A friend died, and I want to be helpful to his wife, but I’m not sure what to do. I told her that if she needed anything to let me know. Of course, she thanked me, but it’s been a few days now and she hasn’t asked for anything. I don’t think she will. I feel so helpless. What should I do?
Hey there, [Redacted]. Thanks for writing. I’m really glad your friend has you in her life.
I get it. Grief is a funny thing. It’s the time in our life when we most need help, and also the time when asking for help is so hard. Not because we are ashamed to ask for help, although that happens sometimes too. But mostly because our brain just sort of shuts down.
When my Dad died, I looked functional. But I wasn’t OK. Not at all. And when the news got out, the ton of people flooding me with calls, texts, and DM’s was overwhelming. I really couldn’t function. I sat on the swing in our yard and just stared into space. People called and asked what they could do to help. I had no idea.
“Well, anything you need at all, let me know, OK?”
They hung up. I stared into space some more.
I had no idea what to do. What I needed. I didn’t even know what to ask for.
Then a friend sent a text. This friend had met Dad once but didn’t really know him. But still, she knew I was hurting. I saw who it was and almost put the phone down without reading the text, but I saw the message and it stopped me:
Will you be home at 8:30 tonight?
What’s weird is this friend lives 12 hours away from me.
Yes, I replied.
10 minutes later, she said, “Instacart will be there at 8:30. Open the door for them.”
When Instacart showed up, they put two large bags of groceries on my porch. Frozen pizzas. Ice cream. Oreo cookies. Tinned soup. Stouffer’s lasagna. A gallon of milk. Like that. Things I could heat up if I needed a meal, or pig out on if I needed fat and sugar. Sometimes, you just need to eat half a box of Oreos.
Notice she didn’t ask if I needed any food. I would have said no. She just asked if I would be home.
Another friend, who lives out of town, asked Renee to name a restaurant near our house where we like to eat. There is a local chain near our house that is sort of a deli. When we eat supper there, we spend about $25. Renee told her the name of the place.
An hour later, there was a gift card in my inbox for $250. Yes, that is a lot of money, and I understand not everyone can do that. But the wonderful thing was that because it was enough for multiple meals, we didn’t try to save it for “the right time”. We ate there that night, and take out from there several times a week for the next month on nights when I just didn’t have the spoons to cook.
Both of those gift-givers knew something I didn’t know – that when you are grieving, you don’t want to make decisions. No, that’s not quite it: You can’t make decisions. You hit decision fatigue really fast.
So, I guess what I’m saying is, don’t ask grieving people to make big choices or decisions. “How can I help” is a big choice. But “Can I take the kids this afternoon so you can have some time to yourself” is a much smaller one. “Will you be home tonight?” is a small choice. “What restaurant do you like” is a small decision. Just showing up to cut their grass because you noticed it needed cutting is loads better than asking, “Do you want me to cut the grass?” Or, “I’m going to Target. What can I get you while I’m there?” is better than “Can I run any errands for you?”
It won’t always be like this. If you stick around, eventually they will surface and ways to be helpful will make themselves known. But in the first few days, especially, it helps to remove as many decisions from their plate as possible.
If you’ve ever wandered back roads in a developing, tropical country, you know that many of the locals grow much of their own food. You might also have noticed that their food gardens aren’t comprised entirely of small annual vegetables planted in straight rows like ours are. They are typically wild-looking plantings of edible trees, shrubs, vines, and ground covers all mingling effortlessly together, as if Mother Nature had planted the garden according to her own design. These are literally forests of food.
Forest gardening has been the standard for millennia in many tropical regions, but it’s possible in more temperate climes as well. A British chap by the name of Robert Hart first popularized the concept among European and North American gardeners with the publication of his book Forest Gardening: Cultivating an Edible Landscape in the 1980s. Food forests have also figured prominently in the permaculture movement, an approach to designing agricultural systems that mimic natural ecosystems.
Why Food Forests? Food forests are like the ultimate organic garden. Does a forest need tilling, weeding, fertilizer, or irrigation? Nope. And that’s the goal.
Because they’re mostly perennial crops, there’s no need to till. Not tilling preserves the natural soil structure, preventing the loss of topsoil and allowing all the little microbes and soil critters to do their jobs, cycling nutrients and maintaining fertility. The deep roots of trees and shrubs make them much more drought tolerant than annual vegetables, and they shade the smaller plants below, keeping everything lush and moist in a self-maintaining—in other words, a highly sustainable—system.
Step 1: CHOOSE PLANTS The first step in establishing a food forest is to choose your plants. The largest plants will reach into the sun, so most common fruiting trees and shrubs are fair game. The smaller plants generally need to be more shade tolerant, as they will be in the under story. But you can leave sunny patches here and there—like little forest clearings—to accommodate species that need more light (though see Step 3 for a trick to make the most of the available sunlight).
Winter is the ideal time to get started, because most edible trees, shrubs, vines, and herbaceous plants can be purchased and planted while dormant, which is better for the plants—and for your bank account. That’s because at this time of year they are sold in “bare root” form—meaning without soil or a pot—which gives the roots a more natural structure and costs less for nurseries to produce. Bare root plants are typically ordered in January or February, for planting in early March, or as soon as the ground thaws in your area. Naturally, you’ll want to stick with species that are well-adapted to your region.
CANOPY: This layer is primarily for large nut trees that require full sun throughout the day, such as pecans, walnuts, and chestnuts, all of which mature to a height of 50 feet or more.
UNDER STORY TREES: This layer is for smaller nut trees, like filberts, and the majority of fruit trees. The most shade tolerant fruit trees include native North American species like black mulberry, American persimmon and pawpaw, though many other fruit trees will produce a respectable crop in partial shade.
Vines: Grapes, kiwis, and passion fruit are the most well-known edible vines, though there are many other more obscure specimens to consider, some of which are quite shade tolerant, such as akebia (edible fruit), chayote (a perennial squash), and groundnuts (perennial root crop). Kolomitka kiwi, a close relative of the fuzzy kiwis found in supermarkets, is among the most shade-tolerant vines.
SHRUBS: A large number of fruiting shrubs thrive in partial shade, including gooseberries, currants, service berries, huckleberry, elderberry, aronia, and honey berry, along with the “super foods” sea berry and goji. Blackberry and Blueberry bushes will work well here in the U.S.
HERBACEOUS PLANTS: This category includes not only plants commonly thought of as herbs—rosemary, thyme, oregano, lavender, mint and sage are a few of the top perennial culinary herbs to consider for your forest garden—but is a catch-all term for all leafy plants that go dormant below ground in winter and re-sprout from their roots in spring. This layer is where perennial vegetables, like artichokes, rhubarb, asparagus and “tree collards” fit in.
GROUND COVERS: These are perennial plants that spread horizontally to colonize the ground plane. Edible examples include alpine strawberries (a shade tolerant delicacy), sorrel (a French salad green), nasturtiums (has edible flowers and leaves), and watercress (requires wet soil), all of which tolerate part shade.
RHIZOSPERE: This refers to root crops. It’s a bit misleading to call it a separate layer, since the top portion of a root crop may be a vine, shrub, ground cover or herb, but it’s Hart’s way of reminding us to consider the food-producing potential of every possible ecological niche. Most common root crops are sun-loving annuals, however so you’ll have to look to more obscure species, such as the fabled Andean root vegetables oca, ulluco, yacon, and mashua, for shade-tolerant varieties.
Step 2: PREPARE THE GROUND Choose an open, sunny location for your forest garden. It can be as small as 100 square feet—a single fruit tree and an assortment of understory plants—or multiple acres. At the larger, commercial-scale end of the spectrum, forest gardening is often referred to as agroforestry. A number of tropical crops, including coffee and chocolate, are grown commercially in this way, though commercial agroforestry is uncommon in North America (other than in the context of timber plantations).
Unlike preparing for a conventional vegetable garden, there is no need to till the earth and form it into beds in preparation for a forest garden. Instead, dig a hole for each individual plant, just as if you were planting ornamental shrubs and trees. However, if the soil quality is poor, you may wish to “top-dress” the entire planting area with several inches of compost prior to planting.
One situation in which raised beds are desirable in a food forest is where drainage is poor. But rather than make the effort to construct conventional raised beds from wood, you may opt to sculpt the earth into low, broad mounds at the location of each tree. Smaller plants may then be positioned along the slopes of the mounds. A variation on this approach is to sculpt the earth into long linear “swales,” which consist of a raised berm (to provide a well-drained planting location) and a broad, shallow ditch (to collect rainwater runoff and force it to percolate into the soil beneath the planting berm).
You will need to eliminate any weeds, grass or other existing vegetation prior to planting. This can be done manually, or by smothering them under a “sheet mulch,” a permaculture tactic in which sheets of cardboard are overlaid with several inches of mulch on top of the vegetation, starving the plants for light and causing them to compost in place. Compost may be added as a layer between the cardboard and the mulch to add extra nutrients. Permaculturists often employ sheet mulching in conjunction with swales to enhance the area prior to planting.
When you’re ready to plant, simply brush aside the mulch and cut holes in the cardboard just big enough to dig a planting hole at the location of each plant. Then slide the mulch back around the newly installed plant. Maintaining a deep mulch is the key to preventing weeds, conserving soil moisture and boosting organic matter—all things that will help your food forest be self-maintaining and self-sufficient . Step 3: PLANT The next step is to arrange your plants in the landscape. Position the tallest species (i.e. the ‘canopy’ plants) at the northern end of the planting area, with progressively smaller plants toward the southern end. This way the taller plants will cast less shade on the smaller ones, especially at the beginning and end of the growing season when the days are shorter and the sun hangs lower in the sky.
Of course, truly shade tolerant plants may be interspersed throughout the understory of the forest garden. You might even consider cultivating mushrooms in the shadiest zones once the large trees have matured. Edible vines may be planted on any accessible fences, arbors, or walls, and you can also train vines up trees, just like Mother Nature does—just be sure the tree is significantly larger than the vine to avoid the tree getting smothered.
The edges of the food forest are suitable for sun-loving annual vegetables, if you wish to include them. Also, keep in mind that it takes decades for large tree to reach their mature size, so in the early years of a food forest there is ample sunlight. Plant sun-loving species in the open spaces between trees and then replace them with more shade-tolerant plants as the forest matures. Good info by Modern Farmer
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Add together in large soup pot: 2 pounds dried pinto beans, rinsed, 2 ham hawks, 1 onion, chopped, 2 tsp chili powder, 1 tsp cumin, 1/4 tsp cayenne, 1/2 tsp smoked paprika, salt and pepper, 3 bay leaves, 6+ cups water, adding as needed.
Some people soak their beans, I throw everything into the pot and say “go!”.
I did not take a picture of them cooking in the pot, or while filling the jars. Let us skip right to jars in pot then, shall we?
While the bean soup was being pressure canned I prepared the remaining soup as refried beans for burritos.
And here we are, 6 lovely pints of really good pinto bean soup for the pantry.
I made an elixir for health … 5 large lemons, peeled, a very large piece of peeled ginger, distilled water and a heaping 1/4 tsp cayenne for every cup liquid. Emulsified. It’s spicy!!
The pulp added an additional challenge for swallowing I was not anticipating, so I strained it out.
I then boiled it with more distilled water to get the medicine out and strained the pulp once more. Added sugar, and waited for it to come to temperature for hard candy. This process takes awhile over medium heat. If the heat is turned up and the process is rushed the sugar will burn, ruining the candy.
Having come to temperature (I stopped around 250 degrees F) I poured it onto my sheet and waited for it to harden. I broke it up and coated it in starch so it wouldn’t stick to itself, and stored in fridge.
This candy makes the tongue hot and the nose run, haha … good for the body!!