Ashley Moore is an herbalist and the author of “The Women’s Heritage Sourcebook: Bringing Homesteading to Everyday Life.” In 2016, Moore, Lauren Malloy and Emma Moore, started a business called Women’s Heritage that seeks to foster community connection and empowerment through back-to-roots workshops on topics including making sourdough bread, herbal medicine, milking cows, natural dyes, soap making and welding. In 2017, they opened a brick-and-mortar store in Carpinteria, California.
Moore joined Washington Post staff writer Jura Koncius for The Post’s Home Front online chat. Here is an edited excerpt.
Q: Do you see homesteading as a response to the coronavirus pandemic? How can some of these practices help the planet after the current acute crisis is (mostly) over?
A: I do. It became evident so quickly that all of the supplies we depend on every day could disappear in an instant, and I think many of us got an overwhelming urge to ensure some sort of food security through starting a garden, and begin learning the skills to take care of ourselves. Because these practices are fun, wholesome and respectful to the Earth, I think they will help the planet after the crisis is over. And I think they will serve to bond the community together even more as well.
Q: How do you choose what to make yourself and what to get elsewhere?
A: If I love making it, I do it myself. Otherwise, I try to source things from a local maker or secondhand.
Q: I ordered a chicken coop with my stimulus money and picked up four chicks from a local farm last week. I have two ameraucanas and two silkies for egg production and to entertain my 7-year-old. Do you have any tips for a new chicken keeper?
A: It sounds like you probably know a lot about chickens already from your research. I do have some tips for troubleshooting. The first is to really watch them, especially when they are young. You need to check their bottoms, which sounds funny, but it’s really important. They can get an accumulation of feces stuck on them, and if it isn’t washed off, they can die. To prevent this from happening, you can rub a little bit of olive oil on their bottoms each day. We had one batch of silkies we had to olive oil twice a day for over a week until they were healthy. And buy diatomaceous earth if they get mites. (You will see mites climbing around the coop if they ever do get them.) You can dust them with a paintbrush and it will kill the mites.
Q: What basic herbs do you need to start an herb garden?
A: My favorites include lemon balm, peppermint, lavender, calendula and chamomile. All of these have so many uses, are excellent food for the bees and essential in an herbalist’s garden and pantry.
Q: I want to start composting. What’s the fastest and easiest way for a beginner to get started?
A: That depends on what kind of space you have. If you have enough room, a three-part composter is wonderful. Another method I really love is worm composting. It is as simple as it gets. You can pick up a worm composting bin from a garden store, or you can make your own with online tutorials. The worms make the compost tea for you.
Q: How can I use herbs to calm down?
A: I think even just the act of making tea, even with a tea bag, is medicine; cupping the hot mug in your hands, breathing in the fragrant steam, taking a few minutes to sit still. My favorite calming herbs are oatstraw, chamomile and lemon balm.
Q: We’ve been trying to adopt the homesteading lifestyle but we live in a townhouse. We do want to find a property with a good yard and space in the near future, but what can we do until then?
A: Homesteading can happen anywhere. There are many things you can do to get started: you can start making food from scratch, have a windowsill garden of cooking herbs, begin making herbal remedies and make your own skin-care products. There are also many ways you can be involved in homesteading or permaculture practices in your community. Joining a community garden where you have more space to grow veggies is a wonderful option if you have one nearby. If not, there may be someone in your community who has the space and might be happy to let someone plant it in exchange for a few veggies. Also, how about planting in those little sidewalk spaces in between your townhouse and the street?
Q: What is a good natural birdseed?
A: The very best is probably growing your own. If you have enough space, amaranth or millet both make amazing birdseed. Last year we grew an amaranth forest from leftover sprouting seeds — it was giant and the birds were so happy.
Q: What’s a better alternative to paper towel?
A: We use little rags. They’re often called “paperless towels” and some are made with snaps and can be stored on a regular paper towel stand. You don’t have to buy anything fancy, though; any old towel can be cut into smaller rectangles and kept in a drawer.
Q: Do you have any tips for making laundry more environmentally friendly?
A: We love wool dryer balls. You can put a few drops of essential oil on them before popping them in the dryer with your clothes, and they also help clothes dry faster. For the washer, use soap nuts [the dried shells from the soapberry nut], washing sheets or detergent pods instead of buying it in plastic jugs. You could also divert your gray water from the laundry and water fruit trees with it. Just be sure to use safe, biodegradable detergent and to move the water around so it doesn’t water one tree for too long.
Q: I ordered sweet potato slips and planted them as instructed last week, but they still look quite sad. Am I doing something wrong?
A: There could be many reasons they aren’t thriving, but sometimes they just need time to perk up after being transferred. Don’t be too hard on yourself. Sometimes my plants don’t make it — it happens to all of us. Even if this batch doesn’t make it, don’t let that keep you from trying again.