Welcome to our new Magazine format! All new content will now be brought to you in this easy, new format. All our older content can still be found by scrolling below. Simply click the ">" to start the magazine and navigate via your arrow keys.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Propagating herbs via cuttings

Mrs. Homegrown here:

Say you have one lavender plant, but you'd like to have more. Or your trusty sage plant is getting old and woody and needs to be pulled, but you wish you could save a bit of it and start fresh. One way to accomplish this is to grow new plants from cuttings taken from your existing plant. This is process called taking softwood cuttings. You cut small bits of plant, dip them in a rooting hormone, then baby the cuttings until they grow roots of their own. Basically, it's cloning.

Herbs are particularly suited to this sort of propagation, since it's better to have a fresh young herb plant than scraggy woody old herb plant, and this is a way to renew your herb plants. Also, it may be hard to collect seeds from your favorite herbs, particularly if you live somewhere cold.

It takes a good while for cuttings to root, so you don't do this when you're in a hurry to get plants in the ground. But if you plan it right, this is a cheap and satisfying way of propagating plants.

Erik and I are ripping up our back yard, basically taking it down to bare soil. I'm taking cuttings of many of the things I'm ripping out, so that I can replace them later.  I decided to document the process for the edification of all ya'lls.

A note on timing:

If you live in a cold winter climate, this will be the wrong time of year to take cuttings--wait til spring. But in a warm winter climate this is the ideal time. We plant perennials in the winter, so that they can use the rains to get established before the long, dry summer.

You'll need:

--Something nice and sharp to take cuttings with, ideally a grafting knife, but really any very sharp cutting implement. What you don't want is to take cuttings with something so dull it crushes the stem. Think like a surgeon.

--A seedling tray or a bunch of little plastic containers filled with good potting soil.
(Note: Don't use peat pots or egg cartons or anything similar. In general I don't think they're good vessels for starting plants, but in this case in particular it would be disastrous because they'd disintegrate in the constant moisture, and/or attract mold.)

--A bottle of rooting hormone powder (available at nurseries)

--A glass of water

--A small dish or tray

--A plastic bag or two, or a plastic lid for your tray, or some plastic bottles. See below

--Maybe a spray bottle full of water--for watering later

How to to do it:

This is your set up:

On your worktable you'll want a glass of water and a dish or tray with a bit of the rooting hormone in it. You don't need much. You dip in the tray instead of the rooting hormone bottle to keep the contents of the bottle clean and dry. One jar of rooting hormone will serve for hundreds of cuttings.

You'll also want your seedling tray or plastic pots or whatever you're using full of soil and ready to go before you start.

Take some cuttings and trim them down:

Go forth ye into the garden and pluck a branch of herb. When choosing a branch to propagate, look for the freshest, plumpest, prettiest sprigs you can find. The ones that seem to be flushed with life force, not ones that seem mature, or worse, in decline. The stems should be pliant, not woody. Look for tiny leaves sprouting at the tips. That's always a good sign.

Here's a nice bit of lavender that will be used for this demo:

Next you're going to strip your cutting down to just a little nubbin. You start by plucking off all but the very topmost leaves. Do this cleanly, try not to strip skin from the stem. The reason you do this is because leaves are a site of moisture loss during the rooting process. Excess leaves would die anyway, and too many will imperil the cutting. Pluck it down until there's only a pair or two pairs at the top. Erik says I always leave too many. Consider what you see in the following photos a generous quantity.

The next photo is the same sprig stripped down. It's not the clearest picture--I was having serious problems with the macro lens on the camera--but I hope if you look close at the bare stalk you can see the swelling in the stem in the places where the leaves used to emerge. These are called nodes.  There are three in that picture. The first a little bump just beneath the leaves, the second a kind of busy node, midway down, and the third just above the bottom of the picture. Ignore that tiny stray leaf between nodes 2 and 3. 

The next step is to make a cut at a node--make the cut just beneath the node, as cleanly as possible. Remember, you don't want to crush the stem at all when you make the cut.

Which node you choose depends on what sort of herb you're working with. It's just a matter of common sense. The cutting will be planted in soil, so the stem needs to be long enough to bury--about an inch, more or less. The lavender cutting is large, relatively speaking, so in this case it was cut at the topmost node. But that day I was also rooting thyme cuttings. These were much smaller and more delicate, so I was cutting them three or four nodes down. I hope that makes sense.

Dip it, Dip it Good:

After you cut the stem, dip the cut end in the glass of water and then dip it in the rooting hormone. Dip only the tip of the stem--try not to get it on the leaves. So you end up with this:

Okay, again, not the best pic. The crap on the end of the cutting is the hormone powder. The pen is for scale. I should have/could have removed another set of leaves from this cutting.

Plant the Cutting:

Next, make a hole in the soil with you fingertip, plant the cutting up to its leaves and gently pat down the soil around it.  Here's a portion of my tray, showing sage and thyme cuttings:

Now, here's an important tip. Make lots and lots of cuttings of each plant you plan to propagate. Many more than you actually need because there is a high failure rate. Expect that a good number of them will wither up and die of various causes. I figure my failure rate will be 50%, so I make twice as many as I need.

Cover it in Plastic:

The cuttings are very delicate, so they need a moist, hothouse atmosphere. They must be completely covered in plastic. If your tray comes with a plastic lid, that's great. If you don't have one, put a plastic bag over your pot(s) or tray. It does not have to be clear. A regular plastic grocery bag or a white plastic bin liner is fine. Cut plastic bottles are good for pots, too.

If you're using a bag, contrive a way to keep the plastic up,  so it doesn't lay on the cuttings. Prop it up with sticks or plastic utensils or arcs of wire. Encase the entire pot or tray in the bag, so no air gets in. If they have ventilation, there won't be enough moisture inside.


The cutting part is the easy part. The hard part is waiting, and keeping these babies alive. They must always be moist, but not boggy. The plastic should make keeping them moist easy, but they will need a bit of water now and then. You might find it easiest to water them with a spray bottle, because if you water with any force before they root, you might dislodge them.

Every couple days take the plastic bag off and turn it inside out, so that there's not too much condensation collecting on the underside of the plastic and splattering on the cuttings. It's a delicate balance between nicely moist and too wet.

If you see any fungus or mold--anything suspicious at all-- on one of your cuttings, pull it out. You don't want that spreading.

If the cuttings are outdoors, you also have to protect them from heat and sun. Remember, the plastic could make your tray into a solar oven. We've come home after a day of unexpected heat to find our cuttings steam cooked in their trays. Move them to a shady spot if the weather is expected to be warm and sunny.  They like to be warm, but not too warm. The 65-70ºF zone is perfect.

You know your cuttings are succeeding when they put off new growth. They should be well rooted and ready for transplant in about 4 weeks.
Support Homegrown Evolution by visiting our bookstore.

Living With a Difficult Spouse

Hi everyone!! If you're here reading this, I'm guessing you're a prepper, either a seasoned one or someone who's just starting their journey. How about your spouse? Are they on board with your prepping or do they think that it's a ridiculous waste of time and money? Well, if they think the latter, you are not alone. I personally have a supportive spouse, but I know there are many people who do not. So, if that's the case for you, how do you deal with it?

First, I would suggest that it not become a 'big, hairy deal'. I don't believe that being supportive/unsupportive of prepping is a deal breaker to a marriage. There are so many other more important things about your marriage relationship. I'm not downplaying prepping at all, but I believe there are ways you can accomplish your goals and keep peace in your home, which should be your main goal in life!

In our prepping, having a well-stocked pantry is one of the main goals. The easiest way to accomplish this peacefully is to do the shopping yourself! That's right! I'm not sure how it works in your home, but I do the shopping for our family, so I get to bring home whatever I want. For me, food preps happened slowly a few cans at a time at the grocery store. What if you're the husband and your wife shops, but your wife isn't interested in prepping? Well, mister, you'd better start doing the shopping! (Men, tell her you want to start taking more responsibility around the house. She'll love you for it!!) That's the only way around it! Don't fill out a list full of prep items for your uncooperative spouse to take to the store! It's going to make them angry, they won't buy what you've requested, and then there's a fight and tension (and NO preps in the house!). Not good! Remember we want to keep the peace in our homes! So, if you're the prepper, you do the shopping! Simple!

Does your spouse love cheese doodles? Do you always forget to buy them and then they're angry because they need their fix? Well, stock up on what they love and tell them you don't want them to have to go without. Let them know that you're thinking of them and their comfort. Then say that beef stew in a can is YOUR favorite food and you just don't want to be without it, so you bought a few extras for you, just in case!! ;) I think that if you show them how convenient it is to have lots of their favorite foods on hand, you can show them how convenient it would be to have a few extra things on hand as well.

Okay, so now you, the prepper, are doing the shopping and you're bringing home extra preps. You're happy, but what if your spouse complains? (I know, how could anyone complain about that, but they do!) Well, my first suggestion is to calmly, rationally, patiently, kindly, try to explain to your spouse why you feel the need to prep. (You can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.) If they still aren't convinced that it's important, and they still think you're a dork for thinking it's important, my next suggestion is to hide a few things. No, I'm not advocating keeping secrets from your spouse (although it sounds like it!), but purchasing and 'storing-a-few-items-in-another-location' should be okay! For instance, we have friends who are not on the same page about prepping, so the hubby (the prepper) asked me to buy him some bulk oats and store them at our house. The bucket is in the basement and if/when TSHTF and they come to me for food, I can hand them their buckets o' oats and send them on their way! Obviously, I don't have room to store an entire storehouse of goods for him, but a few items are not problem.

If you're a Christian, I would suggest you pray about this. Pray about your spouse's attitude; pray for understanding, or at the very least, a willingness on their part to 'let it go' and let you prep.

How concerned are you about your spouse's interests? Is that uncooperative spouse reacting negatively to your prepping because you could care less about (or you bash) their interests? Generally speaking, taking an interest in someone causes them to take an interest in you. When you show that their concerns are your concerns, it will sometimes soften them and cause them to be concerned about what concerns you.

There are so many things in marriage that are so much more important than prepping that I would NOT make a bigger issue out of prepping than it is. I know this sounds like I'm saying to downplay it, but I believe that a good relationship in the home is the most important thing to focus on. Focus on the main thing first, and those other 'ducks' will fall in line.

Prep On!
Gen-IL Homesteader

Join the APN Forum at www.AmericanPreppersNetwork.net
Visit the Illinois Forum at www.IllinoisPreppersNetwork.net

Guest Post: The Survival Sewing Kit

Sewing needles that are used in this magic trick.
Julie Eason, of Serious Sewing.com wrote to suggest a guest post on what to include in a well-stocked survival sewing kit.  As some of you may know, I included sewing needles and heavy-duty Dacron thread in the checklist at the back of my book, Bug Out.  I've also mentioned needles and thread as part of the components of an ultra compact, minimal EDC bug out kit.

Knowing how to make simple repairs with a needle and thread is essential to maintain your gear and clothing.  You can progress way beyond that if you take an interest in it and learn to make your own gear, probably better than most of what you can buy.  Among other things, I've made my own buckskin moccasins, archery quivers, hats, rifle slings and cases, water bottle holders, canvas bags and even the sails for my boats, including the one I'm building now.

In the following article, Julie Eason goes into detail about what to include in a minimum survival sewing kit and why.  This is cheap to put together, weighs almost nothing and will take up little space in your bug out bag, so I think it's very good advice:

The Well-Stocked Survival Sewing Kit

Guest Post by Julie Anne Eason of Serious Sewing.com

When most people think of things they need to survive an emergency, a sewing kit isn't usually at the top of the list. But whether you're in a long-term TEOTWAWKI or a short-term natural disaster, things are going to need sewing. Obviously, your clothes need to stay in good repair. But don't forget about other fabric or leather based items as well--tents, sails, shoes, water skins. Some form of rudimentary sewing skill is necessary for a comfortable existence, and you're going to need supplies. Here's what you should have on hand in a survival situation.

Several sizes and styles of needles: Not every needle is suitable for every purpose. Fortunately, needles are cheap and small, so stock up on a package of different sized sharps and ball-points. Sharps are used to sew woven fabrics (the kind that don't stretch) and ball-points are used for knits (stretchy fabrics.)

You'll also want leather needles (called glover's needles.) These have a special point shaped like a triangle. It slices easily through leather (and skin-so be careful!) Speaking of skin, a few suture needles are a good idea, too, in case you need to perform medical stitching.

Curved needles, sail needles and large-eye harness and tapestry needles will also come in handy for all kinds of projects.

Several sizes and types of thread: Now is not the time to buy wimpy thread. Invest in several large spools of thick mercerized cotton thread, called "hand-quilting" thread. Also, you'll want several thicknesses of waxed linen thread for sewing heavy-duty items in canvas or leather. Some silk thread is also advisable for suture sewing.

Sharpening stone: Needles may be difficult to find, so you'll need to take good care of the ones you have. You should have a sharpening stone on hand anyway for honing knives and axes. The same one can be used for keeping needles in good working condition.

Scissors: Yes, you could use a knife to cut thread. But cutting fabric and leather is much easier with a pair of scissors. These can do double duty in the kitchen, too.

An awl: An awl makes a hole without cutting the fibers. This is especially important for repairing broken grommets in canvas or anytime you need to sew leather.

Small containers of beeswax and pine pitch: Run your sewing thread through a cake of beeswax a few times before sewing and your seams will last much longer. The wax conditions the thread and makes it less vulnerable to light damage and abrasion. Also, the wax will spread out a bit and fill your sewing holes, making a more water resistant (not water proof) seam.

Pine pitch is great for sealing a patch on shoes or anyplace a repair won't have to bend. It's flexible when warm, but will crack in cold weather if you bend it. You can make water-bearing bags and cups with pitch-sealed leather as they did in Europe 600 years ago.

Straight pins and small spring clamps: Pins hold your fabric together while you're stitching. But sometimes you need to work on a thick seam. That's when the spring clamps come in handy. Just a couple will do.

1/4 to 1/2 yard pieces of fabric: If you're not on the move, you can stockpile larger quantities of wool, linen, cotton, canvas and leather for making clothing and household items. But for an emergency kit, just roll up a few pieces of canvas and linen. Not only will these serve as patch material, but you can also strain liquids through them and even use them for bandages if necessary.

Small container of strong shoe glue like Barge cement: Your shoes and boots are going to wear out and need patching at some point. Barge cement is designed to hold shoes together without nails or stitching. Have a small tube on hand; it's useful for all kinds of repairs.

If you're not on the move and there's room in your kit you can add things like zippers, buttons, hooks & eyes, grommets and elastic. But usually these items can be recycled from other cast-offs. One pair of worn-out blue jeans can be a gold mine of recycled materials--fabric, buttons, zippers, pockets--just cut 'em up and reuse the parts.

Obviously a heavy-duty sewing machine and serger overlock machine are great to have on hand if you have the room and have electricity. But be prepared and learn some basic hand sewing stitches, too.

As with any survival kit--pack what you need and can carry. You never know when your skills with a needle will come in handy. They could even save a life.

Cold Weather Preparedness

I love Fall and I hope it lasts a while, but the reality is that cold weather is approaching for many people, so let's go over some things we can do to prepare for cold weather.  I originally posted this article last Fall, but I think it's worth repeating!  I've also added a few things.

Make sure your car kits are up to date. If you didn't put together a kit last time we did them week by week, click here to check out the list of what we recommend. Consider adding some extra blankets and towels, especially if you live in colder climates, and definitely if you regularly drive on rural roads. Update your food and water, if necessary. Many people have asked us about water going bad in plastic bottles over time. If you rotate, this won't be as much of an issue, especially in the winter. You should have a kit in every car your family drives.

Keep your cell phones charged. I plug in my cell phone every night, regardless of whether or not I need to. You never know when the power is going to go out and you won't have a chance to charge it. I do have a cell phone charger outlet in my crank powered flashlight/radio in my 72-hour kits, in case I need it (although, that wouldn't help me in the car.. maybe I should move it to my car?). An upgrade: buy some walkie-talkies to share with your neighbors so that you can keep in contact during an emergency, in case the phone lines are down.

Have proper heating backups. Technically, you can safely keep your house at a cool 40
degrees without worrying about health hazards or your pipes freezing. Layer up - blankets, warm clothing, etc. Consider getting some space heaters or other alternative heat sources in case your power goes out. Of course, make sure you know how to operate them properly before you actually need to use them in an emergency. An upgrade: get a generator. Neither Abbie nor I have these, but with some online research I'm sure you could find one that's perfect for your home, if desired.

Know where your flashlights are. Sometimes the most annoying part of losing power is actually trying to find those flashlights, especially if it's completely dark! I hate digging through our 72-hour kits to find our lighting sources. It would be helpful to buy a cheap flashlight to keep somewhere in each room. The key for me will be keeping it in a place where I can easily find it in the dark, but hiding it well enough so that my two-year-old doesn't see it and demand to play with it, thus wearing out the batteries. An upgrade: keeping a wind-up flashlight in each room.  This one on Amazon is on sale, and has great reviews. You can also find them in stores.

Bundle up. When I was growing up, my parents kept a big wooden box full of hats, mittens, and scarves in our mudroom. Every time we left the house during the winter, we were required to put them on (or at least bring them with us). At the time I was pretty embarrassed (high schoolers don't usually wear knit hats with reindeer on them), but I now appreciate the precautions. We drove on a lot of rural roads in New England, and I wasn't driving the most reliable car (a 17 y/o VW Quantum...), so if we had ever broken down on the side of the road, those warm layers would have really come in handy. Actually, they came in handy anyway because I was usually to my destination before the heat started to work! There's no real upgrade for bundling up.

Gas up.  My parents also insisted that we never let our gas run lower than half a tank.  You never know when you will be stranded on the side of the road in a snowstorm, and you may need to keep your car on for warmth (just be sure your exhaust pipe is not blocked!).  Keeping the gas relatively full in your car is a great preparedness method anyway, but especially so in the winter.

For more ideas and tips for storm/power loss preparation, check out a guest post from a few years ago, "What I Wish I'd Known During the 2008 Ice Storm".

What do you do to prepare for cold weather?