What, exactly, do I do with a lot of turmeric? Or, I love the greenhouse

So our greenhouse is wonderful, but it’s not heated.  The “tropicals” I’ve been growing are mostly happy, but not all of them.

Both basil are dead, as is the tomato.

There are 5 citrus which are all doing very well, insofar as I have been able to keep the scale and aphids under control.

Of the 10 peppers that started into fall, 6 are alive.  There were 5 jalapenos, of which only one died (two of these jalapenos overwintered last winter too), and at least one is making baby peppers.  The anaheims are both dead, but the Yankee Bell, while fruitless and ratty looking, is alive, and the Nardello keeps ripening but not making more peppers.  Since we have lots of hot sauce, I’m not sure what to do with all the jalapenos.

The coffee tree is very unhappy; I brought it into the house but I think it’s too late to save it. Too bad, it was looking really good and probably 4 years old.  It did fine in the garage the last two winters.

The turmeric – well, I’m impressed.  The leaves all died down so I harvested the tubers, and there’s almost two pounds of pretty good looking roots!  That’s from a 2-3 gallon pot, after repotting 3 smaller plants, although it was 2 years in the pot since I thought it was all dead last winter. I don’t know what to do with it all!  I can see that it should have been harvested earlier, there’s some browning.   Tumeric is a beautiful plant, with big, tropical banana leaves.  I put the pot inside a larger pot with no holes, elevated on some rocks.  So it usually had water under the roots, which helped when the greenhouse gets so warm in the summer.

The aloe and scented geranium are doing fine with this degree of chill.  The vietnamese coriander is okay (better than the spearming and peppermint, actually).  The unknown variety of banana plant that Don gave me seems unphased by the cold, although it’s not actually growing.

After a week of cold but sunny weather, today was a mix of snow with cold and some sun and some gray.  Winter in Oregon…  I’ve got most of my seeds orders done, started onion seeds already, and some arugula and lettuce… but it’s time to work on the greenhouse floor, rather than play with seeds.  We worked on the duckhouse floor and foundation yesterday, so we’ve got the really heavy work done for that.

Diet and Forks over Knives

I was recently annoyed by a video called Forks over Knives. I’ve been reading off and on about nutrition over the past few years, and so I did come into the movie with some existing beliefs (I tried to keep an open mind, but I am not sure it was successful). But the movie didn’t give much information, it was dramatic and entertaining with lots of graphics, but not much convincing argument. Over and over, it set up a comparison between “industrial food including animal products” and “natural foods with no animal products”. The message seems to be that the problem is the animal products, not the industrial food!

I didn’t realize it at the time, but Forks over Knives is by a Dr. Campbell, who did write a book with the same material called the China Study, and that book caused some uproar and discussion in the paleo-nutrition blogosphere that I didn’t pay a whole lot of attention to at the time. Here’s the article: China Study Response (pdf).

When I was looking for that article, I found a critique of the science in Forks over Knives, written by the same writer: forks-over-knives-is-the-science-legit-a-review-and-critique

It’s great; it expands and goes into excruciating detail on many of the points that bothered me, so I don’t have to even start trying to figure out the problems. Warning, though, it’s very, very long and full of data.

Myself, I’m kind of with the Dr. Weston Pricers, and believe that animal meat and fat are healthy. Dr. Cate Shanahan wrote a book called “Deep Nutrition” that is by far my favorite; it’s against sugar (including starches) and seed oils, and in favor of meat especially bone broth and organ meats. While I see her points (and some of the data from the Paleo people) about the problems with starches and especially wheat, I’m just not sure – I don’t do well without some starches.

The bottom line for us, though, is that any sort of diet philosophy has to work with the foods we can grow for ourselves at different times of the year. Since we do grow so much, it’s a reality test that makes more sense for us than for almost everyone else (at least in the industrial world) who just buys food at the store. I was reading another book that said to avoid root vegetables since they were too startchy. Well, that’s what we have right now, and no one’s going to take away my carrots!

And don’t forget to get plenty of sleep and exercise regularly.


So I watched this video, Forks over Knives. More on that later, but I did start wondering about sugar alternatives like honey, since I’ve never been entirely clear on the whole business. Sugar’s not good for us, but is honey much better?

  • glucose and fructose are the basic sugars.
  • sucrose (table sugar) is disaccharide made up of 50% glucose and 50% fructose; it’s broken down into glucose and fructose in the digestive tract.
  • There are also maltose, lactose and other sugars that I’m not consdering here.

Fruit and vegetables contain both sucrose, and free glucose and fructose; the proportions vary.

  • Apples and Pear have a much higher percent of fructose (total).
  • Apricots, plums, and sweetcorn have a somewhat lower percent of fructose (total).

Considering sucrose separately:

  • relatively more sucrose in apricots, peaches, pineapple, beets, carrots and sweet potatoes
  • relatively less sucrose in figs, grapes, pears, sweetcorn, sweet peppers, and sweet onion

Other sweeteners are made of of some combination of sucrose, fructose and glucose, plus water (for liquids) and traces of this and that:

  • Honey – varies, for example: 38% fructose, 31% glucose, 7% maltose, 1% sucrose
  • Maple syrup – mostly sucrose with variable amounts of fructose and glucose
  • Agave – variable and not regulated, some sources give 92% fructose and 8% glucose; another gives 56% fructose and 20% glucose. Agave nectar is hydrolized from agave juice by heating or using enzymes.
  • Corn sugar/dextrose – entirely glucose. Derived from corn (via a chemical process)
  • HFCS – the one in soft drinks is 55% fructose and 42% glucose. Derived from corn syrup via further chemical process.

Fructose is much sweeter than glucose (so less can be used) and has a lower glyemic index, but has equivalent impact on diabetes. Unlike glucose, fructose must be metabolized by the liver and excessive amounts may cause liver problems (such as fatty liver)

It’s not clear why HFCS would be worse than sugar, but rats did gain more weight and get more unhealthy on HFCS than on plain sugar. See Princeton study on rats. They hypothesize that glucose and fructose bound together into sucrose metabolizes differently than as free glucose and fructose.

There’s a number of studies that are particularly focused on HFCS, and of course the usual it’s-all-just-sugar, but I don’t find the results conclusive; everyone has an agenda. Here’s one analysis and an article on liver issues.

Given my personal opinions about nutrition, and this is fairly well supported by all the information out there; the right answer is certainly “none of the above”. Honey is not that different in proportion from HFCS but is the least processed, the most local, and has minerals, enzymes, and antioxidants.


Soap is not difficult to make, though it does require some care and careful measurements. Soap is made from mixing any kind of fats and oils with lye. A chemical reaction takes place between the lye and the fats to create soap. There are a number of things that need to be done to make sure that this chemical reaction can take place, and that it happens not to quickly nor too slowly.

Different oils and fats have different qualities that will affect the final product. For example, coconut oil makes good lather while olive oil makes a moisturizing soap. Animal fat, such as lard, makes great soap. And of course the fun part is the scents, colors, herbs and other things you can incorporate into the soap!

The trick in measuring and developing recipes, is that in the final product, you cannot have extra lye (it will burn the skin) and you don’t want too much extra fat or you will have a soft, greasy bar that won’t clean very well.

Spicy Green Tea
and Oatmeal Rosewood Herb Lily of the Valley Heather and Hyacinth Citrus Poppyseed

Soap Molds

I usually use a stiff cardboard box about 5″x8″x2″, an old box that christmas card came in, as a mold; larger batches require two of these. I line this with wax paper or plastic wrap for each batch. The wax paper tends to soften and stick, but it can produce a nicer finish, especially if your recipe doesn’t have too much water.

I once purchased a nice plastic mold, but – perhaps again too much water – the soap never solidified on the side facing the plastic. With the lined cardboard box, I remove the soap the next day and can usually cut immediately, so the soap can dry all on all sides.

Do NOT try using aluminum foil. Aluminum foil dissolves in soap and it’s quite a mess.

I have used disposable coffee cups as a mold to make round soaps (see picture above).

These are some recipies I used to make soap. I wasn’t able to find recipes that made betweeen 1 and 2 pounds of soap and included the fats I had available.

I used the Majestic Mountain Sage Lye Calculator, and double checked with another Lye Calculator, which unfortunately is no longer available.

I have not included the detailed process on how to make soap; please consult the online references if you don’t know how, and observe all the warnings and precautions.

My scale is accurate to either 1/10 ounce or 1 gram, so I use gram calculations in the recipes for greater precision.

All these soaps came out very well, are a pleasure to use, and were much appreciated by recipients, although none is really perfect. I’ve been making all our soap for three years, almost every batch different, and so far they have all been fine.

NOTE: if you want to try these recipes, you MUST run them through a lye calculator! I do sometimes make mistakes in typing and it’s very important that you get the quantities correct, especially when working with such small recipes – there’s very little margin for error.

Spicy Green Tea and Oatmeal soap

This was my very first soap; a simple, mostly lard soap.

280 grams lard
112 grams coconut oil
56 grams olive oil
64 grams lye
198 ml water

1/2 cup oatmeal, coarsely ground
chlorophyll (for color)
green tea fragrance oil
patchouli essential oil
1/2 teaspoon cardamom
1/2 teaspoon coriander

Oils were at 95, lye at 105 when mixed. Took 1.5 hours to trace.
I beleive this soap did not reach gel stage, hence its slightly opaque look. It was tinted pale green with the chlorophyll and has kept its color nicely (the picture does not show the color very well).

Rosewood Herb Soap

Another lard soap, this one has a greater variety of oils. It made an excellent soap with great lather.

151 grams lard
135 grams olive oil
70 grams coconut oil
68 grams palm kernal oil
31 grams castor oil
11 grams beeswax
66 grams lye
175 ml water
1/4 cup dried calendula petals
1/4 cup dried parsley
chlorophyll (for color)
rosewood essential oil
patchouli essential oil
lavendar essential oil

Oils were at 118, lye at 110 when mixed. Trace time 45 minutes.
It was beatiful dark green when mixing, after gel it cooled off to the lighter green shade. For some reason the shade of green in this soap is much grassier green than soap 1, though they were colored with the same stuff.

Nag Champa Soap

A non-lard soap with great lather! And a nice hard bar. Turns out the missing ingredient is palm oil; which can be found as organic shortening in the grocery store. Unfortunately this soap came out, well, cosmetically challenged, and I don’t like the Nag Champa scent very much. I’m including the general composition, since this is a great recipe.

150 grams olive oil
60 grams coconut oil
50 grams palm kernal oil
30 grams palm oil
25 grams castor oil
14 grams beeswax
60 grams vegetable shortening
20 grams shea butter
55 grams lye
160 ml water
18 grams Nag Champa Fragrance oil

Took a long time to trace.

Heather and Hyacinth Soap

One of my several attempts to get a good non-lard soap. This one selected just since it smells so nice.

44 grams olive oil
105 grams coconut oil
50 grams palm kernal oil
46 grams sweet almond oil
50 grams castor oil
15 grams beeswax
194 grams vegetable shortening
21 grams shea butter
70 grams lye
200 ml water
18 ml Fragrance oil
1/3 cup lavender flowers
Purple oxide soap coloring.

10 grams of the castor and all the shea were set aside and added at trace to superfat.

This soap is pretty nice – but has a couple of flaws.

First, I had read this, but had to make the mistake myself: NEVER add lavender buds to lye soap! Mine turned either green or black and are really unpleasant soggy nasty pellets in the soap.

Also – mix powdered soap color with some oils before adding to soap! otherwise you get lumps of purple.

I had intended to do a swirl. However, the uncolored soap is translucent and faintly greenish (from the olive oil). So swirling with the uncolored soap does not work. The point: make sure what both colors of a swirl will look like.

Online Soap Suppliers

I started off using Red Devil lye from the grocery store. Alas, the Red Devil folks no longer produce lye drain cleaner, so currently (as far as I know), it’s just not possible to buy lye at local stores. Some soapmaking supply houses carry it. I ordered lye from Rainbow Meadow but Brambleberry also carries it.

Since it is a hazardous material, there are shipping restrictions, but it’s worth it to make soap. You cannot make soap without lye (sodium hydroxide or potassium hydroxide)! You can extract a form of Potassium Hydroxide from wood ashes, but ordering the stuff in jars is a lot easier.

I like Rainbow Meadows, they are responsive and helpful. They are in Michigan.

I’ve ordered a few times from Brambleberry and been quite happy. They are in Washington State.

I am also very happy with Oregon Trail Soap Supplies; the selection is not as large as Brambleberry.

Winter is almost here

It’s that damp cold outside, but with Christmas sort of under control, we might go out and move some rock or put up some tree protection anyway. The two sheep appear to have eaten all the grass, and when the ladies come back from their visit with the ram, we’ll need to put them on the upper pasture. And since at least one will go into the freezer soon, we want them to be eating…

Last week there was a low of 19 degrees, so the garden is a bit sad looking. There’s still a lot growing; kale, lots of parsnips, turnips, beets, fennel, and carrots (for seed), plus parlsey and some odds and ends. Some of the lettuce doesn’t look bad but when you get it in there’s frost damage. But making dinner is much more work when you have to dig, scrub and peel roots. We have been enjoying the spaghetti squash very much. My expectations weren’t high, but put some sauce on and it’s actually quite good, and surprisingly satisfying. This was an excellent addition to our diet. This year I also starting making squash spoon-bread, which encourages us to eat squash, and oven-roasted tomato sauce, which is what we’ve been putting on the spaghetti squash.

The greenhouse is again really doing well. The floor isn’t done, but I’ll start back working on that… one of these days. With that cold spell, it did not give total protection; the basil and one pepper plant seems to be suffering from cold. But there must be 4 or 5 jalapeno plants (two from 2010 that overwintered last year) that are doing fine and covered with peppers, the bell has a pepper, the nardellos appear to be ripening, and even the tomato plant, although suffering, doesn’t seem to have given up. The ripe yuzus are hanging on and the one orange is sloooowly starting to turn orange.

Any day now I want to start some onions, since it seems like the more time they have to grow the better. I got some shallot seed so we’ll give that a try too. I keep forgetting about the daffodil bulbs (I don’t think it’s quite too late…) and it’s high time to order fruit/nut trees. Once the river rock is removed from the area in front of the house I’ll put in low-growing fruiting groundcovers, kinnikinnick and salal and wintergreen and wild blueberry.

Garden report 2011

We are winding down the summer garden – they are expecting rain the next few days, which is often the transition from a happy late-summer garden to an unpleasnt mess. The various roots and kales will be happy, though, and slugs will come out to be collected and fed to the ducks. So while it’s not the end of the garden, really, it’s coming on the end of the glamor part of the garden.

This was really a bumper year in the garden; possibly the best ever, although it was a slow start so maybe I’m getting the wrong impression from this late bounty.

The tomatoes were 2-3 weeks late, but I’ve NEVER had such perfect, beautiful specimens of the large heirlooms. Even on the last day of September there’s hardly any cracked or rotten fruit. Chickens lose out… And we’ve been canning and canning and drying and drying and the freezer is full of giant bags of tomatoes.

We have been overwhelmed with melons. We had two hills of Haogen and one of Chanterais, and they are producing dozens and dozens of small melons. Most I’ve had before in a year was about 6, and that only in greenhouses! They are a bit watery, I think, but sweet and fragrant.

The cucumbers were very prolific, but the powdery mildew has pretty much stopped them at this point. The chickens did win out with cucumbers, there was no way to even hope to keep up. The Poona keera wasn’t that great, and even Mideast Peace wasn’t as delicious as I recall.

While the tomatillos did okay, the were particularly badly located between the rather aggressive melons and the peppers. So I haven’t been paying much attention to them. Still short on good recipes to use them.

We are still picking green beans, in spite of more in the freezer than I had targetted. While I still love Rattlesnake the best, the other ones – I don’t recall, Oregon Blue lake and/or Kentucky Wonder – were considerably more productive. A lesson: even when you think you have reached perfection, in bean variety or whatever, you still might be wrong.

The storage onions were a reasonable crop, although smaller than I’d like to see, but there was less bolting than usual. They went out late, but were really affected by slugs early on.
Sweet onions did very poorly; I tried a new ways of starting the seeds that did not work well, and they didn’t recover.

I planted four types of potatoes; Yukon Gold (our old fav), Carola, German Butterball and a purple potatoe. While I did do some early harvesting, it looks like the yields from the yukon gold are so much lower than carola and butterball, and butterball seems to have yielded better than carola. The butterball was the latest, though, the vines weren’t entirely dead when I dug the patch. I just don’t know if Yukon Gold is really what I should be planting, except for new potatoes.

Corn did pretty well, the second planting was not nearly as good as the first. Not sure why. Possibly the giant borage plant was siphoning off the N. The bees sure loved the borage. We had to ripe it out so Sophie could get the vole that ate one of the squashes.

The winter squash plants seems to have done very well – we haven’t eaten any yet – but there are a lot of squashes out there. The butternut started fruiting very late so I’m not sure if all of them are ripe. Several of the plants have pretty much succumbed to the powderly mildew. I damaged an unripe tetsukabuto so we harvested and prepared it as a summer squash and it was very nice, much more flavorful than zucchini. Been meaning to pick off the small butternuts and try… but there’s too many tomoatoes.

We grew Costata Romanesco and Magda summer squashes, reputed to be delicious, but they were just another blah zucchini. I’ve never seem as large leaves on a squash as on the Costata, though. I had to hack it back to save some carrots.

A dud year for cilantro – nothing that didn’t bolt immediately. But I’ve never got a good crop of cilantro in summer, so my aspirations are low.

The one area that feel really short was peppers. I think the cool weather – it was a very cool summer well into August – stunted them. And the slugs were serious problems, eating off the tops of several plants as well as ruining more peppers than we’ve been able to harvest.
The King of the North seems to be making a late play for a good crop, and the Cuneo that were under remay for seed saving are large. But otherwise it’s been thin; no green chile relish this year. I did have enough green Jalapenos to figure out a jalapeno hot pepper sauce like the Tabasco one we love. I hope I can collect another pound of jalapenos to make another batch. They keep turning red.

Paths and garden growing

One question I don’t really see asked is how wide paths should be between raised beds. I don’t actually have an answer. I like to use a 3′ wide path, but once the plants start growing there is no path left. And this is just potatoes and kohlrabi. A 4′ wide main path is wide enough for walking now (the zucchini only takes up about half the space), but that’s partly since onions are well behaved and beets don’t stick out more than a foot or so. In the tomato area, I left 5′ between rows, and there’s just about enough space to walk; at least half the plants have stuck branches several feet out into the path. I’ve done hard pruning of the tomatoes at the ends where there’s a 3′ path, so I can walk, but a couple of days later there’s another branch in my face.

The squash of course have eaten the path, and are invading everywhere. All that plenty-of-space was nothing like enough. The cucumbers are invading the onions, the melons are overwhelming the tomatatillos, which are leaning over to menace the peppers; those poor peppers that have a 5′ high wall of squash vines massing on their border.

But I’m happy that all the plants are happy, and we can eat as much zucchini as we want, the potatoes are ready, there’s cucumbers, beans, beets, onions and all sort of good things to eat.

More on ducks and slugs

What a year it has been for slugs! Wow, they are big and everywhere. Not just us, either, almost everyone I’ve talked to says this is one of the worst years. I even lost a tomato plant to slugs – this was shocking; I didn’t even know that would be a problem, earwigs never bother tomato plants. And tiny slugs were eating off the onions and corn seedlings, too (as well as everything else).

But there is a solution. Our ducks are 6 weeks old now. From day 1 (well, day 3) they have been eating slugs – I have to pick them off the plants for them, but they do the hard part. Even tiny little ducklings a few days old will tackle any size slug, although I worried a lot about choking when they were smaller. They can eat an awful lot of slugs and are always ready for more. I can’t wait until they can start harvesting their own.

It would have been a very discouraging spring without the ducks… at least there is some up-side to the slug invasion. Picking slugs has some advantages over earwigs… low-tech, no vacuum needed; slugs don’t run very fast; and they often come out before dark.

Other than that, we are up to 4 sheep, who are not keeping up with the grass at all; chickens are laying, meat chickens ready to go to the butcher; the garden is in and growing, and the slugs are really not too much trouble any more. Things really are beautiful and bounteous here!


Ancona ducks, from Boondockers farm, south of Eugene. From the left; Duckie, Bill, Donald, Cenk, Ping, and Ryan, and the 7th, Quacky, is not apparently in the photo. (unless I have mixed up Quacky and Ryan)

Seed companies

So, now that I’m living only 15 miles from Nichol’s Garden Nursery, I have a chance to pop in. (It’s actually much more inconvenient for me since we move – I used to drive past Nichols twice a month during daylight hours, and it was well positioned for a break from driving. Oh well). Anyway, I’ve been having less than warm feelings about Nichols since about 2007, when Monsanto bought Semenis and I took a strong position against Semenis seeds. I wrote to Nichols and they weren’t very helpful, they were relucant to clarify sources on their various varieties. I had a little better luck with Territorial, perhaps since I stopped in their store in person when the product manager happened to be around and we looked up some varieties in his system.

Anyway, now I learn that Nichols is phasing out the Semenis varieties, that they are no going to be carrying them. The Semenis varieties are on a separate rack, away from the regular seeds. This is good; I feel much better about them and trusting them for something as important as the very source of our food!

And I think it’s wonderful that we have seed companies so close! Oregon is blessed with many wonderful small seed companies as well as larger ones like Nichols and Territorial/Abundant Life. One I’ve found recently is Adaptive Seeds. These folks are pretty close to us (as the crow flies, there’s some hills between). They are big advocates of seed saving and have a wonderful instruction book: Seed Saving ‘zine.

I’ve also discovered that Tom Wagner, the seed breeder who came up with Green Zebra (as well as many other well-known tomato varieties), is around here, Washington state somewhere, breeding tomatoes and potatoes. Tom Wagner’s blog He will sell an assortment of seed potatoes from his breeding lines. It’s tempting, but we are so fussy about potatoes.

And finally short plugs for Peace Seedlings/Peace Seeds (I’m not sure why these are distinct) and for Wild Garden Seed.

I don’t really need more seed this year, though, I already have more than I can possibly use

Ducks, cold and rain and slugs

Some years ago in southern oregon we tried raising ducks (it was during the period where Jay had to limit me to one new species per month). We got 3 Khaki Campbells and raised them in the master shower in the mobile home. They were very stinky. They were nervous and high-strung. They got moved to the orchard, where they messed up the tree mulch. Their wading pool water was always filthy. One lost to a hawk, one disappeared, so we got 3 Indian Runners. They were even more nervous, and at least two of them were males resulting in some inapproproiate behavior :-). Finally we gave them away to someone with a pond. It was Not A Success.

So, moving ahead 8 years and 200 miles, to the Willamette valley. I’m reading Deppe’s book, “the resiliant gardener”. She’s in Corvallis, less then 30 miles from me, so her observations are more relevant to me than they used to be. She points out that ducks eat slugs. Hey, we have lots of slugs here, all over the greens! She notes ducks like rainy weather. Well, we have that in spades now! It won’t stop raining! She claims not all ducks are nervous and unfriendly – well, we’ll wait and see, but perhaps I’ve been unfair to duckdom. Hey, you can eat ducks! Last go round, I was still pretty much vegetarian; but now we’ve learned how to smoke poultry, which makes even fatty meat like turkey legs delicious.

Our ducks used to hide their eggs in the grass and they were always filthy, so I’m not that enthusiastic about duck eggs, but they are a bonus.

Jay has always liked ducks, and I guess he’s on duty to change their water. Ducks do have the ability to hang out and be happy in a way chickens never are. I think ducks are type B personalities, while chickens are type As and are only happy when they have projects to work on. Perhaps I identify too much with the chickens…