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FREE: Pine Needles aka Pine Straw for Mulch




We have some really tall beautiful pine trees in our yard. They provide more than shade or a place for birds and squirrels to nest. They provide some significant pine needles as well as some annoying pine cones.
We Southerners are used to pine trees, they are known to grow everywhere and harvested by many for its pine needles or “pine straw” advantages. “Pine trees are probably the most important timber in the world. Used for more than shade, also number one timber source, paper mill source and resin for paint.” – Locke
Pine straw is economically and ecologically beneficial to many horticulturists and landscapers. Though there are many opinions on the best mulch for gardens, pine straw has a lot of advantages and scientific research to prove its a very good choice. Pine straw is “cost-effective and long-lasting mulch that is spread easily and never compacts. Landscapers love its ability to conserve moisture, buffer ground plantings from extreme temperatures, and that it does not harbor fungus or termites.”-Laura Douglass, Staff Writer for The Pilot Newspaper, located in NC, where the Longleaf Pine Tree is the state tree.
Others have the opinion that pine straw is good for flower beds but not garden beds. The three things most worrisome in a garden bed is weeds, disease and bugs. The opinion of one former farmer is pine straw has no nutritional value to garden beds like cedar mulch or wood chips that deter bugs. Pine straw can have ticks and red bugs on them. This farmer also makes a good point that no animals eat pine straw. The only edible thing on a pine tree is a young green pinecone that a squirrel eats the center of. So this is his point of view and experience.
On the other hand though pine straw retards the evaporation of moisture and blocks sun from drawing moisture out and is great insulation. Pine straw also rots slower compared to other mulch so you don’t have to turn it as often. Though most have to hoe garden beds regularly, using pine straw does prevent weeds from getting through, making less work for the farmer. “When applied correctly, pine straw prevents evaporation of water from the soil, reduces the growth of weeds, and helps to prevent soil compaction and erosion. Pine straw also protects plants from freezing conditions, helping keep the soil around the plants at a stable temperature. This is important for newer plants and those with shallow root systems. Plus, pine straw will improve the soil structure as it decays.” –Lowes Home Improvement

So overall pine needles, also called pine straw, is a great choice for mulch in flower beds or vegetable gardens. It is lighter to carry than wood mulch and much less expensive as little as one dollar a bale. It is also very resourceful or free for those with too many pine trees which produce too much pine straw that needs to be repurposed. “Pine needles and pine bark should be watched closely in vegetable gardens as they can raise the acidic levels of the soil.” All a part of a sustainable world we seek to have.

Locke, Don C. Contemporary Education; Terre Haute, Ind. Vol. 59, Iss. 3, (Spring 1988): 130.
The Pilot Newspaper, Moore County, NC
Farmer James

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Bees contribute more than honey, Honey by Chealee and Heather

Do you keep bees for a hobby or personal business? I bet your looking to make the most you can from your friendly flyers. You use honey as just honey or in your teas etc. But how do you use the beeswax?
“Beeswax is harvested from hives during peak harvesting season. Honey bees produce beeswax from special glands on their abdomens that produce wax droplets that hardens into flakes when exposed to air. The worker bees take these flakes in their mouths to soften them into a workable material that attaches to the honeycomb.”
Did you know that there are hundreds of ways to use beeswax? Have a sticky door or drawer? Lightly coating the door jam or along the drawers and it will open and close like a dream. It even can be made into a furniture polish. Love Chapstick but need or want a more natural product? Bert’s Bees, a common name among natural beauty products use beeswax to naturally soften and protect your lips. Want soft silky frizz free hair? Use beeswax on your hair or make a shampoo and conditioner with it! As an anti-inflammatory skin balm, it is medicinally known to help patients with skin conditions such as rosacea, psoriasis and eczema. Wondering how to do-it-yourself? Here’s two simple combinations to try at home:

  1. Lip Balm – 1 TBSP Beeswax, 2 TBSP Coconut Oil, 2 Capsules Vitamin E
  2. Hand Lotion – 1 Part Beeswax, 4 Part Olive Oil (add a little Coconut oil)

Never use the microwave to melt the wax. Use a double boiler, uncovered, strain if necessary. Using the wax as soon as possible after harvesting will prevent larvae from forming. If it does, definitely either filter or use the clean side of the wax.

A lot of people use it in cooking as well to help seal in flavors in candies or even as a nonstick aid when frying. A very interesting way you can use it is to seal your letters! Have a fancy letter to send for a formal event? Instead of licking the envelope you can lightly coat in beeswax and it will seal and then to top it off you can mold a circle or square of it then add an imprint in it and stick in the envelope for even more of a seal! Also, people love to burn candles for their nice smell but the smoke and aromas from them can be toxic from all the chemicals. Well beeswax makes a nice sweet smelling toxic free candle. Your friendly little flyers’ wax or “poop”  as one author called it can be useful in so many ways naturally.  “It can take as much as 10 pounds of honey to produce one pound of beeswax.”  Without bees we wouldn’t have all the wonderful oxygen from the plants and trees and all the tasty honey and natural products from their wax. So if you are beekeeping don’t ax the wax! If you’re not a beekeeper, you can expect to pay between $7 up to $15 a pound of natural beeswax depending on the purity. Bees are a huge part of our ecosystem and economy!


Health Benefits of Honey and Beeswax

Health Benefits of Honey and Beeswax

Beeswax Recipes


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Exercises of the Ages (a Collaboration with fellow interns Jennie Menominee & Chealee O’Neill)

Exercise. Something people of all ages should do daily. We all have different capabilities
and there’s so many things one person may be able to do, but another cannot. So many people can have health problems that make exercise hard. We never know another person’s story or the complications they deal with. What works for one person may not work for the next. We hope to help with some easy exercises and even some stretches that you could do daily to get in that exercise with some personal insight with our range of ages and health problems we deal with on an everyday basis. Exercise is so important for living a healthy lifestyle, however we all know it can be such a pain and motivation can be so hard to find at times. Exercising can help improve mood and stress, even though we all know stressful and problematic it can be. What are some of your favorite ways to exercise and some of your favorite stretches to do? Below, we have three personal stories and experiences with exercise and what works best for us all being different ages.

What? Between work, culinary school, wifery, cooking and eating, sleeping, we have to
find time to exercise? Life is busy, life is hard. So many expectations physically, spiritually, emotionally, financially and educationally, not to mention sexually. Sometimes life has gotten so hectic I’ve even referred to it as sexercise, combining the two. Haha! As this site has a lot of insightful information on health, sustainability, healthy eating, recipes, nature, it seems “fitting” to have an article on staying fit, pun intended. There are many websites, DVD’s, tv shows, gyms, personal trainers and even educational experts that have their own ways and opinions on how, when and how much to exercise to include a daily workout.
Coming from someone with bilateral bursitis, plantar fasciitis, and even a little fluffy, I have none of the above. So I will make this personal on my take of exercise and how I do what I can to fit it into my daily routine. Because of these conditions as well as a full time State Department job, I had to make a decision to do a remote externship rather that an internship at a professional kitchen. Several of my colleagues as well have some physical disabilities that keep them from being able to stand 25 hours or more in a professional restaurant kitchen. As I entered culinary school, I was also working in the pharmacy, on my feet at least 35 hours a week. I was in a small space but a lot of back and forth on concrete floors finally got to my feet. So I used the FMLA and short term disability benefits from my job and got some medical help and physical therapy. I
still use some of these exercises to this day as well as sometimes the expensive shoes and insoles that cost us a fortune. Some of these exercises and stretches include use of pulling my feet towards me with a belt or some restraint while sitting flat on the floor. The use of an iced water bottle rolling back and forth from the ball of my foot to the heel of my foot is another good way of relieving inflammation. Although walking is the number one exercise recommended for anyone at any age, actually because of my condition, the use of a stationary bicycle was highly recommended. I have one on the back screened-in porch. It’s nice to come home and spend time on it unwinding while I watch the sunset go down as that part of the house faces west. One important thing at work that I am very conscientious of is posture. Because I sit at a desk full time, I take my posture from my shoulders, hands on the keyboard all the way down to my feet very seriously. Sometimes I’ll find myself getting slack and once I straighten up again, I actually feel better. However even though I’m not always in my expensive orthopedic shoes, but
rather the most comfortable dress work shoes I can get away with, I do take my government mandated 15 minute breaks twice a day and one hour lunch to walk either around the big office we have if it’s too hot outside or walk around outside to get some fresh air. A few stretches, a little exercise, fresh air, healthy lunch and back to work. Exercise is not just about staying or getting fit physically, it is actually great mentally, emotionally, and even spiritually. Recommended for stress, anxiety, hormone therapy, and more, there are all kinds of exercises that work for all ages and conditions.

Ah, the joys of exercise and fitting it into the daily routine. Juggling school, work, mom
life, being newly married, and being a new home owner on top of getting the proper exercise in has been difficult. Honestly, walking is my absolute favorite way to get my exercise in; I will walk to and from work on top of being on my feet all day at my job and I love it all; walking so much helps with my anxiety. Swimming is also another favorite of mine, however the Great Lakes are cold and I don’t always feel like paying to get into one of the pools. This summer, though, I can’t do my usual. I’m in my last three months of my pregnancy with some horrid sciatica and SI joint pain going on, which at least I can still get around and am not on bed rest like I was with my first at this time in that pregnancy, but I still am so frustrated that I cannot do everything that is the
norm for me. I feel pretty useless and lazy being so immobile. I’m only 24 years old and can’t even make it up the stairs to my bedroom without my husbands help. Typically, my job requires you to be up walking and standing with very little sitting, only allowed to sit if there is no one in the store, but even then walk the store and find things to put away or stock shirts, fix the moccasins. But, now, I have to sit so often and am so limited with walking that it’s ridiculous; I totally hate restrictions. I have until the beginning of October with these limitations. Before, I’d always “get my 10,000 steps in recommended by Fitbit“; I love my Fitbit by the way, well not so much currently. Now, it’s such a challenge to get them all in. I’m in physical therapy to learn stretches and do some things that will hopefully help this pain and make walking more bearable. I’m beyond thankful for the stretches because they do give some brief relief which is better than none at all. To warm up, they have me on a stationary bike when I first come in, which I have something similar at home. workout I try to use that for at least 10 minutes on the days I don’t have therapy and do it there. Have you heard of nerve glides? No? Well, a nerve glide is a stretch that is supposed to help try to move the nerve from where it is being pinched. What I love about this stretch is it is so easy to do anywhere to try to relieve that pain. All you need to do is, if sitting, tilt your head straight forward and point your toes towards the ceiling. Then point your toes and as you’re pointing your toes tilt your head down, so do this in unison. If you’re standing, it’s the same just need to lift your toes off the ground grounding yourself with your heels and hold onto something to do the stretch. I do this 30 times. Another stretch that I do and am really fond of includes an exercise ball. You start with sitting with your legs apart as far as you’d like. Then, you roll the ball out in front of you, between your legs and go as far as you can tolerate, hold for 20 seconds and then slowly roll the ball back towards you and repeat 5 times. Next, you do this off to each side, having the ball right in front of your foot, hold again 20 seconds and do 5 times on each side. Light yoga and meditation are some great things I enjoy doing as well. Breathing exercises are very important to me especially in my current state of not being able to walk wherever and whenever I want to help calm my anxiety. I use YouTube and Pinterest to find yoga poses and use the relax app on my Fitbit to work on guided breathing. Being in my current physical condition, I can feel how not being able to do what I’m used to doing affects my mental health. This feeling isn’t pleasant at all and I am so looking forward to being able to get back to being myself. I enjoy my stretches and all, but I want to walk without pain and I want to go have fun with my kids without needing to sit. I want to go walk Lake Huron and find beach glass, walk through the town and go through all the tourist shops. We have long winters here, so it’s not going to be until next summer that I’ll really be able to do things I enjoy.
However, I’m trying to make the best of what I’ve been dealt, but October can’t come soon enough, not just to meet this little bundle of joy, but to also get back to me and my exercise I enjoy. Maybe I’ll even take advantage of the specials our only gym in town has and go there or sign up for an actual yoga class!

Don’t have time for the gym or think the gym is too expensive? No worries you will find that a lot of people share the same opinion. So, they workout at home on their own schedule. I work, go to school, and raise three kids that are not in school. Trying to take a day to go to the gym is impossible and I don’t have it budgeted in. So, I find ways to workout at home either with my kids or while they nap. My favorite moves are Planks, Crunches, Torso Twists, going for a jog in the evening or early morning. I take 45 minutes every day to do these workouts, however I can’t stress enough to make sure you stretch before starting the workouts. Not stretching can lead to a lot of sore muscles and you could pull a muscle. Also drink plenty of water. When you start your workout remember don’t push your self too hard because that can lead to exhaustion, muscle tears, and sore muscles as well. I will describe these workouts below. Be safe and have fun!
Plank: Place forearms on the ground, keep your arms parallel with your body. Shoulder width apart. Keep your back straight and lift your legs and the core area upwards with your toes on the ground and hold it for as long as your comfortable and try to add 5 seconds to your time each time you do it.
Crunches: Lay on the ground knees up and feet flat. Arms crossed your chest. Bring your
elbows to your knees and repeat. Try in intervals of 10 at first then add 5 more as the exercise becomes easier for you to do.
Torso Twists: Stand with feet hip width apart and arms at your sides. Twist just your torso to the left while touching your right leg with your left hand and then twist your torso to the right while touching your left leg with your right hand.
Jog: Put on your favorite breathable but not loose clothing and good running shoes and start out at a slow space and work up to a faster one but remember your jogging not running.

As we are all studying culinary arts and becoming Chefs, we know the challenges of juggling many responsibilities each day as a Chef does. Making workouts part of a daily routine is very important to even the Chef. He has to take care of his staff, his dishes, his restaurant, his customers and yes even Herself! juggler-chef-play-some-ingredients-kitchen-tools-47488515

References:                                                                                                                (exercise photo courtesy of Jennie Menominee)


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The Herb that Often Gets Mowed Over – But a Summertime Remedy!

What if there was an herb that was free, found almost in every driveway or pathway, was great for summertime bites, stings, burns, and even had some internal benefits? Would you mow over it? No, you’d say tell you more.
Commonly mistaken for a weed, this green foliage called Broadleaf Plantain, or Plantago Major if you want to get technical, is actually an herb that is beneficial both topically and internally. It grows close to the ground with broad green leaves, thus the name. If left alone, it does grow sprigs or sprouts or spikes and the tiny flowers are what is blown to pollinate more. As with any foraging, you never want to take the entire plant as this can mess up the ecosystem, and cause extinction.
This herb growing in the yard is sometimes referred to as the band-aid plant, because the leaves can be mixed with saliva or water to create a poultice for quick relief to an insect bite, sting, or burn. It also has “coagulating properties” to stop minor bleeding.
Its origins date back to the Anglo-Saxons (450 A.D. to 1066 A.D.) and they listed plantain as one of their 9 sacred herbs and considered it to have great healing power. Native Americans embraced this when brought over by Europe.
Found all over America and even into Canada, broadleaf plantain is a perennial plant and blooms mostly late spring to early fall, about the same season as mowing season ironically. More research found internal remedies such as making teas with it or eating it in a salad. These benefits can range from anti-inflammatory, coughs, constipation, diarrhea, and yeast infections.
Why are people so interested in alternative healthy lifestyles all of a sudden and looking for cures “outside the box” so to speak? Food costs are rising, medical insurance and medicine in general are all over the board in price. Also free, wild food is readily abundant and adds nutrition to your diet. People all over the world are taking part of the farm to table movement. It is helping with the human race sustainability of our world.
Getting back to the ingestion of this herb, whether in a tea or a salad, the words of my childhood friends come back to mind. God made dirt, so dirt don’t hurt. Well as an adult now, I say clean everything. One big warning of this herb is where you are foraging it from. Clear of any pesticides or insecticides you should be fine. I picked the leaves tenderly, cleaned them gently, then blanched them quickly in hot boiling water and then into an ice bath. Once dried, tossed them in my summer salad, which provided an Unami, toothsome, leafy, lettuce-like taste, rather bland actually. It did add a really bright green hue that added color to the salad mixed with rather colorless iceberg lettuce.


There are over 200 species of plantains and not referring to the banana looking plantain. The one shown in the picture is the one described and referenced in this article. It adapts well to most sites, well-drained soil, meadows, along pathways or driveways, and very low mowing heights. But if you do feel the need to control the growth here are some healthy ways to do so according to our Auguste Escoffier Research Center quoting Gale:
* This species typically requires repeat applications of triclopyr or two-or three-way mixtures of 2,4-D containing products.
* Helpful turf management practices include conducting soil aeration, avoiding overwatering, and using the proper mower cutting height for each turf species.
* Once under control, dense stands of turf and ornamentals will shade the soil surface–making establishment of new plantain seedlings more difficult.
In layman’s terms, this herb needs a lot of sunlight, will grow wildly large and can become a nuisance to a well-manicured summer yard. Other sources suggest digging the plants up because again, being perennials, they will come back.



Source Citations:
“Broadleaf plantain: plantago major.” Landscape Management, July 2010, p. 26. Gale OneFile: Vocations and Careers, Accessed 28 July 2019.

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Heavenly Tea Leaves: The Top Five Healthiest and Tastiest Tea Leaves

We Southerners love our sweet tea, whether it’s Luzianne, Lipton or even Tetley, we are accustomed to black tea leaves bagged, steeped or brewed, blended with sugar and served iced or refrigerated.

Tea is not just for Southerners, tea is famous around the world and in so many other forms, fashion and flavors, hot and cold. As a culinary student, when we studied International foods, I was impressed with the varieties and customs of tea in Istanbul, Turkey. Photo above courtesy of  Flying Polack  It was also interesting they served it in a curved glass to test temperature before drinking.

For  today, for Melinda’s Heaven, we will focus on the Top Five Healthiest and Tastiest Tea Leaves. Researching the health benefits of tea consumption in general were outstanding. “Tea is a pleasant, popular, socially accepted, economical, and safe drink that is enjoyed every day by hundreds of millions of people across all continents. Tea also provides a dietary source of biologically active compounds that help prevent a wide variety of diseases. It is the richest source of a class of antioxidants called flavonoids and contains many other beneficial compounds such as vitamins and fluoride. A growing body of evidence suggests that moderate consumption of tea may protect against several forms of cancer, cardiovascular diseases, the formation of kidney stones, bacterial infections, and dental cavities.” Health Benefits

As appropriate, I asked friends and family what their favorite flavor of teas were. I got answers ranging from flowering jasmine, peach tea, several votes for green tea, cinnamon tea and my favorite raspberry tea.

One friend did know that drinking green tea on a regular basis was helpful for her thyroid. What these friends didn’t know that all teas start with a base of the top five tastiest tea leaves then the flavors are added. The top five include Green Tea, White Tea, Black Tea, Rooibos Tea (red) and Herbal Teas. It’s real interesting how much I learned when I visited our local Tea Room for High Tea with my sister. The tea plant starts with the root, which is where the black tea base comes from; the white tea leaves, which is more delicate and towards the tips of the leaves; and the green tea leaves which is everything in the middle. Rooibos tea is a naturally caffeine-free as well as the herbal tea. After the base, the sky is the limit when it comes to flavors. My sister and I were welcomed with a refreshing glass of Strawberry Basil Green Iced Tea. We then chose the Wild Blueberry Black Tea, the Black Raspberry Green Tea and the Cucumber Mint White Tea, all served hot. We were instructed adding sugar cubes was fine but definitely not to add cream to the hot green tea because it would curdle. So of course after this upscale educational experience, I had to go home and do some experimenting of my own.

Our host, Carol, at Laura’s Tea Room in Ridgeway, SC was very helpful in education and advice and contributed some fresh green tea leaves to my project.
I chose to make two iced teas, both using fresh frozen raspberries. One I used the green tea leaves and the other I used the black tea leaf bags. Hands down, my guests for Sunday dinner, loved the Raspberry Green Tea best. Another thing I learned was the steeping times for the different tea bases.

Experts, scientists, doctors, International cultures and friends may all disagree with their choice of flavors but all definitely agree the health benefits of a moderate consumption of tea is beneficial for a variety of health concerns.

More reading recommended at Medical News Today
Also recommended reading is Nutrition Reviews, Volume 58, Issue 1, [January 2000], Siro Trevisanato, Ph.D.

Tea Slide Show by Heather



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