Friday, October 17, 2014

The London Dispatches: A Gentleman Gardener's Paradise

A couple of months ago I wrote about my visit to the Garden Museum and the phenomenon of British gentleman farmers and gardeners who transformed it from a utilitarian craft to an art form. Well it turns out that one of the best examples of this…was a Yank! I might be a city mouse but I headed to the country this month and got a chance to view one of the gardening gems of Britain: Hidcote Manor, near the Cotswolds.

The manor house itself.

One of the many entrances to the garden.
The brainchild of Major Lawrence Johnston, who moved to Britain in 1900 and worked on his garden for the next several decades, Hidcote is an absolute beauty. At one point, he had 12 gardeners working for him! His vision set a new standard for gardens in England and his style has been widely imitated ever since. The layout is based on a series of “rooms” or sections, each with different types and colors of plants represented.

Gardens serve as statement of their time and place as much as architecture. In the 17th century the passion was for severely symmetrical layouts with geometric designs—largely representative of man’s dominance over nature. In the Enlightenment and into the Romantic periods, this severity was thrown out the window and replaced with the idea of a natural landscape. The irony here is that a tremendous amount of effort was often expended to make a garden or park look “natural.” The grounds at nearby Blenheim Palace, for instance, were rearranged so intensively by the wonderfully named landscape designer Lancelot “Capability” Brown, that an artificial lake could be introduced. Hidcote is no different. To my untrained eye a number of the “rooms” looked like forest or messy mixes of foliage, but the number of gardeners and volunteers working to get the land ready for fall and winter clearly showed that even the wildest looking landscape was a carefully manicured illusion.

The thatched house in the back was actually one of the homes Lawrence provided for his many gardeners.
I found the formal gardens very beautiful, but what I really enjoyed was the Kitchen Garden. At one point in history all manor houses (indeed most houses in general) would have had an attached food producing garden that would have been worked and harvested throughout the year. At Hidcote I got to see how the beds were being seeded and harvested in strips according to the season so that it is kept in almost constant production. Even at the very tail end of summer, when I visited, fruit and vegetables were growing and being picked for sale and consumption. They might be less glamorous than the manicured lawns that Major Lawrence dedicated his life to, but it was great to see how they formed a vital aspect of the household. Beauty and function side by side.

Early fall in the kitchen garden.
Some beds are empty, others are full. The leeks to the left are just one row of increasingly large and thick ones. Further out of frame were older, more massive leeks ready to be harvested
It is apple season.
I have absolutely no issues with gardening for pleasure and tremendously enjoyed Lawrence’s work, but I did find it interesting to see how much effort was expended on land that “produced” very little. While just behind the hedgerow a much smaller amount of land produced a great deal, and probably with less intensive labor. Modern yards and lawns are one parallel that came to mind, I know that in many areas a lot of work is put into them, but they can be a horrible drain on water resources and often come at a high environmental cost. And in the end, we get very little out of them. I had to wonder about the amount of work we put into aesthetics in our home and land spaces, and how much more we could be doing with them.

What do you think about modern aesthetic gardening? Do you think it serves a worthwhile purpose or has it replaced food and production gardening entirely? What would it take to bring the idea of an everyday “kitchen garden” back into wide use?

Cadence Woodland is a freelance writer, editorial assistant, and marketing consultant. Her journalism has contributed to the New York Times, the National Wildlife Federation, and other venues, but she can be found most often at her blog where she writes about her adventures across the Pond in London.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Who needs vitamin D supplements?

Roughly ten years elapsed between the time that I learned about the prevalence of vitamin D deficiency and when I learned that in spite of my knowledge, I was personally deficient in vitamin D. It seems that most people know nothing about vitamin D deficiency until they have been diagnosed with it. However, even those of us who do our homework on such things will likely think that it's not a problem for us because what is written usually does not stress how common the problem is, as well as the many different health problems that can be caused by it.

According to an article in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, vitamin D deficiency is a pandemic. It further states:
The major cause of vitamin D deficiency is the lack of appreciation that sun exposure in moderation is the major source of vitamin D for most humans. Very few foods naturally contain vitamin D, and foods that are fortified with vitamin D are often inadequate to satisfy either a child's or an adult's vitamin D requirement. Vitamin D deficiency causes rickets in children and will precipitate and exacerbate osteopenia, osteoporosis, and fractures in adults. Vitamin D deficiency has been associated with increased risk of common cancers, autoimmune diseases, hypertension, and infectious diseases.
I first became aware of vitamin D deficiency when I was suffering from overall muscle soreness about ten years ago and an online friend suggested I might have fibromyalgia. When I started reading and researching, I learned that vitamin D deficiency caused the same symptom, and since my problem only occurred during the winter, I decided it would be a good idea to start taking a vitamin D supplement during the winter months. After all, I live in Illinois, and my skin gets zero sun exposure starting around this time of year and going into April. It seemed to help until the last couple of years, and I started to worry that something was seriously wrong with me, although my doctor and chiropractor couldn't find anything other than osteoarthritis.

According to the AJCN article cited above, many patients with vitamin D deficiency "may be misdiagnosed with fibromyalgia, dysthymia, degenerative joint disease, arthritis, chronic fatigue syndrome, and other diseases." But I hadn't read that article yet and was just terribly frustrated that no one seemed to know why I was in so much pain all the time. Even though it wasn't winter, I thought that maybe I was deficient in vitamin D, so I started taking a 1000 IU supplement every day. After a few weeks, however, I didn't see any difference, so I quit taking it because I didn't think it was doing any good.

Then a year ago, my husband's employer had a health fair where employees and spouses could get an extensive list of blood work done for free. It seemed like a good idea, and I discovered that in spite of my wintertime supplementation and summertime sun exposure, I was quite deficient in vitamin D. My level was only 16 ng/ml. Anything less than 20 ng/ml is considered deficient, while anything below 30 is considered insufficient. And although conventional medicine in the U.S. says your level should be at least 30, many alternative practitioners say that 50 is better.

Why had I not noticed a difference when I started taking vitamin D more recently? Simply because at my level of deficiency, 1000 IU was not nearly enough to make a difference. A person who is not deficient would need that much to simply maintain their level. When I talked to my doctor about my test results, he said that he takes 3000 IU a day, even though he is not deficient, simply because he works indoors every day. Also, unlike vitamin B12, which I wrote about last week, vitamin D is fat soluble and it takes much longer to increase your levels. After seven months of taking 5000 IU, my level was up to 28 ng/ml, and now after a year, my level finally reached 36 ng/ml. Because I am still under 50 ng/ml and a long way from the upper limit of 100, I am going to continue supplementing at 5000 IU per day. If you are going to take more than 4000 IU per day, however, you should first have your blood level checked to make sure you need to be actively working to increase your level.

More recently, I've heard others talk about sublingual vitamin D and how it helped to increase levels on people who were having trouble correcting deficiency with pills. So, when I discovered Kind Organics vitamin D spray, I was pretty excited about giving it a try! So, here's the scoop ...

A single spray delivers 1000 IU of vitamin D3, which is the form that is best utilized by your body. If you need more, just spray more. I don't know why this surprised me, but the spray is an oil. If you think about it for a minute, that makes sense because vitamin D is fat soluble. It also contains some omega-3, omega-6, omega-7, and omega-9 fatty acids. The spray is vanilla flavored though, so it doesn't taste bad. It actually makes me think of vanilla pudding when I use it. Like other Kind products, it is organic and certified non-GMO. It is also vegan.

Want to know where to buy it? Check out their website and you'll find a "Where to Buy" search box at the top of the homepage.


In addition to sending me a bottle of the vitamin D spray to try for myself, the nice folks at Kind Organics are also happy to provide bottles of the supplement to three of my blog readers. As with the vitamin B12 give-away (which doesn't end until tomorrow, so click here to enter!) you must have a US street address where they can ship your vitamin D if you win. a Rafflecopter giveaway

Monday, October 13, 2014

Coconut flour is for everyone!

If you've never given a second thought to coconut flour, you're not alone. Most people have never cooked with it and never thought about cooking with it. If they've ever eaten it, it was probably something that was prepared by a friend who was gluten-intolerant. That's unfortunate because coconut flour is delicious and it's good for you!

A few months ago, a friend of mine shared some amazing banana muffins, and when I asked for the recipe, I saw that it used coconut flour. The recipe came from the book, Cooking With Coconut Flour: A Delicious Low-Carb, Gluten-Free Alternative to Wheat by Bruce Fife, N.D., which I decided to buy.

The book starts with a 40-page introduction to coconut flour, it's benefits, and how to cook with it. If coconut flour is new to you, you really should read the introduction. The first thing that I did was find the banana muffin recipe and make it! One of the interesting things about cooking with coconut flour is that you use very little of it compared to wheat flour or any other type of flour I've ever used. The reason? Coconut flour is higher in fiber than any other flour available. It's more than twice as high in fiber as pure wheat bran! But unlike wheat bran or oat bran, it doesn't taste like sawdust. The fact that it is high in fiber means that it absorbs a lot more liquid than other flours, so do not succumb to the temptation to add more flour, thinking that the recipes in this book are wrong.

Since most of us don't get enough fiber in our diet, cooking with coconut flour is a very easy way to increase your fiber consumption. Although I'm recommending this book for anyone who wants to eat a healthier diet, I'd classify it as "must have" for anyone who has celiac or can't tolerate gluten. Most processed foods labeled "gluten-free" are filled with unhealthy ingredients, such as rice starch, potato starch, corn starch, and flours that have zero fiber in them, as well as xanthan gum and other "stuff" that normal people do not have in their kitchens. Other than the coconut flour, all of the ingredients in this book can be found in most kitchens.

Next Monday, I'll share with you my experience of making the peanut butter chocolate chip muffins from the book, as well as the recipe.

In case you missed Friday's post about B12, check it out here and enter for the opportunity to be one of three people who will win a bottle of B12 supplements!

Friday, October 10, 2014

Think you don't need B12 supplements?

11+ reasons you could be wrong!

Since I started eating healthier a couple of decades ago, I didn't think that I needed supplements. I believed that vitamins were for those people who were not eating a healthy diet. However, I have discovered in the last couple of years that some people will need supplements, regardless of their diet. Today, I'm going to talk about vitamin B12, and next week, I'll be talking about vitamin D.

During our family's 14 years as vegetarians, I had repeatedly heard and read that vegans -- those who consume no animals products, not even milk or eggs -- will likely need to take a vitamin B12 supplement. However, because we were big fans of cheese and eggs, I always assumed that we would be fine. Since moving to the country in 2002 and starting to eat our own grassfed beef and lamb and pastured pork and chicken, I thought for sure that we would be in good shape with our vitamin B12 needs. So, when I had some routine blood work done last year, I was surprised to see that my B12 level was barely within the range considered normal by labs in this country. Although most US labs say that anything above 200 pg/ml is okay, Japan and some European countries believe that the results should be above 500 pg/ml.

That's when I learned that there are a variety of factors that can cause B12 deficiency in those who eat a healthy diet with plenty of B12. You could be B12 deficient if any of the following applies to you:

  • age -- if you are over 50, your gut may simply not be absorbing B12 like it used to
  • Crohn's disease
  • celiac
  • surgical removal of the small bowel
  • weight loss surgery that removed part of the stomach
  • bacterial overgrowth in the bowels
  • some diabetes medication
  • use of proton pump inhibitors or other acid-reducing medications
  • intestinal parasites
  • alcoholism
  • genetic predisposition

Wow! There are a lot of things that can interfere with B12 absorption! And B12 deficiency is nothing to play around with. It can cause anemia, gastrointestinal problems, and neurological problems, including dementia and depression.

So, what can you do? For years, people thought that if you weren't absorbing B12 through your gut, that you needed to have B12 injections, but we now know that you can correct deficiency by taking large doses of oral supplements. That's why most B12 supplements appear to have such crazy high levels. Because B12 is water soluble, your body easily excretes any excess through your urine. That's the good news.

The great news is that there are even better supplements available now! Because the digestive tract can hinder the absorption of B12 so much, it makes sense to just leave the gut out of the equation. How can you do that? By using something that gets absorbed through the mucus membranes of your mouth, such as sublingual drops or a spray.

When I first found out about my deficiency, I read a recommendation that said to use sublingual drops for a week, then once a week to maintain. Sounded kind of crazy to think that the deficiency could be corrected so fast, but I tried it and had my blood level rechecked after one week, and sure enough, I was above 500! I've been using it once a week since then, and after 9 months, my level is still above 500, so I'm happy! And now, for the really, really awesome news ...


When I went to BlogHer 2014 in San Jose three months ago, the nice people from Garden of Life who make Kind Organic vitamin supplements were there with free samples. The two vitamins that I have a known problem with are B12 and vitamin D. Even though they didn't have any at the conference, they agreed to send me some to try in exchange for an honest review ... and I honestly love both! But this post is about the B12, so here are the things I love about it:

  • It's a concentrated spray. It's easier to use than the drops because I had to tip my head back to put the drops under my tongue. You just spray the Kind Organics into your mouth, so it doesn't bother my neck.
  • The drops were not as concentrated, so the directions said you were supposed to hold them in your mouth for 30 seconds, which was awkward, especially if someone asked you a question! With Kind Organics, you just pump the spray bottle once, and you're done.
  • It can be stored at room temperature after opening. The drops had to be refrigerated.
  • It's organic and non-GMO verified!
  • It's vegan. Even though we eat our own meat, I don't buy products that contain commercially raised meat products.
  • Kind Organics uses "renewable energy, recycled packaging materials, vegetable inks, and forest friendly paper."

Want to know where to buy it? Check out their website where they have a "Where to Buy" search box.

Want to try it for free? Then enter my give-away below! The nice folks at Kind Organics will send three lucky winners a bottle of B12 to try for yourself! Unfortunately the give-away is only open to residents of the United States, and you need to be able to provide a street address for UPS shipping. Good luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

The perfect recipe for fall: Caramel apple butter!

Whether you have your own apple trees or enjoy visiting local orchards during the fall, this is a great way to preserve the harvest to enjoy year-round! Not only is caramel apple butter great on toast, but it is also delicious mixed into a bowl of hot oatmeal on a cold winter morning!

Makes 6 half-pints (jelly jars)

8 pounds apples
1 cup water
4 cups sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
2 tablespoons lemon juice

Wash the apples, then peel, core, and slice them. Put them into a large pot with the water and cook over low heat until the apples are soft. You can either leave them chunky or mash them with a potato masher, or for completely smooth apple butter, put them through a food mill.

Put two cups of sugar into a small saucepan and heat over a low heat, stirring constantly until the sugar starts to melt and turn brown. This might feel like it is taking forever, but the change happens very suddenly. Pour the caramel into the apple pulp and stir.

Add two cups of sugar and the cinnamon to the apple pulp. Continue to stir while heating. The apple butter is ready to be put into jars when you can scoop up a spoonful, and it doesn’t dribble off the spoon. Add the lemon juice and stir.

Fill jars, leaving 1/4-inch headspace. Wipe the jar rims to remove any butter that may have dropped onto them. Place lids on the jars and gently tighten. Process for 10 minutes in a boiling water canner.

This is an excerpt from Homegrown and Homemade by Deborah Niemann, which also includes complete canning instructions for beginners.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Final garden harvest?

Freezing vegetables

Freezing is probably the easiest way to preserve the harvest from your garden or the produce you pick up at the farmers’ market when it is in season. Most fruits and vegetables freeze well. If properly stored in freezer bags or containers at or below 0°F, fruits and vegetables will last a year in the freezer. This means they need to be stored in a container without air. We resisted buying a vacuum sealer for longer than we should have. As a result, we had a lot of bags of green beans that wound up looking like blocks of green ice after only a few months. After we started using the vacuum sealer, however, green beans last for a year with no damage or decrease in quality. Don’t worry about the cost of electricity when using a vacuum sealer. It uses about 100 watts total for the ten seconds or so that it takes to vacuum and seal both ends, so if you sealed five things per day, every day of the year, it would cost you 5 cents total for the year.

Most vegetables freeze well after blanching, which means being placed in boiling water for a minute or two, followed by being plunged into cold water to stop the cooking action. The amount of time required for blanching varies from one vegetable to another.

Vegetables that freeze well after blanching: 

Brussels sprouts
potatoes (white)

Summer squash and green peppers turn to mush when thawed, so it’s important to plan how you will use the thawed vegetable and prepare the frozen vegetable for that use. I shred zucchini for zucchini bread and freeze it in the correct quantity for the recipe, and I chop green pepper into strips and freeze them in small quantities to use in stir-fries and chili, although the crunchiness of a fresh pepper is definitely absent. When freezing tomatoes, I chop up a hot pepper and add it to a container of tomatoes that will be used for making chili.

This is an excerpt from Ecothrifty: Cheaper, Greener Choices for a Happier, Healthier Life by Deborah Niemann

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

It's breeding season!

Do you know what season it is? Most people think of this as fall, but if you have sheep or goats, you also know it as breeding season! Sheep and goats are pregnant for five months, so fall is the ideal time to breed for spring kids and lambs.

Do I need to dry up my milk goat before breeding her?

No. The standard lactation for a dairy goat (or cow) is 10 months, which means they continue milking through most of their pregnancy and are dried off only two months before giving birth again. This is not even a question for those with sheep because they have much shorter lactations and have already dried up long before breeding season begins.

Do I need to "flush" my does or ewes before breeding?

Flushing is the practice of feeding highly nutritious feed prior to and during breeding season with the idea that it will improve fertility and pregnancy rates. The idea is not a bad one, but ideally, your animals are always fed a highly nutritious diet. If an animal is undernourished, it will have fertility problems. Some people believe that flushing will result in more multiple births, but overfeeding an animal won't trump its genetics, which is what ultimately dictates how many eggs are released.

Can I just let my buck or ram run with the females during this time of year?

It depends on whether you want a more precise due date. Goats and sheep tend to be quite prompt about giving birth around 147 day, plus or minus two or three, so if you know when they were bred, odds are much better that you will be able to be around when they give birth. Depending upon how much time you spend with your sheep or goats, it may be more or less challenging to know when the females are in heat and take them to the male to be bred at that time. Because milk goats are handled daily, it tends to be much easier to spot a doe in heat. Pen breeding is more common with shepherds than goatherds but is ultimately a matter of personal preference.

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