Tag Archives: off-grid

Dandelion coffee and the act of foraging.

A pest to some but to others, includeing medieval nobility, dandelion has proved its worth as both a medicine and a food.

I’m a junkie there is no doubt about.  When I wake up two things cross my mind usually, do I have to move and if so, where’s my coffee!?!  Lately the morning miracle nectar has been giving me some stomach problems and I’ve been forced to reduce my ravenous thirst to just a cup a day. This is not good.
Instead of getting multiple cup boosts throughout the day I’m stuck with one drink and a day full of yawns. I have heard that you can make a coffee substitute with the roots of dandelion and yesterday when I was weeding the thought had hit again, providence. I finished up hoola hoeing my garden and then moved up towards the dandelion weeder.
My neighbors probably didn’t understand the desperation that filled my act of weeding.  People are used to seeing me out in my garden and even in the light rain it wasn’t anything abnormal. But the time and patience I took to preserve the dandelion roots while pulling them out would peg me as a lunatic in some circles, but to me I was just prepping another cup of brew.

After being roasted and ground the dandelion root looks more like tobacco than any sort of coffee.

After collecting and roasting the dandelion roots, they were ground into a fine powder and brewed like coffee. I took a sip of the black “coffee” and was surprised. It was a little lighter in color and tasted slightly burnt to the everyday coffee drinker. Unfortunately this coffee alternative is caffeine free, something I was hoping wouldn’t be the case, but a little online looking it confirmed it. Although the chemical support isn’t there I was still a thousand times happier to drink this mix than to attempting decaf.
I’m realizing this post sounds more like a confession about caffeine abuse than any sort of statement about the earths long term preservation but I assure that is not the case.  My hunt for dandelion root is one of the first acts of foraging that I have carried out.
This is the initial way humans used to gather food. Before restaurants and grocery stores, before even farming, there was hunting and gathering.  At this point human populations lived based on what nature provided, not on what could be done provided despite  nature. Although this was a great way to make sure that the land remained strong and the earth healthy, it wasn’t the best way to ensure a future. Some would argue we evolved, others would argue we devolved.

When the flavor ihit my tongue I couldn't have been more upset. It wasn't bad, and actually, the acrid root tea actually tasted like tea. I wouldn't drink it normally but in 1858 I could see turning to this in a pinch.

The main benefit to gathering food is that it doesn’t require an agricultural system that rearranges the landscape to make certain food stuffs available.  The flip side is that a long time ago many tribes figured out that about 30 people are perfect for living off the land in most areas (StuffYouShouldKnow pod casts are my source for this).  If a tribe grew much bigger than this it became more difficult to support.  If we all tried living off the wild now I fear we would overwhelm it.
But when there are opportunities to harvest from the wild instead of buying from the store I still plan to take advantage of them. And instead of throwing my dandelions in a garbage can or even a refuse bin I’m going to eat the suckers. Not only are dandelions completely edible at some point of the year, but revenge against weeds has never been below me, ask the corn.

The recipe I used to make the “coffee” was from ehow.com

How to Make Dandelion Coffee

This weeks step was to take up foraging.

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Digging In: Planting a small garden

Waging war against the menaces that have surrounded one of my jalapeno plants. The handy tool I'm using it call a hand hoe and has quickly become my favorite tool for the ground war against weeds.

After I cultivated the land and waited for what remained of the grass to die, the process of seeding began. The garden has been growing for nearly a month now so it’s probably a good time to describe the ways I started planting my future food.

There are two ways of trying to get food from a tiny seed that I use, direct sewing and transplanting.  It’s true that you can get food without ever having to get dirty via hydroponics but it’s not very cost effective and takes a lot of skill and know-how that I just don’t have.

A radish's eye view of the garden. I have never had luck transplanting any root vegetables. These are direct sown.

Direct sewing is by no means a technical term, it means putting the seed in the ground.  How deep you should plant the future food  depends on what your putting under. Depths usually range between 1/8 of an inch to an inch-and-a-half.

Transplanting takes a little more work but reaps greater benefits in the end. Instead of throwing your seeds into the ground, watering and hoping for the best, when you transplant you grow a small plant in controlled conditions before releasing them into the wild and murderous world that young plants struggle to survive in.

A plant that hasn’t yet been put into the garden is called a start-up.  To create a start-up you can either use the blister packs that they sell at places like home depot or dixie cups with holes cut into the bottom, to allow for drainage.  I’ve gone with both store bought and the cup method in my garden at home. After you have the container you need to fill it with potting soil, regular soil compacts and won’t let water drain properly.  After putting a few seeds in each container all the seeds need is regular watering and some time. Soon you’ll start having your own transplants ready without spending the $3 dollars they would cost at Lowe’s.

In order to keep the cost down, try buying seeds late in the season.  A lot of seed packets get discounted once summer starts and if you wait a little longer you can buy cheap start-ups too.  We bought a flat of jalapenos and bell peppers for a dollar because the owner of the local feed store was tired of taking care of them.

Another way to avoid seed costs is to split the price of seeds with someone else.  I almost never use all of the seeds in a packet, my operation is too small to plant everything.  This year a friend, Aaron and me started trading seeds with each other.  I ended up with a lot of new plants without spending any extra money.  Sometimes when someone has an abundance and I have nothing, I’ve just asked for seeds they won’t use and I’ve gotten them.  Why waste them when someone else could use them?  My personal feeling is that if you take, though, you should also give, as a result I like to share the harvest with whoever helped contribute.

For a garden map I planted stakes into the ground and then made a small map showing what is planted at which stake. Simple but effective.

Either way you choose to plant, a few things are good to remember, I learned them both by forgetting.  When I planted my first garden I forgot to leave space to walk between the rows. As a result I ended up killing more than a couple of plants by stomping around like a drunk ballerina, ironically I was trying to avoid stepping on anything.  My kale and tomato plants would testify to this if they were still here.

Another thing I like to do is keep records of what I have planted and where.  Record keeping will help avoid plucking up your good plants when you’re trying to weed out the bad.  I’ve found that keeping track of when I planted and when I harvested is also extremely helpful.  The expected harvest dates on the back of seed packages are only estimates and depending on your soil and location only experience seems to be able to tell how soon something is going to be be popping up.

Coming up: Weeding and the best tools for waging the ground war.

Digging In: Cultivating for a small garden.

Not everyone has access to a tractor but as far as cultivating goes there probably aren't too many quicker or more efficient options.

It’s been hot lately which means the soil has been dry and easy to work, a blessing when it comes to tearing up a plot to grow a garden in.  In my experience cultivating, it is almost impossible to start upturning the earth when your working in a sticky sludgy ooze. So for a while I was playing the waiting game to actually start digging in.

Last week sometime I took advantage of the hot spell that we’ve been experiencing ( days of 90 plus) and dug in.  This time around I used a tractor to work the soil with.  I know that the goal of this garden is to show that planting can be done in a small city space and using a tractor is very counterproductive to that goal. But in the past two years I have used three different types of tools for cultivating, a tiller mounted on the back of a tractor, a Rear Tine rototiller, which is about the same size and shape of a lawnmower, and a human powered small garden cultivator.

When I was planting my home garden in Oregon earlier this year I used the small garden cultivator to tear up my 8×8 garden space and then used it again to plant 3 flats of Zinnias, but after the long days of work here in Tennessee the tractor called and I answered.

This is a rear tine rototiller. Automatic rototillers can shred the time it takes to cultivate a garden, however, this super time saver comes at a price.

Like I said though, it’s not an easy task to get a tractor in the city and especially into a community garden plot or apartment garden.  You might find a mob of people chasing you because you tore through there property to get to a spot and the 15 mile per hour max speed of the machine your using probably won’t be able to keep you ahead of the crowd for long.  You may get a few of the rioters with the front end loader but you’ll probably lose the fight ultimately. In the city the best options are rototillers and hand cultivators.

A rototiller is excellent for small to medium sized gardens.  Many are self powered and according to my uncle, the farm owner who has used many varieties of tillers, rototillers do a finer job of tilling than its cousin, the mammoth tractor.  It’d be hard however to till much more than an acre with any type of hand-pushed rototiller or even “self-powered” varieties that still require a lot of pushing and tugging to maintain a good line.

This is the down and dirty, cheap but effective manual cultivator. Running $25 this is perfect for small gardens

Small garden cultivators are perfect for the size of garden I’m working on right now.   If you don’t have room to store a rototiller or if they would cover your gardening area in a couple of pass overs with the one to two foot wide machine then I would definitely suggest using the garden cultivator.  They require elbow grease and aren’t for the lazy, but neither is gardening. A huge advantage to these types of cultivators is their price.  A small garden cultivator will run you around $25-30 dollars depending on where you shop. Even the smallest rototillers start at $200, a large investment for a micro garden.

If you are like me and trying to start a garden on a budget, then it’d be worth searching around for a friend or parent who already happens to have one of these tools around.  If all that you can get is a automatic rototiller then that seems perfect, but none of these options are terrible for borrowing.

The long road from degredation

“Your old road is rapidly agin’

Please get out of the new one

If you can’t lend your hand

For the times they are a-changin'”

-Bob Dylan

If I carry this project out to its end, my goal will be to never log another post.  Ultimately the final step to living sustainably with our environment will be to become a part of it.  It’s our duty as as humans  to erase our personal impact on the world we live in.  Our inheritance is the task a fixing a planet that has been weakened by multiple centuries of reckless abuse.  We are now trying to save our prized hog that was being sent to the slaughter.

I will take steps every week in order to limit my impact on the world while proving it can be done with little to no cash.  I’m not a professional in the field by any means.  Up until last week I didn’t recycle in my own house and when I was trying to explain how recycling works with my mom, she still had a vendetta against the practice. The last time she put the box out on the curb was when the alternative was having to watch an Indian cry.

The point is we haven’t been a family that has cared how big our eco footprint has been.  The logic we had embedded was the bigger the better; if leaving a massive mark works for Egyptian kings, and  all people are equal, then we should all leave a  massively scaled aberration, right?

I’m starting  from the ground up, I have worked two summers as an organic farmer and that is all for my experience in the field.    This is a beginning to end guide and journey about going off grid and working towards preserving Terra.