Blog – Ourcupboard

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Who doesn’t love hummingbirds? Learn how to make homemade hummingbird food and attract hummingbirds to your garden.

How to Make Hummingbird Nectar

Help these hard workers get a proper meal: nectar! Make your own nectar in just a few steps; it’s far less expensive than buying pre-made and the ingredients are readily available.

Hummingbird Food Recipe

To make hummingbird nectar, use a 1:4 ratio of sugar to water. You’ll need the following:

  • 1/4 cup refined white sugar*
  • 1 cup boiling water
  • Heat-safe measuring cup or bowl
  • Spoon

After boiling the water (an electric kettle comes in handy here), pour the water into the measuring cup and mix in the sugar. Stir the mix occasionally to ensure that the sugar dissolves entirely.

Allow the nectar to cool to room temperature or below, then fill your feeders. That’s it!

Try to refrain from making more nectar than you need, as it won’t store for more than a couple days in the refrigerator.

*Note: Do not use “raw” sugar. Organic, natural, and raw sugars contain levels of iron that could be harmful. Do not use honey either, as it can promote dangerous fungal growth. Plain white table sugar is sucrose, which, when mixed with water, very closely mimics the chemical composition of natural nectar.

A Word on Red Dye and Cleaning Feeders

PLEASE DON’T USE RED DYE IN YOUR NECTAR! Red coloring is not necessary and the chemicals can prove harmful to the birds. Plus, hummingbird feeders are typically red anyway, which makes dying the nectar itself unnecessary.

Also, please keep your bird feeders clean to avoid mold that can harm these tiny flyers. To clean a bird feeder and remove mold, soak it in a simple solution of 1/4 cup bleach to 1 gallon of hot water. After a few minutes of soaking, rinse it with water and let it dry. Try not to use dish soap for cleaning feeders. A general rule is: If you won’t drink it, don’t give it the hummers.

One additional important note about feeding hummingbirds: Over 80% of their diet consists of soft-bodied insects. So, if you want to attract lots of hummers to your yard, then don’t use pesticides to kill the insects.

Learn more about hummingbirds here!

The Ruby-Throated Hummingbird

In my neck of the woods (New Hampshire), we have only one type of hummer—the ruby-throated hummingbird. Take a moment to listen to the call of the ruby-throated hummingbird.

They are fascinating little creatures. Barely three inches high with long slender bills almost half as long as their bodies, these tiny dynamos fly at great speeds, beating their little wings over 50 times per second. They possess the ability to hover and even fly backwards. It is hard to believe that something so small migrates all the way from Central America to the northeastern U.S. each spring.

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Tips for Hummingbird Watching

Needless to say, one of my favorite summer activities is hummingbird watching. I have two feeders at opposite sides of the house, since these little guys seem to be very territorial and don’t like to share. If one is at the feeder when another comes in for a drink, there is usually a squawking, aerial dogfight until one is chased away. By keeping the two feeders out of sight of each other, a lot of fights are avoided.

To fuel their activities, they need lots of nectar and also a great deal of protein, which they get from the aphids, gnats, mosquitoes, and other insects that they eat. Their benefit to the garden as pollinators and insectivores, in addition to their entertainment value, makes them a worthwhile asset to anyone’s yard.

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Plants That Attract Hummingbirds

Hummingbirds consume half their body weight in bugs and nectar, feeding every 10 to 15 minutes and visiting 1,000-2,000 flowers per day!

Over the years, I have tried to fill my yard with plants that will attract them. They love flowers that are colored red and orange (I have had them check me out quite closely when wearing a red t-shirt), but I have seen them sipping nectar from plants of other colors, too.

Generally speaking, they prefer to visit flowers that are tube shaped, like bee balm or salvia. Their long beaks and tongues make reaching the nectar quite easy.

Check out our list of plants that attract hummingbirds for more ideas.

Happy Humming!

Do you feed your hummingbirds? Share your tips for attracting them in the comments below!

Reading Time: 6 minutes

Mulching is one of the best things you can do for your garden. But using mulch incorrectly can have the opposite effect. Here’s how to mulch a garden—and get the most out of mulching.

What is Mulch?

At its simplest, mulch is a material that covers the soil for variety of reasons, usually controlling weeds.

Advantages of Mulching

Mulch has been called the gardener’s friend—and for good reason. It offers three major benefits:

  1. Reduces weed growth by keeping light from reaching the soil surface.
  2. Reduces water loss from the soil surface, which helps maintain soil moisture.
  3. Moderates of soil temperatures, keeping it warmer on cold nights and cooler on hot days

More Benefits of Mulching

There are also many other benefits of mulch:

  1. In winter, soil under mulch will be warmer than unprotected soil. This protect plants from the cycle of freezing and thawing (which can heave them out of the ground).
  2. Reduces soil erosion and often reduces soil compaction.
  3. Prevents crusting of the soil surface. Water moves more readily into soil covered with mulch instead of running off.
  4. Keeps soil from splashing onto leaves; keeping soil off leaves reduces plant diseases.
  5. Breaks down and feeds the soil (if organic mulch).
  6. Improves the structure of clay soils and the moisture-holding capacity of sandy soils.
  7. Slowly increases soil fertility (if organic) and may make micronutrients already in the soil more available.
  8. Warm the soil in spring, allowing the gardener to plant days or weeks before the soil would normally be ready.
  9. Keeps plants clean and off the ground, especially tomatoes and melons, to avoid plant disease.
  10. Limits chance of hitting and damaging tree when mulch is placed around trees instead of grass (but not against bark).
  11. Improves plant health and growth (due to fewer weeds, more constant moisture and soil temperature).
  12. Makes gardens “spiffed up” and attractive, giving a uniform appearance and rhythm to garden design.

Disadvantages of Mulching

Although using mulch has many benefits, it can also be detrimental to the garden:

  • Over-mulching (more than 3 inches) can bury and suffocate plants; water and oxygen can’t reach the roots. A layer of 2 to 3 inches of mulch is ample.
  • Mulch causes diseased trees if piled up around the trunks. Keep mulch 6 to 12 inches from the trunks of trees and shrubs. No more “volcano” mulching on trees! Keeping mulch away from the trunk prevents wood boring insects, gnawing rodents, and decay.
  • Mulch near plant stems is the perfect place for slugs, snails, tunneling rodents, and more pests. Sprinkle wood ashes or diatomaceous earth around the base of precious plants to keep the slugs and snails at bay.
  • Mulch can bake your plants with excess heat in midsummer if not done properly. (See more below.)
  • Light colored, wood-based mulches, like sawdust or fresh wood chips, can steal nitrogen from the soil as they break down. Counter this effect by adding a nitrogen-rich fertilizer, such as soybean meal, alfalfa, or cottonseed meal, to the mulch. (Learn more about soil amendments.)

Amount of Mulch Needed

With most organic mulches, a layer of 2 to 3 inches is plenty. The finer the material, the thinner the layer needed.

Inorganic mulch is often more shallow; a mulch of small stones is usually an inch deep.

If You Want Mulch This Deep…..You Will Need This Mulch Mulch to Cover 100 Square Feet
2 inches18 cubic feet
3 inches27 cubic feet

1 cubic yard = 27 cubic feet

1

Dry mulches—including sawdust, woodchips, peat moss, and dry straw—can be a fire hazard. Keep them away from buildings to be on the safe side.

Types of Mulch

The ideal mulch should be dense enough to block weed growth but light and open enough to allow water and air to reach the soil. Factors to consider when purchasing mulch are cost, availability, ease of application, and what it looks like in the garden. There are lots of materials of various colors and textures to choose from.

Both organic and inorganic mulches can be used effectively in the garden.

Organic Mulches

Organic mulches are natural products from leaves, trees, grass, and other plant material, often from your own yard. They mimic nature, breaking down gradually over time. The advantage is that they are truly adding organic matter to the soil. The disadvantage is that they must be replenished periodically.

  • Compost is readily available and breaks down rapidly to improve soil. If you don’t have your own, often towns make it available from their leaf composting facility. The disadvantage is that it must be replenished and can contain weed seeds.
  • Shredded or chipped bark. Softwood bark mulch is attractive, resists compaction, and breaks down slowly. Hardwood bark is attractive but breaks down quickly and needs to be properly composted to avoid sour mulch and nuisance fungi.
  • Shredded leaves and leaf mold are readily available and, if chopped, eventually break down and feed the soil with beneficial materials. The disadvantage is that leaves can mat if wet which reduces the oxygen and moisture in the soil. Avoid matted layers of wet leaves.
  • Straw and salt marsh hay are inexpensive and a helpful covering; however, they decompose more quickly, may harbor rodents, and are easily blown away by the wind.
  • Grass clippings are ready available but should be dried first or spread thinly to keep them from becoming a hot, slimy, stinky mess. Also, you can not use clippings from grass treated with chemicals in a food garden.
  • Pine needles are attractive and stay in place better than most mulches. They are slow to break down, so don’t worry about them adding to soil acidity.
  • Local byproducts, such as spent hops from a brewery, cocoa hulls, ground corncobs, coffee grounds, newspaper, or cardboard can also be much. Get creative!

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An example of improper mulching. Don’t be guilty of creating mulch volcanoes like this one around your plants!

Inorganic Mulches

  • Black plastic mulch helps warm the soil in spring, reduces water loss, and is convenient. This can make a big difference in short growing seasons. However, it’s not permeable so it’s more difficult to water; it also breaks down when exposed to sunlight and the soil under the plastic becomes very hot in the middle of summer if not shaded by leaves or covered with another mulch.
  • Silver plastic mulch excels at warming soil in spring but doesn’t control weeds; the soil becomes even hotter with clear plastic in midsummer and plants can be damaged if the plastic is not shaded.
  • Crushed stone, gravel, marble, or brick chips provide a permanent mulch around shrubs and trees. That said, these mulches are expensive, hard to move, and can get into the lawn. Weed seeds and soil can still find their way into the stones; an underlayer of landscape fabric will help prevent this.
  • Landscape fabric smothers weeds while allowing air, fertilizer, and water to move through them and into the soil. They are treated to resist decomposition and they help retain soil moisture. It’s important to fasten the fabric down so perennial weeds do not push them up.

Applying Mulch

To cut down on weeding in our vegetable garden, we use a permeable landscape fabric on many of the beds.

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After a few spring rains, when the soil has warmed, we lay down soaker hoses in each bed.

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Then we cover the hoses with a fabric to speed up the change in soil temperatures and warm the soil for earlier planting.

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Planting holes are cut at different spacings for different crops. Watering is efficient, and maintenance of a large area is made much easier.

Once the plants get some size on them, the fabric is covered and does not look so bad! We also use straw, grass clippings, and shredded leaves for crops that like it cooler.

Applying Mulch in Fall and Winter

Fall
If you need to replenish mulch, do finish by late summer or early autumn. Avoid applying mulch in mid- to late autumn. By then, the soil will not cool down quickly and plants may continue to grow. New growth may not harden off and can be damaged by winter cold. Also, mulch in the fall keeps the soil wet which can lead to root rot and plant death.

Winter
Once you’ve had several freezes and the soil has cooled (often Thanksgiving or after), then you can apply winter mulch to protect any tender plants or new plants that may not make it through the winter. Any plants correctly selected for hardiness do not need winter mulch. Winter mulch is deeper. Apply 3 to 4 inches. However, pull mulch away from the crown of plants and do not pile mulch against trunks of trees and shrubs. Loose mulch such as straw and evergreen boughs (from your Christmas tree, for example) is preferable because it does not retain excess moisture.

When spring begins, it’s important to reduce the winter mulch to a depth of 2 to 3 inches.

Follow the above advice and try mulching in your own garden!

For more on mulching, read about mulching to control weeds and save water, and check out our guide to composting.

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Cold and flu season is coming up and, if you find yourself under the weather, a steaming hot cup of fresh ginger tea might be just the thing to make you feel better. If you love ginger, try growing your own!

Ginger is reputed to have anti-viral properties, is good for settling an upset stomach, and improves circulation. Fresh ginger (Zingiber officinale) definitely has more zing than the pre-ground spice from the store.

We bought some fresh ginger root from the grocery store and broke it up into several pieces. (Actually it is a rhizome, not a root!) Each piece had at least one eye—a bump or bud from which the plant will grow.

Our buds actually had some green showing so I took that as a good sign. If your rhizomes look dry and puckery you can soak them overnight in lukewarm water before planting but ours was plump and looked ready to grow.

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Sometimes ginger has been treated not to sprout so it might be worth buying an organically grown rhizome.

We used a shallow, wide plastic pot to give the pieces room and planted them in a compost-based potting soil, eyes up, barely covering the rhizomes. We put the pot in a warm location out of direct sunlight and watered just often enough to keep the soil evenly moist but not soggy. Since our buds were green and ready to grow, they sent out new shoots in about a week but it can take up to 3-4 weeks for greenery to show so don’t give up.

The stalks can get tall, about 2-4 feet if happy and may even flower, but that is rare. Common ginger flowers are not as showy as ornamental ginger.

In hot southern climes, it likes filtered sun and protection from the wind.

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I put the plant outside in half day sun for the summer and brought it back inside when the temps started to fall below 50 degrees. Native to the tropics, it grows best when the soil is in the 70’s.

You can actually begin harvesting small amounts of ginger from your plants after about 4 months by cutting off pieces of the root from the outside edges of the pot. Cover the cut end with soil and leave the main portion of the plant to continue growing. For the best flavor, let your plants grow until they naturally begin to die down. Then you can dig up the whole thing, take the pieces you want to use, and replant a few to begin growth all over again. Some people store the rhizomes they want to replant until spring but I like to keep the whole thing going over the winter. The plants do have a natural dormant period when temps go below 50 but even though some stalks of mine have died down other new green ones have sprung up. This is the easiest houseplant I own and it gives me an edible root to enjoy!

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Make some tea.

Just steep a few slices of fresh ginger in hot water. Add lemon and honey if you want.

Easy, peasy if you feel queasy!

Related Content

Best Herbs for Tea

5 Natural Sore Throat Remedies.

Reading Time: 2 minutes

I was given a magnifying glass for Christmas. It’s a fine brass one, with all sorts of knobs and moveable parts. It’s like having a brand-new eye.

Beneath it, a fingernail suddenly has texture. The wrinkles around one’s knuckles look like almost legible handwriting. An hour might not be too long to spend studying them. The tiny hairs on the back of the hand are turned into a dry forest, each bowed and bent the same direction, as though blasted by a prevailing wind.

What else can we train the glass on? The fibers of knit sweaters: chaotic. A sharpened pencil-lead: quite dull. Rime on the window: beautiful. Nothing’s beneath consideration.

There’s fresh snow on the ground this new year, not much, but enough, sharpening light on a bare branch or the leafy top of a still-green fern. What’s alive is mostly stowed beneath, or curled up on itself like rhododendron leaves, or hiding within layers, like dormant moths. Life has made itself small, and tight, and as warm as possible.

In winter, one has to use the eye the way the fox uses his nose, putting it right up close to things in order to get any scent off them.

I take my magnifying glass around, following tiny vole-tracks to tiny vole-lairs. If I shine it onto the disappearing place, I’m thinking, it will show a tiny WELCOME mat, and a tiny brass knocker.

Here’s a poem for the new year. The imagination’s a kind of blind lens, too, a mole-nose prying into spaces its writer might not be able to, unaided. May yours, too, be sharpening its resolution this January.

Star-nosed Mole

*

Scale

The minuscule is what

the eye’s no good

at. It

can’t make itself

smaller.

We have some tools

therefore

for blowing things up.

Rootlets for rafters

grubs for meals

the star-nosed mole

likewise

must turn whole versts

of his particular

soil

gravel

clay

dust

compounded of

molecules

atoms

quarks

resonance

to a little bit

of architecture.

Contrariwise

the carpenter ant

is little by little

dealing with

the unintelligible &

outlandish roominess

of a wet log.

Do not squint.

Do not

cudgel your brains

for examples.

The needles

you need to pass

through the impassable eye of

are lost in a haystack.

Let them come

all by themselves

sprouting out the scalp

as laughter

or

rifling off the top of one’s head

like the thought

of the kudu’s horns—

the sharpest

vanishing augers in

a multiverse

of light.

kudu_antelope.png
Kudu Antelope
Reading Time: 3 minutes

What single ingredient can make or break a dish? The answer is salt. Many readers ask us about the different types of salts—table salt, kosher salt, and so on. Let’s look at six common salts and their best use.

Whether it’s used to form a crust around a thick juicy steak, or sprinkled over a chewy chocolate-covered caramel, salt makes food memorable. Too much and you’ve blown it, too little and you’ve missed an opportunity to make taste buds explode. It’s also calorie free. That “salty” taste is one of the most desired flavors by humans, capable of making fruit sweeter, minimizing bitterness in things like cruciferous veggies and adding texture and crunch to pretzels.

As an essential nutrient, we mine it thousands of feet beneath the Earth’s crust and harvest it from the sea. For millennia, salt has been an important commodity. Slaves in ancient Rome were bought with it. The wages of a Roman soldier, who was paid partially in salt, were cut if he “wasn’t worth his salt.”

6 Types of Salt

Today, there are so many different types of salt—pink, grey, black, table, etc. Which one to choose? Salt’s salt, right? Well, no. Here’s the shakedown on some of the most common salts you’ll find and how best to use them.

1. Table Salt

In the United States, most table salts are iodine fortified. The essential mineral is important for combatting iodine-related thyroid disorders. Highly processed, table salt is stripped of any minerals and often contains an anti-caking additive. Try it in pasta water and in recipes that require very exact measurements like baked goods.

2. Kosher

Named for the Jewish process of meat preparation which requires that meat be devoid of blood, kosher salt with its large coarse crystals does an excellent job. Its milder flavor lends itself well to most recipes. It’s also fast to dissolve and just as good on a steak as it is on popcorn.

3. Pickling Salt

Also called preserving salt or canning salt, pickling salt contains no additives (like anti-caking ingredients) and therefore won’t cloud pickling water. The fine granules are easy to dissolve and should be kept in an air-tight container to prevent clumping. It’s a very concentrated salt and one should use a less is more approach when working with it. Great for vegetable gardeners wanting to preserve the flavors of summer.

4. Himalayan Pink Salt

Harvested in the foothills of the Himalayas, this pink salt gets its distinct coloring from the minerals it contains, mostly iron (rust). As the fashionable salt of the moment, it’s favored by many who tout its many health benefits. All that aside, it has a slightly lower sodium content than regular salt and probably looks hipper on the dinner table than its counterpart. Personally, I can’t detect much of a difference.

5. Black Salt

Looking for an “eggy” flavor to add to your recipes? This salt’s for you. Commonly used in Southeast Asian recipes, black salt (or Kala namak) has a strong Sulphuric odor due to the Indian spices and herbs that are heated into it at extremely high temperatures. Seeds from the harad fruit contain Sulphur that is released into the salt during the cooking process. While very pungent as it cooks in a recipe, the odor dissipates and leaves behind an eggy flavor great for egg-free dishes.

6. Sea Salt

This salt is derived from evaporated seawater and is harvested all over the world. It can be found in fine, coarse or flaked textures with variances in color based on the minerals it contains. Crystalline varieties are best for adding that finishing touch to just-cooked foods like salmon. Even a salad would benefit from a pinch. Flaked sea salt is fast-dissolving and an excellent choice sprinkled over vegetables. Fleur de Sel (which means “flower of salt” in French), the Cadillac of all salts, is hand-harvested from coastal salt ponds in France. This isn’t an ordinary seasoning, but one best used as a garnish over a dish just before serving. It comes with a hefty price tag too. You might even consider announcing its presence to your guests who can then ooohhh and aaahhhh.

At approximately $30 per pound, this salt has special occasion sprinkled all over it.

Which type of salt do you most often use (if any)? Or is there another seasoning you prefer? Let us know in the comments!

Learn More

Did you know: Salt can also work to fix many of our unexpected challenges around the house. Here are some of our favorite household uses of salt.

And let’s talk about salt’s partner: pepper! Here’s a wonderful post on where pepper comes from—and its surprising health benefits.

Reading Time: 2 minutes

A cast iron skillet can last a lifetime—probably several if it’s passed from generation to generation. Here’s how to clean and season a cast iron skillet to keep it in the best possible condition.

Cast iron isn’t just renowned for its durability; cooking with it also comes with health benefits. Research has shown that cast iron infuses food with a healthy dose of iron. And take it from me—an anemic gal—cooking on a cast iron skillet is waaaay better than choking back liquid Geritol. It’s the most forgiving cooking utensil, able to withstand neglect and easily restored when it falls into the right hands. Anemic or not, an inexpensive and indestructible cast iron skillet deserves a space in every cook’s cabinet.

How to Clean a Cast Iron Skillet

If your pan is in good shape, follow these instructions after each use.

Wipe the pan clean with a paper towel, preferably while it’s still warm, which will make it easier to remove bits of food. Using a non-metal brush or non-abrasive scrubber, rinse the pan under hot water and give it a good scrub. Use a dollop of soap if needed and rinse well. NEVER allow a cast iron pan to soak.

Dry the skillet thoroughly with a cloth or paper towel—drip drying is a no-no—then heat it on a medium-low burner to evaporate any remaining moisture. Rust will accumulate if water is allowed to sit on the pan’s surface. Add a half teaspoon of oil (I used canola) to the pan when it’s cooled but still warm. Using paper towels, spread the oil around so that the interior is coated. Continue to wipe down the pan with the oiled towels until the entire surface is smooth and there are no pools. Flaxseed oil, sunflower oil, soybean oil, and corn oil will also do the trick.

How to Season a CAST IRON Skillet

Most cast iron pans come with a factory seasoning that improves with regular use and proper care. Well-seasoned cast iron skillets naturally become non-stick. Buh-bye chemicals. Basically, the more you use it, the more non-stick it becomes. How does it work? When heated to its smoke point, oil or fat oxidizes and forms a Teflon-like layer that seeps into the pores of the pan, creating a slick surface known as seasoning. With repeated use, the seasoned layer builds and less oil is needed for cooking.

Sometimes a pan will need a bit of TLC, especially if it’s gone unused, to bring its seasoning back up to snuff. Place the skillet over medium-high heat and get it good and hot. Using tongs, dip a paper towel in two tablespoons of oil and wipe the interior until it smokes and there’s no residue. Be sure to grasp the handle with a towel or oven glove. Repeat the smoking process three times, allowing the pan to cool a little between each application.

Read more about why we love using cast iron for cooking!

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Have you experienced thinning hair or hair loss? Wondering why it’s happening and how to stop it? Here’s a look at the usual causes, as well as some natural home remedies.

When did it start? Perhaps you first noticed more hair than usual accumulating around the shower drain, or your hair brush looks as though it was just used to groom the dog.

Whatever the case, hair loss can really get you down. The average person sheds between 50 and 100 strands per day. With approximately 100,000 strands on an entire head, the loss is hardly noticeable and is quickly replaced with new hair. According to the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD), about 80 million Americans have hereditary hair loss.

Natural Remedies for Hair Loss

While a common and normal part of the aging process, nothing inspires a call to action quite like a blow to one’s vanity. And let’s face it, hair’s kind of a big deal. For many women, it’s an important part of our identity. Here are a few things to consider if your mane’s got you down.

You Are What You Eat

A balanced diet loaded with lean protein, beans, seeds, nuts, eggs and leafy greens is a good way to ensure that your body has all it needs. Omega 3 fatty acids found in certain fish like salmon, sardines and tuna can help lower inflammation and improve scalp health.

Get Your Vitamins

Low levels of iron, zinc, B12 and D can lead to hair loss. But before you start popping pills, consult your doctor for a blood test to zero in on exactly what’s lacking.

Buh-Bye Heat

Heat treatments are your hair’s worst enemy. Couple that with chemical dyes and you’ve got yourself a full-blown crisis. Go au naturale as often as possible and save the blow outs and curling irons for special occasions. Get rid of rubberbands that pull the hair and lead to breakage. Opt for hair ties instead. And if you can stand it, a scrunchy is even better (GASP!). Avoid tying hair up while it’s wet and if you’re into braids, make them loose. Yanking and pulling are never good.

If you wash your hair frequently, stop. Same goes for brushing. Opt for volume boosting shampoos and conditioners that will make hair appear fuller. Treat your hair with care so that it has the best chance of hanging around.

Mane Massage

Delicately massaging your scalp with your fingers tips is a great way to improve circulation, improve hair growth and help shampoos do their thing. Even better, have someone do it for you while you kick back and relax.

Zen Out

Stress stinks. Not only can it do a number on your physical well-being, but it can wreak havoc on hair. Prolonged periods of stress are notorious for increasing hair loss so look for ways to reduce it.

Hormone Havoc

Hormonal changes like those associated with pregnancy, menopause and thyroid imbalances are other common causes. Certain medications can also interfere with hair growth. Consult your doctor before adding or eliminating medications.

Hair Loss Treatments

  • Minoxidil (Rogaine), an over-the-counter product that is applied directly to the scalp, can help by slowing hair loss and/or triggering new growth. To reap the benefits, you’ve got to regularly apply, even after noticeable improvement.
  • If you’re more inclined to go the natural route, hairpieces and extensions might be a good solution. Good hairpieces are expensive, but if the condition is due to a medical issue, you may be able to cover it with insurance.
  • Surgical procedures like hair transplants are expensive and painful. The procedure involves removing plugs of hair from other parts of your scalp and “filling in” the balding areas. Infection and scarring are possible risks.
  • While there isn’t much evidence to support the claim, acupuncture treatments conducted regularly over several months is thought to reduce hair loss.
  • Patients with inflammatory scalp disease responded well to cortisone injections into the scalp.
  • Is there nothing that apple cider vinegar can’t fix? Equal parts vinegar and water added to a spray bottle and applied twice a week to a dry scalp might help by adjusting the pH of the scalp. Once applied, wrap the hair in a towel for 15 minutes, rinse and wash as usual.

We hope this advice helps you with your stressful tresses! Your tips are welcome below.

Also, see Natural Remedies for Dry Hair and Scalp.

See the Almanac’s Best Days to encourage hair growth.

Reading Time: 2 minutes

My husband and a few of his buddies have BBQ meat smokers, so our families get together about four times a year for “Smoke Fests” that involve copious amounts of smoked ribs, chicken, pork, and brisket. This year, we had a new star: Corn Bread With Pine Nuts and Rosemary!

I was thrilled to come across this recipe for corn bread with pine nuts and rosemary in The Old Farmer’s Almanac Garden-Fresh Cookbook.

And because savory should always be balanced with sweet, I made a big batch of honey butter to smear on the rosemary corn bread. The Garden-Fresh Cookbook proved its worth on my shelf yet again, as every last crumb of that delicious bread was devoured! Don’t tell my husband, but I think that it may have even trumped the smoked meats this time around …

Corn Bread With Pine Nuts and Rosemary
The Old Farmer’s Almanac Garden-Fresh Cookbook (page 256)

1 ¼ cups cornmeal
¾ cup all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
2 large eggs
⅔ cup milk
⅔ cup buttermilk
2 tablespoons honey
½ cup corn (optional)
2 to 3 tablespoons warm, melted, unsalted butter or vegetable oil
½ cup pine nuts, lightly toasted
½ tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary or ½ teaspoon dried rosemary

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit. Grease a 9×9-inch baking dish.

Toast the pine nuts, watching carefully so they don’t burn!

In a large bowl, combine the cornmeal, flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. In a separate bowl, whisk the eggs, milk, buttermilk, honey, and corn if using. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and stir just until moistened. Fold in the butter, pine nuts, and rosemary. Spread the batter evenly in the prepared baking dish.

Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Serve warm. Makes 10 to 12 servings.

Honey Butter

¼ cup (½ stick) butter, softened
¼ cup honey

Whip the honey and butter together until light and fluffy. Serve at room temperature.

With our meal, we also whipped up yummy, carb-heavy, fattening side dishes like macaroni and cheese, coleslaw, baked beans, and even (gasp!) a healthy salad.

But this rosemary corn bread was definitely the big hit of the night. Melt-in-your-mouth delicious!

Reading Time: 3 minutes

I was at the farmers’ market on an Saturday in mid-April cruising through the rows of vegetables, when I saw something exciting enough to stop me in my tracks. It couldn’t be. It was too early. Could it be? It was. Ramps! And where there are ramps, there’s a Wild Ramps Pesto recipe to be made!

What are Ramps?

Ramps, you might ask? As in the inclined walkway? No, no. Ramps are a plant in the onion family that are also called wild leeks, wood leeks, ramsons, and wild garlic. Scientifically, they’re known as Allium tricoccum. With a small, white bulb and hairy root, they resemble scallions and are foraged from shady, woody areas just a few weeks from late April to early June.

They are one of the earliest wild edibles to emerge and were traditionally a spring tonic. Early settlers relied on their restorative qualities after long, hungry winters.

Ramps appear for a fleeting moment at farmers’ markets come spring—and one of the first edible green things available. You can also find ramps in shady, woody, moist areas. They’re native to mountainous forests in the eastern North America—as far north as Canada and as far south as North Carolina and as far west as Missouri.

Harvesting Ramps

If you are harvesting your own ramps, do so sustainably: Leave the roots in the ground. This is how the Native Americans harvested (and still do).

  • To harvest ramps, just loosen the soil with a trowel and pull back the dirt from the bulb.
  • Cut off the bottom of the bulb with a sharp pocket knife while it’s still in the ground.
  • If you only want the leaves, then cut only one leaf from each ramp and leave the bulb with a second leaf to keep growing.
  • Then re-cover the roots with dirt and leave them to grow next year.

Please do NOT just tear the roots out of the ground. In many areas, ramps are being over-foraged for restaurants and not being harvested sustainably.

What Do Ramps Taste Like?

The flavor of ramps is unique and hard to describe; the closest we can come is a pungent mix of onion and garlic.

Use ramps in recipes as you would scallions or spring onions: pasta, eggs, potatoes, vegetable stir-fries, etc. Just keep in mind that ramps are more potent!

Ramps are amazing in pasta! To make an easy spaghetti dish, just cook up the ramp bulbs (thinly sliced) in a skillet with a few teaspoons of butter and olive oil. Tear up a couple cups of ramp greens and add to the skillet. Then gently mix ramps into cooked pasta! Mix in grated Parmesan and serve.

Wild Ramp Pesto Recipe

Back when I worked at a farm on the East Coast, we would have samples of ramp pesto for customers to try. It’s incredible. As the person in charge of making said samples, I decided that I was therefore allowed to eat copious amounts of it when customers were not around! It’s divine on a sandwich, on crostini, on a potato salad, or simply on a spoon.

Pesto is also the best way to preserve the ramp leaves. The pesto can be stored in the refrigerator in the short term or frozen for use later.

Ingredients:

1 bunch (about 6 ounces) ramps
½ cup walnuts (toasted in a skillet for 5 minutes until golden)
½ cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
½ teaspoon kosher salt to taste
⅓ cup extra version olive oil (or ½ cup—you kind of have to eyeball it)
Squirt of lemon juice
½ cup flat-leaf parsley (optional)

Directions:

1. Wash ramps throughly and cut off the leaves of the ramps.

2. Chop the ramp leaves and walnuts just a bit and put them in your food processor. (Optional: add parsley.)

3. Add most of the cheese (save a sprinkle for serving) plus salt.

4. Pouring the olive oil in slowly, process contents until they combine and look, well … pesto-y.

5. Taste for seasoning and add a good squirt of lemon juice.

Wild ramp pesto!

Served as a side with warm pita and bulgur with butternut squash and chard

Convinced yet? Give this ramp pesto a try. You’ll never think of inclined walkways the same way again.

Reading Time: < 1 minute

Our Mint Mango Smoothie is incredibly refreshing—with only five ingredients. If you’re looking for a healthier snack, here’s a great way to start fresh!

We usually make this smoothie in less than 10 minutes. The longest process is cutting and peeling the mango, so it was not that difficult. If you’re vegan, use coconut milk frozen yogurt rather than the real stuff.

Creamy and fruity, this smoothie is great for breakfast along with some oatmeal or as a mid-morning or mid-afternoon pick-me-up. It satisfies your craving for something sweet and keeps you from eating an unhealthy snack.

Mint Mango Smoothie
Courtesy of Cooking Fresh With The Old Farmer’s Almanac

Ingredients

1 small ripe mango, peeled, pitted, and coarsely chopped
1 banana, coarsely chopped
½ cup vanilla frozen yogurt
8 spearmint leaves
½ cup or more fresh orange juice, as needed for consistency

Put the mango and banana into a blender or food processor. Add the frozen yogurt, spearmint, and orange juice and blend until smooth. Add more juice as necessary for a smooth consistency.

mangomintsmoothie4.jpg

Want more fresh and delicious recipe ideas? Look inside the pages of Cooking Fresh!

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Not all headaches are created equal. Learn about the many different types of headaches and headache treatments that will provide relief.

At some point, most of us will experience the sometimes debilitating and always irritating effects of a headache.

But before we get into the nitty-gritty of headache who’s who’s, there are some things you can do immediately to stave off a headache.

  1. Let down your locks. Seriously. Tight ponytails, braids, headbands, and even swim goggles can send you down the rabbit hole.
  2. And brace yourself for this one—caffeine, cheese, and chocolate are BIG migraine triggers.
  3. Too much or too little sleep is another common cause.
  4. And let’s not forget stress.
  5. Get some exercise—even a brisk walk—or engage in an activity that allows you to decompress.

And, most important, consult your doctor if headaches are becoming a chronic problem.

Now let’s look at treatments headache by headache:

Types of Headaches

While some headaches are tolerable and easily remedied with over-the-counter medications, others hold you prisoner until they’re ready to subside. What’s worse, they return unannounced and wreak havoc (like a dreaded in-law) on daily life. Knowing the type of headache that you’re experiencing can help you to figure out how to treat it.

Migraines

Symptoms
According to the American Migraine Foundation, approximately 36 million Americans suffer from migraines. This is no run-of-the-mill headache, and it can be hereditary (thank your parents for this lovely gene). Many sufferers report an aura that precedes the onset of migraine and is your body’s way of saying “Brace yourself!” Aura can include seeing dots and lightning bolt–type lines, numbness or tingling on one side of the body, or sudden speech impediments. Vomiting and light sensitivity further add to the fun.

Treatments
Massage might take the edge off. Try rubbing your temples. Better yet, have someone do it for you and include your neck, head, back, and shoulders. Cold packs applied to the temples may also help.

And run away from the light! Bright light can aggravate a migraine. Also try over-the-counter pain meds and cross your fingers. If meds aren’t your thing, acupuncture has been shown to be as effective as medicine. If all else fails, you may have to just ride it out in a dark, quiet room.

Read more tips on our Migraine Headache page.

Tension Headaches

Symptoms
The most common type of headache, tension headaches are characterized by a pressure that wraps around the head. Unlike migraines, they are not made worse by physical activity and sufferers are usually able to go about their daily lives.

Treatments
Relax! Try a little deep breathing or listen to relaxing music to help you unwind. Over-the-counter painkillers and caffeine are often effective, but repeated use can trigger rebound headaches.

Rebound Headaches

Symptoms
Now called “medication overuse headaches,” rebound headaches result from frequent use of pain meds and caffeine, which physicians believe interfere with the body’s pain sensors by decreasing pain tolerance. The result? Another headache. Sheesh!

Treatments
Eliminate the offending medication. The downside: Headaches can sometimes get worse before they get better. If going “cold turkey” isn’t a safe option, doctors will wean patients off the meds to avoid any dangerous health risks.

Sinus Headaches

Symptoms
Sinus headache is one of the most common complaints and is characterized by sinus pressure and congestion. The cause can be either viral, bacterial, or allergy-related.

Treatments
If it’s bacterial, antibiotics can usually resolve it within a week. Allergy sufferers may benefit from an antihistamine or flushing the sinuses with a neti pot (always use distilled or sterilized water with a neti pot; never use tap water).

Cluster Headaches

Symptoms
Cluster headaches, sometimes referred to as “suicide headaches,” are a real picnic and are the most painful. They’re more common in men. Pain often occurs around the eyes, temples, back of the head, or in combination in all of these areas. Swollen eyes and tearing, facial sweating, nasal congestion, and restlessness are among the many symptoms that can accompany an attack.

Treatments
Acupressure and acupuncture may bring relief. Join a yoga class and learn meditation skills to help with relaxation. Low magnesium is a common link among headache suffers, so upping your intake of magnesium-rich foods like pumpkin seeds, almonds, chard, and banana could help.

Ice Pick Headaches

Symptoms
Also known as stabbing headaches, these involve sudden brief bursts of intense pain, often lasting no more than a few seconds. They’re more common among migraine sufferers, who report experiencing the pain before the onset of a migraine in the same area.

Treatments
How do you medicate a flash of pain? Good question. You may have to just grin and bear it. In other words, keep calm and carry on.

Do you have any tips for getting rid of a headache? Let us know in the comments!

Read the Almanac’s article on folk remedies for headaches. (This is more to make you smile than a cure-all!)

Reading Time: 2 minutes

August brings “Sneak Some Zucchini Onto Your Neighbor’s Porch Day” (August 8). Our advice? Take it! Here are two methods to easily freeze zucchini for year-round use (plus recipes).

Friends, neighbors, coworkers, even some side-of-the-road vegetable vendors will try to give away zucchini. Because once zucchini plants start producing, they are prolific!

Sure you could a LOT of zucchini bread and freeze it for future potlucks.

Or, you could freeze it! You can use frozen zucchini in soups, stews, casseroles, lasagnas, and more (essentially anything but salads).

How to Freeze Zucchini

1. Slice Zucchini

  1. Choose young squash (smaller than 6 inches long).
  2. Wash the zucchini.
  3. Cut the zucchini into one-and-a-half-inch rounds.
  4. Blanch it in boiling water for 3 minutes.*
  5. Cool promptly, drain the slices until they’re completely dry.
  6. Seal.

* Water blanching: Boil water in a pot with cover (one gallon per pound of veggies). Lower veggies into boiling water and cover. If you have a basket to lower, that is ideal. As soon as water is at full boil again, count to three minutes.


Photo: Zucchini blossom. See how to grow zucchini.

2. Grate Zucchini

This method is best for baking.

  1. Choose young squash (smaller than 6 inches long).
  2. Wash and grate.
  3. Steam blanch** it in small quantities for 1 to 2 minutes.
  4. Drain and cool it.
  5. Place measured amounts of zucchini pieces into containers or freezer bags. Leave ½-inch headspace.
  6. Seal and freeze. Squeeze out as much air as you can and put the container into the freezer.
  7. Freeze smaller portions in an ice cube tray. When the cubes are solid, remove them from the tray and put them into a freezer bag.
  8. Note that blanched, drained zucchini loses substantial volume: If you blanch and drain 2 cups, you will have a lot less to freeze and so a lot less when you defrost the zucchini later.

**To steam blanch, use a pot with a tight lid and a basket that holds the food at least three inches above the bottom of the pot. Put an inch or two of water in the pot and bring the water to a boil. Put the vegetables in the basket in a single layer so that steam reaches all parts quickly. Cover the pot and keep heat high. Start counting steaming time as soon as the lid is on.

Another option: Put grated (not blanched) zucchini into a freezer bag or other containers (in measured amounts), mark the amount, and freeze it. Thaw to use. Your zucchini will retain most of its volume when thawed.

With so many options, you’ll never say “no” to zucchini!

Looking for zucchini recipe ideas? Here are 15 Zucchini Recipes—including zucchini bread, soup, pizza, pancakes, brownies, and more!

How do you use your zucchini? Please share below!

Here at the Almanac, we love to cook, bake, grill, roast, and eat! We'll show you how to make some delicious recipes.