What I learned from my tunnel garden, again.

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What I learned from my tunnel garden this year is the same as what I learned last year. Plant earlier! I planted earlier than I did the year before but still not early enough. These goodies could have been much bigger, on the other hand the tiny carrots couldn’t have been cuter and tasted so sweet. It got too cold for it just before Christmas, so I pulled most of it out. It makes me realize that this really does work for us though. We extended the season for 3 months. I do have to get the timing right. I will start the tunnel August 1 next year. At that time of year the plastic is off the hoop and we wait to put it back on till about October. It is a very tiny space so I want to grow things that will have the most impact for us, so for this reason I will be filling almost half of the space with carrots, and most of the other half with Spinach (because it’s so hardy and good) and fill in the rest with Watermelon Radishes. The ones in the picture here, never had a chance to get big enough, but they can get very large, are delicious, and so pretty inside! Kale is also hardy and more so than Spinach but the system I have set up is such that I can not plant things that grow higher than about 18 inches. When it is really cold I pull the second layer of plastic over the plants, so they can not be too tall. (See the previous entry with photos of our tiny but mighty high tunnel.) It truly was fun to go out to the tunnel, in the cold and the snow and walk inside and smell dirt and see such pretty greens. The funny thing is that after the little harvest, the Spinach started sprouting back up again, when it got above about 20 degrees outside for a handful of days in a row, so who knows what may happen in there, maybe I will get some surprises.

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We have been enjoying some beautiful snowfalls.

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We had a wonderful family Christmas with our in-town family. Relaxing, delicious, and filled with thoughtful gifts that will keep us warm, well read, and fed.

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This year we didn’t put up a tree. I instead decorated my antique plant drying rack. I thought it was quite pretty, I think my family thought it was pretty, but not a tree. Next year I think we will have a tree, but this was fun to me. The ornaments hanging were mostly made by the kids and grands, with a few baby’s first ornaments included.

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The holidays equal cookies. While these cookies seem perhaps not as fancy as many Christmas cookies, they are the best butter cookies ever. The recipe was given to all attending my friend’s Mother’s service, at a small local church in a valley a few miles from here. The cookies were something she made for her family frequently. After the service the Pastor said, “You are all invited downstairs for Butter Cookies and Fellowship”. I like that there is a story that goes with these cookies.

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Our Holiday meal included a root veggie platter of bartered potatoes and onions, a gifted acorn squash, and our garlic, carrots, sage and rosemary, and a few organic sweet potatoes from the quick sell basket at our local market.

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It also included a standing rib roast from our Grass fed Highland Cattle. Here it is going into the oven, for one reason or another we didn’t get an after picture, maybe too busy eating?

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This was a tradition at my Husband’s family Christmas. Now his folks are snowbirds, and each year since Hubby has brought up the yummy Chocolate Steamed Pudding from his family Christmas, so last year after Christmas I decided I would get the pan and make it for him this year. Chocolate Steamed pudding with Hard Sauce. One cousin calls it heart attack sauce, but we all agree that once a year you have to say to heck with that and bring on Tradition! It was delicious, and insanely rich.

Other than holiday things….

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I first true successes with Kombucha. I have a very active fruit and honey ferment and I will try to do a second ferment w my kombucha you see here, and see if I can get some fizz this time! Scoby looks happy and healthy so far!

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I finally gathered all the peppers that were drying in the downstairs room. I didn’t realize I even had this many. I gifted some and still have a lot. I am looking forward to learning more about cooking with them, but in a way where the hot tastes good but doesn’t overtake it all. Haven’t learned that art yet. I wanted to thread them onto long strings but I unfortunately waited and now they are so dry, I don’t think it would work well. Just another reminder that timing matters.

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Last year I made a table runner for my West Coast daughter. This year I made place mats for my in-town daughter and her fiance. I was pleased with how they turned out. It is fun, and I love that the fabrics are either from our old sheets and clothes or from St. Vinnie’s, where they have huge pieces of fabric for $1-3. It definitely is the store I buy at most frequently for kitchen items, books, warm winter shirts for layering, canning jars and more. I never know what I will find there, but it is always fun exploring.

Snow finally happened.

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Our warm Fall lasted forever, and I started to wonder if snow and Winter weather would ever arrive, but over the course of a couple of weeks we went from T-shirts to long johns. Despite the weather, though, we are still enjoying Spinach salads with watermelon radishes and fresh dill several times a week. After the snow today, I really wondered how it would look in there, but it all looked great. It’s hard to believe how different the temperature is in there compared to outside!

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A two layer system. The blanket covering gets rolled back on days where there will be sunshine.

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It tastes even more amazing when everything else is covered in snow;)

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So what is on our minds now…Yep firewood. Hubby went out and pulled two trees up here today to cut up this week. We didn’t go through any wood at all in the Fall and then all of the sudden we are going through it very quickly. Cutting firewood was able to be put off, with the warm weather we were having, which made him very happy because…

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…he got the whole barn built! Phase 1 is completed, next Spring will be siding, but the hay will be undercover for this Winter, and that is a huge thing for us.

Towards the end of barn building it was time to have the hogs butchered, and we for the first time had a locker that comes on site, come out and slaughter on the farm. This means a lot to us. It’s very difficult for us to load animals and transport them for slaughter because we know that no matter what, it is a stressful end for the animal. This year went differently. They came out and had a State Inspector attend as well, so that our meat can be marked “for sale”. Here, if you don’t have an inspector present, then you can not legally sell the meat

I happened to have just strained elderberries out of an elderberry tincture made with Vodka, the night before, and so I mixed the boozey elderberries in the hog’s feed. The boozey berries worked perfectly, the hogs were relaxed and laying in the sun, when the truck arrived. Having them come out and do an on farm kill went so well.  A stunner was used a so it was sunshine one second and they were out the next second. They loaded the hogs into the truck, gutted, and skinned them, then inspected the livers. Then they were off in their refrigerated truck to their brick and mortar store to package the meat. We will do this with our cattle next year too. It was a good experience. No gates, no ramps, no transport, no off loading at the locker etc. Just all around the way we want to do things for our animals.

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When the barn was done and the cold hit, it was time to rebuild, and Winterize the coop. While he worked on this, I was working on the beef and pork orders, which involved (researching) and filling out cut sheets in detail, and reviewing and setting pricing for our beef and pork. Then there was the scary part of juggling all the frozen meat so that it fit, and was organized for customers. Thanks to some excellent help from my daughter who spearheaded “project organize the freezers”, it all looks great!

The birds are now moved from the chicken tractor up in the field above and are down in their Winter coop, and the older ranging birds have moved from their Summer coop into this new Winterized coop. It is nice for them, it is set up so the pop hole door leads to the underneath of a big fir tree which leaves them nicely protected.

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The completed and fully Winterized Coop! As usual he did an amazing job!

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We had three calves this year. We might have found a new home for young Maggie, shown in this picture. We sold one of our one year olds to this other farm already, and they may be interested in her next Spring. Our other two little ones we had this year are bulls and so they will be sold for beef in a couple of years. I do love this picture of Maggie with her Dad (Scotty) and Mom (Jill).

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And drumroll……this is the newest addition to the kitchen. I am exploring Kombucha and seem to have a healthy SCOBY here! This may be one of my Winter kitchen projects this year.

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Now we finally settle into the quiet of Winter. A favorite time of year for me.

It finally feels like Fall!

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Today was our first bone chilling, rainy, cold day. I thawed short ribs and soup bones last night and they were in the oven roasting early this morning, from there they went into a big pot on the stove to simmer for about 24 hours. About 4 hours in I removed the meat and returned the bones to the pot to simmer overnight. I also pulled out some soups from the freezer that I had already made. There were 3 different quarts of various tomato based soups I found and I just combined them all. It turned out delicious with ground beef, mushrooms, carrots, garlic, tomatoes, beef broth and more. All of these things cooking helped to take the chill out of the kitchen this morning.

My Winter prep is really close to done at this point, the fridge is filled with tons of probiotic filled various ferments, enough possibly for a year. The freezers are filled with veggies, fruits, beef and pork, broths, cider, juices, and some beautiful Salmon sides purchased from a local who Captains a fishing boat in Alaska part of the year. We will get the rest of the chickens plugged in to 14 hours of light by the end of the weekend to be sure we get eggs all Winter, and with wood by the back door already, we are doing pretty good.

Hubby would disagree about being ready as he has been working on a building a barn and wants to get as much done as he can before Winter. When hubby builds it’s different then when most people build. Most people put in posts, hubby puts in telephone poles, all of which go 4 feet down into mostly rock that he has to break up. He is doing it with assistance, and the two guys work well together. This will be hay storage and hubby will be deliriously happy when his hay is in it and it stays dry. He’s wanted this for a long time! It’s an incredible building he engineered and built!

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I had a little coffee clutch with the hens this morning.

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Our peppers turned out great this year, in fact we were talking about what a good harvest year this one has been all around! I am very happy with our potatoes, just need a lot more next year. The bucket system worked well. We did have some potatoes that had holes in the middle but apparently that was due to our very, very wet Summer. They were easy to cut around though so, very little was wasted.

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Our apples here were sadly so early that we were caught off guard, they were literally 3-4 weeks early . These apples were 2nds from a local orchard. We ended up with about 2 gallons of dried apples for Winter snacking. I did go out and get the last of our apples, while the texture was mealy the taste was good, and so tonight they will become applesauce.

I also managed to get enough of the ground cherries to freeze for ground cherry jam. This Winter I will pull out the frozen; High Bush Cranberries, Elderberries, some of the Blueberries, some of the Cherries and the Aronia berries and will make many batches of jam. Great for gifting at holiday time. The Elderberry and Aronia berry products will be saved for special use. Looking forward to Elderberry Liquor too!

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I found one last Watermelon in the field and the texture was mealy but again, the taste was good. I cut out all the pink flesh and squeezed them through a jelly bag, and wow, Watermelon juice, I added a bit fermented honey with lemon and it was delicious. I froze some for a Winter treat.

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I think other than the Lima Beans these Ground Cherries are about the last thing to harvest. We have been getting more creative in our fruit additions to the farm. I’ve read about Ground Cherry Jam, and thought it would be fun to try. They are unique and delicious tasting. Next year we will set them up in a different way and will yield many, many more of them. They produce like crazy but ours were set up in a way where they were staying too wet. You don’t actually collect them till they fall off on to the ground, and our ground was too wet.

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This wonderful kitchen table my husband made for us, has not been available for mealtimes in a while. It quickly became my drying table this Summer, and is always covered with beautiful colors and textures. This table is filled with Cayennes, Sumac, Spearmint, Mint, Basil, Clover, Nettles, Calendula, and Dill. The plant is my Turmeric plant, I am looking forward to digging up some pieces to use some time soon.

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These Lima beans came in quite late and I have never grown them before. I found some big enough to eat fresh but the rest will dry on the vine, hopefully I am not too late into the season for them because they were crazy good, I never knew I loved Lima Beans, but I can say I do now. If they have time to fully mature, I will have loads of dried beans!

I picked up some Black Oil Sunflower seeds at a great price from a local mill at $6 for 25 pounds it was surely worth trying! They will hopefully help with our sad tattered looking molty birds. It’s really chilly to look so molty. Here’s hoping the seeds help!

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These is one of our non-molty birds, she is 2 1/2 years old and is posing in one of her favorite places.

When loading and unloading doesn’t go as planned…

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Hubby came in the night before loading up and said, he’d run them through the chute, all was smooth, all gates looked good and so we went to bed thinking things would go close to as planned.

The next morning our helpful neighbor came in his truck hauling his older trailer and we were ready. The 2 steers were separated and ready to send through the chute and into the waiting trailer. As he encouraged the first one and then started to close the gate behind it, which should in turn gently force him, by the nature of the set up, into the narrowing chute and onto the truck. As the gate closed this steer literally jumped straight up and over the 5 plus foot fence. This was something we had not run into yet. Greenhorns. There is no reason to know why he did that and others hadn’t but it may be that the gate was closed at a speed that was just more than he could emotionally handle and he went for flight and thankfully not fight. He knocked a board down and so Hubby nailed it in with special nails so it would be in tighter. We repeated the procedure and that animal did it again, except this time he busted the top two boards. Hubby put up an oak board this time and raised it higher and with that and a bit of good luck the animal did as he was supposed to and walked right into the trailer to get the hay that was waiting for him. Now the gate was locked in the front of the trailer and we successfully loaded the second one into the second compartment, and with great relief, drove in the truck behind the our farmer friend who was hauling our feisty animals.

As we rode there, in the car, and thought the hard part was over, we discussed that morning’s loading and what might have created the problems, and how we can change things next time either in the way we move the animals, the materials we’ve used, or our physical set up. We got to the locker, which is a short ride from home, and waited while someone unloaded their unruly pigs. I don’t know why it didn’t occur to me that we could have the same problem, I assumed it was going to go as smoothly as last year. Well, you know the thing about assumptions. We offloaded the first one and then we quickly realized the second one now had the run of the trailer and was not going to make this easy. The last thing we wanted was more tussle as we do all we can to move the animals calmly and not overly upset or stress them, but after enough trying I asked, can’t we put him down in the trailer? The reply was for another $20 bucks, which at that moment seemed cheap, so within in a minute he was down.

We will get better at this, we will keep learning, but we also will be greenhorns for quite a while yet.

As the blood rolled out of the rusted holes, in the bottom of the old trailer, and pooled in the lot, I was reminded that when you are working with animals, there is no being sure you’ve planned for everything.

This is my Shissel

Shissel: Yiddish for basin or tub.

My Mother knew my love of coffee and had  bought me this mug and told me it would be my Shissel of coffee. So my Shissel and I are ready for a post here. Ironically my last entry was about change, and we have gone through a big one since then. This entry is for you Mama because you loved hearing what was happening on the farm.

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This is the time when everything is ramping up. I watch from Springtime till Fall as the small High Bush Cranberries change color from green to yellow to orange to red. They are almost red and that is a sign that I look forward. It is usually a cool crisp day when I pick these berries in Late October to early November. Can you tell I am a Fall lover? So as hot as it is right now, it can be felt in many ways that Fall is coming sooner then we are probably ready for…. It’s time to pull the cider press out and start collecting apples, the tomatoes are at peak and so are the grapes. I’ve been freezing beans, about 3-4 pounds every other day, as well as Kale, Collards, and fermenting cucumbers and making fermented sauerkraut. Today was grape jelly, grape juice and tomato sauce. They will all be in the freezer by the end of day.

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In addition to food preservation, I’ve been collecting, whenever I am out, little bits of herbs and weeds to add to my herbal/weed apothecary. I look forward to exploring my collections this Winter and having time to make teas and salves etc. I’ve collected dozens of flowers, weeds, leaves, and roots. I’m a student of Rosemary Gladstar, but she doesn’t know it, she’s taught me a lot and it’s been fun to learn. Couple that with the fact that I finally am back to finishing the book “Clan of the Cave Bear” Rosemary and Ayla, the strong female character in the book, have taught me a lot.

Today Hubby is working on a new hay barn. We literally have not an extra foot of space in our current barn due to wood storage and equipment. Much of the stored wood will help build the barn, and much of the money for the rest of the structure, will come from the sale of our little Ford tractor. This all means more space in the barn which will really help! Maybe even doors on the long barn someday!

This weekend I will plant the Fall tunnel garden with Kale, Spinach, Early carrots and Watermelon Radishes. The chicken wire tunnel will be covered with plastic around the first half of October, and these veggies should be with us through the Winter. Last year we had some slow growing lettuce all Winter in there. I also run a plastic cover across the inside of the tunnel like a blanket over the veggies (the cover rides the edges of the tunnel where it sits on the hay bales), it worked great experimentally last year so this year I am hoping for even better success so I am planting more than just the experimental lettuce from last year.

our honey

We are becoming more self sufficient in bits. The more new things on the farm the closer we get to this. We now have our first sample of our honey. A beekeeper has his hives here and the exchange rate is that we earned 10 pounds of our own honey that he has been able to raise here. I did actually get a bit more of this, on a granola barter, so I could have “our honey” to use as gifts at the holidays this year. I know self sufficiency on the farm, is as the title suggests “incremental”, but in addition to raising all of our own meats and eggs over the last few years, this year we likely will have a year’s worth of our own: rhubarb, green and yellow beans, butternut squash, tomato sauce, fermented pickles and kraut plus other ferments, as well as enough basil, oregano, garlic, dill and chili peppers. I get excited with each thing we add here. Last year we added a lot of fruit (elderberry, aronia berry, plum trees, currents and goji berries), none of these are big yielders yet but they will! These are all small steps but they add up over time. I still barter as needed for things we don’t have such as local strawberries and years worth of potatoes and onions.

This November a new change to the farm is that new grazing land will open up for our cattle because some areas of the farm are coming out of a program, and now will be able to be grazed. This allows us to consider growing our small herd of Highlands over the course of the next few years. In the meantime we have two steers getting processed at the end of September, so less mouths to support on hay this Winter and lots of meat in our freezer, especially with the 2 hogs being processed in early November. I believe I may have sold one of them yesterday, it was a referral call to us, and selling a whole hog would be an easy way to handle it, and freezer space with the two steers would be tight.

mushrooms

We had a surprise flush of Shiitakes the other day, and they are now dried and packed away for Winter soups and stews. They are such wonderful tasting mushrooms!

sauce, all ours!

This sauce was exciting. Everything in it was from the farm, which included tomatoes, beef, mushrooms, peppers, onions, and basil and lots of garlic. This may be a small achievement but as I put it in freezer containers for Winter eating, it was a very good feeling. Tonight the grape juice and tomato sauce from today will be packed into the freezer as well. Tomorrow will be more beans and more tomato sauce…blanch, freeze, and repeat.

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Things that change…

This is a photo collage of how things change here,

and how one thing often inspires another…

 

Late May to Mid July…

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Berries become…

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…amazing jam

 

Cucumbers become…

cukes

yummy fermented pickles

…delicious fermented pickles

 

Calendula flowers dry to become…

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…Calendula Salve.

 

Fresh Dill dries to become…

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…Fresh dried Dill seed.

 

A Cranberry and honey ferment and a Lemon and honey ferment becomes…

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… a 2 quart jar of cranberry honey and a 2 quart jar of lemon honey that both can be used this year for sweetening tea and desserts. What is shown in this jar got mixed together in the food processor and will be Cranberry relish for the year. It will be especially great on our Pork come Winter.

It’s nice looking back over this and seeing that despite the fact that sometimes I feel like I have many unfinished things, that there are plenty of things that do come together in the end:)

Finally, a great find today!

We are approaching August and produce season is really kicking in at this point. I will be blanching and freezing small batches of Kale, Collards, and Swiss Chard every few days at this point. The Green Beans and Dragon Tongue beans will be coming in full over the next week, so there is plenty more to blanch and freeze, so the timing today of my popping into the local resale shop and finding this great tool for blanching, was perfect! It cost me $2.00 and it is stainless steel and much smaller then what I used to use, and the basket is perfect for plunging from pot to ice water to stop the blanching process. It made the job very simple, and simple often means that I get more of it done! Looking forward to a freezer full of vegetables this Winter!

blanching pot

 

 

 

Everything Spring!

Spring came on early and way too hot. It was crazy hot for a while being 85-90 degrees in mid May. This creates a bit of Spring Drama, with young plantings withering from the Sun, and well, me too, that is…withering from the Sun! It becomes hard to acclimate to, when it hits this early. Stormy season has begun, and with each storm I think, maybe this one will cool things off. Well the picture below was the one that did it. We got a couple of cool planting days after this storm!

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chives

I learned that chives buds can be fermented, so I had to try!

chive bud ferment

They can be used in a relish tray or with a Martini, darn I need to learn to like Martinis!

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Once the chive blossoms open they can be steeped in rice wine vinegar to add to a salad dressing, this turned out to be wonderful!

rhubarb

My rhubarb plants have grown to almost be enough for our needs, I still added some from Grandma’s plants though so I would have some extra.

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I liked this new rhubarb jam recipe because it doesn’t require any added pectin! So easy to make and really delicious. I might make one more batch! In my quest to learn from last year, I will freeze just a little rhubarb, I froze a lot more last year and I think Jam is a better use for it. Each year, I am trying to learn from last year!

catch of the day

What I found on my walk.

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…and more of what I found on my walk. Sadly it was a dismal Morel year for us, but we were happy for each one we found. The Pheasant Backs had a much better year, of course. Our Shiitakes are getting there, we should have a good flush soon, can’t wait!

I have been learning some new things, which I love. I have started learning about all the amazing wild plants we have and their medicinal values. This puts together my nursing instincts and background with my love of Wild Crafting and foraging. I practiced my first salve using these Dandelion flower tops. I dried them first a bit so they wouldn’t add moisture to my oil infusion. Then I heated the oil and let them saturate it, then I strained the olive oil that had the flowers in it and combined it with some beeswax, from the honey farm down the road. It is such nice beeswax with a bit of natural honey scent to it.

dandelion oil

 

melting local beeswax

Here is the beeswax melting.

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I had extra beeswax so I made some candles as well. Shown below are the finished products.

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My daughter gave me some dried Calendula flowers and so I made this salve as well. This was really fun, and I know I will want to do this more! I am starting to think about Holiday gift giving ideas!

fishing

Sometimes one must take some time to just sit, and so we did. All the fish we caught were too small:( The boat though was very relaxing, so goal achieved.

ginger beer

I am playing with fermented Ginger Beer these days. Trying to get it just right. The batch previous to this was better, so I am thinking I need to work on my Ginger Bug (my ginger starter). It is nice to be able to make a carbonated Summer drink like this.

There is only one more garden to be put in and it should be done this week. There is loads of mulching to do, but after that there is a bit of a lull, before produce starts needing processing. I am ready for a lull!