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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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What Is No-Till Gardening?

No-till gardening isn’t just a fad!

“No-till gardening? What is that? How can I garden without tilling the soil??!”

I’m always a little surprised when I encounter people with that question, because in my seven years of growing vegetables, I never tilled the soil but one time.

And it really wasn’t I, but my husband, and he used a hand tiller (a hand tool with three prongs on one end), not a rototiller. The only reason we did that initial tilling was that due to the thick clay soil where we lived at the time, the local organic gardening guru recommended tilling certain amendments into the soil before the first planting.

To his credit, he stated that this was the only time you should till your garden. However, I’ve discovered since then that even that little bit of tilling wouldn’t have been necessary. I’ll get to that in a moment.

The reason people till their backyard garden

If you think you have to till your garden every spring, there is one reason for it, and one reason only: it’s how farmers have loosened the soil in their fields for millennium. It’s the same reason people think they have to separate the crops they want to grow, planting all of one kind of vegetable down a long row.

People see how farmers grew their crops, and think they have to pattern their kitchen garden the same way.

What if I told you that if they were doing it right, not even farmers would need to till their soil? I’m not going to get into no-till farming, but I want to let you know that there is a small but growing movement of farmers learning and applying the no-till method of growing to their large fields.

Why tilling is bad for your garden

Native soil teems with healthy micro-organisms that are eagerly waiting to help plants get the nutrition and moisture they need. It also teems with earthworms.

Good stuff, right? But there’s one more thing soil teems with, and it’s not so good:  weed seeds.

Therefore, when you till soil…

  • …you disturb the fragile ecosystem within it. And if the micro-organisms can’t do their work of delivering nutrients to the plants’ roots, the plants won’t be as healthy as they might have been.
  • …you chop up earthworms (that kills them. All those pieces don’t magically turn into new worms).
  • …you compact the soil more than you loosen it (assuming you’re using a tractor, rather than a broadfork or hand tiller).
  • …you bring to the surface weed seeds that would have otherwise stayed buried deep and taken years, even decades, to find their way to the surface and germinate.

The benefits of no-till gardening

The benefits of not tilling, then, are the opposite of all those problems: the soil ecosystem remains intact, the earthworm population (which provides awesome natural fertilizer to your garden) is not depleted, the soil doesn’t get compacted by heavy machinery, and you don’t end up with a hundred times more weeds to pull.

In addition, you save yourself the cost of a rototiller as well as the annual dreaded chore of tilling.

The final benefit is that you end up with much more nutritious soil, because of what you do instead of tilling to create loose, rich, loamy soil.

The how-to of no-till gardening

There are five steps to creating a no-till garden.

Step 1

Measure out thirty to forty-eight inch wide beds, up to ten feet long. Space each bed one to three feet apart.

You can build a border for these beds with pressure-treated or cedar lumber, or with rocks. Or you can leave them without a border. It depends on your circumstances and preferences.

When you create beds like this with space in between, you won’t have to walk on the soil next to the plants in order to work with them. This means you won’t be compacting the soil.

Step 2

Soften the soil by piling up organic matter into the beds, then letting it sit and compost for at least six months.

I detail how to do that in this post about building a permaculture raised bed.

Step 3

Leave no area of dirt uncovered. Fill in the spaces between your main food plants with flowers, herbs, clover, or wood chip or bark mulch.

You do this for two reasons. First of all, if you intentionally keep the dirt covered, nature won’t work as hard to cover it with weeds. Second, the soil in between plants, even if not covered in mulch, will be shaded and therefore will stay cooler and more moist longer, even during a drought.

Step 4

Always leave some roots in the ground. In other words, at the end of a plant’s lifespan consider cutting it off at its base and leaving the root in the ground. This will keep the soil micro-organisms happy. Whether or not you leave a certain root in the ground depends on the plant. For example, tomatoes are notorious for developing fungal diseases at their roots, so it’s best to always pull those out at the end of every growing season.

On the other hand, consider leaving the roots of peas, beans, and lentils in the ground, because the nodules at the ends of the roots will continue to put nitrogen back into the soil.

Step 5

Continue to add organic material to the bed. If you get into the habit of using several inches of wood chips, bark mulch, leaves, and/or straw everywhere in the garden, this step will happen automatically.

Another way to add organic matter is to bury kitchen scraps and grass clippings around your garden crops as you accumulate them. Dig a hole six inches deep and with a diameter large enough so that the material you put into the hold can be spread out to a layer no more than two inches deep. Then, cover it back up.

Some gardeners, even those with small plots in a small backyard, will grow cover crops in bare beds, then after a couple of months dig them up and turn them over. A few months later, this material will have turned back into soil.

No-till gardening is a no-brainer!

I hope I’ve convinced you that no-till gardening is the best way to grow your own food. It may seem more labor-intensive at first, and maybe it is the first year that you build the beds. But as long as you follow the steps outlined above, in the long run this method of growing vegetables will end up saving you time and energy.

And your produce will be a lot more, um, productive. 😉

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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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There is no two ways about it: growing your own food, even just a small percentage of it, takes a lot of work. On top of that, every year, it seems that I encounter a new challenge that throws me for a loop.

Raised bed vegetable garden

Whether we’re talking about vegetable gardening or growing fruit trees, producing food for yourself is neither for the lazy, nor for the faint of heart!

That said, there are things you can do to make the process easier. You can reduce your gardening work when you put certain strategies into place.

What follow are five of the most important strategies you could implement into your gardening journey, as they will save you time, effort, and even money.

Strategy #1: Garden near your watering source.

If you’re going to grow your own food in a suburban backyard, this will be easy. By default, your garden will be located close enough to your house that it will be a cinch to connect a hose to the outside water faucet and pull it to your veggie patch. Ah, I remember those days well!

They must have spoiled me, because when we moved to our five acres in the country, I didn’t do such a great job planning out the whole watering issue.

Could have something to do with the fact that I’d read up on the Ruth Stout method. All you had to do was pile up enough hay around your crops, and you wouldn’t have to water, not even during a drought!

For the sake of brevity I’ll skip the story of how this just didn’t work out for me (probably because I didn’t follow Stout’s rules to the letter), and I ended up being miserable with my vegetable garden for a couple of years because I had to drag water into the garden, two gallons at a time, to give everybody a drink when they needed it.

Let me put it another way: I was watering over 1200 square feet of garden with gallon jugs. Sometimes more than twice a week!

We are off the grid with water, and by the third year we’d acquired and filled (rather, nature had filled) enough water storage tanks so that I felt comfortable using that collected rain water for watering the garden.

At that point, I said to my husband, “Couldn’t you dig a hole under the garden fence, stick a PVC pipe through it, and then whenever I wanted to water I could hook the hose up to the rain tank and run it under the fence and into the garden?”

Truth be told, the actual detailed plan came out of my husband’s brain. But I provoked him to come up with it by asking him to come up with a way to put a hole in the garden fence (because the door was on a different side of the garden from where I wanted the hose to come in) so I could heretofore water with the hose.

Can I tell you that my vegetable gardening life has become much more enjoyable?

Locate your garden as close to a water source as you can.

Strategy #2: Don’t till the soil.

That’s right. You heard me. If you want growing your own food to be easier, stop tilling your garden.

Tilling compacts the soil much more than it loosens it. It kills earthworms. It disturbs the the micro-organisms in the soil that are critical to the success of your vegetable garden. It also turns up weed seeds that are embedded deep in the earth, meaning that to till means to give yourself more weeding work in the not-too-distant future.

How can you possibly work the soil unless you till it? Just so happens I’ve written a detailed post on the no-till method of gardening.

The long and the short of it is, you grow in beds that are only thirty to forty-eight inches wide, and you amend the soil six months to a year before you’re going to plant anything in it by piling up organic material in those beds.

This will produce soil that’s much easier to work with than many gardeners’ native dirt. It will also reduce pest and disease problems by encouraging the proliferation of beneficial critters underneath the surface, who in turn help the roots of your plants to be as healthy as possible.

Strategy #3: Mulch.

To mulch is to cover bare soil with organic matter. Most gardeners mulch with things like wood chips, bark, and/or dried leaves.

Some will use living mulches, such as clover.

Covering the soil reduces the need for watering, discourages weed growth, cools the soil surface during the hot summer, and adds nutrients to the soil as it slowly decomposes.

Most gardening experts will tell you to use two to three inches of wood chips or bark mulch. However, when you triple or quadruple that, three things happen. First, existing weed seeds in the soil can’t grow because they can’t find light, even if they do germinate. As well, the mulch decomposes more quickly. Decomposing matter releases moisture, so having six to eight inches of it piled up drastically reduces the amount of supplemental watering you need to do.

Wood chip mulch is a popular way to improve garden soil and reduce weed growth.

Finally, again because of the decomposition, you probably won’t need to fertilize your crops if you have this much mulch.

If you mulch with straw, you’ll need at least a foot of it to get similar effects. If you want to use dried leaves, they need to be chopped up with a lawn mower or chipper-shredder and piled at least a foot deep. Heads up: If you live in an area with a lot of slugs and snails, leaf mulch is not a good idea.

Strategy #4: Companion planting.

If you want to have the greatest success possible when you grow your own food, forget the old monocropping in a row method. Instead, intersperse herbs and flowers among your food crops. Why?

First of all, many herbs and flowers repel pests. And even if they don’t, all those different scents can cover up the aroma of your vegetable crops, making it hard for pests to find the delicacies they’re looking for.

A common companion planting pair, as marigolds help to prevent root-born tomato diseases.

Certain vegetable crops, when grown next to each other, can be mutually helpful. Or, the help might go one way; for example, when you grow a carrot next to a tomato, the carrot root won’t grow as big as it might otherwise, but it will help the tomato to grow better and stay healthier.

Finally, when you have low-growing herbs and flowers – thyme, certain varieties of oregano, alyssum – planting among your vegetables, weeds don’t have any room to grow.

Strategy #5: Keep a garden journal.

At first glance, writing in a journal doesn’t sound like it would do anything to facilitate your gardening endeavors. But if you want to really and truly succeed at growing your own food, you need to keep track of your successes and failures.

If you planted out your tomatoes and peppers right after your area’s last average spring frost date, then lost them all in a freeze two days later, wouldn’t you want to remember that?

How about which variety of cucumber didn’t get powdery mildew, or which variety of tomato grew the most ripe fruit without cracks?

Using a garden journal to record the results of starting something from seed, when a certain pest showed up, and which variety of a certain type of vegetable produced the best (whatever “best” means to you) means that the next year, you will do an overall better job in growing a garden because you won’t have to do the same experiments over again.

My challenge to you

If you’re not incorporating any of the above ideas on how to make growing your own food easier, pick one right now and run with it. If you’re already using some of those idea, try adding another one.

Next growing season, try another one. You may not need to incorporate all five into your garden, but the more you do, the more fun gardening will become.

Best of all, your vegetables and garden soil will thank you.

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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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In part one of Easy To Grow Vegetables For First Time Gardener, I explain how to grow lettuce, kale, and potatoes (grown in mulch). A beginning gardener should start slowly and small if they want success, if they want to feel competent in their gardening endeavors. And those three crops make success with growing your own food an easy achievement.

Which vegetables should you try growing once you’ve got those three down? How about beans, cherry tomatoes, Egyptian (walking) onions, squash, and cucumbers?

Remember that the soil should be enriched with organic material before you begin. And, except for the onions, all of the crops I’m going to discuss in this article require six hours of sun per day.

Also except for the onions, they will be killed by even a slight freeze (frost tender), so plant them out a week or two after the last average frost date for your area.

Beans

Bush beans. Pole beans. Chinese long beans. Dried beans.

There is a variety of bean for everyone, and none of them require much more than proper watering, correct spacing, and a little pest control to get them producing so much that you risk getting tired of picking beans! They also are beneficial to the garden soil, as well. Legume plants – namely, beans, peas and lentils – fix nitrogen into the soil, helping feed the other plants growing near them.

I’m going to focus on green beans here, though the principles of growing them generally apply to all types of beans.

First of all, in my experience it’s easier to grow bush beans in the north, and pole beans in the South. Pole beans seem to take the heat a little better, and I haven’t had the pest problems on my pole beans as I have with bush beans.

Pole bean plant growing up PVC pipe attached to SIP bed.

That said, I’ve read that you can prevent the Mexican bean beetle on bush beans and the Colorado potato beetle on potatoes if you interplant bush beans and potatoes together. That’s an experiment I’ll be trying either this fall or next spring.

If  you’re using the Square Foot Garden method of spacing, the SFG gurus will tell you that you can plant nine bush beans in a square foot. In my experience, that’s too many. Four or five per square foot allows the plants much more room to breathe, and diminishes their risk of getting a fungal disease (which, by the way, I don’t think I’ve ever seen on my pole beans).

If you’re planting pole beans, they need something at least six feet long to climb up. A cheap and easy thing to do would be to push short sticks into the ground, three or four inches apart, then on each stick, tie one end of a six-foot long piece of string. Pull the string tightly at an upward slope and tie the other end to the top of a fence post, tree branch, or trellis that you’re using to support other vegetables. The pole beans will wind themselves around the string as they grow.

Otherwise, stick some kind of six-foot-tall pole in the ground, one per bean. Space the poles three to four inches apart and plant each bean seed right next to the pole.

Most beans require regular watering. When the top two inches of soil are dry, they need water. This isn’t true for all beans, however. For example, I know from personal experience that both mung beans and Chinese long beans are highly drought-tolerant. When we have several weeks of 95+-degree temperatures (that’s Fahrenheit) and no rain, I’ve only needed to give these kinds of plants about a half gallon of water each once a week (even once every other week).

Cherry tomatoes

Cluster of cherry tomatoes hiding within tomato plant, late summer.

It might surprise you to see tomatoes in a list of easy to grow vegetables for beginners in the garden. Some expert growers say they’re a more advanced crop, probably because of all the diseases and pests that can take them down.

Others claim, if you have healthy soil, growing tomatoes is a snap.

The truth is somewhere in between. However, if you want to reduce the risk of disease on your tomato crop, have a crazy prolific harvest – even in temperatures above 90 degrees (F), when the blossoms of many tomatoes turn sterile and fall off – and reduce the risk of tomatoes cracking (and thus rotting) before they get ripe, cherry tomatoes are what you’re looking for.

Start the seeds indoors two months before the last average frost date plus two weeks, or buy cherry tomato seedlings from your local nursery.

Tomatoes are fairly heavy feeders, so even though you’re planting your veggies into rich soil, throw a couple of banana peels into the hole where you’re going to plant a tomato.

Most gardening experts advise you to keep tomatoes pruned down to one or two main stems. But that means you actually have to put pruning tomatoes on your schedule once a week all summer long.

I’ve got better things to do with my time than prune. Instead, I plant my tomatoes every three feet, and either tie them to a trellis every vertical foot or so as they grow, or have them grow in a sturdy cage where they spread out as much as they want.

If you want to keep the plants pruned to one or two stems, inserting a stake about a foot into the ground, and at least five feet above ground, then tying the plants to it as they grow will be sufficient support for the plants.

In the beginning, tomato plants appreciate a decent amount of water (like the beans), but as they grow and get established you may be able to get away with giving each plant a gallon of water every other week.

Cucumbers

Cucumber plant growing over cardboard mulch in high raised bed.

Cucumbers are another controversial crop. Are they an easy vegetable to grow for first time gardeners? Many say no, because they are so prone to fungi in humid climates.

So, buy varieties that are resistant to powdery and downy mildew. Or, plan to plant a new cucumber plant every three to four weeks, up until two months before your area’s first average frost date in the fall. That way, when one plant succumbs to a disease, you’ve got another one ready to go.

Pick off, or spray with orange oil or diluted liquid castile soap, any cucumber beetles you see before they have a chance to spread disease.

Finally, cucumbers are thirsty plants, and would prefer that the soil around the roots stay moist at all times. They would appreciate a gallon of water every other day, perhaps every day, during the hottest time of the summer. The exception would be if the plants are surrounded by six inches or more of wood chip mulch. In that case, they won’t need to be watered as often.

Either way, cucumber plants let you know if they’re not getting enough water by turning the fruit bitter.

Squash

Butternut squash fruit lying on a very long vine.

Both winter squash and summer squash are generally easy to grow vegetables for beginners. They need the average amount of water, and the average amount of fertilizer.

HOWEVER.

The big caveat with squash being an easy vegetable is that it has two major predators: the squash bug, and the squash vine borer.

The squash bug isn’t found everywhere (for example, Minnesota gardeners have never heard of the squash bug), so you may not have to worry about it.

But if you do live in a place where squash bugs abound, they can take down a zucchini plant pretty quickly. Some people take a hand-held vacuum out to their garden and regularly vacuum them up. Peppermint essential oil repels them, so you might try spraying the plants once or twice a week, either with peppermint oil diluted in water, or with peppermint liquid castile soap.

Be aware, however, that both peppermint oil and soap will kill beneficial insects, so spray early in the morning or just before sunset you don’t kill anybody you don’t want to kill.

One year I planted a borage next to a zucchini, and didn’t have any squash bugs that year. So you might try growing a variety of aromatic herbs around whatever kind of squash plant you decide to grow.

The squash vine borer is a bit trickier, as the mama moth lays its eggs on the stem of the squash vine when you’re not looking. When the larvae hatch out, they eat their way in and through the stem, quickly killing the plant.

Squash vine borers don’t bother butternut squash plants, which is why it’s the only winter squash I grow now. For other varieties of winter squash, bury a few inches of the vines for every foot they grow to discourage the moths from laying eggs.

And just like with the squash bug (or any insect pest, for that matter), surrounding the plants with a variety of herbs and flowers will make it harder for the moth to detect the scent of the squash vine.

Egyptian, or walking, onions

Walking onions gone to flower in late May, southern Oklahoma.

Walking onions have to be number one on the list of easy to grow vegetables for a first time gardener. Why am I writing about it last, then? Who knows? Probably because I don’t use them that often, and so they stand around in my garden, bored out of their little onion minds.

If you like cooking with onions, and you don’t grow anything else, grow these. Plant the bulbs once, and you’ll never plant them again. Not only that, but they’ll also slowly spread into other parts of your garden of their own volition, and without asking permission.

You can cut the tall, green stalks off any time before they develop flower heads (when the temperatures head up toward 80 degrees F in the spring or summer) and use them raw in salads, or cooked in any dish that you want to add onion flavor to. When the onions go to flower, the stalks get tough and are only good to use as flavoring in broth or soup.

You can also harvest the little bulbs that form once the flowers go to seed. But hurry! The stalks are going to bend to the ground in order to plant the bulbs to produce new green stalks. This is why they’re called “walking” onions. They seem to change locations all by themselves, when really they’re just replanting themselves. Cool, huh?

Seed head of Egyptian onion, or walking onion. The tiny bulbs have already started growing new green shoots.

Ready to grow?

Now you know the eight easy to grow vegetables for a first time gardener. So, what are you waiting for? Get your garden plot ready, and get growing!

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How To Build A Permaculture Raised Bed

In order to answer the question of how to build a Permaculture raised bed, first I might need to explain the word “Permaculture.” Decades ago, the word was formed from “permanent” and “agriculture.” It refers to using techniques of growing food based on the behavior of, and patterns in, nature. For example, nature doesn’t use pesticides or herbicides, and nature plants a diversity of crops within a small area.

Today, the meaning of Permaculture has been broadened to mean “permanent culture.” The underlying question this lifestyle seeks to answer is, “How can humans live in a way that respects the other animals, the environment, and each other?”

So when I talk about a “Permaculture” raised bed, I’m talking about a garden bed that is built purely from what nature gives, not out of ingredients purchased in plastic bags from a garden center.

You may have heard the term “lasagna gardening.” Same thing. 😉

Raised bed vegetable garden

Preparing the garden site

The first order of business is to prepare the garden site. Measure out the length and width of the bed. Raised beds are three to four feet wide, depending on how tall you are (I’m barely five-foot-three, so I prefer three-foot wide beds).

Keep the length of any raised bed you build to ten feet or below. It might seem more space-efficient to have one twenty-foot long bed than two ten-foot long beds, but trust this voice of experience: it’s really annoying when you have to walk ALLLL the way down to the end of a twenty-foot bed in order to get to the next bed parallel to it.

Once you’ve figured out the size of the area of the new raised bed, cut the grass and weeds down within the area as short as you can. If there is a particularly well-rooted grass growing there, such as Bermuda, that you don’t want to eventually grow up into your bed, the best thing you can do is to find another location for your garden.

If you have such grass everywhere, dig out as much of it as you can, three feet beyond the borders of where your raised bed is going to be. But a heads-up: you’ll be fighting with the grass several times a year for as long as you continue growing food on that site.

If the site of the future raised bed is on a slope, or on uneven terrain, you may want to level it so that the frame will fit flush against the ground.

The frame

Next, you’re going to build the walls for the raised bed according to the size of the area. If you don’t have the tools, strength, or skills to do so, you can buy raised bed kits.

If you’re going to build the frame from scratch, your next step is to decide what kind of material you’re going to use to build the raised bed frame.

If you live in a mild-summer climate, and you have access to a bunch of rocks that are all around six inches high, you can build the bed border out of rocks. This isn’t a good idea for hot-summer climates, as the rocks will heat up. That heat will transfer into the soil, causing it to dry up more quickly and perhaps making the roots of your vegetable warmer than they want to be.

Most people are going to use wood. It’s certainly easier on one’s back to handle than large rocks! Use either two-by-six cedar boards or two-by-six pressure-treated lumber that the bed borders will last for many years.

The most permaculturish thing you can do when using wood is find some scrap lumber if you can.

Saw the boards to the correct lengths, then screw them together at the corners.

How to attach walls of raised garden bed.

Once this frame is complete, place it over the mowed area.

Sheet mulch time

Now it’s time to sheet mulch the entire area inside the frame. This simply means that you’re going to cover the entire bottom with either cardboard, or four to six layers of newspaper. This will prevent weeds from growing while you build up the bed, yet still allow earthworms to get through.

There’s something else you need to prevent, too: moles and voles. To that end, cut out hardware cloth (wire mesh) that will cover the entire width and entire length of the bottom of the bed. When I built our latest beds, we had chicken wire leftover that had been used to protect baby trees.

The holes in chicken wire are big enough for either a mole or vole to crawl through, so if you use it you’ll need to use two layers. Arrange the top layer so that the holes of the bottom wire and top wire will be staggered. That way, you’ll create holes that are too small for the critters to get through.

Two layers of chicken wire. The corners are being held down by rocks until organic matter is added into the frame.

The layers

Finally, we get down to business! This last step is the longest and will take the most work. However, within six months to a year you’ll have a bed full of rich, loamy soil that you didn’t pay a single cent for.

I happened to have put a case of bananas into the freezer just after I got the chicken wire laid down, so I spread out the peel at the bottom.

Beginning a lasagna gardening raised bed.

I continued with rotting leaves that had sunk onto the bottom of a small pond we use for supplemental garden and orchard watering. Some shale around the pond had also been washed into the pond and sunk to the bottom, which is what is giving the leaves that sickly gray color.

Rotting leaves form the second layer of this permaculture raised bed.

It really doesn’t matter whether you start with a nitrogen-rich layer or a carbon-rich layer, but I’m going to arbitrarily pick nitrogen.

So…gather up enough nitrogen-rich organic material – grass clippings, weeds, and/or food scraps – to create a layer around three inches thick at the bottom of the bed. Next, scavenge up carbon-rich material: shredded paper, pine shavings, wood chips, or dried leaves. Pile them up evenly over the green material, six inches thick.

Keep on layering the organic material this way, alternating  nitrogen-rich and carbon-rich materials. This layering method is why it’s commonly known as “lasagna gardening”. As when you prepare the pasta dish called “lasagna,” you alternate layers of the different ingredients.

Do your best to layer on two parts carbon-rich materials to one part nitrogen-rich, as the materials will compost more quickly if they are used in these proportions. However, if you have mostly grass clippings or mostly dried leaves available, you can pile them up and still eventually end up with the same result. But the material will take longer to compost, and if it’s nitrogen-rich material, it will stink in the process!

We used to live in north Texas, where the native soil is thick clay. Even after tilling in the amendments recommended by the local organic gardening guru, my vegetable garden soil was still hard to work with.

So, one fall, I collected all the dried leaves I could from neighbors, piled them a foot high in the garden bed, and covered them with cardboard and bricks so they wouldn’t blow away. By the next spring, I had two to three inches of much richer, softer soil. So you don’t have to mix the carbon and nitrogen materials in order to end up with beautiful compost at the end.

Weeds and grass clippings top the layer of leaves.

Keep on layering the materials as high as you dare. Accomplish this by heaping up the materials several inches above the six-inch edge of the Permaculture raised bed frame in the center of the bed, then have the materials gradually sloping down toward the edges of the bed.

If you have finished compost on hand, plop that on the very top. If you don’t, cover the bed either with biodegradable black plastic or with cardboard. Weight your cover down with bricks or rocks so they won’t blow away.

Finally, let the earthworms and microbes do their thing. Give them at least four months to break down the organic matter. The longer you wait, the more of the matter will have broken down; however, if only a third of it has composted and the rest of the matter is in various stages of breaking down, you’ll still be able to grow vegetables in it.

Enjoy the bounty!

That’s how to build a Permaculture raised bed, or lasagna gardening bed. No shelling out big bucks for potting mix, or the ingredients for potting mix. No purchasing materials whose sustainability is debatable, such as peat moss or coconut fiber.

And what you’ll end up with is a soil much richer in both nutrients and beneficial microbes than anything you can buy from a store.

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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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