Monday, October 31, 2011

Happy Halloween!

My new blog is all set up and ready to go, hop on over and check it out!

Friday, September 9, 2011

Monster Zucchini!

Talk about flippin' huge! Check these buggers out! They are practically bigger than my legs.

Unfortunately, they would probably taste horrible because they tend to get really fibrous when allowed to get this big. No worries though, these two will be our seed fruit so that we will have seeds for next year and probably a lot extra to put in the Etsy shop.

It so happened that they got this big because Lee has been slacking off on his harvesting duties, which is because he's been a wimp about getting tomato leaf stickies on his skin. It makes him itch.

I do admit that the tomatoes were starting to deter me from going into the garden, too. They became these ravenous beasts that were getting way out of control and had produced a serious jungle. We no longer had garden paths, they killed the Stars and Moon watermelon vine that was minding it's own business next door by growing over the top of it, and started bending the fence which encouraged that rabbits to climb over and hop on into the garden. (Boy was it fun {not} chasing Dot through all those tomato vines last night for a half an hour!)

I decided that I would begin selectively pruning them so that Lee (and I) will go back into the garden again, the wimps that we are. I fear that we probably watered too much, because we have a lot of vine, but very little fruit. And what's up with the darned heirlooms? Nothing. We only bought the Early Girl hybrid to tide us over until the heirlooms kicked in, but Early Girls aren't much better than grocery store tomatoes. Blech. They are still tough and not super tasty. Bah. I guess the bright side perks would be that they are organic and we didn't have to pay for them.

Last summer Mr. Stripey, our one heirloom tomato at the time, tormented us and then finally had a huge blowout just before the frost kicked in. I have a feeling the same thing is going to happen with our White Queen, Black Sea Man, Black Trifele, Green Zebra, Russian Queen, Pink Oxhearts, and the others we have been waiting on for long I've forgotten the names of.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Non-GMO Corn Tortillas? Do They Exist?

Since posting my last recipe for quesadillas, and all the news buzz about Monstanto wreaking havoc with their GMO corn and encouraging a super pest to evolve (that is now resistant to their GMO corn), I've really been concerned about all of the products that we buy which are made of corn, so pardon my ranting here. As you know, it isn't just the obvious things that contain corn either, corn is in everything! Take a peek at this crazy list of things that may be derviced from corn! Talk about daunting.

You may have read my last rant about GMO's, but if you haven't and have no clue as to why they should be avoided, please take the time to learn why you should avoid them! The easiest way to avoid them is to buy organic, or trusted brands that do not use GMO's in their products. If you are cell phone savvy, get an app to make it even easier for you.

I hate to say it, but there's a 75-85% chance that the corn in your local grocery store is GMO corn. Yep, that includes the fresh summer sweet corn in the produce section, too. It's one of those sad situations where you just have to eat the nasty GMO or go without. A lot of people are choosing to go without now, unless they are growing it themselves. How very sad and depressing that things have come to this.

Even those with home gardens aren't completely safe, and organic heirloom corn could easily and very quickly become a thing of the past. As it is, it is already rare and very hard to find. I know by trial and error that if you do find some, it's hard to grow. Our corn this year was a failure. Also, since we are surrounded by miles and miles of cornfields, most likely GMO corn, it's totally possible that our corn could get contaminated. This really, really, depresses me to think that we are extremely close to not having real, non-GMO, organic corn again, ever. Once it's ruined by GMO's, it's gone. We can't bring it back, folks. We need to all take responsibility and do something now.

What can you do? Well, the simplest thing is to avoid corn, with the exception of organic. This is voting with your wallet. You can take it a step further and contact the manager or owner of your local grocery store and ask them to carry organic or non-GMO corn and corn products. If you really want to get involved, check out Millions Against Monsanto  or NON GMO Project and keep up to date. They often have online petitions you can sign and updates for events in your area. Putting the pressure on the big guys is how to make things really happen, so if you can, get involved! Even if it's just signing petitions. There are other organizations and websites out there devoted to this cause, do a little Googling.

As for those corn tortillas, I found that La Tortilla Factory brand organic tortillas are sold at a number of stores that are available all over the country. I also read that the Trader Joe's brand items sold in their stores are also GMO-free. That doesn't mean that every item on their shelves are, as they've gotten into some hot water in the past for selling non-labeled GMO items from other companies, but you can feel somewhat safe with their own brand. Also, it appears that Whole Foods has a new attitude about carrying GMO products, and I'm sure this has a lot to do with consumer petitions and the pressure that activist groups put on them earlier in the year with store rallies and educating consumers. See, when you get ticked off and speak up, those companies do listen!

Friday, September 2, 2011

Cheese-free Quesadillas

This is my favorite snack as of late, quesadillas without the cheese (and all the fat, cholesterol, and lactose.) How is that possible? Hummus. I was skeptical that it would work, but yUh-hUm-mMm! And so simple!

I just slather some hummus on one corn tortilla (flour works too, we also tried whole wheat and it was pretty good,) then slap another tortilla on top of it. Brush a little bit of oil (whatever vegetable based oil that suits you will work) on the top. I don't like super greasy food so I just use the barest amount, but if you are all about frying, by all means, go ahead and drown that sucker. Flip it into a pan, oil side down, over medium heat until it turns golden brown. Brush oil on the opposite side and flip it over and let that side get golden brown. Slide onto a cutting board. Chop that baby up into however many pieces you want, and voila! Serve with your favorite salsa.

If you want to get all fancy, make your own darned hummus and salsa. If you really think you are all that then make your own tortillas, too. Go on, I dare you. [wink]

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Flower Seed Preview!

I've already begun harvesting flower seeds for next year. There will be a few more varieties to choose from for next Spring, aside from the Mammoth Sunflowers and Morning Glories, which by the way have been marked down 50% in my end of the season seed clearance sale.
Here's a preview of just a few of the flower seeds that will be packaged up soon and available for next Spring!

 Bright Pink Cosmos!

Bright orange Marigolds!

 Zinnias in all shapes, sizes, colors, and textures!

Friday, August 26, 2011

Mystery Moth

A couple weeks back I found a black wiry-haired caterpillar munching away on my morning glory vines. I haven't kept a caterpillar since early elementary school, but I thought that Lee's boys would enjoy watching it. I scooped him into a jar and gave him some more morning glory leaves. For about a week and a half he ate, and ate, and ate. He required about three large morning glory leaves a day. Finally, one day he had wound himself all up in a little cocoon.

Unfortunately, I almost forgot about the little thing, sitting on the counter amongst jars of seeds that had gotten stacked in front of it's own jar. Last night I found his jar and thought that he may have just died. The leaves that had been left in the jar had wilted and withered over the top of the cocoon, sort of sealing it in. I felt bad. This was why I didn't keep little bugs in jars.

So I took the jar outside and found a stick, I nudged the leaf off of the cocoon. Then I thought I saw a little wiggle! I tapped at the cocoon ever so lightly with the stick. It wiggled again! Suddenly there was a little crack! I could see something white and orange moving around inside. I ran to get Lee. By the time we had gotten back to the jar, like less than a minute later, the little thing had already emerged! Just like that! I thought it was so strange that I had seemingly woken him up and he had hatched instantly!

Lee took a look at the weird looking moth, who was pretty white with Dalmatian-like spots, spindly black legs with white spots, and teeny tiny underdeveloped wings and a huge orange abdomen. "It doesn't look ready. You woke it up too soon. He's not finished. Can you get it back into it's capsule?"

I gave him a sideways glance. I did feel horrible though. The moth was crawling all around and couldn't fly. I was certain that I had ruined his chances of being a normal moth. As I sat there and watched him crawl on the ground, I saw the chickens run up. I didn't shoo them away, as I thought, "Well, it's probably more merciful to offer him a quick death than to let him wander around on the ground and slowly starve. Something would end up eating him eventually, anyway."

So I cringed as I waited for Red to pluck him up and swallow him, but the chickens would have nothing to do with him after they got a closer look. Wow! That was a first. So I let the little guy crawl onto a stick and took him over to our garden fence. He crawled up the wire, all the way to the top, and then just dangled there. I thought for sure he didn't have any strength to hang there, being just hatched and all, but little did I know that this is just what the little guy needed. I went in to make dinner. Every now and then I glanced out the window to check on the little white "spot" on the fence. He stayed put.

While dinner was cooking, I quickly did a web search on what happens when you wake up a moth or butterfly too soon or why the wings were undeveloped, and found nothing. I was shocked. Surely other people had run into this problem before? Then I read the development of a certain kind of butterfly, which stated that after it emerges from the cocoon, it climbs a tree and lets it's wings fill with blood, then flies away. Ah hah, that had to be it! I told Lee, and we both went outside to check on the mystery moth.

Sure enough, he had wings! In about an hour, his short stubby wings had filled out all the way down past his abdomen, and he looked beautiful! I tried to get a picture despite it being dark, as you can see above.

Later on I found out from a web search that he was a Salt Marsh Moth. Not only did his coloring obviously give this away, but it stated that one of his habitat preferences were marshy areas, which are close by here. And, that one of his favorite foods is the cotton plant, also nearby, since this is the cotton capitol of California.

He flew away sometime while we were eating dinner. We felt relieved.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

The Best Milk Comes From a Plant

I'm going to plug hemp milk today, just because so few people know about it and how nutritionally fantastic it is in comparison to other milks.

Have you ever tried hemp milk? I swear, out of all the milks I've tasted, it's by far the best. I've been drinking it for about 6 years now. Taste aside, it's a good alternative to soy which isn't the wonder-food we thought it was, hemp kicks it's be-hind all over the place. Soy is just too controversial, and because it's fed to a lot of factory farmed livestock, that definitely makes cow's milk even more evil.

As for cow's milk, the dairy council would like you to believe all sorts of things about their white snake oil, like how good it is for your bones. Anything to get you to buy it. Well that appears to be hogwash, as I have read in several different sources that milk, in fact, can contribute to osteoporosis. Have a hard time believing that? The tobacco industry wanted you to believe that cigarettes were actually good for you once upon a time, so why wouldn't other big industries spread lies until they get caught? Anything to get you to buy it.

Hemp milk may be a tad pricier than other plant-based milks, but in my opinion the extra buck is well worth it because of all the nutrients that are packed in. Plus, I don't use a whole lot of it. One container lasts me for a week. My favorite brand is tempt, who also makes protein powder and ice cream!, but there are other brands that are just as good and a little less costly if you can find them. Try your local natural foods store. Ask them if they might carry it if they don't already. If you can't find it locally, you can order it online directly from tempt's website or other online natural food stores, google it.

Oh, and by the way, you can't get high consuming hemp food products. [eye roll]

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Peat Pots Shmeat Pots

It's crazy, the things we throw our money away on. I only bought peat pots a couple of times before realizing just how much they can add up if you start a lot of plants from seed. Plus, they never seemed to work that good. I was never able to just plant the seedling whole in the ground, I always had to peel away the peat pot before planting because they often got root bound and thus their growth was stunted. In my humble opinion, when you add the cost of soil and seeds, you may as well buy your plants already partially grown from the nursery. So then I tried one of those wooden peg pot maker thingys with quite a bit of success. I was able to reuse the newspapers that Lee accumulates. It was certainly a lot cheaper and paid for itself in one season.

Then I checked out the book Self-Sufficiency for the 21st Century from the library (which is an absolutely brilliant book I might add, do check it out) and happened upon the fantastic idea of repurposing toilet paper tubes for seed pots.

It was one of those moments where I gave my forehead a good slap and thought, now why didn't I think of that? I had been saving toilet paper tubes for months and had a paper grocery sack full. Lee had been bothering me about what I was going to use them for and why they were taking up space in our tiny house. I finally gave up on finding a good practical use for them and tossed them in the compost bin only just before the book had arrived. Grrr. Up to that point, I had been spending afternoons cutting newspaper into the right size strips and folding them around the pot maker carefully, pressing each one into it's own finished product. The toilet paper tube trick was sooo much simpler! And more convenient. And less time consuming. Plus, it put those tubes to use.

I know a lot of you probably just throw them away. Save them. Even if you don't have a garden yourself, you can teach a gardening friend how to do this and save your tubes for them! If you only have flower beds and buy annuals, save yourself some cash and grow your own! You might spend $2-$3 on a six pack of marigolds? You could grow a whole flat of 70 plants for about the same price.

After learning about this trick in Self-Sufficiency for the 21st Century, I then started finding several versions of this idea online, and everyone had some tiny twist that they did differently. Here's how I do it, as plain and simple as possible:
First of all, you are going to find a nice, shallow box to hold the tubes. I have discovered that repurposing our strawberry flats are perfect for the job. They hold a lot of tubes, you can probably squish about 68-70 tubes in the entire flat. Of course, any shallow box will work or you can cut a taller one down. Just be sure it's at least half of the height of the tubes. A little taller is fine too, just not so tall that the walls make too much shade. Your seedlings will want all the sun they can get.
The first simple step to make a TP Tube Seed Pot, is to make several little snips at one end of the tube. The snips should be about an inch long, and they should be about a half an inch apart.
When you are done snipping, you should have a tube that looks like this with a bunch of little flaps.
Next, fold the little flaps inward.
Voila! That's it. Don't worry about securing the flaps, that's not necessary. They will stay put once all of the tubes are squished back together in the box, snipped sides down of course. Fill with seed starting mix and plant your seeds.  Simple.

Now is a good time to start saving your TP tubes so that you'll have a good supply on hand for next Spring's garden.  

Monday, August 22, 2011

Yard Sailing

One of the the things I love about summer is yard sailing. You don't need a boat or a life vest, yet it's just as exciting. It's always a new adventure, with new treasures to be found. End of summer seems to be a really good time of the season to grab up great deals, as our recent yard sailing treks have panned out quite well. It appears that as summer plants begin to die back, people are more likely to let go of their gardening items, which means big score for us! 
Here's some of the loot from just the last two weekends:
A groovy pair of red wellies with pink polk dots, previously worn but plenty of miles left. I couldn't pass them up because I only have one other pair of wellies, and they are just boring black. I am such a polka dot freak. Cost: $3.
Various medium sized clay pots. Still had a little potting soil in the bottom, and one had a spider in it, but you know how expensive these things can get. Cost: $1 each. Spider was free.
All leather rose pruning gloves. Great condition. No tears, no holes, no seams undone. Just a little mud stain on the palms, but I at the price I got them for, I can live with that. Cost: $2.
Now for the score of the summer. Compost bin. Used, but in perfect condition. No cracks, no broken parts. All good. The fella even threw in the metal turning fork. He said he just didn't want to have to drag it back into the garage. Brace yourself... Cost: $5!

I also picked up an armload of embroidery hoops for $3. I got a bag full of vintage aprons, embroidered tea towels & napkins, and a vintage sewing needle kit all for $3! Some wooden drawer organizers for $2. A cool vintage stationary set for $1. Two very nice cardigans for $4. Last, but not least, a vintage book on string games with the original string still in it: $1.

Now is a great time to go look for some bargains, so why not plan a sailing trip next weekend? Here's some tips to consider:

*Early birds don't always get the cheap worms. We don't feel we need anything bad enough to get up super early, especially on a Saturday morning when it's nice to sleep in. While we may miss some of the better stuff, we feel the deals we get later in the day are better worth waiting for. Most people who put on a yard sale don't want to drag their stuff back into the garage at the end of the day, so they are more willing to mark things down or haggle over the price as it gets closer to their closing time, just to get rid of stuff.

*You are more likely to get a better deal when you buy an armload of stuff, rather than a single item. Most people don't take the time to price each individual item from what I've seen. They just do a quick glance over what you have when you bring it up to them and rattle off a price.

*Haggling is not my forte, but it never hurts to ask for a better price if you are quoted a price that seems a little steep. Make an offer. For instance, if they say $5, ask if they would take $4. Be reasonable. Don't be rude and offer $1 when they ask for $5. Most of the time, if it's just small difference they won't argue. The worst that can happen is that they may say no, but you can always still buy the item at $5. 

*Craigslist is a good place to find yard sale listings. My mom gets all organized and writes down a list of addresses from Craigslist and then gets out her local map. I feel the best way to do it is just look for signs on main roads or highways, unless I find specific listings that give a sneak preview of what they are selling and see something I can't pass up. I do look for country sales on Craigslist though, because it's highly unlikely you might come by signs for these. Most of the time though, Lee and I just like to fly by the seat of our pants see where the signs lead. Last weekend in town it seemed we were playing a game of connect the dots. We'd find one yard sale and then right after that we would see a sign for another. This went on until we had found about 20 odd yard sales! We didn't even have to write down one address.

*Consider the neighborhood you are sailing in. We tend to stick mainly to the older, downtown areas and country sales because we figure those folks are more likely to have similar interests & tastes and sell stuff we actually want, rather than people who live in McMansions in the suburbs. Old people are going to have cool vintage stuff. Country folks are going to have gardening tools and other useful things. I'd say that over 75% of the time this is true, but sometimes on the rare occasion we may stop by a suburb yard sale and be pleasantly surprised to actually find something we can use. So don't judge too harshly.

Happy yard sailing!

Thursday, August 11, 2011

A New Sunflower Forest

Can Sunflowers smile? This one sure seems to be.
This morning when I checked on the garden, I found that one of my Mammoth Sunflowers had fully opened. Of course, this one is just a "baby" only standing at about 6 feet tall. Some of her bigger sisters are standing at 10 ft tall right now and haven't yet set out any blooms. I've read that the further you space your Mammoths, the bigger they get. I indiscriminately dispersed seeds all along our garden fence line, so we have sunflowers of the same seed in all sizes, from super tall to some dwarf sized ones that are only about 3 feet tall with thin stalks.
The long, tall, 10 footers!

These are my third generation Mammoths. I like to say they came from outer space because when I still lived at the ranch, three of them just magically appeared in the middle of the beets and carrots. I hadn't planted them, my mom hadn't planted them. In fact, neither of us had even purchased sunflower seeds that year, so it's a big mystery as to how they got there. I'm a pushover gardener though, I often let wild things grow in (and sometimes takeover) the garden, and boy, did these ladies get huge! I couldn't even close my fingers all the way around their stalks and the faces were enormous, with one that spanned almost 2 feet wide!
The flowers at Bear Creek Pumpkin Patch.
Last year we visited Bear Creek Pumpkin Patch at Fox Creek Ranch to let the boys pick out pumpkins, and marveled at their stunning display of rows upon rows of various types of sunflowers, layered with a rainbow of zinnias and jumbo marigolds, in their corn maze. I was inspired to create a similar display in our backyard for this Fall in homage to our honeybees, and so I ordered more flower seeds from a great seller on eBay. I received my parcel two days ago, which included these varieties of sunflower: Lemon Queen, Velvet Queen, Italian White, Autumn Beauty, and Japanese Taiyo. Zinnias: Orange King, Purple Prince, Cactus Flowered, and Mixed Garden Elegans. I also ordered mixed Bachelor's Buttons and Black Gem Bachelor's Buttons. I can't wait to plant them this weekend! Perhaps if these all do well in my garden this year, you will see them in my Etsy shop this Winter and next Spring!

Sunday, August 7, 2011

It's Time For a Food Fight

Have you heard about GMO's? When I watched a video about GMO's and public awareness a few weeks back, I was really surprised to discover that a lot of people really don't know what they are or why they should be avoided! It's easy to start avoiding them today, some simple ways to do so are to:

* Buy organic!
* Check the labels- if it doesn't specifically say NON-GMO, it probably contains GMO's.
* Be wary of the 'biggy' crops: Corn, Soy, Canola, Cottonseed.
* Download a NON-GMO shopping guide.

Isn't it crazy that cows will avoid the GMO grain if given the choice? Isn't it even crazier that we will eat them because they are "cheaper" than organic? Let's get our priorities straight folks! Cut out that daily Starbucks drink (or other vice/unnecessary luxury) and use the spare cash to buy organic produce. No more excuses.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Shaking Off the Dust

Last Sunday evening I woke up in the middle of the night with a fever. The following day I had what could only be described as a 24 hour stomach bug, but I couldn't remove myself from the sofa all day. Very unlike me, and in my mind it was torture because there were so many things I needed and wanted to get done, but my body was telling my mind to just shut up. So it did. I missed a day of squash picking, and ended up with extra gigantic squash on Tuesday. For the rest of the week my energy came and went, so I just rolled with it and let myself take naps as needed. Yesterday I started to feel somewhat normal again finally.

This weekend is our "Finish That Project" weekend. We are hoping to complete a hand-laid, mortar-less patio area on the side of the house with some salvaged bricks that were given away for free by a local in town. Then it's time to finally get the shingles on the hen house, which are going to be cut from reclaimed plywood that I once used as painting supports for my art classes. Yes, this is the same hen house I started and never finished last summer. We have a tarp over the top of the roof right now, and the girls have been living in it just fine so far. They just recently started laying regularly in their attached nesting box. For a while, they were nesting on the floor of the garden shed and Scout, our most devious mutt, was stealing their eggs.

I was just given another bag of homegrown cucumbers from Lee's mom last night, so that's another project for this weekend. Maybe I can test out a new Bread and Butter Pickle recipe.

Oh, and I swear that this concoction made my stomach feel almost instantly better on Tuesday when I tried it:

* 1 cup of warm water
* 1 TBSP of honey
* the juice of one lemon

Sunday, July 31, 2011

It Can Be Done

My second attempt at canning was better than the first time, but I still need a little practice perfecting my jam. The first time I tried canning last fall I made homemade pizza sauce, but not all of the lids sealed. This time around I didn't have one faulty lid.

I used the bread and butter pickle recipe from Put 'em Up, and even though it came out good, it wasn't as sweet as the homemade bread and butter pickles that were given to us from a friend of Lee's mom last year, and we loved those pickles. So I think next time I will try another recipe.

My first solo jam session was a bit of a mess, as I wish I had a couple extra sets of arms. I think I may have crushed the strawberries a bit too much because the bottom half of each jar is jelly and the top half is jam. I didn't get all of the foam out either, but I read online that foam isn't too much of a big deal. It's going to take some practice to get it perfect, but at least right now it's still edible.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Dumping ScAmazon Right Back

I've been waiting for a kickstart, the push to finally get me to dump Amazon, and it's finally come. You have probably heard by now that Amazon has dumped all of it's California sales affiliates. When I first got my rejection letter from Amazon, it didn't really phase me at first. I only put up with them for my reader's benefit. I put their widget on my blog and links in my book reviews to make it easier for readers to find these books, but it was really just lazy of me. I should have taken the time to support a better bookseller, but instead I sort of put it on the backburner and forgot about it. Yesterday I read a fellow blogger's post and was instantly reminded that I needed to find a better bookseller to refer people to, pronto, because I am so sick of big corporations getting away with everything.

I should have previously found another online bookseller (that I felt better about) to link to, it's just that Blogger makes it a little too easy with their built in Amazon Associates dealio. It's not that I really care about the commission either, I think I made, like, under $10 in the last year, and I've yet to see it! They have never paid me. Really, for me, this is about a company throwing a hissy fit because it doesn't want to do the right thing and pay it's taxes like you and me. As if they aren't making enough money? And what are they doing to give back to the communities that are pouring money into them?

Personally, I have rarely, if ever, used Amazon other than as a quick look-up guide to find new books that I can check out at my library or request an order for at my local bookshop. Now I don't even think I am going to use them for that anymore. I would encourage you, dear reader, to do the same because supporting your library and local bookshop is so much more important than supporting a big corporate monster. There are many other Amazon alternatives to choose from that are actually doing something to give back, if shopping online is what works best for you. Also, try out an online book swap like Basically you just pay shipping. I've gotten a handful of cool books that I wanted through this site, which saves a whole heck of a lot of trees! (You can also swap music, movies and games!) If you'd like to add me as a Swap friend, you can find me under the username: amandinemai. I do need to update my available books though, I haven't done so in a while.

Anyway, you will notice that the Amazon widget in the sidebar on this blog is fini! I will be working on going through all of my posts and removing the Amazon links one by one, which may take a while. If you happen to read an old post that has an Amazon link, please use another online bookseller for purchase.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Stovetop Soap Results

Last night before I went to bed, I checked on the soap, which had solidified into a rubbery circle in the pan. I added water and stirred. Then stirred some more. Finally it obtained a slime-like consistency. After that, I decided to leave it alone and go to sleep.
This morning, I still had a pot of thick slime, so I added three more cups of water and heated it up again.

After allowing it to sit for a few hours post boiling, it was at a honey-like consistency, to put it nicely. Otherwise, it was kind of like a big pot of snot, thanks to the color. It seemed like I had to keep stirring and re-stirring to keep it at a normal consistency, but when left alone it would separate from the water and return to a thick chunk of slime.

Ready to throw in the towel, I tested it out with a pump and it didn't seem to clog the pump at all even though it was slightly clumpy. Basically I gave up trying to get a perfect consistency like store-bought liquid hand soaps. I didn't seem possible, at least with this brand of soap that I found at Big Lots. It was made from 100% vegetable oils & no animal fat. Different soaps will do different things though, so if you try this you may very well have different results. A clear glycerine soap might work at lot better? I added a little colorant so that it didn't look so much like, ugh, well... snot. Even though it's not the most attractive liquid soap, it does seem to work okay but I don't think my soap experiments have come to an end just yet.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Stovetop Soap

Few items needed. Mess potential: minimal.
For a while I was using Mrs. Meyer's Clean Day Liquid Hand Soap, Basil  because I absolutely adored the scent. That is, until I realized it wasn't Winter weather that was drying out the skin on my hands so badly. My suspicions were confirmed after reading three other consumer reviews by people who had experienced the same problem with this soap. Bummed out, I replaced it with bar soap, and my hands went back to normal. (I reused the leftover handsoap to make a spray cleaner, since the stuff was obviously so tough.) Though, eventually the icky, sticky mess of bar soap on the sink counter was not pleasant or convenient, and because I didn't want to buy anything that had a lot of weird chemicals in it, I decided to try a homemade recipe. 

Now, I've made soap from scratch in years past with success, but I have to admit that handling lye freaks me out and isn't something I care to do on a whim. So when I was desperately looking for a liquid soap recipe, I decided to go the easy way out with a mix and pour type of project. You know, something really simple and nothing that would create a huge mess or burn my eyes out if accidentally splashed into my face. I found a recipe for liquid castile handsoap that was easy to make, and luckily I had everything on hand for it. Unfortunately it still dried out my skin. On the same webpage though, there was another recipe for making liquid handsoap from a bar (which I avoided the first time around because it required boiling and I didn't want to wait for my soap.) Today I made a batch. It has to sit overnight, so I'll let you know how it goes tomorrow.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Crafty Cheese

After watching a video on Etsy about Urban Cheesecraft, I was inspired to dedicate this post to my friend Sarah, who, for as long as I have known her, has always wanted to have her own organic dairy goat farm. She thinks that the idea of her owning a goat farm is a dream at best, but I think that she could so very easily make this a reality if she just dreamed a little harder.

By now you probably know that I'm not a huge fan of dairy for dietary and health reasons. Not that I will deny that the taste of cheese is good, I just can't eat it with digestive success. Still, I've been curious about home dairies and backyard dairy goat keeping for those who do like and can eat dairy. I think keeping your own animals and producing your own milk products is the much more responsible thing to do than buy your milk from a big industrial dairy where the animals are treated horribly, and live in nasty conditions. The second best thing would be to buy from a humane farm, but unless you can actually visit that farm yourself and see what goes on there with your own eyes, you really just don't know. A label will tell you anything you want to hear.

Of course, there is still one sticky thing about dairy. That's the fact that animals have to be pregnant and produce young to produce milk, and a lot of the time those babies are going to be byproducts. I'm not so sure I could deal with selling babies to be eaten or otherwise just so that I could have cheese, so I don't know if I'd ever actually breed my pets for that purpose. It's interesting when you take responsibility for your food choices, you really begin to question the way things are done and sometimes the food really doesn't seem that appetizing when you fully understand where that food comes from and what it takes to acquire it.

Anyway, I was on a fairly long library waitlist for Homemade Living: Home Dairy with Ashley English: All You Need to Know to Make Cheese, Yogurt, Butter & More, and was thrilled when I went to the library last Friday and found that it had already come in. Like all of her other books, I thought this was a great book, especially for beginners. It is full of photographs, stories about real dairy product makers, and step-by-step instructions on how to make everything from butter to yogurt. The only thing that I felt was missing, was how to care for the animals that produce the milk to make all of these products. I guess I just assumed that because her books on beekeeping and keeping chickens were mainly about the care of the animals, and only partially about the products they produce, this one would be the same way. Unfortunately there wasn't anything about tending goats or cows in this book. There are other books I hope to check out on that particular subject though, like The Backyard Goat: An Introductory Guide to Keeping and Enjoying Pet Goats, from Feeding and Housing to Making Your Own Cheese. Just waiting for it to pop up on our interlibrary loan system.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Early Garden Tally

Our lovely Rainbow Swiss Chard, that we added to a curry dish.
Okay, so right now the garden tally is really wimpy, but we've only just begun to harvest a few things and the best is still yet to come, as we salivate in anticipation of all those green heirloom tomatoes on the vine turning their true hues. Here's what we've collected thus far:

Green Peas:  2 oz.
Round Zucchini: 2 lbs.
Romanesco Zucchini: 2 lbs.
Strawberries: 6 oz.
Rainbow Swiss Chard: .25 lbs.
Lettuces: 3+ lbs.

Friday, July 22, 2011

The Earless, Long-Tailed Rabbit

ZuZu and Neeps curiously peer over at the "rabbit" next door.
While our male rabbit, Squirrel, was out playing in the yard, LuLu (who I thought was a cat?) snuck into his cage and began eating his alfalfa pellets. Now it's almost become a daily habit with her. She lays on top of his cage and waits until it's his turn to come out and play. She also loves to eat her catnip, not smell it and roll in it like all the other cats do. Naturally she goes crazy for cat grass. I've even seen her biting pieces of vegetables I throw out for the chickens too.

What's the deal? I thought cats were supposed to be true carnivores?

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Save the Honeybees and Your Libraries!

I am sad that our library got the ax and this is the first week of the new cut-back schedule, which means no more wonderful Wednesdays for me as the library is now closed on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays. Bees aren't the only things that are vanishing in this country! Our libraries are facing Library Collapse Disorder, and we need to recognize the importance of libraries. Help the cause here!
So now, about Vanishing of the Bees, which I finally did get to watch. This one was better than Colony. It looks like it is pesticides that are the problem folks. Scary, but something I've instinctively felt all along. It's not your cell phones, as much as I'd like to blame it on those blasted things. I did like that this documentary offered some tips at the end on what the ordinary person can do to help this problem, rather than just sort of leaving you with a feeling of despair. There is also a website that you can check out. Some things that you can start doing today are:

1. Stop using pesticides! Find natural ways to combat pests, like encouraging predatory insects. Using pesticides is only a temporary solution anyway. Those bugs are going to come back, and they are going to be bigger and badder next time to fend off your sprays. In the meantime, you've also killed off all beneficial bugs who could combat those pests.
2. Buy organic! If you aren't buying organic food, you are encouraging the use of pesticides. If organic isn't available or if you think it's too expensive... (see next tip below.)
3. Grow your own organic garden! Even if you don't grow vegetables, plant a some kind of garden that will produce flowers and provide food for the bees. Sunflowers are a favorite amongst bees.
4. Keep your own organic hive! Don't feed your bees junk food (sugar syrup) and don't treat them with chemicals. Help them to build up immunity and diversify the gene pool. A good book the check out is Natural Beekeeping: Organic Approaches to Modern Apiculture. The more people who keep bees in their backyards, the better chance we have at saving the honey bees... and ourselves.
5. Call a beekeeper when you encounter a swarm! Do not kill them!! I see ads on Craigslist quite often for people who will come to your home and capture the swarm. Check your phonebook. Check online. Commercial beekeepers may be too busy to bother, but backyard hobbyists and such are usually more than willing to pick up some freebees!

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

GrOH My!

Just five weeks ago, things had only barely sprouted! We've got quite a jungle now!  I've been running out of space to plant new things, so I've started planting outside the perimeter of our fenced garden and in the flower beds around the lawn, hoping that the chickens and rabbits leave things alone until we can get more fencing up. We are finally reaping the rewards of our hard work with delicious produce, handpicked just minutes before putting it onto our dinner plates. Nothing more satisfying in the world that that!  The tomato plants are all doing great and bursting with green fruit, we just can't wait for it to turn color. Any day now. We have discovered that the mystery squash vine that voluntarily came up in the mini corn field is a butternut, for which we are very happy because we eat butternut like crazy and it stores well. Last year when we had a crazy, wild squash show up, it was a gray zucchini and we just couldn't eat it fast enough. Even the chickens were getting tired of it.

The garden just five weeks ago.

The garden two weeks ago.

The garden today!

Monday, July 11, 2011

Goodbye Bugsy, We'll Miss You

We didn't make it to the Renegade Craft Fair in SanFrancisco yesterday because we had another rabbit emergency. Bugsy got sick suddenly overnight and by the afternoon was not able to breath through his nose, was not eating or drinking and was very quickly becoming dehydrated. Just the day before, he was chasing his brother, Squirrel, around the yard.

I rushed him to my mom, who works with a veterinarian, but because the ride was a little over an hour, he barely made the trip (there are no emergency vets open on Sunday that are any closer.) Unfortunately by the time we arrived, he was already on his way out. I buried him there at the ranch. Sadly, I came home to find that Miss Flossy had finally given birth, but the two babies were stillborn. I felt so sorry for her, I could tell from her behavior that she was depressed.

Lee and I decided that rabbits are really complicated little animals because by the time we notice symptoms in them, it's way too late (it seems that ailments hit them overnight, and once afflicted they go down so quickly,) and we don't live close enough to a vet to save them in time. We agreed that these will be our last Jersey Woolies. No more breeding, no more replacing them. Originally we wanted pet rabbits who could help us out with the garden compost and provide a little wool to practice spinning with, on top of being our pets, but I think a Pygora goat (which we were planning to get eventually anyway) would be much better for us in providing the same things, without the fragility of the bunnies. We are wimps and can't take losing those little sweet fluff balls because we get so attached to them. We might be willing to try some larger, less fragile rabbits like a Flemish Giant, but a little more research is going to be required before we even think about that.

I can't emphasize enough to people who think they might want a pet rabbit: please, do your homework and really determine if they are the right pet for you. They are not an easy pet to keep and are the third most euthanized pet at animal shelters.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Collapsing Colonies

Another very hot afternoon finds me inside waiting to see if Miss Flossy, our mama rabbit, is going to give birth again. She may have possibly been contaminated by Bugsy exactly 28 days ago, so I prepared an indoor hutch and nesting box for her, just incase she explodes with little baby Bugsies. Since there's not a lot to do inside, I was hoping that I might get to watch Vanishing of the Bees this afternoon, but it wasn't available for streaming on Netflix, so I watched Colony: The Endangered World of Bees instead. It was an interesting documentary, but doesn't give a whole lot of answers to the questions that we have now about CCD.  The film came out in 2009, and was probably filmed when beekeepers were just starting to raise the issue. One startling thing I learned was that beekeepers have known of this problem for about 20 years, but they weren't willing to talk about it for fear of being dubbed as bad beekeepers. You can read more about this in the article for Vanishing of the Bees, where there was a live Q & A forum, and also a trailer for the film as well. So Colony is like a documentary of the problem, but it sounds as though Vanishing of the Bees offers solutions. It's next in line in my disk queue, so I look forward to seeing it.

One thing that made me very happy to read in the Q & A article is that civilian backyard hive projects are doing good for the bees. Of course, like the film says, it's better to have 60,000 people with one backyard hive each, than to have one beekeeper with 60,000 hives, because it encourages genetic diversity. So watch the documentary and get inspired to keep a hive!

Oh, and if you have a swarm in your yard, for crying out loud, don't spray it! Catch it and put it in a hive! In the future, Lee and I are planning to keep an empty nuc hive on hand for such occasions. Call a beekeeper if you don't know how to capture it yourself. Spread the word to other people not to spray stray swarms. We need those bees! I got word from my mom recently about an almond farmer she knows who called out the local pest control service to exterminate a swarm. I cringed when I heard about it and then told her in an exasperated voice,"why didn't you have him call me!?" You would think that an almond farmer would know better!?

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

How Does Your Garden Grow?

Fairly quickly, as you can see in the comparison of the top photo taken exactly 3 weeks ago, and the bottom photo taken today. So far we've only harvested 3 pea pods, 3 strawberries and several plates full of salad, but the tomatoes have begun appearing on the vine and the potatoes started blossoming, so it won't be long before the produce is pouring in. Oh, and those strawberries were like juicy sugar cubes, haven't tasted a sweeter strawberry that I can recall.
The garden 3 weeks ago.

The garden today.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

No Impact Slush Puppies

I'm on a 'No Impact' kick right now, so bear with me. I guess the book did have a big impact on me after all. Anyway, last weekend Lee and I went to check out our local Grocery Outlet to see what they had. For us, it's a hit and miss store. Sometimes they have something worthwhile, like organic liquid castile soap, other times it's just a lot of food on the verge of expiring. This time we found a solution to our summertime Slush Puppie habit: refillable BPA-free 16 oz. cups for only $2.99 each. (Yeah, Slush Puppies are probably evil for our health, but they sure taste good on those triple digit days!) Unfortunately our local old-school drive-in burger joint only uses styrofoam cups, and they were beginning to stack up on our counter because I feel guilty about throwing them away. (Trying to think of something to do with them.) I know, the refillable cups are still made of plastic. Glass would be so much better, but getting Lee to carry around a mason jar to refill would be like asking him to drive to work naked. I have to get him to do this sort of thing gradually, baby steps. Eventually we'll work up to the jar maybe, when these cups wear out. One thing that makes me feel less guilty about buying a plastic item like this from the Grocery Outlet is that most of the stuff that ends up there has been discontinued or didn't sell well in the original store that it was in. That most likely means that my purchase will not create more demand for more plastic cups to be made. These are essentially discards, and hey, someone may as well get some use out of them since they've already been made and the damage has been done.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Are Pets Sustainable?

Which came first? The chicken or the dog?
Yesterday I read about how San Francisco is proposing a ban on the sale of pets, and while I may be losing some fans by saying this, I don't entirely disagree with it. I can't say I've ever visited any pet store where I didn't feel sorry for the animals being kept there. I have also known people who have bought a pet on impulse, became bored with the animal, and then forgot about the poor thing. In fact, I know someone who just did this recently. Banning the sale of pets in pet stores isn't really going to set anyone back except the pet store owners, but I am sure they are making plenty of cash on pet food and accessories. If you really want a pet that badly, then you will adopt from a shelter or do the homework required to find a decent, humane, and reliable breeder who is not in it for a quick profit (are you going to tell me that pet stores sell pets for any other reason?)

So, this article sparked another thought. There must be a lot of pets being purchased on a whim, then being given up to a shelter, and euthanized. That can't be sustainable? That sounds like an expensive burden on tax payers!? I began to wonder if pets really are unsustainable, especially after reading No Impact Man. I wondered how Mr. Beaven & Co. could be so radical about a few things (like not using plastic bags,) but still keep a dog in the city who obviously had to poop on occasion, most likely on some sidewalk where people walk, and which would have to be cleaned up and collected. Generally people use plastic bags for this task, but the No Impact dude didn't exactly specify how he dealt with it.

I came across the real poop on dogs, and I must say that even if the guy seems like a Grinch when it comes to pets, he has a point. Dog poop is gross. Last summer while doing lawn patrol, I had a similar thought myself. I also began to think how goats would make more sensible backyard pets, especially if we had Pygoras (a Pygmy/ Angora cross) for fiber. Unlike dog poop, goat poop is valuable to the organic farmer and is completely recyclable. Goats are also excellent non-gas, non-electric weedeaters. If we consumed dairy, that might be another benefit. It seems like we put a whole lot of money and feed into our dogs just to get a bunch of poop that we can't do anything with. My dogs have useless fur and none of them produce milk (and even if I did drink milk, there's something especially unappealing about the thought of drinking dog milk.) Of course, I can't deny that they don't give us a lot of love and affection. What about cats? Well, this article covers all the cat statistics. It also has a list of the defining qualities of a sustainable pet, and includes a hilarious video short that you just have to see (James, I thought I'd include that for you since you appreciate British humor.)

I haven't bought a pet from a pet store since I was a kid (but I did order my chickens from My Pet Chicken.) All of my animals, aside from the chickens, have been adopted or have been strays that I felt sorry for (written across my forehead: sucker) and took in. I could always try and justify my unsustainable pets by pointing out the fact that I haven't given birth by choice (the two young ones belong to Lee,) and therefore I figure that I'm making a fairly decent tradeoff. Is there anything more unsustainable than a human being? Think of how much junk has to be produced for babies and kids... all the clothing, toys, diapers, and nonsensical gimmicky thinks like Diaper Genies that you are made to believe that you must absolutely have. None of my animals have used diapers, therefore I've prevented 8,000 packages of plastic-wrapped poop from ending up in the landfill per child I did not have! If owning a dog is like driving an SUV... then having a kid must be like flying in a jet! I do enjoy having my pets around, which makes it hard to think about the impact the production of their food has on the environment, but it isn't something I am ignoring either. I will probably consider replacing my dogs with goats when they pass on. In the meantime though, I will try and green them up as much as possible.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

No Impact Fan

I'm a fan of living a life of little to no consumption, so No Impact Man: The Adventures of a Guilty Liberal Who Attempts to Save the Planet, and the Discoveries He Makes About Himself and Our Way of Life in the Process seemed interesting to me. I heard about the documentary last year and added it to my streaming queue on Netflix, but never got around to watching it. Recently I somehow came across the book on a random library search, and decided to give the book a whirl since I had been wanting to watch the film. If you've been living with your head in the sand like me, this is the story about a family who tries to live as sustainably as they can for a year without wasting. While I like the idea of the experiment and I think that everyone should question their consumption and impact on our world through their current lifestyle, I just thought the book could have been written a little better. There was too much personal writing, and not really enough about how they went about their life changes. For instance, Mr. Beavan takes to using a straight razor for shaving, but does his wife? How did they clean up after their dog on walks? They stopped using toilet paper, and I understand that Mr. Beavan got really annoyed because people always brought up that issue when talking to him about the experiment, but seriously though, what the heck did they do to clean their dairy aires? What did they do when out in public? I mean, if readers want to make similar changes, they've got to know these things. Plus, every time Colin Beavan wrote something about our excessive use of paper and cutting down trees, I would turn the book over and make sure I didn't miss something... I mean, the book was made out of paper right?

The book did pique my interest enough to check out Mr. Beaven's blog and to finally stream the documentary, which I recommend if you aren't interested in the book (and if you are interested in the book, just check it out at the library.) Even though I've already been aware of and have taken steps to change many of things that Mr. Beavin discovered on his one year journey, his experiment did open my eyes to a lot of things I had not considered before. I've always cringed at fast food places and how much trash they generate, but one thing I hadn't really looked at was our own trash bin at home and how much trash we generate and why it matters until reading this book. I am now very tempted to take on the challenge of a one-week carbon cleanse, as soon as our garage sale is over next week. I know that it won't be difficult at all for me, but I know it will be for Lee.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Battening Down the Hatches

Not that I am complaining about cooler weather... but what is going on!?! We've got possible thunderstorms this evening, as if Spot weren't already freaked out enough by all of the early 4th of July revelers. Wish I could write more, but I have rabbits to herd back into hutches before they all get blown away!

Monday, June 27, 2011

Flower Seeds For Sale!

Our Etsy shop has just been stocked with Mammoth Sunflower SeedsMorning Glory Seeds, and Living Sunflower Playhouse Planting Kits! All seeds were harvested last Autumn, 2010, and packaged for planting in 2011. These seeds can even last up to a couple years if stored properly in cool, dark place (veggie drawers in the fridge works great.)

I've been growing my Morning Glory vines organically for over 15 years, and most of my heirloom seeds are 10 generations old and then some. These particular Mammoth Sunflowers are 3 generations old.  The bees love them in the summer and the birds love them in the Fall!

All proceeds are going toward a second beehive! Stop by our shop and check out our seeds, they make great gifts! Don't worry, if we sell out of what we have listed, we will list more shortly thereafter! Just check back in a day or two or feel free to contact me.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Organic Purple Carrots

The last trip to the farmers market saw us home with another two canvas bags full of delicious organic produce, including purple carrots! This was the first time I actually saw real purple carrots for sale anywhere and I lucked out and got the last bunch. They were a bit sweeter, and definitely had a different taste than the orange ones we usually get. They are all gone now, needless to say they were excellent!

I have always been a carrot fanatic. I eat at least 2 pounds of raw carrots a week, and I have eaten carrots this way for as long as I can remember. You could say I am a sort of carrot junkie, because I get super bad cravings for them daily.

So imagine how thrilled I was to find The Carrot Museum! I love this site and want to just devour the whole thing. Wow, who would have ever thought you could make a musical instrument out of a flippin carrot! I know that California has a festival for just about every vegetable you can think of, but I had no idea there was a Carrot Festival!

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Buzzing Through Books

My librarian loves me. She says that I keep her in business, and is always remarking about how interesting my book requests look since they come from other branches and she wouldn't get to see them otherwise. It's Wednesday, my library day, so I get to trek a few blocks over to pick up a new stack of books this afternoon. Yipee! Every Wednesday is like Christmas.

Last week Homemade Living: Keeping Bees with Ashley English: All You Need to Know to Tend Hives, Harvest Honey & More was in my pickup stack, but unfortunately it is only on a 7 day loan because it's a new book.  Bah! So I raced through as much of it as I could yesterday. Most of it is basic information for the absolute beginner that I pretty much already know by heart, but there were some new things that I haven't found in the other beginner books that I've previously read, like how to catch a swarm, and how to split your hive.

Unique to this book were the little "Profile of a Beekeeper" blurbs scattered about the book. I was especially relieved to read the profiles on two beekeepers who believe that the bees shouldn't be messed with unless absolutely necessary. Thank you, that's my philosophy! Now I don't feel incredibly idiotic for not dousing my hive in chemicals to prevent whatever it was that had wiped out my first colony. (Actually, I believe that chemicals have more to do with problems like CCD, rather than offer solutions.) I agree with one beekeeper's philosophy quoted in the book, "if the queen is strong, the hive will thrive. If not, well...that's life on the farm, I guess."  I also agree that always cracking open the hive and doing checks only stresses the bees.

Some other good things that you might not find in other beginner guides were recipes for bee foods like fondant & pollen cakes, and remedies like grease patties. One chapter goes over the ins and outs of a year of beekeeping, with helpful checklists for each season. If you happen to live in an area where finding a nearby mentor is a challenge, this book is a great substitute for the real thing. Another plus was the last chapter that included delicious looking human recipes made with honey, which I am going to write down before turning the book back in later today.

Overall, I thought this was a very worthwhile book for someone just getting started. It's well organized, covers everything you need to know and is chock full of illustrations and photos- which are extremely helpful in any type of beginner guide. I wouldn't mind having a copy of it in my own collection, along with Ashley English's other books in the Homeade Living series. I have an easy time relating to her, and absolutely love her writing style. Big thumbs up!