Reading Autumn Mast

Autumn mast is nature’s signs of the upcoming winter. Historically, our ancestors used this as a means of knowing how severe the upcoming winter would be.

Nature has a way of taking care of her own. In the mid to late autumn, a walk in the woods or in an area where nut trees grow, was a reliable way of predicting what to expect in the upcoming months. In years when there were few acorns or nuts on the ground, a mild winter usually followed. Likewise, in years where a large amount of acorns or nuts were strewn on the ground beneath the trees, our ancestors knew that a harsh winter was coming. I have tested this theory several times over the years. Each time, the autumn mast proved accurate.

Some years, the squirrels would get to the acorns before I had a chance to see them, but the large amount of acorn tops or “caps” that had come off the acorn were enough to give me a good idea of what to expect. This was especially true in arwas where I had not seen the acorns or their tops on the ground before autumn. I also noticed in years with a large mast that the squirrels were far more active than in other years.

So, what did this mean to our ancestors? They saw it as an indication that they should store up extra firewood and food supplies. They gathered extra hay and feed for their livestock. Instead of selling any surplus, they kept much of it for their own families. They hunted more and smoked the meat to store for winter. If they were able to fish, they would save as much as possible to be dried or stored in barrels of salt. Women of earlier generations would begin making as much cheese as possible from the milk their cows produced. The families knew that once winter came, hunting and fishing would become more scarce and the cows would produce less milk. Women learned to preserve eggs. One simple method that the Amish have used is to dip raw eggs into melted wax. The wax formed a coating over the eggs that helped to prevent spoilage.

Today, people rely upon the weather forecasts on the television or internet to help prepare for winter months. The simple idea of looking at the autumn mast is no longer common. If you have the opportunity, try looking at the mast this year and see how it works in predicting winter. Look at the acorns and nuts on the ground, as well as looking up into the trees to see how heavy of a crop there is.

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The Energizing Storm

I love listening to and watching a storm. Yes, some can appear to be quite violent in nature, but they also produce energy that is unlike any other. It can be absolutely mesmerizing to witness. From the swaying and bending of the trees, to the flashes of lightning and rumbling thunder, the power of a storm is undeniable. In winter, I love to listen to the sounds of wind whistling and sometimes howling through the woods surrounding my home.

There are times when I especially welcome the storms. Life gets messy sometimes. It can be draining. When a storm arrives, I find myself energized by it. In the craft, some learn to utilize the storm’s energy. We visualize the energy of the storm being absorbed into our being.

After a particularly rough time in my life, when I was finally able to safely escape a life of domestic abuse, I found myself drawn to the rain. I walked in a remote desert area where I lived at the time during a rain shower. Finding a large rock, I sat and let the rain pour over me, visualizing the rain washing the negativity of the situation away from me, cleansing me and leaving only the positive energy behind. As the storm intensified and lightning appeared on the horizon, I stretched out my arms and allowed myself to feel the energy of it be absorbed into my being. It left me feeling re-energized and able to focus on the new chapter that my life was entering. One note: I always made sure I was in a safe location during storms. I never put myself at risk, using common sense and not being foolish.

Harnessing or aborbing a storm’s energy can be equally frightening and invigorating. Frightening at first until you learn how to handle it safely, but once you have experience, it is amazing. It is freeing to feel that power remove the negative from you and replace it with something far better.

In days of old, some who practiced witchcraft would use a storm’s energy to enhance their workings. Today, it is rarely spoken of. I wonder if it is becoming a lost practice. It certainly isn’t something taught as much as before. Maybe it is because in many people’s minds, it was only used in the darker arts. That is a completely false belief. Many witches of old simply used a storm’s energy to restore their own energy when they felt their own energy was depleting.

Think of things in your own life that you do to recharge yourself. A walk in nature, a long soak in a bath, maybe another activity that allows you to shed off the emotional weight you have been carrying. It is a similar effect. Storms are simply a way that I use. They are raw power, unrestrained in nature. They can wash over you, removing what is weighing your spirit down. They can fill you with renewed strength. They can leave you with a feeling of empowerment over the “stuff” that life tosses your way.

I love the visualization of rain washing the energy draining baggage of life off of me or the wind blowing negative energies away from me. It is liberating to my spirit. I feel unfettered by life’s less than positive experiences. I picture in my mind the wind filling me with positive energies as it removes the negative.

After years of abuse leaving me to feel weak and powerless, the storm’s energy helped to renew my feeling of empowerment and confidence. It is a tool that helps me when used in this way. It is hard to put into words just how empowered I feel when, during a lightning storm, I visualize myself drawing that energy into my being. Absorbing it within me, making me stronger so that I will never be a victim of abuse again.

I use the storms in recharging my crystals and stones, visualizing the energies filling them. The heat of the lightning, burning away any negative energy left behind from others.

In the craft, a storm was often used to add power to spell work. Much as I visualize the storm’s power flowing into me, a witch used the technique to utilize the storm in their workings. It gave increased power to their workings or would aid in other ways.

Sadly, not many use a storm’s energy anymore. It is becoming a thing of the past. It is “old magic” that is losing its place in the modern ways. Like many of the old ways, it is becoming irrevelant to modern practitioners of the craft. I doubt that I will ever fully understand the modern ways of thinking, when it comes to putting aside the old ways. So much information is being lost from one generation to the next. Modern ways seem to be valued highly over the old ways, which many find to be no longer of use or importance. I wonder if there is any real reason to keep a grimoire of the old ways anymore. Especially in light of how few find the information to be relevant today.

Zero Waste Helps

For me, being aware of the amount of waste is something I pay attention to. It is amazing just how much trash the extra packaging at stores you bring home each trip to the grocery market. Here are some ideas on how you can lessen the problem and lower the amount of household trash ending up in landfills.

First thing that I do is to have with me some upcycled cloth tote bags. I made mine easily by using old (but in good condition) tank tops. I sew a 1/4 inch seam along the bottom hem to close the opening. Turn the shirt inside-out, then sew another hem, 3/8 inch from the bottom edge, to form a french seam. This makes a strong seam for the bottom of the bag. Turn back to the right side. The shoulder straps of the tank top form the tote bag handle.

Next, I have some simple drawstring bags made from an old sheer curtain. The curtain fabric is extremely lightweight. A length of cord or ribbon as a drawstring closes these produce bags very well. The bags can be used for fresh produce or foods from the bulk bins. The sheer curtain fabric can even hold grains, such as rice or quinoa, without it leaking out.

For herbs and spices, I use either smaller bags or recycled jars. If using jars, have a cashier weigh the jars first and write the weight onto the jar. Once you fill the jars with the foods you need, the cashier will deduct the weight of your jar from the total weight of the jar and its contents.

If you are lucky enough to be able to buy liquid items, such as maple syrup or fresh made nut butters, from the bulk foods then you have done very well. I carry old glass food jars or canning jars with me for those items.

When shopping, I try to get as much as possible from the bulk bins. It saves me money as well as helping me to avoid the packaging excess. If I do have to purchase a packaged food, I try to get it in a container that can be recycled or composted whenever I am able. If the food comes in a jar, I repurpose the jar for future food storage containers.

Another way that I limit waste is to buy flour or other baking items on bulk, then bake my own bread or make pasta. I bake 2 days a week, making breads, cookies, or whatever is needed for the week. When baking, I try to do as much as possible to best utilize the heat of the oven. Baked and cooled bread is stored in a cloth bag. Often, I will cook a casserole or a pan of cookies along with the loaf of bread. Cookies are stored in a glass jar.

During the gardening season, I eat/use fresh vegetables from our garden. Surplus vegetables are home canned to stock the pantry. This alone can save us a lot of money each year, but also prevent buying tin cans or bags of frozen vegetables at the market. Utilizing farmers markets can help as well.

It is difficult to be completely zero waste, but using the above ideas can help.

Seed Gathering

As a follow up on a previous post, I wanted to share a free resource that I thought you would enjoy. One of my favorite things to do in the autumn season is to gather seeds from my garden plants to save for the following planting season. Some years, I have a surplus of seeds that I harvest and save. These extras are often gifted to others who would like to try growing the plants for themselves.

After the seeds are fully dried, I begin putting them into handmade seed packets. These paper packets allow the seeds to be well organized and due to the paper, they continue to stay dry. Don’t even ask what happens when seeds that are not fully dried are stored in plastic baggies! Yuck!!!

A great resource for a variety of free printable seed packets can be found here. The link takes you to a website with a list of many different seed packet designs that you can choose from. If you are crafty, you can print the basic template and then hand draw a design on them or a sketch of the plant. Calligraphy writing is also a nice touch, if you are skilled in it. Or, simply google search images of the plants and add the pictures, if you prefer. The packets can be as simple or as artsy as you choose.

When gifting the seeds, I usually make the packets in a simple brown paper with a more rustic design. I stack the packets and tie together in a bundle with jute. Sharing the surplus is a great way to gift others with the ability to grow their own foods and herbs. If you know others who like to garden, you can start a seed sharing group. These groups are a fun way to share seed with others and expand your own garden plant varieties.

Orange Peel Candles

One of my favorite crafts is making orange peel candles. I learned to make them as a child and have made some each year since then. They are beautiful to watch burn at night and give off a wonderful scent.

Materials needed:

Orange, cut in half and fruit scooped out

Cinnamon stick

Whole cloves

Beeswax

Candle wick

Place beeswax pellets or cut pieces into an old glass jar or clean tin can. Put the jar into a small saucepan of water and heat the water to a slow boil to melt the wax. Never try melting the wax on its own! It needs to be done via a double boiler method using the boiling water outside the jar to gently heat it to be safe.

In your orange peel, center your candle wick. I like to wrap the extra length of the wick around a pencil that I lay across the top of the peel to hold the wick in the proper position.

Sprinkle bits of broken cinnamon stick and whole cloves into the peel around the wick. I place the orange peel into an old muffin tin to keep it from tilting to the side.

Once the beeswax has melted, carefully pour the wax into the orange peel. Adjust the wick if necessary and use a knife along the wick to make sure there are no air bubbles. Allow the wax to harden. Once done, unwrap the wick from the pencil and trim to the height needed.

Note: I like to fill my orange peel about 3/4 full of the cinnamon and cloves before adding the beeswax. As the candle burns, you get a wonderful blend of the orange, cinnamon, and cloves scent along with notes of the beeswax scent.

For a pretty table decoration, arrange the orange candle in a shallow dish and fill in the dish around the candle with whole cranberries.

Looking Ahead

Our growing season is beginning it’s final stages. The gardens are now being allowed to go to seed. Such is the way with a self-reliant garden. The last of the harvest is not picked. I let the vegetables produce their seeds and begin the process of drying in the vine. Vegetables, such as green beans and peas, stay on the plants as the seeds within their pods grow large. Soon, the plants will start turning brown as they dry naturally. By the end of September, the pods will be fat with the dried seeds inside, ready to be picked. At that time, I pick the pods and harvest the seeds from them. I store them in a paper bag until spring when I can plant them to grow new plants.

Tomatoes are still used, but I carefully scoop out the seeds to dry on paper towels. In late February, I tear the paper towels with the seeds dried onto them and plant them into small pots to start new plants. By the time the spring weather is right for planting, the little tomato plants will be ready to transplant into the ground.

Early February, I grow sprouts on sweet potatoes. Once a sprout is about 5″- 6″ tall, they are carefully snapped off the sweet potato and placed in a jar of water to grow roots. These little potato “slips” will be planted in spring as soon as the ground is warm enough.

Some plants, such as herbs that grow seed pods, are gathered in sprigs or small bundles. I place them upside down in paper bags to dry. My father taught me this method. By doing so, the seeds will drop off as the seed pods dry and are collected in the bottom of the bag. This method helps me to collect as many seeds as possible for the next growing season.

Looking over my garden area and my journal, I am now beginning to plan out what parts of the garden to expand on next year. Throughout winter, new raised garden beds are built and filled with soil, compost, and mulch. By spring, the gareen beds will have settled and the soil is ready for planting.

I do a version of the “back to Eden” gardening, but utilize the raised beds to contain the soil instead of planting directly on the ground level. Mostly because as I get older, it becomes harder to tend a garden at ground level. I have found though that the raised beds are easier to maintain and the thick layers of mulch help keep the soil at the right level of moisture, even in a climate where temperatures can reach over 100°F in summer.

One of my best assets in my gardening is my journal. I have a layout drawn of the garden beds that shows what was planted in each. Next season, I can rearrange what is planted in each bed to prevent the nutrients in the soil from being depleted. Nutrient depletion can occur when you plant the same thing in a box too many seasons in a row. When that happens, you have to use fertilizers or other ammendments to recondition the soil. Crop rotation allows you to do this naturally, avoiding the use of non-organic materials. Journaling the garden also gives me the opportunity to make notes of what plants did well each season and which ones struggled. I can also track which plants need more space to get the size of harvest we need.

Throughout winter, I nourish the garden beds with things like finely broken up egg shells, coffee grounds, used tea leaves or tea bags that I have torn open, hardwood ash from my wood stoves, and kitchen compost. All these natural materials work well to replenish the soil in preparation for the next season.

My plants that I leave in the garden are trimmed if necessary after the first hard frost. I prune them back so that in spring, new shoots can flourish. They are then mulched heavily for the winter.

Just after first frost, when the daytime temperatures are too cold to stimulate growth, I plant garlic or other bulb-type plants. These bulbs harden off naturally through the winter and begin growing early in spring.

At this point, I am planning to expand my garden by adding four new garden beds. Most of these will be for my herbs. One will be dedicated to growing kitchen herbs, another medicinal herbs, and a third for the herbs that I use most often in incense or workings. The fourth one will be for flowers that I enjoy both to look at and to use later on in teas or other uses.

My plan is to have all the garden beds built and filled by the end of November to allow the soil to prepare for planting. This includes preparing the existing garden beds as well. I will be checking them over for any signs of repair/maintenance needing to be done as well as adding more compost and mulch to each.

In mulching the garden beds, I use a lot of straw. Never use hay or grass clippings as they can contain seeds that you don’t want in your garden bed. Straw contains no seeds, thus is a great choice. Later on, after planting and the seeds begin sprouting, I add a thick layer of cedar shavings aroung the young plants to naturally keep bugs from chewing up the tiny plants. Later, the wood shaving help hold in moisture and help with not having to water the garden so often.

I am still deciding on whether to expand the vegetable garden. I enjoy home canning our harvest to stock our pantry for winter, so I like a large yield from the garden. Especially since we eat from the garden during the growing season as well. My goal each year is to produce at least 75% of the produce the family eats throughout the year. This is much like how our ancesters may have done. They didn’t have a local market to shop at. If they wanted to eat, they had to grow much of their food themselves and store a large portion of the harvest up for the cold months.

One thing I am considering this year is the possibility of growing enough of the herbs to be able to sell some of them once they are harvested and dried. I certainly plan to begin selling extra seeds that I have from the plants once they are ready. So many of the plants are often hard to find in seeds for those wanting to grow their own. Maybe this can be a benefit to others. It all depends on how much seed and surplus dried herbs I am able to harvest.

Respecting Nature

It is well known that those following the craft use various plants, tree resins, roots, etc, in their workings. Vegetation is a common resource. Each plant fits into at least two of three categories: culinary use, medicinal use, or magical. Many are also used simply to have a favorite aromatic incense blend. Others have uses in keeping insects away from our flowers and vegetable gardens. In any regard, they have a purpose and are beneficial. In gleaning from a plant, it is important to understand what exactly you need to harvest. Do you need leaves, roots, or the seeds/nuts.

When I harvest clippings from a plant, I try to be very mindful of how much I take. Some plants can become compromised if you harvest more than is needed from a single plant. I look for plants that are in a grouping or have other similar plants nearby. This allows me to take only a little from each one, thus preserving the plant for future gleaning.

Ideally, once you have harvested from a plant, anyone who comes upon the plant after you should not be able to tell that you were there. This is giving respect to others, but more importantly, it is being respectful of the plant. What benefit is it to take so much of the plant that it is at risk of dying? Not only is the plant affected, but you throw the balance of nature off kilter. Ever plant provides for the animals and life around them, either as shelter or a food source. Beyond that, if the plants die, then you (and others) lose the opportunity to glean from it again in the future.

As often as possible, I try to time my harvest of roots for autumn when annuals are drying up. If it is a home grown plant, I harvest the roots when I clean out the garden beds in preparation for winter. This allows me to have plenty of chances to glean the leaves throughout the growing season.

Plants that I need to harvest seeds from, I wait until the seed head is fully formed. I cut off the stem a few inches below the seed head. These stems are tied together in bundles. Each bundle is placed upside down into a small paper or muslin bag. I tie the bag closed and hang it up to allow the seed head to fully dry out. As the seeds start falling off the seed head, they are caught in the bag. Some of the seeds are used in working, while others are saved to use for planting in spring.

It is vital to have a certain level of respect for nature. Treat your resources as treasures. The plants were made for our youth and many others. If in your walks or garden harvest, you see that gleaning could harm the plant, walk away. Either purchase the plant items or learn to use an alternate one instead. Don’t glean from the plant until you are certain it will cause no harm.