Curcumin versus turmeric–what is the difference?

Turmeric, one of the most frequently used spices in Indian cuisine, is widely touted as the new superfood, miracle drug, cure-all, et cetera. But much of what is written about it misrepresents it badly. The greatest misunderstanding seems to be whether to use the word ‘turmeric ‘ or ‘curcumin.’ One sees article after article that promotes turmeric all the way through the article, and then at the end, suggests using a curcumin supplement.

But aren’t they the same thing?

Emphatically not. Turmeric is the rhizome (part of the plant’s stalk) of the curcuma genus (most of what is available in the west is from various cultivars of the species curcuma Longa). Curcumin is one of the active ingredients in turmeric, one of three curcuminoids. It is the most significant of the active ingredients, but by no means the only one.

Turmeric has been carefully studied and documented by Ayurveda, a traditional medical system of India going back thousands of years. Curcumin as a specific constituent of turmeric wasn’t known until sometime in the 19th century (1815, 1842 or 1870, depending on where you read), and its exact chemical structure wasn’t determined until 1910 (everyone seems to agree on that). It has been heavily scrutinized in the laboratory for its pharmaceutical properties since the 1940’s. Many of the studies and trials performed in Indian hospitals and universities used whole turmeric, but most of those conducted in the west have used a 95% standardized extract of curcumin.

There are good reasons for medical trials to use standardized extracts, primarily to ensure that the results of the trial are a consequence of specific known factors. But it has also resulted in the repeated confusion between whole turmeric and the extract of curcumin. Even some well-researched and peer-reviewed articles refer to turmeric and curcumin interchangeably, so it’s no wonder the ordinary person on the street is often confused.

If curcumin is the primary active component, then what difference does it make?

First, as mentioned above, it is not the only active ingredient. For example, the turmerones (the oils in turmeric) are being studied now for their pharmacological activity, as well as the other curcuminoids (besides curcumin). And these are not the only constituents with potential pharmaceutical benefits. But also, the various ingredients work best together, as they evolved together, in “synergy” with each other. Synergy describes the way in which individual components of a system contribute to a result greater than the sum of all the single constituents. The word sounds as though it might have originated with vague ideas of spiritism or the “airy-fairy,” but in reality, it’s a sound principle with many examples from the physical sciences.

Second, while the use of concentrated single-ingredient products may be useful in research, it doesn’t follow that this is the best way for people to eat the foods from which the products are derived. No one would suggest eating just the quercetin extracted from apples and blueberries instead of the whole fruit, or the bromelain extracted from pineapples instead of pineapple itself. Yes, those ingredients are indeed sold as supplements, but not as substitutes. We recognize that whole fruits and vegetables possess other valuable properties and should generally be eaten in their original form. Yet, illogically, the idea has persisted and spread that the curcumin extracted from turmeric is somehow preferable to turmeric itself.

Third, the promotion of extracted curcumin as a substitute for turmeric has a questionable purpose. The rhizomes which are sold fresh, and from which powdered turmeric is obtained, are from a plant that is not only cultivated by thousands of small farmers, but in many places grows wild. It is not something that can be patented (a patent actually was granted, but later withdrawn). It is, therefore, not something which is profitable in its original form for pharmaceutical companies. It is, essentially, a food. But a unique formulation of curcumin can be patented, and several have been. Therefore, it is in the interest of the supplement manufacturers to repeat statements such as “curcumin is poorly absorbed,” or “curcumin is not easily bio-available,” and then to point out how their formulation gets around those claims. They conveniently don’t mention, of course, that used in the traditional way (used for thousands of years, in fact), turmeric is indeed bio-available.

Fourth, the high concentration of curcumin in many of these extracts is in itself a concern. No studies have been done on their longterm safety. While supplement salespeople scoff at the idea, other high-concentrate extracts have indeed turned out to be inappropriate for longterm use (aspirin being one of the prime examples). Early supplement containers often were labeled with “Use only for three months” or similar warnings, because most of the trials have been conducted for no more than three months. Those pushing curcumin supplements point to the fact that humans have been given up to 8 grams of high-concentrate curcumin extracts a day for three months without adverse effects. One blogger, fighting melanoma, reports that she has taken 8 grams of curcumin a day for over four years without problem. But neither of these situations represents the typical person ingesting curcumin-extract supplements for an extended period. The fact is that we simply don’t know what the longterm effects will be. To use aspirin as an example again, the gastric side effects of aspirin weren’t well recognized for many years after its development. And it wasn’t until the mid 1970’s that Reye’s Syndrome became well-known (Reye’s Syndrome is a potentially fatal condition associated with the use of aspirin in young children, though it can occur in other circumstances as well).

Several studies have reported that high doses of curcumin (though they don’t specify exactly what would constitute “high doses”) can result in undesirable effects. One of the best-known of these was conducted by Dalian Medical University in China [1]. To quote:

But at high doses, we found that curcumin imposed oxidative stress and damaged DNA. These data reinforce the hypothesis that curcumin plays a conflicting dual role in carcinogenesis.

The objection has been raised that this trial was conducted with a cell line of human hepatoma (liver cancer) cells, and that it proves only that high-dose curcumin damages the cells of liver cancer. But that particular cell line was chosen specifically because it’s representative of how cells respond to xenobiotics (substances that aren’t part of the body, or part of its usual food).

…HepG2 cells reflect the metabolism of xenobiotics in the human body better than other metabolically incompetent cells (Mersch-Sundermann et al., 2004)

In this trial, the damage to mitochondrial DNA was “more extensive” than to the DNA in the cell nucleus. Why is that important? Because damage to mtDNA is thought to be associated with aging. The final verdict isn’t in–there is much ongoing research–but there does appear to be a good correlation [2]. mtDNA damage is also related to atherosclerosis [3] and Alzheimers Disease [4]. It has been implicated in autism, and it seems likely that other undesirable effects will be found as well.

So how should you consume turmeric?

To begin with, stop treating it as a drug. It is a food {with some potent pharmaceutical properties, no question), but it has been used as a food–a spice–for thousands of years with minimal (and well-documented) side effects. Unless you’re eating an Indian diet, using turmeric as it has always been used, combine it with a non-inflammatory oil and freshly ground black pepper in Golden Paste (see below).

Add the Golden Paste to other foods–any savoury dish such as soups, stews, casseroles, eggs, rice and pasta dishes. Add it to yoghurt, to smoothies, to coffee and cocoa and other hot beverages. Start out with about 1/4 tsp a couple of times a day, until you get used to it. Turmeric activates the whole digestive system, and consuming too much at first can result in a better acquaintance with the toilet than you might like.

As you become accustomed to it, after a week or so, increase the amount you’re using by adding it a third or even fourth time during the day. If you’re healthy and just want to maintain that good health, you may not need any more than that. If you suffer from an inflammatory condition, such as arthritis, you can continue to increase your consumption until you find relief, or until your digestive system lets you know that you’re having too much (stomach rumbling, gas, soft bowel movements, or even diarrhea). If that happens, reduce the amount you’re eating until those side effects go away.

Are there any other adverse effects?

The juice of fresh raw turmeric can cause a contact dermatitis (rash), though that’s uncommon, and if you use powdered turmeric, you’re unlikely to experience it at all. A very few people are actually allergic to turmeric, though that is rare. In contrast to the large number of food allergies people deal with routinely, an allergic reaction to turmeric is extremely rare, in fact.

If you’ve never used turmeric in cooking, or seldom eat Indian food like curries, you may experience one of the less common initial side effects. A few people have a slight headache, or may see skin eruptions like a mild rash or dry patches. Drinking more water usually takes care of both of these. If you persist with the very small recommended initial amount of the paste (1/4 teaspoon), both will go away.

Some people react to the type of oil they use in the paste, or to the pepper. If you experience an undesirable side effect, try changing the oil. Or if you know that you are allergic to black pepper, you can use the paste without the pepper. It won’t be as effective, as the pepper greatly aids in bioavailability. But you will still receive some benefit. Some people have found that the green peppercorns do not cause an allergic reaction–for them, the problem appears to be in the fermented skin of the black peppercorns.

Here is the recipe for the Golden Paste, courtesy of veterinarian Dr. Doug English and the Turmeric User Group on Facebook.

1/2 cup powdered turmeric
1 cup water, with another cup in reserve
1/3 cup of a non-inflammatory oil–coconut, olive or linseed (called flaxseed in the US)
1-1/2 teaspoons of freshly ground black pepper

Combine the turmeric and water in a saucepan and heat gently on the stovetop for 7-8 minutes. Add as much water as necessary to get a soft paste consistency (the exact amount of water isn’t hugely important–adjust to your preference). Stir this slurry while it cooks, and then let it cool until the pan is just warm to the touch. Add the oil and pepper, mixing very well. Spoon or pour into a clean jar or other container and refrigerate. It will last up to three or four weeks, though it’s best used within two weeks. It can also be frozen, if that amount is more than you think you can use within a couple of weeks.

More reading:

[1] DNA toxicity
Toxicological Sciences, Volume 91, Issue 2, pp. 476-483

[2] mtDNA damage related to aging
US National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health

[3] mtDNA damage may cause atherosclerosis
Trends in Endocrinology and Metabolism, Volume 25, Issue 9, pp 481–487

[4] mtDNA damage may cause Alzheimers
International Journal of Experimental Pathology, June 2005, pp 161-171

1 Comment

New directions

I started this blog mostly to have a record of progress on the farm, but I’ve posted so seldom that it hasn’t served that purpose. So I’m going to shift direction and post mainly about something else, specifically turmeric.

Because I like it. Because I’ve used it for years and I know how good it is for you. And because I hate the way it’s being misrepresented and advertised online, and how people are being persuaded to spend good money in a way that doesn’t provide any benefit to them. I will not sell any turmeric product on this site, and I will not make any claims that can’t be backed up with science or personal experience. So you can believe what you read here.

What’s turmeric, you ask?
For many people, it’s one of the ingredients in curry powder.  In fact, until recently, many people equated the two, and thought of turmeric only in terms of curry. But turmeric is much more than just a spice. It’s been used as a dye, as a skin treatment (and decoration), as part of the daily diet of millions of people and as a pharmaceutical. You can hardly surf the net nowadays without seeing multiple articles about it, from business, health and general interest sites of all kinds.

That’s good, isn’t it?
Unfortunately, many of those articles are guilty of perpetuating misconceptions, or worse, of overblown hype. Vague claims abound, from statements that “You’ll never get cancer!” to “Turmeric replaces hundreds of medications!” and more. Many of the articles are little more than promos for the writer’s own product. As a result, turmeric is often used in a way that provides little benefit and could even do some harm. So I’m going to do my best to present a medically accurate and well-researched explanation of what turmeric is (and is not) and how to use it most effectively.

So…what is turmeric, then?
Essentially, it is a spice. That’s why it’s in curry powder, after all. It’s used to flavor curries, along with several other spices. It’s widely used in many other Indian dishes as well, not just curries. It’s been used for thousands of years in India and other parts of Asia, and its medical uses have been known for almost as long as its dietary and decorative ones. There is some evidence that it was used originally as a dye, because of its bright yellow color (similar to the far more expensive saffron). In fact, it’s been called the “poor man’s saffron.” But its value as a spice and as a medicinal herb was known from a long way back.

Turmeric’s therapeutic properties have been documented in Ayurveda writings since very early times–many centuries, at least. And while the concepts of Ayurveda seem quaint and outdated to Western minds, it represented the best understanding that those early people had of disease processes and the herbs that affected them. In some cases, as in early herbal medicine in the Western world, that understanding was a very good one, regardless of its expression in the language and culture of the day. Turmeric was used to treat skin conditions, infections, fevers, liver and heart conditions, and a wide variety of others. Now we know that many of those uses were very effective, even if the practitioners of the day couldn’t explain why in today’s technical language.

Here are some of turmeric’s properties: it’s antibiotic, anti-inflammatory, antiviral, antioxidant, anti-carcinogenic, renal- (kidney) and hepato- (liver) protective, and can protect against DNA damage. It helps to rebuild a healthy population of gut flora (the microbiome), it stimulates production of bile from the gall bladder to enhance digestion and reduce the likelihood of gallstones, and it helps to protect and rebuild the mucous lining of the stomach. The list goes on and on, the more we learn about it.

So what’s not to like?
There are some negatives, no question. Before getting to those, however, I want to mention some of the problems with the way turmeric is being hyped and promoted. The first–and worst–is the way curcumin (one of the active ingredients of turmeric) is being pushed as preferable to whole turmeric. Given our predilection for popping pills for our ills, instead of addressing lifestyle issues, it’s no wonder that people are tempted by these fancily packaged (and expensive) preparations.

But the narrow focus on curcumin is a result of several other factors as well. One of them is that nearly all the medical research on turmeric has actually been done with a very high concentrate of curcumin extract (curcumin is the primary active ingredient in turmeric). A standardized 95% concentrate, in fact. There are some good reasons for that. Turmeric is a plant, and like all other plants, the content of its constituents varies according to multiple considerations. The soil, the weather, the geographic region, the specific strain of the curcuma Longa variety (and to a lesser extent, the use of other varieties), the processing procedures to convert from fresh root to packaged powder–all affect the percentage of curcuminoids in the finished product. While the curcuminoids (curcumin and two others) are not the only active constituents in turmeric, they are the primary ones, the ones responsible for most of the therapeutic qualities of turmeric, and it makes sense for them to be the most studied.

For a medical trial to be valid, it’s essential that each aspect of it is tightly controlled. If curcumin is the element being studied, then you can’t have a variable quantity of it from one trial to the next–the researchers would never know for sure whether poor results in a trial meant that curcumin was ineffective for the condition under study, or simply that the batch of turmeric they were using was low in curcumin (it varies naturally from about 2% to 5%). So curcumin was extracted from turmeric and used in a standardized concentration of 95% (this is typical for the study of most plant derivatives, in fact).

Another factor in the focus on curcumin, rather than whole turmeric, is that turmeric is a natural product. It can’t easily be patented, though that has been attempted. One patent actually was granted, but later overturned. American University published an interesting TED case study, if you care to read about it in more detail. The short version is that the University of Mississippi Medical Center was granted a patent on the use of turmeric for wound healing. Two years later, in 1995, the patent was withdrawn after being challenged by the government of India, who pointed out quite reasonably that Indians had been using turmeric for wound healing for thousands of years. In the wake of that decision, companies with a profit motive had to find another way to package turmeric that they could claim as unique. A manufactured extract enabled them to do just that.

Selling the extract also allowed supplement manufacturers to get on the commercial bandwagon. How better to advertise your product than to point to studies by the US National Institutes of Health? Studies that found turmeric to be a potent anti-inflammatory and antioxidant? Studies that showed a potential for fighting cancer, and more? Better yet, with the growing interest in “complementary and alternative medicine,” the advertising department could throw in phrases like “used in Ayurveda medicine for thousands of years” and “Indians have the lowest rate of [Alzheimers, Parkinsons, general dementia, take your pick].” The fact that these claims were quite true made everyone happy–the customers buying the capsules and the companies banking the considerable profits. But the curcumin wasn’t necessarily making patients better.

Curcumin is NOT turmeric
For dietary and therapeutic needs, turmeric has been used almost exclusively in its whole form for thousands of years, and documented in that form. The extraction of the three curcuminoids for medical purposes is a wholly new thing. Not only that, but virtually all the documentation of turmeric from those thousands of years describes how it acts in humans. Most modern trials of curcumin were conducted in test tubes using not just a standardized curcumin extract, but also standardized cell lines. Others were conducted with mice and rats. Nothing wrong with that–it’s how most trials of potentially useful new products begin, and murine (mouse) trials are done precisely because they’re good at predicting how something will act in humans. If those trials are successful, others may be designed to see whether you get the same results in humans (and quite a few are in progress right now).

The problem is that using curcumin for these trials, rather than whole turmeric, skews both the procedures and the interpretation of results. Researchers discovered early on that neither turmeric nor the extracted curcumin are water-soluble. In other words, curcumin does not dissolve in stomach fluids and get digested in the small intestine. In the absence of a lipid (another word for fats and oils) in the same meal where turmeric or curcumin is consumed, most of it speeds right on through the digestive system and is happily flushed out the other end. This was hardly a problem for Indians, as their traditional diet included fats and oils–oils, typically, in the south, animal fats more commonly in the north. But nearly every report of a medical trial includes the phrase that “curcumin is poorly absorbed,” and that phrase has been picked up and used as a mantra in a very large percentage of the articles about turmeric. It has come to be accepted that in order to get any measurable amount into the test subject’s bloodstream, it’s necessary to use huge amounts of curcumin. And the converse–that whole turmeric has too little curcumin to be effective–was also widely disseminated.

But hey, what if you add a lipid?
Someone finally realized that turmeric (or curcumin) needed to be ingested with a lipid in order to be absorbed into the bloodstream. Did they suggest a return to the traditional way of eating whole turmeric with a fat or oil, you ask? Well…no. Can’t patent that. At the present time, there are at least three patented methods for combining extracted curcumin with some kind of lipid to improve absorption (that I’m aware of–it’s possible there are more). Other technologies are being developed, the most promising being to combine curcumin with some variety of nanoparticles. Health bloggers–even some doctors–outdo each other to extol the merits of their favorite concoction of curcumin and delivery system. The notion of simply adding whole turmeric to one’s meals, along with an appropriate oil or fat, was until recently hardly mentioned at all.

Is a lipid the only thing you need?
An oil or fat in the meal will get the curcumin (either an extract or dissolved naturally out of ingested turmeric) into the bloodstream (will cause it to be absorbed, in more technical terms). But curcumin has another unhelpful property. It is metabolized (broken up into its individual components) very quickly, and then those components, now converted by the liver into a water-soluble form, are excreted by the kidneys. So most curcumin trials also contain the phrase “is rapidly metabolized” or “is not bio-available,” along with “is not well absorbed.” But no problem, really, just give the test subject even more curcumin. Some of it will show up in the bloodstream, even if it doesn’t stay there long.

An examination of the traditional Indian diet revealed that another substance was almost always present in meals containing turmeric–good old black pepper. It turns out that piperine, one of the active ingredients in pepper, slows down that conversion process and allows the curcumin to circulate in the bloodstream much longer than it would otherwise do. So more patented products popped up, now combining the curcumin extract with a piperine extract. A few products even combined a lipid/curcumin combination with the piperine extract. More advertising buzzwords, more fancy packaging, more consumer dollars in the bank.

So now we have curcumin, a lipid and piperine all in the same capsule. Okay?
Maybe…but maybe not. Remember that the Indian diet contains large amounts of a natural product containing 2 to 5% curcumin, not 95% curcumin. And curcumin is not the only active ingredient in turmeric, nor is piperine the only active ingredient in pepper. Moreover, the oil or fat used in cooking has traditionally been a relatively unrefined product, either a pressure-extracted oil, or ghee (clarified butter). The lipid used in most of the capsules that contain a lipid at all is a highly refined vegetable oil product–not even whole oil. It’s also often a byproduct of the soybean industry, which in the US means a genetically modified product. In those capsules that contain pepper, almost all are manufactured with piperine, not with whole pepper. The synergy between the multitude of active ingredients in both turmeric and pepper is lost, to be replaced with an artificially high percentage of just one constituent from each plant.

Artificially high…is that a problem?
The thing is, we don’t actually know for certain whether it’s a problem or not, because there is no data on the longterm use of 95% curcumin extract. Some trials that administered up to 8 grams a day of the stuff showed no short term adverse effects. But almost no trials went beyond three months (which is why many of the early supplement labels specified that their product shouldn’t be used for longer than three months). Some researchers have found DNA damage from extremely high doses of extracted curcumin. Others have expressed concern about the burden on the liver to clear such large amounts of curcumin from the bloodstream. I’ll examine these aspects more fully on another day.

Why not just have turmeric?
Great idea, but you do still need to add the lipid and the pepper. The internet is flooded right now with articles on how to add turmeric to your diet. Turmeric, in fact, is probably one of the most tagged and Googled words in the English language at the moment. But most of those writers–well meaning though they may be–assume that turmeric can simply be lifted from the diet in which it was originally used, and dropped into the very different Western diet. So we have recipes for “golden milk” (adapted from the traditional Indian beverage) and “golden tea” (a Western concoction) and recommendations to add fresh turmeric root to your smoothies or your juicing. Few of those recipes contain both a lipid and black pepper, though some do give the nod to one or the other. Many are overly sweetened with honey, agave, stevia, or even–heaven help us–an artificial sweetener. Many assume that fresh turmeric root must be better than powdered turmeric (not necessarily). There are recipes for baked turmeric dog treats (unfortunately, the high heat of baking degrades the effectiveness of both turmeric and pepper), and recipes for baked cookies or biscuits for people. And sadly, many of the health bloggers still say things like, “To get your turmeric, you can also use curcumin capsules.” Even worse, many of them use these authoritative-sounding articles merely to push their own products.

So what are we supposed to do?
Other than changing to a traditional Indian diet (not a bad idea, but not many Westerners are going to do it), how can we incorporate turmeric into our lives in a way that makes it both well absorbed and bio-available? An Australian veterinarian, Dr. Doug English, became intrigued with turmeric and spent much of the last decade working on just that problem. The outcome of his research is a product that has come to be called “Golden Paste.” The ingredients are easily available, and can be thrown together in anyone’s kitchen. The dosage is easily adjusted and is measured by results, not in milligrams or other arbitrary amounts. Combined in one’s food, it can be eaten by humans and fed to pets and livestock (even birds).

Here is the recipe for the Golden Paste:

1/2 cup powdered turmeric
1 cup water, with another cup in reserve
1/3 cup of a non-inflammatory oil–coconut, olive or linseed (called flaxseed in the US)
1-1/2 teaspoons of freshly ground black pepper

Combine the turmeric and water in a saucepan and heat gently on the stovetop for 7-8 minutes. Add as much water as necessary to get a soft paste consistency (the exact amount of water isn’t hugely important–adjust to your preference). Stir this slurry while it cooks, and then let it cool until the pan is just warm to the touch. Add the oil and pepper, mixing very well. Spoon or pour into a clean jar or other container and refrigerate. It will last up to three or four weeks, though it’s best used within two weeks. It can also be frozen, if that amount is more than you think you can use within a couple of weeks.

Did you notice that the pepper is to be freshly ground? The reason is that the piperine in the pepper doesn’t hang around forever. The exact amount of time during which it’s viable depends on a number of factors–exposure to heat and oxygen, how finely the pepper is ground, and others. But it’s safe to assume that the container of ground black pepper you picked up from the grocery store doesn’t come anywhere near the description of “freshly ground.” So to be on the safe side, use whole peppercorns and grind them yourself just before combining them with the turmeric, water and oil.

Add a small amount of the Golden Paste (start out with no more than 1/4 teaspoon) to beverages (coffee, tea, hot chocolate, juice, smoothies). Add it to eggs, to rice and pasta dishes, to all kinds of soups, stews and casseroles. Mix it with peanut butter for a unique sandwich filling, or with your favorite salad dressing for a tropical flavor. Have it a couple of times a day at first, and then, as your digestive system gets used to it, you can have it more often, or increase the amount you use in your food each time. If you (or the partner or children or dog or horse or cow) experience any kind of digestive upset like soft bowel movements or even diarrhea, reduce the amount you’re using each time, or the number of times you have it during the day. I’ve found that I can’t have more than a teaspoon at a time of the Golden Paste, though I have that quantity four or five times a day.

Want to know more?
Stay tuned for additional articles here, and check out the Turmeric User Group on Facebook. A TUG website is also coming soon, and I’ll add the website address when it goes live.

Have a wonderful turmeric-filled day!

(copyright H Wallis 2015)

something different–lava eruption in Iceland

Screenshot_2014-09-03-16-24-46The most recent shot of the lava eruption in Iceland.

Looking for some goats?

With great reluctance, I’ve decided to cull my herd of LaManchas. Taking care of and milking as many as I have now has proven to be more difficult than I anticipated, and as my health continues to deteriorate, I feel as though I need to get them settled somewhere else while I’m still able to care for them. I’ll post pictures soon, but here are the descriptions:

Cupid: first freshener, had twin bucklings this year. Black with white belt, good natured, a bit hesitant about the whole kidding and nursing business but she has a good udder and adequate teats for hand milking. She is dried off now, but gave more than enough milk for her kids.

Charlotte: first freshener, one buckling this year, kidded on her own without problem, has been a great mother and will nurse other does’ kids as well as her own. She has a sweet personality and I’ll be very sad to see her go. She has adequate teats for hand milking if you’re experienced and patient, but would do better with machine milking. She is good on the milkstand, no jumping around or fighting. Coloration is dark brown with a badger face. May have papers.

Flash: Charlotte’s five-month-old buckling, solid black except for a white topknot. Sweet tempered like his dam and sire, disbudded.

Laurence: six-month-old buckling, son of Tabby (one of the does I’m going to keep). Very good-natured, will follow people around like a puppy, NOT disbudded. Should not be purchased as a pet! May have papers.

Love R Goats L’il Paint: otherwise known as Willie. 14-month-old buck, sired Laurence and also Cupid’s bucklings. He is a very unusual reddish color, hence his official name, with splashes of white. Comes with papers.

Dymble: 14-month-old buck, son of Love R Goats Tinker Bell, whom I am keeping. He sired Flash, and is another sweet tempered buck. Smoky gray, beautiful, well built.

If I can find the service memo for Tinker Bell’s first breeding, then Cupid will have papers too.

Please leave a comment here if you’re interested.

Bumbling along

Bean beetles in the potatoes, forgotten plants in the greenhouse, a hydrangea that’s been replaced twice and still isn’t growing. Irritating, but probably not major problems. The plants that were forgotten died, of course, but some of them have been replanted and others will have to wait for the fall garden. That was the worst screw-up, but those things happen when you’re trying to do six things for every minute of time.

Raintree had a big sale, which resulted in my buying five Aurora late-season blueberries and a pair of black currant plants. Haven’t decided for sure where I’m going to put them, but I’ll need to decide in roughly the next 24 hours. As freebies, I also got a couple of primocane blackberry plants. I’d never have purchased blackberries, considering how many grow here wild. But for free, heck, yes.

The wild blackberries are just about to ripen, and it looks like this is going to be a good year for them. There have been plenty of flowers in the past few years, but poor pollination. I haven’t seen any more bees or other pollinators this year, but almost all the berries are completely filled out. Hard to say whether our very late and very cold winter had anything to do with that or not, but it’s certainly more typical of the berry production from years back when cold winters were more typical.

I’ve been eating blueberries off the early season bushes for a week now, and the Top Hat bush is bearing so heavily I could probably have gotten a couple of pints from that one bush alone, but I’ve been eating them out of hand right there in the garden. The other two varieties are bearing well, but nowhere near as heavily.

I thought the potatoes were doing really well until I discovered one plant almost defoliated and covered with Mexican bean beetles. Haven’t done anything about that yet, but I will have to start picking them off, and checking for egg clusters. The beans were covered with the beetles last year, though it didn’t seem to hurt the crop much. But they’re really going to town on the potatoes.

The goats are giving almost two gallons of milk a day, which means I MUST get back into cheese production very soon, and also must get the herdshare arrangements set up very soon. I have no more freezer space for milk. The dogs have been getting a lot of it, and my grandson has taken some, but that’s nowhere near enough consumption to keep up with them.  The goats have also been a huge pain lately, after I began separating the kids at night. Trying to get mamas in one pasture and kids in another one has been a three-ring circus. It worked one night to get the does’ evening feed ready in the barn, and carefully let one of them in at a time. But the second time I tried that, Laurence leaped right over the bottom door of the barn, and by the time I had him in tow, everyone was inside. Tonight I will try feeding the bucks first, and then taking a half bucket of alfalfa pellets into the middle pasture. They’ll all follow me in there, and then I can boot the does out one at a time. Laurence bellows like a huge baby when he’s separated from mama–you’d think someone was beating him. “Waaaaaahhhhh! Waaaaaaahhhhhhhh!” I’m going to have to sell him soon, I’m afraid. I’d have kept him as a wether, but when I waited too long to band him, that meant he can’t stay here–I don’t need three bucks.

Off to do other computer work…

Slow progress

There’s always more to do than time to do it, but things are coming along. My orders of herb plants from  Raintree and Horizon Herbs have arrived, and of course, I don’t have places to put everything yet. Then a friend gave me six beautiful mature goji roots, and I had no place to put them either. Finally, my order of maypops from Logee’s Tropical Plants showed up. Everything is sitting in an open box on the front porch right now, getting filtered sunshine and being watered while I rush around trying to get their final locations ready.

I did manage to plant the two largest goji roots this morning, and clear a space for two more. The yarrow will go in with my comfrey, and the stinging nettles along the back of the deer fencing. The trellis panels where the maypops will be planted are mostly ready. One of the three is hung on its supports, and the other two are just waiting for me to buy the right size hooks. I still have to seal them with a deck sealer, but I can go ahead and plant the maypops as soon as the other two panels are hung. Where I’m going to put the wood betony, anise hyssop and chameleon plant has not yet been determined. Why didn’t I do that before ordering them? Good question. Mostly because I had an opportunity to get them on sale and jumped on it.

And I still have cucumbers, squash, pumpkins, zucchini, tomatoes and peppers in the greenhouse that badly need to be planted. My goal is to have it all done by the end of the week. We’ll see.

Strawberry time!

I have two strawberry pyramids this year, and once I get some other things relocated, I’m going to add at least one more. They may not be quite as efficient as rows, in terms of the space they take up, but I like the appearance. I have concrete pavers around each one, and they’re like little islands next to the apple and pear trees. This is a good strawberry year so far (meaning the guineas haven’t discovered them yet, lol). I won’t have enough to make jam, and freeze all I want, and eat them straight off the plant, and, and, and–you can never have enough strawberries, after all. But I’m happy with two pyramids full, and I’ll be even happier with three.

They’re all June-bearing plants, though when I set up the third pyramid, I might consider adding a few of the everbearing type. I had those before, and found the hype (Strawberries All Summer!) not to match the reality. Yes, sporadically all summer, there were a few berries. That’s all. There were never enough for a batch of jam, or even to justify putting a bag of them in the freezer.  It was nice to be able to pick a few to eat out there in the yard now and then. But in general, it works better for me to have them all at once and be done with.

So many jobs, so little time

Do I finish planting in the established garden space first? Put up the new feed rail in the barn? Get the truckload of straw bales I need to expand the garden into an area full of tree roots (where I can’t dig in the ground, in other words)? Clear the weeds out of the area where I want to plant the corn? Go to the hardware are store for more hoses so I can more easily water what I’ve already planted?

The hardware store trip won, once it got too hot to do much outside, and I need not just hoses, but six trellis panels for the maypops to grow on in the back yard. The trellis’s will also provide shade for the west side of the trailer in the hot afternoons. Will have to get Nick’s help to put them up, and the maypops have already been shipped, so I need to get going on supports for them. The last time I had maypops, the deer ate them all, not just the fruits, but plants and all. Now that area is inside a 5-foot chain link fence, so I only have to worry about the cats climbing up the panels. If it will keep them from leaping up to the gutters to get on the roof, I wont mind.

Sprung has sprung. Maybe

I look back now on my casual comment about a worse winter than usual, and wonder whether I jinxed myself. It was the worst winter in many years, and it just wouldn’t go away. In fact, parts of the country are still under snow. I went through all of this year’s firewood and most of next year’s too.

But it’s finally warm enough to start planting. All I’ve managed to get in the ground so far is two varieties of potatoes. If nothing else interferes today, I’ll plant turnips and beets. The seedlings are doing well in the greenhouse–tomatoes, peppers, yellow squash, zucchini, pumpkins, watermelons, cucumbers. The comfrey came back just fine after looking as though it was never going to make it through the winter, and the bees are loving the purple blossoms. Unfortunately–and it was my own stupid fault–the rosemary and lavender did not survive. I could have put them in the greenhouse, but they’ve done fine outside in previous winters and I just didn’t think about doing it.

My goal this year is to make things pretty. I’ve spent four years building infrastructure–barns, fencing, greenhouse, workshop, etc. Some things still need to be done, or improved. But I feel as though I have permission now to spend time and money on aesthetics as well as fundamental basics. With that in mind, I planted two PeeGee hydrangeas outside the workshop/farm store, one under each window. Then my grandson helped me plant 25 gladiolus bulbs (okay, let’s be honest, I helped him, not the other way around, lol). Most of them have come up, and I’m looking forward to seeing them bloom. The daffodils and the redbud tree I planted several years back bloomed earlier and lifted my spirits every time I looked out the kitchen window at them. The azaleas have just finished blooming, and while I won’t be planting any more of them (they’re toxic to livestock), I’m happy to have these. As I have time, I’ll be planting a lot more flower bulbs (I do love things that come up every year by themselves!).

Speaking of which, I ate asparagus for the first time this year from my own garden. I couldn’t take much, and none of it made it into the kitchen, but wow, was it good! The other perennials are also doing well. The Jerusalem Artichokes are just beginning to poke up above the ground, but the aronias have already finished blooming and are bearing heavily. A late frost killed many of the blossoms on the blueberries, but they blossomed again and look as though they will bear at least some. The apple and pear trees I’m not so confident about, but I can see some fruit forming, just not as much as usual. The sage survived the winter, and while the annual herbs like basil and cilantro did not, of course, they self-sowed like crazy and are now coming up by themselves. The bay and lemon balm also succumbed to our crazy winter, I’m afraid. I’ve replaced the lemon balm, but don’t yet have another bay plant. I’m going to put each of those in separate planters this time, to make it easier to move them into the greenhouse next winter.

I’ve just been notified that my plant order from Horizon Herbs has shipped, so I’ll have some medicinals to add to the comfrey–yarrow, stinging nettles and a couple of others. Maypops and a mulberry tree are on the way from Raintree Nursery, my favorite place for trees and shrubs, and I just ordered two tea plants (camellias) from a nursery in Raleigh. The fig tree that overwintered in the kitchen is now occupying its own corner in the garden, with three horseradish plants nearby, and the Meyer lemon will be going in a big pot outside today. Life abounds everywhere!

It’s fall and the … mice … are coming

EWWWW! I took a baking pan down from the top shelf of my pantry shelving, and found it coated with a thick layer of mouse droppings. Before I could prevent it, the droppings spilled out in a black nasty shower, and because the shelving is one of those chrome open wire affairs, they fell down into all four shelves below. Down into the pots and pans, utensils, cookware, mixing bowls, you name it. So the entire contents of the shelving have had to be removed and washed. Not what I was planning to do today.

Mice are a fact of life in the country, but this fall has been one of the worst years I can remember. I hope that doesn’t mean we’re expecting an especially cold winter. More likely it means we had an easy, cool, moisture-filled summer that caused the mouse population to explode.

The cats have helped in the past, but don’t seem to be doing a good job now. Traps have to be placed very carefully, so the cats aren’t caught in them. Poison is out, not only because I don’t like using it, but because I don’t want to lose a cat that has eaten a poisoned mouse. The non-kill traps, as far as I can tell, seldom work. Either the mice are able to take the bait without tripping the trap, or they just ignore them altogether.

So about all I can do is keep every single morsel of foodstuffs in mouse-proof containers, and put the cookware and bakeware in plastic tubs on the shelving. I don’t know whether that will discourage the mice, but at least it will keep their contamination off the food and dishes.