You Are At The Archives for 2011

Thursday, September 1, 2011 in , , , , ,

Consult the Herbal Chemist - Teenage Acne Rescue au Natural

Dear Julie,

"For the past year I have been struggling with acne and it has heavily brought down my self confidence. My brother is always teasing me about my acne and makes fun of me for it and it really brings me down. I have tried using drugstore products for my acne and they either have broken me out more, irritated my skin or didn't work at all. I have tried Clean and Clear, Neutrogena, Clearasil, OXY, Boire, Garnier, and a few others which have all wasted my money... School is starting in a few weeks and I want to have clear skin and not have to stress about my skin all the time! School is enough stress already! Thank you for taking the time to read this,

I have been getting many, many emails like this recently from teens stressed out and frustrated by their acne. It really tugs at my heartstrings. I know how hard it is to go through such an important time with skin problems. There's a lot that you can do, and many of your options are herbal and natural, which you won't hear about in ads or from your dermatologist. They are also some of the most effective ways to deal with acne.

Part of the frustration so many teens experience comes from lack of information about remedies that might be available other than mass market drugstore products. Despite the fact that these brands are the most heavily marketed for acne problems, affordable, and the most widely available products they are absolutely NOT what I would recommend that you turn to. In fact if that is what you have been using, please stop. Using something like this is irritating and disrupting your skin's ability to balance itself. Balance is what you are ultimately seeking.

Benzoyl Peroxide is ultimately one of the worst things to use on a pimple. Just do a quick search for Benzoyl Peroxide side effects and you get:
"Dryness; feeling of warmth; irritation; itching; mild peeling, redness, or swelling of the skin." These side effects are very, very common. Ever notice how a pimple gets really dry and the skin peels at the end? This is part of the process when using a Benzoyl Peroxide treatment. By applying it you've further irritated a section of skin that was already in dire straits to begin with. This is just plain wrong.

Acne is a bacterial problem but it is also an inflammation problem. Your skin's natural defenses had to be disrupted and compromised in order for a breakout to ever happen in the first place. What I recommend is a regimen that will restore your skin's ability to protect and heal itself.

- What are the Exterior Triggers for Acne?

1. Blocked pores (from dead skin cells, sebum, makeup)

2. Improper/Basic skin PH (allows acne bacteria to flourish)

3. Too much sebum (feeds acne bacteria)

- What are the Interior Triggers for Acne?

1. Increased androgens (sexual hormones that go way up at puberty)

2. Stress (causes less circulation to the skin and hormone imbalance)

3. Poor diet
Without attention to BOTH of these components your likelihood of success is much lower.

- How to deal with your Acne problem naturally!

1. Eat amazingly healthy, fresh, organic foods.

2. Get adequate sleep and relaxation.

3. Use a gentle, natural cleansing routine daily to exfoliate, balance sebum, kill bacteria, and maintain proper PH.

4. Moisturize and spot treat with something soothing and anti-inflammatory - not drying!!

Surprised to see eating healthy at the top of my list? Eating healthy foods is the best way to get your body to overall health, and that includes skin imbalances. Eating healthy is one of the most mysterious and elusive things in the SAD - or Standard American Diet as it is widely now known.

Being a teen and trying to make the choice to eat organic can be a challenging task. If your experience is like mine was then you are expected to eat with the family generally, which can mean a lack of choice in some situations. School food is generally no picnic either. Most cafeteria attempts at healthy food are a dismal failure for taste, freshness, vitamin content and freedom from additives.
You CAN take control of your food, though! I went vegetarian at the age of 15, and have continued to improve my food habits over my life.

Your effort and desire to be healthy is worth a conversation with your parents. I know talking to parents can be difficult, embarrassing, and it seems like they don't understand. (Been there!) If you ask for a moment of their time to very frankly discuss your concerns about your health and how your skin is really stressing you out I think they'll respond. Ask for their help. Parents actually LOVE it when their kids want their help.

If your parents are not into eating really clean, fresh, organic foods then I'd suggest buying a recipe book or diet book that has information on vegan, raw, or vegetarian eating styles and suggesting trying some of the recipes as a family project.

My mom and I purchased the Horn of the Moon Cookbook when I went vegetarian. My mom was feeling like she couldn't cook for me anymore, which was a problem as she really liked to nurture through food. Getting a veggie alternative cookbook was a good way to help re-establish the family bonds that happen over food. We could experiment and learn together! 18 years later it is still one of my favorite veggie cookbooks and has a place of honor on my recipe shelf. It offers good replacements for many traditional American dishes. It is not a cookbook for gluten-free, raw, or vegan foods, however, so if you are seeking those options you'll need a different book. Thankfully these days there are lots more options out there.

Someplace you can turn online for help and advice with going Vegetarian, Vegan, and organic is The Vegetarian Resource Group. Check out their site for lots of nutrition information, recipes, and even a full page devoted to teen vegetarian nutrition.
Try to eat as many vegetables as possible and cut out most, if not all meat from your diet. Conventional meats are laden with growth hormones, which aren't going to do your androgen levels any favors. Some sources will also recommend that you cut out milk and milk products completely because dairy is essentially a hormonal food, designed to grow babies quickly. I simply recommend you do what you can. Trying to do something too extreme too quickly isn't sustainable, so make small steps that you know you can keep up with. Cutting out or reducing meat is a huge first step for most people. Just do what you can.

The more veggies and fruits you eat. the better. The more raw, unprocessed foods you eat, the better. Stay away from prepackaged foods as much as possible. Food additives can be responsible for a whole host of inflammatory responses including
acne, ADD, even rashes. The more fresh, organic, unprocessed plants you can eat the more your skin is going to glow. By eating fresh fruits and vegetables you are not only eliminating harmful additives but dramatically boosting your vitamin and nutrient intake.

Challenge yourself! See if you can do better than 5 fruits and veggies a day by making fresh produce the center of every meal and snack. Achieving that goal can be as simple as eating an apple instead of a pudding cup, or some carrots instead of crackers.

And, repeat after me: Organic, organic, organic.

Organic produce has been now scientifically PROVEN to be higher in nutrient content than their conventionally grown counterparts. You can see that study, published in 9/2010 for the proof.

There are even MORE studies posted on the Organic Trade Association page.

The more produce you eat, the more pesticides you stand to ingest if you are not eating organic. I know the cost can seem high, but when you consider the amount of money that it costs to fix all the problems that poor diet can cause eating well starts to look like a great value overall.

For information from my blog on dealing with acne and how stress causes it check out my previous post, In-depth about stress and skin problems. There's lots of relaxation tips that should help you with your school routine, social stress, and yes, even brothers.

For some great further reading on how food can affect your acne check out these posts on other sites:

Crazy Sexy Wellness: Do Milk and Sugar Cause Acne?

Epic Beauty Guide: 3 "Secrets" to Clear Skin (No More Acne!)

I have also found a lot of helpful info on discussion threads in the forums. You can view threads for information even if you don't join.

I'll cover topical treatments in my next post. For now, get out and get yourself some healthy foods. If you want, comment and tell me a fresh food you are going to add to your diet, your new healthy, portable school snack, or a recipe you are trying. I love to hear from you! 


Wednesday, August 3, 2011 in , , , , , ,

Restore Oil Serum - New addition to Blissoma SOLUTIONS skincare

Nothing excites me more as a formulator than launching a new recipe. Like a chef I love to tinker, to test, and to explore the smell and feel of ingredients. 

Our latest addition to the Blissoma SOLUTIONS skincare range is our new
Restore Deep Moisture Oil Serum. It rounds out our facial skincare range and offers a great, 100% Vegan moisturizing option as well as a one-two punch to take on extreme dryness, aging skin, hormonal fluctuations, and any irritations. Like many of our products this serum offers intensive benefits while still remaining ideal for all skin types. How do we do it? With a deftly balanced blend of super nutritional seed oils the likes of which you'd normally find in the finest internal supplements. Essential fatty acids? Check! Antioxidants? Check! Natural vitamins and minerals? Check! Skin conditioning, emollient lipids? Check! Will your skin glow like crazy from using it? CHECK! :)

See the full description on our website.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011 in , , , ,

Skincare Questions Answered - Consult the Herbal Chemist at Blissoma! The difference between essential oils and "fragrance" in your skincare.

As the chemist and founder for Blissoma I often consult with customers to help them find the right products from our line for their skin. I also am frequently asked about our ingredients, one of which being the scents in our products. There is a lot of concern out there about scent in personal care, and rightly so. This article should illuminate some key differences between Blissoma scents and many other scented personal care products.
Almost all of our Blissoma skincare line currently includes some scent in each recipe. Many personal care products available on the market do contain a scent. In fact, visit any average drugstore and you'll have a truly difficult time finding a shampoo, conditioner, lotion or cream that doesn't have aroma. For most of these products the purpose of the scent is to perfume the user, eliminate negative odors, and create an encompassing product experience. Many times customers purchase a particular product partly because they have formed a positive association with how it smells when applied.

For most products the aroma is like a decoration - perhaps pretty, but without function beyond aesthetics. You will see it in the ingredients lis
t as "fragrance" and generally it is a trade secret ingredient. Manufacturers are not required by the FDA to disclose ingredients in their scents, meaning that up to hundreds of individual scent ingredients may be contained under that simple fragrance wording. Regulation is very loose and so truthfully you have no idea what may be in your fragranced bodycare. Some ingredients may include pthalates which have become a focus of great scrutiny as they have been found to disrupt endocrine function in the body, which is a technical way of saying that they interfere with your normal hormone functions. The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics has a page of information on fragrance in personal care that is useful to review.

I began my career in herbals working with essential oils and aromatherapy, so I do have an affinity for sce
nt. However, I work with a very strict palette of 100% botanically sourced essential oils.

There is a great difference between an artificial, lab-produced fragrance ingredient and an essential oil that is coming directly from a plant. One of the key differences is that an essential oil has inherent medicinal action on the body whe
reas a fragrance compound is at best inert and if you fall into the purist camp it is seen as a source of toxin load for your body as it is bringing you in contact with potentially irritating and unknown ingredients that may aggravate allergies and build up in the body over time.

The essential oils in our products are indeed part of the
total wholistic action of Blissoma products. They provide actions that detox, clear pores, soothe, and cleanse. So the inclusion of them goes far beyond an aesthetic experience and works with the total herbal effect of each product.

You may also notice that we disclose all of the individual essential oils used in each formula. This is so you can identify any ingredients to which you may be sensitive and make educated decisions about which of our products will be right for your skin.
As an example look at our Peace Evening Facial Créme

The ingredients list consists of:

Infusion of Rhodymenia palmata* (dulse seaweed), Porphyra umbilicalis* (nori seaweed), Plantago major* (plantain), Taraxacum officinale* (dandelion), Lavendula angustifolia*, Water, Butyrospermum parkii (shea) Butter*, Glyceryl Stearate and Cetearyl Alcohol and Sodium Stearoyl Lactylate, Cucurbita pepo (pumpkin) Seed Oil*, Cocos nucifera (coconut) Oil*, Extracts of Symphytum officinale* (comfrey) and Ginkgo Biloba*, Soy Lecithin*, Cannabis sativa (hemp) Seed Oil*, Retinyl Palmitate/Carrot Polypeptides, Ascorbic Acid/Citrus Polypeptides, Tocopherol/Wheat Polypeptides, Euterpe oleracea (acai) Oil, Essential Oils of Lavandula angustifolia, Cymbopogon martinii (palmarosa), Canarium luzonicum (elemi), Boswellia carterii (frankincense), Vetiveria zizandoides (vetiver), and Achillea millefolia* (blue yarrow), Matricaria chamomilla (german chamomile) CO2 Extract, Xanthan Gum, Rosemary Oleoresin Extract, Chlorophyllin, Grain Alcohol*, Glucose, Glucose Oxidase and Lactoperoxidase, linalool**, geraniol**, limonene**

*from Certified Organic Agriculture

**natural components of essential oils

Each essential oil is declared so you know exactly what you are using. The oils in this formula contribute directly towards the calming effect of the product. German Chamomile and Blue Yarrow are filled with Chamazulene and Matricin which are potent anti-inflammatory constituents. The product has a deep, honey-like smell which is a great deal due to the German Chamomile.

As long as none of these plants is an allergen for you then you should be able to use this product without trouble. Even people who normally have a sensitivity to "fragranced" skincare generally do well with our products. Only if you are sensitive to a specific herb or essential oil should any of our products be proactively avoided due to scent ingredients.

There are individuals who react to even essential oils. For you we hope to create a collection of products someday that will specifically exclude all aromatic/essential oil ingredients.

Do you have a question you'd like me to answer about our products or about natural skincare in general? Write me at and ask away! I'm happy to help you find answers that will be truly beneficial for your total health and beauty routines.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011 in , , ,

Inspiration - sprouting something beautiful....

A week or so ago I walked out to water our garden, as is my daily task in the intense summer St. Louis heat. As I was fussing over my plants, checking them and crushing bugs my daughter said "What's that??" and pointed to the corner of the plot.

Something had sprouted - and it wasn't a plant!

This was what we saw:
Without prior announcement an almost life-size painting of me had appeared to embellish the garden. I was tickled to my very core. The neighbors have certainly taken note but this was one of the first big additions made by another household to the space.

It was created by my neighbor Nancy Dylewski who has been a resident of Hyde Park for approximately 30 years, going back to the initial push for historic restoration in the late 1970s. She and her husband Don are familiar with the challenges of remediating a city lot. After the house next to hers burned down the city leveled that lot and sprayed it with defoliant (brilliant, right?). After a few years they began to try and grow things on the land with very frustrating results at first. Everything died due to the defoliant. They brought in professional help a few times to work on the dirt and after many tries have turned what was just barren land into a park-like setting with hostas, trees, and now their own vegetables growing some from seed I shared with them.

Nancy's artwork was one of the nicest surprises I've ever received. It was inspired straight from the heart. The gift bolsters my enthusiasm and energy for continuing to remodel our plot.

So now you can see "me" in the garden all day and all night. Now if only I looked this cute while actually working out there. ;)

Tuesday, June 28, 2011 in , , , , ,

Blissoma Organic Community Garden Updates and Photos

Beautiful friends,

As you now know Blissoma is sponsoring the start of a community garden in our urban neighborhood in St. Louis, MO. This community garden is redeveloping a vacant lot that otherwise was a neighborhood problem - a haven for scattered trash and weeds.

We are pleased to show you some of our progress to date on our garden plot. You are our supporters on this journey and without the involvement of our customer base this endeavor would not be possible.
To date this spring your purchases have directly supported more than $400 in cash garden investments including:

- over $100 in organic and heirloom seeds purchased entirely from independent, Monsanto-free seed suppliers

- new hoses to supply water to the garden

- stakes to support the green bean and tomato crops

- manure and other organic soil amendments for the crops

- composting supplies for garden waste so that we can generate organic, nutrient-rich soil through outdoor composting and vermicomposting

Your support has also enabled me to donate more than 360 service hours to the garden from just April to today alone. This does not include the initial plowing and care we did for the starting plot last fall (which would easily drive the total to 500+ hours). While I am out working the garden Frank has been dutifully serving your orders, making products, and answering emails and calls.

The soil was difficult to work due to piles of buried bricks and concrete. Just to break ground for the new 20' x 40' strip that became the tomato rows and melon/pumpkin patch took approximately 2 1/2 weeks of hand digging. The soil is clay and filled with construction rubble so we trucked in and spread more than 5 dump trucks worth of fresh dirt and 3 pickup loads of manure to build freeform raised beds.

So far we have been visited by numerous neighborhood residents as we work. Neighbor children have planted seeds with me and the Envisioning Hyde Park photography project stopped by with about 10 local youth to learn about what we are doing. We plan to launch a local awareness campaign to build involvement as the summer progresses and the "fruits" of our labor become more evident.

You are directly supporting organic awareness and empowerment to a community that was previously a fresh food desert. You are supporting positive action in a place that was known for gang violence, drugs, and decomposing architecture. You are helping us show a largely forgotten community in St. Louis that real change is possible with a dream and hard work. Each time you support Blissoma you support positive values and healthy evolution. You can feel good about your purchase in every way.

We will continue to share progress with you as we "grow". Thank you for all you do. Enjoy the pictures of our beautiful plants! :)

rows in the sunset

leeks about to flower and baby romaine

red cabbage

carrot flower buds

bok choy in bloom

Wednesday, June 1, 2011 in , , , , ,

The Path to Natural Perfume

Natural scent has been a long love of mine.

For more than a decade scent has hurried my days and haunted my nights, kept me up late, annointed poignant moments as well as those that are more mundane, and defined my career and my life's path through my business, Blissoma. Today I share with you a bit about how I came to stock the dozens and perhaps several hundred essential oils that I now keep on hand in my cabinet, or, as I like to think of it, an entire olfactory world in a small wooden box. From Morocco, Indonesia, India, Turkey, Bulgaria, Egypt, Australia, Somalia and more they come to reside with me, keeping stories of spring rains, winds both sharp and sweet, shifting sun, and the crush of rich earth locked up in their molecules until the moment the bottle is opened and the aroma soars.

Few things in life to me have held as much joy as opening a new bottle or sample of essential oil and taking a long deep whiff. The longer and deeper the better which is not proper technique at all, but I can be a bit of a greedy gourmand when it comes to wrapping myself around a new aroma. The discovery, the moments after the initial sharpness wear off and the aroma begins to bloom deeper in my throat are things that I hunger for in part because it is so transitory.

There is no duplication of how a scent burgeons in one's head. You cannot see it, you cannot even touch this experience and yet it is there. Even food which has great aroma component to it lacks the ethereal quality of a scent experience because you can chew it and feel it going down your throat. Not so with a scent. It may make your heart leap and your head whirl but you cannot hold it. It resides strictly in the realm of the soul, the memory, and emotion. It comes and then is gone like time itself, like the cycles of nature, like life and I am left chasing it down again to fill my nostrils once more. There is the empty and the full and they each lead to one another.

My foray into essential oils began in great earnest in my early twenties. Prior to that I can say that I had an attraction to scents but that I had not been ensnared by it just yet. I do remember that every time we would be in the grocery store there were barrels full of bulk coffee and I would linger at these each time. I grew up the child of a gardener, cook, and homemaker which are all domains of scented life but I also grew up in the days of Glade Plugins, Pinesol, and Apple Pie scented Yankee Candles. My mom was not huge on perfumes or beauty products and I spent a great deal more time with cans of hairspray working on my bangs than I did thinking about how I smelled. My father got a container of Elizabeth Taylor Passion for my mother as a gift one year and my reaction to it was very ho-hum. I had more interest in her hippie boots and vintage jewelry than in perfume at that point. Synthetic scent was everywhere and none of it struck a chord.

After graduating from college I moved back home to St. Louis to try and decide what to do with myself for "real life". I was a ceramics major and I was pretty sure I wasn't going to pursue that field as an actual career which left a lot of open ended questions about what path to take. I was supposed to be trying to save money for when I moved out. What happened was I spent it all.

Every dime that I earned during that time got spent on my first bottles of essential oils that I procured from Wild Oats. I had enjoyed occasionally burning incense during my days at college and always loved the lingering smell of Nag Champa in an otherwise rank dorm room. My father has a very sensitive nose and couldn't stand incense so when I moved back the easiest way for me to enjoy some scent in my environment without aggravating his allergies was with something smokeless. Candles were my chosen method of dispersal and essential oils became my aromas.

I began making candles with an old Crock Pot and a coffee can for a double boiler. I set up on an old desk and measured oils by drops into a pound or two of wax. In those days all my recipes were written in drops. That was the fall of 2000. By January I had moved out into my first St. Louis city apartment and allotted an entire bedroom to my creative activities.

Those who know me know that I really don't do things halfway. I'm either in or I'm out and once I'm in I pursue my endeavors with a constant passion. I followed my scented path in just such a way, ordering essential oils as often as I could even though my fiance and I were eating peanut butter and jelly and oatmeal to get by on our own. I put us into several thousand dollars worth of debt purchasing oils. I expanded my repertoire, ordered larger sizes, and sold my blended candles at whatever sales events I could. The return was modest but that didn't stop me. I loved the feeling I got when I was standing over a pot of liquid, scented wax.... warm, floaty, buzzed and altogether better about life. I wanted more. Lots more.

I still didn't begin to get into scent as wearable art until years into my journey. Even when I started crafting body products my concern was largely aromatherapeutic rather than perfumery oriented. I looked for topical effects and benefits to skin rather than just scent alone. Ever the scientist as well as artist the multipronged approach pleased me most.

My small collection of BLENDS perfume oils launched just in 2008. I created strict parameters for myself in attempting to create a final recipe that would be pleasing and yet over 80% total organic content. The market for organic essential oils is a volatile and unsure arena. Some oils are grown and distilled by only one supplier worldwide, making sourcing an interesting challenge. Still, I was able to put together a palette of 6 different creations representing a variety of moods. I played with oils I had been dying to buy and experiment with for years; the most expensive, unique, and pure I could find. The range is most definitely unique. I wanted scents that were balanced, lasting, and rich but at the same time completely different from the department store concept of "perfume". I never wanted to wear those scents. I had no idea I could enjoy perfume so much until I started making it.

I love the terroir of natural scent, the origin and story and the fact that it came from life. The chef and chemist in me loves the process of blending and the meld of science and art that must happen to understand the materials and their application. Like splashing paint on a canvas, each drop of oil into a test vial creates change and explores an unknown. It is that mystery that keeps me on my aromatic journey much the same as I have been on many others even simultaneously.

I create primarily for myself. I sell because I must and because I enjoy sharing an experience with others. But I am happy alone in my studio with my nose buried in a new blend. I am happy, just me and my plants; me and my aromatic reverie. Fame and power mean little to me as none of that matters in the moments when one is counting drops. In those moments I am of one mind and that mind is full of perfume.


Please visit the blogs written by these other participating natural perfumers which is today's blog event sharing how each of us have come to natural perfumery.
Absolute Trygve

Anu Essentials Blog

Anya's Garden Perfumes

Aromatherapy Contessa

Aromatics International

Being Led by the Nose

Blossoming Tree Bodycare

Ca Fleure Bon

DSH Notebook


From the Bathtub

I'm Just Saying

Les Parfums d'Isabelle

Lord's Jester Inc.

Natural Perfumes

Olfactory Rescue Service

Olive and Oud

Perfume Journal

Providence Perfume

The Western Cape Perfumery Blog

Friday, May 20, 2011 in , , , , , , , ,

Sprouting a Monsanto-Free (and nearly entirely free) Garden in St. Louis and Beyond

St. Louis is a great place to be gardening. There are many community resources that a budding plant enthusiast can take advantage of if you know where to look.

One of my goals in homesteading and growing as much of my own food as possible has been to take my family as far off the Monsanto and GMO food chain as I can. With the right planning it can be easier than you think to grow your own corporate-free food. Ironically Monsanto has corporate headquarters in St. Louis. I wonder if they know what is sprouting in their own backyard as an effort to fight against their policies?

Supplies for gardening don't have to be complicated. I've been able to acquire many of the things I need for free or nearly free. To spread efforts in our city and beyond I'm going to list the resources I've used. There may be comparable opportunities in your city as well if you just look them up.

Things I have gotten for free:
1. Dirt
The City of St. Louis Forestry Dept. has a composting division where city residents can call for community dropoffs of city compost and mulch. It may not be the most nutritious compost but it makes a good basic dirt to which you can add more nutritive elements. I used city compost in my raised bed, all my pots last year, and on the Farm on the vacant lot. This year we got 3 loads delivered so far. All you have to do is call! This picture is of many of the pots on my parking pad that I filled with city dirt last year.

There are also designated drop spots and they will tell you where you can find piles that they refresh regularly if you just want a little bit. The pile at the Bell Garden at Bell and Vandeventer is almost always stocked because that is the main Gateway Greening headquarters garden. For the Compost division call: 314-613-7200. Mulch is also available.

2. Seeds and plants
I happen to have a mom that is a super gardener. Each year I've gone out and dug up some of her hardy perennials to landscape my yard. It takes some patience as they look a little rough the first year, but they are FREE for goodness sake! It doesn't really hurt her plantings if I dig judiciously. By year 2 everything looks smashing. I have gotten ground covers, ferns, Solomon Seal, grasses, and daffodils this way.

Neighbors have also given me free Irises and other items when they are dividing their plantings. If you are reasonably friendly with someone that has hardy perennials you could offer them something nice of yours in exchange for dividing some of their plants. Baked goods? Help mowing the lawn? Whatever you feel like you can do.

I purchased some seeds last year and then from what I grew I saved as many as I could. This means a one time investment and then every year following you have free seeds. I will probably never have to pay for a pepper seed or green bean seed ever again! The main thing you have to do is just keep your varietals a bit separate and make sure you sort and save in an organized fashion so you know what you are planting the following year.

If you do have to purchase seeds please don't buy them at a big box retailer. Skip the Burpee and head straight for heirloom, open pollinated seeds. Often your locally run garden center may have a selection of independent seeds rather than the GMO varieties you'll find at Lowe's and Home Depot.

Seed Suppliers I have used include:

Botanical Interests (I am a sucker for the beautiful illustrations on their packets!)
Seeds of Change (a little pricey, but very good plants so far)
St. Clare Heirloom Seeds (cheap, basic, totally indie and has lots of cool varieties! I got a lot from them this year and so far am pleased with how they are all doing)
Baker Creek Heirloom Seeeds (a MO based company, has lots of unique plants, AND is sold at my local food Co-op where you can even get seeds using your EBT!)

Looking for more? Check out this forum post listing lots more seed supplier options.

All these companies are MONSANTO FREE. The plants will generate seeds that can be used again next year, meaning you can help preserve heirloom, non GMO strains of plants and support biodiversity and sound ecology.

3. Pots, cellpacks, and trays
Every year the MO Botanical Gardens has a pot recycling program where people can bring their plastic pots that mig
ht not be able to be recycled in the normal local plastic recycling programs. The dropoff location is in the parking lot of the Monsanto Center just west of Vandeventer. They start accepting pots during the first week of May.

Most people drop off pots, but I TAKE pots! :) The people working the recycling stream don't care at all if you cart off as many as you can use. Many of them are in great condition and you can get everything from pots big enough to hold a small tree to cell packs suitable for starting your seedlings. You can go and scavenge for pots anytime from about 9-5 and the parking lot is generally open. They may not be the worlds most beautiful decorator pots, but it is a great way to get started planting if you don't have the cash to fork out $50 a pot for the designer ones at the garden stores.

Again, ironically this program is run by the Monsanto Center which controls a lot of the research and plant cataloging activities that happen there. I find a small amount of justice in the fact that the recycling program has provided me with many of the items I need to get myself off their food system.

The cellpacks have been awesome for starting my own seedlings. So far both last year and this year I have not bought a single live plant for food production. Just seeds. The amount of money this has saved has been tremendous! If live plant costs $3 to $5 and a pack of seeds costs just $2 or $3.... well I can get a whole row of plants for less than the cost that some folks are spending on just 1 plant. Or if I saved the seeds then that row is free.
If you don't have a pot recycling program nearby you can use the plastic fruit containers that are used for packaging strawberries, cherry tomatoes, and grapes at the grocery store. Instead of trashing or recycling them wash them out and save them all year. They make perfect little greenhouses as they are ventilated and drained. At least half my seedlings are done this way.

4. Compost
You can make your own compost which could save you the cost of having to buy it. Compost and Manure are my number one fertilizers and this year I'm not planning to use anything else. I generate a lot of herb, coffee, and veggie scraps and they all turn into soil-nourishing compost. If you don't cook as much from home you could contact a restaurant nearby you and see if they will save their cooking scraps for you. You might have to pickup frequently to get them to do this for you but the payoff is the free plant food!

5. Tools to use
Gateway Greening here in St. Louis has a tool lending program for members and community gardens. Everything from shovels to rakes to tillers can be borrowed.

The Bell Demonstration Garden is the biggest tool lending hub. Check out their webpage and get in touch if you need to use something. In Old North St. Louis the 13th St. Community Garden also has tools to lend, and so do other gardens designated as lending hubs.

6. LAND to garden
In St. Louis if a vacant lot is owned by the city LRA department you can get an official garden lease to use the lot. Ok, so this may cost you $1 for the lease or something silly like that, but it is basically free. As long as you are willing to work many of the city neighborhoods
will be quite happy to have you contributing to the neighborhood in such a positive fashion. It is a good idea to talk to your alderperson as well and let them know what you are doing.

7. Grants for supplies
Gateway Greening in St. Louis also provides garden grants to community garden groups that are starting up. The applications are due in the fall. Admittedly the application is 30 pages long, which stopped me from applying last fall. But it won't stop me this year. They supply financing for hardscape materials, seeds and seedlings. Contact
Gateway Greening for more information.

Something you may be able to get for nearly free:
Manure! If there are horse boarding facilities near your house you may be able to get them to give you manure for free or nearly free. A stable near me will let you come shovel your own for $3 or for $10 they'll dump it in your open bed pickup for you. You may have to rot it yourself but it's one of the best ways to feed your plants.

Feeling inspired yet about what you can do for FREE in your garden? I sure am.

Hopefully I'll have time to share more soon. For right now I have to go transplant some things while this gorgeous weather lasts. (In St. Louis that won't be long!)
Love and happy gardening!

Saturday, April 9, 2011 in , , , , , , , ,

Blissoma is Urban Homesteading in St. Louis

Today I am proud to share with you that Blissoma and my family are participating avidly in the Urban Homesteading movement and spearheading the development of a community garden.

Our path began 4 years ago when we began searching for a building to purchase. Our budget was very limited and we needed a great deal of square footage. We were unable to consider real estate in some of the more trendy, populated areas of St. Louis because of these practical restrictions.

Eventually our building search led us to North St. Louis City where we found our current base of operations. Old North St. Louis and Hyde Park have an array of large buildings that were priced within reach for us because the area has largely been considered a dangerous urban ghetto by locals. The attrition of population and decaying architecture has left vast vacant lots interspersed between the remaining buildings.

Some might think of North City as a strange place and often I am commended by casual visitors for my bravery in purchasing property here. I respond that bravery had little to do with it, really, as the area is not nearly as dangerous as people think and had all the resources we desired. The moment that I saw all the empty land I instantaneously envisioned massive gardens on all of them. A blank canvas has delightful appeal to someone that loves to create, and this neighborhood was just that. It was and has been poised for reinvention and many residents have been at work behind the facades of what looks aged and decaying. We are restructuring, refinishing, and recreating.

The first few years here were spent on interior building improvements. I have spearheaded the improvements to the house myself with a marginal amount of outside help and construction work can be all-consuming. The building is essentially a very slow gut rehab with every surface and system in the house needing at least some work and some needing complete replacement.

Last year I reached a juncture where it made sense to take the work outside. So, without official announcement, I decided it was time to begin gardening - finally!

I saw Fresh and Food Inc. last spring and it lit quite a fire. Rather than just being disgusted with our current food infrastructure I decided it was time to do something, and that it was indeed within my power to take action towards change. I am sharing our projects in the hope that others that may be teetering on the edge of action will also be heartened and empowered to act as well. I am a busy entrepreneur, mother, and rehabber, and now organic food gardener. There are sacrifices that I have had to make but the rewards are tremendous and I enjoy the activity as well. It is providing a platform for my daughter to learn about plants, worms, science, and sustainability and furnishing as much delectable produce as we can consume as well as some for the neighbors.
I was working on a very, very tight budget last year, but financial restrictions did not stop me. I salvaged much of what I needed and the small investments of our limited money came back to us completely in food.

I am going to do my best to detail and share our activities this year. Given limited time and a choice between planting and blog posting I'll probably be planting, but updates will come as often as I am able.

This last week I seeded our raised bed that we built last spring. The photo above is from last June when we planted it after completion. By fall it was overflowing with plants. I definitely got things too close together but I have problems disposing of seedlings - so hard to get rid of beautiful little live plants just because room is limited! I am told that this year the growth and results should be exponentially better because the soil will have had time to establish the proper ecosystem of micronutrients and flora.

I often hear people say that home gardening is so expensive compared to the yield. My answer is well, yes, it is if you are purchasing all your plants at $4 and $5 each from a big box garden center. Every plant we grew last year I sprouted from seed, making the cost to yield ratio really work in our favor. I am no sprouting expert but I was able to get a successful system down. This enabled us to spend very little, grow an immense variety of plants, try again and again if something happened to a first batch (caterpillars, storms, disease), and choose organic and heirloom varieties that yielded seed for this year, making my seed investment for this year even smaller. I'll probably never have to buy a bell pepper seed again and I've had enough to give to others as well so they can sprout and grow freely.

Our yard is actually quite small, so I have maximized the space by trellising plants up fences, creating a hanging garden on the porch, and putting pots on every square inch of available patio. If you think you don't have enough room for food production you might want to think again, as there are many ways to maximize space and garden creatively.

By contrast we now also have what we call "The Farm" or "The Hundred Acre Farm" in a loving tribute to A.A. Milne's Winnie the Pooh and the Hundred Acre Wood. The Farm is a massive vacant lot across the alley from our backyard. It used to look like this:

Row houses from approximately 1900 stood decaying when we first moved into our house. Then they were torn down....

This picture is a night shot of the bricks stacked in pallets for reuse, and the final building of the 4 yet standing. Here is another view from our backyard of the final building on the day it was knocked down.

It was sad to see these valuable pieces of architectural history disappear. The land sat vacant for the last 2 years with mostly weeds and scattered trash adorning it. My latent ambitions grew and grew. Finally after maximizing my backyard and chattering about my guerrilla farming dreams for months we tilled a patch of the lot last August for fall planting.

We began with just simple crops of spinach, bok choy, kale, and anything we could manage to grow in the limited few months before the cold set in. The soil is mostly clay, new dirt brought in to fill the stone basement foundations of the prior buildings. We brought in several truckloads of compost and manure and laid down approximately 4" in which to grow our first round of crops. We'll be adding more, I'm sure. Everything grew beautifully and we harvested as much as we could eat. Here is a picture of the last bits of produce on the land before we froze hard last fall:

Today I begin preparing the same plot for our early spring crops. I've got many of the same items as last fall to go out as well as new varietals. Beautiful red cabbages, Red Core Chantenay carrots, miniature Romaine lettuce, lots of greens, and the leeks that actually survived the winter and are already growing. I'm excited to start planting so I'll save further news and pictures for another day! The sun will only last so long and there's a lot to do.

I have lots of schemes in my head for flowers, paths, fruit trees, berry bushes and more for this piece of land. I'll be excited to share our progress with you. For now it is time to get growing on our homestead. Have a blessed and beautiful Saturday and we hope you'll get out there and grow something.

Copyright 2011 Blissoma and Julie Longyear. Powered by Blogger.