January On The Farm

January was a “getting stuff done” month, mostly thanks to the month being so warm (record-setting in Seattle). It also didn’t rain much, and most days it was sunny. It got cold at night most days, but daytime it was in high 40’s to upper 50’s.

We got to work on reducing the log pile finally, and put many a weekend day into it.

Stacking the rounds really sped up the quartering.

One woodpile started and by the end of the month it was filled on both sides, all the way. It was an old covered shanty of sorts we found in the woods, that the previous owner had stored extra building wood under. We added in scrap plywood on the ends for stability, and got to stacking. The wood can now dry out for next year, with no rain getting on it.

We started wood piles on pallets, under the big maple tree. Once fully done, they will be covered with a tarp.

And it was time to move the compost piles, and get them fully turned for the coming spring.

One issue with the wood cutting is when we find rounds of rotten tree, or where termites had eaten the tree before we cut it down (and the tree was already dead). So we saved up rotten or broken pallets to help start fires in the pit. We had to have 3 fires in January to help get rid of all the junk wood, plus many branches that were ripped out of the trees in December. It’s all done for now, and looks so much nicer.

One bed isn’t fenced (it is new, and only holds rhubarb yet) but I found many footprints in it after building the bed. Hard to see here, but I think they were coyote.

The alpine strawberries grow whenever there is sun and warmth. They shot up crazily all month, trying to bloom. There wasn’t enough hours of daylight for berries though.

This is part of the over wintered alpine strawberries. I leave them outside to ensure a hardy plant. However….currently they are all in the greenhouse due to the extremely low temperatures. I didn’t want to lose the super growth they had gained.

Walker found a few bulbs I had tossed in a pile, on the edge of the woods. When we moved in I had cleared the patio beds to put in the herb garden. They are either tulip or daffodil. He found them sprouting on the ground, so we potted them up and they have been growing like crazy.

We have a new feral domestic rabbit on the land. It’s name is Mr. Black (but it could be Ms. Black). The black rabbits don’t fear humans, but are self-sufficient. This one for now I am putting up with because it eats only grass. And the boys love it.

Garlic is up and growing. Leftover winter spinach as well.

Evergreen Huckleberries getting ready for spring in a few months.

Though a few are confused and need to go back to sleep. This current week of cold is helping with that.

In the greenhouse though, the first Tom Thumb peas are sprouting.

Our new addition: Pepper, the Manchester Terrier. She is a little bundle of stick chewing love.

The sun setting on January. We got a lot done, but I am ok with a week of cold weather now. It slows down things, and is the way it should be.

~Sarah

Hand Milled Soap

Cold process soap is a fascinating hobby (or business) to get into. Long ago, when my oldest was a baby I taught myself how to make soap. In the pre-internet days (for me), it was so much harder to learn. There wasn’t videos, and books were sparse at best. As I taught myself how to do it, I found a side niche I enjoyed, which was making hand milled soap from the cold process soap.

And what is hand milled soap? It is taking cold processed soap an extra step. You are left with custom bars of soap that are often much harder than first batch is. It saves on essential oils, but also allows one to make multiple types of soap from one base.

First, you must have soap base. Either make your favorite cold process soap, and let it cure fully – or find a soap maker who can sell you bars.

The not as fun part is grating the soap. It takes time. Use an old school metal box grater, or if you have it, a food processor with a cheese grating option. Or beg older children to do it…..

I use 2 pounds grated soap (weighed after grating). You will need a large stainless steel double boiler (though you can do this in a large heat safe glass mixing bowl in a pinch, however an actual double boiler is easier to use). Put a few inches water in the lower pot, bring to a simmer over medium heat. Put the double boiler over the water, add in the soap and ½ cup filtered water. Lower the heat to low and let slowly melt, stirring very gently with a silicone spatula, as needed. If the soap looks dry, add another ¼ cup water and mix in. The longer a soap has cured, the more water you may need. This isn’t a bad thing though. You learn after a few batches how to “read” how much water is needed.

You can use goats milk, but realize your soap will need to be used up much faster. Water gives a nearly indefinite shelf life.

As the soap softens and melts down, gently stir. It will go from looking like grated cheese to where it is a spreadable thick mixture, and pockets may appear slightly clear. Once all the soap appears melted, stir in any add-ins and essential oils. I use 100 to 120 drops of oil, you may prefer more. The smell won’t be strong at first, however as the soap cools and hardens over time, the heady smell of the soap goes away, and the essential oil smell becomes dominant (especially if you store your soap in plastic totes later). Add more if you are unsure, even up to 200 drops. I keep the add-ins at ¼ cup or so.

Scoop melted soap into a silicone rectangle mold (they are bread pan shaped), placed on a small cookie tray. Spread each scoop across the mold and gently rap to pack it in tight. Once all the soap is in the mold, smooth out the top, and rap firmly on the counter.

Let cool and set up overnight.

To unmold, place a piece of parchment paper on a cooling rack and turn the mold over gently. Pull the sides gently and press the bottom to release the soap. Remove the mold, and let the soap sit for another day, turning over halfway through, so all sides get a chance to dry.

Honey Oatmeal Orange Soap & Peppermint Soap.

Using a soap cutter, slide it through the soap to the size you prefer. I trim the ends as well, giving a uniform look to the bars. I cut between 5 and 6 bars, depending on which rectangle mold I use (one of mine is a little narrower and longer)

Separate each bar, and let sit for up to a week to dry.

Once the sides feel dry, line a storage tote with parchment paper and place the soap inside, and cover. Keep in a cool, dry and preferably out of direct sunlight. Once fully cured you may wish to box or bag the soaps individually.

This soap is Peppermint (peppermint leaves, dried and crushed, and peppermint essential oil).

~Sarah

Making Seed Packets

Have you ever wanted to stash away seeds, but didn’t want to use plastic bags? Making your own seed packets is quick to do, and kids will love doing the cutting and glueing. Let them decorate them and you might have a full day of fun ahead!

Click here for the PDF to print and cut out. Each printing will make 2 packets. Use standard paper, and be sure to look at the print preview in case you need to scale to fit.

 

To assemble, cut out packet:

Fold over, then fold the edges. Glue the bottom and one side, let dry. Glue sticks, preferably the purple ones, work best.

Once glued, fold the top over. Decorate as desired, then fill with seeds.

Glue or tape down the top flap and stash away. These are great for making giveaway packets at seed swaps as well!

~Sarah

Maple Lemonade

Lemonade made with pure maple syrup is a treat to enjoy. Each of the recipes below makes a quart of lemonade, best enjoyed over large glass of ice, sipped slowly.

Of course, if you have a sweet tooth you may want the lemonade sweeter. It is not as sweet as commercially made lemonade, and you do have to love the heady taste of pure maple syrup. But I have to think if you are here reading, you are passionate about your use of sweeteners.

Maple Sugar Lemonade

Ingredients:

  • 1 large lemon (about ¼ cup juice)
  • 3 Tbsp Maple Sugar

Directions:
Add to a 1 quart container and shake gently to combine. Add 1 quart cold water. Put on cap tightly and shake till sugar dissolves.

Note:

Maple sugar is sold in some bulk bins at natural grocery stores, and at times shows up at Trader Joe’s.

Makes 1 quart.

Maple Lemonade

Ingredients:

  • 1 large lemon (about ¼ cup juice)
  • 3 Tbsp pure maple syrup

Directions:
Add to a 1 quart container and shake gently to combine. Add 1 quart cold water. Put on cap tightly and shake for a minute.

Makes 1 quart.

Both recipes can be stored in the refrigerator for a few days, but best enjoyed within a day.

Filling The Greenhouse

It’s many weeks till spring, but the greenhouse is slowly filling up. There is a tale to this though. When we moved last March, we brought our Sunglo greenhouse along. It got dropped off onto the lower field, and ever so slowly we have been making a new pad for it. However…as with all things, sometimes projects get bumped down the list. We couldn’t cut the land open till the fall rains came, and then it got too cold to finish the framing of the new spot.

Below, through the fencing, the scraped out spot awaits, next to the garlic bed.

But, I was running out of time. I had to start the coming spring’s seeds. Finished or not. So I made the decision that I’d get it going. I can always move the trays out when needed, once the new foundation is done! I just have to pay attention to the ventilation as the fans are not hooked up. The local feral domestic rabbits that live all over, like to come down to this field. It’s a hard road – they are cute and will let you walk right up to them, but that is a bad thing. They eat crops and carry disease, so it falls into the nuisance category.

Over the last spring/summer/fall the greenhouse just sat out there. It had a few things in it, but thankfully the grass is pretty much dead under it. We spent two days cleaning out boxes and leaving behind things I needed. Some supplies got left in for when we move the greenhouse over.

Trays being filled with planting medium, and seeds started……

And it continues, till we run out of space……

And slowly, our land becomes a farm….

~Sarah