Sunday, September 28, 2014


After a VERY long break I am back to blogging. I will be updating my blog design and adding social media buttons this week as well as looking at posts I want to include for the following growing season.

Change is GOOD!

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Summer Growing

Wow! It's been such a LONG time! I really have been busy with some writing work, my daughter and yoga. Of course, as everyone who has a garden in Central Florida knows, the summer has been very intense with all the rain. Since we have not been able to mulch all the areas we would like to mulch I feel like a slave to the weedeater and the mower.

Fall is quickly approaching and we have already been planting the seeds of our future here at Sanagaia. Our catalog will expand VERY soon and include many more seeds and some dried herbs which are hand picked, dried and packaged with all our love. We use natural growing practices and have respect for the variety of insects and animals that visit our garden.

Our sign is going up today! We will be here to receive visitors all week long unless otherwise posted. I will be releasing lists of what we have on our Facebook page and on the news page of this site.

I hope that you will stay tuned and see how we grow in the Fall of 2014.

Thank You

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Genuinely Simple Comfrey Products!

Update 8/8/2014: You can now check out Genuinely Simple's site!

I always like to use different handmade products. Here is my review of Genuinely Simple's Comfrey Salve and Lotion bars.

Check out their fundraiser on indiegogo.

Genuinely Simple Product Review.

Genuinely Simple has created a line of Comfrey salves (unscented, lavender and peppermint) and healing lotion bars. I have been given the unique opportunity to use and review these products.

The salves are very similar to other products I have tried. The consistency is more like a cream which, I feel, makes them more versatile. I am always concerned when I apply salve that it will stain any fabric that the area comes into contact with or will leave residue if the area rubs against something after application. I found that is not how it works with these products. The creams are lighter than other salves and are absorbed readily leaving my skin feeling soft. I have used them as a facial moisturizer with success and as an aftershave lotion. I have never found this to work with other salves I have tried because of the residues they leave behind. My legs feel silky smooth and there are no signs of irritation; I usually get after shaving. The most interesting use I have found for the salves (cream) is as a massage lotion. It makes an excellent massage cream keeping the skin moisturized for a long period of time even after the massage is over. You only need a small amount of the cream to cover a large area. It has a discreet scent that is pleasant. My 19 month old daughter had an unfortunate encounter with some mosquitoes on her knee and on her calf. I applied the unscented cream twice to the area, the following day the swelling was gone and the redness from the irritation was not noticeable. Now a day later the bite marks are nearly gone as she has stopped scratching the area.

The Genuinely Simple lotion bars are not what I expected. I have used lotion bars that were made from a cocoa butter base those melted very rapidly and left a large amount of residue. When I tried these lotion bars I was hoping they would be different and they are. Although the lotion bars are probably mostly for hard dry skin I decided to use them as massage bars to test them out. I noticed that they melt or really slowly dissolve against the skin. They leave a long lasting softness probably due to the wax they contain which will slowly condition the skin. There is no residue that will rub off into clothing or fabric after application; just this long lasting softness. There is a scent to the bar that is earthy and creamy; after application there is no noticeable scent on the skin. I will likely always have one of these bars around especially for my feet. As a gardener I get really dry hands and feet from the sun and all the other elements my hands and feet come into contact with. I consider these bars to be a lifesaver now. They don't melt at room temperature and are easy to carry around. I am very happy with the quality of this product!

Monday, June 2, 2014

Misconceptions about Comfrey

Misconceptions about Comfrey!

Comfrey is frequently considered as toxic because it contains pyrrolizidine alkaloids, necine bases or N-oxides; some plants that contain these alkaloids have demonstrated hepatoxicity in laboratory studies: specifically those with unsaturated alkaloids like Comfrey contains.

How can this be broken down in layman's terms that we can understand?

The compounds Comfrey contains can in fact be toxic to humans in extremely high levels; i.e. more than you would normally consume orally. The main thing we have remember is that a plant, especially one as complex as Comfrey, is not the same as an extract in a laboratory and unfortunately experimentation in our scientific method tests on other species and frequently in unnatural doses. There are many other compounds at work in the process; also it is worth noting that consuming Comfrey and topically using it are not one in the same; although throughout my research I have found anecdotal evidence (experience based) of individuals who frequently consumed ample portions of the raw root daily with no noticeable or long term ill effects. There is also a very small body of evidence that might suggest that this herb, used for centuries, can be toxic. The majority of these studies are not realistic and based on huge doses given to animals in very short periods of time. It is worth considering that there is evidence that common pharmaceutical drugs can cause far more damage than their herbal counterparts and yet fear based issues still remain with this herb that has been used for centuries to treat a long list of ailments. In fact it has been used for over a thousand years in Chinese medicine both internally and externally.

Now that we have debunked the horrible portrayal of Comfrey we should give equal attention to the benefits of this fine herb.

Since Comfrey contains a large amount of Mucilage and Allantoin it has powerful anti-inflammatory properties. Allantoin helps cells and is extremely beneficial to the skin promoting healing and rebuilding of cells; it is frequently artificially included in chemically created skin care products. Mucilage will help keep skin hydrated and protected. These two substances are the main reasons Comfrey preparations are so beneficial to most external skin problems. Specifically bites, scars, burns, scrapes, and many more. In addition to these powerful substances this magical herb also contains a large amount of vitamins and minerals such as vitamin C, sulfur, calcium, potassium, iron, selenium, vitamin B12 among many others. These vitamins and minerals also play their part in healing and nourishing cells.

Comfrey has a long history of beneficial use. It is a shame that a few studies could detrimentally affect its perception after being known as one of nature's most powerful healing herbs. Despite these studies many people around the world still have Comfrey as one of their most frequently used herbs. When using herbal remedies it pays to be informed and read as much as one can before making drastic conclusions. There are many companies and individuals who would like to see such cost effective natural remedies banned or limited as it might cut into their profit margins to such an extent that they would create a huge amount of fear based evidence to suggest you ignore these herbs and opt for more chemically based solutions. Comfrey should be given back its place and known to all as the amazing medicinal plant it is and will always be.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Natural Fertilizers

Natural fertilizer... What exactly am I talking about here? Well its not something that comes out of a bag that you buy. It is something that you make yourself or grow yourself to nourish the soil, give structure and create a great deal of organic matter to enrich next set of plants. You can buy some of these preparations but I just prefer not to unless I know the supplier and their practices. I tend to visit/investigate places before I buy anything; it pays to be an informed consumer.

In this post I will be focused on discussing the following topics which are so vast they each deserve their own thorough post (coming soon):

  • Vermiculture
  • BSF - Black soldier fly larvae
  • Composting
  • Green manure
  • Manure tea
  • Animal manures
  • Plant teas
For those of you who know a lot about this... PLEASE do comment and add to the list! I love hearing other people's ideas and opinions.

So here they are:

  • Vermiculture!!!! I need to update the post I wrote about this as we started new bins and they are doing really well! Basically in a nutshell you feed these specific worms your food scraps and they eat them and turn them into black gold. You can use their 'castings' (essentially their poop) as a soil amendment which holds water really well and is full of bio-available micro nutrients and all sorts of living bacteria that insert life and vitality into your soil. You can also collect their 'juice' either in a special bin system or just put some castings in water, I get constant questions about ratios, I use about a cup to a gallon for a strong solution. I like to use wet castings for this purpose. You can foliar feed your plants with this liquid solution to give an instant boost to your plants. Some people like to plant their seedlings directly into the castings. I am not terribly fond of this idea as I think its a bit overkill and just mix some castings in at planting time and do some watering with the tea to add nutrients as the plants grow.

  • BSF - Black Soldier Fly Larvae; DISCLAIMER!!!! When I have mismanaged my worm bins I have found their grubs and got them just on accident especially when the weather heats up here in Central Florida. These insects are officially named Hermetica illucens and they look a little bit like a small black wasp with wings along the body. Their larval stage is what we are interested in for composting purposes and their presence will ward of houseflies by preventing them from laying eggs in the manure or compost they inhabit. These incredible bugs will process a large amount of decomposing matter like manure, animal wastes, and rotting food; they are not regularly seen as pests. The adult flies do not bite or sting. Essentially the flies can process almost any kind of waste product and turn it into bio-available nutrient rich compost much faster than worms. An excellent choice if you have a ton of waste you need processed in a short time frame. In addition to this if you have chickens the larvae are an excellent dietary supplement for them! I found a great post here about how this gardener processes and uses her BSF. There are many design styles and options when it comes to creating a system for these bugs.

  • Composting! Dont get wrapped up in the HYPE composting is simple and easy... You have two ingredients: nitrogen and carbon AKA green and brown. Its simple you have brown which can be leaves, straw, or any other organic matter which is brown. The larger and denser the particles are the longer they will take to decompose and they will require more nitrogen... The 'green' is going to be green matter such as food scraps, grass clippings, general vegetable waste from the garden and more. Here is a nice chart from The Suburban Garden giving an explanation of what can be included. I dont follow all of those 'rules' I do include some meat, fish and dairy in small amounts and deep in the pile. There are many different designs and systems that you can consider depending on how much space and waste you have. I wrote a brief post, here, about what we are using which has just turned into a simple one pile system. I will be doing a specific post about composting soon! The green and brown are mixed in a 30:1 ratio... Everyone says things differently and gives different options so you will need to monitor your pile to see what is going on. In the end if you do well you will have ample organic matter to spread all over your planting areas.

  • Green Manure: WHAT IS IT???? Well quite simply they are plants that you grow to nourish the soil and at the end of their growth cycle they are chopped and dropped, integrated into the planting bed to add structure and nutrients for the following crop or some people will chop them and then compost the waste. You can be as simple or as complex as you want to be with these. Many of the common green manure crops are legumes or nitrogen fixing plants. Many of these legumes are edible which are a 2 for 1 because you get an edible yield from the area while doing good for the soil!!! Many of the plants used will dig roots deep in the ground  pulling up nutrients from deep in the soil making them available for your next set of plants and efficiently 'tilling' the soil for you. Common green manures are: alfalfa, rye, mustard, vetch, cowpeas, fava beans, soybeans, sunnhemp, sorgum, millet, clover, velvet bean and many many more depending on region and season. Using green manures is an excellent way to work the soil with little effort.
  • Manure tea: I do not have too much experience with this soil conditioner and concentrated fertilizer! Basically you take composted manure soak it in water and then use the liquid to feed your plants. Just like everything else in this gardening adventure everyone has a different opinion. I really like the ideas in this Mother Earth News article; they have been thorough and made a simple looking system. I have seen farmers just plop a 20-30lb burlap bag of fresh manure in a 50gal barrel and then add water. They let it steep for days until the liquid is a golden brown color and then just siphon it off and feed it to the plants. Again I am a novice in this but have heard rave reviews about this technique. I will be trying it in the fall and will make sure and update you on the progress.
  • Animal Manure: This has been one of the most versatile fertilizers I have found. It does nto just fertilize but adds organic matter to the soil and structure over time. If you happen to know anyone who has horses, cows, rabbits or other farm animals that they feed well then you will usually find a surplus of manure which many small farmers are more than happy to share unless they have been able to use it all. We have been lucky enough to find a local horse boarder who feeds the horses with organic feed and has a 3 year old pile of composted manure that we have been using to amend our planting beds. You must always make sure that the manure you are using is well composted or be ready to apply it and wait several weeks possibly a month or two depending on how 'hot' the manure is. if you apply raw manure and then plant into it you will end up burning your plants which is no fun! The amazing part of animal manures is that there are many ways to use it to produce a range of different types of solid or liquid amendments that are sure to make your plants happy. I will be working on a different post just talking about these different preparations and uses.
  • Plant teas: Similar to manure teas you can make nutrient rich solutions with plants. I like to use comfrey leave and steep them in water for several days; covered with a cloth so that bugs and lizards don't choose to drown in it. You can use a mixture of any type of plant matter! Ken Peavy of the Farm Whisperer wrote a great post about how he uses his grass clippings to make a nutrient rich drench for his plants. Another local farmer I have interacted with online has talked to me about how they use any type of green plant matter in a barrel with water soaked for several days to create a lovely tea that helps to feed their plants. You can take a look at what is happening on the Carey's farm here: Sundew gardens.

The rules are that there are no rules! You make the rules and only you know your plants, property and soil! You will want to carefully observe and preferably record you findings in a journal. Be ready to harm some plants at times. Experimentation does not always work and you might find that with some of these soil conditioners you need some experience to know when and in what quantity to apply. In addition to that I have talked with Ben Walter over at Hermitage Farm several times about the nutrient profile of the soil and being aware of what is in your soil. There is a balance to this science and adding too much of one nutrient could cause other nutrients to be 'tied up' and not readily available to your plants.

Talking to other local growers and farmers is an amazing way to really understand how to make things work for your benefit and to learn about methods that are working in your area. Do not be afraid to connect with others either online or by visiting. I have had excellent experiences reaching otu to the community and have learned much more than I thought I would be able to from just talking to farmers and visiting their properties.

Happy gardening to you all!

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Adventures in Lemongrass or Cymbopogon!

Lemongrass after being split and trimmed!
When I used to think of Lemongrass all that came to mind was delicious Thai food. YUM!!!!!  Coconut and lemon; it is the most odd combination to my ears but in reality in food its amazing. Yum indeed!

Lemongrass grows in Florida like a weed with little maintenance required!!!!. If you have the space (even in a large or mid-sized container) it is easy and amazing to grow lemongrass. As it rarely flowers most varieties I have seen are clumping types. It is one of the most abundant medicinal/edible herbs I have ever come across in the tropical climate; must be a grass!

So you ask... What are the benefits and how can I use this?

In your garden it has unlimited benefits. If you have space it can help to fill in spaces as our clumps in central Florida have grown to about 3' by 3', the dreaded mosquitoes dont like them and they can be used in infusions creams or oils to repel them on your skin, they repel nematodes (really? this useful!), they have insect repellent properties and when you trim the tops (hedge trimmers work great) about once or twice a year (we only do it in the spring) the trimmed goods can be used as mulch in your garden beds to repel pests. The extracts and essences of the plant are anti-bacterial, antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, anti-cancer and I am sure MUCH more...

Already you can see that it is a must have in the Florida garden and any other garden! It is well suited to culture in pots and is low maintenance. Once established it does not require water. It gives and gives, you will need to split you lemongrass every year and divide it. Give your friends some, make tea, dry it for using later, and put it in your food.
These are the stalks used in tea and cooking.

One of our Lemongrasses after the winter.
This picture shows the stalk you will want to use for cooking, tea, medicine, extract; you get the point! You will want to use gloves and long sleeves to harvest unless you are tough as nails; the soft looking blades of grass are razor sharp and quite aromatic. I get cuts, an itch and tend to get bitten by some insects that hide in the foliage if I don't pay attention to what I am doing. I go to the bottom of the plant and push it to the side then with a shovel or trowel, if yours is in a pot, I gently push about 2 inches from the clump 2 - 3 " down and start lifting the clump up or at least part of it. Once I get some of it loosened I just pull a few of the outer leaves off till I get to the inner green layer and then I cut off the top leaves and the bottom root. If you leave an inch or two of stalk on the root section you can pot that up and keep moist from underneath, i.e. do not water it from above, to make another plant. Take care to never over-water as they will die quickly! I dont tend to save the root sections since they are so abundant I just toss those in the compost pile especially if I am low on time. There you have it!!!! Keep your stalks fresh in the fridge to use soon or just dry and save for later. Some people use the tops but I prefer to put them on top of the soil around plants that are susceptible to insects as the smell will ward them off and give a little mulch too!

I have compiled a list of links if you are interested in diving into the wonderful world of Cymbopogon! Come on... Say that three times in a row! Tee hee hee

I am positive that if you dive into this fantastic herb you will not regret it! If you are in the central florida area I would be happy to pull some cuttings out for you or if I happen to have some in pots we can figure something out!

As always thanks for reading!

For health:

Doshaguru for those who like Ayurveda here is the low down!

India Parenting gives us a comprehensive and well written article about it. Good site!

Lets go healthy! Information is good and thorough!

Healthers has some great information and a nicely written article!

Making your own lemongrass oil:

Ehow and Nikki Jardin Bring us a nice way to make this at home! For those who like doing everything from the ground up!

For Beauty:

Sesame of VivaWoman give us great uses for our bodies with this magical herb! I love this article!!!!!

Alejandra Ramos amuses us with the mishap but goes on to tell us about this AMAZING sugar scrub she came up with!

For COOKING!!!!!! Yummers:

Jane Maynard give us 10 great recipes in this article!

Bon app├ętit offers us an excellent Lemongrass Coconut Curry!

Thanks for reading! I am feeling this Lemongrass after writing this article!

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Edible Gardening the Cold Zones

First of all I would like to thank my cousin for inspiring me to write this article. She enjoys gardening and eating healthy food in the windy city of Chicago!!! I don't think I have the grit to last a whole winter there so when I come visit it will be in the summer months! I am impressed with how long they have braved the cold wind.

When you have a limited time to grow food there are many ways to extend your growing season. Consider what plants you eat the most of and will use most frequently. We grow most of our salads, flowers, herbs and many vegetables in our garden. With proper planning and a simple understanding of gardening there is no reason gardeners in colder parts of the country cannot grow their own food.

The first thing I would determine is what exactly is most important to grow for myself and my family? Here I would make a list of things that are expensive and not as available as you would like them to be.
Some things we enjoy growing:

  • lettuces
  • arugula
  • chard
  • peppers
  • herbs: rosemary, thyme, basil, lemongrass, parsley, sage, dill, oregano and many others
  • beans and peas
  • okra
  • tomatoes
We are getting better at growing our own food and it does make a huge difference in the family meal budget.

Now once you have your list of things you are interested in growing you need to understand that the best way to maximize your growing time in a cold climate is to know what plants grow when. I like using:
Sprout Robot, and for companion planting information my favorites are WikipediaGolden Harvest Organics and Mother Earth News.

Ok so you are beginning to see that planning is actually going to account for a large portion of the time you spend gardening. Fret not! Once you get the hang of it it becomes second nature. In permaculture I have read several times that you should plan for 30 hrs before you do an hour of work. I have found this to be relatively accurate based on the level of knowledge and experience you have. It also helps to keep a garden journal of what is going on especially in a place that has a limited growing season. This way you can look back at last year and see what worked and what didn't. You just repeat what works and try new methods for what did not.

The next thing I would recommend for avid cold weather gardeners is to look into having a basic light set up. This will help you get the most out of your growing season and is a relatively easy thing to do if you have the space. The internet is a marvelous place and here is an excellent explanation of how lighting works and some pictures to give you a good idea of what you need to do to get the most out of the growing season.

Now the plants we like to grow are the ones we use the most and find to work the best in our climate. I like talking to other growers, visiting local farms, checking with the local agricultural extension to see what information and short courses they have available and of course one of my favorites is reading reading reading whether online or books. You can never pack enough information in and no one will ever know everything! It is important that you make a commitment to learning if you want to maximize your ability to produce plants and food.

Irrigation and fertilization are extremely important so that your plants can grow as fast as possible to reach their potential for you before the cold cold kicks in and messes up your game. Make sure that when you make your plans you factor these things into the equation as they can determine the difference between success and failure.

Another option is going indoors with lights and hydroponics. That is not a suitable option for all but does work. Eventually I will write about indoor growing techniques and the lovely world of hydroponics.

Finally I would consider researching thoroughly about cold tolerant plants, varieties and perhaps look into perennials that die back and re-sprout in the spring...

To be perfectly honest I think that many of you who have a long cold season are extremely lucky to be able to grow some of my favorite vegetables better and for longer periods of time than in Florida, where I am, or growing some things that don't even grow here at all. Here are just some of the plants that fit into this category: turnips, many of the Allium (onions, leeks, garlic etc...) family, asparagus, Cole crops or Brassicas (broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage etc...), Spinach, and Carrots come to mind. So don't think that we have got it all over here in the warmer states. Do a few weeks of 90+F in 80% humidity with skeeters biting you and you might think twice about that white Christmas! ;)

I have done some research and looked at all of the following links which have good beginner and some advanced cold weather gardening information and tips.

Fine Gardening has some awesome little pointers in this article!
U of I's Vegetable Gardening Guide is a FANTASTIC article and quite detailed.
The Old Farmer's Almanac can be counted on for great relevant planting dates, frost dates, planting times and much much more. A hard copy is not that much if you enjoy the information.
Chicago Botanic Garden here is a great simple and fast how to of gardening....

If there are any link issues please contact me and I will get them fixed ASAP.

I hope you have enjoyed reading this and I wish you all happy gardening! Good for mind, body and soul! Again I would like to thank my cousin for encouraging me to write this article as it pushed me outside my comfort zone as I have only spent some time many years ago growing in the UK where there is a shorter growing season than here.