Growing 16 – Guerrilla Gardening

Seed Bombs
How they work – Seeds are wrapped in nutrient rich soil or clay. They get a head start for germination (especially good if planting into poor soil). Keeps them in a state of ready-to-go dormancy.

How to make them
Basically you will need to soak seeds that are ecologically suitable overnight. Then combine them with a soil or compost medium which can hold a ball shape. Shape them and dry them. They should store well for a year or so.

Please see:
http://www.wikihow.com/Make-a-Seed-Bomb
http://www.seedfreedom.net/

How to use seedbombs
When you are ready, simply toss or place them in the location where you want the seeds to grow. They can be planted in shallow soil or placed on the top. Water is needed to moisten the seedbombs and get things moving. Rain is good!

Seedbombs are a well-known tool of guerrilla gardeners but they can be useful even within your own private garden and plant pots.

See this link for guerrilla gardening tips and links:
http://www.guerrillagardening.org/

Maintaining Herb Meadows
If you want your herb meadows to live in harmony with your neighbours then you will need to do a little maintenance now and then. The council will strip ivy (and roses) from tree trunks sometimes and they will strim back any plants that stray from your pit or geveltuin.

One spring and summer, I tended a lovely collection of miniature wild geraniums in the pavement cracks beside my first treepit. I thought they looked great and no one stepped on them. But they were removed by a street worker because they were outside of the treepit. Street workers have a job to do and they don’t have time to check on these things.  So re-home any interesting pavement crack plants, before they get the chop!

What are you doing to keep people, animals and litter off your herb meadows? Does it work? Is it possible to allow for different uses of your herb meadows (bikes, dogs & herbs)?  Have you tried adding signs? If so, what did they say and did they work?

To weed or not to weed?
We meet this issue often. Should we leave some ground covering, beneficial weeds to protect the soil and retain moisture or should we clear the plot completely so that only the wanted herbs are obvious? I experimented a little on my street, leaving Chickweed as ground cover and inter-planting with some great home grown herbs.

A neighbour thought the whole plot was weeds and demolished my well-loved green spot in seconds, with a garden hoe. So I shall continue control the weeds in my tree pits, until the planted herbs look big and obvious.

Some treepits are full of well-tended, attractive and insect benefiting “weeds”. The biggest ones like this in my neighbourhood have hand written signs tied to the tree trunks, stating that the pit is cared for and by whom. Good examples can be seen in Amsterdam on the corner of Hugo de Vrieslaan and Linneausparkweg and also along Balistraat (in Oost though they are in many areas). The plants can be up to 1.5m high and look like wild flower meadows.


My story

About the Tutor
Lynn Shore teaches people to use local herbs wisely, to forage sustainably and to harmonise with the rhythms of nature. She runs walks, talks and courses mainly in Amsterdam and teaches part time at an international school. Lynn has 20+ years experience working with herbs, has studied with American wise woman Susun Weed, Permaculture with Patrick Whitefield and Permaculture Visions, is mentored by Glennie Kindred. She is an OBOD Ovate and Master of Public Health (2010). Projects: Urbanherbology.org  (from 2010) and River of Herbs (from 2012). Lynn believes in lifelong learning and recently qualified in Social & Therapeutic Horticulture with Thrive UK.

Lynn's Urban Herbology apprenticeship courses began in 2011, in Amsterdam. Due to demand, this online/blended course now offers opportunities for connection, support and learning wherever you may live. She looks forward to journeying with you.



Crafting 11 – Making Tinctures

Hawthorn blossom tincture

Tinctures are alcoholic herbal infusions. I make mine with fresh herbs and either Sake, Gin, Vodka or good Brandy. Tinctures will contain the herbal constituents which are soluble in water and alcohol. Never make them from pure alcohol as that is extremely toxic.

I make quite a lot of tinctures. My favourites are Hawthorn (NL: Meidoorn) tincture and Motherwort (NL: Hartgespan) tincture. When you begin using tinctures, it is very tempting to tell people the medical benefits of tinctures but remember the information about about making claims from the ethics and legality unit.

To make a tincture, simply fill a clean glass jar to the top with carefully picked herbs (such as Hawthorn flower clusters and a few Hawthorn leaves). Then fill the jar again with vodka, brandy or whatever strong spirit you choose. Check that you fill all the way to the brim. Herbs that are left uncovered will be exposed to any air and will quickly spoil. They need to be completely submerged in the spirit. Check for bubbles of air and top up if needed. I leave my tincture like this, labelled, in a cupboard for at least 6 weeks.

Freshly made, hawthorn blossom tincture.

Crafting 3 – Equipment for Herbal Crafting

I have deliberately kept the equipment required for my herb crafting recipes quite simple. You may already know that permaculture ethics are a central part of my life. A key feature of permaculture systems is that multifunctional items are used. So, rather than buying special equipment to make your herbal preparations, I urge you instead to invest in a few good quality items which can be used for all sorts of jobs. My kitchen equipment is used for everyday food prep, storage and herbal crafting.

Consider buying good quality equipment in second hand stores or flea markets or look out for what you need on sites such as Freecycle and Facebook. Often, what you seek to find, someone else seeks to pass on! I found a stainless steel funnel-sieve in such a place. It is perfect for directing my morning nettle infusion into a tall jar and cost next to nothing.

Rosehip honey in a Kilner canning jar. The lid can allow for expansion and bubbling.

Herb Crafting Equipment

My herb crafting equipment list covers everything needed to make all of the recipes in this course. Most of the items can be found in most kitchens. As mentioned above, try to avoid buying special tools which will only be used for one job and do ask in the forums, when you need ideas for alternative items of equipment.

Small saucepan with well-fitting lid, heavy based – (for making infusions, decoctions etc).
Le Creuset style, 1.1 litre cast iron enamelled pans are very useful. 

Bain Marie set up - (for gently heating oils).
I use my small heavy based saucepan and lid with a Pyrex bowl. The bowl balances comfortably in between the pan and lid. I add some water to the saucepan and when heated on the stove, the contents of the glass bowl are warmed more gently than if they simply sat in the pan.

Measuring jug or cup
1 litre capacity should be sufficient.

Stirring utensils
Wooden spoons, bamboo chopsticks or knitting needles (for stirring and releasing air bubbles).

Straining fabric
Muslin cloth / Jelly bag / Very clean tightly-woven tea towel / Cheesecloth

Kitchen Sieve

Glass jars and lids
Selection from small and shallow to tall and wide mouthed. I save used food jars (from tomato passata and pesto mostly) and occasionally buy large Kilner or Fido preserving jars for larger quantities of dried herbs and for making things in. These often turn up at second hand shops and the rubber seals are often replaceable when they eventually dry out. I always replace the rubber seals when I obtain old jars. All jars and pots must be sterilised - such as by cleaning and drying in the hot cycle of a dishwasher.

Cheese grater
Fine gauge for preparing beeswax.

Measuring spoons
Teaspoon, tablespoon.

Labels
Sticky food labels / Glass permanent marker pen / Card tags and strings etc

String
For tying and drying herbs. Use natural fibers such as hemp or nettle.

Rubber gloves
For squeezing heat infused oils from herb

Cutting
Kitchen knife / Herb blade
Kitchen scissors

Chopping board (I prefer wood)

Paper bags
For collecting, drying and storing herbs. I save clean, once-used paper bags from shopping.

Mugs

Tea strainer (or use kitchen sieve)

Old big socks
A tip from Glennie Kindred - if you can't store herbs in a dark place them put storage jars in old socks to keep them dark.

Luxury extras 
(I love these and they can make herb crafting easier but they are unnecessary)
Herb drying rack - Try making one. I use willow.
Teapot
Herb infuser (for making herb tea in a mug)
Pestle and mortar
Liquidiser/smoothie maker
Juice Extractor
Measuring cylinder (100ml is very useful)
Electric or hand blender
Spice grinder
Funnel with integral sieve
Ceramic vat with a tap at the bottom (for herb wine)
Small Droppers or dropper bottles (30 – 50ml) for dispensing tinctures.
Tiny biscuit cutter (for lozenges)
Bread maker

Unit Assignment
In the Crafting Forum, post a comment about any of the main crafting equipment listed here which you may need. Have you seen any of the luxury extras for sale in interesting places?


Jump to Crafting 4

Foraging 26 – Developing Foraging Skills

Have you ever noticed that each time you are presented with information for the second or later time, you take in something different from it?

Elderflowers laid on white paper to allow bugs to escape.

Perhaps on an occasion, you read an information packed page in a book about Elder (Sambucus niger). You read words describing how the shrub is often used as a fever medicine, in skin salves and for delicious immunity enhancing cordials. You also read a host of other information about some folklore attached to the shrub in your land and others; tales of tree spirits, rules about not burning its wood and so on. But on this day, you are most interested in the berries.

The sun is out, you spotted plenty of ripe hanging elder berries as you walked home yesterday and today you are keen to harvest and use some. So the information that you just read about the folklore, skin salves and so on are not as important to you today. You are interested in the berries today so your brain filters out a lot of the other information and helps you to focus on the task in hand - Elderberry harvesting and processing.

Elderberries

So you go out, use the berry identification information which you just read, find the right shrubs, pluck the right fruit and you process it according to the instructions which you read. By reading, thinking about it, actually doing the finding, plucking and processing, you are helping to lay down powerful connections in your brain which make Elderberry work easier the next time around. The more you do it, the better you get but the less you recall about the salves, immunity boosting properties etc.

Homemade salve

Because our brains get better at things which we experience repeatedly, it is well worth revisiting that book with Elder information from time to time. You never know exactly when you will need to be able to recall that certain parts of this plant has excellent emollient (skin softening) properties or that elderberry pips contain a precursor to hydrogen cyanide.

Our minds are amazing things. They can remember so much, make incredibly fast connections between different topics, make connections and solve problems whilst we day dream or sleep and have razor sharp focus just when we need it. But our brains have a habit of becoming easily distracted from important tasks. They can also have difficulty with information recall just when we need it and they stop working so effectively when we overload them with superfluous information.

If you have done plenty of academic study in the past, you will probably have received some advice about study skills. As we leave formal education, we tend to think that those study skills are no longer needed. If you want to be a life long learner, keeping your brain sharp, I suggest you think back to those study skills and also keep track of new learning about how the brain works.

There is much to read on the subject (or watch or listen to). You may like to read Daniel Levitin's book, The Organised Mind. It contains lots of useful tips about how to help your brain be more productive (and calm) in a world of information overload.


Activities

1. If you have read or watched something on the topic of improving how we learn and retain information, which could help us all, please share it in the Foraging Forum.

2. To help you to better understand, recall and learn about herbal work, you may like to play around with any of the following techniques. I am sure that you will have other wonderful ways to help build your knowledge. As ever, don't let my words limit you and please do share your favourite tips and tricks in the forums.

Daydreaming beneath Valerian flower stems

Sleep and rest enough
This may sound too simple but sleep is essential to making those mental pathways and connections mentioned above.

Oversleeping or under-sleeping on just one night, reduces the amount of new information we can store, remember and correctly retrieve for the several days. So if you learn about Elder seeds on Monday and under-sleep on Tuesday you are less likely to process and remember that information correctly.

Adults need on average 6 - 10 hours sleep per night. Everyone is of course different and some people have very different sleep needs. Whatever your number, try to get the same amount each night - especially when you are actively learning new information and skills. Sleep cannot be caught up and oversleep is as damaging to the ability to remember as is under-sleep.

Be organised.
If you keep herbal, botany or medical books, organise them and keep them in a convenient arrangement for easy access. Our minds can save their energy for learning from the books rather than trying to remember where the books are located. It also saves you time. If you are not a great one for books and perhaps retrieve lots of information from the internet, keep a record of your references so that you can revisit them. The same goes for helping you recall who told you certain information.

Daydream and be creative
Employ different parts of your brain to help forge deep connections about a topic. This is why I suggested you draw, write, sing, dance about your green ally some time ago. We all know that reading is only one of many routes to learning and yet we often rely only on reading.

Be Mindful with the plants
Rather than looking at a plant with a set goal in mind, spend time just being in its presence. Perhaps sit next to it and share the air. Perhaps soft gaze at it. Perhaps closely and gently examine its details. The way the leaves join the stem. Pour your attention into just being with that plant and becoming aware of it via each of your senses.

Keep and revisit notes
Of what you learn about plants in each location. Again, this facilitates time saving and easy access and also is helpful because we all forget when information is not revisited now and then. So revisit your notes now and then, reread them, look at your doodles, references etc. Top up your knowledge.

Index cards
Keep index cards with key information about each plant. I use pencil for this, to save me rewriting the cards when I decide to change the content. Keep them in a set place (to save time hunting for them) and refer back to them now and then.

Handwriting such information may seem old-school but it works. Our minds are wired to recall where we physically place written (visual) information on a tangible object and where we store that object. Our minds are less good at recalling which cloud, USB stick, hard drive or smart phone file we saved that nugget of useful information on.

Visual differences for electronic storage
If you prefer to save learned information on some form of computer, your mind will recall it better if you make each device screen look very different. Also, being very strict about how you organise files on these devices will help. Google Drive saves me a lot of time because I can access it from all my devices.

I store a lot of information on computers but I also have my most creative work in note books. I buy attractive books, which I like to handle and are easy on the eye. I store them in very specific places so that I always know where they are.

Revisit experiences.
Read over your notes soon after new learning (a day after, three days after and then every now and then). Remake lotions and potions to help create reliable neural pathways. Revisit the plants. Look again at your pressed leaves. Doing things over and over really helps us to gain more from them in terms of memory and motor skills (like getting better at measuring liquids, grating beeswax, chopping etc).

Do one thing at a time.
I grew up being told that multitasking was a wonderful skill. I was proud to be a seemingly good multi-tasker. Now I realise that it is not such a good thing. Of course, I am happy to be able to do several things at once sometimes but the brain cannot really do lots of the things well, at once.

When multitasking, the brain actually switches attention from one task to the next to the next repeatedly and very fast. This is very tiring for the brain and leads to nothing being done terribly well. It also decreases our ability to make good neural pathways and connects which aid with memory and understanding.

Better for the brain and effectiveness is to do one thing properly at a time. Yes, it takes longer but the results are far better. It is well worth a try, especially if you are a recovering multi-tasker like myself! Doing one thing at a time also enables us to get into the flow of things.

Allow time to Flow
To really focus, dive deeply, be creative and allow our minds to make wonderful connections and dream up new solutions and ideas - we need time. To get into a really productive flow is said to take about 90 minutes. So perhaps have this in mind when you next set aside some time to focus on your herbal studies or some other creative work.

Give yourself time and uninterrupted space to really get into it. When you achieve flow, you feel as though you and the topic/object of attention are merged together as one. Do you know that feeling? When did you last have it?