Chai-Spice Oatmeal Muffin Recipe

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My youngest child, George, loves muffins.  Several mornings a week, he requests muffins for breakfast.  And he wants variety.  Sometimes I make banana-tahini muffins, sometimes blueberry with streusel topping, sometimes molasses spice muffins.   Thanks to G’s desire to be surprised with new types of muffins, I am always working up new recipes.

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We have a lot of chai tea mix leftover from the holidays, so I have been working up a recipe for Chai-spice muffins.  Our chai mix contains powdered milk, black tea, sugar, cinnamon, clove, cardamon, anise, and ginger.  Over the past week I’ve baked several revisions and the kids gave me their honest feedback of every attempt.  Here’s the winner:

George’s Chai-Spice Applesauce-Oatmeal Muffins

1 1/2 C old-fashioned oats, uncooked

3/4 C spelt flour (you can substitute whole wheat)

3/4 C unbleached flour

1 tsp baking powder

3/4 tsp baking soda

2 Tbsp chai tea mix

1 C applesauce (unsweetened)

3/4 C firmly-packed dark brown sugar

1/2 C whole milk

1 egg

3 Tbsp oil (I use hazelnut, but you can use vegetable)

3/4 C chopped dark chocolate or chocolate chips

Optional: sprinkle tops of the muffins with brown sugar before baking.  

Directions:

1)Preheat oven to 400 F.  In a large bowl sift together dry ingredients

2)In a separate bowl, whisk together applesauce, brown sugar, milk, egg, and oil.

3)Fold wet ingredients into dry until just combined, then fold in chopped chocolate.  Be careful not to overmix.

4)Fill lined muffin tins with batter.  Tins will be nearly full to the top.  Sprinkle with brown sugar if desired.

5)Bake at 400 F for 22-24 min, rotating halfway through.  Let muffins rest for 5 min before removing from pan and cooling completely on a rack.  Makes 12 muffins.

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I am behind on my blogging, but it has been for good reason (and for once, that reason isn’t roller derby!).  I’ve joined the blogging/writing team at Azure Standard, and have been busy working on my first two pieces.  Keep an eye out for my posts in Azure’s new Healthy Living blog.  I’ll be writing about gardening, permaculture, beekeeping, poultry keeping, and sharing LOTS of my original, healthy recipes.

January Garden Slumber

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This is what gardening looks like in Western Oregon in January.

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I’m trying to finish shoveling a giant pile of mulch off my driveway.  I’m down the last couple of yards, and even though it was 38 degrees and raining out, today was the day when I had room in my schedule to work on it.  So, I got to work.

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Most of the garden is asleep in January, but I still make the rounds of all my perennials every week to check on them.  Each one gets a visual inspection for weather/rodent damage, disease, state of dormancy, etc.

The Goumi berry (Eleagnus multiflora) (left) and Sea Buckthorn (Hippophae rhamnoides) (right) plants may lose their leaves in winter, but they still provide visual interest with upright shape and scores of thorns.  The Goumi’s thorns are only on younger growth, but their downward hook means it is easy to snag a hole in your pants as you walk by.  Sea Buckthorns are notorious for their spines, but I grow Siberian varieties, which are less thorny than their German cousins.  Both species are nitrogen fixers and produce their own nutritious tasty fruits, but their spikey nature means I have planted them on the perimeter of the garden – near enough to the pome fruits to provide nitrogen-fixing benefits, and where their own berries can be easily reached but not where kids will fall into them, or clothes become easily snagged on the spines.

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Walking around today, I noticed that one of the rhubarbs in a particularly warm and sheltered spot has emerged early from dormancy.  The new leaves are always a vibrant blend of fuschia and chartreuse, with salmon and tangerine overtones.  Simply beautiful.

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The rhubarb divisions potted up for our upcoming spring plant sale are all still dormant, but I can spy one in the upper right trying to wake up.

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The backyard isn’t much to behold this time of year.  One can hardly tell there is an orchard along the U-shaped perimeter of the yard – it all blends in to the fencing with the leaves and fruit absent.  The rain garden in the foreground doesn’t impress much at the moment, either.  But soon sleeping herbaceous perennials and spring bulbs will start to stir from their slumber.

For the time being, the ducks have the run of the place -the rain keeps the chickens hiding much of the time, and the ducks follow me around as I take care of morning chores, although here they’re happily preening in the rain garden, in the midst of a downpour.  Always in their element in wet weather, the ducks.

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Working outside every day in winter weather has taken a toll on my hands.  Every time I come in, my knuckles seem to be cracked and bleeding.  Potting up dormant berry bushes for the spring plant sale, in particular, has been really rough on them.

Because being out in wet, windy, cold weather so much was damaging my hands – and because my dad, a hobby woodworker, was experiencing similarly cracked and banged-up hands – I made up a special batch of lanolin-rich hand salve.

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Lanolin is the waxy oil from sheep’s wool – because it is washed from the wool after shearing, and no sheep are harmed in production, it is a vegetarian (not vegan) product.  But because it is also an animal fat, made to keep skin & wool healthy out in the elements, lanolin is the perfect choice to use on hands that spend many hours outdoors or in rough working conditions.

Combined together with beeswax, lanolin makes a water-resistant coating against rain and wind.  And because lanolin is readily absorbed into the skin, it helps to heal and moisturize severely dry skin as it protects.

I’ll be back later in the week with more from the garden – evergreen plants that provide winter interest now – and nutritious fruit come summer!

If you’d like to order some of this batch of salve, you can find it here.

Little Quilt for Lucky Lola

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My dear friend, Trish, from Lucky Lola Studios asked me to make her a little quilt she could use for newborn portraits.  Something pastel and gender neutral.  My local thrift store is the perfect place to pick up bags of scrap fabric for $0.50-$2.  It’s often vintage or good quality quilting remnants from Fabric Depot.  If you’ve got a use for little bits of this and that all the way up to fat-quarter sized pieces, their grab-bags can be a good deal.

A while back, I found a bag that was all 5×5 or smaller pieces or strips of Depression-Era reproduction fabric.  Most of the pieces were 2 inches or smaller, but some were long strips.  I’d been holding it back for the perfect project, and it seemed like just enough to fulfill Trish’s request.

 

 

 

 

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My favorite pieces were these teacup prints!  Just enough to cobble together eight squares for the main blocks.

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Since we’re on the subject of handwork, I wanted to share these books my sister-in-law got us for Christmas.  All of the scenes are made from felted wool!  The kids and I have loved looking through them and Ruth has been researching more about how to make felt figures with wire frames underneath.

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I finished the quilt with some machine quilting and used some vintage thrift store fabric for the back and thrifted bias tape for the binding.  Looking forward to getting it off in the mail this weekend!

January Nature Table

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Now that the holidays are over, the kids helped switch the Nature shelf over from “Christmas” to “Late Winter”.  With the change of the seasons, I bring out new objects and the children choose which ones to put up.

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These little hand-carved camels were a gift from the girls’ preschool teacher, and we cherish them.  They live in the tea cupboard with our best teacups, but George insisted we put them up on the nature shelf, along with a handmade cup his cousins gave to us last year.  We weren’t quite sure how it matched the theme of the season, but there’s not arguing with a four year-old.

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We try to include seasonal objects from nature, but in January, most things are dormant…So putting our Living Stones (which don’t receive water all winter long) seemed like an appropriate addition.

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Most of our collection of South African succulents are of the genus Lithops, but two are Pleiospilos, including the one above.  They start to look shriveled and a little worse for wear toward the end of winter, but they live in a climate where they receive less than 3 inches of rain per year.

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The rest of the time, they are conserving water in their tiny fleshy leaves.  Over-watering can kill them, because they lack stomata like other plants – they will drink and drink and drink water until they burst and die, so they only receive a small amount of water during certain phases of their life cycle.  You can see from the Lithops above, why they are called “Living Stones”.  Aren’t they fascinating?

 

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Hal chose a squirrel jaw and a turtle jaw for the table.  To him, they represented “the harshness of winter for wildlife”.  I recently found a handmade pineneedle basket at the thrift stire, and it serves as a stand for his contribution.

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If you’re interested in keeping Lithops as houseplants, you can order them from Living Stones Nursery in Arizona.  Lithops can be fussy as houseplants, but once you learn about their soil needs and their life cycle (they have lovely flowers!) – and as long as you do not overwater them – they make fascinating plants to keep in your home.

What do you have up on your Nature Table or Nature Shelf in late winter?  The kid and I always love to see what other families are gathering for their tables.

 

Snow Day Knitting

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Joining Small Things for the Yarn Along today.  We’ve had what my eldest calls “knitting weather” the last few days – it’s been icy, and you just want to hide under a blanket and knit, knit, knit.

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The last few days we’ve had snow, followed by ice and more ice which made the roads undriveable.  The kids initially did a lot of sledding and playing outside until the falling snow turned to ice and everything became a dangerously slippery mess.

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The backyard garden isn’t much to look at, but I put out some seed for the birds and within minutes a flock of Dark-eyed Juncos had landed to fill their bellies.

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The chickens hid inside their coop most of the day, but the ducks seemed to really enjoy the snow.  Even when the weather turned to freezing rain and their feathers were coated in ice, they stayed outside, looking contented.

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Much like the chickens, I spent the bulk of my time staying out of the weather.  Afterall, it was “knitting weather”.

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I finished knitting a few pairs of mitts, women’s S/M for my Etsy Store.

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At the cuff, they will get needle-felted designs, but I’m still working out exactly how I’ll decorate them.  If you have suggestions, I’d love to hear them!

Back tomorrow with more crafting from winter break.

 

 

Apple Cider Vinegar Caramels Recipe

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I’ve always loved making candies at the holidays – particularly nut brittles and toffees.  This year, I’m trying something different.  And I have the Portland Village School to thank for the inspiration:  Earlier this month, I had a table at that school’s craft fair.  During the last hour, the volunteers brought each of us vendors a couple of apple cider vinegar caramels to help us get through the last bit of the afternoon.  The caramels were delicious, and I loved how the ACV cut the sweetness of the soft, rich caramel.  So, I set out to come up with my own version to make for gifts this year.

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Angela’s ACV Caramels (with Pink Himalayan Salt)

Ingredients

-4 Tbsp raw apple cider vinegar (you can use Bragg’s or homemade) (Note: when making this recipe for myself, I prefer a stronger ACV flavor, and use 6 Tbsp of vinegar)

-3/4 C brown sugar

-3/4 C granulated sugar

-3/4 tsp sea salt

-1 1/2 C heavy cream

-2 tsp vanilla extract

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Pink Himalayan Salt for sprinkling

Directions:

NOTES ON SAFETY: Candy-making involves boiling sugar, and can be dangerous and cause serious burns, so work carefully.  Always work with a bowl of ice water nearby in case boiling sugar splashes on your skin.  Also, as the caramel boils, it will bubble and foam up quite high in the pan – make sure your saucepan is deep enough to prevent the boiling sugar mixture from overflowing.  

1)Line an 8×8 square pan with parchment paper, and butter the parchment.

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2)In a saucepan on medium heat, add the apple cider vinegar and simmer until vinegar has reduced by half

3)When vinegar has reduced, add the sugars, heavy cream and sea salt to the saucepan.  Continue to cook on medium, and add a candy thermometer to the pan.

4)Cook, scraping down the sides now and then, until the mixture reaches 240 F.  This will take several minutes, and the boiling mixture will foam and rise up quite a bit – if it approaches the top of the pot, stir it back down.

5) When the caramel reaches 240 F, immediately remove from the heat and carefully stir in the vanilla extract.  Quickly pour into the parchment-lined pan.

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6)Let pan of caramel sit on the counter for 2-3 minutes and then sprinkle with desired amount of pink Himalayan salt.  Transfer pan to the refrigerator for a few hours until caramel is set.

7) To cut the caramel:  Turn caramel out onto a lightly buttered cutting board.  Coat both sides of your knife blade thinly with butter.  Cut into squares.  If you find the caramel is tearing or sticking instead of cutting, re-apply butter to the knife.

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Place each square in a rectangle of wax paper and twist ends to close.  Store caramels in the fridge and eat within 2 weeks.

Recipe Variation: Omit apple cider vinegar.  Heat caramel mixture to 245 F, remove from eat and add vanilla extract to the caramel, also add 2-3 Tbsp whiskey (be careful, the alcohol will boil immediately when it contacts the hot caramel).  All other directions are the same.

 

Recipe © 2015, Angela Baker.  Please don’t reprint or use photos without permission.  Thanks.

 

Top Bar Lip Balm

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It’s dark so early now, I have plenty of time for indoor projects – this weekend it was making up a batch of lip balm for Parkrose Market.

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Our lip balm is called “top bar” because we are top bar beekeepers, and the honey in our balm is from our bees.

As someone who is outside, working in windy rainy weather on a daily basis, I need a lip balm that will soothe and heal chapped lips and offer good protection.  I so make Top Bar Lip Balm with beeswax, organic sunflower oil, organic coconut butter to moisturize lips and fair-trade raw shea butter and vitamin E oil to help heal and protect them.

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Bea loves to do woodworking with her Grandpa Bishop, and together they made me a little wooden lip balm holder for the display table at the craft bazaars I’m working the next few weekends.

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She learned how to set up and use the drill press, and put 12 holes in a block of maple wood we picked up at SCRAP last week.

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It makes for a neat and simple display, don’t you think?  Very much appreciate them making it for me.

You can find out Top Bar Lip Balm here.

 

Hats and History Lessons

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Joining Small Things this morning for her Yarn Along.  I’ve been knitting up a storm in preparation for craft bazaars  later in the month, but took a break from those projects to make a little hat, on request, for Bea.  I have an abundance of odds and ends of grey wool, and she requested a grey hat with a sunshine on it, so it seemed like a perfect chance to use up those little balls of wool.

Bea is very interested in pre-Civil War history and instead of reading while I knitted and needle-felted her hat, we watched The Abolitionists on American Experience’s website.

 

 

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I finished the hat before the end of the documentary, so for the last part of it, I put labels on the latest batch of salves and lip balm.  I reformulated the salves a bit to make them more shelf-stable in cold weather, updated the labels, and can’t wait to get them packaged for the upcoming craft bazaars at The Portland Village School and Bee Thinking.

For now, it’s back to finishing knitting projects for the bazaars, spreading mulch in the garden, and thinking ahead to the menu for Thanksgiving.

Beeswax Polish Kits

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Introducing our new line of Beeswax Wood Polish and polish kits!  Made with local beeswax from natural beekeepers and sweet orange oil, our polish protects and conditions wood, and is safe for children.

Natural wooden toys, bowls, and furniture need to be buffed with polish a few times a year to keep their shine and prevent over-drying and cracking.  In Waldorf education, children take responsibility of their possessions through The Practical Arts:  this is where children are given child-like versions of adult responsibilities in order to master skills, increase independence and confidence, and prepare for adult life.  Kids learn to care for their toys, play kitchen items and utensils by polishing objects themselves.  This form of handwork teaches fine motor skills and teaches even very small children that they are capable of contributing in a meaningful way to family life.

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Our 2 oz tins of polish are available on their own, and also in kits for children.  The kits include a tin of polish, a handsewn 100% cotton flannel polishing cloth, and 2 natural palm wood child-sized spoons ready to be polished.

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We’re proud to add our polish kits to the inventory of local beeswax products for the Portland Village School’s Craft Fair and Bee Thinking’s upcoming holiday bazaar.

The Garden Keeps Giving

 

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It’s nearly November, and yet we’re still finding fresh food in the garden every day.

George helped me pick some green tomatoes so I could make a batch of lacto-fermented pickles with them.

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I picked the last of the quince for the year and have membrillo simmering on the stove right now.  Can’t wait until it is ready to pour into a pan and set up and finally EAT.  Nothing goes better with a cup of tea on a rainy afternoon than membrillo with cheese and smoked-paprika-spiced crackers.

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Bea helped me dig a few sunchoke tubers for dinner later in the week.  Sunchokes are an easy-to-grow perennial food-crop that are ready late in the year.  They contain about 110 calories/cup and one serving contains 28% of your daily amount of iron.  They are also a good source of vitamin C and potassium.  Sunchokes also contain a lot of inulin, and while they are tasty sliced fried in ghee or bacon grease, they can cause gas in some people unless cooked for long periods of time.  The best way to prepare them that helps break down the inulin is to simmer them in the crockpot in chicken or veggie broth and then make a mash with other root veggies.

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Bea found an exceptionally large sunchoke while we were digging.  She was awfully proud of it.

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While I was cutting back some rhubarb plants – whose leaves are beginning to die back due to the cold night temperatures, I noticed one of the ground cherries nearby still going strong.  One quick shake and full cup of ripe fruit fell onto the ground.  We ate most, but I kept a few back in order to save the seeds.

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On Monday I picked over 50 lbs of pumpkins for Birch Community Services, but today I picked just a few for our family.  These are (my absolute favorite) Burgess Buttercup on the left, and on the right a kabocha-type variety whose seeds were gifted to me, which I want to say is Confection, but that might not be correct.  I look forward to trying the one on the right and seeing how it compares to the excellent texture and flavor of Burgess Buttercup.

I’m very grateful for this late-in-the-year gifts from the garden, and look forward to a few more weeks of nourishing foods and healing herbs from the garden before it is put to bed for the winter.

 

Rooting Up

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No rain this afternoon, so it was time to take cuttings and root up a few perennials I hadn’t gotten to in the past few weeks.  Today I was rooting goumi (Eleagnus multiflora) and silverberry (Eleagnus commutata), both of which are excellent nitrogen-fixing semi-evergreen shrubs that also produce edible fruit.  Goumis produce copious amounts of tasty red fruit the size of a blueberry or larger, and I have three becaue the children enjoy the fruit so much.  Silverberries produce smaller fruit which are gold with silver speckles.  I don’t find the diminutive fruit worth harvesting for us to eat, but the chickens and ducks love them, so I grow silverberries in the orchard where the birds can get the fruit, and the apple trees can get the benefit of the nitrogen the shrubs fix.

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Some plants will root easily on their own from cuttings (Ribes, grapes, for example), but some need a little rooting hormone to encourage the formation of roots.

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After stripping all of the leaves off, and pruning off any side branches, the cut ends are dipped onto the rooting hormone and then planted.  Over the winter and early spring, they will form roots and you have a new plant!

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Since I had a few extra minutes, I rooted some additional herbs, and a dozen blackcaps.

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George, age four, insisted on making all of the labels for the raspberries.  He asked me to tell him what to write, so I said, “Munger Blackcap Raspberry” and then he wrote out his tags.  He may not be the easiest four yr-old, but having him for a garden helper is always a real delight.

More tomorrow with some of the foods the garden is still producing this last week of October.

October handwork

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It has been a long time since I’ve joined The Yarn Along, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t been busy knitting.  The children slept in this morning, and I made some progress on fingerless mitts (the WIP ones are for Bea’s upcoming 11th birthday.  I will needle-felt designs on them when I’m finished.

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The Yarn Along is about what we’re knitting and reading.  I’m not currently reading any novels (because lately I’m up typing book chapters late at night while the kids are in bed, instead of reading), but a whole bag full of books we ordered just came in at the library.  George is fascinated with camping and bison, so we have several books about both right now.

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When Hal finished his Explode The Code lesson, the boys worked on polishing play kitchen utensils with our homemade beeswax-orange oil wood polish while I read to them.

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Just like his mama, sometimes it is hard for Hal to sit still and focus on one activity unless his hands are occupied with a task.  He does not know how to knit yet, and simple handwork projects like this one appeal to him.

I hope you have a restful and regenerative weekend.

 

 

Parkrose Market

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I have had much time to blog the last several days, I’m working on stocking our Etsy store (Parkrose Market) with salves and balms and knitted things.  Trying to juggle all of my obligations at the moment is proving challenging, and I’m dropping a few balls here and there.  But, I’m still making progress and being anything less than busy doesn’t come naturally to me.

I grow all of the herbs here (with the exception of myrrh), dry them in our solar dehydrator, and then infuse them into organic unrefined coconut oil and organic olive oil.  We use only local beeswax from natural beekeepers (learn more about natural beekeeping here).  Right now, I’m making four kinds:

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Soothe Salve has calendula and plantain, which have been used for ages as first-aid for skin conditions, rashes, bug bites.

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Besides being great for medicinal purposes, calendula is a long-blooming, repeat-blooming bee-loving plant.  Even now, in late October, it is a steady source of food for our honeybees.  It also self-sows readily.

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We’re a roller derby family, and in the derby world, arnica is the favorite herb for the endless succession of bruises that come with the sport.  Vervain (also called Juno’s Tears) is purported to help with inflammation.  Together, the two herbs make for good care for bumps and bruises.

(Note, if you decide to grow Arnica montana in your garden – it is toxic and absolutely should not be ingested.  And while it is a great bee-plant with lovely yellow flowers, it has a habit of spreading, so don’t put it in unless you can keep it controlled.)

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Comfrey’s other name is Knit-Bone.  It is an age-old treatment for broken bones, sprains, etc – typically used as a poultice, but also in salves.  There is some dispute as to whether drinking quantities of comfrey tea can cause liver problems, so I only use it topically.  I do use comfrey salve twice a day, every day, since I broke my ankle last summer.

Comfrey is one of the best herbaceous perennial plants for the permaculture garden, orchard, or farm.  I’ve written a lot about it, and we stock sterile Russian Bocking comfrey plants for sale here.  Shoot us an email if you’re interested in growing comfrey in your garden.

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At the request of several folks, I’m also making a general all-purpose balm as we head into winter, specifically geared for supporting and protecting skin.  As a farmer who doesn’t wear gloves as much as she should, this has been a big help to my dry hands.

I’ll be back later in the week with more, and will let y’all know when our Parkrose Market Etsy store is ready to open up.

Autumn Gifts

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I’ve been busy the last few days making things for loved ones.  I have lots more to share, but am behind on uploading and editing photos.  So, for now, a few pictures of the gifts We’ve been making this week.

Above:  A little indoor fairy garden as an early birthday present for Bea, who maintains the fairy garden outside in the yard, and is always sad to see it go dormant over the winter.  Now she’ll have her own little garden to tend to right in the windowsill.

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I have an abundance of beets, and my dad really loves beet salad.  George helped me make him this one with candied nuts, bleu cheese, and a balsamic dressing.

 

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Lastly, I finished and blocked a shawl for a friend who is going through a difficult time right now.  It’s a prayer shawl, made in 100% Brown Sheep wool.

More soon.  Hope your weekend is filled with good things.

Herbal Salves

 

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The past few weeks, I’ve been working on batches of healing salves, both for custom orders and to stock our soon-to-open Etsy store.  We grow the herbs with all organic methods (of course!), and dry them in a solar dehydrator, utilizing only the energy of the sun. Other ingredients in the salves include local beeswax from natural beekeepers, and organic oils.

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The herbs (such as calendula, above) are infused into organic coconut oil and organic olive oil by sun-infusion or by simmering in a double boiler for 6-8 hours.  Don’t the blossoms turn the oil a lovely sunny shade?

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All of the salves are made in small batches with custom essential oil scents.  As of right now, I’m making four types of salves:

Calendula-Plantain Soothe Salve for rashes, ezcema, and dry irritated skin.

Arnica-Vervain Bruise Balm for bumps, bruises and sports injuries.

Comfrey Bone Balm for broken bones, bone bruises, sprains.

All-purpose Healing Salve with Calendula, Lavender, Plantain, Rosemary, Yarrow.

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While the salves are cooling and setting up on the counter (and filling the house with the soothing scent of sweet orange oil and cedarwood), I’m off to print labels for the tins.  The rest of the day is filled with prep for homeschool co-op tomorrow, Life of Fred mathematics, and some fall clean-up garden projects.

Blessings on your weekend!

Fall Fruit, Fall Projects

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Enjoying some of the last of the fall fruit coming from the garden this week:

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George helped me pick quince, which we turned into membrillo.

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Ground cherries (Physalis spp.) that didn’t get eaten straight off the plants went into a tart with plums.  The tartness of the ground cherries melded very well with sweetness of prune plums.

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George picking an apple for an afternoon snack.

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Our newest apple tree, a little Liberty, produced exactly one apple this year.  Next year there will be lots of Liberty apples, and even more for many, many years thereafter, but this year that one fruit felt very special, and perhaps that’s why it tasted extra delicious.

The next few weeks are intensely busy around here.  The girls’ home team season for roller derby starts this weekend, and I’m going back to weekly sports rehab for my ankle to try and overcome some mobility issues that make certain movements in skating difficult or impossible.  This weekend we also have a garlic cultivation workshop that’s been in the works for quite some time. I’m finishing up an order of custom herbal salves (made with herbs we grow and dry) and making all sorts of good things to stock up in preparation for opening an Etsy store.  I’m taking on more gardening clients, doing fall clean-up and garden consulting and whatever they need done. And last but not least, I’ve been working on a book for quite a while, and have been spending every spare minute editing chapters, test-knitting patterns, test-baking recipes, and writing a book proposal.  Just when it feels like life in the garden is winding down, the rest of it ramps up.  I’m excited about all of the projects, but attempting to not feel overwhelmed by them all at the same time.

More tomorrow from my kitchen!

Buttercups and Quince

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Harvesting by myself in the garden this morning.  Picked 65 lbs of produce – the bulk of which was winter squash and quince.  The quince are just starting to ripen, so I didn’t pick very many, but a few were definitely ready.  Quince (Cydonia oblonga) may not be the most lovely fruit in the world – looking like a misshapen pear covered in shedding fuzz – but the aroma from this crate of fruit was nothing short of heavenly.  The scent is likened to guava and honey with overtones of vanilla and rose.

These ancient pomes are a fruit worth keeping in cultivation and in the kitchen.  In fact when people ask me what fruit tree they should pick if they only have room for one, I always say, “quince!”  Naturally dwarf, with a lovely shape, handsome bark, stunning fragrant pink flowers, quince are an excellent landscaping tree.  Most varieties are self-fertile, so you only need one.  A quince will also bear twice as much fruit as an apple tree the same size, and the fruit are pestered by far fewer insects than apples.  I love them so much, I have five varieties in my garden, although three are too young to be producing yet.

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My favorite way to enjoy quince is to turn it into membrillo – a Spanish quince paste made from cooking the high-pectin fruit for hours and hours until it becomes a beautiful orangey-red.  It is then poured into a dish to cool, where it sets into a dense, slightly grainy jelly that is amazing on toast or with Manchego cheese.

Quince are very hard and most varieties cannot be eaten raw, but roasted they turn pink and sweet and fill the kitchen with a delicious fragrance.  Any apple pie or applesauce is augmented significantly by the addition of quince to the recipe.  Any roasted pork or poultry dish would also pair beautifully with roasted quince.

 

 

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As I was ripping up dead winter squash vines and spent tomatoes, I ended up with the first few witner squash of the season.  Most of the vines are still going strong, and there are dozens more squash that will be picked over the next few weeks.

Most of the squash I plant are Buttercup varieties.  Buttercups are a type of Cucurbita maxima, and have the benefit of being a meal-sized squash, not a hulking behemoth the modern family has trouble making use of.

The one above is “Burgess Buttercup” and has consistently been rated the best-tasting winter squash variety.  It is slightly dry with dense bright orange flesh.  It is fantastic for roasting, and holds its shape in soups and stews.  I have steamed and mashed it and made pumpkin rolls that were everyone’s favorite at the holidays.

 

 

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Honestly, I’m looking forward to the end of the garden year.  Volunteers have ended their shifts for 2015, and the next few weeks I will be harvesting by myself – more quince, oodles of winter squash, ground cherries, Inca Berries, lingonberries, and the like.  Then, we’ll be down to cleaning up the garden, planting garlic, and growing only what our family eats off of for the winter (kale, leeks, etc).  As much as I love running the garden project, winter is a nice sabbatical, and a chance to focus on indoor activities and hobbies.

Autumn Nature Table

Autumn Nature Table

Hal and George and I sifted through various nature items we’d collected this week and put up the autumn nature table (although, for us, it’s become a shelf, since the “table” has been occupied by Ruth’s budgie, Sunny.)

Autumn Nature Table

We have a little box of autumnal items we save and put out every year.  Hal really enjoyed taking out things we’d made or found in previous years and remembering how we came to have them.

Autumn Nature Table

George needs a stool (kid chair) to reach the shelf, but for the first time Hal is tall enough to reach it easily.  It’s hard to believe how quickly he’s growing and how tall he’s gotten over the summer.

Autumn Nature Table

The boys are really into Minecraft (in the rainy months, unschoolers tend to get together a lot to play Minecraft.  It’s a fantastic learning tool and inspires so much creativity).  Hal found the Nature Table a perfect playground for his teeny Minecraft toys.

I love that the Nature Table is such a multi-purpose educational tool – it’s a way to talk about and examine nature close-up, with the hands and the eyes.  It is a starting point for research on natural history, ecology, botany, geology.  The Nature Table is constantly shifting in contents as the seasons change, so it helps us mark the rhythm of the year and engages the kids in studies of the seasons – their library book selections are often inspired by items on the nature table and the season represented therein.   Perhaps most importantly, the Nature Table sparks creative play, storytelling, games, and make believe driven by the children’s imaginations.

Autumn Fires

 

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We’re slowly working on getting out the autumn decorations and switching the Nature Table over from summer to fall.  The children have been collecting items from the yard and around the neighborhood.  It seems like every time I step outside, I find someone’s little collection of goodies on the front step or back table.

I think some of the nature-mindedness is due to the time of year, but some of it is due to a wilderness study we’ve started:

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I’m teaching a class at our homeschool co-op based on the book My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George.  It is one of my favorites from childhood.  The main character, Sam, runs away from his home in New York to live in the wilderness.  Every week at co-op, we’re discussing a few chapters of the book, making crafts that correspond with the chapters, and learning a wilderness survival skill that Sam utilizes in that section of the book.

Bea is the only one of my kids taking the class, but the other children didn’t want to miss out, so each week I’m reading the assigned chapters aloud, and the whole family is learning the skills we’ll test out in class.  The hardest part so far has been reading only the assigned chapters and not reading ahead – everyone wants to know what happens next!

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After reading our chapters, it was George’s turn to be my kitchen helper and we baked a Sun Cake in honor of the shrinking days now that the autumnal equinox has passed us.  (You didn’t know a four yr-old could get so much powdered sugar on the floor and counter instead of the cake but he had fun doing it.)

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The cake is a basic yellow butter cake (2 8-inch rounds), with orange glaze and candied orange peel.  I would normally put orange marmalade in the middle, but my sister had just brought us back a little jar of wild huckleberry jam from her trip to Glacier National Park, so I used it instead (a very tasty substitution, if I do say so).

While George and I finished up the cake, the older kids watched a few videos on primitive methods of starting fires, including how to make tinder bundles and start a fire with flint and steel.  (They already know how to use a bow drill to start a fire thanks to a fews summers’ worth of Trackers camps.)

In our chapters we read aloud today, Sam initially fails at fire-making, only to succeed a few days later.  The kids’ assignment is to learn about making a fire without matches and then collect items with which to make a tinder bundle.  (At co-op on Friday, the students in my class will try various types of tinder bundles and methods and see if we have the same troubles Sam does, or if we can succeed in catching an ember and starting a fire.)

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When the cake was done, we all went outside to collect items we thought would make good tinder.  The neighbor boys lent a hand, and the kids gathered everything from pine needles to dry leaves and an old birds’ nest.  Bea used her pocket knife to shave off bark curls, and lamented the lack of cattails in the neighborhood, from which we could gather the fluff for excellent tinder.

In honor of our fire-making adventures and the beginning of fall, this Robert Lewis Stevenson poem seemed fitting to leave you with:

Autumn Fires

In the other gardens
And all up the vale,
From the autumn bonfires
See the smoke trail!

Pleasant summer over
And all the summer flowers,
The red fire blazes,
The grey smoke towers.

Sing a song of seasons!
Something bright in all!
Flowers in the summer,
Fires in the fall! 

–   Robert Louis Stevenson

 

Eve of Autumn

Eve of Autumn

Today we said goodbye to summer and anticipate the impending arrival of autumn.  It has been warm and sunny during the day, but the crispness of fall has definitely made itself felt in the air.

We’ve been pulling out pants (only to discover George has outgrown every pair that fit this spring) and mittens and vests and rain jackets.  The kitchen has been really chilly in the mornings, and it gives me an excuse to bake:  I’ve made bread two days in a row, and have plans to get up before the children to bake banana bread for breakfast tomorrow.

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Speaking of mornings, The Hudson’s Golden Gem apples are ready right in time to welcome in fall.  I’ve been eating one off the tree every morning with my coffee, and Ruth and George have been enjoying them with dinner.

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The young tree sits right outside our front door, planted in a polyculture with rhubarb, comfrey, clove currant, Egyptian walking onions, blood sorrel, rosemary, English lavender, bearded iris, calendula, and Oregon iris.  Around the perimeter – in an area amended with pine needles – are highbush blueberry and lowbush blueberry and red currant.  This weekend I also added a Haku Botan pomegranate – prized for being very dwarf, cold hardy, and producing double-ruffled white flowers which set into white fruit.

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If you need another apple to add to the family garden, the Hudson’s Golden Gem is an excellent choice.  The fruit is yellow and heavily russeted – nothing much to look at.  But the flesh is creamy white, and very crisp, but with an exceptionally buttery quality – not grainy or gritty or mealy at all.  The flavor is a good balance of sweet and acid with undertones of butter and hazelnuts.  It’s an apple that children and adults can both enjoy very much.

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To mark the shift of seasons, we had mint tea this afternoon and burnt a little myrrh in the hour or so before dinner.  In studying ancient Egypt, the children had become interested in what myrrh actually smelled like (we’d burned frankincense at Christmas before).  I had to order a few things from Mountain Rose Herbs, and included myrrh (Commiphora myrrha) and sweet myrrh (Commiphora opoponax), which have markedly different scents.  They arrived in plenty of time to test them out today.

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You can’t simply light myrrh unless you want it to smell, well, burnt.  (It’s like the difference between a great cup of coffee and a scorched cup that’s sat in the pot with the burner on – they’re both coffee, but one is the right way to appreciate it, and the other is a waste of coffee.)  Instead (a video tutorial is here), light a disc of charcoal, place it in salt or sand, sprinkle it with more salt (to form a buffer layer between the charcoal and the myrrh), and then place a very small piece of resin on top.  It will slowly melt and darken, trailing up a wisp of intensely fragrant smoke as it does so.  Two tiny half-pea sized pieces were enough to fill the whole house with the soothing aroma.

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While the kids drank their tea and made dragons before dinner, I finished a few pairs of children’s’ mitts.  I’m working on stocking up handmade goods to open a little Etsy store before Thanksgiving.  Something about the chill in the air, the winding down of the garden, the early-setting-sun that makes fiber-folk want to knit and spin in earnest.  So the turn of the season seems like a good time to get things finished up and get that Etsy store open.

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Hope to be back later in the week with some of our unschooly activities and setting the fall Nature Table.

Blessings on your family as you settle into the rhythms of the new season.

 

Plant Sale

 

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Every year, I give away dozen and dozens of plants to the volunteers who harvest here and to the folks who take our free garden workshops through Birch Community Services.  As our permaculture food forest becomes more mature and more productive, I have recently been able to expand our nursery stock and offer some plants for sale to the general public.

(A Note:  Everything we grow here is produced using all organic methods – no fungicides, herbicides, pesticides, synthetic fertilizers of any kind.    One of the ethics of permaculture is “share the surplus”, and in keeping with that ethic- and my desire to encourage other folks to grow their own food by keeping their startup costs low – the plants we have for sale are at a small fraction of the cost of local nurseries’ prices for non-organic stock.  I charge just enough to help recoup a little bit of the cost of the water and soil ammendments and such, and prices don’t reflect my labor and such.)

The Fall Gold raspberries had spread beyond their rows, and were shading out a young Sea Buckthorn, so they had to go.  I ended up with about 25 good looking crowns, trimmed them up, and found homes for them all in about 15 minutes.  Fall Gold is by far my favorite variety of raspberry, and because 1/2 pints of them in the store can run $6!!! (and are often picked underripe), they are a high-value crop and worth growing in the home garden.  They also produce a crop in early summer and another from August all the way through into October.

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This time of year, if you order herbaceous plants from Parkrose Permaculture, they will be heading toward dormancy (the perfect time to plant them).  I trim the leaves off to reduce transplant stress, but herbaceous plants, by definition, will die all the way to the ground.  When planting in your garden, be sure to mark the spot with a stake so you don’t lose track of where it was planted.

We still have horseradish crowns available for $2 each, by the way.  Horseradish is extremely easy to grow and thrives on neglect.  And homemade horseradish is soooo much better than store-bought. It takes only about ten minutes to make, including digging up the roots.

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plant sale

Another example of what plants look like right now.  The top photo is costmary in my garden (a lush, low-growing herb that is extremely fragrant, smelling like balsam and mint blended together, with subtle undertones of bergamot and sage).  Very shortly, it will be dying back to the ground, as nights continue to drop in temperature.  If you order costmary right now, it will be trimmed for transplanting, and while it won’t produce new vegetative growth over the winter, it will be developing a strong root system underground, and come up strong in the spring.

Plant sale

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Comfrey is an invaluable herb in the garden.  It is traditionally called “Knitbone” and is used in poultices and salves to treat broken bones and the like.  But comfrey is also a versatile, extremely useful plant in the context of permaculture.  Its lovely purple flowers are superb bee food, and the leaves make excellent duck and hoofstock fodder.  I plant comfrey at the base of all my fruit trees, where its deep taproot will help break up the dense clay soil and its leaves will make nutrient-rich mulch.  I also use it to make a very stinky, but very potent tea fertilizer for everything in the garden.

Right now, I have comfrey crown cuttings available, and in the spring will have full plants.  If there is one non-fruit or veggie plant to have in your garden, this is the plant.  And all of our comfrey is sterile Russian Bocking Comfrey, so it will not set seed or get out of control.

Plant sale

If you place an order with us right now, your plants might look much like this – bareroot shrubs and vines, and potted plants losing leaves in preparation for winter.  But autumn is a really good time to transplant perennials.  As I mentioned above, while not much is going on above ground, during the mild PNW winter, fall-planted specimens are establishing healthy, vigorous root systems, which will result in strong new growth first thing in the spring.

Negronne Figs

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A quick final note –  all of our orders come with freebies – be it extra herbs starts, or a few packets of flower seeds, or a little box of fruit from our orchard.  Some of our orders this week were delivered with fresh Negronne figs (see above box of plants).  I wanted to include a picture of them, because I’ve been eating them every day with lunch, and they are fantastic – like strawberry and honey with a hint of caramel.  If you have room for one fig tree, let it be this variety (which is naturally quite dwarf, topping out at 8 ft).

Our next plant sale will be in the spring, when we will have red currants, rhubarb, herbs of all kinds, elderberries, figs, and more.  If you’re searching for perennial plants of any type in the meantime, especially those used in permaculture, I probably have them. Send me an email at ParkrosePermaculture@gmail.com with any inquiries, and I can try to fill your order.

Our weekend is full of roller derby and more roller derby, so I’ll be back early next week with a new post.  Blessings on your weekend!

 

Collector’s Item

Unschooling Nature Table

Unschooling Nature Table
Hal sorting items for his “store”. Front to back: ground cherries, hollyhock seed head, grape leaves with filberts and calendula seed heads, yarrow, painted rocks…

Years ago, my kids crafted their own version of a universal child’s game:  collecting items from nature/the garden, assigning those items special qualities (fairy berries!  war paint!), and selling them in a “store”.  One child (usually the youngest) is “The Collector” and he gathers items to sell to the shop owner, who in turn, markets them to her remaining siblings and friends.  It’s kind-of the ultimate unschool nature table make-believe game.

Unschooling Nature Table
Bea sorting goodies George has brought her: amaranth leaves, lavender, nasturtium blossoms, tomatoes, hollyhock blossoms, calendula seed heads, filberts.
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All of the kids getting along and playing together despite the diversity in their ages and developmental stages. It’s a rare moment, I’m cherishing it.

I managed to get a tremendous amount of yardwork done while the kids played, and enjoyed helping George, The Collector, find goodies to bring his siblings.

Unschooling Nature Table

Thimbleberry, grape, and filbert leaves all make excellent “wrapping paper” for purchased goodies.  Bea loves to wrap them up and secure them by pinning with a small twig.

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We’re ramping up for our homeschool co-op to start tomorrow (I’m teaching a class based on one of my favorite childhood books, My Side of the Mountain), and have lots to prep today.  I’ve also been really busy filling plant orders for folks, and will have a post with more about that tomorrow.

Mid-September

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A few quick pictures from around our permaculture garden today:

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The lovage has gone to seed, so it was time to cut it back and sow the seeds around the garden.  They will germinate in the spring and add to our stock of perennial vegetables.  Their blossoms will be a strong attractant to parasatoid wasps, lacewings, and other beneficial insects.

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The Aromatnaya quince are nearly ripe.  A few more weeks, and they will be fragrant and ready to pick and put into sauces and pies.

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In May, we put in 2 female and 1 male sea buckthorn (Hippophae rhamnoides). Sea buckthorn is a very important permaculture plant, as it fixes nitrogen, is extremely hardy, and produces a nutritious fruit crop.  We chose Siberian varieties known for their smaller growing habit and less suckering than the German and other Russian varieties.   In 4 months they have grown from tiny twigs to nearly the height of my 10 yr-old.  Very excited for them to start producing their Vitamin C-rich fruit in the next year or two.  

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It’s late in the year, and the bees (all kinds, not just our honeybees) are frantically collecting up nectar and pollen in preparation for winter.  We’ve been making a conscious choice to let certain plants bolt (radish, argula, mint, etc) and making second plantings and cutting back hard to encourage repeat blooms of various plants (calendula, lavender, salvia, rosemary, borage) to provide sufficient food for the bees.

While this has resulted in some parts of our permaculture garden looking a bit scraggly and even more wild than normal, it has also meant ample forage for our girls and all the native bees besides.  The children have really enjoyed identifying all the species of sweat bees, bumblebees, and syrphid flies that visit the flowers.  We’re also hoping it will make for some seriously delicious honey when we harvest in the spring.

More soon!

 

Putting Up Plums

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September is the month when the various kinds of prune plums ripen in succession.  I have so many, I scarcely know what to do with all of them.  When the Shropshire Damson starts producing next year, I will be absolutely flooded with plums at the end of summer.

 

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We had a brief run of rain, followed by hot weather, and now more rain, and the late plums are all splitting faster than I can pick them.

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When jams, sauces, plum brandy are all made and still there are buckets of very ripe plums left, the solution is to dehydrate them.  Afterall, prune plums – with their intense sweetness and freestone habit – are perfect for drying.

The kids built a blanket fort in the living room this afternoon, and I got around to washing and halving bowls and bowls of plums to fill the dehydrator trays. (It’s cloudy and rainy, today, so I couldn’t use the solar dehydrator, but that’s okay, because it’s chilly in the house tonight, and the heat from the electric dehydrator is filling the kitchen with the delicious honey aroma of the drying fruit.)

We go through a lot of dried fruit outside the summer months.  Aside from eating them whole, prunes go into much of my winter cooking.  One of my favorite dishes is a tagine with beef or lamb and prunes, pumpkin and chickpeas with a side of couscous.  If you don’t think you like prunes, try them in a tagine and you’ll discover how great they can be.

If you have a favorite plum recipe, I’d love to hear it, because I have more plums waiting to be picked!

 

 

Ripening Tomatoes

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After a serious drought most of the year, the rain has finally returned.  (It actually feels like Oregon again here.  So glad for the grey and the rain!)

Despite the fact that we had what felt like an eternal summer, the reality is that it is now September, and the cooling temperatures and rapidly-shrinking day-lengths mean the bumper tomato harvest can only last a few more weeks.

I frequently hear from folks who are frustrated to find most of their tomato fruit still hanging green and rock hard on the vines by the time temps dip into the 40’s at night and the vines begin to die.  So much effort is put into a crop that never matures before the season ends.  And there are only so many batches of green tomato pickles and chutney one can put up in the fall!

So, I thought I’d give you some of my tips for encouraging your tomatoes to ripen before the end of the season:

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First of all, obviously not all tomatoes are red when ripe, so color is not a good indicator that your crop is ready to pick.  This variety, Indigo Rose, rapidly turns a dark purple, but isn’t ripe until the green color under the purple turns brownish-orange.  Despite being a cherry tomato, it is one of the longest-ripening tomatoes in my garden, fooling many volunteers into picking it underripe because of the early purple blush.

Knowing the characteristics of the varieties you are growing will help you determine ripeness.  Knowing the firmness/feel of a ripe tomato when you gently squeeze it is `important thing to know.  As well as knowing that most (but not all) varieties of tomato slip easily from the vine when ripe.  If you have to tug and tug to pick the fruit, it probably isn’t ripe (although I have a few heirloom beefsteaks that will hang on for dear life until they are very overripe).

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Here’s another very soft, very ripe tomato, although it doesn’t look particularly ripe.  Some of my favorites have green stripes when ripe, or are completely green (Evergreen and Green Zebra come to mind).  Again, here softness and ability to slip easily off the plant are the best indictators of ripeness.

Volunteers here frequently skip over pink beefsteak varieties, thinking they are not yet ripe because they aren’t deep red.  But they will never turn deep red, and if left hanging on the vine, they will attract creatures who know  they are ripe and tasty in their pinkish hue: birds, mice, slugs, will damage them and crops will be lost.  The same goes for lemon-yellow varieties, which folks tend to overlook, waiting for an orangey indictator of ripeness which will never come.

So, now that we know how to tell if a tomato is ripe, how do we get those green tomatoes to hurry up and get in that state?

Ripening tomatoes

Tip 1:  As soon as early September hits, I snip off all of the the flower blossoms and buds from the vines.  These flowers don’t have time to turn into harvestable crops before the end of the month, and they are robbing energy from the vine that it could be putting into maturing fruit.

Removing the flower buds also signals to the plant that flowering time is over, and fall is approaching, and it should focus on ripening already-set fruit.

Ripening tomatoes

Tip 2: Remove all very small, immature fruit.  These little guys are never going to ripen into 1 lb Brandywines in two to three weeks.  Again, removing them keeps the plant from wasting energy attempting to mature them, and allows more resources to go to larger fruit that have a chance of ripening before the end of the month.

Tip 3:  Stop watering.  A shortage of water stresses the plant and encourages it to hurry up and ripen its set fruit before dying.  Now, in Oregon, that may not be an option because sometimes the rain returns in September.  But many years, September is very dry until late in the month, and the combination of lack of water and dipping night temperatures will help those beefsteaks mature.

Ceasing to water also helps prevent fungal diseases on ripening fruit (and believe me, while late blight is rare here, it will devastate your entire crop in 48 hours.  Ripening tomatoes and their vines will turn into black mush before you know what has hit you, and there is no cure.)   I lost 300 lbs of tomatoes one year to late blight (which is spread on the wind, and brought into our state by big-box store’s tomato starts cultivated in the South, where the disease is common), and I hope to never experience that again.

Tip 4: Grow more cherry tomatoes!  Some years, Oregon has cool summers, and beefsteaks are never going to be able to set and ripen many fruits in the season.  I always grow a few beefsteaks and large slicers, even knowing that many won’t produce a large crop for me if the summer is mild.  Brandywine and Mortgage Lifter are particularly prone to setting fruit late and having buckets of green tomatoes for me at the end of the season (they do make very tasty lactofermented dill pickles, though).  Small slicers such as Green Zebra and cherry tomatoes like Sungold and Chocolate Cherry are sure winners no matter the weather.

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Hope that helps you, and I hope you get lots of tomatoes in the next few weeks and enjoy the tail end of summer.

I know I am beginning to anticipate fall crops like the late September glut of tomatillo and ground cherry fruit, winter squash, quince, lingonberries…

More soon, and happy gardening!