Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Spring Greens

Some of the baby lettuce coming up under the cold frame.   It's looking pretty happy about the [slightly] warmer weather. 

Me, too. 

Saturday, March 28, 2015

New Addition

Meet Pepper.   She the newest addition to the farm.

She's a lab/German shepherd cross - just about 2 months old now.  She's going to be huge.  We've been waiting and waiting for the right puppy to come our way and when this one did, we snapped her up.  We are delighted with her. 

Tibby, predictably, is not thrilled.   It'll be a while before they're friends. 

Wednesday, March 25, 2015


My favorite early spring flowers are up - Scilla [Siberian Squill].    I love that color.

Usually the bees are all over it, but this year the wild bees [or neighbors' bees - no way to tell which] are robbing out what's left of the pollen and honey in my hives instead.   

I'm OK with that.  I'm hoping they're wild bees and when it comes time to swarm, they'll move right in to one of my empty hives. 

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Garden Huckleberries

Garden HuckleberryI'm trying a new fruit this year in the veg garden - garden huckleberries, Solanum melanocerasum. [Pic:  Rareseeds.com] These are different from the wild huckleberries of the mountains, which are related to blueberries.  If you go to the link above, make sure you read the reviews carefully.  

My neighbor grows these regularly and has had good success so I thought we'd try them, too.   I'm planting them next to tomatoes and basil.    

Garden huckleberries are native to the tropics [Africa] and are grown as an annual here.   They are relatives of tomatoes and peppers and cultivation is similar.   The bushes get 3-4 ft high.  They like rich soil and sun to partial shade.  The fruit is frost tolerant and should be harvested after the berries turn soft and matte [dull] instead of shiny.  The bushes are reputed to be very prolific and self sowing.  These berries aren't very tasty unless you harvest them after frost.  Do not eat them fresh!

 Here's a method for preparing them that I've seen linked to in several places:

Via Sandhill Preservation:
"Garden Huckleberry Recipe:  Place 8 cups of berries in a non-aluminum one gallon size pan and add enough water to not quite cover the fruit. As they begin to boil add a total of 1/3 cup of baking soda (a little at a time) and stir continuously. As you add baking soda, green foam will appear. Be sure to watch this carefully as it will foam up quite a bit. After adding the baking soda, cook for 10 minutes at a low boil. The mixture will continue to foam quite a bit as the berries are cooking. After they have cooked for 10 minutes, drain this solution off and rinse with clean water. The berries will still be somewhat hard. Next return the pan of berries to the stove, add 1/3 cup water and 1/2 cup lemon juice. Watch with amazement as the mixture changes from emerald green to a royal purple color. Cook an additional 35 minutes until the berries are tender and then add 2 3/4 cups sugar, 1 1/2 Tablespoons lemon extract, 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/2 cup tapioca. Pour the above mixture into two 8 inch unbaked pie shells, then add a top crust or lattice and bake as you would a blueberry pie. You can also omit the tapioca and just eat the sauce or use it as an ice cream topping."

Here's a page from Heirloom Organics with growing information.  And another post from Garden Web with some interesting information.

And here's another page with growing and harvesting info from Mother Earth News, with a couple of recipes thrown in.

I've got my seeds started in the cold frame now and I'm looking forward to our first harvest in the fall.  

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Liquid Soap

This is a batch of liquid soap paste.

Making liquid soap starts with the same basic process as hot process bar soap [only with potassium hydroxide instead of sodium hydroxide].  You mix it, then put it in the crock pot to cook for a few hours until it looks like dark vaseline.

Then you dissolve it, neutralize it, clarify it, sequester it, thicken it and a bunch of other stuff that is way more complicated than just cutting and drying it like you do with bar soap.

I'm slowly wrapping my head around it.

This is my 4th batch of liquid soap and it turned out just fine.  I used the jojoba recipe from Chickens in the Road.  http://chickensintheroad.com/house/crafts/how-to-make-liquid-soap//  This is a terrific tutorial, but it is very comprehensive.   I had to read through it several times just to grasp all the different things you can/should do AFTER the soap is made. [Neutralizing, sequestering, clarifying, thickening, etc.]

My advice is to choose a recipe and make the paste.  Then dissolve it. Then neutralize it so you can use it right away.  Then take a break of a few days and think about the other options.

In the end, I made the jojoba recipe which goes cloudy.   I could have tried clarifying but didn't want to add more stuff to it, so I'm leaving it thin and cloudy.   It has a pH of 8 which is perfect and I'm calling it finished.  We use it in the kitchen for hand soap.  It's fabulous.

As I mentioned before, this was my 4th batch.   The first one was a total fail.  The second and third ones were useable. This one was just what I expected. On the road to this batch of soap, I learned a bunch of stuff.

1.   ONLY use distilled water when making liquid soap.    It really matters.   We have hard water and I get by using that for bar soap, but the liquid soap never turns out unless I use distilled.

2.  Dissolve the soap in the crock pot on low.   It takes about 5 hours.   Try to ignore it while you're waiting.   Neutralize it while it's hot. 

3.  You can use old citric acid solution cold to neutralize your soap once it's dissolved, as long as the soap is still hot.    The acid will immediately go white and clumpy, but don't panic.   Just stir it in and it'll be just fine.  The clumps will melt into the soap pretty fast. 

4.  Once the soap is neutralized, you can use it right away.   The thickening, clarifying, etc. is cosmetic [pun intended].   It makes your soap prettier and more store-bought-like, but doesn't improve performance.    'Neutralize' does not mean getting a pH of 7.   It means bringing the pH down from 9-10 to 8 or so.   Soap is supposed to be a bit alkali; that's why it works as soap.

5.  Take some notes with each batch.   They'll pay off later.   Really.

I have just ordered this book [affiliate link]:

Rumor has it that it is the best resource for learning all the ins and outs of liquid soap making.   I'm excited to try some more liquid soap now that I can turn out a basic one.  Maybe a shampoo?  Bath gel?  Something clear? 

It's going to be fun.  I'll keep you posted.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

More Soap Experiments

A long while back, on a whim, I ordered a block of cocoa butter to use in soap.   It came.   It smelled divine.  

Creamy white chocolate heaven.  I left it on the table for 4 months just so I could smell it.

Eventually I hunted down a recipe for cocoa butter soap and tried a batch.   Fail.  

I had used crio grounds from our favorite winter drink [Vega Real and Cavalla are my faves].  Even though I used the dried, unused grounds and added them after trace, they soaked up the alkali and never saponified, so that batch of finished soap had tiny pockets of lye everywhere the grounds were.   Weird.  Caustic.   I pitched the whole batch. 

So this time we left out the crio grounds and used cocoa powder to color the soap instead.   Worked just fine.   We made some beautiful soap that is very hard.  [That's one of the characteristics of cocoa butter.]

Notice the lighter centers?    I have no idea what did that.   We'll see if it stays that way over time. 

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Soap, Soap, Soap

The weather put the kibosh on some of our plans last week, so Claire and I seized the moment to make a couple of batches of soap. 

This was a really fun one.   We tried three new things:

1. A new recipe using  a lot of rice bran oil.
2. Coloring using alkanet.
3. Coloring using charcoal.

Rice bran oil makes great soap.   I highly recommend it.   I love this soap.  We mixed it with coconut oil, canola oil, olive oil and veg shortening.   The canola oil really slows the trace, which was lucky in this case, because we divided the batch.  We finished the pink stuff first, and then decided to add the charcoal to the rest.  And then we decided to add more charcoal, so that stuff almost seized before we got it into the mold.  It turned out really pretty though and it smells fabulous.

To use alkanet to color, we had earlier put a tablespoon of dried alkanet into a pint jar of canola oil.   It colors the oil a deep dark red.    The red turns to a medium blue during the mixing.   The blue turned to light pink during the drying.   Interesting. 

Charcoal is easy to use.  We bought ours ground from Brambleberry.com.   Started with 1/2 tablespoon and wanted it darker, so we added more.    It would probably have been better if we had stirred it in by hand instead of using the stick blender.   Things go really fast with the blender. 

Friday, March 6, 2015


It's easy to overlook things.
There are good reasons for overlooking some things.   Focusing on the negative only leads to unhappiness, so it's a good idea to overlook little things that would otherwise harsh your mellow.

Since winter here has been intense, I thought it would be a good idea to pay closer attention to some little things that might help mellow the harsh.  Like frosty dogwoods.

I really love dogwood twigs.   They look like hands reaching up.  And I love dogwood buds because they form early on and are a constant reminder that it won't be icy forever. 

I feel my harsh getting mellower by the minute. 

Saturday, February 28, 2015

A Few Other Rural Blogs from around the World

Winter has decided to stay for a while longer here.   In the meantime, I'm catching up reading some other terrific rural blogs from around the world that you might like, too.  All of them are guaranteed to make you feel good about life.

Wellington Farm is a blog out of Canada.   Sherrie is always cheery and is a wonderful photographer.   They have just moved to the farm so there aren't many posts at the new site, but her old site, Twenty Two Pleasant, is just as wonderful and full of fabulous things.  

Foxs Lane is a blog out of Australia.   The photography is beautiful and it's an extra bonus that they're in summer right now.    It does my heart good to see fruit and flowers in season while it's snowing here.   She's a farmer and fiber artist, too, which is an extra bonus for me.

Manger is a blog out of Medoc, France.    Mimi wrote the cookbook 'A Kitchen in France', which I borrowed from my library and loved.   The photos are beautiful and aside from a celebration of good food, it's a book and a blog that celebrate rural life, rural people and basic elements of living.   She's happy and that overflows in her writing.

Check them out and let me know what you think.   And if you know any more blogs like these, let us know in the comments.     Happy reading!

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Winter Creek

The creek is pretty all year long.  Even in the winter.

It runs all the time so never freezes over entirely.   And the vast majority of time during the winter it looks like this.  

Forty shades of icy brown. 

With a little touch of moss at the edges.  

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Whatever Happened to the Elderberries

A few years ago I cut some elderberry branches, rooted them and stuck them in the ground.

They grew.  

And they survived last year's horrible winter.

I saw little pink buds last week.   The two by the chicken coop are the happiest.   The ducks hang out around there and poop all over the place and that spot gets a bit of run-off from the garden so it's well watered. 

Maybe elderberries this year?

Friday, February 20, 2015


Before the snow this week, the buds on the cherries had started to swell.   

Which means that spring will come.  

[Like it does every year.]

Even though I fear that this year it won't come. 

[Like I do every year.]

Thursday, February 19, 2015

What I Do in the Winter

Once the garden is done for the year and the cold sets in, I have time to practice painting.    It's a slow, painstaking process.   I have to remind myself that it's OK to paint a lot of bad paintings and that practice is often messy. 

But sometimes things turn out OK.   I like the water and the trees in this one.  

Tuesday, February 17, 2015


It snowed.  

A lot.  

I feel as thorny as this locust. 

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