The Medicinal and Spiritual Properties of Passion Fruit

by Francisco G. Gómez

Passiflora edulis L.

Passiflora edulis L.

Passiflora edulis, better known as Passion Fruit, is one of the most beautiful plants I have ever had the pleasure of caring for and using medicinally.  People who grew/grow up in the Caribbean use this plant to make a refreshing drink, also to treat a number of diseases naturally and spiritually. There are two types of this fruit; one is dark purple (Passiflora edulis L.). It’s about the size of a lemon and it grows in cool weather. The other is bright yellow      (Passiflora.edulis f. flavicarpa) and it is much bigger in size. It can grow to the size of a grapefruit and fairs best in warm climates.

Passiflora. edulis f. flavicarpa

Passiflora. edulis f. flavicarpa

From a scientific perspective, Passion fruit contains phytochemicals such as, harmine, passaflorine, harman, harmalin, harmol, vitexin, carotenoids, chrysin, isovitexin, scopoletin and theobromine. Phytochemicals are non-nutritive plant chemicalsthat have protective or disease preventive properties. They are nonessential nutrients, meaning that they are not required by the human body for sustaining life; however, it is well-known that plants produce these chemicals to protect themselves.

The leaves, flowers, peels and stems are all used as medicine in different ways. The leaves mainly contain the alkaloids. Harman, mentioned above, lowers blood pressure naturally. The flower can be made into a sedative and antispasmodic. Passion flower is also used to treat nervous disorders, bronchial conditions, arthritis, asthma, insomnia, gastrointestinal disorders and menopausal symptoms. Carotenoids and polyphenols in the yellow fruit extract can also kill cancer cells in vitro.

Grandmother

Grandmother

So you may be asking, what’s the whole religious thing about Passion Fruit? I first heard the following story from my grandmother when I was a child. Grandma would always make me a drink of some natural herb or fruit and tell me how they were connected to nature from a religious point of view; it was just her way. According to her, catholic missionaries who accompanied the Spanish Conquistadores in their conquest of the “New World” believed that there was a religious connection between the flower and the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, hence the name “Passion.”  They associated the three stigmas of the fruit to the three nails used to pierce the hands and feet of Christ. They also saw the threads of the flower as representing the crown of thorns on Jesus’ head; the tendrils found on the vines as the whips that were used to lash him and the five anthers represented the five wounds, including the one made by the Spear of Destiny.

Now that I retell the stories that I learned as a young boy, I can say that I’ve left the religious part all behind! It’s a good thing that Granny is not around to see my spiritual evolution! The lessons my Grand Mother taught me about nature stuck with me throughout my long life, and they continue to reinforce me when I lose track of the spirit. In the on going age of the quick fix pill and the forgotten spiritual aspects of life, it is a relief to know that Passion is much more than a fruit that heals the body, but rather a fruit that is healing for the spirit and soul as well…

Happy Full Snow Moon – A Picture Post to Welcome Spring

by Nicole Wines

Today’s full moon started the last full moon cycle of winter. For Raíces EcoCulture, it marked the beginning of the time for welcoming spring. We have been busy preparing our seeds for planting, planning our gardens and looking forward to long days outside.  By the next full moon, the Spring Equinox will have already passed and we will be a full week into spring.

Full Moon

Instead of New Year’s Resolutions, this year, I’m opting for full moon pledges, as a way to get back to using the cycles of nature to mark time and get twelve chances to start or try something new, creative and positive in my world.  Since for us, today’s full moon signifies the coming of spring, and the sunlight has been longer while the days are getting warmer, it’s time to be outside more, to reconnect to nature as it wakes up and come out of hibernation.  This month’s pledge will force me to spend time outside by cutting my driving and reliance on fossil fuels for transportation by at least half.  Starting today, I am traveling by bike or foot whenever possible, reducing my time spent in a car, exercising my body, taking time to observe the environment and how it transforms with the change of the season.

Snowdrops

I took my pledge seriously and started right away.  On my first bike trip, I came across my first sign of Spring.  If I had been in my car, I probably never would have noticed these Snow Drops, much less taken the time to stop and photograph them.  I certainly wouldn’t have smelled the earth fresh from days of rain, warming up, shifting, getting ready to sprout new spring life or noticed the speed of the Raritan River as I rolled along in the open air.  Clocking over 20 miles of travel on bike and 2 miles on foot the first day, without getting in the car once, I realized that if I keep it up and the weather works with me on the days I need to travel, I could cut out 500-600 miles of driving each month.  Less driving, less gas, less reliance on fossil fuel, less emissions.  One person alone altering their mode of transportation won’t save the world.  It won’t clean up the atmosphere or reverse global climate change, but if we are going to talk about EcoCulture, going green and living naturally, reducing my own dependencies on fossil fuels is the right thing to do.  And perhaps sharing it will inspire others to be more mindful of how they get around too.

Sowing SeedsThis full moon didn’t just call for a full moon pledge though, it called for a spring celebration.  We welcomed the season of spring preparations by visiting one of the Raíces Micro Farm plots to plant our first seeds of the year.  Yes, in February.

Prepping Soil

Under the cover of our homemade recycled cold-frame, the soil was rich, moist and warmer than the ground soil.  We loosened the soil, added some compost and prepped it as a seed bed for cold-weather crops.

Planting LettuceThanks to a group seed order, a recent seed swap in our community and a generous donation of seed packets from High Mowing Organic Seeds, we have about 15 varieties of lettuce, 5 of spinach, a few varieties of kale and lots of radish seed, all organic and all non-GMO.  We had to pick just a few varieties of the many seeds we have to start in our covered seed bed.  Hopefully, many of them will sprout, and we can transplant them according to the biodynamic moon cycle planting we will be using this year.

Seed Bed

It will probably get very cold again, but we aren’t worried about our seeds.  Even with a few deep freezes this year, some of the plots, including one of ours, at our MicroFarm site still had spinach, lettuce, beets, kale and carrots growing uncovered throughout the winter and they are still looking good.  And the seeds we planted today have their cold-frame/mini-greenhouse to keep them warm.

On the Raíces Micro Farm

I’m glad the Full Snow Moon was this far into February.  It was the perfect day for planting to celebrate the coming of Spring.

If you’ve been looking forward to spring planting too, join us in Highland Park next Monday, March 4 at 7 for our Eco Culture Sustainability Meeting.  The meeting topic is Seed Starting and Spring Garden Planning.  We will have introductions to seed starting, winter sowing and permaculture, a question and answer session with local gardeners, hands-on seed starting, DIY seed packet making and seed swapping.  We will also hold a seed swap at the meeting, so bring seeds if you have them to share and swap.  You will get to take home some started seeds from the hands on workshop, whether or not you are participating in the seed swap!  The meeting will be held at the Reformed Church of Highland Park in the Parlor (19-21 S. 2nd Ave., Highland Park, NJ).  For more info on our Sustainability meetings, see our EcoCulture homepage.

New Brunswick Community Garden Coalition Seed Swap

By Francisco G. Gómez

Raíces Seed Swap

Liz and Nicole talking veggie stuff

Seeds, seed sowing workshop, bluegrass music, children’s garden painting and lots of veggie minded citizens came out today for the seed swap at the Sacred Heart Church in New Brunswick. We set up our table right next to R.I.P.E. a Rutgers University student group that is dedicated to Permaculture, amongst other sustainable practices, and began to lay out our seeds, T-shirts, flyers and started up our Raíces garden pics slideshow on the Mac.

Gardener Ellen Rosner teaching winter seed sowing.

Gardener and community member Ellen Rosner teaching winter seed sowing.

The place was packed and it was truly a pleasure to see so much of the Mexican community present, as well as, many of our veggie growing friends like Gabby, Joe, Ellen, Theresa, Paul, Nathan and a few others. There were seeds everywhere and the place was bustling with questions and commentaries about all things that grow.

This is the third year that the seed swap has taken place and it seems that every year it grows more and more. In a time when issues of food, sustainability, conservation and the overall global environment seems to be on the minds of so many ecologically minded people, it is wonderful to share with community that is a part of this movement. If you didn’t make it out to this event, come out to the Raíces Eco-Culture Seed Swap on March 4th in Highland Park (flyer and more info here). Make sure you put these two events on your calendar every spring, and we hope to seed you there…happy growing!

Growing Community

Gabby Aron and children from the community painting garden mural “Growing Community”

Home » New Brunswick Community Garden Coalition Seed Swap

La Cosecha 2012

Just a sampling of this year's colorful harvest from the Raíces Eco-Culture Micro Farm Plots. We undertook the endeavor to grow as much food as we could without land of our own and at the end of August/beginning of September we are now harvesting an average of over 50 pounds per week from seven small plots spread throughout Middlesex County. We are seeking land of our own which we want to use to grow good food for people in our community. Check out some of the beautiful colors of this summer's harvest.
La cosecha

Collecting Spring Water From The Mountains

Road Trippin' with a few friends and a dozen empty jugs to visit and collect water from a natural spring in the northern New Jersey mountains!
Spring Water Collection 4

D.I.Y. Cold Process Soapmaking

Thanks to our friend and wonderful teacher, Raíces co-directors Nicole and Francisco now know how to make their own soap!
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EcoCulture: Spring Gardening Meeting

Raíces EcoCulture's March meeting was dedicated to spring gardening and seed starting. Participants learned about starting seeds, winter sowing and permaculture, made mini seed packet envelopes, planted seedlings and swapped seeds.
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Early Spring Greens in a Raised Bed Cold Frame

This spring we experimented with a cold frame we constructed in the fall. We planted a few varieties of early lettuce and greens on the Full Snow Moon, February 25, just to see if it would grow. About a month and a half later and it's ready to eat! Lettuce is cold hardy, so we suspect it would have survived without the cold frame, but the warmth of being covered helped to keep it growing quickly.
Red Russian Kale

Spring Seedlings 2013

Many hands have been involved in getting the Raíces seedlings started this year. From eco-culture meetings to family gatherings to school gardening days, we have planted over 40 trays of seeds so far, and we are still going!
Reaching for the sun!

EcoCulture: Deep Ecology

The Raíces EcoCulture Sustainability Meeting for April was about Deep Ecology, presented by Ellen Rosner. Attendees also participated in a group discussion after the presentation, examining and dialoguing about their relationship to nature, earth and ecology.
"A living democracy is the democracy of all life...what do you think?"

Raícitas Planting Seeds at Cubs in the Cave

Raíces EcoCulture seedling planting days at Cubs in the Cave. The seedlings we planted will be transplanted into the children's garden at the Reformed Church of Highland Park. Special thanks to High Mowing Organic Seeds and the Hudson Valley Seed Library who donated the seeds we planted.
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D.I.Y. Fridays – Building a Raised Garden Bed

by Nicole Wines

Raised garden beds in New Brunswick, NJ (Fall 2012)

Raised garden beds in New Brunswick, NJ (Fall 2012)

One option for gardening and small-scale intensive farming is building raised garden beds. It’s not a difficult process, it’s fun to build and you can get creative with the size and shape of the beds.

Some benefits of raised bed gardens

    • Raised beds are an easy solution to poor soil. Once built, you can add new soil, integrating organic matter and compost. It is easier to monitor and work with soil conditions in a contained area.
    • They have much better drainage for those who have poor drainage on their land.
Hoop house covering on raised garden bed in New Brunswick, NJ (Fall 2012)

Hoop house covering on raised garden bed in New Brunswick, NJ (Fall 2012)

  • Raised beds can extend the growing season. Soils in a raised bed warm earlier in the spring, allowing you to work the soil and plant cool weather crops sooner. You can also cover them in the fall with hoophouses or build coldframe/mini-greenhouse covers to fit the dimensions of your raised beds.
  • They are more accessible than traditional gardens. Raised beds can be custom designed for any height and even raised on a stand above the ground, to be accessible to people with disabilities, arthritis, knee problems and any other physical limitation that keeps them from bending or kneeling easily.
  • Once you complete the initial construction, maintaining a raised bed is easier than traditional garden space.
  • They are portable. If the site you select for your raised bed doesn’t work out, you can always move it!
Garden designed entirely from raised beds in Bridgewater, NJ (Winter 2011, Middle Earth Offices)

Garden designed entirely from raised beds in Bridgewater, NJ (Winter 2011, Middle Earth Offices)

When you custom design and build your own raised beds instead of purchasing pre-fabricated ones, you can adjust the dimensions to fit your space and gardening needs. You can even get creative with the design. It’s also much cheaper. Some prefabricated raised beds advertised online  cost over $200 for a single 4×8’ bed. It’s possible to get materials for a much lower cost (or even free if you join and post a wanted ad on Freecycle).

Tools and Materials

  • Lumber – we have used both new and recycled lumber to build beds. The important thing is that you use wood that is not chemical or pressure treated. The last thing you want is toxins leaching into your soil, plants and food! Untreated cedar resists rotting because it is naturally high in oil content. You can also use untreated pine, douglas fir or other untreated lumber. If you want you can protect it with linseed oil applications. Other alternatives include recycled composite plastic lumber, haybales, woven bamboo, bricks, steel and concrete blocks.
  • 1×1 inch posts for corner bracing
  • Wood Screws
  • Saw
  • Drill
  • Screwdriver
  • Level
  • Soil and compost

Constructing your raised garden bed

Raíces co-director Francisco G. Gómez constructing raised beds.

Raíces co-director Francisco G. Gómez constructing raised beds.

  1. Chose a spot, clear and level it off.Design your raised bed with your custom dimensions.
  2. Cut wood (if you’re purchasing lumber and you know the dimensions ahead of time, usually the store or lumber yard will cut it for you).
  3. Assemble frame with wood screws.
  4. Place on selected site to test level, continue to level off as needed.
  5. Screw 1×1 inch wooden posts to sides in all four corners to add stability.
  6. Additional posts can be driven into the ground and screwed to the sides in the center of the raised bed to help prevent buckling. This is especially helpful for beds that are over 6’ long.
  7. If you are placing your raised bed on a spot with a lot of vegetation, grass or weeds, you can line the bottom of the bed with a few layers of newspaper before filling with soil.
  8. Filling the raised beds with a mixture of garden soil and compost. (Summer 2012)

    Filling the raised beds with a mixture of garden soil and compost. (Summer 2012)

  9. Fill with soil. You can use soil from your own yard, you can buy soil or your can use a little of both. Townships often provide residents with compost, which can also be added to the raised bed. Some may even provide topsoil, so check with your town or county public works before buying any soil.
  10. Plant your seeds and seedlings and enjoy your new garden!
Raised garden beds in backyard garden. (Summer 2012)

Ready for planting! (Summer 2012)

Further links and resources

D.I.Y. Fridays – Helping the Bees with our Plants and Gardens

Bumble Bee

Bumble Bee

There has been a lot of buzz about saving the bees lately. Beekeepers, environmental groups, farmers (who rely on the bees to pollinate up to 80% of their flowering crops), and even mainstream media outlets are all reporting a shocking decline in the bee population, especially honeybees, in North America and many regions of Europe.

Colony Collapse Disorder, or CCD, occurs when whole hives suddenly disappear. This especially affects the agricultural industry and our industrial food supply system, as honeybees pollinate over $15 billion pounds of fruits and vegetables per year in America alone, about 30% of all the food we eat.  CCD has been attributed to pesticides acting as neurotoxins, veroa mites and insect diseases, malnutrition, genetically modified crops with pest control characteristics, increased use of systemic pesticides (pesticides that are absorbed into the plant material), environmental stressors including those due to being shipped across the country as agriculture work insects and even cell phone radiation.

It’s not limited to honeybees. Some native bees, including some species of bumble bees, and other pollinators are also experiencing population declines. However, many species of native bees have proven to be more resilient and have not experienced population declines at the same level as non-native honeybees. Gardeners, small farmers, supporters of strong local food systems and many eco-conscious people have voiced a concern over the issue of saving the bees and helping to promote the health of the native bee population.

Beehives near one of the Raíces plots at the Rutgers Student Organic Gardens

Beehives near one of the Raíces plots at the Rutgers Student Organic Gardens

There is a wealth of information available online about the importance of bees, the emergence of Colony Collapse Disorder, petitions for legislation against toxic pesticides, sustainable farming and homesteading practices that can help support the health of bees and their ecosystems. In fact, the quick spread of information about the danger that some species of bees are in has spawned a movement of urban and suburban small-scale, local, holistic beekeepers. But the simplest, easiest way that anyone and everyone can help to save and support the bees is by feeding them wholesome, chemical free food, in the form of plants!

Since bees travel over five miles to forage for food, you don’t have to live near or know a beekeeper or have a nest or hive on your property to help them.  If you plant them some food, they will travel and find it!   You don’t need to have a full garden, even just a few plants placed outside in pots in the summertime can help.

For all of our friends interested in helping the bees, D.I.Y. style, we compiled a list of some plants that are attractive and beneficial to bees, but also have a second use for you. All of these flowers and veggies must be single varieties, so check your seed packs. Happy planting!

PLANTS FOR THE BEES (with second uses for us)

FLOWERS

Sunflowers feed bees and people!

  • Sunflowers feed bees and people
  • Hollyhocks-black hollyhocks make dark gray dye
  • Roses-rosehips can be collected and used for tea and syrup, high in Vitamin C
  • Sunflowers-seeds can be edible and made into oil, make sure the variety you plant has pollen
  • Honeysuckle-decorative, aromatic, sweet snack when blooming
  • Wildflowers-decorative, cut flowers
  • Dandelion-all parts are edible and medicinal, coffee substitute, dandelion wine

TREES-produce oxygen

  • Nut Trees-edible, repopulate native nut trees
  • Redbud-edible bud, flowering tree
Strawberries from the Raíces Micro Farm, pollinated by our bee friends!

Strawberries from the Raíces Micro Farm, pollinated by our bee friends!

FRUITS-food

  • Fruit trees-apple, prunes, plums, peaches, nectarines, cherries
  • Strawberries-besides eating the berries, you can make tea from the leaves
  • Blackberries
  • Raspberries-like strawberries, you can also make tea from the leaves. This tea is especially good for women’s health.

VEGETABLES-let a few plants go to flower for feeding the bees and saving seeds, especially brassicas like radishes, kale, broccoli and mustards.

MEDICINAL AND CULINARY HERBS-let some flower for feeding bees and saving seed

Flowering Chives and Sage

Flowering Chives and Sage

  • oregano
  • mint
  • lavender
  • yarrow
  • sage
  • bergamot
  • borage
  • thai basil
  • parsley
  • cilantro
  • chives
  • dill
  • hyssop
  • lemongrass
  • st. john’s wort

COVER CROP

  • clover-green compost to help build soil

Have more suggestions for helping the bees by providing food and habitat? Leave them as a comment here and we will share them as resources!

D.I.Y. Fridays – D.I.Y. Video Inspiration

by Nicole Wines

This week’s D.I.Y. Fridays post is a resource post. We are sharing three awesome, short videos about D.I.Y. lifestyle. These are just for a little inspiration, to show you the amazing things you can do with your own hands, and a little time and dedication. D.I.Y. can be life changing!

When it comes to learning how to do something, the internet is amazing. You can find quality D.I.Y. tutorial videos that help illustrate the steps to do pretty much anything with a simple search on any free video site or search engine. Some sites, like Vimeo, even have their own D.I.Y. and educational channels. Feel free to post links to more videos that inspire you in the comments section of this post!

50 Machines for a DIY Civilization – An Open Source Ecology
A short clip highlighting a company that is making open source plans for simple and necessary industrial machines that people can build themselves. Why pay for something made out of plastic that’s going to break if you can build it, durable, on your own! Open Source Ecology also provides over 100 instructional videos and provides links to their plans on their vimeo channel.


Made by Hand / No 3 The Beekeeper
Inspirational, urban beekeeper from New York City. She loves herself some bees!

One in a series in “a project from bureauofcommongoods.com, Made by Hand is a new short film series celebrating the people who make things by hand—sustainably, locally, and with a love for their craft.

Local farmer Megan Paska has witnessed beekeeping as it morphed from an illegal (and possibly crazy) habit to a sustainable, community-supported skill. Mirroring beekeeping’s own ascendance, she found more than just a living: “This is the first time in my life when I’ve just felt absolutely on the right path.””

Shelter
“Shelter is more than a roof over your head”. Lloyd Kahn talks about and shows his hand-crafted home, and what a D.I.Y., sustainable lifestyle means to him.

Don’t forget to share your favorite D.I.Y. videos as a comment on this post.

D.I.Y. Fridays – Building a Cold Frame

by Nicole Wines

The first Raíces cold frame, under construction.

The first Raíces cold frame, under construction.

It’s been a mild winter in central NJ.  The warm days have us already anticipating the beginning of our planting season, really just a few weeks away for the cool weather crops.  We just worked out our seed order with a group of gardening friends and Raíces Eco-Culture supporters and can’t wait to get planting this spring.  There are probably still a few more freezes and frosts coming before we start spending long days outside again, but just because this isn’t the height of the gardening season it doesn’t mean that we aren’t working on our micro farm plots.  For many gardeners, the winter months are for planning and preparing for spring, reflecting and researching, learning, studying and taking the time to work on projects, like the one featured in this post, to enhance their garden spaces.

In 2012, the Raíces crew cultivated enough produce from our small patches of land that we were able to feed ourselves mostly from our own garden plants.  Whatever we couldn’t grow enough of, we could find in abundance at the farmers’ market, all organic and locally grown.  We weren’t looking forward to the winter, when our gardens would lay dormant and empty, and we would have to venture to the local food co-op for our organic produce.  But as the traditional growing season came to an end, we became inspired to figure out how to extend our gardening season into the winter so we could continue to eat fresh, homegrown food.

Floating row covers help protect a winter lettuce crop from freezing.

Covering crops with floating row covers protected our plants from the first frosts of the season and allowed us an extra harvest of black beans, green beans, lettuce and heirloom tomatoes.  Plans for a greenhouse or high tunnel rolled through our minds, but without the materials or the amount of land needed to get to work on that, we adapted our ideas to the scale of one of our garden plots.  We chose a plot that is filled with raised beds and decided to begin building removable cold frames to turn our beds into mini-green houses.

Our First Cold Frame/Mini Greenhouse

Our First Cold Frame/Mini Greenhouse

We completed our first cold frame in November and so far it’s kept the soil in the raised bed from freezing and a set of carrots, kale and lettuce growing inside of it this winter.  When we harvest in a month or two, we will be able to plant a seed bed inside, a few weeks earlier than we normally would in our climate zone.

There are many benefits to building your own cold frame.  You can custom design it according to the size you need, you have a better idea of where your materials come from, you can extend your growing season and keep garden critters out and when it’s installed in your garden, you can look at it and say “I made that!!!”.  If you get started now, you could make a few before the beginning of spring, and start planting a few weeks early.  Ours was made almost entirely out of recycled and reused materials (except for the caulking).  There are many different designs and plans available online, but for a little inspiration, we wanted to share how we made ours:

Materials Used

  • Building a cold frame/mini greenhouse.

    Building a cold frame/mini greenhouse.

    2” x 4” lumber (untreated is preferred, but since the cold frame doesn’t come into direct contact with the soil, there are some types of pressure treated wood that aren’t as risky that could be used, like “Nature Wood” or boric-acid treated wood.  Just please do your homework and assess the risk vs. benefits for yourself!)

  • Plexiglass
  • Screws
  • Caulking gun and caulk (optional for sealing gaps)

 

Steps to Building A Cold Frame, Raíces Style

  1. Cutting plexiglass sheets to the right dimension for our frame.

    Cutting plexiglass sheets to the right dimension for our frame.

    Measure the raised bed that the cold frame will be attached to and record the dimensions.  Our raised bed plot has eight raised beds, with eight different dimensions, so we have to remeasure for each cold frame we make.

  2. Determine the height of your cold frame.  We wanted to grow kale, lettuce, kohlrabi and carrots.  Once we rested the cold frame on our raised bed, we wanted at least two feet of growing space for the kale.
    Placing the plexiglass sides in the coldframe.

    Placing the plexiglass sides in the coldframe.


    Our soil came to about 4 inches below the top of the bed so we decided on a 20 inch tall cold frame.  For shorter crops such as radishes and lettuce, a shorter cold frame would do.

  3. Measure and cut your 2” x 4”s.

  4. Assemble wooden frame with screws.

  5. Our frame was made from reused and recycled materials. The outside was made from plexiglass sheets that had been in storage waiting to be reused for over 15 years!

    Our frame was made from reused and recycled materials.

    Measure dimensions of top and sides and cut plexiglass to those dimensions.

  6. Drill holes for screws and screw plexiglass (carefully) into inside of frame for the sides and outside of frame for the top.

  7. Seal with caulk as needed.

  8. Rest frame on top of raised bed.

  9. Hook and eye latches attach the cold frame to the raised bed and help keep unwanted garden critters away from our plants.

    Hook and eye latches attach the cold frame to the raised bed and help keep unwanted garden critters away from our plants.

    Install hook and eye fasteners to keep the critters out of your new mini-greenhouse/winter gardening cold-frame.

  10. Plant seeds or seedlings, keep them watered, watch them grow and enjoy your own homegrown winter veggies and herbs!

LINKS & RESOURCES

Raíces Cultural Center Receives Arts Grant to Continue Annual Cultural Legacy Festival

The new year has brought Raíces Cultural Center news of being awarded a program grant from the Middlesex County Cultural and Heritage Commission to continue the annual Raíces Cultural Legacy Festival. The 2013 Cultural Legacy Festival will celebrate art, music, dance, culture and history with a day of workshops, demonstrations, displays, film screenings and performances.  Selected teaching artists will also offer workshops open to all members of the community in the months leading up to the festival.

Performer and teaching artist Gina Ferrera demonstrates the gyil accompanied by festival participants Remy and Victor at Cultural Legacy Festival 2012.

Performer and teaching artist Gina Ferrera demonstrates the gyil accompanied by festival participants Remy and Victor at Cultural Legacy Festival 2012.

This is the fifth year that Raíces Cultural Center was awarded an arts grant from MCCHC and we are grateful for the Commission’s continued support.  Raíces also wishes to thank the New Jersey State Council on the Arts/Department of State and the National Endowment for the Arts for recognizing the importance of providing support for artistic, historical and cultural organizations in our local communities, allowing them a means to deliver educational and culturally enriching programs, events and experiences to their communities.  It means a lot to us to be able provide the opportunity to excellent NJ artists to teach, share and create.

Liz Lopez Velez conducted hands-on visual arts workshops for children and families and helped to organize the Cultural Legacy Festival 2012.

Liz Lopez Velez conducted hands-on visual arts workshops for children and families and helped to organize the Cultural Legacy Festival 2012.

To be notified about updates and details of the Raíces Cultural Legacy Festival 2013, you can subscribe to our blog, sign up for our general email list or both in the sidebar of this page.

This program has been made possible in part by funds from the New Jersey State Council on the Arts/Department of State, a Partner Agency of the National Endowment for the Arts; through a grant provided by the Middlesex County Cultural and Heritage Commission/Board of Chosen Freeholders.

D.I.Y. Fridays – Adventures in Soapmaking

by Nicole Wines

Our soapmaking teacher, Hayley, demonstrating how to make a batch of cold process soap.

Our soapmaking teacher, Hayley, demonstrating how to make a batch of cold process soap.

(NOTE: This is not an instructional article, this is about our own experience learning how to make soap with a teacher.  Making soap involves chemical processes and can be dangerous if not done properly.  Raíces recommends finding someone who already can teach you and walk you through the process.  If you’re dead set on trying it out on your own, remember that websites exist that offer some not so great advice so make sure that you are getting your information from a credible source.  Our awesome soap teacher and friend Hayley McHendrey, highly recommends Kathy Miller’s soap making website for all of your soap making needs…thank you, Hayley!)

I “made” soap once.  I heated up a block of soap from the craft shop on the stove, added some dyes and essential oils and poured it into pretty shaped molds.  It was fun and the soap was beautiful…but I later discovered that I hadn’t really made the soap.  I had used “melt and pour”.   It made for a fun afternoon with friends, but in actuality someone else made the soap, I just decorated it.

Measuring out the acids (oils) for cold process soap.

Measuring out the acids (oils) for cold process soap.

It would be years before I would learn what it really meant to make soap.  Last spring, I brought a ten-pound bag of purslane from the Raíces gardens to a friend of mine as a treat for her chickens.  I was happy simply to find a new use for this edible “weed” that grows so prolifically between our veggies and greens.  Really, taking these plants off our hands was doing us a favor, but my friend had brought gifts to exchange in trade.  Homegrown garlic, her first batch of pesto for the year and a bar of handmade, delicious smelling soap.

Hayley’s soap was beautiful, it had a marble design with purple and black swirls.  It was too beautiful to use.  It sat on my soap dish for show.  I kept using my regular oatmeal soaps, for months, thinking I would save my new marble soap for some special time.  In the meantime I would enjoy looking at it and smelling it every time I stood at my sink.  But the day came when I ran out of oatmeal soap before making it to the store to restock, and there was no choice but to use my special bar of marble soap…and I made an instant vow to myself to never buy industrial soap from the store again.

Francisco getting ready to melt the congealed oils.

Francisco getting ready to melt the congealed oils.

It wasn’t that it seemed to be any better of a soap than what comes out of those plastic wrapped cardboard boxes.  It wasn’t the fragrance or the colors that got me.  It was knowing that my friend made it, by hand, with love.  It was knowing the ingredients that went into it and where it came from.  It was knowing that it wasn’t filled with chemicals that I couldn’t pronounce.  I knew that from that moment on, I had to make the switch to homemade soap, I had to learn more.

My Raíces co-director, Francisco, felt the same way. The next time he washed his hands at my sink, he walked out of the bathroom smelling his hands and asking, “Where did you get that soap?”.  When he learned that it had been made by someone we knew, he exclaimed, “I have to learn how to make this, let’s do it”.

Hayley guiding Francisco through the soap making process.

Hayley guiding Francisco through the soap making process.

Hayley seemed as eager of a teacher as we were students and it was no problem to set a date to move on our latest D.I.Y. adventure.  She sent us a list of supplies we would need to bring: olive oil, safety goggles, an apron and thick kitchen gloves.  She had already ordered bulk buckets of coconut and palm oil and sodium hydroxide (or lye).  We would be making cold process soap, saponifying oils using a complex chemical reaction, or creating a salt out of our mix of fatty acids (the oils) by the adding of a base (the lye).  This is one of several processes for making soap.  Other processes include hot process and fully boiled process.  The cold process is one of the simplest and is called cold process because the chemical reactions that occur do so without the use of heat.

Mixing two colors for a marble effect.

Mixing two colors for a marble effect.

The steps seemed very simple, but had to be done with care.  Measuring out, mixing and cooling the lye with water (we did not make our own lye, but that is on our list of D.I.Y. projects for the future), measuring and melting the congealed oils, lining the molds, blending the lye into the oils until it was the perfect consistency (done by eye of course or as we say at Raíces “ojo de buen cubero”), adding minerals and essential oils for color and fragrance, pouring our soap into the molds and wrapping them up in blankets to hold the heat of the chemical reaction took up an entire afternoon-half a day’s work for three ten-pound batches of soap.  Half a day of working with a smile, knowing that after a just few weeks of curing we would have enough handmade soap to last ourselves and our families for months.

We were hooked.  Now I would take my vow to not buy industrial soap one step further, I would make it myself from now on, with natural ingredients, essential oils, and natural coloring agents.  No surprise ingredients, no chemicals in the finished product (the lye is gone once the saponification process is complete), no separate packaging around each bar.

Raíces soap cut and set out to cure.

Raíces soap cut and set out to cure.

After meeting with our teacher Hayley again to cut the batches into bars and seeing the swirls of color hiding inside, I was so excited to start using our Raíces soap, but was told we had to wait another four weeks for the soap to dry, cure and harden.  It was a rough wait, smelling the scents of the essential oils while rehearsing next to a table filled with standing bars of soap.  It was well worth the wait though, now that we know where our soap comes from and how it is made, getting clean has never been so much fun.

RECOMMENDED RESOURCE: Kathy Miller’s Soap Page

 

MORE PHOTOS FROM OUR DAY OF SOAPMAKING

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D.I.Y. Fridays – Raíces Roots Style

by Nicole Wines

D.I.Y. stands for Do It Yourself.  Why D.I.Y.?  Very simply, doing things yourself is one way of taking control of your life.  By learning, making and producing things on your own, some things which you may use every day in your life, you also take a larger responsibility for your role in the consumption of goods and resources in our world.  You have fun doing it, you learn and acquire skills and knowledge, you understand how things work and are made, you take pleasure in sharing the results with your family and friends.

Coldframe/Mini-Greenhouse made from recycled and reused materials being installed at the Raíces Eco-Culture Micro Farm.

Coldframe/Mini-Greenhouse made from recycled and reused materials being installed at the Raíces Eco-Culture Micro Farm.

I was inspired to start the year off with a new column on our blog and spread the D.I.Y. love after reading Sadie’s D.I.Y. Friday posts on the All Natural Me blog.  I’ve always enjoyed making things myself, but became hooked on the idea of making/doing/fixing/creating things by hand after I saw the results of our commitment to grow food this past summer.  The Raíces Eco-Culture Micro Farms were truly micro, probably about 1/20th of an acre total, but we were able to grow chemical-free produce for 4 families and donate over 100 pounds to local food organizations over a seven-month stretch.  This abundance convinced me that we can easily take control over more processes in our lives.

Harvesting green beans on the Raíces Micro Farm.

Harvesting green beans on the Raíces Micro Farm.

If you make something yourself, you know more about what goes into it.  The energy, the ingredients or materials, the time.  You’re more likely to use and appreciate something made by hand.  D.I.Y. isn’t new, it’s natural.  It’s the way our ancestors lived, making the things they needed in order to live their every day lives.  It’s the way many cultures around the world continue to live, to this day.

Making coquito, a traditional Puerto Rican holiday egg nog type drink made with coconut.

Making coquito, a traditional Puerto Rican holiday egg nog type drink made with coconut.

To encourage our readers, friends and community members to take control and try some D.I.Y. projects of their own, each week we will be posting a “D.I.Y. Friday” blog article.  Some will highlight some of our own Raíces D.I.Y. adventures, some will give step by step instructions or recipes, some will compile resources for diving deeper into the D.I.Y. mentality.  The photos of projects included in this post are a sneak preview of what we will be posting about in the coming weeks.  We hope that you will try some of the projects and when you do, that you enjoy the time spent building, learning and creating!

Our wonderful soap-making teacher Hayley showing us how to cut the soap blocks.

Our wonderful soap-making teacher Hayley showing us how to cut the soap blocks.