Autumn and the Herb Garden

I cannot believe it’s the first week of Autumn here, summer seems to gone so fast! We have had a very dry summer, officially reaching drought conditions a month ago and there have been fires in our area this summer for the first time in quite a few years. With Autumn comes the dying off of the garden and I have been busy preserving all the herbs as they also reach their end. This year we extended the herb garden with our last ornamental garden pulled out and planted. I LOVE the herb gardens and learning more about their uses – love cooking with them, using them in soaps and herbal creams and skincare….I still have much to learn but I really enjoy it! This year we have had Mint, Soapwort, Parsley, Feverfew, Nasturtiums, Lemon Balm, Chamomile, Peppermint, Comfrey, Basil, Lemon Verbena, Echinacea, Rosemary, Tarragon, Calendula, Thymes, Oregano, Don Quai, Sage and Chives and I have also been collecting wild plants and weeds like Borage, Dandelion, California Poppy, Plantain etc. I don’t grow Lavender yet but I will next year. With a friend down the road with a lavender hedge and a sister with a lavender farm there seems little need right now to grow it.

French Tarragon

French Tarragon

I love using these fresh but need them throughout the year so I have been drying them all, the kitchen herbs are in jars in the pantry, the ones I use for soaps etc stored in many paper bags and boxes.

Chamomile

Chamomile

Last week while out picking Sage and Rosemary I had the great? idea of trying smudge sticks (I am all fingers and thumbs so found these a little fiddly to begin with) A quick look on-line gave me the instructions and these are my first attempts. One thing worth noting if you ever decide to try them – they shrink ALOT. Don’t tie off your ends of string as you will probably need to re-tie them but these are lovely to make and smell gorgeous.

Smudge

Smudge

What can be made from the herb garden excites me and if you have ever thought you would like to grow and experiment with them I urge you to do it – I read about them for years but never really did much about it, they are beautiful to use.

Herbal toner

Herbal toner

 

Dandelion & Calendula

Dandelion & Calendula

I am sorry to see the end of the herb growing season and have been rushing to dry everything….the poor garden is looking rather empty now….tomorrow I will be taking all the basil and making pesto to freeze. I also like to freeze fresh herbs in olive oil in ice cube trays, rosemary, basil and oregano are nice done this way. I had plans to make some seasoned salts too but they are at least dried and I can do this later in the season when not so busy. It’s also a time of seed saving though early days yet.

The front porch seat where things are put to dry

The front porch seat where things are put to dry

Mid January we went away for the weekend and passed through the city where the lovely Gallivanta lives (a fellow blogger) She had told me to drop in if we were down that way as she had a book for me. She had two as it happened and they are lovely ones too 🙂 I very much appreciated them and though I haven’t had time to sit and read too much I know through Autumn and winter I will have my nose stuck in these!

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AND, though I really didn’t need the extra work and had to think long and hard about it I started another blog two days ago to be added to my shop site when I can figure out how to do that. On this blog I have always kept to more frugal ideas and recipes but this new one has the recipes for what I sell. Two reasons for doing this…they are nice! and they also show the work and expense that goes into making nice products for sale. Though not exactly cheap to make many use flowers, herbs, weeds and wildflowers so if you are interested in making your own skincare and home products I invite you to follow me here https://www.tumbleweedsnaturals.wordpress.com/  – It is VERY new and you will recognise a couple of recipes I have shared here at quarteracre.

 

 

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Summer lovin’

Hi, I am back 🙂 Working on a new laptop that I hate, Windows 8 sucks by the way, for anybody thinking of buying a new computer! And for anybody waiting on an email reply from me please let me know because some of my emails are disappearing out into the net world never to be seen again I am discovering – I have replied to all! This has been an expensive month after having to replace a laptop, vacuum cleaner, cell phone and repairs to the truck – how glad I am now that I worked all those hours!

We are harvesting from the garden with some great successes this year but also disappointments. We lost all our tomatoes this year, I think my husband was to blame for that one though he is keeping quiet about what he possibly did to them. I have a feeling that the “foliage feed” he used was something else entirely that he knows I wouldn’t have liked him using but he did in error. Our self sewn beetroot that we transplanted out in great rows all failed, a terminator gene maybe? Our strawberries have not done well. But after a few years of failed potato crops because of a bug problem here this year we harvested over 70 kg of beautiful potatoes. The raspberries went crazy and we got over 40 kg with autumns berries already on their way, the beans and zucchini are always great cropping, the blackberries, cranberries, peaches, peppers and chilli will have very good harvests, silverbeet (chard) lettuce and broccoli have all self sewn everywhere for regular picking. The pumpkins are spreading out everywhere again with plenty on. We got heaps of onions, garlic and carrots and have stared replanting empty spaces for autumn. The herb garden is wonderful with another rock garden dug up and planted in herbs (another post!)

After saying I wouldn’t be freezing vegetables this year, I am 🙂 Old habits die hard and it seems stupid not to when you have it lol. Jams and chutneys and being made at the moment, last year I made around 35 jars of our favourite Zucchini Chutney and just used the last of it two weeks ago so will make the same this year. We still have heaps of bottled fruit left from last year and 14 jars of other chutneys Roger wont try so I will be sticking to just the one in future. We ran out of tomato sauce a month ago and the commercial stuff is disappointing in comparison so I will have to buy a mountain of tomatoes to make more.

I have made no liqueurs or wine so far this year, I just haven’t felt motivated to. I have gone back to work doing strictly one day a week plus m on-call shifts which are simply by phone if any issues and occasionally going in to help with something. Roger is still doing 5 days a week but the work is far less demanding physically – I have to say I didn’t realise how exhausted he was and how hard he pushed himself on the farm. He had little desire for the garden but now is back to his old self and out there for hours….it’s tidy again! 🙂

Me, most of what computer time I spend is on the Freeconomy page – we have grown from 130 at the beginning of December to nearly 500. It is working fabulously but there are occasional issues of greed, grabbing, rudeness, a couple of people selling stuff they got free on other pages! People are people and there are all sorts out there, after banning a few we are going great.

I am back to making my soaps and hope to do a market this weekend. I have been busy drying herbs and local weeds/wildflowers for use during the year. How to package them at reasonable cost is always a consideration but I have settled on this, brown paper with a band. Printing whole sheets for wrapping was too expensive.

Anyway, I think this is about as long as it needs to be. I hope others are enjoying their summer, or keeping warm through their winter.

A quick update on what we are up to…

Sorry I haven’t been around much and if I am not managing to read my usual blogs  it is because I am just busy for a wee while, I have had a few inquiries about my absence 🙂

I have committed to join the Artisan Market here with my soaps etc so am flat out making “stuff” and raiding garden everywhere.

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I have just started a Facebook Page and here should be the proper link (thanks Fran!) and will be opening a new site in the near future. For those who have been so supportive of this, thank you so much – time will tell how it goes I guess 🙂

Roger finished work last week and has already been offered odd jobs to do for people he knows so this week has been building cabinetry for someone. He also has a possibility of rejoining a building firm he worked for a few years ago for 3 days a week so things are ok there. I mentioned that we thought we would have to give Syd back to the farm owner but he didn’t want him. So, we got to keep our gorgeous oversized lap dog whose boss never will find out he was one hell of a spoiled farm dog!

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Catch up soon!

Times are a’changing at Quarteracre!

All the best laid plans! We had a 3 year plan for what we wanted to do here but they have just become 3 month plans as Roger quit his job today, he finishes at the end of next week. No, he didn’t get the job he went for but he sorely needed to because he has had well and truly enough of his present one. I could go into the ins-and-outs but no need or desire to.

So our three year plan was 1) Wendy wants to make her soaps and stuff and sell them – she is on plan for this. 2) Within 3 – 6 months have the property set up for private precious pup boarding – we can have 3 at a time but only want two. 3) We ideally would like to earn an income from funked up junk but never get time to actually settle to this – the plan was for Roger to go down to part-time work in a year or so to help achieve this and hopefully open a cottage shop in 3 years at our home. Well…….!

Roger will be unemployed next week and I will continue to work part time, he will advertise to get contact work locally, just part-time AND h-o-p-e-f-u-l-l-y between us we can earn enough to pay the bills 🙂 We have food and are pretty skilled at living on little! Roger is well known in the area for his ability to kill gorse which I hate because it’s spraying chemical all day but it’s needed here, it’s the right season and we are hoping he can get enough odd farm work to get us through. He could go out and look for full time work but we have decided maybe we should just back ourselves and have confidence our plans will work for us. I shall keep you posted! lol I know it seems crazy in today’s climate but at the end of the day we want to make our place work for us and be our own bosses…that’s what we want.

A website will be set up for us and off we go, into the wide open… and unknown!

This is what I have been doing recently and what our home is starting to look like 🙂

Dandelions, kowhai flowers picked for infusing and forget-me-nots for pressing for packaging

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There are always petals drying in the front window and jars of somethings sitting in the sunlight

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Pansies and forget- me- nots being pressed into a jeweelery making book but how pretty the picture turned out!

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A corner of the hall I just spied

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Trialing Lotion Bars made with beeswax and the Camelia petal infused oil

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Lemon and Poppy Seed Soap, Rose-hip soap and Rosemary, Lavender and Sweet Orange Shampoo Bars

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Mark 11 trial of Rose and Frankincense Moisturiser which is gorgeous 🙂 (Excuse photo quality)IMG_3983

So, within a month or so I hope to be up and running. I have so many ideas I am nearly popping with brilliance lol. But for a girl who actually just likes making these things quietly enjoying her own company and hates being “out there” this is a brave move, one which involves much courage and confidence and feels rather scary, So WISH ME LUCK PLEASE!!!! lol

Soap, soap and other stuff!

As I mentioned in my last post I am enjoying soap-making….rather too much. I have made alot using different recipes. It is now becoming too much to make in the kitchen so my craft room has been taken over. I would like to think I can do well enough to sell some at the markets but we will see – it was clear I would need better equipment so I finally caved in and bought a few molds and have been trying to source the cheapest places for ingredients but the extra work I have been doing recently has meant I can have spare money to buy yummy oils etc.

My painting/craft table at present

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The pink slab in front is a Rose Clay Facial Soap which I have high hopes for in the battle against  wrinkles and aging skin 🙂 It has olive, coconut, apricot, jojoba and castor oils in – I added frankinsense and rose essences. The purpley / blue soap in the molds is lavender, a problem with keeping everything natural is learning about and sourcing the right colourings – this was hoped to be more purple.

I have alot to learn!! When I made my first batch of lavender soap I naively thought you could just chuck all sorts of pretty florally things in soap, you can’t! I put lavender on top and it went grey, the lye affects flora in soaps, apparently grinding dry lavender buds first works better. I wanted petals, some people have them on soaps and they guard the secret of “HOW….?” very closely but I did read you could do so with rebatching – grating a cured soap, melting it down and pouring it in molds. I added too much water so it’s taking forever to dry and this is very rustic in appearance but for my own use it will be fine. This is an area I would like to learn more about because it’s just too pretty not to. To me this is what lady soap should be like!

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An old shelf has come in handy for curing and storing, these all have to sit for at least a month.

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There are the calendula and lavender ones I showed early on, the musk and apricot which looks like Russian Fudge, Gardenia, Patchouli and a lovely blend of oils, A Cedarwood and Juniper Berry for men which smells gorgeous (coloured with spirlulina which disappointedly changed to a very muted green, and a mountain of Coffee Hand Scrub which I made double the amount for Roger and it turned out to be an awful lot lol

I also made the most divine night cream full of luscious oils….olive, sweet almond, jojoba, apricot and cocoa butter. I created it myself and it’s beautiful but I didn’t write down the amounts I used which was dumb! This is better than anything else I have ever made or bought, my very own fountain of youth in a jar!!!  I now just have to remember how I made it.

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Soap wrapped in lace and ribbon and a jar of my special cream is a nice pressy for my best friend for her birthday I thought!

 

 

Apricot and Musk Soap…Experience is a great teacher!

What started out as Green Tea and Gardenia Soap ended up being something quite different…! But before I ramble about how this happened I will tell you about the new recipe I tried that I am really happy with even though it will be another 3 weeks before I can try it. Jessie, aka Rabid Little Hippy commented on my first soap post that I might like to look up The Greening of Gavin‘s site for lots of good soap info. She was right I did like it 🙂 For a start he has a great recipe, you can find here for a very economical soap containing Olive, coconut, grapeseed and sunflower oils. Secondly he tells how he got into selling it which is what I would like to do because now I obsess over soap making and all it’s possibilities and ideally some sort of small market (if I ever get good enough)would be really nice to offload what I can see is going to become a problem hobby otherwise 🙂 and thirdly, he has a fantastic blog!!!! His soap recipe provided the nicest textured soap from the three I have tried, it’s very economical, it also came to trace the fastest of the three – this was quick to make.

Lessons learned: I wanted to make a small batch to trial the recipe. I had read you can get a nice pale green colour seeping green tea bags in boiling water and using that as the water content. My plan was to scent with gardenia oil. Didn’t check what teabags I grabbed and it was black tea…which actually makes a beautiful brown. I had to rethink what would go nicely with this new unplanned colour and rushed through my box choosing an apricot/musk blend. I had read that cheap oils would lose their smell and possibly be synthetic rather than natural essential oils but forgot all this as I grabbed up one of the cheapy bottles I had. It used a whole bottle with only a light scent.

Message to self….check everything twice before you rush in, concentrate, because if you can’t do that you shouldn’t be working with lye Wendy.

Anyhow, what I ended up with was the most delicious looking soap that looks just like Russian Fudge that smells lovely but not lovely enough.

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I Finally Ventured into Soap Making

I have been wanting to try making soap for years but two things held me back. Firstly, working with lye – my first husband had a bad accident with caustic soda so I wasn’t keen to use it myself. Secondly, alot of the recipes I had read looked to be quite expensive, I didn’t want to spend alot of money to make something that may not turn out.

A couple of weeks ago one of my sisters gave me a bar of her homemade lavender soap and it’s such a treat to use! I adore nice soaps but rarely get them, just using commercial brands instead. Natural soaps are quite pricey, handmade ones even pricier. So…I decided to just get over myself and make some of my own. I read heaps on the net and found a couple of good recipes to start with. I also found some helpful tips from well experienced soap makers which took some of the complexity or possible issues out out of the process.

Good tips:

Mix the lye into the water on top of the stove with the range-hood going, the fumes go straight up that. Lye commands respect, it can be dangerous to use so do read and follow the safety precautions written by experienced soap makers first – but once you have done it the first time it’s no longer a biggy and is a simple process done wisely.

Keep vinegar on hand if you do happen to splash yourself, it’s alkaline and will neutralise the acid.

The lye and the oils just need to be cooled to body temperature and many people don’t test with a thermometer at all, just wing it – so that’s what I did (I don’t own a food thermometer)

You don’t have to stand over it mixing until it reaches trace. You can mix for a few minutes, go do something else then come back to it, mix a few more minutes…..until it reaches desired stage.

Covering in cling film lessens the chances of soda ash occurring.

Putting the soap into the freezer after cutting makes it easier to remove from mold if it’s a bit stuck.

Cutting the soap with a strand of fine wire (or guitar string) lessens the wastage found in using a knife. (I don’t have a fancy soap cutter, used a knife and yes, did lose some through crumbling)

Honey and Oat: My first effort turned out!! I used a recipe which was economical Lard and Olive Oil Soap. It cost around $12 (NZ) to make just under 2 kg (4 lb) and I added honey and ground oats, Roger gets eczema and needed a simple soap. Apparently this recipe has a nice lather and is gentle. Because it wasn’t perfumed I wanted to dress it up a bit and sprinkled dried calendula petals on it. Wrapped it in glad wrap and a towel and left it on the bench to show off to Roger 🙂 You can imagine my utter horror when I next went into the kitchen to find not only was the cat on the bench but was curled up on top of the towel wrapped (and still soft!) soap. I don’t know what movie that scream “Nnooooooooooooo!” came from but heard myself sound just like it. Unwrapped the soap to find it one great mess but managed to scoop most back in, the petals no longer on top!

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Footnote: This soap, despite the recipe saying it had good lathering properties did not lather well and probably because I did not follow a recipe when I threw in the ground oats and honey (too much of one or the other I suspect!) BUT it is super gentle, super moisturising and I have never used anything on my face that has left it so soft, probably more-so with the use of the oats. I also washed my hair with it to try that and rinsed off with cider vinegar – beautiful!! If I can get over the fact it contains lard I will use this lots!

Lavender: Yes folks, the fraidy cat is gone and Wendy is now hooked on soap making. This first one didn’t smell pretty enough so with new-found bravado I tried Lavender, this time using a vegetable, coconut and olive oil blend. This cost around $20 to make, for around 6lb, it smells divine and will be nice enough for moi and for gifts. The vegetable oil in this is similar to Crisco but Kremelta (coconut and soya oils). i found this recipe by our own wonderful Wendyl Nissen – Make Your Own soap. I added Lavender oil and dried buds. This is silky and creamy and not “earthy” like the fist one.

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This made two medium sized dishes which will be cut tomorrow and a better photo added here. Left now to cure for 4 – 6 weeks I look forward to trying them!

Footnote: Beautiful. Rich, creamy, gentle, lots of lather…smells divine. Not as moisturising as the Lard and Olive Oil one but still lovely. I wish I had researched the use of lavender buds first before I added them though, they go brown as it matures. I have since read they should be ground and will try this next time.