to be ok with just the best I can. You remember those three things I was having a tough time changing on my path to sustainability?  I’m not much further along than I was back in January. And in truth, you’ll never do everything you want to do.  But if you balance your time effectively and take care of yourself, you might just be able to do most of it!

 

Please feel free to share any thoughts about how you are able to do all you do!

 

How Did You Celebrate Mother’s Day?

Flowering Magnolia on Mother's Day

Happy Mother’s Day!!

 

I know many of you are mothers, and I want to wish you all a joyous and peaceful Mother’s Day.  Several of my good friends have recently given birth, so happy Mother’s Day to all you new mothers as well.  And, of course, to my mother.  She’s at a soccer game today, so we’ll be celebrating her day next weekend instead. We seemed to have started a tradition of having homemade currant scones, yogurt, and fresh squeezed grapefruit juice.  I can’t wait!  How did you celebrate Mother’s Day?

 

Happy World Fair Trade Day

Today is World Fair Trade Day.  I’ve been meaning to write a post about fair trade for some time now.

 

Vanilla flower, by Russian in Brazil on Flickr

 

A couple of years ago I met a wonderful woman, who inspired me very much with her stories of the vanilla growers around the world.  Much as the small coffee, sugar cane, tea, and cocoa growers struggle against corporate giants, so too, do the vanilla workers.

 

And there is another battle the vanilla growers fight:  the battle against synthetic vanilla flavoring.  Did you know that most of vanilla “flavoring” is not vanilla, but synthesized chemicals from a laboratory?  Check the label:  if the label says “vanillin,” it is likely synthetic.  And if it is an imported bottle, unless it is at least $20 and is 35% alcohol, it is probably synthetic or at least partially so – regardless of what the label says.

 

Hand Pollinating a Vanilla Orchid, uploaded by glowingz on Flickr

 

It takes 3 years before a vanilla vine is mature enough to produce a vanilla bean.  Once a flower forms, it must be hand pollinated within a few hours of opening, and then the bean sits on the vine for 9 months before it is ready to be picked!  Once picked, it must go through a curing, drying, and resting process which gives it its rich flavor and aroma.

 

Vanilla Grading, by World Resources Institute Staff on Flickr

 

Small vanilla growers care deeply for the vines, the earth, and the rain forests in which the vanilla grows.  And yet often they don’t earn enough money to adequately feed and clothe their families, pay for schooling for their children, nor have access to basic medical care.

 

Patricia Rain with Vanilla Growers in Tahiti, courtesy of patriciarain.com

 

In 2005, Patricia Rain nearly single-handedly created a distribution and information network of thousands of vanilla growers around the world, to help empower them.  She has persevered in her work, despite cancer that has hit her body more than once, and works against the odds to do whatever she can for the growers: helping create strategies for marketing their crops – including creating an online distribution hub, navigating Fair Trade and organic certification, and creating a united position for fair wages and the opportunity for better lives for vanilla farmers and their families. Many call Patricia “The Vanilla Queen”.

 

But Patricia would be upset with me if I made this post about her.  Because it is not about her, it is about the vanilla growers and their ability to change their own industry for the better.   And it is about you and I, who have the power to help them:  we can help each of the vanilla, coffee, tea, cocoa, and sugar growers around the world – simply by be conscious of our buying choices.

 

Juanita Family Courtesy of TransFair USA

 

It is worth it to buy Fair Trade, organically grown products because we are all in this one world together.  Fair Trade reflects the true cost of a product, so that the people that grow and cure the crops are able to live a decent, happy life.

 

For More Information:

 

 

Buy sustainably!

 

How To Grow Tea (Camellia Sinensis)

Tea


I’m obsessed with the idea of growing my own caffeine!  I’m addicted, there are no two ways about it.  And I really love my coffee and tea.  But it’s not grown locally, to be sure.  I ordered seeds last year, but we moved right after I planted them.  And they never came up.  So this weekend, I bought a seedling to plant with my mother’s ornamentals.  As a camellia, it should fit right in!


I thought I’d share some of the research I did last year about growing tea….


Types of Tea


Green Tea, Black Tea, Oolong Tea and White Tea all come from the same plant.  Surprise!  They all come from the leaves of Camellia sinensis.  There are two different varieties of the plant:  Sinensis sinensis and sinensis assamica.  The former has smaller leaves and thrives in cool, high mountains (eg, central China and Japan); the latter is a much taller plant and thrives in the lower elevations of moist, tropical regions (eg, Northeast India, and the Szechuan and Yunnan provinces of China).  There are also hybrids of the two varieties.


Picking Tea


Where Does It Grow?


Camellia sinensis is indigenous to China, Tibet, and northern India.  The major tea growing regions today include India, China, Sri Lanka, Japan, Taiwan, Kenya, Turkey, Argentina, Tanzania, Malawi, Zimbabwe…. and more.


That said, you can grow it outdoors in Zone 8 or above.  Or if you’re colder than that, you can grow it in a greenhouse or a pot that you bring indoors in the winter.  They’re a camellia, so if you grow camellias, chances are you can grow tea!


Camelia Sinensis flower


What Does It Look Like?


The fragrant flowers are white with yellow stamens inside (above).  The leaves are shiny and dark green, with new growth being much lighter. The fruits are small and hard, looking similar to a hazelnut (below).  The seeds are about 1/4” in diameter.  The sinensis variety can reach a maximum height of 10 feet or so; the assamica variety (think Assam tea) are much larger:  up to 65 feet tall.  So, for a garden plant, you’re probably going to want to go for the sinensis.


Camelia Sinensis fruits


How Do You Grow It?


Propagation


You can propagate tea from cuttings or from seeds.  According to the flier I received with my seeds from Whatcom Seed Company: “Sow seeds 3/4” deep in standard soil mix with coarse sand added.  Keep damp.  Ideal night temperature of 55F, day 68F.  High humidity and filtered sun.  Fertilize often.  Ideal pH 5-6.”


Cultivation


Plants should be placed approximately 3 feet apart in a sunny to semi-shaded area.  Plant them so that a house, wall, tree, or something else will protect them from strong wind.  They should be pruned back every four years to rejuvenate the bush and keep it at a convenient height.


Harvest


Tea plants have a growth phase and a dormant phase.  The dormant phase is in the winter, so as soon as shoots (“flush”) emerge in the spring, the new growth is plucked for tea.  In hotter climates, there may be several flushes per year.  The two uppermost leaves and the new buds are picked during each flush.


Here’s the tricky part for the home gardener: propagating a tea plant from seed is like propagating asparagus, rhubarb, or a number of other perennials from seed.  It takes time.  If you grow a tea plant from seed, it can take three years before your plant is ready to harvest.  So until then, think of it as an investment, and experiment, or just a nice plant.  If that sounds like too long for you, you can buy a plant or propagate from a cutting.


Given the right conditions, a tea plant can grow and produce for 50-100 years.  Wild tea plants have been found to be as old as 1,700 years.


Tea Leaves


Where To Find Seeds & Plants



Note:  these later two seed/plant sources are new to me, so I don’t know anything about their reputability.


More Resources



Tea Blogs



Tea in Pot


When I figure out how to harvest them, I will certainly write about it.  Anyone know?


Amending Your Garden Soil, Organically and Sustainably

Mulched Soil

 

Feed the Soil, Not the Plants

 

When asked how to grow good vegetables, many gardeners and farmers will say “it starts with good soil.”  Soil is the foundation of your garden, it’s what feeds & aerates your plants.  Good soil is not just dirt, it is is a microcosm filled with microorganisms (hundreds of millions per gram!) that transform organic matter into food your plants can digest. Only with good soil will your plants thrive.

 

Soil Testing

 

The first thing you should do before planting a new garden is to test the soil to find out what nutrients it currently holds.  You should probably test the soil of your garden every few years, just to make sure your plants are getting everything they need.  You can buy a simple soil tester at any good nursery and most hardware stores, or you can buy one online.  These will not test everything a plant needs, they will only test the basics:  Ph balance, Nitrogen, Phosphorous, and Potassium.  But that should be a good indication whether or not your soil is healthy overall.

 

If you suspect there may be lead or other hazardous elements in your soil (for instance, if your garden resides where there was once a house that could have leached lead paint, or near a freeway or gas station), you should have your soil professionally tested by a lab.  This is more expensive, but worth your family’s safety.

 

Compost

 

Amending Your Soil With Nutrients

 

Make Your Own Compost

 

By composting you are recreating nature’s processes of recycling and renewing.  We’ll go into more detail about composting at a later time, but I want to mention this:  if you are afraid of composting or “don’t have time” to compost, just create a pile in the backyard.  Make sure it’s somewhat layered, so it’s not a big chunk of grass clippings.  But really, just make a pile.  Put food scraps, leaves, retired plants, grass, etc. into the pile, and if you don’t have time to turn it that’s ok – let it be.  It will decompose and become compost.

 

Compost in the Pickup

 

Bring In Compost and/or Manure

 

If you’re just starting your garden, your garden is rather large, or you just haven’t got around to composting, you may have to bring in compost.  We bring in a compost and aged manure mix, to get a more or less good mixture of nitrogen and carbon.  Make sure to use aged manure – it is high in nitrogen, so it will burn your plants if it is new.

 

If you have a truck – or have a friend or relative with a truck – the easiest and cheapest way is to find your local municipal compost service, and pick up a truck load of compost.  My mother and I picked up a truck load (1 cubic yard) for $20 over the weekend.  I have no idea how many bags of compost that equated to, but um… it was a lot.


If you don’t have a truck, you can usually have it delivered.  Generally there is a minimum delivery, so you may want to go in on it with your neighbors.

 

Americans, to find out how many cubic yards of compost you need to order, use this calculation (it’s fairly standardized):

 

(length in feet) x (width in feet) x (depth in feet) = (total feet)

then, (total feet) divided by 27 = (cubic yards needed)

 

Once you have your compost, you’ll want to make sure to incorporate it into your topsoil (the top foot of your soil) with a shovel, fork, cultivator, or broadfork.  If you already have plants planted, you can do this gently, or simply sprinkle around the outside of the plants, carefully avoiding the very base of the plant.  Make sure you do this when the soil is moist but not wet.

 

Other Deficiencies

 

If your plants are not looking happy (yellow leaves, stunted growth, purple veins, or sickly in general) and you know it isn’t due to water, sun, nor compost, you may have a deficiency in other areas.  You can send a soil sample to a lab to find out exactly what is wrong, or you can talk with your neighbors and local master gardeners to see if there are particular known deficiencies in your area.

 

Calcium and magnesium: Unfortunately, in the Pacific Northwest we’re particularly vulnerable to these deficiencies for a number of reasons. If your garden is deficient in calcium and magnesium, you can mix 1 part “agricultural lime” (calcium carbonate) with 1 part dolomite lime (calcium carbonate and magnesium carbonate) – at a rate of 5 lbs. per 100 square feet.  For calcium alone, you can add crushed egg shells to compost.

 

Phosphorous: Add phosphate rock, 9 lbs per 100 square feet.

 

Potassium: Add wood ash, 1.5 lbs per 100 square feet. (Note that wood ash has an alkaline effect on soil, so make sure you know your pH first.)

 

Worms!

 

Amending Your Soil With Worms and Microbes

 

Most healthy soil should have loads of beneficial microbes, worms, bacteria, beetles, mites, and fungi.  Together these things break down organic matter and turn it into plant nutrients, aerate the soil, fend off diseases, and often work with the plants in a symbiotic feeding and fending-off relationship.

 

However, when you spray chemicals on your soil to kill the bad bacteria, or if you till repeatedly, it kills the beneficial creatures that live in the soil.  Because you don’t have microbes to help the plants break down nutrients and fend off disease, you have to feed the plants more, and spray them more for disease.  This creates a vicious cycle of farming that depletes the earth and relies on chemicals made from and/or distributed by fossil fuels.

 

If you are reclaiming soil that has not been gardened for some time (if at all), or it has been gardened with chemicals in the past, chances are that your soil is not very “alive” with worms and microbes. Fortunately you can help your soil ecosystem rebuild.

 

Adding & Encouraging Worms

 

Worms like organic matter.  Generally, there are two types in garden soil:  red worms – which are often used for composting and live near the top of the soil, and earthworms – which live lower in the soil.  You can encourage red worms by mulching and generally disturbing the soil as little as possible.  (I mulch with straw, which you can find for $5-10/bale at a local feed store – one bale goes a long way.)  And you can encourage earthworms by amending your soil with compost and minimizing tilling as much as possible.

 

Or if your soil is truly depleted and you’re not finding any worms, you can add them to your garden. There are many kinds of worms, and they all do different things, and people grow them for different reasons.  (Yes, there are worm farms all over the world!)  If you can’t find them locally, several places sell worms online, mostly for fishing bait.  I found the largest selection of worms at the Worm Man’s Worm Farm.  (Watch out for the “Superworms” – yikes).  And they have the perfect selection for the gardener:  a mix of red worms and earthworms called “Lawn and Garden Worms”.  You can buy them in 5 lbs or 25 lbs bags. They recommend 5 lbs per 600 square feet.

 

Adding & Encouraging Microbes

 

The best way to do this is to make your own compost.  If you live in a small space, you can create compost in your kitchen, with a worm bin.  A worm bin has the added benefit of multiplying worms, providing extras that you can give to friends or set free in your garden.  If you have room outside, you should create a compost pile or two.  Composting is the subject of another post – as there are loads of ways to do it – but do look into it now if you’re starting your garden!

 

Compost will help a lot, but to really jump start your soil into recovery, you an add microbes and worms to the soil.  I sprinkle a bit of “Beneficial Bacteria” whenever I’m planting seeds in a new bed.  It’s made by “Down to Earth”, and you can find it at many good nurseries, or online at Bountiful Gardens.

 

Scarlet Runner Beans

 

Using Inoculant

 

Inoculant is rhizobium, a type of soil bacteria.  Legumes (beans, peas, etc) and rhizobium bacteria live in a symbiotic relationship which allows legumes to fix nitrogen (ie, add nitrogen back into the soil – a great thing for gardeners!).  Because each legume needs a different kind of inoculant, most soils don’t have the particular rhizobium necessary to make your beans thrive.  So you have to buy it – it’s available at most good seed shops.  Make sure to get the right inoculant for whatever you’re planting.

 

From what I’ve learned, there are two good ways to inoculate:  either the “slur” method, or the “stir” method:

 

  • To slurry: Lay out the seeds in the shade.  Spray the seed with non-chlorinated, clean, cool water.  Shake the inoculant onto the seeds and make sure they are thoroughly coated.  Plant immediately.  Then water immediately.  (Apparently you can also dampen them with a mixture of 1 quart milk to 2 T molasses.)
  • To stir: Mix the inoculant in a small amount of water (approximately 1:1).  Put the seeds in the mixture and coat them thoroughly.  Plant immediately.  Then water immediately.  (This is the method I used.)

 

Note:  because inoculant is alive, make sure you check the expiration date, and keep it cool and out of sunlight.  You can store inoculated seed for a few hours, but it’s best to plant it immediately.  And according to “Peaceful Valley Farm & Garden Supply”, “you cannot use too much inoculant; but you can use too little.”

 

Tilled Dirt

 

To Till Or Not To Till

 

Gardeners get into heated debates about this issue.  My common sense says that if you are slicing through the soil with big round knives, and at the same time crushing it with a big heavy machine… you’re going to kill microbes and worms.  So if you don’t have to till, you probably shouldn’t.


There are definitely cases to till, however.  When we first moved to our 1/2 acre in Geyserville, the land was dead, depleted, compacted, dirt.  We tried to just dig enough to be able to plant a few starts, and it was too hard to dig – despite watering for a long time to try to break it up.  But since it was dead, probably weren’t very many microbes in there to kill.  And after we tilled the first time, we never had to till again because we had worms and microbes doing the work for us.

 

The main reasons not to till are that every time you till, you kill worms (they don’t grow back into two worms – it’s a myth), you uproot good bacteria from their homes, and you unearth good nutrients so that they have a greater chance of blowing or washing away.  If you want to see the extreme examples of what can happen when over-tilling, check out the short film “The Plough that Broke the Plains,” the Farm Commission photos from the 30s, or Steinbeck’s “The Grapes of Wrath.”

 

By enriching your soil and gardening organically and sustainably, not only will your vegetables and fruits be more flavorful – and your family healthier – but your soil will actually absorb 30% more harmful carbon than conventional agriculture.  (More about that study here and here.)

 

And Lastly

 

Whole books have been written on this subject, so I don’t mean for this to be a be-all, end-all resource, but simply a way for you to get started.  A way to let some fears fall away, if you are fearful.  A way to push you to do a bit more, if you have been wondering what to do next.  I encourage you to try new things and have fun with it!

 

Questions or Thoughts?

 

I know this is a long post, but I would love it if you would share how you do some of these things, or ask any questions you have!!