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“Where Do Vegans Get Their Calcium?”

Vegans don’t eat cheese. Or consume any dairy. So, where do vegans get their calcium??

“Where do vegans get their calcium?” is a question that ranks right up there with, “Where do vegans get their protein?” Except, the one about calcium makes more sense. All foods contain protein, and the only foods that aren’t rich in it are the fruits.

I was actually asked the calcium question years ago by a neighbor. Being around seventy years old, she was, of course, convinced that you couldn’t get enough calcium in your diet unless you consumed dairy products. The fact is, the calcium in dairy products – with possibly the exception of unpasteurized milk – is much more difficult for the body to absorb than the calcium in plant foods.

You wouldn’t know that by hearing about the studies that concluded that vegans are more prone to hip fractures, and more broken bones in general, compared to non-vegans. Supposedly, this is due to a calcium deficiency because vegans don’t consume dairy products.

On the other hand, other studies show that dairy-product consuming countries have many more incidences of frail bones and osteoporosis than those countries where most people eat little meat and little to no dairy.

What gives? First of all, if you know anything about statistics, you know that they can be interpreted quite liberally. In other words, however the bias of the researcher leads them to be interpreted.

Second, bone health is more complicated than getting “enough calcium.” Exercise, vitamins D and K, and magnesium – along with twelve other nutrients –  also all play a part in it.

Still, even though the calcium in dairy is more difficult to absorb, many non-vegans get enough calcium without having to think about it because they drink milk and/or eat cheese every day. Most vegans, however, have been told that if they just eat a variety of whole foods, they’ll get all the calcium they need.

Well, that depends which whole foods we’re talking about, as well how much a vegan pays attention to the other healthy bone factors I just mentioned.

The good news is, adults probably don’t need the 1,000 milligrams of calcium that the experts recommend. This recommendation came out of studies of individuals who were extremely deficient in the mineral. Still, you probably need at least half that, and it takes some planning to make sure you’re eating the right foods every day to get the calcium you need.

Where do vegans get their calcium? The best option.

The first thing you need to do is develop a taste for dark leafy green vegetables. Spinach is the best, followed by Swiss chard.

Wait, hold on. I know, you read somewhere that the compound known as oxalates that are found in spinach and Swiss chard impede the absorption of the calcium in those vegetables so you can’t count on them as calcium sources.

I’ve heard that too. But I’ve also read this, in my go-to nutrition handbook, “The World’s Healthiest Foods”:

…in every peer-reviewed research study I’ve seen, the ability of oxalates to lower calcium absorption definitely exists, but is relatively small, and definitely does not outweigh the ability of oxalate-containing foods to contribute calcium….So while it’s true that Spinach is a relatively high oxalate food, and equally true that oxalates can bind with calcium and lower its absorption, the research does not seem to support the position that spinach is a poor choice for increasing calcium…

Besides that, I recently read in another source that the presence of vitamin C helps to break the bind between oxalic acid and calcium. And guess what other nutrient spinach is very high in? Yep, vitamin C!

Swiss chard, by the way, has close to twice the vitamin C that spinach does. One cup cooked spinach provides almost 300 mg of calcium, and one cup cooked Swiss chard provides about 100 mg.

What about greens that are low in oxalic acid? If you can stand the strong flavor, one cup cooked collard greens provide over 220 mg of calcium. The same amount of bok choy provides 160 mg, and broccoli and kale provide between 70 and 93 mg of calcium, respectively, per cooked cup.

Bok choy is a good vegan source of calcium.

Do you have lambsquarters growing in your backyard? Let it spread…and then eat it! One cup cooked of this so-called weed provides as much calcium as collard greens, with a much milder flavor. Dandelion greens contain about half the calcium as lambsquarters. Yes, they taste bitter, but they are free if you avoid spraying your yard with herbicides.

Where do vegans get their calcium? Another option.

If you aren’t afraid of fat – which you shouldn’t be  – one-fourth cup of sesame seeds, or two tablespoons tahini, provides 35% of the daily value of calcium, and one-fourth cup of almonds provides almost 10%. If you consume plant-based milks and/or tofu, choose the brands that are fortified with calcium. It won’t be the most bioavailable, but it’s better than getting deficient.

Where do vegans get their calcium? An example

Let me break this all down for you and offer a couple of ways you could get 600 mg of calcium every day. First, eat the equivalent of one cup cooked spinach every day, which provides about 300 mg of calcium. Add two tablespoons of soaked sesame seeds in your morning smoothie, which provides another 150 mg. Only 150 more mg to go! Have a couple tablespoons of soaked almonds for a snack, and if you’re eating a strictly whole-foods diet, the final fifty-something milligrams of calcium will come from the rest of your diet. It all adds up.

Broccoli is another good vegan source of calcium.

Another sample “vegans and calcium” menu plan

Here’s another way to get plenty of calcium. Include a glass of calcium-fortified almond milk with your breakfast. Have a meal that includes two cups of broccoli and calcium-fortified tofu. Include a snack that consists of two tablespoons of tahini. All those foods will bring you close to your daily calcium requirements, and if the rest of what you eat that day consists of whole foods, you should get enough calcium from them to meet the requirements.

What about calcium supplements for vegans?

If you’re like me, you may have someone in your household who despises both dark, leafy green vegetables and sesame seeds. Or, you may want to hedge your bets and make sure you’re getting enough calcium – especially if you tend to fall off the “whole foods” bandwagon a bit more often than you know is nutritionally sound.

In such cases, you might want to be interested to know the best calcium supplement. Let me tell you the worst type of calcium supplement first: the dry ones. The ones that come in a tablet or capsule form. Why?

The kind of calcium in those supplements can cause more harm than good.

The best kind of calcium supplement? One that is liquid. Angstrom calcium is one alternative, an herbal extract high in calcium (such as this one by Mountain Meadow Herbs) is another.

How do vegans get enough calcium? An important caution!

One critical warning before we wrap up: there are some things that can inhibit the absorption of calcium, depending on how much of them you put into your body. They are:

  • caffeine
  • alcohol
  • acid-blocking medications
  • certain other prescription medications
  • animal proteins (I know, I know, this article is directed toward vegans, but every little reason you have not to eat animal products is good to know!)
  • smoking

You can do it!

Where do vegans get their calcium? Now you know…and you know that it’s not rocket science. You can do it! For an even more encouraging and in-depth information on the topic, click to this other website’s great article.

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Welcome To My Jungle!

Ah, the summer garden. Neat rows of staked tomatoes, tidy beds with cucumber vines keeping itself in the bounds you set for them, everything evenly spaced and easy to find…

…NOT!

At least, not in my garden. Not this time of year! Scroll down to each photograph, and I’ll give you a tour of my kitchen garden.

This first photo is of two twenty-foot beds that are mostly empty right now. I planted peas early this spring in the one to the left – they are, for all practical purposes, done with for the year – and in the one on the right, I planted the extra tomato starts.

The SmartPots that you see I plan to use for sweet potatoes next year.

Two long, empty in-ground garden beds

I’m filling the Smart Pots with organic matter to create soil inside them per the lasagna gardening method.

In the next picture, one of the extra tomato plants growing next to the trellis in the bed on the right-hand side.

The following photo is a view to the blackberry trellis and main asparagus patch, from the two beds shown in the first picture.

I have beetle netting over the blackberries to keep the cardinals from stealing the fruit. Look carefully in the next photo and you’ll be able to see almost ripe fruit through the netting.

How to keep birds off your blackberries? Cover them with beetle netting!

In the next photo, my back is toward the asparagus patch and we’re looking down toward the grape vine. Near the grapes are the two new lasagna garden beds I’m creating.

Next, a close-up of those beds.

In the next picture, my back is toward the grapes, giving you the view from there down toward the asparagus patch.

Next, standing by the grapes, I’m showing you the view of the high raised bed portion of the garden. Four blueberry bushes are in front, then there are four beds oriented east to west. The first three are mainly lasagna beds topped with an organic potting mix. The fourth bed is filled with a decidedly non-organic potting mix that I hate to admit buying. That’s a story for another post.

Here’s the first high raised lasagna garden bed. It has a tomato on either end and mung bean plants in the middle.

A close-up of some unripe yellow pear tomatoes on the same plant as in the above photo.

I think I started the cucumber vine, which is in the bed next to the one with the pear tomatoes, in the following picture at the beginning of April, and planted it out the first week of May. It’s a hybrid variety, and man, let me tell you: if you want a prolific plant, choose a hybrid over an heirloom!

The dried material in front are two or three spent cilantro plants, I hope happily reseeding into this bed!

I had to actually pick and THROW OUT 13 cucumbers of this size…and there were 15 super-mature ones like it left!

A view of the cucumber bed and the other two beyond it, looking toward the south side of the garden.

Now things get really messy. I have two sub-irrigated planter-beds (SIP beds), which are basically giant Earthboxes – which are self-watering planters. They run the opposite direction of the four high-raised lasagna garden beds.

In this first one, way to the right is a cage protecting a few broccoli plants. Right in front you see a lot of red malabar spinach plants surrounding a zucchini, plus one dill.

No, I’m not going to let all those malabar spinach plants keep growing! But I’m going to keep them there, cut short, to help confuse any squash bug that might come along and try to destroy the zucchini.

A close-up of the zucchini plant. Can you see the yellow blossom behind, at its base?

In the next photo: welcome to the jungle! Now I know why they’re called Kentucky Wonder pole beans – because you wonder how a plant could grow so prolifically, so fast, and take over everything! It’s all over the upside-down tomato cages that I’m using to stake the peppers. I think I’m going to have to prune some of the pole bean vines so that they don’t completely shade out the peppers!

Kentucky Wonder pole beans take precedence in this photo.

See? The beans even want to grow into the kiwi vine!

Next, a sad pepper, lost amidst pole bean vines and much-taller basil.

Here’s a closer view into that bed. In this half of the bed, the peppers are growing in the middle, with the basil next to them. The pole beans, though planted next to PVC pipe attached to the outside of the cage, are growing wherever they feel like it!

A lush summer vegetable garden.

At least the beans are finally producing. In the next two photos, a bean flower, than a bean baby. As opposed to a beanie baby, lol.

A side view of that SIP bed, looking at it from between two of the high-raised lasagna beds.

Next, a south-north view of this bed. In front is one of two Beit Alpha cucumber plants I have growing (the other is elsewhere, and yes, this is an heirloom variety),

The really tall plant by the cucumber is a huge lambsquarters. This is an edible weed, related to spinach.

After that, the jungle!

The following photo shows the path between the SIP beds and the high-raised lasagna garden beds, just so you can see that there is some tidiness in my garden. 😉

There ya go! Thanks for accompanying me on this tour of my kitchen garden. 🙂

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When To Give Up On A Fruit Tree

Are fruit trees hard to grow? Wanting so badly to produce as much of our own food as possible, I didn’t delve into this question nearly as deeply as I should have before going out and buying over $600 worth of fruit canes, vines, bushes, and trees. I believed it was just a matter of making sure they had enough sun, water, fertilizer, and pruning to get all the fruit we would ever need.

Five years later, and I’ve realized that the question shouldn’t be, “Are fruit trees hard to grow?”, but, “How hard is it to get fruit trees to produce?”

The answer is twofold: not as easy as the nursery catalogs make it sound; and, it depends on where you live.

Peach tree loaded with fruit – something I’ve never seen, and a dream I’m giving up on.

Maybe you’re like me and were overly enthusiastic about growing your own fruit, and now find yourself with several trees, bushes, or vines that are not producing nearly as much as you thought they would. Or they get a disease or pest every year before the fruit has a chance to mature.

We want to hang onto our food crops, and give them second, third, and fourth chances to provide for us. After all, we paid good money for those plants! But at some point, you’re going to have to admit that you wasted your money purchasing something that just doesn’t do well in your area.

How do you know when it’s time to admit defeat? I’ll give you some guidelines, while telling you the story of the Great Mini-Dwarf Peach-Nectarine Tree Failure.

The beginning

A couple of years before moving onto our five acres, I bought a bunch of fruit plants and put them all in containers to await the Big Move. Four were mini-dwarf peach-nectarine combo trees. Grow them in a twenty-gallon container, the nursery said, or space them four feet apart because they’ll never get taller than five feet and the roots will stay small.

Two unpruned peach trees on the left, two on the right pruned down to about six feet high. So you see how huge they were getting.

The year before we moved, the roots of two of the trees were growing out of the bottom of the twenty-gallon fabric pots. Hmm. Are they supposed to do that? Maybe I needed a thirty or forty gallon container?

The middle

We moved, and eventually planted the peach trees in the ground. In the meantime, the roots of all of the trees had torn out the bottom of the pots. And the trunks seemed to be getting suspiciously large for mini-dwarf trees.

So we planted them about six feet apart. Just in case.

The next summer, the new growth well surpassed the five foot maximum height. I called the nursery and asked their on-staff horticulturalist about it.

“It sounds like they lost their mini-dwarf root graft,” she answered in surprise.

Long pause. “Uh…they can lose their root graft?”

Sure enough, they can. And did.

As did half of my mini-dwarf apple trees.

Our peach trees, planted ten feet away from the house and only six feet away from each other, were starting to grow into regular-sized trees.

Pro tip: do NOT buy mini-dwarf trees!!

About an hour ago, this naked peach tree…

…was about the size of, and had as much foliage as, the tree next to it.

The result of this loss is that every summer, I’ve had to spend time cutting the trees back to the height I want them. In the miserable summer humidity.

Which brings me to reason number one to give up on a fruit tree:

It’s causing you a lot more work than you bargained for. (And you can afford to buy fruit from the store, so it’s really not worth the headache.)

But I was okay with doing this annual severe pruning, if it would only produce fruit. Long story short, in five years I haven’t gotten more than a dozen ripe fruit off of four trees – and most of them have come off a single tree. It wasn’t because I didn’t thin them, or didn’t fertilize them. One of the major culprits is the fungus it gets every year due to the high humidity where we live.

That leads us to the second reason to give up on a fruit tree:

It’s prone to destructive disease or pests in your area.

Second pro tip: just because a nursery catalog says something will grow in your growing zone, doesn’t mean it will be healthy in the particular climate you live in.

This year, despite all the flowers that appeared on all four trees, most flowers fell off, fruitless, and of the fruit that began to grow, most of it shriveled up before getting two inches in diameter.

This was because with all the rain we’ve been getting – especially in February and March, which is when peach trees are in bloom here – the bees didn’t come out to pollinate.

I shrugged my shoulders and said, “Oh, well. So we pollinate by hand from now on.”

The end

Except.

I kept looking out the window, and watching how the peach tree branches were growing wider and taller than ever. The trees were already middle-aged, and hadn’t produced jack-nothin’. I gave them second and third chances. I wanted to be able to focus my time and energy on the plants that were producing, not keep hoping for fruit from seven-year-old trees that had barely ever given me anything.

Third reason to give up on a fruit tree:

It’s not producing, no matter how well you follow the rules of caring for it.

Right now, we’re in the process of taking out our peach trees. They’re not the first fruit plants we’ve given up on, and I don’t think they’ll be the last.

More than half of the branches I pruned off.

Close-up of the above pile.

Yet another pile from the same peach tree.

We’ve spent a lot of money learning the answer to, “Are fruit trees hard to grow?” Any plant that bears a sweet fruit comes with challenges, some more than others.

If your fruit tree in question:

  1. is causing you a lot more work than you thought it would (and you can’t/don’t want to do that work);
  2. is overcome by pests or disease every single year to the extent that it destroys the harvest before you can get anything out of it; and/or
  3. it’s well past the age of beginning to produce, but it just doesn’t, no matter what you do right,

it may be time to say good-bye and turn the tree into firewood. Or compost. Or just a brush pile.

If you learn nothing else from this post, learn this:

Never, EVER, buy a mini-dwarf fruit tree!

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Advocates of Raw Veganism, a diet where nothing is consumed except uncooked raw plant foods, claim that it is the healthiest diet. Is it?

100% raw vegan: the healthiest diet on the planet?

First, we need to define what the healthiest diet would do for somebody. In many people’s minds, including mine, the healthiest diet would reduce incidences of colds and flus to almost nothing, dramatically decrease the risk of developing chronic or degenerative diseases, and, barring tragic accidents, allow anyone following the diet to live until at least the age of 100 with mind and body still intact.

What about the gurus?

With that in mind, let me play the devil’s advocate and look at a couple of the earliest raw foodists. If you are already into raw food veganism, you have undoubtedly heard of Ann Wigmore, one of the great pioneers in the raw food movement. She died at age eighty-five.

Then there is T.C. Fry. Heard of him? He is the pioneer in the fruitarian movement. He died at age 69 from a blood clot.

Doesn’t sound like a great track record, right? In fact, raw food skeptics use those kinds of stories to illustrate how unhealthy a 100% raw food diet is.

Well, what if I told you that Ann Wigmore died from smoke inhalation when her health institute caught fire? And that after being told by doctors that they didn’t expect him to live very long, T.C. Fry healed himself from a bad heart, obesity, and several other conditions of ill health in his mid-forties by going on a high-fruit, raw diet?

Seems like his diet did a good bit for his body, which maybe could never fully recover from his previous illnesses. Not only that, but people who were close to him revealed post-mortem that he sometimes fell back into eating the standard Western diet.

Then there is the fact that until very recently, there has been very little information about how to be a healthy vegan, let alone a healthy raw vegan.

But even though there is much better information available now, and easily available via the Internet, most people who try a 100% raw food diet eventually quit. How can any diet with such high recidivism be truly healthy? Well, there are several possible reasons that people leave the eating lifestyle.

Why people quit the raw vegan diet

Number one, the purist gurus argue that you can get all the nutrition you need on a raw vegan diet…no matter what you diet consists of. Want to eat bananas all day? No problem! You’ll get all the vitamins and minerals your body needs without taking any supplements.

What REALLY goes on in the minds of gurus!

In other words, they completely ignore what is known about the human body’s nutritional needs as well as the widely varying range of nutrients in different foods. If you want to be healthy on any kind of diet, you need to provide your body with all the macronutrients and micronutrients that it needs on a daily basis. But many people believe the gurus, then when they start to feel not so great they come to believe that raw veganism is the problem, and quit.

Then there is the whole vitamin B12 issue. Click here for a detailed article about it, but right now I am going to say this: any kind of vegan (and many non-vegans, as well, when it comes down to it) needs to take a B12 supplement.

For an entire year, I consumed nothing but raw fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds. One year, then I began adding meat back into my diet. Why?

Six months into the gig, I started developing symptoms of Alzheimer’s. Six. Months.

I trudged on for another six months, and when the struggle to think of basic, everyday words only got worse, I added meat back into my diet and my mind started working again. I didn’t know it then, but I had developed a B12 deficiency.

And I’m not the only one. Author and former raw vegan Susan Schenck went for six years before her memory fell apart to the point that she went back to eating animal products. All because she was led to believe that she could get all the B12 she needed on a raw vegan diet.

So purist gurus with no background in nutrition screwing up other people’s lives with their misinformation is one reason people leave 100% raw veganism.

A second reason is fiber. If you eat a 100% raw food diet, you are not allowed to cook even the tough, fibrous leafy green vegetables. This is fine if you have a strong digestive system as some raw food YouTubers seem to have, being able to chew and swallow several pounds of dark, leafy greens at one sitting.

Of course, you need a of time to be able to chew food like that properly in order to get the nutrition out of it.

But what if your digestive system doesn’t handle that much fiber very well? Or what if you simply don’t want to spend hours of your life every day chewing raw kale and raw Swiss chard?

The glib, common answer is to drink green smoothies. Sure, using a high-speed blender will break down the fiber to the extent that most people can handle it. But frankly, to put enough greens in a smoothie to get enough of the vitamins and minerals you need to have optimum health on a raw vegan diet, you have to force yourself to get used to some pretty strong tastes.

Give me three cups of steamed kale with a sprinkling of salt and a dash of vinegar over a banana-kale smoothie any day. And I’m speaking as a person who made herself to drink two dark, leafy green smoothies every day for a year.

But most people aren’t as strong-willed as I am. Most people who jump aboard the raw veganism bandwagon eat what tastes good to them, not what will provide them the nutrition they need.

The third reason people leave 100% raw food veganism is related. If you allowed yourself some cooked whole grains and/or cooked beans, you wouldn’t have to work so hard to get your nutrition from vegetables and seeds. Seeds are not evil in and of themselves, but raw foodists who tend to avoid the dark, leafy greens end up eating too much fat in the form of nuts and seeds to get their nutrition.

If they included a cup or two of whole grains in their daily diet, along with a cup of sprouted and cooked beans, they would not have to work nearly as hard (or spend nearly as much money) to get the nutrition they need.

Cooked food is NOT poison!

Bottom line: most people who become 100% raw do not stay 100% raw because the diet eventually fails them. Many leave the 100% plant-based eating lifestyle altogether.

That is not because the diet is inherently unhealthy or inferior to any other kind of diet. That is because the would-be raw food enthusiasts either don’t know how to get all the nutrition they need, or their body does not allow them to eat certain nutrient-dense foods, such as broccoli or collard greens, raw. Or, they try to follow a type of raw diet that goes against their biochemical needs and instead of trying to tweak it, they give up.

The answer to the first issue is obvious: get educated! Read The Raw Food Nutrition Handbook by Karin Dina. The answer to the second: don’t be a purist!

If you need to eat some cooked brown rice to keep your blood sugar levels stable or because you can’t afford to eat fruit all day, or if you’re like me and cannot eat more than a handful of raw broccoli without gagging, then by all means, cook the food that you need to cook!

As for the third issue, being ignorant of your biochemical needs, well, learn to listen to your body rather than the gurus who say that their way is the only way.

But let’s go back to 100% raw vegan. Is it the healthiest diet? Followers of this eating lifestyle say that it is the way the original humans ate, so yes, it must be.

While there is no scientific proof that nutrient-dense 100% raw veganism is superior to any other diet, many studies have born out the fact that eating plant foods in their raw states generally provides superior nutrition to produce that has been cooked. Long-term raw foodists who eat according to their individual biochemical needs report having more energy, improved sleep, and fewer viruses than they used to when they ate mostly cooked food.

My opinion is that, assuming that you are taking a B12 supplement and consuming enough dark, leafy greens in whatever form suits you to get the minerals you need, a 100% raw vegan diet could be the healthiest type for many people.

What if you don’t want to, or cannot, eat 100% raw? Remember that the preponderance of studies points to a whole-foods vegan diet as being the healthiest, whether raw or cooked. So if you are craving a quinoa and chickpea curry meal, or minestrone soup with whole grain bread; if you can’t stand green smoothies and can’t digest the dark, leafy greens without cooking them; I give you permission to get out your saucepan, get out your skillet, and cook to your heart’s delight.

Just be sure you’re not going overboard with fat, and that you’re getting the nutrition you need.

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Are seeds good or bad? Aren’t they full of phytates? What about the omega-6 fatty acids they contain?

In this article, I want to help you get over your seed-phobia. I’m talking here about the seeds that are harvested from flowers or fruits, such as sunflower, sesame, and pumpkin seeds, rather than grains which are the seeds of various grasses.

My anti-seed story

A few years ago, I made a very brief visit into the Paleo world. While I was there, I heard a disturbing fact: seeds are high in the omega-6 fatty acids, and therefore should be avoided at all costs. I was disturbed because I had been eating seeds, mainly sunflower and pumpkin, for years because they are and inexpensive food compared to the nutrition and calories they provide.

But heaven forbid I whack out the omega-3 to omega-6 ratio in my body, so I obediently cut seeds out of my diet. Even when I ditched the Paleo diet, the words of warning against seed consumption continued to nag at the back of my mind, and so I continued eating  other foods, such as nuts and raw milk, instead.

Long story short, after doing this for a couple of years I discovered that my iron-deficiency anemia (which, by the way, I was diagnosed with after I’d been on a Paleo diet for several months) had become even worse. Throwing caution to the wind, I added seeds back into my diet, and what do you know? My iron levels went back up.

There’s always another side

But I’m getting a little ahead of myself. First, let me elaborate on the popular idea that seeds are unhealthy. It’s not only the meat-eating Paleos that spread it, but also some parts of the vegan community as well, particularly the high-carb, low-fat part. For them, the emphasis is less on the omega-6 content and more on the fact that seeds are a fatty food, period, and are thus to be consumed in very small amounts, if at all.

What nobody is saying, however, is that when you soak seeds for at least twelve hours – eighteen is even better – the fat content is reduced by somewhere between 20% and 30%. In other words, a fourth cup of sunflower seeds, when soaked for 24 hours, no longer contains 17 grams of protein per serving, but up to a third less than that, something between 11 and 12 grams per serving. Of course, the calories come down a corresponding amount, as well.

Pumpkin seeds are a great vegan source of iron, along with a number of other minerals.

Not only that, but after prolonged soaking of seeds much of the omega-6 fatty acid converts to omega-3 fatty acid. This all happens because when you soak a seed that long, it begins the germination process, and when a seed begins to germinate the fats break down into healthier substances and the proteins begin to break down into more digestible forms.

And you know that big bru-ha-ha over phytates, the anti-oxidant chemicals that bind minerals to themselves during the digestive process which prevents the minerals from being absorbed through the small intestine? They are neutralized after a good twelve-hour soak. Thus, the minerals in the seeds can be easily absorbed into your blood.

Benefits of eating seeds

With the understanding that sunflower, sesame, and pumpkin seeds are perfectly safe to eat when they have been soaked for at least twelve hours, and that a truly healthy diet is going to have no more than about 20% of its calories coming from any kind of fat, let’s look at five reasons to include these seeds in your diet.

First reason:

Soaked seeds are much healthier than whole grains for those of us who are sensitive to whole grains. They do not contain the digestive tract irritants found in the germ and bran of whole grains, and so don’t cause bloating and gas.

Second reason:

Seeds, even in their unsprouted form, are highly nutritious. Think about it: they contain everything needed to grow a large plant. A fourth cup of unsprouted raw sunflower seeds contains about 55% of the daily value of thiamin, 14% of B6, over 90% of vitamin E, over 20% of folate, almost 14% of iron for women and 30% for men, 32% of magnesium, 36% of manganese, and over 30% of zinc.

Pumpkin seeds have twice as much iron, and more of both magnesium and manganese. It also contains 22% of vitamin K, a vitamin most often associated with greens. Sesame seeds have a similar nutritional profile as the other two seeds, but with much more calcium – a whopping 35% for a fourth cup. That’s more calcium than what you get in a cup of milk!

Now, keep in mind these numbers are for seeds that are in their raw, unsprouted form. It’s common knowledge that the process of soaking seeds increases the quantity of many of the vitamins, especially the B vitamins.

Third reason:

Eating seeds for your daily mineral supply is much cheaper, not to mention much easier, than eating enough greens to get your minerals. This is especially good news for raw food vegans, who generally do not consume grains. Strict low-fat raw food vegans rely solely on greens to obtain their minerals.

Kale is delicious and healthy – but it’s expensive when eaten in large quantities!

That sounds like the natural and healthy way to go, but did you realize that this translates to ten to fifteen cups of raw dark, leafy greens every single day? Unless you have a huge garden, indoors and out, this kind of diet is beyond the average family’s budget. Not to mention the amount of time it takes to properly chew that amount of greens.

A fourth cup of sprouted sunflower seeds or pumpkin seeds is easily incorporated either into a salad or a smoothie, and soaked sesame seeds are good blended with bananas and/or mangos. They will only cost you something between fifteen and thirty cents per fourth cup of dry seeds, and take no extra time and energy to consume.

Fourth reason:

Seeds boast a healthy amino acid profile. Pumpkin seeds are especially high in amino acids. A mix of any of these three seeds every day, and you will get plenty of protein.

Fifth reason:

Seeds are easy to store. Greens need to be either refrigerated or frozen. Until you decide to soak and sprout them, seeds can be kept at room temperature in an airtight container. Even after you soak and sprout them, if you own a dehydrator you can always dehydrate them so that you can again store them at room temperature. I don’t recommend you do this for all the seeds you eat, however, because some nutrition will be lost during the dehydration process.

Bottom line

So, what’s your verdict? Are seeds good or bad?

In my opinion, it’s time to stop being afraid of seeds because of their overall fat content, and specifically their omega-6 fatty acid content. Soak them for over twelve hours, and as long as you keep your daily total fat intake to below 20% of the calories you consume, they will serve as a healthy, nutritious, and economical part of your vegan diet.

Be sure to subscribe to this blog via the form at the top of the right sidebar so you don’t miss any posts on vegan nutrition, or how to live a more self-sufficient life as a vegan!

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Weekly Harvest, May 31- June 6, 2019

The goumi bushes standing empty, resting up for another bountiful harvest in 2020, two other berry varieties growing on our homestead begin to ripen. Alas, one of them befell a calamity a few days ago, which I will get to in a moment.

Before the photos, I have to say that I picked lambsquarters for supper at least once during this period, but forgot to photograph them.

First, the last day of May, 2019, provided a few of three different berries. Some goji berries…

…a nice handful of mulberries (more and more, I’m harvesting from the ground rather than the tree)…

…and a couple of raspberries. They are SO AWESOME that I eventually hope to quadruple the number of canes that we grow.

The first of June, there were no berries to be had. I only harvested some broccoli leaves for supper.

June 2, 2019, was a bit more bountiful, in variety of harvests if not amount.

The purple juice in the photo below was from the mulberries, which I separated out for photographing purposes.

Two strawberries! Not rotting! Surprise, surprise!

The aforementioned mulberries. Several I picked up off the dirt and so needed rinsing. Thus, the colander.

This represents three cups of sugar snap peas!

I can’t remember if I harvested these later, or what. Or maybe these were the younger peas I picked that day?

Finally, I remembered to take a picture of lettuce harvested from my indoor garden!

On June 3, I was SO EXCITED to harvest the first blueberries, almost an entire cup! The four blueberry bushes were replete with berries in various stages of ripening, and I just knew this year’s harvest was going to be better than last years!

Until…

…the sad story, coming up. Stay tuned!

I got another nice handful of gojis that day, too.

On June 4, wow, about a cup and a half of ripe blueberries!

But thunderstorms were predicted…

On the fifth of June, I got a nice handful of raspberries and a few mulberries.

I also ferreted out enough kale from the few plants I have growing to have a bit for supper.

I harvested more peas, too. Normally, they’re kaput by this time of year, but the unusually cool and cloudy weather have kept the plants happy.

These peas I harvested in order to shell out the mature green peas and steam them (let me tell you, they were delicious!).

These were younger peas that we ate with our lunch rice.

In the meantime, the storms had come. Torrential rain, and strong winds. (Cue scary music here.)

The next day, I went out to harvest blueberries…and discovered devastation. (Cue sad music here.)

The following video explains it all.

I harvested the following foods on June 6. Right below are the blueberries. The ones in the smaller container are the ones that were ripe, some from the bushes and some from the ground.

The ones in the larger container are the not-quite-ripe-but-good-enough blueberries that I picked up off the ground. They’re sour, but will be good in smoothies.

On the bright side, I had a really good goji berry harvest that day.

Two whole raspberries and five mulberries rounded out the harvest. Unless I foraged for lambsquarters that day.

Happy growing!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Do Vegans Need To Worry Over Vitamin A?

Do vegans get enough vitamin A? The question is controversial for two reasons. First of all, plant foods do not contain vitamin A. That is, they don’t contain pre-formed vitamin A. They don’t contain the actual vitamin, in all its eye-health glory.

“WHAT?! But my nutrition book says that carrots, sweet potatoes, cantaloupe, and other fruits and vegetables contain vitamin A.”

“What do you mean, plant foods don’t contain vitamin A??”

I know. So does my go-to book on nutrition. Otherwise a good source of information, the book The World’s Healthiest Foods lists many different plant foods as containing vitamin A. I’m not sure why, since the author seems to be a guy who has done his research.

But the truth is, plant foods do not contain vitamin A. Many of them contain the group of phytonutrients known as the carotenoids. There are fifty, and the human body can convert all into vitamin A. Beta carotene, being the most common carotenoid, is the most well-known.

Which brings us to the second reason that this question of whether vegans get enough vitamin A is controversial: supposedly, some study or other has shown that only three percent of the beta carotene that is consumed gets converted into vitamin A. If this is true, vegans would probably have to eat something like fifty pounds of carrots every day to get the vitamin A their body needs.

Orange skin, anyone?

But I have to question the veracity of the statement, that only three percent of the beta carotene consumed converts to vitamin A. I’ve seen that in several places online, but nobody wants to talk about how scientists reached that conclusion. Likely because they don’t know.

How do the scientists know, anyway? How can they possibly feed a person foods with beta carotene and determine how much of it is getting converted to vitamin A? I suppose they might have the research subjects not consume any animal products for a few months, test their vitamin A levels, then start feeding them beta carotene and testing vitamin A levels every few days.

Oh, no, wait a second. I found it! According to an article on the National Institute of Health, this conclusion was not based on testing blood or liver conversions or anything like that in actual live people. It was a test-tube experiment, involving DNA manipulation, and not done on human subjects at all!

Still, there is the possibility that the three percent conversion figure is correct. If so, that would mean that long-term vegans would be suffering from symptoms of vitamin A deficiency. In that case, we would have to get seriously serious about delving into how vegans get vitamin A.

So let’s delve a little deeper, just in case. Since scurvy occurs as early as three months from developing a severe vitamin C deficiency, and since in Africa the children going blind and dying from severe vitamin A deficiency are infants and toddlers, we can safely assume that symptoms of severe vitamin A would show up within five years of someone adopting a 100% plant-based diet. Maybe ten years, if they had a superior store of vitamin A from animal products when they went vegan, but that would be rare.

So, what are the symptoms of a severe vitamin A deficiency? Night blindness and a condition known as xerophthalmia. Xerophthalmia results from a vitamin A deficiency and leads to an impaired immune system, cancer, and birth defects in babies of mothers who have xerophthalmia.

A severe vitamin A deficiency can eventually lead to blindness.

Eventually, this condition can also lead to total blindness.

So the question is, are long-term vegans suffering these problems? Do vegans get enough vitamin A?

Some are struggling with night blindness. But most are not dealing with xerophthalmia. You can look up any number of people who have been consuming a 100% plant-based diet for more than five years, even more than ten years, and do not have cancer, have had healthy children, and who have not gone blind.

You say, maybe they’re taking a supplement. Some of them likely are. However, many whole-food vegans – especially those of the raw variety – refuse to take supplements of any kind, with the possible exception of vitamin B12. Also, many who do supplement take a plant-based supplement, where the vitamin A that is listed is, in fact, beta carotene.

Let’s look at what vegan Registered Dietatian, Jack Norris, has to say about it. In a blog post, he writes:

When I first got involved in vegan nutrition, vitamin A was considered a non-issue because we assumed most vegans would easily get enough beta-carotene with any sort of varied diet to cover our needs.

But in 2001, the Food and Nutrition Board (FNB) doubled the amount of beta-carotene they said was enough to meet vitamin A needs. According to the FNB, this change was based on “data demonstrating that the vitamin A activity of dietary ß-carotene is one-sixth, rather than one-third, the vitamin activity of purified ß-carotene in oil (1).”

They go on to say:

“This change in bioconversion means that a larger amount of provitamin A carotenoids, and therefore darkly colored, carotene-rich fruits and vegetables, is needed to meet the vitamin A requirement. It also means that in the past, vitamin A intake has been overestimated.”

This change mostly flew under the radar, but it made a significant difference in how easy it would be to get enough beta-carotene.

I recently became more concerned about vitamin A, quite literally, by accident. Early last Fall, I twice got up in the middle of the night and walked straight into my bedroom door that was halfway open, face-first!

Over the previous year or so, I had slacked off on vitamin A, relying only on a bit of shredded carrots on salad and mangoes on most days. In mid-November, I decided I needed to make a real effort to add more yellow vegetables to my diet and started eating sweet potatoes every day. A few weeks later, I realized that I had been having no trouble seeing the bedroom door at night. I wondered if there was a connection to what seemed to be my improved night vision.

In checking out whether it was likely that my apparent change in night vision was possibly caused by eating more beta-carotene, I was reminded that vitamin A metabolism is involved with immune function. When vegans get sick easily, I tell them to think about more zinc or protein, neglecting any concern about vitamin A. (Interestingly, vitamin A metabolism appears to rely on zinc.)

Vitamin A deficiency symptoms begin with night blindness, and if it progresses, can lead to the more severe eye problems of corneal ulcers, scarring, and blindness. Vitamin A is also important for growth and development in infants and children, and for red blood cell formation.

Note two things from this article regarding vegans and vitamin A. First, based on their findings the Food and Nutrition Board did not recommend that vegans begin consuming thirty times more beta carotene than previously believed necessary, but only twice as much.

If you have night blindness, you’ll see a nighttime city street scene as the photo on the right.

Second, Jack Norris himself merely added a couple of carrots and some sweet potato in order to cure his night blindness. If it were true that his body only converted three percent of the beta carotene that he consumed into vitamin A, then adding some carrots and sweet potatoes to his diet would not have been enough to cure his night blindness (sweet potatoes, contrary to popular belief, are much lower in beta carotene than are carrots). Or, as I mentioned earlier, the amount of vitamin A we need on a daily basis has been vastly overestimated.

So, whom should you believe? Personally, I think if you consume the equivalent of one or two cups of chopped carrots every day, your body will end up with plenty of vitamin A. But we’re all different.

Ruth Heidrich, who healed herself from cancer more than thirty years ago by going on a whole-foods vegan diet, eats a lot of dark, leafy greens. She also eats some carrot along with other foods with lesser amounts of beta carotene. She is one of the healthiest eighty-somethings in the United States…even though she’s not consuming, per what I’ve heard her say, four carrots a day.

Carrots are an easy and inexpensive way for vegans to get enough beta carotene to convert to vitamin A.

If you want to hedge your bets, or for some reason don’t want to eat so many carrots every day, it’s not illegal to take a supplement. Just be aware that you can overdose on synthetic pre-formed vitamin A, so stick with the dose recommended on the label. Or, to be on the safe side take half a dose every day or every other day to augment the beta carotene in your diet.

You’re in charge of your body. Make the decision that’s right for you.

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Weekly Harvest, May 24-May 30, 2019

Our harvest this past week is going to look much the same as last week’s. Except for a few berries that started shriveling up before they matured, all of the goumi bushes have been picked clean. And the blueberries aren’t ready yet, so I’m happy for a mini-berry-picking-vacation!

The asparagus is about done for, and if a strawberry isn’t rotting by the time I see it (and it’s ripe enough to pick), a slug has attacked it.

All that to say, not much about this past week’s harvest will be impressive. However…I did harvest a couple of firsts, and I am finally  getting tired of eating peas!  This is the first time that has ever happened.

This photo is from May 24. We (my husband and I; our son hasn’t eaten a vegetable for years) did not eat all these peas in one sitting!

The following  photos show what I harvested on May 25. I got small amounts of a variety of berries.

First, a few more goji berries.

A small handful of mulberries and the last bit of goumis.

Miracle of miracles, two ripe strawberries that hadn’t started to rot.

For lunch or supper, I probably could have picked more peas. But, I didn’t. I harvested some of the last good asparagus of the season…

…as well as the few leaves I could get off the two kale plants that volunteered in our front yard. (The rabbits don’t like kale, hallelujah!)

On May 26 – look look look! – I decided the very first cucumber was big enough to be harvested. I shared it with DH for lunch, and added some basil leaves to mine.

For supper, I foraged some lambsquarter leaves.

And we had some peas with it, too.

More mulberries on May 28. A few weren’t quite ripe (the purplish ones) because it’s really hard to see which fruits are completely black when you’re looking up into the tree.

Or, they’d fallen to the ground and they were still good and I didn’t want to waste them.

Two items from May 28. This single strawberry:

And a few more asparagus stalks (I think we had lettuce from my indoor garden with it, but I forgot to take a picture).

Most of these asparagus stalks had grown tall and begun sprouting smaller stalks along the main stalk.

On May 29, I picked so many mulberries that I was able to eat them as my afternoon snack!

On May 30, I sprayed a fungicide (organic and homemade) on the mulberry tree, and found these three berries on the ground.

For lunch, we had yet more sugar snap peas with our rice. I had some dill, as well.

Also, more lambsquarters for supper We’re eating lambsquarters twice a week until we’ve used what I can find, or it’s gone to seed.

Somewhere in there, I had more basil, too, but we’ll eat herbs so often that I’m not going to take a picture of every single harvest of them. 😉

Happy homesteading!

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Is The 80-10-10 Diet Really Healthy?

Is the 80-10-10 diet really healthy?

What is the 80-10-10 diet?

In case you haven’t heard of this eating lifestyle, it is a high raw vegan diet in which 80% of the calories come from carbohydrates in the form of fruit, 10% from protein, and 10% from fat. These proportions are derived from those that naturally occur in fruits and vegetables, most of which are about 80% carbohydrate, 10% fat, and 10% protein.

People who follow the 80-10-10 diet will either eat all fruit, or will eat two large fruit-only meals per day, and then a large green salad in the evening. On this diet, only a handful of seeds or nuts is allowed per day, and oils, sweeteners, condiments, and spices are strictly forbidden. Of course, it is a vegan diet, so no animal products are included.

Now, to our burning question…

Is the 80-10-10 diet really healthy? First, it is a vegan diet, so we must first address the question of whether a vegan diet is healthy. Well, seeing as how the name of this blog is “The Homesteading Vegan,” you might get the idea that I believe the answer to that question is a hearty “yes!”

Short answer: yes, if you pay attention to your nutrition, veganism is a very healthy diet. A longer answer is in this post I wrote about a 100% plant-based diet.

If you’re already convinced of the health benefits of a vegan diet, your main concern might have to do with all the consumption of fruit. Isn’t all that sugar bad for you? The answer to that can be complicated, but I’m going to make it simple: the naturally occurring sugar in fruit does not cause any harm to the body in and of itself.

What about the protein? Isn’t the diet a little low in protein? Advocates of low-protein diets point to human breastmilk to answer that question. Babies who are fed breastmilk receive only 7% of their calories from protein, and it is enough for them to grow and develop from a six-pound baby into a twenty-pound toddler.

But then, these low-protein advocates need to be consistent and insist that an adult human diet must therefore be 54% fat, because that is how much fat is in breastmilk.

But rarely do you hear anyone recommending a diet that is both low in protein and high in fat. It’s either high in both protein and fat and low in carbs, or low in protein and fat and high in carbs. Like the 80-10-10 diet.

That said, many people do very well with those low amounts of protein and fat. You can find long-term 80-10-10ers, of both the fruitarian type and the greens eaters type, who will swear by the diet. If it works for them, I say, great! Keep it up! If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

Benefits of the 80-10-10 diet

The diet certainly has a lot going for it: it’s loaded with phytonutrients, is highly energizing thanks to the easily digestible source of carbs found in fruit, eliminates animal fats, is environmentally friendly (for the most part), discourages the consumption of processed foods, and is delicious.

Sounds great, doesn’t it? So why even write an article about whether the 80-10-10 diet is healthy? Seems like the answer is clear, right? It is definitely healthy!

We are not all created equal

Well, it is…for some people. Maybe even for a lot of people, if more people would be willing to give it a try. But if you look around the Internet, it wouldn’t take you too long to find people saying that the 80-10-10 diet ended up deteriorating, rather than improving, their health.

Now, the truth is that some of these people may have followed the diet incorrectly. Because to get enough of the minerals you need if your main food is fruit, you may have to consume a lot more calories than you are used to, especially if you’re buying fruit growing in unenriched soil. Whereas you might get everything you need from a moderate-fat, moderate-protein raw food diet that allows for more nut and seed consumption by eating the standard 2,000 calories a day, you may have to double your caloric input, perhaps triple it, to get the same nutrition from fruit.

Some people gain weight from this extra calorie consumption, some don’t. The calories from fruit are of a very different quality than those from nuts and seeds.

The point I’m trying to make is that many people who try the 80-10-10 diet try to make it work within the 2,000-calorie-per-day regime. A few months to a year later, when their hair starts falling out in clumps, or they’ve developed several cavities, or they are constantly fatigued, they quit and blame the diet when it wasn’t the diet’s fault at all, it was that they did not consume enough fruit to get the minerals their body needs.

If this is sounding like an expensive or difficult diet to make work, you’re right. But I’m not going into that now. What we’re looking at here is whether the 80-10-10 diet is healthy for everyone, and at this moment I want to point out that it may have ultimately been a very healthy diet for many people, but they either never try it or they do not consume enough fruit to make it work.

But “many” does not equal “everybody”.

What about the rest of us? What about the people who followed all the rules of the diet and ate enough, and still failed to thrive? What about those of us who feel famished if we eat only carbs for 2/3 to 3/4 of the day? The answer is simple: we need more protein and fat in our diet. Not necessarily a lot more, but more than 10% of each, and a consequently less than 80% carbohydrates.

Douglas Graham, who wrote the 80-10-10 diet, along with the medical doctors who have authored books recommending high carb, low fat diets consisting of mainly cooked starches, will cry “Foul!” at my assertion. We are all biologically the same, they say, so we must all eat the macronutrients in the same ratios.

Been there, done that. I’ve tried low-fat, high-carb. I was always hungry and lethargic – yes, even when I was eating the supposedly healthy whole grains.

Many others can give the same testimony. Why? Biochemical individuality. Some people are sensitive to the alkaloids in nightshade vegetables, while others can eat as many potatoes, eggplants, and tomatoes as they want. Some people can’t eat anything with any protein that slightly resembles gluten, let alone gluten itself, while others can consume several slices of bread a day without experiencing any negative effects from it.

In the same way, some people need more fat and protein to thrive than others. I believe that this is one of the main reasons that vegans go back to eating meat. They read a book that gives them the idea that the ideal vegan diet has to be low in both fat and protein, and when that doesn’t work for them they blame veganism instead of tweaking their macronutrient ratios.

Does this mean that they should shoot for 50% or more of the calories from fat? No! They are not babies who need that much fat in order to grow quickly. But it does mean that they will feel much better if they jack up both their fat and protein consumption, up to 15-30% of their diet for each.

My husband and I do well on a diet with a fat content of around 30% and protein at 15-20%. This is about half the fat that the average raw food vegan consumes, and is what is considered within the range of healthy by most dieticians and other nutrition experts.

Most of our fat comes from soaked and/or sprouted seeds and almonds. Here’s my question: why are seeds and nuts, also being plant foods, not figured into the equation? Why not consider the fat and protein content of those foods, along with those of fruits and vegetables, and split the difference? For people who struggle to make the 80-10-10 diet work for them, I think we should.

While research does support the idea that a low-fat, high-carb vegan diet can eliminate such problems as diabetes and cardiovascular disease, there is no proof that it is THE perfect diet for everyone.

So, is the 80-10-10 diet really healthy? Sure it is…if your biochemical makeup thrives on that particular macronutrient ratio. If it doesn’t, feel free to tweak it until you find what makes YOU feel great.

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Weekly Harvest, May 17-May 23, 2019

Our harvest this week was much the same as last week, except with more mulberries and more sugar snap peas. As with the past couple of weeks, most of my harvest time was spent picking goumis.

Here’s what I harvested from our vegan homestead on Friday, May 17.

First, the goji berries. I think this is more than I’ve ever harvested at one time. We have three bushes in twenty-gallon pots; these berries come from two of the bushes.

Goji berries of varying sizes.

We’ve been growing the goji berry bushes for four years, and this one is the largest I’ve ever seen!

How big can a goji berry get?

This next photo represents nearly a quart of goumi berries!

Goumi berries

But that wasn’t all that day! I had to put the above berries in the freezer, then go out and pick some more. Look how many more were ripe:

Yet more goumis!

It was a day for berries, because I also found some ripe mulberries!

Black mulberries

Miracle of miracles, I found three sweet strawberries that had little to no rot on them, and which hadn’t been discovered by the rodents that have been sneaking into the orchard at night!

Strawberries fresh from the garden!

We’re still on the May 17 harvest! For supper, we had a combination of asparagus…

Garden-fresh asparagus.

…and sugar snap peas, mixed in with the grated carrot and sprouted legumes that always form the base of our nightly salad. I steam the asparagus, but the peas I cut up and mix into the salad raw.

A harvest of sugar snap peas.

Can you guess the first thing I harvested on Saturday, May 18?

As you can see, I didn’t have nearly as many goumis to pick that day. Which, frankly, was a relief!

That was it for the eighteenth. On May 19, the first thing I harvested were a few more gojis. I picked a few of them a bit too green, oops.

Yet another quart of goumis. I photographed this one so you could see how deep the container is. By this batch, I could tell that my days of picking goumis were numbered. Two of the four bushes were almost completely clean and a third was mostly done.

For our supper salad, we once again had chopped up sugar snap peas and steamed asparagus as the “greens.”

What did I pick on May 20? Something that grows freely, without any cultivating or planting, near our jujube trees. Lambsquarters! I forgot to photo them before I cooked them.

Steamed lambsquarters

May 21 was a low-harvest day, too. But, hey! I’ve already harvested at least three times the mulberries than I did last year.

On May 22, no fruit, but these veggies again:

Were we getting tired of eating asparagus and peas by then? Nope! 🙂

Fruit again on May 23. More mulberries, and a single strawberry.

You have to know that at this point, I’d ripped out most of my June-bearing strawberries (I’m going to buy an anthracnose-resistant variety this fall and plant them elsewhere, where mice and rats can’t get at them), so I’m excited if I even find one strawberry that hasn’t rotted or been eaten.

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