September 11, 2011

A fragrant treat: rose petal jelly

This year's rose crop was excellent (even the deer thought so :P ); it was a very good year for rose petal jelly.  I took photos this year during jelly making, as the transformation is fairly striking.

The roses I use are primarily 'La Ville de Bruxelles', my favorite of my Damasks:

I remove the petals from the calyces, measure,

soak to rinse and remove rose beetles if there are any (none this year; the beneficial nematodes were a success!),
  and simmer. 

When the color and flavor have been extracted,

 (and how glorious the house smells while this is happening!),

I strain the petals, pressing the marc to extract the flavor.

and add lemon juice which revives the roses' color and corrects acidity for jelling.

There is a merest shimmery rainbow of essential oil floating on the surface, I tried to catch it in the photos but my camera (my mp3 player!) couldn't see it.

Then I finish the process with pectin, sugar, lids and rings, water bath and when cool, a pretty topper and label.  This year I found little satin roses to add for a whimsical touch, and to help color code my jams and jellies. 
As I believe gardening, and life really, should be about joy, and this was a great rose jelly year, I kept a couple of jars for my own pantry and for gifts; the rest I'll sell at market.

Autumn Creeping In

Though it's been down to 35F several nights, frost so far has skirted the farm, which is really odd, but then this season is the strangest one, weather-wise, I can remember.  It was cold and wet, up until mid-late July, and then WHAM, hot...then cold and wet again, then hot, and has stayed hot.  Truly, 90's, even 80's are just WRONG for this time of year.  The plants are confused.  I've seen flowers on forsythia recently! 

It's just beginning to be cool enough to do the fall digging, both harvesting and setting in, that needs to be done, and with daylight telescoping down now, the race is on to get as much done as possible.  This week, I hope to get peonies dug and re-set, spaces made for next spring's fruit trees, the last of the lavenders lined out, perennial babies moved up or out, and the snowbirds brought at least to the porch, if not inside.  I've made the mistake in the past of thinking 'nah, it's not going to freeze tonight, it's cloudy' at twilight, only to wake up at 6 to ice on the miserable lemongrass.  So that's getting done first this year. 

With the herb harvest, I've been working on new designs for sachets and cat toys, and will be lurking a bit in fabric stores for certain bits and colorways.  The rose petals I turned almost all into jelly this year, instead of any liqueur, and the garlic-rosemary jelly turned out very nicely, zippy/tangy and not so sweet; I plan to give an armload of lemongrass the same treatment this week.  I found some darling satin roses in different colors late last winter, and have added them to the ties for the jelly toppers; I knew I'd find a reason to have them, if I got them!

The back porch roof needs re-doing, and that is #1 in serious projects, it should only take a few days at most, but I may end up jobbing it out so I can focus on digging; cutting metal is not my favorite thing.

July 3, 2011

Ooh-er, a new canopy and a new, smaller soaping space

Yet another windstorm at market, and my canopy became a bumbershoot, I will save the top as a replacement, and try to find someone with the patience to fix the frame or reycle it.  For the market though, I need a sturdier one, eeking through windy days was a constant battle.  I did a lot of research, asked a lot of other market/fair vendors, and got a new one that is way sturdier, with some simple tweaks that make me very happy.... it sheds rain rather than collecting it in huge draughts that dump on the unsuspecting (as do the canopies of my neighbors at the fm!), and the latches have levers rather than finger-smashing, biting buttons.  That's tech only a vendor could understand, but............ oh, my, it's a huge improvement.

The soaping space moved from the front porch to the back porch, it's tinier and forces me to streamline things a bit, but it frees up the front porch for living space, which I quite like; sitting there with a cuppa, listening to the hummingbirds at the blackcurrant sage and chastizing the little whitetail buck for eating my petunias in the porch pots (he looked so very doggy, "Why are you telling me no?" :D )........ ah, nice to have the space back.

After the day's transplanting, I hope to get to a batch of cocoa butter soap (unscented) and some goatmilk ones with the fresh goatmilk I traded for at the market yesterday, and tinker more with oatmilk as a substitute for silk, plus the infamous huckleberry soap.

May 26, 2011

New soaps (and the return of a couple of favorites)

It poured rain and howled a gale all day (again...argh!) so I stayed inside and soaped as I have done so much lately.  I woke up to crashing and banging, darted out at daylight to check on seedling flats (not washed way, thank goodness!), made coffee, and then hauled out my soaping gear.

Curing or freshly made:
I've been tinkering with a blend to mimic Lily of the Valley, and think what I came up with comes pretty close.  It's tinted with green clay and a swirl of white.  Then there was a fresh batch of espresso scrub (a titch less scrubby than previously, ground the coffee beans a bit finer), one of sweet orange (a simple treat: folded orange essential oil and the deeply sweet scented wax from orange peels; the essential oil and wax provide all the color you could want), a batch of calendula-lemongrass (with calendula infused oil and petals), and a layered lavender/chamomile batch, the chamomile part ended up tinted a bit green from the azure blue of the chamomile essential oil.  As it's cured, the flecks from the chamomile flowers have begun to show up a bit more, tiny specks of gold.  I'm liking the layered look and have a citrus one in mind next.

Tomorrow is prep for market day, and please please, weather, no more squalls?  And especially on Saturday, otherwise we will all need gumboots and sandbags.  Peeking at the island in the river next to where our market meets, I was reminded last week of 'dike patrol' when I was tiny, and seeing roads washing out and barns up to their eaves in water.  Though that likely won't happen again, with the dam and all, and I do love ducks and geese........ still, we've had enough wet weather for a week or so, in my opinion.  I've got buds on the rosa primula, and apple trees in flower, and I know the honeybees are getting restless.

May 24, 2011

Well that was fun. Not. (Email virus).

It's a good thing I run a bunch of different anti-virus and anti-malware software, and that I was lucky enough to see the start of a virus on-screen and able to shut down my net connection.  Last week an email-propagated virus attacked my computer, and the backing hard drive.... chewed its way through the address book and a lot of emails, sent a bunch of spam (including to me! how I found it!  I knew I hadn't just emailed myself).  Several scans later (over 36 hours worth of infection clearing, argh) I was able to access the net again and update my a/v programs and re-scan........seems to be clean now, but I lost a chunk of data, and a swath of my address book, and a pile of emails.  Here in Petticoat Junction, half of everyone I know has the same ISP or email system, and that cursed thing went round and round and round.  So, if you've tried to email me lately, and got no answer, please try again; I didn't dare reply to anyone until today, for fear of spreading the infection.

And a pox on the house of anyone who would write and propagate such a thing, I lost a week of time and reams of communication, and files.

May 18, 2011

Well that was fun.

We had a two-day windstorm (Saturday and Sunday) with a fair amount of rain on Sunday.  The rain was expected to be huge and go on for days--- I thought I'd get some digging in of a last few woody plants, but that didn't pan out, as the wind just would not stop and the rain was only for a short time.  The market was terribly windy, one of those dirt in the face windy days, with vendors putting out extra canopy weights and casting nervous glances at their tents all day.  At the end, one fellow's display of jams got knocked over and smashed, but luckily there were several of us still there to help clean up.

I noticed a bunch of trees down on Sunday morning, but what are you going to do?  Had to wait it out.... and found not only loads of debris everywhere, more trees down in the farm road, but also limbs falling had taken down one of my fences, snapped off wooden posts and mangled wire.  Which made a couple of does very happy... and then irked at me for chasing them out of the garden.  One hung about all afternoon, dog-like, as I rebuilt the fence, waiting for me to let her back in.  Hm-um, no.

I got the broken posts replaced, the wire flattened out and re-attached, and a few of the wooden ones removed. Cedar posts two feet taller than I am, and nearly as big around, are HEAVY!  I'm glad to be switching to all t-posts, as they won't need replacement as often, and I don't love using a post hole digger, either.  But so not how I envisioned using my Monday!

I found another stretch of fence down last night, though on the road not the garden, and there was other random damage, branches down, plants and pots strewn all over (me chasing an upended box of propagating foam in the windstorm must've been quite the sight for the birds clinging to the trees)... near the greenhouse windows, new tender growth was no match for the wind, but in the middle of the house, all was well except for the holes in the plastic letting rain in (and WHY always down my neck?) Haha very funny, Ms. Nature. 

May 2, 2011

The hilarity that is the blogger reader/google reader interface

Recently blogger lost all my entries in my blog reader (and there were a LOT, from science to art to news to science fiction and back to science)....... it's blank, empty, nada, nyet.  Which is fine, I had deleted a lot of them via the google interface (a person can't possibly read that many entries per day, Science Daily alone should be called Science Hourly).

And yet, when I post here the things I've deleted from it, that were on my blogger reading list... come back.

Ghost in the machine.

Snow again/yet/still...

Rain turning to snow forecast for tonight, and snow for tomorrow... this afternoon I was just counting up the days since it had snowed, thinking we might go a week......and....nope. 

This is the coldest spring I remember in many years, and my memory goes back over 50.  I am getting digging done, slowly, as the frost is well out of the ground, but on days when I get 4" of new snow, even if it's mostly melted by dinner, digging is difficult at best.  So bizarre to have a beautiful day like yesterday, sunny and nearly 60, and then back to wearing my down vest all day today even in the greenhouse.  I finally have species tulips in flower, almost 6 weeks behind! 
Things might turn themselves around at any time, of course, but La Niña is supposed to stick around another month at least,

 La Niña will continue to have global impacts even as the episode weakens through the Northern Hemisphere spring. Expected La Niña impacts during April-June 2011 include suppressed convection over the west-central tropical Pacific Ocean, and enhanced convection over Indonesia. Potential impacts in the United States include an enhanced chance for below-average precipitation across much of the South, while above-average precipitation is favored for the northern Plains. An increased chance of below-average temperatures is predicted across the northern tier of the country (excluding New England). (NOAA climate prediction ctr)
and so I am wondering about the growing season this year; here on the farm my average frost free dates are June 11-Sept 5 and if this year keeps up as it is I won't get any tomatoes and maybe no apples...I can grow the former in the greenhouse (and do now; brandywines and paste tomatoes, plus maybe cukes this year)---- but not the latter.  I adored the huge glasshouse at the Morden Arboretum but OY just think of the labor and upkeep!

In adapting to my lessened abilities after the heart infection, I'm tearing down some of the raised beds and devoting some of the space to fruit trees (hah! short season ones preferred!) and some to lavender (as the deer and elk will weed and fertilize those for me and they don't need fencing); the removed materials will be added to a few other beds to raise them for better accessibility, and I've begun collecting cardboard in earnest, to lay in the paths, cutting down on the need for mowing.  This not only saves time and effort I can't spare, it softens the soil underneath, and a few beds will be fallowed with cardboard this season; I'll post results on that, along with results from a friend who is trialling different weed supression methods including that concentrated vinegar and boiling water.

The raised beds were assembled with the innovative stackable hinges from Lee Valley tools which make building a breeze; they will get re-used along with the cedar boards and the hardware cloth which will either add to the height of beds or be fashioned into tree baskets or smaller beds for the lavender (voles have no compunction about eating lavender, sadly.)

(NOAA is by the way, a wonderful weather forecasting resource, here is the link to the 30 & 90 day forecasting.)

April 3, 2011

Spring Market Soaping

In honor if it finally being spring (I have crocus blooming even if it snowed an inch overnight!), I made a new soap today, using cucumber and a blend of essential oils to give the fresh impression of cucumber, as while the lovely cucumber kept its fragrance through the lye and into the molds, I doubt it would last much beyond cure.  A bit of green French clay and teal oxide for swirls and a marbled top, and the bars look pretty springy; I hope to upload photos tomorrow when they are cut.  This was my first soap using galbanum and petitgrain together, and I quite like them this way; to deepen the green note there is some vetiver, and to soften, a dab of orange flower wax. 

Next up: banana; when a bunch of bananas got away from me last winter, I froze them for banana bread, and the excess seem perfect for a super gentle, sweet soap.  I've been tinkering on an essential oil blend to hint at bananas (fresh, not too ripe); we'll see how I did when it's unmolded.

March 31, 2011

Spring news

Spring is finally here, the icebergs melting away from the gardens, and green sprouts peeking up between last fall's grasses and the fallen leaves and needles.  Tomorrow begins digging; the ground has also thawed enough to dig down further than two inches, which was the state just a week ago.

First things to dig will be strawberries, followed by columbines, thymes, lavenders and of course, roses.  I've got a couple to move that I was in the midst of digging when I got sick a year ago, and it will be wonderful to get them settled in their new homes nearer the house.  Some big clumps of lilies need to be split, too, as soon as the ground is warm that far down.

This evening's walk was filled with birdsong (geese, ducks, red-wing blackbirds), and the ponds are busy, for the first time in several years.  

March 3, 2011

Plants Catalog online

Finally!  What with being on the blizzard-a-day plan for the last few weeks, it's been utterly impossible to do the usual garden evaluations for what will have wintered.  Usually by now I'm admiring crocus and hyacinth shoots, and counting snowdrops, but knee deep snow and subzero temps have put that off. 

The catalog list is, therefore, a bit speculative, and will be changed as things are propagated, or discovered to have gone down a vole hole, but that knowledge is a bit in the future.  Shipping will not begin until into April, at this rate, as well.

The mailed version of the catalog is in printing now, and should start reaching folks next week.